Steve woke up alone, his back against the wall, his hand resting on the empty space beside him. He pushed himself upright, wincing as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He propped himself against the wall and breathed slowly, trying to center himself.
His memories were coming back, slowly, painstakingly, each one starting like a pinprick of light in the dark, gradually expanding outward, claiming its rightful place in his head. The memories weren’t coming in any kind of order, he still couldn’t remember the procedure that had changed him, but he remembered stepping out of the machine, changed, and the chaos that followed. He remembered a woman named Peggy - meeting her, talking to her, kissing her, loving her. But the memories were vague and not connected in any way. He could barely remember what she looked like, only dark hair and red lips, along with a husky voice that had made his skin tingle.
Each new revelation tore him apart, forcing him to put himself back together. He had lost so much, so many people he loved. But none were worse than the memory of Bucky’s death, his screams as he fell from the train, and the utter helplessness Steve had felt when he realized there was nothing he could do to save his best friend.
Most frustrating of all, he still couldn’t remember anything that had happened over the last few years. It was like his memories cut off all those years ago, during the war. He had no idea what had happened between 1943 and 2015 or how he’d ended up in this woman’s home.
Once he felt somewhat steady, he climbed out of the bed and found his way to the bathroom. He cleaned himself up as best as he could, grimacing at the stubble on his cheeks. He’d have to ask Y/N if she had a razor he could use.
Steve went in search of her after he left the bathroom, but he found the house empty. On his way outside, he noticed a red, white, and blue shield leaning against the wall, alongside a stack of clothes and a utility belt. He assumed they were his things. He stepped out the door onto a wraparound porch where he found a small table holding a plate of pastries and a carafe of coffee, as well as two mugs. Beside one of the mugs was a small stack of papers. He eased into one of the chairs at the table, poured himself a cup of coffee, and picked up the papers.
He became so engrossed in reading about his life that he didn’t hear her come up the steps or even sense that she was standing at his elbow, watching him. When she murmured his name, he jumped, knocking the stack of papers to the ground.
“Shit, sorry,” she mumbled, stooping to pick up the papers.
Unfortunately, it was at the same time that Steve dropped from his chair to pick up the papers as well. The two of them knocked their heads together and Y/N fell on her ass with a loud grunt, her hand pressed to her forehead.
“Oh, god, Y/N, I’m so sorry,” he gasped, picking her up effortlessly and sitting her in one of the chairs. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Steve,” she mumbled. “A little dizzy from you swinging me around -”
“Sorry.” He really was; he hadn’t realized just how strong he was and when he’d picked her up, he’d swung her up in the air and around before putting her in the chair. It was as if she weighed no more than a feather. He dropped into the other chair, his head in his hands. He inhaled a deep breath and blew it out slowly before raising his eyes to look at her.
“I wanted to thank you for last night,” he said. “You really didn’t have to...to comfort me like that.” He could feel heat crawling up his neck and into his cheeks. He dropped his eyes and stared at the tabletop.
“You’re welcome,” she mumbled. She cleared her throat and shifted awkwardly in her seat before grabbing the coffee and making herself a cup. She nibbled on the corner of one of the pastries and stared at something over his shoulder.
“I...I might be able to help you,” she said after a few minutes. “I, um, I used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“S.H.I.E.L.D.? That’s the uh...the…” Steve shuffled the papers around, finally pulling one free. “The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division? Wow, long name.”
“Yeah, it was.” She smiled. “I always hated that mouthful of a name.”
“You used to work for them?”
“I did,” she nodded. “As did you, for a while.” She took a sip from her coffee. “I...I knew you, sort of.”
“We worked together?” The papers in his hand fell to the table and he leaned over it, right in her face, his voice raised. “You and I worked together, you knew me, know about me, and you didn’t say anything?”
“Captain Rogers, please -”
The look on her face was one of fear and it shocked him, like a slap to his face. He abruptly sat back, his hands resting on his thighs, squeezing the thick muscles. “I’m...I’m sorry.”
She swallowed, her throat making a clicking sound that miraculously, he could hear. She dragged in a shaky breath and tightened her grip on her coffee cup.
