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It was just like Steve thought. The world needed Captain America, needed all of them, and he’d known it would welcome them back. Honestly, he’d thought they’d have to spend a while in exile, then a disaster of some kind would happen and the world would be asking for their help. He didn’t expect it to be so easy, or so fast, but he was relieved. Faster was better for all of them. The sooner they got back, the sooner they could go back to normal.

When he’d tossed the shield down in that Siberian bunker, he’d been ready to give up the title and the role of Captain America—at least temporarily, until Tony admitted he needed them back—for what he believed in, and for Bucky. But it seemed the world wasn’t ready for him to give up the title.

They spent just a week in the Wakandan palace, T’Challa graciously hosting them and promising his protection, before there were announcements that the US was asking them back home. They were understandably wary, of course, but T’Challa confirmed for them that the American leadership was blocking other countries’ attempts to have them arrested or prevent their reentry into the States, and was offering them full pardons for any crimes committed on US soil and protection from the international backlash. The Accords were temporarily on hold as they were reworked, in part to sniff out and resolve any of Ross’s “modifications” that had been meant to control superheroes.

It seemed Ross had been kicked out of his position after evidence of some of his illegal activities was suddenly distributed to many of the major government offices. It was anonymous, supposedly, but it was obvious who was behind it, and Steve took it as the first step in an apology from Tony with high hopes for the future. If they were welcomed back, and Tony was willing to offer apologies to each of them—Wanda and Bucky most of all—then maybe they could take steps toward mending these problems. Certain things would never heal, of course, and obviously some things would have to change. Wanda said she didn’t even want to have to look at Stark and staunchly refused to work with him in the field again. Steve thought perhaps she’d soften after a genuine apology from Tony and some time to calm down, but it was true Tony would probably have to be removed from active duty again, assuming he didn’t remove himself. After what had happened, none of them could really trust him in the field. And before the Accords mess, they’d done fine with Tony in the background, providing support, the way it should be. Going back to that was the best bet.

Some parts of the plan and the reunion Steve had constructed in his mind fell apart faster than others. Sam had encouraged him to go on the internet to help find out more about whether the pardons and the Accords situation were real, and while he did find supporting evidence, he also found some disappointing things. There were a lot of people online protesting Steve and his team’s return to the United States, not all of them foreigners. There seemed to be plenty of people in the US who fully supported the Accords and felt that Steve and his team shouldn’t be given a free pass just because Ross was now being arrested. It was public knowledge now that there had been a split in the Avengers with Tony on one side and Steve on the other, and a lot of people out there seemed to be supporting Tony, and in doing so, spitting on Steve. Steve hoped that Tony would be agreeable to a public apology of sorts to clear up some of the confusion and stop some of the vitriol online. Of course, there were always crazies out there who would probably hate him no matter what he did, but the rational minded would calm down once their idol admitted that he was in the wrong and was back to working with Steve again.

There were plenty of supporters for him too, though. Plenty of people who understood exactly his point, defended superheroes’ right to act how they felt was best rather than being at the beck and call of potentially corrupt governments. Steve glanced through a few of their blog posts and sites and was warmed by their support for him and for American ideals, as a lot of them said.

The next part of his imagined future to change was the reunion between Bucky and Tony. Bucky was sure to be wary of Tony after what he’d done to him, of course, but Steve would speak to him, make sure he was comfortable accepting an apology, and would be there to carefully watch over their interactions. He was picturing a shaking of hands, a tentative apology from Tony—because of course Tony didn’t do apologies, not usually, and he had to put up a fight about it—and then an offer to build Bucky a new arm, because the only way Tony really knew how to gain anyone’s trust or forgiveness was to offer them money or tech.

But that plan was shot fairly quickly. When they were sure they were going back and began making preparations for the journey home, Bucky approached Steve to tell him that he was going to stay in Wakanda, at least for the time being. He still had HYDRA’s triggers in his head, still felt he was a danger to those around him, and Wakanda had some of the best scientists and researchers on the planet. He was confident that T’Challa’s people could help him. He told Steve that he was originally planning to go back into cryosleep, but that T’Challa’s sister had convinced him to stay out, that she could get some people on it, and had already offered to make him a new arm.

So maybe Bucky’s new arm wasn’t going to come from Tony, and maybe Tony’s apology wasn’t going to be in person, but it would still work out. Bucky would get his head fixed and then join them. In the meantime, Tony could at least send him a letter, or set up a video chat or something. That might be better, in fact, so Bucky would feel safer until he felt he could trust that Tony wouldn’t try to attack him again.

But coming back home wasn’t anything like Steve had expected. They didn’t go straight to the Compound, instead stopping off for a brief meeting with some government officials, updating them on the progress of the Accords and giving them the details of their pardons. Steve didn’t really listen to most of the legal jargon, too focused on getting back to the Compound and his imminent reunion with Tony.

