Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson, Steve Rogers
Content Warnings: Canon-typical violence.
Rating: Teen & Up.
The hospital isn’t busy when she arrives. Very few accidents happen at such an early hour. Natasha knows that once rush hour hits, emergency services will be more exciting. She would have more opportunities to visit undetected during a high-volume hour, but she doesn’t need to be undetected this time. She walks through the front doors without hiding her face from the security cameras at her three o’clock and eight o’clock, and she smiles at the security guard like she’s seen other people do. He doesn’t respond.
First, she purchases three bottles of water, two almond-flavored chocolate candy bars, and two bags of peanuts from the vending machines. She downs two of the water bottles and one of the candy bars, saving the rest in her rucksack. Then she heads up to the third floor, where Rogers will be recuperating.
The guards posted at the door recognize her. She shows them her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge anyway, even though it no longer confers authority. It is the only identification she has that is not a complete fabrication.
Rogers is asleep, and she does not intend to wake him. He is alone, which is good. She knows Wilson won’t be far, so she plants her listening device behind the battery in Rogers' cellular phone first.
She tests it, humming low while she listens to her earbuds. The sound is clear, and the range will be wide enough for her purposes. She puts the equipment away, checking the chart at the foot of the bed, and takes a seat as she flips through the pages. The prognosis is good. Minor surgery to repair the internal bleeding caused by multiple gunshot wounds. The surgical team had to work fast, because the super soldier metabolism kept processing the anesthetic faster than a normal human.
She hears Wilson as he walks down the hall. She has enough time to slip out of the window unnoticed if she needs to, but she decides against it. The three-story drop would be inconvenient, and not worth the trouble. There is a specific rhythm in the way Wilson walks, leftover from his military service. He is comfortable in his body, like most well-trained soldiers, but his stride is softer now that he’s been discharged. It is probably a calculated tactic to put both civilians and traumatized veterans at ease around him. He has a polite greeting for the guards at the door, and he is unsurprised when he sees her sitting beside the bed.
“Hey friend," he grins at her. Warm. Affectionate.
Natasha musters a smile for Wilson, not budging from her seat beside Rogers.
“Friend? That sounds like high praise.”
Wilson shrugs, leaning against the wall.
“Well. We did just save the world together. I feel like that qualifies us for lifetime friendship.”
She laughs through the roof of her mouth, lips closed.
“Sounds good to me.” And then, because she understands it is necessary, she asks: “How’s he doing?”
“Sleeps like the dead. Which, considering what happened, I’m pretty impressed he’s not dead.”
Natasha nods, categorizing the injuries Rogers sustained.
“How are you doing?” Wilson is still conversing.
Bruising and cuts on Rogers' cheeks, mostly healed. Obviously the Soldier punched him in the face, repeatedly.
“Never better,” she mutters.
Breathing is still disrupted, three broken ribs, due to a fall, probably hit the water too fast, was unconscious and couldn’t brace against the impact-
“Because it kind of seems like, with S.H.I.E.L.D. down for the count, you might have to, I dunno, readjust? Find another employer?”
…abdominal and shoulder wounds most likely sore, but healing, as the chart indicated, and something in the tone of Wilson’s voice is similar to Sharon’s when she voices concerns. She glances at him.
“I’m sure I’ll work something out.”
He puts his hands up.
“Hey. I don’t mean to pry. I just… if you need any help, if there’s anything I can do-”
She smirks. “I know where you live.”
He responds with a wry grin. Optimal response.
“Right. Don’t be afraid to come knocking.”
She nods, then gets up.
“Don’t mention it. And hey-”
She pauses in the doorway.
“Call me Sam.”
The takes a detour through the Palliative Care Unit, finding a patient that has been comatose for three days. There are routine checks every forty-five minutes, and she waits until the nurse on call performs one before entering the room. Natasha confirms the diagnosis. The patient is indeed comatose. Good. (Well, not good, but it is convenient).
Natasha slips into the bathroom and shuts the door. She turns the shower on, and removes her clothes while she waits for it to heat up, hanging them on the back of the door. She peels away the bandage on her shoulder. There is residual pus and blood on the injury, but the window for life-threatening infection has passed. She deposits the soiled gauze in the bio-hazardous waste basket, and doesn't replace it. When she checks, she finds the water pressure is decent, and the temperature is acceptable. She tastes it first, but there’s only a light mineral flavor, nothing unusual for DC water. She reaches over the sink to take a few pumps of the hand soap, which she uses to rinse her hair first. It’s gold and a little sticky, but it lathers enough and she’s able to rinse away the last traces of blood. Then she moves on to her underarms, buttocks, and feet. The lemon scent of the soap doesn’t overpower the smell of glycerine, but it’s inoffensive, and both should fade after a few hours.
Sam is a good asset, she muses. It is likely that he will continue to ally himself with Rogers. His wings were damaged in the fight on the Potomac, but the design can be duplicated. If she can recover the schematics, she can send them to Stark. He will most likely try to improve them, add a few more weapons to the arsenal. That would be useful. She will make the suggestion to Hill when she calls.
Friend, Natasha supposes that the assumption is accurate. Friends keep each other from hurting. She bites down on the edge of her tongue, filling her mouth with the taste of blood. Fifteen years and eleven months ago, she stood with her back against a wall in a crumbling part of Budapest, and accepted the fact that she was going to die. Right lung punctured, wrist broken, weapons out of reach. The gun was pressed to her forehead, she didn't need to see to know it was a perfect shot. No point in trying to disarm him, he would get the shot before she moved. No way to escape in time. She'd been given bad information, told that he'd hold back against her, that in this final, crucial moment, he wouldn't be able to pull the trigger. Her jaw had been dislocated in the struggle, and blood was leaking through her bared teeth. Natasha could feel how wrong the information had been. The blood had tasted bitter. She refused to choke on it. And Barton had stared at her, so still, for the first time in their encounter. She had been moving too fast for him to see, and when he finally could, she had hated the way he looked at her. Like some helpless thing. She had not closed her eyes.
In the shower, she does. Just for a second. Natasha turns off the water, drying her hair with her discarded shirt. The rest of her air-dries well enough, and she dresses in the clothing recovered from the gym, double-checking every item for monitoring equipment as she does. All clear. A once-over in the mirror determines her appearance will not warrant any unwanted attention. She has work to do, and an extra stop to make on the way to Philadelphia.
She pulls out her phone, and makes a few calculations.
There are plenty of S.H.I.E.L.D. cars that she can borrow. All registered under false names, and nobody will be looking for them. She picks the most innocuous option, fills the tank, and takes a few extra gallons, storing them in the trunk.
She drives. She parks the car off the side of a low-volume stretch of highway, and walks to the nearest rest stop. Right on schedule. There's a bus headed back to DC making a pit stop. She waits while the driver parks, counting the passengers. Only sixteen. She walks, taking advantage of the driver's inattention as he struggles with a lighter. It's windy. He walks around to the other side of the bus to get better coverage, and she steps inside. She takes a seat in the back, close to the bathroom. She expects the potential for off-putting odors is the reason that section of the bus is sparsely populated. Natasha thinks the entire bus smells unpleasant. Fuel and sweat and plastic and confined human bodies, all of it puts her on edge. She counts the passengers as they return. The driver doesn't.
She entertains herself by watching cars as they pass. She has a long walk ahead of her when she gets back to DC.
Thank you for reading! There's a surprise appearance from a comic book character coming up that I hope you'll all be happy to see.