Steve listens to the minute hand of the small wall clock tick past the 12, marking his thirty-fifth hour without sleep. Stark installed analog clocks all over the tower as yet another old joke, but Steve can’t help but feel a little grateful for it. It’s the only thing in this medical bay that feels familiar. That clock, and Sam.
Steve sighs. He shouldn’t be here.
He looks across the hospital bed, over the lump that is Sam’s left leg, the mass of wires connected to his right side, and the pile of bandages on his chest. He watches it rise and fall and the slight twitch of his eyelids as he dreams; reassuring himself that Sam is still alive.
You almost lost this, some dark part of him whispers. And for what? A chance. You would have gotten him killed for a breadcrumb.
Every time Steve closes his eyes, he sees the bullet tear through Sam’s thigh, hears another thump against his kevlar, feels his heart stop and the yell rip from his throat all over again. So instead he stands guard; watches Sam breathe and thanks whoever’s listening that he still can.
He drags a hand across his face and grips Sam’s ankle.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry I put you in danger. Again. I’m sorry dragged you in there without intel. Again. I’m sorry. I lov-” Steve chokes on the word and forces it back down. What a coward, he thinks. You can’t even say it when he can’t hear you.
He grunts, rolling his shoulders and trying to shake off the thought and the shame it carries.
He reminds himself that Sam signed up for this. He knew what he was getting into. Hell, Steve even tried to talk him out of it a few times before Sam nipped that in the bud.
Besides, Sam is going to be okay. He repeats this like a mantra, but it feels weak. Of course its weak, you can’t deny that this is your fault. He’s distracted from his turmoil when he hears the heavy swinging doors at the end of the hall burst open.
“Samuel Thomas Wilson. Which room?” a harried voice demands, huffing with exertion and urgency.
Steve tenses, standing and shifting to block Sam from the view of the door. It takes him a moment to place the voice, used to hearing it from across the room and through a tiny phone speaker. But there’s something about it that rings familiar.
“Ma’am, we can only allow family and--”
“Darlene and Sarah Wilson,” a third voice interrupts. It’s younger and more composed, but still tinged with worry. “I’d be happy to show you our IDs and fill out any paperwork, if you could just direct my mother to the right room.”
That would be Sarah then.
Steve relaxes, it’s just his family. Though he has no idea how they knew to come.
He looks to the ceiling, “JARVIS?” he asks.
“I took the liberty of contacting Staff Sergeant Wilson’s next of kin once the doctors confirmed he was stable.”
Steve nods, staring down at his feet.
Why hadn’t he thought of that? Of course Sam would want his family here - Steve’s been so concerned with himself and his feelings, he didn’t even think about who else would want to wait at Sam’s bedside. Selfish bastard.
He wants to collapse back into the chair but he knows that this isn’t his place. Sam's family is here, the people who love him and are loved by him. Sam doesn’t need him.
The one time he did, you weren't there. Steve can't help but agree: he’s brought nothing but danger and destruction into Sam’s life. After what happened, he’s sure Sam wouldn’t want to see him anyway.
With one last squeeze of Sam’s hand, Steve slips out the door and down the hall, just missing Sarah and Mrs. Wilson as they turn towards Sam’s room.
He tells himself that he isn’t running from explaining himself to Sam’s family - he’s giving them time and space. Not having to tell them about how he failed and got Sam shot is just a happy coincidence. Ducking into a quiet waiting room, he tries not to think about the last time he sat alone in a room like this.
Sam isn’t Fury and Fury didn’t even really die. Sam’s not going to die. It’s just a concussion and a few broken bones. And a couple bullets, he won’t let himself forget. He tries to clear his mind, but his wallowing is broken by the quiet fussing of Sam’s family.
