When Steve Rogers woke up, his head full of memories of ice and falling and cold and fear, he thought he was dreaming at first.
It didn't feel real – didn't look real – didn't even smell real.
The game on the radio was years old; the fabrics on the bed and on his skin felt strange; there was old New York noise coming in the open window, but... something about it sounded off. Why was the window open? No hospital room he knew of would be set up like this, and the woman who walked into the room was just wrong in every way.
Her hair wasn't right; her clothes were like an ill-fitting mismatch of mistakes; her voice and words didn't sound anything like what a real nurse might say. She was simultaneously coolly distant and too smilingly reassuring and that alone would have put him on edge if he wasn't already off the metaphorical building. She was watching him carefully, but not with care, and she stood like she thought he might attack or run at any moment.
And he knew that if he was really in a hospital in New York, there was no way in hell that he would have been left to be greeted by this woman he'd never seen before even if she was a nurse. (Bucky was... gone now, but...) The Commandos would never have let him wake up alone. Where was Peggy? Where was Howard? They were all busy people, but there'd be some sign of them – a deck of cards, an ashtray, something. Anything.
At the very least the nurse would have had some sort of message from them to tell him immediately after waking up. Something like:
You fucking moron.
Crashing a plane in the arctic? What next? How do you keep finding these stupid stunts to pull? We'd write more, but Peggy's called prerogative on kicking your ass for this. If we're not here, it's probably because we're off winning the war without you or have gotten in a bar fight again. Cnl Phillips says 'get your lazy ass out of bed already' but that's probably his version of 'get better soon'.
the Howling Commandos.”
“Where am I really?” Steve demands of the nurse, pointing out their most obvious mistake (the baseball game, he'd been there) slowly moving to his bare feet.
Her answer gets as caught in the lie as she does.
Steve Rogers, although he had always refused to do it, could run like hell even when he'd been a skinny little twerp with asthma. He'd nearly wheeze his lungs out afterwards, which was always awful and he'd been convinced he was going to die more than a few times, but it'd been a necessity with the kind of shit that he and Bucky had gotten up to on a regular basis.
Bucky had had this rule about being caught by the cops, in that 'it shouldn't happened, damn it, Steve, we could go to jail for dumb crap like this, you stupid-'. This didn't mean that Bucky hadn't done the dumb crap, hadn't gleefully encouraged Steve to do the dumb crap, or actually disapproved of the dumb crap, it was just that Bucky was really against getting caught for it.
He'd even had this rant about how easily Steve could die in prison or something that Steve had always preferred to just run from than listen to again, because it had seemed to get longer and more elaborate every time.
Steve Rogers with the super-soldier serum, even disoriented and directionless, could really, really run.
“Wow. Somebody call Ussain Bolt and tell him he's out of a job,” Maria Hill said to Phil Coulson, one impeccable eyebrow raised as she watched the tapes of Steve Rogers breaking out of the SHIELD facility he'd been brought to. “He made our agents look like sloths on pot brownies.”
Then, having realized what she'd just said, turned around to the agents who had completely failed to contain Captain America and were rather desperate to somehow get their way back into the good graces of someone on the upper-rungs of the SHIELD ladder. One of them was already dialing, while another one hastily hid their cell phone behind their back at the deputy director's glare.
“Sanchez, do not actually call Ussain Bolt.”
Maria turned back to the screens and watched Captain America run along the wall past one SHIELD security agent and then somersault over two others, hitting the ground already running. The screen had to switch cameras fairly quickly, given how fast he cleared hallways, and Maria made a mental note to give the person who'd compiled this video a commendation of some sort. The recorded image of Captain America doing a sliding twist (that reminded her of the limbo contest at Clint's last birthday party actually, goddamn Nat) past two guards was incredibly smooth (like the slide itself) – much more coherent and better put together than the crap she usually had to watch.
“This is the best part,” Phil murmurs, as Captain America beats an entire team of security to the front doors through pure speed, breaking through the glass with ease. Apparently getting to see his hero in action beats being disappointed he's unable to meet him and ask for an autograph.
Maria Hill watches as the cameras switch to their outside ones, and then to the ones on the streets, as Captain America just books it straight down the street. (Seriously, really flawless editing job here, she's going to find this person and give them a raise.) He leaves the agents scrambling to put together a perimeter in his dust, sprinting barefoot down the streets of New York towards Times Square.
