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The press doesn’t actually start in on Sam and Steve’s friendship until after they go on Rachel Maddow’s show. It’s the smart move to make, now that they’re settled in New York, working with Stark and the rest of the Avengers, to take some of the media burden off Tony and Stark Industries, to finally set some of the record straight.

Truthfully, Sam’s a little surprised she’s been asked to tag along, but the head publicist of the firm Tony’s hired to handle the press has insisted on it, and once Sam’s actually there she understands why--she’s Steve’s wingman.

It’s not that Steve’s bad with the media, far from it. He knows how to use the charm, and his legend is such that nearly everyone is a bit wary of disrespecting Captain America, at least at first.

The problem with Steve and the media, though, is that if they start asking the hard questions, Steve’s going to give them the truth--and give it in a way that might cause trouble. Steve’s perfectly aware of this and doesn’t see it as something he has to fix; Sam’s inclined to agree with him, except that she’d also like to leave tonight with fewer headaches than she started out with.

So. Wingman.

She keeps up a light and easy patter with Steve while they’re getting the makeup on, until the makeup artists have stopped staring at them wide-eyed and started looking amused instead. Once they're all set, Sam looks herself over one last time, the lipstick and mascara, the crisp white button-down underneath the dark blazer, and turns to Steve with a smile. " I clean up pretty well, huh?"

Steve smiles and just says, "Yeah, you'll do."

*

The actual interview ends up being a breeze.

Maddow starts out with a softball question, saying, “Now, originally the story was that the two of you had met in the VA, but it’s my understanding that’s not quite true. Since part of the reason you’re here is to help set the record straight, how did you two actually end up meeting?”

Sam and Steve glance at each other, and then Sam laughs. “All right, I’ll start. So this is what the history books never tell you,” she tells Maddow, with a roll of her eyes, playing up to the cameras a little. “They don’t say anything about Captain America being a little punk in real life.”

Here they’re interrupted by a quiet snort from Steve, who’s ducking his head as he obviously fights back laughter. “Sorry, ignore me. I just think the way she tells this story is funny.”

Sam cuts the side-eye to Maddow as she tips her head in Steve’s direction. “You see what I mean.”

“Think I’m starting to,” Maddow says, smiling, a gleam in her eye as she watches them unfold the story for her and the audience, Steve running loops around Sam at the Mall, Sam’s growing irritation at every utterance of on your left--”Like I hadn’t heard him the first time. Or the third, or the fifth--”

By the time Sam gets to retelling the part where she was snapping at him, “Don’t you say it, don’t you say it--” Steve’s dissolved into helpless laughter, shoulders shaking, and Sam’s grinning at him even as she continues, “And so there I go trying to outrace Captain America, which is definitely up there on the list of dumbest decisions I’ve ever made.”

Steve grins back at her, still snickering a little, and Sam rolls her eyes affectionately as she finishes up. “As I’m lying under a tree trying to recover, wondering if I’m about to have a heart attack, he finally decides to stop by and introduce himself properly.”

“Oh, come on, you were barely winded,” Steve protests.

“I could barely breathe,” Sam retorts, but without heat. “Anyway, we got to talking, ended up hitting it off. I was working for the VA down in DC and I invited him to stop by sometime. Rest is history.”

That’s the cue for Maddow to go into more questions about what happened in the battle against HYDRA. Steve and Sam talk about as much as they can, gracefully leaving out Barnes from the narrative, acknowledging the political fallout of what they discovered, what they’ve done. And even this is easy, comparatively, because both Steve and Sam can look anyone in the eye and say truthfully they have no regrets.

And then Maddow asks, “I have to ask, Captain--when you and Romanov were on the run, being hunted by the organization you once trusted--what made you decide to turn to Airman Wilson here?”

Steve pauses before answering, glancing at Sam consideringly. “I could give you several good reasons why--the most obvious one is that HYDRA didn’t know anything about her, so she could be a safe haven the way that a lot of our potential allies wouldn’t have been.”

