The crowd of the New York World's Fair could have populated a small town. Men, women, and children running about with bright smiles on their faces as they took in the new wonders, paying little to no attention to the utterly uncomfortable look on my face.
After turning down Howard's pleasant request to be his show girl I had retreated to the recruiting tent, telling myself to breathe properly as I leaned against one of the support poles, arms wrapped around my waist and eyes crammed shut. I had lit a cigarette but it was quickly forgotten, burning away pinched between my fingers.
"Excuse me, miss, are you okay?"
I jerked out of my thoughts, eyes snapping open and body tensing as I looked over to where the voice had come from. He was at least a head shorter than me and had to weigh half my weight. He had blonde hair and blue eyes, both bordering on disturbingly perfect. His clothes didn't look like they fit him like they should have but they suited him none the less. While all of this was surprising enough it was the look of pure concern on his face that got me.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he said, holding his hands up in the universal sigh of 'I mean no harm.'
I shook my head and wasn't able to keep back the small smile. "It's alright," I told him, my voice surprisingly soft.
He gave a small smile of his own before the concern was back full bore. "Are you okay?" he asked again.
"You're the first person to ask me that," I stated. "Hundreds of people here and nobody notices except for you. Why?"
He cleared his throat, suddenly looking nervous. "I-I just hate seeing a dame-a woman-a lady-" he broke off with a suffering sigh.
My smile grew at that. "Not a lot of people care these days. They just keep their head down, pretend they don't notice," I accused, glancing up to said passing crowd. "Something tells me that you don't do that."
"It's not right," he said, a slight resolve sweeping over his face. "If you can help you should."
I looked over to the entrance of the tent, watching the young men flow in and out. "Are you going to enlist, then?"
"I'm going to try," he stated.
I had seen handfuls of men like him during the first war. Men who knew they wouldn't last long on the battle field but wouldn't give up till they tried to make a difference, men who were willing to die for a cause they believed in.
"The army needs more men like you," I mused, grimacing slightly when the slow burn of the cigarette reached my fingers. I let it drop to the ground, my foot reaching out to crush it. "Most soldiers are just boys who thought it would be fun."
He frowned at that, seeming to understand a little too well. "Bullies fighting bullies."
"That's how the song usually goes," I agreed. "Honestly, I'm getting tired of hearing it."
A reassuring smile pulled at his lips. "It'll get better."
"You sound very sure about that."
"I have a feeling."
I raised an eyebrow. "Are they usually right?"
"So far," he answered with a small chuckle.
I chuckled with him before holding my hand out to him. "I'm Eleanor, by the way."
He looked between me and my hand before clearing his throat and grabbing it. "Steve."
"Well, Steve," I said, noting how gentle his hold on my hand was, "I think you're going to do something great."
It was his turn to be surprised. "Really?"
I nodded. "I have a feeling."
He laughed lightly, still a little surprised. "You know, you never answered my question. Are you okay?"
I nodded with that smile he had put on my face. "I am now."
A blush dusted across his cheeks as he cleared his throat and shot his eyes to the ground. "Oh, sorry," he said when he realized he was still holding my hand and let it fall. "I didn't mean to-"
"You're fine, Steve," I assured him.
He nodded quickly and glanced over to the tent entrance, that spark back in his eye.
"You should go before you lose your nerve," I told him, silently cursing myself for suggesting he leave.
His head snapped back up to me; that resolved expression back on his face. "Thank you, Eleanor."
My eyebrows pulled together. "For what?"
"For not telling me that I can't do it."
My heart clenched at that, knowing form his tone that he was probably told that about a lot of things. "I think you can do anything you set your mind to," I told him. "Good luck, Steve."
He gave me an appreciative nod and walked off.
I pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly, his scent swirling around my head as I committed it to memory, hoping that, one day, I would see him again.
I looked back to the crowd and found Howard making his way over, a bright smile on his face.
"It flew!" he exclaimed, practically jumping over to me in excitement.
I gave him an amused look. "It hovered for 10 seconds then died," I stated.
