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Shorts from the expendable altiverse

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I looked over the mission file in the predawn hours. Not overly complex, but better to get a jump on this before the problem got worse. Hydra might have been outed, but cells still existed and endeavored to push their agenda forward. Better to stomp out their efforts quickly than wait to see the sickness spread further.

Myla had been thrilled about the early-ass wake-up call, but the grumbling had eased once I'd gotten some caffeine into her. As a regular old human, she actually needed to sleep every night and I didn't say word one about her bitching, however good-natured, simply because I understood that three hours of sleep could never be enough for actual recovery even if the day prior had been fairly easy.

Still, she got up and moving, with her go-bag always ready she managed to get dressed in full tac gear in less than thirty minutes. I highly approved of the new battle uniforms. The material lightweight, but tougher than anything else out there today. She and Tony working together had benefited the Avengers in many ways, and not just because of the battle library they'd designed.

She headed for the quinjet while I picked up the last of the gear in the armory. She had the 'jet ready to go when I thumped my way up the ramp, tablet in one hand, extra gear in the other. She'd grabbed both our duffles and tossed them into a bin. The ramp closed as I stowed the gear and then headed up front. "Nat and Sam?"

"Meeting us there," she responded even as the 'jet lifted into the darkened sky. The faint hint of false down to left before she spun the 'jet about and headed south for our target in Sao Paulo.

I settled into the seat behind her to go over the detailed mission plan. On the surface simple. Sam would stay outside as our watchdog as we infiltrated the building. Nat would get to the servers and download all the data she could while Myla and I would round up any Hydra members around. The ultimate intent to get into the network they communicated on and score a detailed list of all those that remained active and their whereabouts. The sooner we wiped the twitching remains of Hydra off the map the happier I would be.

I'd been fighting them for eighty years give or take and had grown tired of it. I glanced up at Myla who had clearly set the autopilot given the slouched position and her right foot sitting atop her left knee A faint glow emanated from her lap, suggesting she also had the mission plan up.

Looking at the specs again, I wondered why Myla? She had no fondness for Hydra after her last adventure with them, but Clint or Wanda would have done just as well for this. Though, potentially overkill. Hell, the three of us could probably pull this off without any trouble whatsoever. Not that Myla lacked any of the necessary skills, in truth, if it weren't for the fact that she and her team had taken over the training, I would have promoted her to Avenger, with the big A as they liked to refer to it.

Yes, they... we were all Avengers, but not all of us had been created equal and I feared some of those in the lower Tiers resented that they rarely did anything other than backup those higher up in the hierarchy. Myla and her team had earned their place time and time again. No one could deny that, but the whispers of favoritism still made the rounds now and then, especially when newbies learned of our relationship.

Having Myls on this particular milk run could appear like that to others and I wanted to nip any potential problems in the bud well ahead of time.

"My, why are you on this op?"

She rotated the chair slightly and lifted her head from the tablet, which looked to be showing training reports instead of the op as I had expected. "Because I helped plan it?"

Oh. Now that made some sort of sense. "Then why all the grousing this morning?"

She snorted. "You are far too polite. Because we had a forty-eight-hour window and I had no clue it had turned into a six-hour one until you woke me."

Fair enough. I'd be grouchy too if woken unexpectedly even if I'd gone to sleep knowing the call could come at any moment. "I take it you have the building details memorized?" Not that she had much choice in the matter given how her brain worked.

She nodded. "Hill thought having me on hand would be of benefit in case of surprises. Just because we have a recent layout doesn't mean they haven't made changes or additions. We were able to access the security feeds, but they're limited and only confirm a small portion of the layout. We're reasonably certain there's additional security we simply weren't able to access it. Thus putting boots on the ground."

Made sense, though why go in to close up shop without sending a recon team first? Something felt off, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what. "We're not doing recon though."

Myla cocked a single eyebrow at me. "We can do that if you prefer, Captain. It had been the original plan, but as you can see," she gestured vaguely at my tablet, "we believe they have data on hand that would be of use to us. If we sent a recon team first..."

"They could be spotted and the data moved or purged," I finished. We'd had that happen before, so using the element of surprise did seem to be the best option this time. "Are we hoping to get into their full network from this location?"

She grinned. "You get the gold star for the day. Nat's not just going to download, but plant programming." Myla shifted and pulled a jump drive out of a pocket. "Nifty little algorithm that should give us permanent access to their systems wherever they are hiding."

And give us locations of cells or sympathizers. "Damn, that is bold. Will it work?"

She shrugged and tucked the drive away. "In theory, yes. In practice, we'll need to wait and see. Might take some time to propagate fully in their network depending on how extensive it is, but, once in, it will automatically send info to HQ."

"Info we can use to wipe them out completely." I liked that idea. A lot. The whole kill one two more will rise up thing sadly accurate. Sometimes you needed to cut out the diseased area entirely in order to save the patient. When it came to Hydra I was more than willing to do so.

"That's the plan," she agreed, her eyes having only widened a little at the near snarl in my voice. She rotated about scanning the various screens to make certain we were still on track for our rendezvous with Nat and Sam.

I pulled out my phone wanting a live update from the pair in question, but I had a decided lack of signal.

"Steve."

"Yeah?"

"We're full stealth for a reason. If you call Nat it'll kind of defeat the purpose of the whole shebang."

I sighed heavily and tucked the phone away.

"Why don't you work on those evals I know you've been avoiding."

"How do you know about that?"

"First off, you keep leaving your laptop open with that page up when you suddenly need to go for a run or an extra sparring session. Second, Hill keeps dropping big old hints that I should encourage you to complete them sooner rather than later."

"She wouldn't," I argued in my surprise.

"She would. But I explained to her that it was her job to facilitate and not mine. She ranks you... kind of. I most certainly do not."

Hill playing the girlfriend card with Myla an interesting twist I hadn't expected and a sense of pride washed over me at the knowledge my girl hadn't succumbed to the pressure. I knew she wasn't ratting Hill out specifically and Hill had simply used the resources at her disposal, which in this case included Myla who had been known in the past to get me to do things I had been reluctant to do previously. Like, I don't know, dating.

"Like you're not gonna be bored too," I groused, but I pulled the relevant files up on my tablet realizing she had a point and with plenty of time to kill might as well get it done.

She held her tablet up over her shoulder and I could see a half-finished report on the screen that looked to have something to do with the new training program she had helped to create. "I thought you finished that report a week ago?"

Her head and hand holding the tablet dropped. "You mean the weekly report I'm required to submit? The one I'm pretty certain Fury is printing and using to start his BBQ with? That report?"

"Weekly? You shouldn't need more than monthly summaries for that. Need time to evaluate the progress."

I could hear the frown in her voice when she responded, "I've told them that, but they seem to think weekly data will provide better tracking points for their fancy algorithm. And I can see their point considering the almost daily updates to the battle library. I've had improvement variances happen over the course of days never mind weeks." She glanced over her shoulder at me. "Once the library is complete we should be able to increase the time between data points."

"Field testing?"

"Soon. Within a month. For now, mock battles between teams to gauge response time, accuracy, and real-world usefulness."

Because useless information was still useless no matter how smart the system. "You'll keep me in the loop?"

She huffed out a breath of irritation. "You get these reports every week, are you telling me you're not reading them?"

Oops. "Uh, actually I let Hill read them and give me the overview at the weekly meetings. Lately, it's been, 'the project is moving forward with great success' and we move on to the next topic."

Myla snorted. "Accurate enough I suppose." She waved a hand lazily. "Do your homework, I'll do mine."

"Music?" I suggested. Not that I minded the silence over much, especially the companionable silence that usually settled between us when both working on a project in the same room, but I'd learned she practically needed background noise. Gave the parts of her brain not working on the current task something to focus on.

"Oooo, good idea." She did something on the dash on the 'jet and music began wafting out of the well-hidden speakers mere seconds later. "System will let us know when we're getting close."

The quinjets could land themselves, rather FRIDAY could for us, but since we were full stealth even she would be offline until we arrived. I leaned forward and set a hand on Myla's shoulder and squeezed gently. We endeavored to not mix work and personal but since we were most certainly alone I figured it couldn't hurt to express my feeling at least a little.

She tipped her head over to rub her cheek along the back of my hand and I felt her sigh more than heard it, signaling the success of my mission on this occasion. "No more stalling," she said as she lifted her head. "Get those evals done so Hill stops hounding me."

I laughed softly as I leaned back into my seat and got to work.

~^~

I lifted my head from the report I'd been staring blindly at as the engines changed to that distinctive tone that signaled the landing sequence had begun far sooner than expected. I glanced out the front noting the lightening sky, actual sunrise just moments away, which meant we'd only been in the air a couple of hours at most. Yeah, quinjets were fast, but unless we'd broken the sound barrier when I wasn't paying attention there was no way in hell we'd reached our planned destination.

"Problem?"

"Nope," she responded as the quinjet stilled its forward motion and settled to the ground.

Only trees were visible outside the window, which didn't give me much in the way of insight as to where the hell we were other than not Sao Paulo. I stood and shifted towards the front as she began powering down the systems. We were in a driveway. A huge driveway, but a driveway nonetheless. "Myla, we don't have time for a diversion."

"We have all the time we need," she assured me as she hit the switch that opened the ramp. She turned and tipped her head up to meet my eyes. "You have officially been kidnapped."

I blinked, failing utterly to process her words so when I spoke it made little sense to even me. "I'm too old to be kidnapped."

She snorted and stood up, heading to the back of the 'jet. "Abducted then." She picked up the duffles and strode down the ramp even as I still stood there staring after her in confusion.

We had a goddamn job to do and she was playing games? Irritation bordering on anger bubbled up and I strode after her, grabbing her by the biceps and forcing her to stop and face me. "What the hell, Myls? Why are we here?"

Her lips tightened into a thin line for a moment before she replied, "Dating rule number five." She pulled out of my grasp and stalked away around the side of the 'jet and out of my direct line of sight.

Dating rule number five was... I chased after her. "I haven't missed three-" My eyes locked on the behemoth of a mansion our impromptu landing pad belonged to. The place had to be worth more than the gross national product of many third and a few second world nations. "Holy shit," I muttered, stunned and more than a little confused.

Myla stopped halfway up the steps to look back at me. "Four, Steve. All legit reasons admittedly, but I'm invoking my override option."

See, rule number five had been created to keep us from losing each other to the job, a problem that had come up already in the months we'd been together. If either one of us missed three date nights in a row the other could invoke a mandatory date of their choosing. "You've missed some too," I complained half-heartedly and knowing it had only been two and that both times I'd been the one to put her on the op. "Shit. What about the op," I argued.

She huffed out a breath. "You really need to join in on the training ops more often." She turned away and continued up the steps to the elaborate entranceway.

I sighed heavily, running a hand through my hair, which already felt damp to my touch thanks to the excessive humidity in the air even at this early hour. Behind me, I heard the ramp close and shifted to watch as the quinjet faded from sight. I had no clue where we were but could hear the ocean nearby as well as birds and cicadas. Those along with the flight time put us somewhere on the southeast coast at a best guess. So, I could stand here grumpy and sweaty or I could walk through that open door and talk to her.

I took the steps two at a time and closed the door behind me once inside. The temperature dropped dramatically once inside, to say the least, as I kind of wanted to put on a sweater. I heard movement somewhere in front of me and tracked it to find Myla standing in the middle of a room that only had a vague resemblance to any living room I had ever seen and that included Tony's at the Tower. Christ, whoever owned this place had more money than they knew what to do with.

Myla had tossed the duffle bags on a sofa that probably cost more than a year's salary and had begun stripping off the body armor and gear she'd worn to sell the con. "What about training?" I asked needing to start somewhere.

She laughed as she removed the drop holster and carefully placed it on a glass-topped coffee table that looked delicate enough that I feared it might break just from the weight. "The op is actually one of my training sims. I just altered a few key elements."

She didn't seem as amused as her laughter had implied. I took a moment to go over the op in my mind next and it didn't take more than few seconds to figure it out and then wonder how I had missed it. "Kyoto."

She nodded then removed the tac vest tossing it carelessly on that sofa.

"Was Hill in on this?" Considering the op order had come from her, it should be a fair assumption.

"No."

"Nat and Sam?"

Myla shrugged. "Only as cover when people go looking for us."

"FRIDAY."

"Oh, very much so." She peeled off the compression shirt to reveal a bright blue bikini top.

I wanted to be angry but had to admit the view worked perfectly as a distraction. "And if there's an actual emergency?"

She waved at the tablet on the table. "We are not off the grid or out of contact, Captain. If there is an emergency that requires your presence FRIDAY will let us know." She stalked away. "Anything else, Captain?"

She had called me Captain twice in a row so I took that mental step back to evaluate my behavior over the last few months. We had both been focused on the work far more than us, though in truth she had made every effort to make time for us even though busy as all hell with training and ops. More the former than the latter, of course, but still. If she didn't have to sleep she would probably go twenty-four seven much as I often did just to get the work done. Not that the trainees and other agents would be able to keep up, they were just as mortal as her.

The fact that with her limited time on a daily basis she still endeavored to make time for us and I hadn't noticed until now justified her... anger. Anger that she carefully concealed as bland indifference. "What if I want to leave?"

"Kid- Abducted, Captain. You are not going anywhere." She managed a hint of a smile, but it never touched her eyes. "Still angry?"

"I don't know," I answered, not understanding the lengths she had gone to just to get me alone for a day or two. No, I did understand that part given we'd both been working crazy hours for months now. I guess I was more disturbed by how easily she had lied to me. Never once showing the tiniest hint that the op had been anything other than a real mission.

"How about the two-bit tour while you decide?"

I shrugged. "Sure."

She spun about and headed deeper into the house with me trailing after her while I tried to decide whether or not to hold onto the anger or just let it go and see where the day led. I knew she wouldn't ignore any real need when it came to the job. Hell, there were days she was worse than me. I had literally seen her go more than two days without sleep while on an op, which she shouldn't have to do. And lately... well lately work had been dominating our lives, which had led to issues between us in the past. The recent past at that so I could see her point in getting away from the place that would just drag us back into the fray with no thought given to the person behind the shield.

Yes, the job was huge and important especially given we could do things no others on the planet could, but if all I ever wore was the mask of Captain America I would quickly lose Steve. And Myls liked Steve, a lot.

She wandered from room to room, each more lavish than the previous. Dining, game room, den designed more like a movie room than a place for quiet conversation with friends, then upstairs to the beyond opulent suites - they were in no way individual bedrooms as each with had own or a shared attached bathroom - while I goggled at the amount of money the place had to have cost.