Steve turns away from Sam to focus on Maddow as he says, “Truthfully, I knew that by knocking on her door, I was bringing a world of trouble down on her head. I knew she’d have every right to say no. I also knew if I asked for her help, she’d say yes without a second thought, because that’s who she is. If you have a chance to get someone like that in your corner, you don’t hesitate.”

Steve’s eyes are warm as he gazes over at Sam, warmer than all the camera lights shining down on them now, and Sam has to fight back the urge to duck her head and let her eyes drop down at Steve’s words.

Instead, she smiles and says, “He gives good speeches.” She waits a beat and then adds, “For a punk.”

Maddow laughs, but Steve’s wide, crooked grin and sideways glance are what Sam’s really aiming for. And she gets them.

*

Once they’ve finally exited the studios, makeup wiped off, back in their street clothes, Sam lets out a laugh as they head over to where Steve’s bike is parked in the private parking garage. “That was good.”

“It went well, didn’t it?” Steve says, grinning. He looks pleased, and more than that, relieved. Relieved enough that he leans in to nudge her with a shoulder. “Dinner to celebrate?”

“Indian?” Sam suggests. “We could go to that place we found last week.”

“Sounds good to me,” Steve says happily, straddling his bike before handing her the extra helmet. Sam settles in behind him, fixing the strap of her helmet before wrapping her arms around Steve’s trim waist, holding on tightly as the engine revs to life.

*

Sam’s satisfaction with the interview lasts less than 24 hours. To be more precise, it lasts right up until she sees the response to the interview.

“So thanks to this interview, everyone thinks we’re dating,” Sam says, her voice flat. She looks up from the front page of the New York Post. The cover is a paparazzi photo of her and Steve out at the Indian restaurant last night, sitting together cozily at their table with the headline “America’s Heroes...America’s New Power Couple?”

Tony glances over her shoulder as he walks past the couch, and says, scoffing, “That headline’s awful. They should’ve at least been able to make a pun out of Falcon.”

Sam gives him the eye. “Yeah, because their lack of originality with the headline is the problem we have here.”

“All this from one interview?” Steve says, a crease in his forehead as he looks up from his tablet.

“Well,” Tony points out, “--the cozy dinner date right after the interview probably didn’t help matters.”

Steve glares at him, but it’s a half-hearted glare by Steve and Tony’s standards--Sam’s been present at the dinner table the one and only time those two talked politics, and by the end of it, she didn’t know whether to gag them or just grab Steve’s shield and duck for cover. Instead of snapping back at Tony, Steve just turns back to Andrew, the publicist that Stark Industries hired to handle the publicity and press for the Avengers. “Sam and I have known each other for a year. Hell, we spent six months on the road together looking for--HYDRA cells,” Steve says, only barely stumbling over the hunt for Bucky Barnes. “Why are the press making something about us now?”

“They hadn’t seen you in action together before now,” Andrew says with a shrug, hands folded in his lap. “And that meet-cute story you told was...fairly suggestive.”

“Meet-cute?” Steve asks, baffled.

“I’ll explain later,” Sam says, and raises an eyebrow at Andrew. “So because I’m a girl and because we’re friends who hang out in public, Captain America and I have to be dating, is that right?”

“I never said the press were smart,” Andrew says with another shrug. “Which at least makes my job a little easier.”

“So long as it makes your job easier,” Sam mutters, glaring down at the newspapers. When she looks up again, Steve’s watching her now, that crease still in his forehead.

Sam’s not all that surprised when Steve corners her a little bit later, anxious and solicitous, saying in a low voice that if she wants to cool things for a while, stop being seen with him in public so much, he’ll understand--

“Oh no,” Sam says firmly. “I’m not letting the media scare me into changing up my life. They want to come up with ridiculous rumors about the two of us, they can go right on ahead.”

“Are you sure?” Steve says, doubtful. “I mean, I know you’re not thrilled about those headlines--”

“Because they’re stupid,” Sam says. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my life inside out because of it. We’re friends. I’m not ashamed of that.” She eyes him up and adds dryly, “Unless you’re too intimidated to be seen out with me anymore. I’ll understand if that’s the case, Rogers. It must be hard trying to keep up with all this.” She gestures toward herself, playing it up enough to make Steve laugh, even if his cheeks are a little pink as he looks her over.

