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Tony held out about a full week and a half before he finally broke down and forgave Rhodey.

He was still upset (when wasn’t he upset lately?) but staying away from his friend was starting to become difficult, in more ways than one.

He missed his daily hugs. He missed snuggling up next to Rhodey on the couch. He missed being able to joke with him, feeling comfortable around each other. He missed the ease of their friendship, the reprieve it offered him from his stress, from the burden of his sickness. Tony had another round of nightmares the other night too, which was really the culprit in softening his grudge.

Sleeping by himself again made him miserable, and made rest hard to get. It just left Tony feeling down. Just because his Bond Sickness technically wasn’t worsening anymore, didn’t mean he felt any better, or things were any easier, especially when he was (albeit purposefully) holding himself back from the close contact he’d come to rely on the last few months. He’d been kind of in pain lately too, always woke up with one of his legs asleep, with pins and needles running down his limbs, no doubt from his baby finding odd ways to lay, and it was enough to make him grouchier than he already was.

He didn’t want to be angry anymore. He just wanted to feel normal again.

Pepper had to go back to California for some business, and Happy accompanied her, so Tony really didn’t have a choice but to patch things up with Rhodey anyway, unless he wanted to be entirely alone(which sounded kind of appealing, but he knew it was impossible, given his condition). It ended up being easier than he anticipated to patch things up, but it wasn’t entirely painless.

Rhodey was in the kitchen making breakfast the day Tony decided to break the wall he’d built up between them. He padded into the kitchen, stomach already rumbling. He hadn’t forgotten the doctor’s insistence on him eating more, and he did his best to adhere to that rule.

Tony leaned on the doorframe to the kitchen, rubbed his belly. “Smells good,” he announced, hoping to ease into a conversation.

Rhodey turned at his voice, looked him up and down, and nodded a little. He wasn’t surprised that Tony had started a conversation necessarily, but it did please him that he seemed to be reaching out finally. The last few days had been rough, with Tony being angry at him, pushing him away. Tony may have depended on Rhodey all these years, but Rhodey equally depended on Tony, found comfort and entertainment(albeit a lot of trouble) in his chosen brother. Knowing that Tony was angry with him, that he’d hurt him, hit Rhodey pretty hard, though he hid it well. He’d been prepared for it, knew it would happen when he picked up the phone. He knew it wouldn’t be easy-going when he made that phone call, but didn’t know quite how hard it could really be.

He could sense the change in Tony’s voice now though, and had secretly hoped he would reach out this week, now that it was just the two of them and Vision in the Compound. Tony had never been good at dealing with his emotions, especially not candidly or publically, so Rhodey hoped the Compound being empty would encourage him to confront his emotions, even if it was just to yell at Rhodey again. Tony’s tone now didn’t sound like he wanted to yell, and it was a relief. The airman tried to play it off, didn’t want to let on just how happy it made him.

“Blueberry French Toast,” Rhodey elaborated, voice even. He’d been in the kitchen a while now, taking his time to make the food. His mom had made the best French Toast when he was a kid. She had taught him how to make it, and tons of other recipes, always believed in the importance of being able to feed oneself. It was a lesson Tony never quite learned, no matter how many times Rhodey tried to teach him a recipe, but that was okay. He didn’t mind cooking for his friend. French Toast was one of Rhodey’s favorites and it came in tons of flavors, and it wasn’t an accident that Rhodey went with blueberry this morning.

“You want some?”

Tony could never resist breakfast foods, especially with blueberries in them, and Rhodey knew it. “Yeah,” he replied, and took a step forward.

“Take a seat,” Rhodes said softly, gesturing to the kitchen table with his spatula.

Tony did just that, put his hands on the table. He couldn’t help but drum them on the smooth surface, somewhat anxiously. He’d never been good at these kinds of conversations, avidly avoided them when possible. There was no avoiding this one though, not anymore. He wasn’t sure how to start it though, how to put it all into words.

