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Facing Reality

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It all happened so much faster than Steve could have imagined.

It was only hours after Steve’s meeting with the Council, when he was in one of the Compound’s common areas after his morning individual training. He saw Clint and Natasha approaching him looking grim, with Sam trailing behind them. After the disastrous way the meeting had ended, Steve had worried about Wanda all through his own workouts, and seeing the others approaching him now sent a spike of dread through him.

It sounded like the Council had interpreted her worries about Tony’s amulet as an attack on him. Despite all the claims of how impartial and fair they were, Steve worried. Tony was the one who’d pushed for the creation of it, who’d been so involved in the Accords. Surely they must be biased towards him. What if they used this as an excuse to kick Wanda out, all because Tony couldn’t be mature enough to just talk to Steve when he’d asked?

He couldn’t get over that. He’d spent the morning alternating between growing anger at Tony and worry about Wanda, and that he’d made everything worse. Tony must have known in the first place that the thing would interfere with Wanda’s powers. Wanda was powerful and didn’t always have perfect control; no one her age could be expected to. But of course, Tony had to be difficult when Steve asked, and goaded him into taking it to the Council, who thought a tiny slip of power that allowed her to feel the presence of the amulet meant she’d attacked Tony.

So when he saw the others approaching with frowns, he jumped up from his seat, ready for bad news. “What is it?”

They looked slightly taken aback at his quick response. “Have you seen Wanda?” Clint asked.

Fear dropped into Steve’s stomach. “No, not since yesterday. What happened to her?” Oh God, they’d come and taken her away, probably snuck her out some back door of the Compound so they could snap that awful collar back on her like an animal and throw her to Germany’s mercy, powerless and helpless.

Natasha quirked an eyebrow at his response. “We saw her this morning during individual training, across the hall in one of the simulation rooms. Jackson and a couple others came to the door and called her out. She left with them and never came back.”

“Oh no,” Steve said, already skirting around them, preparing to try and go after her, but Sam held out an arm to stop him.

“Woah, Steve, calm down, man. Maybe they’re just in a meeting. We just came to see if you knew anything about it. No need to go rushing after them.”

Dread twisted Steve’s insides. They didn’t understand the urgency of the situation. Natasha must have seen something in his expression, because she crossed her arms and let her face go carefully blank. “What did you do, Steve?” she said, ice in her voice.

“I had a meeting with the Council this morning,” he started, and immediately saw the apprehensive looks on the others’ faces. It hurt, to see that they saw him as a failure of a leader, that they thought his meeting with the people in charge couldn’t bring anything but trouble.

Clint frowned. “About what? Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It wasn’t about all of us. Just Wanda. And… and Tony.” As soon as he mentioned Tony, Sam put his face in his hands with a groan, and even Clint shook his head.

“Oh man… what happened?”

Steve stood up a little straighter, crossing his arms defensively. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he’d been acting in everyone’s best interests, and Tony was the one making everything difficult. “Tony’s been wearing this… amulet around, that Wanda told me is interfering with her powers. I tried to talk to him about it, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. We were worried it might be dangerous, something he was messing with that he shouldn’t be. So I went to the Council about it.”

Clint frowned. “So what’s the problem with Wanda? That sounds reasonable to me.”

“Let me guess, it wasn’t something dangerous at all,” Sam said shrewdly.

Steve bristled. “Not that I would have known that, with the way Tony acted. Going to the Council was the only option left.”

Sam shook his head. “You’re not the leader of the Avengers, Steve. It’s not your responsibility. And honestly, ‘the way Tony acted?’ How exactly did you expect him to act? The guy’s given every sign since we came back that he wants nothing to do with us, especially you. He’s not obligated to give you his time, or any explanations. If you cornered him at the Compound to demand answers, which I assume is what you did because we never see him any other time, I honestly can’t blame him for telling you to go to hell.”

Steve opened his mouth to argue back, but Clint interrupted again. “Wait, I still don’t see what this has to do with Wanda.”

Steve shifted anxiously. “The Council said Tony claims the amulet is just for personal protection. They think if Wanda was saying it interfered with her powers, that must mean she was misusing them.”

“’Tony claims?’” Sam asked. “You mean he didn’t register it?”

Steve blinked. He hadn’t expected Sam to know that. “No, they said it was registered. How do you know that?”

