Chapter 1: The Perfect Man
After the fall of SHIELD and days spent in a hospital, Steve Rogers felt worn out. The beeping sounds of the machine and the cloying odor of bleach were his only company. The longer he was in this room, the more he hated it. Confined. He had never liked hospitals since he was a child.
The crushing weight of the past days steadily grows on him when he first woke up.
The need to bring down Hydra had kept him from thinking about everything— the repercussions of the knowledge he holds. As he healed, Sam had told him how he was found: battered and near the inch of death. His advance healing had helped him succumbing from his injuries.
Bucky had apparently saved him.
Alone in the room, he kept on thinking and processing the events.
Physically, he was getting better. Mentally, he felt disconcerted.
The world had changed when he was iced.
Bucky was alive yet different. His death was one of his greatest regrets. Peggy had told him it was not his fault. Howard consoled him, told him that it's how life goes. Yet he wallowed in his grief.
Bucky was his best friend, his brother not by blood but bond. After the death of his mother, Bucky and his family became family to the skinny, idealistic asthmatic Steven Rogers. Then the war had erupted in Europe.
He tried to join the military, yet he had failed more times he can count. He failed once more when he met Dr. Erskine. Erskine who came up with a serum that made him Captain America. It took some time to become who he was now(he was once a dancing monkey). But, before the serum, Bucky believed in him and stood up for him.
Bucky was there for Steve Rogers.
Buck was gone.
Seeing what Hydra did to him dug deeply the guilt in him. Hydra had persisted, after everything Peggy and Howard did to make the world more secure. It had never been vanquished. Hydra was still operating and spreading its dark regime throughout the world.
Then there was the matter of Howard Stark. His mind focused on Zola’s words and the implications of Howard’s death. Hydra had orchestrated the death of Howard, orphaning Tony.
The death of Howard and Maria Stark was shrouded by lies.
Tony Stark, friend, and teammate, who had only known lies.
Steve readily admitted that they got off the wrong foot at the start. Yet he had become one of the people he can count on in this new era. His willingness for the Battle of New York made Steve respect him more. He saw Howard in Tony, no matter how hard Tony might deny it.
“Hey cap, you’re awake now?”
He was startled as a sharp feminine voice rang out.
"Coffee coming through."
From the entrance of the room, was Natasha Romanoff. Seeing her suddenly warmed him up. He could feel himself smiling at her. There was also Sam behind her holding some cups of coffee.
"Well, I'm awake now. Resting my old bones."
He watched them enter the room, their movements were lethargic and heavy. Their battered forms showed the extent of the battle against Hydra. SHIELD had fallen.
“Yeah, the first thing he told me waking up was on your left after waking up. Resting my bones,” Sam chuckled at him. He swiftly placed the cups on the table. Steve saw Natasha fold her arms to lean back on the wall snorting to Sam’s quip. He couldn’t help but laugh at the two with a bit of difficulty.
“Glad to see you looking fine, old man,” Natasha appraised him.
“Old man, here still got some sass in him,” Sam interjected.
“You should watch out more on your left Sam,” Steve smiled at Sam.
He then looked back at Natasha.
She was dressed in a business suit.
“You’re awfully dressed up. What happened?”
“Well, if you have a phone and TV, you might see every news outlet pouncing on SHIELD and the Avengers,” she playfully told him. There was a light smile on her face, but he sees uneasiness behind it.
“It must be really that bad… did you hear from Tony or the others?” his voice cracks.
Natasha stiffened up.
She was looking intently at him. A few seconds passed in silence. Sam looked between the two of them.
She then gestured for Sam, quietly watching them, to leave. Then he focused on Steve, waiting for permission. Steve admired his loyalty.
“Okay, if that’s what you want. I’ll be in the hall.”
He had then left them both alone.
Steve did not know where to start. He collected his thoughts.
The beeping sounds of the machines enveloped them.
They didn't dare to say a word.
Steve stared at her, he noticed how her the circle of her eyes were dark, her body thin, and how her façade is cracking. He noticed a lot of things these days.
Natasha Romanoff never cracked, lie. SHIELD a safeguard for the world, lie. Howard’s death, lie. Bucky’s death, lie. More and more lies kept on piling up that he could barely keep track.
He was tired about all the lies and the burying of truths, tired of this era that normalizes lies to be the truth, and yet… And yet…
He felt afraid of the truth.
Would a white lie serve better to preserve the semblance of unity?
“I’ve got a call from Tony. He's helping out by protecting the information I’ve dumped in the net,” Natasha crisply told him. He’s proud of them, the whole team, how slowly they became accustomed to each other.
“That’s great. Are they still continuing the search for Loki and the Tesseract?”
“Yes. Thor volunteered to do it alone... while we fix things here.”
Another reminder of failure, another lie to the public to ensure the security of the world.
SHIELD swept it all under the rug. It should have raised his alarms. But he was wallowing in his failure. All he remembered, was waking up next to Loki’s scepter in the aftermath of the fight. He failed to apprehend him.
He sighed and continued on.
“Nat, about Buc-“
“Don’t worry, I’m keeping eyes on him. I think we might have leads where he might be hiding.”
“No, not that. Camp Lehigh. Zola. Howard. We need to talk about it.”
She moved next to his bed slowly. He grabbed her hand when she settled by his side. Truth and trust, those were the things he learned to value. He was never one to lie, maybe that’s why people might easy to believe him when he lies. The lie about Loki. His failure.
Maybe, it will be easy to lie to Tony about the truth of his parent's deaths. To simply omit what he knew.
A white lie.
Steve searched for her eyes, looking at her face if they convey a message to him. While her mask was a little cracked, he doesn’t easily read her thoughts and he values Natasha’s thoughts. Throughout their run, Natasha had slowly trusted him and he can’t help but trust her back. He wanted her affirmation to confirm his own thoughts.
To confirm his guts.
“Do you believe it was him?” he cracked, lips chaffed from Bucky's fists.
“Steve, I won’t try to lie to you," she looked directly at him.
He appreciated her sentiments.
"I know… he was your friend and now his different,” her voice was firm.
He held her gaze.
“I know. Just tell me.”
“Zola had told the truth, it was him. The way how Hydra is operated and Howard Stark’s death was staged, it can be only him. The whole thing speaks of his expertise.”
Steve released her hand from his grip. His hands shook.
“I guess, I just need to hear it from you to make it more real. Real."
He wants to forget, but it was real.
"They were my friends. While they were never that close… Bucky and Howard got along too well."
He pictured the nights of laughter.
"They were good friends. Always chasing dames when were given a break.”
He hunched slowly, his hands were on his face as he reminisced more. He didn’t want her to see him like this. Vulnerable.
