Tony stands at his side, but it’s too little too late.
They’re losing the fight for Earth. That much is easy and obvious to tell even if someone were to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that none of this was happening. Thanos’s forces are too numerous and too well organized as opposed to the broken, damaged group of individuals ravaged by the last few years.
Steve realizes the truth of the moment with a sickeningly crystal clear clarity. Tony’s condemned them all while claiming that he’s been trying to help. He may be standing next to Steve now, but the damage and the wounds that he caused in the Avengers long before the Mad Titan arrived on their doorstep stole any hope of winning the battle.
It’s almost funny how it always seemed to work out that way, every time Tony tried to help he made things worse. It should be funny, but there’s nothing about what’s happening right now that’s even remotely funny. Tony fights and struggles alongside him, trying to have his back like he always should have but could never seem to get past his own ego to do, and now it’s too little too late. What’s worse is that Steve knows that both of them know it too. The armor is damaged, bloody pieces of torn flesh visible beneath the wires, but still Tony fights on. Steve knows without looking down that he’s in a similar state, but none of that matters right now.
He fights on even as he watches all of his friends and allies go down around him. He fights as whole cities fall around the world, and he fights past his own limits as he stubbornly tries to find the will to keep pressing on even as everything he’s fighting for gets destroyed around him.
He fights with Tony twelve whole days before Thanos finally comes for them.
The gauntlet mocks Steve, letting him know that it’s almost complete and that the only stone that’s still missing is located somewhere on Earth. Thanos’s smile mocks Steve too, like he’s just passing the time fighting the two of them while everything he’s ever wanted falls into place around him.
Tony presses something into Steve’s palm as he moves to use the last of the suits power against the monster and Steve doesn’t need to look down to know what it is. The arc reactor is missing out of Tony’s chest area and the armor is fading out around him.
He dies in a seemingly pointless charge against the enemy who turns his sights to Steve. Steve would almost smile if he could find it in himself to do so at the way that Thanos’s smile falters for a brief moment when Steve slams the arc reactor onto the glove. He knows what will happen, the surge of energy decimating everything around them and hopefully the Titan as well. This is Steve’s last stand and he’s going to make it count.
Steve watches with a kind of passing fascination as it lights up between two of those glittering gems, and then there’s just light and an echo of silence where the sounds of death used to be.
Steve jolts when Hulk’s roar sounds in his ears, pulling him back to his body and grounding him in the sudden shift of everything as he tries to catch his breath amidst his confusion. It takes him only a second to see them, the original Avengers looking so young and so unburdened despite the blood and cuts on their bodies. He’s in New York, this is the moment when they thought that they’d won some grand victory but hadn’t realized yet that it was the start of the war not the end of it.
Tony’s body jolts under his hand just like all that time ago, the arc lighting back up as brown eyes snap open and the Hulk cheers in victory. He rattles off the need to eat at that horrible restaurant like before and Steve’s already shaking his head. They don’t have time for that…and besides it turned out that he really didn’t like shawarma. Steve helps Tony to his feet, the brunet leaning heavily on him and Steve tries to stomp down the urge to have Tony stand on his own two feet. Steve’s been coddling him for far too long now, maybe if he hadn’t none of what did would have occurred.
The thought isn’t without merit and Steve files it away. They have to contain Loki before he gets away, and then he’ll figure out what to do about the Tony Stark Problem. The problem where everything good about the Avengers was destroyed from within by someone who never seemed to see himself as the villain of the story, regardless of the evidence.
Standing over Loki later brings forth a kind of clarity that Steve never had before. The signs were there, of which side Tony truly belonged to, back in the beginning with how easily he banters with the disgraced and crazy god. The easy kind of rapport that the two of them have over a shared glass of alcohol that makes Steve want to drag Tony out of the room and ask him what he thinks he’s doing.
But that’d be pointless. Tony’s only doing what’s in his nature to do. He doesn’t care that Loki is the enemy. He doesn’t care how he’s hurting Clint by treating Loki like a guest in his penthouse as opposed to the mind-raping criminal he is.
