Jamie stood at attention in the line with the nine other kids from the orphanage in front of their own private bunker. Like her, they were all puzzled at to why they were here, dressed up in miniature-sized versions of the standard army private's uniform and military hard hats in Camp Lehigh, New Jersey, but Jamie was also very excited. Only twenty-four hours ago, she'd been in the orphanage in New York City, wondering whether or not Doctor Erskine had simply been lying to her about receiving a chance to join the army, and now here she was, ready to learn the reason as to why she was here and to possibly begin training to be a soldier.
They'd all arrived at the base late last night, having been driven for almost all day yesterday. They'd all been unloaded from the trucks with their duffel bags, and steered almost immediately to their private bunker, separate from all the other bunkers as they were just children in a camp filled almost completely with recently drafted men between the ages of eighteen to somewhere in the mid-to-late thirties. They'd been told to unpack and get a decent night sleep, as they'd be briefed as to why they were here and told what to do early the next morning.
It'd been a rough night for Jamie. Although she was excited to be there, finally getting a slim chance to join the army and be with Trent overseas, she was forced to be here with Nick, one of her bullies. At least at the orphanage, she'd had her own bedroom, the one place she could go where Nick, Becky, and the rest of their gang couldn't reach her. Here, though, all the beds were laid out side-by-side in the bunkers. Upon changing out of her clothes and into her pajamas, Jamie had gone over to where she'd left Pannie and her duffel bag by one of the beds, ready to take out her record player and play Come Josephine in my Flying Machine once before she went to sleep, only to be grabbed seconds later by Nick and shoved to the floor.
"Excited to be here, War Girl?" he taunted as Jamie whimpered loudly from the force of the shove. "You honestly think you'll last one day here?"
Jamie just threw him a dirty look as she tried to stand back up. "We don't know why we're here," she retorted. "I have just as much as a chance as you do at whatever's happening at the end of this week…"
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that," he jeered as she scuffled miserably back to her bed. "Just remember, I was one of the first kids the Colonel picked! You, however, were chosen out of pity by that old man! I think it's clear based on that who has a better shot at being the kid that's not sent back to that shit-hole orphanage!"
Jamie pressed her lips together when she heard him curse, but decided not to comment on it. Instead, she climbed into her bed, hugged Pannie to her chest, and shut her eyes in order not to see Nick's sneering face or the stares of either amusement or pity from the other kids. She did not dare play her record. She didn't want to draw any more attention to herself.
Without the song, Jamie had had a lot of trouble falling asleep, and right now, she was yawning every few minutes, trying to stay awake.
"Go ahead and fall asleep, War Girl," Nick hissed lightly. "Dream away your dreams of war!"
The other kids laughed as Jamie's cheeks reddened. Why couldn't Nick just leave her alone?
Instead of focusing on him or her own tiredness, Jamie glanced around at everything going on in the camp, trying to take in her surroundings. There were so many adults yelling at one another, either as a way to get someone's attention or to tell someone off. A rapid amount of gunfire used in trainings could be heard at least once every few minutes, and all the recruits were watching the kids with curious gazes. This was a safe place, Jamie knew. A training facility for men who'd been drafted to go and fight in the war. Trent had probably spent some time here, too. But still, Jamie was somewhat frightened by the place.
"Children, attention!" shouted a familiar voice.
Jamie stopped looking about, and stood up straight like the other children around her. Agent Carter was strolling towards them.
"Good morning," she greeted politely.
"Good morning," the kids greeted back.
"I'm sure you all have questions as to why you're here. If you'll all follow me, you'll get your answers. Single file, everyone!"
Wordlessly, everyone lined up behind her, and followed her away from the barracks. Jamie lingered behind at the end of the line, having been pushed aside by Nick and the other kids in order to claim spots at the very front.
They followed Agent Carter a short while, no one daring to speak at all as to where they were going, and no one had to. They only crossed the camp to where there was a line of young men lingering about, obviously awaiting orders of how to begin their own training.
Most of the men in line were all tall and burly, looking as though they'd been preparing for the war ever since America got involved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but near the end of the line there was a small, skinny man who seemed very out of place whereas compared to the others. Most of the other men in line were sizing him up, and making crude jokes as to how long he'd last in training. Jamie stared at the tiny man. Other than being reminded of how similarly he was being treated by his fellow recruits to how she was being treated by her fellow orphans, there was something very familiar about him. Something she couldn't quite place. Had she met him before?
"Wait here," Agent Carter ordered the children when they were no less than a few yards away.
There was a collective sound of "Yes, ma'am," from all the kids. She nodded in approval of the maturity they all displayed, and then approached the line of men.
"Recruits, attention!" she called out sharply.
Every man in line immediately snapped to attention at her words and stood as straight and as stiff as wooden boards.
"Gentlemen, I'm Agent Carter," Agent Carter addressed the men. "I supervise all operations for this division."
"What's with the accent, Queen Victoria?" called out one of the men in line. "I thought I was signing up for the U.S. army."
Agent Carter's expression turned stern. "What's your name, soldier?" she said at once.
"Gilmore Hodge, your majesty," he drawled.
"Step forward, Hodge."
He did as she said, having the guts to look somewhat amused by the situation. Jamie watched this exchange with baited breath, as did most of the other orphans. They may be only children, but even they could tell that he was about to be taught a lesson because of his cheek. The only one who wasn't looking worried was Nick. He seemed to be on the same wavelength as Gilmore Hodge, and was doing his best not snicker at what was happening.
"Put your right foot forward," Agent Carter ordered.
Again, Hodge as he was told, but this time his smirk only grew.
"We gonna wrestle?" he asked, sizing up her thin, feminine body from head to toe. "'Cause I got a few moves I know you'll like."
