Fiery fireballs and great shards of glass rained down from the ceiling, and everyone screamed as they ducked for cover in order to avoid the fire and flying shards. Steve even grabbed Jamie and covered her in order to keep her from getting hurt. As soon as it was safe, he released her, and Jamie every so slightly looked up. One of the government officials in a freshly pressed gray suit had rushed over to the machines that contained the two vials of serums that were to be used to duplicate the experiment, and seized it during the midst of all of the chaos. The government official was a spy.
"Stop him!" cried Doctor Erskine, also seeing what the spy was doing. No sooner had the words left his lips did the spy take a small pistol out from the inner pocket of his suit's jacket, and proceeded to shoot Erskine twice in the chest. He fell to the ground with a loud gasp.
"No!" Jamie's anguished, horrified scream echoed throughout the room as she dropped Pannie in her shock. The spy took advantage of her unintentional cause of diversion, and rushed up the metal stairs to the balcony. Agent Carter wouldn't let him get away that easily, though. She pulled a pistol of her own out of the pocket of her army uniform, and fired it repeatedly as she rushed up the stairs after him. The spy screeched in pain as one of the bullets clipped his arm, but he kept running, and Agent Carter hastily followed. Steve and Jamie both ignored Agent Carter and the spy, and instead rushed to Doctor's Erskine's side. They had to make sure he was okay.
"Doctor Erskine!" Jamie whimpered. "Hang in there! Please, hang in there! You'll be okay! You're going to be okay!"
Doctor Erskine just shook his head at Jamie. He knew this was it. It was his time. Jamie sobbed as he lifted up his hand, and pointed it directly at her heart, and then pointed it at Steve's. His message was clear: Stay who you both are. With sad smiles, they both nodded, solemnly promising him that they would. Doctor Erskine smiled, glad to have this relief in his last moments, and his warm eyes slowly closed forevermore.
Steve and Jamie stared at his lifeless body for a few moments, and then they gazed at one another. They had to stop that spy. They couldn't, no, wouldn't allow that horrible man to get away with this. With silent nods to one another, they both leapt to their feet, and raced up the stairs and down the long white hallways after him.
As they ran, the passed by the lifeless bodies of the little old lady in the pink cardigan that minded the antique shop front for the military base, and the two men in the suits and fedora hats that they'd seen lingering about outside the shop when they first arrived were actually undercover agents that had been guarding the hidden base from the outside. They were gone, too.
Agent Carter was standing alone in the very middle of the street, her pistol aimed firm and true in order to fire at an incoming taxicab that was barreling down the street straight towards her. The spy must have stolen it, and was now trying to run her down. Agent Carter didn't care that she would be run over. She just continued firing her gun rapidly as the taxi zoomed on, its driver dead set on running her down.
Fearing for the safety of the young woman he secretly cared for, Steve leaped forward and tackled her to the other side of the street mere seconds before taxi zipped passed, narrowly missing them.
Agent Carter was not pleased by his actions. "I had him!" she snapped furiously.
"Sorry!" he called out off-handedly. He motioned for Jamie to follow him as he tore off down the street after the car. Jamie, however, felt the need to set her in her place before following him.
"Be grateful! He saved your life!" she screamed, and then bolted off down the street after Steve.
As she ran, she suddenly realized what she was currently doing. She was running alongside Steve, literally racing after a car on foot at a speed she had never before been able to muster before the experiment. This was a speed no ordinary human being could be able to muster, and not only were she and Steve catching up to the car, she was running after it in a pair of flats, shoes that were meant for fashion purposes, not practicality and Steve was barefoot. This was beyond incredible. It was like the more adrenaline was coursing through their bodies, the faster they were able to run. She truly was a perfect child soldier, and Steve was the perfect adult soldier.
The taxi turned a corner a few streets ahead. She and Steve were too far behind it to catch up.
"J.J.! Follow me!" Steve yelled, and he suddenly darted off down another side street.
"Steve! What're you doing?!" Jamie screeched, tearing off after him down the other street. "The car went that way!"
"Just trust me! I know a shortcut!"
Sure enough, as Jamie glanced to the side as they ran past a narrow alleyway, she could spot the taxi zooming on down the street on the opposite end.
Picking up momentum, Steve and Jamie ran right into the middle of the street, and began zigzagging in between cars as they crossed it. Jamie made a sharp turn as soon as they reached the other side, and continued to run on, but Steve cut his turn too wide, and wound up crashing into the store window of a bridal shop. Glass shards flew about dangerously as the window exploded and he fell on top of several mannequins.
"I'm sorry!" he yelled over his shoulder to the very much startled shop owner as he scrambled back up to his feet. As he climbed back out of the window, he found Jamie doubling back after him, concern clearly written on her face.
"Steve!" she shouted, coming to a halt in front of him. "Steve! Are you okay?!"
"I'm fine! Come on!"
He seized her hand, and all but dragged her behind him for a few seconds as he started running again, only letting her go when he felt her starting to run at full speed again, too.
"Which way, Steve?!" Jamie shouted as they continued running.
"This way, Jamie! Come on!" he yelled, motioning for her to follow him as he turned left down a second alley. She ran after him. This alley contained a locked chain-link fence, which they were rapidly approaching. They both knew they wouldn't be able to slow down in time to avoid hitting it, so there was only one thing they could: jump it.
Bending their knees, Steve and Jamie leapt forward in the air, clearing the fence with relative ease. They landed on the pavement on the other side, and as they darted back into ongoing traffic, cars honked repeatedly as their drivers attempted to slow down so as to avoid hitting them.
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Jamie shrieked, her arms stretched out in front of her in alarm as she and Steve started to zigzag between them.
Like Steve said before, their little shortcut had brought them much closer to the runaway taxi, and they both ran faster than ever now, determined to reach it and stop its driver, the Nazi spy.
Catching sight of the two of them chasing after him in the taxi's rearview mirror, the spy tried to shake them off, driving right into the middle of incoming traffic. He knew they'd have a harder time trying to reach him if they were dodging incoming cars at the same time. But to the spy's utter bewilderment, Steve and Jamie began leaping onto the roofs of cars of ongoing traffic instead.
It was like they were playing hopscotch, Jamie thought. She and Steve would leap from one car, run across its length, and then leap onto another car. The drivers of the cars they'd jump on would jolt, and the car would jerk slightly, but she and Steve were completely unfazed by this. They just kept jumping along as they drew closer and closer to the runaway taxi.
