The last thing Sharon Carter remembered was an overall feeling of lightheadedness.
She reasoned that explained why she was laying on the hardwood floor. She had passed out. That was surely the reason. As she pressed herself into a seating position, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was incredibly wrong.
It’s dusty, she thought as she surveyed the floor and counters. Before she had fallen, the counters had been pristine. She knew this because she had been the one to clean them, choosing to take out her anger at Steve and world by scrubbing down the counters and the hardwood floors. The television that had been on was now off, and when she walked to flip the light switch on the closest wall, nothing happened. She tried to listen for the familiar hum of electricity, but heard nothing.
He hands drifted down to her belly, the still small bump that only those who knew about her pregnancy would notice. It had become something of an unconscious move, a dangerous tell for someone in her profession.
“Everyone is going to figure out your secret if you keep doing that,” Sam had once told her, more in jest than an actual serious warning. He, not Steve, had been the first to know, if only because he had been the one to discover her having a panic attack in the bathroom, positive test in hand.
Sharon walked around the cabin, taking note of everything that was missing. There was no food in the refrigerator. The bedroom was sparse, and her clothing was gone. She looked under the food, for the small box that contained the few baby items Steve had ferreted away — a onesie, a stuffed bear. Like everything else, it was missing.
Panic coursed through her veins, and she settled on the dust-covered bed to calm herself. Her first hysterical, irrational thought was that she was a ghost. Realizing that was silly, she decided that whatever was going on had to do with the monster that Steve and the others had gone to fight, the same battle that had prompted Steve to beg her to stay behind.
“You’re not going.”
“Like hell I’m not!”
“I can’t be Captain America if you’re there,” Steve had told her, voice pleading. His hands had ghosted under her shirt, warm over her belly. Sharon had thought he was playing dirty. “I won’t be able to concentrate if you’re nearby. I won’t be able to be Captain America. And the world needs me to be Captain America. Please, Sharon, please.”
So she had relented. Not for Steve, no, but for everyone else. She had never been the girl to stay behind, but there was something in Steve’s voice that had been a little bit afraid, and she knew better than anyone that Captain America needed to be on top of his game.
As she curled on the cold bed, alone and confused, she regretted that decision. She allowed herself a moment to cry, attributing the reaction to hormones and not the overwhelming sense of loss. She had no idea what had become of Steve and the others. Were they even alive?
Wiping her eyes, Sharon weighed her options. She could stay and hope someone came for her, but it was clear the cabin had been cleared out some time ago. The only people who would even know she was here were Steve, Sam, Natasha, and Wanda, and since Sharon didn’t know of their statuses, she couldn’t count on them. In most crises, finding shelter and clean drinking water were a priority. Although she had shelter, the quality of the water was dubious.
That left only one option: she needed to leave.
The safe house she had been crashing in was a little over a two mile hike from the road. As she hiked, she took note of the overgrown forest. The area around the cabin had been cleared somewhat, but now the grass was up to her knees. She reached the main road and walked in the direction of the nearest town holding out her thumb when a car passed by. Five vehicles and one hour passed before someone cared enough to slow down.
“Can you give me a lift to the hospital?” Sharon asked. A hospital would have access to television and phones, not to mention medical care. Her hand drifted over her belly if she wondered if the baby growing inside her was affected by whatever had happened.
She thanked the driver when he agreed with her request. She wasn’t afraid of climbing into a truck with a stranger. She had enough training that she could determine six different ways to kill him if need be. As she buckled her seatbelt, Sharon assessed her would-be rescuer — no older than fifty, clearly hiding a head of balding hair under a knitted cap, Catholic, if she were to judge the rosary hanging from the mirror.
“Why are you here by yourself?” the man asked in thickly accented English and a tone that hinted concern more than accusation.
“I woke up and it was like I was in the middle of The Walking Dead . The electricity in my house was off and all my clothes were gone,” Sharon answered, opting to go with honesty. The truth would be the best way to get a clear answer for everything that had happened.
The man jerked his head to look at her, really look at her, before turning back to the road. His knuckles tightened on the wheel. “It’s— it’s true then. You’re one of them. The Disappeared. They’re back.”
“I don’t understand. The Disappeared?”