Agent Carter's reply was swift, but very effective punch to Hodge's jaw. Hodge fell backward on the ground with a loud thump and groan. The other men in the line couldn't help but stare, but had the sense not to comment. Among the children, though… that was another story.
One eleven-year-old girl screamed upon seeing him being punched. A twelve-year-old boy gasped loudly. A couple fourteen-year-olds covered their eyes. Jamie blinked but otherwise stayed silent, willing her jaw not to drop or suddenly gasp. Nick Ryerson, though, was actually smirking. He was enjoying this.
The commotion from the orphaned kids drew the attention of the young men in line, and they at last noticed them standing somewhat off to the side. Surprise looks flickered across each face. None of them had expected to see kids on this base, let alone a bunch of orphans wearing mini-sized versions of the standard private uniform. They all kept silent though, and contemplated the reasons as to why they were here silently in their minds. None of them wanted to end up like Hodge and be punched in the face for speaking out of turn.
A jeep suddenly rolled up behind Agent Carter, and its driver and passenger was Colonel Phillips and Doctor Erskine.
"Agent Carter," called out the Colonel as he climbed out of the jeep.
Agent Carter turned around, and upon seeing the Colonel, she stood up straighter than before and promptly saluted him.
"Colonel Phillips," she politely greeted as he and Doctor Erskine approached her and the rest of the men in the line.
"I can see that you are breaking in the candidates," said the Colonel. "That's good…"
His eyes fell upon Gilmore Hodge, who was still lying down in the dirt from the force of Agent Carter's swing. He frowned at the sight.
"Get your ass up out of that dirt and stand in that line at attention 'till somebody comes and tells you what to do," he ordered.
Hodge scrambled to his feet and stood at attention as he'd been ordered.
"Yes, sir!" he promptly replied.
He nodded in approval, and then looked off to the side at where the orphans were standing. Upon finally getting attention from the Colonel, all of the kids immediately stood up straight and at attention.
"All of you here, now!" he commanded.
The orphans didn't hesitate to comply. They walked single file up to the Colonel. Colonel Phillips nodded to them, and then turned to face Agent Carter again.
"Has either side been briefed, yet?"
"Not yet, sir," she said. "I was waiting for you to make the debriefing."
Phillips nodded, and then looked at the men in the line in front of him.
"Before we begin, I should tell you all that this division will require each of you to be in the company of one of each of these kids. They will be considered to be your buddy partner, and you're expected to help them with their own training for the following week in addition to your own training."
The men weren't allowed to exchange puzzled glances about this since the Colonel was currently addressing them, but the orphans did. Soft, puzzled whispers broke out amongst the kids. They were each going to be partnered up with one of these adult recruits? Why?
The Colonel's head snapped around when he caught wind of the whispers, and the kids immediately quieted down.
"Since you're all kids and some of you are too young to understand the meaning of 'don't speak unless spoken to,' I'll ignore your whispering this one time," he said at once. "But from this moment on, you're considered to be soldiers of the United States Army, and talking like that again without permission gives me the right to punish you as any other soldier. Is that clear?"
"Clear, sir!" came the collected, nervous reply from the children.
"Good," he replied. "Now, each of you kids pick one of them recruits. Like I said before, they'll be your buddy partner for the rest of this week."
Wordlessly, the kids filed out of line, and lined up next to whichever recruit they liked the best, or they thought looked as though they'd give them the biggest boost in training. Nick naturally floated over towards Gilmore Hodge, who looked more than happy to have attracted the attention of a fourteen-year-old boy who seemed to be just as much as a smartass as him, but as Jamie was at the very end of the line, she had the last pick, leaving her with the small thin man she'd caught a glimpse of and had thought looked vaguely familiar when they'd first approached the line of men with Agent Carter.
Upon seeing that the last little girl was forced to be stuck with him, the man glanced down to smile at her, but upon seeing the other's face, both Jamie and the short man stared at one another in unmistakable shock.
Steve Rogers couldn't believe his eyes. Jamie Harper, the little girl he'd saved from bullies a few days ago was in front of him right now in a private uniform. He never actually thought he'd meet her again, but now that he thought of it, the boy that had grouped up with Hodge had looked familiar to him. Now he realized that that had been one of Jamie's bullies that had been tormenting her in that alleyway. What the hell were all these orphans doing on the military base, anyway? They were just kids! War is no place for children…
Jamie just stared. She hadn't expected to run into Steve again, especially not here at an army base. He'd told her that day when he saved her that he hadn't made the cut at the Army Recruiting Office. Had he lied to her? She was glad her rescuer was here, but she now had questions and desperately wanted answers. But they would have to wait. She couldn't ask right now when the Colonel specifically stated that they weren't allowed to speak out of turn.
Wordlessly, she took her place beside Steve. Steve smiled awkwardly to her. They'd discuss what the other was doing here later.
Upon seeing the kids grouped with their chosen adult recruits, the Colonel nodded in approval. He started walking up and down the line as he began to speak.
"General Patton has said, 'Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by soldiers. We are going to win this war because we have the best… soldiers…"
He trailed off for a moment when his eyes fell upon the pairing of Steve and Jamie. Steve stayed silent and stood at attention, not wanting to be considered any less simply because of his size, and Jamie fought the urge to tremble under his gaze. Further down the line, Gilmore Hodge and Nick Ryerson held back their snickers upon seeing the worst recruits grouped together. Steve and Jamie did not meet their stares.
Phillips took a moment to glance over at Doctor Erskine. It was clear he was displeased to have Steve and Jamie here. Erskine held his gaze. He would not back down from his decision of giving the Unlikely Duo a chance. The Colonel frowned, but carried on his speech as he continued on down the line.
