DISCLAIMER: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the property of Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Studios, and Marvel Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.

RATING: T (for language, violence)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: One of the things that struck me the most from The Winter Soldier was the friendship between Sam and Steve. It was really well done, in my opinion. So here is a little piece about that, filling in the gaps at the end of the film. A tad of Steve/Natasha, but only about as much as the movie suggests. Thanks for reading!


There was no place for the chopper to set down.

But that didn't stop Sam. He'd never been afraid of jumping.

"Sam, wait!" Natasha cried, but he ignored her, leaping from the edge of the helicopter and tumbling down into the Potomac below. The muddy gray water rushed up at him, and he struck it with a splash and enough force to punish his many injuries. But that didn't stop him, either. The numbing pain left him sinking into the shadowy river for a moment, but he forced it aside and kicked upward. He broke the surface, sucking in a deep breath. Overhead the rotors of the helicopter were cutting through the air with that fast, rhythmic thud thud thud, and then it flew away, seeking a safe place to land close to the bank.

Sam didn't wait to see. He made for the shore. He swam harder and faster than he ever had before, his lungs burning, his legs propelling, his heart pounding in his ears. And when he reached the muddy bank, he climbed out of the river, scrambling through the mud. "Steve!" he hollered, his eyes wide with panic. "Steve!"

But the body that lay upon the rocks and leaves and dirt and gravel didn't answer. Sam crawled over to Captain America, gasping, water running into his eyes. "Steve," he said softly. "Oh, no… Damn it! Natasha, Cap's hurt bad! We need to get him help!"

"Roger! We're setting down!"

The wind caused by the chopper landing behind the tree line was loud and violent. Sam didn't bother watching, desperately assessing Steve's condition. Was he alive? Was he breathing? He dipped his ear close to Steve's bloodied, cut lips and intently listened, praying like he hadn't in years. It was hard to hear over the noise of the helicopter and the distant thunder of explosions. He jabbed his fingers to Steve's pulse point under his jaw and found a beat, but it was weak and halting. Finally he felt a faint breath brush against his cheek. His skin was cold and clammy and starkly white against the blood. There was a lot of blood. Sam swallowed thickly, not wanting to admit how bad it was. Gunshot to the leg. Gunshot to the stomach. Gunshot to the back, if the blood mixing with the mud and water beneath him was any indication. There could have been more than he couldn't see. Cuts and bruises and abrasions, and it was impossible to tell what sort of internal damage there could be… This wasn't good. He'd seen enough in the hell of combat to know that, and it made his panic and anger and fear all that much sharper. "Hurry!" he bellowed into the communications link.

"Bucky…" Steve's strained whisper drew Sam's eyes back to his fallen friend. He grabbed Steve's hand as he weakly raised it, clasping the trembling fingers in his own. Steve's eyelids fluttered. He coughed and bloody water dribbled from the side of his mouth. "Bucky…"

"It's Sam, Steve. We're getting you out of here."


Sam released a quivering sigh, squinting and looking up. The shore was empty. In the distance, the wreckage from the battle burned, spewing humongous plumes of black, oily smoke up into the sky. SHIELD was laid to waste, crushed under the weight of the evil that had grown inside it and consumed it. It was burning and imploding and burying itself in wreckage and destruction and shattered plans. From here he could hear the fires raging, people screaming, explosions rumbling as the remains of the helicarriers collapsed deeper into SHIELD headquarters and the river. But they were alone, on the other side of the Potomac, away from the carnage. There was no way Steve could have swum this distance, not as badly wounded as he was. That could only mean somebody had saved him from drowning, had carried him here to safety.

He spotted footprints in the mud a few feet to the left, blood that was too far away to have come from Steve. "He's gone," Sam said.

Steve gave a hoarse moan that was half a sob. He trembled with the onset of shock, and his next cough brought up a mouthful of blood. Sam reached for the zipper of his uniform. His fingers were slick and shaking from the trauma of it all, from the rush of adrenaline and terror, and he could hardly think of anything at all save that he needed to stop the bleeding. He got Steve's top open and winced at the gushing hole in his belly and the huge stain on his undershirt that the uniform had been hiding. He wasted a moment, flustered and frightened, before he stripped his own filthy and ripped shirt off and pressed it as firmly as he could to the wound.