The man informed her of what the Avengers had apparently told the world five years ago: an alien being named Thanos did something that wiped away half the population of every living entity. His answer was worse than anything Sharon could have imagined.
“The Avengers. Which ones survived?” Sharon knew she must have sounded crazy to the stranger to ask about the Avengers out of everyone, but she needed to know about Steve. Had he been like her, apparently disappeared from existence? Or has he been living these past five years knowing what he lost?
“Um...well, there was Iron Man, of course. And Captain America came back too. The Americans forgave him for whatever…”
Everything the man said faded to static after that. Five years. Steve hadn’t seen her in five years, and the last time they were together, they had fought. Sharon quickly pushed the window down button, and expelled the contents of her stomach.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. She had made a mess of the side of his truck. “I’m, uh, pregnant.”
“That’s why we’re going to the hospital, huh?”
She hugged her belly. “Yeah. That’s why.”
“You got anyone you want me to call? I can try.”
Touched as she was by his kindness, Sharon couldn’t comprehend even attempting to explain how she needed to get into contact with Steve Rogers; instead, she shook her head and replied, “It’s been five years. I don’t even know where to begin.”
She would figure it out at the hospital.
The ER was a mess when she arrived. People suddenly appearing out of nowhere and getting themselves hurt in a variety of ways. Sharon got herself checked in, and settled in a place where she could watch the news. There appeared to be wall-to-wall coverage about the return of the previously-dead population. There were also reports of a massive battle in upstate New York.
Whatever was happening there, Steve was surely in the thick of it. She couldn’t even contact him if she tried. Trying her best to push the worry for his safety to the back of her mind, she strategized. She was not sure who disappeared, making her wary to rely on cell phone communication. Would they even be working? Email was an option, one which required her gaining access to a computer.
She was called back before she could coax someone into lending her their laptop. Playing the pregnancy card had bumped her up the list, and she flinched when the tech placed the cool gel on her belly for the ultrasound.
“Not bad for five years of gestation, huh?” Sharon joked through the unexpected tears of relief when she heard the rapidfire heartbeat of her baby.
“No, not bad at all,” the other woman replied with a soft smile. “It must be such a shock to you, waking up five years later. Have you been in contact with your friends or loved ones?”
“Not yet. They’re in the States. And I...I wanted to make sure everything was okay with me first.” It wasn’t a lie, but not the complete truth either. Sharon then proceeded to concoct a tale to explain why she was here: that she had been traveling for work, and decided to extend her stay to explore the countryside.
Sharon was sent on her way with numerous sandwiches from the cafeteria, bottles of water, and a canvas bag emblazoned with the hospital’s logo. She wandered around the town, taking in the scenes of family and friends reuniting on the street. With everyone so distracted, she was able to jimmy open a car and began her working on getting it started. Long ago, Sam had commented on how absurd it was that she and Steve both knew how to hotwire a car.
“Oh, Sammy, we can teach you if you want.”
“Yeah, no. If you two get caught, you go to jail. If I am, I get shot. Bad trade.”
However, once Sharon was in the car, she found herself at a loss for the next steps. She had food and water, as well as a half-full tank of gas. Sharon had always prided herself on her skills in a crisis, on how adept she was at handling herself on her own. But as she sat in the stolen car, five years in the future in a country that was not her own, she wished for nothing more than the embrace of the man she loved and the reassuring smiles of her friends.
Tears burned at the corner of her eyes. This time, she didn’t blame them on her hormones, but instead the uncertainty of this path before her. An entire five years had passed. Steve had lived, but she didn’t know the person that he’d become. There was an entire war being fought in New York, and she was a continent away incapable of assisting and with no way of knowing that she’ll see him again.
Sharon found herself driving back in the direction of the cabin. Despite its state, it was a comfort. She could go there again and regroup, do a more thorough check of the place to see what was left over. In the morning, she could set out for a larger city or airport, find a more concrete way to getting to America. Knowing that Steve was alive, she could also leave a note for him if he decided to seek her out if she was already gone. She hadn’t done that the first time.