His smiled dropped. "You saw that?"
"I think all of New York saw that," I told him with a chuckle before wrapping my arm around his shoulders and pulling him into a side hug. "I'm sure you'll get it working. I mean, that big head of yours has to be for something, right?" I asked, reaching up to flick his forehead.
He rolled his eyes as his arm wrapped around my waist. "Come on, let's get some Cotton Candy," he said before leading me off to one of the carts.
~One Week Later~
"Howard, for the last time, yes, I have everything I need," I sighed, watching as the genius paced around the barrack room I would have to myself due to the fact that I was the only female at the base. "Hell, I have things I didn't know existed. I'm going to be okay."
He stopped in the center of the room and held his hands up. "I just want to make sure that my El is as comfortable as she can be," he stated.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm not your El," I told him. "You make me sound like your dog."
He let out a laugh. "Well…."
"Hey!" I snapped before flinging my pillow at him.
He caught it just before it hit his face. "Alright, I'll leave," he said, tossing the pillow back to me before walking over. "Have fun, El. Beat these lounge lizards into shape."
"I shall do my best," I told him. "Have fun with Ab. Please don't blow yourself up again."
He waved me off. "That was a onetime thing," he told me. "Won't happen again. Ever."
I nodded slowly. "Huh, whatever you say, Howard," I said, patting his shoulder.
"Shut up," he told me, pressing a kiss to my cheek before heading out the door. "Try not to kill any of them!" he called behind him.
I waved after him as he hopped in his car and drove off, leaving behind him a trail of dust till the tree line. "Overgrown child," I muttered before heading back inside to put on my uniform. I grabbed the package and tore into it like a child at Christmas. I couldn't hold back the laughter that came from me when I found a tan pencil skirt in my hands.
"Agent Eleanor Howlett reporting for duty!" I called as soon as I stepped through Colonel Chest Phillips' door, snapping into a perfect salute with a bright smile.
He looked up from his paperwork and gave me a dry look. "Yes, I can see that," he said before looking me over. "Didn't we give you the female uniform?" he questioned.
"You did. Laughed my ass off when I saw it," I told him.
He chuckled lightly. "I thought you would get a kick out of it," he stated before pushing a stake of folders closer to me. "The candidates," he told me.
"When do they get here?" I asked, picking the top file up and flipping through it, a little sad to find that he was a high school dropout.
"Tonight," he answered. "Too late to really do anything so training starts early tomorrow morning."
"I'm guessing that's my responsibility?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
He shook his head. "Despite your accomplishments you're not completely responsible for all of them," he told me. "The training will be split up between you and another drill sergeant. Though your training will be more 'in the field' than him seeing as you're the only one whose actually seen combat."
Colonel Philips finding out about my past hadn't been something I nor Howard or Ab had anticipated. He had showed up at Ab and Howard's lab a week after I had met him with a file marked 'Unknown Soldier.' Inside was every scrap of information that could be found on me during the other wars. Pictures of me in the trenches with my brothers, letters to HQ about me from other officers, and of course several of my death certificates. All three of us had attempted to deny the truth but then Philips pulled 2 photos of his own out. The first was a grainy picture from the Civil War, the soldiers lined up in uniform as they posed for their platoon photo. The second was similar although the quality was higher and the uniforms were different as they too posed for their platoon photo. The two things both photos held in a stark similarity was me and a Phillips.
The Civil War was chaos for everyone. People were flooding to join and when it came to enlisting they were pretty lax. My brothers and I didn't officially start fighting in the war till we found a battle ground and several uniforms still in good condition. World War 1 was a little more organized but just as easy to get into. That time, however, we had stuck with a squad of soldiers stationed in the trenches, the men never asking any question about where we had come from or who we were. They simply knew us as J, V, and E.
It had shocked me at first to find that I fought with Chester's father and Chester himself, but then I remembered all the familiar faces at the memorials and realized that it wasn't that strange.
"You've seen it too," I reminded him.
