It was the early hours of morning. Phil Coulson stood looking at the field of white grave markers, seeming without end, feeling a strong sense of reverence. He had an uncle and a grandfather buried in Arlington, and in a way, so was the man he was minding.
Coulson gave the man his space, and watched over him from ten feet away as the man gazed upon the grave marker that read;
WORLD WAR II
JUL 4 1918
MAR 2 1945
DSC & 2 OLC
SS & OLC – PH
He was found two months ago, at a time Coulson was in California observing the Tony Strak situation. By the time that was resolved and he’d flown back to headquarters, the 1940’s recovery room mock-up had been constructed and the revived Rogers was placed there. The plan was to subliminally inform him as to how much time had passed over a period of time. It was a good plan, in Coulson’s estimation, thought of by SHIELD’s top psychiatrist. It was a shame that Dr. Fennhoff wasn’t a baseball fan.
Instead Rogers reacted in such a manner that led him to find out things the hard way. He escaped into the streets, making it as far as Times Square when SHIELD agents caught up with him. It was one of SHIELD’s most visible excursions to date, and involved Colonel Fury himself. Thankfully, he took the news pretty well. Only saying; “I had a date.” Before allowing them to escort him to a SHIELD safehouse.
Those four words baffled everyone that heard or learnt of them, but the Colonel pointedly forbade them from pressing the matter if Rogers was reluctant to discuss it. Coulson suspected that Fury knew, like he did everything else, but choose to withhold the information out of respect for the man.
Since then, Rogers remained in the facility with his own consent. Everyday he endured a battery of tests that examined his body and mind. What was left of the day he spent reading history books and watching video documentaries covering the span of the past seventy years, or sparing with trainers, many of whom were former SEALs or Rangers who he surprised by keeping up with them, even picking up the moves they used with ease. While most had heard of the legend of Captain America, they now began to experience it, feeling the same awe he inspired in their grandfathers.
For the most part, though, he kept to himself. Talking only laconically, yet politely, to whoever talked to him.
Yesterday he announced to Fury that he was ready to go out into the world for a little while. Fury suggested someone he thought he’d like to meet; an old friend who’d survived the years. But first Rogers had another visit in mind, one morbid in nature. He wanted to see where he was ‘buried’.
“Alright.” Said Rogers eventually after a few minutes, “I’ve seen it.”
“Would you like to leave, sir?”
“Yeah…” said Rogers then paused, “Is suppose they’re gonna take that thing down?”
“When your…” answered Coulson, pausing as he looked for the right word, “Return is made public, maybe.”
Coulson glanced at another member of the security detail standing nearby and gave her a nod. She in turn spoke into a communicator, informing the rest that Captain Rogers was on his way out.
A little less than twelve hours later, Rogers and Coulson were in one of SHIELD’s black sedans as it made its way through the streets of Philadelphia. Rogers remained his stoic self for the entire drive. Only once did he speak, when he asked,
“How old is he by now?”
“He’s ninety-three, sir.” Said Coulson, glad he had spoken. He expected him to open up and for the conversation to continue, but he remained silent until it pulled up in front of a house in Cedar Park.
It was a two-story house built in brick and surrounded by a barren, snow-covered yard. Had Rogers been architecturally inclined, he might have recognized it as a Queen Anne styled house.
“We’ll wait here.” Said Coulson.
“There’s no need.” Said Rogers, “Go get some lunch.”
“Those are the Colonel’s orders.”
“Alright.” Rogers said simply, “It’ll be some time, though.”
“You take all the time you want, sir.”
Rogers stepped out the car and straightened his suit. It was a navy blue, two button suit he wore over a cornflower blue shirt and a maroon tie. It was tailor-made overnight by SHIELD’s on-staff tailor, which Rogers did not believe was an actual job someone could have in a government agency.
He’d been offered the option of the Army’s new class A’s; a blue uniform and a tan beret, but it was so different from what he was used to that he preferred the similarly-colored suit. He closed the car door behind him and walked to the front door, thinking why anyone ever thought ‘Army Green’ wasn’t a good enough color, and rang the doorbell.
A short while later, the door opened and a young woman stood in the doorway looking at him. She was of her mid-twenties, similar to the age Rogers appeared to be, with raven black hair and a contrastingly fair complexion. She wore a sort of athletic wear and a hooded sweater jacket. She had several metal studs embedded into the upper part of her ear, which to his surprise, he found oddly appealing.
“Can I help you?” she said suspiciously.
“I’m Michael Keane.” Said Rogers, using the pseudonym he was instructed to use for the time being, “Professor Jones is expecting me.”
“Oh… You’re Mr. Keane?” she said, somewhat surprised, “Didn’t expect someone so… Young.”
She laughed, and he made himself to smile.
“Come on in, Prof. Jones has been waiting for you.”
Rogers followed her in.
Jones had been waiting in his plush leather chair in the corner of his study by the standing lamp, reading a book with his glasses on, when Rogers and his live-in nurse entered the room.
“Oh, did the door bell ring?” he said, “I didn’t hear it.”
Rogers recognized the voice despite the considerable gravel. He recognized little else, as the man sitting before him was on the frail side, though he hadn’t lost too much height. His hairline had receded to the back of his head and grown white. Much of his facial features were obscured by the gray and white beard he sported.
The nurse went to his side to help him stand up, and handed him his quad cane.
“This is Mr. Keane to see you.”
“Yes… Of course.”
On his feet and his left hand clutching his cane, he extended the other for a handshake.
“It is so good to finally see you again, sir.” He said. Rogers was impressed by how calm he acted, and briefly wondered if his old age affected his mental capacities and that he did not actually know who he was. He tried his best to contain his emotion and sound as calm as he could.
“Likewise, Prof. Jones.” He said as he shook his hand. It was a strong, firm hand that shook his, and Rogers knew Jones was well aware of who stood before him.
“Kim, you can have the evening off.” Said Jones as he let go.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. Give my regards to Rosa.”
Noreen gathered a few of her items and bade the two goodbye while they were making small talk. As soon as the door closed, Jones stopped talking, allowed a look of contained anguish to fill his feature and raised his arms in a gesture Rogers understood and reciprocated. The two soldiers embraced for the better part of a minute, saying nothing as a tear silently flowed down Jones’ ragged cheek.
“Why didn’t they find you a whole lot sooner, Steve?”
Later, the two sat on the couch, listening to an old Glenn Miller record, with drinks in their hands.
“What did they tell you about what happened after you disappeared?” asked Jones, nursing his glass of red wine.
Rogers sighed and took a drink of his scotch.
“They told me about… Well, they brought me up to speed. They told me the Red Army was the first into Berlin, and that the war in the Pacific was over a few months later. I read about the Cold War, Vietnam… All that stuff’s so heady, it was gonna take a while to get my head around. But about us? Our guys? They didn’t tell me anything.”
“Didn’t you ask?”
“No. I was scared to. I guess I didn’t want to find out if everyone was dead.” Said Rogers, taking another drink. “So what happened to everybody?”
“Well, after you disappeared, Falsworth took over command of the squad. We were joined by a couple of guys; Percy Pinkerton, he was in the Brit Paras with Falsworth, and Izzy Cohen, from the Bronx. Even after VE-Day, we hunted down rogue pockets of Hydra troops who were trying to carry on Schmidt’s vision. We captured a three our four war criminals. But by then we were so damn tired. We had our points; so me, Morita and Frenchie decided to go home.
“Dernier went back to his wife and kid in Marseilles. I’m sad to say I let more than a few years go by before I decided to look him up, because when I did it was too late. He’d died of a heart attack.”
“Morita went back to Fresno. He got married that year, and I stood as his best man. He became a lawyer, went into politics and served four terms in Congress. I delivered his eulogy ten years ago.”
“Myself, I went back to school. First at Howard, then later at the Sorbonne. I never did shake my fondness for the mademoiselles.
“The SSR was decommissioned in early 1946. They then put Colonel Philips in command of the 107th, then promoted him to a one-star and made him division Deputy Commander. Eventually, he became one of Truman’s advisers on arms technology, a job he kept for the next two administrations.
“In the sixties, I started hearing from Philips and Dugan again. Dugan rejoined the Rangers after the war, but I don’t think that’s surprising to you. He fought in Korea and then joined the CIA. I had studied politics and military history, I had written a couple of books, and I was teaching in a little University in England. They brought me back in contact with Howard Stark.
“He’d gotten even richer by then. The two of us became off the book consultants on foreign weapons programs. What the four of us had was a lot like the SSR, we just weren’t the crazy bunch of kids running off to do missions, and were now trying to stop the Soviets from building an arsenal, this time.
“With Philips in the Pentagon, Dugan in the CIA, Stark in the arms industry, and me providing senior intelligence analysis, we started to build something.”
“Exactly.” Said Jones, “It took over years. But we got there. In 1973, the Strategic Hazard Intelligence, Enforcement and Logistics Division was inaugurated. The name changed a bit over the years. General Philips just barely missed seeing it happen.
“We hung your old, USO shield that the Red Skull dented in Director Dugan’s office. It’s been there ever since.
“SHIELD was much smaller then, though. And underfunded. So we had to make up for it by proving we could do the job the CIA couldn’t; which meant thinking outside the box, leverage human assets against all else. So when the time came to put together the only covert operations task force we could afford, we had come down to two young men who could lead them.
“Both had killer instincts, expertly trained and were decorated veterans of Vietnam. Our first pick was a Marine Corps Captain who was the lone survivor –on both sides, mind you- of a catastrophic battle near the Combodian border.
“The other was in Rangers and won the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the Battle of Kham Duc, but he also lost an eye. It was the eye that made us decide to pick the Marine… I can’t even remember his name, but it was a moot point since he turned us down. So we went back to the Ranger. You’ve met Nick Fury, I’m sure.”
“That I have.”
“I tell you, after all the things I’ve seen that man do, and how far he’s made it, I shudder to think what would’ve happened if the Marine said yes. The world would’ve been different, I tell you.”
“For the worse, right?”
“Sure.” Jones said, and Rogers was a little unnerved by the hint of hesitation he spoke in.
“After that, SHIELD grew. We got more agents, more bases and more authority, even as its founders passed away. When Philips dies, we were in serious risk of being shut down. When Dugan and Stark passed away in 1991, there was no stopping it. ”
“How did they go? ”
“You know when Teddy Roosevelt died, Thomas Marshall that he had to go in his sleep, because if not, there would’ve been a fight. The same can be said for Dugan. As for Stark… Well, it was a car accident. But, er, well.”
“Nothing. It was a car crash, all investigation and evidence pointed toward it being a tragic accident. But at the time there were some wild enemy chatter it was a few rogue Soviets, sending one of their top assassins after Stark in retaliation for the fall of the Soviet Union; a Soviet boogeyman called the Winter Soldier.
“Anyway, Howard had a son, Anthony. He was kidnapped a few months ago in Afghanistan, but he was recently rescued. Escaped on his own, actually. I’ve met him a few times, he’s a lot like his old man. You could… I don’t know. I think he’d like to meet you.”
Rogers bowed his head.
“Remember our time in France, Gabe?”
“Of course.” Said Jones, feeling puzzled.
“Remember you teaching me about all the… Intricacies of understanding women? And then when I tried to tell you who it was I was interested in, you said everyone who knew me, and her, didn’t need to be told about it… You know what’s been tearing me up, Gabe, you know what I couldn’t muster up the guts to ask.”
“Tell me; what happened to Peggy?” asked Rogers, a faint tremble in his voice.
Jones loathed saying what came next. He waned to lie, to spare his old friend and CO any further trauma. In the end, he respected him too much to do that, so he told him.
“She and Falsworth, they were married in 1949.”
“Falsworth?” Rogers said, absolutely shocked.
“After the war, they joined MI-6 together.”
Rogers hung his head and balled his fists as they rested on his knees.
“I got married too, Cap.” Said Jones, “Twice. I loved Aisha and Susan both so dearly.
“Both of them died on me. I was broken each time, but the thing is… A man tends to put himself back together after a while. It could drive you crazy, good memories can just be reminder that they’re over and gone. But you can’t let it destroy you. A man forgets about the loss, and just keeps remembering that, for some time at least, he had something precious. Something beautiful”
Rogers finished his drink and got up silently, walking to the far wall which was adorned with framed photographs and newspaper clippings. He scanned them all, realizing the significance of some, but not others. Some depicted faces he knew, of varying agedness.
“When you were gone we all mourned you, Bucky too. It was tough on all of us; me, Peggy, Falsworth. Hell, even Philips. We were devastated. But in time we moved on, found new lives, found new loves… Doesn’t make what any of us had meant any less. Knowing you, it made my life better. Hell, knowing each other, it made all our lives better. We never forgot you, Steve, not for one day. And neither did she.”
In the center of the wall was a picture taken at a US Army Camp in Northern Italy, in early November 1943, depicting some four-hundred escaped prisoners of war. Bellow it was a picture bearing the inscription ‘The Hamptons – New Year’s Eve 1966’.
It depicted a group of people in their late forties and early fifties, among them was Peggy, still radiant at a time that would be a hair over twenty years after he’d last seen her, looking glad and full of life. Around the table he recognized Howard Stark, Lord Falsworth, Dugan, Morita and Jones. Some were a little fatter, others a little balder, each markedly different yet essentially the same as he’d known them. A bunch of war companions getting together for some champagne and to ring in the New Year. Of note, there were three empty seats around the table, each with a full glass of champagne before them; a tribute absent friends.
“Did you stay friends with them?”
“Yes. I stayed friends with them.”
Rogers was silent for a short while.
“Were they happy?”
“Yes. They were.”
“They had a son and a daughter. Brian and Jacquelina.”
For a moment Rogers was silent before he looked back at him, his expression an odd picture of relief.
“Good.” He said.
Jones knew it was genuine, and felt a modicum of shame for ever considering he’d take the news any way other than with grace and honor after the initial shock.
“God, that’s really good to hear.” Said Rogers as he took back his seat. He was silent again, but it was a relieved silence. Jones thought it might’ve been a trick of the light, or his eye-sight going, but he thought he saw his friend smile for a second.
“Isn’t there anything else you want to know?”
“The only thing I want to know is…Are you so old and decrepit you can’t handle another drink?”
Jones smiled faintly at the attempted levity, sympathetic yet admiring.
“Pour us a couple, and we’ll see how it goes down.”