The pan sizzled and another wave of the sweet aroma of French toast filled the air, and Tony inhaled it gratefully. It made him feel a little better, a little more at ease. He sighed softly, and worked up the courage to break the silence. “So…”

Rhodey put a full plate of food in front of him, and a bottle of maple syrup too. “Eat up,” he said, and turned to the fridge, to get him something to drink.

Tony opened his mouth to say something, frowning a little at the interruption when he was so valiantly attempting to explain himself, but the food was really calling his name, so he picked up his knife and fork and dug into the meal his friend had so graciously provided.

Rhodey looked over his shoulder to make sure Tony had started eating. He knew what was going on, what the brunet was trying to do, and knew he needed a little help to do it.

“I think I should start,” Rhodey announced after pouring two glasses of juice. He grabbed himself a plate of food and sat across from Tony. Instead of digging into his food, he folded his hands on the table, face kind of grim, and waited for the other Alpha’s response.

Tony regarded him for a moment, the concern on his face, and it made his heart flutter anxiously. ‘You sure I can’t just spend the rest of my life entirely alone?’ he asked himself, and knew the answer was ‘no.’

He really hated conversations like these.

Rhodey was waiting on an answer, on permission maybe, to discuss the elephant in the room, and Tony had to grant it. “Okay,” he said softly, set his cutlery down on his plate. He exhaled through his nose, raised his head a little.

Rhodey had always been better at this kind of thing, and it certainly showed now. “I’m sorry,” he said almost immediately. “I’m sorry about the phone thing, and I’m sorry for what I did. I know how much it hurt you. You know I never wanna hurt you, Tony, and I’m really, really sorry I did, but you didn’t really leave me a choice. I tried to reason with you so many times, tried to get you to understand, and you always refused. I didn’t know what else to do,” he said, and Tony knew he meant it.

The brunet sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a little shame creep through his veins. “I know. I know you were just…looking out for me,” he said. “But Rhodey… you didn’t give me a choice, in the end. You pushed me into it. Maybe…maybe I just—I just needed a little more time. I…” he paused.

He really didn’t want to admit any of this, hated even thinking of it. It made him feel small, and weak, to give any of this voice, but maybe he had to, to make Rhodey understand. Tony dropped his gaze to the table.

“I’m in over my head, more than I ever thought I could be. I mean, fuck. Steve’s gone, and the team is toast, and I’m…I’m having a baby.” He let out a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob. “Me. Can you imagine? When you met me at MIT did you ever think I’d be parent material?”

Rhodey smiled a little, shook his head. “No,” he admitted.

The Tony of MIT was young, wild, and far too brave for his own good, shirked responsibility just as quick as he took it on. Rhodey couldn’t have imagined the young Alpha he befriended would grow to be a compassionate, responsible, and self-sacrificing man, let alone a parent. But Tony had transformed over the years, in more ways than one, to an impressive degree.

“Exactly. But now, I’m different, and I-I’m trying my best. I’m trying to keep it all together. None of this is how I imagined it would be, and— it’s really fucking overwhelming. I just…it’s like I’m locked in the trunk of a self driving car that’s trying to launch itself into a lake. Every day things slip a little more out of my control, get a little crazier, and it’s fucking scary, and it makes me angry. I just…I just wanted to keep a hand on the wheel, just a little longer,” he said.

He hoped that would be enough to make Rhodey understand, but he wasn’t sure. Tony hated admitting his feelings. He always thought he sounded stupid, childish, whenever he admitted his insecurities, the things plaguing his mind. Tony felt stupid now, and frowned at the table.

Rhodey of course didn’t laugh at him, or think his concerns were stupid. He took a moment to absorb them, and chastised himself at not picking up on any of this sooner. Then again, Tony had always been good at wearing a mask.

“I’m sorry you’re feeling that way,” Rhodey replied after a second of thinking it all over. “I really am. I know none of this has been easy on you. Sometimes I don’t know how you do it all. I don’t think I could. I just…I wanted to do what’s best for you, Tones. That’s all I ever want to do. I know it seems unfair, and maybe I should’ve given you more time, let you warm up to the idea once and for all. I just…I was scared for you, and I still am. I don’t want anything to happen to you, or the baby.”