He never felt more vulnerable other than his visits to Peggy.
Unexpectedly Natasha took his hands.
“This old fossil processes things a lot slower,” he tried to smile.
Natasha chuckled a little. She caressed his hand gently. Her warm, calloused hands comforted him. The world they knew shifted their own views. Together, they had confronted the changing world. Steve was grateful for her company.
He was once again silent.
He thought back again about the simpler times when bullies were plain to see. Evil and good were distinctive from each other.
Hydra being back again made him remember about the 1940s.
All he had to do back then, was to bust the Hydra cells and win the war. Then spend the nights in an old English pub, where soldiers drunk themselves for another day. Steve and the commandos would then wait for the next missions to execute on the next day, with Howard and Peggy to help them. Back when Bucky and Howard were teasing him when to make a move for Peggy. Back when things were simply black and white.
Bucky and Howard.
Would this be the right time for him to open up Pandora’s box?
Now that the world had changed and the enemies were closer to home.
“A lot of things happened within a short amount of time. I… I-do-“
He felt helpless.
“I’m here. No matter what you’ll do… I understand it. Steve, remember we are all here for you.”
She did not say anything more and held his hand tightly. He appreciates it. He knew she’s not a physically affectionate person.
It was another thing that grew between the two of them.
He then felt tears running down on his cheeks. He was crying. He squeezed her hand tightly, thankful for her presence and unjudging eyes. She was the second woman who truly saw him. She looked at him as Steve Rogers— not Captain America.
Captain America who was supposed to be strong, a beacon of light, representing the American values, and an indomitable force. Captain America who was to be the best there ever was yet he’s Steve Rogers. Steve Roger is exhausted. He is tired of everything and the crushing weight of the world. But he’s Captain America.
Captain America must be perfect, but Steve Rogers was only human.
"He's no hero!"
"You killed my son!"
"Here is a man who hides in his ivory tower. He who says he's a hero!"
"He's not a hero, his a war racketeer!"
Echoes of the voices bellow pierce the tense atmosphere in the lab. The terrace was open. The sun was shining through it.
Tony Stark was tired. His eyes were drooping low, and the light of the sun had forced him to stay awake. The fall of SHIELD and apparent "death" of Nick Fury had taken a toll on him. The search for Loki had consumed the Avengers, keeping it out from public knowledge. They were together as a team, but they had their own respective lives.
Clint Barton comes and goes after every mission, he had his secrets and demons. He knew little of him.
Natasha Romanoff, a spy with more secrets in her closet. But he tentatively accepted her and her secrets.
Bruce Banner, a man who shares his passion for science and his good friend. Green anger issues aside, he's dependable.
Thor Odinson, Pointbreak, a god of Norse Mythology whose life seems to consist of catching his brother, Jane Foster, and pop tarts. That reminds him that they had run out of pop tarts.
Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man that his father had admired and searched for. At a young age, he learned how deeply his father regards Steve. It sometimes stung him a bit thinking about it.
This band of people should not work. Especially him, he was used to being alone. His father had told him he was supposed to be the best, and no group or team would equate to his greatness. School projects were best-done solo when you possess a brilliant mind. Pepper and Happy worked directly for him, not a team. Rhodey was his friend, who occasionally drops in the tower, not a teammate.
"SHIELD has now been revealed as---"
"Government agencies are planning---"
Tony tried to block out the news channels from his hearing as he looks over the dumped files. He had JARVIS scour all over the web to protect other SHIELD operations. He hadn't slept peacefully lately. Natasha had alerted him about her plan before she dumped it.
Data, that was sensitive and damaging.
He did his best to withhold vital information. As he read through the files, dread and horror washed over him. It had become a familiar feeling since the fall of SHIELD.
"Stark Industries had not released a statement as of now."
The mention of Stark Industries burst his thoughts.
"JARVIS, turn up the volume."
"Yes, sir," a mechanical voice echoes. His attention focused on the news.
"What do you think about this silence, Mike?" the female anchor asked.
"Well, it indicates guilt. I mean Tony Stark might have reinvented himself, but he can't talk his way out about this. His company, should I say legacy, sold and invented those weapons. People might blame Obadiah Stane, but Stark is equally as guilty!"
"Hold up, are you saying Tony Stark is guilty. No, he isn't. He's an American Patriot. Everybody knows it was Stane running Stark's company who sold the weapons. Are you really going with that?" she rebutted. Her name was Shelly.
The man, Mike, looked at her with an indignant look on his face.
"If he had been responsible instead of partying and being a playboy, I would not say this. His weapons cost a lot of lives. American lives. If he had been more responsible, this would not happen. But off he goes. Now his Iron Man, we should forgive him? He's guilty of compliance, guilty of irresponsibility," there was a sneer behind the man's voice.
Tony clenched his fist tightly. He tried to atone for all his sins, yet it was never enough. Iron Man was not enough. He could only numbly watch and listen.
"But he's not the one who pulls the trigger. Just like a gun, he makes it, his not the one firing it. The people who should be accountable are those who pulled the trigger. Not it's maker, Mike."
"Right, but if there's no gun, there's no weapon. If there are no means, then no one is harmed. SHIELD files leaked how Stark's weapon fell into a terrorist group in Indonesia, wiping out a whole village. A unit of American soldiers died with Stark shrapnels in Iraq. Or what about Sokovia? Stark and NATO had given bombs to the---"
The TV was silenced. It was turned off.
"Tony, please. It's gonna be okay, I already have the PR team working on it and the legal team also," Pepper glides in front of him. She caressed his face softly. He looked at her face, she was tired. He gently took her hand, kissing it.
"I thought if I had changed the world that everything would be fine. After Afghanistan, I became responsible. I discontinued everything, I-I-I---"
"Tony. You gave your best..."
"Shush... please let me. I knew at the very beginning that it will be hard. A couple of decades worth of atonement. Those decades of... of being the Merchant of death," he stops. He had always been so flippant. Now his flippant words haunted him.
He had once accepted, even enjoyed being called the Merchant of Death, Warmaker, Deathmaker, etc. It was all he had known before Afghanistan, deluding himself it was for the better. Trusting Stane the company, because it was all so easy. He made weapons and did not bother with the day-to-day operations. His attention only as needed from time-to-time.
How many children out there orphaned because of him. How many deaths did his inventions caused? How many Yinsens out there did he rob of a family?
Would they be a forgiving Yinsen or an avenging Vanko?
Was this his family's legacy? An empire built from the blood and bones of lives. An iron throne fashioned out of death.
He heard the crowd chanting bellow the tower, there were hundreds now of voices reminding him of his past. The open terrace of the floor lets it all in, the sun much sharper.
