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Just the word vigilante made her shudder.

 

Another masked man had just murdered what he believed to be one of the bad guys. These ‘heroes’ were mostly male but far and inbetween they would get reports of female vigilantes. There was that word again. Ugh.

 

The biggest problem was that they made her job just so much harder because instead of following up on clues and evidence, she had to find and figure out all affairs and relations of another mangled corpse. She disliked vigilantes - not because they took away her job but because they just had to make it so much more complicated than it had to be.

 

It was also hard to distinguish between vigilantes and criminals. Where to draw the line? For her, no murder was excusable, bad guy or not. So she had developed an immense dislike for vigilantes.

 

Agent Elizabeth Moore had been with the FBI for only a short amount of time when it had been revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by Hydra. Up until then she had never seen so much evil and so much death. Her whole department had had to help in the aftermath. It didn’t particularly help her dislike of vigilantes that she was the one that had to update the FBI’s Most-Wanted list.

 

But she could get over that if only people would stop interfering with her work.

 

She had encountered several of them, even knew their names by now. Besides the obvious ones like Captain America and Iron Man, there were Daredevil and Hawkeye. She was also pretty sure she had once had to clean up a mess left by Spider-Man. The thing was, there were too many “superheroes” to keep up with. She knew the real names of most of them, too, thanks to the data dump but she wasn’t ever going to remember them.

 

But sometime during the last few months there had been an addition to the known local vigilantes.

 

A man in his late twenties or early thirties, leaving behind a trail of bodies so unbelievably mangled, her whole department was in an uproar. Body here, body there. Seeming suicide, beaten into a coma.

 

She already knew who he was, a man called the Winter Soldier. It didn’t help really help his case that - after the fiasco in DC - he was America’s most wanted fugitive.

 

But it was usual that Agent Moore just had to run into him whenever she was called to a murder site. And god, did he get on her nerves.

 

The way he left his victims behind would let everyone think he was a psychopath. But she had read his file, or what was left of it. A lot of them had been taken down before the FBI could get their hands on all of it.

 

He was actually a poor guy. Being brainwashed and frozen again and again. But apparently he had broken free of Hydra’s grip on him and was now killing one after the other remaining member. Or at least that was what it looked like after her investigation.

 

/////////////

 

“How many?” Elizabeth asked Agent Donovan as he joined her on her way towards the FBI van.

 

“Three. One was still alive when a civilian called the authorities, but not for long.”

 

She mulled over these facts and prepared her stomach for the scene they were about to enter.

 

“Do we have any possible suspects?” She asked but she already knew the answer. The past few weeks she had heard one name more than ever before.

 

Agent Donovan rolled his eyes and looked at her as if to say take a wild fucking guess as he climbed into the car.

 

Elizabeth heaved a sigh and climbed in after him. Of course her week would start like that.

 

“Was he overly violent?” She asked him. Death was nothing she hadn’t seen before but even she would rather see something else than blood and gore on a monday morning.

 

“Nah,” Agent Donovan replied, driving out of the garage, “apparently this time Captain Hook pretty much held himself back.”

 

“Oh god, Ewan, please, you have to stop giving him these ridiculous nicknames,” she groaned and threw her head back with a slight laugh. Even though she had to admit that she was impressed with his ability to find fictional characters with only one hand or arm, she could only take so much of his puns.

 

“Never.”

 

“You’re a child,” she told him, watching as he weaved through the morning traffic of New York.


It took them a few minutes to get to the murder site, thankfully the traffic hadn’t been as bad as usual but once they arrived every joke, no matter how small, seemed impossible.

The whole area had been closed off, police cars and ambulances littered the narrow street and the horde of onlookers grew steadily. As soon as they stepped out of the car it meant business for both of them.

 

After being cleared by the already present police, they headed straight towards the bodies. She had taken Ewans word for it but one look at the bodies and she had to force her breakfast to stay down.

The victims’ faces were disfigured beyond recognition and Elizabeth shot her partner a disgusted look. “So much to he held himself back,” she told him. “Do we have a witness?”

 

“Yeah,” he answered and motioned towards the police car where a young girl and a police woman were talking, “That’s her. Saw him as he fled. She was the one that called the police.”

 

She nodded and told him she would go talk to the girl before making her way towards her. The closer she got the more she could see that the girl was not only young but more or less a kid. Her teeth were chattering and she was huddled beneath a blanket even though it was close to 80° F outside.

 

“Hi,” Liz said as she approached them. She showed her badge to the policewoman, who in turn nodded at her and left her alone with the girl.

 

Trying not to scare the poor girl any more she tried to ask a more general question first before she asked what she came here for.

 

“My Name’s Agent Elizabeth Moore but you can call me Liz,” she told the girl, crouching down beside her, “What’s your name?”

 

“Kate,” the girl answered with a sniff and wiped at her eyes, “Kate Cho.”

 

“Can I call you Kate?” Elizabeth asked and waited until the girl nodded to continue, “I know you probably already told the policewoman but could you tell me what you saw, Kate?”

 

“I- I think I disturbed him. I w-was walking home a-and went past this alley… There was so much blood.” The girl was whimpering by now and even though Elizabeth had already felt bad for her in the beginning her sympathy for the girl was steadily growing. “I didn’t see th-that much of him. Just-... he had long brown hair and his arm. I- It was weird.”   

 

“Did it look like it may have been made out of metal?” Elizabeth inquired and the girl’s eyes shot up to look at her. “I know this is scary but this is something we need to know.”

 

After reassuring her the girl nodded her head slightly. Deciding not to torture her anymore, Elizabeth thanked her for talking to her and waved the policewoman over again, so Kate wouldn’t be alone.

 

She made her way over to Ewan who was trying to fill in parts of the report. The bodies were already zipped up in their respective body bags.

 

“Anything?” she asked, coming up behind him.

 

“Yeah,” he answered, seemingly deep in thought. “One false front tooth. All three of them. Probably cyanide.” He looked at her before grinning slightly. “That’s so old school.”

 

“Hydra,” Elizabeth sighed. “We can’t even be mad, can we?”


“Oh yes, we can. I’d rather they spend their time in prison than dead in an alley. But that would apparently ruin Aquaman’s favourite recreative activity.”

 

“Aquaman’s an amputee?” she asked in wonder, taking Ewan’s report from him.

 

“Sure is.”  

 

“I learn something new from you everyday, you weirdo.”

 

Chapter Text


One of Elizabeth’s favourite parts of her job was the required physical activity. It was something she needed to function, allowing her to blow off steam in a healthy manner and to clear her head.

She used to be her high school’s lacrosse captain and since she was highly competitive she had no excuse to not be as fit as physically possible.

The first time her athleticism had paid off was in Quantico. The following extra training was never as hard but she still had an advantage to many others.

 

She loved it, really. But her problem with it was that most of the time she had to work out when it was already dark outside. She would start her morning run at five, sometimes four, in the morning. It was usually dark and since Central Park wasn’t really somewhere she wanted to be at this time of the day, she usually stuck to the streets.

 

But this early morning she had chosen to run along Central Park’s perimeter.

Her dog Vito, who had conveniently been named after a New York mobster by her niece Victoria, didn’t mind these morning runs by now. When she had first taken him with her to New York a few years prior, he had been sluggish but maybe this had been just because her brother’s family liked to feed him too much.  

 

Now the German Shepherd was not only her running buddy but also her best friend. Well, if one didn’t count Agent Donovan.

She had met Ewan Donovan during basic training in Quantico and she had been surprised to be placed in the same city as him. It was rare enough to be placed in New York City but two people at the same time could have been almost considered a miracle. Though she guessed that the government wanted extra agents on their side because of the spike in vigilantism.

 

Anyway, it had happened and she had been glad that there was at least one familiar face with her in New York. Having to move from Oregon to New York had stung quite a bit but it was part of being an agent and she was slowly getting there. New York still didn’t feel like home but she kept trying.

 

She was also not much of a people person which might have made trying to feel at home a little harder but Vito - who was running beside her, tongue lolling, tail wagging and now and then looking back at her with a look that might have been saying Yes, Yes, Yes! Awesome! - was all the ‘home’ she needed. Or so she tried to persuade herself.

 

New York City was unusually quiet this morning, she noticed. Normally there were at least a few people around, if only the homeless. But there were not even the creeps that usually littered the streets at night.

 

She wouldn’t admit it to anyone but herself but the strange feeling she had in her stomach made her tread on the pavement a little bit harder and faster. When she was a kid the ‘only’ creeps she had to be scared of were thieves, killers and rapists with normal human strength. Now that list had extended over the last few years - with aliens, gods and enhanced people that were stronger, faster - or god knows what - than they should have been. She wouldn’t have been surprised if that list soon contained the word ‘mutants”.

 

But she tried not to think about it as she jogged along Central Park North. This was her time. She was going to relax and clear her head. But a crash made her stop in her tracks.

 

She heard someone struggling, gasping for air, which made her frantically search from where the sounds were coming from but apart from two or more black silhouettes in the park she couldn’t see anything. So she pulled out her phone and hoped for the best.

 

Until she came across what suspiciously looked like a hand. Vito had obviously smelled it since Elizabeth had to hold him back from reaching it.

 

“Sit,” she ordered and he complied. “Stay.”

 

She could hear him whining beside her but she could care less about her dog wanting to have a human hand as a chewing toy. So she tied his leash to a bench.

 

Slowly but surely she approached the hand that was lying a little bit to the side of the road. There were two possibilities. Either this was a severed arm or the rest of the person was lying in that shrub beside it.

But one closer look confirmed what she had feared. She pulled out her phone and dialled the number she by now knew by heart.

 

“Hey, Melissa. It’s Liz,” she greeted the FBI’s receptionist. “I need you to connect me with Hawk. I found a body in Central Park N-”

 

She didn’t get to finish her sentence as suddenly her phone was snatched away from her. Even though she immediately turned around,  someone hit her over the head.

 

The blow was hard enough to make her stumble and fall to the ground. But as soon as she could orientate herself again she tried to get a look at whoever had struck her. The moment she saw his face she could have laughed at the irony of everything.

 

“No police, no FBI, no CIA,” he snarled at her and his metal arm crushed her phone in his fist like it was made out of cheap plastic. (It wasn’t, just to clarify.)

 

Vito was whining and barking behind him and Elizabeth tried to make use of the moment he looked back at the dog to get up and strike his chin with her elbow. He stumbled back but didn’t fall and immediately striked back, only to land a hit on her stomach.

 

Using her disorientation, he pinned her to the nearest tree, his fingers painfully digging into her clavicle and throat.

 

“What are you gonna do now?,” she taunted him, out of breath and he pushed harder against her, making her gasp. “Am I going to be the next one they find, gutted and hung up to dry? We’re going to get you, I hope you’re aware of that.” At her words his dark eyes darkened even more.

She would have given everything to have her gun with her but jogging attire never gave her that option.

 

To her wonder he gave her one last push and let go. A few seconds of a staring-match later she knew why. She started hearing sirens in the distance.

After one last look around he took off running. Elizabeth knew she wasn’t able to outrun him, so she slid down to sit on the grass, her hand probing on everything that hurt.

 

“Asshole.”

 

/////

 

Apparently, there had been another body not too far away from the first. With these two, the Winter Soldier’s estimated kill count had risen to forty. Each time she thought of this, she recalled his dark eyes. The thought of him made her shudder. She would never understand what prompted people to kill others. ‘Justified’ or not.

 

“Stop sulking, will you?” she heard Agent Donovan’s voice from the adjacent cubicle.

 

“I won’t,” she replied. “I’m pissed off.”

 

“Wow, Elizabeth Moore is pissed off. This is a completely new thing no one has never seen before. Come and marvel at this miracle!”

 

“Stop being a smartass, Ewan,” she threatened although her partner’s antics made her slump in her chair.

 

It was true, she was angry. She was angry at the Winter Soldier but mostly at herself. Having him right in front of her and being unable to detain him and bring him to justice - that made her angry. Considerably so. But she wouldn’t let him get away with pushing her around. No one got away with that.

 

So she pulled up every murder they had linked to him on her computer and got to researching. There had to be a way to find out where he was living, or at best, staying. There had to be an area or two he favored. She was determined to investigate this until he would finally do time.

 

She spent most of her work days after her personal encounter with the Winter Soldier looking through the reports. At times she really wished that these pin boards where she could connect evidence with pieces of string were a real thing because her desk was overflowing by now. She still had to do her regular work which made it even harder. But she was determined. She always was.

 

“Moore,” someone said from beside her. Turning to her left she saw her superior, Director Hawk. “I need the transcript of the Ludwig-interrogation.” His request made her freeze and thoughts ran wild. Had she even transcribed it?

 

“Right, right. It has to be here somewhere,” she told him as she tried to locate the folder but the abundance of reports made it hard. When she finally found it, she held it in the air with a grin on her face and a gesture that said here it is!.

 

But Director Hawk didn’t seem as excited. His facial expression told her that he was less than pleased.

 

“What have you been doing?”

 

“I just-.. went through some paperwork to make sure I hadn’t... missed anything,” she lied.

 

He narrowed his eyes at her and opened the folder she had given him.

 

“I expect you to direct your full attention on the assignments that are given to you. Am I understood? No deviations, disturbances whatsoever. None.” He pointed his finger at her and closed the folder.

 

Elizabeth nodded her head eagerly. “Understood.”

 

“Good,” he said and left her in her cubicle to slump. She didn’t like to lie to Hawk, she understood why he had to make sure everything was going according to plan. But she just couldn’t for the life of her let it be. She knew there were other agents tasked with finding the Winter Soldier. But this was her personal revenge by now.

 

Just then her ever-curious partner stepped into her cubicle, all wide-eyed and alarmed. “What in God’s name are you doing?” He took a step closer to look at one of the reports, his eyebrows immediately furrowing. “What are you doing with these?”

 

“None of your business, Ewan,” she retorted and went to gathering all the reports together and also taking one from his hands.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re looking for Stubs.”

 

“I’m going to punch you if you keep that up,” she told him.

 

“Worth it,” he replied in a mock-whisper. “But in all seriousness. Are you? That would be a death sentence. But I do know you so I’m probably right. Are you looking for him?”

 

“As I said before,” she said, shifting the reports in her hands and sending him a pointed look, “None of your business,” she told him and left him standing in her cubicle.

 

No one needed to know that she was looking for him. She could give the FBI an anonymous tip when she finally found him. But right now, she slept just a little bit better, knowing she could have a hand in finding him.

Chapter Text

Finding evidence linked to the Winter Soldier proved to be harder than Elizabeth had initially thought. She had a list of murders probably committed by him in every part of New York, DC and several other cities and towns on the east coast, pictures, even the files of some of the (now dead) Hydra-goons. But nothing. She just wasn’t able to pin him down. It didn’t help that Donovan kept being a nosy little bastard.  

 

The biggest problem was that, apart from one or two witnesses, there was no evidence that these murders had actually been committed by the Winter Soldier. There were no fingerprints, no hair, nothing but bodies. Sometimes deaths couldn’t even be ruled as a murder since the men died through cyanide poisoning. Therefore they had to file it under suicide. But Elizabeth wouldn’t let him get away with it. So she started digging deeper and deeper.

 

Some places that she had suspected to be his hide-outs she had already been to without any luck. All she ever found were food packaging, at least indicating that there had actually been someone there at some point. Although from food packaging alone she couldn’t determine whether it was the Winter Soldier or just some homeless people or runaways. But she kept trying as well as working more hours than she usually did, even though other aspects of her so called social life suffered. She had felt so terribly sorry for denying Vito one of his early morning runs that she had gone and bought new toys. But she kept going to work earlier anyway.

 

This morning she had been at work even earlier and even though she tried to make herself seem less suspicious, her desk was overflowing with files she wasn’t supposed to have an interest in. Her colleagues were slowly but surely arriving at work, too, so there wasn’t that much privacy in her cubicle either.

 

One of the newly arriving agents was Donovan, coffee in hand and bleary-eyed. When he saw Elizabeth already up and working, he stopped in his tracks and rubbed his eyes. “This has got to be one hell of a hallucination.”

 

“Very funny, Ewan,” she retorted, keeping her eyes on her work.

 

“Julia! Matt! Get over here and tell me I’m dreaming.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes in annoyance but only a few seconds later two more colleagues were standing next to Ewan, peering into her cubicle with curious and startled expressions on their faces.

 

“I don’t believe I have ever seen you this eager at-,” Matt looked at his watch,” eight in the morning, holy shit.”

 

“Is she sick?” Julia asked Ewan.

 

“I have no idea, guys, something’s definitely wrong,” Ewan concluded, rubbing his forehead.

 

Elizabeth kept listening but didn’t answer to any of their assumptions. She knew this was unusual but not so extremely unusual that they had to make a scene like this. It was true - she was never the first one in the office, and it was also true she could be sour. But not always. At least she didn’t think this was how she usually came across.

 

“Liz,” Julia tried and waited for a huh? from Elizabeth to continue, “Did something happen we don’t know about yet? Is there a promotion available we don’t know about yet? Did you meet someone that made you feel all giddy and motivated to work?”

 

At that Elizabeth froze and sat up straighter. “What?” she asked, turning around on her chair with a look of pure and utter confusion on her face, maybe even a hint of disgust. “Why in God’s name would you think that? Do I look like I have time for that?”

 

“It’s was just a question,” Julia tried to defend herself but even Ewan and Matt chuckled. “Something must have happened.”

 

“The only things that happened were two bodies and a threat,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.

 

“What was that?” Matt asked.

 

“Nothing,” Elizabeth warded off and turned back to the files strewn across her desk. “Don’t you guys have work to do or did Hawk send you to harass me?”

 

Julia and Matt looked taken aback but started moving back towards their own cubicles, leaving only Ewan to watch as Elizabeth searched through the files.

 

“Why do you always have to be such an ass?” he asked her with a hint of desperation. “And don’t you dare dodge this with your daddy-issues stories.”

 

“I don’t have daddy issues Ewan, that is something you fabricated yourself,” she answered with no hint of emotion and with her nose still deep in the files.

 

“Yeah, sure I did,” he muttered and entered the adjacent cubicle to take a seat.

 

Elizabeth knew that Ewan was a friend as far as friends went for her, or even relationships, really. But she couldn’t for the life of her be one of these fuzzy-feelings type of women. She had always been a competitive person, striving on victory and not on personal relationships. Even though she knew those two were not mutually exclusive they seemed to be for her.

 

“I just…,” she heard Ewan sigh from beyond her cubicle. “Kid, you need to stop being so bitter all the time.”

 

Her eyebrows furrowed as she didn’t know how to respond. That was how people perceived her? She knew she came off as harsh. But bitter?

 

“And you need to stop looking for the Soldier. Nothing good is going to come of it.”

 

“I know, it’s just… let me do this,” she pleaded. “For myself.”


She didn’t know how much she actually did it for herself. It was more of a mixture of revenge and retribution. But that was something she wouldn’t ever admit.

Chapter Text

Breath in, breath out, in, out. Left foot, right foot, keep your posture, keep breathing, keep running, Elizabeth kept telling herself as she jogged through Prospect Park.

 

It had been three days since the last time she had worked out, so she had to make up for it with an extra long route, or at least so she told herself. Vito certainly didn’t seem to mind and happily trotted along.

 

But while Vito didn’t mind, Elizabeth did. She had been scolding herself for slacking off in not only her workout routine but also her job. Keeping up with her actual assigned work had become more of a side job than what she was actually supposed to be doing. Her personal interests had gained the upper hand. But she wanted to get back on track so she started with a jogging route two times as long as her usual, for good measure. It was a Friday night already anyway, so this was her way of ending a shouldn’t-have-been-this-stressful week - by falling into bed completely exhausted.

 

Prospect Park was silent and seemed to be empty except for her and her companion. Except for a few cars, an ambulance and her dog panting beside her she couldn’t hear anything. This might have been relaxing to her at any other time but even though this was supposed to be her down-time she couldn’t help but let her mind wander. The last time she ran through a dark park she found a dead person and was threatened. Just the dark park and the silence brought back these memories and while she didn’t feel the need to panic at the possibility of finding another body, she was still on edge. Surely this couldn’t happen another time. It wouldn’t. Not so soon anyway.

 

She kept treading on the already well-worn trails of the park, trying not to let her thoughts get the best of her, but this was easier said than done. So she tried to focus on something different and started humming to the song that was currently, howsoever, stuck inside of her head.

 

She tried to softly sing although it certainly didn’t sound much like anything under all of her panting. Vito looked at her, thinking she was speaking to him which prompted Liz to snap her mouth shut. “Don’t judge me, dog.” She knew the dog wasn’t going to judge her - neither for singing nor for her song choice but the remark felt kind of necessary. She had at least tried to divert her attention.

 

She kept humming, running along the trail, trying not to get caught on any of the roots poking out of the soil but it wasn’t light enough outside, so she slowed down. Vito kept pulling on his leash, not used to the change of pace but suddenly he started growling and all that Elizabeth could think  was, Oh God.

 

“Vito, hey!” Elizabeth pulled on the leash to get him to calm down but her dog was having none of it. He kept growling and pulling on the leash. “What in God’s name is wrong with you?”

 

She tried to see what Vito had spotted but the dimly lit park might as well have been pitch black, she wouldn’t have seen any more than she did now.

She might have kept wondering what he had spotted, had she not felt a hand snake around her waist, pulling her back with a force stronger than she had ever felt before. Elizabeth let out a yelp as she was pushed down onto the floor, something heavy on top of her torso. Besides hearing Vito growl and bark at whoever had overpowered her, she could also feel him trying to fight off whoever was holding her down.

 

Although this time, when she saw his face, she didn’t even want to laugh one bit, not even a very humorless laugh. One the contrary: When she heard her dog whimper, she got angry.

 

“Stop hurting my dog, you fucker,” she seethed, fighting against his hand that was holding her down. But he was too strong, too heavy and didn’t budge, no matter how many kicks or half-assed punches she aimed his way.

 

“Stop struggling, I’m not going to hurt you.”

 

“Well I’m sorry but this does seem a lot like hurting me,” she protested, trying to kick him off of her. “And my dog!”

 

She kept struggling but the more she did, the more he seemed to hold her down and the less she could move. To be quite honest, she didn’t know whether she felt more scared or pathetic..

 

“Finished?” he asked. When she didn’t answer except for shooting him a glare, he slowly lifted his arms off of her and held his hands out in front of him, still kneeling. “I’m not here to hurt you.” After he looked at her dog he added, “Or your dog.” He slowly lifted his hand from the dog.

 

Elizabeth scrambled backwards with Vito’s leash in hand, pulling him with her, although he was still growling at the Winter Soldier.

 

“What do you want?” she asked, still panting and holding onto her dog’s collar like her life depended on it. “Am I going to find another body a few yards down? This is going to make me look suspicious after a while… or am I going to be the body?”

 

“No,” was all he said but he did so with force.

 

“Then what do you want from me?! You don’t just tackle people out of nowhere!” She was nearly shrieking by now but she couldn’t care less. She was scared, defenseless and pissed off.



“Shut. Up,” he seethed and Elizabeth fell silent. She didn’t know what had come over her but whenever she felt scared she started to ramble. But now that it was completely silent she could even hear her heart thumping inside of her chest. “I’m not here to hurt you but I will, if you keep this up.”

 

Elizabeth’s eyes grew in size and she nodded. What else was she supposed to do? She had no gun and she couldn’t take out someone that had more strength than ten men combined. So she kept still and obeyed to the best of her ability. Well, as good as her stubborn mind would let her.

 

“I know you are tracking me,” he started, focusing solely on her and ignoring Vito who was still growling. “You need to stop.”

 

“Wait, this is why you tackled me? You can’t be serious,” she told him in utter disbelief. Truth be told, she had been anticipating something different. A more serious threat maybe. She couldn’t quite believe that this was supposed to be all. “And if I don’t stop?”

 

He audibly breathed in and continued, “I’m not going to kill you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“I need you to understand what I’m doing.”

 

“What, going around and murdering people? I really don’t understand any of that,” she spat at him. “You could just kill me and get on with it.”

 

The only thing she thought of after the last sentence had left her mouth was that she seriously needed to shut up.

 

“Are you Hydra?” he suddenly asked and Elizabeth furrowed her eyebrows.

“What?”

 

Are you - a member - of Hydra ?” he repeated slowly, staring at her.

 

“I-,” Elizabeth hesitated, watching him carefully. After a few seconds she slowly but confidently answered. “No.”

 

“That’s why I won’t kill you,” he answered and slowly stood up.  “The people that you have found - they all deserved to die.”

 

“But that’s not something you get to decide!” she exclaimed. “You can’t go around and decide who gets to live and who doesn’t!” She had scrambled to stand and was struggling to keep upright. It seemed that he had pushed her down onto the ground just a little bit too hard. But his belief had made her furious and she almost forgot all about the pain on her sternum. “You don’t get to play Go-!”

 

“I don’t care!” he boomed. “It’s what they deserved. And you trying to track me down is just going to lead them to me.” He was seething with rage and his shoulders heavily rose and fell.

 

Elizabeth’s thoughts raced inside of her head. No murder ever was excusable to her. The act of taking another person’s life, no matter how “deserved”, was the most horrible thing she could think of.

 

“You don’t honestly expect me to feel sorry for you,” she deadpanned. When he didn’t answer she let out a short, humorless laugh.

“I won’t stop,” she told him, shaking her head in disbelief of what he was asking of her. “Never. You deserve all the justice that will inevitably come your way.”

 

When he didn’t answer and only stared at her, she stood up and pulled Vito along on his leash. She wasn’t going to stay and have a stare-down with him.

 

“So that’s it?” he suddenly asked from behind her.

 

“I don’t see what else there is to say or do,” she replied. “You won’t kill me and I can’t do shit to take you out. So I either wait until you leave or I leave first.”

 

After her reply she could hear his metal arm whirr as he clenched his fist but a few seconds later he was gone and Vito had finally stopped growling.

 

She couldn’t for the life of her find an answer as to why she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She had been trained for stressful situations but this was entirely new to her and her inner kid - that started babbling and spewing things that made her appear braver than she actually was - resurfaced.

All she knew was that her heart had definitely missed a beat, or two.

Chapter Text

She hated to admit it but there was currently only one word to describe her and that was desperate. Completely and utterly desperate.

 

Apparently, with all of her private investigating, she had drawn more attention to herself than she had wanted to.She had tried to be as discreet as possible and discreet had never before been a word to describe any aspect of her. But now the guy handling all of the files, Matt or Miles (she couldn’t remember), who she had to go to for access to it, had for the first time ever refused to give the Winter Soldier’s file to her. Which meant that at least one person was suspicious of her and Director Hawk possibly knew of this, too.

 

To put it into words, there was more than just a small chance that she was completely screwed. But after a small argument with Matt or Manuel and defeat on her part, she had come up with a plan that she dearly hoped would work. Well, it was usually a go-to-plan in movies so it had to have at least some truth behind it.

 

So that was how she came to strut towards the file storage, in a dress she would normally never wear casually, an underwire poking her (because she chose on of her older bras to give her assets a little more… push) and lipstick that she hoped hadn’t stained her teeth yet. All in all, she felt totally ridiculous but she would be damned if she didn’t get what she wanted.

 

When she came to the door of the file storage she stopped, tried to take a deep breath and stepped into the room. As usual it smelled like old books and dust, the light of the neon lamps overhead tinged everything, all of the boxes and files in the large room, an awful color that she couldn’t quite name. But there in the middle of it all, surrounded by piles of files, her target sat. She tried to stand taller just a bit for good measure before strutting over to him. She felt ridiculous, really. The only hope she had was that it didn’t show as much as she thought.

 

“Matt,” she greeted, trying to make her voice sound husky.

 

“Marc,” he corrected in a bored voice, not looking up from his work.

 

“Right, sorry. Marc,” Elizabeth tried to correct herself but it was blatantly obvious how uncomfortable she was. “I was wondering if-”

 

“-If you could have file number 306-103,” he finished and finally looked at her with his eyebrows raised high. “I know why you’re here.”

 

“Well,” she continued but stopped. She was going to do this right. Getting ahold of a strand of her hair with her fingers, she jutted one hip out and started twirling her hair. “I know I’ve been a pain in the ass these past few weeks... but I really really need it.” She had come closer to his table, trailing her fingers on his desk. But Marc only shot her the same bored look he always did, with an additional hint of disbelief. So she had to step it up, regrettably. Looking into his eyes, her hand travelled towards his but his face didn’t move an inch, except for his mouth.

 

“Really?” he asked her, unimpressed.

 

Elizabeth withdrew her hand at once in frustration. Of course it wouldn’t work. Nothing ever worked the same way it did in the movies. But something else might.

 

“Okay, listen,” she started, getting on eye level. The truth, granted it wasn’t too revealing, was usually the best bet to get something. “This is important. I just need it once more, then I’ll never bother you again. I’m pretty sure I can find out where the Soldier is hiding. I actually planned on giving the information to the FBI anonymously but if you do this for me, I... I’ll let you have it.” And also bribery.

 

Marc looked away from her but didn’t continue working. She could see the muscles of his jaw moving and the rest of his body tensing, just for a moment, when he suddenly stood up and disappeared somewhere between the rows and rows of boxes and files on the racks.

 

Elizabeth sighed and closed her eyes. Well, at least she had tried. Admitting defeat, she turned around and walked towards the door to get back to work, when she heard Marc call after her.

 

“I thought you wanted the file?”

 

She spun around, looking at him in disbelief. “You’re giving it to me?”

 

He tapped with his fingers on the file and went to answer but hesitated. “I... Bring it back by 10 or the deal is off.”

 

That was when it struck her. “Wait, I can’t do this in an hour!”

 

“Well, then you will have to find a way, won’t you?” he answered. “I can’t give you more time. There are agents that actually need it.”

 

She quickly walked towards him and all but snatched it out of his hands.

 

“I’ll be back 5 before 10,” she promised and made her way back to her office. She already had a solution, if only that solution would have been legal. But it was the only way to get what she wanted or else it would have all been for nothing.

 

So she sneaked back to her cubicle and waited until the copy machine was not occupied anymore. Her office was usually so busy that this would have been impossible. But right then there was a slot that allowed her to go through with it.

 

So she jumped at the chance and started copying the file twice, all the while trying not to look all too suspicious.

 

////

 

No one had asked what she was doing, no one seemed to be suspicious of her. Marc had gotten the file back not 5 minutes but 10 before 10 o’clock. Everything had seemed to go according to her badly thought out plan except for a stupid remark by Ewan although that was hardly anything new. But now she was stuck with a file that she couldn’t really keep at her workspace. Well, not two of them. One she had already hidden somewhere between all of the files she actually had to work on. But she still needed to take one home with her, which was just as bad as everything else that she had done this day.

 

Her hand never left her bag as she walked home towards her apartment and she was sure that to other people it probably looked fine but she felt like it looked like she was trying to cover up that she had millions worth of stuff in her bag. Which, if she really thought about it, was kind of correct but thinking about it just made her more and more nervous and nauseous.

 

When she finally got to her apartment, she kicked off her shoes, threw her bag onto her kitchen table and headed straight towards her bedroom, where she flopped down onto the mattress. When she opened her eyes again, Vito was sitting before her and sniffing her face.

 

“Hi, dog,” she muttered and extended her arm lazily to pet Vito. She didn’t for the life of her know why she was suddenly so tired. It might have been the weather because it was freezing at the moment. It might have also been her conscience weighing her down because, on this day alone, she had done more grave and illegal things than she had done during all of her adolescence. Whatever it was, it made her more and more tired until she fell asleep, all the while petting Vito.

 

////

 

She woke up with a start and sank back into her mattress with a sigh the moment she realized that it was only 4 o’clock in the morning. There was more time than usual for her work-out and Vito was already whining at the door, so she got dressed and headed for Central Park.

 

When she came back, she fed Vito, then jumped into the shower and got dressed. She couldn’t quite say that she was particularly well-rested but it had to do. She could catch up on sleep and her investigation at the same time during the weekend, now that she actually had the files with her.

 

When she jumped out of the shower, she realized that she had almost managed to run late, so she got dressed as quickly as possible before she sped into her kitchen to get something to eat as well as her bag that she had left there the night before.

 

But that was when she noticed that something was off. She was sure that she had left the file inside of her bag but now it was nowhere to be seen. Her eyes grew wide in realization at what might have happened. “Shit!”

 

Dropping to her knees, she looked beneath the table although even her very tired self already knew what had happened. “No, no, no, no, nononoo.”

She held her face in her hands until Vito’s cold nose poked her in her upper arm. She looked up at her dog and exhaled.

 

“You are the worst watchdog in the history of ever.”

 

////

 

She had taken the files home with her so she would appear less suspicious at work but now she was more distracted than ever. Scolding herself for not taking the Winter Soldier as seriously as she should have, she grabbed her coffee mug and promptly jumped when Ewan addressed her from behind her, causing her to spill it all over her desk.

 

“Wow, sorry,” he chuckled.  “What’s up?”

 

Grabbing a few tissues to dab away at the puddle on her desk, she let out a bitter laugh. “Just a bad night, is all.”

 

“You’ve had an awful lot of those recently.”

 

She tried to ignore his jab at her with all her might but it was of no use. “Stop it, Ewan.”

 

“Just saying,” he told her, taking a sip of his coffee.

 

“Yeah, you’re always ‘just saying’,” she snapped. “I need to work. You probably should, too.”

 

Ewan had always been nosy but now that she was actually tangled up in this mostly illegal mess, she really couldn’t have him prying into it. Even if it pained her to be a bitch to him.

 

But she wouldn’t have to for much longer since she already had a plan. Again. She just needed to wait for the day to end and hope that it wouldn’t all backfire.

 

////

 

“Okay, breathe, you can do this.”