Steve howled, seizing in agony before settling back to shoreline. He was growing paler by the second, the life literally draining from his body and out onto the ground and into the water. "Hang on," Sam implored. "You gotta hang on."

"Sam." Steve choked a little, blood gurgling in his throat, and wildly grabbed for Sam's arm. He pushed himself up as much as he could. His eyes focused for just a moment. "Did we win?" he ground out through clenched teeth. It was obvious he was in agony and fading fast.

Sam managed a weak smile. "You bet your ass we did." Steve returned a grin and then slumped back onto the ground, his hand losing its fervent strength and falling limply into the muddy sand. His eyes closed. "Steve?" Sam called desperately. He pushed harder on the stomach wound, but the blood wouldn't stop pouring from it. In a matter of minutes, Steve would be dead. "Romanoff! Romanoff!"

"I'm here!" she called, and she emerged from the woods behind them, Fury with her. She skidded to Steve's side, pale and as rattled as Sam had ever seen her be. She whispered something softly – it sounded like Russian – before yelling to Fury, "We need to get him to a hospital!"

Fury spoke into his ear piece. "Hill, I want a straight line to Walter Reed! Secure it as much as possible. Only people we can still trust! Do you copy? And get Fine over there ASAP!" His eye fell to Steve's bloodied body, Sam holding him as tightly as he could. "Aw, hell."

"Get his legs! We gotta get him out of here! He's bleeding out!" Sam ordered, and the former Director of SHIELD snapped from his angry, stricken daze. He knelt at Steve's right boot and grabbed it, but with his arm broken that was all he could do. Natasha splashed into the water and took up Steve's other leg. Sam abandoned his spot at Steve's side and slid his hands under his friend's shoulders. "Ready? On three. One. Two. Three!"

They lifted and got Steve up, but just barely. He was heavy and ungainly and a dead weight in their arms, and they were all hurt and exhausted. But they managed to stagger up the river bank and into the woods where the chopper waited. It was a few horrific minutes spent struggling, spent hoping and praying and lost in a frantic haze with a singular purpose of keeping steady, of going and not falling or dropping Steve. Sam felt sweat bead on his forehead, and his arms ached with the strain as he fought to maintain his grip. He was bearing most of Steve's weight, and his right arm was throbbing miserably from when he had caught Steve out above the river during the firefight minutes before. The force of stopping Steve's plummet had nearly wrenched his arm from its socket, and now the pain was like a knife had been driven into the joint, stabbing and scraping. But he didn't stop and didn't let go. He'd carry Captain America even if it killed him.

The chopper sat in a little field right beyond the trees. They rushed to it, careful of the ruts and pitfalls in the uneven ground. Natasha dropped Steve's leg to leap inside. "Come on!" she called hoarsely. "Get him up here!"

Sam and Fury barely managed to do just that, heaving Steve's unconscious body up and into the helicopter bed. Somehow they did it, Natasha grabbing Steve's arm and pulling him as far inside as she could. Fury climbed in, gasping and struggling with his own injuries, and quickly fired up the helicopter's engines. "Hold on!"

Sam fell inside just as the chopper lifted from the grass. He lay on his back for a moment, fighting desperately to catch his racing breath and swallow his heart from his throat. Then he clambered over to Steve. There was blood everywhere. The chopper rocked as it rose up into the sky and raced toward the hospital.

Natasha was trembling. Her hands fumbled with a first aid kit, her eyes wide and wet and filled with pain and fear. Sam reached over and steadied her, taking the kit and opening it and fishing out bandages and pain killers and anything else they needed. She watched him, dazed and lost, as he pushed bandages over the wound in Steve's stomach. This time he didn't react to the pain. "How long?" he shouted to Fury.

"Three minutes!"

"You hear that?" Sam said, pressing as firmly as he could on Steve's stomach. Blood coated his hands, but he swallowed his terror and worry and managed something of a smile. Steve was out cold, but that didn't mean he couldn't hear him. "Three minutes. We'll get you fixed up, and then you can run laps around me again. Right, Rogers?" Steve didn't answer, but Sam kept that smile on his face. Natasha watched him as though judging him, as though trying to find weakness in his faith. She scooted closer and grabbed another bandage and put pressure on a bleeding laceration across Steve's shoulder. Sam watched her struggle with her emotions. But her hands had stopped shaking.

"Hang on, Steve," she whispered. "Please don't die on us."

