Buffy stood in the World War II Memorial and watched the people mill about. After she and Steve had left S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Buffy had gone to get her hair fixed. Steve had promised to meet up with her later in the day. Project Insight wasn't sitting well with either of them. She'd known the company she was working for had its secrets, but that wasn't at all the type of skeleton she'd expected to find in the closet.
Suddenly, a hand raked gently through her newly layered and slightly shorter hair. "It looks nice." Steve said, standing beside her.
"I had to tell the lady that fixed it that it happened in a kitchen accident." Buffy said. "She thinks I'm incompetent in the kitchen and gave me the number to a personal chef." She looked up at him as they walked out of the Memorial together. "Where did you go?"
"I visited the Smithsonian…. and Peggy." Buffy nodded. Peggy was the woman Steve had fallen for before he'd ended up in the ice. She was also one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. "And I also caught up with that guy…. Sam was his name…. The one that I ran with the other day?"
"He asked me an interesting question."
Buffy noticed that Steve was acting strange. He was a little hunched in on himself and seemed a bit self-conscious. "What was it?"
Steve stopped in front of Buffy, turning to face her. "He asked me what made me happy."
She looked up at Steve expectantly. "Did you have an answer?"
"Honestly, there was only one thing that came to mind." Buffy waited patiently for his answer. "These last couple of years have been…. Well, interesting doesn't even begin to cover it…. But there's one person that I've been able to rely on the most. One person that always tells me the truth and treats me like a human being and not like…. Well, like I'm Captain America." He reached out and took her hands, weaving his fingers with hers. "And that person is you."
Buffy smiled slightly, giving his hands a small squeeze. "You're just plain old Steve to me."
That made him smile brightly. "So, Buffy Summers, I was wondering if you'd like to go on a date with me…. Officially, that is."
Buffy returned his bright smile. "I thought you'd never ask." She paused. "So, was that the conversation?"
Steve laughed. "Close enough. I've been planning to ask you on a proper date for a few…. Well, to be honest…. Almost a year now."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I could never figure out a good time or what to say to you when I did. I barely had the courage to ask if you wanted to have a conversation about dating me. I had to throw it in while we were on a dangerous mission."
"Boy, we're a couple of pieces of work. I've wanted to ask you on a date for just as long…. If not longer, but I just didn't know how you would take it."
"Well, you're…. old fashioned. I figured a woman asking a man out might be a little too advanced for you. And also…. I was just as nervous about it as you were. I uh…. I don't exactly have the best track record with guys. Angel, Riley, Spike…. That guy Ben that I dated for two months before realizing he was a Chrinara demon trying to suck my soul from me. Besides, you were in love with Peggy and getting over losing her and I didn't want to push or…."
Steve squeezed her hands to stop her. "Buffy, this isn't about anyone else. It's about us. You and me. We're great partners in the field. We're even better friends off it." He sighed. "I wasn't exactly great with the ladies before I ended up becoming Captain America. The only dates I went on were charity dates that Bucky set me up on. I was even more awkward about it all afterwards because I wasn't used to women wanting me or being so…. Forward. I was so awkward that I thought fondue was a form of sex. Don't laugh." Buffy bit her lip to stop herself. "Peggy was the only woman I had the courage to ask on a date and that didn't exactly turn out well since I crashed a plane and ended up frozen for almost 70 years before we even got to have that date. So, we've both got bad histories with the opposite sex. And the only way to get past those is to move forward one day at a time…. Together."
"Practice that speech a lot, did you?"
"Almost every day for the last month."
Buffy smiled and nodded. "One day at a time together is a good plan."
Steve hugged her tightly, enjoying the warmth of her pressed against him. "Are you hungry?"
"Starving. I haven't eaten since we got back."
"Me either." He took her hand and they headed off to find a place to get a bite to eat.
Buffy and Steve walked up the stairs to their floor hand in hand. Night had fallen about two hours ago. They'd spent over five hours at the restaurant enjoying each other's company. As they made it to their floor, Buffy stopped and held up her hand. Steve looked down at her, instantly on alert. She could hear music playing from his apartment.
"You never leave your stereo on." Buffy said quietly.
"No." Steve shook his head.
