After Steve’s meltdown in Times Square, Colonel Nick Fury decides to make it up to him. He decides to play impromptu tour director to Steve and a phalanx of grim-faced SHIELD agents as the cars drive through Manhattan.
Fury has shown him the future like Buck Rogers waking up in one of those movie serials when he was a kid.
The War is over, Fury tells him as he gestures at the skyscrapers, natural gas buses with color advertisements for banks, action movies and soda-less energy drinks and miles of stores with loud-colored signs and gleaming glass facades. Steve’s face is pressed against the van window as he tries to reconcile this place with the world he left behind. Streams of people cross the street with the change of streetlights.
So this is what peace looks like, he wonders.
They arrive back at the SHIELD building. Fury promises him tomorrow that he will get Steve on something called the Internet to learn about everything. Steve has no idea what the Internet is and what kind of debrief that it entails. But when they arrive in the conference room, Fury’s second-in-command, a shorter stoic man named Agent Coulson, is waiting for them. The agents huddle in a corner while Fury and his agent mutter about “that mutant green giant, of all the days to do this.”
(No, Steve didn’t think he misheard but he sort of wishes he had).
Steve yawns, then fiddles with the edge of his shirt. No matter what they did, it doesn't feel like the SRR undershirts.
He wants to ask what happened to his people and whether anyone he knows is alive like Peggy Carter or Howard Stark. Or what has happened to his shield? But it’s been 70 years and we wonders if he wants to know the answer to those questions.
Anyway, his questions are not about to answered because Fury suddenly turns around and tells his agents to move Steve “out of that disaster of a stage set and somewhere he can sleep, the man’s exhausted for God’s sake.”
The Colonel leaves his team to sort out the train wreck of where Steve would be sleeping tonight. Fury gives Steve something called a cell phone. Punch this button, he is told, “if they don’t make you happy.”
Steve pretends not to listen as the agents discuss him in the third person and refuse to look in his direction while they do it. The discussion is ongoing on several safe houses which are unsuitable because of “the current security situation” and whether they should head to the Helicarrier.
He and the lady agent who impersonated a nurse are avoiding each other. She has taken off the nurse’s uniform and really is a willowy blonde under those masses of teased brown hair. He’s sure that she intended to emulate Peggy as much as possible and this unsettles him for a number of reasons than that SHIELD started off with lying to him.
The lady agent however seems to be in charge of his situation, which again was too much like Peggy and her role in his life before. He would rather just be left alone in the room than think about now his life would be categorized as before and after the Flying Wing. Steve half-listens about how he is the key to something called the “Avengers Initiative.” There is a strange undercurrent in their voices as the agents talk about his safety and obsess with their cell phones.
Finally, Steve gets up to find the toilet. Yes, really he is able to follow directions and walk down the hall and to do his business. It hasn’t changed that much that he needs help, has it, he wants to ask them but bites his tongue. He leaves the cell phone pointedly on the table and none of them notice.
On his way back, he finds bedding and other items from his room rolled up in a cart in the hallway. He picks up the bedding and pillows. There is an open office supply closet that is dark, unlit and quiet.
Like a good soldier, he knows how to bunk down just about anywhere for the night. He closes the door and curling him in his bed in a corner. He stares at the dark ceiling and wonders if he can hear anything beyond the silent noise of the building. That sums up what he knows about Fury’s operation so far. Steve shivers without his shield beside him. He rubs his dry eyes a few times and exhales. In his rather short life as Captain America, he has slept in worse places, he tells himself.
"You remember that time I made you ride the Cyclone on Coney Island?"
"Yeah, and I threw up?"
"This isn't payback, is it?"
"Now why would I do that?"
The closet door cracked open. He grasps at open air for his shield when he hears a soft, “Captain Rogers, why are you in here? We have been looking for you.”
“Sleeping.” He answers automatically, blinking back fatigue and irritation. He studies empty hands. He has lost a lot of weight while he was asleep, he realizes from the bones of his wrist and his forearms. He flexes his stiff shoulders, realizing he is in no way near his fighting form after he was transformed by the Super Soldier formula. He sags and wonders how he can sleep without his shield in his hands.
"If you were tired, sir, we could have set up something –"
He gets up to his full height and locks eyes with her. "Ma’am, all I want to do is sleep. I’m sure you all have the best intentions –"
"Colonel Fury says we’re to take care of you –"
"Ma’am, I know quite a bit about taking care of myself."
You’ve lived in the peace that we fought for all your life and I don’t begrudge you that, Steve wants to tell her. How can she understand how he feels right now when he can’t even piece this all together in his head? He feels like the men of the 107th when he came in posing as a war hero with the USO show.
The Agent pursues her lips unhappily.