Sam shook his head and pressed harder. "That's not how this is gonna end."

Not if I can help it.

The whole of DC seemed to be watching Captain America fight for his life. There was a veritable flood of wounded in the hospital, injured SHIELD agents and personnel, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, but all of that seemed unimportant. The doctors and nurses who were tending the casualties were running through the motions, panicked and flustered. Outside the surgical ward a crowd had gathered, a crowd of injured SHIELD staff and civilians and media. And the news cameras were catching it all, the anxious wait that was stretching from minutes to an hour. Everyone was asking the same questions. Where was Captain America? Was he okay? Was he going to die?

"The price of freedom is high and always had been. But it's a price I'm willing to pay."

"Yeah, you made that up off the top of your head," Sam murmured as he leaned into the observation window. He watched the frantic scene unfold before his eyes. Steve on the operating table, surrounded by doctors and nurses working feverishly to save his life. Steve as white as ice, a respirator pushing air into him because his lungs weren't working. Monitors filled with numbers, with pulse rates and respiration rates and blood pressure and a bunch of other things that looked bad. Steve's blood over the floor and table and all over the doctors. It was horrific to behold.

But Sam didn't look away. He felt like if he just kept watching, nothing bad could happen.

The door to the observation room opened, and Natasha stepped in. She looked haggard, her face ashen and her eyes ringed in darkness. There was still red covering her suit and red staining her hands. Behind her, Hill followed. She was stoic enough, but it was all a farce. She swallowed thickly. "Fury wants a report," she announced softly.

"He can come down and see for himself," Sam returned sharply.

"He can't. You know that." She darted a glance at him from the corner of her eye. It was as though she was daring him to challenge that, that Fury's fake death was necessary. When Sam said nothing, she lowered her tone. "This wasn't his fault."

"Sure," Sam answered. Frankly, he wasn't certain of that or anything else. He was an outsider to this world of partial lies and half-truths and espionage. He was military but only a soldier, and he preferred it that way. The simplicity of orders in chaos. Very clearly defined lines. This mess of SHIELD and HYDRA and everything in between… It was insanity.

Natasha walked slowly to the window. Her blue eyes were red-rimmed and swollen with tears. It was fairly shocking to see her like this, lost and frightened. He didn't know much about her other than she was a SHIELD specialist, but he got the impression that she had seen and done things that had seriously blurred the lines between right and wrong and good and bad. She kept it all under wraps, a hundred different things to a hundred different people, a spy amongst spies. But right then she seemed small and young and vulnerable. "Twice now," she whispered, closing her exhausted eyes and leaning into the wall beside the large window. "I can't do this again."

Sam wasn't sure what she was talking about, but he took a reasonable guess. "He's not going to die," he swore.

She looked at him from the other end of the window. Her make-up was smudged and her hair was mussed. "How can you be so sure?"

"He's Captain America," Sam answered, looking back at the scene before them. The operating room was full of doctors and nurses, a team working on Steve's stomach and another desperately trying to repair the damage done to his leg. There was a call for more blood, for more drugs, to pick up the pace.

"You still believe in heroes?" Hill asked quietly. Her voice sounded doubtful and hopeful at the same time. She was groundless and looking for comfort and security. Both of them were. SHIELD had been their lives, and today it had been torn to shreds.

Sam shrugged. "Don't know about heroes. But I believe in him." He watched Steve's lax face. At least he was too deeply unconscious to be in pain. That was a small relief.

Hill cocked an eyebrow to that, folding her arms across her chest and standing stiffly. Maybe she was struggling to do the same. It was all over, really. SHIELD would never rise from this, at least not the way it had been. All of its secrets were blown wide open for the world to consume and spread and scrutinize and judge. All it had done and had planned to do was a matter of public record now. The implications of that went far and wide. It was too vast to even contemplate. Here and now, at least, all that mattered was Steve Rogers surviving his fight with the Winter Soldier to save the world.

One of the surgeons pulled the slug from Steve's stomach and dropped it into a receptacle, the mashed bullet still clasped tightly between the metal forceps. It seemed huge and vicious. That was the third they'd removed from his body, and there was still another one in his leg they were trying to extract. Sam grimaced and tried not to think about what Steve had endured. He'd always heard what Captain America was capable of; anyone in the armed services knew of the legends, especially after the Battle of New York. But Steve had single-handedly taken on the Winter Soldier and stopped those helicarriers, all while battered and stabbed and shot. That wasn't just physical strength and vitality and raw power. That was fortitude and bravery of the highest order. Sam decided the legends didn't nearly live up to reality.