He gave me a look. "True, but between you and me, you're the only one who can still crawl under barbed wire without throwing their back out."
I let out a snort and dropped the file back to his desk. "You're not that old. I'm a 105 and you don't see me complaining."
"Ha. Ha," he said, his voice reaching a whole new level of monotone. "Get out of here," he said, waving his hand towards the door.
I chuckled. "Goodnight, Chester," I said as I stepped back out the door.
Saying that I wasn't a morning person would be an understatement. They hung over me like a rain cloud and anyone unfortunate enough to be around me at the time would get caught in the down pour.
Being too tired to care about little to nothing, I walked across the training fields dressed in the army green pants I had bullied out of one of the corporals, the standard white T-Shirt hanging loose around my shoulders, black combat boots on my feet and a cigarette hanging from my lips. I knew what kind of sight I must have looked but I found it rather difficult to care.
The candidates were lined up in a neat row in the middle of the chaos that was the base, clean uniforms pressed and hopeful looks on their faces as they took it all in.
Taking one last drag I crushed the cigarette into the grass and walked over, fully intended to make this the worst morning of their existence when I saw him.
Surprisingly my day looked a little brighter.
"Attention!" I shouted once I was close enough, a smile pulling at my lips when they managed to make their backs straighter. I clasped my hands behind my back and began the pace, looking them over as I went. "I am Agent Howlett and I will be overseeing your training along with-"
"I didn't know they let broads into the army. Thought they left them at home in the kitchen?"
I came to a stop in front of a particularly brood of a boy, a goofy ass smile on his lips as he considered himself a witty man for insulting their commanding officer. He probably thought he would get away with it. "What's your name?" I asked, straightening my own back and looking him level in the eye.
"Gilmore Hodge, sweetheart," he answered with a wink.
I gave him a soft smile. "Gilmore, would you do me the favor of taking a step forward?" I asked, attempting to make my tone as 'innocent' as I could make it.
His smile grew as he did just that. "Are we going to dance?" he asked, glancing back at the other boys around him. "Cause I've got some moves you'd like."
I chuckled lightly and nodded. "Perfect," I said before snapping my arm forward.
A satisfying crunch and a howl of pain filled the air as he fell to the ground, clutching helplessly at his nose.
"Aw, broken noses always hurt," I stated, looking down at him, my smile now gone. "Imagine what a bullet to the chest or a knife to the back feels like."
He stared up at me, his eyes wide with fear and shock.
"You are here because you are a candidate to be something bigger than yourself. If you can't get past your own ego then I don't see a reason for you being here," I told him, a growl mixing in with my voice. "Speak out like that again and I'll break more than your nose, do you understand me?"
"Yebs, Ma'am," he spoke, his voice taking on the comical mispronunciation that came with a broken nose.
"Get back in line."
He crawled to his feet, streams of blood trailing to the ground as he did so, one of his hands still helplessly pressed to his face.
I looked over my shoulder and found Phillips climbing out a jeep, a smile already on his face as he looked Hodge over.
"I see you're breaking in the new candidates," he said, his tone far too chipper for this early in the morning. "For future reference, gentlemen, Agent Howlett holds grudges and has permission to do whatever she sees fit with your pitiful little lives," he said, his eyes landing on Hodge once again. "God have mercy on your soul."
I couldn't help but smile at that.
Phillips shot me a smile of his own before he started to pace in front of the men. "General Patton has said that wars are fought with weapons, and they are won by men," he said, his voice carrying. "We are going to win this war because we have the best-" he broke off when his eyes came to my new favorite, "men," he continued, shooting a look behind me. "And because they are going to get better. Much better."
I raised an eyebrow and looked behind me only to find Dr. Abraham Erskine standing a few feet behind me, an innocent smile on his face.
"The Strategic Scientific Reserve is an Allied effort made up of the best minds in the free world. Our goal is to create the best army in history but every army starts with one man. At the end of this we, will choose that man. He will be the first in a new breed of super-solider. And they will personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of hell."
