Sam wouldn't call it running away. He knew better, because the part of Steve Rogers that would never break completely was still there, hidden underneath everything those bastards had done to him. Sam knew that if he spoke the truth to Steve, and laid out on the table exactly what they were doing, that part of Steve would rise up and be stubborn.
And Steve needed time away after what those bastards had done.
So Sam stewed, while Steve packed. He internally called Stark and Namor every variety of name they deserved, and wondered how he could have ever have looked up to T'Challa. The others he didn't care about as much, beyond the hate that they were due - but those three, those three stung.
Even Stark. No matter that the man had consistently proven himself capable of this kind of betrayal, and no matter how much Sam personally hated him - they'd worked together. Stark had certainly put on a good show, hadn't he? All that "grieving" for Steve while Steve had been gone?
Sam watched, while Steve packed, saw him hesitate and falter in the middle of packing his own underwear and wished that Bucky had taken the shot and put a bullet in Stark's head when he'd had the chance.
He wondered, as Steve moved slowly to the closet, how easy it would be to pick up the phone and make a call.
One simple call. That's all it would take.
Because, no, Sam didn't have to wonder how Barnes would react. He only had to wonder how many of them he could kill, and if Barnes would care more about the old Invaders friendship than Namor had.
It was tempting to pick up the phone and find out, but Sam wouldn't do that to Steve.
"You should pack a couple of sweaters. Gets cold up by the lake," Sam told him.
Steve hated the cold. And yet, a petty, vicious part of Sam remembered that when they'd buried Steve, instead of putting him in a proper grave, Stark had buried Steve in the same icy grave that had claimed him the first time.
Sam watched Steve fold in a couple of sweaters and offered, "Maybe we should skip the lake all together. Head west. Somewhere that doesn't feel like the Frost Giants have successfully invaded."
"I was supposed to take Bucky to visit the Grand Canyon," Steve told him. "During the War. I never got around to it. Visited it myself, but it wasn't quite the same."
"We'll call him on the the way."
"I don't know. He's busy. Like I should be." Steve frowned as he pulled the zipper of the luggage closed. "Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe I should stay here. The Avengers already lost ... "
No, Sam wanted to say. The Avengers didn't lose a damn thing when they kicked Stark out for being a mind-raping genocidal maniac.
But he was trying not to be petty. Trying so hard, even if Redwing wouldn't stop yelling at him for thinking so loud.
"The Avengers are going to be fine. They have Captain Marvel and Black Widow to lead things, and they can deal without the two of us for a while. What they can't deal with is having stressed out teammates trying to lead them into battle or watch their back. The Avengers deserve better than that."
Some of them did, at any rate.
"I don't know, Sam."
This wasn't even the first time they'd ever argued over Steve's inability to take a vacation. But the stakes were higher this time around. Not that Sam truly believed for even a minute that Steve's mental mindset would hurt anyone.
But Sam did believe that Steve needed that break - just like Sharon had needed that break, after everything the Skull and Faustus had put her through. Sam would never mind catching his friends, but he would always mind the occasions when he hadn't been able to catch them before it was too late.
"Speaking of Barnes, he told me a lot of war stories while you were ... away," Sam remarked as casually as he could, considering that he knew exactly what buttons he was about to push, and how necessary it was to do so.
Steve took time out from glaring at the suitcase to direct a much smaller version of his frown at Sam. "I'm sure it was a story that you'd already heard a hundred times."
It was a valid assumption. Long before Barnes had come back, he'd been a traditional part of every Christmas, birthday, and remotely sentimental Friday night (punching bad guys or watching old movies on the couch.) Before Steve had "died," Sam hadn't thought there were any more Bucky Barnes stories to tell, either.
"You'd be surprised. Apparently meeting and vetting your old boyfriend's new best friend required a lot of storytelling." While half-drunk on anything but vodka, Sam didn't add. "He told me about your wartime leaves. Your going to the movies, while the government had no idea it was sending Captain America and Bucky on date nights.'"
"And how much fun I never knew how to have?" Steve gave him a half-hearted grin then, and Sam wondered which would have made him more petty: the jealousy he didn't didn't feel towards Barnes' ability to cheer Steve up, or the fleeting feeling of victory over the fact that the people who knew and loved Steve best could make him smile after everything Stark and the rest of the Illuminati had done.
"How much fun you refused to want to have," Sam agreed. "But the army made you take them anyway. If they could recognize that you needed that downtime in the middle of World War II, you're smart enough to know that you need to take one now."
"'For the troops' sake.'" Steve sounded as though he was quoting some long-dead general, and whoever it might have been, it did the trick. Steve picked up his back, slung it over his shoulder, and asked, "Think S.H.I.E.L.D. will let us borrow a car?"