And then every siren in the building shrieks around them. Steve pulls himself and Agent Carter into a doorway and expects the shake and thunder of a bomb. She shakes him off and starts shouting into some kind of strange earring. Steve follows her sprint across the hall.
The agents of SHIELD stagger back into their headquarters around 3:30 a.m. No one is dead, though one person is slightly injured from stumbling around in the dark alley and tackling a suspect along with half a dozen NYPD and FBI agents . . .
“If he was a freaking terrorist, they should have shot the idiot before they left that idiot out of training camp.” One of SHIELD’s agents said, stumbling on one good foot while another agent supported him on the other side.
“Andrews, can’t we be glad he is the only one who has shown up on the radar in the last two days?” Steve trails behind her. She also is gingerly moving as she got caught in the tangle of men piling on their lone suspect. “I appreciate that just maybe there is no one left for them to send out.”
Agent Andrews snorts at that. “You wish, Carter.”
Steve follows Agent Carter, silent and observing as they start to come off high alert. He has learned more from a few words and measured silences about a landmark site known as the World Trade Center than a handful of newspapers could have told him.
They arrived near a construction site almost into Sunday morning of September 11th, 2011. They were in stealth mode, he is told.
"We shouldn’t be even bringing you into this but – we want to be here." A few people call out “Agent Carter” as she is telling him this. She enters a huddle with a group of subdued police and firemen. A fire truck is hid under camouflage nets. Everyone is dressed in grayish black set of clothing that Steve recognizes as an offshoot of the army fatigues that he and the team wore out on in the field.
Agent Carter turns around and gestures for him to join in the huddle. "Rogers, if you come with us, you need to keep this quiet. Just –"
“Got it. Quiet.” She gives him back his cell phone after she sets it to something called silent mode. She also gives him a gun, telling him how to operate it in a hushed tone as they scoot over and lean against the building.
There isn’t much to say until a small flash of light appears and a huge number of men rush forward.
He feels shame at not being at the forefront. He surges forward and Agent Carter pushes him back. “No. No.”
Afterwards, Steve asks her about the mission on the car ride back. Agent Carter shakes her head. Classified and Steve had no Need-To-Know. However, she said, whatever was going on was not the point. Everyone in the field there was going to keep this under wraps.
“Why?” She turns around to face Steve.
When Steve sketched Peggy Carter one night almost 70 years ago, he tried to catch that lilt to her lips. Peggy must have smiled a lot before the War. It would be a shame, he thought then, if she didn’t smile like that again after the War.
If he had to sketch Agent Carter, he might be able to image her smiling with her lips, but Steve can only envision her eyes focusing out at a distance, warily looking ahead at the world ahead.
“After 9/11, those of us who responded to the 9/11 attacks made a pact. If we made it to the 10th anniversary, it was going to be a nice peaceful day in NYC. It’s not going to be today.”
“SHIELD was there?” Steve asked.
Carter nodded, sagging against the car door. “Yeah, we were there . . . I was there.”
He ends up sitting on the sagging couch in the field agents’ coffee room. It reminds him of the small nests that he and the other Howling Commandos had set up for themselves throughout the war. In SHIELD’s case, there was room enough for a few beat up cushions, an ugly puke green blanket and a ratty coffee table with a hissing coffee pot and something called a microwave oven that made popcorn on the spot.
But the crowning aspect of the room was a huge screen television set that hugged the wall and played in crisp beautiful color.
Steve would later get to see the Army/Navy Football games, Star Wars and a documentary on the moon walk on this television. But right now, the SHIELD team is bringing out the grimmest set of home movies ever imagined.
“You wanted to know," Carter says as she starts slipping in what she calls DVDs.
On September 11, 2001, people woke up in the morning all over the world watching in real time as the tower fell. The Pentagon was smashed into with jets carrying ordinary people, subverted by a few terrible men.
He gets up and stands close to the screen when he sees people throwing themselves off the Towers trying to escape the flames and heat.
Like Bucky. Oh my God. Bucky.
“We lost 12 people that day.” Agent David Andrews said. His voice doesn’t shake because David is the one who keeps track of all the numbers in the field. There had been 36 people in the SHIELD organization between Washington, DC and New York then. SHIELD had had a turnover of about 30 percent during President Clinton’s administration as it struggled to redefine the agency's mission after the USSR Empire had fallen and China started to discover capitalism.
After 9/11, there were 11 SHIELD members left including two managers.
“Jo-Jo and Gus ran into North Tower with the Port Authority guys,” Martin Worthington says.
“Coulson’s partner Maddy climbed up number 7 to see if we could use that tech of Richards’ to stabilize the structure. He didn’t even get time to set up, God bless him.”
"What about Tobey and those others in that meeting at the Pentagon? If only they hadn’t changed the conference room . . .”
“Pete’s cousin was on Flight 93.”