The three of them stood silently, watching and waiting. Natasha had closed her eyes, her energy spent and her body bent as she sat against the wall. Hill eventually turned away but never left. If she needed to deliver her report to Fury, she'd ignored her orders. Sam collapsed in a plastic chair; he knew he needed medical attention for his arm and countless other bumps and bruises and cuts. But he didn't seek it. He kept his eyes firmly on Steve.

Eventually the frantic pace inside the operating room slowed. The number of people began to thin, a few trauma doctors and surgeons slipping outside as the situation calmed and grew less dire. Sam lifted his head, rubbing the pain from his neck, and noticed with tentative hope that those numbers spread all over the monitors looked higher. Steadier and improved. The surgery was ending. Doctor Fine looked up from Steve's body as the nurses cleared away the mess of bloody bandages and surgical supplies. He gave a tired nod, and beneath his mask Sam thought he saw a weary smile.

Natasha closed her eyes, a tear escaping to roll down her face. Hill bowed her head. And Sam offered his own grateful grin back at him.

"Thank God for that." Fury's voice drew their attention. He stood in the doorway of the observation room, his long black jacket replaced by a dark sweatshirt with the hood drawn up over his face. His eye patch was missing, and he'd donned sunglasses that he removed now in the privacy of the operating theater. His arm was still tight in its sling, but he was as intimidating and unfazed as ever. He stepped inside, his good eye trained on Steve as the doctors worked to close him up. He'd taken quite a risk to come down here. "I don't think the world can stand to lose anything else it needs today."

Sam didn't get these SHIELD people. The truth was they didn't understand anything, not even the simple stuff that seemed pretty obvious to him. All their political maneuvering and backstabbing and plotting in the shadows. Admittedly, he'd come late into this story, and he still only knew half the facts, but he could imagine the twisted tale of treason and betrayal that had led to this point. These people were so deep into their own lies that they no longer knew the truth when they saw it.

And the truth was this: Captain America didn't need to cheat death. He just flat out conquered it.

He sat with Steve after that. It didn't seem right to leave him there, out of danger but still so weak and vulnerable. He was hooked to half a dozen machines and monitors, each keeping a tally of his vitals and adjusting medications as necessary. He was still on a ventilator and would be for a while longer. But already, merely hours after almost dying of blood loss and shock, he was well on the path to recovery. It was mind-blowing. It was awesome.

Frankly, he really hadn't expected any less.

Sam had only left once and at Fine's insistence. The SHIELD physician had come to check on his patient only to find Sam hunched in pain in an uncomfortable chair beside Steve's bed in the ICU, unable to move his hurt arm, wearied with the strain of the day. They'd x-rayed his shoulder and done an MRI and found the muscles torn and stretched but the bones intact. Aside from that, a couple of cracked ribs, and a ridiculous number of bruises and cuts, he was given a clean bill of health. They'd put his arm in a sling and dosed him up on some codeine and sent him on his way.

When he came back, he found his chair wasn't vacant. Natasha sat in it. It was late, and the frantic race of the hospital was quieting as the horrific afternoon became more and more distant. It was all a bit like a bad dream, somewhat surreal and easy enough to forget, if only for a moment. Sam stood at the doorway, surprised to see the Black Widow leaning close to Steve's bed, her small hands wrapped around Steve's. A solitary light over the hospital bed was on, making everything seem very white and bright against the shadows in the rest of the room. Natasha was still aside from her thumbs sweeping over Steve's scraped knuckles. It was strange that she hadn't noticed Sam in the doorway, but she obviously hadn't, because she stood and leaned over the bed and kissed Steve tenderly on his bruised brow. Her lips lingered longer than a worried kiss or a relieved kiss or a sisterly kiss. This was more intimate, more meaningful. She let go of his hand and threaded her fingers through his hair and rested her forehead to his. Her slight frame shook with a soft sob.

Sam didn't feel right watching this, so he turned to walk away. "You don't have to go. I was just leaving." He turned to see her stepping away from the bed. She didn't look at him, though whether from embarrassment or anger he couldn't say.