She motioned to her apartment, taking out one of the throwing knives she kept with her. Steve took her keys and quietly opened the door. It was dark and Buffy listened for any odd sounds. After clearing the apartment, Buffy headed over to the window and climbed out onto the fire escape. Steve followed and then took the lead as they headed to the other side of the roof and down to his apartment. His shield was leaning against the wall and he picked it up. Buffy went the other direction, through the kitchen, and she and Steve headed for the living room to surround the intruder.
The intruder turned out to be Nick Fury. He was sitting in a chair in a corner with his head leaned back on the back of the chair. "I don't remember giving you a key." Steve said.
"You really think I'd need one?" Fury retorted. He looked at Buffy. "My wife kicked me out."
"I didn't know you were married." Buffy said.
"A lot of things you don't know about me."
"I know, Nick. That's the problem." Steve said, reaching over to turn on a light.
The light showed that Fury was pretty badly beaten before he reached over and turned it off. He began typing something on his phone and showed it to them. Ears everywhere, it read. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but I had no place else to crash." Fury typed again on the phone and turned it around. SHIELD compromised.
"Who else knows about your wife?" Buffy asked.
He typed on the phone again. You two and me. "Just…. My friends."
"Is that what we are?"
"That's up to you two."
Before anyone could react, gunshots rang out and Fury was shot multiple times. One of the bullets that hit Fury went through him and straight through Buffy's left shoulder. She grabbed the wound as she got down on the floor. Outside the window near her, she spotted a man with what looked like a metal arm standing on the opposite rooftop. Steve was dragging Fury away from the wall and she heard Fury tell him not to trust anyone. He appeared around the corner and saw that Buffy was leaning against the kitchen counter gripping her bleeding shoulder. He grabbed a towel from the sink and pressed it against her wound just as the door to his apartment was kicked in.
"Captain Rogers? Miss Summers?" The nurse from the third apartment on their floor appeared. She walked into the kitchen with a gun drawn. "Captain, Miss Summers, I'm Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D. Special Service. I'm assigned to protect you two."
"On whose order?" Steve demanded.
The nurse…. Kate, Buffy thought her name was…. Spotted Fury bleeding to death on the floor. "His." She pulled out a com unit from her pocket and said, "Foxtrot is down, he's unresponsive. The Slayer has a gunshot wound to her right shoulder. I need EMTs."
"Do we have a 20 on the shooter?" The dispatcher asked.
"He's on the roof over there." Buffy said, pointing with her uninjured arm. She pushed Steve away. "Tell them Steve's in pursuit." He looked unsure about leaving her, but she pushed him again. "Go. I'll be fine." He backed up, grabbed his shield, and took a flying leap out the window. Buffy laid her head back on the counter and breathed through the throbbing pain in her shoulder.
Steve walked into the room where Buffy and Agent Hill were watching the surgery being performed on Fury. The doctor had just left after stitching Buffy back up. The bullet had gone straight through and miraculously hadn't damaged anything vital. Her Slayer healing had already kicked in and it was already starting to close. Soon enough, she wouldn't need the sling the doctor had fitted her with to keep her from moving her shoulder too much.
"Hey." Steve walked up to Buffy and hugged her against him. "Are you all right?" He started to inspect her shoulder.
"I'm ok. It was a clean shot. I'll be right as rain in a week or so."Steve glanced at Fury. "How's he doing?"
"As far as I can tell, not so good. Did you catch the guy?"
"No. He got away."
"Was I seeing things because of the gunshot or did the shooter have a metal arm."
"You weren't seeing things. This guy was fast and strong…. He caught my shield and threw it back at me. It sent me skidding."
"Did you get a good look at him?"
"He was covered from just below the eyes to his toes. All I saw was a metal arm and long brown hair." Steve glanced over at Agent Hill who was talking on the phone and lowered his voice. "When did she get here?"
"She met us here. Fury called her earlier today before he was attacked."
"We need to talk. Alone."
"Yeah. I heard what he said."
The door burst open and Natasha ran in. She spotted Buffy's arm in a sling and the bandage under the strap of her tank top. "Are you ok?"
She walked over to the window and watched the doctors work on Fury. "Is he gonna make it?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me about the shooter."
"He's fast." Steve said. "Strong. Had a metal arm."
