Steve tore through Camp Lehigh, willing himself not to lose track of Jamie's retreating form as she sprinted away from the scene. He was not ashamed to admit he was still in slight shock over everything that had just happened. One minute, he was doing jumping jacks with Jamie and the other recruits, both of them struggling to keep pace with the other adults and kids. The next minute, he was lunging on top of a grenade in a meager attempt to keep it from killing an unknown number of people around him, and then, that boy Nick was hitting Jamie, and before anyone could rush forward to stop him, Jamie actually defended herself by hitting him back.
He in no way blamed her for fighting back. Like he'd been telling her before, that had been self-defense. Everyone could see that he clearly attacked her first. No one there blamed her about what had just happened.
He found her in the communal bathrooms, hunched over one of the sink faucets, and trying desperately to scrub away the blood on her fingers. The bruise on her right cheek was looking a bit redder than it had been a few minutes prior, and her eyes were wild. She was clearly in a slight form of shock, and was panicking somewhat over what she'd done. She didn't even look up when he entered.
"J.J.," Steve said kindly, walking up to her. "Are you okay?"
Jamie didn't answer him. She just kept trying to wash her hands.
"J.J.? Jamie?" said Steve, resting a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right."
"I-I-I… I hit him…" she whispered. "I actually hit him…"
The blood was finally washed away from her fingers, and Steve leaned over and shut off the running water. The water mixed with the blood in the basin of the sink, and they slowly flowed together down the drain.
"It's okay," Steve assured her. "Everything's okay…"
"B-but… I b-broke Nick's nose!" she cried, her eyes still wide as she stared down at her knuckles. Now that the blood had been cleaned up, blackish-blue bruises could be seen starting to form on them. "I-I mean… I think I did…! And everyone… everyone saw! I-I-I… I'm gonna be k-kicked off the base, aren't I?! C-Colonel Phillips? He's… He's gonna s-send me b-back now… Isn't he?!"
"No," said Steve sharply. "Jamie, look at me."
Slowly, Jamie did as he said, raised her face up to look at him.
"Nobody there blames you over what happened, and you want to know why?"
"For starters, you did a noble thing, trying to actually help that boy when Phillips threw that grenade instead of running for cover. He chose to attack you. You defended yourself. You did nothing wrong. Do you understand me?"
"Repeat after me: I did nothing wrong. I defended myself."
"I… I did nothing w-wrong… I… I d-defended myself…"
"Again. Don't stutter as you say it."
"I… did nothing wrong. I… defended myself."
"One last time."
"I did nothing wrong. I defended myself."
Steve smiled. "Good," he said, gently thumping the side of her arm. She smiled in return. "C'mon," he said, gently ruffling her hair. "I'll walk you to the First-Aid tent. We'll get an ice pack for your face."
He led her out of the bathrooms, and across the campgrounds to the First-Aid tent. He briefly explained the situation to the doctor on staff, who then proceeded to give her two ice packs: one to be used for the bruise on her face, and the other for her knuckles.
"So cold!" Jamie murmured as doctor pressed one of the cold compresses against her cheek.
"Keep it on the wound," the doctor instructed. "It'll keep the swelling down."
"For how long? And do I have to stay in here?"
"A few hours, and you can leave in a bit. I want to make sure the swelling goes down a tiny bit before you go back to your bunker."
Jamie shrugged, but kept the compress for her face pressed up against the mark, and let the other compress for her hand resting on top of her knuckles. Steve patted her shoulder.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked her. "Is there anything you'd like?"
Jamie thought for a moment, but then shrugged and nodded again. "Yeah. I want Pannie."
"My stuffed panda. He was a Christmas present from my Dad when I was eight. I want him right now. Can you bring him to me?"
"Sure. I'll meet you back here in a minute."
He ruffled her hair, and then exited out of the tent. He headed off in the direction of the kids' bunker to retrieve her toy. He was surprised to find Nick alone inside, stuffing his things into his duffel bag. He glanced up as he came in, and Steve noted that blood was still dripping from his nose.
"Oh, great! Now the Colonel decides to send War Girl's weak adult partner to yell at me, huh?" He snapped. "Well, you can go and tell the Colonel he can go fuck himself! War Girl had what was coming to her! I don't regret hitting her! I just regret not moving out of the way after I did! Then my nose wouldn't be fucking broken!"
Steve didn't answer him. The kid wasn't worth his time. Right now, Jamie needed him. He crossed the room to the bed with the stuffed panda bear lying on top of it, and scooped it up before moving to exit to the bunker.
"Hey! Shithead! I'm talking to you!" shouted Nick. Steve continued to ignore him. "Stop fucking ignoring me!"
Steve didn't stop and look twice at the boy. He wasn't worth it.
As he crossed the campgrounds again, he suddenly heard his name being called.
He turned. Strolling towards him was Agent Peggy Carter. He fought the urge to blush. He was not ashamed to admit that he found the woman to be very attractive. She was truly a beautiful woman. He thought she was simply incredible. However, she was his superior officer, and he was simply a private. He had no chance with her, and besides, he really shouldn't focus too much on her right now. Jamie was waiting for him. He'd stop and find out what she wanted, but then he had to go.
"A-Agent Carter," he said, nodding and saluting to her.
Agent Carter paused upon hearing the slight stutter, but simply dismissed it.
"I have a message for you and Jamie from Colonel Phillips," she said. "Where is she? Have you found her yet? And may I ask why you have her toy?"
"Oh, she's in the First-Aid tent, being looked at for that bruise on her cheek. She asked me to bring her this," he said, vaguely holding up the panda.
"I'll accompany you then," said Agent Carter.
Steve nodded, trying to hold back a small blush, and they both headed in the direction of the tent. Steve pulled back the flap, and gestured for Agent Carter to enter first. She smiled pleasantly to him before entering. Jamie looked up in surprise when she saw her.
"A-Agent Carter!" she said nervously as she stood up from her chair, her eyes wide.
"Jamie," said Agent Carter, nodding to the girl. "At ease."
Jamie slowly sat down at her request, but still stared at her with wide eyes. Steve walked up to her and handed her Pannie.
"This is it, right? I didn't get it mixed up with another kids' toy, right?"
"No… no this is Pannie," said Jamie, not even looking at Steve or Pannie as she hugged him to her chest. Her eyes were still fixed firmly on Agent Carter. "Thank you, Steve."
Agent Carter frowned. It was clear the girl was still worried over what had happened between her and the other boy. She spoke up.
"I bring a message for you and Steve. From Colonel Phillips."
"I'm getting kicked off the base, aren't I?" said Jamie at once. "The Colonel wants me off the base, doesn't he? He's mad that I hit Nick."
"No!" said Agent Carter, very surprised by Jamie's assumption. "That wasn't your fault. You defended yourself. Everyone saw that."
"Living proof of what I was telling you, J.J.," said Steve with a smile. "No one blames you for what happened."
Jamie blinked. She couldn't believe she wasn't in trouble. "Then what does Colonel Phillips want?" she asked.
At her question, Agent Carter smiled. "He wanted me to wish you both congratulations. You've both been chosen for tomorrow's procedure."
Now Jamie looked shocked, as did Steve.
"Us? We're the one's that got picked?" said Steve.
Agent Carter nodded. "We'll be leaving at 0600 tomorrow in order to return to New York. Be ready by then. Just remember not to have any dinner tonight."