It’s not in Tony’s nature to care about things that don’t directly affect him. Steve should know that better than anyone these days, but it’s still frustrating to see it. It’s even more frustrating to know that he ignored it the first time around when he should have been being vigilant.
That’s what ends Steve up in Fury’s office this time around instead of in a broken down restaurant trying to force down something he didn’t want. Things have to be different this time around and Steve knows exactly where to start, he knows exactly where things went wrong.
“Captain Rogers, this is unexpected.” Fury states, closing a file on his desk and Steve comes over.
“Sir, I apologize for the intrusion, but I hoped to speak with you about something important.” Steve says and Fury motions to the chair across from him. Steve takes it and lets out a deep breath. “I came to inquire about your intentions with the Avengers and Tony Stark.” He gets an eyebrow raise at that.
“What do you mean Captain?”
“Do you intend to offer a full time position in the Avengers Initiative to Tony Stark?” Steve clarifies and he’s gone over this a hundred times in his head, he knows that this is something that he has to do. If the Avengers are never tied to Tony’s train then they’re not going to be brought down by the brunet later down the road.
“With all due respect sir, I think that’s a terrible idea.”
“I see, and why is that?”
“Well, as Natasha has already expressed, Tony Stark is not Avengers material.” Steve tells him. “And I think it would be a dangerous and ill-advised thing to allow Stark to be anything more than a consultant with the Initiative.” Steve says and Fury motions to the file on the desk.
“I’ve already drafted up the paperwork and Stark is on his way over right now to sign it.” Fury tells him and Steve shakes his head.
“I think that would be a mistake.” Steve tells him and Fury motions for him to go on. “I don’t think he’s ready to be part of my team. Sure, he’s proven that he can make the difficult calls out on the field when required but a team is more than that. Stark is abrasive, aggressive, self-absorbed and a loose cannon. I’m sure that he thinks he means well, but I’ve yet to see evidence of something going well with his name attached to it.”
“Well first Rogers, it’s not your team.” Fury tells him and Steve bites back a response to that. “And Stark has several useful qualities that fits in with the kind of material that I want on my team. Unless you can give me a better reason than ‘he’s a loose cannon’ then I’m going to continue on with my intention to get Iron Man on the team. The world just saw him almost sacrifice himself to fly that nuke through the wormhole. He’s a hero in their eyes.” Steve wants to tell Fury that it doesn’t last. It doesn’t even last through the week before those who were praising them all start demanding reparations and payment from them.
“One moment or one action of goodwill does not change a man’s nature, and does not magically fix all of the problems or damage that he has caused.” Steve forces down the abstract thought about how his words right now sound like Tony’s back when he tried to talk Steve out of his intention to add Wanda to the team. “I don’t disagree that Stark has a lot of potential, but for right now he’s too volatile an asset to properly control.” There’s a look that Fury gets that looks like he’s approving of Steve’s words and it makes Steve hopeful. “And while it is your team, I caution the decision to ignore the words and expertise of one of your own agents. Even Natasha said that Tony Stark was not recommended.”
“Hmm…I see.” Fury says before there’s a knock at the door and Hill pokes her head in.
“Stark is here.”
“Send him in.” Fury says and Steve goes to stand.
“Should I go?”
“No, please stay Captain.” Fury states before Tony walks into the room. He’s showered, and changed into one of those ridiculously expensive suits that he loves to wear and Steve sighs at the small power play that the brunet is already doing. Steve wonders if he can help it, but figures to a point it must just be second nature by now. “Mr. Stark, thank you for coming. Take a seat.” Tony glances at Steve and at the empty chair next to him before he looks at Fury.
“I’m rather in a hurry Nick. You said you wanted to talk to me about something? Said it was urgent?”
“It’s about the Avengers Initiative.” Fury tells him, motioning to the seat again and Tony pauses for a second before he finally caves in and takes the seat. “I wished to discuss the future of the Initiative.”
