Steve remembers a lot of things. The tired edges to every smile his mother gave him. The songs she would sing him when he was sick, and the particular break in her voice when she thought she might not have to sing for much longer. He remembers the relief and love in her face when he woke up from one fever or the next, kept breathing and living despite most predictions.
He remembers the freckles on Bucky’s nose and cheeks, the wide smiles he gave with missing front teeth when they first met. He remembers Bucky coming to his aid time and time again, always breaking him out of fights he had little hope of winning. He remembers the way Bucky looked in his uniform before he shipped out. He remembers the way Bucky looked when he found him strapped to a table in a Hydra lab.
He’ll never forget the look on Bucky’s face right as the rail gave way on the train. Right as he started to fall, knowing that Steve wasn’t going to save him. Right as Steve failed him.
He remembers the crackle of static and the sound of Peggy’s voice over the radio.
He remembers the ice rushing up to meet him. He remembers thinking that maybe he’d get to see his ma and Bucky again.
Then the memories are harder to grasp.
There’s flashes, of a baseball game on the radio what had happened months prior. He remembers everything being bright and loud, too many colours, too many sounds. He remembers wandering aimlessly in the bright loud world that was so strange and so familiar that it made him feel dizzy and sick.
He remembers picking up the shield again, fighting again. He remembers the words The Avengers Initiative written on a folder, but he doesn’t remember what they meant. If they meant anything at all.
He doesn’t remember the room he stands in. Or any of the rooms he walked through to get there. He doesn’t remember the moments captured in any of the photos he’s been shown since he woke up in the hospital. Or the faces of any of the people who had been in those photos with him.
Or the names of any of them who had been in the hospital room with him, waiting for him to wake up.
He feels like he’s standing in a stranger’s bedroom. In a stranger’s house, surrounded by a stranger’s friends.
He feels like he’s standing in a stranger's life, even though he recognises the face that looks back at him from the mirror. Older, but still his face. It’s his face in all the photos too. It’s been nearly seven years since the found him in the ice, since the beginning of the Avengers.
Nearly seven years of memories that are just missing.
There are people there, the friends he’s stolen from someone else. Natasha and Clint, who try and give him as much information as they can, try to remind him of the things he used to know. Thor who places a comforting hand on his shoulder and apologises for the blank spaces left where his memories used to be. Bruce who looks at brain scans and reads so many medical journals about amnesia and brain injuries despite saying time and time again that he isn’t really a medical doctor.
Then there’s Tony, who looks at him with sad eyes. Who says his name weighed down with so many emotions.
There’s a lot of photos of him and Tony. In all those photos it isn’t sadness in Tony’s eyes when he’s looking at him.
He wants to remember. Wants to wake up and all the memories be back where they belong, just like he’d woken up in the hospital bed with all those memories missing. He grills Natasha and Clint, tries to make the details stick. Badgers Fury for mission reports that he has written. Stares at his own handwriting until his eyesight blurs but can never remember any of the events he wrote about.
Tony shows him things. The Iron Man suits, his bots, the workshop. Sketch books that he filled with drawings of all those things. Sketch after sketch of Iron Man, of Dum-E. Of Tony. Tony working. Tony laughing. Tony half asleep gripping a coffee mug like his life depended on it. He flips through the pages, his brain telling him that somehow Tony had been important to him. Best friends, maybe? His brain knows it must be true even though his heart feels empty.
He unpacks and repacks all the drawers in his bedroom. Looks through the belongings of a man he is supposed to know, but doesn’t. Nothing sticks. Nothing sparks memories. Nearly seven years that are all blank in his mind.
He asks about how he was injured. Natasha tells him that there was an attack. They’d been at a party. They’d let their guard down. They’d been attacked, and they’d fought back, despite starting off at a disadvantage. Clint tells him that it hadn’t been anyone they’d fought before, none of their usual enemies. Tony sits there, pale, playing with the ring on his left hand and says that the venue they were in had been so damaged that it started to collapse. That Steve had still been inside when the whole thing caved in.
When he asks to see the reports of that incident, any of the medical files from when he’d first been taken to hospital, Clint shakes his head and warns him that he doesn’t want to see those things. Natasha looks grim, but says she’ll get the mission reports.
Tony looks like he’s going to be sick and leaves the room.
He doesn’t ask about the ring on Tony’s finger. He wonders if maybe Tony’s wife had been in the building too. He doesn’t know how to ask if she died.
Natasha leaves the reports with him the next day. Her statement, Clint’s, and the photos. She warns him that the photos aren’t pretty, but even that doesn’t prepare him for the sight of his own face, battered and bruised and nearly unrecognisable. For the sight of half his skull caved in. He shouldn’t have survived. He knows that he shouldn’t have. No one got to walk away from injuries like that. Except him. Seven years of memories was probably a cheap price to pay for his life, but the idea of never getting them back makes him feel more sick than the photos do.
The reports mention a wedding. The reception getting attacked. There’s no mention of anyone dying. There’s no mention of whose wedding it was.
Thor sits with him that night when he can’t sleep. Makes him pop tarts and hot chocolate and doesn’t say anything, is just a comforting presence until the sun rises the next morning, and Steve still doesn’t remember anything.
Tony offers to start his reintroduction to the twenty first century again. Tony smiles and laughs as they watch movies together, but it never reaches his eyes. He notices Tony twisting the ring on his finger whenever they watch movies, it seems to be an unconscious action. Despite how much he wants to ask if Tony is married, he can’t bring himself to, because that is something he is meant to know and it’s not Tony’s fault that he can’t remember. Guilt gnaws at him for every little thing he can’t remember.
It’s two weeks since they brought him home from the hospital, he still gets lost some days. Finds himself in different parts of the tower when he meant to be going back to his room. Clint suggests it might be muscle memory. That even without his memories, his body still knows the routes he used to take.
It’s always the hallway outside of Tony’s room that he finds himself in.
When he finds the ring he stares at it for nearly an hour. Sitting on the floor in his bedroom, knees pulled up to his chest, back pressed against the wall. It was in a side pocket of the bag he’s brought home from the hospital, places there for safe keeping, perhaps. It’s a plain band, silver in colour though he has no idea what metal it is. There’s nothing else, no other clues, but it fits perfectly on the ring finger of his left hand. He twists it around his finger and thinks of Tony doing the same thing with his wedding ring.
They’d been at a wedding reception, when there was an attack. He remembers Natasha saying that. Remembers reading the reports, but he doesn’t remember anything beyond that. Doesn’t remember whose wedding it was. Doesn’t remember what he’d worn, how he’d felt, if anyone had cried.
He doesn’t remember who proposed. What it had felt like to fall in love. Who had asked who out first. How any of it had happened.
All he has is a wedding ring that fits perfectly on his finger and matches perfectly to the one Tony wears and fiddles with all the time. A ring and a hollow space in his chest where he feels nothing. Anything he had felt for Tony before isn’t there anymore. It had been lost along with his memories.
He’s lost nearly seven years and so much more. Nearly seven of memories gone and a whole life that he doesn’t remember.