The cold did not come creeping in. The impact was sharp and abrupt and then everything was gone. He didn’t expect to wake up. He was at peace; with this he had saved the live of everyone he loved, everyone he could have saved.
He didn’t expect the cool room and sunlight that intruded on him so soon after. He couldn’t have predicted the simple three-rung fan spinning slowly overhead, or the sound of the old radio announcer coming in from the little construct sitting some short ways away.
“-heads to third, no wait! And here comes the rally we’ve been waiting for all day-“
He wasn’t listening long, but he knew the game. There had been a brief moment when he’d thought perhaps he’d pulled through, that Stark and the others had found him and fished him out of the ice. But he knew this ball game, he recognized it. It was a recording.
Why a recording? For some reason Hydra sprung to mind. Had they survived and he was now captive, and they were using this as a ruse to keep him docile?
The door opened and a young woman entered the room. She wore the standard issue for the day, the kind of clothes Peggy might have worn if she worked in an office setting; a clean pressed white shirt with a black tie and modest skirt. She had long brown hair curled in the current fashion.
“Good morning,“ she greeted him, friendly in manner and voice. She looked American, and had no trace of a German or other European accent, still she was suspicious. She glancing at the watch on her wrist and she chuckled slightly, “Or should I say afternoon.“
“Where am I?“ Steve asked. He could hear the cars on the street outside and the bustle of the city, but he was already noticing more was wrong with this place than just the radio recording. Strands of her hair pulled back from the coifed curls like they weren’t used to the style. She didn’t normally wear her hair like that. If there were cars so nearby, why was the smell of diesel so faint? Why was the plug to the radio so small now? Why was she only wearing one earring?
If this was America at all where were Peggy and Stark? Why weren’t they here instead of this strange woman?
“In a recovery room in New York city.“ She told him pleasantly. He couldn’t believe that. If this was a usual room why under the paint could he see screw marks like the walls were partially made of metal in places?
“Where am I really?“ he questioned again. She seemed surprised and smiled again, confused; although that was a lie too. He only prayed this place had no affiliation with Hydra.
“I’m afraid I don‘t understand,“ she admitted, sheepish, willing him to explain.
“The game,“ Steve explained, “It‘s from May 1941, I know ‘cause I was there.“
She seemed startled but recovered quickly with a sigh and smiled again. Faltering only when he climbed to his feet and fixed her with a frigid stare. „“Now I’m going to ask you again,“ he stated as calmly as he could, “Where am I?“
She took a step back and put her hands up to placate him. “Captain Rogers-“
“Who are you?“
“Steve, calm down!“ she told him firmly, speaking quickly, “You’re a hero, you’re not going to hurt me, just calm down and I’ll explain!“ she said this last bit rather pleadingly. He didn’t move, waiting.
“We thought it would be best to break things to you slowly, we though this room the atmosphere and the recording would make you more comfortable.“ She was saying. This told him nothing. “This really is New York city, and you really are in a recovery room, but a lot of things have changed since you were frozen. It’s been nearly 70 years since the war ended.“
She was still talking, but there was another sound he was picking up now. Coming from her, a man over an intercom. “-Schmidt? Schmidt? Your BP’s skyrocketed, what’s going on?-“
In that moment Steve realized two things. One was that the woman’s earring was in fact some kind of radio communication piece. Second was that he had been captured by Hydra.
“Johann...“ he acknowledged, equal parts dread and determination steeling him for what he knew he had to do next. Escape.
The woman raised her hands again, apparently shocked he’d heard the communicator; “No!“ she insisted, panicked, “You don’t understand! This isn’t-!“
“Out of the way,“ he told her, advancing quickly. To her credit the Hydra agent didn’t bother trying to block his way and quickly moved to the side as Steve made for the door.
“I’m sorry, I tried to talk to him but-!“
The woman was speaking to the mouth piece. At the door Steve found a group of agents geared up outside. At least they didn’t carry firearms; when they saw him they attempted to detain him with stunners and battons, neither of which posed a threat to the soldier.
“-someone get Nick Fury down here!-“
“-He’s been notified! He’s on his way!-“
Steve ploughed through the men as he made to turn down the hallway. Unfortunately there were men streaming in from both ends of the hall. He had no idea what was on the other side of the walls here, but it would be a better route to escape than to face the horde of Hydra’s agents.
“Captain Rogers, wait!“
With a heavy charge, he broke through the wall. Stone and plaster, thankfully there was no metal plating on the mid-sections of the wall. It was fortunate there was another hall on the other side. The people passing all looked up in surprised, it looked like a kind of lobby area ahead a ways. People were dressed strangely and the whole building in layout and design was strange.
Doors were recognizable and without the soldiers on his tail, Steve took off like a shot through those open glass doors running out to the street. Again the people were different, even the cars were different. It was still daylight but there were bright and colored lights everywhere and strung up. He kept running, looking for anything familiar.
