He doesn’t remember everything, and maybe that should bother him more. The private psychologist Tony Stark arranged for him -- “No offense to SHIELD, but would you trust ‘em with what’s in here?” he’d said, tapping Steve’s temple -- explains that it’s normal, though. As normal as it can be for someone who’d been frozen in ice for 70 years, as far as anyone can guess, anyhow.
He’s read up on the internet, and yes, some memory loss isn’t unusual for people who’ve been in comas for years, and that’s the closest thing. Tony pats his shoulder, tells him he’s blanked whole seasons of his own life, that nobody remembers every moment, so that’s reassuring.
He remembers major events and significant people; Peggy Carter, Bucky, the Commandos, and Tony’s father, Howard. Not a lot about his childhood, though what he does recall matches up with the biographies he’s read compiled from interviews with those who knew him back then. The nuns said he was a good kid, but stubborn.
He supposes someday the blanks might be filled in, but maybe not.
Tony reminds him to be patient, and not to dwell on the gaps too much in the meantime. “You can make new memories now, Cap. You’re lucky to be here.”
Steve knows Tony’s right. He does feel lucky, if a little lost at times. He has a new team: Tony and Bruce and Clint and Natasha, and sometimes Thor. And maybe it’s better for his mental health that he doesn’t feel extreme grief over everyone who’s gone now. He looks at footage of Howard Stark and of himself with Peggy’s picture in his compass, reads over her file again, and he feels...he’s not sure what he feels, exactly. He cared about them, once. He knows that’s true.
“I feel like...it’s a shame I wasn’t there for them all, I guess,” he confides to Tony, and Tony nods slowly, searching his eyes.
“That’s logical,” he says. “Understandable, I mean.”
Colonel Fury is impressed by how quickly Steve picks up the world wide web and technology, and things as simple as electronic subway passes, but Steve assumes that it’s the serum; he was always a faster learner with it. He wasn’t a dim bulb as a kid, but the serum sure sharpened everything. Folks who knew him back before the ice have said so, too. He was good at tactical decisions during the war, they claim in the books.
Tony isn’t surprised at all. “Knew he’d be a fast learner,” he says, resting a warm hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“Good job, Stark,” Fury says, and Steve wants to say that it’s really JARVIS supplying everything he could possibly want to learn at any time of day that’s the biggest help, but he supposes that Tony’s ultimately responsible for that anyhow, since JARVIS is his invention.
Steve likes the way it feels, for someone to pat his shoulder like that and feel proud of him. He sees similar sentiments in the reverent biographies, of course, and the respect he receives walking the halls at SHIELD, but it’s different somehow, coming from Tony and Colonel Fury. It’s not like the way Agent Coulson reacted to him, like he was more of an icon than a real person.
After they’d got off to a rocky start, he’d been impressed by Iron Man’s sacrifice, and glad that it wasn’t final. And then he’d discovered that it was a Stark Enterprises research ship that had found him under the ice, and that Tony had made sure the public didn’t know Captain America had been resurrected. He’d even handled all of the medical stuff after he’d been recovered, and had meant to sit with Steve when he’d woken up, but he’d been on a mission in the Middle East and Fury had set up that mock 1940’s hospital off Times Square, just in case.
Tony had had words with Colonel Fury over the hospital setting later. Steve had heard them the day they met again to see Loki off earth.
The funny thing is, the book written by Gabe Jones talks about that ballgame, and how he and Steve had once hunkered down during an air raid and reminisced over both being there when they hadn’t even known each other. “Sloppy,” Tony calls the choice of broadcast, rolling his eyes, and Steve really can’t argue with that.
Tony's kind enough to offer Steve a whole floor in his tower. The floor is even decorated with a 1940s theme, just for him.
“I didn’t expect you to do that,” Steve tells him when he sees the console radio and period sepia prints blown up and artfully framed on the walls. “I don’t need any of these things.” I don’t remember this anyway, he doesn’t add, and Tony nods and agrees, but says he hoped the surroundings might make Steve feel closer to his roots, whatever that means.
Steve actually likes Tony’s workshop better; it’s oddly homey for a place full of modern technology. He’s dropped off to sleep there in the evening a few times, watching Tony work. He might go down later today, but he’ll have to remember to let Tony know he’s coming. Early this morning he’d stopped by and found him in the middle of something, but he’d startled at Steve’s approach and tripped over some things, and all of his screens had shut down at once. Steve had apologized, but Tony said everything was all right, that he didn’t mind. “Just don’t sneak up on me like that, Cap,” he’d added, with a tiny smile.
He’d left with another apology, and heard JARVIS remark drily to Tony that he hadn’t been programmed to be a doorman-slash-receptionist, and Steve had grinned at that. JARVIS was pretty amazing. He wasn’t dumb, but he couldn’t pretend to comprehend the brilliance that had gone into designing something like that. JARVIS keeps Steve company when no one’s around to talk to, suggests books to read and films he can watch from a special playlist, even. It’s almost like he’s human.
