T’Challa knew, the moment he stepped into the abandoned HYDRA facility, that something was very, very wrong.
Zemo was in his custody now, waiting to be transferred to the United Nations, where he would stand trial. T’Challa had made certain that there was no chance that the Sokovian man could escape before he had gone back in to see what the three Avengers fighting in the facility had been up to. Part of him wanted to see who had won, but the majority wanted to make sure everyone was relatively unharmed over the misunderstanding. And, of course, he had to apologise to Barnes.
Shame tugged at his heart, forcing T’Challa to force his mind away from such matters lest he let his stoic mask falter. Barnes. T’Challa had almost killed an innocent man who was only trying to rebuild his ruins of a life, and had guaranteed that Captain America and his allies would be labelled as fugitives. Not only was it morally wrong, but T’Challa felt that it would be his duty to make sure that Barnes got his chance at rehabilitation.
But the Siberian base was eerily silent, especially since it was supposed to be hosting three very loud fighting superheroes. T’Challa was immediately on guard as he walked through the dimly lit hallways, silent as the air that drifted through it. Nothing.
A distant whirring thrummed through the facility, and T’Challa stood up straight and still as he listened to try and identify the sound though several feet of solid steel. A jet, Stark Industries issued, most likely. Wakadan technology was much more quiet than that; T’Challa never would have heard it coming. After a moment, the whirring developed into a steady roar, and then quieted, signalling that the jet was gone.
T’Challa let out a breath. The fight was over, then. Someone had won. Most likely Stark, since there was only one jet leaving and not the rocket thrusters of the Iron Man suit. Captain America and Barnes would be in UN captivity by morning. It was a pity, but he’d do his best to make sure they received due treatment. He moved to leave, knowing that he shouldn't stay here any longer than possible, but paused again.
Something was still off.
Knowing his conscience wouldn't let him leave without figuring what was setting off this sixth sense, T’Challa let out a soft sigh, moving into a room with a ceiling went several floors, all the way through to the freezing surface. Pausing to let his instincts tell him where to go, T’Challa moved towards a side room, with slitted steel walls that revealed the howling Russian wind and snow outside.
Then, he heard it. Ragged, wet breaths.
Alarm firing up the adrenaline in his body, T’Challa rushed to find the source of the breathing. It only took him a moment to find the body lying in a pool of blood. T’Challa rushed forwards, taking off the helmet of his Black Panther suit as he did so and tossing it to the side, knowing that if the figure saw him in the helmet he may panic.
The man he immediately identified as Barnes, and T’Challa’s heart seemed to drop to his feet. He was lying on the ground, blood splattered over his black jacket and metal arm, staining the prosthetic limb a bright red. The other arm was slumped weakly over the source of the blood, as if he had desperately tried to prevent himself from losing more blood. His eyes were closed, and the breaths he had heard earlier were ragged and uneven, obviously taking up most of his energy. The blood seemed to be originating from a wound in the chest, and T’Challa wasted no time in brushing aside the organic arm and hurriedly tearing open the jacket with superhuman ease.
He winced back almost immediately, despite himself. There was a huge gash in Barnes’ chest, which must’ve been only three or four inches left of the heart, on the lung. It was half-cauterized, which probably was the only reason Barnes had survived this long, and even that had to only be because whatever had hit him had been extremely hot and Barnes’ healing factor was rapidly trying to replace the blood he was losing. T’Challa doubted any normal human could last so long with this much blood on the ground.
For once, the young King of Wakanda regretted wearing the Black Panther costume. Apologising mentally for doing this in such cold weather, he tore off Barnes’ jacket, leaving a light gray shirt underneath, more than half of it now stained a dark crimson. T’Challa hurried to remember the medical classes he had taken, and tore off a small section of the jacket to cover the hole, pressing on the sides to try and create an airtight seal. He hurriedly moved to check the man’s lungs, noting how they seemed uneven in size. If he remembered correctly, that meant that Barnes was developing a dangerously low blood pressure.
For the first time, he wished that Shuri had come with him on this mission. She had always exceeded him in medical class and thrived in these kinds of situations. Without her or any real medical supplies anywhere nearby, T’Challa doubted that Barnes would survive for longer than a couple of minutes, even with his help. He closed his eyes for a moment, briefly allowing himself to feel the pain that this had been his fault, really. If he hadn’t so rashly attacked Barnes in Romania, none of this would have happened.
He was honestly still wondering how it had happened. From what he knew, Stark, though slightly self-centered, seemed like a good man. Captain America certainly wouldn’t have left without Barnes willingly, and Iron Man was no (willing) killer. This situation just didn’t make sense. But there was no time to give that question more than a passing thought right now.
Barnes’ breaths quickened, and T’Challa opened his eyes to find two stormy blue irises staring back at him. How the man had forced himself into consciousness, the young king didn’t know, but it was something he found that he could respect.
“Relax, my friend,” he murmured soothingly. “You are safe now.”
There was a question in the former assassin’s eyes, and T’Challa continued.
“I know the real story. You are an innocent man, and I hope you can forgive me for acting so rashly. Zemo is in my custody and awaiting transfer to the United Nations for trial.”
“Steve,” Barnes rasped, coughing slightly. T’Challa switched the bandages on Barnes’ chest for a clean one.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I came too late too see. But he is alive, and I assure you that I will do everything in my power to make sure he is acquitted of all charges. I believe Stark has him in custody. If so, then he will be treated justly.”
Barnes’ eyes clouded.
“I kill…” he trailed off into a sick gurgle, and T’Challa hurried to help him tilt his head and let the offending blood trickle out of his mouth. “So ma’y. His paren’s. My faul’.” He was exhausting himself, but Barnes seemed almost desperate to speak his last words before it was too late. “‘M sor’. I fora’ve y’ lon’ time a’o.”
Even in his last moments, all Barnes was thinking about was how he had hurt others. T’Challa’s chest ached. How could he ever have assumed that this man would mercilessly kill? But even as he thought of the question, he reminded himself of the facility around them. Of course. From what he had seen and heard, HYDRA could break even the best of men.
“There is,” He spoke slowly, hoping that his message could be understood. “A proverb, spoken in my country and the ones around it. ‘You cannot change the direction of the wind, so turn the sail.’ Your winds have been harsh and unrelenting, Barnes, but you have turned your sail masterfully and made the best out of your lot in life. For that, you have my true, undying respect. And my most sincere apologies.”
Barnes blinked slowly, and his lips twitched upwards, indicating that he understood. His eyes flickered, though, showing traces of fear as they traced the ceiling above them. T’Challa sighed. This man was dying slowly, in complete agony, in the place where he had been tortured for decades, if what he had heard about this facility was correct. All the ex-assassin had was him, a man who, only an hour ago, had been set on killing him.
“We are all victims in this situation,” he sighed, then took a deep breath. “Brace yourself, my friend. I will not let you die in a place like this.”
Hurriedly, he tied the bandage in place around Barnes’ chest, doing his best to guarantee that it wouldn’t move any more than necessary, and picked him up, bridal style. Barnes hissed in pain, and the blood from his wound began trickling onto the Black Panther suit. But T’Challa paid that no mind, crossing the barrier from inside the facility to the windy Siberian tundra in just a few long strides.
Slowly, he knelt down, placing himself under Barnes and turning on the suit’s heater so that the man didn’t feel too cold in his last moments.
“Than’ y’,” Barnes slurred, most likely dizzy from the sudden move. However, his eyes had misted, and as T’Challa watched, one tear slipped out and traced a line down his cheek.
Together, they sat in silence for a time. Then Barnes spoke again, his voice startlingly clear.
“They all though’ I don’ like the snow. But I thin’ it’s pretty. Peaceful. Go’ me through a lo’. When I could see i’, i’ helped pu’ me to sleep. Than’ you.”
“Of course. May our ancestors guide you to peace,” T’Challa murmured.
He wasn’t sure how long the two of them sat there, watching the morning sun crest over the sky in a thin haze of clouds. It felt like years, but surely it must have only been a couple minutes, maybe less. But at one point during it all, Barnes took a last, shuddering breath, then stilled.
T’Challa’s chest constricted, and it took him several more minutes that felt like years to lean over and close Barnes’ eyes.
After what may have been an hour of just watching the sun move across the sky, he stood, picked up Barnes’ rapidly cooling corpse, and walked back to his ship.
If Zemo received several rough bruises and a black eye from not being buckled properly on the flight to Berlin, well, he wasn’t going to complain.
After all, T’Challa, son of T’Chaka and the King of Wakanda, was a very busy man and had some serious work to do.
When the doors to their prison in the Raft opened, Sam was dozing lightly.
Thankfully, though, his sleep was light, perfected from years in the military, various Avengers missions, and excursions into the backwaters of the world looking for Bucky before this whole Accords fiasco. Once the door was completely open, Sam was on his feet and wide awake, Scott and Clint already at the bars.
There were multiple people marching in. Soldiers, if the heavy, monotonous footsteps were anything to go by. Sam shared a wary look with Clint as two, then four heavily-armed SWAT guards entered the holding cell, all carrying AK-47s. More were coming in, guarding a figure he couldn’t see yet save for the hem of their blue shirt from his current position. Clint, several cells down, however, could, and his reaction was immediate, his expression morphing from shock to fear, and then to a burning rage Sam had never seen in the man before.
“You bastard !” He roared, practically throwing himself at his bars with a resounding clang. “Stark, you absolute bastard ! I am going to tear you limb from limb!”
Scott, too, could see who it was, though he seemed too shocked to say anything just yet, simply taking a half step back in shock, mouth working but nothing coming out.
Now thoroughly alarmed, Sam tried to move around the SWAT soldier to see their prisoner, already fearing the worst. It took him squeezing himself into the left corner of his five-foot wide cell, but he was just barely able to get a clear view of the new prisoner.
Part of him already knew who he was going to see, but he still felt as if he’d been punched in the gut when he saw the man. Like the rest of the captured ex-avengers, Steve was dressed in the blue overshirt and pants, with a gray long-sleeved shirt underneath. But Sam quickly realized that it had been everything else that was so horrifying to have provoked Scott and Clint’s reactions.