Having much longer legs than Jamie, Steve reached the taxi first, and when he jumped onto the taxi's roof, he landed on top of it stomach-first. The car swerved as the spy attempted to shake him off. Steve slid around a bit, but still continued to hold on tight. And then Jamie managed to leap on. She landed rather catlike behind Steve. Without waiting to hear him say anything to her about what to do next, she crawled back to the rear of the car, reeled back her fist, and shattered the back windshield with a single, powerful punch.
She did not wait for the glass to stop flying. She swooped down into the backseat of the car, and scrambled to get behind the cab drivers' seat as she wrapped both her arms around the seat in order to try strangling the spy's neck from behind. The driver went completely berserk from her actions. He turned the car wheel left, just barely missing crashing the taxi into a brick wall as he instead drove down an alleyway that out to the city wharf. Then he pulled the pistol out again, and started firing off several rounds. The first few he fired off he aimed over his shoulder at Jamie in a meager attempt to get her to release him. He missed, but his intention worked. Surprised by the sudden loud bang by her ear, Jamie instantly let him go, and accidentally toppled backward into the backseat with a loud "Ow!" With her momentarily distracted, the spy then began shooting up above him through the roof of the car to try and shake Steve off. Steve dodged the bullets, and instead climbed around to the passenger's side of the car. The spy spotted him, and raised his gun again to shoot him dead on. Jamie caught sight of this action, though, and before the spy could turn his arm to try shooting her instead to stop her, she leapt forward, maneuvered her arm around the drivers' seat, and delivered a sharp whack to the back of his head to throw off his aim.
The spy completely lost whatever control he had over the car as he struggled to regain his senses from the unseen punch, and accidentally crashed part of the car right into a parked car on the side. Steve instinctively leapt away from the taxi, accidentally pulling the passenger door of the car as he did so with his newfound strength. It was a good thing he did, too. The taxi completely overturned from the small collision, and began rolling on its side down the street. Steve stared, horrified about whether or not Jamie was okay in there. Had the spy got her? He hadn't heard any other gunshots, but he could have easily seized and whacked her around a bit. He let out a great breath of relief when he saw her scrambling to crawl out from the shattered back window. She had a couple bruises and a cut over her left eye, but other than that, she seemed relatively unharmed. The spy was kicking open the driver's side door and getting out, too. He didn't have a clear view of Jamie, but he had a clear shot of Steve right behind him, so he instead fired off a round at the new super-soldier. The sound scared the shit of a nearby group of innocent civilians.
As the Nazi spy shot off a few more rounds, Steve seized the door he had yanked off of the taxi, and used it as a makeshift shield from the incoming bullets. Jamie meanwhile had gotten her bearings at last and was running around the side of the taxi, and starting to charge the spy dead on. Seeing the little ten-year-old girl bolting toward him, the spy turned, and seized a little redheaded boy away from his frantic mother. He made a very valuable hostage.
"No! No! Not my son!" the poor woman screamed as the spy began dragging the terrified boy away, the barrel of the gun pressed firmly against the side of his head.
"Stop it!" the boy yelled, thrashing wildly against his kidnapper. The spy ignored him and his mother's continuous screams.
"Please! Let him go! Let go of my son! Don't hurt him!"
Seeing the spy take the boy hostage, Jamie came to an abrupt halt. Yes, she wanted to stop the Nazi, but not at the expense of bringing harm to a boy who didn't look much older than her. She didn't want to be the indirect cause of an innocent civilian death.
The spy saw her hesitate, and before anyone could do anything, before Steve rush forward and try and pull Jamie out of the way, the spy raised the pistol away from the boys' head and fired the gun right at Jamie.
Jamie expected the bullet to come at her at an unseen speed. She expected to feel her chest suddenly explode in mind-dizzying pain. She expected to fall down on the street paving before she could process what was even happening. What she didn't expect was to see the bullet as it shot forth from the barrel of the gun, nor did she expect to see it travel towards her in the very, very slow motion. It was strange. She knew time was ticking past normally, but at the same time, time seemed to have slowed down in her perception. Her eyes somehow were perceiving a speed that was not humanely possible to distinguish. That's why her eyes were burning so much during the experiment. The serum had not only enhanced her muscles, it had improved her eyesight to unparalleled levels.
In a motion nothing short of graceful to the surrounding witnesses, Jamie took a step forward, and seemed to almost pirouette in place as she dodged the bullet, and when she stopped, she skipped a few steps forward before continuing to run on towards the spy, completely unharmed and not a scratch from the bullet on her.
The spy stood there for a moment, not understanding at all what had just happened. He snapped out of it after half a second, and shouted, "Get back!" as he started running backward into the courtyard of an abandoned factory, firing more bullets off at Jamie as he went.
"Let me go!" the boy screamed, but his shouts were ignored. The spy was too stunned to acknowledge him. Just like the first time, Jamie saw every bullet as it approached in slow motion, and each time, she seemed to dance right past each one, her dark brown locks of hair swirling around her head in a wavy waterfall, adding a sense of mystery to her as she half-danced, half-charged after the spy.
Steve ran after her, but he too was puzzled as to what was happening with her. Unlike Jamie, he couldn't see the approaching bullets when they were fired. The serum hadn't granted him this unique ability, and he had dodge behind old metallic barrels and around the corners of the factory's brick walls to avoid getting shot.
As Steve and Jamie turned the corner of the factory leading to the wharf that the spy had run down, they saw him standing still, with the barrel of the gun pressed firmly up against the boy's head.
"No!" Jamie screamed.
"Wait, don't! Don't!" Steve shouted.
He and Jamie held up their hands as they walked slowly forward, showing the spy that they didn't intend to do anything foolish so long as he still had the kid captive.
The moment they did this, however, the spy took the gun away from the little boy's head, and instead raised it back up at them. Steve and Jamie instinctively recoiled, bracing themselves for the feeling of the bullets pounding into their chests. When he fired, though, nothing happened. He had used up all his bullets during the pursuit. The spy growled in rage, and suddenly started dragging the boy toward the water.
"No! Don't!" Steve shouted. His plea fell on deaf ears as the spy flung the boy over the edge of the wharf and then ran off. Steve and Jamie let him. They had to make sure that the boy was all right. They ran to the edge of the dock to see. To their immense relief, they saw the boy afloat in the water.
"Go get him!" the boy shouted back up at Steve and Jamie. "I can swim!"
That was one problem solved. Nodding to the boy, Steve and Jamie took off again after the spy. He was currently in the middle of trying to climb inside what looked to be a tiny, one-man operated black submarine. Catching sight of him entering it and descending beneath the waves, Steve and Jamie did not stop to think twice. They dove right into the water after him. The submarine was pretty fast, but Steve and Jamie were much faster. They were biogenetically enhanced super-soldiers. Being able to out swim a submarine was mere child's play for them.
