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When the Dust Clears

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Steve tapped his pencil mindlessly against the notebook he had sitting in his lap as he gazed out the window at the Wakandan jungle. He’d already drawn the view seventeen times from every angle possible in the small common area that T’Challa had so kindly provided them with. There was even one of Clint perched lazily in one of the taller trees looking completely comfortable in such a foreign land. Saying Steve was inexplicably bored would be a complete understatement, not that he would ever disrespect T’Challa’s generous hospitality by saying so.

In all honesty, Steve was pretty sure T’Challa could have provided them with the most incredible distractions ever and Steve still would have been bored. Ever since Bucky had decided to go back into cryo, Steve had nothing but time to think about everything that had happened. The letter he had written to Tony helped to sort out some of the swirling emotions he had been struggling with, but there was still a lot left unsaid. A huge part of Steve had really hoped that Tony would call sooner rather than later so they could start trying to rebuild everything they had broken in the past couple of weeks.

There was no doubt in Steve’s mind that the others knew exactly why he spent all his time drawing in his notebook with an old flip phone in reach at all times. He had expected one of them to call him out for it, especially after Natasha turned up two days after they arrived, but none of them made any mention of it. The one time Scott had nearly said something about it, Sam had kicked the other man so hard under the table he fell out of his chair. A large part of Steve was grateful that the others were keeping their comments about Tony to a minimum around him, a different part wished the others would stop tiptoeing around him like he might spontaneously combust at any second.

With a barely audible sigh, Steve set his pencil down on his notebook and moved his attention away from the peaceful jungle beyond the window. He was more than a little surprised to see Wanda curled comfortably up on the small part of the window seat Steve wasn’t taking up. Her eyes were focused so intently on Steve that he actually had to fight the urge to shift awkward under her gaze. From the upward tilt of her lips, it must have been pretty obvious how uncomfortable Steve was suddenly finding himself under Wanda’s watchful eyes.

“The others are attempting to educate the Wakandans on the wonders of pizza. Natasha thought you might like to join us.”

“Of course. Let me just put this stuff away.”

Wanda tapped her nails thoughtfully against her knees as she watched Steve gather up the small number of pencils T’Challa had so kindly given him. “You miss him.”

“Of course I do. He’s my best friend.”

“It is not Barnes I refer to.” Wanda gently removed the art supplies from Steve’s hands so the super soldier wouldn’t accidently bend the pages or snap the pencils. “At first, I did not understand your relationship. On the surface, the two of you are so different it would seem impossible for you to get along. I do not pretend to understand the nature of your relationship, but I now understand that the two of you have much in common. I do not doubt that he misses you just as fiercely.”

“Maybe he would have before, but now I’m not so sure.”

“What is it you kept from him?”

“How did you know that?”

“When I first got these powers, it was difficult to control whether or not I was looking into people’s heads. I have spent much time learning how to block things out, but sometimes people think loudly and I find myself listening without meaning to. Your distress has intensified your thoughts. As soon as I realized what was happening I made sure to block them better, but somethings still slipped through. So what is it you kept from him? Stark understands the need for forgiveness better than most.”

Steve ran a slightly trembling hand through his hair as a momentary distraction. “Tony can forgive a lot of things, but asking him to forgive this is too much.”

“You’d be surprised how much people are willing to forgive when the person who wronged them is someone they love. Speak with Natasha or Sam, I’m sure they would tell you the same and it might help to alleviate the heavy burden on your chest to tell someone what happened.”

“You’re probably right. Thank you, Wanda.”

“You’re most welcome.” Wanda carefully handed Steve back his things, but didn’t make any move to get up from the window seat. “There is something I would like to ask you. It is… personal and I do not expect you to answer if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“Go ahead. I don’t mind.”

“What was your relationship with Stark?”

“What do you think it was?”

“I think you wanted us to believe it was nothing more than professional in nature. Maybe even friends of circumstance from time to time.”

“But?”