“We...we didn’t work together, per se,” she explained. “We worked in the same building, in the Triskelion in Washington, D.C. We never -”
Steve closed his eyes as a sharp pain stabbed into the center of his forehead, the pain obliterating the sound of her voice. He could see a large, glass building, multiple stories. He remembered glass, broken windows, something in an elevator, a fight for his life. Destruction, smoke, chaos. He pinched the bridge of his nose and forced himself to remember. Something about S.H.I.E.L.D. and…
“HYDRA,” he said out loud. “Project Insight. The Helicarriers. We...we took them down. Me, Sam, Agent...Agent Hill, Nat. The Black Widow.” Everything was rushing back, bombarding his brain with a multitude of images. Faster and faster until he thought his head might explode. “And Bucky, he was there, but it...it wasn’t Bucky…” He wrapped his hands around his head and squeezed, trying to work the memories free. There had to be more.
He felt like he was drowning, the memories coming too fast to process. He moaned in agony, the pounding in his head becoming impossible to bear. He could hear Y/N saying his name, but it seemed far away as if it was at the end of a long tunnel. He dragged in a deep breath and just like that, the pounding stopped.
“Steve?” Y/N’s hand was resting on his arm, a concerned look on her face. “Steve, are you okay?”
“I think so,” he mumbled. “That was crazy, a huge rush of memories came back, like a dam burst in my head. I remember S.H.I.E.L.D. falling, finding out that it was HYDRA, the bunker blowing up, discovering that Fury wasn’t dead, taking down the Helicarriers, and the Winter Soldier.”
“Bucky,” Y/N whispered.
“But he wasn’t Bucky, not anymore,” Steve sighed. “And...I’ve been looking for him. Off and on for the last couple of months. Sam’s been helping me.”
“You remember?” she asked.
“Some of it,” he replied. “It seems like a lot, but it’s really just bits and pieces. It’s coming back, slowly.” He cleared his throat and sat up straight. “You were going to tell me something? About the Triskelion?”
“I was going to say that we never worked together, we just worked in the same building. I knew you were there, of course, everyone knew Captain Rogers worked in the building, worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., but our paths never crossed.”
“Doesn’t it seem odd that I just conveniently landed in your backyard?” he asked.
“Trust me, I’ve thought about that,” she said. “Look, I should probably tell you -”
Before she could say anything else, a shrill beeping sound came from inside the house, startling them both. They both jumped to their feet, Steve automatically stepping in front of Y/N. He pulled the door open and stepped into the living room, heading for the pile of his stuff against the wall. He picked up his utility belt and pulled a small black box from it. Y/N took it out of his hand, hit a button on the side, and set it on the table. A life-size hologram appeared.
“S-sam?” Steve stammered.
“Steve? Thank God. We’ve been worried sick about you. We’ve been trying this thing for hours but it wouldn’t do anything. Nat had to tinker with it to get it working. Where are you?”
He glanced at Y/N. She had backed herself into a corner on the other side of the room, a look of sheer terror on her face. It looked as if she was trying to hide from Sam. She stared at Steve, silently pleading with him, though he wasn’t sure why.
“Please, no,” she mouthed, shaking her head.
“Steve. Where are you?” Sam repeated.
He slowly shook his head. “I...I, uh, I don’t know. Some remote cabin in the middle of nowhere.”
“Activate your tracking beacon, we’ll come to get you,” Sam said. “Depending on how far away you are, we can be there in a few hours.” Sam scrubbed a hand over the top of his head. “I’ve been worried about you, man. I told you not to go alone. What happened?”
Steve closed his eyes and shook his head. “I-I don’t know,” he replied. “I was injured, hit my head pretty bad. I’m having a hard time remembering. It’s coming back slowly.”
“We’ll talk about it when I get there,” Sam said. “Hit the button and we’ll be there in no time.”
“Okay,” Steve nodded.
The hologram disappeared. He picked up the black box and examined it.
“It’s on the bottom,” Y/N said quietly. “Switch it to green and it’ll send out a tracking signal they can follow.”
He flipped it over and stared at the switch on the bottom. He could turn it on and Sam would be here in a few hours. He could get medical attention, maybe get his memory back faster, without the agony it seemed to be putting him through.
Except he didn’t like the look on Y/N’s face, the look that told him the thought of Sam and whoever else might come with him showing up on her doorstep absolutely terrified her. He set the black box back on the table without turning on the tracker.
“Not yet,” he murmured. “Not until we talk.”