For one, Steve seemed to barely be able to stand. He took short, shuffling steps, and distinctly favored his right foot, though the short steps may have been from the shackles on his feet. His hands were also cuffed, but in a style Sam had never seen before, his hands completely encased in metal, the two cyndrilic pods attached together on their insides to prevent any movement. His face was covered in wounds, though at least someone had dressed them. There were two particularly nasty scratches under his left eye and the right corner of his lip, padded with white bandages. And as Sam looked closer, he found the outlines of a thicker bandage on the super soldier’s right leg, explaining the limp.
“Steve?” He called out in what he hoped was a calming tone, trying to see if Bucky was behind the super soldier. But there was no one except the guards. Steve himself said nothing, his head continuing to hang low. Sam’s stomach felt as if it’d been filled with ice.
The SWAT team—eight in total, Sam realized, four in front and four behind—shoved Steve towards one of the empty cells, the one right next to him. One of the four leaders stepped up front and made a signal to the cameras, and the door to said cell opened with a creak. The four SWAT men in front grabbed Steve, still completely unresisting, into the prison and shut the door. Without a single word or explanation, they were gone again.
For a moment, there was silence, even Clint going quiet as they waited, almost without knowing it, for Steve to speak. He was out of sight for Sam now, since their cells were side-by-side, so he looked to Clint, who would have a better view, for help. The archer just shot him a rapidly despairing look and shook his head minutely. That wasn’t good.
Then Wanda started crying.
“He’s here,” she sobbed quietly, though the noise felt deafening in the echoing chamber.
The single phrase summed up the complete despair and hopelessness of the situation. Almost as if in unison, Scott and Sam both just collapsed into themselves, while Clint just shook his head and took several deep breaths. Their last true ally was incarcerated. There really was no hope.
“Steve?” Sam finally croaked after a couple moments, breaking the silence with the question the rest of the prisoners knew they needed answered. “Where’s Bucky?”
There was silence for around a minute as they waited with baited breath for the verdict.
“He’s dead,” Steve announced, voice barely above a whisper. “Tony killed him.”
Pepper had come to expect the unexpected. It came in her job description, really, and had become part of her daily life after dating Tony for years on end.
And in the end, it was why she had decided to take a break from both him and their relationship. In the end, Tony’s love of Iron Man had driven a wedge between them that she couldn’t see being mended any time in the near future. It was maddening, seeing him flying off as Iron Man and never knowing if he’d come back, knowing that he was a self-sacrificing moron ready to give himself up for the greater good. It was just so infuriating sometimes, how he seemed to care so little about how he affected others when he did that.
Pepper was no superhero. Her arena of business and management was practically a world away from Tony’s engineering world, and she could usually do little to help him other than manage Stark Industries. So it was probably for the best that they both separated and got their personal lives straightened up a bit before they moved on, despite what Tony said.
Which was why she wasn’t surprised when she heard Tony (and it could only be Tony; he was the only person who would seriously walk in wearing an Iron Man armor) enter her house in Malibu, but rather annoyed. She had an important press meeting in the morning over the Sokovia Accords and was rather jet-lagged from a business trip to Japan, so she really wasn’t in the mood for dealing with another development.
“Anthony Stark, you better have a good reason for this!” She called, not taking her eyes off her computer, where she was scanning over a speech that an intern had written for her to give at a charity event next week.
She got no reply, and after a moment, there was a clanging of metal on hardwood. Was Tony seriously just taking off his Iron Man suit in her hallway ? Too tired to really even muster up the appropriate anger she wanted to feel, Pepper simply sighed, stood up, and marched over to the entrance hallway, determined to give her ex-boyfriend a serious talking-to.
But she didn’t even start.
Because once she caught sight of Tony, she knew something was terribly wrong.
For one, he hadn’t simply discarded his armor, he was practically throwing it in chunks along the floor and frantically kicking off his boots as if they were scalding hot when she came into sight. He was marred by bruises and cuts, all of which were unattended to. He seemed to be on the edge of another panic attack (which was bad. Those had been getting rarer since she’d convinced him to start getting help after the Ultron incident) and looked as if he was about to collapse in on himself.
“Tony?” She inquired softly, stepping forwards tentatively. “What happened?”
The self-made superhero said nothing for a few moments, still preoccupied with tearing off his suit. Once the last piece of his left boot came off, he simply stood there for a moment, shivering despite the seventy-degree temperature.
“I killed him, Pep,” he finally whispered. “I didn’t mean to, but I did. I killed him.”
He kept on muttering the same words over and over, and it was then that Pepper decided that everything else could wait. She simply walked forwards, took him into her arms, and let him cry.
The Raft, for a high-security prison, wasn’t really dangerous, Sam discovered. It was boring.
The days passed slowly at first, almost imperceptibly, until they sped up to just blur together in a sea of monotony. Wake up. Breakfast. Sit around and talk for several hours. Lunch. Be taken down to the heavily guarded gym (save for Wanda, she never left her cell) to exercise for an hour. Sit around some more. Dinner. Go to bed. No phone call home, no natural light (Scott had mourned the loss of his tan half-heartedly), no social interaction with anyone except each other and the guards (who never spoke).
That was it.
Their only source of entertainment came as a book or two appearing and circulated through the cells. Nothing political or recent, all undoubtedly checked thoroughly by the guards. Most of them were the classics, which was also pretty boring. When the books came, they read more than talked. Really, he, Scott, and Clint all avoided talking when some other form of distraction was available. None of them wanted to address the multiple elephants in the room, and the small talk topics they came up with instead just seemed to make the atmosphere all the more forced and tense.
But at least they were talking.
Wanda and Steve said nothing at all.
Wanda, Sam supposed, could be understood the best, being generally unable to move and being shocked when you did move faster than a snail’s pace was just torture for the young woman. It had made his blood boil during their first few days (Day s ? There was little sense of time other than the meals and for all he knew Ross was screwing with those), but now he felt just disconnected from everything. He felt bad for Wanda, that was without question, but he no longer wanted to throttle the guards whenever he looked over at her. He had fallen into a state of weary acceptance with her situation. He didn’t like it, but nothing he did was going to change that.
Steve was who Sam was worried about the most.
Besides that first day when he had announced Barnes’— Bucky’s —death, he’d done, quite literally, nothing. From what Clint and Scott reported to him, he just stared at the wall, ate perhaps half of his meals (worrying, considering they were being given portions for normal men, not super soldiers), and generally retreated into his head. A coping mechanism, Clint had been able to tell him through body motions and subtext. Most likely what the super soldier had done when he’d first arrived in 2012, since only Clint could tell. But back then he’d at least been able to get help.
The only time Steve changed was perhaps seven “days” after arriving. They’d gone down to the gym for their exercise, and instead of just sitting with his back against the wall like he usually would, Steve had just attacked the gym bag with no warning at all. He’d scared all of them (save Clint), half to death and had gone through five separate bags by the time exercise was over. Since they weren’t allowed to get within five feet of each other without being tazed, Sam, Scott, and Clint had only been able to try and sooth him with words. Which, of course, accomplished nothing. Then gym ended and Steve went back to staring at the wall. Rinse and repeat.
Steve was starting to terrify all of them. His muscle mass and general disposition had gone down the drain since he wasn’t eating well. His hair grew out and he got a scraggly beard (well, none of them were allowed blades so all the men had beards, but Sam swore Steve’s was the worst). Within two “weeks” after his first punching bag demolishment, he’d gone from destroying five bags per session to two. He slept more. Reacted only to food and the guards.
Like all of them, Steve had nightmares, but he was military trained and only shivered, twitched, and sometimes whimpered. That was it.
When that happened, or whenever any one of them had a nightmare, Clint would sing. Sam honestly had no idea why the archer had decided to do it, and it did sound off-tune and wavering. But he found, after a little while, that it did help. Clint just seemed to sing whatever was on his mind at the time, from “America the Beautiful” to “Sweet Home Alabama,” even adding in some Russian lullabies he couldn’t have learned from anyone except Natasha, and halfway translated Norse folk songs that most likely had come from Thor.
Those nights, when the lights had darkened and they laid in the dark, it almost felt as if they were home again. Sometimes Sam thought back to that one party they had all attended, right before the whole Ultron debacle. The good old days, only a year ago but they felt like a decade, where Tony and Clint would take stupid dares from each other, Bruce and Natasha would talk about the little things, and Thor and Steve would have drinking contests using the prince’s Asgardian liquor (which Thor usually won, but Steve had the lighter hangover). Sometimes Sam wondered what Thor or Bruce were up to these days, whether they were happy, sad, or dead.
The good old days.
Because the Avengers, no matter what Ross said, were history.
And sometimes the thought became so real that Sam just had to sit back and let the tears fall.
One day their book allowance included The Giver , by Lois Lowry.
Sam took the book immediately; it had been his mother’s favorite book when he’d been growing up. He’d read it so many times that he could recite the plot from memory, and he’d even kept a copy in his apartment for his bad days, when he wanted to pretend to be a child again. He took the book from the guards, flipping it open as he noted that it looked startlingly similar to the issue his mother had read to him as a child.
Flipping through the pages, he noticed several wrinkles in the pages, near the back of the book. Odd, since the books usually given to them were in pristine condition, looking perfect and just off the shelf so that any change to its status could be immediately noted. You know, in case one of them wanted a page from a book for some reason. Curious, he forsook starting at the beginning and flipped to the wrinkled page.
It took place just after a particular scene that Sam had always not liked as a kid because it was so sad and cruel. The Giver took place in a futuristic totalitarian society, where no one felt anything except the Giver and his apprentice, Jonas, who was being trained to feel and act based on emotion. Jonas, in that scene, had just watched a baby be killed because it was an identical twin. Sam’s eyes fell down to that abnormal wrinkle in the page, reading the words that bent over it half-heartedly.
“‘No one must hear you cry’ [said The Giver].
