“Curve ball, high and outside for ball one. So the Dodgers are tied, 4-4.”
Steve slowly woke to the sound of a radio, and for a moment it was like he was in a fog as he listened. Baseball. Dodgers. He’d been having a dream, a good dream about being back with Buck and Viv. A dream of being home.
“And the crowd well knows that with one swing of his bat, this fellow’s capable of making it a band-new game again.”
Steve’s brow furrowed slightly and he tilted his head more toward the radio as the voice continued, “Just an absolutely gorgeous day here at Ebbets Field. The Phillies have managed to tie it up at 4-4, but the Dodgers have three men on.”
Glancing around him, Steve saw that he was in a room somewhere. He had been changed out of his Captain America uniform and into some khakis, SSR shirt, and also boots. He was laying in bed with boots on. Hell, he wasn’t even laying in bed. He was laying on the bed, on top of the blankets. Carefully and slowly sitting up, Steve then frowned further as the radio continued, “Pearson beaned Reiser in Philadelphia last month. Wouldn’t the youngster like a hit here to return the favor? Pete leans in. Here’s the pitch. Swung on. A line to the right. And it gets past Rizzo.”
Steve felt like his entire body was tensing up the more he heard from the radio. Staring at it confusion, Steve glared as the radio continued, “Three runs will score! Reiser heads to third. Durocher’s going to wave him in. Here comes the relay, but they won’t get him.”
Glancing up at the door as a woman walked in, Steve braced himself for a fight. None of this was right, and he had no idea who had him. Had the enemy managed to get him after he’d crashed the plane?
“Good morning,” she said with a smile. She then glanced at her watch, “Or should I say afternoon?”
“Where am I?” Steve asked, trying to keep himself calm.
“You’re in a recovery room in New York City,” she replied.
“The Dodgers take the lead, 8-4. Oh, Dodgers!” Steve glanced away from her to glance at the radio as it continued, “Everyone is on their feet. What a game we have here today, folks. What a game, indeed.”
“Where am I really?” Steve demanded, flicking his gaze back to her.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she replied nervously.
“The game,” Steve bit out. “It’s from May, 1941. I know, ‘cause I was there.”
The woman’s expression immediately faltered and Steve slowly stood up from the bed, moving forward as he insisted, “Now, I’m going to ask you again. Where am I?”
“Captain Rogers…” she began as the door opened behind her.
“Who are you?” Steve demanded.
Armed men then came through the door and Steve thought about it for about five seconds before he moved into action. A kick to the chests sent both men flying through the wall, the whole thing falling apart like it was made of paper. Running out, Steve didn’t understand what he was seeing as he saw a much larger room and screens with footage of New York on them. Turning, he decided he didn’t really care and just ran, ignoring the agent shouting for him to wait.
Pushing through the door, he rushed out into a lobby where dozens of people were, wanting to curse as he heard loudly overhead, “I repeat. All agents, code 13!”
Turning and running, Steve shoved people out of his way before running out of the building and onto the busy street. Once he was there, he glanced back and forth, not recognizing any of the cars before he just picked a direction and ran. He jogged to a stop though as he came to an intersection and he realized with a shock that there were so many lights and ads everywhere. Some of those images were moving. Color images were moving. Where was the projector for the images? How were they so high up? Noise was coming from everywhere and he felt nauseous. It was too much.
Cars began pulling up as people stared at him. Bracing himself for the unknown, Steve watched as his escape routes were blocked and a man got out of one of the vehicles while shouting, “At ease, soldier!”
The man was bald and had an eye patch. His entire outfit was head to toe black and while he wasn’t in any uniform, Steve could tell this man was in charge of something. He had that kind of presence to him, and there was at least a dozen people in suits who’d just let him walk forward while they kept what appeared to be civilians at bay.
“Who are you?” Steve demanded.
“Colonel Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the man announced, moving closer still. “You would have known us as the Strategic Scientific Reserve.”
“Where am I?” Steve asked.
“46th and Broadway,” Fury said, glancing back and forth.
Frowning, Steve glanced around, stunned by that information. He knew that part of New York. He’d been there before with Viv and Buck. Not very often, but he’d been there, and this looked nothing like what he remembered. None of it did.
“I’m sorry about that little show back there, but we didn’t know what your mental state might be, so we thought it best to break it to you slowly.”
Glancing back at Fury, Steve demanded, “Break what?”
“You’ve been asleep, Cap,” Fury said after a beat. “For almost 70 years.”