It always amazed me how peaceful military camps were at night. The crickets chirped, the stars shone bright and the overall sense of solidarity almost made the outside world vanish. After years of trenches and front lines military bases had become twisted versions of sanctuaries, the calm before storms. Victor held a strong dislike for bases. He often compared them to the gates that kept racehorses back. It gave him a certain anxiety that made the other soldiers nervous. Jimmy found them to be a false sense of security. He said that they give the men hope, hope that the rest of the war is just as organized; just as controlled. I, on the other hand, happened to love false senses of security.
"Can we help you, Agent Howlett?"
I snapped out of my thoughts and found two M.P.s watching me with questioning looks. I gave them both an easy smile and shook my head. "Just taking a late night stroll, gentlemen," I told them. "At ease."
They both nodded and we passed each other with a mutual understanding.
I glanced back at them before turning down the walkway that ran in front of the barracks. I came to another stop when I spotted a figure sitting on one of the steps. "Steve," the name slipped from my lips before I could stop them.
His head snapped down and surprise slapped across his face. "Eleanor- I mean, Agent Howlett," he said, practically throwing himself off the stairs to stand at attention.
I startled laugh left me as I shook my head. "No, you don't have to do that," I told him, walking closer to him. "It's just us."
"But you're an agent," he protested.
I pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I have found myself in a very compromising position of favoritism," I told him.
Confusion pulled at his face. "Favoritism?"
I nodded. "Fortunately," I answered.
He shook his head. "I don't understand, ma'am."
"You're the only one who noticed," I reminded him.
A slight blush creeped across his cheeks as he glanced down at the ground.
"I was hoping that I would see you again but I didn't think it would be like this," I mused.
His head snapped up again. "You were?" he asked.
"You made a lasting impression on me," I told him, an easy smile on my lips. "I wanted to see how things turned out for you."
He laughed lightly and glanced back at the barracks. "I think they turned out swell," he stated.
I nodded. "Yeah, I think so too," I told him. "I also think that you're the best candidate."
He looked back to me with surprise once again. "You do?"
My eyebrows shot up. "You have seen the others, would you pick any of them?"
"I think it's too early to decide," he stated. "It's only been a day."
I couldn't help the smile that stretched across my lips. "That right there," I said, pointing a finger at him. "You're in a competition but you want a fair chance for your competitors. Not a lot of men would think like that."
"More men should," he stated before a flash of anger crossed his face. "What Hodge said was completely out of line. You shouldn't be spoken to like that, agent or not," he said, an underline anger to his tone.
I shrugged, honestly a little flattered at his defense of me. "I think I handled the situation pretty well."
He nodded quickly. "I don't think anyone would question you on that," he said, a large smile pulling at his face. "You've got a mean right hook."
"It's been said," I agreed with a chuckle, remembering all the times Jimmy had told me just that. "Are you ready for tomorrow?"
He sighed and his smile dropped slightly, that resolved look back in his eyes. "Won't know till I get there," he answered.
I let out a huff of laughter and nodded. "I suppose not," I mused. "Get some sleep, Steve, you're going to need it."
He nodded, the smile still on his lips. "Goodnight, Eleanor," he said, backing up towards the stairs.
"Sweet dreams, Steve," I said, waving to him.
He waved back before the back of his heel hit the last stair and he stumbled.
I held in the laugh that threatened to bubble up as I spun around and headed back towards the officer's barracks.
The week flew by faster than I had thought it would, the candidates training going frustratingly well, all but Steve doing perfectly.
He had got his foot caught in the rope wall.
Hodge had knocked over one of the barbed wire posts while Steve army crawled under it.
And now I was waiting at the half way point of their full gear run, looking over the boring paper work Philips had pushed onto me.
"Pick up the pace, ladies!" the drill sergeant yelled. 'Let's go, let's go! Double time!"
I growled at the volume of his voice and turned in my seat to glare at the sweating men running up the trail. I was about to turn back to the papers before I noticed that Steve was at the back of the pack, out of formation by at least twenty yards while he struggled to get the air he desperately needed.