“Yeah, I could do worse,” he concedes finally, and Sam scoffs.

“Rogers, you only wish you could aim this high.”

*

As far as Sam is concerned, that is really the end of it.

The fact that the media disagrees is something she refuses to let bother her. Not even when she and Steve are out for a run one morning in Central Park and Sam keeps spotting paparazzi in the trees near the trails, keeps hearing the faint click of cameras. Once she’s finished her tenth mile, Sam stops to catch her breath, bent over at the waist, trying to ignore the sensation of being watched.

She’s got nothing to be ashamed of. All the same, there’s a rueful little vain twinge in her head at the idea of being in a tabloid somewhere the next day, dressed in her ratty USAF shirt and running shorts.

Sam hears footsteps approaching and knows without looking that it’s Steve. “Don’t you have another thirty miles to run?” she asks, only half-joking as she straightens back up.

Steve, blast him, looks totally put together. He’s also looking at Sam with concern and murmurs softly, “You know...the Tower does have a gym. With treadmills.”

“Does it have pigeons that can swoop over our heads and threaten to take a dump on our hair?” Sam asks. It’s not her best retort, but it’ll do. “Steve. We’re living our lives here. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“Okay,” Steve says, accepting her word. “But--if it ever does bother you, let me know?”

“Will do,” Sam says, giving in to the urge to pat him on the cheek, teasing. Steve smiles ruefully into it, his mouth turning up in a lopsided smile.

Sam pulls away, jerking her head towards the trail. “Ready to keep going?”

Steve cocks an eyebrow. “Didn’t you run ten miles already?”

Sam shrugs. “Ten miles is a warmup for a PJ.” She turns backwards as she jogs, the better to tease, “Unless you’re feeling like you need a break, old man? Maybe want to bring out the walker?”

Steve lets out a bark of laughter as he moves towards her. “Oh, I think I’m going to enjoy this.”

By the time they leave the park, Sam’s legs feel like rubber and Steve is incredibly smug, even as he’s handing her Gatorade. A few hours later, TMZ has the photos from the park, and the photograph of Sam touching Steve’s face is front and center on their website. Or so Sam is told later by her sister, two of her cousins in Atlanta, and Andrew the publicist.

The next day, Sam goes out for her run as usual, and she brings Steve along, also as usual.

*

Truthfully, Sam knows she shouldn’t be that surprised. She knew back in DC, opening up the back door of her house to Steve and Natasha, that her life wasn’t ever going to be the same. And it hasn’t been, and Sam hasn’t regretted that for a second.

It wasn’t as if she’d walked into this with her eyes closed--she knew the risks of following Captain America into battle, and it was impossible not to realize that Steve was a cultural icon, that people would care about him, care about the people around him. Okay, so maybe she hadn’t planned on being on the cover of US Weekly when she’s making a late-night grocery run on the way back to her apartment, but it’s not that much of a leap in logic.

She knows Steve’s anxious about it, all the media attention, but Sam doesn’t mind. She refuses to mind, because what she’s gained here in New York is worth far more than the minor inconveniences she has to deal with along the way.

Some people are worth following, no matter the risk.

*

“Mom, I’m telling you, it’s nothing,” Sam says, holding the phone between her chin and her ear as she hunts for the green v-neck sweater she was planning to wear to work today.

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” her mother insists, and Sam can hear the skeptical face she’s making on the other end. “It looks a lot like you’re dating Captain America.”

“He has a name, you know. And seeing as how I’ve introduced him to you, and he’s had dinner at your house, maybe you could call him by his name.”

Sam loves her mother, she does. But her mother’s got a stubborn streak to her--Sam would know, she inherited the damn thing--and Sam knows full well her mother isn’t entirely sure about Sam’s decision to relocate from DC to New York. Add that to all the recent media attention, and Sam’s been fielding some rather pointed questions from her family members lately.

