Steve has been awake for eighteen days, and he's still really not sure what to make of this strange world he finds himself in.
He's not really been allowed out of SHIELD headquarters after his first panicked escape, and most of his time has been spent with doctors and scientists poking and prodding and making awed noises. Steve puts up with it as well as he can (he doesn't really have a choice). SHIELD has been tightly controlling what he has access to, Director Fury says he doesn't want to shock Steve by loading too much information on him at once.
But even so, he has one of those new pocket phones and he's learning how to work it, and the internet is a strange and confusing place, but he's picking it up fast.
That's where he is, in his tiny SHIELD-issued room surfing LOLcats on his new laptop when the knock comes at the door.
He's not expecting any visitors, and Director Fury never bothers to knock, so it takes Steve a moment to remember to say "Come in".
The door opens, and a young man slips in, offering Steve a bright smile. All Steve can do is stare, because for a moment it's like he's looking into a mirror. The visitor is dressed in jeans, a faded t-shirt and battered sneakers, not a SHIELD uniform. His hair is blond (amber waves of grain, Steve thinks for some reason) and behind his glasses his eyes are blue (from sea to shining sea).
There are dog tags around his neck, tucked under his shirt, and Steve sits straight up because he suddenly remembers.
He remembers being a few miles back from the front lines, gearing up for his next mission with the Commandos. He remembers briefly meeting a man, a soldier, who seemed to wear confidence wrapped around him like a second skin, even in the midst of a war. There'd been something about him, something... more, and Steve had been right on the cusp of asking him if he wanted to pitch in with the Commandos when he'd been called away for a briefing. He'd never seen the soldier again, and when he asked Colonel Phillips about him he'd just gotten a flat look, a slight frown and a firm "Classified." But something about his quiet, tired grin, something about his eyes had stayed with Steve, and now he's staring into those same eyes again. He's sure of it.
"I knew you couldn't be just human," is the first thing that comes out of his mouth. He can feel his face heating up in mortification, but the man just laughs, sidles further into the room and sits down on Steve's bed like he has every right to be there.
"Good call," and he grins, brighter than Steve remembers. He offers his hand. "We never got properly introduced back then. I'm Alfred Jones."
Steve blinks and takes his hand, because that name rings no bells at all. "Steve Rogers."
"Captain Rogers," Alfred answers with another easy grin, and Steve thinks he's probably blushing again, but nods. It's hard to deny with his shield sitting propped up against the wall in plain sight, even if he's pretty sure his recovery from the ice is still very, very classified.
"I wanted to thank you," Alfred goes on before Steve can figure out what to say. "For your service, back then and now too. You've done way, way more than your fair share."
"Not as much as some people," Steve answers immediately, thinking of Bucky. It hurts, a raw ache, and to his faint surprise he sees that same sort of ache twist Alfred's bright expression into something deeply sad for a moment. He knows exactly what Steve's talking about, there's no doubt.
"No," he allows after a moment. "But I don't get a chance to thank many of my boys. I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to thank you either, so I wanted to, y'know, make sure I did."
"Your boys?" Steve asks. It's so bizarre, Alfred looks like (as far as Steve can tell) any typical modern teenager you'd see on any street in New York. He doesn't look a day older than when Steve first met him, seventy-odd years ago. But somehow, looking into his eyes, Steve can believe it's really the same man. His eyes betray his age, the things he's seen, and Steve has believed some far weirder things in his time. Heck, his own story is weird and unbelievable enough.
"Yeah," Alfred's grin is warm, a brother's grin, Steve remembers the same sort of look exchanged between men who'd fought together and bled together, even if only for a short time. "You're all my boys, no matter where you go or whose dirt you're bleeding on, you're still American."
Steve blinks, blinks again. "So that makes you..."
Alfred just smiles, shakes his head. He pushes himself up from the bed, wanders over to pick up Steve's shield, turn it over in his hands. Usually Steve is terribly protective; that shield is all he has left. Any of the junior agents who try to touch it get a sharp glare at the least. But somehow, with Alfred, it seems alright. "Let's just say I'm kind of like you. I thought about taking up your mantle myself for awhile, after you disappeared, but Arthur hit me over the head until I gave up the idea."
Steve opens his mouth, ready to ask who 'Arthur' is, but then changes his mind and thinks that maybe he's better off not knowing. He just watches in silence as Alfred slides the shield onto his arm, strikes a few poses. "But, y'know, I don't need a fancy costume to be what I already am, so I guess Arthur was right."
"You're... already Captain America?" Steve feels terribly out of his depth, and wonders if he should call Director Fury or someone else to talk to... whoever Alfred really is. But then, Alfred had come specifically to talk to Steve, so maybe calling in someone else wouldn't be such a good idea. Besides, Alfred had to have gotten SHIELD clearance to get in here at all.
Alfred gives him a smile over the top of his shield. "Close, Cap, very close." He flips the shield off his arm, offers it to Steve. Steve reaches out to take it, a funny feeling uncurling in his chest, like Alfred's handing him more than just the same shield he's carried into battle countless times already.
"Just so you know, Captain," Alfred's still smiling, still holding on to the other side of the shield. "You've never been alone. Where my boys go, where they fight and bleed and die, I'm just a step behind. I have to be. I'm the one they're fighting for." He lets go of the shield and steps back toward the door, leaving Steve gaping as he tries to grasp just what it is Alfred's telling him.
Alfred pauses by the door, heels clicking together and back straightening with a snap. He's still wearing jeans and a t-shirt, ratty sneakers, but suddenly Steve can't see anything but a soldier, and he snaps to attention in his seat in answer. Alfred's eyes twinkle but he remains solemn, bringing one hand up in a crisp salute to Steve.
Fingers trembling just a little, shield still clutched in his other hand, Steve returns the salute. "Pleasure to have served my country, sir!"
Alfred's smile is dazzling, and then he's gone.
When Steve asks Fury later, the director has no idea who he's talking about.