"Captain? Major Phillips is here to see you now."
Steve Rodgers dimly registered the sound of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent's voice, but didn't turn his head. He continued to stare out the window of his room, looking out over Times Square, trying to make sense of the motion and noise. It was more than two weeks since he had woken up from a seventy year slumber- if that was really what had happened. A small corner of his heart was holding out hope that this was all an illusion, that It was a HYDRA trick to keep him away from the front- but that dream grew dimmer as the days dragged on. He hadn't begun to wrap his mind around all of the changes that had occurred while he was asleep- but this is where he had decided to begin, clinging to the desperate notion that once the bustle outside of his window made sense, things might start to fall in place.
The agent's voice intruded on Steve's thoughts again. This time, he turned his head.
The woman standing in the doorway tilted her head and regarded him with concern. He didn't know her name, but he was fairly certain that she was the same one he had encountered when he first woke up: a brunette with long wavy hair, full lips and brown eyes like Peggy…Peggy…
Thinking about the life he had known before was like wading into a riptide. One false step would wash him away, and so Steve forced the image of his erstwhile lover from his mind. He wasn't going to let himself fall apart. The Super-Soldier Serum had given him physical powers and stature, but resiliency was something that he had always possessed.
I could do this all night, Steve thought with a grim smile, allowing himself one final second of wallowing in memories to think back to all the back-alley whippings that he had withstood in his 98-pound weakling days. Of course, it was easier to be brave back before Life was the bully throwing punches.
"What is it?" Steve asked, finally meeting the woman's gaze. "What did you say?"
"Major Phillips is here," the woman responded. "Are you available?"
The hollow feeling in Steve's chest spread at the echo of his old commander's name. Colonel Phillips had probably been dead for fifty years…dead like everyone else ….dead like Peggy….
Steve squared his shoulders and nodded to the door. "I'm good."
The agent shot him a skeptical look before walking away. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door frame. From the corner of his eye, Steve registered a flash of muted green stepping across the threshold, but he was looking out the window again.
"Captain Rogers? I haven't caught you at a bad time, have I?"
Steve spun around immediately at the sound of the voice.
It was a woman.
The baggy lines of standard issue ACU's completely disguised the major's figure (Steve was glad that he would never have to wear that uniform- it was sloppy and drab, like green pajamas, and constituted yet another "modern" change that brought him dismay). Her dark hair was pulled into a severe, unflattering bun, and her posture was martial, but the Major's features and the voice were unmistakably feminine.
The golden oak leaf settled prominently on the woman's chest was unmistakable too.
A major- in the real Army! In spite of everything, the corner of Steve's mouth began to twitch upward. If only Peggy could see that!
The major stood just inside the doorway. Steve saw her eyes sweep the room, taking note of the Spartan décor. After S.H.I.E.L.D. had coaxed him back inside after an initial attempt to flee, they tried to install him in "modern" quarters. One of the agents had spent the better part of the morning explaining the dials and buttons and screens in the chamber, but they made Steve uneasy. The room was too cold and too slick and too alien. He couldn't sleep with the thrum of the air-conditioning churning through the vents and so S.H.I.E.L.D. had moved the simple bed, radio and rotary fan from the place where he first woke up into an empty office and let him stay there.
The salutation was a courtesy. Steve was outranked- belatedly, he recognized that he ought to be standing. He thought that he probably ought to offer a salute as well, but the Major seemed unconcerned and the moment seemed to have passed. Steve had been lost in his thoughts again. That happened a lot these days. The inside of his mind was the only place that felt familiar and safe.
"Major," Steve said at last, mentally vowing to hold his focus. He nodded to indicate that she should speak.
"I'm Major Evelyn Phillips," the woman said, extending her hand. "I'm here for Human Resources Command- did Director Fury mention that I was coming?"
"Uh…yes," Steve responded although, in truth, he couldn't remember. "What can I do for you today?"
"I'm actually here to do something for you, I hope," she said and lifted a small manila folder full of papers. "I have your out-processing packet."
"To release you from the Army," she said, her voice growing softer. "I think we all agree that you've served your term."
The woman's lips were curved into a smile, but he could make out the strain in her voice. Steve knew that tone all too well: pity. The Major felt sorry for him.
"I hadn't decided if I wanted to quit the Army, actually," Steve said and frowned down at the array of forms that Phillips was spreading across his dresser. He hadn't decided anything, truth be told. He was expecting a little more time to work things out.