She stopped in what had to be the master suite which not only was twice the size of any of the other bedrooms but had its own deck framed by French doors that had a view of the Atlantic an easy walking distance away. I wandered into the massive bathroom noting idly that it was larger than the tiny tenement that I and my mom had shared before she passed away. My brain kind of broke at that. I mean, I had been exposed to what wealth could achieve thanks to Tony, I guess I just hadn't expected such things from my down to earth Myla.

"How the hell did you afford this place?"

I heard her laugh softly from the bedroom proper. "Oh, sweetie, it belongs to... a friend. She lets me use it now and then."

Huh. That made miles more sense. "One of those charity event friends?"

"Yep."

I ran my fingers along the marble vanity trying to comprehend how she managed to be so comfortable with the rich snobs that attended those events when she clearly had planned to go into the military at a fairly young age. The two skill sets seeming to be in conflict personality-wise in my mind.

"Hey, Captain, wanna make out?"

I froze, snapping to attention in my surprise.

"Wh-what?" I had thought we were still mad at each other or something. I stepped into the doorway to see her perched on the end of the bed bouncing lightly as if testing the springs of the mattress.

"Captain America, do you want to make out?"

"Don't you mean Steve?"

She shook her head. "Nope. I'm thinking the Captain needs to get laid more than Steve does."

I damn near choked I sucked in air so quickly. "Myla."

She simply leaned back on the bed while watching me with just the hint of a smile lifting the corners of her mouth. She crossed her legs; the incongruity of the tac boots and pants paired with the bikini top suddenly causing me to swallow with some difficulty as I wondered how skimpy the matching bottom that I knew had to be underneath might be.

Here we were alone for the first time in months with nowhere to be, no one dragging me off to another war zone and I was being bitchy about how she had arranged it. Deciding to at least try to be over it I purposefully walked over to her and leaned down, setting my hands on hers, twining our fingers together, and kissed her.

She resisted laying back on the bed even though her body became relaxed and pliable under mine. Her head fell back, baring her throat to me so I took advantage of the situation and used my teeth to bite my way down to her collarbone. I trailed my left hand up her arm, around her back fully intending to tug at the cute little bows the strings had been tied into when my stomach growled.

Loudly.

Myla flopped back onto the bed snickering. "And here I thought I was what you were hungry for."

I felt my cheeks heat. "I am. Always. I just... haven't eaten since dinner last night."

She reached up to pat me on the cheek, thumb rubbing my lips. "And we had an early start this morning."

I caught her thumb between my teeth; her pupils widening dramatically when I ran my tongue along the captured digit. Of course, my stomach chose that moment to rumble its need for sustenance again.

She burst into laughter, planted her hand on my chest, and shoved. I resisted for a moment then collapsed to lie beside her. "Fuck," I muttered.

She rolled, head propped up on her right arm, while her left settled on my stomach with a fairly solid thunk as I realized I still wore my uniform, body armor and all. "Breakfast?" she suggested.

I sighed, my cheeks surely stained red with embarrassment. "Yeah, that might be a good idea." I sat up and began to undo the hidden catches for the jacket. Her fingers swiftly came to my assistance and she pulled it off, setting it behind us on the bed, leaving me in the bright blue compression shirt I typically wore underneath.

"Better?"

I twisted my head to look over my shoulder at her. "For now. Can I hope the duffles are not filled with weapons and tactical gear?"

She draped her arms over my shoulders and leaned in to speak directly next to my ear. "That would be a fair assumption." She kissed the side of my neck then slipped away to stand before me. She held out her hands and unnecessarily helped me to my feet.

I gazed down at her for a long moment then leaned in to set a delicate kiss against her lips. "Lemme get changed and we'll go find food."

"Uh, we can if you want or we can just make breakfast here."

"Here? Won't we have to buy food and such?" I questioned, sounding confused to my own ears.

She shook her head, laughing softly. "Come on, you."

Still holding my right hand she dragged me from the room, downstairs, and into the huge kitchen. It had a massive dining room off to one side as well as an eat-in area nearly as large. "Don't we need to going shopping first?"

She huffed out a breath and parked me at the end of the island. She headed for the pair of coffee makers on the far counter and opened the cabinets above. The stocked to the brim cabinets. And pulled down what she'd need to get a pot of coffee going.

"How'd you arrange all this?"

She waited until she'd finished grinding the beans before answering. "Place comes with..."

"Servants?" I filled in trying to keep the disgust out of my voice.

"Oh ho, down boy. Who do you think does most of the cooking and cleaning at the Tower?"

I frowned, knowing she spoke the truth, the people well paid to handle the day to day tasks of cooking and cleaning the massive building. Same at the Compound though trainees and agents did their share, rotating jobs much like I recalled from my days in the army. As one rose in the ranks the fewer menial tasks assigned. Myla and I never rotated into those jobs, instead most of that done for us. Though the Tier agents were required to maintain their Pods to standard; if I chose I would never need to lift a finger in my suite.