Sam huffed. “Because I asked my liaison, Steve. I asked him about a lot of stuff to do with the Accords and the Compound rules. You should try it sometime. We’re allowed to have magical or other powered personal items with us that aren’t considered weapons, as long as they’re registered with the Council. They need to be evaluated by more than one expert, like magic users, and declared safe to have around other people. Which means if Tony’s amulet is registered, it’s definitely been deemed safe to use. Don’t act like it’s just some claim that Stark or the Council pulled out of their asses, Steve. These regulations are in place for a reason, and they work well.”

“That doesn’t give them the right to take Wanda way because of it,” Steve said stubbornly.

Sam frowned for a second, then jerked back like Steve had slapped him. “You said she told you it was interfering with her powers? But if it’s something for personal use, that means the only way Wanda could have noticed it is if she was trying to use them on Stark.”

“You don’t know that,” Steve argued, “she said she could feel it all the time. She’s powerful, maybe it affects her differently than the other people in the Compound.”

Sam scowled. “Don’t sugarcoat it, Steve. She attacked him. She hates him and you know it. She sits around all day refusing to accept that she causes her own issues and blames Stark for all her problems. She’s a spoiled brat and you just encourage it. I thought being exiled for three years would have given her time to realize what she’d done wrong—I sure as hell took a good look at my own mistakes—but all she did was sit in her room and whine about how Stark had ruined everything, and you let her. Now we all come back by the skin of our teeth, and she still just complains about everything. She spends too much money and won’t get a job, she doesn’t obey orders on her missions, and now she’s attacking people in the hallways? Oh wait, sorry, not all people. Just the ones she doesn’t like. God, Steve, it’s like you don’t even see how much you’ve changed. I thought you wanted to do the right thing, man, but you just want to do what you want. This here?” He gestured around the room. “This is the right thing. This is years of work put into a system that really works. There’s been a drop in property damage during missions by half since the Accords were implemented, and nearly 80% drop in civilian injuries and deaths. If you were half the hero I used to think you were, you’d be grateful for the Accords. You’d accept your pardon and the consequences that come with screwing up, and you’d do your best to work with them. But you just keep fighting the system at every turn, acting like you should still be in charge. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being lumped in with you just because I made the mistake of following you once. I’m trying to do better here, and you’re dragging me down. I’m fucking sick of it, man.”

He stood, breathing hard at the end of his speech. Steve just stood there, too stunned to do anything. Clint looked shocked as well, and Natasha’s eyebrows were raised. After another moment of silence, Sam made a disgusted noise and turned on his heel to stride out of the room. If the doors weren’t automatic, Steve had the feeling he’d have slammed it behind him.

Steve swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. He’d felt so close to Sam, once, and he knew Sam was a good guy. They’d been drifting apart since coming back—since being exiled, really—and he’d felt like he didn’t quite see eye to eye with Sam anymore, but he had no idea Sam was harboring that much resentment towards him. He’d just been trying to keep the team together, to have things go back to how they used to be. They’d been good then.

Maybe a part of it was stubbornness. He’d wanted to stick to his ideals, to the reason they’d fought the Accords and been exiled in the first place. He couldn’t call them perfect, or admit that they’d worked better than Steve’s team ever had, because that would mean he’d fought them for nothing, spent three years in Wakanda for nothing, kept Clint and Scott away from their families for no good reason. Now he just felt lost.

Natasha was turned away from him, staring at the door through which Sam had stormed out, and Clint was looking at the floor. He looked up briefly to make eye contact with Steve, but just grimaced and shook his head. It wasn’t a gesture of solidarity because he thought Sam was being unreasonable. It was a look that said he thought Sam had some good points, he just didn’t want to kick Steve while he was down and agree with them out loud. It still hurt.

While Steve stood there, still stunned from Sam’s explosion and trying to work through his own feelings about everything that had been said, Clint and Natasha left the room as well without a word.

Steve spent the rest of his break sitting in silence, thinking about Sam and Wanda. They had group training that afternoon, all of them plus a couple of the mutants. It was sure to be a tense affair, but Steve would work through it.

By the time it was time to head over to the group training rooms, Steve had decided that whatever Sam’s problems with him, they should still be supporting Wanda. Whether the amulet really did affect her or she’d had a slip of power that reached out at it, she didn’t deserve to be kicked out for it. They couldn’t prove that she’d done anything intentionally, and a brief slip of power shouldn’t be enough to condemn someone.

He arrived at the training room standing tall, chin up and ready to defend Wanda to Sam, but didn’t get the chance. They’d just gathered and were ready to enter with the mutants working with them today when Marie Jackson came marching down the hallway towards them, looking serious.

“Afternoon training’s been canceled today,” she told them all without preamble. “We need to talk, now.”

