"Ack!" Steve winced. Sam was trying to slowly dress a wound on his shoulder, operation made more difficult and painful because of Steve's cracked sternum: every movement of his pectoral muscles, no matter how minute, caused him to jump in pain, which in turn caused his muscles to contract more, making it even worse.
"Sorry," Sam muttered apologetically.
Steve didn't answer. Nobody really wanted to talk, after what had just happened. First mission back, and it had been against the Avengers.
Scott had had to fight Hope. He had thought she would be on his side, after all Hank hated Stark's guts, and he thought him and Hope were actually building something... instead, the first thing she had done after he'd left was up and join the Avengers. How could she do that to him? To her father?
She had told him the suit wasn't his, while kicking his ass like she had done many times during their training. Well, he had great respect for Hope, but she was wrong. Hank had given him the suit. She couldn't take it away from him.
Wanda was nursing her cheek, where the mysterious girl had hit her, thinking of Vision. He had the Mind Stone in his head! How could he not see Stark was the one responsible for everything that had happened? He had hurt Steve! Cracked his sternum! What could have happened if he had broken it completely instead of just cracking it? Steve could have died!
Thankfully, Clint was there, offering his support. He sat on the couch next to her and put an arm around her shoulders, rubbing her own arm to try and calm her. At least, she still had him.
And Vision would eventually see reason. She was sure of that. If not, she could probably make him, using her powers. She wouldn't like to do it, but she was sure she could. She had defeated him once already, back when she had escaped. She wouldn't like to hurt him or invade his mind, but if she was forced to, she would.
In the end, Bucky was the one who decided that the silence needed to be broken: "Did you see it too?"
"What are you talking about?" Clint asked from where he was sitting.
It wasn't Bucky who answered him, but Steve: "Iron Man," he said simply.
"Yeah. New paintjob, I noticed. Liked the old one better. Maybe the gray is a tribute to War Machine," Scott joked.
Clint scoffed: "if I were Rhodes, I would deck him for even thinking about it. It's Stark's fault he got injured, and now he thinks a 'tribute' is going to magically make things better? That's just disgusting," he said while Wanda nodded in agreement.
"It's not about his looks," Steve stopped him, "He's stepped up his game. He's stronger. Faster. Buck and I fought him two on one and he batted us around like mosquitoes. By the end, he wasn't even winded. And not only that... I think he was not even fighting seriously. I've seen him go all out, and this wasn't that. He was just toying with us."
"Yeah," Bucky agreed, "He's in a completely different league than he was in Siberia. And it can't be just because he's calmed down after the trauma and he's not in the heat of the moment anymore... Whatever he did to that armor, it's some serious upgrade..."
"Wait... He's calmed down after the trauma? What are you talking about? What trauma?" Sam wanted to know.
Bucky furrowed his brow in confusion: "You... you didn't tell them?" he asked Steve.
The blond just lowered his gaze.
Bucky looked increduolus for a moment. Then he let out a tired breath and raked his human hand through his hair: "Dammit, Stevie, you not telling things to your teammates is what caused Stark to flip in Siberia in the first place!"
"I know, okay!?" Steve retorted hotly, then winced again from the pain in his injured chest, "I just... I didn't want to think about it. It's... Stark isn't the only one who's been traumatized by that video!"
"Okay, cut it off," Sam interjected, about to lose his patience, "us common folks don't know anything about what happened in Siberia. Now you two are having this cryptic conversation about videos and Stark being traumatized and we're completely out of the loop. Wanna share with the rest of the class, please?"
"Tell them," Bucky ordered immediately.
"No, Steve. No more excuses. You didn't tell them anything and you let them draw their own, biased conclusions. If you don't tell them, I will. We owe Stark that much."
There was a very long moment of silence before Steve finally relented. He took a deep breath to try and center himself before he started speaking: "Tony caught up with Bucky and I immediately after we arrived at the bunker in Siberia. He had come there to help. The three of us, we reached the room where the other Winter Soldiers were being held. Zemo... he had killed them all, long before we got there, each with a bullet to the head."
