He was floating. Or, he was falling. The sensation often became hard to distinguish when your body was in a state of adrenaline and fear.
He was falling. Or, he was flying. He couldn’t tell when the only thing he could think of were sounds—sounds that confused every sense he had, and every sense he was losing.
He was flying. Or, he was dying. The latter at that moment seemed inevitable and preferable. Death was far easier to endure than heartache.
He was dying. Or, he was reaching. Racing for someone who always had his heart doing the same thing.
He was reaching. Or, he was dreaming. As his body continued to descend through the memory of clouds he once tried to grab onto to save himself, and someone he loved.
In his dreams, he cried a name that would soon be as real as the clouds he was falling through. Soon, the sounds of his laugh, his voice, his face would be as wispy, and as fading as the songs of one’s childhood. But his screams, cries, and last words would haunt him until the day he, too, could have someone reaching to save him.
This was a dream, and why he couldn’t wake himself up, he wasn’t sure. While the clouds and the reaching were a figment of his tortured soul, the fear and the heartache were real.
He was back in the skies. Back to the place where he had lost him. As much as the memory was a weight on his soul there he was, night after night, voice just as thick as it had been the day before. While the air was crisp, the moon was bright, and it had been something so standard, so easy for people doing it for as long as they had. He waited, even knowing in his subconscious mind what was going to happen. He sat in the skies to relive the pain that left him feeling just as lifeless.
“Just one more towards a medal, huh?” He’d say every time, eyes bright with adventure. Only idiots would strap on jetpacks with wings and think they could save the world.
“As it’s supposed to be, Wilson, just you, me and the moon--” Sam had always made sure to stay alert, especially when they were there because of the RPGs, and god, he wished he hadn’t been that day. He wished he had just let his fate take him because it would have been easy, it would have saved him the dreams, the memories, the feeling of hopelessness.
As soon as he jerked himself to the left, his wings aiding in the rough glide, he smelled it before he saw him. The pack lit up brighter than the full moon and Sam knew he was gone, the dumbass talked more than he flew, he knew he was dead weight, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t let him just fall because it was supposed to just be them and the moon.
He could feel himself screaming but couldn’t hear a sound, his hands just trying to push through the clouds, so he could see him, so he could grab him but as soon as the missiles began to whirl around him, he had to breathe, breathe and watch, watch as his burning pack hit the ground because his goggles were meant to see shit like that. It’s like they just wanted him to watch.
As he breathed he could finally hear, he could hear those on the mission screaming at him, telling him it was over and to move on. To move past the one person who made him feel alive. To let his body rest where it had fallen, to go home to an empty casket.
Riley was dead.
Couldn’t the dead invade one’s dreams, a way to communicate to the living? If that were true, did Riley ever love him, or only wish to torture him like the memories of his mother and father? If that were true, was he trying to tell him he, too, would discover the same fate? If that were true, was he telling him for the love of God, stop reaching because reaching only gets you pain?
Sam Wilson jerked awake, the sound of his alarm ringing through his room as his chest finally flattened from its panicked state with one final exhale. He had slept enough hours, surely, but as his eyes attempted to adjust to the dark room, his eyelids felt pounds heavier than when he first fell into bed.
His hand moved to his phone, not so gently pushing the stop button that flashed at him as if to taunt him of his restless night. Mattresses were supposed to help mend the ache of overexerted joints from the long day prior, but, when he sat up with a groan, his muscles felt far weaker than when they’d been used for actual labor and not rest.
“Just me and the moon,” Sam muttered as he pushed open his curtains, exposing the early morning sliver another jab that made his chest tight. He pushed down his self-pity and grabbed his remote that sat on the window ledge, its secure place for his morning routine. He pointed it at his radio, filling his townhome with the sounds of Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold on! I’m Comin’.
The music was just loud enough to help ease his troubled soul but not too loud that Mrs. Jinkins from next door would be at his step demanding some of his momma’s famous cobbler.
He made the mistake of making and sharing it once when Mr. Jinkins died. He watched that cobbler bring a little bit of life into the eyes of his family after his daddy died, and to his own when he first got home. Sarah would bring it to him in his corner of her basement in which he first dwelled, running on cobbler and anger.
Mrs. Jinkins was different, though. Said his death was one of her happiest days but took the whole pan anyway. Sam supposed that was the difference between a few years and thirty. No gratitude came out of his assumption of a broken heart, she just used the cobbler as leverage to not call the cops on him when his music was too loud, too early.
As the music started Sam placed his remote back and dropped to the floor The Dark Knight style, starting his morning pushups as an attempt to shake away the grogginess.
