Before Zemo gets taken into custody by the Black Panther he manages to set up a time bomb. Nothing too drastic, which isn’t to say that he didn’t want to set up something that would destroy the Avengers for good. If he’d managed to get close enough to that ugly hunk of metal they call home down in New York then he would have done so, but he hadn’t been able to get anywhere near it once his cover had been blown.
So he’d gone with the next best thing. Seeing agony spread across Tony Stark’s face as his parents’ faith was finally revealed had been the best sort of revenge. Zemo thinks that even if he hadnt fought his precious Captain afterward he would have been satisfied. He’d wanted to tear the whole team apart, sure, but it had been Tony Stark who’d dropped the rock. There was more of Zemo’s family’s blood in the hands of the Merchant than on anyone else’s.
He calculates about ten days since he’d been apprehended by the Wakanda Prince and smirks to himself. By then, he figures, the precious Avengers and the rest 3of the world already knew all about the new addition to their team.
Steve makes it all of three days away from the New Avengers’ facility. After Tony had been released from the med wing and moved to his living quarters, Steve had spent most of his hours either in the gym or in his quarters. He’d imposed a form of isolation on himself. He knew, since seen Tony bandaged and broken in the med wing, that the genius wouldn’t want to see him. Still, Steve had spent the whole week Tony had been asleep (it was not a coma, and Steve had never doubted that he would wake up) holding the engineer’s hand and praying for forgiveness.
He’d endured the verbal abuse from Pepper. He’d withstood the physical blows that Rhodey had tried to hit him with. He’d let Natasha’s glare bounce of his chest like they didn’t hurt more than having her yell at him. He’d even accepted it when Clint had begun to retreat from him and the rest of the group. What he couldn’t ignore, however, was the broken and terrified look Tony had given him upon waking up. If he’d had the words, Steve would have told him that he understood, then, the pain of having the Shield embedded in his chest. Because that’s exactly what it felt like; as if something was constricting his insides and wringing him dry.
He hadn’t managed to say or do anything but watch as Tony’s mounting panic and the tears began to leak out of his eyes. His breathing had turned erratic fogging the oxygen mask attached to his face. Then the doctors and nurses had come running because Tony’s heart monitor had gone frantic, and he’d been pushed out of the room. He’d barely made it to the other side of the corridor when his knees had given out from under him. Rhodey had taken one look at him as he’d been rapidly wheeled down the hall by Vision, and had begun shouting abuse.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here, Rogers?” he’d snarled. Steve had just hunched his shoulders as if that would keep the words from reaching his ears. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? What, did you want to finish the job? Shattering his HEART wasn’t good enough for you?!”
Steve had sprung to his feet and dashed down the corridor even as Vision asked the colonel to have some patience. He ignored the looks he got from the staff and his former teammates. He’d ran into Natasha as she rushed to Tony’s room, and she’d just stood there and looked at him as he ran way. He was such a goddamn coward.
It’s the wording that gets to him, Steve thinks to himself later as Bucky and him stop at a motel for the night. After Steve had run away from the others he’d picked a duffel and ran out of his home with Bucky in tow. His best friend had been furious and concerned. Furious at Rhodey and the others for jumping on Steve, even if he understood their reasons, and concerned about the blankness to Steve’s expression which hadn’t let up since he’d grabbed his Harley and gunned the engine away from the Avengers’ quarters.
It was the fact that he understood what Rhodey meant that had Steve running away. The fact that he knew Rhodey was talking about more than just ripping Tony’s chest plate to shreds and leaving him behind bruised and bleeding, and broken. It’s the fact that Steve knew, with an aching all the way to his core, that he’d taken what little was left of Tony and crushed it in his hand. That is what Steve knows Tony will never be able to neither forgive nor forget.