"Wait, wait, hold up," Sam stopped him, "so these other Winter Soldiers were never a threat to begin with?"
"There was no way for us to know, Wilson," Clint defended, "Steve made the best decisions he could with the informations he had at the time."
If only you knew, thought Steve.
"But it doesn't make sense! If this Zemo person didn't want to use the soldiers, why did he go through all that trouble to find this random base in Siberia? And why the fuck did Stark attack you two?" Scott whined.
"We played in Zemo's hands all along," Steve resumed, "he knew that in that base, there was video footage of one of the Winter Soldier's missions... specifically a hit, back in 1991. All he ever wanted was me, Bucky and Tony right there, in the same room, while he played that video..."
He couldn't continue. Everyone was waiting for him to go on, but he just couldn't.
Eventually, it was Bucky who mustered up the courage first: "It was a video of me, killing..." he exhaled a deep breath, "killing Stark's parents."
Absolute silence fell in the room. Clint broke it first, stuttering like a moron: "but it- that's not- it was an accident, wasn't it? Didn't Stark's parents die in a car crash?"
"That's what Hydra wanted the world to believe," Bucky sighed.
"That's..." Wanda didn't finish the sentence. She didn't really know how to. She didn't even know how she should feel. There was something so deliciously poetic about Stark having to watch a video of his parents being killed, while he was completely powerless to save them... it was Karma at its best. But she had watched her own parents die; she knew better than anyone how much it hurt. She didn't wish that on anyone. Not even Stark.
"That's fucked up..." Sam completed Wanda's thought: "Christ, no wonder he attacked you..."
"He didn't" Steve breathed in a barely audible voice. He could have avoided telling them this last part, possibly the most disgusting part, but if there was a moment to come clean, it was this one. He couldn't stand keeping it for himself any longer.
They all turned their attention back to him. He didn't look anyone in the eye when he finally talked: "I mean, he moved to attack Bucky, but I caught his arm and he stopped. And then... then he turned to face me. Asked me if I knew the truth."
"And did you?" Sam asked. Steve didn't speak, hunching down on himself even more.
"Steve, did you?" Sam insisted.
Sam got up as if he had been burned and started pacing: "Fuck..." he cursed under his breath. After a few moments, he turned to Steve again: "How long?" he inquired.
Steve couldn't get any smaller: "Two and a half years. Since the fall of SHIELD." Both Bucky and Sam appeared shocked.
Wanda, Clint and Scott looked down, all with a similar, solemn expression on their faces.
Sam had to take a few deep breaths to calm down: "Alright, I believe it's time for the obvious question then: why - the fuck - didn't you tell him!?"
"I... I told myself it would do no good to stir up painful memories." Steve answered.
It wasn't the only reason. It wasn't even the main reason, but Steve was simply too ashamed to tell them everything.
Besides, Sam was already angry enough as it was: "Oh yeah, and that worked out dandy, didn't it, Cap? For God's sake, all this time we thought Stark had randomly attacked you two for no reason whatsoever!"
"It wasn't Bucky's fault! He was brainwashed, he didn't have a choice! Tony was wrong to attack him!" Steve immediately retorted.
"He was wrong to attack me?" Bucky asked, "Steve, he had just watched me kill his parents! With my bare hands! What was he supposed to do, offer me a drink!?"
"Dammit Bucky, that wasn't you! You didn't do it! It was the Winter Soldier!"
"I AM the Winter Soldier!!" Bucky yelled, shutting him up: "You live under this ridiculous delusion that I'm nothing more than Sargeant James Buchanan Barnes, 107th Infantry! Well I'm not! I've been the Winter Soldier a lot longer than I've been Bucky Barnes! And refusing to acknowledge that is nothing but an insult, to me and all of my victims! Especially Howard!" he raged.
Everyone was stunned into silence. Bucky just shook his head and left the room, slamming the door on the way out.
