Tap. Tap. Tap.
She was trying really hard to ignore the sound. Her sleep was so blissful. Lying on the hard surface, her face wet from moisture. She frowned at the feeling of the moisture against her face. That didn't feel like it was supposed to be there. Closed eyes scrunched themselves together even harder trying to stay in that blissful feeling of a deep sleep.
The sound of her name being yelled made her jerk awake properly. Grace rubbed her face, cringing at the feel of her own drool clinging to her cheek. There was a good sized puddle of it on her desk, thankfully not touching the papers she'd been working on. With her free hand, she tried to rub the last bits of sleep from her eyes. Grace only succeeded in rubbing the remains of her make up across her face. Grace could feel the last bits of foundation give up and smear across her fingertips. It only made her sigh irritably. Today was not going to be a good day.
"What!" Grace yelled back at the voice that interrupted her not so beauty sleep.
"Unlock the door woman!" it was the voice of her assistant yelling at her. "And please tell me you didn't fall asleep here last night?"
"I didn't fall asleep at my desk last night," Grace parroted back obediently, stiffly climbing out of her chair. She had done exactly that while writing patient notes last night. So much for her promise to herself that she'd stop by 10 and go home. The clock on her wall tormented her by saying it was 7:12am. Her once immaculate grey suit was now wrinkled and she could feel the strands of red hair sticking out in every direction. Grace didn't need a mirror to know she looked like a nightmare. But she unlocked her office door anyway, blinking in the bright sunlight that dared to assault her senses. Standing there was a cheery, round brunette, holding up a coffee cup and brown paper bag.
"We need to stop meeting like this."
The smell of eggs benedict wafted up to Grace's nose, making her mouth water. She eagerly took both the breakfast and coffee from her assistant, Hannah's hands. It didn't go unnoticed by Grace that there was a small overnight bag at Hannah's feet either.
"You are my lifesaver," Grace gushed to Hannah. "What would I do without you?"
"You would starve to death, die of caffeine withdrawal and look like hell for your 8am appointment," Hannah said cheerfully. "Who is early by the way. Would you like me to send him in?"
Grace scrunched her face up, desperately trying to remember who she had for such an early appointment. As the current most senior psychiatry resident at Walter Reed Medical Centre, she didn't see a lot of patient one on one. But with the staff shortages being so bad, Grace felt like she was doing every single job there was. She was due to be board certified in a month, yet there were days she was still doing the job of a first year resident and the chief psychiatrist all in one.
"He's not a patient," Hannah quickly reassured her. "But Dr Asshole thought he was too important to talk to him, so has left him to your charm and graces."
Dr Asshole was Colonel Jefferson, an army psychiatrist who ran the psych facility at Walter Reed. Though they were desperately understaffed. Colonel Jefferson was only seen when he needed to be seen. He left all the work to his residents. With budget cuts and media pressure about everything happening in the world these days. There were barely enough residents to cope with the workload. Being the most senior, Grace took it upon herself to shoulder a great burden of the work. Even if it meant sleeping in her office, no social life and definitely no time for any type of romance.
"Let me eat first," Grace fought back a tired sigh. No doubt it was someone chasing an interview. Ever since 3 Helicarriers went down in the Potomac 6 months ago, the influx of SHIELD agents at Walter Reed had been astronomical. Even after 6 months, reporters still tried to chase some of those agents down to get stories out of them. Grace had done far too many of these interviews. Most she could get out of the office in a few minutes, but some of the reporters were very persistent. They just couldn't understand that while someone may have been a SHIELD agent, their chances of knowing Captain America or Black Widow were slim to none. Most of the agents were too traumatised from having their entire workplace ripped from underneath them, they weren't in any condition to talk to reporters anyway.
"Of course darl," Hannah's strong southern accent came through. "Don't forget to change either. You look like you slept in the gutter."
Grace felt like she'd slept in the gutter, but she wasn't going to share that with Hannah. Although she was technically Colonel Jefferson's assistant, he was so rarely in the office, she'd packed up and come to help Grace instead. Though she was old enough to be Grace's mother, Hannah was everything Grace needed to keep things running. She was perfect at soothing ruffled feathers, keeping the behind the scenes running and making sure nothing imploded on a daily basis. She organised Grace's schedule and made sure she slept and ate when she needed to. The older southern woman was Grace's lifeline and much needed shoulder to cry or laugh on, depending on the day.
