“Tony!” Steve called moving to block the door before other man could leave the briefing. It was rare, since the threat of Thanos had been defeated, for something to come up that required both the East Coast and West Coast Avengers to respond, Steve didn’t want to lose the chance to try, once again, to clear the air between himself and his old teammate.
“Excuse me,” Steve murmured as he tried to push past Vision. For several precious seconds they engaged in a ridiculous, awkward dance before Steve was able to dodge around the synthoid. The moment he was past Vision Wasp latched onto his elbow. “Captain Rogers, could I talk to you about the possibly placing Karolina Dean with your team?” Hope asked. “She was recently accepted into college at Juilliard and while she’ll be on reserve status I still want her practicing with her powers regularly.” Scott was also standing between Steve and Tony and from the apologetic expression on his face Steve gathered that it wasn’t coincidental that Tony was out of the room before he managed to extract himself from the conversation with Hope.
After the West Coast Avengers had gone home Steve found himself discontentedly wandering the Compound. It was busier than it had been in the days before the Avengers’ Civil War. There were UN personnel, Steve had been given to know that they filled the same role that S.H.I.E.L.D. and then Maria Hill’s former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had held before but they lived on the premises like the Avengers. Colonel Rhodes had spent what Steve considered an inordinate amount of time explaining what their responsibilities entailed. He’d also provided a checklist, written in terms Steve felt more appropriate for addressing a fourth grader, detailing what information Steve was obligated to exchange with them before and after every mission. “Beating Thanos got the public’s good will back and I’ll be damned if I let you squander it. The Accords are still a work in progress and we’ll need that good will if we’re going to get some of the harder to sell amendments made,” Rhodes had told Steve harshly. “So if you expect to remain leader of this unit you will be doing the whole job, not just the parts you like. That means you WILL adhere to this checklist, you will fulfill ALL the duties listed. If you have objections or want to change something you WILL bring it to me. For once in your life you will respect the chain of command.”
“Shouldn’t I be talking to Tony?” Steve asked. “He is the Avengers’ representative to the UN.”
Rhodes gave Steve a dark look, “Tony’s been trying to get me to take the job since the very beginning. Now that you’re back he’s finally got reasons I can’t argue with for stepping down. Against Thanos you and Tony proved that you could still work together, at least when the fate of the world was on the line. That doesn’t mean there’s reason to make a regular habit of throwing the two of you together and hoping for the best. If Tony hadn’t stepped down, his responsibilities would have included serving as conduit between the Avengers and the UN, the last time we tried that the media called it a civil war. Second, even if, by some miracle you could curb your tendency to undermine Tony at every turn and let him do his job, I would still be a miserable excuse for a friend if I left him stuck dealing with you after Siberia and that bullshit apology you sent. So here I am, ready and willing to listen to a bunch of politicians try to argue each other to death as long as it means Tony doesn’t have to deal with you on a regular basis.”
Steve sighed at the directions his thoughts had taken. He’d wanted to reminisce about better days but the bustling, brightly lit compound didn’t fit his mood and, even though the Compound had been built for the Avengers by Tony, he’d never lived there with them. The physical reminders Steve was looking for just weren’t there. ‘We were great once. Why won’t Tony let the wounds from Siberia heal?’
Eventually Steve found himself in one of the smaller gyms pouring out his troubles to a sympathetic Sam Wilson. “You’ve done everything you can,” Sam said patting Steve on the shoulder. “It’s not your fault that Tony clings to his grudges like they’re a security blanket.”
A snort drew both their attention to the doorway. “You’re half right Wilson,” Luke Cage said, “but you don’t know when to shut up. Just to satisfy my curiosity, your counseling credentials come from doing a couple hours in a training seminar or did you actually go through a master’s program?”
“Week long training seminar,” Sam replied.
“Ask for your money back.”
Steve gave Luke a disappointed expression. “Sam’s a great listener,” he said.
“And very good at telling you just what you want to hear,” Luke said. “You’ve done everything could, not to mention a shit load of things you shouldn’t have, to get right with Stark but if he doesn’t want to be friends that’s his choice. Maybe surrendering a fight goes against the grain for you but you can’t force forgiveness.”
“How’s Jessica doing?” Steve asked too pointedly for a non sequitur.
“Making a olympic sport out of cussing,” Luke said with a small grin. “Her OB/GYN just told her to limit her caffeine on top of not drinking.”
Steve made several false starts at asking something.
Luke tilted his head back and waited.
“How did you move past it?” Steve eventually blurted out. “Not Jessica killing your first wife. She was under mind control, it wasn’t her, not really.” Luke’s eyebrow rose skeptically. Steve kept going, “But her keeping it secret from you. What am I doing wrong that Tony can’t get over me not telling him?”
“I could just say that Jess didn’t demand that I forgive her on her schedule,” Luke replied dryly. “‘Cause she didn’t, she let me decide when I was done being mad. But I don’t want to be accused of giving you false hope. Even if you quit harassing Stark there’s no guarantee he’ll ever give you another chance.”
