Steve had been checking his burner phone every few hours in his downtime, half hoping for and half dreading a call from Tony. After two months, the unexpected beeping sound of a text message had finally startled him out of his musings. He swallowed and picked up the phone, trying to keep his hands steady.
The short message only contained coordinates, the number of a lockbox, and a passcode to open it.
Steve stared at the message for a long time. It could be a trap. Tony and Ross could be waiting for him to come so that they could try to arrest him. Even though he’d apologized, he had no way of knowing if Tony would ever forgive him. Even after their disagreement about the Accords and fighting his friends to save Bucky, Tony had come to help him without a second thought. And he had repaid him by keeping what he knew about Tony’s parents secret for such a long time, while expecting his team to be honest.
He kept nervously playing with the phone in his hand.
A trap wasn't really Tony's style. He smiled sadly as one of their first discussions came to mind. "You're all about style", he'd said. It took him a long time to realize how wrong he had been.
Steve sighed. He knew Tony; he had to believe their friendship and everything they'd been through together hadn't been for nothing. Tony wouldn't trick him like that.
Still, he decided to go alone. If he was wrong, at least the others would be safe.
It hadn't been too hard to keep an eye on how Tony was doing. Iron Man and his team of Avengers were on TV or in the papers almost daily. Even if Tony was good at playing the role he had been given, Steve could see through it. He could see how tired Tony looked, how worried. Having to go after criminals, while most of the old Avengers were in hiding, and having to go after his friends must have weighed pretty hard on him. When there was no reaction from Iron Man after Steve broke his friends out of the Raft, he thought maybe Tony was not trying as hard to bring them in as he could have.
He watched as Tony took in a few of the new people with powers that turned up now and then. He offered them a home at the compound like he had offered the Avengers a home in the tower. The rest of the powered people chose to ‘retire’, as the Accords demanded. Even working under the Accords, he managed to keep fighting and actually arresting criminals. When he wasn't out as Iron Man or at the compound (and Steve knew he wasn't spending his time there resting; he would be training and preparing the new recruits), Tony was trying to change the Accords for the better. With all the positive publicity his Avengers had been getting, that seemed like it might actually be possible.
Steve watched with mixed feelings when Tony gave the shield to the Smithsonian.
He almost didn't hear Tony's flippant commentary about him, his attention on how tired Tony looked and how hard it had to be for him to be there. Tony was used to the spotlight, after all, and if Steve hadn’t known him so well he never would have guessed that Tony was worn down.
"There will be no new Captain America," Tony had said, when he handed over the shield.
Walking through the small train station in Italy, Steve's pulse quickened. This was it. If he was wrong, someone could try to arrest him any time now. He pulled his cap further down and tried to walk slow enough to blend into the string of people. Looking around again, he quickly punched in the numbers to open the lockbox, and hastily pulled a huge duffel bag out.
He closed the box after bending down to check that it was empty, and turned to pick up the bag. A hand on his shoulder made him startle. So, had it been a trap after all? With a steely resolve he turned around, standing in a defensive crouch.
The young woman in front of him flinched. She held up a small piece of paper. "I think you dropped this? It fell from your bag," she said, frowning.
Steve let out a small, relieved huff. "Thank you," he said, stuffing the note into his pocket.
Safely on the quinjet and on his way back to Wakanda, Steve carefully opened the duffel bag. The first thing he saw was the letter, lying on top of some fabric.
Steve turned it over in his hands a few times, before finally opening it.
I know we didn't exactly part on the best terms. But I know that you will not stop fighting for the people who need it just because the Accords say you should. I just really hope you manage that while not making a spectacle out of it. You did manage to hide in Wakanda all right so far, so I'm hopeful."
Steve froze for a second. So Tony did know where he was hiding. The fact that he was still free spoke volumes about how Tony really didn't want to bring him in.
"I can't stop you from fighting, and I'm not sure I'd really want to. Just, please, stay safe. I'll help as much as I can."
Steve dug deeper into the bag and pulled out the pile of fabric. It turned out to be a uniform, similar to his Captain America suit, but nondescript and obviously meant to be worn hidden under clothing. He ran his hand over the fabric. Tony's protective gear always was better than anything else he wore.
"All I'm asking is please don't make it any harder on us. I'm trying to get the public to trust us again, and to change the Accords into something that actually protects the people we try to help. Civilians and Avengers alike."
Steve saw that under the suit there was a helmet with integrated mask.
"As for your friend... I'm sorry about that, too. I know it wasn't his fault, but... she was my mom, and I can't just be fine with that. For what it's worth, I don't blame him. Try to keep him out of trouble when you two run around fighting."
Steve squeezed his eyes shut. Tony didn't know about Bucky going back into cryo. Setting the helmet aside, he allowed himself to let his head hang low and just breathe for a few seconds. When he opened his eyes again he glanced at the duffel bag and saw the case inside. He pulled it out and opened it, his mouth falling open.
Inside was a metal arm, similar to Bucky's now destroyed model.
"I sent the arm to show you that I mean it. It was built based on the HYDRA specifications that got dumped on the internet, and with the shoulder still working it should be possible to remove the damaged plates and attach it. I put the specifics on a hard drive, the Wakandan scientists should be able to help you with that. If you'd send me some scans, I might even be able to build a better arm than those HYDRA idiots."
Steve tried to keep his wobbly smile in check. If... when Bucky came out of cryo, he would be happy to have the arm again. He'd been unbalanced and disgruntled before.
"Ross is still looking for you. I don't always get informed, and he has other people than the Avengers trying to apprehend you. But if you happened to find some way to get into his secure server, while not making it obvious you know what he is planning... they will probably be searching for a long time before they find any clues."
Steve frowned. He stared at the letter. How was he supposed to do that?
On a whim his hand went to his pocket, pulling out the piece of paper that had been crammed in one of the side bags of the duffel. He wasn't sure if he should be surprised when he found a name and a password on it.
"Please don't make me regret this.
You know, a phone works in both directions."
Steve nodded to himself. After everything, Tony was still looking out for him, for them.
"PS: I repainted her, so you could at least try to be less flashy than usual."
Putting the letter down, Steve turned for the duffel bag again. He swallowed. With shaking hands, he reached into the bag and pulled out his shield.