 

Elizabeth tried to persuade herself to go through with her plan. But the more she thought about it, the more flaws she found. The biggest problem was that the possible result of her admittedly bad plan still outweighed every flaw she found in it.

 

She had taken her second copy of the Winter Soldier’s file with her and made another copy, which she let promptly disappear in her bedroom. She wasn’t taking any chances anymore.

 

Surrounded by comfort food and (she wasn’t really proud of that one) a bottle of vodka, she sat on her living room floor with a notebook in front of her. She knew what she wanted to write but she didn’t know if she had the confidence to actually write it down and let life run its course.

 

She grabbed the bottle and took a generous sip before reaching for the pen lying next to her. Things might be different if she had just had the common sense to hide the file in the first place. But now it was too late and she was almost about to write a letter starting with “Dear Winter Soldier”. On top of that she started to feel the alcohol’s effect on her.


Taking another deep breath, she finally started writing.

I want to talk. Tomorrow, 10pm, here.

This would have to do.

 

Placing the note inside of the file, she placed it on her kitchen table, making it easy to spot it. She just really hoped it wouldn’t backfire. But he had broken into her place before and he had told her that he wouldn’t kill her. So if he hadn’t done it by now, and he’d had more chances for that than she wanted to remember, he wouldn’t. He just wouldn’t, she tried to reassure herself.

Chapter Text

 

As expected, the file had been gone by the time she woke up for work. However, Elizabeth didn’t know whether to be glad or not. She had spent the whole day wondering and worrying about what might happen once 10pm rolled around. Maybe he wouldn’t even show up. Even though she wanted to talk to him, the thought of him not showing up gave her a sense of safety she couldn’t quite describe.

 

After trying to seem as inconspicuous and composed as possible all throughout the day at work, she found herself sitting on the old, purple sofa in her living room, waiting for something, anything, to happen and letting all the feelings she had held back out.

 

She had asked him to meet her at 10pm but she had been sitting and waiting for over an hour beforehand. Vito had already given up on trying to coax his owner into petting him and was lying in his basket a few feet away. On his face she could see that even he knew something wasn’t quite right. But he didn’t seem alarmed which she took as a good sign.

 

When the clock on the wall finally read 10pm, her whole body tensed. Her hands started shaking and she kept scolding herself for actually setting this up, for not thinking straight. She kept watching her apartment’s vestibule even though she knew that he probably wouldn’t waltz through the door like a normal human being. Because that was not what he was. Or at least something he hadn’t been in a long time.

 

By hiding weapons all over her apartment as soon as she had come she had tried to calm her anxiety but it hadn’t helped even one bit. She knew that if it came down to it she wouldn’t stand a chance against him, least of all because of his metal arm. But she thought that just the illusion of being somewhat able to defend herself might make the situation better, so she had went for it and hid everything from guns to knives all over her apartment.

 

While she still kept silently scolding herself for her carelessness, the lights suddenly went out, plunging her whole apartment into darkness.

Elizabeth jumped on instinct and reached for the gun she had hidden beneath a pillow on the sofa. She tried to focus on anything in the now dark apartment but to no avail. The more she tried to see something, the darker it seemed to get. The only thing she could make out was the neon sign of the small shop across the street. Her already rapid pulse skyrocketed.

 

“No light,” she suddenly heard and whipped around to aim her gun at the voice. Hearing his metal arm whirring, she shakily exhaled. She should have felt better after realising that it was indeed the Winter Soldier and not some other intruder, but she didn’t. She forced herself to lower her gun and exhaled audibly, when he spoke up once again. “What do you want from me?”

 

“I want to talk,” she told him quickly but was quiet after that. She had written down what she wanted to ask him but that wasn’t quite useful now when the whole apartment was pitch black.  “What did you do to the files?” she asked timidly.

 

“Read them. Eliminated them,” he answered with no hint of emotion. His emotionless demeanor drove her crazy. But then she reminded herself that he wasn’t like a normal human being.

 

“Why?” she prodded.

 

“You know why,” he told her, not moving from the place he had chosen inside of her apartment. According to his voice he was somewhere in the vicinity of her kitchen and had probably entered through the window there. The fire escape had been high on the list of possibilities of how he had entered her apartment before.  

 

She didn’t know what to ask then. He was right, she knew why he kept trying to destroy any information they had on him, she just wanted to hear him say it. So she tried a different approach.

 

“Who is after you?”

 

She heard him exhale sharply. “Who isn’t?” His voice still seemed mostly emotionless but she couldn’t help but wonder if it had been her imagination that had let her hear a little hint of bitterness.

 

“CIA, FBI, Hydra?” she kept pushing.

 

After a short but pregnant pause he replied with a force to his voice she hadn’t heard before. “All the same.”

 

Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion and she couldn’t help herself but ask, “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means,” she heard him move closer but the only indicator for that was his voice that was steadily growing louder. Apart from that he made no noise. “S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t the only agency that’s been infiltrated.”

 

“You’re lying,” she stated.

 

“Why would I?” he challenged.

 

“I don’t know! You kill people all the time and I don’t understand that either!”

 

“That is different.”

 

“It is not!” She tried to keep her voice down but anger had never been an emotion she dealt well with.

 

“It is!” he hissed and she was somewhat glad at the emotions his voice finally displayed. “You read the files and know what they did. They deserved this.”

 

She had read the files and knew. It had displayed all of modern day’s torture techniques and if he had gone through all of that, or more, lived through all of that, she could begin to understand why he was going after them.

 

“So they were all Hydra?” she asked silently.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I still don’t believe you. If you want to work for the FBI the background checks are extensive. They wouldn’t have been able to do that. Our guys would have caught on. They barely let me through.”

 

“And S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t conduct a background check on any of their recruits?”

 

Her breathing had sped up again and in thinking for a reply she had realised something else.

 

“Wait,” she shot out “What did you do to my dog? Vito!”

 

“He’s fine,” he told her calmly and she suddenly felt Vito brush up against her leg which just confused her even more. But she didn’t have enough time to ponder on this since he started talking again. “You actually think you’re working for the good guys.”

 

“Is that why you don’t want me to find you?” she asked. But she didn’t need an answer, she already knew what his answer would be. “You’re not afraid of the FBI. You’re afraid of Hydra finding you again,” she realised.

 

When he didn’t answer she moved towards the light switch but what she found was just her apartment, completely empty and finally flooded with light again. Squinting into the room she found Vito, wagging his tail at her.


She sighed and moved closer. “You really are the world’s lousiest watchdog. Is that why Ryan gave you to me?”

Chapter Text

Talking to the Winter Soldier had made her more than paranoid. She had tried not to let it get to her but by noon she was convinced that she was driving herself crazy. Every agent and even her director seemed suspicious to her. She knew the possibility of everyone being Hydra except for her was slim to none but it had still crossed her mind at least once.

 

After her lunch break was over she settled back into her cubicle and forced herself to focus on the work that had been assigned to her and not the file that had been hidden beside the many files on her desk. But it was still hard not to think of who might have assigned that work to her.

 

Taking a deep breath she started to work on it anyway. But after a few hours of work her attention was diverted by a commotion a few cubicles down. She stood up and looked over her own cubicle into Ewan’s, who had stood up, too, to get a better look at whatever was happening.

 

“What’s going on?” she asked him.

 

“Don’t know,” he answered with a shrug and a frown on his face.

 

But her co-worker Julia appeared with a grim look on her face and Elizabeth thought that whatever had happened wasn’t grounds for celebration.

 

“Hawk wants to speak to you,” she told Elizabeth in a low tone that made her freeze. Talks with the director weren’t uncommon. But he was a sociable man and usually came out of his office to talk to the agents. If he was sending someone, he wanted her to come to his office and she had never heard of something good happening there before.

 

“Do you know why?” Elizabeth tried. If Julia could at least tell her a little bit more, she might not feel like she was on deathrow.

 

“Sorry, no clue,” Julia told her with a shrug and something akin to pity in her eyes. “But he seemed pissed, if that’s what you want to know,” she told her before she left her to her own thoughts of what might have happened.

 

“Shit,” she sighed but immediately straightened herself. If her brother had taught her anything then it was that she should never go down without a fight.

 

“You are such a drama queen,” she heard Ewan mumble, who was still leaning on her cubicle wall, watching her closely.

 

“Well, since I don’t know what I did this might as well be my funeral,” she told him but didn’t wait for his reply. Taking another deep breath she headed off towards the director’s office, where she knocked and waited for a reply.

 

“You wanted to see me?” she asked with a quiet voice when she opened the door.

 

Director Hawk was sitting behind his desk that would usually seem way too pompous for their office. But right now it only seemed big, bossy and threatening.

 

He looked her over for a while, not saying anything, until he grabbed something from the book shelf behind him and threw it carelessly onto the desk.

 

The minute Elizabeth saw what it was she sucked in air and her eyes widened. Shit. Grabbing the doorknob behind her she closed the door.

 

“I want an explanation.” Of course he did.

 

“I-,” Elizabeth started and swallowed hard. How was she going to start to explain herself? She couldn’t quite tell him why she had an extra copy of the Winter Soldier’s file just for her. Something she wasn’t even supposed to have access to. “I wanted to help.”

 

“And what makes you think that you are more capable of handling this case than the 5 agents with 30 years of experience currently working on it?”

 

Well, she wasn’t. She knew that. But she also knew that she had most likely been the only agent to have had personal contact with the Soldier. But that was something she probably shouldn’t let anyone know in this building.

 

When she didn’t answer Director Hawk continued.

 

“I’m sure you know that you have more leeway than the regular agent,” he told her and just that sentence made her pinch her nose. She didn’t want more leeway. “But this would usually result in suspension.”

 

How had he even gotten ahold of the file? She knew, she hadn’t put a lot of thought into hiding it properly but someone still would have had to explicitly search for it. Someone had ratted her out but as far as she knew no one except for Marc knew. She tried not to let her realisation show.

She feared that the Soldier had been right about the FBI being infiltrated. But why would they want to stop any investigation concerning the Winter Soldier? As far as she knew they wanted to know where he was hiding as bad as any intelligence agency.

 

“If it weren’t for your father, you would be facing at least two months of suspension,” Director Hawk’s statement made her snap back into reality.

 

“With all due respect, if that is the usual consequence then I’ll take it.” Elizabeth tried not to seem ticked off but just the mention of her father had that effect on her.

 

“That won’t be necessary,” he told her with a shake of his head and grabbed the file off the table before standing up and heading towards the file shredder behind him. “I don’t want you in any sort of trouble. As would your father and grandfather,” he continued and the file ended up being shredded to bits. So much to her personal investigation. That file had been her last copy.

Director Hawk looked at her with a smirk he tried to hide before shaking his head lightly, and sighed. “You’re free to go,” he told her, “but if there is a next time - which I hope won’t be the case -  I will not be able to let you off this easily.”

 

Well, she hadn’t asked to be let off easily but Elizabeth knew better than to argue. So she nodded and made her way back to her cubicle, fighting the urge to call up her father. She was 28 years old and he still managed to make her feel like a 5 year old without having had any contact with him during the last 5 years.

 

When she reached her desk, she saw that Ewan was already packing up and ready to leave but she still wanted to know what the commotion before had been about.

 

“Already leaving?” she asked which he just answered with a solemn nod. “What was everyone so excited about?”

 

“Apparently someone was able to sneak a picture of Furiosa here,” he told her with a chuckle and Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

Pictures were always good, no matter the case but her partner’s reaction didn’t quite match the commotion beforehand. “Here,” he pulled up the picture on his computer.

 

“Why are you not excited about that?” Elizabeth asked curiously, gauging his reaction carefully.

 

“We’ve been looking for him for over a year and a half and now, suddenly, we have a picture. Can’t help but think it’s been done on purpose,” he confessed and shouldered his bag. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I think they want us to check out some leads on that whole drug ring business in lower Manhattan.”

 

“Okay.. Thanks,” she told him absentmindedly. The picture that had been pulled up on his computer had attracted her attention. “That’s really him?” she asked Ewan.

 

“Yeah, as far as we know,” he told her. “They’ve been running facial recognition on it for the past hour without success.”

 

As far as she knew that search would stay without success. Facial recognition records only went back as far as 70 years. And if her assumption of who the man on the picture was, was correct, then they would have no luck whatsoever. She couldn’t remember one single instance where she felt like this but she had to admit it: This was the first time she had ever been somewhat glad about her grandfather and father teling her all of these stories about World War II.

Chapter Text

Trying to remember every bit of information she had once had proved to be more difficult than she had first thought. But she also had information that hardly anyone else had, or at least so she thought.

 

The facial recognition still had not revealed the true identity of the Winter Soldier and if she was being honest, she was kind of glad it hadn’t. It would make things more difficult for everyone. He wouldn’t be that faceless ghost anymore that ran around and killed. Even if it were Hydra agents that he killed, it was still murder. It had not been ordered by anyone and taking into account all of the people he had supposedly assassinated as the either the KGB’s or Hydra’s lap dog, it was questionable if he would even be tried as an American citizen.

 

Elizabeth knew that she had to find him now more than ever. His accusations had made her more aware of her surroundings and she couldn’t help but be suspicious of everyone and everything. Especially her boss. If the Winter Soldier was right, Hydra had had enough time to work their way up in every agency and probably also the government.

 

But with all of her files destroyed, she had to rely on her memory and the few notes she had made and left in her apartment.

 

The moment she had come home from work, she had gathered all the notes that were left and began to work. The hope that - with the help of the new information - she could finally find him or at least find the general area was big.

 

She could remember six murders. All of them had been in different parts of New York City. There had been one in Harlem. Male, somewhere around 28. Hung from a street lantern with his belt. Then there had been two in Queens. One in Forest Hills, another in Astoria.

Another had been found in the Hudson River by Hell’s Kitchen but he could have been killed anywhere. The first male that had been older than 40 was found in the Bronx. The last one she remembered, the only woman, had been found in Woodrow, Staten Island.

 

All in all, none of these correlated in any way. They were all just murders committed in New

York City. The only thing she could somehow see as a hint as to where he was, was that none of the murders she could remember had been committed in Brooklyn.

 

That was when it snapped. Jumping up from the floor of her living room, she rushed to the bookshelf at the far right wall and started looking for the books she had taken with her from Oregon. She knew there was one on the Howling Commandos her brother had given her when she was 10.

 

Standing on her toes to get a look at every last book, she scanned the bookshelf for the familiar blue and white of the very creased cover. When she found it, she immediately pulled the book out of the shelf and opened it, too eager to take it with her to the spot on the floor she hadn’t left for the past hour.

 

She didn’t even need the table of contents, still being familiar enough with the book. And there it was. The passage she had remembered, that might give her one more hint to work with.

 

“Both Captain Steven Grant Rogers, alias Captain America, as well as James Buchanan Barnes had grown up together in Brooklyn, New York City. With time, both became orphans which made their friendship grow even stronger. The houses in which the heroes lived were demolished in 1957 and 1974 but in both cases a plaque has been affixed in remembrance.”

 

////

 

The following days Elizabeth became more and more convinced that the Winter Soldier was hiding somewhere in Brooklyn. It was only logical: she knew he had been brainwashed and was slowly regaining his memory. He would be drawn to things that seemed familiar even though things had changed considerably in Brooklyn over the last decades.

 

Living in Brooklyn herself, she didn’t know whether she should feel safer or unsettled. It had been calm in Bedford-Stuyvesant for the last few years but the arrival of the Winter Soldier could definitely change that. She still wanted to talk to him.

 

Being in Brooklyn most of the time also had its perks. Whenever she was outside now, she kept looking at her surroundings. She would also be lying if she said that she didn’t take longer routes through Brooklyn whenever she had the time. He probably only left his hiding place when the possibility of being spotted was at its minimum. But she could hope.

 

She only wished she could have gotten more information on the picture they had been able to get, where it had been taken. Now with Hawk on her case she tried not to get involved in any case that hadn’t been assigned to her. That sadly also meant not getting to work with any new hints and evidence.

 

Working on the things she needed to during the week, she decided to wait until Friday evening to finally spring into action.

 

It was already dark outside. Brooklyn at night was not something that she particularly liked but she was armed with pepper spray (that she wasn’t afraid to use) as well as with her gun (that she didn’t particularly like to use).

 

She also decided on bringing Vito with her. She didn’t plan on entering any abandoned buildings. Just walking through Brooklyn and being on the look-out seemed like the best thing to do right now.

 

And that was how she found herself wandering through Brooklyn at midnight on a Friday night, shivering in the cold February air.

 

Knowing that she wouldn’t get too lucky on the main streets, she used as many back alleys she could without getting lost. Vito didn’t seem too phased by it - he kept trotting by her side, occasionally sniffing at pieces of trash left in the alleys.

 

She kept walking through Brooklyn for hours. It hadn’t mattered that her braid had come undone underneath her hood or that she couldn’t feel her toes anymore. But she had started getting tired and she knew that - with the sun rising in only a few hours - the chance to talk to him or even spot him was slim to none.

 

However, there was one place she hadn’t walked by yet that night. Getting there proved to be easy but actually standing in front of the newly built house that had been abandoned already again gave her chills. It was sad, really, the way this might as well have been a metaphor for his life. Torn down only for something else to take it’s place - something so cold. Its walls had already started to crumble again.

 

She shook her head at herself. She couldn’t really start to sympathise with him now, could she? He had still committed several murders but the more she thought about it, the more she understood.

 

Stepping closer, she let her fingers run over the smooth surface of the plaque that had been affixed on the wall. It didn’t say much more than “ Dedicated in memory of James Buchanan Barnes .” but it still struck a chord within her.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

Elizabeth started and in a moment of fright pressed her back against the building’s wall. The familiar glint of metal made her exhale slowly.

 

“I could ask you the same thing,” she answered, audibly out of breath. But he just watched her without uttering a word. He wouldn’t speak up, she knew, so she continued, “I was looking for you.” She slowly stepped away from the wall, although making sure that she didn’t get too close. She didn’t have time to talk around the matter. It was already four in the morning. The first few early risers would be out and about very soon, so she bluntly stated, “I want to know more about Hydra.”

 

His expression shifted into what might have almost been a smirk, albeit a very bitter one. “Define.”

 

“Goals, ideology, anything. Wanting more power can’t be their sole driving force.” Her brows had been furrowed in exertion and didn’t relax even when she continued, meanwhile pacing on the sidewalk. “Is that the only reason they infiltrated everything from S.H.I.E.L.D. to the FBI?”

 

“They didn’t exactly tell me or even ask me about my thoughts on their ideology,” came his emotionless response. Elizabeth felt her heart sink and exhaled sharply. She didn’t know what to say to that. “It is power. Taking away people’s freedom - making decisions for them, removing anyone that might disagree in any way - results in peace.”

 

It really doesn’t , she thought but didn’t say it out loud. He had clearly thought about that himself but the implication, that anyone that didn’t agree with their rules would be killed, reminded her too much of World War II.

 

“Does that mean I’m a target now?” she finally asked, a heavy feeling in her stomach.

 

“You are a target the moment they realize you know more than you should.”

 

Chapter Text

It had taken her several weeks, but finally - after it had been crushed by an alarmingly strong prosthetic limb - she had bought a new phone. It wasn't much, just enough to keep her connected with those that she wanted to stay in contact with but a phone nevertheless. Thankfully, the only thing worth keeping on her now dead phone had been an abundance of pictures of Vito. The rest had all been dispensable to her.

Trying to sit down on the well worn sofa in her living room (Vito was lying on the other end of it, not bothering to move) she started the already charged phone up again. She had been lucky enough that the SIM card hadn't been crushed, too, but nothing could have prepared her for the abundance of missed calls that flooded her phone as soon as it was good to go.

Her eyes widened and a heavy feeling settled in her chest. Had something important happened? Had someone died? But before she could make herself even more anxious with possible scenarios, she decided to just call her brother to see what had happened. All but two of the missed calls seemed to be from him anyway.

He picked up on the third ring. "Hello? Liz?" she heard him huff into the phone, his children yelling in the back. The thought of them made her smile. It had been too long since she had last seen them.

"Yeah, it's me. Hey," she started but her brother cut her off almost immediately.

"Don't you dare 'Hey' me, Liz! What's been going on? I've been trying to call you for two weeks!" The anger and hurt in his voice made her wince. "Liz, everyone's been worried sick!"

"I know, I know and I'm sorry," she quickly answered and hung her head in shame. Being alone most of the time had never been very beneficial to her people skills but she knew he had a right to be upset. "I'm alright, though. My phone took a hit and I just now got a new one. I'm sorry."

She heard her brother sigh on the other end of the line, as well as a door closing and the yelling of her niece and nephew becoming fainter.

"How is everyone?" she tried. A fight wasn't really her favourite way to start or end a conversation and she knew her brother felt the same way. Through all of the years they had never been particularly prone to fighting with each other, only with their parents. He hadn't ever been like the big brothers in the movies but he had gotten pretty close.

"They're fine. Loud and just as lovable as always." She had to smile at that. "They really miss you, you know?"

"I miss them, too," she answered truthfully. "Being alone over here sucks. But Vito is good company," she told him and absentmindedly scratched Vito's head.

"I bet he is," she heard him laugh. "Listen, I'm sorry but I need to get going. Victoria's got her school recital tonight but please, for the love of god, let us know that you haven't died from time to time."

"I will, I promise." She just hoped she could keep that promise; she would at least try.

But before she even got another word out, the full force of the kids yelling and her sister-in-law's voice came through again. "Sorry, gotta run! Love you."

"Love you, too." She told him but the sound of excited kids had already been replaced by silence.

"Well, that was quick," she sighed. Her day had been boring. She didn't know whether she still wanted to find where Barnes was staying at. If he was right (and that was one big if) with all major agencies being infiltrated, she didn't know if she minded him killing them all that much. And therefore she wasn't all too sure that she still wanted to find him and turn him in. It made her head hurt. All she knew was that she had some leftover pizza in her fridge that was waiting to be eaten.

She slowly stood up from her sofa, trying not to disturb Vito, and trudged towards her kitchen. However, when she opened the fridge, all she saw were eggs and produce. No pizza.

Elizabeth's eyebrows furrowed. She knew for a fact that the pizza had been in there, since she had only put it there yesterday after a gluttonous movie night.

After a few seconds of looking at her empty fridge in confusion and disappointment, she closed it with a sigh. All she had wanted was that stupid, cold pizza. But to be honest, she wasn't even surprised anymore when things in her apartment disappeared. It had become kind of normal. Even though her rumbling stomach disagreed.

Grabbing a pen, she figured her best bet would be to write on the notepad on her fridge.

Stop breaking into my apartment and quit stealing my food, you ass.

She didn't even know how to react in this situation. It was just too absurd. He probably wouldn't even answer or stop doing it.

/

When she came home the next day, she had all but forgotten about the stolen pizza and the measly dinner she had eaten instead.

But when she stepped into her kitchen, the purple notepad on her fridge stuck out.

She had written with a black felt pen on it but now there was red on there, too.

Looking at the purple note more closely, she sighed. She didn't know what she had expected.

There, written all over her request, in big, bold and declaring letters was his one-word-answer. "No."

Chapter Text

Throughout the years she had spent living in the same house as her brother, she had been master-mind and victim of many, many pranks. Rural Oregon had been boring to two kids with a lot of free time and so they had found something to entertain themselves with, and sometimes others as well.

Of course, some things broke in the process (like her arm that one time her brother had manipulated the swing) , or pieces of clothing were torn (she wouldn’t go down without some sort of payback for her arm). But they never wanted a prank to purposely bring real harm to the other. It was all in good fun, just trying to scare or embarrass one another.

They had known their boundaries, even as kids.

 

Therefore she had found it hard to believe that an adult didn’t know theirs. However, if working for the FBI had shown her even one thing, it was that a lot of people’s boundaries were as good as non-existent.

 

At least, she was reminded of that yet again as she stared down at the file she had found on her desk or more so in her desk, wedged between files and files of things that she actually had access to.

 

At first, she was confused. Then shock had taken over, followed closely by a fit of internal rage that lasted close up to 10 minutes. Right now, helplessness had taken over.

 

Hastily rummaging through her desk’s drawers, she hoped to find no more extra files. She knew that she hadn’t put it there, having never even worked on this case before. She didn’t even know of this case. A high profile politician being the main suspect of the murder of an underage girl? This couldn’t even be public knowledge yet, news stations would be all over it by now. And somehow it had still found its way into one of her drawers.

 

Sliding the drawer shut, she put her head in her hands and took a deep breath. When she had started working for the FBI, she had thought that her days would mainly consist of chasing down criminals. She hadn’t thought about the tons and tons of paperwork that involved and she definitely hadn’t been prepared for someone trying to frame her.

 

Someone was trying to frame her.

 

The realisation hit her like a ton of bricks and she leaned back for a moment to absorb it all. But she knew she couldn’t wait too long, she had to get rid of it, somehow.

 

She could use her own file shredder but if someone really was trying to frame her they’d have agents look all over her cubicle including the remains of the files in her shredder. So, not an option.

 

Elizabeth kept on racking her brain but came to the same conclusion, over and over, and she hated it. Her need for self-preservation had always been strong but maybe this idea would take it one step too far. However, as far as she knew, she already was on thin ice.

 

There were a lot of things to consider: her fellow agents, her boss, security guards. She knew she had to move fast, taking everything into the equation was near impossible. So she did the next best thing that came to her mind, trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible.

 

Willing herself to move, she stood up and looked across the rows and rows of cubicles to find an empty one. When she spotted one a few rows down, she took a deep breath, grabbed the file as well as several others and steadily moved towards the abandoned cubicle.

 

Her heart kept thumping steadily, albeit hard, in her chest and everything around her seemed to slow down, making what she was about to do just that much more unbearable.

 

The moment she entered the empty cubicle, everything sped up again. She had the file shredded in no time but she couldn’t quite believe that that was it. If someone looked all over the office for the file or what was left of it, she would be to blame for what would happen to one of her co-workers.

Trying to shake of those fileS, she thought of something else that made her feel just as uneasy: Getting rid of the file had been somewhat relieving to her (not taking into account the enormous amount of guilt she was starting to feel) but it had been too easy, she thought.

 

Until she heard loud voices from the other side of the office.

 

Moving swiftly towards her own cubicle again, the other files tucked tightly against her chest, she already had her suspicions about what was happening - although she hoped with every fiber in her body that she was wrong. However, as soon as she saw Director Hawk with several agents in tow heading directly for her cubicle, her heart sank.

 

“Director,” she started, “What seems to be the problem?” She tried to put on her best fake smile to mask the uncertainty and anxiety she was feeling.

 

“Moore, with me,” he curtly replied. “Search every nook and cranny,” he instructed the several agents littering her cubicle before turning and steadily heading for his own office, not sparing Elizabeth even one glance.

 

Trying to keep her breathing under control, she followed. She had been prepared for several things today, maybe even for Barnes to steal her leftovers from yesterday’s chinese takeout, but hardly this.

 

Softly closing his office door behind her, she willed herself to keep her face blank and surprised.

 

Director Hawk didn’t speak up immediately but took a few seconds to seemingly gather himself before he started. And start he did.

 

“We have received information that you, Agent Moore, have been gathering and transferring data and intel to hitherto unknown institutions, possibly including, but not limited to, our most favourite Nazi organisation Hydra. This has been the second accusation within a month, Agent. A one-time false alarm might blow over but now we are bound to take this serious.

Agents have been instructed to search your cubicle. You have been made aware of the consequences, should we find evidence to support this statement, when you signed your contract.”

 

Elizabeth didn’t know with what to start with.

 

What? might have been unprofessional.

 

What in God’s fucking name is going on? Yeah, that one was her favourite for obvious reasons.

 

“Excuse me?” She finally decided. “How… What? I didn’t do anything prohibited, these accusations are definitely not based on any real evidence!” The desperation was clear in the frantic way she was trying to defend herself but the director didn’t acknowledge her in any way. Instead he continued.

 

“Since we don’t have any evidence yet to support the accusation,” he acknowledged, “we cannot arrest you. Therefore we will have to suspend you until further notice, until it is clear whether it actually was a false accusation or valid.” He looked at her briefly before turning around. “You are dismissed,” Leaving his office, he left her standing, mouth gaping and hands shaking.

 

She didn’t know what to do then. Not wanting to seem too eager to leave, she slowly shuffled back towards her cubicle - not that the state of shock and disbelief she was in allowed her to do anything else.

 

But once there she tried to get to her purse. When the agents sifting through her cubicle refused, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath and replied as defeated as possible. “Look, at least give me my phone, money and keys. Otherwise I won’t leave as I won’t have anywhere else to stay.”

 

////

 

Whatever she had expected of a simply Wednesday, it hadn’t been this. Most of the adrenalin and shock had worn off and she simply felt like laying in bed and crying. But first she still had to make it back to her apartment.

 

Leaving the field office had been strenuous enough by itself, the questioning looks and the worried and appalled looks from Ewan.

 

But she had walked out of there as soon as she had gotten her phone and keys back. They had kept her bag with all of the rest in it, meaning she had no gun, no pepper spray, no badge or even gum. They had even taken her freaking gum.

 

Taking a deep breath, she kept on walking. There wasn’t that much else she could do at the moment and mulling over it again and again probably didn’t help her. It would make her feel even worse but there weren’t too many things she could think of to make this day even worse.

 

She didn’t even make it as far as the nearest subway station when she was pulled into a dark alleyway by two strong hands.

 

However, her hope of it being someone she knew rapidly disappeared, when she felt the man putting her into a headlock as well as the hard nuzzle of a gun being shoved into her lower back. She momentarily froze, all of the air sucked out of her, but as soon as she felt the air rush back into her lungs, she belted out a scream as loud as she could.

 

The man struggled to keep her in the headlock but managed to slap his hand over her mouth, successfully muffling her scream.

 

“Shut up,” he hissed into her ear and pressed the gun harder into her back. “Listen kid, you’ve got something we want. You can give it to me and walk away free or it’ll be ugly.”

 

Elizabeth stopped screaming and yelped at the feeling of the gun being shoved even harder against her back.

 

“I want your file on the Winter Soldier. We’ve been told you’ve done your own bit of research.”

 

She struggled against his hand on her mouth, but when he finally took his hand away a bitter grin graced her face. “I don’t have it anymore,” she spat at him.

 

“Where is it?”

 

“Probably incinerated and now in a dumpster somewhere in New York, good luck finding it.”

 

“Stop bullshitting me.” His grip tightened and she gasped for air.

 

“I’m not! B- The Winter Soldier - he found it and stole it. I don’t have it anymore,” she struggled to speak but her confession made his grip slacken just the tiniest bit, insecurity and confusion showing.

 

“Wha-,” he started but she had already used his inattention to dive out of the headlock, turning around and thrusting her knee into his abdomen, sending him tumbling backwards. She used the momentum to yank the gun out of his hand and flung it into the dumpster at the back of the alley. Better no gun at all than losing it to him again and getting shot.

 

Whoever had sent him, they hadn’t sent their strongest man, and she was kind of glad as he came back charging towards her in anger.

 

Preparing for his attack, she reached out towards his head and tried to grab his neck. However, the next thing she knew, she was on her back, lying on the ground, her head throbbing and her ears ringing from the impact, with his hands around her own neck.

 

“Told you it’d be ugly.”

 

Elizabeth clawed at his hands and gasped for air until black dots started to form in her field of vision. If her need for self-preservation hadn’t set in before, it definitely did then.

 

Letting go of his hands, she pulled back her right arm and sent it flying towards his face, shoving her palm as hard as she could against his nose. There was a sickening crunch as it gave way to the pressure and he finally let go to hold his nose. Rolling to the side to get him off of her, she immediately reversed their roles and pinned him to the ground.

 

But instead of choking him, she settled for three hard punches in the face, leaving him temporarily unconscious.

 

“Asshole,” Elizabeth seethed as a wave of nausea made her struggle to stand upright. She didn’t wait until all of the black dots from her field of vision had disappeared to leave the scene. There wasn’t enough time to waste. She probably hadn’t done enough damage to make his unconsciousness last for a while but enough to get her out of the situation right now.

 

Hobbling out of the alley, she moved as swiftly as possible. She didn’t want to go back to her apartment just yet. There was hardly a way that someone would find her apartment, her father had made sure of that out of sheer paranoia. But she had no other choice.


So she put her hood up, sticking to back alleys on her way back, trying to be as invisible as possible until it was dark outside again. She had somewhere to be and a deal to negotiate.

Chapter Text

Waiting until it was dark had been agonizing to her. The longer Elizabeth sat around, the greater her anger became. She was furious and restless and couldn’t concentrate long enough to find something to make her keep her mind off of everything that had happened.

 

On top of that she had found blood at the back of her head. The impact had not only left her with a splitting headache as she had initially thought. But she didn’t want to take any painkillers, she wanted to be completely aware of her surroundings. Any dimming of her senses could have negative consequences for her.

 

The moment the sun had set, she was on her way, patting Vito’s head on the way out. Dressed all in black she blended just that more easily into her surroundings. Having no gun, she had opted for a small butterfly knife to help her feel more safe in these circumstances. It didn’t really help.

 

Going back to that old abandoned building with his name smack in the front was a shot in the dark but the only shot she had. She couldn’t very well go looking for him all over New York. No, she had been lucky there once before, she might be again. Of course she could have also left him a note. He would have found it eventually on one of his raids through her kitchen that had seemed to become more frequent in the last week but it wouldn’t get to him fast enough. So she had taken matters into her own hands.

 

She didn’t wait in front of the building. Hydra probably knew of his past and kept their eyes on this area, too. So standing off to the side in an alley with a clear view of the building, she positioned herself and waited.

 

It took two hours before anything even happened. Holding her breath and straining her eyes to see what was going on, she sighed in exasperation when she realized that ones causing the noise were only a bunch of teens breaking into the old abandoned house.