"I'll keep him amused for you," Hannah gave Grace a wicked smile. "He is very easy on the eyes."
Grace chuckled before thanking Hannah for breakfast and coffee. As she went back to her desk, Grace blew out an exhausted breath and collapsed into her chair. The day had just started and she already felt like she'd just done a 12 hour shift. She hadn't had a day off in nearly a month. The only way her family and friends knew she was alive was the occasional Facebook update. Even those were rare and only put on the fend off the worried phone calls.
Scoffing down her breakfast, Grace quickly flicking through her phone making sure there wasn't anything that needed her attention right away. There was a group session she needed to attend at 10am. Another one at 1pm. Then the usual rounds of those patients still under intensive watch. Her pager had mercifully been silent last night. So it was the usual full ward to deal with and no new emergency cases to be squeezed in. A few emails and a message from her mom, which could all wait until later.
20 minutes later, Grace was changed, make up refreshed and hair pulled back into a practical bun. She wasn't ready to face the day quite yet, but knew if she didn't get rid of this reporter it would screw with her schedule if he was the persistent type. Plastering on a practice smile, Grace squared her shoulders before opening the door. Poking her head out, she looked out into the reception area to find her 8am appointment. Who she was greeted with was definitely not what she was expecting.
"Sammy?" Grace laughed, seeing the familiar dark skinned man on the couch.
"Surprise Ungraceful," Sam Wilson grinned back at her. "Do I get a hug?"
Grace laughed again, pushing the door open and leapt into Sam's waiting arms.
"Oh it's so good to see you," Grace hugged him as hard as she possibly could. "I'll even let that horrible nickname slide."
Grace and Sam grew up together, living next door to each other. Being the youngest in each of their families gave them an unbreakable bond, despite the 4 year age gap between them. While their lives had taken many twists and turns, they both stayed in touch. Through med school for Grace and the Army for Sam, nothing could shake their friendship. But lately, life had gotten in the way and they were both busier than ever. Grace hadn't seen Sam in 5 months. His new role as an Avenger kept him busy in New York while Grace was still stuck in Maryland.
"Yeah I can't believe I have to make an appointment to see you," Sam laughed as he squeezed her tightly. Grace clung to him a little harder, not quite believing how muscly he felt under his casual clothes. "Can I come in? This is a little more than a friendly visit."
"Sure," Grace gave Sam another squeeze before letting him go. "Come on in, I'd say excuse the mess, but its you."
"Funny," Sam rolled his eyes, but followed her into the office. Grace quickly kicked her discarded clothing from before under the chair, hoping Sam wouldn't notice. Unfortunately he did. Grace could feel the judgement stare before she turned around to see it.
"You be shush," Grace scolded him instantly. "We're under staffed and you're off being an Avenger. You can't judge my lifestyle Bird Boy with the company you keep."
"Oh that's how it is?" Sam scoffed at her playfully, arching an eyebrow at her. "You judge me for being pals with Captain America and you're sleeping in your office. Well luckily for you, I am a very good friend and I'm here to change that."
"What, you're going to be my baby sitter?" Grace rolled her eyes, collapsing down into one of the comfy armchairs in the office. She should really start doing her paperwork in this chair. At least it was more comfortable than sleeping on the desk in a puddle of her own drool.
"Not quite," Sam's expression turned serious. He reached down into the backpack he'd brought along, pulling out an impossibly thin computer tablet. Grace forced herself not to go green with envy. Stark Pads were all the rage at the moment. But on her crappy government salary, there was no way Grace could afford the $1500 price tag that came with it.
"What I'm about to show you is really classified," Sam hesitated, holding the tablet close to him. "Right now there are 8 people in the world who know about this, me included. So it goes without saying…"
"That if I tell anyone I'll be killed and no one will ever find my body," Grace finished for Sam, resisting the urge to snatch the tablet out of his hands. Her curiosity was nearly uncontrollable right now. Whatever Sam was about to show her was going to be really good. Grace secretly hoped it was video footage of Captain America stripping and Sam was putting on the serious face for show.
