Sam probably shouldn't be surprised that, by the time he and Natasha arrive at the hospital, he is on the TV in the lobby. When Natasha had dumped SHIELD's files on the internet, apparently she'd dumped everything, including the building's security camera footage of what was, at the time, the on-going battle above the Potomac. The news channels undoubtedly had interns still sifting through the data dump--based on what Natasha had told him, it would take them a long, long time to make it through everything that had been released--but they'd found the Insight helicarrier footage early, so it is on a loop while the pundits and talking heads talk over it about what happened, what went wrong, and what this Means For America. He watches himself on TV, spiraling up, up, out of range of the helicarrier's guns, the shells bursting in puffs of smoke and orange fire in his wake.
(It's better than talking about Steve, and what else can they do?)
What he thinks as he watches the footage is damn, I look like a badass. It had hardly felt badass at the time; he'd just been trying to stay alive and finish the mission, the lives of twenty million people at stake.
What comes out of his mouth, however, is, "Damn, I look like a superhero!"
Next to him, Natasha snorts. "It's not all it's cracked up to be."
Sam ignores her. He'd grown up on comic books, reading stories about superheroes like Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and--well, Captain America. It's certainly not something he ever considered seriously as a career path, of course, but he knows for a fact that somewhere at his parents' place, there's a box full of papers on which he'd doodled costumes for himself as a child: garish, bright red, skin-tight, totally appropriate for fighting crime and saving people. (He hadn't been able to tell his parents much about the Falcon program, classified as it was, but he'd said enough about it during their Skype calls that his mother had retrieved one from the box and held it up to the webcam next time they talked; god, he loved his mom.)
"That's better than superheroes," Natasha continues, nodding at the TV. "Stark's got a suit full of computers that helps him move like that, but that's all you."
Sam would be lying if he said that Natasha's praise didn't mean a lot, but he will not be swayed. "Man, if I'm gonna be a superhero, I need an origin story."
"How about 'two tours in Afghanistan'?" Natasha asks dryly.
Sam frowns at her. "Afghanistan isn't an origin story."
"It is for Tony Stark," Natasha counters.
"Yeah, but his version of Afghanistan has a part where you wave your hands and say 'and then some Science Happened' and he comes out the other side a superhero."
Natasha chuckles. "One day, you'll meet Dr. Banner; make sure you ask him about how fun it is when Science Happens. Besides, you really don't want an origin story--trust me. They're usually full of pain, and grief, and a lot of people you care about getting hurt." Her voice is...dark, and Sam knows better than to ask.
Instead, he moves on to the other pressing superhero topics. "Okay then, Agent No-Fun, how do you feel about superpowers?"
She shrugs. "Eh, they're nice if you've got them, but you can get by without. What would your superpower be, Falcon?" She draws the name out, full of good-natured teasing.
He knows that answer immediately. "Flight, duh."
Natasha shoots him down just as quickly. "Doesn't count; you can already do that."
Sam laughs out loud. "Oh, so now you're into this?"
Natasha just smiles at him inscrutably and shoots down his next five suggestions: Captain America can already do that; that one makes you basically Thor; that's not technically a superpower; that isn't bird-related, Falcon; sorry, there's already a guy called Hawkeye and I work with him.
Sam wants to know what comic books she had read growing up, because they've got a lot more rules than his did.
"What if I could...talk to birds?" he says eventually, after trying and failing to come up with anything cooler that seemed to fit Natasha's narrow definition of acceptable.
Natasha laughs. "Oh, yeah, the superpower you'd share with the crazy homeless man in the park." That's not what Sam meant and Natasha knows it, but then they're approached by the hospital staff with news about Captain Rogers.
Sam forgets about the discussion entirely, and he assumes Natasha does the same...but when Steve is released from the hospital, it becomes apparent that Sam is never going to live it down. Natasha helps load Steve and his things into Sam's car, then leans her elbows on the passenger-side window frame and tells them sweetly, "Don't have too many superhero adventures without me!"
Steve looks at Sam for an explanation. Sam sighs.
"Get him to tell you his superpower!" Natasha calls after the car as it drives away.
"You have a superpower?" Steve asks warily.
Sam sighs again. "Not...exactly."
Once they start out on their global manhunt, Sam sort of leans into it, because why the hell not.
(Besides, something about this trip ought to be fun.)
Steve returns from scouting out a location in Istanbul and finds Sam sitting on a park bench, making surreptitious bird noises at a starling. Steve gives him a look, and Sam whistles innocently. In a nearby tree, something whistles back, and Sam grins and raises an eyebrow.
Sam stops outside a pet store in Minsk and stares intensely at the parakeets in the front window, mouthing words at them through the glass; Steve has to literally pull him away before people start to stare.
In Moscow, they sit outside a laundromat, waiting for their clothes to dry--it's strange, how much of global manhunts is spent on mundane activities--and Sam empties a small bag of birdseed at the feet of a crowd of waiting pigeons. "Aww yiss," he mutters, to himself or maybe to the birds, and Steve is pretty sure that's something else for his notebook. The pigeons do not respond, just stare up at them both with beady eyes.
On the streets of Madripoor, Sam spots a sign for what is purportedly the World's Largest Aviary. He turns to Steve like a kid in a candy store; they don't have anywhere to be for the rest of the afternoon, so Steve digs out his sketchbook and they make a day of it. Even if their intel on the Winter Soldier proves false, the entire trip to Madripoor is worth it to see Sam wade into the middle of a pond full of flamingos and say loudly, "What up?!" (They are removed from the aviary shortly after that and told that they are not welcome back.)
At five in the morning in Lahore, two of some kind of particularly loud bird land on the balcony railing of their hotel room and begin to raise an unholy ruckus as they greet the day. Steve rolls over and groans; they'd been out last night, sneaking into what's left of a Hydra facility, hoping for answers they hadn't found. He is obviously only half-awake when he throws a pillow at Sam and mutters, "Sam, I'm going to need you to tell your friends to shut up," but Sam doesn't even care, just whispers FALCON! aloud to hotel room triumphantly and grins.