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the ghost inside

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Everyone dies alone.

It’s not something people talk about. They try to cover it up talking about meeting your maker, about bright light, but it’s not like that.

It’s just you in your body as it stops.

Sam died in battle.

Not from the battle. He died from space-magic far beyond his comprehension, and he never had to comprehend it, because a minute later, an eternity later, he wakes up, and Steve and the others have pretty much solved it, all over but the shooting.

Sam died in battle, and he wakes up in battle, and then it’s over. Five years have gone by, the world has moved forward without healing, and now everyone is back.

It feels like he never left, just went to sleep one night and woke up in the morning. But then he turns to say something to Steve and Bucky’s there instead, with his thousand-yard stare.

He turns to say something to Maria, and she’s looking back at him like a stranger.

Maria died on a drive through Baltimore.

It was early in the morning, traffic wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and then, like the start of a horror movie, cars started crashing, people started screaming, a helicopter fell from the sky. They got out of the car, Maria pulled her weapon…

And now it’s nighttime, and people are walking around in a daze. Then the screaming starts again.

Turns out, five years have gone by in that breath.

The world has moved on. It always does. She and Nick have five years to catch up on. Coulson lived through it all, and he’s a Godsend, but he’s busy with his own crazy missions. Maria stays up nights figuring out what happened to her planet while she was gone.

She stays up nights because she dreams of not being here.

Sam comes back to the states and wants to meet up. They saw each other two weeks ago, in her mind, meeting in secret before the Rogue Avengers returned to HQ. It shouldn’t be a big deal. It should be a relief.

She meets him and it’s like looking at a ghost. He doesn’t seem real, all solid and warm in front of her. He talks, and all she sees is a dead man walking. He asks if she’s okay, and it’s like a dream.

She says she’s okay, of course. What other choice is there?

But when he wants to see her again a few days later, she says she’s busy.

Sam has died before.

He was shot in Afghanistan on a rescue mission, bled out on the way back to base while performing field surgery in the back of a chopper. He got wheeled into an OR next door to the Corpsman he’d pulled out of the fight and they pumped blood back into his veins. His heart stopped beating for twenty-three seconds before they brought it back online.

It wasn’t any life-changing experience. If they hadn’t told him, Sam would have just figured that he’d passed out and been resuscitated. But Riley looked at him differently after that, squeezed his shoulder harder, tugged him closer as they stumbled out of bars on leave.

Maria looks at him like that now. Like she’s counting the breaths left in his body and waiting for them to run out.

Riley never had time to stop. Sam is determined thet Maria will get the chance.

Sam insists that Maria come stay with him at the duplex he and Barnes have picked up, for some unknown reason. Maria goes along with it when she learns that Sharon Carter is rooming with Barnes on the other side, mostly because she's got to see that train crash.

Maria spends a lot of sleepless nights at the shooting range, but the dreams stop, eventually. The world feels less like a stage-play that she has to go along with. Other people start to feel real again. When Sam hugs her, it starts to feel like comfort again.

She starts to feel like she came back.