It had a presence all of its own, the total lack of sound, tangible and noticeable. One would not think it, with Arlington being an extension of Washington D.C. and normally it was hard to escape the noise and scent of any large city. It was not the case here at Arlington National Cemetery. In a city which did not respect much of anything and to Steve mired more in moral sewage than he thought possible, the final resting place for fallen military was the exception. There was a peace here, enough so Steve's rage of emotions had the edge dulled off of them.
Steven Rogers had come here with a purpose, but once he had arrived, to see the vastness which had not existed on the scale as he remembered it, he did not feel the weight or the press of urgency he had in the weeks since he was revived from his state of suspended animation. Instead of making a direct path to the one grave he wanted to visit here, the man who had been called Captain America more than seventy years ago walked a slow pace, weaving his way through the forest of marble and granite. It was a mixture of conflicting feelings here. There was an aura of respect all around, and a bit for him the fact a nation would honor its fallen heroes. At the same time, the sheer scope and number of graves present was like a whetstone to the sharp edges of grief and guilt he had.
Steve did not often linger or wallow in self pity and what ifs, but being here, and seeing how many airmen, marines, sailors, and soldiers who had given their lives since World War II, he could not but help but wonder if he could had made a difference if he had been there. He would had been. Erskine had told him one of the side effects of serum would had been a longer life. How much longer was open to debate, but certainly through the Vietnam War. It was irrelevant. Steve was a man out of time, but he could not go back in time, no matter how much part of him wanted to.
Finally after about an hour or so, Steven came to where he intended to visit. He looked down at first, emotion choking his chest. He did not expect to hit him so hard. He had been told looking up people in his past, how it was not going to bring him any form of closure only perhaps more pain, as if loosing the person all over again. Perhaps it was the anger which he had been experiencing since finding out what happened. So much since being revived he felt like so much was out of his control, looking up people in his past and connecting with them seemed to be the one thing he could control. He could handle what would find. He was a pragmatic man, and seventy years was a long time, and he knew nearly all the people he had known were dead. He accepted it, but knowing how they died, speaking to their family member, sharing a piece of their loved ones they might not know about, and he finding out what their life had been like.
A character flaw of Steve's was he never really dealt well with being wrong. It was this particular flaw combined with being here, and now, knowing what he knew which was like a hammer blow right to his bread basket. He stood there for a moment, the tears coming to his eyes as he looked down upon the grave of his best friend. He knelt down, brushing the leaves off of the gravestone, his voice thick and soft, speaking out loud as people oft do when they were at someone's grave. "Aw Buck, I told you smoking would kill you."
He knelt there for long moments, not saying much else. Peggy being dead had been hard enough on him, as had been finding out how many of his old unit were dead. The Korean War had been the end of those who had survived the last mission they did with Steve, those who had re-upped. Buck had not, combat wounds preventing him. Finding out Bucky was dead, lung cancer. The combination of it plus the scarred lung tissue from the run at the missile silo. Steve could not help but feel responsible. Yes Bucky had been a soldier, but he was public relations, there to snap happy pictures for the war effort. In the end though, the bond they had, Steve could not deny him, especially how he had been adamant he was PR, he was a combat photographer, and as much a soldier as anyone else in the Army.
Steve did not know how long he had been there, and it said something he had been lost so much in thought he had not heard the other person approach. He did notice him now, but the man was a respectful distance away, letting Steve accomplish whatever he was here to do. The fact he did allow such, had not march down there to chew his ass out for slipping his minders, to go off grid and come here when everyone told him not too, it said much. Steve was not sold on Nick Fury. The man was not up front, and played things too close to the chest for Steve's liking. At the same time, the man respected Steve, and while he had not been up front about everything, he did not sugar coat things either. It was something Steve could get behind.
Decision made, Steve stood up, and put a hand on the tombstone. He had not been there for his friends, his brothers in arms, but he could be there for their families, for the million other plus souls who put their life on the line every single day, and did so without the gifts and abilities Steve possessed. There were threats out there. Steve had been briefed and while some of it had not been entirely unexpected, the breadth of it, the people like him or worse, sent a chill up Steve's spine. Men and women would die, he accepted long ago he could not save everyone. He could save some, he could make a difference once more, and it was enough for him.
Steve stood up straight and snapped too attention, and slowly raised his arm in a salute, not just for Bucky, but for all of the men and women who had made a difference, who answered the call. Steve could not walk away, it was no who he was. He held the salute for several long moments, then did a perfect about face, and marched away with a purpose. He walked right towards Fury, and then gave the man a salute as well. Fury snapped to attention and returned it, then relaxed, and offered his hand to Steve, his voice full of sympathy and respect. "I'm sorry Captain, I really am."
