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The Calm Before

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Objectively, Steve mused, looking out over the landscape in front of him, the Alps were beautiful. The trees, and the way the light played off of the snow, it was practically an artist's dream. Any other time, any other circumstance, and he'd love to do nothing more than stay in that one place and draw. But it wasn't any other time, or any other circumstance. It was sunrise on the day that he would be leading the raid onto HYDRA's last base. The beginning of the day that, as long as everything went according to plan, that bastard Schmidt would finally be stopped for good. "I don't want to kill anybody," he'd told Erskine a lifetime ago at the expo. It was true, such that it was. Killing wasn't why he'd signed up for this, and it wasn't why he was doing this. But after all Schmidt had to answer for-- after Erskine, after Bucky... "I don't like bullies," he'd also said. And HYDRA was a mass of them, and the Red Skull worst of all. It wasn't about killing, it still wasn't. It was about doing what was right. It was about justice, and he was trying very hard not to make it-- not to make this-- also about revenge. It was bigger than that. It was about more than that. It had to be. It wasn't just about those two lives, it was about all the lives, everywhere, that could still be saved from Schmidt. Because he thought he was superior. Serums or not, experiments or not, people were people, and nobody was superior-- not like Schmidt thought.

He heard the crunch of footsteps in the snow behind him. Someone else had followed his trail in the snow to this spot, just outside the camp perimeter. He would have turned, but he knew the cadence of those steps, and he straightened just a bit, just before, unsurprisingly, Peggy's voice cut into the silence. "Penny for your thoughts?"

He smiled a little despite himself. "You'd probably deserve more than that just for sitting through them." He glanced over at her and saw his smile mirrored on her face.

"Come now, Steve. I know that's not true. And so do you. You certainly deserve more credit." She tilted her head curiously, just a bit. "A touch nervous?"

He shrugged. "I don't know if I'd say nervous. Not exactly. Just clearing my head, more than anything, I guess."

"I can certainly imagine there's enough going through it right now. It's an important day." She walked over to stand next to him, glancing away after a moment and back at the sunrise.

"It's a very important day. If I don't-- if we don't stop Schmidt, then a lot of people are going to die. And I just can't let that happen."

Peggy smiled. Even now, it made Steve want to blush. "You won't. You won't let it happen for the very reasons Dr. Erskine chose you to receive the serum in the first place. Because of your courage, and because of your selflessness. And because I've seen firsthand that you're simply too stubborn to not take every option possible to bring him down, up to and including walking up and knocking on his front door to make him." She started to lift one hand for just a brief moment before bringing it back down and clasping both hands behind her back. "We'll win this one, Steve. Bringing the fight to him before he could take it away was a good idea."

Nodding, Steve looked back over the mountains. "Best option available. It'll get real interesting, that's for sure."

Her voice was as poised as ever, but there was an undercurrent of almost excitement to it that made Steve want to laugh. Not because it was surprising, but because it was really exactly what he expected. "Oh, I have no doubt of that, and I'm very much looking forward to it."

He smiled almost despite himself. She would be. "You know, it's funny. There was one other thing I was thinking. You know, before I started thinking about how the day was going to go."

"Oh? What's that?"

"Even knowing what's hiding out there, and what's going to be happening soon, it's just really... pretty up here. I mean, I hardly need to say it, but there's really nothing like this in Brooklyn."

Her voice softened, just a bit. "Yes. The views are certainly stunning. Perhaps one day you'll have the chance to come back, under better circumstances."

"Yeah, maybe. That'd be nice." He glanced back over at her. She was looking out at the scenery herself, mouth just slightly open as she watched the shadows shift as the sun continued to come up. Beautiful as the mountains were, there were some things they'd just never be able to compare to. "Maybe you will, too."

She laughed a little, a smile blossoming on her face. "Well, it would hardly be outside the realm of possibility." She looked back at him and their eyes met. "Maybe I won't even have to go alone."

He ducked his head a bit, almost automatically, although he didn't look away from her. "Maybe you won't." There was a whole lot he would say-- or at least make some sort of probably completely wasted attempt to-- if they were doing anything but getting prepared to head out for an all-out assault on a HYDRA base, but they were. So he just added one thing. "Maybe I won't either."

Peggy's smile widened, just a bit. "Maybe you won't." She looked away, finally, back out at the mountains. "I should head back to camp and finish getting ready. You probably should too."

"Yeah, I'll be along in a minute. Just want to get one last look, you know?"

She nodded and stepped back, turning to head back the way she came. "I know. Enjoy it." Her footsteps started to recede, but they paused. "Oh, and Steve?"

Steve looked back at her, his curiosity undoubtedly painted on his face. "Yeah?"

Her own expression, he didn't have a better word to describe than 'impish'. Or at least close to it. "When you get ready, don't forget to bring your compass. I'm sure it will bring you luck." She grinned, turned away, and headed back.

If anyone had walked up to him at that moment and asked, he would insist that his ears were only red because of the cold. It was as good a story as any.