Pressing a few buttons and a nimble flick of his fingers, Sam handed the tablet to Grace. She tiled her head to the side a little, frowning at the video on the screen. It looked like it was a live feed. The scruffy looking dark haired man on the screen was pacing the room like a caged tiger. What caught her eye a second later made Grace's eyes snap back up the Sam. The glint of a metal arm with a red star was unmistakable. Even 6 months later, that very man was still hot gossip and one of the most wanted fugitives on the planet.
"Is that?" Grace asked breathlessly. The idea was so preposterous she couldn't even finish her sentence.
"Yeah," Sam shifted uncomfortably on the patient couch. "Steve found him wandering the streets of their old neighborhood a few days ago causing a bit of a ruckus."
"Fuck me," Grace couldn't think of anything else to say. She shook her head while staring at the video. He'd stopped pacing now and was punching the walls instead. The sound was muted, but Grace still flinched every time his flesh hand hit the wall. He obviously wasn't trying to escape, but the anger and frustration was clear in every movement of his taunt body.
"I think there were some stronger words thrown around when Steve dragged him back," Sam chuckled but there was little mirth in his tone. "That room is a containment area in case the Hulk gets out, so he's not going anywhere."
"So why show this to me?" Grace stopped the video and handed the tablet back to Sam. "Here I was hoping for some naked Avengers shots and you give me a crazy assassin."
"Well," Sam passed, fiddling with his hands in his lap. Grace knew this was his nervous habit when he couldn't quite think of the way to put things into words. "Turns out he's not just a crazy assassin. The Winter Soldier is Steve's old war buddy, Bucky Barnes."
Grace was lost for words. She could only stare at Sam, her mouth opening and closing trying to think of something, anything, intelligent to say. But the shock of what she just heard kept her brain blank and mouth working like a goldfish trying to breath. Like everyone else in the world, she'd heard the rumours and theories about who the Winter Solider was. But she never thought they could be true.
"Why are you showing me this?" Grace finally managed to squeak out. She cleared her throat and brought it back down to a more level tone. "Is this a joke Sam? If it is, it's not funny."
"We, meaning the entire team and I, need a psychiatrist to help Barnes," Sam said, picking his words carefully. "Since he's a wanted fugitive, we can't exactly advertise the position. There's no one else I trust more in the world than you Grace."
"I'm not a psychiatrist yet," Grace deflected quickly. What Sam was suggesting was absolutely crazy in her mind. "This is way more than I can handle. You've got a psychology degree Sammy, surely you can help him?"
"I'm way out of my depth here," Sam admitted with a small shake of his head. "Veterans with PTSD? Sure no problems. I've been there done that myself. A brain washed assassin who's been in and out of a freezer for 70 years? Not so much. You're the one who put my brain back together after Riley died. When I talk to vets at the VA who've been through here, they all sing your praises and say no one else helped them more than you did. I need you on this one."
Sam paused and for added effect, stuck his lip out in an over exaggerated pout.
"Pretty please Gracie?"
"Ugh why did you have to call me Gracie?" Grace wrinkled her nose, trying not to smile at the stupid puppy dog expression Sam was wearing. He was the only person in the world who was allowed to call her Gracie. Her expression turned serious very quickly though. "I'm not qualified Sam. I can't just up and leave here, we're under staffed as it is. If I walk out Dr Asshole can quite easily say I haven't finished my training either and then I'm stuck trying to find another residency for my final year. Those positions are as rare as rocking horse shit."
Sam sighed heavily, a guilty expression crossing his face as he reached down and fiddled on the Stark Pad for a few seconds. When he was done, he handed it to Grace without looking at her.
"Wasn't my idea."
With a feeling of dread gnawing at her stomach, Grace took the tablet once again. It was an email between Pepper Potts and the Chief Psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Dr Joseph Moore had agreed to let Grace submit her patient cases, the last thing she needed for her final year as a resident. If he found them satisfactory, Grace would be board certified within a week. She had already done her exams, it was just those last few patient cases holding her back.
"This is cheating," Grace murmured, her eyes tracing over the email a few times to make sure she was believing what was on the tablet. "It still doesn't change that we're understaffed and I just can't up and leave here Sammy. Dr Asshole rarely comes into work and people here really need help."