When they arrived back at the Compound, however, it was to nothing at all. No one around, not that Steve had exactly expected a surprise party, but not one person outside to greet them. No sign of Tony at all. They went inside, still not seeing anyone, and ended up just shrugging to one another and heading back to their rooms. They were stopped briefly in the kitchen by the gaping hole extending down through at least ten floors of the building. Wanda avoided looking at it, but at Steve’s questioning, admitted she’d done it while fighting Vision to escape the Compound.

“He was fine, he came to fight us in Germany right after that anyway,” she said dismissively, then looked around hopefully. “Where is he? I need to speak to him.”

“Where is anyone?” Sam asked. Not only had they not seen Tony, but they hadn’t seen any of the few staff that were usually around. The building seemed to be completely empty except for the returning Avengers. But for the last week, most of the usual Compound residents had been gone. Maybe the staff who usually kept everything up had been sent home. Still, Tony had to know when they were coming back. He should be there.

They spoke briefly about the conspicuous absence of anyone else, then Scott piped up. “Um… where should I… put my stuff?” Not that he had much, he’d come with them to Germany with little more than the Ant-Man suit and a change of clothes, then been sent to the Raft and gone straight to Wakanda. But Steve had almost forgotten he was there, much less that he needed a room, the man was so quiet.

“Uh, yeah, we can get you a room, if you want to stay—?” Steve started, not sure really whether Scott was planning to stay and join them or not. He’d been a help in Germany, and after getting him sent to the Raft and then stuck in Wakanda Steve would have felt guilty telling him no if he wanted to be part of the team, but he really didn’t know anything about him. Steve could admit to himself that he’d be grateful if Scott wanted to leave, and anyway, he must have a family somewhere, a life he’d left to help them.

“He can have my old room,” Clint said, already shifting his bag on his shoulder like he was preparing to head right back out the door. He turned to Steve. “Cap, it was good to see you all again, really, and I’m glad you called me to help, but I’ve got to go. Not that I wouldn’t like to stay and knock a few of Stark’s teeth out, but I promised Laura I was out and I meant it. I need to get back to my family.”

Steve cringed internally a bit at Clint’s comment about Tony—none of them were happy with him, Clint in particular seemed to have a real grudge suddenly, but immediate hostility wouldn’t help things—but he understood, so he gave his blessing as Clint turned to leave. Clint promised to tell them that he’d arrived back home safely, and he left. Steve was sad to see him go, but he needed to be with his family, like he’d said. Steve had felt a bit guilty pulling him away from retirement in the first place.

They all settled back into their rooms, then gathered back into one of the common areas, but they seemed to be at a bit of a loss. They weren’t sure what to do now that they were back, and with no one else around, they had no one to talk to, nothing to plan or do, really. They’d been briefed about the terms of their return, not that Steve had been giving the government people his full attention, but the gist of it seemed to be that everything was more or less back to normal, except that they’d need to be more careful about going out of the country for missions. Sounded like they wanted to try and go through some kind of red tape and make everything harder, but Steve knew when it came down to it, anyone in danger would be asking for their help, governments be damned. The Accords would end up falling apart completely, this whole situation would blow over, and everything would be back to normal soon.

It went on like that for a while. They’d arrived back at the Compound in the afternoon, then spent the day relaxing, settling back in, and trying to figure out how to begin to get back to normal. Steve spent most of the evening wondering where Tony was. The next morning, there were a few staff back in the building, and some construction people coming in to work on the extensive damage to the floors where Wanda and Vision had fought, but none of them talked to Steve or the others, and there was still no sign of Tony, Rhodes, Vision, or even that spider kid from the fight in Germany.

They weren’t exactly sure who to be talking to about anything, either. There wasn’t much left of SHIELD, and most of the “official” missions they’d been on since the fall of SHIELD had been organized through Tony’s people. Hill was still around and sometimes involved, but after Tony had withdrawn from the team post-Ultron, she had been working for him behind the scenes and not as directly involved with the Avengers and their field work. After the SHIELD/HYDRA fiasco, a lot of Steve’s (and Natasha’s and Sam’s) time had been spent looking for Bucky, more or less in secret, so they’d been pretty much on their own.

With the government watching them a little more closely, at least for a while, they’d probably have to work exclusively with Tony and his people, make sure everything goes through them. That shouldn’t really be a problem, except for the barrier of their personal issues with Tony. It was going to take a while to get past what had happened, no matter how sorry Tony was, and that might make work a little awkward for a while. Still, they’d get past it. It was Steve’s job as leader to make his team work cohesively no matter their internal issues; he’d been too lax with some of that in the past, and that could have been what led, partly, to everything that happened with the Accords. With Tony still supporting the team and representing them in political and government matters, he shouldn’t have been so far removed from the team. Steve, at least, should have been updated more regularly, should have been checking in on Tony and what he was doing. Their ongoing understanding was that Tony was always available for backup in the field, if needed, but he hadn’t had any experience fighting with Wanda or Sam, and Wanda still had her issues with him. They needed to be working past all that, and Steve was going to make sure it was seen to now that they were back.

But that was impossible if they didn’t see him. As the second day after their return wore on with no sign of their other teammates, Steve slowly grew more and more irritated. If this was Tony’s way of throwing a tantrum about their return and trying to shut them out, that was going to have to change fast.

