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Chorus Line

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I. 2012

Jasper Sitwell watches through the window in the door as the briefing finishes. He waits for the agents to trail out, nodding at each one, until only one person is left sitting at the conference table: Captain America, whose broad shoulders are slumped under the weight of more loss than Sitwell can comprehend.

He’s been dreading this meeting for a while. The topic requires circumspection; he’s not sure how Captain America will react to the news he has to share. Still, he pushes through the door and gives Rogers a polite smile as he pulls out the small stack of folders and sets them on the table. He then pours a fresh glass of water. “Captain Rogers,” he says, handing over the glass, “I have some news that may be somewhat surprising.”

Rogers gives him the most deeply unimpressed look Sitwell has ever seen.

Fair.

Sitwell clears his throat and slides the folders across the table. “I’ll cut to the chase. Do you remember Dolores García, Annabelle Young, Alice Davies, Alice Keyes, Gertrude Leyendecker, Edith Milton, and Mary Cline?”

Rogers looks taken aback. “Yeah, of course. They were on the USO tour with me in ’43.”

“It must have been really something,” Sitwell says. “You having just gone through Project Rebirth, and then being shipped off with two dozen beautiful women.”

“Sure,” Rogers says. He eyes Sitwell warily.

“There’s no easy way to say this, and believe me, there’s no judgment here. You see, they all had children in 1944.” Sitwell pauses to let the information sink in. “Your children, Captain.”

For a moment, Rogers looks stricken. He puts his hands over his face. His shoulders start to shake, and Sitwell leans forward in concern.

Then Rogers tilts his head back and Sitwell realizes that the man is laughing. Laughing hysterically, like he’s never heard anything funnier, laughing until his face is scarlet and tears are running down his cheeks while he puts a hand to his side like it hurts.

“Oh, jeez, Agent Sitwell,” he says, wiping the tears away. “Sorry. Tell me more about —” He chokes on another peal of laughter. “About — about my children.”

Grief hits in unexpected ways, Sitwell thinks, as Rogers opens Dolores García’s file.

***

II. 1943

“Dolly, your feet smell like a Chicago slaughterhouse in July,” Annabelle says, her pretty little face twisted in disgust.

Dolly sticks them in Annabelle’s face. “Come off it, Miss Priss. Yours don’t smell any better!”

Annabelle slaps at them, Dolly kicks back and knocks over a chair, and then they’re both up and pushing each other in a way that starts playful but gets really antagonistic really quickly. Steve has to wade in and separate them.

“Hey, quit it, you two,” he says, channeling the way Bucky handles his little sisters. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. You almost made Trudy tear her nylons.”

Members of the chorus come and go, but the USO-issued nylons are sacrosanct. Dolly and Annabelle subside.

“Girls, girls,” Little Alice says from the window, flapping her hand at them, “here comes Jimmy.”

A flutter sweeps across the room as the girls fluff their hair, boost their breasts, and pinch color into their cheeks. As soon as Jimmy enters, they swarm him like a cloud of butterflies.

“How come you all never do that to me anymore?” he asks Big Alice, who alone is still lounging in the corner. She’s in the middle of reading the latest issue of Vogue and smoking a cigarette.

“Honey, you can’t help us put our hair in pincurls, let us get comfortable, and then turn around and expect us to play the sex kitten for you,” she says without looking up. “That’s hard work, and we all know there’s no payoff with you. You always end up aw-shucksing your way out of anything really fun.”

Steve blushes. “Aw, come on, Alice.”

“Yeah,” she says wryly. “Just like that.” She eyes him speculatively as she takes a drag on her cigarette. Something in his face makes her sit up straight. “Wait, are you finally saying yes?”

Big Alice is the tallest girl in the show. She has dark, glossy hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her lips are naturally so rosy that it looks like she’s wearing lipstick even when she’s not. She’s sensible, too, straightforward and unfailingly kind, and he once overheard her giving serious advice to a few of the others about diaphragms and the importance of using rubbers. Another time, in Topeka, he saw her kiss a guy six inches shorter than she is.

He likes all the girls on the tour, but he likes Big Alice the best. He thinks, since he’s unlikely to see Agent Carter ever again, maybe Big Alice could be right for him.

He clears his throat. “Yeah,” he says. “I mean, if you’re offering.”

She puts out her cigarette. “Steve, I’ve been offering since New York,” she says, smirking. “I’ll meet you in your dressing room in fifteen minutes.”

She’s as good as her word. There’s some awkward kissing, then some considerably less awkward kissing, and then things move pretty fast. But they’ve barely undressed when he comes, helplessly, leaving streaks and puddles all over her belly.

“Christ Almighty, look at all that,” she says, staring. “A little wound up, were ya?”

Mortified, he drags his pants over so that he can fish the handkerchief out of the pocket. “I guess so,” he replies. He feels hot and prickly with embarrassment, but he offers her the handkerchief.