"He's right, you know," Sam said. Steve turned to him to protest, but Sam continued: "about Stark attacking him."
"No, he isn't. It's Stark's fault." Clint countered.
Sam was stunned by the rebuttal. He couldn't believe he actually just heard that: "What? How is that Stark's fault!?" he asked hotly.
"I'm sure if Steve had told him, he would have hunted Barnes down. Steve made the right choice," the archer answered evenly.
Scott was quick to agree: "He's right. Stark's reaction in Siberia proves it."
At this point Sam's exhasperation was bordering on hysteria: "What the hell is wrong with you two!? He just saw a video of his parents being murdered by a man standing in the same room with him! How exactly do you think he should have reacted?"
Wanda answered the question in Scott's stead: "He should have seen Sargeant Barnes was only the weapon, not the assassin."
This time Sam was left absolutely speechless. He couldn't even begin to formulate an answer for Wanda's statement.
She went on: "Look, Sam, I know better than anyone here how it feels to watch your parents die. But Stark should have understood that the responsibility for the death of his parents lies only on the person who gave the order, not on the weapon used to commit the crime." she stated. Clint and Scott nodded in agreement.
Steve felt so heartened by their support. Wanda continued: "instead he just threw a tantrum, like a child. He attacked both Sargeant Barnes and Steve, who had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. And now he's got this new aide, that girl..."
Sam really wanted to protest, but the conversation had already changed topic: "The armored chick? What about her?" Clint asked.
"I'm not sure," answered Wanda, "I tried to get in her head. Everything was normal at first, but then... I don't understand. At some point, her thoughts started to feel different... artificial... I don't know how, but she managed to break free of my powers. It's never happened before..."
"Great. She must be enhanced, somehow," Clint pondered, "or maybe she's another one of Stark's robots. Didn't he learn anything from Ultron?"
Tony was scraped raw.
He had just concluded two of the most stressing video conference calls of his life. The first was with the Accords Committee, which was - predictably - beyond furious.
The Avengers had done their job at incapacitating the terrorists and evacuating the hostages, but Steve's crew had caused fourteen million dollars of public property damage. It had been only out of dumb luck that Giant Man growing out of the power plant and fighting so close to it hadn't damaged the reactors of the facility.
The Committee was very tempted to just pinpoint Steve & co.'s location and send a squadron of jet fighters to blow them up. Tony had almost had to get down on his hands and knees to convince them to let the Avengers bring them in. Frankly, he didn't even know why he bothered. Maybe for old times' sake. The old times when he used to call Steve a friend.
Or maybe, more probably, he actually believed what he told the Committee: the Avengers were their best shot at stopping Rogers with the least collateral damage possible. Yes, they could bomb Steve's ass back to the Stone Ages if they wanted to, but what if they were hiding in a highly populated area? Yes, they could send a sniper to shoot them in the heads, but how could they be sure said sniper wasn't going to be spotted first and then mind-fucked by Wanda to go on a rampage against civilians?
Instead, the Avengers knew how Steve's crew operated. They had people who could counter the specific abilities of each of the fugitives.
In the end, the Committee had relented, granting him more time. But he knew said time wasn't unlimited.
The second phone call had been to Pepper.
She was in D.C. when he called. She immediately dropped everything she was doing and made a beeline for the airport. Tony almost dreaded the moment when she would land at the Compound. She could be way scarier than the Hulk when she was angry. And when he had talked to her at the phone, telling her their kid had been hurt, well. Her anger put that of the Committee to shame. Thankfully, it wasn't directed at him.
Tony was now outside the infirmary, looking through the window at Friday's sleeping form.
Back when she had first emerged from the Cradle, he had felt blessed. As if she was a gift from that God he didn't believe in. Now, Barton, Wilson and Maximoff had almost taken her away from him.
He clenched his fists at his side. Were they really at the point where he had to defend his own daughter from Steve and his team?