The agents name off people as the videos keeps playing. No one dwells deeply on the people that they talk about but they seem to think it is important to name all of them even if they had just a peripheral connection to that day.
(There is an entry in the SHIELD database for Mario Taglione, Fury’s tailor who had made the first version of Fury’s leather coat. That day, Mario had hand delivered a suit to one of his clients in the buildings. Fury still keeps a picture of himself and the tailor on his office wall.)
After SHIELD regained its popularity with the US Congress and President Bush, those 11 SHIELD veterans had enough money to personally recruit a number of NYC police officers, fire men and paramedics that they remembered from 9/11 as well as a number of Pentagon officers who had managed to walk out of the west side of the Pentagon alive. That number had included a young Port Authority dispatcher, Sharon Carter, whose poise under pressure and refusal to leave the World Trade Center site until she accounted for the living and the dead PA staff was not unnoticed by Colonel Fury.
Of the 687 SHIELD employees in the NY/DC region, David said, 78.5 percent of the people could name how they personally knew or were connected to people who had died that day.
Steve would dwell on the implications of all that later. But right now he is in the midst of all these empty exhausted men and women who are sitting around him in chairs and the floor telling him the whole blasted history of their lives. He nods at the right moments and their faces lose the pinched anxious look.
Steve finds out that there are cots set up in the basement for the staff to sleep on if they need it. The agents decided they are on duty all day, listening to the intelligence from the field and watching, always.
Sharon pulls Steve aside about 6 a.m. when someone decides to go off and see if there are bagels and cream cheese for sale somewhere. A few of them smile when Steve tells them he likes a nosh with lox and a schmear (though he is puzzled by who would put Jalapeno in bagels with cheddar cheese.)
“Captain, if you want us to move you to a hotel or somewhere, we’ll find a way to get you out of here. We had Stark volunteer his mansion.”
“Howard Stark?” From Carter’s sigh, Steve knows. Howard is gone. Damn.
“It’s his son, Tony Stark. He’s a consultant for SHIELD and Fury called in a favor. ”
“No it’s a-okay here.” Steve stretches out and starts to rub the itch on his right should against the door way. He used to have thick skin there where the leather straps for his shield rubbed and toughen the calloused skin. He misses the feeling.
“Agent, you didn’t happen to find my shield when you pulled me out?” He’s so embarrassed after the question pops out of his mouth. It seems so personal and selfish to ask for something in light of the day. But her face softens at his tone.
“Yes, Captain. Let’s go see if we can’t find it for you.” She starts off for another series of corridors. A few times, she swipes a card and puts her hand out for a “scan.” He’ll be programmed into the databases soon, she tells him.
They reach the vault and walk into a face-off. Sharon and the two agents on duty have a brief discussion of their different interpretations of where Steve is allowed to go per Fury’s instructions. Sharon asks Steve for his phone. It takes him a few moments before he realizes what she wants and hands it over.
After she exchanges a few words with the Colonel, a phone rings in the room. After that call, the agents have no problems proceeding to a box in the middle of the room. Sharon waits as one of the agents opens the green cargo container.
The shield sits nestled in green foam. Steve touches it and shivers in relief. He lifts it out and hefts it onto his arm, restraining himself from hugging it to his chest.
“You look relieved,” she tells him.
“It is an old friend.” Sharon observes him, a wide grin lighting up her face considerably. Steve is pleased to notice that she definitely doesn’t resemble Peggy in this moment.
Then he ducks his head, blushing because he realizes she is a woman under the serviceable SHIELD uniform and yeah, dames.
He closes the lid on the box and shield now slung against his back. The vault agents glare at Steve. He straightens up to his considerable height and they look . . . alarmed.
He waits until they leave them alone. Then he asks, “Agent Carter, why is the Avenger Initiative so important to SHIELD?”
She warily eyes him.
“Sharon, is it important to you or the other SHIELD agents if I join the Initiative?”
“Captain.” She sits down on the crate and folds her hands before her. ”The threats we know and can deal with are what a man can think of. But what of men who think that they are above mankind?”
“Hitler was flesh and blood and though he thought he was an Aryan superman, he was just a human man.”
“What if they were more like your Red Skull or even worse?”
Steve sits on the crate beside. “I thought Erskine’s formula died with him.”
"Sir, there are worse things than what Erskine's formula could create out there."
“Steve. ‘Sir’ was only for the battlefield in the War. I have no status here. I think I might be AWOL if not dead.”
“Actually, you were reinstated.”
“Are you surprised? You need to see the reports from the field from the last year. Then you will understand. You have to understand.” Sharon leans forward. "If you are half the man that my aunt Peg told me stories about, we need you to unite the Avengers and lead that team. Fury –"
She nods. "Yes, she was my father’s sister. She was so –"
She opens up her arms expansively and yes, Steve knows.