“Don't you ever feel sad. Lean on me when times are bad,” He sang between huffs.
After he reached a hundred (or what he said was a hundred, he lied most of the time, but nobody was watching but himself and god) he stretched as he changed into his normal running garb.
Running, no matter how quick or slow he performed it, became part of Sam’s sanity. He learned quickly after pulling himself out of Sarah’s basement that one way to keep him from never leaving the cool floor was to keep himself busy. Running didn’t start as a routine that pulled him from sleep, it started as a way to ease his mind when he couldn’t.
When nights and days mashed into one stir-crazy phase, he finally, after months of mourning pulled himself up and just ran. Ran until he collapsed and cried on the sidewalk, the people of New York not so much giving him a glance. Not even acknowledging his existence as he wept on the streets that he once thought he’d be walking down hand in hand with the man he considered his one true love. It’s what he needed more than anything. For people to stop pushing him, to stop begging him, to stop needing him to be the Sam that they knew before his dad’s death, before his mom’s death, before war, before Riley, before anything! He just needed to be, and that’s what that one day, or night, or whenever it was gave to him. No expectations, no need, no mourning, just running, just breathing, just being.
Sam loved the feeling of running now. Especially since he was able to calculate his run with setbacks to give him enough time to return home, shower, and be to work when needed. His only major setback? The geese and early rising tourists. Though, DC was much like New York. No one cared if he was dying, crying, or just breathing. He was an insignificant block on their path to stare at a giant Lincoln and say stuff like, “Wow, he’s bigger in person,” haha.
He loved the feeling of his mind being so completely clear yet so thoughtful at the same time. He loved having no one telling him what to do and no one telling him how he should be. He loved that the only forces moving against him were gravity and exhaustion.
He loved that he had peace in every sense of the word, every aspect of his being during that hour and a half was for him, for his mind, for his soul.
There was no weight on his shoulders there was only, “On your left,” Sam heard as the person bolted past him.
Christ, he was fast.
It was common courteously, sure, but Sam was certain that the guy with the tight shirt and fast moves didn’t do it entirely out of that. Or at least that’s not what it felt like.
Sam had watched plenty of runners pass him. Even was in the middle of a marathon path once and never felt that before. He decided to ignore it if he ran the same path they wouldn’t see each other again. By the time he got to his final stop, Mr.OnYourLeft would be done and Sam would be on his way home. Instead of thinking about how the man’s voice sounded hardly tired, he instead thought about how bisexual the sunset and lake looked. Nice.
Then, Sam could hear the feet, the soft but fast pitter-patter behind him and let out a gentle sigh. What was this dude, Sonic?
“On your left,” The same small amount of breathlessness could be heard, but not for someone running a mile in four minutes.
Sam rolled his eyes but didn’t let it get to him, or at least he said that he didn’t let it get to him. Besides, he was done and began walking himself home. “On your left,” He mocked to himself. Sam was a respected man, with a respectable past, and a respectable job, and yet here he was mocking a nameless dude that was trying to pass him up on the run game.
Though, as the day went on he fell back into his routine. His shower felt different, though, if a shower can feel different. His thoughts weren’t full of his dreams, or how much paperwork he had.
As he dried and lotioned afterward, he didn’t think about how many hours until he had to come home and start the routine all over again. When he made his smoothie, he didn’t think about how he still didn’t put bananas in it because Riley hated them.
“What do you think that means?” Sam asked his colleagues whilst they sat in the break room and spoke over their assortment of leftovers and microwave dinners. It was a rarity that those he would call his friends actually had the same lunch as him.
“I think you’re thinking too much into it,” Laurence told him as he popped a Marie Calendar orange chicken piece into his mouth.
Laurence was a realist. He had a doctorate but didn’t want to be a psychiatrist, said it was too impersonal. Sam agreed with that, personal certainly wasn’t the word when you only see people once a month and base their diagnosis off of therapist’s notes and an hour of asking them when they’re most sad or scared. He would also throw Freudian ideologies with page numbers from books Sam wasn’t sure really existed and expected you to know. So, in short, Laurence was only fun when drunk.
“I mean, seriously, Sam. There wasn’t enough time to determine what the full intent of his actions during an encounter of what, thirteen seconds?” Laurence shrugged and drank from his water bottle that made that annoying sound that made Sam want to throw it in the garbage.
He was probably right, though.
“I disagree,” Aubrey responded from her place in the counter. The last one to get there always ended up being at the microwave the longest which meant you had to eat quickly but got warmer food. Win lose situation.