“Oh Sammy,” Steve hears Sarah sigh as he settles into one of the stiff, plastic armchairs. There’s some rustling of papers and the sharp click of a clipboard. “GSWs to the torso and femur, concussion, broken ulna, fractured radius, bu-”
“That’s enough Sarah,” Mrs. Wilson sighs. Sarah quiets, but the pages of Sam’s chart don’t stop turning. Steve remembers that Sarah is a nurse and is suddenly very aware of the not-explicitly legal Stark meds coursing through Sam’s body. There’s no way she’s missing that his vitals are stronger than they should be this soon after the incident. “I hate him being back out there.”
“I know, Mama. But there’s nothing we can do about it. When have we ever been able to stop Sam from doing anything?” There’s the scrape of the chart sliding back into its case and the crinkle of the rough sheets under a new person’s weight. Steve isn’t trying to eavesdrop, but the Tower’s hospital floor isn’t exactly loud and it’s not like he can’t help his enhanced hearing.
Mrs. Wilson harrumphs. “We stopped him from marrying that Morales girl, didn’t we?”
“Mother.” The word is a laugh and a warning. “Now is not the time.”
There’s a long suffering sigh of resigned mother. “I know. It was scary enough when he was out in that damn dessert. At least then we knew he had Riley.”
Another rock settles in Steve’s gut. You’ll never be Riley. You’ll never fill that hole. And you dare wave your Not Dead best friend is his face? Steve buries his face in his hands.
It's not enough that he’s eavesdropping on Sam’s family, but now he has the nerve to feel some type of way about the love of Sam’s life? Pillar of honesty and decency, my ass.
Steve drops his head into his hands and tells himself that he’s done listening. That lasts about ten minutes before the women are gasping and fussing again.
Sam is awake.
Steve shoots up, ready to run to him, before he remembers why he fled the room. Not your place , he reminds himself. He sits on the edge of his chair, straining to hear Sam better. Fuck decency , he thinks. He needs to know that Sam is okay.
“I can’t believe they called you,” Sam huffs. “I’m fine, Ma.”
“ Fine . Yes, Sam. You’re so fine , laying in this hospital bed, alone and full of bullets.” Mrs. Wilson’s voice is low and dangerous. Steve gulps and he’s not even the one she’s upset with.
Sam on the other hand, doesn’t sound phased. “Two bullets, Ma. And they took them out. And I’m not alone. Steve is around here somewhere...” he trails off, as if only just noticing that Steve isn’t at his side.
Mrs. Wilson is not amused. “Two bullets is two too many bullets, Samuel-- ”
“Steve is here?” Sarah interrupts, sounding surprised. “We haven’t seen him.”
“He must be. He wouldn’t leave,” Sam hums.
Steve panics and rushes to the hallway, terrified that Sam might think he left. He stops in the doorway and turns back to the waiting room. No. He left for a reason. Sam doesn’t need him right now.
He doesn’t need you at all.
Steve sits again, wonders if he should just leave. Loitering and eavesdropping wasn’t doing anyone any good. He probably could check out the apartment Tony keeps offering him; he’d only be a few floors away. JARVIS would keep him updated on Sam’s condition. He could even order Sam some decent takeout and have it sent to his room - he’ll come back and check on him in a few hours.
Steve looks down at his dusty stealth suit, he could use a shower too.
Once his mind is made up, Steve nods to himself and straightens his shoulders. “Okay, find apartment, shower, order Sam some food, and don’t offend his mother.”
A throat clears behind him and he spins around to lock eyes with none other than Darlene Wilson. She looks younger than he expected, but there’s no doubting the familiar arch of her brows or the dimple on her left cheek.
“Captain,” she says mildly. Her eyes are bloodshot and there is a handkerchief clutched in her left hand, but she shows no other signs of emotion.
“Ma’am,” he answers, bowing his head. Her eyes don’t stray from his own but he gets the distinct feeling he’s being weighed and he’s not quite sure that he measures up. Steve can feel the guilt leaking from his pores, but looking away from her steady gaze feels disrespectful. “H-hello Mrs. Wilson. I uh, I’m so-”
She waves him quiet, and motions for him to follow.