“Seems like a conversation to have with the Avengers themselves, whoever that may be.” Tony tells him. “I’m just a consultant Nick, remember?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Fury looks at Steve. “Mr. Rogers has agreed to lead the newly formed Avengers as their Captain, and I thought that he should be present in all decisions made regarding the team.” Fury glances back at Tony. “That includes the determination of either your continued status as a consultant to SHIELD or as a full member of the Avengers roster.”
Steve knows what Fury’s doing, he’s putting Steve on the spot, mistakenly believing that Steve’s base nature of being a good guy who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings will prevent him from doing what has to be done.
Steve almost wants to shake his head at how badly Fury’s reading the situation.
“We are grateful for your actions with the missile Stark,” Steve says, turning towards Tony and he’s a little annoyed with how long it takes Stark to turn and finally look him in the eyes. “It’s a great first step, but at this time it’s been decided that the offer of full Avengers status will have to be held back for a time.”
“I see…” Tony says slowly. “So you’re making decisions regarding the Avengers and you don’t want me on the team?”
“To be clear Stark, you’ve never been on the team.” Fury interjects and Tony glances at him before looking back at Steve.
“Is that what I’m understanding? You’ve decided to cut ties and go it on your own?”
“I’m not cutting ties Mr. Stark.” Steve assures him. “Your position as a consultant is not up for reconsideration or debate. Perhaps in a few years, with some missions under your belt with the team we’ll be able to look at your admittance again.”
“Hmm.” Tony says before shaking his head with a small, amused sigh. “So you want me for my toys, and my money but you don’t want me to have any say or authority with the group.”
“This isn’t personal Mr. Stark.” Steve tries to lie to him and there’s a look he gets that calls him out on that bullshit.
“Of course it isn’t. Well then, please understand that this is personal.” He turns and looks at Fury. “As of this moment, consider this a formal notice of cessation and termination of all contracts or agreements between Stark Industries and myself with SHIELD and all affiliated projects.”
“That’s hardly necessary Stark.” Fury says, his voice turning firm and Steve has to refrain from shaking his head at the childish tantrum that Tony’s throwing.
“It’s entirely necessary Director Fury.” Tony tells him as he stands. “Do be aware, any attempts from SHIELD or any affiliated programs, projects, agents or anything else to contain, steal data or spy on myself or my company will be pursued legally in court. Loudly, and very publically.”
“Are you threatening him Tony?” Steve asks, and he can’t help the disbelief in his voice.
“I’m informing him what will happen if he attempts any of his previous bad habits from here on out.”
“You’re seriously going to do this? Because you didn’t get what you wanted?” Steve asks even though he knows the answer. “You’re going to pull out because we’re not catering to your ego?” Steve doesn’t fully mean to mirror Natasha’s frequent words of reproach to the brunet, but they were the easiest way to make Tony notice his own childish actions and back off of whatever foolish thing he was doing. Tony flinches slightly, before he shakes his head and looks at Fury.
“Don’t call me Nick.” Tony tells him before he looks at Steve. “I guess the ball’s in your hands now. Try not to drop it.” He says before he turns and leaves the room. There’s a moment of silence before Fury snaps out of it.
“What the fuck have you just done Rogers?” Fury hisses and Steve doesn’t say anything about how watching Tony leave lifted an invisible weight off of his chest.
“I’ve just saved the world sir.” Steve whispers to himself as Fury calls in Hill for damage control and banishes Steve from his office.
The team comes together easily, maybe even easier than before. Thor agrees to stand as Midgard’s champion, Bruce admits that the Hulk might be helpful in certain cases, Clint gets cleared for field duty and Natasha has always had his back.
They don’t have any of the problems coming together that they had with Tony present, his loud personality constantly putting people on edge and his need to whittle and poke at people not endearing him to any of them.
Fury tells him how things are going to be more difficult now that Stark is gone. Steve doesn’t know how to say that he seriously doubts that.
