A/N- THANK YOU for all your amazing reviews! I'm so sorry that I haven't replied to any of them, I feel so rude! But, I just haven't had time. My priority has been trying to get this chapter finished. So, thank you, thank you, thank you! You're all amazing! And thank you to everyone who has favourited and followed this story, it's got over 100 follows now! I'm so happy! My next goal is 100 reviews! :D I really hope you enjoy this chapter!
Disclaimer- I own nothing related to the Marvel universe.
Tony was still with him when he next awoke.
He was in his bed in the infirmary again and the wires and needle he had pulled loose when he had made his escape had been replaced. Steve clutched at the sheets desperately and fought back the tears that burned at his eyes.
He couldn't cry.
He had already made a fool of himself in front of Tony, he couldn't do it again, but he couldn't hide from the feeling of shame that threatened to crush him.
He had failed.
He had failed and they were going to lock him up because they thought he was crazy.
Maybe he was.
The room was spinning and his head was pounding and he wasn't dead.
He should have been but he wasn't.
He had failed.
"So, Sleeping Beauty finally awakes. You look constipated, does that mean you're in pain? Do I need to call someone?" Tony asked, quirking an eyebrow at him.
Steve shook his head and tightened his grip on the sheets as his head exploded with a fresh wave of pain, "I'm okay."
Tony shrugged, "your call, Cap, but I'd take the drugs if I were you. They've already lowered your dosage and stuff like that is hard to find without a prescription. Believe me, I've tried. Some of my best work has been done while being under the influence of pain medication, it's amazing what it does to the mind. Seriously."
Steve shook his head again and let the pain engulf him.
He needed it.
He deserved it.
He had failed.
He turned away from Tony and brought up a shaking hand to wipe away the tears that leaked from his closed eyes. He didn't want to see the disgust on Tony's face when he saw how pathetic Steve was being.
He wanted to be stronger, to get up and carry on and pretend that everything was okay, that he wasn't empty, that he didn't wish he was dead. He wanted to be what everyone wanted and needed him to be but he couldn't find the strength to be Captain America.
He was just so tired and everything hurt too much.
He wanted to go back to sleep.
He wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep until there was nothing left.
No memories or pain or responsibility.
He wanted to sleep.
Tony didn't seem to want to let him.
"So, I'm thinking we should talk about what happened." He said. "And I suck at tact so I'm just going to come out with it. Were you planning on jumping yesterday?"
Tony's words were like a punch to the gut and Steve found himself suddenly breathless.
"Were you going to kill yourself, Cap? Is that what you were planning on doing?"
Steve didn't say anything.
He couldn't breathe, no matter how desperately he tried to gasp for air, because Tony knew.
And Steve couldn't breathe.
Had he told everyone? Did they all know?
What were they going to do to him?
"Hey." Tony snapped his finger's in front of Steve's face, making him jump and look around in panic at the sudden noise until his gaze settled on the older man's concerned face. "Calm down, okay? Breathe, come on, Cap, you're what? 90, 91? I'd have thought you'd have mastered this by now."
Steve sucked in a rasping breath, "who- who knows?"
"No one." Tony told him and Steve found he could breathe again. "I covered for you this time but it's a one-time only kind of deal."
Steve didn't try to hide his tears anymore. They rolled down his flushed, stubble covered cheeks unchecked and dripped onto his lap, soaking into the sheets pooled there.
"Why?" Steve asked and his voice cracked.
Tony smiled but it lacked any humour, "we're the Avengers, look up the definition of unstable in the dictionary and there'd be a picture of us. You'd be in the minority if you hadn't thought about it at some point."
"A long time ago." Tony didn't let him finish. "Before the Avengers."
"Why did you want to jump?"
Steve hesitated and thought about lying but then his mouth spoke without his brain's permission, "because you were right."
"I'm right 99.9% of the time. What I said in the car falls into that 0.01%."
"I was talking out of my ass, Cap. I just wanted to- shit. I don't know what I was trying to do."
"But it was all true." Steve said and suddenly words were tumbling from his mouth, "I shouldn't be leading the Avengers, I shouldn't even be on the team. I don't have any qualities that one of you doesn't have a million times over and I- I just want to go home."
"But you can't."
"I can't." Steve whispered and fresh pain sparked in head and bright lights flashed in front of his eyes.
"This is your life now."
"I can't go home."
"And everyone's dead."
"I… Yeah, everyone's dead."
The lights turned to blood and it rained down on him as bombs blasted in his ears and guns spat bullets and everyone died.
The world spun and spun and spun and blood and dirt and gore and fire pelted his body.
His limbs trembled and quaked and he wanted to run, to escape, but he was rooted to the spot.
He couldn't move.
He couldn't tear his eyes away from the bodies of his friends as they were ripped apart and he could hear their screams as they died while he stood and watched and lived.
And they were looking at him and he could see the anger and disgust in their eyes.
He had failed them.
He hadn't done enough to save them and he had let them all die.
