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Sam had hoped her mother wouldn’t notice the money she’d transferred to her account in the wee hours of the morning until much later, but her phone rang right as Natasha was shoving Sitwell into the back seat of her Ford and Steve was helping her unbuckled her pack.

She fished her phone out of her pocket just as the last strap was undone and he lifted her wings effortlessly off her shoulders and into the trunk.

“Crap,” she muttered under her breath as she saw the name on the caller id. Steve raised his brows in question.

“Hey ma,” she answered, forcing enthusiasm where she didn’t feel it. “What’s up?”

Why is there $500 extra dollars in my bank account?

They both winced at the tone and level of her voice. It meant she’d bypassed curious and gone straight to interrogation mode. No hello, no how’s my girl doing? Right to the point.

Steve, as if sensing this wasn’t something he need to be apart of, shut the trunk. “I’ll give you a moment.”

She nodded in acknowledgement, watching as he headed for the passenger door and slid in. What was it about mothers on a mission that could have someone like freaking Captain America tucking tail and running?

Who was that?

“Nobody, just a friend.” She sighed.

Are you going to explain why that deposit is about? Because unless you’ve been playing the numbers, I know you don’t make the kind of money to give it away like that.”

“It’s just in case money, ma.” As the words feel off her lips she knew it was the wrong thing to say.

Just in case? Just in case what, Samantha? Are you in trouble?”

Not yet. But she was getting there. The whole stealing of government property thing was sure to come back to bite her on the ass. She was banking on Steve to help her dodge god only knew how many federal charges they were racking up by the hour, because teaming up with him had to come with some kind of perks. She knew better then to mention that or the fact she might be on trial for treason in the near future.

“I’m fine. It’s just that I’m helping some friends out and well…” She licked her lips. “You know how I am, ma. I might be getting ready to do something a little reckless.”

The only end of the line went silent and Sam held her breathe, waiting for her to reign in her disbelief enough to start speaking again. Her mother wasn’t a fan of yelling to get he point across, and almost 30 years was enough time to know that Sam didn’t respond well to it anyway. Natasha popped her head out of the backseat window, lifting her arms to point at an imaginary watch on her wrist. Sam got the not so subtle hint.

“Listen, I know nothing I can say will make you not worry. Just know that what I’m doing is important. Saving lives important.”

I don’t like this, Samantha. The last time you talked like that you signed your life over.”

“But I came back.” She responded, not liking the petulant quality her voice had taken, but damn her mother had a way of bringing it out in her like no one else could.

With Riley in a casket and your mind all scrambled!

Actually they’re hadn’t been enough of him left to go in a casket, but she was pretty sure pointing that out wouldn’t help at all.

Natasha was giving her an impatient look and Sam turned her back to her, feeling a slight headache coming on. The endorphins from her brief flight were wearing off all too soon and the reality of what they were doing was starting to sink in. She didn’t have time to placate her mother, as much as it pained her. She worried about her, more so then her siblings. Mostly because she had an uncanny ability of stumbling into crazy situations and was too much of a bleeding heart to leave well enough alone.

“Ma, I gotta go.”

Don’t you dare. Don’t you hang-up on me Samantha Wilson, or I swear on your father’s grave I’ll take that money and fly down there and drag you by the ear out of whatever danger you’ve gotten yourself into.”

She wouldn’t put it past her. With any luck she’d be alive and not in cuffs at the end of all this to face her mother’s wrath.

“I’ll call back as soon as I get a chance.” She swallowed around a lump in her throat, wanting to let her know that she would be careful and not do anything stupid. But she didn’t want to lie, since for all she knew this could be their last conversation together. “I love you.”

She swiped the End Call button on her screen before she lost her nerve, turning it off for good measure because she would only keep calling back and she couldn’t afford to be distracted.

Setting her jaw she headed for the car, sliding in the driver’s seat and reaching for the keys already in the ignition to turn the engine over. Steve gave her a worried look.