Jonas looked up wildly. ‘No one heard that little twin die! No one but my father!’ He collapsed into sobs again.”
Sam thought suddenly of Steve, sitting just five feet away as he stared blankly into space.
“No one must hear you cry….” He repeated the Giver’s words to himself. His eyes widened. He flipped to the next wrinkle, only several pages later and in the same conversation.
“‘You have the colors,’ The Giver told him. ‘And you have the courage. I will help you to have the strength.’”
Maybe he could help Steve find his strength.
Silently, he thanked the sender of this book, who had to have known that he’d pick The Giver to read, and had painstakingly placed the wrinkles over the quotes that would knock on Sam’s dense skull enough to see what he had to do.
He flipped over to the first page, and began to read aloud, forcing his voice to remain loud and clear.
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened…”
It helped, surprisingly. Sam read The Giver up until lunch, getting all the way to chapter nineteen before the book was taken away for the meal. They ate in silence, as usual, but when they were marched to the gym, he caught Wanda’s eye as he passed her cell. The Sokovian woman’s lips twitched up in a silent thanks, and Sam realized abruptly that she didn’t have access to books like they did, with the straitjacket hindering all movement. He felt ashamed for not thinking of it earlier.
But it warmed his chest to know that he was helping out.
During exercise hour, Steve simply lifted a couple weights, only taking to the punching bag for the last fifteen minutes and not even destroying one. Clint, Scott and Sam all unanimously agreed that it was an improvement, and Scott sent him a look conveying some sense of worry (for Steve and Wanda, no doubt) and the beginnings of an idea.
After lunch, the group received their afternoon selection. The Giver was gone, however. Before Sam could decide if he should just start on another book, Scott started reading. It was the Da Vinci Code this time. No doubt from his time as a father, Scott was able to morph his voice into comically bad exaggerated versions of each character, making every accent so ridiculous that when he started on Bezu Fache’s French, Wanda actually chuckled.
Scott was on cloud nine for the next week.
They settled into a new routine. Now, Sam read books aloud in the morning, Scott in the afternoon. After dinner, when there were no books, he, Scott, and Clint swapped old stories, about everything from their childhood memories to pranks pulled just a week before the Sokovia Accords had been proposed. By the fourth day, Wanda started joining in, and the three men jumped on the chance to help at least one of their friends. When their nightmares came, Clint sang to them until they nodded off.
Steve still didn’t talk, but he slowly began to relax. Nine days after establishing the new routine, Clint reported during gym that Steve had stopped staring into space and had been visibly listening as Sam read The Lord of the Rings . He started eating more as well, taking in his entire portion (still too little for him, but it was the best he could do).
Time still blurred, but imprisonment became a bit more bearable. The four of them, save Steve, began to develop a strong bond by the second week, having practically belted out their life stories to each other during their evening talks. Clint, Scott, and Sam had all decided, somehow without talking to each other, that Wanda and Steve were to be cared for and protected.
Steve was 30, Sam realized one day. Thirty. And Wanda was 21.
Damn. Even Sam himself was 34, and he hadn’t gone through half the crap they had.
And the days continued to blur together.
Until one morning, right after Sam had begun Eragon , the cell door opened.
And it wasn’t the guards who entered.
Two steps forwards, one step back.
Alternatively: Darlene Wilson is one hell of a woman who doesn't take no for an an answer.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Mom?” Sam gasped, book dropping to the ground. Clint and Scott looked up almost in unison, while Wanda simply tilted her head to try and see.
A woman had stepped through the door, dressed in civvies. She was short and plump, at 5’1, and she had dark skin, and eyes, her black hair pulled back. Her entire persona radiated determination tinged with hope, and once her eyes landed on Sam, they filled with tears.
“What the…” Despite himself, Sam’s eyes misted as he gazed upon his mother for first time in what felt like forever. He hardly even registered the cell doors opening, aware of the event just enough to register when he could leave. He raced forwards, bending down almost a full foot to embrace her.
Darlene laughed, squeezing her son with a surprising strength considering her stature.
“It’s so good to see you, baby,” She chuckled. “You’re so thin. Have you been eating?”
“Everything they gave me, Ma,” Sam murmured. “How did you get here? What’s going on?”
“Look around you!” Darlene grinned, and Sam reluctantly pulled away from her to see more people pouring in, no guards in sight. Leading them were three very intimidating women, dressing in African-looking uniforms, red with steel(?) plating and fierce looking spears. Behind them were more people dressed in civvies. As Sam watched, a woman with long brown hair practically flew out of the crowd. Upon seeing her, Clint let out an emotional sound and met her at the halfway point. The two kissed passionately, paying no attention to the dozen people around them.
Clint’s wife , Sam realized. Laura, I think her name is. He turned away to give them some privacy, instead watching as a black-haired woman and a man in his late sixties greeted Scott. Sam thought for a moment, then blinked as he realized they were Hank Pym and his daughter, whose name he had forgotten.
“How?” He asked again as one of the African women helped Wanda out of her straitjacket.
“You’re mother is a very extraordinary woman, Mr. Wilson.”
Sam’s head snapped up. King T’Challa was walking towards them, dressed not in his Black Panther suit, but in a tuxedo, a red cloth draped over one shoulder, unknown patterns over it.
“...Your majesty,” Sam replied carefully, his previous joy falling away to be replaced by suspicion. Hadn’t T’Challa been adamant on putting them in the Raft? What was going on, really? “I suppose you have an explanation for how this is possible.”
“I do,” T’Challa nodded. “You, Clinton Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, and Steven Rogers have all been released from the Raft. All charges against you by the UN and the United States, Germany, and Sokovia have been dropped.”
It took Sam a moment to realize that he was gaping, and even then it was because his mother hit him in the arm. He closed his mouth, still shocked to the core. That certainly explained their cells opening, the visitors and the lack of guards, but not how .
But it was Scott who spoke up, hand-in-hand with Hank Pym’s daughter, who brought up the question they were all thinking.
“How did you do that?” He asked. “I thought Wakanda didn’t have much world power, even with your Black Panther.”
“The trick is ‘ did ,’ Mr. Lang,” T’Challa answered. “Wakanda is a lot more powerful than we’ve let the world know. But Mrs. Wilson here did most of the heavy work before we could do much, though. Since you all were incarcerated without a trial and no bail given, she raised awareness and protested against the breaking of the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights. We stepped in and helped as well until your government caved.”
“What about Wanda?” Clint asked from where he and the Wakandan warrior were helping Wanda. Laura stuck extremely close to her husband, as if terrified he may disappear once again. “She’s not a US citizen.”
“That’s where we came in. You don’t know this, but Wakanda is very rich, especially in vibranium. We paid for her release in the metal. But there were... conditions.”
Sam frowned again, a cold pit of dread in his stomach. Of course.
“What kind of conditions?”
“You are no longer US citizens, and are not allowed to visit the US, Germany, and Sokovia for longer than one week every six months. I have volunteered to grant asylum for you all if you will take it. Your names are currently going through the process for becoming full Wakandan citizens.”
“What? Why have you volunteered for this?” Sam asked. T’Challa’s face fell.
“I have taken responsibility for Barnes’ death,” he answered, in a quieter tone. “I acted rashly and out of line, and made the situation much worse as a result. I feel I have a duty, now, to honor his memory by keeping you all safe and a place to recover from this tragedy.”
There was silence for a couple moments, before Pym spoke up quietly.
“Scott, Cassie will stay in California. Maggie and Jim are sympathetic to your cause but they aren’t willing to go as far as uprooting their entire lives to follow you. They’ve offered to visit every four months for a week, though, and have offered their home to you if you wish to spend your one allotted week there.”
Scott sucked in a long breath, looking at the ground. Sam felt a pang of pity for the man; wanting to see Cassie again was all he had really talked about while in prison, and now they were separated again. To his credit, he reacted no more than that, nodding his head numbly.
“And you two?” He questioned, turning to Pym’s daughter, looking as if he expected her to up and leave as well. She answered, mouth twitching upwards.
“T’Challa has offered us residency and access to his best labs to study the Quantum Realm and the Pym particles. We’d be fools not to accept.”
“We’re moving there, too,” Laura added. “Already have, actually. Since the government knows about our family now, it's been really dangerous for us. There was an attack two months ago. Nick had stopped by and we managed to fight them off, but he sent us to Wakanda soon after.”
Clint’s expression morphed into one of terror.
“The kids?” He asked, almost frantically.
“Your safety protocols worked like a charm,” Laura soothed him, placing a hand on her husband’s arm. “Cooper got his siblings out while we fought them off. He was grazed, but it wasn't bad.” She laughed. “He won't stop going on about how cool the scar makes him look. I would have brought them along, but Ross wouldn't allow anyone below eighteen to the Raft.”
“You, Mom?” Sam asked as Clint embraced his wife once again. Darlene smiled.
“I still have a lot of work to do in the states, Sammy. I'm hosting a rally in D.C. in two weeks.”
“A rally?” Sam echoed.
“I'll tell you more later. We should go before Ross gets impatient.”
Sam nodded, looking about their group. He glanced behind him to see Steve still sitting in his cell, watching them with piercing blue eyes, yet not saying a word. Yes, they should go. If Wakanda was as prosperous as T’Challa claimed it to be, they could get help for Steve as well.
“How long have we been here?” Wanda asked quietly. She had been freed from her straitjacket, and now Clint stood by her almost protectively.
“Four months,” T'Challa answered.
Sam stiffened. Only four months? It felt like they'd been here for… he didn't even know how long he'd thought it been. Years, maybe. The fight in the Berlin airport certainly felt as if it'd taken place a decade ago, not a simple four months.
After a moment, though, he stood, hugged his mother briefly, and walked over to Steve’s cell, where he still hadn’t moved, only his eyes tracking his old friend’s movements. Sam wasn’t really sure what to say—what could he say? This was the first time they had been so close in months—so in the end he just extended a hand.
“It’s time to go, Steve. Do you want to come?”
Steve didn’t say anything
Almost everyone’s eyes were on them now. For a long moment, Sam seriously thought he’d refuse and ask to stay in the cell. But then Steve twitched, and he grabbed Sam’s hand, pulling himself up with shaky steps. He’d given no verbal response, but that was enough for Sam.
Sam patted his friend on the shoulder, and lead him to the group.
They had a new home now.
“Tony, you awake?”
Pepper knocked softly on the door to the lab. As predicted, there was no response. Sighing softly, she switched her plate full of cream of chicken soup, she palmed open the door, immediately being assaulted with the horrid stench of gasoline and grease mixed together. Coughing, she waved a hand in front of her face.
“FRIDAY, please turn on the air conditioning,” she called.
“As you wish, Miss Potts,” came the automated reply from the mansion’s AI.
A whirring sound began in the back of the room, and Pepper sucked in a last breath of semi-clean air and stepped inside. Like she had expected, Tony was in the same place he’d been in for the last couple days straight, working on some new tech she hadn’t even tried to fathom without Tony to explain it to her. FRIDAY had reported that he’d only been sleeping and eating intermittently, and even then it was because she would have the food delivered right to him, or sedate him with a mild sleeping pill. Pepper hadn’t gotten much sleep during that time, either, having been forced out for a meeting. With Rhodey still in therapy and Happy overseeing Spider-man and moving everything out of the tower, Tony had been left alone.
Pepper hated that.
Four months had passed since Barnes’ death, and since Pepper had moved back in with Tony. Sure, they weren’t officially back together yet, but at this point Pepper didn’t care. No matter what the media said, she didn’t think he was ready for something like a relationship. Personal feelings aside, Tony was Pepper’s friend, and she could leave him alone like this.
The last four months had been hard, though. On everyone.
Rhodey had been getting better ever since his accident, but Tony seemed to be actively avoiding him. Whenever he came down to the lab in his wheelchair, he’d be the one talking, while Tony just gave him one-word answers and grunts, if he was lucky. Overall, Tony had confided in her, he just couldn’t stand looking at his best friend, living and breathing, when he had deliberately taken that from someone else. Pepper reported this to Rhodey and he stopped coming into the lab, though he still visited the mansion.
Spider-Man… Pepper wasn’t sure what to think about him. She honestly just felt a bit bad for him. He kept on leaving calls and voicemails on Happy’s phone, several of which she had listened to, and he really seemed like a nice kid. She made a mental note to visit him some day.
Vision had disappeared. Pepper and Rhodey were fairly certain Tony had no idea where he was. With Wanda, who she was suspicious he had a crush on, was only just being released from prison, and he hadn’t taken that well. Couple it with Tony’s actions in Siberia, and it was no surprise that he had off and vanished. The government hadn’t been happy about it, but there was little they could do since the android was sentient and not under Tony’s responsibility.
“Tony, you need to take a shower,” Pepper announced, setting down the food on the workbench next to her friend. “You haven’t been taking care of yourself again, have you?”
Tony hardly looked up from his work, giving an non-committed shrug. “Good to have you back. Will in a bit.”
“ Tony .”
“Not now, Pep.”
“Is it because of the Raft release today? Not taking care of yourself more than usual? I thought we were making progress.”
At the mention of the Raft, Tony stiffened. Pepper couldn’t help but sigh at that. She could hardly mention the Avengers these days without him completely shutting down. It was getting ridiculous. She loved Tony, yes, but at this rate he was going to get himself killed before he actually got up and did something.
Sighing, she pulled up the electrical mainframe and turned off Tony’s electronics. The man froze, then looked at her in a mixture of betrayal, fear, and anxiety. Pepper didn’t falter, however, and pulled up a chair, looking at him intensely.
“Listen to me, Tony. I’m not going to let you just wither away like this. You killed an innocent man when he was only trying to protect himself. It’s not something you can easily get over, and I understand that. But it’s about time you faced your problems.”
“No, you listen to me. I love you, Tony, and you know that even if you don’t want to acknowledge it. You are going to eat this, take a shower, sleep, and then we’re going to see a therapist. No buts.”
“Pepper, I can’t .” Tony buried his head in his hands. “I can’t have someone digging into my personal life and judging it. How am I supposed to trust people like that? I need to help others, try and make up for my mistakes...”
“You can do that. With help,” Pepper replied, calmly but firmly. She placed a hand on his shoulder.
Tony brought up his knees to his chest, breaths quickening. “Every time I stop, I see them. I always see myself hurting them. I can’t make it go away.”
Pepper said nothing more as Tony delved into a panic attack, simply giving him a presence he could focus on, just one hand on his shoulder so he knew she was there, but not overwhelming him. The PTSD had seemed to just come back full force after Siberia. They had practically made a routine for it by this point.
The attack subsided after a few minutes, and Pepper silently passed him the soup. After giving him a prompting look, he uncurled himself, relaxing ever so slightly, and began eating.
“We’re going to start looking tomorrow,” she announced. This time, Tony didn’t protest.
Wakanda was… well, it was more than Sam could have ever imagined. When T’Challa had said that they were rich, he had meant it. And not just in “the elite holds all the power/money” like in most African countries. The whole place, from their jet to the holographic barrier protecting them from the outside world, was more advanced than even the most cutting-edge technology from Stark Industries. The only person to ever create something more advanced than them, one of the Dora Milaje, Okoye, had told them, was Hank Pym. And that was for obvious reasons.
Steve had been silent throughout the entire flight, but at this point, Sam had come to expect and accept it. Okoye and T’Challa had spared them looks throughout the three-hour flight, but Sam paid them no attention. He and Steve sat side by side, almost touching, in their respective seats. While Clint had sat next to Laura and Scott between Pym and his daughter (whose name Sam had yet to learn), Wanda had taken Steve’s other side. There seemed to be closeness now among the five former prisoners, one that Sam hadn’t really felt before, save for Steve.
They landed around noon, and disembarked onto a landing pad. Large skyscrapers and flying planes surrounded them, yet the style wasn’t the overwhelming blockiness and ad-covered billboards that Sam was accustomed to. Instead, the city had a much more clean and natural feeling to it, and plant life was everywhere. Around a dozen more women were awaiting their arrival—the rest of the Dora Milaje, Sam realized—along with an older woman in a white dress, and a girl in an orange one, both wearing tribal makeup.
“Mother,” T’Challa greeted the elder woman, bowing slightly. “Shuri. I’ve returned with our guests.”
The teenager, Shuri, grinned, patting T’Challa on the shoulder and approaching them.
“It’s so good to finally meet you,” she laughed, raising her arms. “Welcome to Wakanda! I’ve volunteered to show you around to your rooms, and then a general tour of the palace. Now, which one of you are—” She didn’t finish her sentence as her eyes landed on Pym. “Ah, Hank Pym! The only colonizer to discover something I have not. I have great plans for the two of us. I’ll be expecting you in my lab bright and early tomorrow!”
Pym blinked, taken aback slightly as T’Challa placed a hand on Shuri’s shoulder. “This is my younger sister, Shuri. She’s the head of our science division, the Wakandan Design Group. I’d stay longer, but I have a meeting with my counselors later this afternoon and have to prepare.”
“Oh, I’ll take care of them, brother!” Shuri laughed.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Sam put in, nodding to T’Challa. The young king flashed him a brief smile and walked off with his mother, half of the Dora Milaje, Okoye included, following. Shuri turned to them once they were gone.
“Come!” She announced, starting off towards the large building in front of them. Wanda shared a half-amused, half-overwhelmed look at Sam before Laura walked forwards, beckoning to them.
“Our quarters are this way!” She called. “The kids are waiting, Clint!”
That had Clint almost running after his wife. Scott, Pym, and Pym’s daughter all followed suit, Wanda trailing behind. Sam and Steve took the end of the little group.
Speaking of the former Avenger, Steve was simply looking around them with an expressionless face. His eyes roamed over the unique architecture, and then back to Sam. His eyes held everything his body did not, that mostly being crushing grief but also awe and maybe a flicker of hope.
“You liking this so far?” Sam brought himself up to ask. Steve shrugged, lips twitching upwards into a sad smile. Something felt off about that response—shouldn’t he at least be verbally responding by now?—but he elected to ignore that just for now, instead opting to gawk a bit as they entered the palace.
As they walked through the gigantic building, Shuri was quick to explain to them the basics of the building. This was the public wing, she said, where the politicians and representatives of the major Wakandan tribes met to “be boring and set up useless rules.” Their wing was some ways away. After walking a ways through the palace, they took an elevator up to the second-highest floor. Unlike Avengers Tower, however, where their suites had felt more like apartments, this floor felt as if they were stepping into a suburban house.
“Daddy!” A girl, sitting on a bench in the entrance hallway and playing on a tablet, looked up as they entered. She was perhaps seven or eight years old, and her tablet clattered to the floor as she leapt into Clint’s arms. The archer let out a wild whoop, tossing her into the air, then holding her close in a crushing hug. “You’re squishing me!”
“Tryin’ to show you how much I love ya, Lila,” Clint muttered, planting kisses into his daughter’s hair. Lila just laughed as a preteen boy, holding a small child around a year and a half old, entered the room as well. “Cooper! Nathaniel! You’re all so big!”
“Dad!” Cooper quickly joined the hug, and, laughing, Laura did, too. The rest all watched on in happiness for them, save for Scott, Sam noted, who had a look of pain. But that was to be expected, and Pym’s daughter was quick to lay a reassuring hand on his arm.
“Wait! Daddy, Daddy, Nat’s gotta show ya something!”
Lila’s voice broke out over the hug, and Clint reluctantly let go, kneeling down to face his daughter and youngest son. He ruffled Nathaniel’s hair, and smiled.
“Well, better not keep me waiting, then,” He responded. Lila giggled and picked up Nathaniel, setting him down about a foot or so away, were he stood shakily. After a moment of wobbling, he took several shaky steps towards Clint, then toddled along much more confidently, a wide, four-toothed grin on his face as he practically fell into Clint’s arms. Clint caught him easily, but didn’t give the loud laugh that Lila seemed to have been expecting. Instead, he just looked to Laura.
“How long?” He asked. Laura gave a bittersweet smile.
“Three weeks,” she replied. “We recorded it for you.”
It struck Sam, then, that Clint had missed Nathaniel’s first steps while in prison.
Steve’s hand grabbed Sam’s wrist tightly. He turned to see an anguished look on the former leader’s face as he watched the family. Oh. He should’ve expected this; Steve was taking Clint’s loss personally.
“Shuri?” He asked quietly, shifting the attention away from the Bartons. “Can we see the rest of our rooms? We’re all pretty tired.”
“Oh, yeah,” The princess responded, being snapped out of what seemed to be a memory. “Sorry. This way.” She lead them down a large hallway, to a large living room with a flat-screen TV on one side, and a state-of-the art kitchen to the right of the living room with an open wall. There were two main hallways opposite them, and an opening to a balcony that looked more like a garden. “There is a suite for each of you. The Bartons got the biggest one ‘cause they’re a family, but each has at least one bedroom, a bathroom, and an office. The garden outside is pretty big, so you can hang out there if you want, too.”
“This is… a lot,” Scott commented, eyes wide. Wanda shifted, but said nothing.
“I think we’ll need a bit of time to get settled,” Sam decided. Shuri nodded, and handed him a cell phone.
“We have more, but T’Challa said he didn’t want to overwhelm you guys just yet. My number’s on there; I’ll call you when dinner is ready. Mother and T’Challa want to eat with you.”
“Thank you,” Sam said earnestly. Shuri grinned again.
“It’s really no problem. I’ll see you all at dinner!” She gave a small wave and was out the door in a little less than a minute.
“Daddy! I need to show you my drawings!” Lila burst almost immediately once she was gone. “I made a ton because you always said you liked them. Cooper ,” she scoffed at her brother. “Said it was stupid.”
“It was,” the boy grumbled. Clint shot him a ‘let her have her way’ look.
“Show me, then,” he replied to Lila. The little girl giggled, shooting a triumphant look at Cooper, and skipped to the living room, pulling out several sheets of paper. Meanwhile, Steve moved to sit on the couch as Scott gave Pym and his daughter yet another hug.
Sam turned away to go down one of the hallways, seeing three doors down there, one on each side and one at the end of the hallway. Each had a handmade sign (the kids must’ve made them, Sam realized) reading a particular name. He, Scott, and Steve all had a room (apartment?) here, with Steve taking the end suite. He opened his own door, and entered what looked to be a moderately-sized apartment. There was a sitting area in the entryway, a small kitchenette to the side, and two doors in front of him. Opening one, Sam found himself looking at a huge master bedroom, with giant pillows and must be a bathroom door. Closing that for now, he moved to the office, where there a desk, several chairs, and a bookshelf up against the wall. He moved to it, browsing over the titles and relieved to see some were familiar and all in English.
A timid voice made him startle. Sam turned in a flash to see Wanda at the doorway, looking a bit lost.
“What’s up?” He replied, doing his best to seem nonchalant. Wanda had suffered the most out of them who’d been imprisoned on the Raft, and he had yet to see her use her powers even once after leaving, not even to check and see if T’Challa was trustworthy. Her entire body, now that he though about it, moved in short, slow bursts, as if she expected to be punished for any sudden movement, like she had on the Raft.
“I…” she trailed off, looking even more uncomfortable. “I mean this completely platonically but I…” she blurted the last bit out in a rush. “I don’t want to sleep alone, can I please stay with you? Just sleeping on the floor.”
Sam blinked, surprised, but only moments later understood. Of course. Wanda was probably terrified of herself by this point, not trusting her powers to not hurt someone while she slept. After staying in the same area as them four going on four months, she was feeling out of her depth, staying alone. His heart twisted in his chest, and Sam nodded.
“Why in the world would I say no? You’re a sister to me, Wanda, I hope you know that. You can have the bed.”
“I… thank you.” Wanda’s hand flew to her mouth, and her shoulders jerked. Sam stepped forwards, placing his hands on her shoulders. “After all of this… I can’t…” her breath hitched and she began to cry. “I can’t bring myself to use my powers. It hurts.”
Sam embraced his friend (sister), holding her close as she cried. “You don’t need to,” he murmured. “These things take time, you know. And it’s all over now. We can relax and recover.”
They stayed like that for a while, until Sam’s shirt was wet and Wanda’s sobs had relaxed into small sniffles.
“I miss him,” she murmured into his chest. “I miss Steve.”
Sam almost protested, almost said that Steve was right in the other room, but then connected the silent husk to the stubborn, confident man he had first befriended. He gave Wanda a brief squeeze.
“Yeah,” he whispered back. “I miss him, too.”
In the living room, Steve waited until only Cooper was in the room with him. Making sure the kid was distracted playing on his phone, he opened his mouth. Almost desperately, he tried to make a sound come out.
All he received was a pitiful rasp.
Rhodey blinked, staring at the package on his doorstep, the Stark Industries logo emblazoned on it. There was a note attached. He read it.
Pep has me restricted to only four hours in the lab per day now, but I managed to throw this together for you. I hope it works; I used the measurements from War Machine, so as long as you haven’t gained ten pounds it should fit alright. It’s a bit basic, but should work well.
Up next: The fractured Avengers must face Bucky's lasting legacy as they forge new paths for themselves on either side of the Atlantic, Pepper and Rhodey have a meeting with Sam and Steve, and mental issues and family fluff abound.
I might write a section from Peter's POV, as Tony is now out of his life around the time of Homecoming (getting therapy and all that). If it's requested, I'll write that as a fourth chapter of sorts, or maybe in a different one-shot. Thoughts?
Healing takes a long time. So does forgiveness.
But time does heal some wounds.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
To Sam’s surprise, dinner consisted of store-bought pizza.
It was a nice taste of home, though, no matter how far away they actually were. The Bartons already seemed well-adjusted, and although T'Challa and his mother's presence seemed to be a bit unusual, Lila had no problem giving the king a very chipper and informal “Hello!” when he arrived. However, their conversations were more like small talk than anything, everyone seeming to want to avoid the elephant in the room.
Unlike the upper class of the outside world, T'Challa and his mother were very kind and open with them. However, in any actual conversation, everyone doing their best to avoid broaching the elephant in the room.
The only exceptions to this had been the younger Barton kids (only Cooper was old enough to really understand what was going on), Shuri, and Pym. Shuri had insisted sitting next to the former inventor, and as soon as they had begun the meal she’d started to just bombard him with questions about the Pym particle and Quantum Realm. Sam could barely grasp at the basics of their conversation, as once Pym got over the initial shock of a teenager understanding his work perhaps even better than he did, they’d quickly fallen into such a deep and jargon-laced discussion that even his daughter (Hope! Scott finally called her by name during dinner, and Sam committed it to memory) looked lost.
Again, Steve said nothing, and although he ate several slices of pizza, his appetite seemed to have yet to fully return. At this point Sam was starting to get really worried. The threats present in the Raft were finally gone, and they were really safe for the first time in months. Was he coping with a return of his PTSD? Sam thought about the possibility for a time, and eventually decided that although the disorder was definitely contributing to the problem, that wasn’t what was really bothering Steve. For although Steve was definitely distant, he lacked the paranoia and “jumpiness” that he’d exhibited when dealing with the disorder in the days after the Winter Soldier and Ultron debacles. And he’d also been able to hide his PTSD almost perfectly. Only he (for Sam was the closest person to a therapist Steve trusted) and Fury (he’s Fury) knew about it in the first place. Was it grief? That probably played a part as well, but Sam doubted grief would render a man mute for months on end. And Steve had suffered heart-shattering losses before, and it had never elicited a response in him such as this.
Suddenly his combination pizza hadn’t seemed so appetizing anymore. Sam knew how to deal with PTSD, even if he wasn’t an official therapist. He had no clue what was going on if it wasn’t that.
Sam’s eyes caught with Wanda’s as they ate, and he subtly flickered his eyes towards Steve, silently asking her to peek inside his mind and see if anything was wrong. Usually he wouldn’t even consider something like that, but he was getting seriously worried. But Wanda’s eye only widened slightly with terror, and she shook her head.
Oh, yeah. It hurt Wanda to use her powers. Sam had nearly forgotten about that, and he winced guiltily. He made a mental note to ask for a therapist for both her and Steve. They both were bearing heavy mental blocks from their time on the Raft. In response, he simply nodded in gentle understanding at Wanda. However, and she seemed to shrink a bit further into her seat in mixture of shame and embarrassment.
Sam let out a soft sigh. Was being a leader always this difficult? He certainly never had been made for the job, but the position had just seemed to fall on him ever since Bucky had died.
Dinner ended, and everyone stood up and got ready to leave. Clint scooped up Nathaniel in one arm and pulled an only slightly willing Cooper to his side with the other, and announced that he was going to spend some time with his family, to try and catch up some more. Scott trailed off to the kitchen with Hope at his side, and Pym and Shuri took their discussion into the living room, going on about time travel or something similar now. Even Steve left for the garden after a few minutes, eyes lingering on Sam long enough to let him know that the former leader of the Avengers wasn’t completely disconnected from reality. Wanda lingered, and Sam moved to talk to her, but a hand placing itself on his shoulder made him pause. He turned to see T’Challa standing next to him.
“Could we talk in private, Mr. Wilson?” He asked.
Sam blinked, caught off guard, then nodded. “If I can call you T’Challa, you can call me Sam.”
T’Challa just nodded, and Sam realized that he wanted to discuss something very serious. He said nothing more, letting the Wakandan lead him into his suite’s office. Together, they sat down across from each other. A moment or so passed in silence as Sam watched T’Challa close his eyes and take a deep breath, almost as if he were nervous about something. Maybe he was.
“I was in Siberia,” he finally announced heavily. “During the fight between Rogers and Stark.”
Sam stiffened, questions spinning through his head, but he said nothing, letting the other continue on after a moment’s pause.
