Captain America was born during the Second World War. He does not know what it means to have grown up as an orphan during the Depression, like Steve, but was formed instead by military regiment, war rations, and a steady diet of patriotic propaganda. He is aware that the ‘educational’ films they’ve been showing him are propaganda, and some of the radio they’ve been allowing him, and even the art and the carefully selected textbook histories. He doesn’t know how he knows this. It’s just a feeling, and it’s a feeling that he does not confide to his better half in all the letters and the journal entries that he keeps carefully organized. He does not confide because he is nearly certain that all of his personal belongings are being periodically inspected by nosy hands and prying eyes, and also because he does not want Steve to worry. Things are already too much out of their hands, they have been since the moment Steve impetuously decided to sign them up for a project that, all right, the Captain is a bit grateful for, since it is from Project Rebirth that Captain was created. Or maybe it should be called Project Birth. Captain America is the birth of a new kind of super soldier, they’d like to believe, and Captain supposes that he’ll go along with that idea because he still doesn’t know any better, is out to learn as much as he can, and to fulfill his purpose to the best of his abilities.
Captain America calls Steve is his better half because that is what they tell him, and that is what he believes. Captain America was born with the heart of the common man still beating in his breast, but the added shielding and armor of the perfect soldier. Keeping Steve alive and whole as a separate self was Dr. Erskine’s idea. They wanted something pure to live intact while Captain America shot soldiers for real, broke real human bones, survived bomb raids, and carried wounded comrades to safety. Dr. Erskine had come from Europe, where war had real devastation, and he looked at this kid from Brooklyn who was tough, yes, but also protected by the history of a country that had never seen wartime battle fought on its home soil.
Captain America was created to protect Steve and others like Steve, and the Captain folds that thought carefully and keeps it close to his chest, like something to be worn over his heart. He carries a shield because that is what Steve wants. The Captain, personally, is less bothered by the idea of using force and real violence to protect what needs protecting.
This is how he knows that Steve is his better half.
The Captain knows: he is not a machine soldier. He has heard Howard Stark’s talk, about the future of robotics as inspired by science fiction, and he shudders a little, thinking about it. He was created by science, in a fashion, but he is not a creature of it, not in the fabric of whatever passes for his soul.
When the Captain is not training, or fighting, or sleeping, he daydreams a little. He has heard of the things that soldiers do on leave, of meeting girls and eating in restaurants and seeing movies and drinking and the horseplay that male friends engage in.
When he draws, he draws on scraps of an onion paper pad that Steve does not like for the texture of it. When the Captain draws, or tries to draw, he sketches in half-imagined ways what it would feel like to be out there. He makes chunky-hesitant drawings of people, of the few people that he knows, but there is also that feeling he desires in there, a human feeling.
He wonders about food that he’s heard about but never tasted, like spaghetti with meat balls—the real kind, not wartime facsimile in canned tomato sauce and soggy noodles. Or chocolate cake, with real butter and sugar and eggs. He wonders about movies, about dames like Katharine Hepburn or the smooth antics of Mae West. He doesn’t talk about this with either Howard or Bucky, because the Captain does not talk much with anyone on anything that does not directly relate to his purpose as Captain America. The Captain is known among the soldiers as the hardass who will break in the teeth of Nazis and Hydra agents alike in his mission to protect the world. Steve Rogers is the one who comes out to enjoy the protected atmosphere of a civilian, to pal around with Bucky or to chatter with Howard.
Maybe it is strange, but it occurs to Captain America that they, he and Steve, are simultaneously civilian and hardened soldier. Maybe this is what the research unit had wanted. The Captain isn’t an idiot, he can parse out the meaning behind the military psychologists’ words; they speak in low tones so that he can’t hear them, but they forget that his hearing is that much better from the Super Soldier Serum. They talk about the last war, the Great War in which Steve’s father had died. They talk about men coming back, about broken nerves, and about making soldiers who can function in war, and then return home, taking up civilian roles once more to make America great on the home front. They talk about fixing the problem of broken men.
Captain America is cynical of this talk. They have already broken the parts of this body in half. There will be no putting him and Steve Rogers together again, as if they were simply fragments of the same egg shell. Besides, he is content in the knowledge that Steve Rogers is his better half. Captain America has read Steve’s letters to the Captain, taken in all the words of it, and there is obvious innocence, and some kind of obvious joy in Steve’s feeling as though he was somehow now part of something much greater than himself.
The Captain isn’t sure he could bring himself to ever prove Steve wrong.