Aubrey was cooler than Laurence but still much cooler to be around when drinking. She had a real knack for people, though, and more actual application than the rest of them. She was in her late forties, had kids that were already grown, and with an empty nest, she dedicated her life to helping people. If she wasn’t working with the veterans, she was doing what she could everywhere else. Even teaching a few classes. She had worked with various ages at various places and decided that helping veterans was where she belonged. Sam had so much respect for her turning her into a human was often hard.
“First impressions are made within mere seconds, of course, it meant something, but what it meant is debatable,” She elaborated as she pulled her leftovers out and sat next to Laurence. Sam was 95% certain there was something going on between them but wasn’t going to ask…yet.
“Which is what I’m asking. Not intellectual tug of war,” Sam reminded them, it was often hard to stay on track with those two.
“Clearly flirting,” Adah rolled her eyes at the situation at large.
Adah was Sam’s favorite and often occupied a spot in his routine, also known as, on his couch after a full night of drinking or to watch movies and cry about loneliness.
She reminded him a lot of Sarah, filled the hole of a relationship that to that day Sam felt he damaged with his self-loathing when he first came home. Adah was also a fellow veteran with the minimum required amount of school to help. She was funny, sweet, and didn’t rely on education. Plus, they were the dynamic wing-man duo and Sam thought he ought to consider getting her some running shorts.
Adah raised her hand to stop the other two from talking as soon as it appeared they were planning to do so.
“Look, you two want to debate this and say that it takes either a lifetime to determine the implications or mere seconds but neither of that matters because he was flirting. Just like it took me three seconds to determine you two were sleeping together,” Sam let the corner of his lips twist into a smile as both Laurence and Aubrey shut their mouths that were hanging open, ready to debate anything Adah had said.
“If he was going as fast as Sam says, which good for you, and running the path he suspects, he was doing it to show off and flirt. Plus, the speed sounds nearly impossible so you’re either lying or he was hiding out and waiting for you to run by which sounds a little Dahmer-y to me.”
“That’s more Bundy, dear, and scouts honor,” Sam replied, crossing his heart and hoping to get off lunch soon.
“Referencing serial killers doesn’t make you sound smart,” Laurence huffed, clearly still upset that a doctorate couldn’t help him hide his love affair.
“And that’s why you’re not getting drinks with us tonight,” Adah hummed as she clinked her tea with Sam’s water, gave him a kiss on the temple, and moved out of the break room.
She really was his best friend and he’d probably be lost without her.
“You know, for people who counsel other people, you can be childish,” Aubrey rolled her eyes.
Sam hoped it was playfully but her dull expressions often left him grasping for hints. Her color schemes didn’t help, either, though his work clothes didn’t express his true fashion genius, so he’d let her slide that time.
“Perhaps that’s what we need to keep us from going under, huh, write a dissertation on that, might get a prize,” Sam winked at her as he too threw away his garbage before going to his office, enjoying some time alone before his individual sessions.
As his day finally began ending, when he could lock his office and head to the store he thought about how maybe he was thinking into it too much. He didn’t even get a clear look at the guy and he was thinking about what a few words meant. Nothing, probably, but he wanted to hold onto it because as stupid as it sounded, it was the first time he thought about a few words that much since Riley.
That really did sound stupid thank God it wasn’t out loud.
I just want some peace and quiet! Sam thought as he heard the approaching feet behind him. It was day three of Mr.NoASS harassing him with his flirts, taunts, or whatever it was!
“On your left,” He huffed in the usual way. It was like their thing now, Sam guessed, because you’d think that after three days he would know exactly where Sam ran, how fast he ran, and that he knew he could hear him coming. He left plenty of room for him on purpose, so he didn’t have to say it! It wasn’t even that Sam cared that he said it at that point, it was that Sam wanted to hear him say it.
Sam didn’t say anything, though, he’d be the bigger person. He did have bigger thighs and had an ass, so, it wasn’t even a comparison.
“On your left,” He repeated, not more than five minutes later.
“Uh-huh on my left…Got it,” Sam replied for the first time since their new routine, surprised the other didn’t die of shell shock at his engagement.
Sam heard him again, four minutes this time and for the first time looked back at him.
Of course, he must be attractive, too.
“Don’t say it,” He pushed out even though he had already run enough for the day and his lungs were far past the point of friendly chatter. Or unfriendly shit talking.
“Don’t you say it!” Sam repeated, this time more force behind his voice as he tried to pick up his pace.
“On your left,” Jogger McCock repeated. “Come on!” Sam yelled and tried to run full force, only to have to slow down to a near walk at the end. He wasn’t as young as he used to be.