“Everything alright?”

She nodded before turning to look over her shoulder while backing her car out of the alley they’d been parked in, scowling right back at Sitwell when they caught eyes.

“Where to now, kids?”

“The Triskelion,” Nat said and Sam wrinkled her nose, thinking about the looming eyesore that dominated to downtown DC sky line, towering over every other building because somehow S.H.I.E.L.D. was above the law when it came to how many floors their headquarters were allowed to have. An intelligence agency bold enough to announced their presence to the world with that architectural monstrosity must have the market cornered on security. It was like a giant middle finger to anyone who would be brainless enough to try to take it down, which didn’t bode well for them seeing as how they were on the way to break in.

She merged with the afternoon traffic onto the expressway, listening as Steve and Natasha went back and forth with a plan, thinking to herself there was no way it was going to be as easy as dragging Sitwell up to S.H.I.E.L.D’s back door and hoping he cooperated nicely and long enough for them to ruin Hydra’s big coup de grace.

Just as the thought crossed her mind and Sitwell was unknowingly voicing it, all hell broke loose.

It happened so fast. On second she was about to tell the guy to shut the hell up again, because she really didn’t feel comfortable agreeing with a Hydra agent even if what he was saying made sense, when there was a thump on the roof of her car and he went flying out of the window.

It wasn’t until the bullets started flying and Natasha was crawling into the front seat, saving her from a headshot with a kick of her foot and Steve shoved the gear shift into park that she got a good look at what had caused utter chaos to erupt around them.

She was pretty sure all of them were struck dumbfounded. The getup and mask alone were enough to cause her mouth to dry up, but seeing the groves the metal arm left in the asphalt was enough to make her heart seize for just a moment before it caught frantic rhythm again. Whoever he was he was screamed walking death sentence and Sam really didn’t want to be around to see what he had in store for them.

Natasha snapped out of her shock quicker then they did, raising her gun and aiming at him just as they got hit from behind. The sudden jerk forward caused her molars to sink into the side of her tongue. She bit back another curse at the sharp pain as she stomped her foot on the brakes and swallowed, tasting a bit of blood.

Natasha searched blindly around the floorboard for her dropped weapon and she tried to keep the car on the road as the Humvee behind them did it’s best to force her trunk in to the backseat. She worried briefly about her wings just as the asshole jumped on the roof again and ripped her steering wheel right out of her hands and through the windshield.

That─ that shouldn’t have been possible. In fact none of what was happening should have been possible in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses around. But it seemed that Steve was high of enough threat for Hydra to send whoever these guys were to eliminate him. Even if it meant dozens of people were probably filming what was happening right now and many more were going to become casualties.

Natasha managed to get off a few shots before the car began to careen out of control. Sam figured that was it. They were going too fast and there was no way to stop. Her brakes had just about crapped out and she wasn’t even wearing a seatbelt. She had a good run, considering the amount of times she’d faced her own mortality before. It just sucked that it was going to be so painfully messy and it was all for nothing. Because there would be no one left to stop Insight from happening, and by the time anyone else put together the truth… well Sitwell had made it very obvious how thoroughly any opposition would be dealt with.

But Steve, bless him, hauled the three of them out just in time, throwing their combine weight against the door and using it to keep them from eating pavement.

She rolled, feeling gravel bite into her skin before getting her bearings, pushing to her feet and scrambling for cover just as the men from the Humvee filed out and opened fire.

There was a moment during the clash as Steve went flying over the edge of the bridge and Natasha went jumping not too soon after ─ because of course the guy with the arm had a fucking grenade launcher ─ that she wondered what the hell she was even doing there.

She was out numbered, outgunned and alone with nothing but someone’s abandoned sedan for protection. She wasn’t souped-up like Steve, nor did she have whatever extreme training Natasha had. There was a sheathed blade clipped to her jeans and even if the EXO pack survived intact in the scattered wreckage of what had been her car, it was yards away and there was no time to hunt for it.