Although he does admit to himself that he wishes he’d contained the situation with Tony well enough to maintain him as a consultant and as their gear maker when Natasha ends up in the infirmary with three cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder. The body armor she wears these days is like tissue paper compared to the suit that Tony had designed for her.
He feels a little bit of frustration towards Tony for refusing to assist them without whatever he considers his due is when Clint takes a fall from a four story building and his arrows and tricks aren’t enough to save him from getting benched for six weeks. Steve thinks about Clint’s old uniform and the upgrades that Tony gave the archer and knows without a doubt that if Clint’d had them he would have been just fine.
Somehow, Steve realizes that they’re all still paying for Tony’s choices.
It’s a frustrating reality.
“We need Stark.” Natasha tells him over some fast food pancakes and Steve shakes his head immediately.
“No we really don’t Nat.” Steve tries to impart to her and she shakes her head.
“Look, I don’t know what your problem with Stark is, but you need to get over it. We need his help.”
“Nat, trust me when I say that we’re not ready to pay the price that getting Stark’s help will cost.”
“He’s created some compound and he’s actively recruiting.” Clint says in the meeting and Fury just turns his glance to the archer. “He’s clearly up to something.”
“He’s angry because he wasn’t allowed into our little club so he’s trying to make his own.” Natasha says, “But that’s good news.”
“How is that good news?” Clint asks and she shrugs.
“That means he’s still sore about not getting accepted. I say let him recruit, then we’ll come in with an offer of a merger and we’ll have all the resources and all the new blood with none of the work.” Natasha says and Steve shakes his head.
“I don’t think we should wait, or offer a merger.” He says and they look at him. “We should offer membership to these new faces. Stop them from getting used by Tony for his personal vendetta against us.” There’s silence after his words and Natasha tilts her head.
“Tony’s vendetta? If you think he has a ‘vendetta’ now, how do you think he’ll respond knowing that we refused him entrance based off of not knowing how he’ll fit in with the team dynamics and then we turn around and just offer full membership to the people that he’s trying to court? He’ll see that as an act of war, stealing members from him.”
“If they want to be a part of something greater, then they should know that they’ve got options.” Steve tells her. “They shouldn’t think that their only choice is Tony.”
“I agree with Nat, I don’t think it’s a good idea to poke the bear with a stick.” Clint says, shaking his head. “He’ll see it as an attack.”
“Which it isn’t, which only proves that he’s not ready to be either an Avenger or a leader of a team. Do you want him leading a super powered group with no oversight?” Steve tells them and he lets the true horrific thought of that settle amongst them. “We should offer the option to those new members.”
The crackdown on Hydra inside SHIELD is going smoothly, which is a relief, when the Scepter still gets stolen from the lockup. It’s too soon, much too soon. There are things that were supposed to happen long before this did and Steve wonders what he did wrong that Hydra responded faster this time. Steve bites down the kneejerk reaction to go storming after the Scepter when he remembers why it’ll be used.
Wanda and Pietro had and have potential. This time around they’ll do better by them. This time around the twins won’t hate and spit on the Avengers and try to join a force that Tony will create to destroy them. This time the Avengers will save them, and this time they’ll let them.
“I think we should contact Stark.” Lang says, playing around with some kind of circuit board. Steve knows that Pym is still none too happy that they’re working with SHIELD again, but he’s been more than helpful rooting out Hydra and helping the team with his new protégé.
“We can’t contact Stark.” Clint says, and it sounds like a broken record.
“Why not?” The engineer asks and Clint sighs.
“Because he’s not interested in helping us.” The archer replies and Lang looks down at the circuit board.
“Have we asked?” He questions.
“Don’t need to.”
“Because he’s been pretty chill…I mean even Hank’s stopped using his name as a modifier for a bathroom activity that I will not mention aloud.”
“Tony’s not an Avenger.” Steve tells him as he looks at the files in his hands. “End of discussion.” If the words come out harsher than he means it’s nothing against Lang. Steve’s just been turned down for recruiting Sam as the Falcon. Sure Steve knew that the wings were a Stark Industries design, but he hadn’t thought about how the man would refuse to allow them to use a shutdown program. He’d rather just let them rot and gather dust than let Sam use them for good.