"Tony, you are a good man. You had continuously made up for it, you and the Avengers. You're hunting down the people using your weapons. You're helping other people, you had funded scholarships and charities for the good of others. Please, Tony."
Pepper confidently tells him, her eyes shining with trust and love. He does not deserve her love. Her eyes widened, he had said it out loud.
"Who are you to say that you don't deserve my love? Tony Stark, I love you. It is not deserved, it is earned, and you earned it."
"How could I say no to that, when the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world told me so."
He kissed her softly. He hid his fear and loathing, most of all, he hid his guilt for he does not want her to worry for him.
"Sir, Dr. Banner has arrived."
"Wait a moment..." he nips at Pepper's lips.
"Hey, we'll see each other soon. Go talk to Bruce. I'll be attending a press conference later," slowly Pepper distanced herself from him. She smiled at him comfortingly.
"JARVIS, please do remind him to eat dinner on time," she calls out before heading out.
"Yes, Ms. Potts."
He read the files back again. His mind raced to find out all the lies that SHIELD was a part of, compartmentalizing them if it was Hydra. Tap, read, encrypt, delete, and tap, it was almost a routine until he hears a knock.
"Hey, JARVIS told me you're here. Ah, Thor's been following a lead about Loki when it blew up. We told him we got to go back. But Thor's determined. Uhm, Clint's in the kitchen," Bruce walked to him. He noticed that he was apprehensive. SHIELD had vouched for Bruce, with it gone he felt uneasy. It showed a lot.
"Are they the files?"
"Yeah, Red had given me a heads up before she dumped it. She and Rogers along with a new guy led the assault on SHIElD. It was apparently best if I regulate the flow of information rather joining it. Am I the guy in chair? That's so not me, I'm Iron Man. Hey, wanna be the guy in the chair?" he quips at Bruce.
"Thought you had tried to dig it in last time?" Bruce remembered when Tony hacked into SHIELD.
"Well, spy organizations got deep secrets. Don't worry, I had already protected most of our files. Natasha's had been hard to keep track, deep web pounced on it before I re-encrypted them. Do me a favor and help me keep track," Tony pulls up a chair for Bruce. He went back again to the files.
"Are you okay?"
"Is this a Tony Intervention day? Please stop, let's focus."
"I had heard from the news about Stark Industries involvement over some things. They had been hounding you like crazy."
"When hasn't it ever," Tony rolled his eyes.
"We made mistakes, I made mistakes too. Yet you are better than me. I run and hide away from my past, but you faced yours. We all know that you are trying your hardest to clean it all up. Everyone here is Tony with you."
"Thanks for the pep talk, Brucie," he smiled at Bruce.
"But with each revelation within the files, i-it makes me loathe myself more. Thousands of children out there orphaned, a lot of families dead, homes bombed, and death is the Stark legacy. A bloody empire made of blood and death. I wouldn't be surprised if some kid or more out there dreams of killing me. That's what Vanko fantasized against my father and me. Killian was also the same vein. My past keeps making enemies. This legacy my father was so proud of had created---"
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He tears up.
Howard Stark had messed him up.
He'd instilled on him his teachings and his point-of-view, the Stark Legacy.
He was tired of this legacy.
"Sir. Ms. Romanoff and Captain Rogers have arrived. They wish to talk to you."
Things got a bit serious here.
Natasha and Steve arrived within the tower after wading through the crowd. Everyone was in disarray. Fortunately, JARVIS had led them to Stark's lab. The employees had given them a wide berth when they walked to the elevator. Side by side together, they settled at the back of the elevator. Her feet unconsciously tapped against the metal floor.
"Hey, Nat," whispered Steve, "it's going to be alright."
"Nothing will be the same after this, you know that? Just go according to plan."
She glanced on the translucent windows.
The angry jeers of the crowd reverberated all around the Avengers tower. People were protesting against the hot mid-day sun. Men, women, old, and young were screaming furiously to the heroes that they once revered in a high pedestal.
SHIELD's fall had exposed the fallibility of their heroes and institutions. Beliefs shaken, people divided. Reports had poured in, civilians breaking into homes of the suspected Hydra agents. Angrily the people rioted all over the major cities. They all seek answers and a scapegoat.
Stark Industries was the perfect target.
Howard Stark's legacy scrutinized.
His past was full of mistakes and scandals that fed fodder journalism. No matter what good he makes, he could never escape the looming past behind him. He had become the modern Oppenheimer.
A long list of factual wrongs and imagined wrongs wove through the minds of the people.
Natasha Romanoff could only clench her hands. They could not do anything, for now, the government had them closely monitored. Her red ledger bared to the word. She feels naked. Uncomfortable.
A twice-broken ballerina.
Her thoughts drifted back to the crowd...
Many had called to imprison her. That was no surprise for she had prepared herself to pay the price. Only to get a call from Tony that he was encrypting her files. And also, the secrets of SHIELD.
Her worst secrets were apparently protected by Stark.
"Don't let them get to you. You're an Avenger, and I know for a fact that you'll fight for the good always. Yes, ledger and all."
Perplexed, Natasha grabbed his arm and looked at him. Face-to-face. Genuine. His blue eyes shined at her.
"You got a lot of nerve saying that Rogers."
"Thank you. Really. For everything, especially with the past few days. You're more than your ledger. You're opinion and friendship... they are valuable to me. Partners?"
"Then don't screw up, Steve. Bucky Barnes is your friend, but his also the Winter Soldier. Tony has been through a lot, just gently break it."
"Of course. We can do this."
Steve pulled her closer to his side with a small smile. His proximity anchored her to the present. Slowly, she collected herself. Ready. They had to do this. Calm and cool. Eyes narrowed, focused, and indifference radiated as she walked with him to the lab.
The only bright side of the whole ordeal was the persecution of Hydra agents. Thousands had infiltrated the government, Hydra politicians were being called to courts. But she knows that most would come out unscathed. The world was not as noble and incorruptible as it presents to be, for it was her profession after all.
Lies and secrecy were her trade.
Yet the currency in her hand now was the truth.
Would this truth completely break them?
As flattered as she was with Steve's words, she's a realist.
"Sir, Captain Rogers, and Agent Romanoff," JARVIS intoned.
Immediately she drew away from Steve.
"Hey, Red! How are you and Capsicle?" Tony called out. Disheveled, back-hunched, and red eyes drooping Tony welcomed them. He was wearing a red shirt with a jacket over it, the same one since three days ago, the last time she saw him. Behind him was Bruce who looked like he had not slept for some time, fiddling over the computers. Bruce was now back in the tower, that meant Clint was also here.
Thor was still out there.
