Steve drove the newly boosted car back towards DC. Buffy sat in the passenger's seat with her knees drawn up to her chest and her forehead resting against the glass of the window. He was really worried about her. She hadn't spoken since the explosion. Her shoulder was bleeding again. She'd managed to open it up in her frenzied digging. Before they'd gotten in the car, he'd torn off part of his shirt and made a makeshift bandage out of it, but it wasn't doing much good. They needed a first aid kit.
He reached out and gently touched her arm. She startled and looked over at him with wide eyes.
"I'm sorry." Steve said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
The panic in her eyes melted away slowly. "I'm sorry."
He smiled at her. "It's ok. There's nothing to be sorry for." He gently took her hand and kissed her knuckles. The signs for PTSD were all there. He just didn't know what to do for her. "Are you all right?"
"I will be. Eventually."
"What triggered that back there?" Steve kept moving his thumb gently over her hand in a soothing motion as he held it.
She stayed silent for a long moment, finally maneuvering to lay her head on his shoulder across the small console between them. He wrapped his arm around her, careful not to hurt her hurt shoulder laying against his side, and started his ministrations with his thumb on her arm. "I used to have nightmares about being buried alive." Buffy's voice was small and barely audible. "When I was brought back the second time…. The spell was interrupted, so they didn't know that it had worked. When I woke up after three months of being dead…. I was…."
"Buried alive." It dawned on him that if her friends hadn't known the spell worked, they'd left her down there. "And you had to dig yourself out of your own grave. Buffy, I am so sorry."
"Three months of not using my voice…. I couldn't even scream for help. I've never told anyone about how scared I am of that happening again. I guess because I thought I would never let it happen again."
Steve kissed the top of her head, holding her tighter. "I'll make sure it never happens to you again."
They were silent for a long time. Buffy's shoulder was starting to throb as the shock finally began to wear off. She realized they were driving back into DC as the sun was starting to come up over the horizon. "Where are we going?"
"I figured we could head to a friend's."
"We have friends in DC that aren't trying to kill us?"
"Just one." They pulled into a neighborhood that Buffy didn't recognize and he parked the car. Getting out, he wrapped his arm around her waist, holding her up, and led her through backyards. Finally, they came to a stop outside the sliding glass door of a small house and Steve knocked.
The door opened to reveal his running buddy, Sam. "Hey, man." Sam said, looking a bit confused.
"I'm sorry about this. We need a place to lay low." Steve said.
"Everyone we know here is trying to kill us." Buffy said.
Sam looked at Buffy's blood soaked shirt and their dirty and blown up appearance. "Not everyone." He stepped back and let them in.
Buffy sat on the bed wearing a black tank top that had once belonged to one of Sam's ex-girlfriends. It was a little big on her, but not too bad. She'd taken a shower, but every time she'd lifted her arm to wash her hair, her shoulder would send out stabs of searing pain. Steve hadn't been able to take her whimpers of pain and frustration and had gotten in the shower to help her. It had startled both of them that he'd done it, but the awkwardness of it didn't last long. If there was one thing Steve was good at, it was keeping things professional when he felt the time called for it. He was much better at it than Buffy was. She hadn't been able to look him in the eye without thinking about wanting to shove him against the wall and….
She stopped that thought in its tracks. It wouldn't help her at all. He was now sitting behind her, re-bandaging her shoulder with the first aid kit Sam had provided. "How are you feeling?" He asked.
"Better." Buffy said. "My body is tired, but my mind is racing."
"Your body has been through a lot in the last 48 hours. But despite this gunshot being opened up twice since you got it, it's healing relatively nicely."
"Good to know."
Steve took a deep breath, replacing the strap of the tank top on her shoulder, and his hands ran down her bare arms. Buffy felt the goosebumps rising wherever his fingers brushed against her skin. She leaned back into him and his breath tickled her ear. Apparently the shower had affected him as much as it had Buffy. She turned her head to accept his kiss, but before his lips met hers, Sam appeared in the doorway saying, "I made breakfast. If you guys eat that sort of thing."
Buffy sat up straight, wincing slightly, and Steve dropped his hands. He cleared his throat. "Yeah. We could eat."
Sam looked between them with a smirk. "Damn, Cap. Of course you'd get the girl before I even had a chance."
Buffy blushed and looked away and Steve chuckled slightly. "Sorry, Sam. It took me way too long to work up the nerve to even ask her on a date."
"I can't fault you there." Sam looked at Buffy's newly bandaged wound. "I've got some ibuprofen if you want it."
"Sure." Buffy said. "My metabolism will eat right through it, but it'll ease the pain for a little bit."
"You're one tough cookie, Miss Summers. A bullet straight through the shoulder not even a full two days ago and you're still up and running after everything you two've been through? I think I'd be calling for a priest."
