The cashier at the corner store handed the customer his change and a plastic bag containing his purchases; a newspaper, some orange juice and a box of pencils. He sat back at his chair, reading his magazine as the stock-boy spoke to him.
"You know that guy?"
The cashier shrugged.
"His name's Mike Keane or something. Lives in that building 'cross the street."
"What's with him? Every time he comes here, I look in his eyes and its like his dog just died."
"The hell are you looking at men's eyes for?"
Outside, Keane unlocked the front door to his building with his key headed right to the staircase despite the elevator being on the ground floor, momentarily with the doors open. He presently went by Michael Keane, but his real name was Steve Rogers. He was born in that very neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, a few years short a century ago. He spent most of his life there before joining the Army, and even lived with his lifelong friend Bucky Barnes for a few years in an apartment situated in a tenement that once stood only three blocks away. It was a crummy place, cramped and with shoddy plumbing and obnoxious neighbors. His current residence on the other hand, a SHIELD safehouse, was an ample two-room in a red brick Federal-style apartment building by the Promenade, offering an excellent view of the Manhattan skyline.
Steve unlocked the door to his apartment on the tenth's floor. He laid his plastic bag on the counter and turned on the stereo, allowing the music of Glenn Miller's Orchestra to fill the place before setting out to make breakfast.
The discovery of the Valkyrie bomber that had served as his icy tomb for decades happened months ago. After that he'd spent considerable time in SHIELD's Headquarters, contemplating the turn his life had taken, learning about the ways in which the world changed through books and documentaries. He was prodded and tested, physically, mentally and intellectually, until six week ago when it was agreed upon that he was as ready to venture out into the world.
He wasn't completely on his own, though. Seeing as how he'd met his share of spies during the war, he knew they were still watching him. There were also conditions; he had to check in with a SHIELD psychiatrist, Dr. Fenhoff, once a week. The news of his discovery hadn't been made public yet, so he was given a cover identity he had to maintain at all times, that of Michael Keane, a freelance illustrator from upstate.
He smirked wryly as he prepared the toast. He almost wasn't released from SHIELD custody. The headshrinkers recognized that he had issues, attributing them to residual combat stress and culture shock. He recalled being presented with a cell phone to test his receptiveness to the modern world, or asked about how he felt about the Director of SHIELD being a Black man. During the war he and his crew spared the world the devastating effects of fantastic weapons few ever learned of. He saw soldiers Black, Puerto Rican, Nisei and of every other ethnicity he could think of fight valiantly and put their lives on the line to deny the enemy their victory. He saw things most people never will, and witnessed the unbearable cruelty man was capable of.
Reacting to a cell phone was only a matter of learning how to use it. Seeing two people of different races or similar genders show affection to each other in public didn't offend him. The president being Black didn't bother him. He didn't bemoan the ways in which the world had changed. Thought some things were unexpected and unfamiliar, he was a soldier; he could adapt and overcome. He had no designs on withdrawing from the world.
Only about thirty agents of SHIELD, a couple of Army Generals, a couple of cabinet members and the President of the United States knew he was up and around. He'd met the SHIELD liaison to the White House's, who informed him the President wanted to meet him at some point. The Army Generals talked to him about re-enlisting. Whichever way he chose, they promised him a hefty amount of money in back-pay as befitting an Airborne qualified Army Captain with all the deserved additional pay he'd incurred during his nearly seventy years in-ice. If he'd reenlist, he would receive a promotion to Major and a posting in the Infantry, Airborne or Special Forces unit of his choice.
He told them he'd think about it. The truth was he didn't know what he was going to do next. Though he accepted the world as it had become, he didn't know if he had a place in it. Before the mission to capture Arnim Zola, a while after the Bulge, with final victory almost within grasp, the Howlers began thinking of life after the war; Dernier and Dugan had families they would rejoin, Jones had an academic career put on hold, and he had a promise of a dance with a pretty girl. It was a dark time, they'd seen their share of war by then, but they had tomorrow waiting.
However, tomorrow was different for him. In the blink of an eye, his friends had full, long lives. Peggy found love in the arms of his wartime second-in-command, Lord Falsworth, for which he was glad. He was left with nothing; Bucky was long gone, and he had no one to dance with. He'd seen enough of war, he had no interest in fighting the wars of today, and he didn't think Captain America was what was needed to win them anyway. His only friend left in the world, Gabriel Jones, was an old man, much changed by the years.
He was adrift in the life with nothing to anchor him. A half-forgotten legend, believed by many to have been an elaborate hoax to raise morale on the frontlines in a time of war. He was SHIELD's kept man, offering them nothing as they looked out for him, either in appreciation for his service or as a courtesy to Jones was a founding member of SHIELD's and Nick Fury's one time mentor.
He placed his breakfast on the table; toast, sausages and a glass of orange juice. He sat down and flipped through the newspaper as he ate silently, only sighing when reading the sports section and being reminded that the Dodgers were no longer a New York team. He wasn't in the habit of reading the obituaries, but he never could help being perceptive. Flipping through the paper, he caught a familiar name, that of Mathew Hollick who died at ninety years old; a former High School principal from Queens and a World War II veteran survived by four daughters.
Steve remembered meeting Matt P. "Doc" Hollick in the woods outside Hydra Stalag 42. He was a Medic in How Company of the 107th Infantry and a friend of Bucky and Dugan, alongside whom he was caught prisoner during the Battle of Bolzano and later freed during Steve's one-man raid. He remembered Hollick tending to the wounded before they began their march back to allied lines, cracking jokes at a mile a minute, bragging about the pin-up-like stunner of a wife he had back home, which he did not hesitate to back up with a photo he had of her. Once they were in England he was discharged and sent home. Over the remainder of the war he corresponded with Dugan, and told him of the child he had on the way he was going to name after their fallen Company commander.
Steve turned off the music and finished his breakfast with a diminished appetite. All these months, he could've caught up with him, and now he'll never know he was back. It bothered him.
It was stupid. Though Steve liked Doc Hollick, he didn't know him much of for long. He hadn't thought of him in a long time, even in the later part of the war. Had he remembered him since returning, he doubted he'd have felt compelled to visit him.
The funeral was on that afternoon. Steve wondered if he should, or could drop by. He also thought about looking up any other surviving members of the 107th, the SSR, or any of the units he'd served with. It didn't take too much thinking to decide it wasn't such a good idea. Showing up at the funeral, he might cross paths with someone from the war who'd recognize him. Aside from breaking his cover, it could prove to be a life threatening shock. Jones was something else, he had seen things that made him develop a constitution for what others may deem shocking.
With his mind made, Steve occupied himself for the rest of the day. He did a little sketching, had lunch in Manhattan, went for a long walk in Central Park and saw Key Largo and In a Lonely Place screened at a small movie house. He had dinner, visited a bar and took a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was 1 a.m. when he walked through the door in a much better mood and all but forgotten about Hollick. He had a small glass of brandy before turning in.
He dreamt of the cries of terrified soldiers, dreamt of foxholes and mortars raining down in the Ardennes forest. He dreamt of Richard Roark.
If you haven't read it already, you should read my earlier story, 'What happened to Everyone?' which is the prequel to this one. I also urge you you to read my other story 'Carrickfergus'. And drop me a review while you're at it. I like reviews.
This of course only the first chapter, more will come soon, featuring some well known Marvel characters that I'm sure you can guess who they are.