"Good to see you, Cap!" Bruce called out.
"Tony, Bruce," Steve gruffed, "It's good to see you. How's everything?"
"Aside from the hijinks you caused, you succeed in taking down Skynet. Seriously, I was so bored waiting for the dump while you and your new friend kick ass. Funnily enough, when we all thought we got their secrets, they have secrets within a secret. Like a Russian Doll."
Tony absently rubs his left hand she noted. He looked like he would drop down soon to the floor. He fidgeted. Gadgets, science magazines, and trinkets spread throughout the lab. It was a mess. Her eyes swept more over the room, there were some chairs and a couch.
"Let's all sit down first," she guides Tony to the couch. Steve went to Tony's right side gently setting him down, helping her. Steve then sat down to a chair facing them. They were a few feet away from Bruce, far enough to have a quiet conversation.
They made themselves comfortable on the chairs. Bright light filtered in the room, giving off a cozy feeling. The sun was warm outside, a contrast from the tense atmosphere. Steve was rigid on his seat, Tony strained to keep himself awake, while she sits stoically waiting.
"So weird to hear your voice like that Capsicle. Pretty growly. Heck, you look picture perfect though," Tony stated, breaking the tension.
"Trust me, you should see him after the fight. He looked horrible."
Steve chortled, as he ran his hands through his head. There was no blemish or hint of a brutal beat down over his body. Though he healed faster than a normal man. They had decided to keep him confined in the hospital away from the hurricane. The Avengers need a friendly face and who better than Captain America.
She and Tony had purposely decided to keep him there longer behind his back. Captain America is the beacon of hope for almost everyone. His charisma and leadership skills would be vital in gaining people's trust. People needed to see him disconnected with the scandals. A strategy they had planned.
"Let's talk now, Cap. What do you want to say?"
But with today's conversation. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. She gulped down. The secret that Zola had shared in the camp placed her between a rock and a hard place.
"It's about SHIELD and Hydra."
The mood shifted.
An ominous feeling beholds her, the truth would either break them or strengthen them. This ragtag group of heroes that crept over her heart was at a breaking point.
Things were going off the rail.
The hope and optimism from Steve's countenance were gone.
Natasha glanced at the two men.
They were all silent for a while. Only the drowning echoes of the crowd below and Bruce's working hands rambled on in the room.
Amidst from Tony's gaunt appearance was seething in anger and alertness.
"Let's cut the chase. Please, no need for theatrics. This Hydra thing is very malicious, you should have seen the files. Lots of deaths and destruction. They have managed to masquerade inside SHIELD for so long. Inside. And... and Stark Industries was also involved in it. Nick---"
"Hammer Industries, Pym Industries, AIM and among others, Tony. Not only Stark," Natacha cuts him off. He glared at her, it did not unnerve her. Strength, that's what she needs today to pick up the pieces.
"Hmph, yes but Howard's fucked-up legacy made this. I've read that he brought in that Zola guy. I've read thousands of files involving Stark Industries... we'll I'm not too far off from the tree. Killing others seems to be our specialty."
"Don't be too hard on yourself or Howard," Steve spoke up. Tony and Steve's unwritten agreement to not speak of Howard after New York had put the team in tip-toes. Now, the floodgates opened. Tony looked at Steve, teeth gritting.
"How would you know! You don't know a lot about... I wish I could punch you now. Punching you seems to be the only way to make you listen, Capsicle," he mockingly said. His body leaned towards Steve's direction.
"You and your perfection. Fuck you, old man! He killed my mother with his drunken barrage. He made me this! All my life, I could never measure up. Never. Every weapon. Every weapon I made was to have his approval. Apparently, as I chased for it, I killed millions. A bloody empire of lies and destruction."
"Don't go saintly on me! He never ever had time for me. But for you. You. He had plenty of time for you. Tell me, was he a cock-sucker?" he laughed. Natasha froze up as Tony kept laughing beside her. Steve's face shadowed. Lips tight, the harsh coldness was a stern contrast to his all-American-face.
"Stark, I know that the days had been hard for everyone," she implored to him, "We need to focus on the Avengers."
"Well, if Captain America here got a plan. Go. Go and address the adoring masses below."
Tony languidly settled his back on the couch waiting, for Steve's next move.
"We had already talked about this..."
"Change of plans, Red. I mean... you and Capsicle know the consequences of this fallout. I'm done and tired with Howard Stark's legacy. Capiche? Done with being his son and all that jazz."
"It was not Howard who killed your mother. Somebody else did."
Tony whipped his head to face Steve. This was it, the truth.
Natasha held Tony's shaking hand.
"What did you say?"
"Your father did not kill your mother. We both discovered this while escaping away from Hydra. Zola. Zola had made some algorithms of himself in Camp Lehigh. He showed us the truth about that day with ample evidence. Someone staged their deaths, " she firmly stated.
"Who was it? Who killed my mom? Who!"
Tony stood up abruptly with great fury in his eyes. The muscles on his neck popped out, tense and rigid. He studied at the two of them, daring to answer him. In the corner of her eye was Bruce, looking worried over the yelling anger. He was near them, the shouting had caught his attention, his face looked anxious.
"Hydra," Steve answered.
"Of course! Fucking Hydra... Howard and SHIELD screwed up big time. Of course... you know. You know who killed them, who was it? Is that bastard alive or dead?"
"Tony, you need to---"
"Get back out, Bruce! I don't need your pity. I don't need you! I don't need any of you! You seem to know a-lot boy scout. Tell me, Captain. Tell me the truth."
Steve was silent for a moment.
"Wait, were you and Red planning ever to tell me about it?"
"Steve, we need to tell him."
Stubbornness was clearly a universal quality of men. Why can't someone here stick to the plan? Idiots. She readied herself for the arguments, the fallout.
"We need to make it sure first before I tell you. I'm afraid that this might devastate you---"
"I am devastated! Where is it? Your lofty speech, we're all in this together, High School Musical mantra."
Tony was rapidly breathing.
Steve stood up and looked at Tony eye-to-eye. They seized each other thoroughly. Natasha stood up between them, as she promptly broke them apart. Male testosterone raged in the room.
Bruce was nervously standing still near them, waiting. His arms were in an unrest state, flailing slightly.
"This is the reason why. I know you and Howard had your differences. Believe me when I say that you're different from him. You need to see things objectively and to avoid consuming yourself over each problem. I notice things, Tony. I'm afraid that you'll spiral out like what happened after New York. The suits, Pepper, and you're well-being, I noticed them. I know your nightmares because I have them also. Your not Howard, I know that. You're Tony Stark. I only want what's best for this team and you also, for everyone."