How like Tony.
Fury’s put his foot down though when Steve said that he was sure he could get in and get them so Steve closes the file on Falcon and tries not to feel the loss of a friend unknown. He also tries not to feel a small amount of satisfaction when he sees the Malibu house get blown up on National television and when all the news anchors declare Iron Man dead prematurely. Like the first time, Tony doesn’t reach out to them, and Steve turns away knowing that the situation will be mostly handled and knowing that Tony made his bed himself and now he has to sleep in it.
Steve’s done saving Tony from himself.
The Accords happen.
Or at least something like the Accords. Legal documents that reach out across the world, seeking to bind the hands of any Good Samaritan who just might happen to be different than the common everyday man.
Steve rails against them in private and Fury seems far too unconcerned by them to pull any of the strings that Steve knows he could pull to make them go away.
“They’re a good thing, they’re making people feel safe.” Fury tells him. “They’re making people feel like there’s accountability.”
“They’re lies.” Steve tries to tell him. “They’re just a fancy way of controlling and collaring powered individuals.”
“Rogers, have you even read them?” Fury asks, sounding annoyed and Steve shakes his head. He doesn’t need to, he’s already seen this. “Well start reading, because SHIELD has agreed to comply.”
“That’s a mistake sir.”
“It’s a mistake to spit in the faces of every world leader Rogers.” Fury retorts. “Stark seems to understand that, why don’t you?” Steve feels rage eat at him at the subtle dig between him and Tony. Steve’s nothing like Tony and he’s not surprised that this version would still sign away people’s lives for his own absolution.
“No offense sir, I’m nothing like Stark.” He says and Fury looks at him.
“…I’d agree with you there Rogers. Dismissed.”
Ultron still comes online.
To say that little piece of information completely pulls the rug out from under Steve is an understatement.
The robot cuts through their defenses like butter, just like he did the first time. He’s got no love lost for them, no care in the world for the Avengers but still spitting the rhetoric that they’re a half measure to a much bigger problem.
Wanda had once told him that Ultron thought that way because deep down Tony thought that way and it made sense. It was something that Steve’s always known but never really wanted to deal with. However, the existence of the machine from inside the Mind Stone makes Steve begrudgingly admit that maybe Tony wasn’t as responsible for every bit of Ultron as the Avengers had told him he was.
Fury reaches out to Tony and Tony’s team regardless though, without running it past Steve first and Steve clenches his fist and shakes his head when he sees Rhodes come to them as the liaison instead of Tony himself. Apparently Tony’s decided by himself that two separate groups would work best against the robot who seems determined to wipe out all superhero groups.
Things don’t go the way they did the first time around, with all of SHIELD working data recovery and having their own methods of tracking down Ultron. They’re wrong in where he is and what he’s doing, and they’re too slow but Steve can’t tip his hand here. He’s already changed so much and this battle will be far too important.
Luckily, Tony gets over himself long enough to send them the location of where Ultron will be trying to acquire Vibranium. Steve makes sure that Lang stays with Banner on the plane to prevent the incident from before as they all go into the room in force.
Ultron is still far too fascinated by Tony for no part of him to have been touched by the brunet. He’s too obsessed with picking apart the billionaire who would call himself a hero and Tony snarks back at him unhelpfully, undoubtedly making the situation worse.
Steve wonders about how it all ends though. With Wanda in the ground alongside Pietro and Vision standing tall, his voice similar to JARVIS but different enough that when he converses with the program it’s easy to tell the difference. Steve can’t help the sidelong glances he gives to Tony as Tony retells how Wanda died and Steve feels like there’s something that Tony isn’t telling them.
Self-defense is what Tony labels it. She attacked him and would not be deterred from her chosen path and Tony fought back. Steve asks him why he didn’t use non-lethal force and Tony gives him a look that says something that Steve can’t decode before he leaves without answering.