Closing her eyes, she crouched further down, trying to drown out the panicked screams of people trying to get out of dodge. It had been years since she’d been over in the sandbox, but it was startling easy to draw on the experience, despite the mental hill she had to climb to get to a place where she wasn’t always in battle mode after hanging up her uniform. It didn’t take much, considering the sound of bullets pinging off of metal and cement was still echoing in her ears. It was familiar. It was combat. And she wasn’t so indoctrinated back in civilian life that she was going to allow herself to freeze up and leave the two of them on their own. She might not measure up much when compared to their experience and skill, but she had enough to at least provide some kind of backup.

Sucking in a breath, she peeked around the trunk of the car, catching sight of the men just as they starting roping down the side of the bridge. There was a second of alarm where she thought she’d taken too long to collect herself before she saw the one straggler. It was a stoke of luck that she didn’t even question as she snuck up behind him, her knife in hand and her mind intent on the riffle hanging off his shoulder.

She took him by surprise, kicking him in the knee from behind and swinging up with the knife to cut the strap on his gun. Another solid foot to the sternum sent him falling over the side of the bridge and she almost felt bad about it. But there was no time to reflect on it because Steve needed cover fire.

She took controlled shots, ducking down when needed until he was clear. When she took a look over the wall again Steve had taken down the men she hadn’t been able to get with an impressive array of gymnastics. Sam looked around frantically, because the guy with the arm was still on the prowl somewhere and not having a visual on him scared her.

It didn’t take long to figure out the general direction he’d gone. All she had to do was follow the explosions. She spotted him just as he tossed Natasha off his shoulders and flinched as the other woman’s fall was broken by a sports car. It had to hurt like hell but she recovered quickly, flinging something at the metal arm that caused it to drop like dead weight, giving her enough time to scurry off.

Sam raised the gun, looking down the sight and quickly calculated she was too far away to take the shot, even if she did had a good bead on him. Dropping her shoulders in disgusted frustration, she looked over at the ropes dangling over the edge, knowing they weren’t a possible option to get her down there. She had nothing to clip on to and even thinking about going down without gloves made her hands twinge with imaginary pain.

Glancing back at the street below she saw Steve running full force for the man just as he was aiming for where she could only assume Nat had taken cover. The sound of his metal fist hitting Steve’s shield was almost as loud as the bullets that were soon ricocheting off it. She watched for a few seconds too long, morbidly fascinated at seeing Steve barely holding his own against him.

“Who the hell is this guy?”

There was no one there to answer and she had to tear her gaze away because watching them duck and weave around each other with such brutal force was hypnotic. Pulling herself up from the crouch she’d been in, she griped the gun tighter in her hands and went for what was left of her car.

She zigzagged around the abandoned cars until she came upon the wreck, heaving out a sigh of relief to see that the rear end hadn’t been completely destroyed. In fact she didn’t even have to worry about finding something to pry the trunk open because the lock hadn’t withstood the ramming it took. She had to put a bit of muscle in getting the twisted metal to lift up more, but once it gave she saw that her EXO pack was no worse for wear. Hauling it out, she gave it a quick look over, wishing she had more time to make sure there wasn’t any damage, before strapping up. The wings expanded and retracted like they were supposed to, albeit with a millisecond of hesitation that only someone thoroughly familiar with them would have noticed. They would need servicing after all was said and done, but she’d flown them plenty with worst damage. And the boosters worked just fine, getting her a few inches off the ground when she fired them up experimentally.

She abandoned the riffle in the remains of her trunk; there was no way she could pilot her wings and handle firing it at the same time. Making her way back to the side of the bridge, she looked down to see Steve still engaged. Natasha was out of her line of sight, and the fact that she wasn’t helping him concerned her. Sam had only known her for a few hours but it had been easy enough to figure out that she wasn’t one to give up the fight. Best case scenario: she was injured, bad enough to lay low. Worst case… Sam was determined not to even put the thought into the universe.

