*** Siberia ***
Neither of them said a word as they limped together out of the bunker, each step just shy of a tottering fall, each breath crowded with silent groans and regrets. Steve kept them both moving, navigating by way of Bucky’s shaky nods and head tips to lead them to the massive ground level doors, dragged further apart now than either of them had done on the way in.
But if the snow there had held the steaming prints of Iron Man’s repulsor boots alongside Bucky’s and Steve’s tracks, it had been only briefly, for new snow had blown in to wipe all trace of them under a blanket of powdery white.
Dammit, Tony, Steve kept the words behind his teeth as he scanned the hazy, wind-scraped snowfield to try and figure out what the hell they were gonna do now. He could see the Quinjet where they’d left it, a low, sloping mound of grey, scraped clear by the winds on top, but skirted almost to the cockpit window by the blowing snow.
It was new, bleeding-edge technology, that jet, equipped with a repulsor engine that would never need fuel, and enough stealth and jamming technology that it could get them just about anywhere in the world without another machine knowing about it. But it was also about as subtle to look at as diamonds on Lent, and would leave hundreds of living witnesses behind wherever they managed to put the thing down.
His hands spasmed, twitching with cramp and the memory of the unforgiving ridge of metal against this palms. Helmet release catch. Smash. Rip. No more AI to guide Tony’s fists. Brown eyes full of terror, disbelief, certainty...
“Zemo,” Bucky gritted beside him, and Steve shocked from his memory with a damp gasp. He grabbed the intrusive vision by the throat, shoved it into a mental box, and slammed the lid. Bucky tipped a shaky nod toward the rented Snow Cat they’d passed coming in. Like the Quinjet, it was half-buried in the blowing snow, but still there, at least.
“I’ll get it,” Steve nodded, shifting his grip on Bucky’s wrist to ease him down where the door could give him some shelter from the wind. But Bucky clung, leaned heavily into Steve’s side, shaking his head so hard he nearly toppled them both over into the snow.
“No! He’s still here! He’s got the... He knows the-”
“I know, Buck, I know,” Steve answered, turning Bucky’s back to the rough hewn granite and cupping his chin to hold his gaze. “I promise I’ll go and find him, but you’re falling into shock right now, and if I don’t get you someplace warm, we won’t get a clear mile toward safety.”
Safety. Wherever that was. Steve drew a breath so crackling cold it almost seized his lungs up tight. The sudden, shocking flare of pain in his abused ribs had him instantly on his back again, shieldless, helpless, Iron Man a brutal, implacable weight on his chest, one gleaming scarlet fist that could stave in a tank’s armor with one blow plunging for his face. Concrete splintering to powder an inch from his ear when Steve flinched aside. Certainty of it coiling into his heart, crushing and colder than all the weight of Iron Man himself -- Tony would kill Bucky. And if he had to kill Steve first, he would do that too. And he wasn’t going to hesitate. Nothing Steve could say would stop him until Tony had both their blood on his hands --
No. Slam it in the box. Lock it tight. Later. Think on it later.
The breath gusted out of Steve all at once, vast and white as the wind unraveled it overhead. “The Snow Cat will have a heater,” he said, his voice cracking dry. “Maybe a med kit too. Let me get you into it, and I promise I’ll go find where Zemo crawled off to-”
“Don’t bother,” a voice called out of the blurring white, snapping Steve around into a futilely shieldless guard position. “He is in my custody already.” And with that, King T’Challa dropped from the rocky ledge overhanging the bunker’s entrance, and landed lightly in the snow.
“Steve,” Bucky warned, gripping his shoulder, tugging him back, or trying to.
“No, Buck,” Steve said, and stood his ground. To T’Challa, he called, “If you have Zemo, then you know Bucky had nothing to do with the bomb that killed your father.”
This won’t change anything
I don’t care
No! Slam the door. Lock it.
