Cap's Burden

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One was a scrappy guy from Brooklyn who just wanted to make a difference. The other was born to an empire. The former accepted an opportunity and put himself at risk in order to make that difference possible, while the latter grew to reshape his empire into one that protects humanity rather than destroy it. Both are opinionated and stubborn when it comes to their core beliefs, but their end games share equal meaning: to fight the wars the rest of us can’t and preserve a safer future. These two men disagree quite frequently but will unite when the time calls because in the end, they’re fighting for the same thing. These two men are Capt. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark; Captain America and Iron Man.

However, there was that one moment, where it was nearly impossible for these two to look past their own positions. These two heroes felt so strongly in their differing viewpoints that it came down to physical altercations; a civil war pitting friend against friend. While there was a moment where it seemed the two could work together within this struggle, one secret would tear it apart. A secret that had been kept by an unlikely subject from someone who is usually the one playing things close to the chest. A moment where an enhanced being, a super soldier, makes a humane and somewhat flawed decision that eventually tears at the roots of his egocentric, genius ally’s family tree.

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The decision? The choice one made in keeping a devastating truth from the other. The truth that Steve Rogers’ best friend from his past, Bucky Barnes, is the man responsible for the deaths of the parents of his closest ally today, Tony Stark.

Cap’s burden is not taken on until the end of the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Rogers has spent the entirety of this film fighting the inner stranglehold that Hydra has had on SHIELD for decades, along with the assistance of Romanov, Fury, Sam Wilson, Maria Hill and whatever true SHIELD agents remained. Everything he had believed SHIELD to be was merely a mask worn by the malevolent organization he fought over seventy years prior. On top of that, he discovers that his own best friend, the one he thought he had lost on the train back then, was not only alive but now this organization’s own super soldier assassin. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, is Hydra’s surgical weapon. While Cap is able to thwart Hydra’s plans, he has still lost his best friend and is uncertain if there’s any chance to reach him.

Then, there’s the Hydra file on Barnes that Romanov discovers and presents to Rogers. 

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The contents of this file would flip Rogers’ world upside down. Discovering his friend is responsible for the murders of his old friend Howard Stark and his wife. The parents of the man whom he had just formed an alliance with just a couple of years before in the Battle of New York. The man who along with Thor, Hulk, Romanov and Barton, stood by Cap’s side as they protected the city from Loki and his Chitauri invasion. He and Tony had fought and bled together. A mutual respect and potential friendship had begun. Now, Rogers must wrap his mind around the fact that Bucky is the reason why Tony’s parents are dead. Somewhere between Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Cap comes to a decision on what to do. He decides to keep this information to himself for now. He will carry this knowledge on his shoulders and live with it secretly.

One year later, The Avengers must reassemble.

From the start of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Tony Stark’s greatest fear is realized due to a “vision” infused by Wanda Maximoff. He sees the Avengers defeated and suffers the guilt that he could have done something to prevent it. This drives him to create Ultron, an idea he views as a protective shield over the world that backfires into the planet’s next big threat. As Steve and Tony debate at one point about the pros and cons of “ending war before it begins”, one can’t help to wonder what is going on in Steve’s mind as he witnesses what is fueling Tony.

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Could the loss of his parents be why Tony yearns for this need for protection? Has the creation of a the new element in his arc reactor, due to the inspiration from his father beyond the grave, reconnect Tony with his father? What would it do to Tony right now if he were to tell him what really happened to his father?

It’s understandable why Cap would not have told Tony this during their current predicament with an AI seeking world control. They needed to remain focused on the issue at hand. However, think of those moments where it’s just Cap and Tony. Chopping wood at Barton’s house. After the creation of Vision.  Their small chat outside Avengers Headquarters before Tony drives off. These small moments where their relationship reveals how close they actually are. These brief periods where, no matter their differences, there is a shared respect between these two; a bond that ties them. Imagine the pain Cap could be feeling in the pit of his stomach.  “Hey, Tony. Listen, there’s something I need to tell you... you might want to sit down for this one.” I can imagine Steve running these words through his mind, but never delivering them. He could ultimately believe that it’s better this way. Tony is doing well, the Avenger initiative is evolving, and maybe Cap feels this buys him more time to eventually find Bucky and turn him back to the guy he grew up with.