Agent Hill joined them at the window and Natasha glanced at her. "Ballistics?"
"Two slugs in him. One that went through him and then through Buffy. No rifling. Completely untraceable."
Agent Hill looked at Natasha. "Yeah."
Inside the OR, one of the nurses said, "He's in V-tach."
"Crash cart coming in." Another nurse announced. There was a flurry around Fury as the doctors tried to keep him from dying.
"Don't do this to me, Nick." Natasha said. They watched the doctors use the defibrillator on Fury, but to no avail. "Don't do this to me, Nick. Don't do this to me." The doctors stopped working on Fury.
Buffy felt Steve's hand slip into hers and they walked out of the room. They dodged into the nearest empty room when no one was looking and Steve locked the door. "What did Fury give you?" Buffy asked quietly.
Steve held out a USB thumb drive with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it. "I haven't had a chance to look at it."
"What do you want to bet that Natasha knows something?"
"Fury said not to trust anyone."
"I trust you."
Steve nodded. "And I trust you."
"And at this point, that's about all we should trust. But I think we need to question Nat. She knows something about this shooter." Buffy gestured at her shoulder. "This guy put a bullet through me and killed Fury. I'd like to know why."
Steve reached out and gently brushed her shoulder. "Are you really all right?"
Buffy reached up and placed her hand on Steve's cheek. "I'm really all right. I promise. It's not the first time I've been shot. And since I don't think it'll be the last time, I'm thinking that I really need to start wearing my uniform everywhere underneath my clothing." She glared down at the bandage.Steve pulled her to him and held her. "I know you can take care of yourself, but I was really worried about you."
"Not exactly the way we wanted to end our first date."
He snorted. "No." She laid her head against his chest, adjusting to keep her shoulder from hurting. "I was going to walk you to your door, tell you goodnight, and then leave you with a goodnight kiss."
"A perfect gentleman." She looked up at him and he ran his fingers through her hair. "Come on. Let's go talk to Nat." They walked out of the room and headed back to where they'd left Natasha. She came out of the room and Buffy called her name.
Natasha looked between them and then her gaze settled on Steve. "Why was Fury in your apartment?"
"I don't know." Steve lied.
Behind them, Rumlow and the S.T.R.I.K.E. team were waiting. Rumlow moved towards them and said, "Cap, Miss Summers, they want you two back at S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Yeah, give us a second."
"They want you now."
Steve looked like he was ready to punch Rumlow, so Buffy placed her hand on his arm and nodded at Rumlow. "Ok."
"You're a terrible liar." Natasha said to Steve before walking away.
Steve looked at Buffy. They knew something was amiss. This trip to S.H.I.E.L.D. was not looking good for them. Steve looked over at the open vending machine. He glanced at Buffy before quickly putting the USB drive at the back of the packs of gum for sale. It blended in well enough. They turned and headed out with Rumlow.
At S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Buffy and Steve had changed into their uniforms before heading up to see S.H.I.E.L.D. senior official Alexander Pierce. He wanted to question them about what had happened at Steve's apartment. It was now early morning and they hadn't had any sleep. Buffy felt funny fully armed to the teeth, including her scythe, walking the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and drinking a latte. She had taken off the sling, but the bandages were still on. Her shoulder was still healing, so those would have to stay on. She had decided that the sling was too much of a hindrance.
Pierce was waiting for them at the door of his office. "Ah, Captain. Miss Summers. I'm Alexander Pierce."
"Sir, it's an honor." Steve said, shaking Pierce's hand.
"The honor's mine, Captain. My father served in the 101st. Come on in." He led them into his expansive office. "Miss Summers, I'm a big fan of your work. You two've done a lot of good since you joined S.H.I.E.L.D. How's your shoulder?"
"It's healing." Buffy said. She noticed some photos on Pierce's desk. He saw her notice them and slid them over to her. The one on top was of Pierce and Fury taking an oath.