"Then who killed my mom? Who was it?" Tony retorts back sharply, "You want the best for me? Well, you're not my father, and who are you to decide what's best for me?"
"Boys, play nice."
"Promise it to me that you'll not go after him. His someone... things are much complicated than they appear..." Steve urged.
"As complicated as the Loki fiasco," Bruce butted in.
"So this person is still alive. The bastard's still alive."
The gears in Tony's mind shifted quickly. He dropped on the floor in shock with a loud thump. Time stood still. Steve immediately scooped Tony up and placed him on the couch in elevation. Natasha and Bruce rushed over to him, swiftly checking his vitals. He was not moving nor breathing.
"JARVIS, call the emergency. Call the medic!"
"Promptly, Dr. Banner."
"He's sweating so much, I'll loosen his clothes."
His clothing was constricting his breathing.
She loosened him up, taking off his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt. They were frantically attending Tony's ghoulish figure: ravaged by exhaustion and emotional revelation.
"Tony hang in there," Steve pleaded, fanning Tony's face with a magazine. Natasha then proceeded to resuscitate Tony.
She could feel Tony rapidly cooling down. They need help now. She could see bouts of Bruce's skin turning green. Not now. Not while Tony was in shock.
Where are the medics?
Where are they?
"I'm right, we're a time bomb," she could hear Bruce saying.
She was right too.
This was an utter disaster, and it was breaking them.
This chapter was mostly about their confrontation and emotions running high. Both Steve and Tony are similar but different from each other as the by-product of their times. Their past connections really intertwine with Howard Stark's legacy. Come to think of it since Howard was one of the proponents of the super-serum. He must have thought Steve was also his creation. Cue comparisons. I hope you'll enjoy reading this, romance will develop slowly but surely.
Bruce had gone back to the lab, finishing the encryptions. Clint disappeared with Maria Hill in tow. He was preparing his defense for the congress. The media was still relentless in their criticisms about SHIELD and the Avengers. Steve acknowledged those criticisms, but it's not his priority right now. Not now, when they're crumbling down to pieces.
It had been a day since Tony's collapse. Natasha remained beside him, waiting for news. The most they had done was to convince Pepper to rest while they look after Tony. He was a fool. It wasn't supposed to go that way.
"I should probably have stuck to the plan," Steve professed.
Natasha glanced at him, narrowed eye.
Steve felt the weight heavier than ever. He looked at the prone form of Tony. The doctors concluded that the stress of the past few days had taken a toll on the inventor. A few days rest with the IV on his arm was all Tony needed to recover.
They continued to watch him.
"Water..." a voice rasped. "I, water..."
Steve woke up, feeling Natasha's head on his shoulders. He saw Tony awake. With gentle care, he laid down Nat to the bench. Her eyes were heavy and tired. He could feel Tony's gaze towards them. The captain took a glass from the end table and filled it water, giving it to Tony.
With one big gulp, the glass of water was empty.
Tony's hand with the glass outstretched for more water, for he was thirsty still. He obliged. Tony's face was gaining more color.
"Should I call Pepper?" Steve asked the inventor.
"No, not yet," responded Tony.
Silence lapsed between him. The last time they had spoken ended in disaster. Both were unsure of how to approach the issue between them. The tension was palpable.
"I'm sorry," the captain apologized. "It was wrong for me to make decisions for you."
Tony was silent.
Steve couldn't talk. The situation before them was hard. Bucky, his best friend, and Tony became his friend. He wanted to spare Tony the heartache, but it was the truth. It blew on his face.
"Sorry," he heard Tony mumble. He looked at him, wide-eyed in surprise.
"I hated him," the inventor confessed. "I admire you once, but I hated you, too. I barely remember my father playing with me. My memories with him were far and few. There were days he was drunk. There were days we were happy. But..."
Tony's thoughts drifted on those days. He stared at the massive windows. Both men remained unmoving. The sound of the machines and Natasha's light snores reverberated.
"I tried so hard to be like him. I, we. I wanted him to be proud. My mother was the only one to be there for me. Then she was gone."
Steve could see a tear ran down on Tony's cheek.
"I've heard she was a wonderful woman," understanding shone through Steve's voice. He remembered his mother. Her love for him had pushed him to live. His chest tightened with emotion.
"Her death gutted me. Howard had taken the person I love the most. Everyone knows the story of Tony Stark. I'm sure you've read it in one those files that Fury keeps. How I screwed up the world, it's all there. How I'm a selfish, narcissistic bastard," Tony recounted.
"Well, you're not a bastard, your parents married each other," Steve pointed out. The two smiled. Tony looked at Steve's face, observing it.
"You had seen the news probably. How my negligence led to the death of lots of people--- I mean, I had an idea, I'm not dumb, but I ignored it. I comforted myself that I was helping the world, American freedom, truth, justice, and all that jazz."
There was no judgment but understanding.
"I'm not the best person to say otherwise with my involvement with SHIELD. But we all comfort ourselves with these little lies. I shouldn't try to keep the truth from you," Steve started. "I vowed to myself to keep this team together. The world needs the Avengers. We won a pyrrhic victory. I saw how it affected us: you, me, Clint, Thor, Bruce, and Nat. Then we lost track of time."
"I was not at the best state myself," Tony acknowledged. Killian and Hansen resented him because of his past behavior. The battle of New York messed him up. He almost destroyed his chances with Pepper. Then the boy, his heart heaved, was he this terrible?
"I noticed and to my regret, I failed, we failed to help you," the captain stated. "I failed to consider the truth."
"Loki's still at large, SHIELD being your responsibilities, I understood."
"But we are supposed to be a team..."
The two contemplated on the word "team." They were a group of individuals that learned to work together. Over time they became friends. But they all have their secrets buried and untold. It was an unspoken agreement between them no to pry open their lives. They were all waiting to crumble, waiting back the time they're alone. Thor might be the optimistic one of all for this to work. Steve acknowledged the loneliness he felt before the team, but deep inside him, he was waiting. A man out of time, a man without a friend. Until the team. Until SHIELD and HYDRA turned their worlds upside-down...
"Howard. Howard thought me somethings before, as much as I try to ignore it, he was my father. How his legacy was more important than me, how I am better than everyone else because I am a Stark, I was his heir. I don't know how Rhodey managed to tolerate me. Even Pepper."
"He certainly changed from the man I used to know," Steve conceded.
"I was chasing him always. My mother would pick me up. My mother showered me kisses as I ask her where he is. My mother..." memories of the past flashed through Tony. He remembered the smell of Chanel perfume as he kissed his mom's cheeks. The last goodbye before she died.
"Then to know, someone killed her. Not Howard. But Howard helped Hydra..." Tony cackled. His laugh was short and breathy.