And with that, she smiled pleasantly to them both, and then turned and left the First-Aid tent.
For a little while, Steve and Jamie did not speak. They both just stared at the flap entrance, both of them still in shock at receiving this news. Finally, Jamie turned to look at Steve.
"What does 0600 mean?" she asked.
"That's military time," Steve answered, not looking at her, but at the flaps of the tent still. "It means we'll be leaving at six in the morning."
"That's really early," she commented.
Steve just shrugged. "Well, it's a long drive back to New York, I guess," he replied.
They didn't say much after that. They both just became lost in thought.
Eventually, the doctor returned about twenty minutes later, and checked out her knuckles and cheek.
"The swellings both seemed to have gone down," he said. "You can go. Just keep the ice on them for a little longer."
Steve and Jamie exited the tent. It was dark by now, and most everyone else had gone to the mess hall for dinner.
"I'll walk you back to your bunker, if you want me to," Steve offered.
"'Kay. Thanks, Steve," Jamie said, hugging Pannie to her chest.
They walked together in silence for several minutes, their heads still reeling from the news they'd received. Then Jamie piped up again.
"What do you think's going to happen tomorrow?" she asked, her voice hardly louder than a whisper. "I mean… what're they gonna do to make us into the super-soldiers? Agent Carter said we'd have some kind of procedure done… Did she mean surgery?"
"I'm not quite sure, J.J.," Steve replied. "Your guess is as good as mine…"
"I'm… I'm scared, Steve," Jamie mumbled, tucking Pannie under one of her arms so she could grab hold of his hand in her good one. "All I wanted was to help Trent. I still want that. More than anything… But this is more than I thought I'd have to do to help him when I decided I wanted to join the army. I didn't realize what I was getting involved in exactly when Doctor Erskine offered me this opportunity."
"I know what you mean," said Steve. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, too."
Jamie was quiet for a moment after hearing his response. When she spoke up again, her voice was very, very quiet. Steve had to strain to actually catch her words.
"Do… do you think we'll change after the procedure?"
Steve was puzzled by her words. Jamie went on.
"Do you think we'll change? Will we be different?"
Steve frowned, still not understanding what she meant. "Well, of course we'll change. They're trying to make perfect soldiers. Perfect fighters, so naturally—"
"That's not what I mean," she interjected. "I know that physically we'll be different. That's not what I meant."
"Then I'm afraid I don't understand what you're saying."
"It's just… I like you because you're nice. You've been very nice to me. There haven't been a lot of people who've been nice to me ever since my Mom and Dad died, and there've been even fewer since Trent went off to war. A lot of soldiers here are… they're not mean to me, per say, but they're not nice to me, either… You just said yourself that the procedure will make us into the perfect soldiers… Will you still be nice to me after the procedure, or will you be like them? Stern and indifferent? And will I still be me, or will I be like that, too?"
Steve didn't answer her right away. He highly doubted that whatever the procedures they'd both be put through would drastically change their personalities, but he needed a way to explain that to Jamie.
"No, I don't think so," he said finally. "I don't believe it's possible to completely change a person's free will or personality with an experiment. I think that they'll just give us something that will make us stronger in the army, that's all."
Jamie's face flooded with relief. "That's good, I was really worried. I've told you before that I want to help the army so I can help Trent, but I don't want the army to change me so much that he won't recognize me when he sees me."
By this time, they'd reached Jamie's bunker, and Jamie walked up to the door.
"You can come in for awhile if you want," she said over her shoulder to Steve as she entered.
Steve nodded, and followed her inside. Nick was gone by now, his bed stripped clean and all his possessions gone. He'd already left the base. Jamie's eyes didn't linger on his bed. She just marched across the room toward her area of the bunker. Steve watched as she set Pannie down on her bed, took out her record player, and popped in her Wizard of Oz record. Judy Garland's soft soprano voice singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow resounded throughout the bunker.
"Changing it up from Come Josephine?"
"Yep," she said, not even looking at Steve as she began rummaging through her duffel bag for some pieces of stationary and a pen. "I generally listen to this whenever I write to Trent."
After that, she plopped down on her bed, leaning back against the pillows and using her legs in front of her as a type of hard surface as she began writing. Steve sat down on the edge of the bed. He felt a little awkward just sitting there without talking to her, but he also didn't want to leave her alone right now. He could tell that she was still really upset over what had happened, even if she was trying to hide it away now by burying her attention into writing a letter to her older brother.
It was several minutes until Jamie finally put down her pen.
"There! Done!" she said proudly, holding up her letter and smiling.
Steve turned to her. "That was quick," he said.
"Other than Nick's latest assault and finding out from Agent Carter today that we'll be made into the super-soldiers tomorrow, there really wasn't all that much to say," she answered. "I write to him every day, after all. I tell him of anything important that happens. I just wish I could hear back from him, though…"
"What do you mean?"
"I generally get letters from him every couple of days, but the last letter I got from him was about a week before I first met you. I'm worried about him. He's generally very punctual about sending me letters."
"You can read it, if you want," she suddenly said, thrusting her letter toward Steve. "Maybe he isn't writing because he doesn't like what I've been telling him. You can tell me what I'm doing wrong."
Steve blinked. "I-I don't want to invade your privacy…"
"It's not invading if I'm offering," Jamie retorted. "I don't care if you read what it says. Just tell me if it's good or not."
Steve just shrugged, but decided not to argue and took the letter. Silently, his eyes skimmed the words on the page.
As I promised to write to you everyday, here is today's letter. Interesting things have happened since yesterday's letter.
For starters, let me tell you about Nick. Do you remember Nick? I think I wrote to you in one of my prior letters about him, of how he's one of the ringleaders of the kids that bully me at the orphanage daily. Well, do you remember when I wrote to you about how a bunch of us kids were selected by the United States Army for some project about becoming child super-soldiers? Nick was included in that package.
Today during training there was some sort of test when Colonel Phillips released a dummy grenade into the middle of a training exercise. I don't get why he did that, but all I do know is that Nick tripped while running for shelter and his adult partner sort of ditched him. I didn't think twice about it. I just leapt towards him and tried to drag him out of the way while Steve tried to cover his whole body on top of the grenade to prevent it from killing anyone. Remember Steve? I told you all about him in my last few letters! The one who saved me from Nick and Becky and the other bullies that day in the alley, and the one who's been training me in self-defense in our downtime here at the military base?
Steve paused there and looked at Jamie in amazement.
"You've told your brother about me?"
"Of course! Why wouldn't I? I tell Trent everything!"
Steve smiled and read on.
Anyway, it took everyone a moment to realize that the grenade was a fake, and just when I was about to walk back over to Steve and continue our daily training exercises, Nick suddenly grabbed me and shoved me up against one of the army jeeps. I have to admit, I was stunned. I'm used to him hitting me when in private, but he's never dared to try and hurt me in front of plain view of other adults before, and everyone, adults and children alike, including me, are stunned! He starts screaming at me that I was trying to show him up in training by acting noble or something. Of course I tell him that I was just trying to be nice, but he gets mad and hits me! I think Steve and the other adults were going to try and restrain, but I… I just snapped after that first punch.
I hit him back, Trent! Can you believe it? I. Hit. Him. Back! I hit him so hard I think I broke his nose! Then I started screaming that he doesn't hit me anymore, that he'll never hit me again! I just remember being so, so mad!
