It was a particularly hot day in Wakanda, and despite the fact they'd been living there for nearly a year now, Steve was sweltering in the humidity. So much so he'd skipped his run that morning and spent the day lazing on the couch instead. T'Challa had generously provided him and the rest of his Avengers a compound to live in, but neglected to provide them with air-conditioning. Eagle-spread on the couch, Steve couldn't figure out if it was from the king being accustomed to the heat or a subtle, purposeful reminder that they were outsiders. Guests, but outsiders. He wasn't sure what would happen if he asked for an aircon unit. He considered consulting Sam but the other man was out with the rest of the team, leaving Steve alone in the spacious lounge. Did Wakanda even have air-conditioning if everyone was used to this?
Dam, it was almost too hot to think.
Pulling the sweaty collar of his t-shirt away from his neck, Steve sighed and relaxed. He bolted upright though when the phone rang. The little flip-top tucked in his pocket rang again and Steve could barely identify the emotions that rushed through him. Panic, excitement, fear, relief, none of it mattered if he didn't answer.
He flipped the burner phone open and answered the call.
"Tony? Is everything alright? Are you okay? What's hap-"
"Quiet Rogers." The woman's voice had Steve freeze. He'd only given this number out to one person, it wasn't listed as "Rogers" so how did this woman know who would answer? What had Tony done now? The voice carried on; "And don't you dare hang up."
"Who is this? How did you get this number?" Steve demanded. Shit, please don’t be Pepper.
"Laura Barton. Tony gave me the phone." Steve brightened and relaxed back onto the couch. It wasn't Ross or another political figure out to get them. They were still safe.
"Hey Laura, it's good to hear from you. How are you doing? I don't know where Clint is right now but I can find him if you want?"
"I don't want to speak to Clint actually, I want to speak to you. I want to know what the hell you were thinking, Rogers!"
"What do you mean? If this is about the RAFT - "
"This is about a hell of a lot more than the RAFT, Rogers. I'm talking about Leipzig, I'm talking about having Clint break Wanda out of the Avengers' compound. I'm talking about you using people like pawns."
"Using people? What? Laura, Tony had Wanda locked up like a criminal! She's a kid, a kid who made a mistake!" He snapped, temper flaring. Great, more assumptions being thrown at him, probably fed by Tony no doubt.
"Really Rogers? She'd just killed more than 30 people, doesn't matter that it was an accident; that she was trying to save those in the market. She killed people. People wanted revenge, justice, whatever you want to call it! People were sending death threats and the Lagos government were trying to press charges. If she'd left the building, there was a very good chance that people would have attacked her. She’s not an American citizen, there would have been very little Tony could have done to protect her."
"Wanda can handle herself, that's no excuse to lock her up!"
"That's my point! If Wanda was attacked, she would be put in a position where she would have to use her powers and more people would have been hurt! People were scared of her Rogers!"
"If that's the case, then Tony should have told us! He should have told her instead of locking her up, she deserved to know why."
"That's rich coming from you, Captain." Laura hisses the rank and Steve flinches at the ice in her words.
"No, Tony didn't do a very good job at explaining what he was trying to do, and yes he really should have sat down and talked to her. I won't try and excuse his mistakes but the way you carry on it's like Tony's the only one who didn't think about the consequences!
"And you, you didn't bother thinking or asking him why! Instead, you called my husband and had him take her from a safe place and onto a god dammed battlefield. If she's such a child, why did you bring her to a fight? Was it because she's 26, and a grown woman or because you needed numbers, needed bodies to fight and would follow your orders?"
Laura's practically yelling, and Steve is shocked past the point of an answer.
In the sudden quiet, Steve heard pattering footsteps and happy squealing from Laura's end of the connection. The kids, and Tony too, he realised as the man's deeper voice came into earshot. Unsure how to answer Laura, Steve strained to pick up on any conversation.
"Mama, can we go to the park with Uncle Tony? Can we? Please?"
"We've finished our homework! Nathaniel wants to go on the swings!" A baby gurgled happily and Steve heard rustling as the children rushed around their mother.
"Nathaniel wants to go on the swings, does he? You three haven't been bothering Tony have you?"
"Nah, they're fine L. I'll have them back by dinner." Steve can hear the smile in Tony's voice and his chest tightens.
"Alright then animals. Go get your shoes on and behave for your uncle." The older children yell and run off, presumably to follow their mother's instructions.
"Are you alright L? Who're you talking- oh. How's it going?" Laura's sigh was fuzzy through the shitty phone speakers.
"Yeah, oh. About as well as you could imagine. They really haven't been bothering you have they? They're just enjoying having you around more."
"Don't be too harsh on him L, I don't think even a supersoldier can withstand the full force of an angry mother." Tony's voice is relaxed, open in a way that Steve hadn't heard for a long time, perhaps not since Ultron's short reign began.
"Don't forget you're having dinner with T'Challa tonight." Laura's voice was teasing, and Steve can only listen as FRIDAY joined in the fun.