She noticed more cars on the road as she drove back to the forest, likely people trying to reunite with their families. Her own parents had died years ago. Peggy had been her closest relative, resembling of a grandmother than a distant aunt, but she was also gone. Her family for the past two years — or seven, she thought hysterically — had been her boyfriend and the rest of the Secret Avengers.
Wanda had given them that nickname, the Secret Avengers. Steve hadn’t liked the name. Wanda had worried, but Sharon told her that Steve was a big boy and could get over it. Everyone else had liked it, so the moniker had stuck. Now, the Secret Avengers appeared to be no more, once again a united front with the Avengers Prime. Sharon wondered how Tony and Steve had made peace.
She pulled the car to the side of the road, belatedly realizing that she would have to leave it behind. She hoped that no one else would think to steal it. She didn’t want to hitchhike again. She took a deep breath, forehead falling against the steering wheel. She was frazzled and not thinking options through to the best of her ability, operating on emotion instead of logic.
The fact of the matter was that she was undeniably afraid of what she would discover when she investigated the past five years. She realized that this was, on a small scale, what Steve had suffered when he awoke from the ice. Five years was small potatoes compared to more than sixty, and yet some struggles would be harder. The number of changes had forced him to move on because there was no use lingering in the past. Too much was different, too many loved one gone. But if everything was similar, just a tiny bit off, how easy would that be?
As she hiked through the woods and back to the cabin, she tried not to dwell on her relationship with Steve. He could have moved on from her, and if he thought she was dead, she would want that. At least, that was what she wanted from him in abstract. The reality was that she hoped desperately nothing changed — a naive desire, for even if he were unattached things would still be different — for their child’s sake more than hers.
Her original plan had been to terminate the pregnancy. Their situation was tenuous and not a good environment for raising a child. But then told Steve and God , his smile had been beautiful. He’d listed a number of reasons why they could do this. They’d stop their Secret Avenging, create fake IDs and settle down somewhere. They could talk T’Challa into letting them stay in Wakanda.
“If anyone can pull this off, it’s us.”
As she climbed over a downed log, she wondered why she was fool enough to believe him. It was still early enough in the pregnancy for her to terminate, but she had grown...attached, sang to it and pretended to talk to it while she went on her cleaning spree before everything turned to hell.
Night was fast approaching as she worked her way through the woods. She traversed this spot often enough that she knew her way around, but Sharon had no desire to do the task at night. Without electricity, the cabin would be pitch black. That didn’t bother her too much. Her plan for the night was to eat and perhaps collapse into the bed from exhaustion. Despite her anxiety, her body and mind both felt heavy. The pregnancy was already pulling a number on her body.
As she approached the location of the cabin, Sharon fell on alert when she heard the unmistakable noise of a distant shout. Not many people knew about the cabin’s location, and her heart surged. Her first thought was that the battle had ended and Steve had come to find her. Her second thought was, despite the secrecy, someone else had found her.
Indecision warred inside of her. She wanted nothing more than to run straight in the direction of yelling, but caution held her back. Her decision was taken away from her when Sharon heard a snap behind her. She flung her fist back, aiming for a punch. Her arm was immediately grabbed, the metal cool on her bare skin.
“Bucky?” Leave it to the Winter Soldier to catch her by surprise. Sharon took in his appearance. He was covered in dirt and blood. Who the blood belonged to, Sharon didn’t know, and she was afraid to ask.
“He’s alive,” Bucky said, almost as if he could read her mind. He released her arm and gave her a crooked grin that didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Who do you think is the one doing all of the yelling?”
“Oh thank God.” Whether it was a desire for human connection or overwhelming joy, Sharon could not say, but she launched herself at Barnes pulling him into a tight hug. They were never particularly close, he had gone under ice before she had reunited with Steve, which explained why he momentarily froze before awkwardly wrapping his arms around her and squeezing back with surprising ferocity. When she pulled away, she smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. “We should probably go find him. Stop the yelling.”
“I’m sure the wildlife would appreciate the favor.”
Despite their mutual agreement, both stayed rooted in their spots. Sharon crossed her arms. The tears were back, born out of relief, but she still couldn’t shake the worry knotted in her chest. “Were you like me or him?”
“You. Wilson, too.”