"And because they are going to get better. Much better. The Strategic Scientific Reserve is an Allied effort made up of the best minds in the free world," he explained. "Our goal is to create the best army in history, and to create the best army in the future. However, every army starts with one soldier, and we need to have the best soldier in an army of the future, one that will be destined to surpass anything that we make here, today. At the end of this week, we will choose one man out of all you adult recruits, and one of you kids to be those first soldiers. They will both be the first in a new breed of super-soldiers. And they will personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of hell."
Jamie didn't even bothered being alarmed at the use of the swear word. She was trying to suppress the urge to gulp in worry. This was a bit more than what she thought was going to happen when she told Doctor Erskine she'd take any chance available to get into the army. This super-soldier thing sounded really scary, but she held her tongue. There was no way she was going to ask to leave and go back to the orphanage. Not if this was the only chance she'd ever get at being reunited with Trent overseas. If she'd have to prove her worth to the Colonel and Agent Carter that she was the one that should be chosen to become the child soldier of the future, she'd do it. It was her one chance to fight in this war.
And besides, she was partnered up with Steve. Things wouldn't be too bad so long as he was here. He was kind enough to rescue her from Nick and Becky, and he was very nice when they were chatting when he walked her back to the orphanage.
She could do this. She'd do whatever they ordered her to do. She'd do the very best she could.
"Now, we begin training immediately! Move out people!"
Everyone followed the three officials led both the adult and children recruits across the camp. As they walked, many of the men were quietly introducing themselves to their child partner for the next week, and the kids told the men their own names. In the case of Steve and Jamie, though, they were simply staring at one another.
"I have to say, I never expected to see you again, kid," Steve muttered quietly to Jamie after several paces of awkward silence as they walked slightly behind everyone else.
"That makes two of us," said Jamie sheepishly. "How exactly did you even get cleared to get here, Steve? Did you lie to me the other day when you said you didn't make the cut on the health exam?"
"No, I never lied to you, Jamie," said Steve at once. "I really didn't make the cut that day."
"Then how come you're here?"
Steve nodded in the direction of Doctor Erskine.
"He gave me a chance. Only a chance and only in this top secret research division."
Jamie's eyes went wide. "You met Doctor Erskine, too?" she asked.
"Yeah, why?" he said, puzzled. "You personally met him, too?"
"Yeah," she said, nodding as she glanced in the direction of the doctor. "It was actually just a couple hours after I met you. The Harkins took all us kids to the World Expo. I wandered away from the group and went into a nearby Army Recruiting Office. He saw me there. As he walked me back to where the Harkins were, he asked if I'd take a chance, and only a chance at getting into the army. I told him yes, naturally, and he said to keep our chance meeting a secret. I didn't understand why, but he, the Colonel, and Agent Carter showed up out of the blue on the front steps of the orphanage yesterday, with some sort of document saying that they had the right to take me, and a bunch of other kids until further notice."
"Then the rest of the kids here are also from the orphanage?"
"Yeah. They gave us some time to pack up some of our stuff, and then they loaded us into a bunch of army trucks, and they drove us here."
Steve chuckled. "The irony… I must have just missed you, then…"
"What?" asked Jamie.
"I met Doctor Erskine at the World Expo at that Army Recruiting Office, too. It must have been just before or just after you met him."
"Huh…" said Jamie. "Give or take a couple minutes and we would have bumped into each other again…"
"I know. Ironic, huh?"
Jamie lightly laughed, but had no chance to comment. They had just arrived at their first training exercise: a tall, rope climbing ladder-wall that they'd each have to climb over.
"All right, people," Colonel Phillips called out. "Let's see how you do with this exercise…"
He motioned for the drill sergeant standing beside the training course to step forward.
"All right, cadets," barked the drill sergeant to both the adult and children recruits. "Let's see how fast it takes all of you to get yourself, and your partner over this wall! Ain't no room for slowpokes out on the battlefield!"
He blew the whistle around his neck, and the first team ran up to the rope-climbing wall and began to climb, followed swiftly by the second team in line, and then the third, and then the rest followed. It didn't matter that many of the adult recruits had never done anything like this before and that they were assisting their child partners to climb up, too. They made the climbing exercise look easy.
Soon it was Steve and Jamie's turn. Steve went first, trying his best to show Jamie how it was done. It was hard work, though, trying to find his grip on the rope rungs on the climbing apparatus, and he wasn't able to move very fast up the ladder. Jamie was almost a mirror image to how much he was failing, the only difference being that Steve was climbing, albeit slowly, whereas she was constantly losing her grip and slipping off the ladder when she no more than a foot off the wall. Eventually, Steve climbed back down in reverse to help her out.
"Don't let go of one rung until both of your feet are securely inside rungs of their own," he advised her. "You'll keep slipping if you don't."
"'Kay," she muttered, her face hot with embarrassment.
She listened to his advice, and this time was able to climb up the training equipment; slowly, but she was still doing it, and Steve climbed up the rope ladder at the same pace as her in order to coach her through it. He didn't mind that it made him seem somewhat slow, too. He wanted to help her out.
Nick suddenly breezed past Jamie easily as she climbed, a wicked smirk on his face.
"Think fast, War Girl!" he quietly muttered, and before Jamie could so much as turn her head toward his direction, he climbed up past her, and purposefully stuck one of his feet into the rung where Jamie had been placing her hand, crushing her fingers with his boot.
Jamie yelped with pain, let go of the rope rung, and started to fall back down the ladder.
"Jamie!" Steve shouted. He reached out to hopefully grab her before she fell all the way back down. He succeeded, and managed to snatch onto her wrist. He wasn't expecting her to be so heavy, though, and he, too, tumbled backward, but both of his feet got tangled in the rope rungs, and he hung upside down on the ladder, blinking in surprise as to how he managed to be in this predicament, and still holding onto to Jamie's wrist to prevent her from landing on the hard ground.