Everyone was stunned! I only snapped out of it when Steve approached. I guess I freaked out a little, because I saw the way he and everyone else was looking at me, and then I saw the blood on my fingers, and I just took off… Steve went after me, and took me to the First-Aid tent to get an ice pack.
What happens next I really don't understand, as I did have a small freak out afterwards… but then Agent Carter showed up at the First-Aid tent, and told Steve and me that we'd been selected to become the super-soldiers! Can you believe it?! Steve's going to become the super-soldier of today, and I'm going to be the child soldier of the future! I'm excited, but I'm also scared… We're getting some kind of procedure done tomorrow. I'm going to be a soldier, Trent! I'm going to join you on the battlefield!
I have to stop now, because I have to go to bed early. It's a long drive back to New York from Camp Lehigh. Write back soon, okay big bro? It's been at least two weeks since I got your last letter! Why haven't you been writing? I understand you're busy with your platoon in Italy, but can't you send me something just saying hi? I miss you, and I'm worried! I'm so worried! You're not dead, are you?! Is that why you haven't been writing?! I worry about you everyday! You told me that Dad's pocket watch would protect you, but it's hard to believe that without any concrete proof that it's still keeping you safe!
I love you, Trent! Be safe! You have to come home!
With Lots of Love,
With a smile, Steve handed it back to Jamie. "It's good," he told her.
"Really?" she asked. "You think so? It's not boring?"
"Well, considering I already know everything that happened today, I didn't have to read it," he answered. "But it was good. I don't see any reason why he wouldn't write back."
"Phew! That's a relief!" she said. "But then why isn't he writing? It's been two weeks! He should have sent something to me by now!"
"It could be a number of reasons," Steve insisted. "Lots of time on the battlefield… cut off from the nearest town to mail the letters and buy stationary… letters got lost in the mail… You never know…"
"So it's nothing to do with me?"
"The odds of it being you are absolute zero."
Jamie beamed at him, and then started rummaging through her duffel bag for an envelope. As she searched, she came across her two different items instead.
"Oh, this one picture is Trent, by the way," she said, fishing out her framed photographs as she continued her search for an envelope, "and the other picture is us two years ago with our parents, Catherine and Brandon Harper."
She handed both items to Steve without looking away from her bag. Steve took both of the photographs and examined them. They were both in black and white, but the picture of Trent was professionally shot by a real photographer, and was shot from the shoulders-up. Trent had the same dark hair and dark eyes as his younger sister, though his hair was matted on his head, and his eyes held a nice friendly warmth to them. They both had the same thin nose, but his chin was sharper. It was hard to tell from the limited amount of shoulders seen in the photograph, but he looked pretty strong, too. Not rugged like some of the other recruits here at camp, but rather his strength was simply the aftereffects gained from years worth of daily exercise.
"Your brother looks like he works out daily," Steve commented. "He seems like an honest guy."
"Before the war started, he was working his way for a baseball scholarship," Jamie replied, finally finding an envelope in her bag. "He actually got an offer to play at NYU, I think. When guys started getting drafted, I lot of guys actually lost their spots on the team, but not Trent. His coach loved him! He's the champion batter! He talked to the Dean of Admissions. They're currently reserving his spot not only at NYU, but on the team, too, until the war is over."
"Really?" said Steve, very much impressed.
"Mm-hm," she nodded. "Trent's coach says so long as Trent doesn't suffer a major injury in the war, he's gonna go far in his baseball career! He reckons Trent has what it takes to play for the Yankees someday!"
"That's impressive," Steve genuinely complimented. "You know, my friend Bucky and I were actually in the middle of an art class when we found out America joined the war."
"Did you drop out when you learned about the war?"
"I only did a year of college, and that was between '37 and '38."
Jamie nodded; her mouth dropped open in a small 'o' as she acknowledged this new information about him, and then began scrawling the address to her brother's army encampment in Italy on the envelope.
As she did this, Steve glanced over at the other photograph of her, Trent, and their parents. It'd been taken at Christmas time, as there was a large Christmas tree in the background that was half-decorated, and the entire family was holding up ornaments as they decorated the tree. Jamie's father, Brandon, was a tall man, and very fit, just like his son. Trent's chin came from him, and aside from his nose while standing side-by-side to his father, he was his carbon copy; what with the same matted, dark hair and strong physique. Jamie's mother Catherine, on the other hand, stood out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the family. While her husband, daughter, and son all possessed rich, dark hair and dark eyes, her hair was a much lighter color, one that Steve couldn't tell in the black and white photograph, but he guessed blonde like him. Like her husband, she was in her mid-to-late forties, but still maintained a youthful appearance. She wore a tasteful amount of make-up in the photo, and her face was broke out in a wide smile as she laughed in mid-moment to something that the Jamie in the picture was saying to her. Despite her dark hair and dark eyes inherited from her father, Jamie actually looked a lot like her mother. Like Trent, Jamie had her mother's nose, but unlike Trent, she also had her rosy cheeks and soft smile. It wasn't easy to tell because even in the photograph Jamie had her hair in pigtails, but Steve was pretty sure that Jamie had also inherited her mother's slight waviness in her mother's hair, too, and her hair also seemed to be just as thick.
Steve smiled as he handed both pictures back to Jamie. They looked like they had been a very happy family. "Your parents look nice," he said.
Jamie paused as she sealed her letter to Trent inside the envelope, a sad smile gracing her lips. "Christmas was always such a great time for my family. We were big on Christmas. That was the year Dad gave me Pannie... and it was actually our last Christmas together as a family," she said quietly. "They died that February…"
There was a pause as Steve considered what to say.
"You… You mentioned before that they died in a car crash?" he said carefully. "I think that's what you said when I first met you in that alleyway."
Jamie nodded. "Trent was just offered a full baseball scholarship to NYU. We all went out to dinner at this fancy restaurant to celebrate. The roads were a little icy when we were driving home. Dad was trying to drive carefully, but there was a drunk driver in the opposite lane. Dad tried to avoid him, but the iciness made us spin right into him. Trent and I were only mildly hurt; a concussion each and a few sprains and cuts and I had the only broken bone out of both of us, but Mom and Dad got the brunt of it. Dad died on impact, and Mom died in the ambulance when we were all going to the hospital. At least we got to say goodbye to her in the ambulance. She told us she loved us, and that Dad loved us too. Then she made us both promise something to her."
"She made Trent promise her that he'd always love and protect me no matter what, and she said I had to promise her to always have courage, and be kind to people, no matter how difficult or hopeless life may seem. She told us to promise her, and to never let go of those promises. I can't speak for Trent, although I do believe he's still honoring his promise, but I at least can say that I haven't broken that promise yet, and I'm not going to. I'll never let go of my Mom's dying words…"
Steve gently wrapped an arm around Jamie's shoulders. "I'm sorry," he softly murmured.
"It's okay, it's not like you were the drunk driver," she said.
"Still, that's a horrible way to lose your parents," Steve told her.
"I know it's not right, but a small part of me actually resents Trent a tiny bit," she said sadly. "I know it's not fair to think that, but they died coming home from his celebration dinner, and he at least got one last birthday with Mom and Dad. He was born in January. That's completely unrelated, I know, but… but if they had to die, why couldn't they have died that May? I could have had one last birthday with them too, then. My birthday is in April."
"You must miss them…"
"Uh-huh. Every day…"
"I know exactly how you feel, actually," Steve said. "Both my parents are gone, too."
Jamie looked up at him in interest. "What happened?"
