And I'm back. I didn't write a word of anything for several weeks, so I'm a bit rusty. Hope you'll forgive me. I've always wanted to write about an Everyman getting to hang out with Cap, and this is me doing it. Hope it doesn't come across as completely random.
Cedar Park, Philadelphia
Monday – Noon
Gabriel Jones had been enjoying a book of French poetry, memories wafting to the forefront of his mind, of warm afternoons at the Sorbonne and young Mademoiselles more interested with what he did in the war than what he had to say about Rousseau, when Noreen walked into the study, holding the wireless telephone receiver in her hand.
"It's Mr. Wilson." She said lowly and handed it to him, before stepping backwards, until he nodded and she took her leave.
"Hello?" Gabe spoke into the phone as it rose to the side of his head.
"Professor Jones?" Sam's voice came on the other side of the connection, "This Sam Wilson."
"Wilson. Yes. I was surprised not to hear from you sooner." Gabe said, his tone similar to that of a teacher gently scolding a tardy student.
"I got your nurse's texts. I've just been busy."
"I can imagine." Jones said, and then coughed dryly.
"Are you alright, man?"
"Absolutely fine. How are you? Tell me, what has transpired between Ms. Carter and your former partner?"
"Well, they're definitely not getting back together, that's the good news."
"Excellent." Gabe said, grinning briefly in satisfaction, "Wait, 'good news'? There's bad news?"
"Yeah. The following day, Steve and Sharon got to talking to each other. And…"
"What?" Gabe asked after Sam took a deliberate pause.
"Look, the thing before, when you said that Steve didn't know a thing about talking to a woman, you weren't jerking my chain at all, were you?"
"No, I wasn't. What exactly happened?"
"Well, I wasn't there, but apparently they started talking about Clay and how Sharon didn't want anything to do with him anymore. Steve supported her decision, though it apparently surprised him. Why did it surprise him? I will tell you, it's actually a pretty funny story…"
"Oh dear…" Gabe muttered, sensing that whatever Sam was going to recount wasn't going to be funny and certainly wouldn't assuage his concern for Steve.
"…Our boy Steve pointed out that both he and Clay Quartermain shared certain similarities; they were both in the Army, they're both six-foot tall, two-hundred and forty pound white boys around their thirties.… And they both have this all-consuming, seething mad-on for the New York Yankees. That last one isn't something that Sharon mentioned, just something I noticed by myself."
"Stick to the topic, boy!" Gabe said impatiently.
"Sorry! Anyway, Steve had this completely shit-brained theory that Sharon only wanted to date him since she still wasn't over Clay, and that when she found out about him and Peggy, she was actually projecting her own issues on Steve."
Gabe flinched. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and swept a hand across his long-dwindling hairline and sighed.
"Mother of god." he muttered, "Somehow, he's actually gotten worse."
"I dread to ask how it went from there."
"I'm not exactly sure." Sam said in earnest, "Sharon won't tell me, but by the time I got there, Steve was already gone and Sharon was pouty. I will tell you, Professor, it took all the enjoymeny out of brunch."
"Alright." Gabe huffed, "We need to figure out our next move. We need to get them civil to each other again, before we can-"
"That's not gonna happen."
"Son, that attitude won't take you far in life."
"Sharon left the country on assignment," Sam interrupted, "Steve volunteered for some kind of SHIELD job with the Army, he already left. I literally can't do shit, and I don't want to, neither. There comes a point when you've got to stop manipulating your friends into dating each other, and it looks like the universe itself is conspiring to keep those two from getting together."
"Call me when either gets back." Gabe ordered, his tone hard and resolute.
Sam sighed in return, fully realizing the Professor was adamant on seeing his once commanding officer going-steady with someone he hadn't actually met.
"Professor… This is getting weird. Is this some kind of bored retiree thing? You need some kind of hobby. Have you heard of Skyrim?"
"I'm waiting for you to call, Agent Wilson." Gabe said as he hung up the phone, turning his attention back to his book with a diminished mood.