“Hmm,” her mother says. “Just so long as you know what you’re doing,” she eventually concedes, but her tone suggests Sam has no clue.

Sam knows to take her victories where she can get them. “Thanks, Mom. How are Danielle and the kids doing?”

The change in subject is blatantly obvious, but her mom lets her get away with it. She can be nice like that sometimes.

The next time Sam visits the Tower for movie night, she tells Steve idly, “Talked to my mom the other day.”

Steve perks up at this--he likes Sam’s mother, which is no surprise since they spent half of their first meeting ranting about the anti-vaccine movement and the state of labor unions in America. “Yeah? How’s she doing?”

“Good,” Sam says. “Remind me to bring you along next time I visit her in Baltimore.” Steve smiles at that, even as he’s raising an eyebrow quizzically.

Sam just pats him on the leg and leaves it there. Can’t hurt to remind her mother that she actually likes Steve quite a bit, even if she’s not crazy about the circus and danger surrounding Captain America and the rest of the Avengers.

Steve, bless him, just rolls with it, turning back to the TV to watch Elsa fleeing from Arendelle. “Okay, so long as you promise I get to eat your mom’s cooking.”

“Scout’s honor,” Sam promises, settling in to watch the rest of the movie. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Bruce watching them with an odd look on his face, but then Thor starts humming along to Let It Go, and it’s all downhill from there.

*

Back when Riley was still alive, everyone made the same jokes about him and Sam. Same things over and over--old married couple, should just get hitched, when are you going to make an honest woman out of her already.

Sam hadn't cared, and neither had Riley; they both knew the score, knew what it was and wasn't. Sam had basically adopted Riley from their first meeting, had adored him even when he was constantly trying to foist his love of country music--Johnny Cash she liked, but Keith Urban was a definite no-go--and she'd been unable to give a single solitary shit about what Riley had going on in his pants.

He was her family, and that was all there was to say. His loss wouldn't have hurt any more had they been lovers, her grief wasn't any less real because they'd never kissed.

Someday Sam will take Steve to Riley's grave; he'll bow his head and say nothing, or maybe say a quiet prayer. Then they'll visit the monument to the Howling Commandos and toast to the brothers they lost.

*

It takes Sam five seconds to realize there's something up with Steve tonight at dinner. At first she figures it's the kids with the smartphones at the booth behind theirs; the eldest keeps taking photos and trying to hide the phone behind his menu while he does it. Harmless, but Sam sees how it could get old.

Still, there's something to the hunch of Steve's shoulders, the unhappy set to his mouth, that says it's more than one kid with an Instagram account that's bothering him right now. She lets it rest until they've finished off the appetizers and the kids and the rest of their family have left. Once they’re gone though, she leans in, arms on the table, and ask quietly, "Okay, what's the problem. I know you aren't sweating one kid with a cameraphone."

Steve twitches the corner of his mouth, which is not a denial. "I just didn't think that when I asked for your help with HYDRA, I was also signing you up for...this."

"Yes, because one kid is so much worse than--"

"If it was the one kid, I wouldn't mind," Steve says softly. "But it's not, it's these tabloids and their....do you see the things they write? The things people say in response?"

He sounds honestly distressed, and Sam looks at him in dismay, saying, "Oh Rogers, did nobody tell you to never read the comments?" She doesn't wait for him to respond, just goes on to say, "Look, I could do without all the gossip blogs rating my outfits the one week that the washer in my apartment building was busted, but I’ll live.”

Steve’s cocking a skeptical eyebrow. "Now who's reading things that are bad for them?"

“Oh, like hell am I reading that trash,” Sam says immediately. “But I can’t help it if my cousins keep updating me on them.”

Steve doesn't give her anything for that, not even a rueful smile and shake of the head. He just looks at her, stubborn and unhappy, and Sam watches him, her forehead creasing a little before she finally asks, curious, "Does it bother you that much to have people think we're dating?"

Steve's eyes go wide. "Sam, no, that's not--" He stops, face flushing, before saying more quietly, "If we were really together, if you were my girl, they could say anything and I wouldn't care. I'd be proud to be seen with you. You're my friend, and I'm proud to be seen with you no matter what. But what they’re saying isn’t true. And you shouldn't have to sign up for this because you're my friend and I'm...who I am."