“This is true, ” the young King allowed with the kind of nod that made Steve think sadly of Thor’s courtly grace. “But there are those who will hunt Sergeant Barnes for other crimes now that the world knows him for the Winter Soldier.”
“Steve, don’t!” Bucky tugged again, then shoved when Steve didn’t budge. “If I surrender,” he called, jostling past when Steve staggered on the icy stone, “If I give myself up, what will you do to Steve?”
And Steve’s heart seized up tight again, his left arm aching as the shield scraped off it, toppled free to clang on the ground with all the weight of a century behind it. All that, and still to be alone, left behind. Life sentence still counting inexorably onward. Steve clenched his fist, chinned up into the looming despair and readied himself for a fight.
“You can’t have Bucky without me,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta be on his side.”
T’Challa cocked his head, as if intrigued, or possibly sizing up which wounded soldier he ought to take down first. But all he asked was, “And who is on your side, Captain?”
Sam, Steve thought at once, Natasha. Clint, Wanda, even Lang, though God only knew why. All those who’d stayed to capture so Steve and Bucky could steal the Quinjet and rush out here to Siberia... straight into Zemo’s trap. He shook his head. “They’ve fought enough of my battles,” he said, refusing to see the angry, appalled look Bucky shot him.
The Wakandan King merely reached up and pulled the helmet from his suit, saying, “I think, perhaps, we have all fought enough for today.” He half turned, sweeping an arm out across the snowy grey world. “I have a jet that can carry us all to safety, if you will place your trust in my offer.”
“What about Zemo?” Bucky said at the same moment Steve blurted,
“What about Tony?”
T’Challa aimed a quizzical eyebrow at Steve. “Mr. Stark still lives, does he not?”
Steve nodded quickly, stealing a step from Bucky’s side. “Yes. He’s... he’ll be okay, but his suit’s down, and he’s got no way to call for help.”
"He’s still a Stark,” T’Challa smirked, “And no Stark is ever truly helpless.” Then he lifted his arm, as if to usher them away.
Steve stood his ground, the jet in question couldn’t be a large one -- there was no place within miles where it would be safe to land anything without VTOL capability. “Tony’s my friend,” he said. (So was I) “I’m not going to abandon him.”
Bucky made an incredulous groan. “Stevie, you gotta leave him be! He just tried to kill you -- he ain’t gonna take your help right now!”
“He doesn’t have scanning equipment to find his way out of the bunker! He could freeze down there if he passes out or gets lost!” Steve shot back, flashing a glare at the Wakandan King. “But you’re not supposed to be here any more than Stark is, and if Tony knows you are here, then he’ll have to report it to the UN. That’s what the Accords demand of unauthorized vigilante activity, isn’t it, your Majesty?”
T’Challa narrowed his eyes, but gave up a nod all the same. Steve met it with another. “And that means you can’t hand Zemo over to the UN either, or they’ll know that you broke the Accords too.”
“Stevie, what are you thinking?” Bucky growled as T’Challa chewed on the oversight and clearly didn’t enjoy the taste.
“I’m thinkin the only way Tony can get out of this without General Ross getting him over a barrel is if he’s got a really big chip to bargain with. And since Zemo’s a bargaining chip none of us can use without getting arrested...”
Bucky caught Steve’s arm in a shaking grip that still pinched like icy iron. “Steve, he knows! Zemo knows the triggers that-”
“That are only useful to him if he can say them within your hearing, Sergeant Barnes,” T’Challa put in, stepping through the high-drifted snow as if he’d never hunted either of them to the ground before. “He could say nothing at all to you if you were in my country. Wakanda has held its borders secure from all invaders since the first Whites began to carve Africa into territories. It was the deaths of Wakandans which set in motion Zemo’s plots against you, Captain, and involved you, Sergeant Barnes. It seems just to me that Wakanda should offer you shelter now. Accept my hospitality, accept my help, and the matter of what words Colonel Zemo knows need not be a matter of concern.”
“Until it is” Bucky cried, “and then people get killed!”