Backing up a few feet, she squared her jaw before running for the edge, using her forward momentum to hurdler herself over the concrete wall, feeling gravity pulling at her gut just as she deployed the wings and hit the boosters. She flew up, gaining a bit of elevation so she could get a good look at the scene.

The still smoldering car fires were making her visibility just on the right side of crap as she flew farther down before looping around and started her search for Nat. But she was at least able to tell that most of the bystanders had cleared out. Hydra wasn’t pulling any punches with their bold attack, and Sam could only hope that no one had died while getting caught in the melee.

A quick glance at Steve was enough to see that he was gaining the upper hand, which was a relief because Sam knew she would be utterly useless if she had to tap in. A flash of red caught her attention and she finally spotted Natasha just as she looked up her way. She was moving slow, nursing her left shoulder and Sam had been right about her being hurt. Sam had to admire and both wonder how she was still standing, considering less then a day ago she literally had a bomb dropped on her. She was just about to swoop down and help her, blinking rapidly and really lamenting the fact she hadn’t grabbed her goggles, when the sound of the fight going on a few yards away came to a standstill. The sudden quiet had both of their attention snatched in their direction.

Steve had his shield lowered and his already pale skin was drained of color. Sam saw his mouth move, though she was too far away with too much wind in her ears to make out what he said. Whatever it was it had the other guy hesitating. That was surprising, because so far everything he’d done had been methodical, almost robotic. Nothing seemed to faze him.

But then he raised his gun again and Steve, the idiot, wasn’t even moving. He was just standing there, guard wide open and not even looking as if he was able to blink, let alone get the hell out of the way. Whatever he saw had shocked him frozen. Sam knew the serum made him capable of doing a lot of things, but it sure as shit didn’t give him bullet dodging abilities and she was even more sure there would be no super healing a hole in the head.

Instinct kicked in, something that was honed from years of covering Riley’s behind way before they even joined the Air Force because he had a penchant for almost dying. Diving down at a dangerous speed for such a short distance, she spread open her wings enough to slow her decent and make sure didn’t break her legs as she allowed inertia to move her lower body foreword in time to nail him in the back of the head.

And damn, the guy was good. He took the unexpected kick with the most amount of grace he could, rolling over when he met the ground instead of hitting it flat like a regular person would, only to pop back up just as quickly.

She landed in a run to keep her feet under before turning his way, expecting some form of retaliation. He didn’t so much as spare her a glance and Sam watched with dawning terror as he aimed at Steve again. She didn’t have the element of surprise on her side this time, nor was she fast enough to get close and distract him again. And Steve still hadn’t moved an inch.

But then Natasha appeared from behind a car with the grenade launcher in hand. She barely had enough time to duck, using her wings to deflect any incoming debris when she fired and a truck near to them went up in a ball of flames. By the time she felt it was safe to stand again, the guy with the arm was gone and they were being surrounded by more men with guns.

Knowing the game was up she raised her hands, wincing as they not so gently yanked her pack off and cuffed her before patting her down. The chopper hovering above them was probably the only thing keeping them from being shot on site, but it was a hollow victory. As they loaded the three of them into the back of an armored tuck, it was pretty much a given that they were just going to find some place less public to do the deed so it wouldn’t end up on the 5 o’clock news.

Her mother was going to kill her. She was going to resurrect her long enough to give her the ream out of all reamings before putting her back six feet under.

Sam shifted on the uncomfortable metal bench, eyeing the helmeted guards that looked like they were a Badazzler away from cosplaying Daft Punk. They were all shackled to the floor of the truck, pretty much ruling out any escape attempt she could think of, but Sam had to at least see if they could do something to get out of the mess they’d found themselves in. Being taken out execution style by Hydra was just an affront to her pride.