He was too shocked to say anything else right away, but as she passed him, he caught her arm. She didn't pull away, but his touch wasn't entirely welcome. She reminded him a bit of caged animal. Wary and dangerous. He let go of her arm and offered her a soft, disarming smile. "I'm not going to pretend I know anything about you because I don't. But I know that it's not a bad thing to admit you care about someone."

That stoic mask came back. She wore so many masks. A seductress and a murderer and a flirty coworker. An Avenger. But this was somehow closer to the truth. "It is for me."

After she left, Sam raised his eyebrows, stunned by the whole exchange. Then he returned gingerly to his chair. Steve was still unconscious, the sound of the respirator swishing and the machines beeping loud in the night. Sam shook his head and let out a loud breath. "She's got it bad for you," he said with a small laugh. "Not sure I'd tap that if I were you." He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. The pain was nothing now, and he was exhausted. He yawned. "But you seem like a man who likes a challenge."

Steve's fingers twitched on the bed.

He went home the next morning and showered and changed. Apparently SHIELD or HYDRA or somebody (who the hell knew) had ransacked his house while he'd been out saving the world. He was angry about it at first, but he just collected the few things he wanted to keep and stuffed them into a bag. It didn't matter. The world knew who he was now, both the airwaves and cyberspace alike flooded with images of the Falcon flying high in a firefight with three helicarriers over the Potomac. It was a taste of being a hero. Like the Avengers after New York. Like Captain America after World War II. He wasn't sure he liked it, and he knew he could never go back to who he had been. It was like losing Riley, like the harrowing experience of fighting in Iraq. He felt fundamentally different, changed from the Sam Wilson of yesterday to the Sam Wilson of today. A Sam Wilson who carried even more things with him in his man purse, things like PTSD and nightmares and scars. But he didn't regret the choices he made. Captain America had needed his help.

And he had to admit he liked the name Falcon.

He went back to the hospital. They had extubated Steve during the night and moved him from the ICU to a private room along a private corridor that was swarming with black-clad special ops guards. He didn't know if they were SHIELD or CIA or local cops or what. They let him in without even asking for his name, though, so he figured Fury had a hand in it, even if the spy was by all rights dead. Sam's chair had been moved along with Steve's bed, and the warm light of the new day poured through the window. He sat heavily, setting his bag to the floor, and crossed his leg over his knee. Over the next hour, Steve started regaining consciousness. The nurses came and went, adjusting his IVs and measuring his vitals. The doctors were encouraged, amazed, and extremely pleased with his progress. Sam just waited. He pulled a magazine out and plugged his iPod into a sound dock and let the music play.

It felt good to be here. It felt right to be back in. Being out had been nice, but the world was violent and dangerous and full of evil. He'd known that back in Iraq, but thousands of miles and an ocean had seemed to separate the bad men from his home. Back in States he'd started to forget. He'd been naïve. If nothing else, he'd learned that the worst evil was the one that grew from within and lied to your face about protecting you while stabbing you in the back.

Marvin Gaye was crooning "Trouble Man".

"On your left."

Sam smiled.

"Thanks for saving me," Steve whispered. His eyes were hardly open, dazed with pain and fatigue and dulled shock. And filled with gratitude.

"You can owe me one," Sam answered. His grin turned proud, and he nudged his friend affectionately on the shoulder. He knew Steve was good for it.

It didn't take long for Steve to get back on his feet. He was walking, taking halting, painful steps at the end of the day. By the next he no longer needed any help. They discharged him the following evening. It was downright astounding. Wounds that would have killed an ordinary man Steve shrugged off like they were nothing. There were no bruises, no scars (at least, not on his body), no hints that he had nearly died in defense of his country. He was perfect again. A shield that took the hits but never went down. Sam admired him all the more for that.

He picked Steve up from Walter Reed in a rental car at a back entrance away from the media. They drove through DC. They didn't talk, but they didn't need to. The normal sort of useless chit-chat had no place given what they had seen and done together. Sam gripped the wheel of the rental tighter as they stopped in a parking spot on the street next to Steve's apartment building. He pulled the parking break and shut the car off. "Want me to come with you?"

Steve winced. He might have been healthy, but he still looked ragged. He always seemed so untouchable, indestructible, and because of that seeing him worn and pained wasn't right. "Nah," he said after a beat, his eyes glancing about the shadowy street but not really seeing it. Then he focused on Sam. "I got this."