“So you’re saying none of us can really say how he’s doing.” And that he’s spent the past five years without his lover and two best friends. She wondered who really suffered the most, those who disappeared or the one left to survive the aftermath.
Bucky shook his head. “No, but we’re not going to find out if we stay here.”
They made their way through the woods, heading in the direction of the yelling. Their gaits were faster, though Sharon knew Bucky was still holding back in order to stay close to her. As they got closer, Sharon could make out her name among the cries, and something inside her chest knotted. Steve’s voice, loud and booming, sounded so incredibly broken...and afraid.
They picked up their pace.
Bucky was the first to bust through the treeline, shouting Steve’s name and waving his right hand to gain his attention. Through the trees, Sharon could see him standing near the cabin with Sam and a man she didn’t recognize who appeared to be wearing a cape.
“I found her!” Bucky called out just as Sharon emerged.
Their eyes met. Her first thought, however absurd, was that he shaved and cut his hair. Her second was how terribly broken he looked. He was grimier than Bucky, covered in mud and sporting an impression abrasion on his cheek. She could see where his mask had been, one side of his face cleaner than the other.
He said something that might have been her name, and she was sure she said his before they bounded to one another. Steve ran to her with superhuman speed, catching her in an embrace that pushed the air from her lungs. She didn’t care.
“You’re alive. You’re alive. You’re alive,” was all he seemed capable of saying as he tangled his fingers in her hair and peppered her head, cheeks, and lips with kisses. He pulled away to look at her with glassy eyes that Sharon was sure matched her own. His thumb traced the apple of her cheek in an attempt to wipe away the tears, but surely only dirtying her face with mud and blood and ash. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”
She kissed him once more, soft and sweet and with none of the intensity she longed to pour into the moment. Not with an audience. For a brief moment, she was taken back to that first kiss in Leipzig, Sam and Bucky watching on with twin smiles. They were currently commiserating among themselves having eventually learned to appreciate privacy. The man in the cape was looking pointedly at the ground.
“Now that we know that Agent Carter is safe and accounted for, we should be returning.”
Steve’s fingers flexed in her hair, but he made no effort to completely disentangle himself. “This is Dr. Strange. He brought us here.”
“Thank you,” Sharon said.
The man nodded before moving his hands and opening a portal to her new world.
Sharon awoke in an unfamiliar bed.
She flexed her fingers against the soft sheets before rolling to her side, away from the sun and the open curtains that allowed the sun to fragment through. When she opened her eyes, Steve was still asleep next to her. The scrape on his cheek was healing, but his bare chest was still marred with ugly, purple bruises. So it wasn’t a dream, Sharon thought with disappointment. She had foolishly hoped that the previous day been an elaborate dream, and that she would awaken in the cabin, not a house in Brooklyn. Sharon had been missing — nonexistent, if she wanted to be technical — for the past five years. The monster who had done this to her and everyone else was dead. Killed first by Thor in a fit of rage, and finally by Tony in a sacrifice meant to protect them all.
When Sharon had stepped through the portal to the ravaged wasteland of what had been the Avengers compound, she had vomited from the shock and horror of the devastation. She had stayed by Steve’s side as he played field commander, checking on the others. He had asked if she wanted to sit down, but Sharon sensed that he was afraid to let her go, so she chose to stay.
She was dead on her feet by the time Strange had opened a portal to Steve’s home. “I found a place in Brooklyn. I’ve been living there most of the time,” Steve had explained to her as they crossed the crackling threshold into the house. She had been both too tired and too overwhelmed to investigate, and she allowed Steve to lead her to the upstairs bathroom. There they shed her clothing and the remains of his tattered uniform before they climbed into the shower to wash away the horrors of the day. There was nothing sexual behind their intentions as hands slid on the other’s skin. They did not make love then nor when they crawled into bed. Doing so would have felt like too much, and Sharon was sure neither of them had the wherewithal to do it and do it well.
Because of this, Sharon allowed Steve to continue sleeping as she slid from the bed. She winced when he bare feet touched the cold floor. Steve had given her a t-shirt and sweatpants to sleep in the night prior, but had forgotten to hand her socks. She didn’t know in which dresser drawer he kept them, and she had no desire to risk waking him, so instead she settled on dealing with cold toes as she crept from the bedroom.