"Well, I never knew my Dad," he began carefully. "He died a couple months before I was born, in the first Great War of a mustard gas attack. Like Bucky and your brother, he was in the 107th infantry. Can't quite remember what his rank was, though… He was awarded a Purple Heart Medal after he died. My Mom would always tell me stories about him, though. She says I was exactly like him. He was my hero growing up. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a soldier just like him."
"And what about your Mom?"
"She died a couple years ago, in 1940. She was a nurse, but she caught tuberculosis from one of her patients. She died not long after."
"At least she didn't suffer a long time… There's still days when I wake up and I forget that's she gone, you know? She raised me on her own. It was just the two of us when I was growing up. I loved her so much, and there's not a day that goes by that I don't think of her."
"I'm sorry," said Jamie sympathetically.
"It's okay, it wasn't your fault…"
"My parents were both teachers," Jamie said. "My Dad taught P.E. and was Trent's high school baseball teams' coach, and my Mom was my elementary school librarian and ran the Drama Club. She often put on musicals and I generally played the lead and sang all the songs."
"Sounds like it was fun."
"Does it ever get easier?" she asked him. "To deal with it, I mean. Is there ever a point where it stops hurting, and when you don't miss them anymore?"
"You're always going to miss them," said Steve at once, not even hesitating to answer her. "Don't ever think for a second that there will come a day when you won't miss your Mom and Dad anymore. You will always miss them, and there's no shame in missing them. As for the pain, that will… lessen over time. It will always hurt, but as time passes, it won't hurt as much as you learn to move on. It just shows that you really did love your family."
"I hope that day comes soon…"
A quiet knock at the door interrupted their conversation. They both turned to see the door open, revealing Doctor Erskine, carrying a rather large bottle of schnapps, and three tiny shot glasses.
"May I?" he tentatively asked, taking only a small step into the bunker.
"Yeah, of course," said Jamie pleasantly.
Doctor Erskine smiled warmly at her and Steve and strolled forward.
"Are you all right?" he asked, true concern for Jamie evident in his voice as he went and sat on the bed directly across from her and Steve. "I had a feeling that that boy was trouble, but I never thought he'd hit you like that."
Jamie frowned, collected Pannie, and hugged him to her chest. "I'll be okay," she said shyly. "I'm used to it…"
Doctor Erskine frowned, but Steve drew a tense muscle in his cheek. A ten-year-old girl should not be used to a fourteen-year-old boy beating her every day.
Erskine chose to ignore this though. His checking up on Jamie after being punched by Nick was not the only reason he decided to pop in on her and Steve. "Can't sleep?" he asked them both.
Steve shrugged. "We got the jitters, I guess."
Doctor Erskine lightly chuckled. "Me, too," he said.
"May I ask you a question, Doctor Erskine?" Jamie piped, looking up from Pannie to look him right in the eye.
"Just one?" asked Doctor Erskine.
Jamie nodded. She bit her lip as she gathered the courage to ask the pressing question on her mind, and then she blurted it out.
There was a long pause, and Doctor Erskine contemplated on how to answer so she and Steve would understand why.
"I suppose that is the only question that matters," he said finally. He held up the bottle of schnapps, stared at it for a moment, and then brought it closer for Steve and Jamie to see, too. "This is from Augsburg," he said. "My city. So many people forget that the first country the Nazi's invaded was their own. You know, after the last war, my people struggled."
"Struggled?" Jamie asked. "How?"
"They… they felt weak… They felt small…" he trailed off. "And then Hitler comes along with the marching and the big show and the flags and… and he hears of me. My work. And he finds me. And he says, 'You,'" he paused there, pointing a finger at Steve and Jamie as he emphasized what had happened. "He says, 'You will make us strong.' Well, I am not interested."
He set the bottle down on the hard paneling of the floor, and went on. "So, he sends the head of Hydra, his research division. A brilliant scientist by the name of Johann Schmidt. Now, Schmidt is a member of the inner circle," he explained. "And he is ambitious. He and Hitler share a passion for occult power and Teutonic myth. Hitler uses his fantasies to inspire his followers, but for Schmidt, it is not fantasy. For him, it is real. He has become convinced that there is a great power hidden in the earth, left here by the gods, waiting to be seized by a superior man."
"What types of gods?" Jamie interrupted again. "Like as in the Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit?"
"No, it was Norse gods, I believe," Erskine answered. "I never pried. He was delusional. When he heard about my formula and what it could do, he could not resist. Schmidt had to become that superior man."
"Did it make him stronger?" Steve asked.
"Yeah," said Doctor Erskine reluctantly admitted. "But… there were other effects…"
Steve and Jamie exchanged puzzled looks and then turned back to him, curious.
"The serum was not ready," Doctor Erskine explained. "But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were both chosen. Because a strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power, but a weak man, or child," he added, nodding to Jamie, "knows the value of strength, and knows compassion."
Steve and Jamie exchanged sheepish looks at this before looking back at Doctor Erskine. It was a compliment. They both knew it was a compliment, but they couldn't help but feel somewhat offended, even though they knew Doctor Erskine did not intend to offend them.
"Thanks, I think," said Steve uncertainly.
Jamie just fixed a grin and smiled awkwardly.
Doctor Erskine smiled, and opened the bottle of schnapps, and poured it into each of the three tiny shot glasses. The one's for him and Steve he filled completely, but Jamie's he poured less than a millimeter's worth, only enough for her to have less than sip, just to taste it.
"Whatever happens tomorrow, you both must promise me one thing," he said. "That you will both stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, or child soldier…" He pointed directly to their hearts. "But a good man and girl."
Jamie nodded to him, a kind smile on her face as Steve raised his glass.
"To the little guys," he toasted.
"To the little guys!" Jamie agreed, raising her glass as well.
The three of them gently clinked their glasses. As Steve and Jamie brought the glasses to their lips, however, Doctor Erskine suddenly looked panicked.
"No, no! Wait, wait! What am I doing?" he said, suddenly reaching forward and seizing the glasses away. "No, you both have procedures tomorrow. No fluids."
He poured the liquid in both glasses into his own glass.
"All right. We'll all drink it after," said Steve.
Doctor Erskine chuckled. "No, I don't have a procedure tomorrow. Drink it after? I'll drink it now."
Sure enough, he downed his entire glass.
"Then we'll all go out for ice cream!" said Jamie, hugging Pannie tightly. "We'll each get a big cone with two different flavors! I'll get chocolate and chocolate chip cookie dough! What about you guys?"
"Vanilla and mint chocolate chip," said Steve.
"I'm rather partial to pistachio and blueberry."
"Mmm! Those both sound delicious!"
The next morning Jamie was roused very early from her bed by Agent Carter. She'd been given a miniature-sized version of the standard woman's private uniform and been ordered to dress quickly, as they had a long drive back to New York. Upon dressing in the tan button up shirt, tie, knee-length tan skirt, garrison cap, and black flats, she repacked her duffel bag and handed it off to another private. Agent Carter explained that unlike the other children who would be going back to the orphanage today, other army officials would go and collect the rest of her belongings from the orphanage later today, and in the meantime, she and Steve were going to be taken directly to where they were going to undergo the procedures to make them into the super-soldiers. The only item she took with her into the car was Pannie. She wanted her stuffed toy for comfort.