The next day, they finally saw Rhodes. The interaction was brief and left a sour taste in Steve’s mouth. Rhodes was in a wheelchair, moving across one of the common areas and thoroughly ignoring Steve when he shouted his name. When Steve and the rest of them approached him, he glared daggers at them, said a total of five words—none of them kind—and disappeared into the elevator. They saw him a few more times throughout the day from across rooms, but never tried to approach him again.

Sam was quiet after the interaction, still feeling guilty for what had happened to the Colonel. Steve tried to cheer him up with no success, then ended up sitting on his own, trying not to be annoyed with Rhodes. Being injured like that must have been awful, and it was so recent, Steve could hardly blame him for being in a bad mood. Also, a week was certainly long enough for Tony to have been saying a lot about their fight or what had happened in Siberia, and Rhodes might have some misconceptions about the entire thing, and specifically about Steve. Steve remembered their conversations about the Accords, too, and it seemed they were on opposite sides of that debate. No doubt Rhodes would have changed his mind if Tony had, but at the time he’d seemed adamant about his support of the Accords and his dismissal of Steve’s concerns.

Natasha came back that night. Having heard about their return, she’d decided to come back as well. She told them she’d visited Clint and his family, confirmed that they were safe, and then headed back to the Compound. She’d broken the Accords, and her alliance with Tony, when she’d helped them in Germany, and she’d been forced to run from Ross after that. But with Ross losing his position and Steve and his team back already, she’d decided it was safe enough for her to return as well. She didn’t have much to say about anything that had gone down, or the conspicuous lack of Tony’s presence since their return. In fact, she was pretty quiet all around, mostly keeping to herself for the rest of the night.

It was three days after their return that they finally saw Tony again. Steve was alone in the kitchen—the reconstruction of the floor on the uppermost damaged level had just finished the day before—when he spotted Tony coming into the next room through one of the glass walls. Steve immediately dropped what he was doing and ran over.

Tony was moving slowly, almost cautiously. When Steve said his name, Tony’s head jerked up, his eyes narrowed, and he took a step back defensively, one of his hands twitching like he wanted to raise it up in self-defense. A flash of guilt went through Steve, seeing the bruises and scrapes still standing out starkly on Tony’s face and remembering his expression in Siberia, but it was quickly pushed down. Tony had started that fight, and Steve had done what he needed to to protect his best friend. Tony was fine now, and if his feelings were hurt, that was his own fault.

Before Steve could say anything, however, Tony turned on his heel and strode right back through the door he’d just entered through. Steve was frozen in place for a moment at the uncharacteristic lack of remark from the man, which despite his slow pace, was long enough for Tony to make it halfway down the next hallway. Steve shook himself and yanked open the door, demanding that Tony come back, but Tony ignored him, walking on and getting on the elevator.

For the next few days, Steve repeatedly tried to track Tony down, but with no success. The few times he saw Tony, he was disappearing into labs or wings of the Compound that Steve didn’t have access to, sometimes with Rhodes, who still just glared at Steve. Before he’d withdrawn from active duty, Tony had been talking about installing one of his AIs in the Compound, but he’d never gotten around to it before he’d left, and some of the new members—Wanda in particular—were uncomfortable with the idea of Stark’s tech watching them all the time, so it had never been done. Steve couldn’t help but wish it had, now, because the computer could at least have told him Tony’s whereabouts when he asked, so he didn’t have to wander around the Compound just hoping to catch him in an open area and have a conversation.

They started running into issues shortly after Steve had first spotted Tony again. Wanda came to him to complain that her credit cards had been canceled and all the purchases she tried to make online or in stores were being denied. Sam told him that he needed a requisition order for repairs to his wings, but when he’d gone to the office that used to handle those affairs, he was turned away. Though they were going back to regular training in the Compound’s facilities, none of them had heard anything about how their missions were going to work now. Steve had tried to get hold of Tony’s people to figure all that out, and had been dismissed, questioned unnecessarily, and turned away constantly. All of it was adding to Steve’s growing frustration. He knew this was Tony’s doing.

Vision came floating through the halls like a ghost five days after their return. He didn’t glare at them like Rhodes or Tony, but he didn’t seem inclined to start a conversation. He responded politely, if shortly, to Steve’s attempts at conversation, and then to Sam’s as well. When Wanda, face brightened just by seeing him, spoke to him like an old friend and tried to embrace him, he dismissed her quickly and disappeared through the opposite wall. Her face fell, then quickly reddened. She spent the next ten minutes cursing Tony, sure that it was his influence causing Vision to treat her like that.

Steve’s mind returned to the crater in the floor and he wasn’t so sure that it was entirely Tony’s influence, but he stayed quiet. Vision and Wanda needed to work out their problems on their own, and he was sure Vision would come around. Still, he’d been unnecessarily rude to poor Wanda, and maybe Steve could talk him into listening to what she had to say a little sooner. He’d at least seemed polite to Steve earlier.