Latham, New York
When Rick Jones enlisted in the Army a little over two years ago, he had a simple plan. It was to finish his minimum four years quietly, save every cent he could, and then get out and move on to bigger and better things. No part of the plan ever entailed sitting in the woods of upstate New York with a bona fide legend.
1st Battalion of the 107th Parachute Infantry Regiment was undertaking a training exercise simulating a combat jump carried out in hazardous weather conditions. The battalion's strength were jumbled up and loaded onto random transport planes which took to the air and dropped them over the designated exercise sector. Once safely on the ground, they were to hold still and wait until 7 PM, when it was going to rain, making the jump chaotic by design.
Every paratrooper would then have to try to rejoin their Company or fall in with whatever unit they could get to before proceeding to their objective; a large facility heavily fortified and defended by the opposing force, which usually served as the main building of the SHIELD academy.
It was all simple enough, until a rumor began to circulate that Captain America himself was joining 1st Battalion on the exercise, and everyone began to fervently discus the revelation. Bets were made on every conceivable event; Which Company he was going to fall in with and was he was going to be in his old glory fatigues?
Was anyone in the Op-For going to have the brass testis to take a shot at him? Was he bringing along that little red-haired hotty in the black leather jumpsuit? Was he banging her?
And now, there he was. Captain Steven Goddamn – some said his middle name was actually Grant, but Goddamned suited him better – Rogers; three-time Distinguished Service Cross awardee, veteran of Operation Overlord and of the Battle of the Bulge, liberator of the Lazarus battalion, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, the Howling Commando, Captain America, the Hydra-Killer, was sitting in the dirt in a standard set of ACUs, leaning against a tree-trunk with an M4 carbine in his hands, staring ahead very intensely.
Rick knew the directives were to keep chatter to a minimum, and he also knew that those directives did not include provision for chatter with living legends. Given that the man was an officer, not following directives was probably a bad idea, but Rick always though some opportunities were worth getting into a little trouble for.
"Sir," Rick had said, his voice coming a little higher than he'd have liked. The Captain turned to look at him, his expression neutral. Rick panicked momentarily, wondering what he had wanted to say, wondering if he simply forgot or if he'd opened his mouth without an idea of what words were going to come out of it.
"Did you, um," the young enlisted man started nervously, "Did you really punch Hitler?"
"No, not really." the officer replied after a brief pause, "Closest I ever got to that was punching Otto Skorzeny."
Rick nodded, making a mental note to look up Otto Skorzeny next time he was around a computer. Whoever he was, he had an impressively evil Nazi name.
He should've stopped right there, he'd have walked away with his very own Captain America story to tell to Marlo the next time the two of them got together, but he didn't.
"Did you catch the Nets game the other night?"
"Nets?" the Captain asked, "Sorry. I don't follow basketball. It is basketball, right?"
"Yes, Sir." Rick said and nodded, "I guess you're more into baseball, right?"
The Captain nodded.
"You must be a Yankees fan, huh?" Rick asked with a grin.
In return, the Captain glared at him, his eyes full of icy condemnation and his jaw in a fierce scowl.
"I- I- I meant…" Rick stammered, filling with unexpected panic and intimidation, "Um, M- Mets fan?"
The Captain's eyes softened, and he raised his chin in pride.
"Only when they're playing against the Yankees."
Rick laughed nervously at the way the Captain practically spat out that last word, before averting his gaze awkwardly. That was probably enough conversation with the ninety year old man who is said to have over three-hundred confirmed kills to his name. He was going to shut up.
"Are you from Brooklyn?"
Rick looked back up. The Captain's posture seemed a bit more relaxed, and there was a faint, friendly smile on his lips, as if to make up for his earlier crazy-eyes. Rick nodded to the affirmative, and said,
The Captain nodded in acknowledgement, and poking himself with his thumb in the chest right above his Captain's rank insignia, said,
"Brooklyn Heights. Tell me, Private First Class Jones of Bensonhurst, do you have a first name?"