 

This had been the last straw and she was just about to cave in and go back home when she felt hands snake around her waist that suddenly hauled her farther into the alley yet again.

This time however she almost wanted to sigh in relief. Almost.

 

“Why does everyone feel the need to drag me into dark alleyways today?” She hissed, trying to throw his arms off of her body, struggling when it came to his left one. He furrowed his eyebrows but instead of replying, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her farther into the alley, shoving her into one of the abandoned buildings that littered this part of town, despite her protests. “Hey!”

 

“What do you mean, everyone?” His question was quiet but forceful and Elizabeth was taken aback for a second before she reminded herself why exactly she was there.

 

“Hydra,” she started, trying to make out his face as good as she could in the dark, “I think- no, I’m pretty sure they know. That’s why I’m here.”

 

“Then you should’ve left the city as soon as possible.”

 

“No, I- I’ve got a proposition. For you.” As soon as she had told him, he stood up straight.

 

“A deal?” He asked in what she thought could be considered disbelief.

 

“You’re looking for Hydra and they’re after me,”  she told him, trying to carefully gauge his reaction. “I can’t deal with this on my own.”

 

“Are you asking me to protect you or to take you as bait?”

 

Elizabeth hesitated. She had thought about both aspects of her proposal but ultimately, for her, only one aspect was of importance. She still didn’t agree with his way of dealing with Hydra.

 

“It’s… Both,” she finally told him.

 

“Not interested,” he said to her, starting to move towards what probably used to be the backdoor.

 

“Are you sure?” She asked, a glint in her eyes. She already had an idea what to say if he didn’t relent.

 

“Yes,” his voice already sounded farther away,

 

“It’s just a shame, you know? According to history you always worked quite well within a team,” she then said, keeping a straight face as she heard his footsteps come to a halt.

 

She knew he hadn’t left the building but it was so quiet, it might as well have been empty. However there was a possibility that he had frozen. She didn’t know whether he even knew his name, let alone something about his past. The chances were good he was feeling confused, so she spoke up again. “Do you remember anything about who you are, Sergeant Barnes?”

 

He let out a breath before he hesitantly answered. “Pieces, nothing... solid.”

 

Elizabeth nodded although he probably couldn’t see it. “I know I probably sprung this on you out of the blue, so I’m just going to ask you to listen to what I have to say, then I’ll let you decide. Okay?”

She waited for his affirmation to continue.

“I’m not going to exploit you. I wouldn’t ever do that to anyone. We would both benefit from it and if you want I can help you in other ways, too. If . I’m not going to force you to do anything, I’m just...  putting the possibility out there. I’m also guessing that you’ve probably been living in these old, moldy buildings and I have a guest bedroom. If you want. God knows you’re already eating all of my food anyway, so there wouldn’t be too much of a difference, at least to me-”

 

“What about Hydra?” He interrupted her. She had thought about that.

 

“My apartment’s not rented under my name and the FBI doesn’t have my current address. It’s as safe as any,” she explained. It was true and they probably didn’t think she would take to harboring an assassin. Hell, she wasn’t even sure herself but all in all, it would be the perfect deal. He would get help and a place to sleep and eat and, if someone were to attack her, he could take care of the Hydra members. It was exactly what he had been doing, only with Elizabeth added to the equation.

 

“You’ve been thinking this through,” he said, coming closer again.

 

“I had a lot of time before you showed up.”

 

“What if I don’t want to remember?”

 

“That’s okay, too. Just... think about,” Elizabeth told him with a sigh. She had said everything that she had wanted to. Now it was up to him, her persuasiveness hopefully having done its part.

 

“Okay,” he then said.

 

Elizabeth perked up, confused at the meaning of his answer.

 

“Okay as in ‘I understand’ or as in ‘I’m in’?” She rushed out, hopefully.

 

It took him a second to answer. “The latter.”


His answer made her lose the breath she had been holding but she caught herself before he could see how relieved she was. “You probably don’t need a key, right?”

Chapter Text

Elizabeth didn’t know what she had expected would happen when she offered her guest room to Barnes. However she was not surprised to hardly ever come face to face with him.

 

It had been almost a week since she had been suspended, attacked and had made the deal with him. Not all that much had changed except for the fact that she couldn’t go to work. At least not yet.

 

She had talked to Ewan the day after her suspension and apparently the search for possible Hydra spies had been extended. The whole floor was in the process of being questioned and searched but Elizabeth was still not allowed back since she was the only one who had been reported (although she knew it was bullshit), which made her the main subject.

 

She was glad that she hadn’t been arrested. The anonymous claims hadn’t been enough to lock her away yet. However if they actually did find something on her, god knows what might happen.

 

Barnes didn’t seem all too concerned with anything, if he ever even was around at all. She had been right that he wouldn’t need a key; he came and left without a sound through the window in her kitchen. The only way she usually could tell whether or not he used the room she had offered him was when the door was shut and Vito was lying in front of it.

 

She trusted her dog and his knowledge of human nature. She didn’t view Barnes as a threat to herself anymore either. To others standing in his way? Absolutely. But as he had said before, he had no reason to hurt or kill her and she believed his reasoning, at least enough to let him stay in her apartment.

Sometimes, when she went on her morning runs with Vito, she would spot movement out of the corner of her eye and even though it was a long way to mutual trust, it seemed to her that they had truly formed an alliance.

She knew that he acted like a shadow whenever she went out but it would’ve been foolish of her to think that he would be around 24/7.

So since her apartment was most of the time just as silent as before, Elizabeth kept jumping at every creak of her floorboards, hoping that he had finally come out of that literal cave he had retreated into.

 

She guessed that he was a very private person after trying to stay out of everyone’s sight for decades but she believed that the way he was acting right now probably wasn’t going to help him in the future either, whatever future was awaiting him - she couldn’t really tell yet. This was a whole other set of problems she didn’t want to think about just now. However this would turn out later on, she had made her bed and now she needed to lie in it. At least Vito seemed to trust him.

 

Getting him to her apartment had been a whole other story. He wouldn’t go with her at the same time, saying that it would draw too much attention to both of them and she had to admit that he was right. But she couldn’t for the life of her get used to him just suddenly standing in the middle of her living room, which he had done yet again.  

 

By now, it had been almost a full week since he had taken her deal and even though she had offered several times he still only took small portions of food from her fridge, and then sporadically. She guessed that he probably hadn’t eaten regularly while out and about in New York either but as long as he didn’t have some super-human feature that enabled him to survive on oxygen only, he probably needed to eat normally, too.

 

////

 

“I don’t know your name.” It came as a surprise while she was sitting in her living room and racking her brain on who of her colleagues could have been the one to frame her when it dawned on Elizabeth that she had never even introduced herself to him. She had assumed that he knew, after tracking her down. Maybe he actually did and just waited for her to tell him how to address her. Anyway it was, it took her off guard and all she could do for a moment was to gape at him as he was kneeling on the floor next to Vito. She hadn’t even heard him come in.

 

She slowly sat up, shocked that he had been the one to actually start somewhat of a conversation, until she remembered that she probably should reply.

 

“Right, um,” she started. “Elizabeth Moore. But… you can call me Liz if you want to?”

He only nodded in reply, as he usually did. Elizabeth had given up on trying to make him talk. He would within time and if there was something important he would, or he would write a note. It seemed he had taken a liking to leaving her notes instead of asking or just talking in general. But she could deal with that.

 

“Are you okay with me calling you Barnes?” She suddenly asked. With him not being around all too much she had never even thought about the way she addressed him. Maybe it was too impersonal and distanced. Maybe he wanted to be called by a name that didn’t have anything to do with the person he used to be and probably couldn’t remember.

 

“James,” he told her, not more and not less and kept petting Vito. Elizabeth nodded, thankful that he had even given her anything at all. Sometimes it seemed that he was more willing to talk, on other days someone might as well have sewn his mouth shut.

 

“Right, James,” she repeated and took the chance to look at him a little more closely. He seemed to favour the dark since it was easier to hide, even in her apartment. Daylight made him seem less intimidating which she was grateful for. Not that she was afraid of him but there was a feeling of comfort to it - seeing not only a vague dark shape but the face of an actual human being. Realizing that she had started to stare, she made herself snap out of it. “Sorry, it’s just… I know you probably don’t want to hear it but.. Most of my childhood you were just that amazing war hero to me and now you’re standing in my living room with hardly an inkling to who you are and it’s just..” He froze and the look on his face grew from stoic to distracted with a hint of distraught. Elizabeth smacked her hands to her face in realization. “Oh god, I’m so sorry.”

 

She shouldn’t have let herself ramble. It was something she always did and that she could hardly ever stop herself from. But this time it was different. This time she wasn’t trying to get herself out of a sticky situation. It was an uncomfortable and awkward situation but she hardly knew what he had gone through, what any knowledge of his life before Hydra would do to him and his mental state. The look on his face was exactly what she wanted to avoid. Holding her face in her hands, she grumbled out another apology, somehow hoping that he wouldn’t be bothered by it. But he started talking before Elizabeth could think of another apology.

 

“I know who I am.”

 

“What?” Elizabeth shot out before she could think of an appropriate answer. “You do? I thought-”

 

“You think you know an awful lot.” James shot her a look and Elizabeth gaped at him, slightly offended but too dumbfounded to say anything. “I’ve been away from Hydra for a while. It was bound to happen. I always did after a while.”

 

Elizabeth sat up slowly, trying to digest all of that new information. The amnesiac assassin she thought she had been harbouring turned out to be a not-so-much-amnesiac smart ass.

 

“So what? You know and still keep hiding from the people that want to help you? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

When Steve Rogers had been found in the ice, the world had gone mad trying to pick apart every part of his life back in the day.  Their friendship had been the most favourite part for a lot of people. If someone was willing to help him, it would’ve been that man. But instead he was sitting on her living room floor with her dog lying almost on his lap. A lot of things didn’t make sense to her anymore.

 

He slowly stood up and turned back towards her kitchen. Apparently that had been enough conversation for a day to him.

 

“I know who I am, who I was. I just don't know how all of that connects,” he told her, before turning to face her again. “But that doesn’t mean I’m still the same person used to be.”

 

He disappeared in the doorway to her kitchen and with a soft creak of her floorboards she knew he was gone yet again.

Chapter Text

A few days later, the room to her guest room was closed and Vito lied in front of it, the way he had done the few other times. So when dinner time rolled around she wanted to try something else, to get him out of his shell. After he had revealed that he actually remembered at least a few things, Elizabeth had been thrown off balance. It was something she definitely hadn’t thought about - although it made sense. Whatever had made him into this advanced human being probably also had an effect on the longevity of the brainwashing he had been subjected to.

 

She could only wonder about the things he had been through, not only the brainwashing. Hydra had never been known for acting gentle with any assets. She wished he would tell her at least some things; to be honest she also kind of missed talking to her co-workers.

So she decided to try something a little bit different. Elizabeth could at least try, even if nothing came of it.

 

She opted for take-out since she didn’t want to subject him to her cooking. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t chef quality either and she lived off of take-out most of the week anyway.

Grabbing the notepad from her kitchen, she wrote a note, giving him the options for dinner: Chinese, Pizza or Something Else.

He had responded to several notes before. Not the way she had wanted him to but he had anyway. So if he wasn’t going to come out to talk to her, they needed to communicate in some other way. She wasn’t worried that he would starve. He had survived for decades, he wouldn’t die now because of starvation. But it still unsettled her that he was so distant. Although, the more she thought about it and what had happened to him, the less she could blame him. She didn’t want to know how she would act had she been through the same ordeal as him.

 

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she ripped the note from the notepad and headed towards the guest room. Vito lifted his head when he saw her walking his way but let her slip the note under the door without moving an inch. Then she knocked for good measure although it probably wouldn’t have been necessary.

 

Not being able to do anything but wait for any kind of reply, she decided to spend the rest of her evening on her sofa with a book. Her book case wasn’t as full as it once had been but it still had a big enough collection to satisfy her needs. This time however she knew exactly which book she wanted. Grabbing the book that had given her the last bit of information she had needed, she settled onto her sofa and started reading. In her opinion, the more she knew about the man in her apartment, the greater her chances of actually being able to talk to him. If he ever really would have a full conversation with her that didn’t consist of snarky or half-assed replies.

 

It only took him half an hour, far shorter than she had thought, until he emerged from the guest room, the note in hand and Vito trotting alongside. Elizabeth looked up from her book, pushing her reading glasses out of the way and expectantly waited for him to speak up.

 

Even with everything he had gone through, the scruff on his face and the dark circles underneath his eyes, in this lighting he still had a boyish semblance to him and she couldn’t help but notice that it was at its strongest when he unsure of what to do or say. Hydra evidently hadn’t put him into too many situations (if any at all) that required actually talking about what he wanted.

 

“Did you decide yet?” Elizabeth asked him, finally.

 

He looked at the note for a short moment and laid it onto the table beside the sofa. “I’ve never had Chinese. I think.”

 

Elizabeth sat up and put her book down onto the table, too, before smiling contently. This was one step further towards the right direction.


“Chinese it is.”

Chapter Text

“This is a disaster.” Elizabeth giggled, letting her chopsticks clatter onto her plate. “I’m getting you a fork.”

 

Despite the less than amused look on James’ face she grabbed the broken pieces of what used to be his chopsticks and made her way towards the kitchen.

 

She probably should have seen it coming. Superhuman strength probably wasn’t going to go well with two tiny and easily breakable pieces of wood. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hold them correctly; he was actually rather skilled at picking up anything from spring rolls to chow mein. But the concentrated looks on his face before the chopsticks snapped in half made her question how she could ever have been scared of that man in the first place. Sure, he could snap wood with his pinky if he wanted to but he hadn’t hurt her or Vito yet and she hoped he kept his word of not doing so anytime soon.

 

Pulling open her cutlery drawer, she was suddenly interrupted by her phone going off. There weren’t too many possibilities when it came to who it could be who was calling her, so she wasn’t too surprised when Ewan’s name flashed across the screen accompanied by the frantic vibrating of her phone.

 

Grabbing the promised fork and bumping the drawer closed with her hip, she reached out to pick up the phone. “Ewan? What’s up?”

 

“Just checking in to see how you’re doing. I almost miss you at work,” Ewan answered and Elizabeth could sense he was smiling. “No, seriously. How are you holding up?”

Elizabeth sighed and turned to look out of the window in her kitchen. It looked like it was about to rain. “I’m good, just bored and pissed off. But I’ll be fine. How are things at work? Any idea when they’ll let me come back?”

 

Ewan paused before answering and Elizabeth could almost guess what his answer would be. She wouldn’t be allowed back at work any time soon.

 

“It’ll still take another week, most likely two before they’re finished with everything.”

Elizabeth groaned at the predictable answer and threw the fork in her hand into her sink with more force than necessary.

 

“I’m going crazy... You know that, right? I need to work! Otherwise I am a completely useless human being and there’s only so many tricks I can teach Vito. I’m so close to teaching him to bring me my toothbrush in the morning. Do you hear me? Please tell me they at least found something .”

 

Ewan sighed at the other end of the phone before answering. “They’ve only got one other suspect for now. You know Agent Estevez? The new one?”

 

“Marie?” Elizabeth asked when it hit her why exactly that Agent had been singled out alongside of her. Now she knew whose file shredder she had used. “Oh god.”

 

“Yeah, it came as a shock to most of us, too.” Ewan replied, mistaking her guilt for shock. “The evidence against her was a bit more solid, though, so you know what that means.. But there’s literally nothing I can do for you. I was the first one to be questioned because of my affiliations with you and I’ve never been questioned so thoroughly before, Liz. Don’t think they want us to know but they seem pretty pissed off and scared. I haven’t seen Hawk since two weeks or so, either. It’s strange.”

 

Elizabeth closed her eyes and turned away from the window, only to be startled by James standing at the entrance of her kitchen. “ Shit. ” Then he smirked.

 

“Liz?”

 

“Right, sorry, I just bumped into the table.” Elizabeth glared at James who acted like he hadn’t just creeped up on her. Instead he kept looking at the wall by her kitchen where she had hung up a few pictures of her family.

 

Right ,” Ewan replied, obviously suspicious but continuing anyway. “I’ll keep you updated, alright?”

 

“Yeah, alright. Thanks, Ewan,” she replied and hung up, keeping a close eye on James who had kept studying the pictures curiously. Putting the phone down onto the counter, she braced herself for the upcoming conversation.  “What do you want to know?”

 

“What?” Came his short reply. He still didn’t talk all too much.

 

“I know a whole lot more about you than you probably want me to,” Elizabeth told him with a shrug and stepped closer to take a look at the pictures herself. “Figured it shouldn’t hurt to answer a few questions you might have.”

 

Both were silent for a few moments before James finally stated what she had anticipated. “I know him.”

 

She let out a breath and nodded. After all he had said that he remembered quite a bit. “Yeah, I know.” Taking the picture off the wall, she studied it more closely. It was a picture of her and her brother in front of their childhood home, seated on the steps leading up to the terrace, and their father and grandfather standing beside them. “He’s my grandfather. James Montgomery Falsworth.” Elizabeth looked at him to gauge his reaction but his expression didn’t shift one bit so she continued, slowly and more somber than before. She didn’t know what he was feeling or even thinking, being confronted with this information.  “He died about fifteen years ago but he kicked butt until his last breath. My dad was obsessed with all of these stories he used to tell and it motivated him to join the Army. I was more or less forced to learn everything there was about the Howling Commandos, you see. Did you never question how I figured out who you were while a bunch of government officials with the same intel didn’t?”

 

“I had my theories,” he answered but went eerily silent after that, studying the picture even closer than before. His almost normal sociable behaviour from before had vanished completely and all Elizabeth had been left with was this vessel of a man who was still trying to garner a lot of his missing memories.

 

Deciding to give him peace and quiet she hung the picture on the wall again and with one last look she told him, “If you have any questions about yourself or any of them you can ask me. You know that, right?”

 

She guessed he knew who she meant with ‘them’ though she didn’t elaborate. He seemed too deep in thought to even notice she had spoken. She thought about giving him a supportive and friendly pat on the back but decided against it, and with a nod of her head she left him to it, the food on the table forgotten by both of them.

 

////

 

After a while of him staring at the picture in her kitchen, he had retreated back into Elizabeth’s guest room. He hadn’t come out the rest of the evening but she guessed that was somewhat normal for someone in his situation and she didn’t want to pressure him into thinking about any aspects of his former life he might not want to grapple with at the moment. However, when he suddenly stood in her kitchen the next morning, with dark circles under his eyes which Elizabeth knew weren’t usually that prominent, she knew he had anyway.

 

“Did you ever meet the rest of them?”

 

She knew who he meant. “Yeah, when I was a kid,” she told him and wiped down the countertop.

 

“Your last name, it’s not…”

 

“My mom and dad never married and it just stuck after she died.” She knew he tried to piece everything she had told him together. It probably had come as a shock to him.

 

He nodded softly and pinched his eyes shut for a short moment before continuing. “Can you remember some of the stories he told you?”

 

Elizabeth froze but not out of shock. It was more out of heartbreak for the man in front of her. By the look of his face, the day before as well as right then, she knew that he definitely hadn’t anticipated being confronted with his past by forming an alliance with a strange woman. She looked up at him and nodded with a small smile. “Make yourself comfortable in the living room, I’ll be there in a second.”

Chapter Text

“...and then, as far as I understood, my grandad blew it up and you lost your hearing for a day or two.” Elizabeth recounted and chuckled. She hadn’t thought about that story in a long time but even though it was a funny one, the look on James’ face brought her back to the harsh reality. He might have been remembering quite a lot but there were still a whole lot of gaps. Apparently he didn’t remember this one, either.

 

“I need a break... I think you do, too,” Elizabeth sighed and ran her hand through Vito’s fur. Telling the stories of her grandfather had proven to be more difficult than remembering them. She usually only saw them as stories, its characters ranging from funny to amazingly brave to vicious and cruel. These stories had been lived before even her father or mother had been alive, so it was even more difficult for her to envision them as real. But now there was a man sitting in front of her who had lived through all of that and even more. If someone would have combined two people’s life experience, it still would have not been a match to James Buchanan Barnes’.

 

They had been going at it for hours, interrupted only for a small lunch, and continued on. Elizabeth herself was surprised about how much she remembered but slowly and surely she was running out of stories to tell.

 

James had astonishingly kept the conversation up, too, by asking for details and asking questions whenever he could. But he had started to look more tired and more worn out by the hour. He had looked exhausted before but his face fell more and more and was replaced with a stony facade with each story he couldn’t quite remember. Elizabeth figured it would be aggravating to have a stranger tell you stories about your life that you couldn’t remember.

 

Elizabeth, being exhausted herself, had started to scoot down the sofa, lying on it by now with Vito lying on the floor next to her. Funnily enough, this was the first time he kept lying next to her. Usually he kept as close to James as he was allowed.

 

Waiting for an answer, Elizabeth locked her gaze on his head. James however still didn’t respond to Elizabeth’s statement. He just kept staring out of the window in her living room, a defiant look on his face. She knew he didn’t want to stop yet. He had been looking for the rest of his memories and had finally found someone who could help him with it that was neither Captain Rogers or Hydra. Maybe he was afraid of losing them again. No, he probably was very much afraid of losing them again. She couldn’t really blame him for that but it had been exhausting, even to her. Not even going out with Vito for a few minutes had done anything to wake her up and she was all out of coffee by now. So she had started looking for a way to tell him that they would have to stop, at least on this day. None of them could take much more, Elizabeth physically and James mentally.

 

Sighing, she prepared herself for the possible spat that might break out at the words she was about to speak.

 

“I know you want to know as many things about your past as possible, I get that, I really do. But it seems like there are quite a few stories you cannot remember, be it because of what Hydra did to you or because of brain damage from the fall and possible damage due to the cold,” she tried to reason but the only indicator he gave that he was listening was the way his jaw was twitching. “I don’t even know whether I got all the details right, I wasn’t there. But I need sleep. You need sleep, even just for a few hours and I promise, tomorrow we’ll continue but I’m about to keel over.” Elizabeth searched his face for some kind of reaction. This time she was only rewarded with a flash of hurt.

 

“Did he ever tell about the-.” He had broken off halfway through the sentence but Elizabeth suspected what he wanted to talk about. They hadn’t addressed it yet but she knew it was something that kept nagging at his mind. It was only natural to want to know how your friends reacted to your apparent death or coped with it. At least she thought so.

 

“No,” she told him slowly and softly, and followed it with a yawn. He closed his eyes for a moment. “That’s a story he never told us, as far as I can remember. My dad always told us he didn’t like to talk about it. I think it’s difficult to lose someone of your unit but even more so if they're your friend. I don’t think they had enough time to mourn and then Captain Rogers crashed the Valkyrie.. I just think it was a bit much to take in. Especially in such a short amount of time,” she concluded and tried to smother another yawn but closed her eyes instead.

 

“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about that, Bucky,” she mumbled but if he ever gave her a reply, she didn’t hear it as she fell asleep right there, right then, curled up on her sofa.

 

////

 

The moment Elizabeth woke up she knew some things didn’t quite add up. For example the soft mattress underneath her, or the old red blanket covering her body that she only ever used in the winter because of how thick it was. It just didn’t quite add up and it was especially hard for her sleepy self to make sense of anything.

 

Until she realised that she hadn’t went to bed. After sitting in her living room for hours with James with little to no breaks, she had fallen asleep on the couch, so much she knew.

And if she hadn’t suddenly taken to sleepwalking, she had her suspicion about how she had ended up there. But right then, she wasn’t going to dwell on it. She was too tired and her bed felt way too comfortable. This would have to wait.

Chapter Text

If Elizabeth thought that James looked tired and worn out then, he looked even worse only a few days later. The times that she did see him, anyway. He had taken to avoiding any and all contact it seemed. Sometimes she saw his shadow just out of the corner of her eye. Other times she saw Vito wagging his tail at seemingly thin air.

 

Whatever it was, the whole atmosphere inside of her apartment felt tense. Elizabeth wondered whether she was the only one who felt it. Vito kept wagging his tail.

 

She didn’t know what was usual and unusual for him, not knowing him well enough. But during these few days there was a period of time where she hadn’t even seen him for 27 hours which was very unusual.

 

He hadn’t approached her to talk about anything again, either. Maybe he’d had enough. Maybe he had remembered on his own. Maybe he didn’t trust her enough to tell him about his past. Maybe it was just too much.

 

The unusualness reached its peak when suddenly, on day 6 after Elizabeth had told him her grandfather’s stories, she was woken up by something wet and cold touching her face.

 

Groaning and lightly swatting at whatever kept nudging her, she tried to go back to sleep. But besides the very wet nose of her even more persistent dog she was also suddenly startled awake by a loud crash inside of her flat.

 

Fearing the worst, she was awake immediately and trying to find her gun. Until she remembered that she had had to leave it at the office. Out of options, she went for the only thing in her bedroom worth crashing onto someone’s head: her bedside lamp.

 

Creeping out of her room cautiously, Vito trotting into the hallway in front of her, her stomach sank as she realized where the crash had come from.

 

Gripping the lamp even tighter, she inched closer to the guest bedroom’s door.

She didn’t know what to expect which made her heart pound even faster and harder.

There was a whole range of possibilities.

Someone could have broken in and James was taking care of it. Hydra could have found him. She didn’t put it past them but they were probably smart enough to send more men if they wanted to retrieve him.

 

But when she opened the door and turned on the lights, she could see possibility number three; the one she didn’t really want to think about.

 

There one the bed was a wildly thrashing James, sweaty and fully clothed, the look of distress clear on his face, the sheets pooled on the floor.

 

She didn’t know whether to wake him up. She doubted that he would easily injure himself but the way it looked, the crash that had woken her up had been her bedside table - which was now a heap of splinters.

 

This was the first time she noticed him having a nightmare like this. Was this the first time he had actually fell asleep during the time he stayed at her apartment? It certainly would explain the exhaustion on his face that had been gradually getting more clear to see.

 

There was also the possibility of him injuring her but she decided she could deal with that. Elizabeth put the lamp on the floor and slowly scrambled onto the left side of the bed. Then she tried to nudge him as softly and as firmly as she could at the same time.

 

His ragged breath was suddenly replaced by him snapping for air, his eyes - which had been forcefully pinched shut - shot open wide and his right arm shot forward, grabbing her firmly by her neck while his metal arm pushed her body into the mattress.

 

Shit, ” Elizabeth wheezed out and tried to pry at the fingers that were curled around her neck but to no avail. The unfocused and glassy look in his eyes didn’t subside, as did his look of pure anger.

Struggling to breath, she wheezed out his name between pleas, again and again. “ James! I’m try- trying to help! James! Please, let go!

 

For whatever reason  he had used his right arm and Elizabeth was glad about that. There were already black dots forming in her field of vision but she was certain that she would have been dead already had he used his metal arm. But even feeling glad about any kind of aspect of this situation wouldn’t help her peel his fingers off of her neck. It seemed he squeezed tighter by the second. There was one last thing that she could think of that might help wake him up from whatever nightmare he was going through.

 

Bucky !”

 

He squeezed her neck tighter for only a few seconds, gritting his teeth in the process when, as suddenly as all of it had happened, guilt found its place in his eyes and he scooted away from Elizabeth abruptly, just so that he was still kneeling on the edge of the bed, his hands braced beside him on the mattress.

 

Elizabeth coughed and gagged a few times and rubbed at her neck until she was somewhat able to breathe again. She would live, she knew. But there was nothing she hated more than being choked or even attacked. Even if it was unintended, which she dearly hoped it had been.

 

Looking up she saw the horrified look on James’ face and she couldn’t think of anything else than the question that had swarmed her head since before he had reached for her neck.

 

“Are you okay?” She knew it was a stupid question, really, but she felt she had to ask anyway.

James let out a ragged breath and pulled his hand through his long hair. “Sorry for startling you.”

 

At that James let out a wry laugh and shook his head. “You’re sorry. I choked you and you’re sorry.”

 

“Well, you didn’t use your metal arm, so I’m counting that as a plus.” He didn’t reply to that, only shot Elizabeth a look of annoyance and disbelief. She figured it had been a stupid thing to say but she didn’t think that he should feel guilty for it. Not completely, anyway.

 

He had sat himself on the edge of the bed and held his head in his hands, and it didn’t seem as if he would start a conversation anytime soon again. So, as it had been the case since the beginning, Elizabeth started. He was probably annoyed by her constant need to talk by now.

 

“Nightmare or memory?” she cautiously asked but one look at his face gave her the answer. Elizabeth sighed and tried to think of something to say. She had never been good at comforting people. As the little sister she was usually the one being comforted. This was uncharted territory, so she did what she did best: talk. “Look, I want to help you, I do. But I’m not sure whether I’m the right person for it. I’ll help you when I can but I feel like only me is not enough for this whole... situation. And I know I’m probably overstepping any and all boundaries but I have to ask. What is keeping you from contacting Captain Rogers?”

 

Even the sparse lighting in her guest bedroom couldn’t conceal the way his whole body tensed. The twitching of his jaw had only been the most visible indicator “He was my mission,” he ground out.

 

“Are you afraid you’ll end up killing him?”

 

“I-,” he started but interrupted himself by heaving sigh. “He’s the only link to my old life that’s left.”

 

“So you’re afraid of being alone?” she asked without thinking. Elizabeth closed her eyes and scolded herself internally. “Sorry. But listen. I know I’m basically a stranger to you. But… I get it. I least- I think I do. And it’s just my two cents but you’re the only link left to his old life, too. Contact him. Even if it’s just to let him know where you are. And if you… I just want you to know that if you need something, I’ll help you.”

 

“Even though I’m a murder,” he stated, followed by a wry laugh.

 

“Yeah, well... Maybe? But as far as I can tell that wasn’t actually you. If it were, I probably would be dead by now. So for now I’m trusting you not to kill me and not to kill him,” Elizabeth stated and tried to gauge his reaction. He had opened his mouth but closed it just as quickly with a shake of his head. She had thrown a lot at him after having a probably very realistic nightmare.

Deciding to leave him in peace with all of her half-asleep talk, Elizabeth stood up from the bed and walked towards the door, before turning around again.

She had thought about offering him sleeping pills. But she was sure that he was suffering from PTSD. How couldn’t he? And keeping him asleep while he lived through his worst memories again and again sounded more like torture. She didn’t even know whether sleeping pills would affect him, considering his super-human metabolism and everything.

 

“He’s in New York.” She was suddenly shaken out of her thoughts. So he had thought about contacting him, too.


“I won’t tell you what to do but-” Trying to smother a yawn, Elizabeth turned around and trudged towards the door again to go back to bed. “You should probably contact him.”

Chapter Text

Whatever had happened, whatever he had dreamed of, remembered, whatever she had done - Elizabeth felt as if James had started avoiding her.

The door to her guest bedroom had been constantly opened without anything or anyone, save for the furniture and the now splintered and broken bedside table, inside. Most of her food stayed where she left it, too, and Vito kept whining for attention.

 

It would have been a lie had Elizabeth said that she didn’t mull over any and all possibilities. She was nosy and curious. Hell, those traits had not only been what got her into trouble. They were most likely also the reason she got to be a part of the FBI all together.

 

So now without any cases or mysteries she would to occupy herself with, her brain left her no other choice but to start dissecting what was directly in front of her, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

 

PTSD was no joke, she knew that much. Even her grandfather, who had fought with the rest of the Howling Commandos, lead by Captain Rogers, and fought Hydra later on in collaboration with S.H.I.E.L.D, had sometimes visibly suffered from flashbacks, she could remember that much. Now, adding to that almost dying and decades of torture and murdering people himself, you’d have the perfect recipe for a surefire human disaster. Only that human was not fictional but a living, breathing man who now had to deal with everything Hydra had done to him and made him do. She couldn’t even be mad about her bedside table.

 

But in moments like these she thought that maybe she just wasn’t cut out to help him recuperate. She had hardly any knowledge of treatment for PTSD except for the few pieces of knowledge she had had to learn during her training.

 

Willing her brain to stop analysing the poor guy, Elizabeth closed the window in her kitchen, grabbed her bag and Vito’s leash, and made for the door, him trotting after her.

She needed food, even if it was only for herself and Vito. They couldn’t really live on crackers and peas.

 

The small shop across the street of her apartment building was seedy but seemed friendly enough. She didn’t feel safe enough going anywhere farther without knowing whether she had someone watching her back. Although - with the lack of attacks during the last weeks - she had already found herself questioning her fear and the way she kept hidden at times.

 

By the time she reached the small shop, she had thought up an imaginary list of why she didn’t need to feel afraid.

 

Number one was that the cashier most likely had a gun underneath the counter. This was BedStuy after all.

 

Tying Vito to a pole on the sidewalk she went inside, nodding at the cashier, she grabbed a basket and quickly made her way down the first aisle, throwing anything edible into it. At least she had kept getting paid.

 

Since it was only 3 pm the shop was pretty much empty except for her and the man by the till. But even with the lack of people around her she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.

 

Hurrying to reach the second aisle, she tried peek through the tiny space between two racks while trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible. But the only thing she could see was Vito, wagging his tail.

 

Turning to look over her shoulder, she sighed and resumed filling up the basket. She didn’t want to be this paranoid, it clouded her judgement of real danger.

 

“Ya not bringin’ no trouble with ya, are ya?”

 

Elizabeth jumped and the pack of pasta she had studied fell to the floor with a clatter.

 

“What?” she asked with a slight hint of panic she hoped wasn’t all too noticeable. “I’m not.. No- I… I hope not?”

 

He scrutinizingly looked her over from head to toe and resumed working. “Been seein’ a lot of sketchy fellas ‘round here this week. You’d better stay gone.”

 

“What do you mean, this week? There’s always sketchy people around here. This is Brooklyn.”