Steve hadn’t said a single word since they were herded in, his gaze locked on the forearm cuffs that were obviously tailored specifically for him. Sam was just as concerned for him as she was for Nat, whose skin was starting to take on a dangerous pallor. Something happened down on that street that drained the fight out of him and had him spiraling down to some place that even his friend bleeding out across from him and the threat of eminent death wasn’t registering.

“Hey Cap,” she said, trying to get some sort of reaction out of him. “You alright over there?”

There was no answer forthcoming. She watched him, chewing on her bottom lip and wondering what the hell was going on in his head. The sudden weight of Natasha leaning heavily against her side drew her attention away momentarily.

“Not you too. Steve’s gone mute on us and I’d really like to have someone to talk to before we all get dead. The two Slabs over there don’t seem promising, so don’t go passing out on me,” she urged, bodily jostling Natasha when she saw her lids drooping.

“I’m still with you,” she replied in a gravelly voice, blinking sluggishly but thankfully appearing more alert. “Just resting my eyes a bit.”

“Right,” Sam said sardonically, barely able to not roll her eyes. “Come on Steve, you gotta give me something here. Nat’s not looking so hot.”

“You weren’t thinking that they day we met.”

Sam huffed. “Yeah, well you also had several more ounces of blood pumping through your veins and a sweet ride. I might as well have been wearing beer goggles.”

That earned her a weary smirk, though her attempt at levity fell flat with Steve. She glanced at the guards again before leaning forward as much as she could in her restraints. 

“Damn it Rodgers! I know you can hear me, so just say something because I’m pretty sure we’re all about to die and I swear to god if I go without getting one of those famous Star Spangled Man with a Plan speeches, I’m haunting your ass in whatever afterlife we end up in.”

He looked up finally; his eyes holding a sheen that Sam could swear were unshed tears. The abject despair coming off of him in waves was enough to make her sit back.

“Steve─” she started, licking her lips. “What happened out there. What made you choke?” 

“The man with the metal arm.” He took in a shuddering breath, his gaze unfocused. “It was Bucky.”

She blinked, not sure if she heard him right. There was no way. Steve coming back the way he did was a one in a million shot that only happened because of mad science.

“As in Bucky Barnes?” Her disbelief read clear.

He nodded, his head dropping again. 

“I couldn’t have been him, Steve.” Sam said evenly, wondering if it was one too many hits to the head that had him all messed up.

“His mask came off.” Even with his head down, she could see him clinching his jaw tightly between words. “It was him.”

And once he explained, it made sense. A fucked up kind of sense that had her heart breaking for him, because if the roles were reversed and it had been Riley trying his best to end her after years of thinking he was dead…

The implications of it all were too much to handle. She didn’t understand how Steve wasn’t a blubbering mess, knowing that he was alive this whole time; knowing that he was in the hands of the very people that they’d both ‘died’ to defeat a lifetime ago. And somehow, through the hell of what that must have put him through, they’d turned him into a weapon that didn’t even recognize his best friend’s face.

She struggled to find something to say, something to condole him but everything she came up with just sounded weak in her head. What could anyone say when faced with a revelation like that? It was so far out of the realm of her experiences ─hell, out of the realm of reality really─ that she figured it was best to keep her mouth shut.

It was a moot attempt anyway. Steve was back in his head again, stewing in his grief. And Natasha’s gunshot wound wasn’t getting any better, bleeding out enough that the metallic smell started to overpower the bitter stench of singed fiberglass and metal clinging to them.

It was something she could work with, something to take her mind of the fact that this was their last ride, even if she knew appealing to their captors was pretty much useless seeing as how the plan was to kill them anyway.

She had to fight a flinch when one of the guards pulled out some type of high powered cattle prod and charged it up, but when they turned it on their silent partner she couldn’t help but shrink back in her seat.

She hadn’t been expecting a rescue but she welcomed it wholeheartedly, giving the new face an introduction before she pulled out a phone and called in a quick traffic jam before removing their restraints.