“I know,” Tony said. “I…I’m sorry too, for pushing you away. It just hurt too much in the moment, and I was mad. I’m still mad, actually, but…you’re my best friend, and I don’t want to keep going on like this. I need you, Jim, and so does your godson.”

Rhodey blinked at that, and raised a brow, smiled a little. “Is this your way of officially asking me to be a godparent?” he asked.

“Maybe?” Tony replied, smirking a little.

“I expected flowers and balloons.”

Tony let out an amused exhale, brushed a hand through his hair. “Sorry, I was on a budget. My apology will have to do.”

“I guess,” Rhodey replied.

“So how about it?” Tony asked, eyes full of pleading. “Do you want to? Will you?” He thought he knew the answer, but he still had to be sure. After all, the last week or so had been pretty rocky between them, and Tony had been plenty unfair, but maybe Rhodey would forgive him, would still be willing to stick things out with him.

“Of course I will,” Rhodey replied, smiling softly. He sat a little straighter, clearly full of pride. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“I had planned on doing it a little differently than this, but when does anything ever go according to plan for me?” Tony replied.

Rhodey scoffed. “Never,” he agreed.

They looked at each other for a moment, and Rhodey was relieved to see some affection slip back into the brown of Tony’s eyes, into his scent. He was glad the hostility was more or less gone, and that they could carry on normally. They didn’t argue or fight often, but it was always a relief when it was over, and things went back to normal.

“Well,” he started. “Eat your food. Don’t want either of you starving.”

“Gladly,” Tony replied, and dug into his French Toast once more.

At least one weight was lifted from his shoulders now, put him in a little better spirits. The food certainly helped too. He still had other weights to contend with though, such as the weight of the phone in his pocket, and the impersonal, quick texts he’d been exchanging with Steve lately. He knew he should be doing more, reaching out more enthusiastically for his health, but it was just hard, to open himself up again. It wasn’t fair that he had to. Sometimes he had half a mind to call the whole thing off, and go back to doing it all alone, but then his baby would stir, flutter his little feet, or shift around within him, and then Tony would remember what it was all for.

He’d already made progress on one war front this morning, maybe he could make it on another too.

About halfway through his plate, he brought it up with Rhodey.

“I…I think I’m gonna call him soon,” he said. He didn’t have to elaborate.

“Yeah?” Rhodey replied cautiously, pouring more syrup on his plate.

“Yeah,” Tony said, and paused, grimaced a little. “I don’t really want to, but…”

Rhodey didn’t want to push him into it, not after everything. He thought of course it’d be better if he and Steve communicated openly, comfortably, but he supposed he understood Tony’s hesitance, after all the brunet had admitted.

“You’re texting him every day, right?” he asked.

Tony took a sip of his juice, set the glass down on the table slowly. “Yeah.”

“…As long as you’re doing something, it should be fine. Though I do think you’ll feel better faster if you’re hearing each other’s voices,” Rhodey said.

That was true enough. From what he could tell, Tony wasn’t showing any signs of getting worse so far (at least not any easily discernable signs) but he wasn’t getting better either. He still looked exhausted, sick, and at this point, it was hard to imagine his scent without the taint of the Bond Sickness.

Tony, despite himself, knew Rhodey was right. “Yeah…” he repeated.

He knew Rhodey was trying to encourage him, trying to get him to get over his self-made hang-ups, but it didn’t make it any easier. Part of him did miss Steve’s voice, couldn’t help but remember the timid, desperate way he’d said ‘I love you’ when they last spoke, and wanted to hear more of it. He still yearned for Steve’s touch, for those strong arms to wrap around him, keep him safe and warm in bed. The part of him that still demanded vindication for this whole mess was loathe to pick up the phone though, and to imagine any of those things. Steve had hurt him, had left him. He may have been sorry about it, but the damage was already done. Tony simply didn’t want to forgive Steve yet. He didn’t want to let him in again, let down his defenses. What could come of it anyway? Unless Ross and his associates had a sudden change of heart, Steve couldn’t come home. They couldn’t be a proper family. That just made Tony even angrier.