Steve had heard all the stories, of course. The tiny ways in which people had failed Tony time and time again. First Howard, with his angry words and careless indifference and drunk flailing that reached young Tony more than once. Then Maria with her need to appear whole and happy when neither she nor her child were. Jarvis, who Tony understood couldn’t have shielded him from Howard’s abuse, but didn’t manage to ease the pain at all. Then Tiberius Stone who managed to get through Tony’s already jaded view of life and had skewed it even more. Rhodey, and his good meaning judgement that hurt Tony if they both knew it hadn’t been intended to do so. Obie and his treachery; the most despicable of betrayals because even if it hadn’t been ideal Tony had had a father for a while. Then Pepper who Tony had thought was the only human being who could have loved him, and then she’d been gone too.
In a way, Steve had been Tony’s last ditch effort. The last person who he had, and would ever, pledge himself to. Tony had told him, one night in between too much wine and little sleep, that if Steve ever did something like what had been done to him in the past that it would destroy me. He hadn’t been crying, Tony had been run dry by life or fate or whatever else, but he’d had that thing in his voice. That frail, broken, defeated Tony that made something in Steve’s chest hurt and stutter.
“You’re it for me, mon Capitan,” Tony had said softly because even when he was serious he could always do so with a ridiculous pet name. He was sitting in front of the bay windows overlooking the city. They were still in the tower, then. They were side by side, Tony’s head on Steve’s shoulder. Tony hadn’t looked at him, Steve knew he couldn’t, but he hadn’t minded. His heart was beating painfully in his chest, giddiness and excitement and fear coursing through every part of him. “There’s not much left for me to give, to you or anybody really, but if—if you—if this turns out the same as wi-wit-with,” Steve had kissed him then because how could he not? It had been too much, too painful, to hear what Tony thought of himself. He always had to have the last word, though. “There’ll be nothing left, Steve.”
Steve had lost sight of that. Had forgotten in the middle of finding Bucky, and dealing with Ross, and thinking that Tony had betrayed him. He’d lost sight of what should have been so damn obvious.
Bucky’s eating a hot dog while Steve sketches out the coast line in some random beach in North Carolina when Steve’s burner phone vibrates in his pocket. He didn’t want to take a Stark phone in case someone managed to track them down. Even if Ross and Zemo had been apprehended and the Raft had probably been destroyed by now he was still wary of people. Anyone whom he didn’t know caused his hackles to rise, nowadays. Which is why they’re in an isolated part of the beach with ridiculously expensive sunglasses perched on their noses and ball caps hanging low over their brows.
He looks at the screen on the front and reads The Mechanic is calling and almost drops the damn thing in the sand. His hands are shaking badly when he picks it back up. Bucky stuffs the rest of his hot dog in his mouth and sits up, motioning with his hands that Steve should pick up. Taking a fortifying breath, he does.
“Who is this?” the voice on the other end snaps over the line. Steve pulls the phone away from his ear to confirm that he did, in fact, read correctly and then squashes down the flare of disappointment. It had been stupid to think Tony would want to speak to me.
“It’s Steve, Tasha,” he says quietly. Bucky frowns and falls back on his towel. He seems to be disappointed as well. He expects her to berate him for using the familiar name, but all she does is let out a heavy breath over the line. He’s afraid to ask what that means.
“Good, now I won’t have to track you down,” she says.
“What do you mean?” Steve asks anxiously. He hasn’t been contacted by anyone to whom he’d let his phone number too. He’d been tracking the news as he went, too, and he hadn’t seen any type of impending disaster.
“They know, Rogers,” she says ominously over the line. Steve squints at the sun on the horizon and wonders if he’d get his head bitten off if he asks what she means. It can’t be good, he knows that, but it isn’t bad enough that they need Captain America. “Everybody knows about Barnes.”
“What about Bucky?” he says angrily. Goddamn it, he’d left his fucking shield. He’d been fucking pardoned, thanks to Tony, and so had Bucky. Why couldn’t they leave them the fuck alone? Ross had already torn everything he could have cared about down, why couldn’t he get any damn peace?
“Of course that’s all you fucking care about,” Natasha says angrily.
“Tasha, no, wait,” he says in fear that she’ll hang up. Whatever it is that’s happening back home, God back home, he wants to know. He needs to know. “I’m sorry. I just—Please, I need to know what’s going on.”
