When Captain America was unearthed and thawed 70 years after he went into the ice, the select few at SHIELD who had a high-enough clearance to be trusted with the knowledge believed it was a blessing — a sign that the world would prosper, that peace would prevail.
Steve Rogers thought otherwise. It wasn’t so much as losing faith in himself and in what the shield stood for as it was being so incredibly overwhelmed that grief, sorrow, and anger have cast a shadow over everything else.
He couldn’t inspire hope in others if he couldn’t find any in himself.
So after a series of tests that cleared him for civilian life, he requested time. His request was initially denied by Director Fury in lieu of a counter-request — a bargain of sorts that he be subjected to at least a month of intensive training inclusive of a crash-course in history, current events and customs, and basic technology to survive as well as a brief introduction to modern weaponry and warfare.
Around two months later, Steve found the SHIELD-issued Harley softail custom-engineered for Captain America himself waiting for him in the parking lot as a physical manifestation of his request finally being granted. With it, he set out to travel in, across, and around the country — wherever the wind took him, if he was being poetic.
During one of his relaxing bike rides around the country, he finds himself in Wheaton, New Jersey, not too far from what used to be Camp Lehigh where he got his military training pre-serum. He considers visiting what’s left the old place. On his way there, however, he takes a detour to compose himself in light of the memories that the camp would surely bring back.
When dusk comes, he spots the broken neon sign “Cro o ds” for a diner near a fork in the road. He suspects that, given the location, it must have spelled out “Crossroads” once upon a time. He parks his bike and enters, sweeping his gaze around the place. It’s not pristine but it’s not too shabby either. When the bell on the door chimes again upon closing, an old woman comes out of the door behind the counter.
“Evenin’, dearie,” she greets him, her accent dripping with every word. “What can I get ya?”
“Good evening, Ma’am. Umm…” He glances at her name plate. “Janet.” He chooses the seat on one end of the bar and asks, “What do you have?” He listens as she, instead of giving him a menu, dictates a list of food that seem to get greasier as she goes on. “I will have a cheeseburger and some fries, thank you. A cup of coffee would be great if you could spare some.”
She looks at him funny before she grins. “Ya new ‘round ‘ere?”
He smiles politely and nods. “Just passing through.”
“Alrighty, suga’. Would ya like some pie with that? We’ve got apple, blueberry, chocolate pecan, and peach—” She cuts herself off and leans back a little to see their display.
He follows her gaze but his stop instead on a lone woman seated at the other end of the bar, nursing what looks like a milkshake and absent-mindedly twirling her straw. He forces himself to look back at Janet when he realizes she’s saying something. “My apologies, Ma’am, could you repeat that, please?”
She gives him another funny look before she says, “We’re all outta peach, son. Just apple, blueberry, and chocolate pecan.”
“I think I will go with chocolate pecan, thank you. Is it any good or are the fruit pies better?” He charms the waitress.
Janet points at the display with her thumb. “We’ve a lot o’ those and apple pie for a reason, suga’. The best ‘round ‘ere.” She squints at him, as if contemplating something. “Tell ya what, I’ll give ya a slice each, on the house if ya can finish ‘em after your burger ‘n fries.”
“Oh, no, I can’t possibly—”
“Humor an ol’ woman, will ya?”
“You are not old.” He is pleased when he gets a smile out of Janet even as she raises an eyebrow to insist on her offer. His shoulders sag a little before he grins, “Deal.”
For a second, his smile drops as he thinks of how the poor woman is going to lose a bet as well as some money for her kindness before he decides he’ll just leave a sizable tip to cover both pies and more. The account SHIELD has provided for his integration into society is more than enough; plus, Fury said that when he’s ready to be Steve Rogers, Captain America — be alive again and known in the modern world — he’ll get his pension for services rendered, the one that has accumulated since the war.
When his order comes, he digs in and only then just realizes how hungry he was. The burger was a little too greasy but delicious. Jones always did say more grease meant a better burger. Halfway through inhaling his burger, he suddenly stops and stares at it, remembering the last time he ate a burger. It was with Jones and the rest of the Howling Commandos that night before Bucky — God, Bucky — fell to his death.
He remembers it like it was yesterday; he remembers everything like it was yesterday. Because it was . Everything he knew was gone. Everyone he knew was gone. Except Peggy, who is losing her memories while he wallows in his.
