A/N- Here I am with another offering to the Avengers fandom. Thank you everyone who reviewed Sleep, I really appreciate it. This fic is just as angst ridden. It will be a multi-chap with no pairings (as far as I've written) and I'd love to hear what you have to say about it!
Disclaimer- I own nothing related to the Marvel universe.
He had been told that waking up was a gradual process.
That before making his unsuccessful escape attempt he'd spent days fitfully sleeping, waking momentarily before slipping back into troubled rest, and had spoken with doctors and nurses and had his physical condition explained to him.
He didn't remember any of it.
One second he was dying- the water so cold that it burned and it was filling his lungs and freezing and, oh God, oh God- and the next he was laying on that bed wondering how he had ended up in the past.
The shock the truth had brought left him feeling numb.
Not knowing what else to do he signed himself over to SHIELD and didn't think not to trust them. He listened as they explained what had happened to him, how they had found him and what their organisation stood for without truly absorbing any of the information.
He let them do their experiments. He let them push his body to its limits, to the point that his knees shook and the world trembled, and he let them inject him with drugs he didn't know the name of so they could see the effects. He let them drain his blood until he was pale and his head swam and he was close to passing out.
He let them do whatever they wanted and he never once asked questions.
The people he saw on an everyday basis, the medical staff and the scientists and the agents who led him from room to room and watched his every action, were cold. They didn't speak to him any more than necessary and always called him 'Captain' as if there was nothing more to him than his rank.
He started to believe there wasn't. He thought that at some point during the seventy years he had been asleep he had lost his humanity because he just didn't feel anymore.
He was empty and exhausted.
Every night was spent tossing and turning and screaming and trying to forget the feeling of his body shutting down as the cold drowned him.
He was sure that everyone knew about his nightmares but they never questioned him about them and he didn't know whether he was supposed to be relieved that they were letting him work through this on his own or hurt that none of them seemed to care.
He settled for feeling nothing.
They gave him his own apartment three weeks after waking up along with a stack of papers to read and more money than he had ever held in his life.
Then that was it, apart from checking in at SHIELD once a week, being given even more money and even more paper, he was free to do what he wanted.
He spent his first week of freedom lying in his new bed fighting back tears, barely eating or drinking and definitely not giving into his body's need for movement.
The second week he learnt how to use the refrigerator and the shower and the oven and he ventured out into the new world for the first time on his own.
He went to the grocery store down the street from his apartment building and bought fruit and vegetables and milk in a plastic carton. He was disturbed by how much everything cost and counted up the price of each item he picked up and compared it to the ten dollar bill he had put in his pocket before he had left his apartment. The idea that the value of money had changed hadn't crossed his mind and he had been stupid enough to think that he'd have enough to buy groceries to last him for at least a week.
He left the store with less than he wanted but enough to last for a couple of days.
He used the pots and pans he found in his kitchen cupboards to make the soup he had made his mother before she had died and he was sent to live in the orphanage. It tasted bland and settled heavily in his stomach, making him feel sick, and he didn't finish his portion though he knew his body needed the food. He poured what he didn't eat back into the cooking pot and left it out on the stove, ready to be reheated for his next meal.
He read through the papers that SHIELD gave him over the course of two days and tried to think of the events they were describing as reality instead of fiction.
He read about what was the future for him and history to everyone else and he read the files of his men and learnt about the lives they had led and wished the bold lettering declaring them deceased would provoke him into feeling something.
Not even when he read Peggy's file.
Not even when he read about the life she had lived, the man she had married and the son that she had had.
It didn't feel real.
He didn't feel real.
At the beginning of the third week he joined a gym that was open every hour of the day and began to travel around the city. He walked down streets that had once been his home and now barely recognised. He went into shops and looked at the things they sold and how much they cost and bought nothing more than new underwear and a smart looking shirt.
No one he passed on the street would look at him and the one time he ate out the server took his order and delivered his food without meeting his eye or smiling once.
Steve began to think of himself as a ghost.
He went to the gym at night and exhausted himself enough to sleep for a few hours in the early morning and spent his days re-reading what SHIELD had given him and washing his clothes in the bathtub.
Two months after he had woken Fury asked him to help save the world.
Steve agreed because he knew he didn't really have a choice.
He was the result of Dr Erskine's life work and he didn't want to let him down, never mind that he had been dead for seventy years, he owed it to the man, his first real friend after Bucky, to keep on fighting.
Steve Rogers faded into the background and Captain America stepped forward to take his place because that's who everyone expected and Steve couldn't begrudge them that.
It didn't matter how much he had sacrificed, how much he had lost, the world's need for Captain America was more important.
So he went where Fury ordered and met the men and women he was supposed to work with and acted with a confidence that he didn't really feel.
The Captain let himself be rubbed the wrong way by Stark while Steve watched on, detachedly, too numb to really understand that this man, older by him than at least a decade, maybe even more, was Howard's son.