"Rogers!" snapped the drill sergeant. "Let go of the girl and get off of there!"
Jamie's cheeks burned with embarrassment as Steve slowly released her so she could grab back onto the rope ladder, all the while Hodge and Nick snickered up as they climbed over the top of the ladder and began climbing down the other side. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Colonel frown, tut to himself, and scribble something down on her and Steve's assessment sheets.
"That was hard," Jamie muttered as she slouched into the mess hall beside Steve, her entire body sore and achy. It had been a very, very long day of training. After the rope climbing exercise, they went through a basic training course in gun control. That had been moderately easy, as they'd only been learning how to properly aim and shoot the handguns and rifles. Then they'd been taught how to properly fight hand-to-hand.
That was where Steve and Jamie struggled the most.
"Why don't you go to the First-Aid tent?" Steve suggested as he watched her gingerly massage a nasty bruise on her cheek, courtesy of Nick. "Ask if they have some ice?"
"I'm fine," Jamie insisted as they filed into line behind the other adult recruits and orphans to get their dinner trays. "I'm used to this, after all…"
Steve frowned. "You shouldn't be used to it. Him whacking you around like that… It's not right."
"What am I supposed to do, Steve?" she asked as they received bowls of soup and started walking off toward an empty table in the back corner of the Mess Hall. "If I hit back, I give them what they want. They want me to get angry…"
"You also can't let them walk all over you like that, though," Steve argued. "If you let people walk all over you now, they'll walk all over you for the rest of your life."
Jamie scowled slightly at his words. "Says the guy who couldn't defend himself when that guy Hodge walloped him in training…" she retorted.
"Touché," Steve said with a slight smile, ruffling her hair. Jamie grinned to him as they sat down.
"Do you even know how to fight, Steve?" she asked as she spooned up a bit of soup. "I watched you when you were pit against Hodge. It looked like you knew what you were doing, but he was just too big and strong for you to get a decent punch in."
"I know the basics of boxing," Steve replied. "When America first joined the war, my friend Bucky and I decided to take a few lessons so we'd know what to do should we get drafted."
"And where's Bucky now? Is he here on the base, too?"
"No, he's already on his way overseas. Believe it or not, I found out he got drafted just a little after I walked you back to the orphanage. He got shipped out as sergeant in the 107th Infantry yesterday."
"He's a sergeant in the 107th?" Jamie replied, her eyes wide. Steve nodded. "What a coincidence! Trent's a sergeant in the 107th, too!"
"Uh-huh! Maybe they'll meet and become friends! Just like you and me!"
Steve laughed. "Yeah, that would be something…"
There was a brief silence between the two of them for a few minutes as they ate their soup. Then Jamie spoke up again.
"Do you think you could teach me how to box?"
Steve paused from lifting his spoon back to his mouth at her words.
"You want to learn how to box?"
"Yeah! Could you teach me?" she repeated. "I want to do better in training! You may not be an expert, but you could teach me how to throw punches! Couldn't you?"
Steve thought about it for a moment, and then shrugged. "Sure, why not?" he said with a smile. "I'm supposed to be helping you with training anyway, since you're my partner."
"All right!" Jamie cheered, pumping one of her fists in the air, and her pigtails bobbing about in her excitement. "When we can start? Can we start right after dinner? Is it hard to learn? How good are you? Can I call you my mentor, then? If you teach me, do you think I'll be able to defend myself against Nick and the other bullies? And what about—"
"Whoa! Slow down, Jamie," Steve interrupted. "I get that you're excited, but you're going to fast for me to understand."
"Oh, sorry," she said sheepishly.
"It's okay," said Steve. "And in answer to the order of your questions, I'll teach you, but not tonight. It's too late. We can start tomorrow before dinner. And yes, boxing can be hard to learn, and it'll make you very tired very easily. I wouldn't consider myself an expert; I only took a few lessons. And mentor? I guess you could call me that, although I've never been anyone's mentor before. And I certainly hope I can teach enough to defend yourself against that boy. I wouldn't consider myself to be a good mentor if I didn't…"
"Awesome!" Jamie cheered again, a bright smile on her face. "You are now Steve Rogers, my friend and boxing mentor!"
Steve just smiled. Jamie really was a cute kid; so sweet and innocent. He was glad she was his assigned partner.
"Oh, and there was one more thing I wanted to ask you about before I go to bed," she said suddenly.
"Uh-uh," she said, shaking her head. "I just wanted to know if you knew where I could find some tape."
"Tape?" Steve repeated, very much puzzled. "What do you want tape for?"
"To fix my book," she replied. "Right before Colonel Phillips, Agent Carter, and Doctor Erskine came and took all us kids from the orphanage, Nick went and ripped out a page from my Mom's copy of The Wizard of Oz, my favorite book. I need to fix it. So do you know where I could find some, or do you have any?"
Steve frowned. He disliked that boy more and more with everything Jamie told him about what he generally did to her. "I'm sorry, Jamie. I don't think you'll find any tape around here. That'll probably have to wait until this week is over."
"Oh…" she said sadly. How could she not be sad? Her book had belonged to her mother when she was just a little girl. It should never have been ruined like this.
"So you like the Wizard of Oz, then?" he asked, trying to get her mind off of the ripped out page.
"Yeah, I love the Wizard of Oz!" she said brightly. "I love anything magical, and The Wizard of Oz is absolutely magical! A story of a little girl who travels to a magical land because of a cyclone? And walks along a road made of yellow brick to a city made entirely out of emeralds while wearing enchanted silver shoes and befriends a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion? I love it!"