Vision refuses their offer to join the Avengers, choosing instead to go off with Tony and Rhodes. Steve doesn’t know how to tell him he’s making the wrong choice, going off with a murderer (and the man who just murdered the love of Vision’s life in cold blood that Vision will never get to meet now) and Tony doesn’t give him a backwards glance as he leaves.
Later when Pym comes up with data that shows that Ultron was sentient inside the stone all on his own and brought to life by an outside force, Steve feels like he’s having reading déjà vu while overlooking the information. It’s almost identical to the information that Tony had tried to bring to them to show his ‘innocence’ in the creation of Ultron. Steve finally admits after he goes over the information that Hank gives that he can see how it might have been a coincidence and that maybe Tony might not have been entirely at fault for Ultron’s creation.
It doesn’t absolve Tony for everything else that he had a hand in, and it doesn’t absolve Tony’s attitude about the whole situation. He should have trusted his team, not go behind their backs and try to come up with a plan on his own. Planning was never one of Tony’s strong points, was it really so surprising that they all thought that Ultron was just another Stark mistake?
Steve puts the information down and shakes his head. It’s clear to him that Tony still hasn’t learned how to be part of a team still, with how he refused to interact with the Avengers the entire time, clearly trying to get them to throw themselves at his feet and beg for his attention.
It’s never going to happen.
“But we have to.” Steve says and Fury gives him a look that’s completely unimpressed. “He’s not just a potential hit to Hydra, but he’s also a prisoner.”
“The Winter Soldier case is not the purview of the Avengers.” Fury tells him again. “Regardless of how you try to spin it, it will not become an Avengers case.”
“Bucky’s out there, we need to bring him home!”
“And that right there is why I will not authorize the Avengers to take this on.” Fury says. “You’re too emotionally invested in this.”
“It’s not a bad thing to care.” Steve tells him and Fury just shakes his head. “I’ve got the best chance at bringing him in.”
“With all due respect Director.” Steve starts and Fury cuts him off.
“I said no.” Fury looks at a file. “Agent Carter has taken over the search for the Winter Soldier.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“Captain, even if I were to consider putting the Avengers on a case that has no discernable reason as to why they’d be involved other than your personal history with the Winter Soldier – I am not under any circumstances throwing you into a situation where you and Stark cross paths.” Fury says and Steve feels like he’s been submerged back into the ice.
“Stark’s on this?” He asks and his voice sounds strained.
“Yes he is.” Fury says, unconcerned about Steve’s mounting horror. “I don’t fully know how that worked out, but he’s handling this case personally.”
“Sir we can’t allow that.” Steve says in a rush. “Tony will kill him! Tony’s not out for anything other than revenge.”
“Tony blames Bucky for Howard’s death, but it isn’t Bucky’s fault.” Steve tells him and Fury gives him a once over.
“Even if that were true, and Stark is after Barnes to take him down – Barnes is one of the most highly sought after and dangerous assassins in the world. Brainwashing or no. No one would bat an eye if he did kill him. The contract is dead or alive.” Fury says and Steve knows in that moment that it’s time for the Avengers to leave SHIELD. They have to go after Bucky, they have to protect him from the brunet’s irrational vendetta.
“I’m sorry sir.” Steve tells him, reaching up and pulling off his SHIELD badge. “I can’t allow that.”
“Think carefully on this Rogers. If you pursue this, SHIELD will distance themselves from you as far as we need to protect ourselves.”
“We all have to do what we all think is right.” Steve tells him before he turns and walks out. He stops by the Avengers small lounge and tells the rest of them the news.
They’re on their own now.
Turns out Fury was more like Tony than Steve thought.
It isn’t an airport this time when Steve’s Avengers stand against Tony’s team. It’s an abandoned warehouse overseas where Sharon’s information has led Steve to learn that Tony’s already found Bucky’s cryogenic tube.
“Stand down Rogers.” Tony tells him, and he sounds exasperated and like he doesn’t really buy that Steve’s going to do it even as he says it.