He falls silent, his gaze dropping away, and Sam wants nothing more than to wipe that look off his face.

“You're worth the headache,” Sam says to him, and Steve looks up very quickly at that. His eyes are a little wide, and in this lighting, very, very blue.

Sam holds his gaze long enough to make sure it sinks in, that he really believes it, before sitting back and saying more easily, “Besides, it’ll all die down once they all realize there’s no story here.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, still watching her. “They’ll figure that out eventually.”

*

Since the day Sam caught Steve watching an LA Dodgers game on the couch with a look on his face like a car had run over his puppy, she's been working to find him a decent New York team he can love like he loved the old Brooklyn Dodgers. So far it hasn't been smooth sailing, as Steve cares nothing for football, would rather eat boiling tar than ever root for the Yankees, and as for the Mets, hasn't Steve suffered enough for one century?

She's making some headway with basketball and hockey though. Particularly since Brooklyn got the Nets and Islanders relatively recently, and Steve's got Brooklyn in his bones, so it hasn't been too hard of a sell.

Tonight, they're actually going to a Nets game at Barclays Center. Sam got decent seats, only to get told by Jarvis an hour before the game that their tickets have been mysteriously upgraded to courtside seats.

"Tony?" Sam asks, far less surprised by this than she should be. Tony still takes her keeping an apartment in Harlem personally, and keeps on trying to throw out lures to bring her into the Tower full-time.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that, Airman Wilson," Jarvis says, and Sam sighs.

"What's Tony done now?" Steve asks as he enters the main living room, and Sam raises her eyebrows, looking him over. "Don't you look nice," she murmurs.

Steve glances down at himself and cocks an eyebrow at her even as he breaks out into a pleased smile. "It's just a sweater and some jeans."

"Yeah, but you look good," Sam replies, her eyes lingering over the way the dark sweater falls on Steve's broad shoulders, how long his legs look in those jeans. Usually she can put aside Steve's whole...Steveness, but there are times when it's just a pleasure to look at him.

Steve's face is going pink, and Sam laughs. "Just take the compliment, Rogers."

It should end there, but in the car, Sam somehow can't stop looking Steve over, until he says with a laugh, "I'd ask if you see something you like, but that's pretty obvious by now." He sounds pleased by it, watching her with a smile on his face.

"Wherever you bought that sweater, you should buy one for each day of the week," Sam tells him, only half-joking, and Steve tips his head back as he laughs.

"Are you kidding? I'm buying them in bulk from now on." He looks at her. "What about you? You going to wear that leather jacket more often?"

Sam looks down at her dark leather jacket and lifts her eyebrows. "Oh, so you like this, then?"

"Yeah," Steve says, smiling, picking up what she's carrying and tossing it back to her. "Looks nice on you."

Sam shrugs elaborately, sitting back in her seat, watching Steve watch her do it. "I could be talked into bringing it out more often," she concedes.

In the back of her head, Sam knows this isn't their usual teasing, their customary easy banter, this feels...it's got more to it, more of a spark, more intent. But it still feels good, feels right, and Sam carries the extra spark under her skin with her, right into the arena, where they're greeted by what must be half the arena's security and several higher-ups in suits, all of them determined to shake their hands and stress over and over again how pleased they are to have Sam and Steve there.

She can't imagine Steve's thrilled about the fuss; she's not too thrilled herself. But when she glances over to see how he's doing, Steve looks completely at ease. He looks at at her quickly, a spark of tolerant amusement in his eyes, and Sam smiles back.

Eventually they make it to their seats in time to watch the warmups, and the reaction to their presence is actually fairly hilarious, from the first buzz of noise as people realize who they are, the sudden rise of camera flashes. The Nets are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight--Sam reasoned that if she was going to sit through a Nets game, at the very least they could watch one decent team while they were at it--and during the warmup, Russell Westbrook glances over to where they are and does a huge double take, his mouth falling open.