"Faster! Faster! Move! Move!" the sergeant yelled before they got to the flag pole. "Squad, halt!" he yelled.
They all stopped, panting like overrun dogs.
The drill sergeant point up to the tattered base flag. "That flags means we're only at the halfway point. First man to bring it to me gets a ride back with Agent Howlett!" he told them, gesturing over to me and the jeep. "Move! Move!"
They convulsed on the flag pole, throwing themselves at it like rabid animals. Each trying to pull themselves up the pole while pulling the others down.
"Come on! Get up there!" he yelled. "If that's all you got this army's in trouble! Get up there, Hodge!"
I narrowed my eyes as the arrogant man attempted to pull himself up the pole, praying that he would fall and break something. My prayer was answered as he slipped and fell to the ground, the men stepping on him in an attempt to get their own shot at the pole.
"Nobody's got that flag in 17 years!" the drill sergeant said, overly smug at that fact. "Now fall back into line! Come on, fall in!"
I sighed and looked back to the papers, more than a little relieved that Hodge hadn't gotten the stupid flag.
"Rogers, I said fall in!"
I jerked back around, my eyes instantly finding Steve as he reached down at the base of the poll and pulled a pin free. The ten foot tall poll fell to the ground, a clang sounding through the air. Steve tossed the pin over his shoulder and strutted over to the flag, pulled it free, bundled it up and handed it to the sergeant.
"Thank you, sir," he said before walking over to the jeep and climbing in.
I couldn't help the bright smile that pulled at my lips, a little surprised that I got one back. I couldn't help but laugh and look back at the other who were still in shock over the fact that the man they had beat down on bested them. "I guess it's true," I stated as the M.P. started the jeep and took off down the road.
"What's true?" Steve asked, the smile still on his face.
"That brain beats brawn," I answered, leaning against the back of my seat.
He glanced away as a small blush touched his cheeks.
"How's your asthma?" I asked, silently hoping that he wasn't going to have an attack. I didn't know much about it but I knew that running five miles at full tilt wasn't a sublime condition for it.
Still smiling, he sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing I can't handle," he told me.
"I'm really glad you made it," I admitted. "I think I would have thrown Hodge out if he had gotten that flag."
He shook his head. "He just doesn't understand that there's more to a problem than the solution."
"And you still insist that the others have a chance," I mused, chuckling as I shook my head. "You'll make a great leader, Steve."
"It's only been a week," he argued. "I mean, Rome wasn't built in a day."
"True," I agreed. "But they knew its potential from the beginning."
He opened his mouth to counter but seemed to lose whatever it was he was going to say.
With a pleased smile I faced the proper way and placed my feet up onto the dash, a feeling of self accomplishment sweeping through me.
The annoying burn of the up and down of pushups had set into my arms but I knew that it had to be worse for the others. "Come on, boys!" I called, raising my head to watch them struggle to follow me. "Just a few more!"
Groans of frustrations left them as they complied, dipping themselves towards the ground again.
"You're not thinking about picking Rogers, are you?"
I looked over to the supply truck to find Phillips and Ab watching us.
"I'm more than just thinking about it. He is the clear choice."
"When you brought a 90-pound asthmatic onto my army base, I let it slide. I thought 'what the hell' maybe he'll be useful to you, like a gerbil. Plus Eleanor seems to like him. I never through you'd pick him."
I pushed myself to my feet. "Jumping jacks!" I called, easily falling into the movement as I kept my ears on the two men.
"You stick a needle in that kid's arm, it's gonna go right through him. Look at that. He's making me cry."
I glanced over to Steve and found him struggling.
"I am looking for qualities beyond the physical."
"Do you know how long it took to set up this project? All the groveling I had to do in front of Senator what's-his-name's committees?"
"Brandt," Ab informed him. "Yes, I know. I am well aware of your efforts."
"Then throw me a bone. Hodge passed every test we gave him. He's big, he's fact. He obeys orders. He's a soldier."
"He is a bully."