He realized immediately that this wasn’t Germany. The signs and shops were all in English and everyone was talking with an American accent. Eventually the roads opened to a wide and broad thoroughfare of people, traffic, and lights.
It was different. The buildings, people and shops were all different in appearance, smell and even in some cases it seemed sections of the city and buildings had been remodeled or rebuilt. But this really was New York. This was Times Square, and how different from what he remembered of it. For a moment he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It was like walking into an alternate reality.
Something loud and large threw the wind up all over the street. Steve turned to see a chopper descending on the square. It was smaller and looked more maneuverable than the ones Stark had used. It landed close by as people and vehicles cleared out of its way. More of the agents from before were here now, clearing the civilians and forming a perimeter.
It was strange, but apparently he had jumped to conclusions when he’d thought of Hydra. Schmidt was a common enough German name. Doctor Erskine was German and he’d been working for their side. The man exiting the helicopter had swarthy skin and while he had a beard his head was bald; most striking was the eyepatch.
He seemed like a military man, to Steve. He had that hard and weathered look to him as he approached. “At ease, soldier!“ the man told him, even his voice that familiar abrasive tone he remembered from the American armed forces, “Look, I’m sorry about that little show back there, but we thought it best to break it to you slowly.“
Steve swallowed back the anxiety, he’d wanted to dismiss what he’d been told before as Hydra lies, but the sight of a changed New York forced him to accept certain truths in what had been said. “Break what?“ he asked.
“You’ve been asleep, Cap,“ the man told him, “For almost 70 years.“
Again Steve looked past the man at the modified helicopter, the changes to the buildings, the lights, the way people dressed, the odd contraptions attached to their ears and blinking blue, the small thin black and colored boxes they spoke into as they hurried down the crowded streets. New York hadn’t changed in many ways; and still it was nearly unrecognizable. He’d run down several streets before he finally recognized the landmarks and knew where he was.
“You gonna be okay?“ The man asked him, drawing Steve’s attention back to where he was.
“Yeah,“ Steve said quickly, still shaken as he considered the number, 70 years... so that was why Peggy and Stark weren’t... “Yeah, I’m okay, it’s just,“ he turned again looking around and again he thought of Peggy and the last words he’d spoken to her. He wasn’t going to see her again, not as he knew her; she and everyone he knew and cared for was gone. “I had a date.“
His entire world was gone.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Come in," Nick motioned her forward to the desk at the center of the room. Rachel had come in before he had, the director of SHIELD, Nick Fury, was a busy man. While she wasn't sure why she had been called to speak with him, she had already guessed it had to do with the rude awakening of Steve Rogers, Captain America.
"Let's cut to the chase, Rachel," Fury said slapping the files down on the table without preamble, "Can I call you, Rachel?" he didn't wait for a response before continuing as he pushed the top file towards her across the short table. "I want you to do a evaluation for Captain America and, if you need to, help him with any issues he may experiencing since he was unfrozen."
The brunette woman looked at the file that was handed to her and the classification level printed on the outside. "Sir?" she said puzzled, looking up sharply, "This indicates a level 4 security clearance, I only reached level 2 a few weeks ago."
It wasn't unusual for SHIELD to run these sorts of things by their civilian contractors as part of a test to see if they would access information they did not have clearance for if given the opportunity.
Rachel had made it a point not to go against any regulation since she'd been here. She liked her job at SHIELD and wasn't about to compromise it.
"You've been cleared for level 4 security as of today," Fury told her pulling a badge from the second folder that he also pushed towards her. It was the completed paperwork for her new security clearance level as well as her new badge and secure pass card.
Everything seemed to be in order as far as SHIELD's protocol, it was just a bit mystifying that this was brought up without preamble. She looked back at Director Fury with some confusion. "What?" he inquired, nearly deadpan, "I trust you."
If she hadn't known Nicholas Fury to err more on the side of caution and near paranoia she might have pressed that statement. As it was the subtle light in his eyes seemed to indicate that he had already cleared her based on other select criteria already considered.
She trusted his judgement and she was more than capable of handling even the Captain's psychological issues. If she could handle SHIELD's arctic team that uncovered the ancient god/tentacle beast near the polar ice cap then she could handle any kind of post-traumatic stress or anachronistic survivors guilt that could be set before her.
"I can see him first thing this week," Rachel accepted the assignment, "Should I contact him for an appointment or will Maria Hill be handling the arrangements?"
Nick shook his head at her, "No, there won't be an appointment." Again she was confused, her brow creased and the man grinned amused. "He won't see a psychologist."
She frowned, "Then how am I supposed to make an assessment? He knows this is part of regular military protocol to be cleared for duty, doesn't he?"
"Seems they mainly had physical evaluators back then," Nick told her, "This PTSD business hasn't even come up except in the past few decades, your field is actually relatively new all things considered."