As he huffed along the rest of his jog, still trying to speed up to keep himself from embarrassment, he thought about the man’s face. He thought on how familiar he looked. Not in one of those typical face looks but actually familiar. He had seen him, he was sure of that, he just wasn’t sure where. At first, he wracked his brain of all the blonds he dated and none of them fit his voice or stature. Though, his mocking demeanor fit his type of guy.
After finally deciding to look at his phone under a tree because God he really wasn’t as young as he used to be, Sam finally put two and two together. He was trying to run after Steve Rogers aka the worst week in junior high American History class. He had seen countless textbooks with his face covered in mustaches, ‘x’ eyes, and phallic drawings in various colors. Sometimes all at once.
Half the time he felt bad for Captain America, guy stops WWII and all he gets is a dick in the face. The other half he just wanted his teach to stop making heart eyes at the dude, he was dead for like fifty years at that point, it was just sad.
He pushed his phone back in his pocket and leaned his head against the tree, attempting to catch his breath before he’d leave and do it all over again.
“Need a medic?” Sam let his eyes open and chuckled, moving his hand from where it rested on his aching ribs.
His eyes wandered up onto the newly identified Captain America, who was standing proudly with his hands on his hips and in one of his usual tight under armor shirts. Seriously, though, he looked like he was buying for his smaller self.
“I need a new set of lungs,” Sam replied, trying to shoo away that stupid feeling he got in his stomach. A hell of a lot stronger when it wasn’t just ‘on your left’.
He decided to save him some time to keep breathing and offer a taunt of his own, “Dude, you just ran, like, thirteen miles in thirty minutes,” He squinted up at him, yeah, that smile was definitely the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan.
“Guess I got a late start,” Sam couldn’t help but attempt a laugh at that one. He wasn’t as dry as history painted him out to be.
“Really? You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take another lap,” Sam shut his eyes and turned his head for a moment before looking back at the other, “Did you just take it? I assume you just took it.”
Perhaps it was flirting, or maybe not. Sam couldn’t really tell but like hell, he wasn’t going to give the guy his own little taste of mocking. Even if it was just that of him being a superior human being. Literally chosen to be the best human being.
His hair looked great in that light.
“What unit you in?” He asked, guess he didn’t like a little of his own medicine. However, his faint smile seemed like he was enjoying himself just fine after stalking him out.
“58th pararescue, but, now I’m down working at the VA,” Sam lifted his hand and waved the other to help him up, even though he was still panting a bit. It was fine, he didn’t have super serum and still did alright for himself.
“Sam Wilson,” He told him as he was being pulled up, a hell of a lot smoother than anyone else could.
“I kind of put that one together,” Sam groaned and bent over a bit, his thighs practically screaming at him to stop flirting and sit his ass back down.
He straightened out, letting another huff out and mentally reminded himself not to push himself that hard ever again. He rested his hands on his sides, eyeing the other more up close and personal.
“Must’ve freaked you out, coming home after the whole defrosting thing,” He reminded himself a bit of Aubrey right there. Attempting to psychoanalyze a dude who went through hell. Or maybe, he was trying to decipher the man from the legend. He knew that after his tours, coming back home was weird and that was on such a small scale. He never went to Afghanistan and then came home to crazy new technology and the internet.
Steve let out a sigh, though his smile didn’t fade as he nodded, “Takes some getting used to… It’s good to meet you, Sam.”
Just like that, their encounter was over. Sam furrowed his brows as he watched him for a moment. All of that build up, all of that taunting and flirting and running and that was it. He was going to mess with him a little and then leave. No, nope, that wasn’t happening. He was not going to leave their flirting on Steve Rogers’ terms.
“It’s your bed, right?” Sam asked as he stepped forward to where Steve was leaving to.
Okay, maybe that was a little forward and he hadn’t told him he was a therapist that specialized in PTSD, so it seemed a little gayer, or maybe a lot more than he had really meant but Sam wasn’t going to let him just “It was nice meeting you, Sam” after all of that!
“What’s that?” Steve turned, his brows knitted as much as Sam’s had been when he watched him walk away.
Yeah, not enough context at all. Great going, Sam!
“Your bed. It’s too soft,” Sam stepped closer, so they were good talking distance. “When I was over there I’d sleep on the ground. Used rock for pillows, like a caveman,” He looked past Steve, really thinking about everything he went through, everything they went through.
“Now I’m home, lying in my bed and it’s like…”
“Lying on a marshmallow,” Steve cut him off—solidarity—showing him he understood. “Feel like I’m gonna sink right to the floor,” Steve nodded as Sam let his eyes fall on Steve’s again.