“We’re going to have to use the sewers for a bit,” Agent Hill said as she shucked off her gloves and vest. “Are you going to be okay to move, Romanoff?”

“I’m alright,” she answered, even as Sam frowned over her while using the gauze Hill handed her to put pressure on her shoulder. Her free hand was pressing two fingers to the side of her neck, trying to guess how many seconds were going by while counting her pulse. She’d given up wearing a watch long ago simple because the weight of it on her wrist brought her back to the desert, so she wasn’t sure how accurate her tally was.

“The sooner she gets a doc the better,” Sam sighed, pulling back and trying to get a good look at her pupils in the poor lighting of the truck. “She really shouldn’t be on her feet though. She’s loosing a lot of blood.”

“I can carry her,” Steve said, purpose reading clearly on his face now that their immediate future wasn’t hopeless, though there was still a barely concealed tenseness to his entire person.

“Stop talking as if ‘she’ can’t hear you,” Natasha gritted out as she sat up straighter and pried Sam’s hand off her wound, peering under the soiled bandage before tossing it to the floor and reaching for fresh one from the plastic bag resting between them. “And I’m good to walk on my own.” 

“Yeah, I’m thinking he has the right idea.” Sam insisted, but the scathing look the other woman threw her way had her holding up her hands. 

“Fine, pass out for all I care. It’s not like I’m the one with the most medical training in here, which means I know what I’m talking about. It’s not like you moving around too much is going to keep your blood inside, where it freaking belongs.”

The truck came to a sudden stop, the sound of several car horns being hit by agitated drivers going filling the air.

“That’s our cue.” Hill said, pulling some sort of tool out of her cargo pants. “We’ve got to move fast.”

With a twist of her wrist the end of the metal stick lit up with something that was half flame, half laser. Sam wasn’t entirely sure what it was but it looked dangerous and she instinctively moved her feet out of the way when Hill bent over and used it to start cutting through the floor of the truck. 

When she was done she turned the torch off and Steve lifted his foot, bringing it down hard enough force the cut hole out onto what should have been the ground, except the torch had cut through the street underneath them too.

Sam let out a low whistle as she peered down, trying to gauge how far their jump would be into the tunnel below. “Man, who the hell develops your tech?”

“That’s classified,” Hill deadpanned, but she noted the corner of her lips twitch as if she was holding back a smile. “Captain, you first. Then Romanoff. I’ll follow behind Wilson. And watch those edges, they’re still hot.”

Steve grabbed the discarded tact vest and draped it over the lip of the hole, pausing long enough to take the flashlight Hill held out for him before bracing himself on his haunches and slipping through. 

Sam moved to assist Natasha, who didn’t fight her this time, her teeth clinching when she had to use both arms to climb down. She watched as she disappeared below, seeing Steve catch her mid fall and support her against his side once her feet were one the ground, the flashlight casting a weird glow around them.

She started after them, one arm holding on to the bench seat and the other on the vest, ready to make her jump when a thought occurred to her. 

“What about our gear?” she asked, remembering seeing them stuff her EXO pack in the back of a cop car along with Steve’s shield.

“It’s being taken care of.” Hill assured her.

Sam nodded once, trusting her to be telling the truth as she made her escape. Because while it would suck to have her wings ripped away from her once again so soon after getting them back, she lived through it once and would get through it again. Steve’s shield was another matter.

She landed with a splash, her tennis shoes and the bottom of her jeans quickly being soaked through with chilly water that didn’t exactly smell too great, even through she figured it was only street runoff. Unbending her knees, she straightened up and moved out the way just as Hill dropped down.

“You holding up, Natasha,” she asked as pulled out her phone.

The other woman nodded even as she leaned heavily against Steve, who had an arm slung around her. Sam didn’t like the sheen of sweat on her face, especially considering the tunnel they were in was considerably cooler then the temp outside.