He compliments Tony on JARVIS. He's aware of what Howard Stark had been working on in the 1940s, and though the Vita-ray machine and his shield were certainly marvels of technology, a computer that can think and even predict human emotion is just...incredible. Tony beams.
Steve recalls that Pepper used to be Tony’s...he isn’t sure what, exactly. Assistant? Then she’d become his CEO. They used to date, but she’d been in the Tower less and less, and Steve remembers overhearing an argument from outside the workshop, Pepper saying something about all Tony’s focus going towards his work. ”You care more about all of this, all of your goddamned projects, than the people who care about you,” she’d said. He wants to go in and dispute this; Tony had spent the day with him, not working on technology, but JARVIS suggests that it “wouldn’t be helpful” to interrupt, so Steve quietly goes back to his floor. He hardly sees Pepper at all after that. It’s too bad; she was always friendly and efficient, and she’s pretty, to boot. She’s even on the cover of Fortune magazine in the lounge, and she doesn’t look any different to Steve than the models on the cover of the fashion magazines next to it. JARVIS says she’s still in charge of the company, and living in California.
It’s been a long day, with a visit to SHIELD for debriefs over the latest messy problem the Avengers had to deal with. He doesn’t even want to eat, even though the last time he remembers sitting down to a meal was yesterday sometime, and he can’t even recall what it was. So he just pushes food around his plate, thinks it’s too bad that he’s wasting it, and goes to his quarters to lie down.
Steve goes to bed at nearly the same time every night. The others poke fun, call him Grandpa, but he figures maybe he needs the sleep because of the serum -- another thing he can’t exactly remember.
Tonight though, he can’t rest. His skin feels tight, hot, and itchy, then ice cold. He checks the digital thermostat, but it’s set at 70F. He gets back into bed and pulls up the covers with a whimper.
“Captain?”It’s JARVIS, and Steve startles. “Are you quite all right?”
“Cold,” he mumbles.
“I am monitoring your vitals and they are not out of normal range.”
But Steve flashes hot again. It’s nearly unbearable, and he flops on his back, gasping. Something is very wrong. “Might need...a doctor,” he manages.
The next thing he knows, Tony’s there in his room rushing to his side, his tablet falling to the floor. He cradles Steve’s head in his hands, runs fingers to the back of his neck and that’s the last thing he remembers before everything goes dark.
Steve blinks awake and sits up, and Tony’s right there, poking at the tablet, which he hurriedly sets aside. “Better?” Tony asks, and Steve nods. Tony’s hand comes up again, fingertips again brushing tenderly over the skin on the back of his neck. Steve turns his head, and he’s not sure why he does it; maybe it’s because it’s what they do in movies, maybe it’s something else, but it seems like the thing to do then -- to lean forward, press his lips to Tony’s. Tony stiffens and a moment later when Steve leans back, he’s staring at him, shocked.
“Why did you do that?” Tony asks, and Steve...doesn’t know how to explain. He doesn’t remember kissing Peggy, or the blonde in London HQ, though he knows he did. It’s in the biographies.
“I wanted to make a new memory,” Steve says, finally. Tony says nothing, he just takes Steve’s hand and holds it for a while, fingertips running over the curves of his knuckles, over and over.
Steve goes to bed early every night. He wakes every morning at the crack of dawn and feels great. He knows he was a sickly kid, and he feels grateful for the ability to bound out of bed fresh as a daisy as Tony complains about the light and the hour and asks where the coffee is. Steve doesn’t care for it, but fetches a steaming mug for Tony, who accepts it gratefully.
“What did I ever do before I had you?” he asks, and Steve shrugs.
“Get your own coffee?”
While he brushes his teeth, his gaze roams to his own bare shoulder and notes that the scrapes he’d sustained in yesterday’s battle are gone; he pokes at the flesh, but he’s completely healed. Tony’s right. He’s lucky. So lucky to be here, to be alive.
On the upper east side, there is a nondescript brownstone with high security and a big steel-core door leading to the basement, and in one corner of that basement sits a freezer compartment set to -8 degrees F. The real Steve Rogers is here, still frozen, cells irreparably damaged by decades in the ice. Serum notwithstanding, people die, despite the best efforts of modern science. Captain America will never wake up.
The man who’d cracked his eyes to the slant of sunlight and the wrong baseball game (he knows it was wrong, Gabe’s book says so) walks the streets of Manhattan and battles evil and carries his face, and he’s Captain America now. He’s a nearly perfect copy, a bio-enhanced Life Model Decoy with AI settings, programmed by hand, and Tony Stark is very proud of the way he’s turned out.