"Ruby slippers," Steve interjected.
"Dorothy wears ruby slippers."
"Wrong! That's just in the movie! In the book it's silver shoes!"
"Really?" said Steve. "So I take it you're not a fan of the movie, then?"
"No, I like the movie well enough… It's just not as good as the book. Although I do love the flying monkeys in the movie! They're so cool!"
"You like the monkeys?"
"They can fly! I want to fly someday! Maybe if we're chosen to become the super soldiers, we'll be able to fly! That'd be amazing!"
Steve chuckled. "Well, I don't know about that, and besides, I'd prefer to keep both my feet firmly on the ground."
Jamie rolled her eyes. "Suit yourself… Oh! I also have a record of the movie's songs! I brought it with me! Along with my record player and my record of Come Josephine in my Flying Machine! That's the song my Mom used to sing to me every night before I went to sleep! It's my favorite song! Do you wanna hear it?"
He chuckled again. "Sure. Although I think the only reason you like it so much is because it's about a plane flying around."
Jamie stuck out her tongue at him, but nonetheless stood up, threw away her and Steve's empty bowls into the nearby trash can, and dragged her behind him as she led him out the door and toward her and the other kids' bunker to show him her record player.
Days ticked by, and life for Jamie at Camp Lehigh developed into a routine. Every day, she would get up, get dressed and do her best to ignore Nick, rush out of the bunker to meet up with Steve before the training sessions began, endure the rigorous training sessions while trying to avoid Nick and Hodge, though unsuccessfully. As they were partnered together during this training program, they would generally work together to give Steve and Jamie a hard time.
One example would be on day three, when the adults and kids were presented with a crawling exercise. They were to crawl through a mud enclosure topped with barbed wire with rifles to the opposite end. The spaces were small, and they were to be timed to see how fast they could do this exercise. All of the other adults and many of the other kids were able to do this easily, but Steve and Jamie struggled to crawl through the space with the guns and not scratch themselves on the barbed wire. Nick and Hodge, way ahead of them, both kicked down the posts holding up the barbed wire in front of them, trapping the Unlikely Duo in the enclosure with barbed wire poking into their skin. As Jamie lightly cried from the wire cutting into her skin and Steve struggled to carefully untangle himself and Jamie from the mess, Nick and Hodge crawled through the remainder of the training course and laughed.
After training with the other recruits, Jamie would shower, and then meet up with Steve at the hand-to-hand training station, where he would privately instruct her in basic boxing lessons with simple punching bags.
"All right," he told her during their first lesson. "Show me what you can do. Try punching the bag."
Jamie did as he said, or rather, tried to do as he said. She curled her fingers into a fist, but when she recoiled her arm, he immediately stopped her.
"Stop! Don't do that!"
"Tuck your thumb into your hand. Keep it out."
"If you're holding your thumb like that when your fist hits the target, there's a good chance you might break it!"
Jamie did as he had instructed, and kept her thumb out of her hand when coiling it back up into a fist. When she hit the punching bag this time, Steve nodded in approval.
"Not bad for a first try. You have the power. You just need to know the proper techniques."
Through his coaching, Jamie was learning the basics of boxing. Proper jabs, how to cross, making hooks, and even uppercuts. Defensive techniques were trickier for her to learn. Slip and turns were easy enough to do, since she was very flexible, but it was hard for her to block punches. She just wasn't fast and her reflexes just weren't up to par. Still, she did okay for a beginner with only a few days worth of lessons, and Steve made sure she knew it.
"This is really hard," Jamie mumbled during the lessons on day four. "I thought I'd be better than this by now…"
"No, you're doing very well," Steve assured her. "Much better than I did in my first lessons."
"Yeah. You're obviously struggling with defense. I did too, but I also couldn't do much in terms of attack, either. You're doing well there."
"You really think so? Thanks!"
After her private lessons were done, she and Steve would head off to the Mess Hall for dinner together, and then go their separate ways to their own bunkers to go to bed. Jamie would generally change into her pajamas at this time, and check with the private in charge of keeping an eye on their bunker if any mail came in for her from Trent overseas. Every night, the private would sadly shake his to her, and Jamie would frown and head to her desk beside her bed. She'd turn on her record player, but keep the volume low so as not to attract the attention of Nick or any of the other kids, and scribble out a quick note to Trent, telling him of her adventures here at the camp which she would then give to the private to mail off, and then drift off to sleep.
She was actually growing a bit worried. It'd been almost two weeks since she last received a letter from her brother. Generally they came almost every few days. Even if he had nothing important to tell her, the letters would come with just him saying that he missed her just so she'd know that he was still okay. It wasn't like him not to write.
There was no time to focus on that right now, though. It was now day five, and currently, she and Steve were running an endurance run with the rest of the adults and children. Everyone else was doing moderately well, jogging in time with the drill sergeant who was leading them across the dirt track, but Steve and Jamie lagged behind, running at full strength in order not to be left behind.
"Pick up the pace, ladies!" barked the drill sergeant. "Let's go, let's go! Double time!"
"I can't help but feel like the sergeant up there is purposefully having everyone run at a speed that he knows that the two of us can't quite keep up with," Jamie muttered to Steve quietly as they ran.
Steve chuckled between his rapid pants for breath. "You know that's not true. So long as we do the best we can with each exercise, no one can criticize us for not doing as well as the others, James."
Jamie tripped up slightly over her feet upon hearing what he called her. Steve saw her face blanch completely and frowned.
"Nothing, it's just… you called me James. The only person who calls me James is Trent, and…"
"It's a special nickname for you from your brother, right?" Steve guessed. Jamie nodded. "I understand. But what should I call you then?"