Maybe he could afford to be a little warmer in his texts, though.

“Take your time with it,” Rhodey suggested. “No one’s expecting it to be all sunshine and rainbows. Hell, I’d be kinda pissed if you did forgive him all at once.”

Tony snorted at that. “I wish it was that easy,” he replied morosely. “I wish I was some doe-eyed, easily swayed bitch. I wish I could just roll over and give myself to him on a silver platter.”

“I don’t,” Rhodey said immediately. “I’d be disappointed in you if you were, if you did do that.”

“Thanks, honeybear,” Tony sighed, putting his head in his hands.

“But, for what it’s worth, I think he really does regret it all,” Rhodey said. “Rogers has always been kind of stupid in his decision-making skills. I don’t think he intended for things to end up like this.”

“That’s what makes it so annoying,” Tony growled out. “He didn’t mean to do it. But he did it anyway. Why is he so damn stupid?” he asked, the exasperation clear in his tone.

“I don’t know,” Rhodey admitted, sighing tiredly. “We’ve all made bad decisions at some point or another. It just so happens his bad decision makes me wanna beat the shit out of him, but that wouldn’t solve anything. The best thing to do is…try to forget it, I guess. Or at least, find a way to live with it.”

“You have no idea how hard it is,” Tony said.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right.”

There was silence for a moment. Tony glared down at his empty plate, unsure of what else to say. This wasn’t the first time he’d voiced his frustration over the last few months, but it didn’t seem to make him feel better anymore. It just made him feel more conflicted.

Rhodey could sympathize. Nothing about this situation was easy. That was made abundantly clear lately.

He tried to change the subject.

“So, have you thought of any names for your little bundle of joy?”

The question took Tony off guard, but it was a pleasant one. Of course he’d thought about it. When he came to terms with the fact that he was carrying, that he was truly having a baby, it was something he started thinking about all the time. He started with a pretty big list of names, nothing concrete, which gradually shortened, especially after finding out the baby’s sex.

“A few,” he replied, and smiled a little. “Maybe four or five.”

“And?” Rhodey prodded. “Any one sticking out more than the others?”

“No,” Tony admitted. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

 


 

Steve did his best to gather his thoughts, to try and put himself back together.

He knew he’d been out of sorts, drifting at sea these last few months, letting the tide wash over him again and again, and drown him in misery. He knew it wasn’t fair to his team. He knew they relied on him, had trusted him to guide them right. Steve obviously had failed in that aspect, but he still had a responsibility to them, still needed to lead them. He had to try to put himself back together.

He didn’t think he was doing that good of a job. He still missed Tony, more than he could say. He anxiously awaited those few moments of the day when Tony would check in with him, where he would share his day, and a fraction of his attention. It was a little pathetic how much Steve looked forward to those moments really, but he couldn’t help it.

They’d spent the last week and a half here in Albania, nursing Wanda back to health. Thankfully, her wound avoided infection, and was starting to heal up nicely, and they could move on soon. Natasha was looking for leads to chase again, and part of Steve hoped she wouldn’t find any. Part of him wished they would just be done, or that they’d finally get caught.

Sometimes he wondered if they shouldn’t just start over, just try to live normal lives. He wondered if the team should split off from him, leave it all behind, and if he should turn himself in. If he didn’t know where the others were, they couldn’t be punished alongside him, right? Then Steve could serve his sentence and maybe, just maybe, see Tony with his own eyes again, be allowed to be in his life again, and in their baby’s life. He wanted that, so bad. He wanted to be the father he should be.

He knew he couldn’t turn himself in, or shouldn’t, at least. That didn’t change the fact that he wanted to do it though.

Maybe he was kind of a coward, or a failure, really, for thinking of giving up. He’d chosen this path, after all. He made his bed, and he had to lie in it. But the selfish, the human part of him, wanted for it all to end. He was nervous, honestly, to hop into the fray again, for maybe the first time in his life. He was nervous of screwing it up again, and that someone else would get hurt, or something terrible would happen because of him. His team didn’t feel like a team at the moment anymore either. Sam was still angry with him, he knew, and being in close proximity seemed to do nothing to dampen the flames of his anger.