“I was tracking Barnes, wishing to find both him and Rogers after discovering that Barnes was innocent of killing my father. I barely arrived in time to capture Zemo before he could make his escape. But arresting him delayed me, and by the time I arrived, Stark had captured Rogers. All that was left was…” he trailed off for a moment, taken back in the memory emotional. “Barnes. And he wasn’t dead.”
Sam’s breath left his throat. Tony… if he hadn’t killed Bucky, then…
But T’Challa was quick to dash his hopes. “He was gravely injured. He died in my arms.”
Sam bit his lip and looked down, taking a moment to compose himself. He’d never known Bucky very well, but it almost felt as if he did, after searching for the man for over two years at Steve’s side, and their fight together against that spider-kid back at the airport.
He almost laughed. The airport battle felt as if it had happened a decade ago, now only an unpleasant memory compared to what had happened next.
“What did he say?” He finally asked.
“He asked for Captain Rogers, and begged for his safety,” T’Challa replied, voice thick. It was obvious the memory caused a lot of pain for him. “Apologised to me more times than I could count. He—” Now this obviously had hit him hard. It was astonishing to Sam that the king was showing so much emotion in front of him. “Forgave me for what I had done, even though it was what got him into this situation and part of the reason why he had died. I don’t think I’ll ever be deserving of that. I am hoping that by aiding you I can repay at least some of that debt.”
He fell silent for a moment longer. When Sam opted not to respond, T’Challa pressed on.
“I wanted to talk with you first, because I am unsure of Captain Rogers’ mental state, only that it is not the most stable right now. And rightly so. I wanted to get your input on the situation before bringing this to him. We have buried Barnes here, among our war veterans. Since Captain Rogers is listed as his next of kin, only he would be able to decide if he wanted to move the grave to America or anywhere else.”
Sam dimly remembered when Steve had told him about that. Before enlisting in the war, when they lived in poverty, they’d listed each other as their next of kin, just in case something had happened. It seemed that the US government had never changed that on their official documents.
“We need to tell him,” he decided, finally opting to speak, still just trying to process all this information. “Of course. But I’m not sure how he’ll react. Like you said, he isn’t the most stable right now. He hasn’t said a single word, you know. Not since his first day on the Raft.”
T’Challa’s eyes flashed with worry. “I’ll get my doctors on it. And perhaps, now that you’re here, all of you can recover.”
Sam shrugged helplessly. “I hope so.”
Sam was the one who told Steve. The former Avenger, however, had hardly reacted, except to stare blankly out his bedroom window, looking as if he was lost in a sea of memories. Maybe he was.
Still, Sam went to bed early that night, dressing in a T-shirt and sweatpants that had been given to him by the Wakandans. He let out a sigh as he sat down on the bed, mattress sinking down almost as if it was going to swallow him whole. After months of sleeping on the metal benches of the Raft, he had figured it would be difficult to adjust to an actual bed once again.
Huffing to himself, and by now well used to the routine, he snatched the sheets off the bed, bunching them next to it, on the ground. He grabbed one of the smaller pillows that didn’t look like it would smother him in his sleep, and pulled the huge comforter off the bed. Laying down, he tested it to see if the floor was more comfortable. Yep, save for the pillow. But in the end, there wasn’t much he could do about that.
He was just standing up to turn off the lights when the door opened. He flinched involuntarily, but immediately relaxed upon seeing that the intruder was Wanda, in a long-sleeved nightdress.
“Sorry…” She murmured, looking extremely embarrassed. Sam shrugged nonchalantly.
“I get it. But like I said earlier, you’re practically my little sister. I won’t try anything.”
It was a bit awkward, as Wanda looked down at the pile of sheets on the floor. Then, she giggled, and the tension dissipated a bit.
“One night here and you’ve already ruined the room,” she chuckled. Sam hid a flush as he hurried to defend himself.
“The bed’s too soft.”
Wanda shrugged, giving him the excuse. “Yeah. I tried laying down on my bed, and it felt as if I was being swallowed alive.”
“You get used to sleeping on the ground,” Sam replied, sitting down cross-legged on the sheets. “Cap and I were the same way when we got back from our respective wars.”
“Well, I’m exhausted,” Wanda yawned, sitting down as well, her back up against the side of the bed. “Today has been just… chaotic.”
Sam’s mind flashed back to meeting his mother (his heart gave a painful twinge when he thought of her, alone in the US and fighting a war they both had little to no experience in). Then there was Wakanda as a whole and the Bucky/Steve situations. How in the world did Steve ever handle leading the Avengers during the Ultron and Loki fiascos? He was developing more and more respect for the man the more he remained as de facto leader.
“Well, are we interrupting something?”
Sam and Wanda’s heads snapped up in unison as Scott crept in, pulling Steve in with him by the arm. The former seemed a bit surprised, while Steve simply looked at them with a blank, empty scare.
Wanda blushed furiously as Sam shrugged.
“Can’t sleep on my own,” He took the blame. “I’ve gotten too used to staying with you guys.”
“Really?” Scott raised an eyebrow, slightly confused, but Sam shook his head slightly, not wanting to embarrass Wanda further. The new superhero gained a look of understanding, and then he grinned, flopping down on the bed. Then he launched himself back up again, gasping. “Yeah, pretty sure the beds here are gonna eat me alive. I was going to with Steve to talk with you, but if you’re busy—”
“Nope.” Sam got Scott into a headlock and dragged him to the floor, where they fell in a tangle of limbs. “You’re stuck with us now.”
“What? Is this a sleepover, now?”
“We’ve been sleeping in the same area for four months. I need company.”
Scott wriggled his way out of Sam’s grip, a rueful grin on his face as he nearly rolled into Steve’s feet, the latter looking extremely awkward. The former thief looked up as Steve stared down at him, before he abruptly yanked the veteran’s feet out from under him and sent them both to the ground. Wanda let out a cry of surprise as Scott just laughed, grabbing Steve’s arm, stiff from surprise or shock and grinned up at Sam.
“We ought to bring in Clint,” he chuckled. “He can sing us all a lullaby.”
Sam’s own smile turned crude, and he waved off the comment. “Oh, he’s probably having some quality time with his wife right now. It would probably be best not to interrupt them.”
Steve let out a large puff of air through his nose that either could have been from exasperation or humor, and let his head fall into the pile of sheets as Wanda reddened further.
“You are all so…” she trailed off, threading her hands through her hair as she tried to find the right word to say. “Such men .”
That sent Sam and Scott into another round of laughter, the former grabbing Wanda and yanking them all together in a hot mess of tangled limbs and blankets as Scott used voice command to turn off the lights.
There, with Steve’s head cutting off the blood flow to his left arm, Scott draped over his stomach and Wanda somehow sandwiched between the two former Avengers, Sam fell asleep.
Despite its jovial beginnings, the night was long and hard. But that was to be expected. They had all gone through too much to just be alright within a day. They all had their own nightmares, and when they came everyone else seemed to be woken up as well. Wanda was first, bolting up in bed screaming Pietro’s name, a hand hitting Sam in the eye and kneeing Steve in the abdomen. Scott wasn’t a screamer, surprisingly, but his pitiful whimpers in his sleep, about tearing himself apart and shrinking until no one ever found him, had gotten them all up as well. Most surprisingly, Steve shot up around two in the morning screaming until they’d finally managed to calm him down, shivering and sweating and pale; it had been the first thing he’d voiced since arriving at the Raft and Sam didn’t really understand why. But in the end, even he dreamt, seeing Bucky, blood dripping out of a hole in his chest and asking why Sam had given Stark the location where he and Steve were headed. He’d woken up having shoved off Scott and smacked Wanda in his sleep.
But it was okay. Because they were all in this together. Steve silently held Wanda as she sobbed into his chest. Wanda herself had listened to Scott cry softly as he recounted story after story about Cassie and how he hated that he was going to miss so much of her life. Scott and Sam worked to help hold and calm Steve down during his night terror, and in the aftermath Sam talked to him in a low murmur, repeating everything that had happened to them in the past few years to reassure him that he was in the right time period, leaving out anything relating to Bucky. When Sam had shot up at four in the morning, Scott, Wanda and Steve had all been waiting, and offered a quiet comfort as he recovered.
So they were all exhausted in the morning. But they felt just a bit better. Definitely more so than if they had slept alone.
T’Challa sent them in for medical evaluations that day, and they were all checked out to be generally healthy, if a little malnourished and lacking in Vitamin D. They got pills for the latter and a diet for the former, but that was it. Even Steve passed with little trouble, with nothing damaging his vocal chords (though Sam wasn’t surprised, judging by how loud his friend had screamed last night), but some dizziness and hearing problems.
The mental evaluations went slower. Scott, Clint and Sam went in first, knowing that they would be the quickest. Clint had been the only one to leave without a diagnosis (no doubt thanks to his time in SHIELD adjusting him to situations like the one on the Raft), while he and Scott were both diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder, which was basically a less severe form of PTSD, with Sam being the more serious case.
Wand had went in next, and that evening the psychologist assigned to them, a Doctor Lebina Tesfa, had told her in a quiet tone that she had Adjustment Disorder, a mental illness that came with constant and heavy stress in her life, no doubt thanks to the shock collar she’d been given to reign in her powers. As a result, her body now negatively reacted to using her powers, but it would fade around two to three months from the present.
And then they waited for Steve. By far the longest, since he wasn’t speaking, it’d taken a couple hours for him just to go through the basic evaluation. But in the end they had figured it out.
He had been diagnosed with PTSD, but that was no doubt a remnant of the plane crash and fall of SHIELD than anything. The second disorder they had called Conversion Disorder.
It made sense. Steve’s frequent detachment and inability to speak consciously, and why he’d been able to scream during his nightmare all matched up with its symptoms. The doctors explained that the brain, trying to deal with whatever had happened during the Civil War, had gotten overloaded with stress, and was having trouble processing all the information it received now. His ears and vocal chords were working just fine, his brain just couldn’t figure out how to use the information and thus discarded it. The added death of Barnes had only made everything much worse. They didn’t know when it would fade; all they could do was give him therapy, keep him in a stress-free environment as much as possible, and hope for the best.