"It's Rick, Sir. Richard for long."
"Rick…" the Captain repeated, as if to test how the name rolled out, "Call me Steve."
Rick's face lit up, and smiling, he said,
"I don't know about that, Sir. Can I just call you Cap instead?"
"If you prefer." Steve answered with a shrug.
"Um, can I ask you something… Cap?"
Rick scratched his chin thoughtfully. There was no shortage of questions to ask, only none of them were particularly profound and quite a few of them were juvenile and rude, related to portions of the Captain's anatomy.
"Have you ever been shot?" he decided to ask, as it seemed like something a veteran and a greenhorn could talk about.
"Wow." Rick said as he crossed his arms and stretched his legs out, "Was it like, a Nazi super-soldier that shot you?"
"No, just two random German soldiers. One of them wasn't even eighteen years old."
"Oh. Wow. What did it feel like?"
"Oh, just like a hot metal slug tearing through flesh and grinding against bone."
"Huh. So bullets can hurt you?"
"Sure. Bullets, mortars, landmines, bayonets, cosmic-powered-energy canons; that stuff's my Kryptonite."
Rick's eyes widened in astonished amusement, finding the pop cultural reference delightfully unexpected.
"You know about Kryptonite?"
"Superman's been around for a long time, Rick."
"Right. I like Batman better."
"Can I ask you something else?"
Rick took a moment to consider the present state of affairs, before he settled on an issue that he couldn't afford not to bring before the Captain.
"What do you think about the war?"
"The war?" Steve repeated.
"Yeah. You know we're at war in Afghanistan, right?"
"Well, where do you stand on it?"
Steve looked to the side and spent a good few moment looking pensive. Eventually, he turned his gaze back to Rick, and calmly said,
"I support it."
"Oh." Sounded Rick. He had expected something to that effect, but to actually have it confirmed was something else. His eyebrows rose, and he asked, "Really?"
"No, of course not." Said Steve, still calm but incredulous, "How could one support a war? Any war?"
Steve's expression changed again, to something more neutral.
"…Captain… Sir… Are you fucking with me?"
"I'm afraid so."
"So which one is it?"
"Why are you even asking?"
"I just wanna know!"
"Do you want to know where I stand on the war or whether or not the war is justified?" asked Steve, "Because if it's the first, then I can't tell you, and if it's the second, I couldn't tell you."
"You do have on opinion on the war, though, don't you?"
"Of course I do. It's something very important and every American should give it due attention and deliberation."
"So why won't you tell me what-?"
"The reason I'm not going give you an answer is the same reason you want one." Said Steve, suddenly sounding tired, "The first couple of months after the country learned I was back, I got hit with every question you could think of, including the war.
"At the time, I'd barely cracked the end of the cold war at the time on my history catch-up, so I didn't answer then because I didn't really know. Only after a while did I come to realize how much it really mattered to people what other people in the newspapers, magazines and the movie posters thought. Movie stars endorsing the president, boorish so-called journalists spouting sensationalist rhetoric horseshit, why do what they think mean so much?"
"It doesn't." Rick replied, "I'm not asking what, er, Simon Williams thinks, I'm asking what Captain America thinks."
"Captain America's a Yankees-hating Ranger from Brooklyn. I'm sorry to say it, son, but I'm not really the embodiment of the American ideal.
"I never went to college, I don't know any more about the wars in the Middle East than what I'm told on the news and what I read in the paper, and I have as much trouble telling the truth from lies as the next guy."
"Sorry. Only words of wisdom I can impart are make up your mind, not about what's best, or what's safe, but what's right, and prepare to stand by it."
Rick tried not to frown. It wasn't the profound insight into the war on terror that Rick had hope for, but when he'd heard the Captain espouse conflicting positions, he wasn't really pleased with hearing either. It was, he supposed, as good an answer as he was likely to get.
"Okay." He muttered, "But if Marlo was here, she wouldn't have left you alone till you fessed up what you really thoght."
