Sam Wilson was flying the Quinjet south, his eyes peeled for random jets tailing them. Thankfully, that never transpired. They sped through the sky over the white film of cumulous clouds that had gathered over the land below. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to find Natasha Romanoff leaning against his seat.
“How’s Cap doing?” he asked.
“He’s having the best sleep of his life right now. Well, besides that time he was in a near-70-year coma,” she said.
Sam chuckled. He took a glance at her, noticing the bloodied scratches on her face.
“You okay?” he asked.
She fingered the scratches. “It’s nothing a bit of ointment can’t help.”
He nodded. “Scratches and bruises, it’s nothing new.” He pressed a button. “So, what have you been doing for these last six months?”
“Reevaluating my life,” she said humorlessly, falling into the seat behind him.
“That sounds tough.”
She focused on the clouds. Despite their beauty, she suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of despair wash over her. Growing up she didn’t have many friends in the Red Room. Every girl had a hidden agenda or a plan to eliminate her. It was simple; survival of the fittest. Natasha rose to the top and then was thrust into society, not as a normal teenager but as a world-class assassin. Joining The Avengers had finally provided her the opportunity to build true relationships with people. Now some of those friends were her enemies. Even Barton had joined the other side.
For the past six months, she had felt more alone than she had in a long while and she didn’t like that feeling. That sense of abandonment that made her feel like a caged animal. When she was in that state of mind she could become…dangerous. Bad things could happen by her hand and she didn’t want to go back to that world. She vowed she wouldn’t but she could feel her past impulses returning inside of her. She just had to control them.
“Yeah,” she finally obliged. “It hasn’t been easy.”
Sam nodded, remaining silent. He knew Natasha well enough to know when to leave her alone. She wasn’t a very open person. She often kept her true feelings bottled up behind a carefree facade. The only people she sometimes opened up to was Steve and, before he disappeared, Bruce Banner. If she added him to that list he would be honored but he wouldn’t press her, lest he ends up getting a painful kick to the back of the head.
He heard more footsteps followed by Sharon’s voice.
“We should be landing soon,” she said.
Sam acknowledged her command, starting the jet’s descent as he veered beneath the clouds. His eyes widened as he beheld the sea of green trees that reached as far as the eye could see in every direction. Sprinkled throughout the tree-covered mountains were patches of small towns and random homes located deep within the woods.
“A little further,” Sharon said, pointing ahead.
They zoomed over the mountains for a little longer before Sharon told him to touch down on a small strip of green grass that sat in the middle of a thick swath of trees. He did as she said, landing the jet on the perfectly mown lawn. A mansion slightly hidden by beautiful oak trees sat at the end of the clearing.
“Wow, what is this place?” Sam asked.
“The Carter Estate,” Sharon said. “My grand-aunt built it when she needed a place to get away. I’ve been here a couple of times with my parents but there’s never been a better reason to come.”
“Does anyone live here?” Natasha said. “I mean, this grass seems like it was just cut.” She looked at Sharon. “This mansion isn’t haunted is it?”
Sharon laughed. “No. My grandfather lives here with his wife and they have servants that help around the house.”
Natasha seemed relieved.
“Well let’s go then.”
Sharon began walking out of the jet while Sam and Natasha woke Steve from his medicine-induced slumber. They helped him sit up and put on a spare shirt over his bandaged torso before helping him stand.
“Are you okay?” Natasha asked him.
Steve nodded. “I’ve been through worse.”
Sam smiled, clapping him on the shoulder. “Good to see you feeling better, Cap.”
Steve nodded, a hint of a smile touching his lips. They left the jet before following Sharon across the lawn.
When they got to the curved brick driveway Sharon suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“Sharon, what’s wrong?” Natasha asked.
She pointed at the black car that sat parked before the stairs of the mansion. “That’s not my grandfather’s car.”
Sam’s eyebrows furrowed. “Are you sure he hasn’t bought another one?”
She looked back at him with an exasperated expression. “My grandfather has had the same car since the 60s’.” She faced forward. “Someone’s here.”
Natasha’s expression turned serious. “Then stay on your P’s and Q’s.”
Sharon, Sam, and Steve acknowledged her warning. They slowly climbed the stairs, their gazes alertly scanning the area and their hands poised to pull the guns from their holsters.
When they reached the front door Sharon grabbed the circular brass knocker and knocked three times. Sam noticed a doorbell on the side.
“Shouldn’t you have rung the doorbell?” he asked.
Sharon shook her head. “If there’s an intruder that’ll alert them to our presence. If no one comes to the door within a minute something’s definitely wrong.”
A second after she said that the door opened, revealing a slender man in a butler’s suit with greying hair and bright blue eyes that brightened, even more, when he saw her.
“Sharon!” he exclaimed. He stepped forward, giving her a warm hug. “How long it has been.”
She grinned. “Evan. It’s so good to see you.”
He released her and immediately noticed Steve Rogers.
“Oh my,” he exclaimed. “Captain Steve Rogers, it is an honor to finally meet you in person.”
Steve smiled. The butler turned his attention to Sam and Natasha.
“And you two must be Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson.”
“It’s such an honor to meet all of you. But surely you must be tired. Come, come.”
He ushered them into the house where they entered a beautiful foyer lined with painted portraits of the Carter family tree dating back to the early 1800s’. In the distance, they could hear jovial chatter and rambunctious laughter.
“Is that Grandfather?” Sharon asked.
Evan the Butler nodded. “He’s in the sitting room talking with two agents that got here yesterday.”
Alert immediately spread throughout the four of them.
“Agents?” Sharon asked.
The butler smiled. “Mmm-hmm.”
Sharon didn’t need to be told another word. She hurried to the sitting room, her hand resting on the gun in her thigh holster. If a Deputy Task Force agent or someone even worse dared try to hurt her family there would be deadly consequences.
She rushed down the short hall with her friends behind her, turned the corner, thus entering the sitting room, and her jaw dropped.
There was her grandfather dressed in an expensive velvet robe over some simple pajamas holding a glass of red wine as he stood behind his favorite armchair. His wife, a gorgeous Italian model just a few years older than Sharon, sat on the comfy sofa. And there, sitting in the other two armchairs on the right side of the large room, was Nick Fury and Agent Maria Hill.
When Nick Fury saw them he smiled. “You’re late.”
Header Photo Courtesy: Marvel Studios