Steve stared at the plain, white ceiling above his bed and waited for his alarm to go off. He didn't need to get up for anything - there really was no need to have an alarm at all - but it felt wasteful and indulgent to stay in bed all day. He'd tried that for a while; it hadn't made him feel any different.
When the beeping filled the room, Steve stared at the ceiling a moment longer then rolled over and switched it off. He took his watch off the bedside table and fastened it around his wrist as he padded down the hall to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth under the hum of the bathroom light. Toothpaste burned now, the mint too intense on his serum-enhanced tastebuds. When he'd been small and sickly he could barely taste mint, barely taste anything, but now it was almost overwhelming, billowing up the back of his nose and stinging his eyes. They made other flavours now, apparently. He'd seen cinnamon of all things at the grocery store, back when he'd bothered going. He knew he could ask Ellen to order it next time, instead of the mint, but that would probably set loose a flurry of SHIELD tests of his senses and preferences.
Steve spat then rinsed his mouth with warm water, hating the way cold would set the mint frosting the inside of his mouth again.
He selected a breakfast burrito from the stack in the freezer and put it in the microwave, watching it spin and hum. His daily flicker of guilt for not cooking teased up then settled down again, used to being ignored. He'd tried that too, but SHIELD had sent pre-packaged food in his first couple of grocery deliveries and it was so easy, so simple. His texts to Ellen had started out asking for fresh ingredients then slowly backslid into requests for more and more of the simple stuff. After all, what was the point of the future if he couldn't make his meals instantly?
While the burrito turned, its end popping open and dribbling sauce out onto the plate, Steve unplugged his phone from the cable next to the toaster and flicked through his notifications. There wasn't much. Ellen seemed to be on her phone 24/7, but Steve didn't really see the appeal. He had a few apps she'd installed for him, and a game that Nadia down the hall had recommended, but mostly it was a way for him to stay in touch with SHIELD. He didn't particularly want it to do any more than that.
Ellen hadn't texted him at one in the morning, as she was sometimes wont to do, and he had no emails from SHIELD changing his training schedule so he tossed his phone aside again. The microwave beeped. He ate the burrito standing in front of his living room window, watching the slim grey light of dawn peek down the street.
He could smell it, even through the window. The city didn't smell the same. It was heavy, now, cloying and thick, and coated the back of his throat. It was metallic and sharp, bitter.
When his food was done, Steve washed his plate, dried it, and put it away. Then he took out his drawing supplies. It was therapeutic, they'd said, to make art. "Take some time every day," Dr. Tully had told him, "to work on your drawings, express yourself." She'd smiled as she said it, as if that was supposed to be encouraging, but it just ratcheted Steve even tighter. Still, he wasn't going to be at fault for any lack of progress she saw in him, and it wasn't like he had anything better to do, so he dutifully pulled his sketch pad out every morning before "work."
He turned to a fresh sheet of paper and continued with the exercises he'd started at the beginning of the pad. He'd learned them as warmups at Auburndale, shapes and lines, and his perfect memory meant he didn't need exercise books to recall the details. After an hour of careful and precise crosshatching, Steve packed away his pencils, closed his sketchbook and put them away.
It was late enough that he could justify going in to SHIELD, so Steve went back to his bedroom and picked through the mountain of mixed clean and dirty laundry spread across his bedroom floor until he had a passable outfit. SHIELD paid for a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman to clean Steve's apartment, but he'd asked her not to go into the bedroom, so that was where the mess accumulated. It would probably be nice not to sleep in a sea of chaos, sheets mussed and piles of socks pushed to the other side of the bed, but whenever he stripped down at the end of the night, he barely had the energy to pull on sweatpants, let alone clean.
Besides, Miss Miranda cleaned the stuff that really mattered, so who cared? Captain America was a secret slob. That was something the history books didn't get right.
