The stairs creaked under Steve, same as they always did no matter how or where he stepped, and he had remind himself that he wasn't technically breaking in.
It was the best way, really, this clandestine entrance in the dead of night. Sam had made it exceedingly clear that he didn't want to see him, ever again if possible. As much as it felt as though he were cutting out part of his own heart, Steve was trying his best to respect that.
It hadn't helped that they lived in the same area of the same city, and that incidental meetings had proved unavoidable, but Steve wasn't about to brazenly walk into Sam's office during the day. It would be too much.
So it wasn't breaking in. He was being considerate, and besides he still had a key. He'd just go in, gather his things, leave the key, and get back out again before anyone noticed him. He only hoped that Sam, in his rage, hadn't pitched the lot.
Steve still couldn't understand how Sam had gone from putting him up in his officer after Steve's landlord had thrown him out, to never wanting to see him again. He'd known that ending their working partnership would hit Sam hard, but he hadn't imagined the betrayed look in his best friend's face. He never in a million years would have predicted the immutable fury that followed.
Casting off Cap had meant an end his association with the Avengers, he'd known that when he made the choice. What Steve didn't know was if he would have been able to go through with it, had he also realised that it would cost him Sam.
However, there was no going back now; the idea of putting the flag back on and taking up his shield made him feel physically ill. He knew he'd made the only choice he could, but dear, god, the price...
As he reached the top of the stairs, Steve hesitated by the office door. The place would smell like Sam, and more than likely his cat would be there, and, dammit all, Steve missed this. Never mind that it had only been two days since he'd last been here.
Taking a deep breath and raising his chin, Steve slid the key into the lock. The tumblers squeaked and grated like they always did, and he flinched at the noise. Turning the handle as slowly as he could, Steve told himself again that he'd just take a few seconds to grab his stuff, then get out of there.
The office wasn't empty. A too familiar figure slumped over the desk, head pillowed on his arms and his cat curled up next to his elbow.
Steve froze in the doorway. He almost retreated, relocking the door and slinking back out of the building. However, Sam had left out a pair cardboard banker's boxes with Steve's name scrawled on the lids. It would be easy enough to just grab them and go. Steve wouldn't have to risk coming back again, and Sam wouldn't have to track down Steve at Sharon's and give them back.
His resolution to be quick lasted until he got to the corner of the desk and saw Sam's face. The bruises from that afternoon's brawl had fully come in, all the more ghastly in the lamplight, but even without the swelling, Sam would have looked wrung out. His skin had a grey undertone, and lines ringed his eyes and mouth where Steve had seen smooth skin a week before.
"Oh, Sam," Steve whispered, he reached out to rest a hand on Sam's shoulder. It was a familiar gesture between them, alternately providing congratulations, warning and reassurance. Only now, Steve knew Sam wouldn't welcome it, would probably wake up and tell Steve off again for acting as though they were still friends.
Withdrawing his hand, Steve chewed his lip. He knew he should go, but he couldn't just leave Sam there, not when he looked so utterly done in. Well, he decided, he probably can't hate me more than he already does. He shook a blanket out of the pile of bedding folded on the couch and, as lightly as he could, laid it over Sam's shoulders.
Sam stirred and murmured something indecipherable but didn't wake. Steve stood for a moment, wishing he dared to stay. More than anything he wanted to wait here until Sam woke, then beg for his forgiveness.
Instead, he set the key on the desk, scooped up the boxes and slunk out of the office, locking the door behind him.