Sam Wilson doesn’t like Wednesdays.
Wednesday was the day he crashed his first car into a tree at summer camp, Wednesday was the day that Riley got blown out of the sky, Wednesday is the day that Cap runs them through training drills from the 40s, and Wednesday is the day the kitchen serves that weird hipster shit for lunch much to Romanoff’s insistence.
Of course, it’s also a Wednesday when Sam gets beaten up by a fucking ant-man.
Which is precisely the reason why he’s left it until two in the goddamn morning to attempt to fix his suit and goggles in the semi-dark, in Tony Stark’s not-so-secret basement. (Because as much as he respects/admires/likes Cap, he will never admit to whatever the hell happened this afternoon; good god, he’s an ex-paratrooper, he’s taken on the Winter Soldier, and he’s a part of the Avengers, for fuck’s sake.) That said, the operative word being attempt, because while he’s pretty good with bikes and cars, a flying suit designed by Stark is something else entirely. He picks up a screwdriver, twirls it around in his fingers, and almost jams it haphazardly into the slot just next to the right wing.
He pauses, ears picking up the muffled voices floating through from the long, damp corridor leading to the basement. Agile steps in sync with heavier ones. Good lord, it better not be Romanoff, he thinks. Rhodey or Wanda would be okay, even Vision’s curiosity; just, please, please not Steve or Natasha.
Familiar steps from months of hiding out in desolate European towns creep closer, and he wants to bang his head against the solid steel benchtop. Too late to hide the inactivated suit, he holds still and strains to hear the other voice with the Captain’s.
Hill. Huh. Fifty percent right, he muses with an air of resignation.
Bracing himself, he waits for the lights to flicker on, and he looks up slowly, schooling his face into a picture of surprise.
“Good morning,” he tries. He doesn’t even bother hiding the suit behind his back.
Hill raises an eyebrow. “Late night craving for mechanics?”
“You could say that.”
Steve looks around the room and blinks. “Am I missing something?”
Steve blinks again, looking at the suit and the myriad of tools and tech he can’t even name. “Your suit—”
“—is fine. Had a bit of a technical issue this afternoon. Just fixing it.”
“Now?” Hill’s eyebrows climb impossibly higher.
“Better late than never?”
“What happened?” Steve’s eyes narrow slightly, brow furrowed. “Hang on, does this have anything to do with the perimeter brea—”
“—No. Well, yes,” he replies, mentally wincing. “It’s fixed, now.”
“The perimeter breach, or your suit?” She’s dropped the incredulous look, and has gone to mildly amused.
“The breach,” he scowls. “The suit is, well…”
She nods, “Have Stark take a look if you need it. What was the breach?”
And, here we go. “Animals, I think. Must have been a glitch on the northern perimeter.” Well, technically not a lie.
He looks down again at the wings, hyperaware of the silent conversation taking place above him. He resists the urge to whistle; instead, he grabs a smaller screwdriver off the cluttered bench, and tries to ignore the fact that it would be so much easier if he could get to the tiny console at the back of the suit. Like, with the help of a certain—
“Wait, what are you two doing here?” He jerks his head up to look at the commander and the captain. They don’t look guilty, per se, but he definitely has a more hastily hidden expression than her, much to Sam’s amusement.
And in an almost comical sequence, they look at each other simultaneously. “Trying to find something of Tony’s,” she answers eventually.
Steve looks uncomfortable. “We didn’t want to tell him. Hence, middle of the night.”
Sam stills, carefully setting down the screwdriver. “Going against your old boss?” He asks, turning towards Maria. “What don’t you want him to know?”
“Something that could help with finding Bucky,” Steve says, quiet. “But, given the current climate…”
Sam stares at both of them, focused eyes settling on the captain. “I thought you guys came to an agreement.”
“So did I. And we did,” he says, a tinge of bitterness warring behind his eyes. “But Maria says he left for D.C. yesterday to meet with Ellis.”
“He’s not actually going to consider the Accords, is he?” Sam asks. “It’s just politicians who don’t know a thing, with too much public pressure on them.”
“Stark knows a thing or two. And he’ll do whatever it takes because he thinks it’s right,” Hill replies, shaking her head and gesturing for Steve to start searching the far corner of the room for whatever has dragged them here in the middle of the night. “Not unlike some other people around here.”
Sam pauses for a moment. “Okay, so what would you do?”
She glances sideways at Steve before answering, and Sam doesn’t pretend not to notice. “As I was saying earlier – there does need to be a system of accountability for any individual with abilities beyond the normal human sensibility. I can’t disagree with that.”