“Zemo leaked the video,” Natasha says, dejectedly.
Steve’s heart feels like it’s about to beat out of his chest. “You can’t mean—“
“The entire world knows that Barnes killed the Starks, Steve, it’s been on a goddamn loop in every news outlet in the fucking world!”
For the first time in a while Steve isn’t thinking about Bucky. Well, he is, but he’s not his main concern right now. No, his thoughts jump directly at the man he’d left behind a mere three days ago. To the man who had already been broken beyond belief and who would have to, once again, be dragged through the mud. His thoughts go at once to Tony, and what he must feeling seeing his mother every single day, and he feels what little of his world was left shatter.
“—eve? You there? Steve, did you hear me?”
“Stevie? Hey, man, breathe. Come on, punk, you gotta remember how to breathe. It’s all right, Stevie, whatever it is it’s gonna be alright.” Bucky’s kneeling in the sand in front of Steve, hands on his knees and a worried expression on his face. Steve tries to match his breathing and looks right into his eyes as he relays his next request.
“Keep it away from Tony, Tasha, please. Hack into Friday, sue every fucking company if you have to, but he can’t see that. Not again. I’ll be there in a few hours, a day tops, but you gotta—“
“He already saw it, Steve,” Natasha says quietly. “It went right into his server. Friday played it out in the living room.”
“Oh my God,” Steve says quietly. He feels like crying, and puking and getting his hands on something all at the same time. “Is he—God, of course he’s not okay. Has he—“
“He’s scaring the team,” her voice shakes as she relays the message. Even if she’s still angry at him, which he doesn’t resent much, she knows she can’t keep this from him. “He’s not—it’s been a day, Steve,” he’s angry that she’d waited so long to tell him. “He’s not talking to anybody. Rhodey’s climbing the walls trying to get him to respond. He’s not eating, we found—the liquor cabinet in the workshop is trashed, and—Peter’s terrified, we don’t—“
“NO!” the scream interrupts whatever Tasha was going to say next.
“Tasha? Wha—is that—“
“NO! MOM, NO! PLEASE! NO!”
“I gotta go, Steve,” and then the line goes dead.
The phone drops from Steve’s hand and he cards his fingers through his hair. He tears at the strands while he tries to control his emotions. Panicking won’t do Tony any good. He has to get his head on straight if he’s going to be of any help to him, but… but he knows that the next time he tries to close his eyes and sleep that’s all he’ll hear.
“Steve?” Bucky asks tentatively.
“Zemo leaked the video,” Steve tells the sand. He feels Bucky’s fingers tighten on his knees. “The media won’t stop replaying and Tony—“
“I heard him,” Bucky says quietly. “You need to go back.”
“I don’t know if it’ll even do any good. He ha-hates me,” there’s a lump in his throat the size of a tennis ball. Saying the words out loud won’t stop hurting.
“Tough, punk, you don’t get a choice in that. You’ve already failed once,” Steve glances up to glare at his friend, but the jerk is smiling down at him. “You’ve never run away from a fight before, Steve, that’s something I know. You can’t start now.”
That’s how Steve finds himself walking into the New Avengers facility thirteen or so hours later, tired and terrified. Bucky is dragging his feet behind him and already bitching about when to sneak into the kitchen to grab something to eat or whether to find one of their team mates to brave the kitchen. Steve hates that they’re so divided now nobody can go alone anywhere without fearing some stupid tussle breaking out. He hates himself, and yeah Tony a little bit too, for making the others choose.
Tasha must have told the others he was coming back because they’ve all assembled in the game room. Well, everyone but Tony and Rhodey and Vision. Steve’s about to ask after the genius, his one and only priority really, when he notices the hostility in the room. Clint is glaring daggers at him, Scott, Sam, and Wanda won’t meet his eyes. The new kid, Peter, fidgets on the couch where he’s sitting with Natasha. Steve opens his mouth to ask what’s happened when he’s interrupted by the last person he would have expected to talk.