"Hydra fooled us, not only Howard. Hydra took a lot," Steve faltered, this was it.
Steve held Tony's gaze. He would not hesitate this time around.
Tony deserved to know his suspicions.
"I know the man who killed Howard and your mother."
"Is this person, is he important to you?"
"Before the army. The war. I was skinny, unhealthy. It was a miracle on how I continue to live. I had only a few friends. One. You know how the story goes, everyone seems to know," Steve divulged.
"Sergeant Bucky Barnes. My father told me a few stories about him. Not as heroic as yours or as frequent. He died, right? Howard recounted to me how they couldn't find his body like yours. What does a dead man have to do with my mother's death?" the inventor asked. His face scrunched up in confusion.
"He's not dead. Bucky Barnes is alive. Hydra took him and experimented him by Zola's hands. He. He became a weapon to them. Natasha encountered him before. The man who sent to kill Fury was him. Hydra, Hydra made him the Winter Soldier," Steve elaborated.
"The Winter Soldier?"
"Natasha managed to call in a favor detailing his time with Hydra. It's not much, but it gives a picture of his time with them. He is their leading assassin. I, we believed that he is the one who killed Howard and your mother. Zola had implicitly told us in Camp Lehigh."
Total silence swallowed them. A man supposed to be dead was alive. A man who should look like a geriatric was alive. The man was a war hero, Captain America's best friend, Bucky Barnes.
Tony gripped the sheets of the bed tight. Anger coursed through his veins. Hydra took a lot from the two of them, him, his mother, and Steve, his best friend.
He calmed himself.
"How?" Tony whispered.
"They took his memories, brainwashed him in assassinating people that's how. Hydra's experiments were successful, making him a bit like me. The first time I saw him for who he was. I. It surprised me. I wallowed in grief and regrets when I failed to save him. Then, after everything I failed you too," the captain answered.
"Well everyone fails the first time around. But I'm glad that the two of you are patching up. Wouldn't want the public to think that the Avengers are disbanding?" Both men looked in surprise at Natasha's remarks. She sat up from the bench.
"Fuck, Red!" Tony cursed. "How long had you been listening?"
"The last-minute, don't worry, I won't tell," Natasha promised.
"Hey, are you okay? Here," Steve fussed over Natasha. He took a glass of water and gave it to her. She smiled at him with gratitude as she drank it. Her face held still the tiredness of the events.
Tony noticed how close the two were together. The glances between them were more frequent than before. And those smiles, Tony knew those smiles, he saw it on Pepper every day. He hoped that Pepper saw it on his too.
"Barnes is still at large. We now have Hydra on our hands. We know who they are and where we can find them. We can end them. Public opinion would swing one way or another. But we can sway it in a few days if we present a strong united front. No rumors of this happening, only us being together," Natasha emphasized.
The two men nodded in agreement with her. The world needs the Avengers like what Natasha said to the congress days before. They would sort out their priorities first.
"If what you said with Barnes is correct, he's a prisoner of war. But he needs to face justice. Hydra needs to face justice. I want justice for my mother," Tony proclaimed. He sees Steve's face frowning. He understands that Barnes was a tool for Hydra, but his mom deserves justice.
"I understand Tony. Bucky. He is only a tool by Hydra. We'll root out Hydra together and bring justice for them. Together will bring them down. This is our team, and we all stand together. I. I'll give you some time to think," Steve conceded. He walked out from the room, giving Tony one last look.
Natasha stayed back.
"Both of you are very stubborn. You two gave me a painful headache," Natasha started. "I mean, I thought both of you have the brains to think. You and I agreed to a plan. Steve would tell you about it. Thank goodness that you managed to talk about it."
The inventor glanced away.
"Tony, we are a team. I don't know much about your daddy issues, but we are in this together. So Stark, better rest well," she stood up and left him alone.
Tony thought about the suit of armor in his mind. He believed he was enough alone, but the team crept on him. They were someone he began to trust.
He reminisced the days of loneliness with his mother. Then he thought of the orphaned children because of the Stark legacy. He thought of the dead children and ruined families. His not Howard, he would never be like him he vowed.
A suit of armor to protect the world.
He would face Barnes. Brainwashed or not, he needed to affirm that night.
He could not forgive him yet.
He could forgive Steve with time. Because he knows that he'll do the same in his shoes if it was Pepper or Rhodey on the other side. Now he needed more time to heal.
"How's it going, Bruce?" Steve asked the scientist. Bruce stopped to face him with a grim expression. His hair disheveled, and his body lethargic from exhaustion.
"Bad, very bad," Bruce told Steve in an honest voice.
Steve sighed. They knew it would not be clear. Hydra's reach was worse than they expected. Project Insight was only a scratch.
"Hydra had been infiltrating troubled countries. Libya, Venezuela, Latveria, and Sokovia. Here in the U.S, they've gained a foothold in schools and juvies. They've established their bases around those mentioned countries. And. I found out their targeting children of war to be part of their ranks. They're cultivating them to fight against us," Bruce explained to Steve. Tension hung in the room.
"God, children," Steve muttered. Innocent children trained unknowingly, brainwashed like Bucky, to fight in battles so young.
"The children are also part of the experiments. Here," Bruce showed him some pictures. Various states of pain, of torture, and carnage of the changes of their bodies disgusted Steve.
"Another thing, there's more, they recruit kids with hate for the U.S, Pym, Stark, and Hammer Industries. Hydra found it easier to mold them."
"As all terrorists do," Steve spat. "We need to stop them. Bruce, find a way to compile the list of these laboratories and bases. I need every information about Hydra."
"What are you gonna do?" Bruce inquired in confusion.
"Not me, we're going to destroy those labs and bases.
Steve walked away to prepare. As much as he wanted to find Bucky, Captain America came first. The world needed the Avengers. One day they might even cross paths again on this new mission.
I've tried to make sense of how Hydra got its foot soldiers and henchmen. Because it can't be about the pay and healthcare, right?
Steve could feel the punches hitting him. He kicked back against his foe. Thud--- a punch propelled him against the wall. Two grunts were facing his way. They reached out for something in their vests. Knives. Their knives glinted against the light as they stepped up to fight again.
Both men fell dead. Natasha gave him a look. She casually threw his shield back at him.
"You're distracted," she called him out. Her gun fired to a grunt rushing out from one of the doors in the place.
"Sorry," Steve apologized. They both took their positions. His gaze swept inside the room, another lab. No one was there, but they continued to scour the room with alertness. Machines beeped, blood was everywhere, and they saw several pieces of human bodies. Steve clenched the shield tightly in his arms.
They could feel the uneasiness as they moved.