“What, like S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
She shrugs. “Or what S.H.I.E.L.D. should have been. Who knows? The point is, you lot need to be kept in check.”
“Not that simple,” Sam replies, once again thinking of the man in the shrinking suit. “You have no way of forcing whoever’s out there to show themselves.”
(Bucky, he thinks to himself, fuck, this is real. A year of chasing after a figure halfway between a man and a ghost, something (someone) created for a bigger purpose. Which sounds like a load of shit – he’s seen far too much to think or believe that (Afghanistan, down at the VA, Riley); but he’s also seen something that can be believed in, a fugitive (a symbol) far greater than a single individual (price of freedom, remember?), and a precedent for anyone else in this goddamn business. He could get behind someone like that.)
“No, we don’t,” she says, breaking him out of his reverie. “But given the increasing incidence of, let’s say, gifted people, we can’t afford to sit back and not act.”
“But government regulation and control?” Steve pushes himself off the wall to stand in front of her. “I fought—we fought,” he emphasises, gesturing at Maria and Sam, “for the freedom to do what we’ve always done, especially considering who was actually in charge.”
“Yes. And right now, both you and Tony are right,” she says, looking directly at Steve. “So work it out before the options become mutually exclusive, and before you can’t anymore.”
“And what about you?” Sam pipes up from the bench. “What angle are you working?”
“What do you think? As of a few months ago, I work here, in the Avengers facility. Not at S.H.I.E.L.D., not at Stark Industries.”
“And yet, your loyalties will never lie with an organisation,” Steve snorts, before adding softly, “or person.”
“Correct.” She stares at him and her mouth twists into a sad smile. “I’m not taking sides.”
And Sam wonders if or when there’s a yet tacked on to the end of that. He ducks his head, can almost feel his palpable intrusion. He’s noticed, of course, but it’s never been as brutally obvious as it is now, in the uninhibited hours below the usual bustling activity. It’s not the easy camaraderie he’s observed, say, with Romanoff. Instead, it’s coiled and tense and intense, and he can feel it emanating between the two of them, minutely seeping into the spaces of the room.
Just as he’s about to give up and call it a night, he hears his quiet murmur and watches out of the corner of his eye as they stand and walk over to the ancient filing cabinet, hears her dry retort in response. As they rifle through the files in the cabinet, he exhales a breath of relief, and turns his attention back to his suit (admittedly, a lost cause in his hands). He lets out an audible groan of frustration, and she slowly turns around from the cabinet to face him, her calculating gaze trained on him.
“Wilson, since when would an animal be able to inflict that much damage to a suit made by Stark?”
He swallows. “Well, you see, it depends on the type of animal.”
It’s Cap’s turn to swivel. “What aren’t you telling us?”
“Nothing that matters,” he glares. “It’s dealt with.”
Maria smiles, almost feral. “What do you think, Rogers? There’s a story here, somewhere.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Cap, I respect you and everything, but please…”
The doubt and uncertainty from earlier vanishes from Steve’s eyes, and although Sam wishes that it wasn’t directed at him, he’s relieved to see a glint of amusement there.
“So, what animal, then?” Steve grins from behind an old manila folder with Russian scrawled on the front.
Sam mutters, “Fuck, I am not playing Twenty Questions with you two.”
“It’s just an animal,” Steve cajoles.
“Rogers, do you really want to play that game?” Maria smirks. “Two words for you. Wellington. 2013.”
And Sam is fascinated to see the wide grin disappear gradually from the captain. “Oh, yeah? What happened there?”
“Fine,” Steve huffs out a small laugh. “Fine. We’ll leave it there.”
“You,” Sam says, pointing at Maria, “are great. Really.”
“And don’t you forget it,” she says dryly, pulling out a file with a satisfied smile. “And here you go, Cap. Mission accomplished, but I doubt Tony would have even bothered clearing out, let alone checking this pile of prehistoric junk.”
Steve strides over and eagerly grabs the documents from her. “Thanks,” he says, sending her a small smile.
“Of course,” she replies. She turns to leave, but stops to inspect the suit on the bench. “Give Stark a call, Wilson. He’d be happy to look at that for you,” she adds, with a significant glance at the captain.
“Maria’s right,” Steve nods after a while, an oddly peaceful look on his face. “Anyway. We’d probably, uh, leave you to it, then. ’Night, Sam.”
Sam nods in reply and watches as he follows the commander out the door, their footsteps again in sync, and voices low and animated. Good for you, Cap, he thinks with a mix of hope and pride. As he hears their sparring disappear and retreat down the corridor, Sam looks down at his watch and smiles. Technically, it’s Thursday now. He doesn’t mind Thursdays.