“When there were doubts, you looked towards each other for stability. Around him you were always more relaxed like you didn’t have to worry about being the perfect soldier. Both of you smiled more in the presence of the other. It could be because the two of you have formed a strong friendship, but something in your eyes always made me think differently.”

“And what did you think?”

A small, smooth hand gently squeezed Steve’s hand until he lifted his eyes back up to the young woman in front of him. “It seemed to me that the two of you were in love or at least on the path to love.”

“Tony was with Pepper.”

“Their relationship was failing before I even met the Avengers. Do you know what I saw when I showed him his greatest fear?”

“If Tony wanted me to know, he would have told me himself.”

“You are an honorable man so I will respect your wishes.”

Steve nodded his head stiffly as his stood up from the window seat with his art supplies clutched securely to his broad chest. He could feel the sharp point of one of his pencils digging uncomfortably into the shirt covered skin of his chest. His feet carried him to the door on autopilot like all those fancy jets Tony’s had designed for the Avengers to use. The cool metal of the doorknob was pressed against his hand before he finally worked up the nerve to look back at Wanda.

“Tony and I were never…” Steve struggled to come up with the right word to describe where things had been heading before the war torn them apart, but nothing that came to mind seemed enough. “Tony and I were friends. We were only ever friends.”


 

“They say a watched pot never boils. I think the same concept applies to phones.” Natasha gracefully swung herself up next to Steve on the small alcove he had managed to find near the top of the building they were staying in. “Wanda seems to think she’s driven you into hiding. She wouldn’t tell me what the two of you talked about, but if it has you this upset it could only be one thing. Clint’s going to be so jealous that you managed to find this place before he did.”

“Why did you try so hard to find me a date? When we were still working with S.H.I.E.L.D., you would always bug me about going a dates. I never understood why you tried so hard.”

“Remember when I told you you’re a terrible liar?”

“How could I forget?”

“You wear your heart on your sleeve. It makes it easy to get a read on you.”

“So you knew.”

Natasha nodded her head minutely then turned her attention to the jungle before she started speaking again. “I knew. I also knew how Tony was with Pepper. I didn’t want your feelings to get hurt so I thought it would be better to introduce you to someone that wasn’t already in a relationship.”

“Why did you stop?”

“Found out Tony wasn’t as out of your reach as he had been before. I expected you to make a move. Didn’t think it would be on Sharon.”

“Sam told you about that?”

“He’s quite proud of his boy.” A small chuckle escaped Natasha’s throat, probably because she was remembering whatever ridiculous thing Sam had said. “He seems to think the two of you will find some way to ride off into the sunset together. I figured you should be the one to tell him.”

“Should it concern me that all of you are so invested in my dating life?”

“We just want you to be happy. You deserve to be happy.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“People make mistakes. That’s what apologies and flowers are for.”

“He’d never forgive me.”

“Why? You sound pretty sure of yourself.”

Steve pulled his legs in and leaned his back against the side of the small alcove then waited for Natasha to do the same before he spoke. “I kept something from him. I told myself I was keeping it from him to spare him the pain, but I know it was really because I didn’t want to risk losing Bucky again. I should have told him. He deserved to know and I was too selfish to tell him.”

“What didn’t you tell him?”

“You already know. I know you do.”

“Yes, but you need to get this off your chest. It’s eating you up, Rogers. Trust me, you’re not going to be able to start moving on until you admit it.”

“I know.” The heavy weight that had been pressing down on his chest since Siberia felt heavier than ever as he tried to take a deep breath. “I knew the Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents and never told him. When we were in Siberia, Zemo showed Tony the footage from a camera that Hydra must have gotten their hands on later. He had to watch both of his parents murdered and the first thing he asked me afterwards was whether I knew or not.”

“What did you say?”

“That I knew Hydra was behind it, but I had no idea what happened. He knew I was lying. Guess I really am a bad liar.”

“He’ll forgive you.”

“You didn’t see the look on his face when he found out. He was furious and he had every right to be.”