“Well, I’m not surprised; you’ve been holding out for months,” she says as she cleans herself up. “Besides, how could you hope to resist when you’ve got me naked in your arms?”

He glances up at her, hesitant, and she winks at him. She hands the soiled handkerchief back to him. He wipes the remainder of the mess off himself before pitching it in the water basin on the counter.

“Come back up here and kiss me,” she says.

“I’ll be ready to go again in just a minute,” he promises, crawling back up her body and settling between her hips again.

She shrugs. “Okay, but even if you’re not, there’s lots we can do that’s fun.”

“Yeah?” he says.

“Oh, yeah.” She kisses his nose. “I’ll teach you my favorites.”

“I’m a fast learner,” he tells her, breathless in his relief. “But — look, I know what the girls say about me, but I know some tricks, too.”

“I knew you weren’t as innocent as you act,” she says, laughing, and kisses him, slow and dirty.

***

III. 2012

Sitwell clears his throat. “Did you ever wonder why you could always find alone time with the chorus girls, Captain?”

Rogers won’t look up. Since he stopped laughing, he’s been reading the files at a steady pace, pulling out the picture of each baby and making a small spread of them in front of him.

“Captain?”

Rogers finally glances up.

“Did you know that the Army wanted you to sleep with the chorus girls?” Sitwell asks, very gently.

Rogers raises an eyebrow. “I was under the impression that they wanted me to sell bonds.”

“Selling bonds was helpful, too,” Sitwell says. “Did any of the women get in touch with you after you left the USO tour?”

“No,” Rogers says, his mouth twitching. He covers it with his left hand while he pulls out the last baby picture with his right.

“So you had no idea that you were a father.”

Rogers makes a noise like a muted elephant. He looks down at the pictures in front of him, his shoulders shaking, and then visibly pulls himself together.

“Agent Sitwell,” he says, “has the government been tracking these babies?”

“Of course,” Sitwell says. “And their children and grandchildren.”

Rogers’s head flies up at that. “Do they know?” he demanded. “Have they been subject to tests or procedures?”

“No, no, no,” Sitwell says. “They’ve been tracked, yes, but only passively. Their records were checked and they were observed. None of them have shown any abilities out of the ordinary, no abnormal bloodwork, nothing, so nothing else was ever done. It seems the serum is not passed down in your genes.”

Rogers’s hand goes back up to his mouth. He’s silent for a moment. Then he says, slowly, “My name isn’t listed on any of these birth certificates. How did the US government conclude that I was the father?”

Sitwell frowns. “Well, agents reported reliable intel that you were.”

Rogers groans. “Are you kidding me?” he says. “You’re kidding me, right? None of these dames would have told anyone that.”

“Well, who else had such close access to them?” Sitwell says, reasonably. “Even the stage crew was made up entirely of women. The only other men on that tour were the manager and the guy who played Hitler, and they were sleeping together.”

Rogers dissolves in helpless laughter again. Sitwell waits.

“You know, I’ve been reliably informed that the twenty-first century has invented some new things,” Rogers says finally. “Like bisexuality. Gosh, what if that had existed in 1943?”

Sitwell’s stomach drops. “What are you saying, Captain?”

“Just because Jimmy Deluca blew Charlie Norris for the role doesn’t mean he didn’t like ladies, too,” Rogers says. “I used to wonder why the girls went so wild over him. I mean, he was charming, but even without the fake mustache he kind of looked like Hitler.”

Sitwell closes his eyes. “So you’re telling me…”

“Yeah,” Rogers says, and Sitwell has never heard such deep, gleeful satisfaction in his life. “For seventy years the government has spent thousands, or millions, of dollars tracking the offspring of the lug who played Hitler. Didn’t anybody notice that all these kids have dark hair, even when their mothers are fair?”

“Hair can be dyed,” Sitwell manages.

Rogers snorts. “Yeah, but the entire intelligence machine of the US government couldn’t figure out that everyone on this list except Dolly is a natural blonde? I mean, Jimmy had a definite type. What a cock-up.” He starts putting the baby pictures back in their correct files. “You know what the best part of this whole thing is?”

“What’s that?” Sitwell says.

Rogers stacks the files, pushes them back across to Sitwell, and stands up. “You don’t have a file on the only one I actually slept with,” he says, stretching his arms above his head.

He saunters out of the room. Sitwell bolts out of his chair.

“Which one?” he calls down the hall after Rogers. “What’s her name?”

Rogers turns around, smiles, and says, “Golly, it’s been such a long time now. I’ll go have a real good think and let you know if I come up with anything. I expect that will be right around the time the government apologizes to all those people and compensates them for invading their privacy for three generations.”

“Dammit, Rogers, there were forty women who rotated in and out of that chorus line!”

“Wow,” Rogers says, wide-eyed. “That many? Huh. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure I went beyond necking with any of them. It’s just so hard to remember.”

And with that, he puts his hands in his pockets and strolls away, whistling.