Steve chuckled upon seeing her face scrunch up into an annoyed expression.
"Just Jamie, huh? I like that… Two J's… J.J.!"
"Yeah. Why? You don't like that, either?"
"No, it's fine. I like it."
"Good to hear, J.J." said Steve, taking a moment to pat her on the shoulder as they ran. Jamie smiled in return.
They and the other recruits were approaching a rather tall flagpole off to the side of the course, and across from it on the opposite side of the course, Agent Carter was sitting in the passenger seat of a jeep beside a private who was the driver, writing down notes on everyone's assessment sheets on their speeds.
"Come on! Faster! Faster! Move! Move!" shouted the drill sergeant as they all ran up to both the flagpole and jeep. "Squad halt!"
Everyone came to an appreciated stop, upon the drill sergeant's command, and there was a great intake of breath from adults and children alike as almost everyone doubled over with their hands on their knees as they struggled to regain their breath. With the squad having at last come to a stop, Steve and Jamie finally caught up with them, and they too stopped beside the rest of the group and panted heavily.
The drill sergeant ignored the exhaustion from all the weary adult men and young children, and instead pointed sharply up at flag, fluttering high up above them all up at the very top of the flagpole.
"That flag," he called out for everyone to hear, "means we're only at the halfway point. First one to bring it to me gets themselves and their partner a ride back with Agent Carter. Move! Move!"
All at once, there was a great rush as both adults and children scrambled to get to the base of the flagpole first. Some adults shoved their child counterparts aside as they did their best to climb up the pole by themselves, only to just lose their grip and slide right back down and land on their behinds. Others tried to lift their kids up as high as they could so as to give the kids an advanced boost for them to climb, but the kids also slipped.
"Come on! Get up there!" shouted the drill sergeant. "If that's all you got, this army's in trouble!"
Steve and Jamie did not even bother trying to approach the flagpole at this time. There was no point. For one, they were both so much smaller than everyone else, they'd never make it close to the pole, and on the other hand, it was clear that the key to getting the flag was not by brute aggression. Everyone else was trying that and continuously failing. No, they could both see that the trick to getting the flag was by doing something differently.
Soon it was Nick and Hodge's turn. Hodge scrambled to get fourteen-year-old Nick onto his shoulders in order to help Nick to get an advanced boost up the pole.
"Go on, Hodge! Go on! Get up there, Ryerson! Come on! Get up there!"
Nick climbed. He climbed with all his strength. Hodge, the other adult men, and the orphaned kids all cheered him on. He was getting pretty high up. He might actually have a shot at capturing the flag.
Unfortunately, gravity was against Nick, and slid right back down the pole. He was immediately shoved aside as other adults tried to get their own kids up on the pole again. It was chaotic, what with all the adults and kids forming a frenzied mob around the pole.
"Nobody's got that flag in seventeen years!" shouted the drill sergeant, and there was a faint trace of disappointment in his voice. He apparently had been hoping that one team might have at last broken the record. "Now, fall back into line! Come on, fall in!"
There was a great amount of grumbling from everyone as they'd failed to receive a pass on finishing the run, and all slumped back over to the drill sergeant still waiting on the course.
"Let's go!" called the drill sergeant. "Get back into formation."
They all did as he instructed, and got back into formation. The drill sergeant nodded in approval, and was about to give the orders to resume the run, when Steve and Jamie walked up to the flagpole.
The two surveyed the pole. Looking at it from top to bottom. There had to be another way to get the flag.
The drill sergeant scowled. What were those two weaklings doing?
"Rogers! Harper!" he loudly barked. "I said fall in!"
Jamie ignored him. She was looking at the base of the flagpole. She'd just discovered the true way to get the flag. She lightly tugged on Steve's hand to get his attention.
Steve glanced down at her, and she pointed at the base of the pole. Steve saw what she saw, and gently ruffled her hair in response. As she giggled, Steve crouched down, and very easily took out the removable pin at the base of the pole, which was keeping the pole standing upward.
The pole immediately toppled over, landing upon the ground with a metallic clang at directly at the drill sergeant's feet.
There was a stunned silence as Jamie leisurely strolled forward, and removed the flag from its hooks at the opposite end of the pole. That was intentional. She wanted to see if Nick or Hodge or anyone else would try and fight her for it when she and Steve clearly won the flag fair and square, but no one did. They were too surprised. The two weaklings had managed to get the flag. Not by brute force like everyone else had tried to do in order retrieve it, but by taking the time and thinking through the problem. The drill sergeant had never said they couldn't take out the pin in order to get the flag. No one could accuse them of cheating to get it. They had just looked at the problem from a different angle.
She managed to unhook the flag, and waited for Steve to join her before walking up the drill sergeant, and presenting him the Camp Lehigh flag.
"Thank you, sir," she piped, a bright smile on her face. The sergeant just stared at her for a moment before accepting it, and then she and Steve approached the jeep.
"Need a boost, J.J.?" Steve asked her.
"Yes, thank you, Steve!" she said cheerfully.
Steve all but lifted her off the ground, and into the backseat of the jeep before climbing in after her. As they settled into their seats, they smiled and nodded pleasantly to Agent Carter. She smiled back. She was clearly impressed by the way they'd captured the flag.
As the jeep drove off back to the main camp, Jamie spared a glance over her shoulder at everyone else. The drill sergeant and most everyone else were still watching the retreating jeep with looks of shock. Hodge was staring after them with a sense of newfound respect, but Nick was glaring murderously after them.
Jamie shuddered, and turned back around to stare at the back of Agent Carter's head. She could tell that Nick was beyond fuming mad from being shown up by her.