 

“Nah, girl. I’m not talkin’ ‘bout wanksters. Talking ‘bout those tuxedo dudes. Seem to be on the look-out for somethin’. Been askin’ ‘round.” Elizabeth felt her stomach sink.

 

“For what?”

 

“Dunno. Closed the shop each time they been walkin’ ‘round. Don’t think they’re no government dudes though, they’d have knocked. Probably tryin’ to not seem conspicuous, assholes.”

 

Elizabeth’s breathing had sped up considerably. They could be looking for someone else. No one should know where she lived. Her father and his paranoia had made sure of that after D.C. and the reveal of Hydra within S.H.I.E.L.D..

But now there was a possibility of the FBI finding out what she had been up to, as well as Hydra finding her. And James.

 

Grabbing the pack of pasta, she thrusted the basket towards the man and pulled out her wallet. “Here, take this,” she told him and grabbed a bunch of wrinkled ten and twenty dollar bills that added up to way more than what her purchase would probably cost. “Keep the change.”

 

She grabbed the basket again and headed for the door when the man behind the counter called after her. “Ya can’t take that basket.”

 

“I’ll bring it back but I’m sure I just gave you enough money to make up for one fucking basket,” she said and steered straight out onto the street to get Vito.

 

The few hundred meters back to her apartment seemed to take an eternity and she only sped up more when she saw the shadow of a man move into the alley where her fire escape was located.

 

“Fuck,” she whispered and pulled Vito along. Heaving her basket up the flight of stairs, she barged into her apartment, leaving the basket by the door and starting to search each and every room.

 

“Hello? You here?” she called out. She didn’t dare say his name in the event of someone else being in her apartment. She could always claim she was calling out for a boyfriend, hook-up, brother, friend or anyone else. Everyone else but him.

 

However, she found her apartment to be completely empty and Elizabeth didn’t know whether to feel relieved or disappointed.

 

Sighing, she pushed her short hair out of her face and sat down on the floor of her kitchen, leaning against the dishwasher.

 

Things like that were bound to happen, she had been aware of that ever since before she decided to help James. But she wasn’t only putting herself in danger. She could live with being reckless. But she didn’t even want to imagine what Hydra or even the government would do to him.

 

Leaning her head against the dishwasher, too, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes to think. But then she noticed that the cars down on the street sounded way louder, closer and clearer. Opening her eyes slowly to adjust to the light streaming in, she saw that the window was completely open. And she was sure she had closed it when she left for the shop.

 

Reaching to close the window, Elizabeth stood up quickly and shut it with a small bang. It didn’t have to have been an intruder. James always came and went through this window.

 

But turning around, she saw that one of her small purple notes had been folded and stuck to the fridge.

 

Confused at first, Elizabeth reached out to take it. However, as soon as she saw James’ untidy scrawl in the front, relief flooded her body and she let a small laugh ring out.

 

The note said S.R. # and had a phone number written inside of it. There wasn’t much more to it but she knew whose phone number it was and what it meant.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth hated to admit it but with no job, her family living somewhere on the other side of the continent and now, after having had James stay with her, she felt lonely. Not even Vito who had been her first resort to NOT feeling like this wasn’t quite helping her at the moment.

 

She didn’t know why she was suddenly feeling this way. It wasn’t like James had made a whole lot of noise anyway. The only thing she could see as a reason was that she liked having another human being around, someone who she knew would understand what she was saying and not a dog that would only react to certain words, like cheese, park and treat.

 

She wasn’t mad that he had left. She had actually felt relief and a little bit of happiness when she had seen Captain Rogers’ phone number pinned to her fridge, although she didn’t quite understand why James had wanted her to have it. He probably had his reasons.

To him, she had probably only been a stepping stone in his ongoing recuperation - which she was fine with (at least partially). Helping people had always been her goal in life.

 

She couldn’t help it but feel lonely.

 

But no matter how much she wanted to wallow in self-pity at the moment, she needed to get out of bed, even though there was nothing waiting for her but Vito - who should’ve been enough, she knew that; but he just wasn’t.

 

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth threw her blanket off of her feet and slowly started to make her way towards her kitchen to have breakfast. Or lunch. She didn’t quite know. All she knew was that she had been awake around four to take Vito for a short walk.

 

Starting up her coffee maker, she opened her fridge to get all of the necessities for her breakfast. Normally she would have had a big nutritious breakfast with fruits but she thought two pieces of toast with butter would do, too.

 

Heaving herself onto the kitchen counter, she balanced her plate in one hand and started eating with the other. Having time to look around, she noticed something odd.

 

Normally, when she would start preparing breakfast, Vito would be sitting right next to her, waiting for any piece of food to fall down. She never really liked that he did this but couldn’t really sway him when it came to food. But now there was no sign of him and instead of relief only confusion settled in.

 

“Vito?” she called out and waited for a moment to jump from the counter. Putting her plate onto it, she wiped her hands on her shorts and started moving towards her door when suddenly a wet nose poked her thigh. “There you ar-” she started bending down to pet him but someone caught her eye. Elizabeth had to suppress a small smile. “I thought you were gone for good. Especially with all of the Hydra agents swarming the neighbourhood.”

 

“Couldn’t stay away,” he told her.

 

“The dog?” she asked and laughed when Vito trotted back to where he was sitting on her sofa.

 

“Yeah, the dog,” he told her and reached out to pet him while Elizabeth kept watching them. Had someone told her someone with a metal hand could pet a dog softly and gently, she would’ve said it wasn’t possible. But there it was, that whole scenario right in front of her.

 

“You know, maybe you should get one, too,” she told him and moved to sit down across from him. “They’re good for ...stuff like this. Nightmares, grounding and calming.”

 

He looked up at her for a moment but returned to giving his attention to her dog. She knew she kept overstepping her boundaries but couldn’t stop herself. She had always had trouble to think before speaking.

 

“I-,” Elizabeth started up again but was interrupted by the ringing of her phone. She grabbed it, motioned for James to wait for a minute and made her way towards her kitchen to take the call.

 

“Moore,” she answered.

 

“Agent Moore,” the voice on the other end replied. His voice sent a jolt through her body and made her straighten up immediately.

 

“Director Hawk,” she choked out. “How can I help you?”

 

“I’m calling to let you know that you will be authorized to come back to the FBI by next monday. There was no evidence that could be linked to you,” his clipped voice rang through her speaker.

 

“That-That’s great to hear. Thank you, I-I guess,” she stuttered.

 

“Please make sure to come to my office on monday, there are still a few things that cannot be addressed over the phone.”

 

“Yes, of course. Thank you, Director,” she replied and waited for him to hang up to let out the breath she had been holding.

 

She didn’t know whether to be relieved or confused. It seemed like that was her default setting anyway by now. Of course she was glad that she could go back to actually doing something but this kind of call was usually carried out by the director’s secretary, definitely not by himself.

 

Elizabeth decided that she was reading too much into it and shook out her hands before going back to her living room and her very unexpected guest.

 

“I’m going back,” she told him. “And I’m actually really glad you resolved your issues with Captain R-.”

 

“I didn’t resolve anything,” he cut her off but didn’t meet her eyes.

 

“What do you mean? I thought…,” she trailed off. Had she misunderstood the note on her fridge? How else was she supposed to interpret it?

 

James turned away from her and when it hit Elizabeth,she slowly leaned back onto her chair with an ‘oh’.

 

“Why?”

 

“I can’t…,” was all he said.

 

Elizabeth breathed out slowly, trying to think of an encouraging statement but nothing came out. Instead she went for trying to make more sense of the situation. “Is it because of your mission or something else? I mean, you did talk to him, right?”

 

“I did. It’s both. He’s a… very idealistic and nostalgic person, probably more so than I remember.”

 

“You’re afraid you’re not going to live up to who he thinks you are,” Elizabeth stated, not really sure whether she was actually expecting an answer. The look on his face told her everything and she was suddenly a little taken aback. Of course he liked staying with a stranger. They had no idea who he was before and therefore no expectations. And if she knew anything, she knew what is was like to feel like you were not living up to set expectations.
On top of talking to her about personal things, she didn’t know when he had started to show emotions as he was now doing. If anything could be called progress, this could be.

“It’s alright,” she said when he still wouldn’t meet her eyes. “These things take time. Probably a whole lot. But for what it’s worth,” she said and stood up, lying a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You can stay here for as long as it’s possible.”

Chapter Text

Trying to get back into the swing of everything proved to be more difficult than Elizabeth had anticipated. Not only had it been hard for her to leave so early in the morning when she had been able to spend almost every morning in bed during the last few weeks, there were also her fellow agents whose scrutinizing looks she hadn’t been able to evade ever since she set foot into her department again.

 

She was still sitting in her cubicle three hours later with nothing to work on as the Director still had not had the time to talk to her and without having talked to him at first, no one would involve her in any ongoing investigations. Not even Ewan, who kept sending her pitiful looks whenever he passed her, could involve her in his ongoing assignment.

 

She understood the protocol her apartment had to follow, why it had been put into place. But she couldn’t help but feel aggravated by unnecessity in her case. Well, unnecessary didn’t quite fit the bill. She did harbor a fugitive but no one knew about that as far as she understood.

 

“Moore!” someone hollered from the other end of the office and Elizabeth shot up from her seat immediately and hurried towards the director’s office, eager the get it over with.

 

The door had been left open, so before she entered Elizabeth quickly pulled down her skirt, straightened her blouse and tucked a strand of her brown hair that had come loose while she had waited behind her ear.

 

“Director,” she greeted but was met with a stern glance and stony facial features.

 

“Sit down,” he told her and nodded towards the chair standing next to her. Elizabeth had no other choice but to comply, even if she felt like a child being scolded by a parent. After looking her over for a few seconds, he sighed and continued. “My agents have found no evidence to prove that you have been working for another organization or even for your own benefit,” he started and Elizabeth exhaled. “But you knew that already. However, the testimonies from your fellow agents indicate something different.”

 

Fellow agents? Apart from Ewan, who was her partner, there were a total of three people Elizabeth talked to regularly. “Which is..?” Elizabeth asked and tried her hardest to keep her face neutral.

 

“That you have been looking into files and ongoing investigations that do not concern you. Mario Perkins from the achi-”

 

“It’s Marc,” Elizabeth found herself suddenly interrupting but scolded herself the moment the words left her mouth. Director Hawk sent her a look of sheer disbelief. “Sorry,” she mumbled and let him continue.

 

“Mister Perez from the archive informed us that you took a particular interest in the Winter Soldier investigations,” he said and nudged a file on his desk towards her. Elizabeth leaned forward to grab it but her hand froze mid air. The moment she saw the picture pinned to the cover of the manila folder she felt her heart stop beating.

There on the cover was a picture of James. And not just any old surveillance camera picture in black and white, pixelated beyond belief. No, this was quite sharp and colourful and most certainly a newer one, him being dressed in a very modern sweatshirt and baseball cap.

 

“Oh,” Elizabeth let the expression escape her lips before she could grasp the whole weight of the situation.

 

“Given your family history this might be excusable.But how long have you known and why didn’t you inform the team actually working on this case?”

 

“I thought this was already known,” she lied and looked directly at the director. She knew he wouldn’t believe her if she said that she didn’t know. Her family background kind of made that answer impossible to believe.

 

Director Hawk clicked his tongue and pulled the file towards him again, flicking through the pages. “See, that’s where I start having trouble believing you. My team only found out two weeks ago and as soon as they knew, the whole department knew. So you cannot possibly think of me as this dense.”

 

“I don-,” Elizabeth started but was promptly interrupted by Director Hawk.

 

“What did you do with the information you gained from the file?” he asked, apparently not even expecting an answer to his last statement.

 

“I didn’t do anything with it,” she told him. Lie. “I was- It was merely me trying to make sense of what happened back then that made him turn into that.” She couldn’t really tell him that she started because he was getting on her nerves and somehow ended up being one of her grandfather’s oldest friends.

 

“And did you? Make sense, that is?” he asked curiously, folding his hands in front of his chest.

 

“I-. No,” she told him. “I don’t know any more than we did before we knew who he really is. Only that- I believe he’s more of a victim than a criminal,” she told him truthfully. She couldn’t quite believe she heard herself say that. But she found that she did feel that way.

 

Director Hawk nodded thoughtfully and cleared his throat before starting to talk again. “One last question: Did you seek personal contact?”

 

“I did,” she told him. He knew her father well enough to know that his daughter wouldn’t be all too different from him. “But he keeps himself hidden rather well.”

 

He acknowledged her statement and straightened up. “You know this isn’t over yet, do you? You’ll be regularly called in for questioning from now on. We take accusations very seriously.”

 

“I understand,” Elizabeth answered. “I just have one more question,” she started, moving to stand up from her seat but motioned towards the picture pinned to the folder. “Who took the picture?”

 

“This one? I did.”

 

///

 

Three days.

 

It took exactly three days for something unusual to happen again.

 

Elizabeth hadn’t even been able to fully work her way into her new assignment when everything around her started to act up again. This time however, it was big enough to send most of the intelligence agencies into an uproar almost as big as the one during and after the battle of Washington D.C.

 

The moment the department started to become loud and turbulent, Elizabeth’s heart sank, heavy with fear of what had happened now, leading her thoughts to run wild with possibilities.

 

She jumped up from her chair, looking over the sea of cubicles only to find Ewan, transfixed on the screen mounted on the wall.

 

“What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked dreadfully, trying to filter out any useful information from the screen. The reporter was standing in front of what seemed to be a park in the west village and she was surrounded by even more reporters. Only when Elizabeth caught the words ‘murdered’ and ‘Interior Secretary’ did she snap back into action. “Shit.”

 

“How come reporters are always there first? Shouldn’t we be the first to know?” Ewan complained bitterly, as he grabbed his stuff and headed towards the main area of the commotion in their department.

 

“Listen up everyone!” Elizabeth heard Director Hawk from the middle of the commotion and hurried to catch up to Ewan. “We have already received all the information the police could gather in this short amount of time. It’s true. The Interior Secretary has been murdered and so have been his wife and child.”

The noise grew steadily louder after that with people asking for evidence and possible suspects. “There has been an awful crime. Right now it seems that they have been tortured to death. But there is one thing we have. We have an eyewitness. The main suspect is Hydra with the Winter Soldier as the perpetrator.” Then the noise grew unbearable.

 

Elizabeth didn’t know whether it was actually this loud or whether it was the blood rushing inside of her. No matter what she was hearing at the moment, she had frozen in place. They had searched for him before. But with this - even if the Interior Secretary turned out to be a Hydra sympathizer or even part of Hydra himself - this would end up as a manhunt.

 

Ewan shook her shoulder and Elizabeth could make out the last few words of Director Hawk over the roar of outraged chatter.. “-Moore, Donovan, Clarke, Wu and Zimmerman with me.”

 

“Come on,” Ewan mumbled and grabbed her arm, pulling her along towards the office the director and the rest of the agents had disappeared in, which Elizabeth was grateful for. She didn’t think she could purposefully move an inch if her life depended on it.

 

Once inside, Ewan closed the door and nudged Elizabeth with his elbow, shooting her a worried glance.

 

“I’m okay,” she told him silently and flinched when she heard a heavy file being slapped onto the metal table.

 

“This investigation has been rather slack during these last few months. Since the only people that have been killed by Barnes were Hydra, there didn’t seem to be a threat to the rest of the population. However-”

 

“Who’s to say Secretary Winslow was not also part of Hydra?” Elizabeth heard someone interrupt. “No one thought Secretary Pierce to be part of it, either,” the agent continued and Elizabeth silently thanked him for saying what she had been thinking of since the start.

 

“Good question,” Director Hawk acknowledged. “This you will hopefully find out during your investigation.”

 

“Wait, our investigation?” Ewan piped up, confused.

 

“The Winter Soldier investigation will be expanded. With you,” he addressed all of them but halted when his eyes found Elizabeth’s. “You wanted to help, didn’t you? Now’s your chance.”

 

“But why now?” Elizabeth heard Agent Clarke interject. “I mean this is what, the 55th murder that we’re mostly sure has been committed by him? Why act now and not sooner?”

 

“See, no one cares about the Hydra goons being strangled. They found three lying dead in an alley by one of the busiest streets in New York City and it didn’t even make the news. If you want to talk to the press about how their Secretary of Interior and his family have been strangled with their own intestines and the FBI won’t do anything about it, go ahead.”

 

“Jesus,” Elizabeth muttered at the mental picture and took a deep breath. “So when do we start?” she asked.

 

“Now,” he told all of them. “Get to work. You’ll be given access to the information the police has provided in the next 10 minutes. There’s also three vans down in the garage reserved for you, if you need them. And you should need them. We want this over and done with in a matter of days,” he hastily told them, while trying to make his way towards the door. “Now get on with it!”

And with that he left the group of confused and agitated agents in the room.

 

///

 

Elizabeth didn’t think her anxiety could rise any higher. But she was now presented with the fact that it, indeed, could.

 

Now, with all of the intelligence agencies on a manhunt for the fugitive living in her apartment and not being able to reach him to tell him to get the hell out , Elizabeth was presented with two choices.

 

One: working with the agencies and act as if she didn’t know anything about anyone, not benefiting their search but definitely not hindering it either.

 

or

 

Two: working against the agencies within the FBI and bringing them off track without making herself look suspicious.

 

But no matter the times she mulled it over during the minutes she was allowed to herself, she always came back to option number two.

 

Even if she had had Captain Rogers’ number saved in her phone (which she didn’t) to help him get James out of her apartment, out of New York or even out of the US, not only would any of the agencies probably end up at her doorstep, it would lead to someone mostly innocent being imprisoned.

 

So by the time Ewan and her were seated in one of the FBI’s vans with two fellow agents, she had already made a decision: successfully sabotaging the good guys.

And she hated herself for it.



///

 

The eyewitness turned out to be the maid, a young woman of romanian descent, with a heavy accent, that somehow acted not quite as shocked as Elizabeth would have expected someone to be had they found their employers the way the Secretary and his family been mutilated.

 

So while Ewan questioned the woman, Elizabeth kept an eye on her reactions and the continuity of her account. Apparently she had wandered into the hall when “the metal man” was in the middle of stringing up the secretary, who had then still been alive. But her account noticeably didn’t add up.

 

“Wait, hold on. Sorry. So did he threaten you before he ran out of the hall or didn’t he?” Ewan asked the woman, looking through his notes again with a frown on his face.

 

“He did,” the woman answered, nodding vigorously.

 

“You didn’t say that before,” Elizabeth reminded her and Ewan glanced up at her with a knowing look.

 

“I forgot, da?” the woman told them with a small smile and a shrug, her accent thick and noticeable.

 

Whether she had been threatened or not didn’t really bear too much of a difference to the case. But neither Elizabeth nor Ewan believed that she would forget being threatened by an assassin, not any time soon anyway.

 

“Thank you, we’ll keep in touch,” Ewan told her with a nod and subtly grabbed Elizabeth’s arm, pulling her with him into a corner of the secretary’s estate. “Please tell me I’m not paranoid but that whole… thing … doesn’t add up.”

 

“No, you’re right, it doesn’t. But why would she lie? It’s not like we would think she’d be strong enough to hang even one of them,” Elizabeth said, glancing at the woman. “No one’s even questioning who did it. It’s just the reason why.”

 

“Liz, no..-,” Ewan kept talking but Elizabeth didn’t look away from the woman. She was pretty, dark, black hair, gathered into a knot at the back of her head and a rather pretty face, too. However, the woman seemed to notice Elizabeth looking at her, and when she did look at her, too, she sent a smirk her way that seemed to be anything but benign.

 

“Oh god,” Elizabeth concluded.

 

“I know, right?” Ewan went on, not understanding that the expression wasn’t meant as an answer to whatever he had been talking about.

 

“Let’s get the others and start searching. I propose we start with Manhattan since most of the murders happened there.” She just hoped James wasn’t anywhere near there.

 

///

 

The moment she was able to break away from her team for a few hours to get some rest she tried not to run back to her own apartment. Whatever had happened today, or whatever was in the works right now, it wasn’t good in any way or form, for anyone.

 

Forcefully opening the door, she barged into her own apartment, upset like she hadn’t been in a long time.

 

Finding James in the living room with Vito, she stormed by angrily, to get the phone number that had been pinned to her fridge for almost a week by then.

 

Typing the digits into her phone, she was interrupted by James standing in the doorway to her kitchen. “What are you doing?”

 

“You need to get out of here,” she told him and tried to squeeze through the space between him and her doorframe, when suddenly she came to a halt due to his arm blocking her. The way his eyebrows furrowed gave away his confusion and Elizabeth tried to keep a neutral face. “You need to get out of here. Now,” she repeated. “Do you want to know who the suspect for Secretary Winslow’s murder is? I think you do. And I need to get you out of here.”

 

Elizabeth could sense the way his body tensed, making his arm just that much more unmovable. “I didn’t do it.”

 

“I know,” she assured him, truthfully. “They’re trying to frame you. You need to get out.”

 

“I can go on my own,” he said and went to turn around, towards his room.

 

“No!” Elizabeth said forcefully and grabbed his arm. “There’s close to a hundred agents out there looking for you. They weren’t on your ass as much before because you killed the bad guys. But now you apparently killed a high-ranking government official and they’ll hunt you down for that! They know who you are, where you lived and what happened to you. And I’m not even taking Hydra into that equation! You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you’re not that good. You can’t just go out of here and think you’ll be just fine on your own. I’m out of options here,” Elizabeth told him and held the tiny purple note aloft. “I know you don’t want to do this, but apart from going back to living in an abandoned building and stealing people’s food, you’re out of options, too.”

 

James scrutinized the note and without letting his façade crumble, he grabbed both the note and the phone. “What do I tell him?”

 

“As far as I know, you gave him a place to stay when he needed it. Now it’s his turn.”

 

///

 

Elizabeth had never met anyone that hated waiting more than her. That is, until she saw the way James unsuccessfully tried to mask his agitation, and it only seemed to grow with the minutes that passed as they sat in her living room, together and in silence.

 

She couldn’t possibly understand what was going on in his head.

 

“You okay?” she tried but was only rewarded with a very cold and emotionless glance her way. It had been a stupid thing to ask, she had to admit.

 

“Sor-,” she started to say but was interrupted by three sharp knocks on her door. The moment the first knock had rung through her apartment, James shoulders had visibly tensed and Vito had perked up, too, but other than that he didn’t move even one inch.

Sighing, Elizabeth stood up to walk towards the door, patting James on the shoulder in the process.

 

Even she hesitated when it came to opening the door. She hadn’t talked to anyone and had no idea what or who to expect. It could as well be agents, having followed the traces to her door. Even if it was 2 am in the morning, that was quite as well a possibility. But she had never imagined that, after looking through the spyhole of her door, she would feel relief at seeing the familiar face of a person she knew better from pictures and stories than from anything else.

 

“Captain,” she greeted rather unsure and stepped aside to let him enter.

 

“M’am,” he retorted and apprehensively stepped inside. It seemed not only James was nervous about this encounter and Elizabeth felt a wave of sadness wash over her. They had once been best friends and were now nervous when it came to even seeing each other.

 

“Call me- You can call me Liz,” she told him and he retorted with a simple ‘ Steve’, obviously thankful for leaving formalities out of this situation. “He’s-.”

 

“Can we just- Sorry,” he interrupted and Elizabeth urged him to go on. “What happened? We didn’t know about any details surrounding the murder.”



“Hydra probably figured they couldn’t get him back as an asset and are now trying to get him imprisoned by the feds,” she told him after closing the door and leading him further into her apartment. “All I know for sure is that you need to get him out of here,” she said and waved him into the living room. “Pretty sure this was just the beginning.”

 

Steve nodded and breathed in audibly. He probably hadn’t anticipated anything of this sort today, either.

 

“Buck,” he said and nodded towards James, who returned the gesture. “Let’s go.”

 

James slowly stood up, apprehension in every move he made. Elizabeth felt bad for being this bossy and making him go but she did want the best for him.

 

When Steve was out of her door, James turned around to look at Elizabeth again.

 

“Thank you,” he told her. Elizabeth couldn’t hold herself back and quickly moved to hug him, just for a second.


“Don’t worry about it,” she told him and patted him on his back. With another nod he was out of her apartment and Elizabeth was left to her own devices.

Chapter Text

"Tell me again why we can’t arrest the maid?” Elizabeth groaned into the crook of her arm as she was sitting in a conference room with the team assigned to their quite literal manhunt.

 

“Complete lack of evidence, alibi and everyone’s convinced a 5’4 woman couldn’t hang someone with their own intestines, let alone a 250 pound man . It’s just… logic and a little bit of physics,” came Ewan’s reply, just as tired as the rest of the agents sitting by the table in the small room. The look he directed at Elizabeth made her sigh in exhaustion.

 

The search they had been assigned to, and the lack of participation on Elizabeth’s part, had been going on for close to four days, full to the brim with extra hours that had cost them hours upon hours of sleep. But still they were nowhere near finding James, much to Elizabeth’s relief. She didn’t know where Steve had taken him but as far as she could tell he was out of New York. At least she hoped so since the number of neighbourhoods in New York they hadn’t searched or observed yet kept decreasing drastically.

On top of that, questioning people had never seemed so tedious to Elizabeth. The questions she asked were to the point but especially the older folks still found a way to incorporate their whole life story. But if it meant more time spent not getting any closer to finding James, then she would take it.

 

“I don’t believe it was him, either,” Agent Clarke spoke up, rubbing her face. “Except for the one eyewitness who we’re not even sure is being honest, there’s no motive and no recognizable pattern. The deaths he was linked to were either suicide through cyanide or very precise kills, never torturous. It doesn’t add up.”

 

“Yeah, but that’s gonna bring us nowhere. The higher-ups are convinced it was him, so either way we’re going to have to continue searching,” Agent Wu added, yawning as he did so.

 

They were all exhausted but the assignment had been clear: solve it as fast as possible. The only problem was that none of them would be able to work on four hours of sleep.

 

“As much as I’d like to keep playing Criminal Minds with you guys, this sucks and I really need to lie down,” Ewan complained with a look at the clock. “It’s almost midnight, we better get going anyway.”

 

“Good idea,” Elizabeth groaned and stood up from where she was sitting to stretch. “If I have to listen to one more person telling me about their life even though I asked for something completely different, I’m going to scream.”

 

One after the other, her co-workers filed out of the room with a chorus of Good-Bye’s and See-You’s, until only Elizabeth and Ewan were left, both packing up their things to finally be able to fall into their respective beds.

 

“Hey,  Liz?” Ewan suddenly asked, pausing for just a second.

 

“You heard that thing about me screaming? Because I meant it,” Elizabeth replied, trying to smother a yawn and grabbing her phone that just vibrated with a notification of a text message.

 

“I know, it’s just…,” he grimaced before continuing, “You know where he is, don’t you?”

 

Elizabeth froze but looked up to meet Ewan’s eyes, keeping her face blank, the text message forgotten. “Why do you think that?”

 

Ewan let out a breath and shook his head. “Relax, kid. You’re just a lot more obvious than you think, is all. Also, you would have been the first one to jump down someone’s throat if they admitted that they thought a vigilante was innocent. ”

 

Elizabeth let out shuddering breath, the gears in her head turning.  How was she supposed to respond to that, especially if she was that obvious anyway? Especially Ewan could probably read her like a book.

 

“I don’t. I swear, I really don’t. The only thing I know for sure is that he didn’t kill them,” she rushed out.

 

“It’s alright, I was just curious,” Ewan replied with a small smile. “Go home, kid. Get some rest.”

 

“Will do,” Elizabeth murmured, threw the last of her belongings into her bag and made her way towards the door.

 

She had always thought that she was a good actress, being able to fool others. But was that only true for people that didn’t really know her? Ewan wasn’t a regular person after all but just the thought of others being able to read her like that made her nauseous.  No wonder she had been suspected of working for another organization.

 

No matter the case,  all she wanted to do was to go home to her best friend.



///

 

The moment Elizabeth was stood in front of her apartment door she knew something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t just because the door to her apartment was ajar - even though that was a big indicator.

 

Her apartment building was usually a lively house, dogs barking and kids yelling and running through their apartments. But right then it seemed as if she was the only person in the whole building and the only thing she could hear was the way her heart hammered against her chest.

 

Most of her furniture was knocked over, any knick-knack she had was lying on the floor. Picture frames were knocked to the floor, cracked and broken. Whoever had turned her apartment upside down, it seemed they had done a good job.
Tentatively and with her hand on her gun, Elizabeth stepped into the apartment, trying hard not to step on any shards of glass or other things strewn on the floor.

 

She had not wanted to think about it but now she was presented with that what-if she had always tried to avoid thinking about. She had known that there was a very real possibility of someone connecting the dots, be it the FBI or Hydra or even someone else. But now that she was standing in her destroyed apartment, she didn’t know whether to just grab her stuff and run or to call the police. But the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to involve any authorities in this mess.

 

Sitting down onto her sofa, she put her head in her hands. Tired, shocked and nauseous, Elizabeth was caught between throwing up and crying. That is until she heard soft whimpering coming from the direction of her kitchen.

 

The horrified ‘ oh god ’ had not even left her lips before she was crying and scrambling to get towards the source of the sound.

 

She knew the apartment had been too silent but what kind of person was she to just forget the one thing she had looked forward to seeing at the end of the day?

 

“No, oh god,” Elizabeth pressed out through a strangled sob as she came to kneel besides Vito. “Come on, boy, you’re okay,” she kept saying, more to herself than anyone else, while she tried to look for any visible injuries. But apart from Vito’s constant whining and flinching at her prodding, she couldn’t find anything visible. But right then, in this situation, she had no idea what to do anymore.

 

///

 

It had taken Elizabeth longer than she liked to admit to get help. The last time she had experienced anything close to this, she had shut down completely and refused to talk for weeks. But then she had still been a child and her grandfather had been more of a parent to her than her father ever was.

But now, sitting in the busy vet clinic at 2 in the morning, waiting for any news at all, Elizabeth wished she could just shut down in the same way again.

 

Vito had been her only constant since she had come to New York. He depended on her just as much as she depended on him. So how could she just forget him? It’s not like she had other things to worry about. James was safe, as far as she knew. At least he was around someone she knew would die trying to keep him safe. Her family was safe, being on the other side of the country. And Elizabeth herself, well, she could handle herself. She always did.

 

But whatever thoughts ran through her mind, none were anywhere near an acceptable excuse for what had happened and the tears streaking down her face got more with each minute that passed.

 

She had been sitting in the same chair for over an hour already and still hadn’t been told any news. Hiccupping, Elizabeth decided to at least ask for any information they could give her and made her way towards the reception desk at the other end of the room, weaving through the people standing around.

 

“Sorry,” she started, addressing the young black woman at the reception desk. “Could you please tell me anything about the dog I brought in? Vito? The name’s Elizabeth More.”

 

“Sure thing, sweetheart,” the woman replied with a kind smile that only seemed to dwindle when she looked up her dog in their system, which made Elizabeth’s tears roll down her face even harder. “It’s gonna take a while. There seems to have been a lot of internal bleeding and they’re… they’re trying to take care of it. I’m very sorry. What happened?”

 

“He.. uhm,” Was she really about to tell a stranger about the assholes that had harmed her dog like this? “He was hit by a car.”

 

“I’m very sorry. Did you file charges already or would you like us to inform the police?” the woman continued.

 

“No, I.. it was a hit and run. I found him like that,” Elizabeth whispered, hoping this time her lying wasn’t too obvious. However, she found that she didn’t care about that too much anyway.

 

Turning around to claim her place on one of the hard blue plastic chairs once again, the woman called after her. “I’ll let you know if there’s something new. Maybe try to get some sleep.”

 

Softly plopping onto the chair, Elizabeth closed her eyes, willing herself to think of anything else but the consequences of what she had found today, when she suddenly felt someone sit down next to her.

 

Peeking up through the hair that had fallen into her face, all she could see was dark blond hair on what she was definitely sure was a strange man. But it seemed familiar to her nevertheless. “I know you,” she told him bluntly while sniffling.

 

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t,” he told her just as bluntly, grabbing her shoulder in what he probably intended to be a gesture of comfort. “How are you holding up?”

 

“I’d rather know your name first. You know, manners and all that,” Elizabeth snapped.

 

“Hawkeye,” he replied.

 

“Well, I know that.”

 

The man hesitated for a moment before sticking his hand out towards her, “Clint.” When she didn’t react except for a look directed towards his hand, he slowly put it back onto his thigh. “Now. How are you holding up?”

 

“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked, wiping at her eyes.

 

“You really believe someone wouldn’t have kept their eyes on you? You meddled with Hydra, kid,” Clint replied, looking at her with his eyebrows raised high. But Elizabeth was only able to return a confused expression that was followed by more tears.

 

“What?”

 

“Look at your phone,” he told her and motioned towards her bag. When she tried to reply, he only shook his head and repeated himself, “Just look.”

 

Reluctantly grabbing for her phone in her bag, she saw that there was indeed a text message on it. Probably the one she had gotten while she had still been at work.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Don’t go home, they found you. Lose your phone and check in at a hotel out of town with a fake name. We’ve got the rest covered. -J

 

As soon as Elizabeth reached the last letter she let out a bitter laugh before she started sobbing again. She didn’t even care that this Clint had to put up with it.

 

Putting her head in her hands, she tried to tune out everything around her, the constant chatter of the other people that had brought in their pets at this time of the day, her own thoughts, the traffic outside, but Clint’s voice disturbed her attempt at peace.

 

“By the way, checking into a clinic with your real name was quite the foolish move,” he told her with a click of his tongue. “Especially you should know better.”

 

“I don’t care,” came Elizabeth’s muffled reply. “I can handle myself.”

 

“Well, I’m not so sur-,” Clint started but didn’t get to finish.

