Steve shifted a little, trying to get comfortable. It was going to be nigh impossible—his ribs were bruised from the fight that day, and he was a side sleeper.

Suck it up, soldier, he thought, and felt a pang. He'd frankly lost count of the number of times he'd tried to enlist, all in vain. He touched his skinny chest and felt a rush of self-loathing. Not an ounce of fat, but not a shred of muscle either. Add to that the asthma, the exposure to tuberculosis, the heart trouble, and everything else, and you apparently had an unbeatable 4-F grade.

He rolled to his side at last, ignoring the ache, and folded his hands before his face. It wasn't fair. The spirit was willing; why, why couldn't the flesh be able?

He slipped into sleep dwelling on these bitter thoughts, and his dreams echoed them.

He was standing in line—again—at yet another recruitment station. He couldn't tell which one—they all looked so similar. But it didn't matter anyway; he knew what was going to happen.

"Next," came a male voice from behind the desk. Steve stepped forward.


"Steven Rogers."

"Date of birth?"

"July 4," Steve answered. He still hadn't looked up, choosing instead to study how his fingertips turned white as they pressed against the desk. He didn't understand why his mind insisted on doing this to him.

"Ha. Me too. Year?"


"Current address?"

Steve rattled it off without thought. This was pointless, and he knew it. Why was he still here? He should just leave now, before he was forced to face the dreaded red stamp again. 4-F. Unfit. Useless.

Useless, useless.

Just leave now.

Steve didn't move. His eyes traced the handwriting on the form before him, upside-down as it was. Brooklyn, New York. America. Land of the free, home of the brave. His home.

"It is you," The man was pleased. "Excellent. I've been looking for you for a long time now."

Steve looked up at last.

The man behind the desk didn't look like a doctor. He was wearing what looked like a leather bomber jacket with star on the left breast and a set of wings on the upper arm. He wore a uniform under it. His hair was sandy and tousled, and he had a cowlick on the crown of his head that stood absurdly straight up. His eyes were blue, and partially hidden by his glasses, but Steve could see the crow's feet at their corners. The lines in the man's face deepened as he smiled.

"So you want to be a soldier, Steve—can I call you Steve?"

"Yes," replied Steve to both questions, a little nonplussed. This guy didn't sound like a doctor, either, and he seemed to be offering Steve his dearest dream as if he thought Steve had a chance of achieving it.

"Excellent," the strange man said again. "Next time you see a recruitment center, go in. They'll take you."

Yeah, right. "No, they won't," Steve said bitterly, looking down at his feet again. This was a dream, he reminded himself. But it was his dream. Why was he tantalizing himself with this again?

He heard the strange man's chair scrape back, and his voice. "Yes, they will. You want to know why?" Steve felt two fingers gently lifting his chin, and let them. Blue eyes met blue.

The other man was taller than Steve, of course—who wasn't?—but for once, he felt no jealousy over that fact. The man was staring into his eyes, and his smile had softened. Steve was strongly, inexplicably, reminded of his dead father.

"I need you, Steve. Very badly," said the man. "We need you, your spirit." He grinned suddenly. "And I've just poached your ticket in from Ludwig. He won't know what hit him." He laughed, and it was pure, youthful joy.

Steve's heart was eased for the first time in months at the sound of that laugh. It sounded like wide open spaces and tall redwoods and rich mountains, like hardship and hope, like comfort and courage. Steve loved it.

The man rested his hand on Steve's shoulder. "You are so important, Steve. To everyone—that infuriating pervert Francis, and Elizabeta, and—everyone. Even Arthur, although he'll die before he admits it. And, of course, to me. So you can't fail, son. Next recruitment station you see, you go in." He patted Steve's shoulder. "Understood?"

"Yes, sir," he responded automatically.

"Good man." He patted Steve's shoulder once more, and let his arm drop. His voice barked out suddenly, "At attention, soldier!"

Steve snapped to, hand at his forehead in a sloppy salute. The man chuckled. "You'll work on that. But you're a natural soldier, I can tell. Oh, this is going to be great!" He winked and snapped a perfect salute of his own. "Dismissed. Make me proud, son."

The alarm jangled in his ear at seven. Hastily slapping it off—what a horrible way to wake up—Steve rolled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen, making a beeline for the stove. Once the little glass percolator was safely full and bubbling, he could relax and prepare to be human.

His eyes fell on the framed sepia photograph on the wall. A youngish man with a light moustache, shoulders almost, but not quite, filling his uniform. A woman on his arm, hair pulled back into a smooth bun, smooth face frozen forever in an almost-smile. And, barely visible, barely there, a swaddled infant in the crook of her other arm.

"Morning, Dad. Morning, Mother." The first line of the morning ritual—his and his mother's, back when she was alive.

He imagined his mother's voice and the second line. Good morning, Steve. How did you sleep?

"Well, thank you." He'd been raised to be unfailingly polite to others. "And yourself?"

A hissing sound came from the stove as the percolator bubbled over. Steve tsked in irritation—it was too early in the morning to swear—and headed over.

Fine, thank you. Did you dream?

He was arrested in the middle of the kitchen floor. Did I dream? He didn't remember. Maybe?

Twisting the knob to turn the burner off, Steve reached for a mug with his other hand and poured himself of the elixir of life. He breathed deeply, reveling in the scent of freshly-brewed coffee and the touch of curling steam on his face, and slurped a little off the top, making a face of satisfied displeasure at the bitterness.

Reluctantly, he set the mug down on the counter and turned to the icebox for the milk. The question kept nagging at him. Did I dream?

Watching the clouds blossom and spread in the coffee, Steve decided that it didn't matter. Dreams were dreams, and he wasn't going to be their fool anymore. He had to face reality.

And part of that reality, he remembered, was that he had a date tonight. A double date—Bucky's girl was bringing a friend. They were all going to the World's Fair.

Steve leaned both arms on the counter and let a curse blow out of him. He didn't want to do this tonight, didn't want to go anywhere, least of all with someone he didn't know.

Buck up, Steve. Maybe the girl will be bearable. And Bucky will be there, anyway—you won't be alone.

Yeah, all right, he answered himself. He had a few hours until then, anyway, and things to do.

He picked up his mug of coffee swiftly, so a little sloshed onto his wrist. He hissed but didn't flinch. Smooth, Rogers, he thought. Real coordinated. He'd be ashamed of you.

He frowned. Who would?

He combed his memory, but came up with nothing but the same nagging feeling he'd had before.

This was going to bother him all day if he allowed it to, so Steve sighed and let it go. What's for breakfast? Eggs, I guess. Oatmeal. He opened the icebox again.

But, inexplicably, his mood had lifted a little—a very little—at the thought of the coming evening. Maybe tonight won't be so bad after all.