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Nonetheless, fate would remain in control and a civil war would be the setting of this emotional reveal.

The incident in Lagos during a mission lead by Cap. Tony confronted by the mother of a slain young man in Sokovia. The Sokovia Accords. Bucky branded as public enemy number one for the bombing in Vienna. These very elements alone pit Rogers and Stark, along with their allies and friends, on opposite sides of this personal and aggressive debate. These obstacles help light the fuse to the dramatic realization. Even as it becomes apparent that Bucky was not behind the bombing and Cap and Tony team up to corner Zemo, a flicker of a small television running a videotape from December 17, 1991 destroys any hope of a continued alliance.

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This dark secret Steve has been holding onto has been revealed to the one man he was keeping it from, his Avenger ally. Tony is filled with rage and wants nothing but to kill the man responsible for the murder of his parents, Bucky Barnes, even if it means battling both he and Steve at once. The emotional impact of this revealed truth is not the only important aspect of this tragic twist. It’s the fact that the man who kept said secret is the last person anyone would expect to keep something like this.

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Steve Rogers has always been the super soldier with the highest moral standard. He is the beacon one looks up to when pondering what is the definition of perfect morality. He is the epitome of what it is to be an American. Tony Stark is the example of the flawed man trying to do what is right. His intentions are noble, his goals are righteous, but his methods are of a more questionable manner when compared to Rogers. Yet, this very moment in the MCU, where Steve admits he knew the truth regarding Howard and Maria, shows us the flawed humanity that exists in the famed Captain. 

At the same time, while the audience knows that Bucky was brainwashed those years ago, one must look at it from the perspective of Tony Stark. After years of believing that your parents died in an accident, you’ve learned that they were murdered by this metal-armed assassin. Moreover, this truth was kept from you by not only your closest ally, but the man your father revered and honored. Given the history, pain and anger now residing inside him, Tony’s reaction is understandable. By the end of this battle, Tony has blown off Bucky’s metal arm, but sits in a powerless suit thanks to Cap’s shield. As Cap carries an injured Bucky, Tony makes one last demand: that Steve leave behind his shield, stating it belongs to his father. Given what just occurred and the pain caused by this great reveal, Steve feels it is the least he can do to the man he once called friend. A loud clang rings throughout the area as Rogers drops the heavy, star-spangled vibranium disk.

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In the end, it is short-sighted to claim that there was a right and wrong choice here. Steve’s decision to keep this from Tony wasn’t made out of disrespect or out of righteousness. It is a rare moment where Steve’s humanity shines through. His superior strength and abilities can’t provide an easy way out here. Steve makes an honest, human choice to protect both his friend from the past and his ally today by keeping this secret close to the chest. He takes the brunt of dealing with this decision internally. He does so hoping it will never see the light of day. When it is revealed, his worst nightmare comes to fruition, not only because one friend is trying to kill the other, but because this moment will change him as well. The “good man” has a brief moment of flawed humanity, while the billionaire playboy realizes first hand how it feels to have something kept from him, in possibly the most heart-wrenching manner.

As someone who absolutely loves these two characters, I do hope to see a reunion. In the final moments of Captain America: Civil War, we see what could be the seeds that rebuild this alliance: Steve’s letter, apologizing for his actions and lending his services whenever Tony may need it. Tony may even be ready to accept Steve’s olive branch, as he’d rather put a phone call from Thaddeus Ross on a permanent hold then hear what he has to say. Personally, I hope time helps to heal these wounds. The earth in the MCU is in better standing when Steve and Tony are on the same page. These two have been through enough emotional pain. Let us have a reassembled Avengers in time for their next important battle. One that is clear from the stranglehold of Cap’s burden.

—“The Azorean One” Anthony Esteves of The Capeless Crusaders

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