 

“Do you have a dog, Clint? Or even just someone that you care about?” Elizabeth snapped. “Because that dog is quite literally all I have in New York, so you don’t get to reprimand me on putting myself at risk. I’m to blame he got hurt! I can handle myself getting hurt but not others getting hurt because of me. Even if it’s just the fucking dog.”

 

Elizabeth pinched her eyes closed at her outbreak but couldn’t keep herself from crying. She hadn’t even wanted to admit these things to herself but now she had done so either way, to a stranger out of all things.

 

After a pregnant pause came Clint’s reply, quietly but forcefully. “I do have one, actually.  And I have a family. I know which one I’d want to make sure are safe first.”

 

“What are you trying to say?” Elizabeth asked confused, grabbing her bag to look for a tissue.

 

“Someone wanted to keep you safe over the dog, as shitty as it sounds.”

 

“I-,” Elizabeth started but shook her head. “Sorry.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Clint replied, taking in the waiting room of the vet. “But you should get out of here.”

 

“What? I’m not-.”

 

“Listen,” Clint cut her off, moving to kneel in front of her. “There’s a bunch of criminals on your ass for your affiliation with one of their former assets. They don’t care about who or what they hurt or kill and you’ve just given a public institution your name and phone number. You don’t honestly think you’ll be able to take care of a fucking dog in the middle of this mess, do you?”

 

“I-,” Elizabeth cut herself off as she realized he was right. She hadn’t thought this through yet. “So what do I do, just leave him here?”

 

“Leave them a nice sum of cash and he’ll be safer here than anywhere else, kid.”

 

“I really don’t like this,” Elizabeth told him, sniffling.


“No one would, kid. No one would.”

Chapter Text

 

Elizabeth had never thought that - in all of the 28 years she had been alive by now - there would ever be a day where she was forced to only care for herself.

She was a carer with a deep need to protect others from injustice. Maybe it ran in her genes, maybe it was just behaviour she had picked up during her childhood or whatever her family had instilled into her. Whatever it was, it had successfully turned out to be a major part of her personality. So having to leave her best friend behind in the hands of strangers had not only hurt, it had been nearly impossible for her.

 

But she tried to convince herself that it was for the best, even as she was already heading towards the outskirts of New York City. She needed a hotel that didn’t ask for an ID and thanks to her job she could remember one where they had busted a drug dealer a few months back. Not ideal, but very much ideal for her situation.
She had guessed that the more seedy the hotel was, the better. Clint had been right. Giving her information to the clinic had been a dumb move but she hadn’t thought about it, at least not then, with everything else on her mind.

 

Now that she had time to think and make plans on how she wanted to proceed, she wanted to make sure that her steps were as untraceable as she could manage right now. She had already withdrawn a good part of her money somewhere in Manhattan, left a huge wad of cash at the vet clinic for the staff to find and she had thrown her phone into the Hudson River, letting the water do its damage.

 

Elizabeth would have been lying, had she not admitted (at least to herself) that she felt more and more like a criminal with each passing minute. But she tried to remind herself that this wasn’t the case.

James was a victim. She tried to help. She was not a criminal, just couldn’t help but snoop and bring justice to him, to the people in general - and be inevitably caught in the crossfire.

She tried to repeat that to herself as many times as she could but somehow it didn’t seem to stick as well as she wanted it to.

 

The taxi she had hopped into had been as seedy looking as the hotel she was currently looking for. The driver was a man looking 40, most likely younger, with greasy salt and pepper hair and a generally unwashed look to him. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had to take a cab at 3 in the morning but this man was just fuel for her nightmares. He made her feel uneasy to say the least, not only with his presence but also with the way he kept glancing at her - especially after this day’s events. At least she still had her gun on her.

 

The only good thing was that he didn’t talk to her except for a gruff “Where to?”. Looking like a hot mess, exhausted, tear-streaked and generally unappealing had probably put him off from asking any questions and, honestly, this was something Elizabeth was thankful for.

 

The moment the taxi reached its destination, Elizabeth threw a small wad of cash at the driver, not bothering to count the bills, and hastily made her way towards the hotel with a hurried “Thanks!” in his direction.

 

She couldn’t waste any time in the streets where she was as visible as a beacon. Also, if she thought about it, she still needed to get to work in the morning. And just the thought of having to go back out filled her with dread.

 

///

 

As soon as Elizabeth was able to lie down on the frankly dusty bed, she wanted to sleep. That was all she wanted; some deep, uninterrupted sleep.

She hadn’t been able to sleep enough during the past few days anyway and now, with the adrenaline in her blood finally decreasing, she felt her eyelids droop even more. However, it seemed that the day’s events still needed to catch up with her and with each passing minute thoughts crept into her mind that made her want to cry more and more.  

 

Elizabeth couldn’t remember the last time she had cried this much. What had happened today certainly did warrant some sort of physical reaction, though.

But as Elizabeth's heartbeat started to pick up and her breathing got laboured, she realized that she couldn’t calm herself down any more and started to shake, cold sweat breaking out all over her body.
Maybe she wouldn’t have been pushed as far as to having some sort of panic attack had she not been alone.

There it was again. Alone. She now was truly alone. No dog, not even a stupid some-sort-of-roommate that hardly ever talked. She couldn’t even describe what she would give to have Jame’s sole presence somewhere near her, just to reassure her. But she knew that she was on her own, at least for now. Nothing she could do right now would help her.

 

So with a shaky sob, Elizabeth turned to wrap herself in the dusty duvet, hoping that at least the three hours of possible sleep she had left before she needed to wake up again would be enough.

 

///

 

They weren’t. Damn herself for even thinking that three hours would make up for four days of hardly any sleep at all. But now she needed to deal with the consequences. Whether she had the energy to do just that was a whole other story.

 

“Alright, gather ‘round everybody,” she heard Director Hawk call out, followed by the imminent clatter of the agents heading his way, both sounds ending in jolts of pain inside of her head. Slowly Elizabeth began to drag her tired body his way, too. Looking to her right, she saw Ewan stepping out of his own cubicle and shooting her a worried look as soon as he caught her eyes. It seemed that he wanted to say something, although when he did start to speak, he was interrupted by Director Hawk. “There are several cases that we need to put on hold for now and this has been an incredibly difficult decision. But due to the fact that the team we assembled to find Barnes at the beginning of this week hasn’t brought any new evidence forward until now, it has been decided that we will add new members to the team once more.”

 

Elizabeth’s stomach dropped. Of course they would be trying to find him as fast as possible. If she knew anything about the media, then that they had probably started to blow a lot of it out of proportion. She wouldn’t even be surprised if there were rumors of the murders being part of a terrorist attack. She could understand why the FBI would feel like they were in a tight spot.

 

Director Hawk started calling out names and several agents in the crowd started murmuring to each other.

When Elizabeth felt a warm hand on her shoulder, she turned to her right to meet Ewan’s eyes.

 

“You don’t look so good,” he stated concerned, his eyebrows creased.

 

No shit , Elizabeth thought, but as far as she knew he didn’t know why she would look any different than she usually did. “I’m fine,” she answered brusquely, trying to focus on the names Hawk kept calling out. She didn’t want to talk about her thumping headache, or the way she saw black spots each and every time she stood up too quickly. There wasn’t really time for that.

 

“Liz-”

 

“All team members meet now to discuss how to proceed. Conference Room 312!”

 

“Leave it, Ewan,” she told him again, trying to focus but on top of her headache, her knees had started to buckle. She hated the way her body reacted to her lack of sleep.

 

Moving to step back into her cubicle to grab her stuff for the meeting, Elizabeth had to close her eyes for a moment to help pass the lightheadedness she was feeling. Dizziness was a common symptom of sleep deprivation, too, she reassured herself. Nothing unusual.

 

However, bending down to grab her bag did the trick and as soon as Elizabeth moved to stand upright again, her whole vision went black and her knees gave way.

 

“Liz!” Ewan’s voice echoed around her as she felt someone pat her cheeks and shoulders, the rough carpet rubbing against her bare arms. “Shit!”

 

Willing her eyes to open, Elizabeth squinted due to the fluorescent lights overhead to see Ewan’s still concerned face hovering above her, a few people standing behind him. If she thought her head had hurt before, she now had reached a whole new level of headaches she wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

 

“I passed out,” Elizabeth concluded with a whine, slowly moving her arms to rub her face.

 

“She’s okay!” he called out to the agents gathered around her cubicle to make them leave, and continued,

“Yeah, you did,” Ewan replied, sitting back on his heels. “You should probably go home. I’ll convince Hawk to give you half a day off, if you want me to.”

 

“No, I’m good. I- Don’t send me home,” Elizabeth replied rather quickly, causing Ewan to cast a scrutinizing look her way. But when Elizabeth started moving to sit up, he was pulled out of whatever he had been thinking.

 

Grabbing her arm, to help keep her upright, Ewan asked, “When’s the last time you ate a proper meal?”

 

“What day is it?”

 

“Liz-,” Ewan started but was interrupted by another voice joining the agents gathered around her cubicle.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Elizabeth groaned as soon as she heard the voice of the director. She had just passed out in front of several people. She really didn’t need to embarrass herself in front of her boss either.

 

“She passed out,” Ewan answered for her. “We’ve been working non-stop every day of this week, it was bound to happen.”

 

Elizabeth slightly scrunched up her face. She was the only one that had passed out so far, so why was he making it all about the whole team? The only reason she had passed out was because she wasn’t only sidelined in this manhunt - she was quite literally in the middle of it.

 

“I’m okay,” Elizabeth repeated herself and swatted at Ewan’s hand to let make him let go of her arm, as she stood up from her place on the floor of her cubicle. “Really,” she told the director with a slight nod of her head. “I’m fine.”

 

“Moore, you look like shit, to be quite honest,” came Hawk’s blunt reply, making Elizabeth choke on her own spit. She couldn’t remember having heard her boss ever talk like that but she knew he was right. She had thought the same thing that morning as she had tried to avoid looking in the small mirror, provided the hotel. “Go, take the rest of the day off. They weren’t able to find anything with your help for four days, they’ll do without you for half a day.” Director Hawk looked at her intently for a short moment, before moving towards the conference rooms on their floor. “Everybody on the team that’s not about to faint to the conference room,” he hollered before disappearing out of Elizabeth’s line of sight, again.

 

Sighing, Elizabeth turned around to grab her bag. She really wanted to go home. But not to that grimy old hotel room with no one to keep her company except for the outdated TV and the demented front desk lady.

 

“Are you good to get home on your own or do you need help?” Ewan asked from behind her. Could she never catch a break of him acting like her mother?

 

“I’m good, thanks,” she told him and kept packing her bag, holding back the snarky, unwarranted comment. She knew herself well enough to know it was the sleep deprivation speaking but the feeling was there nevertheless.

 

After a moment of silence, Ewan spoke up again. “Right. Just- Call, if you need something.” And with that he left her to join the fellow agents in a meeting Elizabeth would have given everything to be a part of. Just so she would not have to go back to that hotel room.



////

 

Elizabeth wanted pizza. And she deserved it, she tried to tell herself as she fumbled to open the door to her room, the key in one hand and the pizza box in the other.

Pizza surely wasn’t the best kind of food to eat after having eaten next to nothing but granola bars and coffee during the past few days, but she had a craving. And after having a panic attack and having passed out in front of her colleagues, she deserved it. She deserved pizza and a full ten hours of sleep. Possibly more.

 

Finally getting the key into the keyhole, the door swung open to reveal the small room she was forced to stay in. Everything was the same as she had left it in the morning - the crumpled duvet, tissues here and there - but there was also a small bag standing on the old vanity table in the corner.

 

Putting the cardboard box onto her bed, she made her way towards the bag, curiosity taking over. Hydra probably wouldn’t leave her a turquoise striped gift bag. If they did, she probably needed to change sides.

 

However, the only thing inside of the bag was a phone and relief instantly coursed through her body as she saw a text message on it, which Elizabeth opened hastily.

 

Hope you’re doing alright considering the circumstances. Call this number if you need anything and delete the messages. -J

 

Elizabeth couldn’t bring herself to just reply with a short and simple ‘I’m okay, thank you.’. She would be lying if she said she didn’t miss his company, even if he didn’t talk too much. But texting was almost like leaving notes, so she hoped that he would reply to her text message.

 

I’m okay, could definitely be better but I do have a whole pizza to myself. -E



Pepperoni? -J

 

His reply brought a small smile to Elizabeth’s face.

 

Yeah -E


Damn -J

Chapter Text

The whole situation Elizabeth was in - hiding during the night but still having to go to work - kept feeding into her paranoia. Each and every sudden sound and clatter caused her to jump, so it was only natural that people kept sending her curious and concerned looks. Being able to talk to James - being able to ask someone for help if need be - had helped make her mind more easeful. But this part was miniscule in comparison to the panic bubbling up inside of her at every stupid pen falling to the floor. Even throughout the day in her busy office it didn’t seem to get better.

 

After having passed out the day before, Elizabeth was back in on the action, regretfully. The agents that had been added to the team were, in comparison to the ones that had been unsuccessfully scouring the city for a week by now (and some even longer), overly enthusiastic and were - more or less - getting on everyone’s nerves. Coffee was drunk in amounts that would have kept an elephant awake for days and the amount of junk food consumed equalled that of a football stadium’s audience. It didn’t seem to be to keep them awake but intended  as comfort food. The amount had been upped even more since Elizabeth had fainted.

 

Finding James proved to be impossible and it was the only source of relief - besides the food - she had these days. At least someone was good at keeping himself invisible and untraceable.

Elizabeth tried to be as untraceable as him but there were only so many times she could change the taxi on her way to the hotel without losing a huge chunk of money and hours she could have used to sleep.

 

But whatever she worried about, nothing came quite as close to making her panic as the fact that she felt as if someone was watching her 24/7.

 

At times she tried to tell herself it was Clint. Other times she hoped it was James, although she guessed he probably kept away to avoid drawing more attention to her.
At the office she told herself it was Ewan who had taken to keeping a close eye on her. Maybe even Hawk who had started to - what she would almost call - patrolling the department.

 

In conclusion, there were many people she could blame her paranoia on but she knew that it definitely wouldn’t take too long until someone in Hydra caught up with her and tried to finish the job.

 

Stopping to repeatedly knock her pen against her mug, Elizabeth let out a deep breath and slowly sank back into her chair. There it was again, the prickle at her scalp, like someone kept staring at the back of her head. Closing her eyes for a second, she leaned forward again to keep working. Wallowing in this feeling wouldn’t benefit her in any way but it still kept nagging at the back of her mind.

 

“Hey, Liz,” Ewan’s cheery voice made her jerk, his head popping up over the wall of her cubicle.

 

“Yeah?” she asked almost absentmindedly, returning to her task and trying to open several files on her screen, closing error screens that popped up.

 

“Hawk called a meeting in thirty, want to get lunch real quick?”

 

“I need to finish this, can you give me five minutes?” she asked, her eyes not leaving the screen as another annoying error message popped up. “The system is giving me a hard time,” she told him as another new message popped up with angry bold letters proclaiming ‘ access denied ’. “Fuck. That’s it. I’m done for today, let’s get lunch,” she snapped and swivelled around in her chair with an angry huff.

“What’s wrong?” Ewan asked as Elizabeth stomped out of her cubicle to wait for him at his own.



“Well, apparently I’m not allowed to access the files I’ve been working on for the last few weeks,” Elizabeth huffed and turned to walk down the office besides Ewan. “I’m not even going to read into this.”

 

“Wait, are you saying this is some kind of ‘fate telling you to get on your lunch break’ or do you honestly think it’s been restricted on purpose?” Ewan asked confused, struggling to keep up with her.

 

Did she think it was on purpose? What kind of purpose would it serve, keeping her from information she had already been able to access for weeks on end? She couldn’t think of anything to explain it but by now she knew everything was possible. Because, let’s be honest, she was on their radar.

 

“Let’s talk about something else.”

 

///

 

Distracting herself from the problem at hand didn’t seem to work, even with Ewan chewing off her ear about this and that thing he had seen on the internet. Right now she couldn’t be less interested about a frog on a unicycle, whatever this meant. It was probably an allegory.

 

Still, the day had went by, even without any progress to show. Most of the agents seemed to be used to it by now. To them it was a lost cause anyway.

 

They kept speculating that Barnes had gone underground and wasn’t even in the US anymore.

Elizabeth wouldn’t even have been surprised if they were right.

 

But wherever he was hiding or tracking down another batch of Hydra agents, Elizabeth was still caught in New York, alone, trying to be as invisible as she could manage as to not draw any attention to herself. As if that had ever worked.

 

Saying goodbye to her fellow agents, Elizabeth made to leave, when she felt someone watching her again. She didn’t even know whether it was just her subconsciousness, the way one feels a phone vibrate when it isn’t even there but giving in to her curiosity she turned around anyway.

 

Looking back into the almost empty department, the only face she could make out was Hawk’s through his office’s window, sitting at his desk and staring into the desolate area. As soon as he noticed Elizabeth looking back, he went back to work, not looking up anymore.

 

Deciding not to think too much about it, Elizabeth went on to make her way home. It would take her over an hour, anyway, what with all the taxi hopping. She just needed something to eat first. The hotel’s kitchen just wasn’t going to do it.

 

///

 

After treating herself to chinese take out that she had already scarfed down on a park bench, Elizabeth didn’t even make it to the first taxi when she felt the hair on her neck stand up again. However, this time panic started to rise in her, too.

 

She was on her own now, not surrounded by fellow agents as she had been the rest of the day, and nobody knew where exactly she was. Hell, not even she knew exactly what street she would end up in if she had to start running now.

 

Typing out a prophylactic message on her phone, Elizabeth started walking. If something happened, all she would need to do was press send. If.

 

Taking a corner to be back on the busy streets, she breathed a little easier. People were around. Civil courage wasn’t dead. She knew that, since she had been working on picking up vigilantes’ messes for a few years now. Today she’d probably turn a blind eye to them.

 

However as Elizabeth kept weaving through the masses of people pouring into the street from Broadway, someone bumped into her shoulder, making her lose her balance. “Hey!” she yelled after the person but soon another two barreled into her back, making her stumble towards the small alley between the buildings’ walls. Standing there, Elizabeth gripped her phone even tighter, her finger hovering over the buttons.

New York was never, nor would it ever be, normal - this however; she couldn’t really classify this as a coincidence. Not now, with everything happening around her. They would want her to use the alley to escape, from there on it would be easy for them to get to her.

 

Taking a purposeful step back onto the street, Elizabeth started to shove her way through the masses of people coming her way.

 

When she saw the first man coming her way, his complete focus on her and determination written all over his face, she hesitated but then pressed send anyway and put her phone away. There was no way they would be going easy on her. They wanted something and she knew where it was, where he was. Just a pity she wasn’t going to go down without a fight, either. She wanted to care for others but this never meant she would completely forget about herself. If she went missing, she could at least cause a big commotion that passersby would remember.

 

Grabbing the hair tie from her ponytail, she quickly let her hair fall free - a ponytail would always be their first try for a tight grip and she wouldn’t give them that.

 

Taking a last deep breath, Elizabeth picked up speed and kept walking straight against the masses walking her way. If he tried to intimidate her by staring, she would act as if she hadn’t even seen him. There was no way she was going to show him that she was actually about to shit her pants.

 

The moment the man started reaching out for her, Elizabeth charged at him in full speed, ramming his shoulder in the process with as much force as she was able to build up in this short amount of distance. The man, caught completely of guard, stumbled backwards and was caught by several civilians while Elizabeth was already running down the street at full speed, her lungs struggling to get enough air into her body.

People kept turning to look at that strange, crazy woman knocking down innocent people. There was no chance she could know how many Hydra-people there were after her right this moment but at least someone had seen her face. This was more than she could have hoped for in the alley. She could have screamed but her voice had failed, so much to not acting scared.

 

Turning the corner into a small quiet alley to wave down a taxi, Elizabeth suddenly felt two sharp pains on her back, followed by electricity coursing through her body in short jolts.

It made her whole body lock up and she fell sideways like a rock, hitting her head on the tarmac and biting her tongue in the process. She wanted groan or cry out but was unable to.



Two men grabbed her stiff body deeper into the alley, accompanied by grunts but no talking.

 

Her whole body had locked up, she couldn’t even lift a finger, let alone speak or swallow. The only thing she could feel was the pain it all had caused and the blood slowly but steadily filling her mouth and running down the back of her throat. Elizabeth tried to gasp and cough but it only made the feeling worse.

 

“Shit,” she heard one of the men grumble, kneeling down beside her head and trying to pry open her mouth to release at least a little bit of the blood.

 

“Leave her,” the other man snapped, grabbing the other man’s shoulder harshly. “Alive or dead, remember?”

 

“Pretty sure the boss prefers alive, at least his footman does,” the other man grumbled into his beard. “What are we waiting for? She’s not gonna move for like, another five minutes. They said extraction was imminent.”

 

“I’m not gonna leave this bitch here on her own, are you fucking kidding me?” the second man seethed. “”Where’s your fucking head a-”

 

The man’s ranting was interrupted by screaming in the distance, followed by one, two gunshots. Elizabeth would have given a sigh of relief at the men’s faces. The confusion and concern at their mission going awry were etched into their faces. But with another look and nod to each other she knew that both of them had come to a decision regarding her. The determination etched into the first man’s face didn’t match the second man’s apprehension but she feared where this was going.



“No!” Elizabeth gasped out in fear but with another move the man had pulled his gun on her and pulled the trigger, leaving her to run off towards his other men while her pants, shirt and blazer soaked up more and more of her own blood.

Chapter Text

It hurt. She couldn’t really pin down where she had been hit but it hurt and she could feel her fingers coming in contact with liquid that she didn’t want to admit was very possibly her own blood.

 

She was still alive, so she had at least that going for her. But she was lying in a dark alley in a pool of something , incapacitated by a bullet somewhere in her body and the consecutive shock, completely alone with no idea whether her text had reached its recipient, whether they could even find her in this alley.

 

Coughing up and spitting out another bit of the blood she had swallowed before, Elizabeth tried to roll onto her side, letting her pain be known in the form of a groan. The taser’s barbs had kept digging into her back and uncomfortable wasn’t a sufficient enough word to describe the pain they caused while lying.

 

Resting on her stomach, her palms digging into the loose gravel on the tarmac, she tried to listen to the commotion that had gotten her assailants’ attention. Focusing was hard but except for the blood rushing inside of her ears, two sirens, agitated yelling, the metallic taste inside of her mouth and the putrid smell in the alley she couldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. No more gun shots at least.

 

Either way, it seemed there hadn’t been a huge fight which would probably mean that someone would come back to get her. Otherwise they would have hurt her more effectively, killing her on the spot. Wherever she had been shot, she could survive it if she could stop the bleeding on time. The only thing she knew was that she needed to get out. Even with all the fear and pain that had taken over her body, the only way she would go with them was if she was unconscious or dead.

 

Pushing herself up from the ground with her teeth clenched, Elizabeth gasped as she felt a searing hot pain in her left thigh. “Shit,” she gasped out and laid her body softly down onto the ground again. At least now she knew where the bullet had hit her, which turned out to be the best place they could have shot her. She probably wouldn’t even have been alive anymore had they shot her anywhere else.

 

Lying her head onto the tarmac, she blew out a breath and willed the nausea that had started welling up to go away.

 

She had a mental list compiled of all the things she needed to do: get up, get out, hide, stop the bleeding, get help. But even getting up proved to be difficult and she didn’t believe that she could get anywhere without drawing a ton of attention to herself, least of all because of the blood covering her face and body.

 

Compiling her strength for pushing herself up once more, she suddenly froze as she heard footsteps behind her, her whole body locking up in response.

The footsteps became louder until they stopped completely. Elizabeth sucked in a sharp breath in fear of it being someone sent to retrieve her, but as soon as the person started rushing towards her with a string of curse words leaving his mouth, Elizabeth broke down in relief and finally started crying.

 

“Shit,” James muttered and skidded to a halt next to her, helping her sit upright.

 

“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth whimpered, as he assessed the damage done to her.

 

“Helping you,” he told her and pulled the barbs out of her back with one swift motion that made her cry out.

Looking her over in concern, grabbing her hand and pushing her palm against the gunshot wound on her thigh, he asked, “Do you think you can walk?”

 

“I don’t know, my legs keep twitching,” she responded with a sniff and pressed her palm harder against her thigh. “A-Assholes tasered me.”

 

Looking her over, he obviously wanted to say something but hesitated. “What?”

 

“Give me your jacket,” he concluded and reached to grab it from her shoulders. Tentatively shrugging out of it, Elizabeth shivered as soon as the cold air hit her arms even though it was warm enough outside to do without a jacket.

 

Taking the piece of clothing from her, he started ripping off pieces of cloth. “Do you have your phone?” he asked and Elizabeth nodded frantically, searching for her bag. When she realized that it wasn’t anywhere near her, she whipped her head around to see whether her bag had been dropped somewhere further down the dark alley. But it hadn’t been.. “I don-, it’s not here, it’s not here,” she started repeating frantically.

 

“Hey,” James said suddenly, grabbing her shoulders to make her look at him, the ripped blazer on his knees forgotten. “It’s okay. You’re okay. We’ll get you out.”

 

“I’m really scared right now,” she admitted with a whisper, her brown eyes searching for his calm blue ones.

 

“I know,” he told her, squeezing her shoulders tighter for a moment before going back to ripping up the blazer. “Lift your leg. You’re as good as out of here. Just a moment.”

 

After tying a piece of long cloth around her leg to slow the bleeding, he helped her stand, holding her up for support. Elizabeth kept feeling her knees give way to her own weight but James had a tight grip on her.

 

She wanted to be relieved that he was here. Deep inside she could almost feel some variation of relief but due to the shock she was still in, all she could focus on was the way his grip tightened on her whenever she faltered and, to be honest, this was enough for her in this moment.

 

“Are you alone?” Elizabeth pressed out through clenched teeth as she willed her body to move forward with James’ help. They were almost out of the alley by now, Elizabeth hobbling beside him. She couldn’t move too fast but he thankfully seemed to be patient with her.

 

“No. Steve-, he’s here, too. But I need to get you down to the car, do you think you can manage that? It’s not too far.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk this much,” Elizabeth retorted and started taking purposeful yet wonky steps forward. James looked at her with confusion for a moment but tightened his grip once more and started picking up speed.

 

She could manage, she wouldn’t falter, she wanted out, with James and maybe even Steve if he would let her stay. Even Clint, if he was part of that whole band. Just out.

 

James didn’t answer or question her reply, or lack thereof, but kept supporting her and even through all of the winces and groans on Elizabeth’s part they made it to the car. James had tried to keep to less frequented streets and alleys and Elizabeth had tried to ignore any of the people they still encountered. But she was glad when she was finally able to sink into the soft fabric of the black SUV’s worn backseat, her head hitting the headrest and her eyes closing on impact.

 

She felt worn out and tired and plain dirty. Of course she wouldn’t really be able to sleep until she was somewhere safe, if such a place even existed for her. But for now she could at least try to rest in some way.

 

James hands immediately went to her leg again, making sure that the cloth was tight enough to do its job. But when he let out a disapproving grunt, Elizabeth cracked one eye open and asked hesitantly, “What?”

 

“The bleeding is not too bad but the bullet’s still inside. We’ll need to get it out, later.”

 

“Do what needs to be done,” Elizabeth mumbled in response, her eyes closed tightly and her forehead creased in thought of the impending pain that apparently still had to be added to the one she had tried to suppress all throughout their walk to the car.

 

“Buck!”

 

She knew the voice before she even cracked open her eyes again. Maybe she should have left them closed, leaving her mind to replay ‘The Star Spangled Man with a Plan’ over and over again. But she opened them anyway and watched as Steve stepped closer to them, frazzled and out of breath.

 

“Is she okay?”

 

“Peachy,” Elizabeth retorted, closing her eyes again and lifting her right hand from her lap, pressing her thumb and index together to emphasize her sarcasm. Well, at least she was still capable of that. She definitely wasn’t going to kick the bucket, not anytime soon.

 

“We should go. We still don’t know how many guys were down there,” Steve told them and went to sit behind the steering wheel.

 

James patted Elizabeth’s leg to get her attention but she only turned her head towards him with a light ‘hm?’. She didn’t feel like sleeping but her eyelids felt too heavy and the strain of keeping them open didn’t seem appealing to her.

 

“Try not to fall asleep. You should be fine if you do, just… We’ll get you sorted out soon.”

 

She felt him leave her side and then there was a row of different sounds. One bang, two bangs of doors closing, body heat next to her, the ignition and engine, the car’s wheels turning on gravel.

 

She really wanted to fall asleep but everytime she came close, she had to think of the way her body had given out as soon as she had been tasered. Only the soft murmur of Steve and James talking and debriefing posed as some sort of relief and reassurance. The conversation seemed calm and familiar, and Elizabeth was glad that even with all of the 21st century’s madness they had managed. Especially with all of the doubts that James had had when it came to Steve.

Gradually the conversation got sparser and then stopped completely until Steve spoke up again in a more playful than serious tone.

 

“She means a lot to you,” she heard him state and forced herself to stay still. She really didn’t want to listen in, this was a private conversation that she probably shouldn’t witness. But this was also about her and both men apparently thought she was fast asleep. On top of that she couldn’t really leave. “Right?”

 

James breathed in audibly before replying, “It doesn’t matter.”

 

“It matters when you almost have a heart attack like the 90-year-old that you are when she’s in trouble. If we hadn’t been close by anyway, you’d have sprinted there,” came Steve’s instant reply.

 

After a moment only filled with the sound of the car’s engine and three people’s soft breathing, James repeated himself, more forcefully this time but with his head turned away, “It doesn’t matter.”

 

Elizabeth heard Steve violently breath in and rhythmically drum his fingers onto the steering wheel before replying, “There are things that you can go after. You know that, right?” he told James. “Bucky, you’re allowed to be selfish at times. There’s no need for this path of retribution you’re so set on. You don’t need to punish yourself for what Hydra made you d-.”



“She’s Falsworth’s grandkid,” James suddenly interrupted Steve, making him fall silent. Elizabeth knew he only wanted to deviate from the discussion - and she couldn’t blame him.



After a short moment of silence Steve replied with a soft chuckle, the rest of the conversation all but forgotten, “Well, damn. Are you sure?”



“She told me,” James replied with audibly less tension than before. “It’s odd, isn’t it?”



Steve agreed and Elizabeth could almost hear his facial expression in the way he spoke. A smirk that didn’t really express amusement but was more on the wry side. “When has anything ever been normal for us...”

 

Chapter Text

“Liz, I need you to wake up.” The deep vibrating voice shook her out of her sleep and with a start, Elizabeth shot forward with a gasp, everything that had happened rushing back into her head. Electricity, pain, fear. More pain.

But it didn’t last too long until her attention zeroed in on her leg again, the pain sharp and with every movement of her body it seemed to get worse, like it was a tear in her flesh that kept ripping with each and every involuntary move her body made. How had she even been able to fall asleep? “Can you get up?”

 

“Give me a minute,” she hissed with her eyes closed tightly, her hands grabbing violently at the cars backseat and with a quiet groan she nodded, still obviously in pain, “Okay, I’m good.”

 

Without hesitation, James grabbed her arms gently and pulled her along the backseat of the car and towards the door. Swinging her legs out of the car to plant them firmly on the floor, Elizabeth had to steady herself with James’ help. The street lights seemed almost blinding to her, her knees felt weak, the surrounding area of the gunshot wound on her thigh kept throbbing, she felt woozy and just plain nauseous. But she ground her teeth and willed herself to keep it together.   

 

Finally being able to stand somewhat upright with James’ help, Elizabeth used the short moment of them standing still to look at her surroundings. They had ended up in a rather suburban area that didn’t look all too much like New York City anymore from what she could see.  The houses were neatly placed beside each other and the gardens seemed almost meticulously cared for. She could understand why they would hide here. No one would ever suspect vigilantes and criminals to live in an area that seemed like Wisteria Lane 2.0. Although that probably was a bad example.

 

“Come on,” James urged her to move quickly into the house to avoid being seen. The neighbourhood seemed void of people, everyone being inside of their own houses, but one could never know who was prone to spying out of their windows, so Liz complied and hobbled along, her arm slung around his shoulder and Steve purposefully striding towards the door of the white house in front of them.

 

Once inside, the door behind Elizabeth swung shut with a quiet thump and she had to keep herself from sighing. The house wasn’t her own home but it seemed very much safe and well cared for, albeit lived in.

 

On their way to what seemed to be the living room Clint suddenly walked towards them, his eyebrows raised high unamusedly. “Target practice?”

 

“Not the time, Clint,” Steve told him as he briskly walked into another room connected to the living room. “You can remove bullets and stitch people up, right?” he called out as he rummaged through several drawers, then pulling out a medkit.

 

“I.. Yeah, but don’t you think a doctor would be better equipped? Even just one of those shady private ones?” Clint asked confusedly as he watched James help Elizabeth onto the sofa.

 

“Not an option,” Elizabeth ground out as she tried to make herself somewhat comfortable.

 

“We don’t have any anaesthetics here, guys,” he continued, clearly not on board with their idea. Elizabeth couldn’t blame him. She would have preferred a real doctor, too, but not at the expense of everyone’s safety.

 

“Do it, I can handle it,” she responded, trying to sound convincing. She wasn’t sure whether she actually could handle it but right now she had no other choice and things weren’t about to get any better while the bullet was still inside of her.

 

Hospitals and doctors were a no-no. They had made it clear that they wouldn’t care whether she was alive or dead, tortured or almost unharmed, and any sort of records about her wouldn’t be in her favour. But Elizabeth couldn’t help herself wishing for a doctor or any sort of painkiller even more as Clint nodded in compliance. “Try to get her out of her pants, I’ll be right back,” he threw over his shoulder as he was heading out of the room towards the room Steve had went into before.

