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Steve

I scratched at my newly forming beard. You’d think after having one for several years while on the run, I would have gotten use to the facial hair. 

I shaved it off right before the whole mess with Thanos and the infinity stones. I kept it off for a whole year. 

Several people have mentioned they liked me with facial hair, so I thought, why the hell not. Grow it back. 

I forgot how it takes some getting use to. Although, it’s sort of exciting to even be able to grow one. Considering pre-serum I couldn’t even grow chest hair, let alone a full beard. 

“Beard’s coming along nicely I see. Makes you look older though.”

My eyes cut over to Bucky. He was sitting in the copilot seat in the Quinjet. His legs were stretched out and an altogether relaxed demeanor had me smiling. 

He’s been more relaxed these last few months. 

I have Natasha to thank for that. 

She and Bucky are sleeping together. Not sure how it all started, but I can definitely tell you the affect it’s had on my best friend. 

He smiles more now, for one. Laughs too. Not that he didn’t before, but now, it’s a laugh that feels truly genuine and not forced. 

They think they’re being sneaky, telling no one about what they are doing. But I knew something right off the bat was different about him. Natasha, not so much. 

She’s a harder nut to crack. Definitely a little better at being stealthy and keeping secrets. 

I just so happen to see her go into his quarters late one night. The next morning, Bucky had a bounce to his step. 

Didn’t take a genius like Stark to figure out what happened. 

Plus the nail marks down his back are a dead giveaway. 

He was changing shirts in the locker room in the gym and though it was fast, I definitely caught a glimpse of them.

I was a bit hurt at first that he hasn’t come to me and told me what’s going on. But I suppose he has his reasons. 

Hell, I wouldn’t doubt it if Tasha threatened him within an inch of his life if he spilled the beans. 

She’s a very private person and God knows, if Tony got a wiff of anything sexual going on between the two, she’d never hear the end of it. 

“You got the same beard, so I wouldn’t be talking old man. You are older than I am, remember?”

”Oh trust me, you won’t let me forget.”

Tasha walked up behind us.

”ETA?”

I glanced over at Bucky and noticed how he sat up just a little straighter. 

“We should be in Philadelphia in about fifteen minutes. Our contact should be rendezvousing with us just on the outskirts, south of the city.”

She nodded and checked her watch. 

“Cutting it a little close there Rogers. If we’re even two minutes late we’ll miss our window of opportunity to infiltrate the cell.”

I nodded in understanding. Knowing full well that we should have left sooner, but our contact was late checking in to give us the final details we needed to complete our mission. 

“I’m well aware. Don’t worry, I’ll get us there. What’s Clint’s timeframe for extraction? Has he sent word that he’ll be in the clear? Or will he be with the buying party?”

She seemed uneasy. Bucky picked up on it immediately. 

“What? What’s wrong? Has he not checked in with you?”

Once we found out there was a Hydra cell growing in number in Philadelphia, Clint volunteered to go under cover to infiltrate. Gather intelligence and be the go between with us and our informant. 

He may have his family back, but the need to take out the low life’s in the world, is still weighing heavily on his mind and heart. 

“He was suppose to check in over an hour ago. It’s not like Clint to be late. Something had to have happened.”

She kept glancing out the the cockpit window and down at her watch. You could almost feel the tension rolling off of her. 

Bucky was concerned, I’m sure for Clint, but I could tell he wanted to do something to make her feel better. I could see it eating away at him.

I suppressed a smile as I caught him out of the corner of my eye reaching out to her. He held her bicep gently in his hand and stroked his thumb back and forth. 

“I’m sure he’s fine. Don’t worry. We’ll be there soon.”

I halfway expected her to shove off his hand, since it was done in front of everyone. Well, everyone as in me, Sam and Tony.

Speaking of the Devil. Said Genius is snoring away in one of the seats. Apparently Morgan was sick last night and kept him and Pepper up most the night. 

It’s still nice seeing Tony be a family man. He’s taken to it like I always knew he would. 

Eventually Tasha walked toward the back. I couldn’t help but laugh a little as you suddenly hear Tony curse.

”Alright! Jesus! I’m up! I’m up! Give a guy a break, would ya. I’m working on less than an hours sleep here.”

Tasha snorted and I could hear a zipper going up. She was suiting up. 

“You’ve gone weak Tony. I remember when you use to go without sleep for almost three days. Being a father has made you soft.”

I could tell she was only kidding him. But, she’s not wrong. I think Morgan keeps Tony busier than he ever was by himself. 

“Normally I’d argue against that, but I’d only be lying.”

Ten minutes later, everyone was suited up and ready. 

Our contact sent us new coordinates last minute. Stating it was unavoidable due to a change in the sellers plans. 

The original plan was to ambush the cell as they made contact with a foreign arms dealer. He’s in the country selling alien weapon technology to the highest bidder.

It didn’t help that there are those still affiliated with Hydra that have deep pockets. 

Our goal is to take out the buyer and the seller. Two birds, one stone. 

Not to mention confiscate the alien weapons and destroy them so they won’t fall into the wrong hands again. 

It didn’t sit well with me that the plans changed. But what were we to do? Cancel the mission? 

Absolutely not! 