“Because Tony’s being petty and spiteful,” Sam interjected.
Luke rolled his eyes, “Did you watch the same videos as the rest of us?” Then he turned and eyed Steve for a long moment. The super soldier looked guilty and remorseful and he was staring at Luke like he might just have all the answers. “Don’t know that hearing this’ll make you feel any better,” Luke warned.
“Let me be the judge of that,” Steve said.
“Jess lied to me, carried on having a relationship with me while she knew it was her hands that killed my wife. For quite a while I didn’t think I’d ever want to see her again after that night,” Luke said. “But later, looking back I could see times she’d tried to tell me but backed out, too scared I wouldn’t believe her.” He shook his head, “Didn’t make it right but it helped.”
Steve tried to recall if he’d ever really considered telling Tony. All he could remember was the moment Zola flashed the article about Howard’s death on the screen and knowing he was implying that it had been Bucky who killed Tony’s parents. Steve had never followed up on it, never tried to prove or disprove what Zola had suggested. Steve hadn’t been sure it was true but he hadn’t been surprised by the video Zemo had shown them.
“But that was later,” Luke continued. “That night? For a few seconds I wanted to see her skull caved in. The bad part was I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have tried to stop me right then.”
“But you controlled yourself, Tony didn’t. I couldn’t let him hurt Bucky. It wasn’t his fault,” Steve protested.
“I was there to kill this smuck of a bus driver who I THOUGHT killed Reva driving drunk,” Luke said. “Jessica got between him and me, begged me not to do it. Told me Reva wouldn’t want me to be a murderer. And when that didn’t work, she told me the truth.” He frowned at Steve, “Jess did her best to restrain me. She didn’t hit me. She never tried to force me to submit. She didn’t try to beat me to the ground. Her goal was keeping me from doing something I would have hated myself for once I’d cooled down. But she felt too guilty to defend herself, even if that would have truly destroyed me if I had- if I’d-”
“Tony was going to kill Bucky,” Steve stated.
Luke frowned darkly, “Maybe you did have to defend yourself but that video Zemo leaked? That ain’t what self-defense looks like in my book. You gonna stand there and try to tell me that you were just trying to protect yourself and Barnes? That you didn’t come a hair’s breadth from taking Stark’s head off so there’d be no question about who won that fight?”
Steve looked away. Tony was frustrating to deal with in the best circumstances but with Ross and the UN breathing down their necks plus the threat against Bucky… It would have been so much easier if Tony had fallen in line instead of leading Vision and Rhodes astray. Steve still maintained that he'd done the right thing to refuse to have anything to do with the Accords until they’d been fixed. Although he had to acknowledge that Tony had been the driving force behind many of the amendments that had made the Accords more acceptable. When Tony had come to help in Siberia Steve had let himself believe that he’d finally come around and the Avengers could heal but at the first challenge Tony been back to fighting against him. When Tony refused to listen to reason about Bucky, hurt Bucky, Steve had had it with him.
Luke sighed, “I forgave Jessica because as much as she’d fucked up I couldn’t close my eyes to fact that she cared about me; more than she cared about herself but with her that ain’t saying shit. As scared as she was to tell me, she did it to stop me from committing murder. She gave me the whole truth, gave Killgrave his due but didn’t shirk from saying what she’d done, even if she couldn’t have stopped herself. And she didn’t pretend she had any excuse for not telling me that’d hold water. For Jess, that night wasn’t about getting herself off the hook, it was about doing right by me.”
“Once everything was done I couldn’t justify having kept the information about Tony’s parents from him, not even to myself,” Steve admitted. That had been why he’d sent the letter to Tony but there’d been so much else going on that he’d had to address. “I’ve been trying to apologize for not telling him but somehow Tony keeps misunderstanding.”
“Maybe because I’ve overheard your apologies more than once and I’ve yet to hear one that didn’t sound like ‘I made a mistake but you’ve got to admit that you made your share as well’,” Luke suggested. “I could forgive Jess because she actually regretted causing me hurt. From where I sit? You’re saying sorry mostly because you want things back the way they were.
“Maybe the video quality wasn’t as good as I remember it but when you were watching the Starks being murdered I didn’t see anything that looked like empathy for Tony or his parents from you. When he asked you for the truth you tried to cover your ass. When he asked if he’d been wrong to think you’d ever been his friend you didn’t answer. When he asked you what he and his father were worth to you, you walked away. You left him to take all the heat from the public for your little civil war, left him do all the work of making the Accords livable then came back to reap the rewards when you deemed his efforts good enough. And the smart money says you’d do it all again in a heartbeat if Barnes weren’t still playing popsicle while he waits for someone to figure out a way to get HYDRA out of his head.
“So now you want to make things right with Stark? You want things back the way they were? Maybe it’s just me but I can’t see one damn reason why Stark’d want that, why anybody’d want to be the also-ran friend. You go after his forgiveness like it’s another battle to be won, just another thing that you’re determined to get no matter what the cost to him.”