That was several hours ago, though. She was currently sitting in the backseat of a car in between Steve and Agent Carter. She couldn't stop fidgeting. She was so nervous. Pannie was on her lap, and she was squeezing the panda very hard in one hand, and playing with the hem of her knee-length skirt in the other as they drove through Brooklyn. The bruise on her cheek from yesterday was a bit blue in color, despite having iced it, and her knuckles were equally bruised up. She kept her head bent to try and hide it. She didn't like how it made her face look so ugly now.
"I know this neighborhood," said Steve suddenly as they drove down one street. He suddenly pointed out the window toward an alley as they passed by it. "I got beat up in that alley… And that parking lot… And behind that diner…"
Jamie looked up as he pointed out the places where he'd endured his own bullying. As they passed a playground, she tugged on his sleeve to get his attention.
"See that playground?" she said, pointing to it to make sure he and Agent Carter saw what she was talking about. "Before Trent went off to war, he used to take me there sometimes after school. He'd always push me on the swings. It was fun. After I went to the orphanage, I used to go there as often as I could. It requires bus admission to get there from the orphanage, and Nick and Becky and all the others weren't going to spend their pocket money just to chase after me…"
Steve patted her head as Agent Carter chimed in.
"Did you both have something against running away?"
Steve shook his head. "You start running, they'll never let you stop. If you stand up, you push back… They can't say no forever, right?"
Jamie just shrugged. "You can't really run when you're surrounded," she answered. "And besides, I was bullied because I wanted to join the army. If I ran from them, kids who'd just beat me for pleasure, who's to say I wouldn't run from the real bad guys, who'd kill me because they have to?"
"I know a little of what that's like," said Agent Carter. "To have every door shut in your face."
Steve smiled. "I guess I just don't know why you'd want to join the army if you're a beautiful dame…" he trailed off.
Both Jamie and Agent Carter stared.
He suddenly realized how strange that sounded. "Or a… A woman. An agent. Not a dame. You are beautiful, but…"
Jamie couldn't help it. She giggled as Steve turned bright red.
"You have no idea how to talk to a woman, do you?" Agent Carter asked him in disbelief.
"I think this is the longest conversation I've had with one," he admitted.
There was a very distinct cough from Jamie at this. Her little face was glaring pointedly at Steve.
Steve and Agent Carter both chuckled. "One that's over four feet tall," he added. Jamie still looked somewhat annoyed, but she did stop glaring. "Women aren't exactly lining up to dance with a guy they might step on."
"You must have danced," said Agent Carter
"Well, asking a woman to dance always seemed so terrifying," he explained. "And the past few years, it just… didn't seem to matter that much. I figured I'd wait."
"For what?" she asked.
"The right partner," he replied.
Agent Carter smiled in return.
There really wasn't any time to say anything else. The driver was pulling over to the curve and shutting off the car. They all climbed out. They were in front of an old fashioned antique shop. Two men in suits and fedoras looked up as they got out, and nodded to them. Agent Carter nodded back.
"This way," she urged, shepherding both Steve and Jamie inside.
"What're we doing here?" Jamie asked, clutching Pannie tightly.
"Follow me, both of you," she said, ignoring Jamie's question.
With curious glances to one another, Steve and Jamie followed her into the shop. There was a bell that rang a bit as they entered. Hearing it, a rather old woman with thinning gray hair and wearing a hand-knit pink cardigan stepped out from the curtained-off back room, and smiled sweetly to the party as she took her place behind the counter.
"Wonderful weather this morning, isn't it?" she asked Agent Carter. Her voice sounded frail and brittle.
"Yes," Agent Carter promptly agreed, a smile gracing her lips. "But I always carry an umbrella."
At her response, the woman shifted something from underneath the counter, and motioned for the three of them to go through the door she had come from. Agent Carter led Steve and Jamie through the entryway, and they stopped in front of a huge bookcase, its shelves filled to the brim of old, dusty volumes of books.
Suddenly, the shelves swung forward revealing a secret passage, beyond which was a white hallway with doctors in white lab coats scurrying about and military officials standing guard at each doorway.
Agent Carter strolled purposefully down the white hall, leaving Steve and Jamie to follow after her. They both looked everywhere around them, trying to take in every detail of this secret military base. This had to be one of the most top-secret research facilities in all of America, and they were walking through it! The thought was reeling in their heads as Agent Carter led them all the way down the hall to a set of gray steel doors that were opened for the trio by two guards. Steve and Jamie followed Agent Carter inside, only to be amazed yet again as to what was inside this room.
They were standing upon a steel balcony over a large, circular room filled with lots of large machines with various colors of flashing lights. A number of these machines formed a large semi-circle around two large devices, though one was much smaller than the other, but they were both large enough to hold an adult lying down in one, and a child lying down on the other. More doctors in lab coats and an entire team of nurses were running around in here, checking over all the machines as they ensured everything was safe and running properly, or at least they were until they entered, because upon seeing Steve and Jamie enter, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared in interest at the test subjects.
Jamie shivered a bit upon seeing all doctors and nurses scrutinizing her small form, and moved slightly behind Steve as she hugged Pannie to her chest. She didn't like the way some of the nurses were pursing their lips as they studied her. Steve just patted her shoulder, silently reassuring not to be afraid. She nervously smiled at him in return to his kind gesture.
Agent Carter wordlessly motioned for them to follow her down a short flight of stairs off to the side. Doctor Erskine was patiently waiting for them at the bottom.
"Good morning," he said kindly, shaking Steve's hand and then Jamie's.
"M-morning—" Jamie started to stutter as she hugged her panda bear tight, but at that precise moment there was suddenly a bright flash of light erupting before her eyes, and she 'eeped!' loudly as spots danced across her vision and she dropped her toy.
"Please, not now," said Doctor Erskine sternly to the photographer to the local newspaper as Jamie scrambled to collect Pannie from the floor. The reporter looked a tad bit annoyed, but respected Doctor Erskine's request and scurried away.
As Jamie blinked away the dark spots from her eyes and dusted off her panda, Steve turned his attention to the two devices he and Jamie were standing next to. In those machines, he and Jamie would undergo the experiment… In those machines, they would be turned into the super-soldiers… The thought was daunting. This was it. The moment had finally come.
"Are you both ready?" Doctor Erskine asked.
Steve and Jamie slowly nodded, both of them still unsure as to what would happen next.
"Good," he continued. "Take off your shirts, your ties, your hats, and Jamie? Let down your hair and give Agent Carter your stuffed toy to hold onto."
Slowly, Steve and Jamie did as he had instructed. Surprisingly, Jamie felt no embarrassment whatsoever at stripping off her clothes and letting down her hair from its usual pigtails and ribbons. As only a ten-year-old child, she had not yet hit puberty, and saw this no different than taking off her clothes for a medical examination at a doctor's office. No, she did not hesitate at this instruction. What she did hesitate doing was giving away her bear.
As soon as she removed her shirt, tie, and hat, she hugged Pannie to her chest, unwilling to give him to Agent Carter. Her panda bear had been present from her Dad. She brought it with her as a sense of comfort over what would happen today, and to have courage so she wouldn't be afraid when she underwent the experiment. It felt too soon to give him away and climb into the machine. She wanted to hold onto Pannie a little while longer.
Agent Carter seemed to read her thoughts, and smiled kindly down at the little girl. "I'll take good care of him," she said sweetly to Jamie. "He won't get a scratch."
Jamie considered her words. "P-promise?" she said nervously.