So Steve managed to track him down a little later and try to have a chat with him. His attempts to convince Vision to go and hear Wanda out were fruitless; Vision just stated his need for space and his distrust of Wanda after her unprovoked and unnecessarily violent attack on him, and when Steve tried to argue in her defense, Vision claimed that Steve wasn’t there and couldn’t pass reasonable judgment on a situation he didn’t understand.

It frustrated Steve, but he didn’t want to ruin his relationship with the one potential link to Tony that was still willing to talk to him. After all, he knew their sudden problems with money, equipment, and the like were all Tony’s doing. Since Tony seemed to be doing his best to avoid them and Rhodes just snarled every time he saw them, maybe Vision could be Steve’s conduit and start to talk some sense into Tony.

When Steve broached the subject, however, Vision seemed confused. When Steve elaborated on the nature of their issues, Vision shook his head as though he was exasperated, and told Steve that they were no longer being supported by Tony. He said it as though it was simple, obvious, and that heated Steve’s blood. Vision left with a parting remark about it being ridiculous to have expected that Tony would continue supporting them in any way after what Steve had done to him. Steve sat there seething for several minutes after that. So Tony really was doing all this as some sort of childish revenge against Steve; not only that, but he’d been telling all the others, apparently, that Steve had been the one to attack him, that Steve had been the one to “do this” to Tony. Avoiding his own responsibility in the matter, as usual.

Steve ground his teeth for the next day and a half, determined to be the better man and keep the others in line, but eventually gave in when the insults against them just kept mounting. When their breakfast was interrupted one day by a man in a suit, handing them notices of eviction from the Compound, Steve decided enough was enough. Snarling, Steve told the others about what Vision had said, that Tony was just trying to make their lives miserable, and that they needed to go and find him, make him see sense.

Scott, alone, disagreed with him. He said that the Compound, their money, and their tech all belonged to Tony, and if Tony wanted to cut them off and kick them out, that was his right. Wanda and Sam immediately shouted him down, but when they all rose to follow Steve and track Tony down for a conversation, Scott shook his head. “I won’t be part of this, man, whatever you’re planning to do. I don’t need any more trouble. I’m staying here, and then I’m going to go pack my stuff.”

Natasha seemed irritated, watching him with narrowed eyes, but the others just turned back to Steve, ignoring him, and Steve was with them. Scott wasn’t a real Avenger, the Compound wasn’t even his home until a week ago, and his suit wasn’t Stark tech. He didn’t really have anything to lose here, and he obviously didn’t understand the stakes. He didn’t even know Tony, didn’t understand how childish and ridiculous he was being.

So they left him in the kitchen and went to track Tony down. This time in the morning, Tony was usually going to or from the labs or meetings, and hopefully they could catch him in transition, before he could hide himself away behind locked doors.

It didn’t take them long, surprisingly. They found him alone in one of the lounges, fiddling with one of his tablets. When Steve came storming in, followed closely by the others, Tony leapt up immediately, eyes wide, hands twitching like he was wishing for a suit or one of his repulsor watches.

“We need to talk,” Steve growled immediately, while Natasha moved forward, closer to Tony. Like with Steve the other day, Tony took a reflexive step back, breathing already speeding up.

Steve saw Tony’s jaw clench. “I really don’t think we do,” he said shortly, and turned to leave out the opposite door, but found his way blocked by Sam, who was standing in the doorway, arms crossed.

“And I think we do need to talk,” Sam said, shifting like he was ready to grab Tony if he tried to dash past him out the door.

Tony huffed, turned again, and tried to sidestep Steve and Natasha to head to the door they’d come through. He found that door blocked by Wanda, however, who already had red magic swirling at her fingertips. “Come on now, Stark, not afraid of us are you?” she jeered.

Steve saw the tiny shudder that went through Tony at her words and raised his hands as Tony turned back to him with a murderous look. They didn’t need to start off with this much hostility. “Tony, look, this is ridiculous. You can’t just keep avoiding us, then have your minions come and cut off all our stuff and kick us out.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure I can,” Tony said, voice steady in that argumentative tone that already set Steve on edge. “I own this building. You don’t pay rent, you haven’t signed an official contract to even be here, and you’re no longer welcome.”

“We live here,” Wanda said loudly from behind him. “You can’t just kick us out because you’re angry that your precious Accords failed.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, still looking at Steve but clearly answering Wanda. “They weren’t my Accords, which you’d know if you’d bothered to even read them before you ran off to become terrorists. And they didn’t fail. They’re being reworked, and they’re going to come back, and it’s going to be the same situation. You don’t sign them, you’re gone.”

Steve clenched his fists. “We are not terrorists.”

Tony let out a short bark of a laugh, then twitched one of his hands upward to his chest for a second like he was going to rub at it. “You invaded other countries without warning, caused massive property damage and loss of life, all to push a political agenda. You’re terrorists by definition.”

The others all started protesting at once, but Steve was the loudest, and the closest to Tony. “You were the one that made this political! You were the one who wanted us to hand over the reins to the government. We were just trying to help people!”