Rachel pursed her lips as she thought about it. The 1940's hadn't exactly been an era of understanding toward mental health, come to think of it, more than likely Steve Rogers still shared that ancient mentality that healthy and sane people simple didn't need a shrink for anything.
Nick nodded as he saw the realization dawn in her eyes.
Steve Rogers would never submit to a psychological evaluation because of what he thought it might mean about him if he did. "Surely you explained it to him, though," Rachel wondered, "He's accepted most of what you've told him so far, I think he'd understand."
"Well, he says he does," Nick nodded, though his tone seemed to imply the opposite, "But he said 'all the same I'd rather not'."
"You could have pressed the issue."
"Considering what that man has been through, there is very little I'm inclined to 'press him' on," Nick said coolly. Rachel frowned but nodded, understanding.
"Then how do you suggest I evaluate him?" she wondered.
"Talk to him."
She sighed thinking back to the last time she'd seen the man. He was surprisingly fit and active considering he'd been thawed out of the ice merely a few hours earlier. But his eyes had turned so cold when he'd heard her name over the comm-link.
It was surprising when he'd questioned her so openly. She hadn't been sure what to expect and she hadn't lied to him. When he'd discovered the radio broadcast was a recording it was natural to be suspicious. She suspected whoever had picked that recording had probably lost their job; they clearly hadn't done their homework.
Even when he'd stood to his full height, and he was intimidating with a good foot over her in height, she hadn't truly been afraid. Anxious sure, but he was a hero, no matter what she didn't honestly believe he was going to hurt her. She'd tried to explain to him. For a few moments when he'd paused she'd thought she'd been getting through to him.
She knew he had advanced strength among other enhances senses, she hadn't thought hearing had been one of them. But he'd heard her name over her ear piece. Then he'd shut down on her completely. Nothing she said got through then. She didn't doubt she was one of the last people Steve Rogers thought about seriously talking to; let alone without a reason to answer truthfully.
"Sir, I don't think I'm the best person for this particular assignment," she admitted. As much as she felt capable in her capacity to perform the job, this was something else. Striking up conversation outside of an official capacity with a man she'd really only had a very negative interaction with was likely an accident waiting to happen.
"Why not?" the director demanded.
"Sir, I was there when he first woke up, you've probably seen the tapes at this point," she told him simply, " 'Schmidt' is a very common name, but the Captain appears to still have strong ties to associating it to his old enemy, Johann Schmidt."
"At least your name isn't 'Zola'."
The director appeared to be making a joke. She smiled slightly. Zola wasn't a very common name of course, but Schmidt was as common as Smith; her family had emigrated from Germany well before WWII and her family was already fifth generation American, she was the sixth generation in her family.
"I don't think he'll forget the debacle when he escaped SHIELD's Manhattan subdivision." she pointed out, "I think it's unlikely that he'll accept me in an unofficial capacity."
"No," Fury disagreed, "It's precisely because you were there, that you are ideal."
He was grinning now, looking rather pleased with himself. "Sir?" she prodded, willing him to explain again. His statement made no sense, why would someone he had viewed negatively suddenly be positive now?
"Because he'll feel guilty," Fury told her, grinning still as though he divulged some great and hilarious secret, "You may have noticed he's a bit of a boy scout. He won't turn you away if you want to talk to him. Because he judged you wrongly before, he knows that now, and he'll feel too guilty to refuse if you want to talk to him, 'clear the air', whatever it is."
"Ah." Rachel nodded looking back at the files the director had handed her. That had been in the initial briefing she'd received as well. Steve Rogers, Captain America, would always do his best to do the right thing.
He was essentially a good person. Her job was to use that against him. Evaluate him without his knowledge, and potentially help and treat him again without his knowledge or consent.
"So?" Nick prodded her this time, "Think you can handle it?"
She took a deep breath, accepting the files; steadying herself for the job ahead of her. At the least, SHIELD certainly never ran out of interesting and nearly impossible jobs to give her.
"Yes, sir, I absolutely can."
It was early morning. The sun wasn't quite up. The air was still cool and each footstep pounded against the pavement of Central Park. Steve was out running. Something he liked to do every morning, at least 70 years ago he had; it almost felt like there had been no interim to his daily routine.
In certain moments everything that had happened; everything he had missed seemed to slip away and he was left with blissful quiet peace of mind. When he ran, at least he didn't have to think too much except about his breathing, keeping his pace steady, and his own fluid movements.
Still it was impossible to block out the world. Even Central Park had changed over 70 years. Perhaps less than the surrounding streets and buildings but still noticeably so. The other joggers were also a change in their neon colors and light-up tennis shoes.