"Pinky promise," she said, holding out her pinky to reassure her. With much hesitation, Jamie wrapped her own tiny finger around it to seal the promise. She gave Pannie one last hug for courage, and slowly handed him over to Agent Carter.
"Pannie was a Christmas present from my Dad," she said nervously as the woman tucked her panda bear under her arm. "Not a scratch or a rip!"
Agent Carter just smiled at her words and nodded, carrying Pannie with the utmost care.
As Jamie climbed into the smaller of the two machines, she spared a nervous look over at Steve before lying down on the soft and foamy padding. Like her, he looked extremely nervous and scared. Seeing her boxing mentor like that did not help her frantic nervous. She started to visibly shaking from head to toe. She wanted nothing more than to bolt up out of the machine, grab Pannie, and run as fast as she could out of the room.
It wasn't too late yet. She could say she was too scared. They could pick another kid. Someone much more brave than her. Someone who wasn't afraid to fight. Someone who wouldn't freak out a bit if they hit someone. Someone who wasn't… her.
Jamie opened her mouth. She was going to say it. She could say it. No one would judge her. They'd understand. There were other kids. They could pick someone else.
Then she thought of Trent.
Trent… her wonderful big brother. He was why she was here. He was the reason she was doing this. All she'd ever wanted was to join the war and help him. This was her chance. Doctor Erskine had been kind enough to give her an opportunity to be with him again. This was her only opportunity. Her only opportunity. She couldn't waste it.
With a firm nod to herself, she closed her mouth and stared up at the white ceiling and overhead lights. She could be brave. She could do this.
As soon as Steve had also climbed into the bigger machine and was lying down as well, Doctor Erskine walked up between the two of them.
"Comfortable?" he asked them.
"It's a little big," Steve said, sounding a tad bit nervous as he readjusted his body. Doctor Erskine chuckled, and then turned to Jamie.
"It's okay," she said, her voice bubbling with fear. "I'm more concerned about the experiment itself than comfort…"
"That's to be expected, I suppose," Doctor Erskine said in reply.
"You save us any of that schnapps?" Steve asked, doing his best to try and keep the conversation somewhat light so as to calm himself, and more importantly, Jamie, down.
Doctor Erskine sheepishly shook his head. "Not as much as I should have," he admitted. "Sorry. Next time."
"Next time?" Jamie repeated with a nervous chuckle, doing her best to keep her eyes firmly focused on a particular point on the ceiling so as not to look at the long, pointy needles that were currently being hooked up to a series of pads in her machine by one of the nurses. "Next time you'll have to treat us to that ice cream I was talking about last night, Doctor. If I can't even have a taste of schnapps, the least you can do is buy me some ice cream…"
Doctor Erskine openly laughed at her words.
"We'll see," he said. Then he turned and called out a name Jamie had not been expecting to hear at all during a medical experiment like this.
"Mr. Stark, how are your levels?"
Jamie ever so slightly sat enough. Sure enough, the famed billionaire Howard Stark was currently strolling down the flight of stairs that she only minutes prior and gone down, and was walking right up to Doctor Erskine and Agent Carter.
"Levels are at one hundred percent," he replied.
"We may dim half the lights in Brooklyn," Stark went on, "but we are ready as we'll ever be."
Jamie ignored these words. Her jaw was hanging open. She couldn't believe she was currently in the same room as the multi-billionaire genius, about to undergo an experiment made possible by his machinery. "Howard Stark!" she gaped. "I don't believe it! I didn't think you'd be here! I saw you not even a few weeks ago! At the World Expo! You did a presentation!"
Howard looked over at the girl upon hearing her gush, and he couldn't help but chuckle. "Ah, you mean the failed presentation of the hover car?" he asked.
Jamie earnestly nodded. "I don't consider it to have been a failure," she said at once. "You did make the car fly, even if it was only for a short time! That counts for something!"
Howard chuckled again. "You flatter me, kid. You're currently the only person I've met that thinks so. Thanks for that."
"I was there, too," said Steve, looking up slightly from his own machine as he spoke. "I saw that presentation, too. I never would have guessed to see you here of all places, though."
"Yes, well, my inventions are what's making this experiment possible," Howard replied. "Anyway, good luck to the both of you."
He turned around, and walked over to one of the machines besides the devices.
"Agent Carter?" said Doctor Erskine. "Don't you think you would be more comfortable in the booth?"
"Oh, yes, of course," she replied. "Sorry."
She turned, and went back up the stairs to a large booth on the other end of the room, carrying Jamie's panda under one of her arms as she did.
Jamie watched her carry away Pannie with great apprehension. Talking to Howard Stark for a moment had definitely relaxed her, but now that her panda plushy was not even in the same room as her anymore, her nerves had returned at full force, and she bit hard on her lip to keep from fidgeting too much.
She stared solemnly at the window in the booth as she watched Agent Carter go inside. It was filled with all sorts of people. Most of them were from the military, but there were a quite a number of government officials there, too. She recognized Colonel Phillips up there, talking to a dark-haired man in a freshly pressed black suit. Something about that man seemed so familiar to Jamie, even though she was pretty sure she'd never seen him before in her life.
She stared quizzically at him for a moment, trying to place how she could possibly know him, and then it hit her. That was New York State Senator Brandt. He was one of the patrons to Project Rebirth, and the man she'd heard Colonel Phillips tell the Harkins back at the orphanage was the one who signed the order forms allowing him, Agent Carter, and Doctor Erskine to take her and the other kids away to Camp Lehigh. She made a mental note to find him later on and thank him for being indirectly related for getting out of that orphanage.
Doctor Erskine picked up a microphone from a table off to the side, and Jamie fought the urge to gulp as he lightly tapped it to check whether or not it was on. It screeched loudly upon his tapping. "Do you hear me? Is this on?" He said into the mic at the people in the booth, immediately attracting their attention. Colonel Phillips approached the window and nodded as the people up there took their seats before the glass. Doctor Erskine continued.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began as two teams of nurses approached Steve and Jamie and began placing the pads that contained the needles on them onto both of their chests, "today we take not another step towards annihilation, but the first steps on the path to peace. Peace for not only today in the present, but for peace for tomorrow in the future."
Jamie winced a bit as the needles on the pads broke through the skin on her chest. It was rather uncomfortable, but the pain went as quickly as it had come. They started to hurt a bit again when she attempted to move, though, so she tried to keep as still as she could.
"Now, the first thing I must point out to you all, ladies and gentlemen," Doctor Erskine continued, "is that the subjects are both vastly different. The first is an adult man, and the other, a small female child. Why, you ask, are we attempting this experiment on the girl and not just on the man? The answer is simple: We can fight and win a war today, but who is to say that there will not be another war one day in the future? We need the young one's of today to be prepared to fight those battles for once we are all long gone. As such, although the procedure in which both subjects will be undergoing will be exactly the same, the formula that the girl shall be receiving will be somewhat different. It will allow her body to adapt as she grows older, gradually allowing her body to improve as she ages. Should this experiment succeed, I daresay that she shall one day grow to be much more powerful that the man will be after the experiment is done."
There was a series of intrigued murmurs up in the booth as people pondered this. Jamie blinked upon hearing this. This was news to her. She hadn't been expecting this. Should the experiment work, she would one day grow to be even stronger that Steve? The thought was daunting.