He stepped closer to Tony, towering over him, and this time Tony didn’t back up. “There was so much stupid in that sentence, I don’t even know where to start,” he quipped, “but help people, really? You mean help Barnes? Because that’s the only thing I saw. You murdered people in Bucharest, Cap—” he spit the title like a curse, sarcastic and biting, “—and you were ready to tell the whole world to go to hell for your little assassin buddy. What, couldn’t stand to be without him? Needed your own loyal pet to follow you around and agree with whatever you say? I guess he was a better option than any of them, huh?” Tony gestured around the room to the others. “The less they question you the better, that’s how you’ve always preferred it. And hell, he’s already brainwashed to boot, it’s perfect for you—”

Tony was so close, too close, and at that last insult, the insinuation that Steve would ever take advantage of Bucky’s state of mind or use his brainwashing against him, Steve couldn’t help it, he snapped. He reached out with both hands and shoved Tony away from him.

The next few seconds seemed to stretch out into minutes.

Since being given the serum, Steve had always been aware of his strength. While it was perfect for fighting Nazis and other bad guys, and useful in plenty of other situations, it could be a burden at times. He was always hyperaware of the fact that he could so easily hurt a normal person. In training with the other Avengers, he’d repeatedly been told he wasn’t trying hard enough, worried as he was that he would actually hurt one of his teammates. He always had control over his strength, and this time was no different, even when he was this angry at Tony.

He’d also shoved plenty of people, before and after being given the serum. In fistfights and fights for his life, in playful banter and training with teammates. He knew what it should have felt like, exactly how much force to use to push Tony back, maybe make him stagger a little, just to get him away from Steve before his unfounded, cruel accusations pushed Steve to actually hit him. But that wasn’t what happened.

As his hands connected with Tony’s chest, his arm muscles were already bunched and pushing forward, too late to stop the force of the shove. Too late to stop, even when it didn’t feel right—instead of the expected solid pushback of a normal, relatively thin person’s sternum and ribcage under a single layer of clothing, what Steve’s hands impacted felt too soft, too malleable. For the first fraction of a second after contact, Steve could feel an abnormal bowing under his hands, like he was pushing against soft plastic instead of hard bone.

In the next fraction of a second, too fast for Steve’s mind to have realized that something was wrong and too late for him to stop the force of his arms, he felt the pop and the shift under his hands. He imagined that he could hear it, but it might have just been his mind filling in what his hands felt.

His mind still hadn’t processed all of that when his arms were done pushing, outstretched with Tony’s body moving away from them. Tony’s eyes were wide as he started to tip backwards. Instead of moving his legs, stumbling back to catch himself and stay upright, he just… kept falling. He went down right in front of Steve’s eyes, landing hard on his back on the floor, face sheet white already and hands raised up like he was going to clutch at his throat.

There were noises of confusion from the others in the next few seconds, but Steve could barely hear them, entirely focused on the strangled, wheezing noise coming from Tony. In apparent solidarity, Steve’s own chest seized, preventing him from drawing in a breath. “Oh, God, Tony…” Steve choked out, moving forward to kneel next to him.

Tony’s eyes were still open, wide and terrified, unfocused and staring at the ceiling. He didn’t seem to be aware that Steve was there. The awful noise he was making died off, but nothing replaced it, no gasp of breath or inhale of any kind. Steve reached forward but stopped a few inches from Tony, hesitant to touch him. The others were questioning him now, their voices jumbled together—or maybe it was Steve’s mind scrambling their words—and closing in on him.

Before anyone could do anything more, Vision came floating up through the floor just feet from them. “Mr. Stark sent me a message, what is—” he stopped short at the sight of Steve and Tony on the floor, eyes widening. “What have you done?” he asked, moving toward them, and the accusation behind the words settled heavily in Steve’s chest. He opened his mouth to answer the question, but nothing came out.

Vision knelt on Tony’s other side and reached out a hand, murmuring to him and getting no response. He rested the hand, glowing faintly, over Tony’s chest for several seconds. Then he jerked the hand back, looked Tony over quickly as though deciding something, and promptly scooped him up, moving quickly to the door with Tony in his arms. Wanda moved out of his way silently and he strode past without acknowledging her, turning as soon as he was out the door to rush down the hallway.

There was a stunned silence in the room after Vision left. Steve still knelt on the floor, voice caught in his throat, not sure what to do. Everything had happened so fast, and that shove shouldn’t have even hurt Tony, much less made him collapse like that… but days ago, Vision had mentioned what he’d done to Tony, hadn’t he, had he been talking about the physical fight in Siberia, had Tony really been injured there? A vision of his shield smashing into Tony’s chest, crushing the arc reactor and the suit underneath it, filled Steve’s mind, along with the look on Tony’s face when he’d held the shield over him, for that brief second when he’d really, truly contemplated bringing it down on Tony’s neck, and it had seemed Tony had known what he was thinking. It was the same look in Tony’s eyes as he lay on the floor just now, unable to breathe.

