They’re in the common room, bloody and bruised, covered in dirt and dust. Tony’s making stupid jokes about the Hulk to Banner that are cracking Clint up. Natasha cracks open a few beers and hands one to Tony, then Clint. She flops onto the leather couch taking a satisfying sip of her own.
Steve tosses his cowl on the coffee table and sits next to Natasha. She places her feet in his lap and hands over her beer.
“Alright there, Rogers,” she asks.
“Sore,” Steve replies, taking a satisfying swig of her Bud Light. “Jesus. That’s like water.”
Natasha chuckles. “Ran out of the fancy German stuff. I’ll get some later.”
J.A.R.V.I.S announces that Nick Fury and Maria Hill are in the elevator with strike team CO Barnes, requesting access.
“I would love a congratulatory hug from Nick Fury,” Tony quips. “Access granted.”
The elevator doors open and in walks the two of them and CO Barnes who looks just as battled as the rest of them.
“Clean-up crew is handling the mess, and first responders are getting civilians to hospitals and setting up emergency medic centers for those they can’t,” Fury tells them.
“So, the Izoites, they’re all gone? We got them all?” Banner asks.
“Far as we can tell.”
“Well, then I say these beers are well-deserved. In fact, I think we should break out the fancy stuff. I got a bottle of Blue Label back there somewhere,” Tony mentions, nodding toward the bar. “Care for a nip, Fury? Swear I won’t tell anyone I saw you partaking in the Devil’s nectar.”
They laugh. Even Steve.
“Yeah, it’s real fucking funny,” Sgt. Barnes snaps, face stone-cold, tone sharp.
And the room grows quiet...
“You idiots didn’t save anything, so I have no clue as to why you’re celebrating.”
Clint sits up. “Whoa, bud. I don’t know if you were there or not—”
“—but we did, in fact, save the day. There were googly-eyed aliens trying to take over the planet, and we stomped their asses into the ground. You heard Fury.”
“Yeah, I was standing here when he patted your soft heads and said ‘job well done’.”
“You’re out of line, Barnes,” Fury growls.
“No. No, I don’t think so. Not after what I saw.”
“And what is it you think you saw,” Steve asks, half curious, half irritated, because Steve knows his job. Knows it and does it well. It’s why not even two weeks out of the ice was he thrown into another war. Instead of Hydra Nazis, it was aliens that time. And this time. He’s a soldier, like Barnes. He either follows orders or he leads. And with the Avengers, he leads. For the last 2 days he’s led his team to victory against another attack.
“A bunch of high-on-ego superheroes wreck more havoc around them than the damn invaders,” Barnes answers.
“People get hurt when we do our jobs sometimes,” Tony chimes in. “We try to avoid that, but sometimes we can’t.”
“That’s because you have no clue how to function as a unit.”
Steve’s personally offended now. “Excuse me?”
“I think that’s enough, Barnes,” Maria interrupts. “We only came up here for a short debriefing. Not to start a fight.”
Steve hands Natasha her beer back. “No, I’d like to hear the rest of what CO Barnes has to say.”
Barnes chuckles wryly. “’The greatest tactician of our lives’… Bullshit. All I saw was you running head-first into a bunch of lose-lose situations that would’ve gotten a sane man killed. The only reason you weren’t is because Natasha was too busy watching your six when she should’ve have been taking out the mothership.”
“He’s my teammate. Мой друг,” Natasha tells him.
“But those weren’t your orders! And because you didn’t follow them, too busy trying to rescue your suicidal friend, a fucking building fell on two of my guys and civilians were crushed under a pile of rubble! I trained you, Natasha. You know better.”
Steve’s never seen her express anything more than slight amusement other than her usual stoicism. Therefore, the momentary glimmer of shame on her face is something he finds more than a little surprising. And also telling. If Natasha is feeling guilty, embarrassed by her actions, then maybe Barnes’ rant is a little more than deserved...
Tony slams his beer down on the coffee table and gets to his feet. He’s still in his suit, singed and dirty. “Okay. Fury and Hill are right, that’s enough out of you, soldier boy.”
“You’re the worst by the way. You've got a wife and kids, but there you were, showing off like it’s a goddamn air show. Clint got pinned behind a taxi and it took you 7 minutes to get to him; too preoccupied with picking off aliens for a high score to notice. And from what I understand, the reason these creatures even showed up here was because of you. The Izoites were here because of your obsessive, self-serving bullshit.”
Steve can see Tony dying to be snarky, but he swallows it down because Barnes is right. Tony knowingly stole a piece of their tech, using it for his own curious purposes, and it seems the Izoites were offended enough to invade Earth to get it back.
“I think your point has been made, my friend,” Thor scowls.