"I just don't-"

"I know. Which is why after having them stock the place I told them to enjoy their time off. Paid, of course." She hit start for the coffee then turned about to face me. "I figured we could manage."

I sighed softly wondering if I should apologize for jumping to conclusions. "Ah. Maybe I should just shut up and try to enjoy myself?"

She grinned as she walked over to the massive fridge. "That might be a good idea, Captain."

I watched as she pulled out eggs and bacon and with an ease that still surprised me some days set about cooking breakfast for us. She cooked the bacon, scrambled half a dozen eggs, poured me an oversized cup of coffee the moment it was ready.

And I let her.

Which seemed like a complete contradiction to my comments on the employees who worked here at the house. Anger at this deception still making itself known, so where I normally would have assisted in whatever capacity she chose I instead stood by and watched. The fact that she had called me Captain yet again meaning she knew my dander was still up and she'd taken note of it, calling me out in the most direct yet subtle manner possible.

And yet... and yet she kept being her. No direct retaliation, no yelling, no disappointment, just her eternal patience, and observation. I constantly forgot that she would remember everything.

Good days, painful days, bad days.

I didn't want this to become one of the bad ones.

She added shredded cheese to the eggs stirring them enough for it to melt then divided the food onto plates. Three-quarters of it for me, the rest, a normal-sized portion, for her. She handed me a fork, not a word exchanged between us for the last few minutes, her smile tentative but there.

"Thanks."

Before I could dig in she lifted her plate and coffee and walked from the kitchen. "Follow me if you'd be so inclined."

Not having a clue what might be going on I did the same and she led me out onto the massive patio that overlooked not only the pool and hot tub but the ocean a mere stone's throw away. For me anyway.

Myla sat down at the table, the umbrella folded for now, and picked up a piece of bacon. "Sit, please. Eat. Enjoy the sunrise."

I did as asked, noting that though still early the coming heat combined with the humidity you could practically touch would become oppressive making the clothes we currently wore uncomfortable, to say the least. I ate steadily for several long silent minutes, noting as always that they tasted amazing. "Can I assume you packed clothes suitable for the weather?"

She nodded then sipped from her cup of coffee. "Anything I forgot we can pick up in town."

"I seriously doubt you forgot anything," I muttered. She'd created the current packing lists for the Tier teams based on need and type of op. The chances that she forgot toothpaste, which had probably been provided anyway, were slim to none.

She stood, her plate empty, cup probably in the same state. "Horrors, forced to spend time with me with nothing to do and no Nazi's to punch."

I grumbled under my breath for a moment, finished off the eggs, and then followed after her while nibbling on the last piece of bacon. "My, that's not what I meant."

She took the plate and mug from my hands and placed them in the dishwasher. She took the time to wipe down the counters before turning to face me. "If you say so." Then proceeded to walk past me without giving me the chance to say a word. She didn't seem angry, but she'd locked down her emotions good and tight, clearly waiting for me to decide how I wanted to handle my abduction.

She grabbed both duffles, heaving one over her shoulder with the straps, and carried them upstairs. I simply watched for a long moment before tackling the stairs two at a time to catch up to take one of them from her. We both plopped them atop the bed in the master suite we'd paused in earlier. She unzipped hers, dug inside, and tossed something at me which I caught.

I managed to not drop them when I realized they were a pair of swim trunks done in an art deco design of my shield. The implication clear. Our next stop would be the beach we could see from the back patio. "Myls-"

"Do you sunburn?" she asked as she toed off the tac boots, kicking them under a chair in the corner of the room.

She proceeded to strip off the tac pants, carrying them to the closet and hanging them up. The bikini bottom just as skimpy as the top and I tried to swallow with a throat gone dry. "Uh, no?"

She grabbed her duffle and went digging within, pulling out a dress-like cover-up that she wiggled into. "You sound unsure," she pointed out as she put her hair up into a cute little bun that had bits sticking out everywhere. A major feat with her perfectly straight locks.

"That would be because I am. I don't exactly hang out poolside too often."

She simply cocked an eyebrow at me as if to remind me that was the whole point of doing this. And I had to admit she wasn't wrong. "Go put those on."

I held them up for her to see the serious mistake wearing them would be. "Do I look like Tony? I don't need everyone knowing I'm here."

She rolled her eyes at me. "The beach is semi-private, so the likelihood any fangirls will happen by are non-existent." At my frown, she added. "The beach is public, but given this house is part of a gated community, tourists tend to not hike the couple of miles it takes to get to this stretch of sand. Besides who in their right mind would expect Captain America to wear something so blatantly obvious, hmmm?"

Okay, she had a point with that one so with a soft sigh I headed to the bathroom to change, still irritated enough to not want to strip down in front of her. I came out carrying the tac pants and boots which she took from me to hang up next to the armored top, I presumed since it had gone missing from the bed. Both duffles had been moved as well, most likely in that same closet. "Unpacking?"