Hydra was and still is a pestilence on the world and they needed to be taken down. Permanently!

Rerouting to the north, we set down in behind an abandoned warehouse. 

My stomach churned with unease. 

I didn’t like being this close to downtown Philly. Too many things could go wrong and the possibility of civilians getting hurt in the crossfire is so much greater. 

Our only positive in all of this is that it was close to 1am, so the odds of people being out and about are slim. 

We definitely didn’t need anymore loss of civilian life on our hands. We’ve got plenty enough blood on our hands as it is.

We used the cover of darkness to maneuver ourselves into position. Our targets should be arriving any moment. 

I held tight to my new Shield Tony made me. The weight a comfort against my arm, grounding me in place, helping me to focus.

Tasha circled the building to come in from the north  and Bucky doing the same except from the south. Sam took the West closest to the back exit, just in case someone ran that way to elude capture.

Tony took to the skies and kept an Ariel view. 

Me, I’m right in the thick of it. Hiding behind a broken and crumbling wall that definitely looked as if it were one strong wind gust away from falling over. 

Considering the whole thing probably weighed several tons, I was careful not to lean against it. 

Listening devices were planted throughout the building and surrounding areas so we could hear every single word said, once the transaction went down. 

We needed proof of the sale to have evidence for the authorities to take them to trail and convict. 

Hell, we even had video surveillance.

”Heads up, we got incoming. Four vehicles coming from the South East and three from the North. Looks like it’s showtime boys and girls. Well, girl.”

I pressed my earpiece and answered. 

“Keep a watch out for Clint. Stay sharp, we can’t let these Bastards get away.”

Tasha, Bucky then Sam all chime in.

”Copy that.”

”Right back atcha Rogers.”

”Let’s do this.”

The lights of the vehicles entering the old building had my muscles tight with tension, ready to spring into action. 

Once all the players were in place, it would be time to strike. But first we needed our evidence. 

The black Suv’s had heavily tinted windows to where you couldn’t see anything through them. Definitely a vehicle you want to remain incognito. 

I found it odd that they all drove around and positioned themselves in a large circle. Definitely not your usual M.O. for an illegal deal.

Normally the buyer would position themselves for a hasty getaway if the need arises. But this, this made my hackles go up and alarms start blaring in my head. 

Apparantly I wasn’t the only one. 

Tasha hissed out into the coms.

”I don’t like this, something’s not right.”

Bucky and Sam agreed. 

Tony spoke up and practically screamed a warning into my ear.

”Steve! Get your ass out of there! I’m picking up strange energy readings coming from the SUV nearest your position!”

Just as I made to peer around the wall to get a good look at the vehicle in question, a window rolled down and a long silver device slid into view.

I barely had a second to register that it was a weapon and it discharged. 

A bright blue ball of energy shot out of the barrel and came straight toward me. 

Well, technically the wall.

Tony, Tasha, Sam and Bucky were all screaming in my ear to run, but it was too late. 

The wall fell, right on top of me.

I managed to maneuver myself in a way as it collapsed, that my Shield held off most of the wall from crushing me. 

I screamed out in pain as I was slammed into the ground and used all my strength to try and push the wall off of me. 

I could feel blood pooling under me, no telling what damage was done. All I knew was I was in pain and I wouldn’t be able to keep the bulkiest part of the wall from crushing me to death. 

I could hear a fight going on and loud blasts from the alien weapon going off as my friends fought the enemy. 

Meanwhile I was fighting for my life. 

Literally.

I could taste blood in my mouth and warm trickles of the thick substance running down my face and into my beard and hair.

My muscles trembled as I used all my strength and stamina to push against the wall. 

I had a brief moment that I thought to myself, of all things, this is how I was going to die.

The wall cracked and pushed harder onto my abdomen and chest, making it almost impossible to catch my breath. 

I could feel the life being crushed right out of me. 

Just as I was about to pass out from the lack of oxygen, I felt the wall start to lift up off of me. Air rushing forcefully into my lungs.

I gasped and coughed up blood.

For a second, I half expected to see Tony in his suit lifting the wall. But what I did see was nothing even close to that.

There, standing half in and out of the shadows, stood a small woman. She wore dirty baggy clothes and a hoodie covered the top of her head that cast her face in darkness.

Her eyes were glowing bright red and she was engulfed totally in flames. Flames that were not burning her.

Instead, the flames were stretched out from her body and covered the stone wall, lifting it miraculously off my battered and bruised body. 

The flames intensified and turned a bright blue. I knew I should be feeling the heat from it, but all I could feel was gusting of a slightly warmer wind surrounding me. 

I watched in awe and the concrete literally disintegrated right before my eyes. Not even dust was left. 

The whole wall just disappeared into thin air. It almost appeared as if the wall was taken apart molecule by molecule, leaving only me laying bloody in its place. 

The fire disappeared just as quickly as it started.

Flashes from the fire fight lit up her once hidden face. Her eyes, wide with fear, returned to their normal color, a bright crystal blue. 

We locked eyes for a mere few seconds before she ran off into the shadows.  

Soon after darkness overtook me.

My last fleeting thought escaped my lips, in a pained rush of air just before I passed out. 

”Who the hell was that?!”