The Manhattan division of SHIELD did offer a gym of sorts; all electrical equipment lined up in an assembly line that seemed like a mockery of the dirt tracks he had used. There was an old little-used boxing ring in the basement that Nick Fury had said he could use. If he was working during the day, he'd often find himself there instead.
He supposed it was better to be outside though; at least in the mornings. One way or another he had to get used to the ways the world had changed. He rounded the last bend and exited the park heading down the avenue toward New York city's SHIELD headquarters.
He had to get used to it. He knew that. But this world, this modern era, very nearly seemed like an alien mockery of the world that one was his. That world, the past he was told over and over, was the one he knew. There were the people he knew and loved, his friends, his family, his...
He refused to think about her. Sometimes it still hurt to breathe when he thought about her. Nick Fury had been kind enough to provide him with case files about his old friends and colleagues from 70 years ago. Most of them were still in the box at his new apartment, untouched.
Howard Stark and Peggy Carter were among those files. He hadn't touched those yet, he hadn't gone through any of them too much. He wouldn't admit it but he was afraid of what he might find. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. They were gone... he knew that much... so he tried not to think about it.
Everything had been replaced. The world, the buildings, the people, everything and in its stead were all things alien and strange. Most days he wasn't sure how to deal with it. Most days he couldn't. So he ran in the early morning and then retired to the basement.
He tried to focused on the things that hadn't changed. The little sidewalk cafes, the old brick buildings... that were now mostly condemned. His pace slowed as he reached the building used by SHIELD; his heart-rate was still high. It had nothing to do with his run.
He'd survive. He'd survived World War II, he'd survived Red Skull and the tesseract. He'd survived the frozen ice. He'd survive this as well.
Steve had only just made it to the lobby elevators, stepping aside for the young woman inside, when his usual morning was interrupted. "Good morning, Steve."
He had to look up at the woman in surprise. She was smiling pleasantly, her face was somewhat pretty, her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. He didn't recognize her. "Good morning." he returned amiably and her smile faltered a little.
"You don't remember me, do you?" she wondered, now a little embarrassed that she'd called out to him. He looked at her again, she was wearing a gray suit jacket and skirt this time but...
She did seem a bit familiar. "Um... you were... from when I woke up, right?"
"Yes," she said relieved, "We were never properly introduced, I'm Rachel." she offered her hand in greeting.
"Schmidt, I remember," He said as he shook it. Her hand was a little small but warm,"I'm Steve, but you already know that."
"Yes," she sighed as she looked a little uneasy, probably remembering their first meeting, "I'm not sure if it came up before, but I'm not related to any of the Germans involved in the war. Schmidt is an incredibly common name, and my family emigrated to New York ages ago, I'm already sixth generation American, and-"
"Yes, I did eventually figure that out," Steve assured her quickly.
Despite the trouble he'd had with Schmidt, Zola, and Hydra, nothing had come up with any of that in over 70 years apparently. Anything that bore resemblance to it now was likely coincidence unless proven otherwise.
"The doctor responsible for the serum that modified me was also German. He was a good man, I don't judge people on their names or history, only what they do."
She smiled, grateful, any tension from before vanishing. "I read the brief. Dr. Erskine was a brilliant man."
Steve nodded. "And a friend."
Her smile altered slightly, something not unlike pity, but then it was gone. "Anyway, I'm so sorry about all that mess before. We really thought it might make things easier on you, that's all."
"I know, that was explained too," he agreed, "Don't worry about it."
He nodded to her, smiling amiably he stepped around her. He didn't mean to detain her and he wasn't that interested in being apologized to all day. He pushed the button to call the elevator back.
"Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
He turned back to her surprised. "They make a pretty good blend at the canteen," she explained, it was on the tip of his tongue to thank her and refuse, "I just feel so bad about how we started off. I want to make it up to you."
Steve sighed a little. "You don't have to do that," he assured her, "It's not necessary, and everything is fine. It was all explained."
"I won't take up much of your time," she added quickly, "Maybe we could just talk a bit?" The elevator had almost arrived, just a few more floors; but looking back at her she seemed sincere.
She really wanted him to accept. He felt more inclined to withdraw. That was probably an impulse he should ignore; but it also wouldn't take long he reasoned. She'd probably feel better after he'd assured her he was fine with everything.
His self-imposed isolation wasn't healthy; something he'd been told so often he was sick of it. He didn't want to offend her, and she seemed to sincerely want to do something nice even though he'd said she didn't need to. The elevator made a soft ringing noise as it reached their floor and opened.
But she was still looking at him with bright eyes and a hopeful smile. He sighed again and turned away from the open elevator promising the sanctuary of the abandoned basement boxing ring. "Sure," he agreed.
If he'd thought her expression bright before, she was actually glowing as she fell into step with him and they headed toward the canteen, or building cafeteria. It occurred to him dully that he didn't really like coffee at all. He never had. Still he found himself smiling back at the woman beside him. Her smile was infectious like that.