“The ripped off arm made that pretty obvious, but he won’t stay mad forever. Tony was blinded by his emotions in the moment. I’m sure he’s already thought about what happened and knows that Barnes is just as much a victim of Hydra as his parents. People don’t call him a genius for no reason.”

“That doesn’t mean he’ll be willing to forgive me. I broke his trust.”

“So earn it back. If your relationship with Tony means that much to you, it won’t matter how much time and effort it takes because having him in your life is more important.”

“Not exactly easy to do when we’re not even talking.”

The phone Steve had been nervously messing with was taken out of his hands so quickly he didn’t even have time to try to stop Natasha. “Phones work both ways. I know you’re trying to respect Tony by leaving the decision up to him, but a letter and a burner phone might not be enough to convince Tony you want to get past this. Call him.”

“Where would I even beginning?”

“That’s something you have to figure out for yourself.” Natasha swung her legs back over the side in preparation of returning back through the window she had pulled herself up from. “You should join us for dinner tonight. The others will be glad to see you haven’t brooded yourself to death. They’ve been really worried about you.”


 

T’Challa struck out quickly with a Vibranium clawed hand that nearly tore open the skin of Steve’s left cheek. A quick foot snapped out in the direction Steve had rolled and was even closer to knocking Steve off balance than the claws had been to destroying his face. Luckily, instinct had kicked in allowing Steve to get a hold of the aforementioned foot before T’Challa could get it back underneath him. He used his strong grip to pull the king off of his feet and into a high arc over Steve’s shoulder.

The Black Panther landed in a neat crouch on the other side of the sparring area with his muscles taut in preparation for another attack. Steve could easily imagine a sleek black tail swaying behind the other man as he carefully considered his options like a true predator. The last thing Steve expected was for the other to man to straighten up without bothering to make a single move forward. His hands reached up to pull the Black Panther helmet from his head then set it carefully on the small table next to the sparring area.

“Your heart is not in the fight.”

“Sorry.”

“Your apology is unnecessary. What troubles your mind?”

“Nothing. Just thinking. I shouldn’t have let it distract me.”

T’Challa hummed in understanding then tucked his helmet under his arms as he motioned for Steve to follow him back. “Emotions are quite powerful. They have the ability to aid in our resolve or weaken it. When we let them run wild, they can drive us on a path that we never intended to travel.”

“You speak from experience.”

“My quest to avenge my father’s death was fuelled by my rage. In the process, I nearly killed an innocent man. I would have been no better than Zemo because I was not in control of my emotions at the time. Going down that road would have been a grave mistake.”

“Is that why you agreed to help us?”

“There are many reasons I agreed to help you. I wish to atone for my mistakes and help an innocent man get his life back. It is the least I can do.”

“We’re grateful for your generosity. Putting yourself and your people on the line for us is more than we could have asked for.” Steve tipped his head up towards the sky and watched a sea of dark clouds drift closer. “It’s going to rain.”

“It would appear so. My people will be glad to see the rain again. It has been a long time since it last came. It will likely last for several days.”

“Clint will be upset to hear that. He’s been enjoying the trees.”

“Quite unfortunate. Ms. Romanoff informed me he can be unbearable when he doesn’t have something to do. It might be good for you though. I find I do my best thinking during these rainy spells. It is relaxing.”

“Maybe. I used to dread the rain. I was always sick before the serum and rain never helped. Normally, I would end up sick for a week afterwards.”

“And now?”

A forlorn smile made its way onto Steve’s face as a drop of rain landed on his face and slide down his nose to the ground below. “Don’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen rain.”

“Perhaps it is just what you need.”

“Perhaps.”


 

“Look! It’s Captain America.”

“You don’t have to announce his presences every time he walks in a room. We all know who he is.”

Scott shrugged his shoulders in a what-can-you-do manner then focused on the large group of ants making pictures on the table. “You might be used to being around Captain America all the time, but some of us aren’t. What kid didn’t love Captain America?”

“The kind that grew up in a circus.”

“You grew up in a circus? No way. Is this some sort of initiation prank? What was it like? Were their elephants? Did you have a pet elephant?”