"We begin with a series of microinjections into the subject's major muscle groups," Doctor Erskine went on as the nurses brought out a vast number to tubes filled with different colored serums. The one's for Steve were dark blue, and Jamie's were a rich violet color. They began placing the various tubes inside both Steve and Jamie's machines. They left one tube each of the blue and violet serums; each to be used for duplication purposes should the serums actually work. "The serum infusion will cause immediate cellular change. And then, to stimulate growth, the subjects will be saturated with Vita-Rays."
He paused in his speech as two nurses began swiping cotton balls of rubbing alcohol onto both Steve and Jamie's upper arms to sterilize the areas, and then they proceeded to inject syringes into the spots they had cleaned off.
"That wasn't so bad," Steve said quietly.
"That was penicillin," said Doctor Erskine.
"Oh, let's just get this over with!" Jamie whimpered as the needle in her syringe was removed from her arm. "My nerves are fried!"
Doctor Erskine took a moment to pat her hair in an attempt to calm her down, and then spoke back into the microphone. "Serum infusion beginning in… Five… Four…"
Two more pads covered to the brim in needles were places on Jamie's upper arms, and she winced again slightly as the needles penetrated her skin and entered her body.
She lifted her head up a bit and spared a glance over at Steve. He felt her stare, and tilted his head slightly to give her an encouraging smile. There was no turning back. Both of their lives were about to be forever changed. This was it.
The doctors manning the main controls of the machines switched the levers. The violet-colored serum slowly drained from its containers and traveled through the tubing it was connected to in the machine, and made their way into the number of needles that were still piercing Jamie's skin. She grit her teeth, but soon had to bite down hard on her tongue in order to suppress a rather loud yelp of pain. The serum was hurting her. It was like someone had somehow managed to liquidize fire, and was forcing it to flow through her bloodstream and into her muscles. It burned her entire body, and she wanted nothing more than to rip the needles in the pads out of her body in order to stop this horribly painful sensation.
When the last of the serum was at finally injected into her body, Jamie released a deep breath of air she hadn't even realized she'd been holding in. Her body was still on fire, but at least the flames weren't growing any hotter. The pain was still there, but it was manageable, now.
"Now, Mr. Stark," said Doctor Erskine, giving the O.K. to continue on to the next step. Howard nodded, and pulled down hard on a lever on the machine beside him. Both Steve and Jamie's machines slowly rose up, giving the people in the booth a clear view of them before the doors on them shut completely, leaving both Steve and Jamie in total darkness. With both machines now closed off, the nurses began hooking up more tubing to the exterior of the capsules.
Doctor Erskine then approached Steve's capsule, and lightly tapped on it to get his attention.
"Steven?" he called out. "Can you hear me?"
"It's probably too late to go to the bathroom, right?" Steve joked.
Doctor Erskine smiled, and then proceeded to knock on Jamie's machine.
"What about you, Jamie? Can you hear me, too?"
There was a slight pause before she replied.
"I'm still expecting that ice cream when this is all over, sir," she said, doing her best to keep her tone light, but everyone could still clearly hear the fear and nervousness in her voice.
"We will proceed," Doctor Erskine told Howard. Howard nodded to him, and slowly spun a large dial on the machine in front of him before gesturing for everyone to put on their pairs of safety goggles on over their eyes before doing the same. Then he marched over to a second machine, and turned a small wheel, activating the power in the machines that Steve and Jamie were inside of. As he continued to turn it, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the display off to the side, and calling out to everyone of the amount of power going into each of the machines.
"That's ten percent," he called out. "Twenty percent…"
As bright white lights shined brightly from both machines, Jamie slowly felt a light tingling sensation spread throughout her body. Especially in her eyes. Her eyes itched a bit. She blinked away the sensation. This wasn't painful, really. Just strange, like the feeling that her whole body had fallen asleep. And her eyes were fine. A few rapid blinks in succession and they felt normal again.
"Thirty," Howard called out again. "That's forty percent."
As another doctor looked at a different display and called out, "Vital signs on both subjects normal," an uncomfortable feeling was beginning to occur from the tingling in Jamie's body.
The burning, fiery sensation from the serum was mixing together with the tingling sensation, and they were slowly inching throughout her bloodstream. Jamie started to squirm in her machine. She didn't care that the needles still penetrating her arms and chest were causing her more discomfort. She wanted the fire and tingling to go away. If they went away, maybe it would stop what was happening to her eyes.
Unlike before, where a couple of blinks could stop the strange, itchy sensation happening in her eyes, now it was there permanently, and it hurt even more. Her eyes were burning a bit. She bit her lip as they watered. It was extremely painful, and she didn't understand why this was happening. The painful feelings throughout the rest of her body she understood and had been expecting, but the pain in her eyes? She hadn't been expecting that. No one had warned her that this would cause her eyes to hurt. Why was this happening? What was going on?
"That's fifty percent!" shouted Howard. "Sixty… Seventy!"
The world went white.
Pain. Indescribable pain suddenly coursed rapidly throughout Jamie's entire body. It was worse than the injections. The injections had only burned her muscles, and it only lasted a few seconds. This pain was nothing like that. It wasn't just burning, it was scalding, white-hot burning pain that preyed not only upon her muscles, but also on her bones and on her heart. It was almost like someone was attempting to force a red-hot piece of iron onto her heart in order to make her heart pump her blood harder and faster throughout her body, while at the same time they were trying to pop each joint in her arms and legs out of their bone alignment in order to make room for her rapidly growing muscles. And that was just in her body, it nowhere compared to the pain in her eyes.
Her two eyeballs were like balls of fire themselves. No, they were fire. Every blood vessel in her eyes was on fire. The bright light inside her machine was blinding her, making the fire only increase and burn hotter and harder. Not even stabbing something sharp into each of her eyes would relieve the pain. It hurt. Oh, how it hurt. She was going to go blind from the pain. She would go blind. It shouldn't be humanly possible for eyes to burn like this. Tears ran down her cheeks, but they only seemed to make the pain increase.
It was too much for Jamie, between the pain spreading throughout her body because of her rapidly developing muscles and burning fire in her eyes. She let out a blood-curdling scream of torturous pain, as did Steve in the next machine over.
"Steven! Jamie!" shouted Doctor Erskine, desperately banging on their machines. Steve and Jamie didn't respond. They both just continued to scream in mind-numbing pain.
Agent Carter burst forth from the booth and onto the small balcony. "Shut it down!" she screamed. "Shut it down!"
"Kill the reactor, Mr. Stark!" Doctor Erskine ordered. "Turn it off! Kill it! Kill the reactor!"
The famed inventor frantically jumped to shut down the machine, but Steve's distressed voice stopped him.
"No!" he called out from his machine. "Don't! I can do this!"
Doctor Erskine was somewhat conflicted. He wasn't comfortable continuing the experiment if it was causing so much pain to Steve and Jamie. But Steve said he could bear it, and so long as Jamie did, too, then it should be okay. He turned to Jamie's capsule.
Jamie, however, just continued to scream. How could Steve say he could be handling this? How could he deal with the pain coursing through his body on top of the burning in his eyes? She couldn't even scream out her question. That was much too hard. She could only manage to wail out two words.
"My eyes!" she screamed.
All heads turned at once to Jamie's capsule as it started to jostle a bit as she thrashed about wildly and continued to scream in jarring pain. Oh, how she wanted to get out of this capsule. To get away from the pain this machine was causing to her eyes. She could handle the pain on the rest of her body, but the burning pain in her eyes was driving her mad! How could Steve stand this pain? How could he want to allow this to continue if it caused this much pain to his eyes?