There was a hand on his shoulder and he startled, having almost forgotten that the others were in the room. He looked up at Sam’s face, twisted in sympathy and confusion, and then around at the others, who’d moved closer to him, standing around him in a loose circle. He had no idea how long he’d been kneeling there, replaying the fight on a loop, wondering what the hell had happened, how it had gone so wrong. Finally, after another minute of trying to force himself to take deep breaths, he steeled himself.

“Vision must be taking him to the hospital,” he managed to say, voice cracking, “we should—we should get there.” He stood up, and the others backed up to give him room.

Natasha put a hand on his arm and he had the urge to shrug it off, not feeling that he deserved the comfort. “We don’t even know which hospital, Steve,” she tried, but Steve shook his head.

“The closest one, I don’t know, we need to do something, I—I need to see him—”

The others muttered, but Steve barely heard them, already moving to the door. They all followed in his wake reluctantly, but when they got to the front of the Compound, ready to stride out the doors, they were blocked by several uniformed officers in the doorway.

“Steven Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Samuel Wilson, Wanda Maximoff, you are under arrest for assault,” one of the officers said, stepping forward with a pair of handcuffs. Behind him, the others moved forward as well.

“We didn’t touch him!” Wanda said behind Steve, and Steve imagined she must have gestured to herself, Sam, and Natasha. Steve very clearly had touched Tony.

When the officers ignored her and moved forward, she yelled a threat and Steve saw all of them put their hands on their guns. “No!” he cried, not wanting anyone else to get hurt, but his yell only caused them to tense up even more.

“Stop,” Natasha said harshly behind him, “we can talk to an investigator or a lawyer about the charges later. Don’t give them a reason to add resisting arrest.”

She and Sam stepped forward with their hands up and two of the officers moved to cuff them. Steve put his hands up as well, prepared to go quietly, but Wanda yelled behind him and suddenly a red barrier erupted between him and the officers. Sam and Natasha, on the other side with the cops, immediately started yelling at Wanda to take it down, but they were drowned out by the scream of frustration Wanda let out as the officers drew their guns.

Steve turned to her with wide eyes. “What are you doing, Wanda? Just go with them! We’ll work it out!”

She turned imploring eyes to him, expression equal parts angry and upset. “We haven’t done anything wrong! This is all Stark’s fault!”

The barrier pulsed red and Steve heard yells of alarm from the officers. He opened his mouth to try to convince Wanda to stop, but he was distracted by Vision, who was suddenly standing behind Wanda, having come unnoticed through the wall behind her. It was less than a second between when Steve saw him and when he put his hands to Wanda’s head, not enough time for Wanda to turn and see that he was there. The second he touched her, the barrier she’d created fell, her eyes rolled back and she slumped to the floor.

Vision looked at her on the floor and then over to Steve, and Steve recoiled from the look on his face. He’d always thought of Vision as benevolent, naïve even, certainly innocent in a way. But for the first time, he looked angry, furious, and it really made him look like the powerful, alien android he was. He looked like he could kill them all, and Steve felt a moment of genuine fear looking at him.

“Mr. Rogers, I suggest you cooperate fully with these officers,” Vision said coldly. Steve just nodded mutely, and Vision turned to look distastefully down at Wanda and back at the cops as one of them came forward to cuff Steve. “There is a device I know of that can contain Miss Maximoff’s powers. I will retrieve it for you, and then I must return to the hospital.”

The remaining officers nodded. One stayed behind to have a short conversation with Vision, but Steve didn’t hear it. He, Sam, and Natasha were marched out to several cars they had outside. They were separated and taken in to a regular police station in different cars, marched through the precinct and into individual temporary cells like common criminals. It galled Steve, but he was still too preoccupied with what had happened to Tony, what he’d accidentally done, to put up any kind of a fight.

He didn’t see the others again. A few cops showed up to ask him basic questions and complete the booking process, and one asked about his legal representation. He’d been read his rights when he was taken at the Compound, but he’d barely listened. He knew the Avengers had a legal team, but he had no idea how to contact any of them. Tony probably paid for all of them, anyway. At his silent shake of the head, the cop told him that a public defender would be assigned to him.

Said public defender showed up what felt like days later. It had only been hours, but with nothing to do but pace, second guess himself, and worry about the others, it’d been a tough few hours. The lawyer was a middle-aged man in a suit, carrying a thin briefcase and a grim expression. They were taken to an interrogation room to talk.

“Mr. Rogers, the police want a statement from you indicating that you were not aware of Ms. Maximoff’s intent to attack the officers, and that you did not approve of her actions.”

“She didn’t attack them!” Steve said immediately, defending Wanda an automatic reflex.

“She used dangerous, potentially deadly abilities in an attempt to resist arrest. I don’t know yet whether they’re charging her with resisting arrest or assault on a police officer. All I know is that she included you in her attempt, and if you do not provide a written statement denying your intent to assist her, then you will be charged with resisting arrest as well.”