“I can’t do that Tony.” Steve tells him. “The only way that happens is if you hand Bucky over to me.”
“That isn’t going to happen.” Tony tells him. “But I can say that we have legal approval to be here, I am well aware that you do not. If you attack us now, you’ll be breaking the law. Sovereign borders and all that jazz.”
“Why are you always doing the wrong thing and hiding behind red tape to do it?” Steve asks Tony and Tony just shakes his head.
“Transport Barnes now.” He says into an earpiece and Steve adjusts his grip on his shield.
“I’m not going to let you do that Tony. He’s innocent.” Steve tries to impart on him, but Steve knows that Tony doesn’t care. Even if Tony knew, he never cared. He was always too blinded by his own rage and ego to see that Bucky was more of a victim than Tony ever was.
“A court of law will determine that.”
“We both know you have no intention of letting him make it to a court.” Steve says and he’s tired. He’s so tired of fighting Tony. He’s always fighting Tony.
“You know nothing of my intentions Rogers, you’ve never bothered to ask.” Tony tells him and Steve just looks him in the eye.
“I know everything about you Tony.”
“Funny, I’d say that you never knew a thing. Nor did you ever care to.” Tony tells him and Steve shakes his head.
“Of course you’d make this about you.” Steve tightens his grip on the shield. “Last chance Tony, back down.” Tony doesn’t say anything, just lets the helmet reform itself over his face and Steve moves.
He guesses that this is always how his story with Tony is supposed to end, but he won’t let Tony hurt Bucky. He’ll do whatever he has to do to stop that from happening and he almost wishes that Tony remembered that. Maybe that would have spared them all from this fight.
“Hello Rogers.” Tony says as he enters the small room and Steve sighs. Of course.
“Come to gloat?” Steve asks him as he adjusts himself in his seat. The small interrogation room is white and obnoxious, the light reflecting off of the cuffs keeping Steve in place. He’s tried to break them but he recognizes Stark Technology still when he sees it.
“Not in the slightest. I’m here to tell you about Barnes.”
“If you’ve hurt him in any way Stark.” Steve starts and Tony ignores the threat as he just undoes a button on his suit and takes the seat across from him at the table.
“Barnes is awake. Confused as hell, but showing significant improvement to his cerebral cortex. Doctor Strange believes that he’ll start regaining and retaining his memories by the end of the month.” Tony crosses his hands in front of him on the table. “His case has already been reviewed and he’s currently getting the help he needs to recover from his ordeal and the charges on him have been dropped.” Steve stares at Tony.
“What?” He asks after a moment. “Why would you do that? You hate Bucky.”
“Whatever gave you that impression?” Tony asks calmly. “Because he killed my parents?”
“It wasn’t Bucky.”
“It was, but he was not responsible for it. I understand the difference.” Tony glances up at him. “I thought you might like to know.”
“Thank you…” Steve says after a moment. “But why come yourself?” Steve asks and Tony takes a moment, tilting his head and tapping his fingers together.
“…closure.” He says after a pause. “I came for closure, selfish I know, but I feel that I’m allowed to be a little selfish every now and then.”
“A little more than ‘every now and then’.” Steve can’t help but mutter and Tony gets a strange kind of smirk.
“Can’t help yourself can you?” He shakes his head and stands, moving towards the door before he pauses at it. There’s a moment where he’s clearly coming to some kind of determination before he turns back around and takes his seat again. He pulls something out and places it on the table. “You know what, let’s do this right. We’re no longer being recorded or spied on or anything like that.”
“Going to work me over Stark? No offense but you’re not exactly ‘bad cop’ material.” Steve tells him and Tony gives him a look that he can’t read.
“You know, I want to thank you.” Tony says after a brief pause and it throws Steve off with how genuine it sounds. “I would have probably stayed with SHIELD had you not made the choice to kick me out. I would have probably tried to change the system from the inside, working alongside you – fighting you every step of the way if we’re going to be honest – and I wouldn’t have managed to accomplish even half of the things that I’ve accomplished.”