It was the Captain who struggled to do what was right in the new and confusing time. It was the Captain who fought and led and mourned and bled.
There was no room for Steve Rogers until after it was all over and he had returned to his apartment.
And still, after everything he had done and seen, he didn't feel.
He didn't sleep that first night. His mind was blank but his body ached to keep on moving and he ended up doing circuits of his block until he felt the world tilt on its axis. He prayed for the first time since waking in the twenty-first century and crawled into bed just as the sun's first rays streamed through the window.
He was woken by the sound of his own screaming less than twenty minutes later.
He didn't sleep much after that.
He filled the days after Loki's attempted invasion with clean-up and meetings with SHIELD and his nights doing mindless exercise and chores.
There was so much talk about a team that didn't exist and relationships that hadn't formed and Steve floated through it, offering opinions when they were asked of him and agreeing to the things that people wanted him to do, and he didn't look to try and make sense of things.
A few weeks after the Loki incident the Avengers were officially declared a team and Captain America was its leader. Steve didn't understand why they chose him, chose Captain America, when he was probably the least suitable person for the job. He wasn't as strong as Thor or the Hulk, wasn't as well trained as Black Widow and Hawkeye or as smart as Tony and Bruce. He didn't know anything about this future technology - this future world - and probably had the least experience of combat of them all, excluding Bruce and Tony. His only real quality was being able to get up and keep on fighting after taking a hit.
He didn't say any of this, he didn't have the energy to, but he didn't take his responsibility lightly, either.
He was always there, usually at least ten minutes early, for team meetings and training and was the only member of the team that turned up to everything but that was only because he had nothing else to do.
The others had work to do or significant others or friends to visit during their down time and Steve couldn't hold them back from any of that when he knew how important all those things were. He knew because at one point he'd had them, too.
He fell into a routine quickly and he drifted from day to day without really grasping the time that was passing.
The Avengers became everything to Captain America but Steve found himself lost in the modern world. The feeling of emptiness had only grown as time had passed and Steve had long given up on emotion. He was hollow, nothing more than a shell, and he almost expected himself to crack.
He didn't because he was Captain America and Captain America wasn't allowed to be weak.
So he smiled and played nice with the others and pretended that nothing was wrong. He started calling Black Widow and Hawkeye by their first names outside of training and arranged extra sparring sessions with them and Thor whenever they had the time or the inclination. He worked on getting a better understanding of Bruce's condition and how it related to his own state and let Bruce draw blood and do tests on him. He sparred with Tony when the older man wanted to test out new stuff for his suit and he never once brought up Howard. They didn't fight as much but that was only because he didn't let himself be dragged into Tony's mind games anymore and not because they were friends.
Steve wasn't friends with any of them. Barring getting shawarma after the battle with Loki he had never done anything that might be considered recreational with one or more of the team. He had thought it was something that just wasn't done in this time until Tony started making it very clear, much to the others', and especially Bruce's, embarrassment, that they all did things without him. Steve wasn't sure what Tony's intentions were but he always smiled and shrugged and made it clear that he was glad that they were getting along so well.
It didn't hurt that he wasn't invited because nothing hurt.
None of them called him by his first name and he was very rarely addressed by his surname but he didn't mind as much anymore. He was becoming increasingly aware that Steve Rogers had no place in this time and it was only appropriate that the name fell out of use, too.
Two weeks after they were declared an official team they had their first mission. It had been simple, 'beneath them' Tony had said, and they had achieved their mission objective without injuries any more severe than a couple of bruises. Fury complimented them in his customary gruff manner on how well they had worked together at the debriefing and then they went their separate ways.
Steve returned to his apartment, bathed and ate and read Peggy's file for the hundredth time before retiring to bed and trying to sleep.
The nightmares were at their worst that night.
Bursts of fire and screaming and faces of team mates new and old contorted in agony as they burned, their skin melting and bubbling and dripping from the bone, and Steve woke with bile crawling up his throat.
He barely made it to the toilet before vomiting.
He spent what felt like hours heaving and retching and fighting back sobs. He twisted a hand in his hair and pulled while the other gripped at his thigh hard enough to bruise. He let the pain ground him as he told himself over and over that it wasn't real, that it was just his brain torturing him, but he couldn't bring himself to believe the lie.
He had seen men ripped apart by bombs during the war.
Had seen them turned to ash by HYDRA weapons.
Good men, young men, with wives and sweethearts and parents and children.
He had seen them die in the worst of ways and it haunted him.
He couldn't help but wonder why men with so much to live for had been snatched away in their prime while he had been left to linger and decay.
He hated himself then and for the first time since waking up in the twenty-first century he let himself cry.
He cried for the father he had been too young to remember and the mother he had had to say goodbye to too soon.
He cried for Bucky and the life they had shared together.
He cried for Peggy and the people, the world, he had known and lost.
He cried and cried and cried and felt.
And when he woke the next morning, body stiff from the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, he found he had cracked.