And so it was.
Weeks passed. Every night, they slept in the same room, save for Clint (but even then he joined in every once in a while), and worked on small projects and hobbies. A week after arriving, Shuri presented Sam with a new and upgraded version of his Falcon suit (how she’d gotten the plans for it, he didn’t know) and Clint with a vibranium bow and quiver, with new arrow types and tracking system on the arrows so he could find them after a battle. Pym came a week later, Shuri at his side, and they presented two suits, the Ant-Man and the Wasp, to Scott and Hope. Steve’s shield was long lost to Stark, but T’Challa gifted him and month in with two retractable shields that could condense into gauntlets for easier close combat. Nakia, T’Challa’s girlfriend, took a special interest in Wanda, and the two formed a strong friendship as the Sokovian slowly but surely began to use her powers once again.
Mostly, though, they avoided training. Clint helped with the heavy lifting and building in Shuri’s lab when he needed a distraction. Sam had found it near impossible to find Steve without a sketchbook at his side, and he himself had worked through half the books in his personal library by this point. Scott took up wood carving, using his precise and nimble fingers to mold odd and often almost frightening creatures from the wood, which he insisted was because Cassie liked it.
Speaking of, Maggie and Jim arrived with Cassie to visit around two months in. All wide eyes and open mouths, Scott had taken great pleasure in touring them around the capitol city and showing Cassie all the sights. T’Challa had perhaps too much fun in ordering extravagant dinners with Wakanda’s elite for them, with the excuse that they were the first US civilians to enter into Wakanda’s borders, and thus must be treated properly.
Lila and Cassie struck up a strong friendship almost immediately, and the two both claimed Steve as their own two days in when he looked for monsters under their beds. Sam teased him relentlessly about it, but he had to admit it was cute, with the two eight-year-olds following him around like little ducklings. They even didn’t mind Steve’s muteness, taking his sign language and few whispered words as a great guessing game, and one they were quickly getting better at.
In short, they were no longer a team.
They were a family.
It was a bright, sunny summer day. Steve and Sam had gone out to one of the many parks in the Wakandan capitol, taking Cassie and Lila with them to help with weeding and planting flowers in an area that had previously been neglected. It had been a great chance to get out of the palace for a few hours, and Cassie had immediately found great enjoyment in tearing up plants and weeds alike, while Lila worked more systematically, having learned the difference between the two on the farm. It was hard work, but great fun. It was nice to be able to do something that was helping them earn their keep in Wakanda, and the girls were certainly having a lot of fun as well, even if Cassie was doing more harm than good in the process, much to Sam’s amusement.
Steve shovelled up a large clod of dirt, moving out of the way as Sam placed down a bunch of Kniphofias, red cone-shaped flowers, into the hole. Taking a shovel, Steve shovelled some fertilizer and dumped it at the roots.
“Girls! We got another bush done!” Sam called as Steve smiled, taking up another shovelful of dirt as Cassie and Lila, both covered in dirt and giggling. Together they lept to the bottom of the plant, energetically patting down the dirt so Steve could fit in some more.
Sam smiled to himself, looking up and wiping some sweat from his face. It was almost a ninety degrees today, and pretty humid to boot. Taking a moment to brush some of the dirt off of his leather shirt (they’d taken to dressing more like the general populace of Wakanda as to better fit in), he wiped some more sweat off his brow.
“Lookie!” Cassie giggled, holding up a wriggling earthworm. Steve set his shovel down momentarily and signed at her to put the worm back where it belonged. Sam echoed his friend’s request, and the young girl let out an over dramatic sigh and put it back on the ground.
“You all seem to have adjusted well.”
A female voice, American-accented, floated over to them, and Steve froze, immediately shutting down as Sam tried to place where he had heard that voice before. Then, it clicked, and as Lila gasped in surprise, he shot up, whipping around to see Pepper Potts, dressed in a white button-up shirt. Sam’s heart dropped as he caught sight of Rhodey behind her. He was walking, although he was wearing a pair of high-tech braces he’d never seen before around his legs.
As Steve steered Cassie and Lila towards him, now completely on guard, Sam stepped in front of the three protectively, although he couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting over to Rhodey. A flare of guilt for what he’d done at the airport battle flared in his chest once again. It was his fault Rhodey would be permanently injured.
“What are you doing here?” He asked, wiping the dirt off of his hands and onto his pants. He didn’t think that they were here to fight, of course, but the last time he’d trusted someone who supported the Accords, Bucky had gotten killed and Steve scarred for life.
Pepper didn’t seem phased by this reaction, however, and both she and Rhodey kept a good five feet in between them before speaking.
“Visiting,” she answered politely but amiably. “Honestly, we’ve been a bit worried. I haven’t heard anything about you since you were released from the Raft.”
“We’ve been good,” Sam replied slowly. He relaxed slightly, more for Steve’s sake than his own. “I hope you’re recovering well, Rhodey.”
“Well enough,” the veteran responded. “You know the deal. The braces help, too.” He paused for a moment, eyes locking with Sam’s, before continuing. “I don’t blame you, you know. It was an accident. We were all at fault.”
The atmosphere quickly became awkward. Wanting to escape from some of this tension, Sam looked over to Steve, who after a moment of hesitation, quickly signed that they ought to sit down. The motions were not lost on Pepper and Rhodey, but they didn’t mention it as Steve easily lifted up Cassie, who squealed in delight as Lila took the elder man’s hand.
“Let’s sit down,” Sam announced. They walked out from the path he, Steve and the girls had been working on, and to a picnic table not too far away. Steve signed to the girls to go out and play, and they nodded, Lila shouting that she was Loki and back to destroy Wakanda and Cassie declaring herself Ant-Woman, devoted to stopping her. “I assume you’re here for a reason.”
Pepper watched the girls go with a strange look in her eye, but quickly returned to the matter at hand.
“Yes, but nothing malicious.” Her eyes flickered over to Steve. “What are you doing with your hands?” Steve reddened slightly in a mixture of frustration and shame, and Sam was quick to answer for him.
“Conversion Disorder. He can’t talk most of the time, and his hearing goes in and out at random. It’s a mental trauma disorder. But it’s fine; he’s learned sign language and is recovering well.”
Steve quickly signed four letters in quick succession. Sam scowled.
“Why do you want to know about him?” More signing. “Dude. He doesn’t deserve crap. He’s a murderous bastard and can die in a hole for all I care.” Steve seemed conflicted at that, as if part of him agreed, but the greater portion of him, the portion of him that had made him Captain America, was trying to pretend that the feeling didn’t exist. He signed a chastisement to Sam. “I don’t care if they’re right in front of us.” He signed again and pointed to his right hand’s ring finger. Sam blinked in surprise, and looked back to Pepper, who seemed torn between being offended and confused. Sure enough, there was a large diamond ring on her left hand. Huh.
Sam let out a long sigh that made it very clear that he didn’t like this, but relayed Steve’s question. “Steve wants to know how Tony’s doing.” Steve tapped Sam’s shoulder to garner his attention for a moment and sighed rapidly. “Seriously?” Steve shot him a scathing look. “Fine. He says congratulations on the engagement as well.”
Pepper blushed slightly as she twisted the ring. “Yeah. He asked me last week. Tony’s doing alright, too. A lot better than he was right after the battle, anyways.”
“He’s seeing a therapist,” Rhodey added, serious. “He didn’t deal with the events in Siberia well, either.”
“He doesn’t have the right to feel like that,” Sam muttered under his breath. Steve kicked him in the shin.
“For what it’s worth, Tony sends his most sincere apologies.” Before Sam could reply indignantly to that as well, Pepper pressed on. “And he adds that he knows it’s worth nothing, but it’s all he can do. He wanted to come with us to Wakanda and say it personally, but Ross is keeping a very close eye on him.”
“It was difficult for us to sneak in here as it was, and even then we had to get T’Challa’s permission. We aren’t staying for long. Officially, Pepper and I are on our way to a meeting in New Delhi,” Rhodey put in.
Sam moved to say something, but Steve placed a hand on his shoulder, silencing him, and stood up, walking over to Pepper’s side. Confused, Pepper looked up, and Sam tried to figure out what in the world his friend was doing.
Slowly, as if doing so would make them understand, Steve balled his hand into a fist and tapped it on the center of his chest. Then, he held out his left palm horizontally, drawing the tips of the fingers on his right hand across the length of it twice. Finally, he pointed at Pepper’s ring. The woman blinked, caught off guard, and it took Sam a moment to decipher the last motion. Pronouns were always difficult to figure out in ASL if said person wasn’t present.
His throat closed once he understood. Tony didn’t deserve that. But Steve wanted it said, and this time he couldn’t find it in him to say no.
“He said: ‘I forgive him.’”
There was a long pause. Rhodey looked down, a hand covering his mouth and clearly caught off guard by unexpected declaration. After a moment, Pepper shot up, wrapping Steve in a crushing hug and crying softly. Sam looked away. He just couldn’t understand how Steve could find it in him to do something like that. Tony had murdered his friend practically in cold blood and sent them all to the Raft for the next four months, and here he was two months later, forgiving him.
Not a good soldier, but a good man.
Perhaps Sam really understood what Erskine meant now.
Rhodey shifted, and passed a flip phone to him from across the table. The elder man seemed slightly uncomfortable, but determined in his decision.
“We came to give you this. If you ever need us, just call. I’ll do the same.”
Sam took the phone, and for a moment, was sorely tempted to throw it into the flowers he’d just planted, or smash it into bits. But then he looked at Steve, and how he was beginning to relax in Pepper’s arms and return the hug.
Perhaps Sam needed to learn a thing or two from Erskine’s words. He pocketed the phone, and promised.
Never forgive. Never forget. But perhaps he could come to accept that it had happened.
“If you need us, we’ll be there.”
It was raining.