They caught up to the machine easily, and they each delivered a strong, powerful punch to its window. It smashed open without much hassle whatsoever. The spy's shock upon seeing them being able to catch up with him even while in the water was short-lived, as he immediately panicking and gasping for breath as water began rushing inside his tiny, enclosed space. Steve quickly grabbed him, pulling him out of the sub. Enemy or not, he was not about to let him drown. He motioned for Jamie to follow him back up to the surface, and she nodded as she swam behind him.
Steve flung the spy out of the water and back onto the wharf before he signaled for Jamie to follow him to a small ladder off to the side so they could get out, too.
Seeing them climb out, the spy threw a series of quick, rapid punches at each of them, but Steve and Jamie easily dodged his meager attacks. With a swift punch to the gut from Jamie and a kick to the face from Steve, the spy fell back down on the ground, at last defeated. As he fell, he lost hold of the glass tubes of the blue and violet serums he had stolen from the military base. They shattered when they hit the ground, and their blue and violet contents spilled all over the dock.
Steve and Jamie ignored the shattered remains of the serums that had genetically altered them. They were gone. Destroyed. There was nothing they could do about that. Instead, they kept their full attention on the failed Nazi spy.
Steve loomed over the spy's fallen body, and seized him by the collar of his suit.
"Who the hell are you?!" he demanded.
"The first of many," the spy retorted his voice laced heavily in a thick German accent, and there was an evil glint in his eyes as one of his teeth suddenly broke off. He sneered at Steve and Jamie as he swallowed it. "Cut off one head, two more shall take its place!"
Steve and Jamie kept their glares firmly locked on their faces, but deep down, they were confused. What did that even mean?
As they pondered the riddle, white foam suddenly began gathering at the edges of the spy's mouth. It hadn't been a tooth the spy had swallowed. It was a cyanide pill.
"Hail Hydra!" the spy gasped out with a final breath, and then his eyes shut, and he went completely still.
Steve and Jamie looked at one another. They had done it. They had actually done it. They had stopped the spy from away with the serums. Yes, the last remnants of the serums were destroyed, its formulas were lost forevermore, and yes, the spy had unfortunately committed suicide before they could take him in to be questioned by the proper authorities, but still, they had stopped him from taking the serums back to his Nazi allies, and they had avenged Doctor Erskine. That was certainly something to be proud of.
"We did it…" Jamie whispered, her eyes wide as she continued to stare down at the dead spy at her feet. "We stopped him! We stopped him, Steve!"
Steve wordlessly nodded. He himself was stunned by everything that had occurred within the last fifteen minutes. An hour ago, he had been a small, sickly man who couldn't do more than throw a weak punch. Now, he was an enhanced super being that had stopped a Nazi spy from getting away with the formulas responsible for making him and Jamie into superior beings. It was surreal how fast it had all happened.
Slowly, a great number of curious civilians were starting to approach the factory docks, whispering to themselves on theories as to what had just happened and who the mysterious man and little girl could be. Steve heard them approach, and quickly grabbed Jamie's hand. She blinked up at him in surprise.
"Come on," he urged. "If we don't leave now, we'll get mobbed. We have to get back to the base."
Jamie nodded, hearing the logic in his words, and allowed him to drag her away from the scene before the passerby's could swarm them.
Their return to the secret base was much more eventful this time whereas compared to the first time they had entered it. From the moment they had gone back through the secret door behind the bookcases in the old, musty antique shop, they found themselves bombarded almost immediately by a great swarm of government officials, military personal, a vast number of journalists and reporters, and a team of doctors of nurses, all of them very adamant on trying to say a few words to them.
Jamie whimpered as she and Steve were confronted by the mob, and hid herself behind his back. "Go away!" she said weakly.
The mob ignored her words, and kept pressing closer to the two of them. Steve did his best to try and shield her from their eyes. Couldn't they see that their actions were scaring the poor girl? He himself felt uncomfortable by all the attention.
Luckily, Agent Carter managed to push her way through the crowd. "Clear a path here!" she ordered. "They need to be checked over! Clear a path!"
Thankfully, the mob listened to her, and cleared away slightly so she could pass through to them.
"Both of you, follow me," she ordered.
Steve grabbed hold of Jamie's hand, and followed her through the base.
"T-thank you, Agent Carter," Jamie said in a small voice as they were led inside a small First-Aid station. "They would have kept us there forever had you not have stepped in…"
"Of course," Agent Carter replied as two nurses entered the room, both of them carrying fresh sets of the standard private's uniforms, though Jamie's was naturally smaller, and one of them had her panda.
"Pannie!" Jamie cried, rushing forward and seizing hold of her stuffed panda from the nurse. She hugged him tightly.
"There's a screen over there. Get changed into these clothes," Agent Carter instructed them. "We'll need to draw samples of your blood for documentation purposes once you're both done."
Steve and Jamie both nodded to show they understood. Jamie changed first, and then sat down on the examination table with Pannie on her lap as she fixed her hair back up into her usual pigtails and ribbons while Steve changed next and one of the nurses began swiping rubbing alcohol on her arm with a cotton ball to sterilize the area before moving on to draw a vial of blood. The nurse was done by the time Steve was done changing. Jamie tucked Pannie under her arm and hopped off the table, and Steve sat down next and let the nurse take a vial of his own blood. There was a long stretch of silence as all this happened.
"Think you got enough?" he asked after awhile. The nurse jumped at the sudden question, but nodded and allowed him to pull down the sleeve of his uniform. Agent Carter, who had been sitting and watching the nurse's work silently up until then, got to her feet and began to speak.
"Any hope of reproducing the programs is locked in both your genetic codes," she said, nodding to both him and Jamie. "But without Doctor Erskine, it would take years."
"It's not right what happened," said Jamie, hanging her head to hide the tears glistening in her eyes and hugging her panda bear tightly as she spoke. "He was such a good man…"
Steve gently set his hand on her shoulder, silently comforting her. "He deserved more than this," he agreed.
"If they could both work only once, he'd be proud it was you two," she said, trying to lift their spirits. Steve and Jamie didn't say anything in reply. There was a brief pause, but then she motioned to the door. "Colonel Phillips will want to see both of you," she said. "Follow me."
Wordlessly, Steve and Jamie followed her out of the room, and down a short flight of stairs. As they entered the main room of the base, they saw Colonel Phillips there with Senator Brandt and his secretary. They were arguing very loudly.
"Colonel Phillips," said Senator Brandt, "my committee is demanding answers."
"Great!" said the Colonel, sounding extremely angry. "Why don't we start with how a German spy got a ride to my secret instillation in your car?"