“Is this about Wanda?” Steve asked before anyone else could.

“Yes it is, Mr. Rogers. Now please, let’s move somewhere private. I’ve reserved a conference room upstairs. Sorry to interrupt, ladies,” she nodded to the two mutants they were planning to train with, then gestured for Steve and his group to follow her.

As soon as they’d all filed into the conference room, before they could even sit down, Steve turned to Marie. “Where’s Wanda?”

Marie’s face gave nothing away, calm and professional as ever. “She has been given a room at a U.N. facility for the next day.”

“You had no right to arrest her,” Steve snapped.

Marie actually looked confused. “She hasn’t been arrested, Mr. Rogers.”

“Then why is she at a U.N. facility?” Natasha asked.

“Due to the concerns brought to the attention of the Council this morning, they scheduled an immediate full psychological and magical evaluation of Ms. Maximoff, to be completed today. They pulled her out of her training this morning for that purpose. She is undergoing the evaluations as we speak. By rule, these cannot be done at a third-party facility like SHIELD or the Compound.”

Steve crossed his arms. “Evaluations? By who? Someone who’s already biased against her?”

Marie sighed. “By professionals, Mr. Rogers. She is undergoing psychological evaluation by two different fully qualified doctors, neither of whom have any personal or professional connection to the Accords, the U.N., or Ms. Maximoff herself. The magical evaluations are more difficult just because there aren’t that many qualified magic users in the world, but Dr. Strange and Dr. Xavier are certainly experts in their respective areas, and they routinely perform evaluations of some of the potential Compound residents to determine what sorts of additional support or precautions they may need for their own and others’ safety.”

“So, what, they’re going to put something extra in the Compound for Wanda?”

“I wouldn’t know, Mr. Rogers. That would depend on the results of her evaluations. I was simply informed by the Council this morning that they had ordered the evaluations, and instructed to remove her from training immediately so they could be done. I haven’t been updated since then, but I will let you know when I know anything more.”

“This isn’t fair to Wanda,” Steve said, frustrated.

Marie raised an eyebrow. “How exactly is it unfair? Every person working under the Accords should be at full physical and mental fitness at all times, and should never be a danger to others, either civilians or their fellow heroes. The Council and team leaders have the right and the responsibility to address any potential problems. They can order a fair evaluation for anyone who raises a concern. You brought a potential problem to the attention of the Council, so they are evaluating the extent of the problem and will use that information to ensure maximal safety for everyone and efficacy of the teams.”

“So leaders who don’t like someone can schedule all kinds of ‘evaluations’ any time they feel like it.”

Marie closed her eyes briefly like she was praying for patience, which just irritated Steve. They were talking about Wanda’s future here. “They need to submit a reason for an evaluation to the Council. If too many were requested, there would be an inquiry about it. In addition, if a signee feels they are being treated unfairly, they may submit a request for review of any evaluation or action by their leaders or the Council. An independent U.N. body will review it. If Ms. Maximoff is truly concerned that the results of her evaluations, whatever they turn out to be, are biased, she may submit them for review.”

Steve straightened and Marie held up a hand before he could even open his mouth. “Since I can practically see you thinking it already, no, you cannot demand a review on her behalf. Since she is an adult and you are not her team leader, you have no authority to do so. If she wishes to do so once the results of her evaluations are presented, she can. I suggest you let her make that decision.”

Steve stepped back, grinding his teeth. Whatever she said about independent evaluations and reviews, it sounded to Steve like the people in charge could just do whatever they wanted to Wanda if they didn’t like her. While he was busy considering it, Marie announced that she was needed elsewhere and left the room, telling them to go back to their quarters and warning them to behave themselves. The warning just increased Steve’s feeling that something was wrong with this, that this wasn’t right.

But there was nothing he could do about it, for now. They all left the Compound, going back to their SHIELD rooms early. Natasha and Clint murmured a few empty promises that things would be okay to him before departing, Scott glanced his way but then left without a word, and Sam just left for his room, still refusing to even look at him.

He barely slept that night, too worried about Wanda, afraid that she was now being punished because of his actions. When he did sleep, it was interrupted by vague nightmares where Wanda attacked him, forcing him back to Siberia, only in these dreams, he didn’t move at the last second, and the edge of his shield severed Tony’s neck. He woke early in the morning and didn’t try to go back to sleep, feeling sick from the vivid dreams of blood and pain, and a vague sense of guilt that he just couldn’t shake.