"You don't win wars with niceness, Doctor. You win wars with guts."
My heart dropped at the familiar sound of a grenade hitting the ground reached my ears.
"Grenade!" one of the sergeants yelled.
Spotting the weapon a few yards away I moved to run for it but froze when Steve dove for it.
He curled in on himself, the grenade trapped between his torso and legs. "Get back!" he called when he spotted me. "Get back!"
I pulled in a sharp breathe and suddenly I was gone.
Dirt and blood flew through the air as another grenade went off, screams of pain and shouts of panic following after. I lowered my arms and looked over to where my brothers had been standing to find them attempting to get a retaliation against the enemy. Comforted in knowing that they were still in one peace I looked over to where the blast had come from and had to keep myself from screaming.
His name was Harry Wilson and he had a wife and three children at home. He had a dog named Max and his parents had passed away the year before. He had once known why he had joined the war but as soon as he entered the trenches he had forgotten and often cried when he thought of his family.
Harry's fingers dug into the ground as he tried to drag himself towards me, mouth hanging open as blood dripped down his chin and his eyes glazed over. His waist was nothing more than a shredded mess of flesh while what was left of his legs lay farther down the trench. A trail of blood followed him as he struggled, the red staining the ground below him.
Mangled words escaped his bloodstained lips before a wheeze left him and he went limp.
I jerked in a sharp breath as the trenches faded and the base came back. I forced myself to blink several times as I shoved the memory as far back as I could.
I focused my eyes and found Ab standing in front of me, a concerned look on his face.
"Are you alright?" he asked, his voice soft.
"Steve," I whispered out, flashes of dismembered bodies filling my head.
"He is fine," he assured me. "It was just a dummy grenade."
He nodded quickly. "Yeah, yeah, see?" he asked before moving over slightly to show a worried looking Steve seated next to a grenade.
Relief flooded over me at that but the sick twist in my stomach didn't lessen. I pulled in a shutter of a breath and took a step backwards, my head shaking slightly. "I-I can't…." I stuttered out.
Ab nodded gently and casted a look over my shoulder. "That is perfectly fine."
I jumped when hands appeared on my shoulders but relaxed when Phillips scent reached me.
"He's still skinny," he told Ab before leading me off in the direction of the barracks. "What happened?" he asked once we were out of earshot.
I shook my head a little more forcefully. "The trenches," I said, my voice shaking.
His step faltered slightly but he continued forward, a knowing look on his face. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault I'm screwed in the head," I stated, my heart already starting to slow.
"It's not yours either," he reminded me.
I took in and let out several deep breathes. "If I can't handle something like that then I shouldn't be on the front lines."
Phillips gave me a pointed look. "It's different there than it is here, we both know that," he said. "If you want my honest opinion you shouldn't be here; you should be with your brothers."
"You don't think I tried?" I demanded, glaring over at him. "Victor had to stop me from mugging a recruit for his uniform."
An amused laugh left him at that and he shook his head. "Do you know where they are?"
I shook my head again. "I know where they started but we never stay in one place for too long. Too many questions start to pop up when you're the last few still alive."
He gave me another concerned look. "Are you going to be okay?"
I cleared my throat and nodded. "It's nothing new," I answered.
He sighed and came to a stop outside my barracks. "Get some rest. I'll have someone bring you dinner later."
"Thanks," I said before making my way up the stairs.
The knock at the door pulled me from my vacant daze. I glance down at the open book in my hands before closing it and tossing it to the foot of the bed. "Come in."
The door creaked open and Steve peeked his head in.
"Sorry to bother you," he said, stepping in. "Colonel Phillips said you hadn't eaten since this morning and…." he trailed off, gesturing to the covered tray in his hands.
I sighed, feeling a little disappointed in myself for not knowing that Phillips would send him. "Thank you, Steve," I said, holding my hands out for it.
He walked forward and passed it to me, his eyes scanning across my face with that worried crease between his eyebrows back. "Are you okay?"
I laughed softly, all humor gone. "We have to stop starting conversations with that question," I told him.