S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't run by Nick Fury anymore, but the women at the top apparently respected Steve enough to let him have one of their cars whenever he requested it. Or maybe they, like long dead generals, respected that even Captain America needed to run away from the war every now and then.
So half of the trip was spent on the road, with Redwing circling impatiently above them. The other half of the trip was spent in the sky, with Redwing patiently flying next to them. Both ways, Steve sat quietly in the passenger seat while Sam drove. It was such a reversal of the way that their partnership usually worked - Steve always charging into battle, with Sam looking for a way to have his back.
Since Sam didn't want to dwell on just how much he hadn't had Steve's back this time around, he complained about the radio reception in the car instead.
"S.H.I.E.L.D. has literally billions of dollars at their disposal and their flying cars can't even have a good radio system."
"It's probably for the best, Sam. The last time we went on a road trip, we argued about the music more than we actually listened to any."
"Hey, it's not my fault that you took Bon Jovi's terrible music as relevant social commentary instead of the successful way to pay for more hair spray that it actually was."
"Tommy and Gina's plight was relevant. I've read the history books this time around, Sam. I know about the Regan administration and can win this argument."
"Jon Bon Jovi was a spoiled Jersey brat who didn't know the first thing about how to do social commentary, and you can't win that argument, Rogers."
The argument in question carried over well into their drive into Ohio.
By the time they reached Missouri, Sam had to admit that he was tired of both flying and driving, and so was Redwing.
The hotel room was small, but both of them had slept in worse conditions, so the fact that it was clean was good enough for them both.
"I was thinking, that while we're out here, we'll meet up with Eli," Steve commented as he came out of the shower.
It had been a while since Sam had lusted after his best friend, but with a wet super soldier in front of him, memories that Sam had carefully placed in the past tense tapped insistently against the back of Sam's mind.
He leaned back and crossed his arms under his head as he stared up at the ceiling, whose paint looked like a spattering of cottage cheese. It wasn't nearly as good of a look as a towel-covered Steve Rogers, Sam thought.
"That sounds like a plan. He still living in Scottsdale with his mom and stepdad?"
"Yeah," Steve said, and Sam could hear him shuffling through the suitcase. It would be a pair of boxers and an army shirt, if Sam remembered correctly.
If nobody had fucked with his memories lately, he thought with an extra dose of bitterness.
"It's close enough to the ASU campus," Steve continued. "He's studying pre-law, you know."
"Faith and Isaiah must be proud."
"They are." There was an extra note of weariness in Steve's voice - no, guilt, and Sam could almost guess what Steve was about to say before he actually said it. "Faith says that it might be the one good thing to come out of everything that happened to Isaiah."
Sam raised his head then, long enough to note that he was right about the boxers and army shirt. "Sometimes good things come out of really awful things," he said diplomatically.
"Not exactly subtle, Sam."
"Wasn't trying for subtle, Rogers."
Steve slipped into his own bed, and Sam went to take a shower of his own.
By the time they hit Kansas, the snacks Sam had packed and the sandwiches that Steve had packed were running a little on the boring side, so they stopped at a diner in Wichita. It was a bit off their flight plan, but they had enough incidents in New York and there was no way that Sam was going to ruin their running away with a pit stop in a tiny little, backwards Midwestern town.
The urge to hit someone had been with Sam since he'd found out about the Illuminati's actions, and he didn't think anyone deserved to be on the receiving end of that - not even backwards bigots in Kansas.
With the advantage of it being between the breakfast and lunch specials of the day, the sleepy little diner they chose was pretty empty, except for a waiter that kept calling them both "hon," much to Sam's annoyance and Steve's amusement.
"I can't tell if he's trying to pick one or both of us up," Steve remarked, as he dug into a plate of food that looked like it was trying to ruin spaghetti, chili, and cheese all at once.
"At least he's got good taste," Sam admitted.
That earned him a smile, and Sam felt a pang of hate again, because he was pretty sure he would have been willing to destroy worlds to keep that smile on Steve's face.
And nothing could have made him do anything to take it away.
"What'd those hashbrowns ever do to you?" Steve asked, and Sam could offer no good reason why he was stabbing perfectly good hashbrowns with his fork so viciously.
"They're a little tough," Sam explained.
"That's what the egg yolk is for," Steve suggested, and he smiled at Sam again, just long enough that Sam stabbed his hashbrowns into submission once again.
Of course, they couldn't quite make it across country without an incident.