Buffy chuckled. "A good breakfast can only help keep me going. What did you make?"
After they'd finished eating, Buffy sat in her chair across from Steve at the table. Sam was standing at the counter putting some cream cheese on an English muffin. They'd ate while having an easy conversation about Buffy's and Steve's histories, separate and together. Finally, Buffy put down her orange juice. "So, the question is: who at S.H.I.E.L.D. could launch a domestic missile strike?"
"Pierce." Steve said.
"Who just happens to be sitting pretty in one of the most secure buildings in the world."
"But he's not working alone. Zola's algorithm was on the Lemurian Star."
Buffy sat up. "So was Jasper Sitwell. I'll put money down he knows a lot about this whole situation.""So, the real question is, how do the two most wanted people in Washington kidnap a S.H.I.E.L.D. officer in broad daylight?"
Sam walked over to the table with a manila envelope. "The answer is: you don't." He set the envelope on the table between Buffy and Steve.
"Call it a resume."
Steve looked at the pictures on top. "Is this Riley?"
"Oh, god…. Riley." Buffy looked at Steve. "We've got to find a way to tell him about HYDRA."
"Buffy, I hate to be the one to bring it up, but he may already know."
"No. Riley is a good man. He would never join HYDRA."
Steve reached over and took her hand. "We don't know who's joined them. I just want you to be prepared for anything."
Buffy sighed and picked up the manila envelope still sitting on the table. She opened it up and her eyes widened at what she was seeing. "Whoa."
Steve stood up and walked around to stand behind Buffy. "I thought you said you were a pilot." He said.
"I never said pilot."
"I can't ask you to do this, Sam. You got out for a good reason."
"Dude, Captain America and his badass warrior girlfriend need my help. There's no better reason to get back in."
Buffy smiled. "I really approve of your friend, Steve." She lifted the envelope. "Where can we get our hands on one of these bad boys?"
"The last one is at Fort Meade. Behind three guarded gates and a 12 inch steel wall."
Steve looked down at Buffy and she shrugged with her uninjured shoulder. "I've snuck into much more guarded places than that."
Steve smirked. "Shouldn't be a problem."
Steve dragged Sitwell up the stairs to the top of the building. He threw him against the door and Sitwell tumbled across the gravel on the rooftop. Buffy and Steve followed behind him as he backed away. "Tell us about Zola's algorithm." Steve demanded, making Sitwell back up to the edge of the roof.
"Never heard of it." Sitwell said.
"What were you doing on the Lemurian Star?"
"I was throwing up. I get seasick." Steve grabbed the man's jacket and kept him from falling. "Is this little display meant to insinuate that you're gonna throw me off the roof? Cause it's really not your style, Rogers."
"You're right." Steve let him go and fixed Sitwell's jacket. "It's not." He stepped back and Buffy kicked Sitwell square in the chest. The man screamed as he flew over the side of the building. Steve looked over at Buffy. "So, where should we go for our second date?"
"Second date? I thought we were already headed for our fourth."
"Oh? How do you figure that?"
Buffy ticked off the list on her fingers. "Well, we had dinner. And then you showed me a great time in the elevator at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters before we went to my other place and you stayed over. Then we went on that lovely trip to your old camp and got blown up."
Steve smiled. "Ok, let's call it our second official date."
"Where's the fun in that?"
"By your logic, we've been going on dates since we met."
"Sounds like solid logic to me."
Steve laughed and shook his head, kissing the top of her head. Sam flew up with Sitwell in his hand and dropped the man onto the roof before landing. Steve and Buffy walked towards Sitwell and the man broke. "Zola's algorithm is a program for choosing Insight's targets."
"What targets?" Steve demanded.
"You! Her!" Sitwell gestured at Buffy. "All of her friends. TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defense, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Steven Strange…. Anyone who's a threat to HYDRA. Now, or in the future."
"In the future? How could it know?"
Sitwell laughed. "How could it not? The 21st century is a digital book. Zola taught HYDRA how to read it. Your bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, emails, phone calls, your damn SAT scores!"
"Hey, I'm proud of those!" Buffy snapped.
"What did you get?" Sam asked.
"Nice!" Sam high-fived Buffy.
She smiled brightly before realizing Steve was staring at them incredulously. "Sorry." She looked at Sitwell. "Keep talking."
"Zola's algorithm evaluates people's past to predict their future." Sitwell said.
"Oh my god, Pierce is gonna kill me."
Buffy grabbed Sitwell by the throat with her good arm and slammed him against the wall, leaving his feet dangling. "What the hell do you think I'm gonna do to you? The next time you go over that ledge, our friend with the wings will be up here with us waving down at you. Tell us what happens next!"
"Then the Insight helicarriers scratch people off the list. A few million at a time."