He was in their common area hours before anyone else, tapping his foot and sitting next to an untouched mug of tea, waiting for the hour when Marie’s office would open so he could go and find out what happened. The others came in eventually, going about their morning routines. Clint made a large breakfast and Natasha got Steve to eat some of it and drink his tea, despite the sick feeling he had in his stomach. Sam and Scott ignored him.

He didn’t need to wait for Marie’s office hours. She came walking into the common room early, looking around and nodded, seeing that all of them were present. Steve sat up straighter as soon as she entered and opened his mouth before she could even say good morning.

“So? Where’s Wanda?”

“She won’t be returning here.”

“What? Why not?” Steve said, back ramrod straight and tensed to leap out of his chair any moment.

“Because of the results of her evaluations yesterday. Both the medical doctors performing her psychological evaluations and the magical experts evaluating her control over her abilities determined her to be a danger to others and recommended that she be removed from active duty with the Accords immediately.”

There was a cracking sound as the mug Steve was clutching—thankfully empty of tea, now—broke in his hands. “That’s ridiculous,” he snarled.

Marie gave a disapproving glance to the mug and looked back up at him. “No, it is the official recommendation given by four different independent professionals, none of whom had contact with each other during the evaluation process.”

“Wanda’s not a danger to others,” Steve ground out, fighting not to jump up from the chair.

“According to the experts that evaluated her, Mr. Rogers, she is. During her psychological evaluations, she displayed immature attitudes and a lack of self-control that alone would be enough to remove her from active duty. But she also expressed disdain for the Accords and their rules despite having signed a legally binding contract with them. She refused to acknowledge that she had disobeyed her leaders in the field and indicated that she would continue to do so in the future. When asked about the incident which led to her evaluation, she revealed a deep-seated and disturbing hatred for Mr. Stark and explicitly stated her desire to harm him physically.”

Steve was struck speechless by this information. Wanda had come to him about Tony because his amulet was interfering with her powers, and she was worried that it might hurt other people. She hadn’t ever said she’d wanted to hurt him. He couldn’t believe that she’d told the doctors she wanted to harm Tony. Unless… unless this wasn’t true. But before he could expand on that thought, Marie was continuing.

“During the evaluations of her powers, she demonstrated reasonable control over her abilities in physically demanding situations. However, when any sort of mental stress was present, both her evaluators found that she was severely lacking in control over herself and her powers. They both reported her to be quick-tempered and unpredictable when challenged, and stated concern for civilian casualties. In addition, when prompted during several theoretical scenarios, she stated that in some non-life threatening situations, she would use her mind-altering abilities on others, despite knowing that the U.N. considers this a human rights violation and has forbidden the use of such abilities except in the most extreme circumstances.”

Steve was at a loss. This all sounded bad, but he was still inclined to think it wasn’t fair to Wanda. She’d been dragged away from training without warning and suddenly put through tough evaluations, alone and probably frightened that they could send her away any time. Of course she hadn’t been one hundred percent in control of her powers. Pushed hard enough, anyone could lose control, and she was still young. And a situation didn’t have to be “life-threatening” to warrant the use of all of her abilities. It sounded like these scenarios were setting her up for failure.

He glanced at the others briefly, wondering what they were thinking about this. They were all wearing mixed looks of shock and anger—except Nat, who just had one eyebrow raised and a slight frown on her face—but it was hard to tell whether they were shocked over Wanda’s treatment or if they believed what Marie was saying.

“A ton of problems came forth in her evaluations, and any one of them could have been grounds to remove her from active duty, at least temporarily. In the face of all of them, the Council has decided to revoke her active status under the Accords for the time being.” Marie concluded.

Steve’s chest felt tight, keeping him from forming words, so it was Clint who asked the question. “So she’s on her way to prison now? You said that’s what happens if we’re kicked out of the Accords, right?”

“No, Mr. Barton. In this case, the problem is with her qualifications for duty under the Accords, rather than disciplinary action for a violation of Accords terms. Though she indicated that she would violate Accords rules and expressed desire to harm another signee, she has not actually done either of those things, at least not sufficiently to consider her in serious violation. There is no proof that she has attempted harm to Mr. Stark already, despite the concern that initially prompted these evaluations, and her disobedience of her field leaders had not yet caused them to render any official disciplinary action.”

Clint shook his head at all the jargon. “So she’s not being kicked out?”