Wait... What did I call her? My-
He was distracted from those thoughts when he heard Peter approach: he was running down the corridors towards him. As he reached his side, he stopped and looked up to him with a worried look:
"I came as soon as I heard," he said breathlessly, "How is she?"
Tony gave him a half smile: "She's had her feathers ruffled, nothing serious. The armor protected her and took the full blow. She has a mild concussion and a few scrapes and bruises. Come tomorrow, and her Extremis will have her good as new."
Peter could see through Tony's mask. He was trying to downplay it, but his hands were still minutely shaking with rage and residual fear. Tony was unraveling at the seams.
Peter nodded and his shoulder relaxed slightly: "Good. That's good." he said placatingly before rubbing the back of his neck: "And... how are you?"
Tony looked at him for a moment before shaking his head and turning back to Friday: "It's just never enough." he said.
"What's never enough?" asked Peter, confused.
"They never stop. First, Maximoff threw Vision at the bottom of the Compound. Then they fought us until Rhodes got hurt. Then Rogers and his boyfriend left me to die in Siberia. And now they put my- my daughter into the infirmary."
This time he said it out loud. He couldn't deny it anymore.
Yes, daughter! Daughter daughter daughter! That's what she is: my daughter! It's time to stop pretending she isn't!
And they hurt her.
"They never stop," he repeated, his eyes Extremis orange with barely contained rage.
Peter lowered his head: "I'm so sorry, Mr. Stark..."
Tony calmed down slightly at Peter's words. He smiled at him: "Thanks, kid. I'm so happy to have you on my side," he said.
He looked at Friday one more time: "I've gotta go to work," he sighed after a long pause, hesitantly turning around and leaving.
Peter watched him go, before looking inside the infirmary himself. He decided to go in.
Friday was asleep on her side, her brow lightly furrowed. Peter didn't know if it was because of the pain of her injuries or if she was dreaming.
He took a seat next to her bed: "Hey," he whispered in greeting.
For a few minutes he just looked at her. He felt like a bit of a creep, but he didn't really know what to say.
Then he took a deep breath: "You scared me, you know? You're my friend, I don't like the idea of you getting hurt..."
"Oh, believe me, I didn't like it either." Friday's voice, coming from the speakers, startled him enough to almost jump out of his chair: "Wha- Friday?" he called.
"Nope. Jocasta." she answered flatly, in typical Stark-snark fashion. "Of course it's me!"
"I thought you were sleeping!" Peter exclaimed, looking down at her.
"I am. My body is sleeping, so lower your voice or you're gonna wake me up. My program, though? That never sleeps..."
Peter was absolutely flabbergasted: "Wow. That's... Wow..."
"Creepy?" Friday asked.
"Well... a bit, yes. But in a totally badass way! You're incredible!"
"Aww, thanks. I'd be flushing if I were awake," she answered.
Peter looked at her face again, this time with an analytical stare: "Well, you kinda are..."
Friday hesitated for a long moment before answering: "No, I'm not," she said resolutely.
"Oh, you most definitely are."
"I most definitely am not."
"I refuse to continue this discussion with you, Mr. Parker."
Peter laughed. Then he looked down at her again: "Alright, alright. But seriously, get well soon, Friday."
"Thank you. I will." she answered.
Peter smiled at her and got up to leave. He was almost at the door when he turned around: "By the way, how long have you been waiting to pull that sleeper-speaker trick on someone?"
"... A while," Friday answered with fake innocence.
Clint found Steve by the window. Their hideout was safe for now, but they would have to move out in a few hours. There was no telling when Stark would would find them. Damned traitor.
"Cap," he called. Steve turned to him.
"I forgot to ask you earlier, we've all been in a bit of a hurry," he smiled, before going serious: "Did Stark say anything about my family?"
"Yes, actually. He said they're safe... We didn't really stop to discuss the details, though. Sorry, Clint." Steve answered.
The archer nodded: "Do you believe him?" he asked then.
On this, Steve had no doubt: "I do." he said, fully meaning it.
Clint turned to look out of the window: "I don't."