Steve took the hand and returned the hand shake, his voice calm, relaxed, professional. The self remorse and pity gone. Once more, he was not a man for second guessing and what if's. Be it fate or providence, or the will of God Himself, he was here now. It was time to get back to work. "Thanks, General." It was implied there his "thank you" was more than the words of respect. Technically Steve was AWOL, and Fury was well within his rights to haul Steve off. The fact he was here minus the MP's said a lot. Fury made a gesture and fell in beside Steve as they walked toward the exit. As they did, Fury's voice took on a light and casual tone, but this time he could not hide Fury was fishing, and at the same time, doing his best not to push, even if he was. "What's the plan, Captain?"
Steve's voice took on the solid firmness of a man who had come to a decision. "Plan is to get back to work, General. The mission isn't done." There was nothing else to say about it. Fury to his credit, did not smile or crow or do a "I told you so." The man was too professional for it. In the end he was a soldier too, and not one for what ifs or second guessing too. His voice took on a tone as if the man had not expected any other answer from Steve. "Indeed, let's get to work." The wind blew, adding sound back into the picture, as if they were saying goodbye as well.
It looked like it was going to be a normal day, until word hit all of the major media the President was going to address the nation at two p.m. from the Rose Garden. It was unusual for he rarely did use the Rose Garden when he preempted all communication. Whatever the man had to say was important, for it was not merely Television, but radio and streaming services as well. The announcement had every talking head as to what the announcement was. Many were going with a new domestic policy agenda, at least it was the most plausible theory. The other speculation being toss about quickly descended into the absurd. The one thing everyone seemed to agree upon, the White House was not leaking a word.
So at the appointed hour inside the Themyscara Embassy in New York, the main office for Princess Diana of the Amazon nation, ambassador at large to world. Her staff was all gathered in the large conference room where they used for their own press conferences, rare as they were. Princess Diana, better known to the world as Wonder Woman, hardly ever gave a press conference, letting her actions and words when she spoke at the United Nation. She was in the room now with the rest of her staff, curious more than anything else, also out of duty in case what was announced had an impact to her homeland. At two p.m. sharp, the image cut to the President who was already at the podium, and he wasted no time in launching into his prepared speech.
"My fellow Americans. I want to thank you for your understand and patience, as I know well there has been speculation as to what I am here before you today. I need to ask you to bare with me, as why I have to say is important, and will mark today as a significant event in American history. Before I get to why we are gathered here, it is history I need to first elaborate about. What I am about to speak about is an event which had been classified for decades, and I am here to correct the mistake which had been made, and to right a wrong."
"In the waning days of World War Two, when it was clear Nazi Germany was going to fall, one of Hitler's last mad acts was to inflict as much damage as possible. What was not known to the public, indeed to history at large, the United States had not been the first in the race to create a nuclear weapon. Not only had they created a nuclear weapon, they also had a breakthrough in their V2 missile project, and had the ability, and constructed a short range intercontinental ballistic missile. Not only an ICBM, but one which had the ability to release multiple warheads, and the targets for those warheads were a majority of the large cities on the Eastern Seaboard, not limited to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and of course, Washington DC. Not only would the initial destruction be on a scale truly horrifying, but the resultant fallout from the missiles would have plunged the half of North America into a nuclear winter, likely resulting in the death of over one hundred million people."
The President let the news sink in, the shock of it. The facts he revealed alone changed world history as everyone knew it. Once he thought enough time had passed, he continued on, as surely there was more to the story. "The location of the Nazi ICBM facility was an island in the North Atlantic, a former German territory which had been reported uninhabitable by biological and chemical warfare experiments done prior to World War One. The location of the facility, and given the treacherous waters made sending in naval warships to shell the location all but impossible. As well the hardened facility and anti-air defenses made sending in a large scale strike by the Army Air Corps one of which would result in staggering casualties, and chance of success less than ten percent. Given the seriousness of situation, Supreme Allied Commander, General of the Army Eisenhower sent in a special operations force, a weapon which had been used in many theaters of operations, the latest being with elements of the 101st Airborne during the D-Day invasion. His name was Captain Steven Rogers, known to the world by the name which he earned during combat operations, Captain America."
