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Sam met the other Avengers while Steve was still in surgery. Natasha had been scrambling to get some backup they could trust; Hill had a list of people but there weren't many of them who weren't otherwise occupied at the moment. So Sam planted himself in the observation room beside Natasha and wondered what the hell they were going to do if a platoon of Hydra agents or one super soldier assassin burst in.

He tensed when the door opened, but he saw the quick expression of pure relief that crossed Natasha's face. She leaned against the railing, as if the relief had nearly undid her, as if after everything else the release of at least some of the tension was almost too much. Then her face hardened again and she said, "Finally. Where the hell were you?"

Standing in the doorway was a dark-haired white guy dressed in the odd combination of battered jeans, a Metallica t-shirt, and heavy silver wristbands. He carried a metal case slung over his shoulder. "I was looking for you," the guy said, like it was a huge outrage. "And where the hell is Clint?"

"I don't know." Natasha grimaced in painful frustration. "Is anybody with you--"

"He's outside." The guy stepped up to the observation window. "This the only way in?"

"Yeah," Sam said. It would have dawned on him sooner, but his head was pounding from various explosions, and he ached all over, especially in the vicinity of his cracked ribs. Metallica t-shirt, heavy silver bracelets, weirdly bulky metal briefcase, and Natasha looking like one anvil had just been lifted off her shoulders. He had seen Iron Man on TV and news web sites, but only in the metal suit, or a sharp business suit that was almost as concealing. In person he was...different. Weirdly intense and way more imposing.

Stark pointed at him and said, "Guy with wings."

Natasha said, "Sam Wilson, this is Tony Stark. I'll be back."

She strode out but left the door propped open. Sam heard her say something to someone outside, but Stark had pointed at Sam again and said, "Coffee. You need coffee."

"Um," Sam managed. "Probably."

Stark went to a chair across the room and dropped into it. "Happy," he said.

"What?" Sam stared.

A big guy, dressed in a dark suit and wearing an earbud headset, stepped into the doorway. "Boss?"

"Flying guy needs coffee," Stark told him. He looked at Sam again. "Cream, sugar? Are you hungry? Happy, make sandwiches happen, flying guy is starving. Gluten-free? Food allergies?"

"Uh." Sam sat down, and winced, and it occurred to him that yeah, he was hungry, and running on empty, and if he didn't do something he was going to pass out on the floor and be dragged off to the MRI that the doctors kept threatening him with. And he couldn't do that until Steve was out of surgery and Hill got the hospital secured, even if Iron Man was here now. "Yeah, cream, no sugar, please, no allergies, thanks."

"Okay," the big guy said. "Mr. Wilson, I'm Hogan, head of Stark Security, you can call me Happy. Are you a super soldier? I mean, are we talking about a couple of sandwiches, or like, forty?"

Sam smiled. In this group, that was a question you had to ask. "You can call me Sam, and no, just a couple of sandwiches."

"I'll be right back," Happy said and walked out. Sam leaned to look after him, wincing at what the motion did to his ribs, wondering if there were more dark-suited guards out there. He saw one small guy in a gray hoodie sitting near the door, reading a newspaper, but that was all.

Stark already had his smartphone out, scrolling. He said, "We were going to get Thai, but people started trying to kill us." He shrugged a little and grimaced with one side of his mouth, like don't you hate it when you're in the mood for Thai and people start trying to kill you.

Sam just nodded. He thought, I should have known Rogers was the normal one. Stark glared at the phone screen with increasing dissatisfaction, then started to type, muttering, "Clint, damn you, if you're dead I swear to god I am going to--"

The angry texting went on for a while, and Sam found himself staring at the metal briefcase Stark had dumped beside his chair. Stark looked up and caught him staring. "Yes?"

"Is that it?" Sam asked. It looked like it.

Stark scrolled to another screen on the phone. "You want to see it? Not now." He jerked his head toward the surgery. "Their equipment isn't shielded adequately."

"Sure," Sam said. There were a lot of things he hadn't expected to do when he woke up this morning, and one of them was make a date with Tony Stark to see the Iron Man suit. "You know, later."

Stark nodded. "What's your phone number?"

Bemused, Sam said, "Are you going to text me a lot?"