“Lang, sometimes I really worry about you.”

“I, too, am curious about your time in the circus.”

“We’re not talking about it.”

“I’ll just ask Natasha later.”

“I thought we were friends, kid.” The chair Clint was sitting on suddenly tipped backwards and sent the archer to the floor before he had time to right himself. “That’s playing dirty. How much training have you done with Nat?”

“Enough. How are you, Captain?”

“Fine. I’ve been enjoying the rain.”

“That makes one of us. I haven’t been outside in days.”

“Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you can’t go outside. You would be doing us all a favor if you did.”

An offended gasp filled the room as Clint clutched a hand over his heart and pointed an accusatory finger at an apathetic Natasha. “How rude. You know I don’t go out in the rain unless I absolutely have to.”

“If I find you reorganizing my room again, you’re going to have no other choice.”

“I finished organizing mine.”

“Find something else to do. I’m not one of your kids. Why don’t you ask Steve to teach you to draw?”

“My artistic abilities begin and end with lopsided stick figures.”

“We could try to track down more Hydra bases.” Sam sent a hopefully look Steve’s way, even though he already knew what the Captain would say. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I actually miss tracking them down.”

“You know we can’t. Doing recon is too risky. One of us could be recognized and compromise the group as a whole. T’Challa is doing what he can to track down Hydra without Ross getting suspicious. We wait for him to come to us with something.”

“I don’t think waiting around is any of our strong suits.”

“I know, but we have to play this safe. Take the time to train and get to know each other better. When we do finally get back into the field, we need to be able to work as a cohesive unit. That takes time to develop.”

“When do we start, Cap?”


 

Blood thundered through Steve’s veins as he pushed his legs and arms to pump faster and faster until it felt like they were going to pop out of socket. The burning in his lungs was making his throat squeeze painfully with every attempt to suck in more air. Air rushed past Steve’s ears blocking out all the sounds that normally filled the jungle with so much life. He couldn’t hear the sound of leaves crunching under his feet or birds chirping at each other in that annoying trill that would always drive Tony insane whenever he came to visit them at the compound.

Steve was so lost in his own head that he almost missed Sam resting with his back pressed against a tall tree in a sweat soaked shirt. The other man sent him a bright grin as Steve slowed to a complete stop in front of him like he had in D.C. before Natasha had whisked him away on a mission. He remained completely silent while Steve eased his sore body down on the ground with a small groan at the painful twinge.

“I didn’t think you got sore unless you get shot or fall out of thirty story building.”

“So did I. Guess we were both wrong.”

“Any particular reason you’re out here trying to kill all the feeling in your body?”

“Needed a change of scenery.” Steve chugged down most of the water Sam had handed him so he had time to formulate what he was going to say next. “I thought it might help me to work out some things.”

“Did it?”

“Not really.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised. It looked a whole hell of a lot like you were trying to outrun your problems. I know you’re Captain America and all, but even you can’t run that fast.”

“You gonna offer to lend me an ear.”

A chuckle rocked through Sam’s body and caused the corner of his eyes to crinkle up in amusement. “Heard that Natasha already talked to you, but I’m more than willing to listen. Can’t say I’m not curious about what happened in Siberia. Stark was pretty sincere when he came to the Raft asking for your location.”

“He was. He helped us locate Zemo, but things didn’t exactly happen the way we all expected it to.”

“What happened?”

“Zemo was never interested in the other super soldiers. He went to Siberia looking for information on the Winter Soldier’s past assignments, specifically the op from December 16, 1991. He wanted to tear the team apart from the inside and he did.”

“What’s so special about that op?”

“Did you know that on December 16, 1991 Tony’s parents died in a car accident?” Instead of answering out loud, Sam just shook his head no and allowed Steve to continue without interruption. “Hydra wanted Howard out of the way so they sent the Winter Soldier to do their dirty work for them. After running the car off the road, the Winter Soldier beat Howard’s face in then choked Maria.”