Steve floundered for a moment, but with a bit more discussion, he agreed, only after his lawyer assured him that his doing so wouldn’t somehow increase the charges against Wanda. He wouldn’t throw her under the bus, but… well, he had told her to stop. He’d intended to come quietly. He didn’t deserve to be charged with resisting arrest.

“Is—do you know how Tony is doing?” was the next question he asked, after a cop took his statement about Wanda.

His lawyer sighed. “Right now, the charges stand as assault in the first degree, possibly with additional charges of unlawful imprisonment in the first degree.”

“Unlawful imprisonment? What does that mean—and did you say ‘right now?’ Could that change?” The lawyer hadn’t answered his question about Tony, but Steve had a dozen other questions and wasn’t articulating himself well.

“First, yes, unlawful imprisonment. Mr., uh, Vision has provided the police with a recording of the incident in question. Mr. Stark was clearly attempting to leave the room, and you all prevented him from doing so. Legally, that is considered unlawful imprisonment. And yes, the charges could change. As of,” he glanced down at his watch, “thirty minutes ago, Mr. Stark was still in the operating room. If he dies on the table, or in recovery, the charges against all of you will change from first degree assault to first degree manslaughter, possibly second degree murder.”

Steve’s chest tightened again. Tony was being operated on, and he could die. Steve bowed his head for a few seconds, trying to take deep breaths and take it in, reviewing what the lawyer said. His mind caught on a phrase. “Did you say charges against all of us? I’m the only one who touched Tony. The others weren’t involved.” He wouldn’t let them face the consequences of his actions.

There was another sigh. “There is such a thing as accomplice liability, Mr. Rogers. The others may not have been the ones to injure Mr. Stark, but they were present. They encouraged your confrontation and put him in physical danger by forcing him to stay in that room with you, they did nothing to attempt to stop you when you committed the assault in question, and they did not attempt to assist when Mr. Stark was clearly injured. That makes them liable for the same crime as you. That’s also why you will probably be charged with unlawful imprisonment. You weren’t the one to block the doorway, but you allowed them to do it, and then you used their actions to place Mr. Stark in physical danger and cause him to fear for his life.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Steve said, voice quiet. “I didn’t know he was already hurt.”

“According to Mr. Vision, Mr. Stark’s baseline condition was a direct result of injuries you caused him on a previous occasion, which he says he has proof of. If that is true, Mr. Rogers—assuming you plan to plead not guilty and attempt a defense against your charges—no jury is going to believe that you didn’t know he was already injured. Not only that, but they will look even less favorably on you setting up a physical confrontation with a man you already assaulted previously.”

Steve wanted to argue, but he didn’t know what to say to that. His brain unhelpfully supplied another replay of the fight in Siberia and the shield smashing down on Tony’s chest. His lawyer went on about the charges against him and how best to present his defense and he listened, lost and honestly frightened.

He was there another day before the arraignment. Before going, his lawyer told him that Tony had survived his surgery and was currently in recovery. He breathed a sigh of relief at the news, but he didn’t have much time to be happy about it before he was in court, being officially charged with first degree assault and unlawful imprisonment, as well as second degree menacing—apparently, the courts considered Wanda’s powers a “deadly weapon” and her using them to intimidate Tony as menacing him, which Steve was now an accomplice to.

Steve pleaded not guilty at the arraignment. He was sent to jail to await trial with a bail set at 25,000, an insanely high price—not that there was anyone not currently incarcerated with him who would be willing to bail him out—and a date was set for a preliminary hearing. He didn’t fully understand everything that was going on, despite his lawyer explaining it as many times as he requested, too numb from thinking about Tony and the charges against him, the fact that he was a criminal, that he was going to jail to await a trial for felony charges.

The preliminary hearing didn’t take long, since its only purpose was to confirm that there was enough evidence to actually charge him. They had video evidence that Steve had committed or taken part in the crimes in question. The trial date was set and Steve was sent back to wait in jail and prepare his defense.

He heard news about the outside world only from his lawyer. The media found out very quickly what had happened, and according to his lawyer, it was everywhere. People were going crazy speculating about what had happened. Social media was exploding with the news, letters were being sent to every one of the jailed Avengers and were having to be treated as potentially dangerous after one of them had contained a contact poison.

Steve asked to see some of the mail that was passing through the inspections, and his lawyer brought in several letters on his next visit. Even if they were angry and negative, Steve wanted to read them. He wanted to know what people were saying about him, to him, and he wanted to see it for himself. He was already tired of being cut off from the outside and getting all his information secondhand through his lawyer.

It seemed his lawyer purposely chose to pass on only those letters which seemed to be positive, which Steve did appreciate. He’d never meant to hurt Tony, and though he’d take responsibility for it, this whole arrest and trial was taking it a bit far. For something that should have been handled internally, something that wouldn’t have been a problem if Tony hadn’t been acting childish and unreasonable in the first place. Steve would take back that shove if he could, but still… it shouldn’t have hurt Tony the way it did. It had only done real damage because of the injuries he’d apparently already had from Siberia, and he’d never have gotten those if he hadn’t attacked Bucky. This had all gotten way out of hand, and it was good to know that there were still people supporting him, who might look beyond the media hype.