Senator Brandt gave no reply, but glared furiously at the silent accusation that Colonel Phillips was implying: that everything that had happened was somehow his fault. Receiving no reply, Colonel Phillips instead approached Howard Stark, who was busily examining the black submarine that the Nazi spy had tried to escape in. "What have we got here?"
"Speaking modestly, I'm the best mechanical engineer in this country," Howard began. "But I don't know what's inside this thing or how it works. We're not even close to this technology."
"Then who is?" the Senator demanded.
"Hydra," the Colonel answered. "I'm sure you've been reading our briefings."
Brandt paused at his words. "I'm on a number of committees, Colonel," he said finally.
"Hydra is the Nazi deep-science division," said Agent Carter, bringing the attention of Colonel Phillips and Senator Brandt to her, Steve and Jamie as they walked toward them. "It's led by Johann Schmidt, but he has much bigger ambitions."
"Hydra's practically a cult," the Colonel added. "They worship Schmidt. They think he's invincible."
"So, what are you going to do about it?" Brandt asked gruffly.
"I spoke to the President this morning," Phillips answered as he strolled right up to Agent Carter. "As of today, the SSR is being retasked."
"Colonel?" said Agent Carter, completely surprised by this revelation.
"We are taking the fight to Hydra," Colonel Phillips explained. "Pack your bags, Agent Carter. You, too, Stark," he added over his shoulder to Howard. "We're flying to London."
"Wait! Sir!" said Jamie as he moved to leave the room. "Sir! Aren't me and Steve going?"
"If you're going after Schmidt, we want in," Steve insisted.
"You two are experiments. You're both going to Alamogordo," said Phillips.
"What?!" Jamie exclaimed, not believing her ears. Her only chance to help Trent in this war was being taken away from her. "But… but we can help you!"
"The serums worked!" Steve agreed.
"First of all," said the Colonel, looking directly at Jamie as he spoke. "You were never intended to go out on the battlefield during this particular war."
Jamie stared at him. She couldn't believe what she had just been told. "What?"
"Didn't Erskine tell you?" he asked. "Did you honestly believe we'd put a kid out in the middle of a battlefield? You were going to be the first of many kids that were going to be genetically enhanced, and then spent the next several years in training to become even more powerful. You probably would have been on the battlefield of a war ten years from now. I don't care how desperate the situation is. I'm not about to put a ten-year-old girl out on the battlefield in this war."
Jamie was too stunned by this information to say anything in reply, so Phillips looked back up at Steve. "I asked for an army to fight today, and for an army to have in the future, and all I got was the two of you," he said. "You two are not enough."
With that being said, he turned on his heel, and marched out of the room. Steve and Jamie were completely as he left. The Colonel had just crushed every dream they'd had for going overseas and fighting in the war.
Jamie hugged Pannie in one hand, and grabbed Steve's hand with her other and squeezed it tight. She was fighting the urge to cry. Everything she'd done up until now to help her brother had been a complete waste. She was going to be locked away in a laboratory for the rest of her life. The odds were she would never see her brother again, even if America won the war.
At that moment, Senator Brandt suddenly stepped up towards her and Steve.
"With all due respect to the Colonel, I think we may be missing the point," he said to the two of them. "I've seen you two in action, Steve, Jamie. More importantly, the country's seen it." He looked over at his assistant. "Paper!"
His secretary scurried up to them. In his hand was a copy of the morning paper, which he held up so Steve and Jamie could read the headline: Nazi's in New York! Mystery Man and Girl Saves Child! Underneath the bolded headline, there were black and white photographs of them during their pursuit of the Hydra spy. The first picture was of Steve as he had been holding up the torn off door of the taxicab in order to block the incoming bullets, and underneath it was Jamie's picture. Unlike Steve's the picture of her was blurrier, as the photographer had captured it while she had been twirling to avoid the bullets being fired at her.
"The enlistment lines have been around the block since your pictures hit the newsstands," Senator Brandt went on. "You don't take soldiers, symbols like that, and hide them in a lab." He wrapped both his arms around both Steve and Jamie's shoulders, and then walked with them a few paces away as he spoke his next words. "Do you kids want to serve your country on the most important battlefield of the war?"
Steve did not hesitate to reply. "Sir, that's all I want."
The Senator turned to Jamie.
"I have a big brother overseas, his name is Trent," she said. "I got involved in all this because I wanted to help him. If whatever you want me to do lets me help him somehow, I'll gladly do it!"
"Then congratulations," said Senator Brandt, shaking Steve's hand and then Jamie's. "You both just got promoted."
Twenty-four hours later, Steve Rogers was regretting having accepted the plan Senator Brandt had proposed to him and Jamie.
"I don't know if I can do this," he muttered. He was extremely nervous as he paced back and forth behind a large stage curtain. The time for his and Jamie's first performance was drawing closer and closer. He looked down at Jamie, who was actually looking somewhat excited at the prospect of what they were about to do. She beamed up at him.
"Don't worry, Captain America! This is gonna be fun!" she chirped, an exuberant smile plastered on her face. Steve just frowned at the name she called him.
Senator Brandt's assistant nodded as he set a spiky crown on her head, being mindful of the curls that had been elaborately fixed into her dark brown hair by a team of stylists a few hours prior.
"Nothing to it," he agreed, sizing both Steve and Jamie from top to bottom one last time to check if they were indeed presentable. "You two sell bonds. Bonds buy bullets. Bullets kill Nazi's. Bing, bang, boom! You're American heroes."
"It's just not how I pictured getting there," Steve muttered.
"Relax, Captain!" said Jamie. "You're going up there with me, after all! I'm a professional at this sort of thing!"
Despite his nervousness over what he was about to do and annoyance at being forced to do it at all, Steve couldn't help but lift an amused brow at her words. "A professional?"
"I told you before, didn't I? That my Mom ran my school's Drama Club? She had me as the star! I know exactly what to do! Just follow my lead and you'll be fine!"
"You know, I am surprised at how well you're taking this, Jamie," he said. "I'd have thought you'd be disappointed at the fact you're doing this instead of going overseas and being with your brother."
Jamie looked momentarily annoyed by his words, but then she frowned and shrugged nonchalantly. "First of all, don't call me Jamie right now, or even J.J.! It's Liberty Belle while I'm in costume! The whole point of adding masks to these ensembles is so that we have secret identities! And of course I'm disappointed! If I were given the chance, I'd be on the first boat to Italy tonight! But if I have to be doing anything else right now instead of fighting, I'm glad it's this! I told you before that I like performing! I'm just glad I'm doing something I like! My only annoyance is that the Senator is insisting I leave my hair down during the shows and not up in my usual pigtails."