Steve felt his stomach clench and his heart ache at that. Almost seventy years. The number seventy filled his mind and consumed his senses and he felt his breathing increase. Forcing himself to stay calm once again, he steadied himself before he, almost breathlessly, asked, “How am I still alive?”
“Well, to be honest with you, we don’t really know,” Fury said with a sigh. “My docs say it was suspended animation. Could be Erskine’s formula, the extreme cold. Maybe a combination of the two. I don’t know.”
Steve took deep, calming breaths, forcing himself to stay focused as he asked, “What about the war? Did we win?”
“Hell yes! Unconditional surrender,” Nick Fury said proudly. “Taking down Hydra was a big part of that.” Fury then looked him dead on, “But the world hasn’t changed all that much. There’s still a lot of work to be done. A soldier’s work.”
Steve felt his heart sink. Of course that’s what Fury wanted, what S.H.I.E.L.D wanted. They didn’t give a shit about Steve Rogers. No, they wanted Captain America. And he’d gotten so close to just being done with fighting.
“The world can still use a man like you, Cap,” Fury added.
Cap. He hadn’t called him Steve or Rogers or Steve Rogers once. Just cap or soldier. And maybe that was all that was left of him. Half of him had died with Vivian and the other half had fallen into that deep ravine with Bucky. Swallowing hard as Fury held out his hand, Steve took it, clasped it tightly as he wondered whether those thoughts would consume him.
“There’s a place here for you,” Fury said.
Their hands then fell to their sides and Steve glanced around again, wondering why he hadn’t been allowed to join Viv and Buck in the afterlife, why he’d been stuck here on Earth without them seventy years in the future.
“Sure you’re all right?” Fury asked casually.
Steve wanted to scream, wanted to sob, wanted to punch that man for even asking such a stupid question. Of course he wasn’t all right. Of course he wasn’t. He’d lost everyone and the places that used to be home now felt like they were from some far off land in a story. This wasn’t his New York. These weren’t his streets. This wasn’t his home.
“Yeah,” Steve lied after a pause. “Yeah, I just…I had a date.”
“C’mon, let’s get you back to the headquarters. Call it a mission debrief,” Fury insisted, waving him over.
Steve reluctantly followed, getting into the back of an SUV after the door was opened for him. The seats in the vehicle were leather, and he frowned at the buckles. The agent who got into the seat next to him cleared his throat before explaining, “Oh, right, sorry. That’s a seatbelt. They became standard in cars in the late 1950s. You’re supposed to buckle yourself in. It’s the law.”
The agent then made a show of buckling his own seatbelt to the point where Steve almost wanted to just tie the damn thing in a knot just to annoy the man, but instead Steve buckled himself in. The drive back to the building he’d run away from was otherwise quiet and once they got there, he was ushered to an elevator. The elevator ride was then silent and once they reached the floor, Steve found himself back outside again, but this time on the roof. A helicopter was parked and Fury announced, “Now, since you don’t seem to appreciate a good show, I’m going to tell you now that the destination that helicopter is going to is known as the retreat.”
“What’s that?” Steve asked with a frown.
“A cabin,” Fury confessed. “It’s secluded and if you agree, we can send you there to…acclimate.”
“Do I have a choice?” Steve demanded.
Fury shrugged, “In a way, yes. You can either stay in one of the rooms here until we think you won’t have a breakdown from seeing more of the modern age, or you can go to the cabin.”
Sighing, Steve frowned before relenting, “I’ll go to the cabin.”
“Good. These agents will get you settled,” Fury insisted, walking toward the helicopter.
Steve followed, getting in and securing himself. The pilot handed him a headset. Steve put them onto his head and touched the odd piece that was coming from one of the ears. Everything was muffled, but then he glanced up in surprise as he could hear the agent next to him perfectly as he said, “That’s a microphone. If you need anything, just talk into it. We’ll be at the cabin in a little over an hour. My name’s Agent Tanner.”
“Understood, and nice to meet you, Agent,” Steve said, staring at the window and forcing himself to focus on the sky and the scenery. Unfortunately within minutes of glancing down toward the ground from that high up, all he could picture was Bucky falling, screaming and reaching for him. Blinking back tears and glancing at his lap instead, Steve wished he had something to busy his hands and his mind with. Something. Anything. Instead all he could do was clench them tightly and close his eyes. He didn’t want to sleep, just wanted to clear his mind, to push aside the thoughts that kept creeping forward.