 

Elizabeth could have imagined a hundred different ways she would have rather spent her friday night than in nothing but her underwear in a stranger’s house with blood dripping down her leg. But with a sigh she tried to unknot the piece of cloth James had tied around her leg before. Looking around the room, her eyes fell on a pair of scissors on the table. Reaching over, she grabbed them and with a snip, the piece of cloth fell onto the sofa. Pulling off her pants as slowly and carefully as she could manage without further hurting herself, she saw that the wound had started bleeding again. “Fuck.”

 

Grabbing her pants, she  pressed the piece of clothing against the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. As soon as she felt the pressure she winced and turned her head away. James was sitting in the chair opposite of her, a stern but distracted look on his face. She didn’t want to startle him so she stuck to keeping her attention on her leg.

 

James had talked more to her that day than he had on all days when he stayed with her combined. It was unusual but she didn’t know what had happened to him after he went with Steve. Things seemed to have gone okay for both of them. She couldn’t really speak for Steve but James seemed almost at ease in his company and she was glad.

 

The moment Clint came back with everything he would need to stitch Elizabeth up as best as he could, she had to will herself to sit still. She had never been shot, never even been shot at , but now she was trying to get through the removal of a bullet without any way to relieve her pain.

 

As soon as Clint started assessing the damage, a colorful string of obscene curse words left Elizabeth’s mouth. When left alone the wound would throb dully but as soon as it was touched, the sharp pain seemed to spread out into every part of her body. Grinding her teeth and balling her hands into fists, Elizabeth wheezed out, “Okay, this is so much worse than I thought.”

 

“And where not even at the fun part yet,” Clint remarked sarcastically and kept assessing the wound. “Doesn’t seem like it hit your bone, you’re lucky. But you need to keep still, otherwise it’s going to be more painful than necessary, got it?”

 

“Got it,” she ground out and squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation. “Just hurry up.”

 

The moment Clint stuck the pair of tweezers into the wound, Elizabeth cried out loud, willing her body to stay still. But with every move of his wrist and prodding of his fingers, the pain got worse and Elizabeth would have lied had she said that there weren’t any black spots coming up in her field of vision.

 

“Keep still,” Clint muttered and tried to steady her leg.

 

“I’m gonna kill you if you say that again, I got it the first time,” Elizabeth hissed and stole a glance at James’ blank face before letting her sweaty head fall back onto the armrest of the ugly flower-patterned sofa. “Enjoying the show?”

 

Groaning out loud at another twist of the tweezers inside of her thigh, Elizabeth willed herself not to wriggle. But when Clint forcefully pushed her thigh onto the sofa to steady it and opened his mouth to protest again, he was interrupted by Elizabeth’s furious glare.

 

“Don’t say it!”

 

“I wouldn’t have to say it, if you could stop squirming!”

 

“I’m trying! I know I shouldn’t be doing it but it feels like you’re mincing me!”

 

“I’m gonna count to three and then you’ll hold still for a total of five seconds, got it?” Clint told her, exasperated. She couldn’t quite believe he was the most suitable person they had on hand for this job. But she repeated her mantra: with the bullet still inside of her leg things weren’t about to get better and any hospital was out of the question. “If you move again I’ll have the supersoldiers pin you down, understood?”

 

“Fucking do it,” Elizabeth ground out, squeezing her eyes shut and digging her fingers into sofa as hard as she could. She could at least do with a hand to squeeze but Clint needed his and even if, he’d probably need his fingers for his bow. The pain she was feeling each and every time Clint tried to grab the bullet would probably have caused her to break someone’s bones. Well, except for-

 

“Three, two one,” she heard Clint count and the next thing she could feel was blinding hot pain radiating from her thigh and groans mingled with screams working their way up her throat as she tried not to move, causing her to break out in cold sweat. But she felt her muscles contract anyway and her upper body short upward until a cold hand pushed her back into the soft sofa. The cooling sensation was a welcome change but did nothing to redirect her focus. The pain was real, sharp and seemed to last a lot longer than the promised five seconds.

 

Inhaling sharply against the hand on her collarbone, the pain suddenly subsided and was replaced by a dull throbbing. Gasping for air, Elizabeth slowly opened her eyes only to come face to face with James hovering above her. “Not enjoying it.”

 

Elizabeth let out a wheezy and wry laugh until she felt Clint prodding at her gunshot wound again with disinfectant, causing her to wince. James studied her for another moment and with a satisfied nod he went back to his seat.

 

“It’s out, gonna get you stitched up,” he told Elizabeth who sighed in relief. Getting a wound stitched up wasn’t ever going to be as painful as what she had just experienced and she already knew what to expect from it, having been prone to little accidents when she was a child. It was by no means pleasant but bearable in comparison to getting the bullet out. So she pressed her back into the sofa, trying to relax as best as she could and, even with occasional wincing and hissing on her part, Clint kept stitching her up with a steady hand.

 

Turning her head to face James, she studied him for a moment. He still had on this stoic façade, his body rigid and shoulders squared underneath the blue sweatshirt he was wearing, his hair long and covering parts of his face. She didn’t know whether this was normal for him. He had been like this during his time with her, too. Distant and somewhat cold. But it seemed he had changed a lot since then. He talked more. He didn’t seem as confused. He liked her.  

 

Elizabeth snapped her attention back towards her own leg, the wound angrily red and puffy, blood crusted around it, with Clint pushing the needle in and out of her skin. But she couldn’t concentrate on it. He liked her.

 

The only question that came up in her mind was Why? . Did he really like her or was this some kind of imprinting with her being one of the first people to treat him with dignity and some kind of respect?  Was she really that desperate to explain another one’s feelings by comparing him to ducks?

 

Her own feelings. It had never been a question whether he was nice to look at. Elizabeth had known that since she was a child. But being around him things might have changed for her, too. Although she didn’t know whether she liked him or liked caring for him. Her own feelings. That was the other thing. As if she had ever had any fun in dealing with them.

 

“I heard you and Steve talking in the car,” she hesitantly stated and James’ face got even more stoic than before. Hadn’t it been for the twitching of his jaw, she would have guessed that he hadn’t even heard her. “I’m…,” she started but abruptly stopped with a wince as she felt the needle enter her skin. She didn’t know what to say and he wasn’t going to speak up on his own. But the silence was unbearable. Not even Clint was making any sound. “So when can I leave again?”

 

The way James’ gaze instantly snapped towards her seemed almost comical. But he didn’t get to speak his mind.

 

“You’re not, let’s start with that,” she heard Steve speak up from behind her as he stepped further into the room. She hadn’t even realized that he hadn’t been around.

 

“No offense, Captain, but I’m sure you’ve got more important stuff to do than to constantly take care of me,” Elizabeth muttered, smothering a yawn, and tried to ignore her own hypocrisy. She had been the one to call them for help, not the other way round. But she had been too scared to deal with this on her own.

 

“No offense, m’am, but this is non-negotiable.” Elizabeth didn’t fail to notice his choice of words this time. M’am. Distant and authoritative.

 

“So what, you’ll babysit me until I’m well enough again to make off on my own? I don’t think you really thought this through,” she retorted and glanced at James who was staring right at her, his brows furrowed in discontent. “You don’t really think this is the best way to go about this, do you?”

 

“We don’t really have any other choice. You’re not only on Hydra’s radar but now they know that you’re protected. They’ll use that connection to get what they want,” Steve answered with a shake of his head.

 

Breathing out audibly, Elizabeth fell silent. She knew they were right but she didn’t want to end up as someone else’s responsibility. They were all involved in this mess one way or another but Elizabeth had ended up in it because of her own sheer stubbornness. And now she had to pay the price.

 

“Okay,” she relented eventually. “But I probably need to call in sick at work.”

 

“They probably already filed a death report for you,” James muttered and Elizabeth looked at him quizzically.

 

“Call in on monday, that way you’ll buy yourself an extra two days,” Clint chimed in as he was cleaning up the mess left from stitching Elizabeth up. “But you’ll need to figure out a way to keep them from noticing you’re having trouble with your leg.”

 

“Right,” she sighed and nodded, more to herself than anyone else. She almost wanted to shudder thinking of the web of lies she had to entangle herself in.

 

“Can I just- ask you one question?” Steve suddenly interrupted her thought process. “Why the FBI? Did you never consider joining S.H.I.E.L.D.?”

 

“It’s-,” Elizabeth hesitated. She was sitting in a small living room with three men that were practically strangers to her. They all had good intentions but she wasn’t sure whether she should really disclose one of the things she had been grappling with since she was a teenager, so she evaded his question. “It’s a long story. I’d really like to rest now, though.”


And with that, a blanket handed to her by James and poorly concealed confusion on all of their faces, the three men left her alone to pretend to sleep while her thoughts kept running wild.

Chapter Text

She had tried to fall asleep. God, she had tried .

And even though she could feel the exhaustion in every inch of her body, it just didn’t want to  comply. Nothing seemed to work. Not the meditation, not the breathing exercises she had found on the internet once upon a time, not even counting sheep worked (which had been her last resort anyway). Although she wouldn’t have guessed differently because sheep, really?!

 

She hadn’t fallen asleep on the couch earlier, either. So when Clint had noticed her struggling to fall asleep on the uncomfortable piece of furniture, he had helped her hobble into one of the bedrooms on the first floor to at least let her be sleepless in a bed and a pillow that wouldn’t cause her neck to be stiff. And she couldn’t argue that the bed itself would be undeniably more comfortable.

 

The first thing she noticed was that bed smelled of dusty sheets, as if it hadn’t been used in a long time - which it probably had been. It reminded her of her grandfather’s house when he had gotten too old to take care of everything himself.

 

The memories had made her nostalgic and she cuddled further into the sheets, still sleepless however. She was grateful for everything they had done for her but she just wanted to sleep and somehow even though she knew it was sometime in the middle of the night, she couldn’t.

 

Like before in the car and afterwards on the sofa, everything kept replaying in her head. The paranoia, Vito, the goons, being shot, James finding her, getting stitched up and everything from the beginning on again. It seemed as if her mind wanted her to know that this was what she had brought on herself, that there was no one else to blame but her. That none of this would have happened had she just let it go and had never ventured further into this whole mess.
But whatever guilt trip her mind wanted to send her on, it was too late now anyway. She was in a strange house, in a strange bed, wounded, feeling like a burden, angry and confused. Her mind couldn’t make her feel any more guilty than she already was.

 

Sighing, Elizabeth pushed a few strands of her hair out of her face. The room was mostly dark except for a few rays of light pouring in through the open door and the window.

 

The house was almost completely silent, too. Sometimes she could hear the floorboards creaking here and there, letting her know that she wasn’t the only one awake at this hour. At least she wasn’t the only one unable to sleep. But being restless was always easier if another person was present to keep one company. So in the hopes of catching someone, anyone, walking around the house at this time, Elizabeth kept her tired eyes trained on the part of the hallway she could see.

 

It took a while but when she finally saw a strange tall man stop right by the room she had been placed in, she hadn’t anticipated it and her heart started pounding in fear, her instincts wanting her to start screaming. She didn’t know how many more surprises, or kidnapping and killing attempts she could take in the span of only a few hours. Out of instinct, Elizabeth scrambled back towards the bed’s headboard, her leg protesting the movement by sending several jolts of pain through her leg that she tried to ignore as best as she could. However a few groans still escaped her.

 

Noticing the shifting in the bed, the man suddenly but tentatively pushed open the door, walked into the room, flipped the light switch and held his hands up to show he was unarmed, that he didn’t mean her any harm with a grim expression adorning his face. “Sorry,” James spoke up, his voice calm and apologetic, ”They told me you were sleeping. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

 

Holding her hand over her heart, Elizabeth let her head fall back onto the headboard with a soft thud and a forceful exhale, closing her eyes for a moment and willing her heart to start beating slowly again. It was James. She was in a safe house with at least three different men, all ranging from assassin to super soldier to spy and she was as safe as she could be. Of course it would have been one of the men and not some stranger.

 

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Elizabeth nodded hastily and opened her eyes again. It was still only James, she hadn’t imagined it.

 

The light was bright and glaring, making her head hurt but seeing the way Elizabeth squinted, James flipped the switch again, leaving them in partial darkness. However, as the question and the consequent blush bubbled up from within Elizabeth, she was glad that the only thing they could see of their surroundings and themselves were their silhouettes.

“Can you stay here?” She hadn’t even meant for it to sound as desperate as it sounded. “I’m sorry- I just, I can’t sleep and everything’s just-,” But her attempts at explaining her intentions fell on deaf ears as James started moving again and the mattress on her left suddenly started dipping lower.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her as he settled in next to her, leaning against the headboard in the same manner, still leaving a safe distance between them.

The space between them heated up instantly anyway and Elizabeth wondered whether she imagined it or whether it had to do with his metabolism and the serum he had undeniably been subjected to by Hydra. Just sitting next to him made her feel warmer. She had been feeling cold before, be it the blood loss or the exhaustion, so it was a welcome change anyway.

 

But no matter how safe this gesture made her feel, she still felt irritated beyond belief. Not only because she was tired and more or less bed bound but because she was helpless and people had to care for her. They had other things, more important things to do and yet.

 

“I don’t-,” Elizabeth started and heaved a sigh before harping on, hanging her head, “I don’t want to be a bother. To any of you.”

 

“Liz-,” she heard James sigh next to her.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just- that’s all I’ve been for most of my life and I really just want to be able to do things on my own, without anyone’s help, or nepotism, or out of pity. And this. I just- I really don’t like it.”

 

“You probably shouldn’t give out advice that you wouldn’t even follow yourself then,” James interjected.

 

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth questioned and turned her head towards him, even though she could still only see his silhouette and the way he swallowed before speaking up again.

 

“You wanted me to talk to Steve, to take him up on his offer to help me. We’re offering you help and protection. This isn’t that different.”

 

“But-”

 

“It’s not,” James repeated and Elizabeth closed her eyes in defeat. He was right, it wasn’t. “I’m not- We’re not doing this out of obligation, okay? We’re doing this because we want to.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

James chuckled softly. “I’m sure.”

 

“I’m- Okay,” Elizabeth relented. This was an argument she probably wasn’t going to win. “Thank you. Honestly.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” James told her, leaving them in silence for a few seconds.

 

“You know, I like hearing you talk. It’s calming. And you seem.. content,” Elizabeth mumbled.

 

It was true. His talking had sounded forced and strained in the beginning. He still didn’t talk as much as others but when he did it sounded natural.

 

“I’m- better,” James told her and Elizabeth sighed in relief. That was all she had wanted to hear.

 

“How are you getting along with Steve?” Elizabeth asked and waited for his reply.

 

“We’re working through it,” James stated hesitantly. “It’s difficult but I’ve started remembering more and questioning less and I’m- I’m okay,” he concluded. “Not good but okay.”

 

“I’m glad to hear that. Really.”

 

Their talk was followed by silence again. They could only hear the floorboards creaking again and soft breathing from both of them when James spoke up again, unexpectedly.

 

“Nepotism.”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“You said you didn’t want others to give you something  because of nepotism. Is that why you never joined SHIELD?” he questioned and Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t want to talk about it, even just about herself. She felt as if that was all they ever did.

 

“I’m- It’s a long story,” she told him and shook her head softly.

 

“It’s three in the morning, you can’t sleep and no one else is around. If there is ever the time for a long story, it’s now,” James muttered and she heard him shift, probably making himself more comfortable.

 

Elizabeth took a moment to think but in the end she came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t have to talk about it again if she just told him now. “It is. My dad- he’s a nut job and things were a mess and I just wanted to do things on my own,” she relented, hoping it was enough.

 

“Three in the morning, Liz,” James repeated and Elizabeth sighed.

 

“I don-.. We don’t talk a lot but I guess at this age he was pretty similar to me. Granddad instilled the same sense of justice into him, do what needs to be done, help wherever you can, don’t be afraid to do what’s right. So he went and joined the army because he thought he could change something. That’s what it’s usually about isn’t it?” Elizabeth broke off to let out a wry laugh. ”The urge to make some kind of difference in the world, maybe even save some little part of it. You know what I’m talking about.”

 

“I think I do.”

 

“But the problem was that after the world war was over things just weren’t the same. There was no huge threat to fight against and the wars usually had some economic reason.

“Granddad kept doing small missions with the rest of the Commandos and S.H.I.E.L.D., my dad kept going on tour after tour with the mindset of changing the world, too.

He even met my mom over there. I think it was in Lebanon. That was when things started to get…,” she trailed off and swallowed hard. To be honest, Elizabeth couldn’t remember the last time she had talked about her mother with anyone other than her brother. She hated that it still weighed on her.

 

Suddenly she felt his warm hand slide over her own, making Elizabeth’s breath hitche in her throat. She willed herself to continue, to pretend everything was normal, but her voice cracked anyway. “See, he saw people die over there more often than actually live and there’s this woman and he has the silliest crush on her and he thinks that maybe if he can just have this little piece of peace and calmness and love in his life, then maybe he doesn’t need to change the world. Maybe that woman could be enough for him. If he can be with her the world can stay the same for all he cares, bombs and murders, because with her everything else goes quiet.  And before he knows it, they have two kids, they drop them off at their grandparents’ place, go on another tour and two weeks in she gets blown up by an IED and he’s reminded of how fucking fragile things really are even if you have everyone's best interest at heart.” After a short pause Elizabeth added bitterly, ”And then things really go to shit when he tries to save himself from anything like that ever happening again, losing someone he loves, by overdoing it with his kids.”

 

As soon as she had spoken the last few words, Elizabeth scolded herself. She hadn’t meant for everything to come out the way it had, so bitter and disappointed, in the company of someone who hadn’t even asked for it. But his hand was still over hers, occasionally squeezing it and it felt right. “Sorry. This was… a lot,” Elizabeth chuckled uncomfortably and suppressed a yawn, her exhaustion finally catching up with her. “He later went on to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and we had a falling out when he realized I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps.”

 

“Did you never think about it?” James asked hesitantly, aware that this was a touchy subject for her.

 

“I thought about it. I really did. But I wanted to make it in on my own. Everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. would have known about my family and it’s just- it was too much to handle. I wanted to make myself proud by making it without anyone’s help. And there were so many expectations to live up to. Just- too much,” she concluded and took a deep breath.

 

She hadn’t ever admitted any of this to anyone and now here she was sitting with James next to her, everything bubbling up and spilling over. Every memory, every doubt. Thankfully, James didn’t seem to mind.

 

“For what it’s worth, from what I can remember you’re quite similar to Falsworth.”

 

“That really is worth a lot, with you remembering and all that,” Elizabeth laughed and wiped at her eyes, ready to change the topic already. Letting her own flingers flit over James’ she continued. “So you’re remembering.”

 

“The good, the bad...”

 

“The ugly.” She heard him sigh.

 

“Especially the ugly.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s-,” he started and Elizabeth could feel him shake his head and his grip on her hand tightened for just a split second. “They’re bad enough already. But they’re still trying to get me back and if they did, I don’t know what I would do the next time I got my memories back,” he confessed, sending shivers down Elizabeth’s spine. She didn’t want to think about it. “You know I didn’t even kill any of them,” he pulled her out of her thoughts.

 

Elizabeth perked up at his confession, confused. “You didn’t?”

 

“No,” he said. “They were trying to track me down and when they couldn’t get out of the confrontation they…just...”

 

“The cyanid tooth.”

 

“Yeah.” Elizabeth heard him swallow and she held his hand more tightly.

 

“Even if you had killed them, I wouldn’t blame you,” she told him. “But this proves that you’re far more away from being the Winter Soldier than anyone probably anticipates. You’re not him, James. Never were.”

 

“Bucky,” he suddenly interjected, causing Elizabeth to smile slightly. He was getting there. “It feels more familiar.”

 

“Bucky,” Elizabeth repeated after him and squeezed his hand in affirmation. She had been apprehensive of Steve at first but apparently she had made the right call. Maybe they were making the right call, too, in regards to her. “Thank you, Bucky. For everything.”

 

Squeezing her hand once more, he let go and pushed himself off the mattress. The heat vanished and Elizabeth slid down to make herself comfortable again, pulling the blanket closer to her body.

Walking towards the door, he turned around once more to find Elizabeth almost at the brink of sleep, her brown eyes lazily blinking up at him, only slightly illuminated by the hallway light.

 

He wanted to stay but she needed sleep and they would spend a lot more days and nights in this house than any of them would ultimately like to. There was enough time and no need to rush things. But she liked him, too, and he could almost be sure he would sleep well knowing that.

Chapter Text

Whatever Bucky had anticipated would happen when they took Liz under their wing, he didn’t quite know himself in the beginning. However, what he knew was that she would put up a fight, she would yell and scream before she did as people told her, and if all else failed, she would sulk until she got her way anyway.

 

He hadn’t known her for too long, but the time he had spent with her in her apartment during which he had mostly observed her, when he wasn’t trying to come to terms with his lack of memories, had greatly contributed to his knowledge of Liz’s many moods.

 

During the first two days it had been, as expected, a mix of anger and her struggle to convince herself of her still-there independence. The latter had already lead to several fights, mostly between Liz and Clint. However, Bucky couldn’t really blame her on that front. He was reminded of the cause for their fights several times a day. It came to his mind again as he sat in the safe house’s kitchen - Clint’s safe house - watching the banter between Steve and him.

 

On the one hand, he was glad that the tension had finally started to let up, though not enough to make the environment seem calm. They knew what they were up against and were ridiculously outnumbered.

But he preferred the silence to the sometimes forced interactions and serious talks. There had been an abundance of the latter during the past few weeks and his answers to Steve’s questions mostly consisted of the same content. “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

 

On the other hand, he would gladly have the tension back in the room in exchange for Clint’s jokes that he was usually the butt of.

This morning he even briefly considered waking Elizabeth up, so he would have someone to talk to, or even sit in silence with, and wouldn’t have to suffer at their hands alone. But he had thought better of it and left her to it. She never slept for long, anyway.

 

Picking at the enormous pile of scrambled eggs he had been treated to, he silently kept watching Clint and Steve. It still was a welcome change to many mornings spent talking about his memories, then mulling over strategies and plans for hours. The whole situation almost seemed mundane. He couldn’t quite remember the last time he had spent a sunday morning in a setting like this. He never even thought he would again. So he kept eating and watching them, sending glares at his friend and Clint now and again who just chuckled and brushed it off, returning to their conversation.

 

It didn’t take long until Steve and Clint joined him at the table to eat but the silence was promptly interrupted by Clint chuckling, his mouth full.

 

“What?” Steve asked.

 

“Look at us,” he commented, almost choking on his eggs when he laughed again, “Like a real… maybe a little bit dysfunctional, family.

 

“How old are you?” Steve laughed.

 

“In light of you both being old enough to be my grandparents, you probably shouldn’t ask that particular question.”

 

“Ever heard of ‘respect your elders’, Barton?”, a new voice suddenly chimed in with a laugh, making them snap their heads towards the hallway.

 

“I’d try but they don’t respect me, Wilson,” Clint  laughed and returned to scarfing down his breakfast while the black man grabbed a chair and sat down as well and just like that, Bucky could feel the tension in the air again. He knew Sam had been on their side even before Bucky had remembered but he was now on Hydra’s radar for trying to help him, too. It seemed like all of the people in the house were.

 

“Found anything?” Steve then asked, focusing their conversation back onto their current dilemma. But when Sam shook his head, Bucky could clenched his fist subconsciously, making his metal arm whirr and Steve glance at him.

 

“How’s the girl?” Sam inquired but before Bucky or anyone else could even begin to think of an answer, all of their attention was drawn to a loud crash inside the house. While Sam immediately tried to assess the situation, fearing the worst, the rest of the men were already accustomed to loud noises throughout the house.

 

“Speak of the devil,” Clint sang as he lifted his cup of coffee to his lips and with another look shared between Steven and Bucky, the latter stood up to face whatever Liz had been up to again.

In truth they all knew what had probably happened as it had been happening ever since she had gotten here. She was too stubborn to admit when she was in need.

 

Slowly approaching the room Liz had been set up in and pushing open the door, he was greeted by a sight not too different than the one he had painted in his mind. He silently sighed anyway.

 

“You know you can ask for help, right?”

 

“I know but I thought I could do this on my own,” Elizabeth repeated her standard answer while she was struggling to stand up from the floor and avoid the shards of a vase that had fallen down at the same time.

 

Offering his hand, he watched as Liz reluctantly took it and carefully pulled herself off of the hardwood floor. Her stubbornness was making things difficult, not only for Hydra but also for the people who she needed to put her trust in. But Bucky didn’t want to tell her to drop it. He knew the situation was difficult as it was but suddenly being dependant on other people’s help when she always handled things on her own was a major setback in her independence. So he only offered his help when he saw she needed it. She had done the same for him, not pushing anything on him and telling him about himself or his past when he wanted her to. That was also what he liked about her. She always seemed to have a set of rules and boundaries set for herself, guided by a sense of justice and want to protect others from harm. Even through all that he had been through and forced to do, he could relate to that.

 

“Sorry for the vase,” Liz mumbled, bringing his attention back into the present and he held back a frown as he looked at her more closely as she gingerly rubbed her face. “I got distracted and took it down with me.”

 

“I think Barton can take the loss of one vase,” he replied and reached out, taking her chin and turning her face to the side where a bruise had started to bloom the day before. It seemed almost worse today. Blues and reds melting together and running down the length of her face, pooling at the edge of her mouth where even her bottom lip was still swollen. “Tongue?” he asked, slightly jerking his head in the direction of her face.

 

“Better. Still hurts but it won’t keep me from eating,” Liz replied with a nod. “Speaking of eating,”, she continued, a small smile finding its way onto her face which immediately seemed to brighten the atmosphere in the small stuffy room, “I smell breakfast.”

 

Instead of answering, Bucky offered his arm to her and after looping her arm around it, Liz started hobbling towards the kitchen next to him. Even though her leg still protested every move, making her falter now and again, she still kept moving forward purposefully. But before they reached their destination, Bucky felt Liz tense up next to him as suddenly chatter from the kitchen reached their ears. “What?”

 

“Who’s here?” There was a mix of fear and defiance on her face and he wondered for a moment what exactly he should tell her.

 

“His name’s Sam Wilson. He’s a..,” he hesitated. “He’s a friend.” Bucky didn’t know whether that was the truth. Wilson was at least a friend to Steve. Bucky had tried to kill him. But who hadn’t he tried to kill? Even the woman next to him had been subjected to the Winter Soldier’s violence, despite it not having been on purpose. “You don’t need to worry about him.” She definitely needed to worry less about Sam hurting her than him hurting her.

 

After a short pause he could hear her whisper okay before she started moving again, although only with half the strength of before. But the moment they walked into the kitchen and all eyes fell on them, not only her strength seemed to return. “Just to…,” she started but let out a breathy laugh, “How many of you are hiding here?” Liz asked and looked at the faces of the confused men. “Because I’m starting to think this place might not be as secret as you want it to be.”

 

Even though Clint snorted, no one went to answer her question as the new addition stood up and went to introduce himself to her. “Hey. Name’s Sam Wilson.” The black man was only slightly taller than her which was a welcome change in a house full of super soldiers.

 

“Liz Moore,” she replied, detangling herself from Bucky and shaking his hand in return, although somewhat limply. “You’re the guy with wings, right?” she concluded after trying to guess where he fit into this whole mess. Except for Fury there weren’t too many other black males directly involved back in DC. “I read about you in a file shortly after S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed but they didn’t know your name back then.”

 

“Yeah,” he answered and eyed her suspiciously for a moment. “CIA?”

 

“FBI. Although let’s see how long that will last for,” she answered and redirected her focus to the rest of the table and the food on everyone’s plates. “Right now I just want something of that .”

 

“Right,” Clint exclaimed as he went to get her a plate, too, and Bucky helped her settle onto one of the chairs before sitting back onto the chair he had occupied before.

 

Liz could feel her stomach grumble violently as soon as the plate had been set in front of her but hastily digging in wouldn’t do her any good, so she paced herself, watching the men around her. This was the first time she saw them occupied with something other than strategies and plans. She didn’t want to be the one to bring their full focus back to that again, so she bit her tongue and focused on every snippet of their conversation that could have revealed their progress on this matter.

 

Glancing at Bucky, she saw that he kept scrutinizing everyone around him, too. But when his gaze met Liz’s, she knew that he had been thinking the same.

No matter how ordinary and calm everything seemed now, this was a short lived thing and she knew that sooner or later, things would fall apart again.

Chapter Text

No matter how many people were occupying the safehouse, nor their combined strength, nor the ensuing noise could completely eradicate Liz’s uneasiness and the slight panic that still welled up at every loud noise. Granted, it had not even been three days since she had been brought here but the relief she had felt in the beginning had slowly started to fade and had been gradually replaced by a more realistic perspective. Of course she had known from the beginning that her current situation wasn’t exactly ideal. She didn’t even want to think about all the things that had happened and she was sure that had only been the bare minimum of things Hydra was capable of.

 

But now she had a lot more time on her hands than usual and nothing to occupy herself with except for annoying the others. The TV in the living was only for show, her phone had been lost in her struggle with the Hydra goons and the only book she had found had been a cookbook from the 70s. So in an attempt to keep herself from stealing the neighbor’s newspaper she spent most hours watching a neighbor’s cat from inside or staring at the blank TV screen while the rest was off talking about possible plans and tactics. But being left alone with her thoughts made her worries grow and one reckless idea after another started popping into her head. Sometimes she convinced herself that a big deal of these ideas were not as reckless as they had at first seemed but she was sure that no idea that involved her getting possibly harmed in the process was ever going to be considered by any of them. So she kept still, kept watching and kept recuperation.

 

She didn’t want to vent to anyone. She didn’t even know whether she was even allowed to. They were all involved in this, every one of them had emotional baggage and every single person in this house alone was at a bigger risk of falling victim to Hydra’s evils than she would ever be. They might have been reluctant in involving her in their plans but she knew that if there was one person that Hydra didn’t watch as much as them, it was her – and that was despite her being caught in this mess, too.

Steve was reluctant in involving Bucky in their plans, too, but he had the most information about Hydra and was therefore an essential asset for them, leading her to be completely on her own and left out of the loop. She had hardly any information that would be essential for them, so she took a step back and let them deal with it the way they wanted. They knew who she suspected of being affiliated with Hydra and that was all she could give them. Maybe when she went back to working she could give them more useful information. But for now she kept her mouth shut.

 

This however had led to unpleasant side-effects which she was now dealing with. Therefore, deciding that she didn’t want to be woken up by yet another nightmare, she carefully made her way down the dark hallway that led to the kitchen.

 

It was way into the night by now and the house was finally at its quietest, only disturbed by the faint buzzing of the fridge and the occasional car driving by outside. As far as she could tell every person who stayed in the house was asleep, except for Sam who had left soon after the sun had set.

 

She had anticipated that there were quite a few people involved in trying to track down Hydra that didn’t work with government institutions. But she was glad that they were also here to keep Bucky out of harm’s way, at least for as long as they could. And she had to admit, she liked Sam. But she still wondered how many more people were involved. All she knew was that there was at least one more person since she was currently wearing the clothes she had left in the safehouse’s guest room. But still, having a whole group of spies and soldiers and assassins on her side still wasn’t as comforting as it should have been.

 

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she carefully peeked into the kitchen which thankfully appeared to be empty. Explaining why she was up in the middle of the night raiding Clint’s kitchen wasn’t on her list.

So after letting out a small sigh, Elizabeth grabbed the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch from the counter and retrieved a bowl from the cupboard. Clint might have been a mess of a person but at least he had proper taste in cereal. Therefore, armed with milk and a spoon, she started filling up her bowl to the brim with the cinnamonic cereal .

She normally never ate sugary cereal but she could remember her mom buying it for her, her grandfather always having a box of it somewhere stashed away in his house for her and her brother, too. It was as far as non-greasy comfort food went for her - because, granted, she loved pizza -  but she had been too anxious and stressed out the last few days to think about food at all. She only ate so she wouldn’t collapse again. However, the moment she had spotted the box in the kitchen, it had all come rushing back to her and the sense of familiarity seemed like the only thing that could be able to pose as some sort of remedy for her nightmares.

 

And so she found herself sitting alone at the kitchen’s bar sometime around 3am, slightly freezing in the too-thin-for-this-weather shirt and sweatpants she had found, eating spoonful after spoonful of cereal in the hopes that it comforted her enough to let her get back to sleep soon.

She didn’t exactly feel lonely but the minute she saw Bucky’s tousled hair, still somewhat bleary eyes and his mismatched idea of pajamas in the doorway, she knew that any feelings of loneliness she might have felt had faded in an instant.

 

“Hey,” Liz mumbled with her mouth still full, her smile genuine but still not quite reaching her tired eyes.

 

“Hey,” he echoed with a hint of confusion but with another look at the bowl in front of her and a slight nod to himself, he immediately went to get a bowl, too. “You didn’t strike me as the cereal type.”

 

“To be fair, neither did you. More like… scrambled eggs and bacon,” Liz smiled softly and watched as he poured the milk into his bowl and grabbed the box. “I’m more of a cold-pizza-for-breakfast-type, as you know. But I figured the circumstances called for something like that.” Bucky hummed in agreement as he poured the cereal into the bowl and grabbed a spoon from the cutlery box. But she had to suppress a shocked look at his frankly ineffective way of pouring his cereal. “You know it’s cereal first, then milk, right?”

 

“Yeah, Clint made that clear a few days ago, actually,” he told her, “But he likes his cereal soggy and I don’t.”

 

“You do you,” she told him with a laugh but kept watching him as he suppressed a yawn. “So how come you’re up, too?”