Again a pause for what the President was speaking of, a man who had been considered a publicity stunt to get people to buy American war bonds. Yet the stance, his body language said the man was absolutely serious. "History has done a great disservice to Captain Rogers, keeping his actual service record a secret. His impact in the course of World War Two was significant, and he is a true American hero, having earned in his service during the war, five Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor. The last military medal for heroism above and beyond was earned by Captain Rogers posthumously when with disregard for his own life, and in an act of singular and inspiring courage and valor above and beyond the call of duty, leapt upon the ICBM as it launched, and climbing half the length of the missile, ripped out the missile's guidance system and its nuclear play load, then ensuring the missile crashed into Arctic Ocean. As a result of his heroic actions, Captain Steven Rodger saved millions of American lives."
The murmurs from the assembled crowd was audible, and it was only through an effort of supreme will the press corps did not burst out into questions. Indeed the people talking in shocked tones in the press room was near a low roar. It did quiet down as the President started to speak again. "For reasons which will be released in later statements, this last mission had been classified. I can say one of those reason was because America had indeed lost a national hero, and it was feared the morale hit when the nation was still at war would be a serious blow to our war efforts. Regardless, it is high time the world knew of what happened upon February 7, 1945, and give recognition where it is due to a man who responsible for saving so many lives. It is one of my reasons for revealing what I have today."
"When I started today, it had been with a heavy heart we as a nation had kept the actions of Captain Rogers unknown and purposefully mislead. It is however with a glad and overjoyed heart to not only correct the disservice, but also to reveal this following bit of news to the world. Captain Rogers did not die in action on dark hours of February 7, 1945. He splashed down in the Arctic Ocean, and again in what will be revealed at a later time, survived. The cold water had put Captain Rogers in a state of suspended animation and he had frozen into the pack ice in the Arctic Circle. Earlier this month, the missile submarine the U.S.S. California, in routine exercises, had surfaced through the pack ice, and dislodged Captain Rogers from its grip. At first it thought we had come across the fallen hero's final resting place, and were returning him home. During the medical examination of his body we made the startling and shocking discovery Captain Steven Rogers was not dead, and very much alive. All medical science was brought to bare, and revived him from his state of suspended animation."
If what the President had said before been stunning, it was nothing compared to what he had just revealed. All sound was gone, and a person could hear a pin drop. The President straightened himself, and smiled before the everyone as he made a gesture toward the White House, were a full honor detail of United States Army members, to include the Chief of Staff of the Army, came to attention and saluted, and a large man, with close cropped blonde hair and a uniform in colors of the United States flag started to walk out. Upon his arm was a circular metal shield, three feet in diameter, with three circular bands of red, white, and then red, all surrounding a field of blue, and imposed upon the blue was a singular white star.
The roar from the press corps was deafening as they all shouted, and the President had to shout himself to be overheard for all. "So it is with great honor and privilege I welcome back to the world one of the United States greatest heroes. Please join me and welcome home Captain Steve Rogers, United States Army. Please give a cry out for Captain America!"
It could had been a publicity stunt, all of it false, disinformation to take pressure off of an Administration who was not enjoying much of the public's good will. In fact such it likely to be said in the days and months to come. For Diana, it was not stunt, it was not lies or misinformation as she looked back into what seemed to be a window of the past, upon a friend she had believed lost and dead to the world. It was him, it was Steve. Against all odds and improbability, he was back, and the world as everyone knew it, including for a hero of the might and power of Wonder Woman, was about to change.
“Diana? Diana?” Raquel had finally shaken the ambassador by the shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Alright? All Right? What a funny question. Are you alright?
Swallowing her heart, shooing away images of the two of them, back to back, slicked knee high in mud, blood, and debris. Shield’s held aloft, protecting each other. Warm nights in cold fox holes. A nudge, a boost, a pep talk. The anguish of loss. The glory of valor and triumph…
“Yes.” Diana’s voice was lost to her breath. Clearing her throat, she spoke again, more soundly, “Yes, yes, I’m fine.” Looking to her assistant, the ambassador realized that her entire staff was starting at her.
“Di…you’re crying.” Raquel whispered to her.
“I’m not,” Diana touched her face, it was wet, “…crying.” Batting her eyes, she snatched a tissue from the conference table. “I’m…he was a close friend. It’s like seeing a ghost, I suppose.” Dabbing her face, Diana’s eyes fell upon each of her staff before she spoke. “How soon can we pull together a press conference?” They scrambled to the corners of the room whipping out phones, tablets, clipboards. The din of discussion rose to soft chaos. Her personal assistant had darted out and returned moments later with one of Diana’s royal gowns of heritage and a box known to be full of jewelry. She’d promised her mother, as the face of Themyscira to the modern world, she would uphold traditional dress when addressing the nations.
“Ms. Ambassador? We can be live in an hour!” her media relations supervisor, John, called out from across the room.
“Great, thank you. Let’s do this, friends!” she nodded, her raven ponytail swaying as she looked around. Her staff was like a small family. In fact, there were few people in Diana’s life, but the ones she had, she loved and protected like sisters and um…brothers. They seemed to do the same.
Raquel ushered the Princess out of the room, “Honey, you cannot go live with a big ole dewdrop ponytail and no make-up…let alone tattered jeans. Who are you?” the woman giggled rarely seeing her boss out of a suit or formal dress. Diana smiled with a nod as they made their way down the hall to her office.
Approximately an hour later the conference room went from holding eight people to about eighty. It was unusual for her to put a call out to the press. Typically, it meant something dreadful for the allies, and the citizens needed to be warned. This, on the other hand, was one of those times where spontaneity ruled; the surprise was pleasant for everyone involved.
Punctual, as a point, cacophony that had consumed the space fell, instantly, to a hush. The Amazonian sauntered into the room with her solid, yet elegant, grace. A gleaming white Grecian gown whispered across the floor as she took her place behind the podium. The soft fabric draped upon her frame, baring her shoulders and back, creating a visage that could only be described as ‘ethereal’. Gold arm bands glinted in the flashes of the crowed photographers, just as her quintessential silver bracers did. She took her time, letting her wide sapphire eyes touch on each face in the room. The media regarded this as a benevolent grace. Diana was looking for threats. Her hair, do dark, it shone with blue highlights cascaded down her back in gently waves, framing her face and helping to keep her gold tiara in place. Once her assessment was complete and she was sure news sources captured the shots they wanted, she held her arms out to her sides, palms up, her demure smile split to one tender and wide, she was ready to speak.
“A lovely, late afternoon to you all,” her eyes moved into the camera, for she was addressing everyone who took the time to listen to her. She knew it was many. “I extend my appreciation to all of you, seated here today, and listening from a far. I do apologize for my haste.” She chuckled softly retaining the adoration that was projected upon her. It was a feeling that always made her uncomfortable and humble. She laid her hands on the podium as she continued to speak, dropping her shoulders just slightly to become a peer to her audience.
“It was, surprising, to say the least, watching the President’s Address this afternoon, was it not?” Diana smiled letting her eyes drift upon the faces before her. “For some, the myth of Captain America, Steven Rogers, was just that. A myth. A character, created to embody the ideals of freedom. A faceless champion who warred against our assailants with the combine strength and love we carried here, as a nation. However, for some of us, he was the truest of friends. An anchor, when one felt a drift in a sea of horrors. A hero, through and through; putting his life on the line every day in the field to protect a world of people he didn’t know, but he loved. Your parents…grandparents. Freedom as you know it survived and thrived because of his sacrifices. Because of our sacrifices.”
Diana sides stepped the large flat screen as it came to life with a black and white image of her and Steve. She was leaning against him, they both held their shields down, away from them. They were smiling, smudged with dirt, surrounded by troops, who were also smiling as Steve and Diana acknowledged them. “This was after a week-long battle of attempting to break into a Nazi bunker.” She reminisced with a fond expression highlighting her softer features. “We’d finally stormed it,” the slide changed, Diana was genuflected on one knee, Steve standing close to her. She was hugging a little girl. They were swarmed with children, cold, rag-tag, filthy…but alive. “We’d rescued fourteen sets of twins from scientific testing.”
Turning back to her audience, “Before the world sets out to slander the President of the United States for creating a diversion or fabricating history or…well…” she grinned, “Hera knows what else. I am here to tell you that Captain Steven Rogers is as real as you and I. He fought valiantly alongside the allied troops, never leaving a man behind. Never asking others to do more than he would, and often taking the burdens from other men, because he knew he could handle it. Captain America; your hero, and mine.”
There was a pause to allow the applause as if her speech had concluded. She waited patiently as a barrage of flashes assaulted her. The room calmed. Diana began again, “That is why, it is with great honor, and personal delight, to announce that Themyscria – a sister in arms, is so very proud to stand up and validate Captain Rogers, heroism. We are thrilled to welcome Captain Rogers home; to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thank you so much for joining us today and allowing me to represent my home land and welcome a friend. Go, with love and peace.” The Princess smiled, touching her fingertips to her lips and miming air kisses to the crowd. She then took her leave, escorted, begrudgingly, by a few personal security guards from Wayne Tech.