He left, walking stiffly to the entrance to the brownstone and disappearing inside. Sam watched warily. Maybe it was stupid, but he had a feeling HYDRA hadn't died with SHIELD. He knew Steve wasn't so dumb to think so, either. They were undoubtedly at the top of HYDRA's hit list. He wasn't ever going to relax again. No home. No safe place. He was beginning to understand it all a little better. Once you got in this game, this life, there was no going back. This required sacrifice, a whole hell of a lot more than anyone on the outside appreciated. Steve didn't know what made him happy because he'd never done anything else, never had the chance to be normal. This was what he knew, what he wanted. Serving his country. Fighting the bad guys and protecting the innocent and defending freedom. He was a soldier. They both were.

Even still, neither of them were prepared to fight right now. And Steve was still weak. Sam kept a sharp eye. The minutes slipped away. He sat stiffly, guarding and waiting and tapping the steering wheel anxiously. Much to his relief, Steve came back much faster than he expected. He had only a box with him. He pulled the passenger door open and tenderly lowered his large frame into the leather seat. He closed the door, the banker's box on his lap.

Sam glanced inside. Just files and pictures and a few books. All that there was of this man's life. All ninety-six years of it. Everything he was carrying. Sam winced in spite of himself. "You don't want anything else?"

"Nope," Steve replied simply, glancing at Sam. "Got everything I need."

A box full of memories and his shield in the back seat. "Okay."

They drove off, Sam stealing curious glances at the things in the box on Steve's lap. There was a faded black and white picture of a beautiful woman with striking dark eyes and wavy hair. She was gorgeous. And next to that were a couple of photos from World War II, men with guns and berets and bowlers. Sam recognized them as the Howling Commandos. And Barnes. Barnes before he'd been made into a monster. He looked like a nice guy.

Sam gripped the wheel tighter. "You don't owe him anything," he said. The words were loud in the tense and heavy silence that had descended. It wasn't meant to demean or dismiss anything Steve felt. He just wanted to remind him that whoever Barnes had been, he was the Winter Soldier now and the Winter Soldier was their enemy. Just because he'd pulled Steve from the river didn't negate the beating and the bullets the assassin had shot into his body. Just because Steve wanted to think the best didn't undo the worst. "You don't."

"Yes, I do." Steve had answered without a hint of doubt in his voice. He was watching the golden lights streak by their car as they drove, but again he wasn't seeing it. He was seeing things that went beyond the obvious truths, seeing hope in the shadows. Seeing hope in the hopeless. He carried that, too. Faith that even the worst crimes against him and those he loved could be undone. And even if Sam couldn't understand that, he respected it.

Natasha kissed Steve goodbye. And Fury came to visit his own grave. The fallout from the battle over the Potomac was as deep and far reaching as they had thought it would be. SHIELD was dead, buried with a simple gray tombstone marking the path of a righteous man through a world of evil. This was the final resting place of decades of fighting and struggling and believing in an ideal that turned out to be fool's gold. It wasn't the ideal that was the lie, though. Just the men who had abused it and lulled people into dependence on control and order and security so much that they were willing to throw away liberty. Sam wasn't sure he felt safer without SHIELD. The world was a dark place, full of craziness and violence. He knew they'd only scratched the surface of it.

Steve closed the folder Natasha had given him and looked up. The spring day was cool and pleasant and sky was blue, but something about this all seemed dark. Sam watched him, watched the emotions twist in his eyes, watched his body tense. Natasha had warned him about pulling that thread, but he was going to do it anyway. He was damned determined to save his friend. Sam knew that sort of pain, that sort of guilt. He knew it all too well.

They were all alone standing beside an empty grave with the whole, wide world of nightmares and twisted perversions and ghosts before them. "You're going after him," he said simply, worried but not afraid and definitely not surprised.

Steve was still. "You don't have to come with me."

"I know." Steve didn't need to ask. He'd never needed to ask. "When do we start?"

Steve finally turned, a grateful smile spreading slowly and warmly across his face, and clasped Sam's shoulder. Sam grinned, too. He was carrying everything with him, continuing to run this path he'd been running with Steve, this strange and dangerous road. There was no going back now. He'd be there to catch Captain America no matter where he went, no matter how far he fell. That was what a wingman did.

And it felt damn good to have one again.