"Hail Hydra!" a boy emerged behind a piece of equipment. Startled, they flinched. Insanity glimmered in the boy's eyes.
Flesh began to rot away from the boy, transforming. Steve and Natasha's eyes widened in horror as the child became a Hulk-like figure. But its body was like a decomposing corpse animated to life.
"Hail Hydra. Hail Hydra. Hail Hydra. Hail Hydra," grueling sounds emerged from the child. No, it was not a child anymore. The monstrous figure stared at them.
Natasha fired her gun to the eye of the monster.
It did nothing.
It roared in anger, blood splattered over them. Steve rushed to protect Natasha as the monster moved to hit her. The force of the punch launched him to one of the machines. Natasha backed away as she continued firing over it. It was advancing towards her. Steve stood up and ran again to punch it, ignoring the ache of his body.
The monster howled in pain.
His shield slammed again and again at its left leg. Thump--- his head rattled as it slapped him aside. Natasha had switched her weapon for her electric batons. It crackled with electricity.
"Steve!" Natasha exclaimed as she directed the batons to the monster. She side-stepped as it tried to swat her aside. Then she found a spot--- electrocuting it with the highest current of the rod.
It screamed from the pain, nearly deafening them.
Steve stood up to bash its head with his shield. They both moved in tandem in keeping the monster down. Blam. Blam. Pop. Blood splayed over them. Then. Then it stopped moving.
"Are you okay, Nat?" Steve asked. They were both out of breath.
"Yeah, I'm good. That was horrifying. Is it dead?"
With a last slam on the neck, Steve broke its spine.
"It's dead. It's dead, Nat..."
She nodded at him. He glanced at the room and gestured for her to continue.
Natasha searched for more hostiles in the room. Meanwhile, Steve stared at the corpse. He mourned for the boy that turned into the monster. Hydra. Hydra was despicable. This lab was the same as the last ones they had crushed.
Children tortured, experimented, and brainwashed. Some they could save, but the others, similar to the one they had killed, were beyond saving. The first time, they had tried it didn't end well. Death was a sweet release to the children turned monsters.
It was becoming a pattern.
The labs and bases they had destroyed had a common goal. Hydra's scientist dedicated themselves to replicate the super serum and the Hulk. But the results were failures. They mowed down children to children in their attempts to create--- weapons of death.
He felt a tear streak down on his face.
"Steve!" Natasha yelled. She was farther in the room. "Steve, come here. Damn. Damn!"
He rushed to her position. The computers in front of her were playing tapes of experimentation and torture. He had become so used to see the scenes in front of him. They'd seen too many of it from the past few weeks. Then he saw what she was looking at the screen.
SUCCESS. BASE0013. DATA. 211995. 211996. SERUM. NEEDED.
SUCCESS. BASE0013. DATA. 211995. 211996. SERUM. NEEDED.
SUCCESS. BASE0013. DATA. 211995. 211996. SERUM. NEEDED.
SUCCESS. BASE0013. DATA. 211995. 211996. SERUM. NEEDED.
"They succeeded?" Steve gulped. Natasha pointed her finger to another one of the screens.
SUBJECT. SUPER-SERUM. 302. UNSUCCESSFUL. FAILURE. TERMINATED.
SUBJECT. SUPER-SERUM. 309. UNSUCCESSFUL. FAILURE. TERMINATED.
SUBJECT. SUPER-SERUM. 304. SUCCESSFUL. TRANSMITTING. BASE0013. BAS--- DISCONNECTING. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR.
The rest of the Avengers slumped in their seats. New York was shining brightly outside the large windows. Clint drummed his fingers on the table. He was glancing at his teammates wearied faces.
"So who wants to speak up first," Clint started. Tony glared at him from his seat. "Don't look at me like that Tony. I know you want to say something."
"Clint. Stop. Today was both a success and informative. The Hydra bases in the isolated areas of Mali are in the hands of their government now. We've informed the president and their generals of our investigation. And," Steve announced to the team. "They had asked us to let them handle the prosecution of the found Hydra agents. Several pieces of evidence of the experiments, kidnappings, and terrorism are---"
"What that's it?" Tony interrupted Steve. "What's the next plan? That's the 24th, 26th Hydra bases we've destroyed. C'mon, we're sitting right here while those bastards are conducting god knows what!"
Clint whistled at Tony's outburst. The others frowned at the archer's reaction.
"Boys, let's keep a calm head," Natasha asserted. Her mind was alert to stop another conflict. "It's a long day. One at a time, please. Bruce had found something about the base's last transmission."
The scientist stared at her in confusion. Natasha stared at Bruce--- then she glanced at Steve and Tony. Then it dawned on the doctor's mind on what she was thinking.
"Oh, uh. Yes," Bruce stammered as he prepared the files in his hands. "Yes. Ah, I guess we'll start with the bad news. I've examined at the data of the formula that we grabbed from the lab. It's viable. They've managed to unlock the key-building blocks of the serum. But the good news is that it's not ready. The agent needed to cause the catalyst is not precise. If they do indeed try it, it'll fail."
Tony moved next to Bruce. The two geniuses began talking to each other in low voices. The rest remained silent throughout the whole exchange. Genes, CRISPR, DNA, and among other jargons flew out from their mouths.
"Capsicle and Red did you withheld this information from any others, not us?" Tony asked them. Bruce looked at the two expectantly.
The mentioned Avengers nodded in confirmation. They knew enough not to trust anyone about the sensitive data they collected. The inventor sighed in relief.
"So they jumped the gun," the red-head spy emphasized.
Another nod from the resident geniuses confirmed her thoughts.
"JARVIS, show them the signal you tracked down," Tony ordered the AI. They still had a window of opportunity.
"At once, sir. Stark satellites had placed the signal to the country of Sokovia. BASE0013 is a heavily fortified fortress. And the known base of Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. "
A hologram appeared in front of them showing Sokovia. Pictures of armed men, tanks, and weapons littered all over a castle. Tony frowned as he saw the bearings on some of the weapon caches. Stark Industries. Hammer Industries.
"Baron Von Strucker was once a leading member in SHIELD's weapon and sciences division. Files revealed he's a Hydra operative. After the fall of SHIELD, he'd been running the base as Hydra's headquarters. Sir."
"The base would be difficult to attack. We need to plan this carefully," Clint advised. They all stared at him.
"Clint's right. If this is the base, we need to be careful. We'll need more recon. The data sent to the Mali base was two days before our attack. Thankfully, we manage to stop the spread of information. JARVIS, compile the movements of their patrols. Clint and Nat study the blueprints of the castle," the captain commanded his team. "Tony and Bruce look more into the serum. Thor will you be here next week?"