In New Mexico, they broke up a band of terrorists. Racist terrorists who managed to look even more white than Steve, and who keep assuring Sam that they have no problem with him, just the immigrants they'd been framing.
Sam would have punched them gladly any day of the week. If he punched them a few extra times this time around, in honor of people who weren't there, Steve was good enough not to bring it up.
They reached Arizona two days before they were supposed to meet Bucky. One of those days was spent touring the campus with Eli.
"I don't miss it," the kid claimed when they were in one of the campus bookstores. "Some people help the way you do. I'm going to find other ways to work for justice."
"I can respect that," Sam told him, because that was what he did every day as a social worker. "Does that mean you don't want to be caught up on what your old team is up to?"
The eager way the kid's whole face lit up betrayed every word he'd just said as a lie.
Sam glanced over the top of Eli's head and shook his head. "Well, the first thing you should know is that Hawkeye's busy keeping the other Hawkeye out of danger ... "
"Of course she is," Eli said immediately.
Steve cracked a smile at that and put down the legal ethics book he'd been studying. "Team loyalty. Sometimes you can't shake it."
"Even when you should," Sam said, a little more firmly than he intended.
Steve gave him a reproachful look, and Sam wanted to punch the Illuminati all over again.
Between them, Eli looked at them in confusion. "I don't know what's going on in New York, but this feels like one of the fights my mom and stepdad have when they are trying really hard to be polite and not fight with each other."
"You didn't miss a wedding," Sam answered.
"Well, no. I hope I would get invited for that. Even if I am retired."
"Of course you would," Steve retorted.
Unlike their previous hotels, the hotel in Sedona was overbooked and they only had room for one bed.
"This is a cliche if I've ever heard one," Sam muttered as he shut the door behind them.
"I could sleep on the floor," Steve offered.
"Bed's pretty big," Sam answered. "We'd have more space than we used to on those old cots we used to have."
"Sometimes I miss those old cots," Steve confessed.
Sam thought he was being ridiculous, right until Steve sank into the bed next to him.
Yeah, okay. Maybe Sam had missed them too.
That night wasn't the first time Steve had ever woken Sam up because he'd been suffering from a bad dream. It wasn't entirely unexpected either, because before they had broken up, Sharon had told Sam that the usual run of nightmares that Steve suffered had gotten even worse. She hadn't known why, of course. None of them had, yet.
But Sam knew this time, so when Steve recovered enough from his nightmare to turn needy lips and greedy fingers towards Sam, Sam fought a brief war with his conscience about whether he should tell Steve no.
"Please, Sam," Steve said softly with his breath warm on Sam's lips. "I need to make sure ... you're here. That they haven't taken you, too. I dreamed ... "
He didn't finished the sentence, but he didn't have to. Sam's lips were just as needy, and his fingers even greedier.
They reached the Grand Canyon an hour before Barnes did. They sat in the car and waited, while Redwing took delight in the change of scenery. Steve's sketchpad sat on his lap, and Sam enjoyed the familiar and companionable silence between them.
It was a silence broken by the sound of Steve's phone.
"Bucky says he's about twenty minutes out. Traffic jam."
"Surprised he and Natasha didn't steal a car from S.H.I.E.L.D. too."
Steve looked over at Sam as he pocketed his phone. "Actually, they ... broke up."
Sam privately wondered who was taking care of the kid now. He needed a keeper. But Sam wasn't adding that problem to Steve's lap. "That's too bad. They made a pretty good team."
"Yeah, they did." Steve stared up at the sky for a long moment, before he spoke again. "Promise me something, Sam."
"Dirty pool to make me promise before I hear the terms, Steve."
"If anything ever happens to my memory ... again. If something happens that I can't remember you... promise me you'll do everything you can to give me that memory back."
"This about your dream last night?"
"In part." The pencil twisted in Steve's hand while he spoke. "The minute my memories started to get fuzzy ... I knew who I could trust, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I knew, no matter what the Illuminati had done, I could still trust you, Sharon, Bucky. I clung tight to those memories, even as I had to deal with what my other ... friends had done. I don't ever want to lose something that precious and if I do, I want it back. No matter what."
Something felt off about that explanation, but Sam didn't push.
"I'm not a telepath, Steve," Sam reminded him, but then, because he looked distressed at that answer, Sam assured him, "But I've got an awful lot of superheroes on my speed dial. I'm sure we could find you one to restore your memory again."
Maybe he was imagining it, but Sam could swear that there was a noticeable lessening of tension across Steve's shoulders for the first time in days.
What he didn't imagine was the fact that, when Steve smiled at him, for the first time, the urge to lean over and kiss Steve was stronger than the urge to punch his way through the Illuminati.
So he did.