“Her active duty status has been revoked, but her contract with the Accords has not been fully terminated. Yes, active duty was one of the terms of your pardons, and yes, if any of the rest of you were to find yourselves in similar circumstances, we would have no choice but to extradite you. But Maximoff is a special case. The results of her evaluations prompted concern from other countries over whether, even if she were extradited, she could be effectively—and humanely—contained. They were worried, with her volatile state, that attempting to extradite her could cause her to lash out and harm civilians or police.”

Steve huffed at that. That was absolutely ridiculous and completely unfair to Wanda. But if it was keeping her out of prison… “so what’s happening to her, then?”

“As of right now, she is being taken to Xavier’s School for Gifted Younsters, where Dr. Xavier and several of his fellows train young and sometimes dangerous mutants. They have an excellent reputation and Professor Xavier has agreed to take Miss Maximoff on for the time being. Though she’s not a mutant, he is capable of containing her abilities should she have trouble with them. She will live there from now on, training with Xavier in his program.”

Sam spoke up for the first time all day, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. “For how long?” His voice didn’t give away any of his feelings. Steve couldn’t tell if he was asking because he wanted Wanda back or wanted her gone, and it bothered him.

Marie turned to him. “For now, the arrangement will persist for the foreseeable future. The Council and SHIELD had to report this development, and we’re already getting a hell of a pushback from Germany and Sokovia. But they’ve agreed to some concessions immediately. She will be given repeat psychological and magical evaluations every four months. If she is determined on two successive evaluations to be fully fit, psychologically stable, and in complete control of her abilities, she will be reinstated to active Accords duty on a trial basis. Otherwise, she will remain with Xavier. If at any point she commits an actual crime, violates Professor Xavier’s rules to the point that he will no longer host her, or is determined by any evaluators to be too unstable to ever consider for active duty—which will require multiple levels of confirmation—then her powers will be permanently bound by Dr. Xavier and Dr. Strange, and she will be transported back to her home country of Sokovia.”

Steve barely noticed when Marie left, after telling them all that they were expected at the Compound that morning as usual for training. He felt sick. All this because Wanda was powerful, because she noticed Tony’s stupid amulet and because people were unreasonably afraid of her. Everyone kept telling them that their pardons were a “second chance,” but Wanda had never really been given a second chance. She’d encountered hostility and suspicion from the beginning. The deck had been stacked against her, and now she was being punished for not being perfect.

There were no murmured words of comfort this time. The others all finished their breakfasts in silence or retreated into their rooms until it was time to depart for the Compound. Steve just continued to sit at the table, staring at the far wall and thinking about Wanda and Tony and unfair expectations. Finally, when it was nearly time to leave for the Compound, he got up to get ready and clean up the shards of the mug he’d crushed. He dumped them in the trash, feeling a sudden stab of irrational hatred for the broken pieces of ceramic. All he could think about when he saw them was that SHIELD would probably chastise him for breaking something, even something stupid and cheap like the mug.

He knew that he was angry and probably not being rational, that he should settle himself far away from other people and give himself time to calm down and think about everything. But after brutally destroying some practice targets in his morning session and still feeling heavy with anger and righteous frustration, he found himself wandering the Compound during his break, looking for Tony.

In all likelihood, this would have happened anyway, eventually. He knew they were all out to get Wanda from the beginning. But he still couldn’t help but connect this back to Tony. If Tony hadn’t had to be so difficult, if he hadn’t worn that stupid amulet around the Compound just trying to get Wanda’s attention, if he’d just told Steve what it was instead of being cryptic and irritating and sending Steve to the Council…

He found him in one of the kitchens with Rhodes and the spider kid. They were leaning against the counters, easy smiles on their faces, chatting with each other. It sent a spark of equal hurt and irritation through him when their smiles all dropped the second he stepped into the room.

Rhodes and the kid were glaring at him intensely. Tony just looked indifferent. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and addressed Tony. “We need to talk.”

Rhodes was the one who spoke up before Tony could. “You know, Rogers, usually when you want a moment of someone’s time, you ask politely. You know, a question, with a ‘please’ at the end.”

The kid had shifted his feet just slightly apart, like he was preparing for a battle. Rhodes had his arms crossed, but Steve could see the tension in him. Tony, however, waved a hand back at them both. “He doesn’t know how to talk to me politely. It’s fine, Sugarplum. I can have a conversation with him. No need for hostility,” Tony said lightly, glancing back at the kid, who moved to lean stiffly back against the counter, still obviously coiled tight and ready to leap forward. Tony turned back to face Steve, expression neutral. “Let me guess, this is about Maximoff.”