Steve has no idea what she wants from him, but he knows better than to argue. She leads him back to Sam’s room and is the first woman in this future to be unsurprised when he rushes forward to open the door for her. Maybe she wants to yell at you in the privacy of Sam’s room , he thinks.
But everything in him rejects that idea. He’s heard enough of Sam’s stories; feels like he knows her. It's more likely she’ll stare him down until he falls apart, admits all his faults and promises to leave Sam alone. Steve takes a deep breath as she breezes past him and follows her into the room.
As nervous as he is, a few more knots in his stomach unravel at the sight of Sam sitting up in bed, grinning and holding hands with his sister. He’s really going to be okay. No thanks to you. It’s easier for Steve to push that voice away when Sam is smiling at him like that. Steve really wishes Sam wouldn’t light up like that when he sees him.
It’s like a punch to the gut, how close that grin is to what Steve wants but cannot have.
“There you are! Where you been?” Sam rubs his hands together before reaching out to Steve. His smile doesn’t budge but there’s a twinge in his jaw, a sign of the pain he must be in. Steve moves quickly to his side, knowing the concern and guilt is written all over his face. He nudges Sam back to the reclining mattress with a hand on his shoulder.
“Just checking in on some things. How ya feeling?” he asks.
It's a foolish question. Sam is obviously in pain, but Steve just wants to hear his voice again. Needs more reassurance that he’s still here.
“Better now that the gang’s all here,” Sam laughs a little. “Especially since Sarah has banished the dry skin from my life.”
“Life threatening wounds are no excuse for ashy knuckles, Sammy.” Sarah laughs, reaching out to shake Steve’s hand. “I’m Sarah.”
“Of course!” Steve shakes her hand lightly, not surprised by the strength of her grip. She’s a Wilson, afterall. “Steve Rogers. I apologize. I tend to have a bit of a one track mind,” he says, looking back to Sam.
“I bet you do,” she murmurs, glancing between the two.
“Sarah Jean.” Mrs. Wilson warns, causing Sarah to huff and sit back in her chair.
Steve barely notices. He’s checking the machines around the head of Sam’s bed, inspecting his vitals and calculating how soon he can convince Sam to ask a nurse for more meds. It takes a minute before he realizes that Sam is watching him, the question clear in his eyes. Steve glances at Mrs. Wilson and back at Sam. Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
Yeah, he knows Steve is beating himself up. Of course he does.
“You good?” he asks under his breath.
“You don’t get to ask me that when you’re the one in the hospital bed.” Steve mutters as he reaches up to adjust Sam’s IV bag. He catches Sam’s unimpressed gaze and sighs. “I just wanted to give you some space. With your family.” He moves away before he can feel pitied by Sam’s Oh, Steven face.
Steve sits at the windowsill, leaving the space beside Sam open for his mother. The two speak in low tones, heads bent together, Mrs. Wilson still scolding and Sam placating with a small, pained smile.
Sarah moves to stand next to Steve, pressing a small bottle of lotion into his palm. “Crying in boogie hospital waiting rooms is also not an excuse for ashy knuckles, Captain.”
“Steve, please,” he says as he takes the bottle and the kindness. “Thank you. We didn’t have oils and butters, back in my day. We were all just crusty. All the time.” He pops the bottle open and tries not to wince at the loud spurt it makes.
Sarah eyes him for a moment and rolls her eyes. “You know he said you were a little shit. And I didn’t believe him. But now I’m not so sure.”
Steve hums.“No comment,” and it’s met with that Wilson dimple. It disappears after a moment and concern flashes across her face.
“Are you going to explain how my brother is three weeks into recovery less than twelve hours after being shot?”
“Um… its classified?” he hedges, urged on by her raised eyebrow. “But totally safe and fully consensual. Sam signed off on treatment here months ago.”