"That photo was taken five years after Nick and I met, when I was in the State Department in Bogota." Pierce went over to the conference table and started to sort through the files. "E.L.N. rebels took the embassy, and security got me out, but the rebels took hostages. Nick was deputy chief of the S.H.I.E.L.D. station there, and he comes to me with a plan. He wants to storm the building through the sewers. I said, 'No, we'll negotiate.' Turned out, the E.L.N. didn't negotiate, so they put out a kill order. They stormed the basement and what do they find? They find it empty." Pierce walked over and sat down. Buffy and Steve sat down on the couch across from him. "Nick had ignored my direct order and carried out an unauthorized military operation on foreign soil, and saved the lives of a dozen political officers, including my daughter."
"So, you gave him a promotion." Steve said.
"I've never had any cause to regret it. Captain, why was Nick in your apartment last night?"
Steve shook his head. "I don't know."
"Did you know it was bugged?"
"I did, because Nick told us."
"Did he tell you he was the one who bugged it?" Pierce leaned over and brought up a video on the monitor on the wall. "I want you two to see something." It was the interrogation of the pirate Batroc.
"Is that live?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah, they picked him up last night in a not-so-safe house in Algiers."
"Is he a suspect? I didn't think assassination was in Batroc's line of work."
"No, no. It's more complicated than that. Batroc was hired anonymously to attack the Lemurian Star. And he was contacted by email and paid by wire transfer, and then the money was run through 17 fictitious accounts. The last one going to a holding company that was registered to a Jacob Veech." Pierce handed Steve a folder.
"Are we supposed to know who that is?" Buffy asked, leaning on Steve to see the file as he flipped through it.
"Not likely. Veech died six years ago. His last address was 1435 Elmhurst Drive. When I first met Nick, his mother lived at 1437."
"Are you saying Fury hired the pirates? Why?" Steve asked.
"The prevailing theory was that the hijacking was a cover for the acquisition and sale of classified intelligence. The sale went sour and that led to Nick's death."
Buffy looked over at Pierce and leveled him with an icy stare. "If you really knew Nick Fury, you'd know that's not true."
"Why do you think we're talking?" Pierce stood up and walked over to the window behind his desk. "See, I took a seat on the Council not because I wanted to, but because Nick asked me to, because we were both realists. We knew that despite all the diplomacy and the handshaking and the rhetoric, to build a really better world…. Sometimes means having to tear the old one down. And that makes enemies. Those people that call you dirty because you got the guts to stick your hands in the mud and try to build something better. And the idea that those people could be happy today makes me really, really angry. You two were the last ones to see Nick Fury alive. I don't think that's an accident. And I don't think either of you do either. So I'm going to ask again: Why was he there?"
Steve looked down at Buffy for a moment. "He told us not to trust anyone."
"I wonder if that included him."
"I'm sorry. Those were his last words. Excuse us. We have a prior engagement." Steve held out his hand and he and Buffy walked towards the exit hand in hand.
"Captain, Miss Summers, somebody murdered my friend and I'm gonna find out why. Anyone gets in my way, they're gonna regret it. Anyone."
"Duly noted." Buffy said as they walked out. As they waited for the elevator, she said in a low voice, "That was a threat if I ever heard one." Steve nodded his ascent. "I get the feeling that we're on a list now."
"We might need to lay low for a while." The elevator doors opened and they stepped inside. "Operations control."
"Confirmed." The elevator answered.
Before the doors could close, Rumlow and two of his guys stepped on. "Keep all S.T.R.I.K.E. personnel on site." Rumlow said.
"Understood." One of the guys said.
"Confirmed." The elevator answered.
"Cap, Miss Summers."
"Rumlow." Steve said, turning to shake the man's hand. Making it as unobtrusive as possible, he moved to stand next to Buffy in a defensive position.
"Evidence Response found some fibers on the roof they want us to see. You two want me to get the Tac team ready?"
"No, let's wait and see what it is first."
"Right." The elevator stopped and four agents with briefcases stepped onto the elevator. Buffy and Steve moved to the center of the elevator, staying in defensive positions. Rumlow glanced over his shoulder. "Sorry about what happened with Fury. It's messed up what happened to him."
"Thank you." Buffy said.
The elevator stopped again and three big guys got on. They were definitely S.T.R.I.K.E. goons. Buffy slipped her hand into Steve's and gave it a squeeze. This was going to be bad. They were in a tight space, so her scythe and his shield were not going to be able to come into play. They were outnumbered, but everyone else in the elevator was just human. He gave her a squeeze back before giving her her hand back.