Grace nearly began to tick off the patients she currently had, but quickly stopped herself. Sam knew the type of people who came through here. He'd even counselled a lot of them once they left Walter Reed.
"Swipe right," Sam said, giving Grace a slightly pained smile. "It's not cheating, its just moving you along quicker than you would be. You would have been certified in a month anyway. Just keep reading, don't say anything until you've finished."
Grace sighed, wishing for another hit of caffeine. She knew she should be grateful Sam even thought of her, but this was too much. Despite being overworked and severely underpaid, she loved her job. It would take something pretty crazy to drag her away.
But, she obediently swiped right on the tablet. A Stark Industries employee agreement was the next thing along. It was over 100 pages long, but someone had put a summary of the agreement on the front page. Grace quickly read through the summary, not believing what she was reading. There it was, her offer of a lifetime quite literally sitting in her lap.
Her job title would officially be Avenger Psychiatrist. The job came with a ridiculous 6 figure pay packet, her own apartment in Stark Tower with full use of the facilities there and all the medical benefits she could ever ask for. Her student loans would be paid out upon signing the agreement. She was only contracted for 6 months, and if in that time it didn't work out, the redundancy package offered was more than enough to live on for the next 10 years. It was an offer that was too good to refuse. Grace sat there, gnawing on her lower lip as she read and reread the summary a few more times just to make sure she was reading it right.
"That was Pepper's idea," Sam said, breaking the silence. Grace could only nod and swiped right again to see what was next.
The next document was a lengthy email chain between Pepper and the Director of Walter Reed offering them a substantial donation to the psychiatric centre with the provision they hire more residents and a new chief psychiatrist. Grace choked on her own spit at the figure that Pepper had included in the last email as the donation. It was more than enough for the facility to put on the required staff. It meant she could walk away without any guilt. The patients she cared about could get the treatment and attention they deserved. There was already a long list of candidate ready to go, all the Director had to do was tick who he wanted and they'd be there the next day. Generous didn't come close to describing what Pepper was offering.
"God, she's making it hard for me to say no," Grace murmured. She finally pulled her eyes away from the tablet and back up to Sam. "If this is my salary packet, I really want to see yours."
"Lets just say that Mama's Christmas present last year was me paying off the mortgage," Sam chuckled, relaxing from the stiff posture he'd been holding. "Tony has a lot of money, but he's also very generous to the people who help him. This isn't just helping Barnes, you'll be helping the whole team. There's a lot of demons hanging around, but there's no one else I'd trust more than you to help them."
Grace looked down at the email again with the promises all there in little black letters. The offer was conditional of her acceptance at Stark Industries. It was bribery of the highest level for Grace. She was pretty sure if she didn't accept Pepper's offer than the Director of Walter Reed would personally come down here, pack her bags and kick her out of the office. This was not how she thought her morning was going to turn out when she'd woken up in a puddle of drool. The last 5 minutes had just changed her life in a few simple emails.
"Do you think Stark will pay for me breaking my lease?" Grace asked, feeling like she was torn between excitement and being down right terrified. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, even if there was a lot of coercion into pushing her to say yes.
"Stark has movers ready to pack up your apartment the second I let him know your answer," Sam chuckled, looking very relieved. "So that's a yes?"
"Did you read the offer I just got given?" Grace asked with a raised eyebrow. Sam nodded, looking both eager and a little guilty. Grace was sure he had a hand in helping Pepper put it all together. Everything in there was everything Grace could ever ask for. "How can I say no that all of that?"
"That was kind of the idea," Sam chuckled again, bouncing up from his seat on the couch. "So, are you ready?"
"For what?" Grace asked, climbing to her feet slowly. Her back was already bitching at her for the uncomfortable position its got forced into last night. It was going to be downright horrible by the end of the day. But she only needed to get through today. Tomorrow was the start of a new life.
"To meet the Winter Soldier. The Quinjet is waiting on the front lawn to take us back to New York."
This story kept begging me to be written. As much as I kept saying no, it wouldn't leave me alone.
So here it is. This is before the events of Age of Ultron and obviously going to be a canon divergence. The rating may get bumped up to M later on, but if it does I'll give fair warning beforehand.
The updates will be slow, probably one a fortnight as I'm still writing my other story. Please let me know what you think. Enjoy the story!