"Faster, all of you! Come on!" snapped Agent Carter. "My grandmother has more life in her, God rest her soul. Move it!"
Jamie fought the urge to groan as she struggled to complete her set of push-ups. She was beyond tired. It had been an especially bad night in the bunker. Having been shown up by Jamie in getting the flag yesterday, Nick had cornered her in the bunker before lights out, and proceeded to whack her around. If someone were to remove her private uniforms' shirt, they'd discover she was literally a walking bruise. She was sore and achy, and just wanted today's group training to be over with so she could tell Steve that she wanted to skip their private training session today so she could go on ahead take a long, hot shower to relieve her bruised body.
While all the other adults and kids, especially Hodge and Nick, could finish each set of exercises with relative ease, she and Steve struggled to so much as keep pace. They may be smart individuals, but they just weren't cut out for physical exertion. While everyone else was just finishing up on their third push-up, Steve and Jamie were just finishing their first.
Still, they would not relent. Despite the muscles in their arms screaming for reprieve that made it so much of an effort for them to so much as move, they kept on going. As they continued doing their sets of push-ups, and they both failed to notice Colonel Phillips and Doctor Erskine were standing a few yards away from the group beside one of the army jeeps. Discussing the two of them.
"You're not really thinking about picking Rogers and the Harper girl, are you?" asked the Colonel skeptically.
Doctor Erskine nodded. "I wasn't just thinking about it," he replied. "They are both clear choices."
Colonel Phillips just scoffed. "When you brought a ninety pound asthmatic onto my army base, and insisted on carting along a little girl that just barely scraped past the required age range we gave those owners at that orphanage back in New York, I let it slide. I thought, 'What the hell.' Maybe they'd be useful to you, like gerbils. I never thought you'd pick not one, but both of them."
Their conversation was briefly interrupted when Agent Carter shouted "Up!" to all the recruits. All the adults and children got back to their feet, with Steve and Jamie lagging slightly behind due to how exhausted they were. "Jumping Jack's!" she ordered.
Everyone followed her orders, and proceeded to do jumping jacks. Steve and Jamie could do little more than lift their arms halfway up as they did the jumps.
"Stick needles into those kids' arms, they're gonna go right through them. Look at them," he added, noting the failing jumps that Steve and Jamie were currently presenting. "They're making me cry."
Doctor Erskine sighed. "I am looking for qualities beyond the physical," he explained.
Now Colonel Phillips was getting annoyed. He glared at Erskine. "Do you know how lone it took to set up this project?" he hissed. "All the groveling I had to do in front of Senator What's-His-Name's committees?"
"Brandt," said the Doctor. "Yes, I know. I am well aware of your efforts."
"Then throw me a bone," said the Colonel, and he nodded in the direction of Hodge and Nick.
Unlike Steve Rogers and Jamie Harper, who were both still only jumping halfway off the ground, Gilmore Hodge and Nick Ryerson were both performing their jumping jacks flawlessly, and neither of them appeared to be the slightest bit fatigued.
"Hodge and Ryerson passed every test we gave them, and they worked well as a team while on the courses," said the Colonel approvingly. "They're both big, they're both fast. They both obey orders. They're soldiers."
"They are both bullies," Doctor Erskine objected. "And they've only interacted with each other during the group tests. Have you not watched Steve and Jamie during their downtime this past week? I have. They eat meals together, chat together, and Steve even began giving Jamie boxing lessons so she can defend herself after group training sessions. They'd make a much better team."
Colonel Phillips just rolled his eyes. He turned, and reached into one of the boxes in the jeep behind him for a grenade. He discreetly dismantled it.
"You don't win wars with niceness, Doctor. You win wars with guts."
Then, he tossed the harmless grenade right into the fray of the training recruits.
"Grenade!" he shouted.
There was instant panic. Kids and adults alike scrambled to get behind the nearest available form of cover there was, or to just run as far away as they could out of range of the upcoming explosion.
In the mayhem, Hodge forgot all about Nick, and ran behind a truck for cover. Nick tried to follow him, but another kid bumped into him, and he tripped over his feet and tumbled to the ground. There would be no way he'd be able to get away from the explosion in time. The moment he realized that Nick wasn't right next to him, Hodge spared a peek over the hood of the truck. He, Colonel Phillips, and Agent Carter were shocked by what they were witnessing, but Doctor Erskine was smiling proudly at the sight.
Upon seeing the grenade fall into the middle of the tumble of bodies, Steve did not hesitate or think twice about what he was about to do. He simply ran right toward it, and launched his entire body on top of the explosive device. He was going to allow himself to be torn to pieces in order to protect everyone there.
"Get away!" he shouted out to everyone around him. "Get back!"
Jamie meanwhile, hadn't even bothered trying to run away. She'd seen Nick slip and fall, and had run right up to his side. It hadn't mattered to her that it was her bully, the boy that had tormented her every day since she first was sent to the orphanage. She simply bent down, scooped up one of his arms, and tried to support him away from the grenade. She wouldn't leave him, or any defenseless person behind, no matter how cruel they'd been to her.
"Come on!" she shouted. "Faster!"
Nick didn't move. He was too stunned. Jamie was about to start dragging him behind her to shelter, when she realized something, as did Steve. The grenade should have gone off by now.
"It was a dummy grenade," called out another recruit in realization, and upon hearing his words, Steve slowly sat back up on the ground, and Jamie realized her grip on Nick's shoulder.
Steve glanced over at Colonel Phillips. "Is this a test?" he asked.
Colonel Phillips sighed, but didn't answer him. Instead, he turned to face Doctor Erskine, who looked the tiniest bit smug.
"What the fuck, War Girl?!"