“Yes,” Steve ground out. He stopped himself for a moment, taking a deep breath and trying to force himself to relax. They were obviously going to have this conversation here, in front of Rhodes and the kid, and they wouldn’t tolerate any kind of aggressive move on his part. Tony wouldn’t respond to that, either. Tony had all the power here and he knew it, and it made Steve ache to have to play along. After trying to shift his stance into something less hostile, Steve tried again. “The Council ordered an evaluation for her yesterday, and this morning they took her off active duty. They sent her to that school of Xavier’s.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I know. I was informed this morning. What about it?”

“You must know this is a mistake, Tony.” Steve fought to keep the accusation out of his voice. “They misinterpreted our concerns about that amulet you wear. They used it as an excuse to punish her.”

Rhodes snarled, but Tony put a hand on his arm briefly, telling him to back off, then turned back to Steve again. “I fail to see how that’s a mistake, or ‘punishment.’ They can schedule evaluations if they’d like, and it sounds like their concern was genuine.” He pulled the amulet out from his shirt, holding it up in front of his chest. “I got this for protection from her, you know. Looks like it’s a good thing I did. Obviously it works.”

Steve clenched his jaw. “She wasn’t attacking you.”

Tony let out an incredulous laugh. “Really? Because I was told that in her evaluations, she told them outright that she wanted to hurt me. They’re legally required to inform me if someone tells them they want to attack me, you know. Seems like being in the Compound with me would have been the perfect opportunity, don’t you think? How else would she have known about this?” He indicated the amulet again.

“She was pushed into that. Those evaluations were setting her up for failure, pushing her. She was already upset because that thing interferes with her powers, and then she was dragged out of training in the morning to go be questioned by a bunch of doctors. She was scared.”

“Have you talked to her since then?”

Steve frowned at the change in subject. “No, they haven’t let any of us contact her.”

“Then how exactly do you know how she was feeling, Rogers? Or is this just you projecting? Oh wait, no, it’s just the only thing you can use to try to justify what she did, isn’t it? You’ll say anything you have to to make her out to be innocent, and somehow I’m always the bad guy.” Tony shook his head with a grim smile. “Some things never change, I see.”

Steve bristled at the comment, but quickly deflated. He didn’t know what to do to help Wanda. He knew Tony could do something about it, but it seemed like Tony was determined to hate him no matter what. “Please, Tony, she’s just a kid. She doesn’t deserve this.” His voice was pleading.

Tony’s expression turned frosty. “She is very decidedly not a kid, Rogers, please get that through your thick head. She’s an adult, older than Peter, older than Amilie even, and they’re both adults who’ve signed the Accords. She’s responsible for making her own decisions and for facing the consequences of her own actions. In fact, she’s lucky Xavier was willing to take her, considering he usually only takes in mutant kids. You know, actual ones, not adults who just act like children.”

“She’s young,” Steve countered, frustrated. Maybe she wasn’t a teenager, but she was still young, younger than Tony and Steve.

“If she’s still so young that she needs to be protected from the big bad world, then what were you doing bringing her onto the battlefield, Rogers? Huh?”

Steve closed his eyes in desperation. “Please, Tony,” he said, quieter than before. “You could help her, bring her back. She doesn’t deserve this.”

Tony gazed impassively at him. “And why on Earth would I do that, Rogers? For her? She hates me. She’d probably refuse to come back just because I was the one offering it. So why would I? For you?”

“Tony, we’re your teammates. Your friends. We—”

Tony cut him off with a laugh, backing up a step to be level with his companions. The kid pushed away from the counter and stepped close to Tony in solidarity, and Rhodes linked his arm with Tony’s. Tony was smiling at Steve, but his eyes held nothing but contempt. “You know, I believed that once. You really had me going. But three years is a long time, Rogers. If you wanted to keep the wool pulled over my eyes, you shouldn’t have left me alone for so long. Because I learned a hell of a lot in the last few years. I learned just how bad it was with you, how wrong the way you treated me was. I learned who my real allies are.” He lifted his hands slightly to indicate the two flanking him. “But the most important thing I learned, Rogers? Was that we were never friends.”

Steve just stood there, heavy loss a crushing feeling in his chest, as the three facing him turned to leave the room. He had no allies here. Sam wanted nothing to do with him, and even the others were pulling away. Wanda, the only one who’d stuck by him, was gone, and not coming back any time soon—maybe not ever. He was trapped by rules and regulations he couldn’t get around, and a public that wouldn’t forgive anything he did. Tony had moved on, cut him out completely, gotten a new team and new friends and a new life. And Steve could do nothing but stand there, alone, and watch Tony walk away.