"You heard what he said, Jam—" Steve cut himself off when he caught sight of the glare Jamie was sending him. "Fine then, Liberty… You heard what he said, Liberty, that he thinks people wouldn't make the connection between this so-called character and the girl in the paper yesterday should you have pulled your hair back. Your hair was down all throughout the chase."
"I still think I look cuter in pigtails…"
Brandt's assistant chimed in at this. "The Senator has got a lot of pull up on the Hill," he assured them. "You two play ball with us, you'll both be leading your own platoons in no time."
Steve frowned, but nonetheless took the blue cowl the assistant handed him with the white 'A' stamped across the forehead, and slipped it on over his head. Jamie nodded to show she understood, and she too slipped on her face covering. Unlike Steve, she was not wearing a cowl. She had a small mask made completely out of blue fabric, which stuck to her face to hide her identity.
At that moment, there was a loud drumroll, and a number of trumpets blasted loudly from the opposite end of the curtain, followed swiftly by an assortment of other instruments.
"Take the shield!" the assistant whispered to Steve while he grabbed a rather small metal torch off to the side and handed it to Jamie. As Jamie took the item with a smile on her face, Steve reluctantly grabbed hold of the flashy shield he'd been provided. "Go!" he urged them, and to both Steve and Jamie's complete surprise, he shoved them through the curtain, and they both stumbled out onto the stage.
The audience saw them come out, and there was a rather large eruption of ecstatic applause. Steve fought the urge to give them a sheepish grin. He truly felt ridiculous in this getup. He was wearing a one-piece uniform, the majority of which was almost completely bright blue. The sleeves, however, were white, and the entire section around his stomach was covered in rather large red and white stripes. He also wore bright red boots and red gloves, and upon his chest was a single white star. The shield he carried completed the look, what with the single, thick blue line across the top of it with three white stars, and the long red and white stripes that ran along vertically down the rest of it.
Jamie, on the other hand, loved the thrill of the spotlight, and smiled cheerfully to the audience when she heard them applaud them as they came out. She stood before them wearing a bright, sparkling sleeveless knee-length dress. Her upper body was covered in shiny blue material that matched Steve's uniform, and flashed brightly when the spotlight shined on her, and upon her chest was a big white star, just like Steve's. Along the sides of the upper portion of the dress, there were single red stripes, complimenting her elbow-length red gloves and knee-length red boots. The pleated skirt of the dress was also bright blue, and shifted back and forth with white with every other pleat. With the spiked crown on her head and the torch in her hand, she looked like a modern, child-like version of a colorful Lady Liberty, and were it not for those items along with the mask, she'd have easily blended in with the other chorus girls standing alongside her and Steve on the stage.
Senator Brandt's plan was for Steve and Jamie to become all-time American idols through a series of live musical performances, propaganda movie serials, and even have their own comic book characters and trading card series to encourage the American public to join the war efforts, and all under the stage names of Captain America, and his young sidekick Liberty Belle. Their performances would promote the general public to buy bonds, which would help the soldiers overseas receive more bullets and tents and other necessities needed.
The Senator had explained that this would only be temporary. He would of course do everything he could to help them actually get overseas and eventually have them leading their own platoons, but it would take some time. He'd do his best to work his magic with the other politicians up on Capital Hill in order to override Colonel Phillips decision not to include either of them on the battlefield, but in the meantime, he firmly believed that the American public needed to see them as a public image. They could keep the people's spirits up and their hopes high when they thought about the war. Until they could actually be overseas and fighting in the war, what America needed right now was faces they recognized. Faces they'd seen had done something extraordinary and that they could rally behind.
The American public needed an extraordinary team. A team like Captain America and Liberty Belle.
The other ten women acting as their chorus girls began to march in place and sing, and their first performance began.
"Who's strong and brave,
Here to save the American way?"
It was an upbeat, catchy show tune. The kind that although it gets stuck in your head for hours on end, you like that it's stuck in your head, and you find yourself humming it for hours with a smile on your face.
Hearing the short brake in the song, Steve discreetly lifted his shield, where he'd secretly taped a copy of his and Jamie's lines for them to peek at during the performance, as there was a lot they were going to have to say.
"Not all of us can storm a beach or drive a tank," he called out, staring more at the lines on his shield than at the audience as he spoke. "But there's still a way all of us can fight."
"Who're the two who vow to fight
For what's right, night and day?"
"Series E Defense Bonds!" called out Jamie in a singsong voice. She was enjoying herself very much. Even though she was naturally a quiet little girl unless around people she was truly comfortable with, she'd always loved to perform on stage. When she was onstage, it was like she could be herself, a naturally happy little girl, and people wouldn't think she was weird. When she was on stage, she could be a star. "Each one you buy is a bullet in the barrel of your best guy's gun!"
"Who will campaign door-to-door for America?
Carry the flag shore-to-shore for America?
From Hoboken to Spokane,
America's Sweetheart and the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!"
That was Jamie's cue. She continued on in her lines.
"It doesn't matter if you're as young as ten-years-old, or as old as ninety-two! Everyone here has the power to make a difference!"
"We can't ignore there's a threat,
And a war we must win…"
"A few coins may not seem like much," called out Steve, "But those few coins could mean the difference between warm nights in the barracks, and cold nights around a fire."
"Who'll hang a noose,
On the goose-stepping goons from Berlin?
Who will redeem,
Heed the call for America?
Who'll rise or fall,
Give their all for America?
Who's here to prove that we can?
America's Sweetheart and the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!"
Steve and Jamie moved back for a few moments as the chorus girls broke out into a wild dance, and a line of men dressed in the standard army privates uniform came marching on stage, each one beating a drum as they too sang their catchy theme song.
After a few moments, the chorus girls made a space in the kick-line for the two of them to come forward. It was their next cue. Steve and Jamie stepped forward again and continued their lines.
"We all know this is about trying to win the war," Steve went on as an actor impersonating Adolf Hitler slowly crept on stage with a fake pistol. Steve, Jamie, and the rest of the actors ignored him as he slinked along. What happened next involving him would actually be very amusing. "We can't do that without bullets and bandages, tanks and tents."
A couple of kids in the front row of the theatre were really into the show, and suddenly began screaming to get Steve and Jamie's attention and warn them about the Hitler actor.
"Turn around! He's right behind you!" shouted the boy.
"It's Hitler! He has a gun! Look out!" shrieked the girl.
Jamie fought the urge to giggle at their worry as she went on with her own lines. "That's where you come in! Every bond you buy will help protect someone you love!"
"Keep our boys armed and ready," said Steve, "and the Germans will think twice about trying to get the drop on us."