"Well," the discomfiture that Steve had noticed in Major Phillips' voice seeped into her expression. Her mouth was drawn into a tight line and her voice was very quiet and kind as she handed him a pen and pointed to the first of the papers. "Re-enlistment may be an option at some point in the future…but S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to assess your condition…and you've exceeded the maximum number of years in service…You're entitled to full benefits of course," she added quickly. "Tricare, ID card, funeral services…but…this is probably best for right now."
Steve nodded. There wasn't anything else for him to do. Without really feeling the pen in his fingers, he signed his name on the line that she had indicated and then reached for the next document in the stack.
"This is your back pay statement," the Major said. She pointed to a number at the bottom of the page. Steve noticed that her fingernails were short and bare. There was no hint of the dark red polish that Peggy and most of the WACs used to wear. That thought temporarily distracted his attention from the number that Phillips was highlighting. When it finally registered, Steve did a double take.
"You shouldn't be hurting for money, at least," Major Phillips said. This time, the laughter in her voice was genuine. "That's 67 years of pay- with retroactive grade increases, cost-of-living adjustments and interest….and of course, the change in rank."
"The change in rank?"
"Yes," she fished out another slip of paper, "Full-bird Colonel….the board reviewed your file. It seemed pretty apparent that you were a below-the-zone kind of guy."
Steve didn't really know what she meant by "Below the zone," but he didn't ask any questions. He stared down at the page: Colonel Steven G. Rogers…What would the boys think of that?
"Would you like us to hold a promotion ceremony?" Major Phillips asked.
Steve immediately shook his head. "I don't know anyone who would come."
"No, I suppose not," she mused, "But the brass thought it would make a good photo op…And all of us from SSR would be there. With the budget crunch, it never hurts for us to-"
"SSR?" Steve interrupted, suspicious and hopeful at the same time when he heard his old unit mentioned. "I thought you said that you were from Human Resources Command." Was it a slip? Was she lying to him for some reason? What was he really signing? The thought that this all might be a HYDRA scheme reared its head again, but the major was quick to assuage his fears.
"I said I was here for HRC," Phillips corrected, "But I'm assigned to the Strategic Scientific Research Division."
"You're with SSR?" Steve echoed, breathing faster, amazed that something familiar had survived.
"Yeah," she answered. "They were going to send someone from the Pentagon, but General Stowe thought we ought to take care of our own…and I had to admit…I was curious about you after all of the stories that my Grandpa used to tell."
"Your grandfather was Colonel Phillips?" Steve blurted, holding his breath as he waited for her to answer. Were his eyes fooling him, or was something in her face familiar.
"My Great-Grandfather was General Phillips," she answered. "But my Grandfather met you when he was alive…dad always loved to hear the stories…and he passed them down to me" Major Phillips paused to shoot him a wide smile. "You're kind of a legend, you know."
Steve didn't know how to respond to that and so he just put his head down and kept signing his name. He didn't bother to read the papers. Life already felt entirely beyond his control. He didn't see how autographing documents could make things worse.
At last he reached the bottom of the stack.
"Is that all?"
"That's everything," Major Phillips acknowledged. She clicked the cap back on top of her pin and slipped it into a pocket on her sleeve. "Welcome to civilian life, Colonel Rogers. Director Fury has arranged for you to have a bank account. The funds will be direct deposited by the end of the week….Can I do anything else to help?"
At the question, Steve's lips twisted into a bitter smirk.
Everything, he wanted to scream. Explain why things had to change. Bring Peggy and Bucky back! Leave me in the ice!
Of course, Steve swallowed down his futile demands.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," he said instead, not really meaning to speak aloud.
The statement hung between them for a long, painful stretch of silence. When Major Phillips spoke again, sympathy returned to her voice.
"Do any of us really know that?"
She lingered in the doorway, opening and closing her mouth for several times as if she was having trouble pushing any more words past her tongue. It took a while before she managed.
"Captain Rogers…Steve…if you need anything. SSR is here…I'm here. You're not alone."
He returned a rueful smile.
She was wrong- but it was nice to hear the lie.
A/N: 1) I apologize to any comics fans who may have inadvertently wandered here. I am one of those annoying movie people. If there was a movie category (or I knew how to select "Movieverse") I would put this there.
I apologize if this story is light on action. I work for the Army, so my first thought when Steve was unfrozen was what a nightmare that would be for the Personnel Office :D I'm a HUGE nerd.