"Yes--- yes, I'll be here," he smiled at them. "But something is..."
"What's on your mind?" Clint asked. The god assumed a thinking pose.
"Loki's scepter. If SHIELD was the same as Hydra, where is it?"
"SHIELD had given it to the weapons and sciences division. We gave it to them after we arrested Loki," Natasha reminded them. "Rumlow and Sitwell were in charge of the whole thing. It's a safe bet it's with this guy."
Her finger was pointing on the image of Baron Von Strucker.
Steve snapped the pen in his hand, while Clint and Tony both cursed at the information. The battle of New York was full of chaos on that day. And the loose ends of its aftermath were haunting them now.
"This would be difficult," the archer commented. "Much, much more difficult."
They saw Bruce stood up from his chair. His eyes focused on his fellow Avengers.
"Then will be ready," Bruce spoke up. "This past few weeks had shown us we can function. I might not be a big believer of this at first working. But what Hydra is out there is doing despicable things to children. It's up to us. It's up to us to stop them."
"You didn't save me from them, Steve..."
"LOOK AT ME!"
Bucky was standing there in front of him--- countless of needles attached on to his body. He was bleeding. Bucky's figure sheened with blood. Blood. It pooled around him, higher and higher.
"You didn't save me, Steve!"
Steve was drowning.
He was drowning in Bucky's blood.
Sweat enveloped his body. The nightmare was so real, too real. Steve massaged the temples of his head. The things he had seen and Bucky's reappearance were blending in dreams. Bucky. Hydra.
The shirt stuck to his sweaty body was uncomfortable. He couldn't sleep again. Taking another shirt from his wardrobe, Steve changed and went out of his room.
The lights were still on as he headed towards the common area.
He heard a noise--- someone was up. Steve turned then he saw it.
Thor was lounging on the couch surrounded by bottles of alcohol. Most of the bottles were empty. And. There were glasses filled with liquor. Some of it laid haphazardly on the coffee table.
"Thor, still awake?" Steve asked the god.
Surprise marred on the god's face.
"Yes, yes. Didn't notice you there, my dear friend," Thor welcomed him. "Do you want a drink? I've been making something, something stronger. Mortal drinks are quite weak. It's not what I'm used to."
The god drank a glass of unidentified liquor. His face soured after. "Asgardian mead has a different taste and what do they say here, ah, kick."
"Hmm, I never got drunk since I became like this. Alcohol doesn't do anything for me," the captain mentioned. Steve took a seat near a plush chair.
"Well, I could hear the buzzing in my head, but it's not there yet. Here," Thor handed him a glass.
There was some hesitation on the captain's mind. But the day was long and tiring. He didn't care if it couldn't get him drunk--- he couldn't felt intoxication since the serum. He just needed to drink for the sake of drinking for tonight, to keep his mind off. Steve gulped it down. He could feel the burn in his throat, but nothing.
"Not there yet?"
"My father had a cellar of mead aged for hundreds of years. I still remember how my brother and I got drunk on our first glass. My mother scolded us very much. We were young then..." the god reminisced. His eyes were distant, lost in his memories.
"Yes, Loki. Believed me, my brother was different before all of this. He was always mischievous, but never this devious. Never. I knew I knew he had hurt many others, including me. But he is my brother," Thor explained. He mixed another drink and drank it. "My brother."
Steve thought about Bucky.
"A brother. I--- I know someone like your brother. He's like a brother to me also, and he had hurt unknowingly many people. I couldn't save him the first time. And," Steve confided. "I could only hope I could save him this time."
Thor gave him another glass of alcohol. He stared at deep amber of the drink. The past few days of dismantling Hydra's bases were harrowing. Sam had no leads for Bucky, and his peace with Tony was tentative at best.
"I miss home."
Steve felt a pang of sadness at his friend's revelation. The god had projected to the world his joy, optimistic of the things to come. Thor remained positive in their first days as an Avenger after New York.
Looking at the god, Steve finally noticed it. The past days the god was less jovial. And he was away from the longer than expected.
"I miss my brother, my mother, my father, and Jane. I miss them. But Jane and I are not talking anymore. It's been a year since she moved to that place called Hawaii. And I," Thor revealed sadly. "I failed to find my brother. I failed to bring him home and to bring us home. I failed on my mission here. I am a failure."
The captain stood up and searched for some new bottles of alcohol. He found one, opened it, and handed it to Thor. Then he opened another drink for himself. Steve seated himself again, this time next to the god. Clink.
The liquid was surprisingly smooth and pleasant as Steve took a swig. Thor followed, emptying his bottle.
"I am a failure. I failed several people," the captain confessed.
Thor showed surprise. "You? A failure?"
"I failed a lot. My best friend, Peg--- a date, the people, Tony, and this team, I failed. It's normal to fail," he explained. "What we have is time to reflect on those failures, and never let them happen again."
Steve took another drink from his bottle. Thor meanwhile opened a new bottle for himself. The alcohol in their systems was not enough to dumb down their pain.
"What if you'll fail again amidst your efforts, my friend?"
"Then I already did my best."
The god stared at the captain.
"I had never failed in such magnitude than this point of my life."
"We fail some times. You're not the only one Thor in this team to have failed. All we can do is to learn from them and do our best."
Both men contemplated their future. The failures that they had suffered. The mistakes that they might make in the future. And. How would they face the people they failed?
Dawn crept up amidst the skyline of New York. Steve sighed at the view, walking pass the expansive windows.
Talking and drinking with Thor had drained Steve. But it helped him clarify more his feelings. He had failed before, and he does not want to repeat it. How could he preach to Thor about not repeating their mistakes, if he wouldn't act on it too?
Here he was in front of her door. It had been three months since the fall of SHIELD. He had entrusted Sam to find Bucky while they destroy the Hydra bases. Three months since he had made peace about the truth. Three months since he felt this bubbling feeling in him.
Steve wasn't sure of her answer. But he would never know it if he wouldn't try first.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The door opened. Natasha appeared in front of him--- her hair mussed up from sleep. She looked surprised, seeing him in front of her door.
"Good morning, Nat. There's something I want to talk to you..."
I guess I'll be continuing this farther than I've expected. The timeline till the Age of Ultron is much shorter in this alternate timeline. Because instead of waiting a year to destroy Hydra they did it a week or two after the fall of SHIELD. 2023 Avengers really fucked up lots of timelines or not. No Tessaract means no going home for Thor and no repairing of the Bifrost. Jane and Thor in this year would break-up much prematurely. Thor the Dark World might not happen. The Avengers is pretty much together.
My head hurt when I realized the implications more and more for 2012.
Also if someone noticed it in this chapter: all I say is contracts.