The only thing he could think of that wasn’t connected to the things he wasn’t ready to face yet were those damn U.S.O. shows. The choreography. The dumb song. Knocking out Hitler over 200 times. He pictured the tour through the states, picturing a select few stops in as much vivid detail as he could until noise crackled in his ears.
“We’re landing and it might be a little bumpy, so brace yourself.”
Steve glanced up and took a deep breath, calming himself as the helicopter landed with only the slightest bit of turbulence. It had felt like nothing. Then again, it would after crashing headfirst into the ice. Unbuckling, Steve took off the headset and handed it up to the pilot before he got out of the craft. They’d landed in a clearing in a wooded area and there was a cabin. A pristine lake lay before it and it all looked like some piece of art come to life.
The agent went forward and unlocked the door with his thumbprint. Steve followed inside and almost felt comforted by it. It was warm, cozy even. There was a couch in front of an odd item, a small kitchen area, and a couple of doors.
“The door on the left is to a bathroom. Toilet, shower, and tub. The door on the right is a bedroom. That phone on the wall has a sheet of numbers next to it if you want to contact someone specifically. However, if you don’t know who you need to talk to about something, you can just dial ‘0’ and someone will help you out,” Agent Tanner explained.
Steve nodded, moving toward the phone and frowning at it. It didn’t look like any phone he recognized, but he guessed he’d figure it out as he went along.
Agent Tanner seemed to pick up on his discomfort though and announced, “The shelf has a whole assortment of instruction manuals on it to help you catch up with the shift in technology, including the television in front of the couch.” He then moved toward the kitchen and explained, “The fridge is stocked, and there’s a number by the phone of who to call if you need more supplies if you want to verbally let someone know if you like. If you get comfortable with the tablet, you can also digitally make requests.”
“Tablet?” Steve frowned.
“Right,” Agent Tanner sighed. “You didn’t have those back then. Let’s see, uh, a tablet is a very small computer. If you like, I can stay and help you figure a few things out.”
“Is there an instruction manual for it?” Steve asked, trying to be as polite as possible.
“Yes, sir,” Agent Tanner replied eagerly.
“Then I should be fine,” Steve said, eager for the conversation and the interaction with this awkward agent to end.
“Right, of course,” Agent Tanner said with a smile. After a few more moments of pause, Steve glanced over at the agent only for the other man’s eyes to widen as he stammered, “Oh, right. I’ll get out of your hair. If you need anything at all, sir, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you,” Steve said honestly.
Agent Tanner then started to leave before he paused and confessed, “Sir, I just wanted to say that…it’s been an honor to meet you.”
Steve didn’t know what to say, so he just shook the man’s hand before watching him leave. As soon as the door was shut, Steve pulled off his boots and set them next to the front door. Once he did that, he then headed over to the fridge and opened it, revealing so much food that he thought he might faint. The icebox had even more food. Thick slabs of meat, boxes of ice cream, and all sorts of things that made him feel the slight edges of panic gripping at him.
Shutting the door to that, Steve then headed into the bedroom, sighing as he saw that at least beds still looked normal. Sure, the bed looked a hell of a lot nicer than he was used to, but it still just looked like a bed. The dressers also looked expensive, but still what he was used to. At least not everything had changed in the future. Pulling open the drawers, he let his hands run over soft fabric, touching everything until he jerked back, sitting heavily on the bed as a memory slammed into him.
Steve blinked back tears as he remembered that day. Viv had shown up with those suits she’d gotten from their neighbors, had given them each one. They’d danced in the sunlight, and they’d been happy. Steve could hear her laughter, could smell her perfume, could feel her as they moved around the room.
Before he knew it, tears were streaming down his face and he lay on the bed, curling up and letting himself cry in a way that he hadn’t allowed himself to cry in years. All that time denying himself, forcing down his heart for fear of how painful it would be to lose Vivian, and here he was. Even after she was gone in the war, he’d pushed it down, focused on the fighting, focused on Bucky, told himself he didn’t have the right to mourn her like Bucky was. He had to stay strong for Bucky, keep a strong front for their team. He’d started to let go after Bucky died, and then he’d laser focused.
He’d given himself a new task, a way to get back to them, but he’d failed. Somehow he was still alive, and living without her was more painful than he could have ever imagined. It was just him. It was just him alone with his grief and the ache that had grown inside him like a sickness, clinging to every inch of his body, blanketing him in suffering.
It was just him left and he hated it.