It was all his fault.
He wasn't enough.
Captain America wasn't enough and they had all died because of him.
He wasn't enough and they all knew it.
"Stark's an asshole."
Steve blinked and wondered what the hell had happened.
Tony was gone and Clint was stood in his place at the side of the bed and Steve had no idea when the archer had taken the genius' place.
Had he fallen asleep?
He didn't remember and it scared him.
Was this is? Had he really lost it?
His mind felt foggy and his limbs were heavy and uncoordinated, like he was trying to control a body that didn't belong to him, like the first few weeks after the serum, and he could do nothing more than gaze idly at the face that stared down at him with unreadable eyes.
Clint tilted his head, "are you listening to me?"
Was he? He thought that he should be but he couldn't quite remember why. Something about politeness and a tired face and Captain America but the meaning was lost to him. He was still trying to make sense of the blood and the bombs and Tony's disappearance.
Steve's eyes were drawn back to Clint's face.
He hadn't even realised they had wandered.
"The drugs haven't worn off yet, have they?" He asked but Steve wasn't sure if he was meant to answer. Clint didn't give him chance to. "It's probably for the best. You're really not helping yourself, you know? You're supposed to be taking things easy and not going off running around the helicarrier and letting Stark wind you up."
Steve didn't understand, "what?"
Clint rolled his eyes and repeated, "Stark's an asshole."
"He… He was here." Steve said, his words uncertain as he struggled to make sense of what had happened.
Had Tony been hurt?
Had the bombs-?
"Yeah, he was. Bastard made a quick exit once the doctors got you sedated, though."
"You had another panic attack, Cap. They thought it'd be better to knock you out than risk you hurting yourself again."
Steve nodded and he couldn't make himself look at Clint.
He felt weak and ashamed and just so exhausted.
"Look, Cap, I don't know what Stark said to you to set you off, none of us do, but… Just don't do anything stupid, okay? I know everything must suck at the moment but it'll get better, you just need to give it some time."
"How do you know?" Steve asked and he smothered the hope that threatened to ignite in his chest.
How could it get better?
Everyone was dead and it was his fault.
"Because we're going to be better." Clint said simply. "We screwed up before, gave you space when we should've stuck close and played along with Stark's stupid mind games when we should have just told him to grow the hell up. We messed up but we know now and we're not going to do it again."
Steve could barely believe what he was hearing.
He had to be dreaming, he had to be, because what Clint was saying couldn't be true.
But if he was dreaming then where was the blood and the fire and the screams and the feeling of falling?
And the ice and the cold…
Why wasn't he dying?
"Cap?" Steve blinked and Clint caught his eye, "you okay?"
"Tired." Steve murmured.
It wasn't a lie.
His eyelids were growing heavy and he could hear the darkness calling for him once again.
"Okay." Clint said and he gave Steve a small smile. "One of us will be here when you wake up. You're not going to be alone anymore, I promise."
Steve nodded and let sleep claim him.
Peggy was waiting for him in his dreams.
She was wearing that red dress and a wide smile that was meant only for him, "you're late."
"And you're dead." He said, taking one of her hands in his own and placing the other on her hip as they began to sway in time to a song that neither of them could hear but both somehow seemed to know.
"And you're not?" She asked, quirking her lips in such a way that told him she already knew the answer.
Peggy always knew the answer.
"No." He replied, letting her lead him through the steps.
"I should be but I'm not."
"You would have died if it was meant to be." She told him. "But you're still alive even if you're not living."
"What do you mean?"
"I think you know what I mean." She said.
They danced in silence for a few minutes and Steve breathed in the familiar scent of Peggy's perfume.
God, he had missed her.
She leaned her head against his shoulder and he felt her breath tickle his neck, "why are you so upset, Steve?"
"You're dead." He told her.
"I couldn't save you."
She let out an annoyed sigh, "you really are a fool, aren't you?"
She pulled away from him and fixed him with a steely gaze, "you saved us, Steve, we lived because of you. Why can't you accept that?"
"You're dead." He said again.
"I died an old lady in my bed. I had a good life, I was happy, and it was because of you. Why can't you let yourself be happy, too?"
"I miss you." He said and he was suddenly fighting back tears.
"I know." She said, her face softening. She cupped his cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his lips, "I miss you, too, but I can't stand to see you hurt like this."
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do." He told her, pulling her close and burying his face in her hair. "Everything is so strange."
"Talk to them and learn to trust them. They are your team now." She planted a kiss on the side of his neck. "You're not alone."
"You're not alone." She said again and she kissed him on the lips once more. "I love you."
"I love you, too." He replied.
She gave him a brilliant smile and then she was gone but he didn't feel sad about it.
He knew she was right.
He let himself drift as a deeper sleep pulled at him and when he awoke minutes, hours, days, later, Bruce was curled up in the chair next to his bed, fast asleep.
The smallest of smiles tugged at Steve's lips and he finally let himself hope.
He wasn't alone.