“Is it true?” Wanda asks carefully. She’s frowning behind him from her perch on one of the recliners, Clint sitting on the arm and twirling an arrow between his fingers. From the dark look he shoots Steve, he doesn’t doubt his bow is somewhere nearby. Steve knows immediately what she’s talking about because she’s looking at Bucky.
“Yes,” her glare moves to him then and he forces himself not to flinch back. Her fingers snap red. “We saw—“
“I do not care what you saw,” she interrupts angrily. She jumps to her feet and stalks three steps in his direction. “Did you know about it before all this?” her hands motion to the occupants in the room.
“We found out about it during the mess in DC,” Steve tells her. Her shoulders slump at his admittance. He’s disappointed her, he can see it in the way she won’t meet his eyes, and he blinks to get his emotions in check. “We knew it had something to do with Hydra, that it wasn’t an accident, it was all in the files. I—I figured it out, later on, that it must have been the Soldier,” Bucky goes tense at the name, but Steve can’t deal with that right now. “Then I found out that it was Bucky and I just—I thought I was protecting him. I was wrong, I get it now, I was so wrong, but then everything with Ross started happening and I just… we were already so divided. I didn’t think—“
“Yes, you did not think it necessary,” Wanda snaps. He doesn’t understand why she’s so angry. She’s never been a fan of Tony’s, and Steve thinks that she should have been even more hateful towards him now after the Raft, but she’s incensed. Her hands sparkle red magic at him. “You know what his mother meant to him, and you did not think he deserved to know what had happened to her! Do you know what it is like to lose someone you love and not know how or why, Captain?”
So that’s why she’s so angry, he thinks. Wanda and Pietro had lost their mother, too. She’d been torn away from them so they could become one of VonStrucker’s experiments. Steve’s gaze drops to the floor in shame. God, he was such an idiot.
“Were you ever going to tell him?” Sam, this time, looking at him as if he didn’t know him.
“I was looking for the right time—“
“And when would that have been, hmm, Steve?” Clint snaps at him. He’s on his feet, too, holding onto Wanda’s wrist. Steve doesn’t doubt that’s the only reason he’s not trapped into one of her nightmares then.
“I don’t—I was looking for the right time,” Steve hopes they understand how sincere he was. “She was already gone, I thought, why hurt him more? He didn’t need—“
“He deserved to know!” Wanda explodes.
“Maria meant the world to Tony,” Rhodey’s voice comes from the other entrance to the gaming room. He looks ragged, worn down and concerned. He’s holding onto Vision’s arm for support, and Steve glances down to the braces on his legs. Some type of tech that allows him to keep upright. Steve glances at Sam, and notices how his hands clench and he averts his eyes. He can’t blame him, Steve himself has to swallow to keep the nausea down. God. “How, exactly, was keeping that from him better for him?”
“No, Cap, you don’t get to come back and act like this isn’t on you. He,” Rhodey points an angry finger at Bucky who shrinks back. Steve puffs his chest and tries to hide him, his protectiveness over his best friend instantly surfacing. “Killed Tony’s mother!”
“To be fair, he was brainwashed,” Scott chimes from his seat. When everyone turns to glare at him, he shrinks back.
“Who are you?” Rhodey asks him angrily, out of spite, Steve can tell. “Whatever the reason, Maria died in cold blood at the hands of the Winter Soldier. Tony’s spent years agonizing over the last time he saw her, what he could have done better, what he could have said, how he could have kept her home! He had every right to know what happened to her!”
“For God’s sake, Rhodey, he’s not a child anymore! He’s not naïve! Howard had enemies, he knows that, at some point he must have realized freak accidents like that don’t just happen!” Steve was grasping at straws, even he knew that.