"Marlowe?" Steve asked.
"Girlfriend." Rick said with a grin, "We met when we were both in college for about ten minutes. We've been together for three years."
"That's nice, not to mention it's impressive that you're together despite the distance."
"Well, it's a challenge. But it isn't impossible, you just gotta communicate, you know?"
"Communicate, huh?" Steve asked wryly, "Is that all?"
"Sure." Rick replied simply, "No one's psychic… Or are they? Do you know any psychics, Cap?"
"Um, not that I know of."
"Say, um, what brought you onto this exercise, Cap?"
"I felt like getting out of the city for a while."
"Is it a woman?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"You do have that look about you. What happened?"
Steve shook his head and dismissively said,
"It was nothing," Rick began as grinned, "But it made you feel like moving away two-hundred-fifty kliks and jumping out of an airplane?"
Steve laughed faintly and briefly.
"Okay, there's this woman…"
"It's black-leather-redhead-babe! Right?"
Steve narrowed his eye and slowly said,
"Oh. Okay. Go on."
"Well, there's this woman. She's, well, she's a real winner. I thought we could have had something. We went on one date and it didn't really go the way a date should. It got awkward, we drifted apart. A while ago, I thought we might've moved past it, but then I said something last week. Something stupid. I didn't mean it to be hurtful, but it turned out that way."
"Oh…" Rick muttered, "Sorry, man. What did you say?"
"It's complicated. Sorry."
"Okay. What did you say after you said whatever it was that you said? Did you try to explain yourself?"
"Well, I tried to, but I kind of just dug myself deeper."
"Cap… Are you fucking with me again? You're Captain America."
"So, you jump out of airplanes and smack bad guys up the head with a round hunk of metal."
"I don't think that would have worked in this particular instance." Steve said and looked to the side, "War isn't women. They're not a battlefield you can overrun, not a column you can flank. You fire mortars at the enemy, you have a pretty good idea what's going to happen. With women, eh… They ought to have a field manual."
Steve stopped and sighed. His eyes flicked upward, to look through the vacant patch among the trees around them at the murky skies above.
"Why am I kidding? It's just me. It isn't that I can't talk with women. I can talk a woman's ears off when it comes to, I don't know, strategic troops emplacement, small unit tactics, weapons-prep. I could talk about art, music, literature … But a woman's heart seems to pump out thoughts that might as well be in Arabic. I can talk with a woman. I've just never been good at talking to women.
"Heh. Women. I thought I had my work cut out for me back in my time. I mean I couldn't sweet-talk worth a damn, but still. But now? I mean, the feminism is one thing. Back then you treat a lady with the same amount of respect you treat a man with the same attitude and know-how in her place, that pretty much made you progressive. Now I have to change a whole lot of my thought process….
"And the psychology. Jesus, the psychology. I mean we had a headshrinker in the Army; Major Sofen. But it was mostly mumbo-jumbo. I mean that many smart people probably aren't wrong, but used to all a guy needed was some time on his own or a corner booth in a bar with your best pal.
"Now you've got everyone talking about, um, psychological bias… Coping mechanisms… All that crap. It's… It's all got too complicated. It's like… Modern love just wa-"
Steve looked back down. Rick was eyeing him with his mouth slightly agape.
It dawned on Steve that he'd been blabbering about affairs of his heart to an impressionable young enlisted soldier on a training exercise when he was there to share his experience and raise morale. How navel-gazing and self-absorbed he must have sounded.
What followed were several minutes of awkward silence.
"Hey, Cap." Rick eventually said, "Have you seen Star Trek?"
"Is that the one where they're a space navy or space rebels?"
"Yeah, I saw it."
"It's pretty cool, right?"
Again, sorry for so late an update. I can't promise next to come sooner, but I can promise that I've written quite a bit of stuff that'll come later. It's just a matter of getting over this hill, so to speak. Once I'm over this particular peak, further updates will come much sooner.