Well, that's definitely going to be on the Internet, Sam thinks, and she lifts her chin at Westbrook in an amused nod. He stares for a second longer before nodding back, a half-smile on his face before getting back to the warmups, where several of his teammates appear to be teasing him.

"Think we're causing a stir?" Steve asks rhetorically in her ear, leaning over, and Sam turns to grin.

"Just a little," she says dryly. "It bothering you?"

Steve shakes his head. "Not tonight." And it looks to be true, for all of the attention from the fans and the photographers, hell, even from the players on the court, Steve looks completely at ease.

It's a good look on him, and Sam smiles at him before settling back into her seat.

It's a good night out. The cameras keep clicking away, but Steve is so enthusiastic about the game that it's impossible for Sam to care or pay any attention, and they spend the night working out what actually is a foul in basketball, marveling over every crazy move Westbrook and Durant pull off, and cheering for every basket that a Nets player makes.

By halftime, it's pretty clear the Nets are just plain outclassed, but Steve seems not at all bothered by this, instead talking about the players, the moves they made, whether they should go see a WNBA game once the season starts.

"My mother is going to be thrilled hearing you talk like that," Sam tells him, and Steve just laughs.

"Where did you think I got the idea?" he asks, and adds hopefully, "There's an Islanders game happening next week too..."

Sam smiles, even as she's resigning herself to learning all she can about hockey in the next week. "You want to get tickets right up against the glass? Because if so, I'm making Tony foot the bill again."

Steve beams, but warns, "You let him foot the bill, he's just going to end up buying us season tickets."

"So long as he doesn't buy us the damn team, I think I can live with that," Sam tells him, nudging his shoulder with her own as Steve laughs in acknowledgement.

God, but it's good seeing Steve smiling like this. It's good making him happy like this, convincing him to put down some of the weight he always carries, at least for a little while. Steve carries it all with grace, he always does, but seeing him like this, relaxed and comfortable, looking for all the world like a normal twenty-something guy instead of the living legend tasked with saving the world time and time again...

The crowd roars all of a sudden, and Sam stares up at the Jumbotron and lets out a huff of laughter. "Smile, we're on camera."

They both smile and wave as the Jumbotron catches their every move, and the crowd goes bananas.

*

“Sorry the Nets didn’t win tonight,” Sam says as they get into the car, shutting the door against the flash of lightbulbs and the shouts of “Captain! Falcon!”

“S’okay,” Steve says with a shrug. “It was still a good night.” He glances out through the tinted window at the paparazzi still surrounding their car and frowns a little. “Maybe you should stay at the Tower tonight, though.”

“Yeah, okay,” Sam says after a moment. She’s crashed at the Tower before, after a long mission, a late night of movie-watching, or on the nights when she’s fairly sure she’s going to wake up to several paparazzi lurking outside the front door of her building.

They end up staying up half the night in the living room of Steve’s floor watching TV, from Sportscenter--which has footage of them from tonight’s game, and Sam is pleased to note that Steve’s sweater looks just as good on TV as it does in person--to old reruns of the Cosby Show that Sam grew up watching and that Steve has a giant weakness for.

On the giant screen, Theo’s gotten his ear pierced without telling his parents, and Sam’s eyes keep drifting shut despite her best efforts. Steve gently shakes her--his arm’s wrapped around her shoulder, a warm weight keeping her pressed in close against his side--and he says, voice full of affection, “Come on, we should get you to bed.”

“Mmf,” Sam mumbles, rubbing at her eyes. “All right, I’m up.”

“No, but we’ll get you there,” Steve says, pulling her up from the couch. “Come on, Sleeping Beauty, let’s get you tucked in.”

Sam’s mostly asleep by the time her head finally hits the pillow in Steve’s guest bedroom. She has only the faintest impression of a blanket falling over her and the light going out.

*

Sam’s crashed at Steve’s place in the Tower often enough that she’s got her own drawer in the guest bedroom, which makes this morning pretty easy. Steve was thoughtful enough to make sure her phone stayed charged up, and Sam idly checks it as she’s brushing her teeth.