Sarah barks a laugh. “Oh, that we knew. He called to let me know that I was no longer his Next of Kin last year. At the time, we thought it was because he didn’t want to stress us out whenever he got hurt on this secret crusade y’all are on.” She leaned in further, as if to tell him a secret. “But now I’m thinking it had more to do with wanting you.”
Steve stammers and blushes, only encouraged by the smirk on Sarah’s face.
“If you two are finished flirting...” Mrs. Wilson’s voice rings across the room. Steve’s head shoots up and he knows that his face must be on fire. All three Wilsons, however, just seem amused. “Now that we’re all here,” she cuts her eyes at Steve.
Steve looks away, abased. Maybe he shouldn’t have left? He couldn’t even sit at Sam’s bedside the way Sam had for him just days after they met. Now she’ll never believe that he really cares for her son. Not that she should? She’s never going to find out since Steve is never going to work up the courage to say it to Sam.
“Steven.” He turns to her, sure that she’s going to ask him to leave. “Thank you for taking care of my Sammy. He’s told us what you’ve done for him.”
Steve doesn’t know what to say. His negligence had gotten Sam hurt. It was his fault any of them were even here.
“Uhhhh.” He can see Sam roll his eyes again and Sarah shaking her head. “It was nothing. Nothing he wouldn’t do for me. Nothing he hasn’t done for a hundred folks before me.”
Steve doesn’t say that he’ll remember ending the Hydra goons who shot Sam for the rest of his life. He doesn’t say that he’ll have nightmares about carrying her son’s blood soaked body from the base and sobbing into the radio, begging JARVIS to send someone, anyone to help.
He doesn’t say it, but he can see in Sam’s face that he knows.
“Besides, he wouldn’t have even been in there if it wasn’t for me,” he mutters, rubbing his admittedly softer hand over his face.
“Dammit Steve. I make my own choices,” Sam groans. Sarah tugs Steve’s arm down, her touch as gentle and firm as her brother’s reproach.
“While I’m very grateful that you pulled him out of whatever firefight y’all were in,” Mrs. Wilson continues. “I actually meant what you’ve done for him in the past year. We haven’t seen him quite so happy in a long time.”
“Oh my God. Ma.” Sam’s groan is muffled behind the hands he has over his face.
“Hush, boy,” she laughs as she runs her hand over his head and smiles at Steve. “We’re not excited about either of you being in danger, but we’re glad you’re looking out for each other.”
Steve is shocked.
He’s never even considered that he could be a positive influence on Sam’s life. He glances down at his hands, still fiddling with Sarah’s bottle. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.
Mrs. Wilson stands, steps forward and grips his chin with her thumb and her forefinger. Steve wants to turn away, but knows better than to try.
“I can’t say I know exactly what’s going through your head right now, but I know that it isn’t good and it isn’t kind to yourself. And in this family we treat each other and ourselves with respect.” She smiles and releases him, patting his cheek with a smile. “You’re a Wilson now, boy. Act like it.”
With that she turns, shoots a pointed but loving glare at Sam and announces she’s going to get everyone some coffee.
Sarah takes the lotion from Steve’s lax hands and nudges him into the chair at Sam’s side. “Now that your knuckles won't give my dear brother a paper cut, you can actually hold hands and admit that you want to—”
“Thank you, Sarah!” Sam interrupts loudly. Sarah huffs a laugh, pokes at the bandages on Sam’s knee and scurries out of his reach when he swipes at her.
“'Kay, I’m gonna go buy myself some flowers in the gift shop. Byeeee.” And she’s gone.
Steve is vaguely aware of their bickering, but he’s still caught up in Ms. Wilson’s kind words. “What just happened?”
Sam turns soft eyes on him, and reaches for his hand. “You’ve been adopted. Welcome to the family.”
You’re a Wilson now, boy. Act like it.
Steve chews that over, so nervous and confused and giddy that he doesn’t notice when his back straightens and the embarrassed flush falls from his cheeks.