She wandered down the hallway, taking note of a spare bedroom and another room that had been rehabilitated into a studio. Despite the clear indication that he did some art, the upstairs was spartantly decorated. She wondered why. The downstairs wasn’t much better. There were, at least, bookshelves. She wandered into the main room, her attention caught by shelf topped with books and picture frames. The stuffed bear they had purchased together was sitting on the topmost shelf. She gingerly reached to grab it and hugged it close to her chest as she studied the photographs he’d chosen to display: a picture of him and Bucky from the war, one from him and Sam at a ballpark, a portrait of Peggy, and finally, a picture of Sharon and Steve on the beach, his arms wrapped around her waist with both of them grinning at the camera.
Sharon remembered that day clearly: they were on a mission in Thailand. They had been too keyed up from the Hydra base they had crashed to sleep well that night, so a group of them had wandered out to the beach to watch the sunrise. Wanda had taken a photo of them, and Sharon recalled her apprehension at having a physical trail. Steve had told her not to worry so much, and that he wanted a memento of them. To Sharon, that had been six months ago.
Still holding the stuffed bear, she wandered from the living room to the kitchen. She was hungry, and knew Steve would be once he woke. She puttered around the kitchen, looking through the cabinets in search of something they could eat. They were mostly bare.
Sharon debated if she should run out for bagels. She would need to liberate some additional clothes from Steve’s closet and his wallet for cash. That thought alone caused a shot of dread to pump through her veins. In many ways, while the world sorted out how to handle the return of billions, Sharon remained almost entirely dependent on Steve. Her clothes were gone. She her money had to be all tied up, and the cash she had taken on the run long since spent. She gripped the counter top to stabilize herself.
She was too distracted mentally attempting to ward off a panic attack that sense when Steve entered the room, not until she felt a large hand tentatively touch her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she turned to look over at him, struck by the fear and love in his eyes.
“You’re not a dream this time.”
“Not a dream,” Sharon echoed as he pulled her into his embrace.
His kiss tasted of desperation, like this could be the last and he was trying to drink her in, like he was still convinced he was dreaming. His hands skimmed under her shirt, warm against her skin. His thumb moved over her nipples, and she pulled away with a wince. She had a reminder on the tip of her tongue, hadn’t she warned him about the extra sensitivity days ago? But no, to him too much time had passed to remember such a trivial detail, so she swallowed her annoyance and moved in for another kiss.
The sex they had delayed the previous night was now fully in motion. Steve stripped her of her shirt and shuffled her back against the counter. His lips moved from her mouth to her neck as his hands held her hips almost painfully, holding her against him as his arousal pressed firmly against her belly. Steve was firmly in control, and she was just along for the ride.
When he dropped to his knees, she found that she didn’t really mind.
He tugged at her borrowed sweats, and from there he was single-minded in his pursuit. Sharon blindly reached back to brace herself against the counter as his tongue swirled over her clit and pleasure spiked through her veins. Sharon gasped his name when he left go of her ass, and curled a finger inside of her. Once, in Wakanda, he’d laid her out on the bed and eaten her out until she couldn’t see straight. This reminded her of night — his determination to get her off and pleasure he was creating.
When Sharon came, she was sure she saw stairs. Steve carried her through, let her ride it out until she slumped against the counter. She ran a free hand through her hair.
“You’re amazing at that, you know?”
He didn’t say anything in return, only smiled, still looking a bit too awestruck for a normal session. He stood, wincing at the movement. Instantly, Sharon felt guilty. He was still healing. He didn’t need to be crouched on the tile floor.
As if sensing her concern, he shook his head. “Don’t worry. Trust me when I say I enjoyed that.”
He kissed her again, making a show of pushing his hips against hers, presenting his erection as if it were proof enough. Sharon snaked her hand down to touch him, and reveled in the way he hissed when she wrapped her hand around his length.
“How do you want me?” she asked as she pumped him.
“So many ways.” His head fell to her shoulder, clearly enjoying her ministrations. Steve took a shuddering breath. “Turn around. Please?”
She did as she was instructed, bending and bracing her hands once again against the counter. He entered her in one quick thrust, and Sharon cried out. She was suddenly worried about alerting others, careful as she normally was about staying quiet during sex. Then she remembered no one else was around. She could be as loud as she wanted.