"Later. Beach now. 'Sides we're both capable of living out of our go-bags when needed."

My eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "What are you planning?"

She simply smiled and strolled away, leaving me to follow or not.

Considering I was trapped here until she permitted me to escape - abducted after all - I decided what the hell and followed her lead.

 

~^~

 

Her lead meant several hours swimming and relaxing on the beach until the heat and humidity became too much even with the sea breeze to keep it a smidge cooler than further inland. We headed back indoors, debated grabbing a bite to eat for a few minutes before the need to get the dried salt off our skin won the battle.

Sharing the shower led to more than just getting clean as we hadn't managed serious time alone in a couple of weeks and we wasted a few more hours getting lost in one another. After, I headed downstairs to get us a snack only to discover in the interim that sleep had swept her up on silent wings. She'd managed to toss on a tank top and some panties and comb the snarls out of her still damp hair, but no more. She sprawled on her stomach, taking over a large portion of the king-sized bed her face mashed into the single pillow she'd wrapped her arms around.

She looked glorious.

I set the food down and went into the closet to dig through my duffle for clothes. I couldn't help but notice that not a single stitch resembled my usual choice of wear except for the jeans. The shirts borderline garish and exactly what a tourist taking a few days off in Hilton Head might wear. I pulled on a pair of khaki shorts and a tee that much like my swim trunks had a version of my shield on it. One of the many less than fashionable fashions available to the public and which permitted them to feel connected to the superheroes that they, hopefully, would never meet. Mainly because if the Avengers were there then things had gone to shit.

At the bottom of the bag, I felt something solid and discovered my little smartass had packed a sketchbook. Digging deeper I found not only the pencils I favored but pastels which I had been experimenting with lately. The first charity event had gone over so well that I had decided to do another, I just hadn't had time for any new artwork.

I guess I had some time right now.

Carrying my prizes back into the bedroom I glanced about the room as I decided on my plan of attack. I ended up dragging a chair over by the french doors that opened up onto the private balcony that had an amazing view of the Atlantic over the tops of the trees that had sprung up between the house and the beach. The view included the wooden path we'd taken to enjoy our slice of privacy heaven. It would be getting its own sketch, possibly with the pastels given the softer color palette would better capture the scenery.

I grabbed half the sandwich and took a bite while gazing down at my best girl who seemed entirely unaware of my observation of her. Given her military training, you'd think she'd been on alert at all times, and in truth, I'd seen her do exactly that when in the field. When home alone too. Though it had faded to more of a sense of knowing when you're not alone when in the suite. Here, in a strange place, where anyone could drop an RPG on our heads she had relaxed completely.

And I could only think of one reason why, aside from complete and utter exhaustion anyway. She trusted me. Completely.

Not that I hadn't known that. I liked to think I trusted her in the same way but given I still felt some residual crankiness for this abduction it had become clear I didn't. We still searched for a place together when we had spare time and already had a couple on the maybe list, but wanted at least one more place to consider before making a final decision.

She blew out a breath and shifted slightly, her face becoming visible, framed by her dark hair and I wished that the sun currently fell through the window and across her body it would be perfect...

I realized I could draw that, the image in my mind overlaid with the reality before me. Forgetting the food, I grabbed the sketch pad and pencil sat down to get the image to paper as quickly as possible.

 

~^~

 

"So why are we here?" I asked once the server set down our drinks and stepped away. The place was packed to the brim, yet we had been given one of the best seats in the house out on the wide porch right at the edge overlooking the comparatively tiny bay on the intercoastal side of the island. You could see the mainland from here, though the lights of buildings were few and far between thanks to it mostly being marshes. Boats gathered in clumps here and there on the surface of the mostly still water. The afternoon sea breezes had turned into a quick thunderstorm, which had woken Myla from her nap, cooled the relative temperature, and caused the sunset to be the most brilliant red I'd seen outside of Tony's Iron Man suits.

She turned her head to blink at me in confusion. "Um, have you forgotten how restaurants work?

I sighed in frustration. My question accurate, but clearly not expressing my meaning properly. "No." Not that I went out to eat a lot these days for obvious reasons. I leaned in a bit closer, not wanting those at the nearby tables to overhear. "I mean, it's awfully crowded, I don't need to end up on Instagram and having the whole world know where I am."

She gave me a look that clearly decried my level of intelligence. "We're in Hilton Head and while tourists are a factor I can guarantee none of them are eating here tonight. On the off chance someone recognizes you, none of them would be crass enough to do more than give you a polite nod of recognition. Much like the Hamptons, people of wealth or power come here to be themselves with like-minded people. I can tell you there are three big-name movie stars, two authors, and one extremely well-known model having a meal alongside us all without a gaggle of admirers or camera flashes from paparazzi. Now, on the off chance one of the many kids running about comes up, you will smile, be polite, and have your picture taken with them." She shrugged. "You are a hero, in case you've forgotten. A selfie with a tween is not going to kill you or destroy your reputation."