With a duffle bag slung over his shoulder and his phone in his pocket, Steve locked up and headed down the hallway. As he passed 3B, the door opened and Nadia stepped out, done up in her leotard with an overlarge sweater and leggings over top, multi-coloured leg warmers pulled up over her calves. She perched on her tiptoes while she locked up. She walked everywhere on her tiptoes, and Steve wasn't sure if she was aware.
"Morning, Steve," Nadia said with a warm smile, tossing her long, red hair out of her face.
"Good morning. Can I walk you down?"
"That'd be lovely. Thank you." She finished jiggling her key out of the lock and fell in step beside him. They started the trot down the six half-flights of stairs, round and round. "Headed to the gym?" she asked.
Steve nodded. "Gotta get my workout in before it gets too busy. You have rehearsal?"
"Mhm. And it's going to be drama and a half. Analise is back."
"Oh no." Steve tried to remember which one Analise was. Nadia talked about all the drama amongst the dancers in her troupe, or in the casts of various shows, but Steve was never able to keep them all straight.
"It's alright. The drama llama in me loves it." A cab was waiting out front and Nadia jogged up to the door. "Have fun at the gym!"
Steve waved her off. "Bye." He turned down an alley, cut across the street and started the walk to work. It was about forty-five minutes on foot, and Steve much preferred it to driving. SHIELD had offered him a car and driver, at first, but that was one of the few luxuries they'd offered that he'd refused after only a few days. The pre-packaged food was nice; the driver was deeply uncomfortable.
So Steve had told them he used the walk to think, and while it was a lie, it was true in spirit. He used the time to not think. He watched the living, breathing people, the cars and lights and businesses, the smiles and honks and click click of too-high heels on the pavement, and he reminded himself in a real concrete way that this wasn't a dream - he was in the future.
It needed to be a daily ritual because much longer than twenty-four hours and it was all too easy to float away, disconnect, forget that this wasn't temporary or just a dream.
A slight sweat had broken out on the back of his neck by the time Steve made it to the SHIELD offices, and he went straight to the gym. Some of the other agents were already working out, but Steve put his headphones in - he learned quickly that it was the best way to keep people from talking to him, even if it took him three more months to figure out how to make them actually play music - and hopped on one of the reinforced treadmills.
The steady thud thud of his feet on the belt jolted his thoughts away every time they tried to creep in. The gym was the one place where he felt like he was fulfilling his purpose, like he was digging into who he was. He couldn't let Captain America out anywhere else, but everyone here knew who he really was and he didn't have to think, didn't have to decide or hold back, he could just move.
After a warmup, Steve went to the bags and swapped a regular one out for a heavily layered one. He'd still bust it open, but it would last a little longer. He wrapped his hands, feeling the heavy eyes of some of the junior agents on the back of his neck, but he was used to ignoring them by now. Let them enjoy the show; this was what he was good at.
As soon as his fist tapped the bag - finding the distance, activating the muscles - the rest of the room slipped away. It was just him and the bag and the full-body ache he sought. Steve found his stance and strunk once, hard enough to jolt the bag.
His body clicked on.
He was nothing but breath and the slow ramping up of movement. Heat flared to life in his chest and he dug down into it, railing on the bag now, harder and harder. He ducked his head, images he couldn't describe in words flashing through his mind. It was just hit, hit, hit. Hit and you'll feel better. Don't stop.
The bag bounced and swung back, and Steve breathed and shuffled his feet back into position. Two more strikes, vibration from the hits radiating up his arms, and Steve found steadiness again. Every muscle in his body tingled and sung, blood pumping hot and fast, heart pounding almost painfully. There was life in the pain. Time flew by.
"So what have you been doing with your spare time? Dr. Tully asked gently.
Steve shrugged. "I draw every morning."
"....That's good?" She said it like a question.
Steve blinked back at her. She was the damn therapist who had told him to do it. "Yes?"
Steve got the impression she was sighing, even though she didn't move or make a noise. "Anything else?"
"What else is there?"
Her pen wobbled between her fingers like she wanted to tap it on her notebook. "We talked about options for getting more social interaction. Reaching out to some of your co-workers."
"Right… Yeah, I don't know if I can do that."
Steve shrugged again. "We don't really have anything in common. I - I talk, sometimes, to people in the elevator or at the gym -" almost true "- and it never, you know, clicks."
"Is that something you've had in your life - the click?"
"Yeah… yeah I had that. I had that with Bucky and the Howlies. I had that with Peggy. Even when it was hard or embarrassing or confusing, or, damn, terrifying, it just felt right. It felt worth it."
"But it doesn't feel worth it with your co-workers here."
"Not really. Sorry."
"You don't have to apologize, Steve. I'm here to help you, not the other way around."
Steve rolled his neck out. It sure felt the other way around most of the time.
"What about the bike?"
"Bessie?" Steve blinked at her again. He wasn't expecting her to bring that up again.
"Fury got it for you."
"It's not the right bike."
She smiled softly. "Is that why you're not working on it?"
"I don't know."
"Do you have enough in your life right now?"
An errant thread in the seam of Steve's pants caught his attention. "Maybe not…"
"Steve -" She leaned forward and rested her elbow on her knee. Steve could hear the rough catch of her stockings on her cashmere sweater. "You're grieving, and that's fair. You need to be able to go through that process. But it helps if you have something you're working towards, if you set some goals. It's too easy to fall into habits that take you nowhere. And this is a new place, a new time, it's all new. The habits you set up now are going to be hard to break, even if you start feeling more like yourself in time. Healing is hard, but it's worth the effort."
"I don't disagree with you," Steve said, feeling a little chastised. "I just don't feel - I don't know, ready? Interested? I'll try if you really want me to…"
"Like with the drawing."
"Okay, I'd appreciate that. Do that for me. This week, I challenge you to at least go look at the bike, look at the manual. See if sparks anything for you."
Steve smirked. "Well, you know I can't resist a challenge."
Dr. Tully laughed lightly. "I may have that somewhere in my notes."
"I'll do it."
"Thank you. That's about time for us. Thanks for coming in." She said that every time.
"They won't let me not," Steve said brightly. He said that every time. She always laughed.
Steve left the medical wing where Dr. Tully's office was and made his way to his own office, up in the admin section, down the hall from Coulson and Hill. Ellen was typing on her phone with one hand, moving the mouse of her computer with the other, one earbud in and half a salad at her elbow. "Steve!" She grinned at him.
It had taken six months to get her to stop calling him Captain. "Good afternoon, Ellen. Anything for me?"
She nodded and stopped moving her mouse but kept typing, now with both hands. "Coulson wants you to sit in on strategic planning testing round three on Friday, and Fury wants your quarterly development report by next Thursday since he'll be out of town for two weeks. Oh, and medical is ready for another round of blood tests. Do you need a dry cleaning pickup this week?"
"Okay. No, I don't have any dry cleaning. Just the regular laundry."
"Alright! It's all in your calendar."
"Any grocery changes?"
"No, ma'am." He shot her a USO smile.
Ellen giggled. "Alright. Want me to order you lunch?"
"Sure why not. I'm going to -" Steve gestured vaguely towards his office, and Ellen nodded, turning back to her endless screens.
He didn't know if she knew that he did very little in there. He hadn't wanted a computer and they hadn't offered him one. The desk had a paper calendar, that Ellen kindly kept up to date - though his phone would tell him loudly about everything on his schedule anyway - nice pens, stationary, stamps and envelopes - as if there was anyone left he could write a letter to - a bookshelf, and a hook for the shield that he only ever used in training these days.
Ellen brought lunch in - some sort of wrap with spicy meat - and Steve picked through it, drawing it out to give him something to do. The buzz of his workout had long faded into flat nothingness.
Dr. Tully's challenge nibbled at the back of Steve's mind, and after an hour of doing next to nothing, he figured he might as well get his homework over with and not have to worry about it all week. Maybe he could kill two therapy birds with one stone and draw Bessie. Ellen wasn't at her desk when he left - not unusual for her - and he was grateful not to feel obligated to explain where he was going.
SHIELD had a vast garage in the lower levels, all managed by a large man that Steve had never seen without his faded baseball hat. His name was Luke, and as far as Steve could tell, Luke had wandered in one day and never left. He had none of the background in intelligence or espionage that most of the department heads did, and Steve had no idea if he'd ever served. If he had, he didn't talk about it or display it in any way. But Luke, rather anachronistically for the way he spurned technology, loved modern engines, and he'd had his hand in every quinjet and helicarrier and jetpack that SHIELD used.
Steve only knew him a little, but he liked the garage and he'd come down more than once just to hang out. Fury had taken him down when he'd first settled in and showed him the bike - occupying a corner of the garage much to Luke's gruff disapproval - and Steve had thanked him and replaced the tarp and not touched it since.
He half-expected the bike to be gone - half-hoped, maybe - but she was still there, covered in the heavy canvas, the thick binder that contained her vintage manual sitting on her back seat. Steve nodded to Luke then made his way over to her. He pulled the tarp off.
He'd thought of her as Bessie from day one, even when he knew he was never going to spend any time working on her. Her license plate read BS1E and his brain had filled in the rest.
Luke appeared at his elbow. "Need tools?"
Steve chewed his tongue. "It's the wrong bike." Luke blinked at him like he was an idiot, and Steve shrugged. "Sure. Show me where to put them back when I'm done with them?"
Luke nodded and led Steve over to a large supply cupboard. He showed him the code on the lock then pulled out a bin and filled it with things. "You can put it back here." He pointed to the place the bin had been.
Luke left Steve and Bessie alone, and Steve dumped the bin by her side then sat down with his back against the cold concrete wall of the garage. He poked her with his foot. Bessie was a 1941 Harley WL. Not the bike Steve had had during the war, but some agent had picked it up at an estate sale, and Fury had, apparently, thought that old motorbike = one Steve Rogers.
Dr. Tully probably wouldn't think that just sitting with her - thinking about all the ways that she was wrong, just like the rest of the future - was progress. Steve tugged the manual in his lap and flipped it open. It was the original, written in stiff, faded typeset, slightly crooked on the yellowing pages. The dust smelled right somehow. Real.
Steve stood and pulled the rest of the tarp off. He coughed violently. She was disgusting. No one even bothered cleaning her off. Well, if he was going to ask Fury to sell her, he might as well get her cleaned up first.
Steve flipped through the manual for a while, skimming, getting a sense of what he was working with, then he pulled a stiff brush out of the bin of tools and started cleaning.
The next few hours went by surprisingly quickly, but when Steve sat back on his heels and looked at the cleaned up bike, he wasn't sure what he felt. It didn't exactly feel good, not the way the gym felt, but it wasn't bad. Maybe Dr. Tully was on to something. Then again, maybe he'd finish the restoration and end up no closer to feeling like he belonged in the 21st century than he had before. Maybe there wasn't anything that could get him there.
Steve put his tools away, threw the tarp back over Bessie, and waved goodbye to Luke. The walk home gave his mind time to wander, but it didn't end up anywhere interesting, drifting through random thoughts and memories, and ending up in the calming static it seemed to sink into most of the time.
A microwave dinner waited in the fridge, and Steve read three chapters of his book then sat and watched New York trundle by beneath his feet before it was late enough to reasonably go to bed. He lay in the dark for a long time, patiently waiting for sleep to come. It usually did, eventually, and the serum meant he could go a long time without, if it didn't.
It blessed him tonight, though and he slept for a few hours. He woke long before the dawn light spilled into his room. He lay on his back, hands resting on his stomach, and stared at the plain, white ceiling. His hands went up and down with his breath.
He waited for his alarm to go off.