 

“You’re a lot less stealthy than you think, Liz,” he said and leaned against the kitchen bar, balancing his bowl in one hand and holding the spoon in the other. “Even without a gunshot wound.”

 

Faking offense, Liz’ eyebrows shot upwards before she replied, her mouth still full from her last spoonful of cereal. “I am one hundred percent sure that if there are two thing I absolutely cannot do,” she told him, muffled until the swallowed, “,it’s being stealthy and not being offended by that statement. But if you cherish a good night’s sleep you’ll have to show me how to be a stealthy assassin like you,” she shrugged and went back to eating. Bucky shook his head in amusement.

 

“You’ve never had to sneak up on the bad guys?”

 

“Suits and holsters aren’t exactly sneaky,” she shrugged. “I’ve also never been involved in an undercover mission, so that might have something to do with it.”

 

“I’ll show you when you’re leg’s all good again,” Bucky told her. “No use in trying when you fall over every few steps.”

 

He hadn’t meant to pull her thoughts towards their predicament again but Liz felt her stomach drop anyway and he watched as the amusement faded from her face.

 

“I’m gonna need it, won’t I?” she whispered and swallowed hard, letting the spoon drop into the mostly empty bowl to rub her suddenly cold bare arms. “I mean, I’m not…”, she stopped and wondered what she even wanted to tell him. That she wouldn’t get out unscathed? He sure as hell wouldn’t either? They couldn’t lock themselves away and hope that Hydra slithered away like a frightened snake? That no matter what they did, there would be no ending to this anytime soon? But Liz caught herself and ignored Bucky’s defeated look. No venting. “I would like that. I mean, you showing me how to do that.”

 

Forcing a small smile, he nodded and after briefly watching her rub her bare arms again, he suddenly went to take of his blue henley, making her come face to face with not only muscles but also the rim of angry scars on his left shoulder.

 

“What are you doing?” Liz asked confused but undecided whether to be thankful that he was wearing another shirt underneath.

 

“I’m not going to let you sit here shivering, am I? I don’t need it. Sped-up metabolism,” he explained and handed it over, urging her to put it on. “Do you need a blanket too?”

“I- No, I… I’m good,” she answered, still confused both by the gesture and the shirt’s smell but she put it on nevertheless, the already warm shirt immediately enveloping her in a sense of safety “Thank you.”

 

Distractedly looking down into her bowl of cereal, the soggy pieces of cereal caught her eye, only being able to pull her partly away from her thoughts. This was the first time she had seen his shoulder, where his metal arm met his skin, and the amount of scarring was worse than she could have imagined. If she had to be honest, she would have said that it seemed as if Hydra had had fun in causing more damage than needed. But before she caught herself, she motioned towards his arm with her spoon, “Does it hurt?”

 

Looking down onto his shoulder as if he had only now noticed that it was displayed, he thought for a few seconds before he answered with a shake of his head, “No.”

 

She didn’t quite know whether she believed that but the arm’s complex metal plating had caught her eye and she had started to become even more curious.

 

“Do you… Can you feel with it?” she asked and reached out to trace her fingers over his arm’s length. “It’s so intricate, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could.”

 

Bucky kept watching as she studied his arm in wonder. He had never looked at his arm as anything other than a weapon but the almost childlike wonder Liz studied it with made him think. He now had full control over his arm and the things it did. As long as Hydra didn’t get their hands on him again, he could use his arm for whatever he wanted. Hell, he could go picking daisies if he wanted to.  

“No,” he finally answered with a shake of his head, “I feel pressure but nothing else.”

“Huh, amazing,” she replied, turning his hand over to look at his palm when she suddenly dropped his hand like it was on fire. “Sorry, I’m- I didn’t ask whether you were comfortable with this, I’m sorry,” she stuttered and quickly grabbed her bowl to put it into the sink. “I’m just-,” she trailed off. She had gotten distracted but felt her sleep deficit catch up with her. It was probably close to 4am anyway and she needed to wake up early to make the dreaded call to the FBI. “I should probably go to bed.”

 

But there was one thing that she still wanted to do. So after emptying her bowl’s contents into the sink, she stood for a moment, pulling the henley’s sleeves over her hands before she pulled herself together and went to give Bucky an awkward side-hug. “Thank you,” she told him again and started to pull away. However, he gently held onto her arm, carefully but quickly tugged her towards him again and enveloped her in his arms properly.

 

Elizabeth didn’t know why she felt alarmed at first but the moment she rested her cheek against his chest, his steady heartbeat, warmth and the smell of fresh laundry did the rest to make her feel safe.

To be fair, she couldn’t quite remember the last time she had hugged someone like this or when she had felt this safe in someone’s arms, even with her own family members. Although she wasn’t sure whether she could compare a hug between family members to this, whatever she could classify their relationship as.

 

No matter the case, she didn’t want to let go – at least not yet. She felt his arms tighten around her, pushing her closer against him, enabling her to listen to his heartbeat more clearly and feel his muscles shift beneath his shirt. When his chin came atop of her head, tucking her safely against him, she burrowed her face further into his chest.

 

But just like his arms had tightened in the beginning, after a short while they were slowly starting to let go. Still, when she slightly pulled away, too, she came face to face with Bucky, his gaze soft but intense at the same time, his mouth slightly agape and his lips utterly inviting. Elizabeth thought that she might have imagined it when she saw his eyes briefly flit down to her own lips had he not suddenly spoken up, his voice hoarse and low.

 

“Can I…,” he trailed off.


She wouldn’t have been surprised had she forgotten to reply as she was gaping, too. But then she heard herself breath “Yeah, absolutely,” and the next thing she could feel was his lips on hers, warm and softer than she had thought a man like him being capable of. But then, when their lips started moving together, she thought that, yes, things weren’t ideal. But kissing him felt like really coming home for the first time in forever, and god, if it didn’t feel like the safest place in the world.

Chapter Text

Monday morning had come sooner than she had would’ve thought which had now left her with the task of letting the FBI know she would be unable to come to work for a for now indefinite amount of time. There was also the consequent talk with Ewan because he was the last one to hear about it. His number had flashed across the pre-paid phone’s display Clint had dropped in her lap this morning mere minutes after she had hung up on the woman working at the FBI’s administration. But even then she had had difficulty concentrating on anything else but the man currently sitting next to her, her feet propped onto his lap, making her efforts at keeping a straight face just that much more difficult.

 

“Infectious,” Liz heard Ewan incredulously repeat her own answer.

 

“Yes,” she insisted and swatted at Bucky whose lip had started quirking slightly.

She wasn’t that bad at lying but Ewan knew her better than anyone else and Bucky’s presence wasn’t exactly making things easier for her, especially after what had happened only mere hours before. Just the thought still sent tingles up her back and color to her cheeks. But she had to force herself to focus on lying. There had been no problem convincing the woman on the other end of the line of her predicament. Ewan, however, was a whole other story.

 

“Are you really trying to tell me that you - the idiot that came to work during flu season with a 105° fever - that you are sick and won’t come to work?” She pinched her eyes together and sighed, started replying when Ewan beat her to it. “Liz, what is really going on? Should I be worried?”

 

“Listen, I’ll… I’ll be back before you know it, okay?” she reassured him and felt Bucky’s hand squeeze her ankle in support. He hadn’t left her side all morning and she was grateful for it. It somehow felt as if both of them needed the reassurance that another person was there for the other.

Lying to Ewan however turned the butterflies in her stomach to a dull ache. He wasn’t going to buy it anyway.

 

“Liz-,” he started and Elizabeth faltered.

 

“I can’t give you more details, Ewan. But I- I’m okay, I’ll be back soon. Just- Please, just make sure you keep the story up. Please,” she pleaded and heard Ewan’s unmistakable sigh at the other end of the line.

 

“You’re okay?” he asked again. “This isn’t something where you’re in a hostage situation and I’ll have to drag you out when you’re half dead already, right?”

 

“No,” she told him with a forced chuckle. In reality she had no clue how this all would play out but being dragged out half dead or dead wasn’t as unreasonable as she would have liked. Before she hung up she added, “Bye, Ewan. Give Karen my best.”

 

Letting the phone drop into her lap, she let her head roll back with a groan and ran both of her hands over her face, through her hair, trying to get rid of the tension that slowly started to make her head hurt. But the weight on her shoulders had let up slightly, having brought the inevitable phone calls over her. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t still a bone-crushing weight left.

 

Rolling her head back up to face Bucky, she squinted when she saw the troubled expression he wore. “What’s up?”

 

Snapping his head back in her direction at once, he still hesitated to answer. He always did. “You trust him?”

 

“If there’s one person I trust in this whole universe it’s him. He might be an idiot but he’s a good guy,” Liz replied with a smile and a roll of her eyes.

 

“His girlfriend?” another voice chimed in from behind, accompanied by the dull thud of shoes hitting the wooden floor. Letting her head hang from the armrest, Liz could see Steve entering with Sam on his heels.

 

“Wife,” Liz clarified, confused by the questions they were now asking. “She’s a kindergarten teacher.” Scrutinizing the look on Steve’s face more closely, she almost had to laugh when she realized what he was insinuating. “I don’t think Hydra can do a whole lot of damage with a bunch of toddlers, Steve.”

 

“But we’re still missing something.”

 

“No new clues?” she asked, looking over the men’s faces for an answer.

 

“No, it’s been quiet ever since we picked you up,” Steve replied and sank down onto one of the chairs opposite Liz and Bucky. Sam chose to look outside the window, turning his back towards them. “Clint is still staking out the known Hydra bases around New York with Nat but most of them are deserted. Those that weren’t are now.”

 

“Nat is…” Liz pointed at her clothes and Bucky nodded.

 

“That’s her’s,” he confirmed.

 

“Which means that…,” Liz started and let out a weary breath, “That means we’re stuck here until there are any substantial clues.”

 

“No, that means you are stuck here,” Sam corrected. “I got my ass handed to me last night.”

 

Liz turned her head with a sigh, her gaze resting on Bucky’s profile. His jaw kept twitching and the focused look on his face hadn’t let up yet. It seemed he ground his teeth harder the longer they talked about being unable to do anything.

 

“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” she told them, the sudden wave of guilt overwhelming her and tuning out their protests. It wasn’t even because of the gunshot wound that was currently decorating her left thigh with all the colors of the rainbow. As a normal human being with no notable connections she couldn’t really contribute in taking Hydra down.

 

Pushing herself off of the sofa to leave them to discuss whatever soldiers discussed, she suddenly had a thought that let her blood run cold. “They don’t want me.”

 

“What?”

 

“Hydra. They don’t me. They just- They want me because of my ties to you,” she told them, her eyes finally focusing on Steve’s and carefully avoiding Bucky’s. “Right? We can… I want to help and there’s two ways I can help. Either cut the ties, then you won’t have to think of me while you’re doing what you’ll be doing either way. Or,” she licked her lips, “or we can exploit-”

 

“No,” she heard Bucky before she had even properly finished. “No chance in hell.”

 

“Please let me finish?” she pleaded with him, finally meeting his eyes. His eyes held a multitude of emotions but the most prominent of them all was disbelief. Elizabeth could understand. After everything that had happened, she wasn’t exactly fond of her idea herself. But if it helped move them out of danger, if it helped move Bucky even just a little out of the danger zone, she would take it. “We could use that for our own profit.”

 

“Liz,” Steve started, shaking his head in disbelief.

 

Of course none of them would be happy with her proposition since she was, in their eyes, an innocent civilian. But she also knew that if it came down to it, she could convince all of them, even if it would take thrice the effort to persuade Bucky, who was sitting silently, grinding his teeth and clenching his fist.

 

Noticing his distress, Liz sighed. “Guys, can you-,” she said, motioning vaguely with her hands towards the hallway, “Just for a moment.”

 

“Right. Sam?”

 

Thankfully they moved without a protest and only a few seconds later Liz found herself sitting on the sofa again, her body facing Bucky but their eyes not meeting and an unusual distance between them. She didn’t know whether she wasn’t even grateful for it at that moment.

 

“Listen, I know. I know. I know . I’m not a fan of this either,” she confessed, awkwardly placing her hands in her lap. But it didn’t feel right and Bucky was still not looking at her, so she softly grabbed ahold of his left hand with shaky fingers. “Look at me? Please?”

 

It happened slowly, but surely he lifted his head and the storm of emotions raging in his eyes almost left her breathless. She knew he was upset, he wasn’t particularly masking his feelings. But the mess of emotions clouding his vision was more upsetting to her than what she was about to propose.

 

“I became an FBI agent for a reason, Bucky,” she started. “That means that I try to help innocent people where I can, even if it means putting myself in danger. You’re one of these innocent people, even if you don’t want to believe it yourself, and right now, with me being here, I’m jeopardizing your safety. So either we stop this all right now or we use it to our advantage.

Which means, I’ll go back to work as soon as I can. I’ll-,”she came to a stop, her voice thick and hoarse at his livid expression and the frantic whirring of his metal arm. “What are you thinking about?”

 

“I’m sick of hiding,” he admitted, talking slowly, his voice low and factual. “Hydra has taken more years from me than your average person usually even lives. I was unable to do anything when they picked me apart, piece for piece.” He swallowed and shook his head. “I’m not going to watch as they keep taking everything from me. I’m angry and I’m sick of feeling helpless.”

“So am I,” she replied, slightly floored. “Die trying, right?”

 

“I’m not going to keep you from doing what you want, Liz,” he concluded, seemingly defeated but his fingers still twitched ever so slightly on her hand. “But I’m not going to let you do it alone, either.”

 

Shaking her head, she inched closer towards his body until she was almost wrapped around his arm. It was cold at first but heated up ever so slightly at her touch. Propping her head on his shoulder, she looked up at him, her nose scrunched up. “I can’t take any of you with me to HQ, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”

 

“I’m not,” he said, his lip quirking ever so slightly, releasing some of the knots in Liz stomach. “I’m talking about your friend.” And they were back.

 

“Ewan?” she asked, scooting away to get a better look at his face to see whether he was serious. “What?”

 

“It would be the FBI’s job either way,” he replied matter-of-factly and Liz had to agree. They didn’t know who inside of the FBI was feeding Hydra intel. But she trusted Ewan. And Bucky trusted her judgement, it seemed.

 

“Do you want to talk it over with Steve?” she asked. He nodded, already standing to leave and bending down to drop a kiss on her head. Liz wanted to melt into his touch but her mind was, as usual by now, preoccupied.


She wasn’t exactly happy with dragging Ewan into this mess, too. But he was part of the FBI, too. They had been trained. Having at least one person on her side in that whole building would benefit her immensely. “Right, okay,” she sighed and laid back onto the sofa, mulling over how in God’s name she was going to tell Ewan about what she was dragging him into.

Chapter Text

“You good?”

 

Liz turned around to face Bucky, who was leaning against the door frame. She kept fiddling with the phone in her hand and as his eyes wandered down to indicate what he was referring to, she sighed and turned back around.

 

To be frank, she felt nauseous and more nervous than ever. Despite the cabin fever that had slowly been developing, she was afraid to go out again. And now she not only needed to go outside, but she was also going to meet up in a public place with someone that had been accused of being part of Hydra by the people around her only mere days before. Who, to her, was not only a co-worker. Who was a friend, a good friend, maybe even the only one she had had. Whose ties to Hydra, if there were any, would devastate her and leave her unbelieving in the good in this world.

 

“I’m good,” she concluded, swiping her thumb over the phone’s display and pocketing it. Turning around, she fell under Bucky’s scrutinizing gaze, his shoulders tense and face stoic. Had he worn a hard and cold expression before whenever their safety came into play, she didn’t know what to call it now. Sinister, maybe. Unyielding, definitely.

She was relieved he showed his dislike of the current situation to all those around him. But the usefulness of bringing Ewan into the loop outweighed his negative feelings. She just hoped guilt wouldn’t be added to that anytime soon.

 

“Got the number?”

 

Nodding earnestly, she patted her pocket. “Got it. Memorized it. Didn’t save it. Didn’t write it down. Will call it if I run into any trouble. Steve was very particular about that.”

 

“Good,” he sighed and held out his hand to her. The corner of her mouth lifting slightly, Liz grabbed his warm hand and let herself be pulled into the hallway and stumbling down to the living room where the rest of the house’s occupants were.

 

The atmosphere had been tense ever since she had arrived but it had reached its peak the moment Liz had told them she would meet with Ewan and make him into an alliance partner. The assumptions. The attacks. The whole Winter Soldier story minus her current ties to him. That wasn’t particularly necessary. Especially since she didn’t quite know herself where they stood and where they were headed. But there were more pressing matters at hand than this possible relationship.

 

However, that possible relationship had suffered during the last few days. Liz had known from the beginning that she wouldn’t stay hidden away forever and would be back at her job as soon as she could. Concerning this aspect Bucky wore his heart on his sleeve and he seemed to get more and more restless the more he could watch her get better and taking on longer stretches of way. Despite feeling unsure, Liz knew she wouldn’t be able to compensate on that front. So they both had ignored the need for that talk completely.

 

Stepping into the living room by Bucky’s side, she saw Sam, Steve and Clint, all three of them sticking their heads together and being shadowed by a beautiful redhead standing by the window. Elizabeth knew immediately who the woman was and also why all of the pants she had been provided with where at least 2 inches too short. But even her lack in height didn’t make the woman seem less daunting. Her stance and expression screamed dangerous and Liz knew that wasn’t just a facade.

 

Without any of them lifting their head, Clint suddenly exclaimed, “Number, now. Go!”

 

Quite stumped, she started stammering at first but recited the number anyway. “Oh two oh, five five five. Oh one three- sixish?”

 

“Not funny,” Steve sighed and threw whatever file he had been holding in his hand onto the table and leaned back with a sigh.

 

“I know. Don’t worry. This number will still be spooking around my brain by the time I’m eighty, you made sure of that,” she told him, patting his shoulder and her eyes fell on Natasha again. “I don’t believe we’ve met yet.”

 

Natasha stepped closer and the murderous expression changing as soon as a small smirk replaced the hard line her mouth formed. “No, not formally. You were kind of passed out the last time I was here.”

 

“Well that was graceful of me,” Liz concluded with a grimace and held out her hand. “I’m Liz, nice to finally meet you.”

 

“Natasha,” the redhead simply said and shook her hand with a soft grip that didn’t quite match Liz’ previous assessment of the spy. “Clint and I will be shadowing you today.”

 

Two trained spies to shadow her while she was meeting a friend. In a semi-public place. In the middle of the day. Letting out a small sigh she looked around in mild annoyance and said, “You still believe he’s Hydra.”

 

“If he is, we’ll take him with us and squeeze the details out of him,” Sam shrugged nonchalantly, as if that had been the plan all along. It probably had been.

 

“Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better”

 

////

Liz took her first steps outside a few minutes later, stubbornly and utterly relieved that walking seemed to get easier day after day. She was still limping noticeably and the sharp pain she felt shooting up from her thigh with every step she took was still there but she pushed through. And the moment she saw the sun outside she knew it had been worth it.

 

It was warm now, in comparison to the time of year that whole ordeal had started, and the ache in her bones started to slowly fade. But the ache in her stomach couldn’t be undone by physical heat.

 

Turning around to face Bucky again before she made off with Clint and Natasha, she tried to swallow her nervousness and masked it with a small smile, failing miserably.

 

“Be careful,” he told her, not caring about the emotions displayed on his face. Him not masking his feelings had been a new development and Liz didn’t know whether she liked it or was concerned because of it. The more serious he got, the harder an attack would hit him personally and just the idea of more suffering on his part made her sick.

 

Pushing her thoughts into the back of her mind, the corner of her mouth quirked and she leaned in to circle her arms around his torso tightly. Careful had never been something people would describe her as, it would be idiotic to start now. She could try but there was no guarantee for it. So she stuck to keeping quiet, holding on tighter for a moment and hoping he understood her lack of response.

 

Letting go, she looked at him for a moment longer and turned to get into the black van waiting in the driveway. Hadn’t it been for her awareness of the super soldiers, soldier and spies, the neighbourhood would seem hilariously suburban. As an FBI agent she wasn’t sure whether she would like to find suspects hiding out in a picture perfect neighbourhood. On the one hand, she preferred it to the usual dumps they found them in. On the other, there was a much higher chance of  casualties. So she didn’t waste any time in climbing into the van.

 

“Number,” Clint’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts the moment she moved to put her seatbelt on.

 

Sighing, she composed herself before she could snark back. “Oh two oh. Five five five. Oh one three six. You’ve all been doing that for three days straight. I'll remember it. You’re worse than Steve, though.”

 

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he answered passively, watching Natasha get into the passenger seat and losing no time to start driving away.

 

The trip to the small coffeehouse they had chosen for her to meet Ewan at was tucked away in an alleyway, not heavily frequented and with a multitude of escape routes. Since Liz had been hidden in Clint’s safe house she wasn’t concerned that anyone that could cause her to be in danger would try something today. First, they had to find her. Second, they had to get past the people shadowing her. Despite everything, she felt rather safe today.

 

So when they finally reached the coffeehouse, got her fixed up with an earpiece for communication, a code word and settled into a booth in the back with a cup of coffee, her heart wasn’t thumping as hard as it probably should have been. But Ewan hadn’t shown any reluctance in meeting her. She was just going to talk, explain and hope for the best.

 

Despite it being Friday, there were hardly any customers in the little shop, so she stuck to watching a couple of kids with their mothers on the other side of the room when she suddenly heard the earpiece she had been given come to life, followed by Natasha’s curt instructions. “We can see him. If anything seems out of the ordinary use the code word and wait. Don't alarm him, we'll get you out.”

 

Nodding to herself, she watched the entrance until Ewan’s familiar form walked in, a troubled expression on his face until he spotted Liz sitting at the back.

 

“I thought you were kidding when you said you wanted to meet in Jersey,” he stated as he made himself comfortable on her opposite side, giving Liz the opportunity to look him over properly. He looked the same way he always did. Brown messy hair, brown hooded eyes, tall and lanky, still dressed in his suit.

 

“I would never joke about Jersey,” she replied, wanting to laugh but being unable to. When Ewan furrowed his eyebrows at her behaviour, she sighed and continued before he could even interrupt her. “Thank you for coming. This is going to be- it’s going to be difficult for me to tell you about everything because it is difficult.”

 

“O-kay,” he replied slowly.

 

“The Winter Soldier. James Barnes.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You were all right. I did know who he was and I did have contact. A lot more so, actually,” she stated.

 

Watching Ewans expression closely, she followed the way a multitude of emotions flitted over his face. Confusion to disbelieve to more confusion. “What?”

 

“However,” she continued firmly, “I need you to be one hundred percent quiet about this because, quite frankly, my life is at stake.”

 

“Why would your life be at stake because of that?” he interrupted her, “Your job, sure. Hawk would be out of his mind. But not your life.”

 

“That’s why I asked you to meet me here,” she explained. “Because something isn’t right. I’ve noticed it before I had regular contact. He’s a good guy. Barnes. He really is. But S.H.I.E.L.D apparently wasn’t an isolated case an-”

 

As soon as Ewan realized what Liz was getting at, his eyes widened and he interrupted her. “No.”

 

“No?”

 

“You’re wrong,” he told her, grimacing.

 

“I wish I was,” Liz responded with sympathy. She hadn’t expected he would believe her immediately. He had been trained to question everything, the same way she had been.

 

“When?”

 

“I don’t know,” she told him. “Maybe years. I don’t know who has been passing on information. We’re still trying to figure that out.”

 

“We?” he asked surprised.

 

“It’s a long story,” she told him, “Maybe after all of this is over I’ll tell you. I just hope I have your support. I’ll be back at work in a week. But- just having someone there that knows what’s going on, it’s...”

 

////

 

“Stop staring at the clock,” Bucky’s thoughts got interrupted by Steve. “Clint already called. Nothing unusual and they’re on their way back. He's on our side.”

 

Tearing his eyes away from the hypnotizing movement of the clock’s hands, his gaze wandered to his friend standing in the doorway. He was right. Staring at the clock until something happened wasn’t useful. But he had lost his usefulness a while back.

 

Standing to leave, Steve caught him by the shoulder, forcing him to stand still. Watching as Bucky’s jaw worked, Steve furrowed his eyebrows. Bucky knew he hadn’t masked his feelings well, if at all. But today had taken a sledgehammer to the remaining facade.

 

“Why is this getting you so worked up?”

 

“Shouldn’t it?” Bucky asked, genuinely curious but clenching his fists all at the same time. Because no matter how often he mulled over the facts, he couldn’t find any way out of this mess. He, the person that had been trained to design tactics and plans, couldn’t figure out even one way that would leave everyone somewhat unharmed. He hadn't been trained with that in mind.

 

“Bucky,” Steve, sensing his distress, interrupted his thoughts again, “Why?”

 

“Because no matter what I do or where I go, people get hurt!” he roared back.

 

“Buck-”

 

“I- almost killed you! Sam! I fucking choked Liz because I had no control over myself!” he continued, horrified with himself and still, the facts kept bubbling up. Even Steve’s stricken expression couldn’t steer him away from the path his thoughts had chosen. “I know it’s not my fault, what Hydra did to me, but I fucking did it!”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

The softly asked question pulled him out of his thoughts immediately. Liz. Of course. However, his thoughts weren't replaced by blissful silence as he would have hoped. Instead shame and guilt filled their place.

 

“Bucky?”

 

He couldn’t turn around and face her. He wanted to but he was the reason for everything that had happened. He was the reason she had gotten hurt, no matter how many times she stressed that she didn’t have to snoop around but did it anyway, exercised her own free will. That she was glad that she had done it.


Squaring his shoulders once again, he left, pushing past Liz without a glance and leaving them standing in the living room to figure out what had just happened.

Chapter Text

“I feel stupid.”

 

“You’re not.”

 

“I’m not saying I am. I just feel like it,” Liz sighed, letting her head roll from one shoulder to the other. Her neck had started hurting from being in the same position on the couch for a while now. It had apparently been long enough for the day to end and night to take over again. But she felt no urge to move, it was Sunday after all and watching Sam squinting in the bad lighting and trying to reassemble whatever gadget he had taken apart was the best entertainment she was going to get. She might have also unconsciously started using him as her emotional outlet. But he hadn’t yet complained, so she’d keep letting her thoughts out. Not everything all at once, but a steady trickle would do, too. Otherwise she feared her head would explode.

 

The last few days had started eventful, then there had been literally nothing. After stumbling in on Bucky’s tirade it seemed as if he had been swallowed whole. And Liz hated the fact that he had apparently started to avoid her. If he avoided the rest, too, she had to admit they were good actors. Even Steve had been rather calm, which - in the end - was all the evidence she needed that he was only ignoring her. But tomorrow she was set to go to work with Ewan by her side. And there was still no sign of Bucky. She didn’t even know whether he knew of her going back to the FBI the next day.

 

She knew it wasn’t easy for him but apparently he had been swallowing his grief for a while and had finally had enough. Maybe Sam should rather listen to him than her.

 

Swallowing her own confusion, she finally worked to stand up. She couldn’t stand sitting still for even one more second. Despite the effort it still took, it started to look more and more natural each time she did, even if it didn’t feel that way. She could read that in the look Sam shot her the moment she started walking.

 

“Looking better,” he started, nodding at her leg and going back to tinkering.

 

Stopping in her tracks and glancing down at her injury, she sighed. “Still hurts like a bitch though.”

 

Sam laughed softly, “I can’t imagine. For all the stuff we’ve done, I’ve never gotten shot.”

 

“Let’s keep it that way, huh?” Liz answered with an absent chuckle and slowly moved towards the door. Sam was nice to talk to but Bucky avoiding her still nagged at her.

The moment an idea popped up in her thoughts, her head snapped up. “Can I bribe you to detain Bucky?”

 

“No can do, girl,” Sam laughed but Liz’ mood had gone somber.

 

“I need to tell him that I’ll be gone tomorrow,” she mumbled, and focused on the door. If Sam had answered her incoherent mumble, she didn’t hear it. The it popped into her head, she knew it was inevitable. It needed to be done and putting it off would only result in more anger and pain.

 

Therefore, she limped to Bucky’s room, determination written all over her face until she finally came to a halt in front of the door. Then the determination and volition dissipated. But she had come so far. She didn’t want to be found standing in front of his room, rooted to the spot due to fear and uncertainty. So she knocked. And knocked again, until the determination came back and she was all but hammering against the door.

 

“Open up,” she yelled, after the edge of her palm had started to feel tender. When there was still no sign of life, Liz grew frustrated and opened the door on her own.

She found Bucky lying on the bed, facing the ceiling and not giving any indication that he knew she was there, immediately taking the wind out of her sail. He looked worn out and apathetic, the complete opposite of the last time she had seen him.
She stood in the threshold for a second longer before she decided that she couldn’t take it anymore. Crying was not on her agenda today. “I’m going back to work tomorrow.”

 

It was silent until she heard the whirr of his arm, and his subsequent sharp intake of breath at being betrayed by his own emotions. “Are you sure?” he finally spoke up.

 

“Yeah,” she stated, unwilling to move but willing to display just the tiniest smidge of emotions.“Everything’s been set up already. But I don’t want to leave things between us like that.” When he didn’t respond, she called his name. But all she could hear was him inhaling deeply and blowing the air out through his clenched teeth. “You’re not being helpful at all right now, honey.”

 

“I know,” he answered but made no indication of talking more or even looking at her. His lethargy wounded Liz deeply. She knew that what had happened and was still happening was what one could only describe as a massive shit show. But she wished he would at least say something, anything. She’d rather have him hurl abuse at her than this.

 

When she started to feel tears prick at the corners of her eyes, she inhaled deeply and turned on her heel, slamming the door shut before he could hear her sniffle. She didn’t have the energy anymore. It was hard enough to leave and face the unknown. She was a strong and independent person but his lack of concern was hurtful. She felt alone.

 

Loneliness was a feeling she had gotten used to. Being far away from the people she loved and estranged from the rest had made feeling lonely her default setting and while Vito was a good companion, he was no match to a real life human being. But then everything had happened at once and she had had no more time to ponder on it. She felt needed and safe all at the same time. But now she felt lonely again, and that in a house full of people.

 

Sniffling again, she willed herself to move, but she couldn’t. No matter how much she scolded herself for getting emotional, her eyes started to burn and she felt the first tear rolling down her cheek.

 

Liz flinched when suddenly a hand came down onto her shoulder from behind. After a moment of confusion, she knew it was Bucky and it made it just so much worse.
Turning around, his hand fell away from her and she looked at him to finally see traces of emotions. The facade of apathy had started to crack and she could finally see the guilt underneath it.

 

“Why?” she sniffed. “What did you get into your head that you felt the need to ignore me for days ?”

 

He let out a quick but forceful breath through his nose before he broke eye contact, seemingly trying to find something else to focus on than the crying woman in front of him. But he caught himself, closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m not good for you.”

 

“What?” she confusedly asked.

 

“I’m not good for you,” he repeated himself, stressing each word. “You’re in this situation because of me . I got you hurt, I-,” he trailed off, shaking his head in disbelief. “I’m sorry but I can’t do thi-.”

 

“Stop,” she suddenly interrupted, her eyebrows furrowed. He didn’t make sense. “I’ve been here for weeks and I’ve been in Hydra’s focus even longer. Why are you starting with this now?”

 

“Because it’s the truth!” he hissed.

 

“No, it’s not. Not entirely anyway,” Liz stated, and tried to look for clues in his expression. But then it dawned on her. “It’s Ewan, isn’t it?”

 

“It’s not,” he told her, shaking his head.

 

“Then what is it?” she asked, exasperated. Even Bucky seemed to have had enough of tiptoeing around the matter as he breathed in deeply and closed his eyes for a second.

 

“We got you out of harm’s way,” he stated slowly.

 

“Yes you did,” she agreed.

 

“You’re going back to the place that almost got you killed,” he stressed. He wasn’t fully right. She remembered the two men talking about having to take her back alive - boss’s orders. But she could understand his point.

 

“Bucky,” she started and stepped closer, letting her hands wander to his upper arms. “I need to go back- even after everything that happened. I need- I need to get back to my job, my life, I can’t keep being holed up in here, it’s not right. I’ve never been someone to hide away and I’m not going to start now,” she finished, looking at him intently.

 

He swallowed hard and pulled her to his chest. Liz relished in the warmth he provided, even despite the circumstances. God knew how long it would be until she was able to feel it again. “Just-,” she felt his chest vibrate beneath her cheek. “Be careful.”

 

She wasn’t sure what she could promise, so she pushed herself closer against him, committing the feeling to memory. When she didn’t answer, he did the same, pushing strands of her brown hair away from her face.

 

Liz could have stood there forever, embraced like this. But before any of them could break it up, she decided to get back to their conversation, even if just for clarification.

 

“Bucky?” she mumbled, and got a deep rumbling in his chest in response. “You’re good. You’re- plenty good. Your heart’s in the right place and I swear, if could achieve only one thing in blowing Hydra’s cover, it’d still want it to be you having your peace of mind.”


His chest grew softer against her cheek for a second, the tension leaving his muscles. But she could also feel his heart hammering away, making her smile. She didn’t want to admit it fully yet but the feelings that had started to develop were thriving. It wasn’t just his appearance anymore, or even just a crush. “Please don’t doubt that for a second.”

Chapter Text

 

The sunny weather didn’t quite match Liz’s mood. With each step she took towards the concrete tower her body felt heavier, weighing her down and making each move more strenuous than the last. Her mouth was dry and if she hadn’t put her hands into her coat’s pockets, she was sure one could see them shaking.

Even Ewan walking swiftly besides her didn’t calm her down. As far as it concerned her, she probably could walk with a gun in her pocket and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

 

She had never felt this scared. At first she had pretended to didn’t know why she was suddenly feeling this way. She had worked on dangerous assignments, with and without partner, and never had she ever shook like a leaf. But now she was, and as much as she wanted to ignore the reason, she couldn’t. It was him.