Buffy released Sitwell before hauling back and decking him in the face. The man crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Steve looked at her, surprised, and she just shrugged. "He pissed me off." She picked Sitwell up by his collar with her good arm and started dragging him back to the stairs.
"Where are you going?" Sam asked as they entered the stairwell.
"Well, the way I figure it," Steve picked Sitwell up and slung his prone form over his shoulder, following Buffy down the stairs. "Thanks. The way I figure it, we need to find a way into S.H.I.E.L.D. and this jerk could be our way in."
"We're going to S.H.I.E.L.D. now?"
When Sitwell finally woke up, Sam was driving them down the interstate. He was seated next to Buffy in the backseat. Steve was in the passenger's seat keeping an eye out for anyone that might be following them.
"HYDRA doesn't like leaks." Sitwell said. He'd been trying to convince them to let him go or to stop them from trying to take HYDRA down since he'd woken up.
"Then why don't you try sticking a cork in it?" Sam suggested.
Buffy looked over at Sitwell as he was about to open his mouth. "You want another bruise to go with that one on your jaw?" He shut his mouth. "That's what I thought." She leaned forward to sit between Sam and Steve. "Insight launches in sixteen hours. Since we're cutting it a little close, I figure we can use Chatty Kathy back here to bypass the DNA scans and access the helicarriers directly."
"What? Are you crazy?" Sitwell demanded. "That's a terrible, terrible idea!"
Before Buffy could make good on her promise to give the guy another bruise on his face, there was a loud thud on top of the car and Sitwell was pulled through the broken window. They all watched as he was thrown into oncoming traffic and run over. Buffy saw large black boots climb up on the roof of the car and she jumped up into the front seat, landing in Steve's lap. He caught her and she pulled his head forward just as a bullet shot through the roof and hit his headrest. Steve reached over and pulled the emergency brake.
They came to a dead stop and the metal-armed guy flew off the top of the car. He skidded to a stop in a crouch and looked up at them. Buffy reached over and took the gun that Sam had brought with them off his hip, but before she could shoot it, a large Hummer slammed into the back of the car. Sam tried to brake as they were pushed forward into the Winter Soldier. He ended up on top of the car and Buffy gritted her teeth, reaching down with her right arm to search for the gun. The metal arm punched through the windshield and tore the steering wheel out of the car.
"Shit!" Sam yelled.
Buffy found the gun and brought it up, shooting three rounds through the roof of the car. The Winter Soldier landed on the Hummer and it backed off. The car careened down the interstate and the Hummer slammed into them again. The car bounced off the median and Steve pulled Buffy tightly against him. He grabbed Sam and yelled, "Hang on!" He slammed his shield against the door and it ripped off its hinges as the car began to flip over them. They slid along the road on the door and Steve lost his grip on Sam. Sam rolled to a stop a little ways behind them and the car door finally slid to a stop.
The Hummer braked in front of them and the Winter Soldier took a grenade launcher from one of the S.T.R.I.K.E. team guys. Steve and Buffy got to their feet and Steve pushed Buffy away as the grenade was shot at them. He braced behind his shield and the explosion sent him flying over the overpass. Buffy and Sam regrouped behind some cars and dodged the bullets flying at their heads.
Buffy shot back with Sam's gun and the Winter Soldier shot another grenade at her. She jumped over the median and dodged an oncoming car as more machine gun fire was sent her way. The other side of the interstate appeared just as another grenade was shot at her. With no hesitation, she jumped over the side and landed in a crouch on the street below. She used the momentum of the fall and rolled to her feet as the blown up car landed behind her. Running to the other side of the overpass, she spotted the Winter Soldier's shadow. He had a machine gun and was waiting for her.
Looking around, she saw Steve's shield laying in front of a crashed bus. People were waving at her to stop. She turned around and stepped out into the light. The Winter Soldier was pointing his gun at the bus and she aimed her gun, shooting one shot at his face. He ducked behind the overpass wall and Buffy ran over to a utility truck, hiding behind it. When he popped up again, he was shooting at the ground before he even realized she wasn't there.
She decided to save her ammo and turned and took off running. The gunfire followed her, but she was fast. She ducked behind a car a couple of blocks away and looked around. The Winter Solider was coming after her. He'd jumped down off the overpass and was reloading his grenade launcher.
"If I get out of this alive, I'm taking a vacation." She muttered to herself. "Boca, Bali, Bermuda…. Somewhere tropical." Buffy pulled out the last of the anesthetic injections and shoved it into her upper arm. "I'm getting a tan as I sip a fruity beverage with an umbrella in it and lounge by a pool." The drug took effect quickly and she had an idea. Pulling out the mobile unit Natasha had given her, she made a recording of her talking to herself and then pretending to call 911. She left it on playback and dodged over to the other side of the street before the Winter Solider spotted her.