I stilled the sudden need to glance about the room for the rich and famous she had not mentioned by name if only to verify that she spoke the truth in regards to them being unmolested while trying to eat a meal. I, of course, then realized I would have noticed crowds trying to get to certain tables while we'd been escorted through the main dining area. The staff here probably trained to have the utmost discretion given dealing with the rich and famous happened regularly.

"Would you believe me if I say I keep forgetting I'm famous?"

"No, you keep forgetting not everyone is a bad guy trying to kill you."

Oof. She most certainly had the right of it. "Not being on alert can get you killed."

She pulled the tablet out of her handbag. "Which is why I had FRIDAY hack into their security system to keep an eye on things, just in case. Not that I didn't scope out the place on the way in or research it prior to making reservations. I'm not an actual fool, you know."

No, she wasn't and never had been even if she did have a tendency to jump into the line of fire to protect others. It could most certainly be argued that I did the same and why not take cues from the biggest fool of all. "Well, you are my fool if nothing else."

She snorted into her drink. "That I am, Captain."

I picked up the menu and tried to not flinch at the prices for the ordinary-seeming offerings. "I take it price is not an issue."

She raised a single eyebrow in my direction. "Uh, yeah. The portions here are decent, but you'll still probably need to order two meals to keep you going."

I shook my head. Not that she was wrong about the caloric intake. "I sat around all afternoon while you napped."

"You drew all afternoon."

I ducked my head, I'd been hoping she hadn't noticed. Her fingers along the back of my hand earned her the right to my attention. "No need to be embarrassed, it's why I brought them along. I know you've been wanting to do some nature studies but haven't really had the time, so..." She shrugged.

For fuck's sake, was she always one step ahead? I hadn't said a damn thing to her about my plans and yet she had clearly noticed and done what she could to facilitate my filling that need. Admittedly, I would have kept putting it off until forced by my agent to get the new pieces done. And then they would have been rushed and not up to my standards. Granted anything with my name on it sold for a small fortune as a fifteen-minute perusal of eBay had proven without a doubt. There were times I regretted being insulated from the... fans. But at the same time, I was damn thankful we had people for that.

Myla handled some of it for me as I had discovered she had contacts in the high profile charity circle. A shock in some ways as it seemed the total opposite of what I knew about her, but we all had sides others rarely saw.

"Myls-"

"Are we ready to order?"

Myla gave me an amused grin at the impeccable timing of the pretty waitress who had interrupted my poor attempt at an apology. "Yep. We'll start with the mussels, and I'll have the puttanesca as my main course."

The waitress turned expectantly to me. "The chateaubriand, the twelve oz cut cooked medium rare if you would."

"A lovely choice. The regular sides?"

I glanced at Myla who gave me a nod. "Yes, please."

She nodded, wrote it down, and collected the menus. "Anything I can get for you right now?"

"Just keep the drinks coming and we'll be content."

"Of course, ma'am."

As soon as the server had wandered off Myla said, "Be forewarned we may not see the main course for an hour."

I glanced about the room. "I figured. I'll munch on the bread basket, literally, if needed." Of course, the long wait time for the actual food made me wonder why we'd come here specifically. As I debated the whys of it the tablet began to vibrate on the table.

"You have an incoming call, do you wish to accept?" FRIDAY asked out of the tinny speaker.

"Yes, he does," Myla responded with a laugh as she pushed the tablet in my direction.

With more than a touch of confusion, I picked it up in time to see Sam's face. "Hey, Cap, how goes your kidnapping?"

From off-screen came, "Abduction," from Nat. "Get the terminology right, Wilson."

"Nag, nag, nag," Sam complained, a wide grin lighting up his face and eyes. "Myls there with you?"

I rotated the tablet so that he could see her. "S'up Sam?"

"Just wanted to warn you Tony is on the warpath."

Nat, still off-camera, snorted loud enough to be heard.

"I am aware," Myla told them. "FRIDAY is blocking his calls since the mission is dark."

"Good plan. He went after Hill, who might have figured out that this whole thing is a ruse, especially given we showed up here in civvies."

"It's okay, I already have an apology gift in the works. Besides given she's stuck there she's far more likely to be angry that I didn't take her along on the op."

Sam laughed. "Too true. We kinda wish we weren't playing defense on this one."

Nat's face appeared next to Sam's. "You owe me, big time."

Before Myla could respond I took the tablet back. "What the hell is going on?"

"She didn't tell you?" Nat questioned, one eyebrow rising high on her forehead in disbelief. "And why aren't you two in bed? You haven't spent any time with your girl in months."

If I hadn't forced it to remain closed my jaw would have fallen open at her words.

"Is he still being a grumpy cat over the whole thing?" Sam added.

"Yes," Myla said loud enough for the mic to pick up.