"His Pantherness will be picking you up at seven-thirty," her soft Irish voice informed them, "and he says that he's paying the bill this time and I quote ‘My understanding of American culture was that you split the bill, not have your AI pay before I can offer.’ His Pantherness also wishes to know how you enjoy long walks on the beach, or if that is another American stereotype." Tony splutters while Laura straight up laughs, a much nicer sound than the one she was directing at Steve.
However, Steve isn't given the luxury to process what he's heard before Tony is out the door, gurgling Nathaniel in his arms, and Laura's focus was back on him.
"I know you were listening Rogers. My children are off to the park and their father is a fugitive hiding in exile because he trusted you. My children are going to spend the next however dam long without a father, which is why Tony is the one taking them. He's stepped up, not to replace Clint but to make sure they grow up with more than one adult in their lives and to take some of the load off me.
"When you rang, you told us that Tony had Wanda locked away, you made it sound like she was in immediate danger from Ross and a small step away from the RAFT. How was she in more danger in the compound than she was at Leipzig? And then you asked Clint to fight at the airport. What was it you said on the phone? 'There's a man trying to activate more Winter Soldiers, I need Clint's help.' or something like that? You didn't mention Barnes, or the accords, the whole story.
"Clint and I talked about it before we decided he should go. He was retired! Hell, even though we both knew it would last a year or two max before he ran out of ways to renovate the house, he wasn't an active-duty Avenger. The only information he had to go by was your word as his friend and captain. My husband is a dam good spy, Rogers. Do you realise the trust he had in you? He fought Nat and Tony, his friends, because he thought that you and Tony had a plan. He thought you had an act to play because of politics that he trusted you to navigate when he wasn't in a position to.
"You decided you knew better than over a hundred democratically run countries, you decided you knew international politics and bureaucracy better than Tony. The man was born playing the system! You know, he called us after the initial meeting about the accords to give us a heads-up about the situation and told Clint he needed to stay out of it because with Ross in the picture is was going to get ugly fast.
"Wanda should have never left the compound and she went through Vision to do it - with Clint's help, yes. She was safe, upset and angry and shouldn't have been near a fight. Not against the man she still blames for her family's deaths. 'You were pulling your punches' for fucks sake Rogers, she threw Nat so hard she cracked three vertebrae! Nat might have a serum but she's human! Neither of them like fighting each other, especially after Loki."
Steve remains quiet as Laura drags in a shuddering breath, sounding nearer the point of tears than yelling and somehow that's worse.
"Talk me through Siberia, Captain."
Her words are so calm they hit him like a punch to the sternum, winding him. Laura knew about Siberia. Almost as if she could see into his mind like Wanda, she spoke.
"Yes I know about Siberia. So do Rhodey, Vision, Pepper and FRIDAY. After all the crap you gave Tony about secrets when Ultron was on the loose, the crap you kept gave him afterwards, and you hid the truth about his parents from him for more than two years. Oh wait, that's right, secrets aren't bad when you're keeping them. Keeping them from Tony, from Clint - you told Nat you'd be the one to tell Tony and didn't, so secrets from her too. You asked her to let you be the one to tell her best friend the secret and she did."
"I just wanted to protect him." He wasn't proud of how his voice cracked at the last word. Steve wasn’t crying but he's hollow inside, so painfully hollow, like Laura's words are carving out his past reasoning.
"Who is 'him'? Bucky Barnes or Tony Stark? Cause you could have protected both Rogers. Imagine how it would have gone if Tony knew that Barnes had been forced to murder his parents and Jarvis. He would have already had a chance to process his grief and Zemo wouldn't have had any ammunition against you."
"I know that Laura! I know dammit! I fucked up! What more do you want me to say!?" Steve snapped at the phone. He was trying his best, he had tried his best. And his best wasn't good enough.
"I know you wanted your friend back, Steve." Laura's voice was gentle, like she's speaking to an upset child. The sudden shift was jarring to Steve though, unable to keep up with this shift in conversation. "You woke up a long way from home and the only person left barely knew who she herself was. You saw your friend hurting and you wanted to help him. We understand that, even if we don't have the experiences to understand a seventy-year time jump. You told Tony after Ultron that you'd found your home, your team was your family. You threw it all away Steve, you went about trying to help Barnes the completely wrong way.
"You tried to protect both your friends. Now one of them is an international fugitive and the other, well, it'd take more than that to break him. You left him in Siberia, Rogers, T'Challa didn't know he was injured. It took us three days to get him home because no one knew where he was and the suit was dead. Is that really the kind of man you are Rogers? You'd leave a man behind?
"I would think hard about leaving Wakanda any time soon because believe me, FRIDAY and Pepper are a force to be reckoned with. Don't bother calling either, because you're only going to get Col. Rhodes or myself. Tell Clint I love him and we're working on getting him home."
"It was nice talking to you, Rogers."
"Laura-" Steve tried but the line was already dead. He collapsed back onto the couch, overwhelmed by Laura's torrent of words. Tony was in Siberia for three days? Was he dating the king of Wakanda? Was he right in calling Clint to get Wanda and Scott? Did he do the right thing protecting Bucky he way he had or should have trusted Tony more? Wanda, oh god, Wanda. Would Bucky have still ended up wanted, in cryo, if Steve had just talked to Tony?
It was too hot to think, but Steve's mind raced on regardless.