Steve was still trying to find the right words to apologize. He’d tried already, more than once, but it didn’t seem to be enough, because Sam was still admittedly cold to him, still kept his distance. They had barely spoken in the last week and a half. Nobody was in high spirits in general, though. When was the last time they had been?

The Alpha was sitting with Wanda now, watching some show in a language they couldn’t understand on the small television their place had come with. It was kind of late already, way past their bedtimes, but she complained that she couldn’t sleep, so Steve offered to make her some tea and keep her company. He poured himself a mug too, held the ceramic between his hands, tried to take comfort in its warmth.

They more or less sat in misery together. Steve took slow sips of his tea, tried to find comfort in the peppermint flavor, but it did nothing to soothe his wandering mind. He couldn’t help but reflect on all of his mistakes, all of the choices that had led him here. God, if he had only been willing to try it all a different way, to trust, then none of this would have happened. He thought of his phone call with Tony a week and a half ago, how angry and hurt the brunet had sounded, the biting tone, the sharp reprimands, all well deserved. But he also thought about how Tony had said ‘I love you,’ even if it wasn’t said as freely as in the past. So Tony did still love him, right? Despite it all, he still loved Steve, wanted to be with Steve. At least, Steve hoped he did. Or was he really just speaking to Steve out of necessity now, for the baby? Would he ever look fondly upon or think fondly of Steve again? Steve hoped so.

But where could they go from here? How could Steve get back to him without making their sacrifices a waste? He wasn’t sure.

The blond let out a frustrated sigh, caught up in his thoughts, and actually felt a little embarrassed when Wanda questioned him about it.

“You sigh a lot, but that was a particularly pitiful sigh,” she said, offering him a tiny smile.

Steve shrugged a little. “It’s nothing,” he replied. He didn’t really want to talk about it all, burden them anymore. Although they were a little more sympathetic to his case now that they knew about the baby, he wasn’t sure if he’d get the open ear he needed. That in itself was kind of frustrating, but he supposed he deserved to suffer a little, given all that had happened. They were all in a horrible situation, not just him, and maybe he didn’t have the right to think his problems bigger than theirs.

“It doesn’t sound like nothing,” she prodded. Maybe speaking, even about Steve’s issues, was more appealing to her than sitting in mutual silence at the moment.

If she was reaching out like that, Steve could indulge her. He was thankful for it, actually. Wanda never seemed to really judge him, or blame him, even with all that had happened. But then again, being orphaned and losing her brother probably made her more aware of the importance of sticking together, gave her an extra supply of patience the others didn’t have.

Steve took a breath, stared down into his mug. He tried to figure out what to say. “I just…everything’s so wrong,” he started. “And it’s all my fault. I don’t know where to go from here,” he admitted. “I just…without Tony, I…”

“A part of you is missing,” Wanda finished for him, tone solemn.

“A huge part,” Steve replied. He scratched his beard. “It feels like…I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Wanda stared down at the blanket covering her lap, brushed her fingertips over the frayed edges. “I know how you feel,” she said softly. “Ever since losing Pietro, I’ve…I’ve been trying to find myself. I thought I was starting to, living at the Compound.” She paused. “Vision…he helped me.”

Ah. He understood where she was going with all of this. He’d noticed it, in the days before everything went to shit. He knew how much time they spent together, could see the joy in Wanda’s eyes whenever she regarded Vision. He hadn’t asked about it, and didn’t dare assume now, but it was clear to him there were some sort of shared feelings between them. That only made him feel more guilty, really. It was bad enough that he’d ruined his own relationship. He didn’t want to ruin someone else’s too.

Steve didn’t know what to say. He felt his shoulders slump further with shame. He doubted he’d ever be able to hold them high again.

“I miss him,” Wanda said softly.

“You’ll see him again,” Steve promised her, despite his better judgment. Historically, his promises had a habit of being broken. “We’ll figure out a way.”