"Alright," he mused before clearing his throat. "Thank you."
"What did I do this time?" I asked, picking up the fork and poking at the untrustworthy looking meat.
"I don't think I would have made it this far if you hadn't been here," he stated, a certain solidarity to his tone.
I made a noise of disagreement as I took of bite. "I don't think that's true," I said, my face pulling slightly in disgust when I realized I couldn't identify the meat. "It's like I told you at the fair. You can do anything you set your mind to."
He let out a slightly frustrated sigh. "You have no idea what you did, do you?" he asked.
I looked up to him, slightly alarmed. "What did I do?"
"Eleanor, you are the only person besides my mother who believed I could do something like this," he told me, "and you didn't even know me. I have gone my whole life having people tell me that I can't do something because of what's wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong with you," I stated firmly, that familiar anger from being told the same thing bubbling up. "People are cruel. If they see something that doesn't fit their definition of normal they get scared. Telling you that you can't do something was their way of trying to get rid of you because you're different than them," I explained. "There's not a damn thing wrong with being different, Steve," I told him, a smile pulling at my lips. "And you know that or you wouldn't be here trying to prove it."
"I'm not trying to prove something," he denied.
"You are to yourself," I stated. "It's like you said. You've had people telling you your whole life that you can't do something, and you've spent an equal amount of time telling yourself that you can. If there was ever a time to prove something to yourself," I shrugged," this would be it."
He watched me for a moment before letting out a rather big breath. "How do you always manage to be one step ahead of me?"
"Practice," I answered before pointing down at the tray. "Do you know what that is because I don't."
He laughed at the sudden subject change. "Haven't a clue."
"That's great," I said, dropping my fork and picking up the apple. I took a rather generous bite and glanced out the widow, my smile returning when I spotted the recruits being loaded onto a bus. "They picked you, huh?" I asked.
A blush flushed across his face as he nodded. "Yes."
"Told you," I mused, looking back to him. "Ab told you what's going to happen?"
"Are you nervous?"
"Wouldn't you be?"
I chuckled lightly. "I would be terrified," I told him. "But you seem to have a certain bravery that I don't so you'll be fine."
He shook his head. "Now that's not true," he argued. "I saw you move forward when that dummy grenade dropped. I was just closer."
I lost my smile at that. "I still can't believe you did that," I mused. "What that would have done to you if it was real," I said, the memory of Harry flashing through my head, a grimace pulling at my lips when the smell of burnt flesh followed.
Steve shifted his weight, his eyes glancing down at the floor before he looked back to me. "I know it's none of my business but…what happened?" he asked, his tone cautious.
I let out a long sigh, deciding that this probably wasn't going to be the last time he saw it. "It's called Shell Shock," I answered. "It's mostly flashbacks but there are moments of disorientation or forgetting where you are. You'll see or hear something and it just takes you over. It's a side effect of over exposure to war."
His eyebrows pulled together. "Over exposure?" he asked. "But you…..you've seen combat?"
I shot him an amused smirk. "I didn't earn the title Agent by sitting on my ass, you know," I told him. "I can't tell you much because most of it's classified but I can tell you that I've been at it for three years.
He wasn't doing a very good job at masking his astonishment. "Three years?"
I nodded. "They recruited me in '39."
His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "They recruited you?"
I couldn't help but laugh at the amazement in his tone. "I don't know if you've noticed but I'm kind of special," I stated, flashing him a cocky smirk before taking another bite of the apple, my cheeks puffing out from the size of it.
Steve let out a snort of laughter before he caught himself. "Oh, no, I've noticed," he said. "It's kind of hard not to."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment," I told him. "Speaking of special, do you believe me now?" I demanded.
"Believe what?" he sighed.
"I've been telling you from the very beginning that it would be you but you never believed me," I accused. "Even Ab knew then but Phillips wouldn't let him skip the trials."
He looked a little helpless. "Really?"
I hummed an agreement. "There's something about you, Steve Rogers," I told him. "I don't know what it is but it instills a lot of hope."