“We’re clear,” Hill said once she connected her call. “ETA to the rendezvous is three minutes.”

She pocketed her cell and pulled out another sterile package of pressure bandages, tossing it Sam’s way.

“Keep an eye on her.” She tilted her head in Steve’s direction. “We don’t have time to stop so pick her up if you have to.”

And with that she grabbed the flashlight from him and started off down the tunnel in a clipped jog, splashing water in her wake.

“Yeah, I’m not going to be able to keep up that pace,” Nat said with a resigned sigh. Steve scooped her up bridle style with no comment and little effort, following after Hill with Sam trailing a few feet behind them.

Later, once they made it to the unused dam doubling as a safe house were they met up with the previously thought dead S.H.I.E.L.D. director, she asked for directions to the nearest bathroom, seeking an excuse to get out of the room that was starting to feel too close.

The reunion with Fury was something personal between them. She didn’t know the guy so his resurrection wasn’t something that really affected her and, judging by Natasha’s pursed lips that had nothing to do with the doctor patching her up and Steve standing stiff as a board with his fists clenched at his sides, there were some words that needed to be shared and grievances aired out. Besides, she was starting to feel a bit funny, her stomach turning sluggishly and her skin pebbling with goose bumps.

She didn’t miss the concerned look Steve gave her as she walked out, which probably meant she wasn’t hiding her discomfort as well as she thought. Booking it down the concrete hallway, she made it to a toilet stall just in time, her mouth filling up with salty saliva before the water she’d chugged upon their arrival and what was left of her drive thru breakfast made a reappearance.

She stood up rubbery legs, using the side of the stall wall steady herself before flushing, making an effort not to look at the mess she’d made least she start drive heaving.

The shakes would come next. She knew the science behind it; her body was coming down from the epinephrine high the fight on the bridge had flooded her system with. The same thing happened after her first combat jump, which had her throwing up out of the open side of the helicopter that was taking them back to the FOB. Riley had laughed at her even as he held on to the back of her Kevlar so she didn’t bodily fall out, since she was shuddering too bad to do it herself. It was the only time it happened, up until now.

Eventually she got used to the rushes, and after awhile things like seeing the torn camo from where a bullet had ricocheted off her helmet was less of a cause for alarm and more like an inconvenience because she’d have to pay out of pocket to replace it. Humans were amazingly adaptable species, to the point where they’d become cynical to even almost getting killed if it happened often enough. Though Riley would bemoan the “god damn adrenaline dick” as he’d so eloquently describe the unwanted erections he would always get after seeing any action.

But it had been some years since being shot at was just another Tuesday, and her body was definitely letting it be known that the only battle stress it was used to dealing with now was the kind that came from navigating DC traffic.

She headed for the sink, cupping her tremoring hands together so she could rinse out her mouth. The freezing water didn’t help the chill that had settled under her skin since their trek through the sewers and she belated realized her favorite leather jacket was still with her car. Along with her house keys and wallet.

There was nothing to be done about it now. She gurgled a few times before the acidic taste left her mouth and turned off the water, wincing at her reflection as she reached for some paper towels. Her eyes were bloodshot and there were bags starting to form under them. She hadn’t gotten more then a few snatched hours of troubled sleep since Steve showed up at her back door, and they’d been going none stop since heading out three hours before dawn to break in to Fort Meade.

She needed to eat and get some proper rest, but there was only time for the former and she wasn’t even sure her stomach was settled enough to handle that. Caffeine would take care of both problems though, and that was something that was always in abundance around military types.

She wiped her hands and used the damp towels clean the soot and dried sweat off her face. When she’d done the best she could she tossed them and turned for the door, feeling a bit more put together and ready to tackle whatever was going to be thrown at her next, shakes and all.

Steve was waiting for her in the hallway when she emerged with a pile of folded clothes in hand.

“Hey man, those for me?”

He nodded, “I noticed you shivering before you left. Figured you’d want to get out of those wet jeans.”