“You may not understand why I knew you weren’t Avengers material Stark, but that doesn’t change the truth of it.” Steve tells him as kindly as he can and Tony’s smile is almost mocking.
“I know I’m not your kind of ‘Avengers material’. You want people who blindly follow you and your version of what’s right and wrong no matter how off base you are.”
“You don’t know anything Stark.” Steve snaps and Tony tilts his head.
“I know that Ultron still happened.” Tony says and for a moment the air is heavy before it whooshes out of Steve in one big exhale. “Funny, it’s almost like I wasn’t responsible for it.”
“How do you?” Steve starts and Tony smirk turns slightly cruel.
“You think you were the only one that the explosion affected? The arc reactor is me. The nanites were literally still connected to me. My only fear is that Thanos is also the one from our time, but he’s probably so assured in his victory that he couldn’t care less.”
“You knew? This whole time?” Steve’s voice turns accusing. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why would I? You made the decision to exclude me from everything. I’m pretty sure that you even came to the determination that if you kept me out of the way that the world would be nothing but sunshine and daisies and that Thanos would be a gnat for you to swat when he came.” Tony shakes his head with amusement he clearly doesn’t feel. “You didn’t tell me, I didn’t tell you.” Tony waves a hand. “You dealt with Hydra inside SHIELD…and nothing else. I handled fallout after fallout, dealt with AIM and you never even thought to take a closer look at any of that did you? If you had, you would have known that I knew.”
“How would I have known that?” Steve asks and Tony gives him a look.
“…you never looked into it?” He asks and then he laughs bitterly after a few moments of looking genuinely hurt. “Of course you didn’t. Why would I think that you did? Why would I think that you cared enough to worry about me at any point in time? Oh my god.” Tony rubs a hand over his face. “I thought that you didn’t look this time because you thought you already knew everything, not that I didn’t register as even a baseline human being for you to care about. Worse! That you’d done that the first time around too.” Tony shakes his head with a tired sigh. “Whatever, closure. Thank you Rogers, and good luck.”
“Thanos is coming Tony, you need me. You know what happened last time.” Steve tells him and Tony stands.
“If you had truly cared about that, you would have worked with me instead of trying to undermine me. You would have done more than just fix the moments when you felt you didn’t ‘win’.” Tony says with a shake of his head. “I don’t know when Fury will let you and your compatriots out, but stay out of my way Rogers.”
“You’re making history repeat itself Tony, you’re pushing me away.” Steve accuses and Tony pauses at the door before turning back to him.
“You made history repeat itself Rogers. You didn’t work with me either. But I doubt that the double standard is going to register in your self-absorbed brain so I’m not even going to bother. Goodbye Rogers.” Tony doesn’t wait for an answer as he leaves the room and the SHIELD agents return Steve to his cell.
Thanos returns, and either he’s not the version that they met in the original timeline or he’s just so assured of his victory that he doesn’t even bother to change up his methods. Steve hears about the battle from his jailers, and he hears about how Tony and his team – plus the leftover Avengers who didn’t leave SHIELD with Steve and who have been folded in with Tony’s team now – are managing to push Thanos back at every turn.
They never come for Steve.
Thanos is defeated five days into his invasion, and the world praises Iron Man and his team for saving them.
They forget about Steve, and everything he’s done in the name of those who needed to be protected, they forget about their heroes locked away for petty crimes.
Fury comes to him several days after the revelry and the parties subside with a vial in his hands, curtesy of Tony Stark.
It’s his freedom and his destruction all in one package – how like Tony.
Steve holds out for as long as he can before the walls wear thin on him and he agrees to the anti-serum. He’s not sure how to just be Steve Rogers anymore, but it seems that’s the only role that Tony has left for him to play.
Steve takes the anti-serum and feels the strength leave his body and he has one final thought to all of his days as Captain America and all of the good he’s done and now that he’ll never get to do: