One night, drinking in the corner of a crowded bar by himself as happy, young people milled about and socialized, he remembered the red dress. It was the night he asked Falsworth and the boys to join his side, when a pretty girl came up to him as he talked to Bucky, all pretty hair, full lips and soft curves, and promised him a dance.
The girl in question was in prison, awaiting trial. The British government had washed its hands of her and so she was left at the Army's mercy. She'd be hanged within a year, and Steve knew there was little hope of anything else. So he begged, and pleaded, with General Philips, Senator Brandt and anyone who would listen. He explained why she did what she had done, vowing to do whatever they wanted in exchange for leniency.
The General looked at him with pity, the Senator with indifference, before they denied him.
His memories had been coming back in drips and gushes. Sometimes he would hear a musical composition and be reminded of the quiet hours spent in one European town after the battle was won and before he was ordered to advance somewhere else, or he'd hear laughter and recall a lewd joke that Dum-Dum had told him over beer, but he knew no matter what he remembered, nothing would ever ease the pain of losing the two people he loved the most.
Weeks went by, as they'd gone before he went to England. There were no more promises of peace to keep him going, no future to dream of, and no dance to get to. He was numb, dying, and alone.
Around him, there was a sharp yelp, an exhilarated utterance of the word 'Yes' followed by rejoice as a young lady agreed to her beau's marriage proposal. The bride-to-be was a waifish, pretty little thing with big round eyes and shinny blond hair, while her groom was a smallish sort wearing spectacles, a smart business suit, slicked-back hair and a dopey grin, who declared everybody's next round would be on his dime. Steve winced as he closed his eyes and took one last gulp of the bar's hardest whiskey. He got up and waded through the crowd, wanting no part of their revelry as his own heart beat duller and duller.
He buried his hands in his coat pockets as he stepped outside and began to ramble. It was a November night in New York, time and place to get home as soon as possible, or ramble on for hours with every thought you avoided rolling around in your head.
"Wakey-wakey, you bum!"
Steve opened his eyes, the morning sunshine hurting his eyes for a second before they adjusted. He was face-to-face with the hardened visage of an Italian man of thirty, with the irritable scowl he'd seen every sported by two-out-three Platoon Sergeant he'd seen during the war.
Hours earlier, Steve had sat down at a bus stop, somewhere in the Bronx. He wasn't tired and his legs didn't ache, but he wasn't in a walking mood anymore. Instead of eventually standing up and walking away, toward home, perhaps, he'd simply fell asleep.
The Italian was a beat cop, probably at the start of his shift, called Officer Castiglione. He grabbed Steve by his lapel and hauled him to his feet. He shook him about, and was speaking sharply, but Steve failed to listen, taking notice to two men step out of a Packard. They wore tan suits and gray fedoras, and walked straight to Castiglione. The shorter man tapped the cop on the shoulder while his larger partner flashed a military badge.
They were SSR Agents, the tail Philips had put on him for the past few weeks, who kept an obvious, but nigh-inescapable presence. For a couple of minutes, while Steve silently leaned against a wooden divider, they talked to Castiglione, dissuading him from his intent to haul Steve in for vagrancy.
Eventually, Castiglione walked away, looking back with a look of contempt in his eyes, as the two agents lingered.
"Are you alright, Captain Rogers?" the shorter man asked.
Steve simply stared at him vacantly for several seconds, before brushing past him and walking down the street. The shorter man scoffed, and muttered, "Man with a plan my ass. Ain't even worth getting out the car for anymore."
The disrespect fell on Steve's ears, but made no impression. Neither the close brush with a day in the stir nor the bemused contempt he was regarded with mattered to him, there was something far more pressing on his mind, a special, vivid memory he'd got back when Castiglione had him by the jacket, that of Operation Krampus, to the last detail.
Toward the end of 1944, Lt. Col. Jim Fletcher of OSS, who'd been undercover in Germany since the late thirties, was discovered and arrested in Austria. The Howling Commandos were dispatched to see that didn't happen. The squad was able to anticipate the route the armored car would take and prepared an ambush. The operation was a startling success, all squad members and Fletcher got away without a scratch and made it to the extraction point without incident.
The United States wasn't Austria, neither did their armored cars resemble each other, but the fundamentals were the same. Could what have rescued an American hero also save an English perceived traitor?
Steve decided to give it some thought as he began to walk again, not out of despair, but with purpose and conviction. He walked, and kept walking from one borough of the city to the next, knowing the tail was still on him. The benefit of coming back from the dead and then embarking on a continent-spanning dash with a rogue agent was that people stopped caring that you acted inconspicuously.
Come midnight, his feet brought him back to his apartment. In his mind, he'd formulated a rough plan to recreate 'Krampus' on US soil. He jotted a few things down on a piece of paper before passing out on the couch.
He woke up at dawn. He didn't remember anything further, but found Harry Carter sitting in the armchair, wearing the cap and jacket of a cab driver, brandishing a suppressed Walther which he steadily trained at his chest.
"Hullo, Steve." He growled. Just like in that Paris movie theater, he was both menacing and genial.
"Oh your memories are working better? That's nice. You'll remember then, what I'd told you about my sister getting hurt?"
"I don't care. She gave up everything for you, and in the end, you didn't even-"
"How did you get in here? There's two SSR agents camped outside."
"Four. I'm MI-6, pal, how'd you think I made it here?"
"Yeah…" Steve muttered calmly, "That's impressive."
Even from his position, Steve knew he stood a great chance at disarming Harry without serious injury, but doing so would have alerted the agents outside, and Steve didn't want that. So he started talking, trying to convince the vengeful brother to put down his gun.
It was a tense hour before the situation was alleviated. Harry listened to Steve's plan, his involvement soon becoming implicit. He was to be the one to pull it all together, as Steve couldn't do so himself without causing too much suspicion. He didn't apologize for his earlier actions, and had implied that their truce was tied to the success of their plan, but the plan had begun to come together.
Two days later, after Harry had left to follow up on the first set of Steve's instructions, Steve got on a train to California.
Getting an appointment with Howard Stark proved difficult, so he waited out on the sidewalk by his mansion, ignoring the doorman's demands that he leave, until Stark returned in his custom-built car chauffeured by his man Jarvis.
Inside, the industrialist who'd found even greater wealth after the war was over, poured two drinks as he joked. He offered to put him up at the mansion while he stayed, and suggested he introduce him to a particularly patriotic film starlet that he was friends with.
"I'm not as gullible as one of your film starlet squeezes, Howard." Steve said, "I know you knew about what Peggy was planning to do, and I know you helped her, but let her take the fall."
Stark didn't react with anything but a mild tremor in his pouring hand. Rogers was always smarter than he looked, that was why he avoided visiting before when Philips repeatedly requested he do so, fearing he'd put two and to together.
"I didn't let her do anything." He said, keeping both drinks in his reach, deciding he needed the alcohol more than Rogers did.
"Did you, uh…?"
"I would be still stuck in a block of ice if you didn't do it. Thanks." Steve said, "Besides, she didn't give you up, and neither will I."
"You're welcome. I'd like six-thousand dollars. Can you spare that?"
Stark looked at him with astonishment. There was nothing about Rogers' expression to imply he was anything but completely and utterly serious.
"Expenses. I'd also like some equipment. Those non-lethal electric assault-rifles you once told me about, have you managed to build them yet?"
It was another cold New York night, and another bar in Greenwich Village called The Citizen. Years ago, before Pearl Harbor, he'd go there to rub shoulders with fellow aspiring artists. Bucky would often tag along, and on most nights, found himself a pretty artist girl, occasionally someone else's date, and took her home.
He hadn't been there for years, and had found that the faces had changed. Gone were Crazy Joe, French Joe, Patty and Elliot, and even Joe the Bartender. He was saddened as he wondered what had happened to them; lost on the battlefields of Europe or had they given up on the bohemian lifestyle?
He was also relieved. He'd worried that someone might've recognized Captain America, or recall the likeness of scrawny Steve Rogers. It had been risky coming here, but he had to do it. He had to say goodbye to New York and to Steve Rogers and everything he represented.
Christmas was around the corner, and Krampus II was set to go.
Harry proved to be a very competent lancer, but then unnervingly intense professionalism must've been in the blood. As Steve was still being watched, he did most of the leg work, gathering the rest of the resources and men needed for the job. He received the equipment that Stark had provided. Tear-gas grenades and assault rifles, roughly of the same appearance as a BAR, designed to fire darts charged with enough electricity to incapacitate a man, however momentarily.
He'd also gotten the crew together, and had been watching over them as they holed up in a couple of adjoining cheap motels in Alphabet City.
There weren't any men in the world he would have liked on this undertaking than the men who pulled off Operation Krampus the first time around; the Howling Commandos. He knew that had he called upon them, they would have answered the call, if not out of their friendship to Peggy then out of their loyalty to him.
Except Dernier had a wife and daughter to look after in Marseilles. Morita was married with a baby on the way, as was Dugan. Falsworth had his mother and the family name to consider. Gabe was a smart kid with the potential to go places no black man before him ever did, and was already pursuing post-graduate studies at the Sorbonne. It was too much to ask of any of them, so another crew of the reckless and daring was called for.
Red Hargrove was a New Yorker from Hell's Kitchen, tall and thin with a freckled face and an ever present cigarette holder between his teeth. More than the color of hair, his nickname hinted he wasn't what one would call a model American. He was a barnstormer in his young and flew for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil war. He also worked for SSR, getting their agents out of hot spots in Axis territory. As far as Steve was concerned, he was a good man and that was all that mattered.
Logan was a Canadian paratrooper, a short, stocky, hairy type with an attitude to match his appearance and an ever present stench of beer, sweat and cigar smoke. During the war he was a fierce and implacable soldier, feared and hated by many, but also a good, honorable man and he and Steve shared a bond of respect.
Harry had brought in Rambling Sid Ridley, a veteran soldier from Birmingham who'd been in SOE. He was mean, surly and entirely disagreeable on any other day, but had owed his life to Peggy from before her time at the SSR, and was determined to see that she was set free by any means necessary.
Harry himself had been in the Royal Navy's Special Boat Section during the war, seeing action in Greece and Burma. While other servicemen looked up to their fathers and uncles, he looked up to his sister, the SOE adventurer. He was extremely motivated, making no bones of the fact that he didn't care about whatever happened for Peggy to be set free.
And there was him, Steve Rogers, Captain America, hero of Assano, veteran of Operation Overlord and the Battle of the Bulge, the Hydra Killer, ready to give up his country.
The gravity of and implications of his designs weren't things that escaped him. He'd be aiding a perceived traitor to the United States, which was paramount to treason itself. Even succeeding, the two of them could only hope for a life spent on the run. He'd be giving up everything, severing every tie he still had.
He loved his country and he respected its laws, but none of that made him love Peggy Carter any less. The prospect of life o the run had plagued him for the past month, but no matter how dreadful it was, he always went back to the same question; was he simply not going to rescue her?
He drank the rest of his beer, paid up and left. It was a December night in New York, the time and place to get home as soon as possible, or walk for a couple of hours, as he'd often done recently, thinking about the caper. Only this time, he'd had the pieces set in place so the men in gray hats didn't find out that he'd disappeared until it was too late.
It was nearly time. Walking through the snow, he started to remember Belgium in January of '45, the night before the planned breakthrough, Morita leaning against a tree trunk, puking his guts out and muttering every curse in the book, while he felt calm, without tension or anticipation. It was a little bit like that.
She'd helped make him into the man he was. She'd given him back his best friend, however briefly. She'd made him fall in love with her, twice, and had brought him back from the dead.
He was going to save her, as she'd saved him.
Thanks for sticking with me, all, hope you liked it.