“How?” she asked. It wasn’t that she doubted his good intentions, but if the last few months were any indication, the Alpha wasn’t in the position to make promises. She didn’t want to get her hopes up that things were going to change, only for them to be dashed. They’d been on the run for half a year now, and there was no end to it in sight. But then again, he and Tony were speaking to each other again, more or less, so maybe change was on the horizon.

Steve was thinking on similar lines. Nothing could be done from his side, according to his mate, but maybe Tony would be willing to find some middle ground, for the others. Maybe Tony could strike a bargain, minimize their sentences, or maybe find a way to avoid Secretary Ross finding out at all. Maybe he would find a way to arrange a secret meeting. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t. He was probably angry at all of them, not just Steve. But perhaps Steve could call on his generosity once more, not for himself, because he knew he didn’t deserve it anymore, but for Wanda, who still had a life ahead of her, and deserved more than running around as a fugitive. Maybe Tony could offer that grace, like he had offered so much in the past.

Steve wouldn’t bring it up for a while, not until the fires of Tony’s anger dampened a little more, until they were properly communicating. He hoped that was soon, but knew it might take a long time. He’d been itching to hear Tony’s voice again, if only for a few moments, but knew better than to try and call. When Tony was ready, he would reach out. Steve just had to trust.

The irony of that wasn’t lost on him. All the time they were together, it was always him trying to convince Tony to trust, to have faith in what they had. Now, he had to believe that Tony wouldn’t keep pushing him away.

He felt like a fool.

“Just give it time,” he managed to reply to Wanda. They had plenty of that.

She seemed to accept that, nodded a little. He was thankful for it.

They sat in silence for another minute or two before she announced she was getting tired, rubbed her eyes. He supposed there wasn’t much else to talk about. The show on the television kept droning on, little more than uncomfortable background noise, until they’d had enough.

“I’ll take care of your mug,” Steve said, pulling the empty ceramic from Wanda’s hands, gesturing in the direction of the bedrooms. “Go and get some rest.”

“You should try to sleep too,” she replied, but stood and stretched, left him to his devices anyway.

Steve got kind of lost, washing up their mugs in the sink. There was a window above the sink which let him peer onto the deserted street below, and he found himself unable to tear his eyes away from it. Nobody was out walking, but the streetlights cut interesting shapes into the pattern of the flagstones, still wet from a rain shower earlier. They made him think of the reflection of the city lights in Manhattan on car windows and shop faces. They made him think of home.

He missed the city. He hadn’t been living there anymore when he left, and he was comfortable in the Compound upstate, but he couldn’t help but reflect on those early days, when he and Tony first built something together, when they truly fell in love. He thought about standing on the penthouse balcony of Stark Tower at night, his arm wrapped around Tony’s shoulder, taking in the view.

Steve missed that. God, what he wouldn’t give to go back to all of that.

“Hey man,” Sam’s voice rung out behind him.

Steve had been so deep in his thoughts that he didn’t hear, or smell, the man walk into the room. The blond hastily shut off the water tap, grabbed a towel to dry off the mugs. He was more than a little surprised that Sam was awake, and furthermore, that he wanted to start a conversation, and it made his heart jump in his chest a little. He tried not to let it show.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Steve asked, turning to look at the Beta.

Sam looked exhausted, but calm. He nodded. “Something like that.”

Steve regarded him for a moment, tried to think of what to say. He twisted the towel in his hands anxiously, swallowed hard. There was a beat of silence. “Look, Sam, I know you’re still mad at me,” he started.

“You can say that again,” Sam replied, and loosely crossed his arms.

Steve grimaced.

“But I’d rather you wouldn’t,” Sam added, giving him the faintest glimpse of a smile. He took a breath. “I’m…I’m still mad at you, but I’m ready to work with you. I understand that things have gotten out of hand lately, and that it’s not entirely your fault.”

Steve felt his shoulders drop a little in relief. He nodded a little. “I’m trying,” he replied. “I really am. I know it hasn’t been good enough—“

“You’re doing your best. I expected too much, man. Just because you’re Captain America doesn’t mean you’re not just a regular guy like the rest of us. I…got too caught up in it all to realize that, and I’m sorry.”