Sam nodded and let out a soft huff with his smile. He wasn’t sure if it was because he had correctly guessed it, (when he first started counseling it was like he couldn’t get a single thing right and the oddest moments were when he realized how far he had come) or, if it was because Steve didn’t think he was shamelessly trying to get at him. Which wouldn’t have been such a bad thing to think.
“How long?” Steve asked, his tone changing a bit, more serious. It was odd how most did that. Their time served was so much more than just a number, it was time lost and, God, Steve had so much more lost than Sam did. His heart ached for him, knowing the time he lost, the people left behind.
“Two tours,” he folded his arms. There was no reason to ask how long Steve served for, he knew. The history books told him, the news told him, hell everyone knew who he was, and Sam was sitting, desperately trying to get him not to push him off and leave only to see him the next day in another cycle.
“You must miss the good ol' days, huh?” He wasn’t sure if it was insensitive but even in their small amount of actual conversation, the small tidbits and smiles Steve was offering in exchange for time, Sam couldn’t help but be engaged with him. He couldn’t help but hang on his words and want to talk to him.
“Well,” Steve sighed and smiled. That’s all Sam needed to see to know that he wasn’t going to pour his soul to him, but, instead, give him something smartass in response and Sam was pretty sure he liked that thought more.
“Things aren’t so bad. Food’s a lot better; we used to boil everything. No polio's good. Internet, so helpful. Been reading that a lot. Trying to catch up,” Sam couldn’t help but smile as he listened to him and was impressed by his ability to adapt and be able to you know, use the internet. His aunties were here the whole damn time and couldn’t seem to use anything but speech-to-text.
Sam ran his tongue over his lips and looked up as he thought for a moment, shifting his feet. “Marvin Gaye, 1972 Trouble Man Soundtrack. Everything you missed jammed into one album,” He recommended and doubted anyone gave him anything close to that.
“I’ll put it on the list,” Steve pulled out a pad and pen, and Sam couldn’t help but smile wider at that. Even running he took that with him. Could use the internet but apparently didn’t know phones had notepads. Cute.
Just as he pushed his notepad into his pocket, his phone rang, and his smile faltered. “Alright, Sam, duty calls. Thanks for the run,” He went to shake his hand, firm grip, his hands were a little clammy, but Sam had to blame that on the sun beating down on them. “If that’s what you want to call running.”
Sam wondered if it was bad that his playful banter amazed him more than his super-human running. “Oh, that’s how it is?” He asked, eyebrows raising, though his smile didn’t so much as twitch.
“Oh, that’s how it is,” Steve responded just as lightly, not telling go of Sam’s hand the duration of their jabs. “Okay,” Sam laughed, and Steve gently let go of his hand, letting his fingers gently graze his palm causing Sam to blink a few times and swallowed thickly. That was definitely flirting, and Sam still couldn’t seem to just let him walk away.
“Anytime you want to stop by the VA and make me look awesome in front of the girl at the front desk, just let me know,” Sam spouted out before he could stop himself, and, damn it if that “oh” on Steve’s face didn’t look like a realization of something.
Sam was an idiot, he could have said anything but that! The girl at the front desk already thought he was awesome. Idiot.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Steve responded, and Sam tried to hide his disappointment with himself with a smile and a nod.
Sam watched him walk away, smiling because even if he fucked up Steve didn’t skip a beat and maybe he’d be able to see him and make actual talking a part of their new-found routine. As he moved, Sam watched a Corvette pull up and God, maybe he was in the wrong business.
“Hey fellas. Either one of you know where the Smithsonian is? I’m here to pick up a fossil.” A Corvette and a hot red-head, Sam was undoubtedly in the wrong business.
“That’s hilarious,” Steve responded flatly which made Sam smile even more as he kneeled to see inside better.
Even as cute as Steve Rogers was in his grandpa pants and a tight shirt that hugged him just right, Samuel Thomas Wilson could not help himself and would be ashamed if he did.
“How you doin’?” He asked, with a nod and a smile. He already dug himself a hole, if Steve was flirting, he would be able to dig himself out.
“Hey,” She responded with a very emoji-like smirk.
“Can’t run everywhere,” Steve pulled Sam’s attention back to him and Sam agreed with a nod, “No you can’t.”
Sam sat like that for longer than he’d like to admit, the hustle and bustle of DC moving around him as he watched them drive off, the disappearing of the car prompting him to stand with one last stretch.
“Two in one day, Wilson, not too bad,” He hummed, giving himself a little pep in his step. Sure, he didn’t get his number, but he undoubtedly made himself unforgettable.
You can’t run everywhere, but Sam was about 50% certain that Steve would come running back to him and he would, just not in the way he expected.