Alpha'd by Travelilah! Thank you so much for your help and words of encouragement!
It had been a few weeks since Barnes's first welcome dinner at Avengers Tower. Steve had been anxious and might have been attempting some new form of telepathy with the way he had been wiggling his eyebrows and making faces at Sam when Barnes wasn't looking. Sam had tried not to laugh. He'd had a feeling that Barnes might not be ready to jump back into active duty even if that duty wasn't the Army. Steve must not have had that thought.
Tony hadn't understood Steve's eyebrow language either and barrelled on with ideas and equipment and suggestions until Barnes had gone pale and overwhelmed. Nat had kicked Tony's shin to get him to shut up.
"Of course, you don't have to do anything you aren't comfortable with," Tony said, interrupting his own monologue. Sam wondered how Tony could talk that much and still eat as much as he had.
After an awkward pause, Nat had spoken softly, "There's been some talk of personal security detail. Protecting people." She'd rolled her eyes a little and added, "Politicians, mostly, foreign dignitaries, heads of state."
Barnes had regained some of his colour by then and nodded, swallowing the food he'd been masticating a while. "Protecting someone sounds... okay."
Steve had released the breath he'd been holding and looked at Barnes with this dopey little grin on his lips and Sam had wanted to laugh so much. Steve had it bad.
"Hey, team meeting after dinner?" Tony said as the group of them were just sitting down around the table. It had been Nat's turn to decide takeout for the team dinner and she'd picked Thai. "I've got some interesting—possibly, dangerous?—footage from that fly-by when Sam and I were testing Red Wing."
"What sort of dangerous?" Steve asked, already digging into a container to put a helping of Pud Woon Sen on his plate.
"Well, I'm not sure," Tony said, taking a bite of food. "It's just puzzling. Like something you'd see in a sci-fi movie."
"A sci-fi movie? Really?" Sam asked.
Tony nodded, before gesturing to the pineapple curry in front of Nat with a flick of his fingers. She slid it to him. "A camera trick that's not a camera trick. I've had JARVIS analyzing the footage for a while and we can't seem to make heads or tails of it."
Barnes laughed. "I think sci-fi would be normal around here," he said and tapped his metal fingers on the fork he was holding.
Tony grinned and gave a little shrug even as Steve nodded and gestured at his chest with his own fork. "Me too."
"All right," Sam said, teasing them all, "I get it. I'm surrounded by people right out of a science fiction movie."
Nat's lips twitched into something of a smile before she took another bite. Barnes gave him a disbelieving look and rolled his eyes dramatically. "Says the guy that can fly."
"You really like my wings, huh?" Sam asked, grinning.
"Well," Barnes said, tipping his head to the side, "I'm not a big fan of falling."
"Sorry, Steve," Barnes said, looking contrite. He looked back down and focused on his plate.
Sam felt bad for the guy. It seemed his time in therapy was helping. Having gallows humour about traumatic events in his life was better than not talking about it at all. Not being able to talk about it with his best friend seemed like it must be hard. Though it was traumatic for Steve too. Sam still didn't think Steve had called the therapist he'd recommended.
They finished off the food in silence, after that. Even Tony seemed a bit lost for words. Finally, when they had devoured everything and Barnes was scraping the bottom of one container with his fork and Nat was eating her last piece of shrimp, Tony nodded and stood up. Sam followed and started gathering all the empty takeout containers to take to the trash and Steve collected the dishes to put in the dishwasher. When the kitchen was back to rights and the dishes washing, Tony gestured them all to the communal living room where he got JARVIS to port the footage from Red Wing onto the large TV.
Steve sat at one corner of the couch and before Barnes chose a spot, Nat sat in the middle. Barnes sent her a soft grin and sat on her other side. Sam took the armchair nearby. Tony stayed standing, it was likely he would pace as he talked.
It only took a moment for Sam to recognise what he was seeing on the screen. Red Wing had flown over several buildings and, to test the manoeuvrability of the drone, dived down 44th, swung between buildings and swooped around Bryant Park to see the back of the library. The face tracking software boxed in on an Indian woman in a teal business suit. Then suddenly she was gone. Disappeared instantly from the footage.
Sam's eyes went wide. He knew what that was. There wasn't any audio but he could tell by the way the woman turned on her toes, there would have been a CRACK or maybe a soft pop depending on the woman's skill. Apparition. Tamara had been so excited to show Sam that, to show off and tell him all about a boy in her class splinching his right butt cheek off. She was quick to tell him that the teachers had put him to rights shortly thereafter but it had left him scared of it every time she'd done it since.
Nat had leaned forward, squinting at the screen. Steve and Barnes were both looking concerned and Tony was huffing in frustration.
"So, you see. I don't know if that's an isolated incident or cause for national panic. Is that woman a threat? From what JARVIS has gathered on her, she works at the United Arab—"
"She's not a threat, Tony." Sam didn't realise he'd spoken until after the words were out. All four of the others turned and stared at him like he'd lost his mind. He blinked and looked away from them, back to the screen where JARVIS had paused the footage. "Look, I can't explain how I know, but that," he pointed at the screen, "isn't a threat."
"You can't just leave us hanging like that. How do you know? Do you know that woman? Everything JARVIS pulled didn't show a connection to military or..." Tony kept on talking but Sam pulled out his cell phone.
Tam, we've got footage of someone doing something. KWIM? he texted his sister.
There was an answering chime about thirty seconds later.
Sam glanced up to see everyone watching him. Tony's mouth was slack like he was itching to know to whom Sam was talking. Can't write it off as a camera trick or stutter.
Shit. There's been talk about telling since BattleNY but nothing yet. Can you squash it?
I can try. He looked back up and gave them a smile that felt wrong on his face. He licked his lips, feeling like prey suddenly with the way everyone was looking at him.
"Who do you know that Rhodey doesn't? Are they Air Force? Is that Air Force tech? Alien tech? It's not Asgardian or Chitauri as far as I can tell."
"Have you shown Rhodes this?" Sam asked, hoping it wasn't already leaked beyond this room.
"Not yet, I was hoping to catch this before something major went down. I was going to assign a few cameras and maybe some personnel to keep eyes on her."
"Leave her alone, Tony. Don't be stalker-creepy."
Tony pursed his lips and might have stomped a foot, instead, he gestured down with a clenched fist. "Leave it? Why? This could be big. I want to know what sort of tech she's got. Who's her supplier? What else can it do? Who she's really working for—"
"Tony. It's likely she's just a civilian. Bury this."
"What?" Steve asked, leaning forward and bracing his arms on his knees. "You want to hide the fact that someone out there can disappear at will? Why?"
"Let's just keep it as I know something you don't. Bury it for six months. If the thing I know doesn't come to light by then, I'll tell you."
"JARVIS, set an alarm for exactly three months from now." his brow was pinched and he pointed at Sam. He spoke through clenched teeth, "Three months is all you get before I alert the alphabet agencies and before I approach this girl. And if she blows up half the city before then? I'm including you in the blame, do you hear me?"
Sam nodded. "Loud and clear, Tony."
Steve's brow was furrowed in concern and he glanced down at the phone Sam was still holding. Sam made a point to put it back in his pocket.
"In other news," Tony said, his voice still strained, "We've got a British minister coming to DC for a highly classified meeting with the President. As a favour to a friend, I offered to hire out one of the Avengers as protection detail at a discount." At his change of subject, JARVIS changed the screen to show a brunette white woman in her thirties in a well-tailored business dress. "Her name is Hermione Granger."