The Alpha didn’t know how to reply to that. He hadn’t anticipated such a response, especially this late at night. “Sam…”

“I made a choice back then, we all did. You didn’t push us into anything. I’ve been blaming you for everything, because…well, because it was damn easier than thinking that I was a fool, that I should’ve just bit the bullet and done my time. I still believe in the team. I still want to do good, but…maybe this wasn’t the way to do it after all.”

“I think so too,” Steve replied. He took a few steps forward. “I thought I knew what I was doing. After everything with SHIELD, it just…it seemed impossible to put my trust in another organization. And then with Bucky involved, it just kept escalating. I’m sorry I got us all into this mess, I really am, and I know saying all of this doesn’t change anything, but…I really hope we can still be teammates. I hope we can still be friends.

Sam regarded him a moment, took in his words while Steve waited, his brows pinched up with worry. Part of Sam wanted to keep him waiting for his answer, because it was kind of nice, the last few days, having the Alpha trying to win his approval back, but Steve had suffered enough. They had all suffered enough. Sam didn’t want to suffer anymore. He didn’t want Steve to suffer anymore either, especially now knowing that the man had a kid on the way, a kid which he most likely wouldn’t get to meet. That was punishment enough for everything, Sam decided.

His somewhat hard expression softened, and he uncrossed his arms, held out a hand. “Teammates,” he agreed. “And friends.”

Steve took his hand gratefully, brought his other one up to clasp it in thanks. He shook it. “Friends.”

Some of the abrasion between them the last few days melted away, and for a second, things felt normal again. The blond was thankful for it. When they dropped their hands he let out a little sigh, didn’t even try to hide his relief.

“So where do we go from here?” Sam prodded.

“Nat hasn’t found another lead yet. The bad guys are getting good at hiding their tracks. We have to be more careful now, since they were waiting for us last time. I don’t want a repeat of that.”

Neither did Sam. He hoped never to have a blow up like that day again, for any reason. “Do you… Is there any news from the other side?” he asked.

The inflection in his tone told Steve exactly what Sam meant. The other side. Tony’s side. Was there news? Nothing substantial, unfortunately. Certainly nothing that could help them at the moment.

Steve shook his head, stared down at his feet. “No,” he replied. “I don’t think…I don’t think Tony can do anything for us,” he replied. “Or if he even would if he had the chance…”

“After finding out how things are really going, I guess I can’t blame him,” Sam sighed. He rubbed the back of his neck.

Steve nodded a little. He thought about his own neck, and the bond mark there, still inflamed, still painful. The pain in it had abated just a fraction, but not enough to feel comfortable or to touch easily. He hoped that with time it would feel better, but he wasn’t sure.

None of his other symptoms had gone away, really. Maybe he felt a little more clear-headed, less…feral, but that was simply because the informational gaps had been filled in for him, and he didn’t have to wonder as much about what Tony was doing. He still felt achy, and off-kilter, and struggled to re-sharpen his senses. His heart still felt far too heavy, filled with regret and a deep sense of yearning, of desperation. He was always too hot or too cold, and although some of the paranoia, the aggression, had disappeared, he was far from feeling like himself again.

He wondered how Tony was feeling. How he was really feeling. Did he suffer the same way? Was it worse for him, or different? How did he cope with it? He still couldn’t believe that Tony had been carrying all this time, on top of dealing with Bond Sickness. Steve couldn’t imagine what it was like. It didn’t surprise him that Tony was still angry, still distant. Steve had let him down so spectacularly, and he still doubted he would have the chance to properly fix it.

“I wish… I wish I knew what to do,” Steve admitted. “I wish I knew how to get things back on track, for all of us.”

Sam took a deep breath, tried to think of how to respond. “I guess the only thing to do is wait and see. Maybe the right choice will become clear for us.”

“Wait and see,” Steve repeated, as if the concept was foreign to him. It was anything but, at this point. Maybe there really was nothing else to do at the moment though, but to wait for things to fall into place. He desperately hoped they would.

“Yeah. Let’s wait and see,” he decided.