He approached the car and listened. Hearing her voice, he rolled a grenade under the car and stepped back. The car exploded and Buffy attacked from behind. She slammed his head forward into a car window and kicked the back of his knee. He went down on one leg and she kicked at his head. He grabbed her leg before it connected and swung her around, throwing her into a car across the street. She groaned and looked up just in time to see him level the grenade launcher at her. Grabbing a stray metal piece from the street, she threw it with all her strength at his metal arm. It caused a large spark from hitting between joints and distracted him long enough that she got up and kicked the grenade launcher out of his hands. They exchanged blows again. He moved a lot like Steve did in a fight and his strength almost matched Steve's as well. Getting her arms around the Winter Soldier in a full Nelson, she flipped and threw him backwards.
Buffy turned around just in time to see the Winter Soldier lift a gun up and point it at her. Turning away, she ran down the street, dodging the bullets. She ran behind a car and ducked down, trying to catch her breath. She heard the gunshot just as she felt the bullet go through her left shoulder, just next to the first gunshot. Buffy collapsed to her knees by the car she'd been hit through. She looked around for where the Winter Soldier was. He appeared on top of a car not too far away with the grenade launcher already pointed at her.
Just as she started to look for somewhere, anywhere to go, Steve showed up running at full speed. The Winter Soldier was distracted and turned to punch Steve. Buffy leaned back on the car and decided that she'd let her partner take over the fight. She felt an overwhelming urge to just go to sleep, but fought it knowing it would lead to no good. Her shoulder was bleeding bad enough that she knew this bullet had hit something bad. The fight sounded brutal and she struggled to stand up when she heard Steve say, "Bucky?"
Sam flew in and kicked the Winter Soldier away from Steve. Buffy spotted the grenade launcher and picked it up. She leveled it at the Winter Soldier and shot before he could shoot at Steve. Steve turned to look at her and started to back up to her when he saw she was leaning heavily on the car. The Winter Soldier had disappeared in the chaos of the explosion and was replaced by wailing sirens and black SUVs driving up. Rumlow led the S.T.R.I.K.E. team and surrounded Steve, Buffy, and Sam.
"Drop the shield, Cap! Get on your knees!"
Buffy noticed Steve's face as she was hauled to her feet and put in some seriously heavy duty cuffs like his. He looked completely stricken. Then she remembered that he'd said his best friend's name just before she'd shot at the Winter Soldier. The three of them were shoved into the back of a van and the doors slammed.
"Buffy, your shoulder opened up again." Sam said, noticing the blood coming from her jacket.
"No. I got shot again." Buffy said. "Doesn't hurt as bad as I know it should. I used my last anesthetic injection." She looked over at Steve. "Did I hear you say 'Bucky'?"
Steve glanced up at her. "It was him."
"The Winter Soldier?"
"It was him. He looked right at me like he didn't even know me."
"How is that even possible?" Sam asked. "It was, like, 70 years ago.""Zola. Bucky's whole unit was captured in '43. Zola experimented on him. Whatever he did helped Bucky survive the fall. They must have found him and…."
"None of that's your fault, Steve." Buffy said, feeling light headed. The voices around her sounded really far away and her vision was getting fuzzy and dark around the edges.
"Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky." Steve looked up and noticed Buffy's incredibly pale face. Her eyes were unfocused and she was starting to wobble.
Sam leaned over and looked closer at the wound. He realized that the blood soaking through the jacket was only a small portion of it. The larger portion was now dripping off her hip and pooling on the bench below her. He turned to the two S.T.R.I.K.E. team members. "We need to get a doctor here. If we don't put pressure on that wound, she's gonna bleed out here in the truck."
One of the guys held out a stun stick and threatened Sam with it before turning it on his partner. He kicked out and knocked the guy out before taking off the helmet to reveal Maria Hill. "Ah. That thing was squeezing my brain." Agent Hill looked at Sam. "Who is this guy?" That's when Buffy blacked out.
Steve managed to dodge forward and catch her before she hit the ground. "Get these things off us." He demanded. Agent Hill moved quickly and released Steve's hands from the heavy duty manacles. While he shifted Buffy into his lap, Agent Hill undid Buffy's manacles and then Sam's handcuffs. Steve moved Buffy's jacket away from her shoulder to reveal her entire left side was soaked with blood.
"Here," Sam took off his jacket and wrapped it around Buffy's shoulder. He applied pressure to try and stop the bleeding.
"When we stop," Agent Hill said as she pulled out one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s serious blowtorch tools. "We're going to drop down into the sewers. We need to get her to a doctor."
"We can't go to the hospital." Steve said. "Not when HYDRA…."
"We're not going to a hospital."
"Then where are we going?" Sam asked.