July had given way to August a scarce week ago, and as such, Cassie and her family finally returned home to the US. It had been cloudy all day, and around noon it started to sprinkle. Within the next half an hour it was almost as if it the sky was dumping buckets on the ground. Everyone was stuck inside, and things were getting a bit boring. Sam himself laid on the sofa reading a book, while Steve sketched something on a notepad in a chair in the corner of the living room. Lila, Nathaniel (who had just turned two), and Cooper were watching some cartoons on the TV, Clint was french braiding Laura’s hair, and Scott was sprawled on the ground, muttering about how bored he was.
Wanda entered the living room during all of this, her eyes skimming over them before landing on the glass window that lead to garden outside. She seemed slightly afraid, but marched towards the door. Sam set down his book, watching her.
“What’s up?” He questioned. Wanda glanced at him for a moment, seeming torn between bursting with excitement or nervousness.
“Just… trying something out.”
Without another word, she opened the door and stepped out into the rain.
Sam stood up, ready to go make sure she was alright, but then he caught sight of something. A flicker of red. Scott gasped, sitting straight up from his horizontal position.
“She’s using her magic as an umbrella!” He exclaimed. That got everyone up. Before now, Wanda had only been able to use her magic in small bursts, only able to do little things before the pain became too great for her to handle.
And yet here she was, a grin, splitting her face in half, stopping the rain from hitting her.
Clint got up next and practically raced out the door, enveloping Wanda in a bone-crushing hug as he laughed. Caught by surprise, Wanda let the shield drop, immediately drenching them both, but neither seemed to care, hold each other and giggling like schoolgirls.
“Wait for me!” Lila exclaimed, getting up. Grabbing Steve’s arm (the supersoldier no doubt letting her drag him along), she pulled him out of the living room and into the rain, the sketchbook clattering to the ground.
“Well, I’m not getting left out!” Scott exclaimed, and then he was out in the rain as well, Cooper on his heels. Laura stood up as well, picking up Nathaniel from his place on the ground and stopping by Sam.
“You coming?” She asked, unable to stop her own smile. Sam grinned, setting down his book.
Then he raced out into the rain, Laura letting out a wild cry as they crashed into the water droplets, the branches of the trees in the garden hardly seeming to stop anything at all. Sam blinked water out of his eyes to see Steve setting Lila on his shoulders, and watched Clint practically throw Wanda into the air, the young woman crying in joy as red sparks flashed from her hands and making small, warm fireworks in the sky.
“It just—” Wanda had to pause as she shot off another firework. “I was in my room, trying to levitate a book, and it just clicked!”
Then there was a new sound. A deep, throaty laugh, nothing like Scott’s high chuckle or Clint’s barks. Sam looked up.
And saw that Steve had his head thrown back, laughing into the wind.
They stood there for a long time, completely drenched, everyone just laughing and hugging and kissing in a sticky, soaking mess of bodies and cold and heat all at once.
It was really no surprise when everyone except Clint and Steve came down with the flu over the next few days.
Worth it, Sam would think, curled in blankets as Clint and Hope made tomato soup. Scott was curled at his feet, Wanda leaning into his side, Laura his other, Lila on Steve’s lap, Nathaniel in his crib, and Cooper in bed.
Definitely worth it.
Bucky’s grave was small, easily passed over by onlookers who were not specifically looking for him. Like the rest of the dead buried here, spies and Dora Milaje and soldiers, it was a simple headstone that had once been white but had turned cream in the rain and sun.
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes
“If you cannot change the wind, turn your sails.”
March 10, 1918—May 8, 2016
Steve came here every once in a while. Whenever he did, Sam usually followed, staying back and offering silent support and a shoulder to cry on when the memories got particularly bad for his friend. Usually, though, when they drove out here, to this small graveyard at the very edge of the city, Steve would just sit in front of Bucky’s grave, replace the bouquet of flowers already there with a new one, and speak of what had happened since his last visit, as if Bucky were still alive and listening intently to every word.
The months had seemed to blur together after the return of Wanda’s powers. They still hadn’t come back completely, and Doctor Tesfa wasn’t sure if they ever would, but at this point hardly anyone cared. Steve’s voice had taken longer. At first it would wane in and out, but by the first anniversary of Bucky’s death he was speaking almost perfectly. Cooper and Lila enrolled in school, and Pym and Shuri worked tirelessly on the Pym particle, improving it so that Hope and Scott could phase in and out of objects through the Quantum Realm almost effortlessly.
Natasha arrived a year and a half after Siberia, with blond hair and new weapons but the same icy yet warm personality that she somehow made work. No one asked where she had been and she never said anything, but she’d been accepted into their family with the appropriate fanfare. Wherever she had been, it certainly hadn’t been on the side of Stark, the UN, or the Accords. And that was enough for them.
Wanda started leaving, going on little “vacations” in disguise, which everyone knew was really just an excuse to get together with Vision. Usually, Clint or Natasha would go with her, keeping an eye out for danger from afar while giving her a chance to find some stolen moments with her lover. She was somewhere in Scotland currently, Clint leaving for a couple of days as her bodyguard. Whenever she returned it was all in smiles and happiness, and although Sam didn’t like Vision, not for supporting Tony or the Accords or shooting that beam so that when he dodged it would hit Rhodey, he couldn’t help but feel happy for her.
When Wanda wasn’t out, they trained, finally coming out of hiatus to learn how to work together and as a team once again. Four months ago they had started taking missions, both from what Natasha picked up and what T’Challa needed them to do to protect Wakanda’s security outside its borders, where the Dora Milaje held less sway. They’d busted black market vibranium sales, saved the Prime Minister of India from terrorists, and crushed some HYDRA and AIM offshoots that would pop up every now and then.
All in all, life was getting better.
Sam couldn’t help but think about all of this as he watched Steve kneel down once again in front of Bucky’s grave. Besides his mental changes, he had physically changed drastically since the events in Siberia, growing out his hair and sporting a full beard. He looked older, more worn, but also much more wise and beginning to act like the one hundred year old man he actually was. Sam supposed he was same, that the rest of the team was the same.
Two and a half years had passed since the Civil War.
Steve reached out a single hand, lightly brushing it against Bucky’s gravestone. However, he didn’t begin to talk like he normally did, instead opting to just kneel there, staring almost intently at the words engraved in the headstone. Sam watched, wondering what his friend was doing, as five, ten, fifteen minutes passed in silence.
“T’Challa told me,” Steve began abruptly, startling Sam and drawing him out of his thoughts. “That you liked the snow. You used to love winter as a kid; we’d always build snow forts in back allies and run until our lungs burned back in New York.” He chuckled, looking down and lost in memories decades old. “Do you remember that one time, on Christmas Day in 1944, when you nailed me in the back of the head with a snowball and starting a full out war with the Commandos and the 107th?”
He fell silent again, as if waiting for an answer. Of course, none came.
“I’m not sure how to say this, Buck.” Steve finally continued. Sam suddenly had the feeling that he was intruding on an especially private moment, even more so than his previous visits. “But I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About you. My team. Tony and the Accords. And I think—”
It suddenly became too much, and Steve had to cut himself off, overcome with emotion. He raised a hand to his mouth, taking a couple deep breaths.
“‘I’m getting better now, Buck. And I’ll always be with you ‘till the end of the line, but I gotta move on at some point. By now you’d probably be ready to smack me upside the head with the way I’m acting, moping around and feeling sorry for myself. Well, your old self would. I’m not too sure about your post-HYDRA self. I think one of my biggest regrets will always be not getting to know that part of you better. I’m not ready to move on. And I don’t think I ever will be. But it’s about time I ought to.” He pulled out a framed picture from the inside of his jacket, and placed it at the foot of Bucky’s grave. “So—” he choked up once again and had to pause. Sam wanted with every fiber of his being to help, to comfort Steve, but he realised at around the same time what was occurring, and that Steve needed to do this on his own. “Here’s a parting gift. I drew it for you.”
Sam peeked over Steve’s shoulder to get a glimpse of the portrait. It was Bucky, as expected, sitting in the cockpit of the Quinjet. He seemed to be uncertain, hunched over slightly, but determined at the same time, a certain glint in his eyes that said that Bucky knew something big or frightening was about to happen. No doubt Steve had sketched this from memory, and if Sam had to guess a time, he’d say it was right before they arrived in Siberia.
“I’m sorry. But this is goodbye. I’m gonna let you rest, now.”
Steve drew back his hands, and stood up. Sam stepped forwards as the super soldier turned around on one heel, but he needed no help, walking determinedly back to the car without looking back once.
“Steve,” Sam began quietly, once they had left the graveyard. Steve paused, letting out a long breath. “I think he’d be real proud of you right now.”
Steve smiled. A real smile, something that had slowly become more and more common over the last year. He and Sam shared a quick embrace, then entered the car, firing it up and preparing to go home.
Then, a ringtone.
Sam paused, key halfway in the ignition, before realizing that the sound was coming from his pocket. Alarm quickly coursing through his veins, he snatched up the flip phone Rhodey had given him more than two years ago, and answered it. What had happened? Was Rhodey (not Tony. Who cared about him?) alright?
“Hello?” He greeted.
“Oh, God.” There was a panting sound, meaning that the caller was out of breath, and it took a moment for Sam to recognize the voice of Bruce Banner, who had been missing since the events of Ultron.
“Bruce?!” He exclaimed. He and Steve shared a look, and Sam raised the phone so they could both listen.
“He’s here. Tony’s gone. Vision is in danger. You have to find him, now.”
“Bruce, what’s going on? What are you talking about?” Steve almost demanded, any trace of what he had just done in the graveyard wiped off his face as he slipped back into the persona of Captain America.
“Thanos. He’s coming.”
Sam narrowed his eyes, already getting a pretty good picture of what was happening. He quickly picked up his mobile phone and set it to call T’Challa. An enemy was coming, one strong enough to defeat Tony and be a serious threat to Vision. He needed to know nothing else. So he just repeated what he had told Rhodey:
“You need us, we’ll be there.”
There we are! I might add a Homecoming one-shot in this AU to Captainball sometime in the future, but I don't really see much of a need to add IW/Endgame to the story. If anyone else wants to expand on this, though, just let me know and go crazy.