“And don’t get me started on you, buddy… You and the big, green guy caused more structural damage than a hurricane. While we were still trying to get people out. First priority is to always, always, get civilians to safety.” He looks to Steve, “You know that, Rogers. Or at least you should.” Steve tries to hold his glare but can’t. His eyes shift, lowering to the carpet. “How in the fuck do you people think you’re heroes? How can you call yourselves that? I know that stealth, strategy, and recon aren’t high up on your list of duties, but are you kidding me? I know you’re not soldiers, but you’re barely a team. You don’t move as one. You don’t care as one. You’re in your own heads with your own goals. You’re children in a food fight, and because of your crap, people needlessly died, homes and sanctuaries were destroyed, and now me and my guys and a bunch of underpaid city workers have to clean up your mess while you get a parade! None of you have to knock on someone’s door and tell them their kid’s not coming home because the Avengers were too busy kicking ass! You assholes get to sit in your ivory tower, drink cheap beer, and pat yourselves on the back.” Barnes turns to Fury. “And you let them.”
“I let my guys do their jobs. And in doing so, they keep things from getting worse. You may not like their methods, sergeant, but they get the damn job done,” Fury tells him. “And I think you’ve talked enough about things above your pay grade.”
“Don’t worry. I’m done.”
And with that Barnes leaves, taking the elevator down and out of Avengers Tower, leaving Steve with a heavy, sludge feeling in his gut.
Tony scoffs. “Well, that kitty’s got claws.”
“Shut up, Tony,” Natasha snaps. “…Steve. You o—”
Steve bolts from the common room to the bathroom. He’s going to be sick.
Steve’s taped hands pound the heavy bag, fist after fist. He’s been in the gym for almost 2 hours now, covered in sweat but barely out of breath.
One good punch and he sends the bag across the room, bursting with sand!
Steve rolls his stiff neck and contemplates grabbing another heavy bag, but a slight shadow catches out of the corner of his eye. She’s as quiet as a church mouse, but he hears her anyway. He unwinds the tape from his swollen knuckles, back to her as he closes and opens his fist.
“You think I want to die.”
“I think it’s hard for you to be here. Alone,” she replies.
“Same thing, Nat.” He turns to her. “It’s why you watch my back.”
“Someone’s got to.” She takes a seat on the bench by the boxing ring. “We don’t do a very good job of looking out for each other. Barnes is right; we’re not team. We’re not…family.”
“That’s my fault.”
“It’s all our faults, Steve. We need to be better. If we want to do good, we have to be better. …And if you want to stay here, with us, I’d like that.”
“Where else would I go?”
“Don't. You know what I mean.”
Steve never thought he had a death wish. He knew the dark, swirling thoughts in his head would get a little too loud sometimes, but he never thought of himself as suicidal. He’d always been a little reckless, impulsive. Maybe even a little dangerous, especially for an Omega, but never determined to die. Yet, Barnes words cut through him like a hot knife through butter. He’d only known the man for 48 hours, only fought one battle with him, but it was so easy for him to see Steve’s actions, his motivations, for what they really were. As some sort of cry for help. And Steve hates that. He hates that a stranger, some random Alpha, let alone another soldier, was able to climb over the wall he’s built, the façade, and see him so clearly.
“How long have you known Barnes?”
“He trained me, like he said. Once S.H.I.E.L.D deprogrammed me. When I got good enough, Fury partnered me with Clint, for espionage gigs. So, a while. I’ve known him a while.”
“He’s an Alpha.”
“He’s not like that. That dress-down he gave us wasn’t him posturing. He was really angry. Upset. He cares. Like you.”
The unspooled tape from his hands flitters to the floor. “I do want to be here,” he says softly. “I just…” Steve fights back tears he hadn’t even realized were pooling in his eyes. He clears his throat. “I just don’t know how. With everything I lost.”
Natasha pushes off the bench and walks to him. “I think it starts with you admitting that, Steve.”
“The only way I know how to be of this world is to fight…but I’m so tired. I’ve been asleep for 70 years, but I’m still so goddamn tired.” The burning behind his eyes returns. This time he lets the tears fall down his sweaty face.
“You don’t have to do this, Steve. You don’t have to be Captain America.”
He sniffles; chuckles dryly. “Then what would I do? Who would I be?”
“Whatever you want. Whoever you want.” She takes his hands into hers. “And you don’t have to figure that out now. You also don’t have to do it alone. I know we’re not the Howling Commandos, or Peggy, but we’ll be there for you, if you let us.”
She squeezes his hands. He squeezes back, face stained with tears.
“How do I… I don’t know how to…”
She gives him a little smile. “I think first, you, me, and the rest of ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’ need to have a talk. And then we’ll take it from there. Whatever happens next, we’ll be there for each other. That much I do know.”
Steve nods. He believes her. Trusts her. And it honestly might be the first time he has…