He stops for a moment in Times Square, staring wide-eyed at the bright lights and flashy displays of the famous landmark, with SHIELD agents scurrying all about trying to contain him again while he's finally not running like the hounds of hell are after him. Unfortunately for them, he doesn't stop for more than five seconds before he seems to notice their people and takes off running again, clears their barricades with ease, and disappears into the busy crowds and cars.
The handstand flip over the hot-dog cart, Maria feels, was perhaps overdoing it.
Phil pauses the video. “We managed to follow him for two more minutes on the city cameras, but we lost him after that,” he reports, now more serious as they get to the matter at hand. “We have our people combing the streets, the cameras, and covering the bridges and ferries, but there's been no sign of the captain yet.”
“So... we lost Captain America,” Maria summarizes, crossing her arms. “Great.”
Phil winces. “Yes.”
A brief silence descends between them as they stare at the paused screen, which currently displays Steve Rogers, the one and only Captain America, disappearing into the wilds of Central Park. Phil has a faint worried look to him, as though he's concerned that something terrible will happen to his childhood hero, like getting eaten alive by pigeons or having to interact with New Yorkers or something.
“How's the director?” Maria asks, even though she already knows the answer deep in her soul and doesn't really need to ask on top of that, because it's written all over Phil's disgruntled suit line as the man sighs tiredly.
Steve, even after he'd run right through what had been proclaimed to be Central Park and was currently catching his thoughts behind an alley dumpster in what was supposedly northern Manhattan, was still pretty sure he was dreaming. The street names, the park, the store front advertisements all declared this place to be New York City, and it was too crowded and big to be a set, but it looked nothing like Steve's memories – everything was so wrong.
The cars all had strange shapes and the people were all wearing strange clothes – like nothing he'd ever seen before, so many kinds, so many cuts, so many colors – and their hair. The store fronts and flashing lights were incredible; he'd passed a window full of screens playing a sports game of some kind in bright color and intense details; several people had gone by talking into small rectangles like they were radios; the buildings towered over him were made of glass; and Steve's arm was becoming increasingly red where he kept pinching himself and it wasn't working.
He sighed deeply, finally unfolding the newspaper he'd grabbed off a park bench as he'd been running, shouting an apology as he sprinted past, which he'd been gathering the courage to look at. Holding it open in front of him, he tore his eyes from the brick wall of the alley and looked at the front page carefully – cautiously – as though it might explode at any moment.
SPIDER-MAN ATTACKS MAYOR!
Webbed menace makes assassination attempt at Osbourne Gala!
Steve spent the next couple minutes staring in confused, deep concern at the blurry photograph of a red and blue humanoid – with alarmingly large eyes – swinging on a gray rope from a chandelier towards screaming party guests in a fancy ballroom. During this brief time, there are a great many thoughts running through his mind, but none of them make any sense whatsoever.
He looked at the paper name. The Daily Bugle, it read.
Oh, Steve thought, as everything suddenly made sense again.
He remembered The Daily Bugle, which seems to be a constant throughout the two New Yorks he's found himself in, and he remembered it being fairly... sensationalist the few times he'd boredly picked up a copy for lack of anything better to do. The last time must have been when he'd been waiting to sign himself up for war the third or fourth time – all the way back when he'd been small still – when Bucky had still... been – the long gone year of 1942.
This paper said 2012.
Steve took another look at the strange spider-person on the front of the newspaper and then promptly sat down on the ground by the dumpster – the stink didn't bother him, he'd been thrown in dumpsters before and he's known places that have smelled worse than this one. His legs were not having the easiest time keeping him upright right now and his head wasn't inclined to lend any help, it much more preferred to be stuck between his knees as he wheezed like it was that long gone year of 1942 again.
A new letter wrote itself in his head.
What the goddamn hell.
When we asked what was next, that was not an invitation to bring up fucking time travel. How does crashing a plane in the arctic even cause time travel anyway? Seriously, how do you keep finding these stupid stunts to pull? We'd write more, except it's been nearly seventy years and we're either dead or probably think you're dead.
You missed that date of yours by a lot.
the Howling Commandos.”