"Probably," Stark said slowly. "I can find it out."

The guy just outside the door said, mildly, "Don't be creepy."

"What?" Stark stared at the doorway in outrage. "How did you hear that? Do you have the room bugged?"

"You're loud. And this is a hospital."

"You're loud," Stark countered but went back to texting silently. Mostly silently.

Happy walked back in with a tall cup not from the hospital's cafeteria. He handed it to Sam and said, "Sandwiches are on the way. Did you want anything, Boss?"

"Ooh, a smoothie." Stark pointed at Sam. "You want a smoothie."

Swallowing delicious coffee, Sam shook his head hastily. "No, thank you."

"Tell Bruce he wants a smoothie," Stark said to Happy.

"I'm not going to tell him he wants a smoothie," Happy said, with an implied are you crazy? in his voice.

The guy outside said, "I don't want a smoothie."

"They have matcha smoothies," Stark said.

"Yeah, they do," Happy seconded.

There was a moment of silence outside, then, "Oh. Okay. If it's no trouble."

"Smoothies coming up." Happy went out again.

With half the cup of coffee down, Sam had figured out that Bruce, the guy outside, the one Happy was reluctant to give anything even vaguely resembling an order to, was the one who was really guarding the room. Maybe he had betrayed something with his expression, because Stark was watching him with a new level of intensity. He said, "Sam Wilson, aka flying guy, this is Dr. Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk."

One thing Sam knew, was that if Steve Rogers thought Banner was all right, then Banner was all right, no matter what the news sites and the talking heads on TV said. He leaned over to say to the open doorway, "How do you do, Dr. Banner. It's an honor to meet you."

Banner turned in his chair, a little awkwardly, and smiled a little. "Thanks. You too. We saw you on the news. Even Tony was impressed."

Stark had slumped in his chair, relaxed again. "Don't be nice to the new guy," he told Banner. "You'll give him false expectations about what all this is really like."

Sam turned that comment over, sorting out the dark humor from the underlying truth. "You mean, it gets worse. It has been worse." He had remembered he was looking at not just Iron Man, but a guy, a civilian, who had been kidnapped and held prisoner for months, who had been shot at a lot, blown up, fallen out of a hole in the sky fighting aliens over New York. That making up part of that intensity and energy were nervous tremors.

Stark's gaze sharpened, and he said, "What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a counselor at the VA. I work with veterans with PTSD."

Stark's eyes widened. Out in the corridor, Banner said, heartfelt, "Oh thank God."

"Please give me your phone number," Stark said.

Sam gave him his phone number, and got eight of Stark's phone numbers in return, including his personal line and one to someone called Jarvis. Then Hogan walked in with the sandwiches and smoothies.


An hour later, there had been lots of texting, three phone calls with Pepper Potts -- Stark had introduced her to Sam via the camera on his phone -- check-ins with Happy's security people, and no Hydra agents, unless they had come down the corridor, seen Banner, and run like hell. Steve was out of surgery but still in the operating room. It was a protected position and the hospital was waiting for an okay from SHIELD-- or what was left of SHIELD, which at the moment seemed to be mostly Natasha and Hill -- before they moved Steve to a private room.

Then Natasha strode back in and said, "The hospital's secure." She nodded at Stark. "You'd better go."

Stark rapidly finished a text, pushed to his feet and slung the metal case over his shoulder. "Right." He pointed at a paper sack and the remaining smoothie. "That's for you."

Natasha frowned at it like she had forgotten what food was. She asked Stark, "Where are you going to be?"

He shook his head. "We're mobile. We need to finish the security screening on the tower before we go back."

"Right." Natasha's gaze went back to Rogers, still unconscious on the operating table.

Stark caught Sam's eye. "Text me if there's trouble."

Sam nodded. "I will."

"Stark," Natasha said, and grimaced, "If you reach Clint--"

"I'll tell him you're keeping a punch in the stomach warm for him," Stark said, and stepped out of the room. "We're walking, Bruce."

Banner's paper rustled as he stood up. Then he ducked his head in the doorway and said, almost shyly, "Be careful, guys. Call if you need-- you know."

Natasha gave him her almost-smile. "We will."

As they walked away, Sam said, "It's going to be all right." He had said it before, but this time he believed it.