He’s been free for all of nine days now and yet he has no idea where he wants to go or what he wants to do. There are so many new things he wants and probably needs to try but no one to discover the world with like he wanted to with Peggy and no one to hold his hand every step of the way like he always had with Bucky. He doesn’t even have a purpose for being in this world anymore that he questions the twist of fate that led to the discovery of his frozen yet alive self. They should’ve left well enough alo—
The rather loud click and tap on the counter breaks him out of his reverie. A tall mug similar to the one he saw from the woman on the other end of the bar greets him when he looks up from staring blankly at his half-eaten burger.
“Someone thought you might need this,” Janet answers his unasked question with a sly expression. It makes him turn his head once more to look at the woman he saw nursing the same drink but finds her drained glass on the countertop as the only proof she was ever there. “Mhmm. It hasn’t been five minutes since she left.” She punctuates her statement with a pointed look. He only blinks in response and it has her tilting her head in the direction of the door and gesturing towards it. He just looks at the door and then back at her with a slightly confused expression. “O’ hell. Follow her out, thank her or see if she’s interested, whatever. Go!”
He finally gets a move on but by the time he’s out the door, he only gets to see the taillights of a vehicle driving away in the night. His shoulders feel heavy as he makes his way back into the diner and he isn’t sure why, especially when he wasn’t even sure what he was about to do. He shakes his head as he sits and asks Janet if the woman is a regular.
“Been here a few times this past month, maybe two. But no, not really.” He notices the teasing look she gives him before she asks, “Ain’t she pretty?”
He ducks his head but it’s not enough to hide the flush of his cheeks. Because she is. He only caught her profile but somehow, he’s sure.
Alone in the Bed and Breakfast, he tears a piece of paper from the pad on the nightstand and with the pen, starts sketching lines and curves he hasn’t dabbled in since the war. He’s a little rusty, so to speak, but when he leans back and adds a few finishing touches, he’s convinced he’s at least been able to capture the woman’s profile rather accurately. Despite the surprise at absently having sketched the woman, he finds himself wanting to change her expression, wanting to make her smile to lift the somber look she has. But he’d used ink. Maybe next time.
It’s about a week later when he sees her again. He’s sitting at an outdoor cafe when he hears a faint honk. He looks up and there she is, riding a bike through town with fresh produce piled in the front basket. It may have been dark that night but he can’t mistake that face, that profile as she passes by. She’s in a white sleeveless sundress with blue accents that he imagines brings out her eyes, if they were blue. Her dark hair is up in a messy ponytail, the shorter strands escaping the hold and whipping in the wind, behind her and around her neck and shoulders. He’s too much in awe of her that by the time he’s coherent enough to call out to her she’s long gone. When he looks down, he finds himself clutching the teaspoon he was just using to stir sugar into his coffee. He pats the breast pocket on his leather jacket to check that the cardholder is still there — the one he purchased for the sole purpose of securing the folded piece of drawing he finished that night last week.
Not long after, he asks the waitress about the nearest art supplies store and purchases a sketchpad along with a few pencils. It doesn’t take long for him to require new ones. Because he’s missed recreating memories and sceneries from his mind’s eye. But more importantly, because every time he starts to wish they never found and thawed him out, he sketches her . Imagined scenarios where she’s smiling openly; other times he imagines actually seeing her face — bare of make-up, much like he’s seen her that day as she rode past him.
Today, he draws her again but she’s more relaxed, flat on her stomach, smiling at him with sleepy eyes and her mussed hair falling down her bare back down to clean, white sheets, stopping on her hips just below the dimples on her lower back.
After he gets out of his trance and sees the finished product, his eyes widen and he drops the pencil before he bolts from his bed, grabs his jacket, and takes his bike out for a ride, destination unknown. He’s blinking back tears when he catches sight of dim neon lights nearby and parks. He stays on his bike, staring off into the darkness.
He feels guilty whenever his mind wanders off to places with the woman, places where everything should be perfect except he feels like he’s somehow defiling what’s left of his memory of his apparently distant past.
He wasn’t supposed to be drawing imagined scenarios with a stranger; he should have lived through them. With Peggy.
But the universe is full of surprises.