His positivity about the letters evaporated quickly and was replaced by horror. They passionately defended him, told him that he was a hero. Many of them were from the same organizations whose websites he’d briefly glanced over when they’d first been pardoned and brought back, looking for support for his team. But apparently he hadn’t looked hard enough at their “American ideals.”

The letters were full of awful rhetoric; racism, homophobia, xenophobia. They used slurs to describe the people in other countries who’d been hurt or killed by the Avengers and their actions and those in the US who defended Tony. Many of the letters cited Tony as a lover of the various groups they hated and praised Steve for attacking him, saying that he deserved it. One of them detailed their desire for his death. Steve stopped reading after that, feeling sick.

Was that really what people thought of him? Were his only supporters the kind of people he despised, people who truly believed he attacked Tony maliciously and would appreciate their praise for having done it?

For the next few weeks before the pretrial readiness conference, Steve read a few more letters coming in. Most of those supporting him were the same as the first. Those against him ranged from questions about what he was thinking and dejected statements about lost faith in Captain America to hateful messages wishing harm on him and people telling him they hoped he never saw the light of day again. Eventually, Steve gave up on reading them.

His defense was weak, even his lawyer admitted it. Still, he was determined to proceed with the trial. He refused to take a plea bargain. He needed to explain himself, to make people see that he hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, that it wasn’t his fault Tony had been hurt like that.

The trial was practically a blur. Even despite all the evidence against him, the hateful letters, and the weight of his own guilt, Steve went in feeling righteous, sure that he could explain it. But he was quickly worn down by the prosecution’s presentation against him. Tony himself never took the stand, never even showed up in court, still recovering in the hospital. But Vision came, to talk about how he’d found Tony in Siberia and detail his injuries then. They played the footage from Tony’s helmet of Steve and Bucky fighting him—which looked so much worse now than how he remembered it—and then showed Tony’s medical records post-Siberia. When Steve and the others had come back, Tony had just gotten out of the hospital with a temporary artificial sternum and partial ribcage in place just to hold his chest together until they were finished constructing something more permanent. Vision went on to describe what had happened the day of the assault.

One of Tony’s doctors took the stand and detailed the consequences of the assault in question. When Steve had shoved Tony, he’d not only broken that artificial piece, but dislocated it from its tentative connections to what remained of Tony’s actual ribcage. With the renewed damage to his heart beneath, the surgeons, in order to save his life, had to use nanotechnology that he’d been developing and power it with an arc reactor.

A new arc reactor, back in his chest. The doctor went on at length about the invasiveness of the procedure and the reactor, how it restricted Tony’s breathing and movement and caused him constant pain, how the damage its physical presence would cause had shortened Tony’s life expectancy even further. He concluded by saying that despite the miraculous abilities of the nanotech that had saved Tony’s life, unless they figured out another supporting source, he would never even consider recommending the procedure to another patient, even one with no other hope. He said he was confident that most people would be better off dead than living with a reactor in their chest.

They played the video—apparently not having an AI installed in the Compound didn’t mean they weren’t under surveillance—of the confrontation that had caused all of this. It looked so much worse watching it, how they had blocked Tony in when he clearly wanted to leave, how Wanda had threatened him with her powers, the way Steve had gotten into his personal space, trying to intimidate him. They showed everything, including how horrified Steve had been by Tony’s collapse, but by then, Steve was sure that wasn’t enough to redeem him, or to convince the jury that his intention hadn’t been to harm Tony.

His defense, when it was presented, was as weak as expected. It was very short. Steve practically held his breath through the closing remarks. The jury left to deliberate for less than twenty minutes before coming back with a unanimous “guilty.” The judge sentenced Steve to the maximum penalty for a class B violent felony like first degree assault, 25 years.

Steve said nothing as he was led away. He was shocked, frozen, hurt, not processing. Just a few moments, a split second bad decision, had led to this. He spared just a moment to wonder what was going on with the others, whether they would be charged the same way or accept bargains, whether they’d end up in prison for as long as he was going to be there, whether he’d ever see any of them again—or if they’d even want to see him again, after his decisions had led them here.

Tony was hurt, was going to die sooner now thanks to Steve. And Steve would be in prison for the next twenty five years. If what the doctor had said was true, Tony would likely be dead by the time Steve got out. That thought was too much to handle. If the Avengers continued, they would move on without him, Sam, Natasha, or Wanda. Maybe Scott would join them. Maybe Clint would come back, though Steve doubted it. If they did move on, they would never welcome Steve back, even after he got out of prison.

When he got out, he was going to be a convicted felon, with no home, no friends, and a ruined reputation. He was going to be nothing but a fallen hero, a man who dreamed he could make a difference but in the end, just hurt the people he cared about. Right now, people jeered at him and sent him letters, his face would be all over the media, but that would die out. Twenty five years was a long time, and he would be forgotten. This would destroy the positive reputation that had kept his memory alive while he was in the ice, and this time, the world would let him fade away.

He was alone, and he was nobody.