“He did,” a young timid voice interrupts their screaming match. Steve’s eyes snap to the sofa where young Peter is fidgeting with his hands. When he notices everyone is staring at him, his wiggling gets worse. “Um, he did believe that, that is. I saw his lecture at the MIT alum conference. He introduced this new invention he has been working on to help recreate memories. It’s really cool, actually, because it lets you… recreate memories, I guess? Like, you get to relieve them, sure, so it’s kind of like a pensieve like in Harry Potter? But then it lets you change them so it also kind of works as a therapy think, I think he said that, wait! I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube, we can get it so that, uh,” he catches himself and his animated rant stops, then picks back up.” Sorry, I just—Mr. Stark is really cool. Anyway, so he showed people at the conference about, um, his memories. He… I think it was that night,” he nods at Steve, but won’t meet his eyes. “’Cause the lady, sorry, Mrs. Stark said something like ‘you know what’s going to happen’ and so Mr. Stark said something to Howard and uh, I guess. Well, he told the audience that the crash happened after that.”
“This is true,” Vision confirms quietly as he helps Rhodey into a chair. Steve has no more words to defend the major fuck up he has done. “JARVIS’s files contained information from the years 1991 onwards saved on a previous server, then downloaded into the JARVIS mainframe of possible theories on how an accident of such magnitude could have taken the life or Maria Stark as well as several attempts at infiltrating SHIELD intelligence to gain access to the autopsy reports which were never given to Master Stark.”
The room goes silent as this new information. Nobody seems to be able to look at Steve, now. Sam’s the first to break. He can’t look at Steve and he can’t look at Rhodey, and so he stands on shaky legs and leaves the room. Scott follows, sensing he’s not close enough to anyone in the room to be part of this particular conversation. Peter jumps to his feet after giving Steve a long look, and then walks out of the room after mumbling something about web shooters and the lab. Natasha offers to make him company.
“All this time, he’s just wanted to know what happened to his parents, Steve,” Clint says sadly. “All this time, and he was still the seventeen year old kid that just wanted to know why his mother didn’t come home, and he has to find out from a psycho hell bent on tearing the team apart rather than from the man he trusted more than anything else in the world.” He gives a mirthless chuckle and claps slowly in a way the grates on Steve’s nerves. “Good fucking work, Cap. You sure as hell saved him all that pain. You’re lucky it was him you fucked over like that; I would have shot you without a second thought.” With that, he throws his arrow at the wall near Steve’s head so hard it embeds itself in the drywall.
“Stark might have been wrong about the accords,” Wanda says quietly. “But at least he was truthful to all of us. He did not lie about what he knew. He thought he was protecting all of us; he did not betray you for the sake of another.” She shakes her head as if she cannot believe what she has just learned about him and walks out of the room.
Rhodey is about to rip into him, Steve can tell, when he’s interrupted by a female voice from overhead.
“I’m sorry, Colonel, but the Boss is having another nightmare and I have been unable to rouse him. Seeing as you requested that I inform you of when these things occurred, I think it’ll be beneficial for you to go to his room,” even if she was an underdeveloped model, as Tony had been fond of calling her, she could still sound as concerned for her creator as JARVIS had.
“Jesus Christ,” Rhodey hisses as Vision helps him to his feet and across the room. “It hasn’t even been twenty minutes.” The worry in his tone is plain as day. “God, Tony, what can we do.”
Steve’s about to follow them, Bucky is no longer in the room with them and huh look at that, it seems he can stop thinking about his best friend for a bit. Rhodey turns with a downright ugly look on his face, anger and hate plain on his features. Up until now he’d looked protective and pissed, but this… this is pure, unadulterated hate towards Steve and he takes a step back.
“You stay the hell away from my brother,” Rhodey screams at him. “You’re the reason he can’t sleep more than an hour at the time without screaming himself hoarse! Stay the hell away from him or new accords or not, I will shoot you.” Vision manages to take him away after that.
Steve’s left standing in the hallway, alone, with an ache in his chest and tears in his eyes. He’s left terrified and so sorrowful for Tony, so goddamn sorry for what did to his team, and confused as to what Rhodey meant about new accords.
And if he slides down the wall with a pained sob wrenched out of his throat, well… there’s nobody to see.