Steve pulled him back, ducked a shoulder under the ragged stump that was all Tony had left of Hydra’s terrible fist, and bore his oldest friend steady. “One step at a time, Buck,” he said. “Let’s leave some of the problems to solve tomorrow, okay?”
Bucky clicked a frustrated sound against his teeth, but he didn’t pull away when Steve slipped an arm around his waist and bore his shaking and exhausted weight forward a step. “Two years,” he mused, long, dark hair hanging in his face as T’Challa got in along his other side and balanced Bucky between them. “Two fucking years, I didn’t kill so much as a fly...”
“I know, Buck,” Steve promised, breaking a path through the snow, “We’ll figure it out.” Somehow, he didn’t add. Somehow.
Steve had been right about the jet. T’Challa’s plane was going to be a very tight fit for the three of them, even after they heaved Zemo out of the co-pilot’s seat and dumped him headlong into the snow.
Steve took the man, bound and gagged and still plenty groggy, over his shoulder and set off back toward the bunker before Bucky could rouse to what Steve was doing, and decide to try and fight off T’Challa’s first aid care. If he was a little less than gentle about jostling as he carried his captive back down to the missile chamber, Steve didn’t let it bother him.
In the bunker entrance, he paused to pull the helmet from his head, and turn it over to check the embedded comm unit. It showed no obvious damage, so Steve pressed his index finger into the smooth spot near the temple, and held it for two seconds.
The link crackled to life, the AI’s voice, tinny and panicked, frantically trying to raise a response from Tony on all Avengers frequencies.
“Friday,” he cut in, “Mr. Stark is alive and uninjured. Please dispatch rescue and prisoner containment to my coordinates as fast as possible.”
The AI’s voice cut out abruptly, shocked. Then after a moment, she returned, cool and serene once more. “Acknowledged,” she lilted. “Rescue will reach your location in two hours, Captain Rogers. Will medical aid be required?”
And there, Steve had to huff a laugh. “If you can get Tony to sit still for it, I’m sure he could use an aspirin or two. And it’s not Captain, Friday. Not anymore.” And then he dropped his helmet in the snow at the door, shouldered Zemo higher, and carried him down into the darkness.
It was there, under the judging corpses of five brutal patriots who had suffered, killed, and now had died for their country, that Steve bore Zemo to the ground and stripped him all but naked. He left T’Challa’s secure bindings in place, roughly shredding through sleeves and collars, layer upon layer, until the man who had set himself the Avenger’s judge, jury, and saboteur lay shivering on the bare concrete in shorts and shame alone.
“They told me you used to command a kill squad when you worked in Sokovia,” Steve said, using the cuffs from his utility belt to attach Zemo securely to one of the cryogenic tanks, wrists and ankles both secured to different hard points, and the raw, bloody urge to murder the man shoved down low beneath Steve’s aching chest. “So we both know that you got away with more than your fair share of murders in your day. Political killings tend to be pretty brutal, don’t they? Usually all about leaving a big mess and a loud message to anybody who might cause trouble.”
He gathered up the rags of Zemo’s clothing, still musing aloud. “So I’m pretty confident that there are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, wives, siblings and lovers alive in the world today who’d say you took everything from them too. And when you’re on trial for this latest game of yours, I’m sure some of them will watch it, and try to find some sense of justice in what the UN decides to do with you.”
He stooped, caught Zemo’s chin with two fingers, and locked their gazes together. “It won’t be justice though. You and I both know you don’t have a shred of regret over any life you’ve taken, whether somebody told you to kill them, or they just got into your way. No, watching you suffer won’t be justice for them, for the survivors who’re still mourning for your victims; it’ll just be vengeance. Which is fitting, I suppose, since this is what all this was about in the first place. But Bucky is not your Judas Goat, and neither am I. You get to carry the guilt for the lives you’ve taken all by yourself.”
Then he checked the bindings one last time, and stood to leave, dropping the rags like a trail of breadcrumbs behind him as he went.