“Thanks.” She grabbing the hoodie off the top of the pile and pulling it on, zipping it up to her neck.

“Never could seem to get warm after I got back,” she muttered as she took the rest of the clothes from him, pausing to check the tag of the pants to make sure they’d fit. “They fly you in to Kuwait at night, some kind of running joke with the guys in charge so you aren’t prepared for just how hot it really gets. It averaged around 90-95 degrees when the sun was down, which was bad enough. But during the day that mercury would start rising and you’d literally fell like you were being slow roasted. I’d sweat so bad the salt would start bleaching my blouses.”

She shook her head with a chuckle. “Afghanistan wasn’t any better. But you get used to it, after awhile. So during my first leave I’m running around Harlem, middle of the summer mind you, in long sleeves. Starting a lot of arguments with my folks because I kept messing with the thermostat.”

Steve crossed his arms but didn’t respond. The little wrinkle between his brows was furrowed and he looked like he had something to say but wasn’t sure how it would be received.

“What’s on your mind,” Sam asked.

“Maria’s got a plan to take down the Helicarriers.”

“Okay,” Sam tilted her head in confusion. “That’s a good thing, right? I’m not seeing why you’re brooding so much right now.”

He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “You don’t have to go in on this. It was my mess to begin with and I shouldn’t have dragged you into it. You have a life here. A family that cares about you─”

“Is this…” Sam cut him off, hackles rising because she had a good idea where this conversation was going. She was already feeling a bit wanting and the last thing she needed was anyone, especially him, trying to bench her in some misguided attempt to keep her safe. She wasn't a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but she could hold her own and she definitely wasn't going to sit back and do nothing while those yahoos tried to burn the world. “This sounds like a breakup talk, Steve. Are you kicking me off the team?”

“No!” he sputtered. “You got sick, Sam. I could hear you throwing up from out here.”

“So I had to decompress a little. I’m perfectly fine now.”

“Are you?” he asked in all seriousness. “You got out for a reason. Maybe you’re jumping back into things to quickly and I can’t ask you to keep going if it makes you feel like that.”

That was rich coming from a man that didn't know what it meant not to be in a fight.

“Well it’s a good thing you’re not my boss or CO, so I’ll do whatever the hell I please.”

“I’m just trying to give you an out.”

She let out an annoyed grunt, folding her own arms defensively across her chest. “No, what you’re doing is freaking out because you supposedly saw your dead friend back there, the one you couldn’t save, so now you’re projecting your feelings on to me in an attempt to alleviate your guilt.”

He recoiled back as if she’d struck him and her anger instantly drained out of her.

“Shit, I’m sorry!” She winced. “That was… that didn’t come out at all like it should have.”

He was silent for a long moment.

“You’re probably right," he said finally, dropping his arms.

His contriteness certainly wasn’t making her feel any better.

“No Steve, I’m an asshole. I’m feeling insecure because it has been a long time since I had to deal with anything that crazy and I took it out on you.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” he said. “You held your own on that bridge. You saved my life.”

“Well someone has to look after you. You’re terrible at watching your own back.”

“You’re not the first person to say that.” He frowned, eyes going a bit distant.

“Hurry and change,” he ordered, starting to turn away. Sam didn't miss the hard, business edge to his voice, something he hadn't used with her before. She'd really screwed up. “We’ve got work to do.”

She watched him go, wanting to kick herself at the slump off his shoulders. She was responsible for that, and she could blame her behavior on exhaustion and her feelings of inadequacy, but there had been no excuse to throw his pain in his face. He hadn’t deserved it. And she felt like the worlds biggest dick because of it.

She turned back to the bathroom, cursing under her breath as she pushed open the door angrily to get changed.

Chapter End Notes:

So this chapter got way out of hand and I definitely went past my average word count which is why it took so long to post. There might be more POV changes next chapter, which will be after the big battle.

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