 

“You okay?” Ewan piped up beside her, coming closer to her side. Despite his cheerful voice, he looked tired and worn out. Dark bags under his eyes made him age at least five years.

 

“I want to say yes,” Liz sighed and straightened up before she walked into the building, “but we both know that’s not true.”

 

“Fair enough,” Ewan answered with a shrug, and walked with her towards the reception, eyeing her for a few seconds. “I’ll wait upstairs for you, okay? Get your stuff.”

 

Nodding absentmindedly and ignoring his look, she turned towards the reception. “Good morning, Melissa.”

 

Without responding, she swiftly turned around to retrieve a small box, filled with Liz’s belongings before slamming it onto her desk. “Hawk wants to see you.”

 

The sudden harsh response startled her. Melissa was usually nice enough. Sure, she could be cranky but who wouldn’t be. The people who came into HQ each day were quite a few and usually not easy to deal with. But this was new.

 

“O-kay,” Liz replied, not in the mood for already getting in a row at half past 8. Ignoring Melissa’s burning glare, Liz grabbed the box and turned around on her heel, heading towards the elevator. Behind her, she could hear Melissa scoff, causing her to pinch her eyes shut in hurt. This was unfair. If even the receptionist, a person with one of the lowest clearance levels would treat her like this, what would her entire floor be like?

 

She didn’t want to dwell on it but her arrival on her floor was imminent and if everyone was going to treat her the way Melissa did, she wouldn’t be able to be there for long. But she knew Ewan had her back.

 

The moment the elevator came to a halt, Liz’ heart stopped beating altogether. The deep breaths she had been trying to take up until now turned shallow and the trembling of her hands worsened. However, when the doors slid open to reveal her office floor, only two or three people glanced her way, then ignored her again, devoting themselves to their cases again.

 

She didn’t know whether to feel relieved. Were they ignoring her by default or did they just really not care? Liz decided that she would get to the bottom of that some other time. For now, she had other problems.

 

Gripping the box filled with her belongings tighter, she slowly but steadily moved towards her cubicle. But when she came to a standstill in front of it, she noticed that Ewan was nowhere to be seen. Looking around the office, she suddenly saw him walking towards her, visibly distressed, talking to someone on the phone.

 

Trying not to draw attention to herself and Ewan’s state, she waited until he was about to enter his own cubicle again, to ask him what was going on.

 

Hanging up, Ewan cleared his throat and loosened his tie before sinking down on his chair, returning to his work as if nothing had happened. “Nothing, Hawk wants to see you.”

 

But Liz couldn’t ignore the state he was in and wondered if it was someone from the FBI. However, if they had found out what Ewan and her were currently up to, the only way they would have left this office was in handcuffs, if they had even made it to the entrance this morning at all. But something still wasn’t right. However, Ewan seemed dedicated to ignore her as well.

 

Swallowing her own distress, Liz dropped her box on her desk and quietly made her way towards Hawk’s office. However, this time she was aware of several heads popping up from the cubicles.

 

Pushing the door open, she was greeted by a familiar sight, Director Hawk behind his humongous desk with files strewn all over it. But his eyes were not on them.

 

“Agent Moore,” he greeted and nodded with his head towards the seat in front of him.

 

“Director,” Liz replied before breathing in deeply and lowering herself onto the chair, folding her hands in her lap. She felt like a child about to be scolded.

 

After a few moments of silence, Hawk sighed and clapped his hands together. “As I am sure you are aware, you have been cleared of all accusations. However, most agents are still wary of you, Agent,” he started and Liz nodded. She had noticed that. “And I can understand that because even I am still not entirely sure.”

 

“What?” Liz’ head snapped upwards before she caught herself, “Why? The accusations were unsubstantiated.”

 

“Because,” he replied slowly, “no such accusations just happen in a workplace like ours. We are supposed to be defenders of the law.”

 

Liz kept her scoff to herself but the way Hawk kept staring at her, she knew that he could read her like a book.

 

“You’ll be reinstated,” he continued, adding more force to his words. “But we have decreased your clearance level significantly. Do you remember your first years here? Your clearance level then was higher than it is now. You will have to work harder than you ever thought you could to get back to where you were, including the trust of your colleagues. Have I made myself clear?”

 

She wanted to yell and fight his decision but it would only have resulted in even more severe punishment. So, swallowing her pride she nodded.

 

“Now get out.”

 

Obeying, she left to go to her own cubicle again. It could have been a lot worse, she kept telling herself. But in reality, it was bad enough. She might as well have been a beat cop again for all it mattered. But she was still here.

Breathing in deeply, she sped up  before she made it there, a frantic Ewan caught up with her, grabbing her arm, “We need to talk.”

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked, searching his face for clues but he kept dragging her along towards the stairwell. The sweat on his forehead, the dilated pupils and the fear in his voice could mean anything. Hell, he could even have inhaled some of the cocaine in their evidence room for all she knew. He didn’t give her an answer and kept pulling her along, into the stairwell, one flight up, two, three.

 

Liz’ leg already protested but it seemed urgent, so she tried to keep up. When Ewan started racing up the fifth flight of stairs, however, Liz had to stop him.

 

“Jesus, Ewan, stop!” she called and rubbed her thigh, hissing due to the pain the exertion caused. “No one is here, what is wrong?”

 

“I-,” he started but frantically looked around the stairwell before grabbing her arm again and dragging her towards a narrow nook off the stairwell. When they finally stood face to face, Liz could hardly make out his face due to the lack of light in the small space. But his breathing was laboured and she was just as confused as before, albeit definitely more concerned.

 

“Ewan, what is it? Is it Hawk? Karen? Hydra?”  At the last one she noticed him wince, causing her to fall silent, trying to prepare herself for what was to come. But instead, Ewan hugged her tightly to him, murmuring something in her ear she could not make out.

 

Pulling away from him for a second, she asked, “What?”

 

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated himself, making her frown until she felt what he was sorry about, pressing into her stomach and making her blood run cold.


“This is not happening,” she whispered, confused and terrified. But he never replied. The only thing she was aware of was that she felt two, three bullets enter her body, each one hurting more than the last, the blood dripping from her stomach and the way she stopped breathing, making her collapse in a heap.

Chapter Text

he first time Liz opened her eyes, she was overwhelmed by several things all at once. The blinding white light, the mass of people surrounding her, trying to keep the bleeding at bay and ultimately the incredible pain she felt at every shake of the gurney, accompanied by the distant sound of people talking. But it didn't seem real. Everything was too hazy, too distant, the pain too dull and more like an echo than anything else. She didn't care that she was drifting off again.

The second time she opened her eyes, the only thing she saw was outlines, of what exactly - she couldn't make out. She didn't know where she was, the sheets felt rough and unfamiliar, and the abundance of light made it more difficult for her to make out any other details next to the painful throbbing of her head.

But one shape felt more alive. It was familiar and filled with concern. She tried to focus on it but the drugs and exhaustion pulled her under again, leaving her subconsciousness to wonder about it.

The third time she opened her eyes, it seemed more strenuous than the first two times and they fell shut immediately after opening. Liz tried to convince herself that this was due to the fact that then she was actually supposed to wake up. How long she had been out cold for, she didn't know. There were only two things she was sure of at that moment, however.
One, she was on a hell of a lot of drugs. It hurt to move but instead of the sharp pain she remembered from being shot in the leg, it was more resemblant of a dull throbbing. She was also way too content right then.
But number two stuck out more: someone seemed to be holding her hand.

She could feel soft fingertips gently holding it and the sharp edge of nails on her skin from time to time, as if the person was scared of grabbing ahold of her hand tighter and needed to avoid further damage. As a thumb stroked over the back of her hand, she let go of a tiny sigh and gave in to her body. It wanted to be awake. People were concerned and wanted to talk to her, reassure themselves she was fine. Just then she realized who she had seen before.

"Clint was here." She mumbled, almost unintelligibly. Everything was so heavy. But the grip on her hand tightening let her know that he had heard just fine.

"He's the only one who can walk around somewhat freely without immediately raising suspicions and getting the police called on him," came his reply, his hand wandering towards her face and stroking her cheek. Liz leaned into it and let the corner of her lip twitch upwards before slowly opening her eyes and adjusting to the sight before her. How could one person be so damn beautiful?

"But you're here."

"Yeah."

"Thank you."

Looking closer now, she saw that it was still dark in the room but seemed to be getting lighter outside. The only sounds around her were both of their breathing and the steady beep of the heart monitor she was hooked up to.

Turning her head back, she focused on Bucky again.

"How are you here?" she asked. "You shouldn't-"

"I know," he interjected softly. "No one knows I'm here. They cut the feed and Steve still has some leeway with certain people. His uniform still pays off after all those years. We're good. I brought you a bag with your things," he said, gesturing into the darkness.

"Thank you," she sighed and leaned into his hand again, just to feel him move a strand of hair from her face. This was too good to be true. She was forgetting something. Or repressing it.

Sighing, she pinched her eyes shut and forced herself to think of the incident that forced her into this hospital bed, just to hear the beeping of the heart monitor speed up. This wasn't real.

"Hey," Bucky interjected as he realized the rising panic in her, moving her head so she would look at him instead.

"Bucky?"

"Yeah?", he answered, confused.

"Tell me what happened, I'm not-, I think I'm hallucinating."

"You know who shot you?" Bucky asked carefully. Liz nodded hesitantly.

"I'm..it was Ewan," she whispered hoarsely, immediately making her feel like throwing up and moving on to panicked rambling. This wasn't real. "Bucky, I don-. This doesn't make sense, he wouldn't. Bucky, he wouldn't, he just wouldn't."

Trying to get her out of her frantic rambling he reached for her hand but he found it difficult to hold back his own anger. They had all been surprised but he needed any information she could give him now.

"Shhh. Do you know why he did it?" he asked, carefully choosing his words as to not further upset Liz. Watching Liz hold back tears and shaking her head, he sighed and sank back into the chair he had pulled up to her bed. "They're looking for him. But they don't know what to think. He was cleared by the FBI during their investigation for any leaks and they're going to want information from you."

Liz swallowed hard and tentatively started speaking again, her voice strained but quiet. "If… If he's- I just can't believe he would be part of Hydra. I keep thinking I should have known, or at least noticed that something was off."

Bucky rubbed his hands over his face and leaned back in the chair. "I know this is difficult, but he was closest to you. Liz, you trusted him with information, he knew everything about you, how you would react, what you would do."

"But this goes both ways," Liz argued. "Something's off. They could have targeted my apartment in the beginning but they didn't."

"Maybe that's what they want you to think," Bucky proposed, and with that he could watch Liz deflate. Her shoulders sank, she let her head drop back onto the pillow and as she closed her eyes in distress, he was unsure of what to do.

It was still early enough for noone to notice him. But if they noticed that she had woken up, the FBI would be here first thing in the morning. So he gently grabbed her hand once more, leaned forward to kiss her forehead and left. She needed rest and he had to find someone.

/

"Ms. Moore?"

The woman took a step into her room before coming to a halt again, her partner following suit. Hadn't it been for their stern expression, the clothes they wore would have given their intentions away the moment Liz had laid her eyes on them. The woman's black hair was tightly pulled back into a ponytail, her thick eyebrows making her expression more stern. The man on the other hand seemed almost emotionless and pale.

"Yes?" Liz tried to sit up, but sank back down onto the pillow the moment she tried, clenching her teeth.

"My name is Special Agent Flores, this is Special Agent Brooks," she motioned to her partner. "We have a few questions."

"I bet you have," Liz mumbled, intelligible only to herself. Sighing, she pushed her hair back and motioned towards the chairs standing near her. "Alright."

"How are you feeling?" Flores spoke up, seating herself delicately in the chair, an absent smile on her face.

A frown found its way to Liz' face. How was she supposed to feel? She had been shot by someone she had considered to be her best friend, didn't know who to trust and the people she did trust were practically criminals according to the law. What did the woman think her answer would be? "You'll have to excuse me that I can't exactly say I'm feeling fantastic, especially now that you're here."

"That's perfectly fine," Flores replied, tight-lipped. Redirecting her focus to the file in her hand, she took one look at it before she delved right into what they had come here for. "According to your doctor you don't seem to suffer from temporary memory loss, which is quite common after a lack of oxygen. Can you remember who shot you?"

Struggling to get each vowel over her lips, Liz started, "Ewan Donovan. My- my partner."

"Do you know why?" she followed up.

If she only knew. Liz swallowed hard and shook her head, "I don't know."

"Is it true that you have been the victim of a framing incident? Do you believe Agent Donovan was involved?"

"Yes, but I don't know. I don't think so," Liz pinched her eyes shut, tears already gathering in her eyes.

"Did he show any strange behaviour that might have been an indicator for this incident?"

Had he? Had she been too busy with her own vendetta and subsequent baby-sitting predicament to notice anything? To her he had seemed normal, just- Ewan. Apparently she had been wrong.

"No, I don't know…"

"Ms. Moore, we need you to be precise," Brooks interjected, leaning forward in his seat. "If you have any idea or even just a hunch of what might be going on, we need to know. The FBI is currently looking for Donovan but we don't know his motives. You could have been his only victim, of an unplanned or planned crime, but there might be more. If it is more, you could still be in danger and we would need to stack up on security here. The doctor said they found a rather fresh bullet shot wound on your leg, too. Has this something to do with anything happening right now?"

Brooks seemed nice enough but how in the world was she going to tell two FBI agents that the FBI had been infiltrated by Hydra, that she had found and been living with a criminal on the run? How could she know that these two were actually two FBI agents, and nothing else? What would happen, if she told them what was actually going on? That she knew where to find the people organizations all over the world were looking for? There would be a manhunt. For Ewan. Steve. And Bucky.

Trying to calm her breathing, Liz took a deep breath but shuddered with her exhale. This wasn't going how she would have liked it to. The longer the two of them stared at her, the drier her mouth got, the harder her heart beat, the shakier her hands got. She didn't know. She just simply didn't know. And no matter what she told them, they wouldn't be able to do anything. This was hopeless.

"I-I don't know!" Liz yelled, and then, as if this had been the first crack due to pressure growing too big, the dam broke. Choking back one last sob before letting go, her whole body began to shudder, "I don't know! I don't know! I don't know! I just- I don't know-"

"Shit," Flores muttered and sprang for the door, when a nurse already entered, having already heard Liz' sobs and yelling.

"Ms. Moore, I need you to calm down!" the nurse spoke frantically, jumping from Liz to another monitor. Throwing an emotionless glance towards Flores and Brooks, the nurse added, "I think it would be better, if you left."

"I think so, too," Flores agreed, looking over Liz and the state she was in, sobbing and still occasionally slipping in 'I don't know's when her breathing allowed it.

The nurse ignored Flores and Brooks as they were leaving and instead grabbed ahold of Liz' IV, administering a clear liquid. Within a minute, Liz slumped back onto her pillow again, the stabbing pain in her stomach ceasing, and leaving her a mess with quiet tears running down her cheeks. "Now, that's better," the nurse cooed, looked over Liz for one more second and left.

Fatigue taking over, she pinched her eyes closed once more and turned her head to the side with another sniff. Liz tried to calm down by focusing on the interior of her room. Her tired eyes fell on machinery she had no idea what to call, the IV stand, a chair with brown worn upholstery.

But then her eyes fell on the bag she hadn't noticed before, filled with clothes, maybe a toothbrush. But when she noticed the corner of a cardboard box sticking out of the bag, she heaved a sigh. Cereal.

Chapter Text

Whatever the nurses had given her, it had done its job exceptionally. Nothing mattered; even when it started to wear off, she didn’t feel like crying anymore. In fact, Liz felt more numb than ever before. She was perfectly content laying in bed, her gaze fixed somewhere a thousand miles off, with just the steady drone of a running TV in her room and the sound of the usual happenings in a hospital to keep her company.

Her mind could have been blissfully emptied of anything and everything that mattered, if it weren’t for one tiny thing that kept sticking like a speck of dust on an otherwise perfectly clean surface. She could still muster up the tiniest bit of worry and she loathed herself for it. Her worrying didn’t pertain to herself - she had lost most of her consideration for her own well-being when she entered the job. The worry was directed at Ewan.

Ewan, who after all of those years of being her friend, shot her and would have left her to die had people not heard the shots ring out through the stair case. Ewan, who posed as a friend and in the end turned out to be the enemy all along, causing irreparable damage to Liz’ ability to trust.. But was that really true? Was the story that she had spun inside of her head actually the reality of things? Or was she only misleading herself in thinking that people have to inherently be bad to do bad things?

 

Liz shook herself out of her thoughts. Nazis were bad, no matter the front they put up to hide their agenda. She couldn’t excuse that. She had seen too many documentaries, seen too many scared people and heard too many war stories from her grandfather. Her sense of ethics was also still kind of working, despite everything that had happened and what she had done. She knew working with Bucky and Steve and even Natasha was technically illegal. But still - they weren’t working towards killing people. Their main goal was helping them.

 

But she couldn’t shake her doubts about her friend. What if Ewan really wasn’t part of Hydra and had a different motive? Maybe he was being pressured, blackmailed, threatened… Maybe they had kidnapped his wife, Karen. Or maybe he was just a massive asshole.

 

Sighing, Liz shifted her gaze from the bright white ceiling of her hospital room to the open door.  She would have given anything to just stand up and walk out of this hospital and to the safehouse, to the people she could tell these things to,  the handful of people she didn’t have to be afraid of betraying her, but she could barely scoot up into a sitting position without breaking out in a cold sweat.

So she closed her eyes to the world, breathing in deeply and listening to the footsteps of nurses and doctors hurrying along the corridor. Only when one pair came closer, then stopped, did she open her eyes. And boy, did she wish she hadn’t.

 

“No,” was the first thing that came out of her mouth before she looked away again. “Just-, no.”

 

“Elizabeth, I was worried.”

 

“No,” Liz barely whispered, her eyes trained on the window and not on the man standing in front of her. “Worry for someone else is not something you are capable of.”

 

She felt him shift uneasily and listened for the rustle of his suit as he moved closer to her bed, a smooth sound of expensive cloth on an even more expensive silk lining, but the nervous steps of leather soles gave way to the anxious being underneath the prim and proper facade.

 

“Elizabeth, no matter what you think I’m capable of, you are my daughter and I was worried.”

Deciding to fall silent, Liz trained her eyes on him again, taking in his once-brown hair now greying and the deepening lines around his eyes. He had grown old since she had last seen him but he still had an air of authority around him, standing as tall and as straight as humanly possible for someone his age.

After another moment of unease, he sighed and grabbed the chair next to her bed, pulling in closer and sitting down slowly without looking at her.

Liz’ eyes had found the TV, playing a news segment, and even a politician cutting a ribbon was more engaging than the person sitting beside her.

 

“Elizabeth, please,” her father started but she tuned him out, letting only the occasional word slip through the news reporter’s soothing voice.

 

...New school…

 

“I know this is upsetting, but I was worried.”

 

...305 students for this year…

 

“Ryan wanted to come the moment he heard the news and wasn’t able to reach you on your phone, again. But I thought it would be best for the two of us to talk first.”

 

...the best of the best…

 

“Elizabeth, talk to me.”

 

...new information on building on on 74th Str...

 

The news anchor’s voice caught Liz’ full attention for a moment before her father interrupted again.

“You’re being a child.”

 

“I’m your child.”

 

...started on the third floor…

The familiarity of the building sent shivers down her spine, agitating her further. She knew that apartment building.

“Elizabeth, I’m being serious.”

 

“Father, you’re always serious.”

 

“Elizabeth!”

 

...unknown source…

 

“What?! Nothing I’ve ever done has sat right with you, so why even try?!”

 

“You know that’s not true.”

 

“I know it’s true, I’ve lived it!!”

 

...evacuated…

 

“Elizabeth, you’re being unfair.”

 

...shots fired…

 

“Shut up!” she suddenly yelled, her blood running cold.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I said shut up,” she frantically repeated, not tearing her eyes away from the screen, now showing an apartment building engulfed in flames. “I need your phone, give me your phone!”

 

“I won’t give you my phone until you tell me what’s going on!” he yelled back, grabbing ahold of her shoulder.

 

Despite taking notice of her heartbeat rising, Liz couldn’t bring herself to calm down. She knew that building, of course she did. Swatting his hand away, Liz clenched her teeth and swung her legs off of the bed. Frantically searching her room for her bag, she finally located it on another chair. But after the strenuous effort of dragging herself over to it and rummaging through it, the pain she was in and the emotional toll of coming up empty-handed yet again brought her feeling of panic to boil over.

 

Breathing heavily, she found herself scanning her room in desperation. She knew what she needed to do, her brain was streamlining the tasks already. She just didn’t know how to do them. She needed a phone. She needed to remember the phone number. She needed to make sure they were okay. She needed to make sure none of them had been in this god-damn apartment building, Ewan’s apartment building. She needed to make sure they hadn’t been involved in raiding it in the first place.

 

She needed a phone.

 

After grabbing some loose change from her bag, she tossed it aside, her things clattering to the floor. Sidestepping her father, she hobbled through the door and towards the ward’s payphone, her father following her at a safe distance, his hands outstretched, helpless, as if to catch her.

 

She wanted to count the steps it took her to reach the phone just to distract her from the pain. But the only numbers in her head kept repeating themselves. Oh two oh, five five five. Oh one three six. Oh two oh, five five five. Oh one three six. Oh two oh, five five five. Oh one three six.

 

Dialling, she prayed for the ringing to stop and for it to be replaced by a familiar voice. But it kept ringing, and ringing and- “Yeah?”

 

“Sam!” Liz shouted as soon as she heard him answer. “Please tell me this isn’t any of your doing. The building on 74th? Please just, you’re all safe, right? Right? Bucky? Steve? Natasha? Clint?”

 

“Hold up,” she heard on the other end of the line, almost too quiet to hear it over her beating heart but after a moment of rustling, she heard more familiar voices.

 

“Liz?” Steve’s voice rang out. “Whose phone is this?”

 

“It’s- it’s the hospital payphone. Steve, are you all alright?”

 

“You shouldn’t be using a public phone to contact us,” she heard Natasha cut in.

 

“I know, I just- I need to know, are you alright? What happened?” she pleaded.

 

“We were there,” she heard Steve say and her heart dropped. “No one’s hurt but the FBI had more intel and got there quicker. They’ve got him.”

 

“E-Ewan’s in custody. With- with the FBI.” Liz stuttered. “Fuck.”

 

“We’re thrilled, too,” she heard Sam chime in.

 

“Liz, I need you to hang up now,” Steve cut in. “We’ll let you know about everything as soon as we can, I promise.”

 

“What about Bucky?” she hurried. “Is he with you?”

 

After a moment of atypical silence and growing tension, she asked again, “Guys?”

 

“Natasha, don’t,” she heard someone on the other end.

 

“Don’t tell me what to do. Liz, he’s gone AWOL for the moment.”

 

“What do you mean, he’s gone AWOL? If anyone shouldn’t be going AWOL, it’s him!” Liz said and felt her somewhat soothed anxiety rise again.

 

“He was pissy before and now that Ewan’s in the custody of the FBI he freaked. Don’t worry, he’s fine,” Sam continued, doing nothing to ease Liz’ nerves, but this time she chose to comply.

 

“Thank you,” she told them before hanging up, right before putting her hand on the wall and letting her head hang, too,  as a myriad of feelings washed over her. He was fine. Everyone was fine, everyone but her. As that thought crossed her mind, she felt the adrenaline wane off and pain made its way from the top of her head to her toes, taking every tiny bit of strength she still had. As she closed her eyes and let her body slump down towards the floor, she felt two hands beneath her arms, catching her before she hit the linoleum. Clenching her eyes shut to hold in her tears, she hissed, “Let me go.”

 

“Elizabeth, be reasonable.”

 

“I’ve been reasonable all my life, now let go of me!”

 

“Eliz-”

 

“NOW!” she ordered, finally being too angry to hold her tears in any longer. “Just leave.”

 

She felt her father lower her softly onto the linoleum floor with a sigh and as she finally sat, she felt herself start crying again. After a moment of waiting, she heard her father sigh again and as he left her sitting on the hospital floor, he didn’t turn around for one last look. But that was nothing unusual.

Chapter Text

Four days.

 

It had been four long days of complete and utter silence. Liz had no news pertaining her friendly gang of vigilantes. No information from the FBI. Ewan. Her father. Bucky. No one. And it was slowly driving her insane.

 

The only positive side to it was that it drove her to practice walking until she wasn’t constantly clenching her teeth and gripping things so hard her knuckles turned white. She also practiced so she could make a quick and quiet getaway if she needed or wanted to. As a result, she was now also able to get to the bathroom and back again without any help, making her finally feel less like an oversized toddler and more like a somewhat handicapped adult.

 

But her body couldn’t take walking for all of the eighteen or more hours a day she was awake and so she spent most of the time moping around. She was angry with herself for getting shot not only once, but four times by the same person - who was supposed to be someone she could trust. She was upset because she was unable to do anything, a trend which was becoming unsettlingly familiar. The FBI definitely wouldn’t let her near files and cases again anytime soon, and without those she couldn’t be of help to her friends. Said friends wouldn’t involve her while she was recuperating anyway and the general radio silence was making her restless.

 

This day she had been up and about since four in the morning, busy scaring the nurses on the night shift when she suddenly turned a corner, limping towards a group of them with her awkward zombie-walk. She had gone out for a much-needed  bowl  of cereal, which she had been munching on since then.

 

Pouring more of the cereal into the bowl continuously and eating it dry without milk seemed to be the course for this day. At least until she ran out of cereal - which might have been sooner than she would have liked.

 

Grabbing another handful of cereal, Liz mentally resigned herself to another day of eating and watching TV. Truthfully, she had been watching TV non-stop in the hopes of catching just the shortest news segment to help her piece together a picture of the current state of affairs, but thus far she had been unsuccessful.

 

Sighing, she changed the channel again, silently cursing everyone and their mother. Letting her eyes wander towards the opened door of her room, she found people walking along the ward as they usually did. But one head of hair seemed to stick out among the sea of brown and occasionally blond hair. Bright red curls.

The hair was dyed, of course, but the tight curls made the colour stand out so much more. Sitting up straight in her bed, Liz squinted in an attempt to validate her suspicion.  Her hope was confirmed and her heart rate increased when that person and her distinct head of hair made her way to her door, her delicate fist raised for a knock, her dark eyes wide and insecure.

 

“Hi,” Liz said, her eyebrows furrowed. “To be honest, you were the last person I thought would show up here.”

 

The woman smiled nervously and hesitated to step into the room. “I wasn’t sure whether it would be a good idea to come, either.”

 

Paying attention to her every move, Liz motioned for her to sit down in the chair next to her bed. Liz was confused, to say the least. She had been trying to convince herself that Ewan’s deeds could be traced back to someone threatening him over Karen, or holding Karen hostage, or… But here Karen was, as pretty as the day Liz had first met her, albeit looking a lot more tired. However, that was to be expected.

 

Karen stepped forward and took a seat, carefully folding her hands in lap and keeping her eyes there.

 

“So…,” Liz started.

 

“So… How are you doing?” Karen started, unable to keep her hands still.

 

Watching her for a moment, Liz had to refrain from straight out telling her to cut the crap. She knew why Karen was here. She also knew that, if she was looking for answers, Liz wouldn’t be able to give them to her.

 

“Karen…,” Liz sighed. “Please, let’s just- skip this. What the hell is going on? Have you spoken to the FBI yet?”

 

Softly nodding her head, Karen continued quietly, “They spent the last two days questioning me and every one of our neighbours. I don’t know what’s going on, Liz. They won’t tell me what he’s done, won’t let me see him. Do you know how terrible it is to suddenly find all of your belongings turned upside-down, including your life?”

 

I do, Liz thought and took a moment to remember her own apartment, turned upside-down and Vito in the midst of it. It still made her blood boil. But there were more important things to get to the bottom of now. Vito was safe, at least she hoped so.

Nodding her head in an attempt to hide her impatience, Liz followed up, “What did you tell the FBI, Karen?”

 

Biting her lip, Karen seemed to think it over for a moment before answering, “That he was normal. That nothing seemed out of the ordinary. That, maybe, he seemed a little bit more stressed than usual but there was nothing to suggest he’d go and shoot one of his best friends and then make a break for it. I don’t know what to think, Liz,” she concluded and held her head in her hands. Liz heard her sniffle softly.

 

“He came back, right? To the apartment?” Liz asked carefully and waited for Karen to nod her head. “Why?”

 

“I don’t know,” she sniffled. “He looked awful and was trying to tell me something but suddenly everything was dark, the lights had went out and I felt someone grab my arms, dragging me away. The next thing I knew the building was burning and people were telling me the FBI had arrested him. I kind of blacked out in the middle of it.”

 

“And... What didn’t you tell the FBI?” Liz asked tentatively. Karen’s head shot up, her eyes narrowed and blood-shot.

 

“What?”

 

“Karen,” Liz warned, trying hard to keep her voice soft and concerned. “I’ve been doing my job long enough to know an interrogation is not all it’s cracked up to be. People lie and some important things are left unsaid.  You’re not a criminal, let alone an accessory. I’m not going to rat you out. I just want to know what’s going on and act accordingly. I don’t think Ewan would turn over to the bad guys without a good reason. He wouldn’t return to his apartment and you, if it wasn’t important. He loves you very much, so for him to possibly involve you in anything dangerous means something is off,” Liz clarified and watched Karen nod her head. She continued, “To be honest, at first I thought they were threatening him, that they somehow had gotten to you and he was scared they’d hurt you. But then you walked through that door and I had to throw that theory out of the window. So, please, tell me.”

 

“He’s been…” Karen started, hoarsely. “He’d… been getting phone calls, late at night. Sometimes he’d be on the phone for an hour or more. At first I asked him about it and he always told me that it was probably work and then he’d take the phone call into another room, so I couldn’t listen in. I stopped asking and started pretending to still be asleep. I wanted to trust him and actually go back to sleep but…,” Karen sniffed. “I never heard what they were talking about, it was just snippets that didn’t make much sense to me. But he was always like a robot for a few days after these calls. Very rigid and emotionless, like he had to force himself to be numb.”

 

Liz forcefully blew out a breath, thankful that Karen seemed to confirm her gut feeling. “You think he’s innocent?”

 

Karen nodded. “I don’t know what they, whoever they are, have on him but I do.”

 

“I’m sorry this is happening, Karen. Where are you staying now?” Liz asked.

 

“I’ve been staying with a friend, she’s letting me sleep on her sofa,” Karen said with a bitter laugh. “I swear it would be easier and less hurtful to say we split up. I don’t even know what I can tell people because even I don’t know anything.”

 

Liz watched Karen for a moment and decided then and there that it would be best to not tell her what that organization Ewan was involved with had gotten up to. Taking a breath before starting to speak again, Liz was cut off by someone knocking on the door frame, echoing the sound with her voice, “Knock, knock.”

 

Liz and Karen’s heads both snapped towards the sounds and while Karen seemed confused at the petite black-haired woman, Liz internally sighed in relief.

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt but I’ve been dying to see Liz here and don’t have a lot of time,” the woman explained.

 

“Yeah, uh, alright,” Karen stammered and tried to gather her belongings, ”Uh, get better soon and let me know, if you have any news.”

 

Liz nodded and added, with a slight smile, “I will. Thanks for stopping by.”

 

As Karen left the room with one last smile, the woman with the black hair stepped inside, closing the door behind her. The moment they heard the door shut completely, Liz sighed.

 

“Nice wig,” Liz started off.

 

“Customized, has seen a lot of good assignments,” Natasha chirped and made her way to the just vacated seat. “Also makes me kind of look very unapproachable, so very usable in this situation.” Looking Liz over, Natasha’s expression changed from emotionless to one of approval. “You’re doing good. Not everyone would be moving around already at that pace this shortly after getting shot.”

 

“I’m mainly missing my core strength. Sneezing hurts like a bitch, though.”

 

Laughing slightly, Natasha leaned back in the chair, her fingers absentmindedly tapping on the armrests and her expression changing from content to cold. “This is starting to get difficult.”

 

“You don’t say.”

 

“How much do you know?”

 

“Counting the intel I got from you guys or the FBI? I’ve got literally nothing,” Liz bit back on her snark.. “It’s been hell, Nat. I thought you guys had already skipped the country. What’s going on?”

 

Taking a deep breath, Natasha seemed to arrange all information she had in her head. “The FBI has got Ewan locked up in one of their off-site interrogation rooms. They’ve got enough evidence to get him locked up, they’re just trying to get the information on why this all happened.”

 

“Rikers Island?” Liz could remember the island as dreary and dark. Of course, as it was home to New York’s main jail complex.

 

Natasha nodded. “So getting to him is probably off the table. Too many cameras, too many men, too much potential for collateral damage. As far as we know he has confessed to shooting you, that’s why they’re able to keep him for interrogating. But they have literally zero knowledge about why. We have almost nothing and we’ve still got more than them, Liz.”

 

Taking everything in, Liz’s mind was still only fixated on one tiny piece of missing information. Searching Natasha’s face for clues, the redhead sighed, reading Liz’s intent.

 

“He’s back. Came back yesterday. We have no idea where he was and he won’t tell anyone. He’s not hurt and according to him no one new is looking for him. Except the usual, of course.”

 

Keeping in a sigh of relief, Liz waited for Natasha to continue, “But?”

 

“But…,” Natasha paused, inspecting her nails closely. Liz knew Natasha had something to say she wouldn’t like.

 

Looking expectantly at Natasha and whispering a silent plea, the woman finally relented. “He was in Ewan’s building on 74th street, before the fire.”

 

“And?”

 

“And we are pretty sure he had contact with your friend.”