All heads turned at once toward Nick and Jamie, who yelped in alarm as he suddenly shoved her harshly against one of the jeeps. Everyone was too surprised to do anything by this. It was one thing for a fourteen-year-old boy to tease a girl and mess with her during training, or to pummel her in a whirlwind punches and kicks when alone and no one could see. It was a whole other ball game to try and attack her in public and in front of adults, and no one had been expecting it. Least of all Jamie herself.
"W-what? What're you—?"
"Why the fuck did you do that?!" Nick demanded, his face sweltering red and scrunched up in a furiously icy glare. "Why did you help me?!"
"T-that's a swear word!" she stuttered. It was the first response that popped into her mind.
"Your goddamn fucking right I swore!" Nick shouted back. "Answer my fucking question! Why did you help me?!"
"Y-you fell!" she whimpered. She was very scared. She'd never seen Nick this angry before. "Y-you could've died! I-I-I couldn't just leave y-you there! I had to h-help!"
"Did I fucking ask for your help?!" he roared. "Did I?! Is this your idea of a fucking joke?! To try and seem noble?! To try and show me up so you'll get picked and be in the army?!"
By now, the adults were coming out of their shock somewhat. Most of the other recruits were shoving their child partners behind them to keep them out of the way, while Steve, Agent Carter, Colonel Phillips, and Doctor Erskine were cautiously approaching the furious teen and frightened girl. Even Hodge was coming to help. This was very bad.
"No!" Jamie cried out in alarm, her eyes wide with both shock and fear. "I-I-I just wanted to help you!"
"Lying bitch!" Nick roared, and before anyone could stop him, he punched Jamie right in the face.
All the adults rushed forward as he reeled his fist back to hit her again. They had to stop this before Jamie got seriously hurt. But what happened next made them all freeze once again in surprise.
Jamie screamed. Not in pain, but in pure determination and anger. She'd had enough of this. She was tired of being afraid. Tired of being Nick's punching bag. She couldn't let right turn into what had happened last night in the bunker. She would not be pushed around any more. Steve had told her to stand up for herself, and that was precisely what she was going to do.
Nick looked momentarily confused by her sudden angry roar, and that one moment was all she needed. She jammed her knee up between his legs. Hard. Nick shouted out in pain and released her in order to grasp hold of his tender groin, and she took that as an opportunity to reel back her own fist, and deliver a solid right-hook to his nose.
There was a loud cracking sound. Nick screamed in pain as blood burst forth from his nose, and he fell to the ground with both his hands clasped over his face. He started wailing from the pain.
Everyone stood there, shocked beyond measure. Jamie had just hit him. She hit him so hard she made blood come out of his nose. She probably broke it.
Jamie stood there, looming over him. Her fist was still stretched out slightly in front of her, and there were faint traces of blood on her knuckles. She was panting a bit, and glaring furiously down at Nick on the ground.
"You don't hit me," she whispered. It was so soft, it was barely audible. Her face scrunched up as angry tears poured down her face. Then she was screaming. "You don't ever hit me! You'll never hit me again!"
She stopped momentarily, glaring at him as she thickly gulped. Nick stared at her between his fingers, shock just barely visible from what could be seen of his face. The adults didn't dare approach. She looked as though she'd wanted to scream this to him for a long time, now.
"You… Becky… and all the rest back at the orphanage…" she spat. "You'll never hit me again! None of you! Never! Again!"
She panted after that, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. Her right cheek was puffed up and red where Nick had struck her, but it was like she couldn't even feel the pain from the bruise. She was just so angry.
Steve was the only person there who dared to approach her. He cautiously walked forward, and touched her shoulder. "Jamie?" he said quietly.
She snapped out of her anger, and looked up at him in alarm. It was clear she'd forgotten where she was. She stared at him, shock and fear plainly written on her face. She slowly turned her head, and looked around. Everyone was staring at her with equally shocked expressions. None of them could believe what she'd done. She looked down at her fist, at the blood running down her fingers. That was Nick's blood…
She'd done that; she'd made him bleed. She hit him. She hit him. Everyone had seen her hit him…
Fear replaced the shock on her face, and before Steve could stop her, she turned and bolted away from the scene, running as fast as her little legs could take her.
Steve started to run after her, but then he remembered where he was, and turned to face Colonel Phillips.
"Sir," he said gruffly. "Permission to go after my partner?"
"Permission granted," said the Colonel at once, and Steve took off after the little girl.
The Colonel turned to Erskine. "I admit it, Doctor. You were right," he said, and then he turned Nick, who was still lying down in the dirt, tenderly rubbing his nose. "Get your ass out of that dirt, son!" he ordered.
"B-but sir—!" Nick tried to protest.
"I said up!" Phillips ordered.
Slowly, Nick did as he said and stood back up. Blood was still dripping from his nose, and running down the fingers pressed up against his face. The Colonel glared coldly at the young teenager. Any doubts he might have still had over picking Steve and Jamie as the super-soldiers and instead choosing Hodge and Nick were completely wiped from his mind thanks to this incident. It was one thing to pull pranks and tease a ten-year-old girl; it was another to viciously attack her as he'd just witnessed Nick do to Jamie. Thank God that girl had had enough of his bullying to at least defend herself against him.
"Pack your bags! You're off the base!"
"Now!" shouted the Colonel, pointing sharply in the direction of the kids' bunker. "Go!"
With a furious glare, Nick stormed off to go and pack up his gear. Phillips just frowned in his direction before gesturing for Agent Carter to come over.
"Sir?" she said, walking up to him, but keeping her eyes trained on Nick's retreating form. "Do you want me to follow him, to make sure he leaves?"
"No," answered the Colonel. "Find Rogers and the Harper girl. Tell them congratulations. They've just been chosen for the procedure tomorrow."