There’s an email notification from her mother, and Sam smiles around her brush as she reads it--Heard you went to a basketball game last night. Couldn't you have taken Steve to see a decent team at least?

Once she's finished brushing her teeth, she opens up her email to send a reply.

At the end of the email, though, her mother attached a photo--it's one of the shots from last night's game, of Steve and Sam grinning at each other in their courtside seats. Sam can't really see her face from the angle of the photograph, but she can see Steve's and--

Sam stares at it for a moment, at Steve's smiling face, before slowly lowering her phone. "Jarvis?"

"Yes, Airman Wilson?"

"Could you do me a favor and gather all the public photos of me and Steve from last night? Just the photos, none of the articles or comments or anything."

Jarvis thankfully doesn't comment on her request, just says, "Certainly, Airman," and by the time Sam comes out of the bathroom, there are dozens of thumbnails of the photographs on the computer display on the wall.

Sam takes a breath, and she starts to look at them. And once she starts looking, really looking, she can't seem to stop.

It's not vanity that has her looking at these photographs, although she looks good in the jacket, looks happy and at ease. It's Steve, Steve who looks so happy to be there, with her, and the expression on his face when he's looking at Sam in these shots--

"Oh," Sam says, a little faintly. "Huh."

It's a little while later that she emerges from the bedroom. Steve's in the kitchen making what looks to be pancakes, and he calls out cheerfully as she approaches, "You're finally up, huh? Listen, I've made blueberry pancakes, but there's plenty of batter left if you just want the regular kind..."

He keeps talking, right up until Sam walks in and he glances over and sees her face. "Sam, are you all right?"

"Yeah," Sam says, because she is. She's fine, even if she's also feeling like Dorothy stepping into Oz for the first time, the world suddenly lit up in Technicolor, and wondering how it could've ever been different. "I'm fine, just let me try something here for a minute."

Steve's looking at her with a faintly bemused expression on his face, but he still lets her step in close without a word, because he trusts her, because he can look at her in public like she hung the goddamn moon and never say a word because--

It's not until she's right in front of him that it finally seems to click, until Steve's face turns from bemusement to dawning hope, and Sam closes her eyes as she closes that last inch of distance and kisses Steve full on the mouth.

Steve is achingly still against her for a moment, mouth soft and unmoving, and then he inhales sharply and finally moves, pulling her in flush against him, kissing her like it's the last thing he’s allowed to do.

Sam gives every bit as good as she gets, her body humming, Steve's hair soft against her palms, her mind a blissful white blank.

Steve is the first to speak, mumbling between kisses, "All this time, and all I had to do was make you pancakes?"

Sam can't help but laugh, smiling even as she's still trying to kiss him breathless. "You could've said something, you know. Why didn't you tell me I was being an idiot?"

Steve pulls back to smile at her, and Sam thinks that this is what she's been working for since she got to New York--finally getting the chance to see Steve Rogers when he is incandescently happy. "Don't worry, I'm not going to hold it against you."

Thanks to Jarvis, the pancakes don't get burned. They're cold when Sam and Steve finally get to eating them, though, hours later.

*

Their customary morning runs have become enough of a routine that there's only one or two photographers out in Central Park when they go, if even that many.

What it means is that when the photo of them kissing goes viral, it's not thanks to TMZ or People, but some college kid with a smartphone who catches them kissing at the end of their run, before walking off together with Sam's arm around Steve's waist and his arm thrown across her shoulders.

Sam sends a copy of the photo to all of her relatives, with an email that reads Yes, you were all right. Get your "I told you so"s in now, because I want you to be over it when I bring Steve home for Christmas this year.

She ends up showing Steve her mother's reply. It's a mother's right to never be done saying I told you so. Tell Steve I look forward to seeing him at Christmas.

Steve chuckles as he presses a kiss to the top of her head. "Glad to hear your mom likes me."

"My mother has good taste. It's something I got from her," Sam says lightly, tilting her head up for a kiss.

"Lucky me," Steve murmurs, and when he kisses her, Sam is already smiling into it.