At that moment, the Hitler actor burst forth from behind the line of girls, and charged straight toward them. As Steve and Jamie turned around, pretending they'd only just now noticed fake Hitler, the chorus girls gasped in mock horror. Oh, no! It was Hitler! He'd surely be the end for everyone here!
This fakeness from the girls lasted only momentarily, however. Jamie proceeded to deliver a pretend kick in between the actor's legs. The Hitler impersonator pretended to howl in pain, and then Steve threw a mock punch to his nose, and the actor fell to the floor of the stage, pretending to be knocked out cold.
The audience loved it. They went berserk with cheering, laughter, and wild applause as the chorus girl pretended to swoon over the Captain's skills and the bravery that little Liberty displayed.
"Stalwart and steady and true,
Forceful and ready to defend
The Red, White, and Blue!"
Next came the part that Steve had been dreading the most, but Jamie had really been looking forward to: the epic dance break. Steve really didn't know how to dance, but he did have a couple choreographed steps in place he had to do just so it seemed like he was dancing. This would cleverly be disguised by the fact that Jamie would do several twirls on the stage at the same time, thereby drawing the audiences' attention to her rather than him.
Steve marched in place a bit and saluted kindly to the kids from before as Jamie skipped forward and spun around several times in succession as she clicked a special button on her torch. Instantly, a series of sparklers shot out, creating a ring of sparkling fire around her as she pirouetted in place. The audience 'oohed,' and 'aahed,' at the dazzling sight.
"Who'll give the Axis the sack,
And are smart as a fox?
Who're making Adolf afraid
To step out of his box?
Who're the two who waked the giant
That napped in America?
We know it's Liberty Belle and Captain America!
Who'll finish what they began?"
This was it. The big finale.
The very back of the stage opened up somewhat to reveal a short series of platforms, at the top of which was a rather large white motorcycle. Steve and Jamie climbed up the hidden flight of stairs off to the side of one of the platforms to reach the topmost one with the motorcycle.
Jamie quickly sat on the motorcycles seat, and posed and look cute as Steve grabbed the bike by each of its two wheels, and held it up high over his head. Thanks to enhanced strength from the serum, carrying the bike with Jamie sitting on top of it at the same time was a piece of cake.
The crowd gasped. They were marveled by the Captain's display of strength.
"Who'll kick the Krauts to Japan?
America's Sweetheart and The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!"
As the chorus girls sang the final high notes of the theme song while dancing the last few steps in their kick-lines, Jamie clicked the special button on her torch again, and tossed it high into the air. The sparklers erupted again, showering the entire stage with glowing embers. She caught it just as the music cut off and the performance officially ended.
The crowd clapped and cheered harder than ever before as the curtains swung shut.
Just like Senator Brandt predicted, the rise of Captain America and Liberty Belle brought a whole new level of devotion of helping the War at Home. The American public was now involved as they'd never been before. People were buying bonds, kids were collecting scrap metal, housewives were growing victory gardens, there were more people working in factories, and more people were volunteering and giving blood a the Red Cross… There was no shortage of people trying to help out however they could.
The Senator kept them in New York for the last few weeks in June, but as soon as July rolled around, he had Steve and Jamie start traveling across the country, to begin a nationwide, morale-boosting tour to promote the war. It was the perfect time to begin a tour. It would coincide with the Fourth of July, the most patriotic day of the year for any American. Unfortunately, it also coincided with Steve's birthday.
"Great way to spend a twenty-fifth birthday," he found himself muttering to Jamie as the two of them were loaded onto a tour bus bound for Buffalo on the first day of July. "Instead of hearing someone singing 'Happy Birthday,' I'll be singing that stupid theme song…"
"First of all, Steve, our theme song is not stupid!" Jamie said at once as she plopped herself into one of the seats on the bus, her panda bear in one hand and her ruined copy of The Wizard of Oz in the other. She still hadn't been able to buy a replacement or at least repair it. "It's catchy! I like it! I'm gonna have to remember to buy a copy of a record of it once we reach Buffalo! Secondly, your birthday's coming up?"
Steve nodded. "I was born on the fourth of July, if you can believe it."
"Really? That means you really do deserve the name Captain America!"
Steve chuckled at her words. "Just don't tell Brandt. He'll use it as a way to garner more publicity for this tour, and that's the last thing I want…"
He didn't say anything else after that. He just grabbed a newspaper, and began lightly doodling on one of its blank corners. He was so caught up in his own self-pity and brief sketch, he didn't notice the sly grin that spread across Jamie's face, and when she stood up a little while later to go and speak with Brandt's assistant, he thought nothing of it.
As he had predicted, a few days later, they performed a major show in the big performing arts center in Buffalo. It was a major spectacle, with twice as many chorus girls and there had been such a huge crowd. The public had gone wild from the special Fourth of July performance, and Captain America and Liberty Belle had to stay late after the show to sign autographs and pose for pictures with excited fans.
By the time Steve and Jamie finally returned to their hotel after the show, it was well past midnight, technically now July 5th, and Steve was in a somewhat grouchy mood. He had nothing against kids, his friendship with Jamie was living proof of that, but he even had to admit that after all the autographs he'd signed that night and pictures he'd posed for with so many little kids, even he had to admit he was somewhat exhausted with them, so when Jamie began insisting she accompany him to his hotel room to talk for a few minutes, he was somewhat reluctant to allow it.
"It's late Jamie," he mumbled tiredly to his young protégé as they exited the hotel elevator on the third floor. "I'm really tired… Can we talk in the morning?"
"It's not that late, Steve!" she insisted, not appearing to be the slightest bit fatigued after the long performance and was still bouncing up and down the walls of the hallway as she spoke. "And what I have to say is really, really important!"
"Can't you tell me now while we're walking?" he sighed. He liked Jamie, he really did, but he really wanted a small break from kids at the moment.
Jamie vehemently shook her head. "No! I have to tell you in your room! It's important I tell you in there! And it can't wait until tomorrow! I have to tell you now! Tonight!"
"All right," he grumbled. "Just make it quick."
She cheered heartily, and then grabbed his hand, and literally began dragging him down the hall to his room. Steve sighed. He had no idea what she wanted right now, but he hoped she'd say whatever she wanted to say quickly and then leave him in peace. He really just wanted to take a hot shower and then go to bed. It'd truly been a lousy birthday for him.
When they reached his hotel room door, she looked up eagerly at him as he entered and flicked on the light. He was completely taken aback by what he found inside.
On the wall over the headboard of the hotel bed there was a white banner, with the words, Happy Birthday, Steve! stamped across it in red, white, and blue letters. On top of the bed was a small circular cake with chocolate frosting, two plates, two plastic sets of utensils, and a rectangular package wrapped in brown paper.