"Before we get started," Steve said. "Does anyone want to get out?"
One of the goons pulled out a stun stick and tried to hit Steve. He dodged back, but fell into the hands of half of the elevator. The other half grabbed Buffy. She kicked out and hit the emergency stop button. Steeling herself for the pain in her shoulder, Buffy used the arms holding her as leverage and kicked up with both her feet in opposite directions. She got two of her guys in the face with the split kick, knocking them down with broken noses. The other three, including Rumlow, tried to twist her, but she pulled her arms together and slammed two of them into each other. She had time to see that they had gotten some kind of cuff on Steve's wrist and were trying to attach it to the wall.
Rumlow moved in to grab her, but she ducked out of his grasp and kicked him into the guys holding Steve. They lost their grip and he took advantage of it. Buffy grabbed one of the bigger guys and slammed his head into the glass of the elevator. He went down with a spurt of blood. Rumlow managed to kick Steve and get the cuff on his wrist attached to the wall. It was a super strong magnet and Steve couldn't get it away from the metal wall of the elevator. Rumlow tried to use his stun stick on Steve, but Buffy grabbed his arm and redirected the stick into one of the other goons. The guy went down and Buffy elbowed Rumlow in the face.
Steve climbed the wall and pulled his wrist away. As he was coming down, he kicked the last guy into the glass wall and knocked him out. Buffy was advancing on Rumlow and Steve joined her. "Whoa, big guy. You two need to know it's nothing personal."
"Whatever." Buffy stepped into Rumlow's reach and he tried to use his stun stick on her, but she spun and kicked him behind the knees. He went down and Steve picked him up, throwing him viciously into the ceiling and knocking him out.
"It kind of feels personal." Steve said, stomping on his shield and catching it on his arm. He used it to break the cuff off his wrist and turned to Buffy. She was gripping her shoulder and wincing in pain. "Are you ok?"
"I think I may have burst some stitches." Buffy said. She reached down and grabbed one of the anesthetic injections off one of the S.T.R.I.K.E. members. "Glad they're required to carry these." She injected it in her arm and closed her eyes in relief as the pain subsided. As she took three more off other goons, Steve hit the emergency stop button.
The doors of the elevator opened to reveal a full S.T.R.I.K.E. team in the hall. "Drop the shield and put your hands in the air!"
Steve spun and cut the wires of the elevator through the broken glass. He gripped Buffy tightly to him as the elevator plunged downwards. The emergency brakes kicked in and the elevator came to a halt between floors. Steve reached up and opened the top set of doors, but a S.T.R.I.K.E. team was already assembling on that floor. He shut the doors and Buffy looked out of the window. They were stopped five floors above the atrium entrance and the atrium itself was at least three stories.
"Eight stories." Buffy said. "It's doable. It's gonna hurt like hell, but it's doable."
"Give it up! Get those doors open!" The S.T.R.I.K.E. team guys yelled.
"Get on my back." Steve said. She didn't hesitate. He took a few steps back and then ran and jumped. They crashed through the window and he pulled Buffy around to one side and braced his shield on his other side. They crashed through the glass ceiling of the atrium shield first and landed painfully. Both of them groaned, but knew they had limited time to get out. Steve helped Buffy to stand first and she helped him. They ran for the garage where Steve's bike was parked. "You up for this?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Good point." Steve hopped on the bike first and Buffy jumped on behind him. He put his helmet on and gunned the engine. They were closing down the bridge. Steve sped up and jumped the metal door before it closed. As they sped down the bridge, large spikes shot up out of the ground ahead of them. A jet flew in front of them and turned around.
"Captain Rogers, Miss Summers, stand down! Stand down!" The pilot said over the PA. They dropped the guns out of the bottom of the jet. "Repeat, stand down." Steve made the bike go faster and he began dodging the bullets heading their way.
"Take over!" Steve yelled, grabbing his shield and throwing it into the right turbine. He jumped up on the seat and then up onto the plane. Buffy slid forward and got control of the bike. She hit the brakes just as she reached the barrier and was sent hurtling over the spikes. When she rolled to a stop, she got up and turned around to see Steve take down the plane and land in front of her. The bike had been impaled on the spikes, so they were out of luck on transportation. Without hesitating, they turned and ran.