Doctor Erskine, Howard Stark, and all the other doctors and nurses froze. They had no idea what was happening. Pain from rapidly developing muscles was to be expected, but Jamie was claiming that her main pain was because of something happening in her eyes.
"What's happening?!" Steve suddenly screamed out in concern from his own machine. "What is she talking about?!"
"The fire! My eyes are on fire!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, and everyone in the room and up in the booth could hear the pained tears in her voice as she wailed. "It hurts! It hurts! Make it stop! Make it stop!"
"Steven!" Doctor Erskine shouted, running up to his machine and banging on it harshly to make sure he was paying attention. "Steven! Are your eyes burning, too?!"
"No! They're fine!" Steve shouted back. "I don't know what she's talking about!"
Doctor Erskine gulped. This was bad. Whatever was happening was only happening to Jamie. He had no idea what was going on. He turned at once to Howard Stark. "Kill the reactor, Mr. Stark!" he shouted. "Kill the reactor! Stop the experiment!"
"Sir! With all due respect, we have no idea what's going on!" Howard shouted back. "It's only happening to Jamie and not Steve! If we stop the experiment now, Steve could be fine, but Jamie could end up possibly blind!"
Doctor Erskine froze. Howard was right. They had no choice but to continue. He banged on Jamie's capsule to get her attention over her screams of torturous pain.
"Jamie! We have to continue! Can you handle it for another minute?!"
"Hurry! Please hurry!" she howled. "My eyes are on fire! They're on fire! Just make the fire stop!"
Despite her go ahead, she continued to scream. Everyone was worried, but they had to keep going. Continuing the experiment could very well be the only thing that could keep her from going permanently blind.
With a great amount of reluctance, Howard went back over to the small wheel, and proceeded to keep turning it.
"Eighty… Ninety…" he called out over Jamie's screams. "That's one hundred percent!"
No sooner had the words left his lips did Jamie suddenly screamed so loud, it rattled the window on the booth up above, before abruptly cutting off completely as all the machines in the room started short-circuiting. Sparks flew everywhere, leaving behind great puffs of smoke, and doctors and nurses began frantically jumping away and shielding themselves. Then, as quickly as all the short-circuiting started, the power overload suddenly stopped, and the sparks died away as the both Steve and Jamie's capsules slowly died from the loss of power.
The room was absolutely silent as people slowly removed their protective goggles. Everyone was holding his or her breath. While they were all eager to see if the experiments had worked, at the moment they were all extremely scared to know if Jamie had gone possibly blind from the ordeal.
"Mr. Stark!" Doctor Erskine shouted after a moment, urging him to press the buttons to open the containers. Howard hurriedly complied.
The doors opened to reveal not only great jets of white smoke, but two completely different people to the one's that had last been seen by the audience. Steve and Jamie were now, in every possible shape and way, the perfect soldiers.
The short, sickly and skinny man that had been in the first machine had not only grown several inches during the course of the experiment and was now the average height for a man his age, but had developed serious muscles now, too. His skin was no longer a pale, sickly white, but had become a shade darker, almost as though he had recently spent some time in the sun. His hair color was also much more pronounced, looking sandier than before. His entire body was covered in a thin layer of sweat, and he was panting heavily.
Jamie's physical changes were much more subtle than Steve's. She, too, had grown several inches throughout the ordeal. Not quite as much as Steve, but definitely enough to actually appear her age and not as though she was eight or nine. Her arms, which had before were skinny but still holding onto her childhood baby fat, had become smooth and strong from pure muscle. Her stomach, just like her arms, had lost its natural baby fat as well, and was now purely flat upon her body. Her shoulders weren't exactly broad now, but they were definitely large enough to support her newly acquired upper body strength. But the most prominent of her changes had to be in her face. She hadn't lost any of the natural roundness in her cheeks, but the bones there were sharper now, more defined, and her cheeks possessed a lovely rosiness to them now that definitely hadn't been there before. The bruise on her cheek from Nick was completely gone, as was the bruises on her knuckles. Both black marks had been replaced with smooth, creamy white skin. Her hair, mousy brown before, was now a prominent shade or rich chocolate brown, and framed her face in a natural wave. Like Steve, she too was covered in a thin layer of sweat, and she was panting heavily, trying to bring as much air as possible into her newly evolved lungs.
Immediately, Doctor Erskine and several other doctors and nurses surrounded Jamie's capsule. Steve could wait for a moment. He appeared to be fine. After hearing what Jamie had been screaming during the procedure, they had to make sure she was okay first.
"Jamie?" called out Doctor Erskine hesitantly. "Jamie?"
She slowly opened her eyes. Instead of the previous light brown eyes she'd had before the experiment began, or even milky white one's everyone was half-expecting to see, two dark brown orbs were revealed to the Doctor Erskine and the team of doctors and nurses. They shifted in and out of focus for a few moments as Jamie tried to get her bearings, but then they finally stayed in focus as she looked at Doctor Erskine.
Everything was weird to Jamie. Everything was technically the same before she entered the machine, and yet, it looked so different to her eyes. Everything looked… sharper, somehow. Slicker, even. It was strange. Colors, which once seemed fine to her before, now seemed extraordinary. It was like she'd lived her entire life with a color filter over her eyes, and now, it was finally removed, allowing her to see every color at its true intensity for the very first time.
She realized they were waiting for her to say something, anything, in order to assure them that she still had a sense of vision, and she said the first thing that popped into her head.
"Hey," she said tiredly. "Close your mouth, Doctor Erskine. My Mom says you'll catch flies that way…"
Doctor Erskine lightly chuckled and shut his mouth. She was okay. She wasn't blind.
Immediately, the booth up above quickly emptied. Everyone wanted to get an up close look at the new soldier of today, and the child soldier of the future.
A few nurses assisted Doctor Erskine in helping Jamie down from the containment unit as Howard Stark and some other doctors helped Steve. Slowly, Steve and Jamie turned to look at one another.
"We did it," Steve gasped, limping around a bit with the assistance of Howard as he adjusted to the use of the new muscles in his legs.
"It… it worked!" Jamie exclaimed, taking a few hesitant steps away from Doctor Erskine and toward Steve.
"Yeah, yeah. I think we did it," said Doctor Erskine.
"You actually did it," claimed Howard in amazement as Agent Carter strolled toward the both of them with clean white shirts and Jamie's panda under one of her arms. She gave Jamie back her toy, who graciously accepted it and hugged it tightly, and then gave them each one of the white shirts.
"How do you feel?" she asked the two of them.
"Taller," Steve breathed out as he put on the clean shirt.
"Different," Jamie panted, doing the same and hugging Pannie. "Really, really different…"
"You both look taller," she said. "And different."
"Are you okay, J.J.?" Steve asked Jamie as he fully assessed her for the first time. "I could hear you screaming from inside my own machine. Can you see everything okay?"
"I can see fine!" she exclaimed. "Better than fine! Everything looks… sharper now. More distinct… Everything's different to me, but it's a good different! It's like… It's like I've lived my entire life with a blindfold on, and I'm seeing everything for the first time! It's amazing! Don't you see it, too, Steve? Don't you see how colorful everything is? How pronounced everything looks?"
Steve frowned. He had no idea what she was talking about. He was about to tell her so, when their conversation was interrupted by a sudden explosion from in the booth up in the balcony.