Rare were the occasions when they could do this, so openly fuck. Their previous sessions were mostly hurried affairs, both of them trying to remain quiet lest they wake the others. They both loathed the knowing glances from Sam or the playful taunts from Natasha if they stumbled upon one or the other in the aftermath. She was beginning to understand the merits to the house.
He fucked her with an intensity that surprised her, hard and fast that had her gasping with each press of her hips. Normally, he didn’t push her this hard, keeping a cool control over her his strength. Weeks ago, she’d have done anything to see him like this — unrestrained and lost in her body. Be careful what you wish for. It only took her disappearing for five years to get it.
In the end, they both ended up on the tile floor in a tangle of limbs, panting, smiling, and spent. His hand reached for hers and threaded their fingers.
“I like your kitchen,” Sharon said as she looked up at the ceiling. She was an uncomfortable mix of sticky and sweaty, but the cool tile felt nice against her skin.
“It wasn’t like this when I bought the place. I remodeled. It was therapeutic,” Steve answered, perfectly nonchalant. Like he didn’t just fuck her senseless. Like they weren’t suddenly discussing how he worked through devastating tragedy.
Deciding to match his nonchalance, she commented, “It would be better if you actually kept the pantry stocked.”
She nudged his shin with a foot.
“I’ve been a little busy.” He rolled and pushed himself up. “There’s a diner I like a few blocks away. We can get breakfast.”
Suddenly, she was ravenous. He pulled her up in a graceful motion, and he led her back to the bathroom. He let her take the lead on the shower. “If I join you, we’ll never leave.”
Sharon washed quickly. She realized now that she was no longer on the run, she could purchase her favorite soaps and shampoos. She mentally added that on the list of items she would need to buy. When she extracted herself from the shower, Steve had just finished making the bed. He smiled when she saw her.
“I checked the guest bedroom. Natasha kept some clothes here for the odd times she’d stay over. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you…” Steve’s voice caught, and Sharon could pinpoint the exact moment he remembered. Natasha was dead. He had told her yesterday after she had inquired after her on the battlefield. She hadn’t allowed herself to cry then. She wouldn’t now. She wouldn’t break before Steve. “Okay, well, I’m going to take a shower and we can get breakfast, yeah?”
“I’ll be fine, Sharon.”
He wasn’t fine, but Sharon learned a long time ago that she couldn’t force him to open up. Instead, she silently watched him walk into the bathroom before exiting to the guest room. Knowing Natasha had occasionally slept here cast a pall over the room. Sharon could picture her in every corner.
She didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.
In their line of work, death was always a possibility. Dying on the job, at times, seemed more likely than at home in their beds. They all knew the risks, and still signed up for the task. That knowledge didn’t make the losses hurt any less.
Her hands were shaking when she opened the dresser drawers to a small array of clothing. Sharon grabbed the first pair of pants and a shirt she could find, not wanting to spend time digging through her dead friend’s clothing. The clothes fit more snugly than she would prefer, and without a bra Sharon was sure she was doing her best Jennifer Anniston circa Friends impression, but it worked until she could figure out how to expand her own closet. One of the first items on the list would have to be an outfit for the funerals she would have to attend.
Perhaps that was why he found her sitting on the edge of the bed, face buried in her hands as she cried. He said nothing, but took a seat next to her, rubbing a hand up and down her back.
“I’m sorry.” She wiped the tears from the corner of her eyes. She could count the number of times she had cried in front of him on her hands. “I think it’s just hitting me and hormones and — ”
“There’s nothing to apologize about,” Steve assured her. He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “She was our friend.”
“And she gone.”
“Yeah. She’s gone.” Steve’s arms tightened around Sharon, pulling her in a full-blown hug. “She would have been happy to know it wasn’t in vain. That’s what I’m trying to remind myself. Out of all of us, she was the one trying the hardest to find a way to bring everyone back. And, in a way, she did.”
That didn’t make her death sound any more fair. In fact, it made it all the more worse. Sharon was sure Steve felt the same way. They stayed holding one another until Sharon was sure she could cry no more.