"Jeez, Rogers. She does you a major favor and you get mad at her?" Nat shook her head in clear dismay.

I glanced over at Myla who simply sat there sipping on her drink made with a half dozen different versions of high octane alcohol, her face giving nothing away. The same mask she'd worn most of the day as she dragged me about. My resentment at being lied to growing even as the initial anger and irritation had faded.

"Show him," Nat suggested.

"Show me what?" I asked in exasperation, glancing about the deck suddenly thankful for the privacy the table afforded us. No one had glanced at us sideways or made a snarky comment about making a call in the middle of the restaurant.

"Gimme a sec." The camera spun about the view bouncing as tipping as Sam clearly carried it somewhere. Moments later a blast of sound came across the speakers, which I quickly turned down, as he stepped outside onto one of the balconies on the backside of the building.

I realized they had called me from the Compound, not that you could tell based on the sight on the screen as it steadied. The entire grassy area now covered in a sea of humanity all facing a massive stage lit up bright enough to be seen from space. On it was the most garish display of patriotism I had ever seen. Bunting and LED screens all done in the red, white, and blue of the flag.

Then the girls came on stage. Dressed in outfits I remembered from when I'd done my stint drumming up bond sales for the war and singing a tune I had hoped to never hear again in my lifetime.

As I stared in horror I appeared. Well, someone who looked enough like me that I couldn't tell the difference at this distance.

"Holy shit," I breathed, stunned at the trip down memory lane being faithfully reproduced before my aghast sight.

The view switched back to the visages of Nat and Sam. "ExactlyThis is Tony's idea of a surprise birthday party for you. He has an armory's worth of fireworks ready to go off in an hour or so followed by more music till the wee hours of the morning."

I glanced over at Myla who didn't react.

"Kid got wind of it a week or so ago and cooked up this plan to save you."

"You better thank her properly, Rogers," Nat informed me tartly. "Tony's been planning this for months and your girl pulled the rug right out from under him."

"And yet the party still went on," I observed drily. Not that Tony would permit a little thing like the guest of honor not showing up to stop him.

"Well, yeah, it's Tony. Any excuse for a party. He probably writes the cost off or something." Sam failed utterly to keep the sneering tone out of his voice.

Myla snickered.

The server returned then, a huge bowl of steamed mussels in her hands.

"And your food has arrived. Have a good night, Cap." Sam gave a quick wave.

"You too," I told them, the connection closing a second later. I set down the tablet not currently willing to meet Myla's eyes until after I mumbled a thank you to the server.

"Uh, I really don't know what to say."

"I'm sure you'll think of something eventually," she told me before grabbing a shelled creature and tearing it asunder.

I mulled over everything I had just learned while we ate. Yes, she had tricked me, but I would have hated being the center of attention at that... circus Tony had created in my name back home.

God, he probably would have had me get up on stage and suffer through speeches and birthday wishes that, while said with good intent, would still have been meaningless overall. I would have chafed at being forced to have fun that I did not feel deserving of. I had never seen myself as better than anyone else, meriting no more recognition than anyone else who was willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of doing the right thing.

A quiet evening with a few good friends had always been worth far more to me than any grandiose celebration. Especially on the day of my birth. And, yes, I was well aware of the serendipity of my birthdate. Though it had meant little for the first third of my life. I'd been of no value to most of the universe until after Rebirth. Only then had the world at large taken notice of me.

Music echoed across the water grabbing the attention of everyone not only on the deck but in the restaurant. Many people leaving their seats for the large windows. The first fwoomp finally cluing me in as to what was happening.

Within seconds a blossom of bright red lit the night sky. Myla shifted her chair about, her feet going up onto the railing as she got comfortable to watch the fireworks going off practically over our heads.

I scooted my chair closer to hers and mimicked her pose deciding to enjoy the moment and the anonymity she had granted me by stealing me away from the Compound in the wee hours of the morning. As soon as I had settled her hand shifted to rest atop my thigh and I twined my fingers with hers lifting our hands to kiss her palm in what I hoped would be understood as a gesture of forgiveness.

When the last of the explosions faded from the sky I turned to her. "How long are we staying?"

"Two, three days," she answered as her feet dropped back down and she shifted to sit upright again.

"Oh," I said in actual disappointment.

She leaned over closer to me. "We can, however, stay longer if you like. I have use of the place all summer."

I brightened at that. "I... I'd like that."

She leaned over to kiss me on the cheek. "We'll play it by ear then, shall we?"

I nodded in agreement. It could be nice to have a getaway plan when needed. I didn't have to be Captain America every moment of every day no matter how much it might be expected of me. Luckily, I had Myla to remind me of that when I forgot. "Yeah, I'd like that."

"Happy birthday, Steve."

I set my hand on the back of her neck and pulled her close for a real kiss not caring who might see or if it might show up on the next edition of TMZ. I had no issues with the world knowing exactly how much I cared for the woman I had with me.

Happy birthday indeed.

 

 

finis