“Tony had no idea.”

“No.”

“And you never told him.”

Steve jerkily shook his head and sucked in several shaky breaths in an attempt to calm himself back down. “I know I should have, but every time I found myself about to tell him I’d find a reason not to.”

“Having to tell someone an ugly truth is never easy.”

“That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”

“No, it doesn’t. Is that what the letter was about? An apology for not telling him.”

“Yes. I also wanted to make sure he knew I would still come to help him if he needs it.”

“Well that explains why you’ve practically been sleeping with that fossil. I’m assuming he hasn’t found a reason to call yet.”

“Not yet.”

“Give him time. It’s a lot to process and with what happened to Colonel Rhodes he’s probably got a lot on his plate right now.”

“At this point, I’ve got nothing but time.”

“True.” Sam held out an expectant hand that Steve took in one of his own to help him off of the jungle floor. “You think Natasha has shoved Clint out a window by now?”

“I doubt Clint will need much encouragement since the rain finally stopped. He’s probably already picked out a tree to spend the day in.”

“I hate to break this to you, but you’ve got some of the weirdest friends.”

“They’re your friends now, too.”

“Don’t remind me.”


 

“What is this meeting for?” Clint tossed the small ball he had seemingly managed to pull out of thin air up for the hundredth time since the group arrived in the board room. “This is definitely one of the things I didn’t miss while I was retired.”

“T’Challa didn’t say, but I’m sure it’s important. He’s a busy man. He doesn’t have time to waste.”

“Busy or not, he’s late.”

The heavy door to the board room clicked shut behind the Wakandan king, who was dressed in a dark suit instead of his Black Panther armor. “I apologize for my tardiness. My previous engagement ran over.”

“We completely understand. We’re very appreciative that you’re taking the time out of your day for this meeting.”

“Of course. I’ll get right to it. As promised, my people have been looking into fixing the Hydra programming used on Sergeant Barnes. We believe we have a way to get one step closer to figuring it out.”

“What would that be?” When Steve glanced over at Natasha, he wasn’t surprised to see that her arms were firmly crossed over her chest and her eyebrows were slightly raised in skepticism. “I’ve had experience with memory manipulation before. There’s never an easy solution.”

“That is very true, Ms. Romanoff. We have not come up with a solution. What we have found is something that could give us inside information on how Hydra performed their conditioning on Sergeant Barnes.”

“How is that possible? The notebook only had the phrases used to trigger the Winter Soldier, not how they did it.”

“At a lecture at MIT, Mr. Stark demonstrated a device that could tap into a person’s memories so they could change them. The device could potentially be used to access what the Winter Soldier remembers of his condition and give us insight into undoing it.”

“Not to burst any bubbles, but I doubt Stark is just going to hand over his fancy mind device.”

“You are most likely correct, Mr. Lang.”

“So someone’s stealing it?”

T’Challa shook his head and appeared to be faintly amused that his negative answer caused Scott’s shoulders to deflate. “Mr. Stark only made one version of the device. He is also the only one that knows how to use it properly. We will need his help.”

“No.”

“Captain Rogers, I understand your objections. However, it is imperative that we have Mr. Stark here if we are to succeed in understanding what Hydra has done.”

“I can’t ask him to do this. It isn’t fair to him.”

“You will not be asking him. I will. There is a meeting to amend the Accords next week that I must attend. I will take the opportunity to ask for Mr. Stark’s help. Now, I have another meeting to attend. It was a pleasure as always.”

The moment the door shut behind T’Challa’s retreating back, Steve turned to look at Natasha with desperate blue eyes. “Tony shouldn’t have to do this.”

“You know he will.”

“He’s been through enough.”

“He’ll do it anyways.”

“Asking this is too much.”

“You’ll just have more to apologize for. Better start writing it out.”

“I don’t want him to do this. The Winter Soldier has already taken enough from him. There’s no way around this, is there?” Natasha stood from her seat and crossed the room to give Steve’s shoulder a firm squeeze then left the room with a pinched expression on her face.