His cheeks pinked once again, an almost uneasy smile on his lips. "I'm just a kid from Brooklyn."
"And I'm a house wife," I deadpanned, taking another large bite. "You need to start seeing yourself a little more clearly or we're going to have a problem. How are you going to escort Hitler to the gates of hell if you don't think you're special? Because that's pretty damn special."
He chuckled weakly. "That's only if it works."
"It'll work," I assured him. "This whole thing is too ridiculous not to."
Steve let out a humorless laugh. "Oh, thanks."
I shot him a wink before footsteps outside the window caught my attention. I peered out and found Ab standing on the sidewalk, his hands in his pockets and a pensive look on his face.
Steve followed my gaze and cleared his throat. "Uh, big day tomorrow, I should head in early."
"Okay," I allowed, my smile once again returning. "Thank you for bringing me dinner."
He nodded quickly. "Any time," he said, backing towards the door. "You're going tomorrow, right?" he asked, a hopeful look on his face.
"I'm the one escorting you."
He let out a small sigh. "Swell. I'll see you in the morning then."
"Make sure you actually sleep," I told him, giving him a pointed look. "We don't need you dozing off during the procedure."
He dipped his head. "I'll try. Goodnight, Eleanor."
"Goodnight, Steve," I said, not really surprised that I found myself disappointed in his departure, the new feeling having bubbled up two weeks ago. I watched the door for a moment longer, allowing my thoughts to wonder about the possibilities of tomorrow before I remembered that Ab was waiting outside. Taking another bite from the apple I pushed myself up from the bed and out the door Steve had just exited.
"I did not mean to interrupt you," Ab said as soon as I was close enough, a regretful look on his face.
I shook my head and gave him an easy smile. "It's fine," I assured him. "What's wrong?"
"Why should anything be wrong?" he questioned back.
I rolled my eyes. "Well, you smell like Snopes," I stated, a teasing smile on my lips. "That crease between your eyebrows is back, you've been chewing your lips, and you keep shifting your weight back and forth. If something wasn't bothering you then you would standing as still as a rock, plus you would be on your way to the lab. Ergo, something is bothering you."
He let out a sigh and shook his head. "You are far too observant for my liking," he said. "Yes, I suppose something is bothering me."
"And that something is?" I pressed.
I nodded slowly. "In what context?"
"What if tomorrow does not go as planned?" he asked. "What if I send a good man to his death?"
"'Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you will get the result'," I said, letting my head drop back to look at the orange colored sky, a few stars already shinning.
Ab chuckled lightly. "Oscar Wilde."
"He's not wrong," I mused. "You've been working on this for over a year, it's going to be fine."
"Jesus Christ, Ab, if you're not confident then what the fuck are the rest of us supposed to do?" I demanded, giving him a pointed look.
His eyes widened and after a moment he chuckled. "I think I shall never be used to that mouth of yours," he stated, a smile pulling at his lips.
"I would be severally worried if you did, Ab," I told him. "Are you sure that the serum is done?"
"Are you sure that the equipment Howard made is done?"
He nodded again.
"Are you sure that Steve can make it through this?"
He nodded once again.
"Then there isn't a damn thing for you to be worried about," I said, taking the last bite from my apple. "I mean, the worse that can happen is he turns out like Schmidt."
He let out a startled laugh and nodded. "Yes, yes, I suppose that's right," he allowed.
"Good. Now why don't you head over to the lab and go over everything with Howard one more time so you can actually get some sleep," I suggested, flashing him a smile.
He sighed and nodded. "I shall do that," I told me. "Thank you, Eleanor, you were most helpful," he said, reaching out to pat my shoulder before walking back down the path he had come from. "Pleasant dreams!" he called.
I chuckled and shook my head, chucking the apple core towards the trees and dropping my head back to look at the stars. "It's moments like these that would be convenient if I was the praying type," I mused.
Here we go, ladies and gentlemen! The first chapter of Forever Vigilant's Rewrite!