Jamie ran right past him into the room, stood beside the bed, and lifted her arms high over her head in excitement.
"Surprise! Happy birthday, Steve!" she cheered.
Steve stared. He was completely stunned by this certain turn of events. Of all the reasons he'd been thinking of when Jamie said she wanted to talk to him in his room before he went to bed, this had not at all crossed his mind.
"You… you got me a cake?" he said after several moments.
"Well, Brandt's assistant did if you wanna be specific. Don't worry," she added sharply when she saw him suddenly look annoyed. "I told him not to tell Brandt, because you are right. Brandt would have made your birthday a big spectacle for the whole country. I told him to keep quiet about it. He bought the banner, the cake, and I even asked him to get you this!" She held up the wrapped gift. "Everyone deserves a present and a cake on their birthday!"
Steve took the gift. She'd gotten him a present. He was very much touched.
He slowly unwrapped the gift, only to be surprised yet again. She'd had Brandt's secretary buy him a leather-bound portfolio, with several blank pieces of sketch paper inside, and a neat set of artist's charcoal pencils.
"I saw you drawing back on the tour bus," she exclaimed. "I don't know if you like to draw all the time, but I thought it'd make a nice gift! Do you like it? You don't have to say you do if you don't… I'd understand. It can be returned if you don't…"
Steve shook his head at her suggestion. He was smiling from ear-to-ear as he gently ruffled her hair. "No, I do like it, Jamie. Honestly, I do. I love to draw. Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Really?!" she asked. "I'm so glad! I was so worried that you wouldn't…"
"No, I love it. I've actually been meaning to get something like this for myself for a while now, so thank you."
Jamie grinned, so pleased he liked her present, and then nodded in the direction of the cake. "I hope you like chocolate! That was the only flavor Brandt's assistant could find on such short notice!"
And the two sat down and each had a slice of cake.
Buffalo was not the only stop on their tour, though. A few weeks later, they moved on to Milwaukee, and then a couple weeks later Philadelphia, followed quickly by a couple weeks in Chicago. When they finally returned to New York City for another big show, it was the middle of October.
As autumn had rolled around, schools were back in session. Now, Jamie couldn't exactly go to school since she was always traveling, so she was currently receiving her fifth grade education through a series of tutors that traveled along on the road with her on the tour. It was a little annoying for her to make time for school in between shows, but Jamie dealt with it. Another side effect of the serum showed that she and Steve now had nearly eidetic memories, so her schoolwork was a breeze, and besides, being Liberty Belle was a blast, especially now that she was back in New York again.
She was also still training with Steve in between all this. It didn't matter that they weren't currently fighting in the war right now. She still wanted to learn how to box.
"The Senator might tell us tomorrow he finally pulled enough strings to ship us off to Europe!" she explained to Steve. "If that happens, I want to be prepared to fight alongside you!"
Steve agreed, and he continued mentoring her in the finer points of boxing. Now that she was genetically enhanced, she was doing a much better job at learning from him, and he himself was doing much better training on his own.
"Tonight's performance is completely sold out!" Senator Brandt told the two of them as they got ready backstage one night while they were in New York. "I have a feeling tonight's gonna be big!"
"Every show we do is big, sir!" Jamie said with a smile as she pulled on her mask.
"I actually have big news for you two after the show," Brandt went on. "As soon as you're done signing autographs, come and find me here. You're both going to be pleased."
"All right, sir," said Steve with a nod as he too pulled on his cowl. "We're looking forward to hearing it."
At first, it seemed as though that night's performance would be no different than any of the other one's they'd done for the past four months. They went on stage, they said their lines as the chorus girls sang and danced all around them, Steve lifted the motorcycle and Jamie as he'd done a thousand times before, and Jamie twirled her sparkler torch up in the air, showering the stage and audience in a dazzling display of fiery sparks. As always, the crowd cheered madly as the curtains fell.
It was after the performance where things went very wrong.
Things seemed to be okay at first. They stood side-by-side in the main hallway of the theatre, and posed for pictures and signed autographs for all the fans. The Senator even stood in a picture for the newspaper, of him shaking hands with Captain America and patting Liberty Belle's head around her spiked crown. It was just the usual hullabaloo after another show.
Jamie was in the middle of signing an autograph for seven-year-old boy when she heard voices she had not been counting on hearing that night, but really should have expected.
"Form a line, kids! No pushing!"
"Big smiles, everyone! You're getting your pictures taken, too, remember?"
Jamie quickly shoved the paper she'd been scribbling her stage name on back at the boy and glanced around him. The Harkins were here with the other kids from the orphanage, and they were struggling to get them all into line to meet her, Liberty Belle, and Captain America. They must have saved their money for several months to afford to buy tickets for every kid in the orphanage to come and see tonight's show. And if they were here, that meant Nick, Becky, and all the other bullies were here, too.
Steve saw her completely freeze up next to him. "What's wrong?" he whispered.
She discreetly nodded in the direction of the Harkins. "See that couple over there?" she said. "That's the Harkins! They… They brought all the kids at the orphanage to tonight's show!"
Steve frowned. He understood what she meant by all the kids. "Just smile for the pictures and sign the autographs," he muttered quietly. "Don't make chitchat. If that boy and his friend the girl try or say anything, let me handle it. Do not say or do anything in retaliation."
"'Kay," she gulped, nodding tensely as she fixed a fake smile on her lips.
At first, it seemed as though there wouldn't be any problems. The kids from the orphanage did not recognize Jamie at all. The Jamie they knew from the orphanage was a short and scrawny girl with light brown hair and eyes, whereas Liberty Belle was an average-sized ten-year-old with dark brown hair and eyes. The younger kids screamed wildly when they saw her in person, and had stars in their eyes as Jamie signed them her autographs and posed with them and Steve for pictures. The teens there were a little oblivious to her. They were more interested in stand-alone pictures with the Captain. He was the real star of the show, and she was just the sidekick in their eyes. Had these been any other fans, Jamie would have been somewhat offended by their treatment, but as these were teens from the orphanage, she was glad they weren't paying her too much attention. Although none of them recognized her, some of them were in Nick and Becky's gang, and she really didn't want to spend too much time with them.
As the little girl she and Steve had been posing for a picture with walked back over to the Harkins, the next kid stepped forward, and Jamie saw at once that it was Becky.
Becky glared hatefully at her, and Jamie knew at once that she recognized her. She forced her body not to freeze up, and fixed the biggest fake smile she could on her lips.
"Hi, there!" she said sweetly, discreetly nudging Steve's leg as she spoke in order to get his attention. "Do you want me to sign something?"
Becky thrust a small sheet of paper in front of her. As Jamie hurriedly took it and tried to sign 'Liberty Belle' as fast as she could on it, Becky stepped forward.
"I know it's you, Freak!" she spat. Jamie's fingers trembled a bit, but she forced her hands not to go tense as she signed her name. "I can't believe that out all the kids, they picked you! You! Of all people! The one who really should have been carted off to the electric chair because she's insane!"
Jamie's shoulders shook a bit, and she forced herself not to react as she handed her autograph back to Becky. She was not crazy. She wasn't. She did not deserve the electric chair.
"Do you want a picture or not?" said Steve gruffly, sensing Jamie's discomfort. "There are a lot of kids waiting, after all."
Becky marched forward, and stood between Steve and Jamie for the picture. As the photographer prepared his camera, Becky leaned over and began hissing in Jamie's ear.
"I should have been Liberty Belle! Not you! That Colonel or General or whoever he was wanted me! Me! You're here just because that stupid old man pitied you!"
"That's not true," said Jamie before she could stop herself. Becky looked over at her in surprise, not expecting to have heard her talk back. Jamie herself was surprised by how strong her voice sounded. She sounded as though she was not at al afraid of Becky, even though deep down she was feeling the exact opposite. "I'm a good person. You are not. Even if I hadn't been chosen to go to that boot camp in your place, you never would have been Liberty Belle. You don't deserve the honor of this name."
There was a click and a flash of light, and the moment between them for the photograph was over. As Becky walked back over to where all the kids from the orphanage were waiting, she had a stunned look on her face. Jamie didn't watch her walk away. She was too busy trying to force herself to calm down. That had been nerve-wracking.
"Good for you," Steve whispered as the next kid started walking forward. "You stood up for yourself."
"Thanks," she whispered back.
A couple more kids came up for pictures before Jamie caught a glimpse of Nick.
To say Nick was pissed off seeing Jamie here, as Liberty Belle, signing autographs and posing for pictures for fans, would be an understatement. He was boiling mad. It was impossible not to notice the hateful glare on his face as he glowered at her.
Jamie shuddered, and moved a bit closer to Steve as Nick strolled forward for his turn. She was worried about what would happen next.
Steve immediately recognized him. "I'll sign your sheet," he said quickly, stepping in front of Jamie. He didn't want this boy anywhere near her.
"No thanks," Nick growled. "I'm just here for an autograph and picture with Liberty, and Liberty alone."
He forced his way around Steve, and shoved his sheet of paper right under Jamie's nose.
"I should strangle you for what you did," he snarled as Jamie hurried to scrawl her name on his slip of paper. "I should beat you senseless… Thanks to you, I got kicked off the base, and when the stupid Harkin's found out, I was in so much trouble. I was grounded for over a month… So I should beat you until I make you scream. That's what I should do… but no. Instead, I'm gonna thank you…"
Jamie stared at him, her pen slipping from her fingers.
As he grabbed his autograph and moved beside her for the picture, he went on, hissing underneath his breath as he talked. "I thank you for hitting me, because if you hadn't, I'd be in your place right now. Performing stupid shows and signing autographs for dumb kids like you. What are you even doing that's so great? For all your big talk on fighting in the war, all you've done is smile and act as though the war is a joke. You're not even a War Girl anymore. You're a Show Pony."
Unlike with Becky, Jamie had no retort for this. She just kept a smile on her face as the photographer snapped the picture. It wasn't until Nick was gone did she allow herself to frown. She so badly wanted to cry, because deep down, Nick was technically right. Ever since the serum had biologically changed her, she really hadn't done anything worthwhile. Sure, the performances and all the movie cameos were fun, but she'd forgotten the real reason why she even was Liberty Belle. In her thrill of performing, she'd forgotten why she was here at all. Who was she even helping by doing these performances? Sure, people bought the bonds, but she herself wasn't doing anything to help the war.
"I'm afraid that's all the time we have for tonight," said Steve suddenly. All over the theatre, there was a great shout of protest from all the kids still waiting to see them. Even Jamie looked up in surprise at his words. They usually stayed with the fans for at least another hour. "I'm afraid Liberty and I are needed for an important battle against the Germans. Good night!"
And before Jamie could react or their fans could protest, Steve grabbed Jamie's hand and began dragging her out of the main hall of the theatre and towards their dressing rooms. She waited until they were safely inside the dressing room with the door shut before turning to him.
"Why'd you end our time with the fans so soon?" she asked.
"Because it was clear you needed to get away after that," he said. "You were clearly upset after hearing what those kids had to say."
"I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"There's nothing to apologize for," Steve said, bending down on one knee to her level so as to look her straight in the eye. "It wasn't your fault. You didn't instigate anything. They chose to be mean. They wanted to see you get upset. But you didn't. You acted mature beyond your years, and I'm proud of you for that."
"'Course I am, J.J.," he said, smiling as he gently ruffled her hair behind her spiked crown. "You're my sidekick. I'll always be proud of you."
Jamie beamed at him, her sad thoughts fading away. "Thank you, Steve."
There was a sudden knock on the door.
"Come in," Steve called out.
The door opened to reveal Senator Brandt and his secretary.
"Is there a problem?" Brandt asked as they entered. "You two are supposed to stay out there for a little while longer. Is everything all right?"
Jamie bit her lip. She really didn't want to explain to the Senator that Steve had ended their fan session early because she'd been upset over what Nick and Becky had said to her. It was humiliating.
"Everything's fine," said Steve at once. "Jamie was just getting tired. We've done so many late night shows these past few days, we haven't gotten a lot of sleep."
Jamie smiled at him in a silent thank you. He patted her shoulder in reply.
"Ah. Well, no matter. It shouldn't be a problem anymore."
"What?" said Jamie, she and Steve puzzled. "What do you mean, sir?"
"I told you both before that I had big news for you both after the show and you were done with the fans. Since you both left the fans early, I might as well tell you now."
"Tell us what?" Steve asked.
"I haven't been able to get you guys to lead platoons of your own quite yet," Senator Brandt explained, "But I did manage to convince the other politicians to let you both go to Europe."
Steve and Jamie stared, not believing their own ears.
"We're going to the battlefield? Really?" Jamie asked, her excitement unmistakable in her voice. Brandt nodded.
"Wait, I'm confused," Steve interjected. "If we're not going to be fighting just yet, why are you sending us to Europe?"
"It's for another tour," Brandt clarified. "A morale-boosting tour for the troops. Better pack your bags, Captain, Liberty. You're both heading to Italy."