The SHIELD team has assembled dossiers on various situations including the Ironman files. (There was a note about how Tony Stark was uncontrollable, flippant and unresponsive to authority. Steve nearly chokes at the whiny bureaucratic commentary. Knowing Howard and what he could get into, that acorn had not just dropped near the tree, it was like a whole other trunk had grown out of the tree and taken over an entire forest.)
There were reports on the green mutant creature. (It was nine feet tall and weighed a metric ton. Could anything be that big and walk without sinking into the earth?)
And then there was a thunder god named Thor. Well, he had the hammer to smite his enemies when he wasn’t out courting female physicists in New Mexico. (Female scientists. Female dame scientists, Bucky would say, whistling in that thin toneless tone between his teeth. Steve smiles at the thought without hurting. Bucky would have thought it more amazing than men on the moon.)
Of course, with each hero there are the enemies, even part of a US Army command. He then delves into the SHIELD encounters. Sharon was not exaggerating about what the SHIELD team had faced and their dedication to fighting even as they had sustained losses. He grows increasingly angry as he reads about something that looks like Hydra rearing its head again.
There are attacks against various facilities and allies. Feints. Exploratory runs. He and his guys had done enough of them of their own that he could recognize the pattern.
After hours of reading in his little office supply closet, Steve sits back on the cot and runs his hand absently against the surface of his shield that sat on the blankets next to him.
General Phillips once said after Steve served a week with him: “Steven, my boy, you have the finest tactical mind that I’ve seen in a long time. I can either hold you down here and bore you talking this war to death or let you, Stark and Carter run amok and win it. So I’ve decided that I’m going to go for the latter option because I damn well know you’ll probably sneak out and win the War without permission and that would be a repudiation of my leadership and an embarrassment to the brass.
“So just go off and get busy, kid.”
When Fury arrives back at New York office a few weeks later, he finds Steven Rogers sitting in his office which has now moved to the field agent’s coffee room. Steve has acquired a real desk, a file cabinet with several combo locks and a table with a map of the world. The map is littered with post it notes and a few poker chips set on top of the Southwest (Probably from Agent Barton, Fury grumped, who had passed by the office a week ago.)
A media player is playing something modern and complicated. Rogers is busy scanning a few browser windows with various news feeds open and even more files of classified material open on his lap. A few of Fury’s younger agents are seated on the couch next to Rogers giving him fine points about hacking the Chinese’s firewalls.
“Captain, I see the digital age is wearing well on you.” Fury notices the shield propped on the edge of his feet. It doesn’t shift a bit as Fury moves closer. However, the young agents scatter with a flurry of salutes as they exit the room
“Colonel Fury.” Rogers reaches out to shake Fury’s hand firmly. Rogers has not regained the weight and muscle tone that he lost from his ordeal. But he is not of the same as the confused emotional man who had woken up less than a month ago.
“I see you have settled in.” Fury looks for a place to sit down and realizes it is either the puke couch or bean bags on the floor. With a put upon sigh, Fury sits down on the couch beside the captain, rocking a little because it is uncomfortable piece of furniture. “It seems like you have the comforts of home here.”
“Your staff has been kind enough to help me out. They are fine men and women, and I’d be proud to have them at my back anytime.”
The Captain neglects to tell Fury how not only were Fury's agents helping the Captain but aiding and abetting him in a massive information dump that rivaled Wikileaks. Fury knew that Rogers had moved out of his makeshift office when Andrews rolled in a server with access to the SHIELD nets and told him he didn’t want to rewire the whole corridor for CAT 6a. However somehow there were no problems with doing so in the coffee room within 24 hours.
(Fury had had to wait one Congressional fiscal year until facilities had even deigned to touch his office. Fury should have guessed that Carter and the whole lot of them would crack with exposure to the Captain. He just didn’t think it wouldn’t happen this quickly.)
“Colonel.” The steady eyes of the Captain draw him back into the conversation. This is what Phillips and the other World War II vets who served with the Captain America talked about. And it’s . . . exhilarating. “What is this about an alien artifact found by Howard Stark?” Rogers picks up a file.
The picture in the folder is of the Cube. Damn, Rogers was assimilating information fast. “I think you know more about this artifact than I do.”
Rogers sits back, stroking the edge of the shield. "Before I decide to join this Avengers Initiative –" Yes, he locks eyes with Fury with a polite studied gaze, the Captain is a damn fine intelligence operative and wants you to know it.
“-- We have to talk about what I see in the maps and this device. You see I think it might tie into these reports from Puente Antiguo . . .” As Rogers goes into his brief, Fury realizes that he has been waiting for a major piece on the board to snap into place. It’s happening right now before his eyes.
The Avenger Initiative is now a GO.
Fury nods encouragingly at the Captain to let him go on. “Tell me about it. Let’s share information, Captain Rogers. Because I don’t think we have much time . . .”