Inside the facility they open up the backpack, they shake it out and swipe the pockets with swab tests for explosives, for drugs. They spill the contents onto a table topped with plastic sheeting. They photograph each object and hold a small ruler against it, note the condition, the color, the brand. Steve doesn’t watch them do this. At the time they’re processing him, Sam, the fucking– the literal actual honest-to-God King of Wakanda. Steve’s never met a king before. They don’t take Steve’s fingerprints. They do take the shield. That’s as good a fingerprint as any, probably: it’s the only thing anybody’s wanted from him in years.
But: they ask Steve to come back down to the intake suite to look at the backpack, to look at what they want to call evidence. He thinks about refusing, but doesn’t. Not for their sake but for Bucky’s: maybe there’s something in there he can help explain, offer up as proof of innocence. Something only he would understand. They show him everything and he looks at it for a long time and then suddenly the world is blurry, wobbling: the world swims away, and Steve realizes he is crying.
“Sir?” they ask. He is sir again, suddenly; they’d really like him to stop crying, he can tell. He’d like that too, but he can’t, he can’t: he puts his hands over his face to hide it, instead.
a worn-down toothbrush that somebody has scrubbed almost to a nub
a plastic comb
three small bottles of extra-strength acetaminophen, the kind for migraines
a public transit map of bucharest, and another for prague, and another for stockholm
two flip-cover notebooks; small, spiral-bound, logoless, like the ones they sell in drugstores by the greeting cards. These are covered in scrawled words that don’t seem to be in order, until Steve realizes it’s a code. A simple letter shift, and he’s doing it in his head now, easily: the first page says “I can’t forget the sound a skull makes against the ground; I need to sleep.”
And also there’s:
a handgun with an empty magazine
five hundred dollars in small bills, rolled up in rubber bands
(Steve is laughing now, but it feels the same as crying, and it sounds worse)
a dirty toy from a Happy Meal, which is something Steve’s never eaten but he has heard of; this is a rabbit with a fakey velveteen coating and a moulded plastic police uniform. Steve’s seen pictures of this rabbit, some movie with this rabbit, on the side of city buses in New York. Someone has been rubbing the rabbit’s ears in the same place, wearing it bald in one spot.
“He had a keychain, kind of like this,” Steve says, to the jerkoffs with clipboards waiting for him to decode this– this pile of nothing. Their unsatisfying mystery. To them this is all garbage. Even the notebooks: there are no missile coordinates, no secrets. They don’t understand. He can see that in their faces. It’s why they brought him down here. “His cousin Georgie bought it for him before he shipped out,” Steve says, even though nobody in this room cares. “A lucky foot, for luck, he,” Steve tries, but he can’t finish, and then he walks out without asking if he can. The door was locked; he only notices afterwards, in the hall, holding the handle he broke off.
When they were little they put toy soldiers into the wall behind a brick: they hid marbles, stubby pencils, comic strips cut out from the paper. Things nobody would want. Trash. But the truth is, somebody would still take them, if you didn’t watch out. There was always another kid– a grown-up, even, sometimes– who would steal things just to step on them. And then you’d have less than trash; you’d have nothing. The memory of having something, and the knowledge that it could be taken away. You’d have that. You will never understand him, he wants to say; he wants to scream it in their faces. You will never understand.
Though much is taken, much abides.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson