Acceptance


Humid Virginia air is the first thing that greets me as I step out of the rented vehicle. I balk almost immediately from the early evening sun, silently curse my brother for even thinking about moving here, and then finish getting out of the car.

The house at least looks unchanged in the fifty years since my brother Matthew purchased it, since 1943 in fact. Sprawling green ivy clings to the beige brick walls, and the brown paint on the windows look as though someone just went over them with a paintbrush recently. The granite steps leading to the covered porch look clean as well, except for the fact that there are little dried-mud footprints on them. As I walk slowly up the stairs, I see that the footprints lead straight to the door before vanishing, marring the otherwise extremely clean porch and chairs.

My annoyance at having to leave London for this trip evaporates almost immediately once my nephew, Harrison Carter, opens the door. I wonder briefly if he had just been sitting at the door, waiting for my arrival, but I do not ask as he pulls me into a hug. "Thank you so much, Aunt, for coming out on such short notice," he says as he steps back, his furrowed brow seemingly etched into his forehead.

"Anything for my favorite nephew," I say, smiling up at him while wondering if he saw my irritation while I had been getting out of the car.

"Your only nephew," he reminds me, offering a cheeky grin. I see a flash of my brother in that smile, and I ignore the slight twinge in my heart.

I mourn for so many now, so many since those dark days of 1943. First the man who worked a miracle, after him was a friend, and then after him, I lost the first and last man ever to touch my heart. My brother was the fourth in the long line, since he was taken long before his time.

I hope Harrison does not see my expression as I walk into the grand foyer. He is talking – extremely fast – about the latest news from Washington DC. The intelligence agent that is still within me is listening carefully while I look around the foyer, noting the subtle changes in the room. The painting of George Washington that Anne Carter favored so much used to be above the main entryway to the rest of the house. But it had disappeared, and in its place is a colored photograph of President John F. Kennedy in a gold-gilded frame. The crystal vase that was a wedding gift from my brother to his wife is gone as well as its stand. In its place is a brightly colored plastic bird that appears to serve no functional purpose whatsoever.

I don't know who would scream louder if Anne and I had seen it at the same time. Probably Anne, she had a set of lungs on her.

"Aunt Peggy?"

I turn back to Harrison, who looks extremely anxious. No doubt he is worried about the level of stress I'd endured to come to the States despite my seventy-five years. "Sorry Harrison, just looking at how much things have changed here since the last time I was here," I say, offering a small smile to reassure him.

Harrison looked sheepish. "Yeah… Mother would have killed Amanda by now if she saw what Amanda did to the backyard," he says finally, looking embarrassed.

"Pray tell, what did she do now?" I ask as I walk with him toward the large living room. Amanda, his wayward wife, I suspect is in the parlor doing God knows what. She was popular at first with Harrison's parents at first, and I hadn't thought much of her when we were introduced. I don't know when or what caused the falling-out between Amanda and Harrison's parents, and I don't ask. Just as long as Amanda and Harrison get their happy story and ending together, I am fine with her.

My throat tightens at the thought of happy endings. Fate had given me mine, only to cruelly snatch it back almost two years later.

Harrison unconsciously clears his throat, which he does when he is extremely nervous. It also reclaims my attention. "She…she put a large swimming pool out back, deep in the ground. She avoided Mother's old rose garden, but, well, I know someone would disapprove," he says, looking faintly panicky.

I grimace, thinking of Matthew. "Your father might have minded a bit," I finally say.

Harrison snorts. "Father would have yelled, and Mother would have cried. They specifically chose this place because of the gorgeous view in the back of the house," he says. "And now Amanda marred that too. That's what Father would have said."

I say nothing, agreeing silently in Harrison's assessment. His panic turns to wariness as we approach the living room, as he is no doubt expecting his wife to be waiting for us in there. I however figure that a pool would be nice, especially once Harrison's little girl starts learning how to swim if she hasn't already.

I frown as I think of the little blond rascal, as it occurs to me that I have been in the house for more than ten minutes and I have seen neither hide nor hair of her. But I don't have time to ask after my great-niece; Amanda Carter is sitting in the living room, her spine straight and stiff as though she were offended, and her very presence is permeating coldness into the otherwise warm family room. Her light blond hair is turning silver, and I can see the stress lines forming around her mouth already.

Since it is Amanda, I know it can be anything at all. A quick cursory glance around the room shows that nothing is out of place, from the white curtains to the tan divan near the couch that Amanda was sitting in. The carpet, new since my last visit, is a light cream color. The only sharp contrast to the lightness of the room is the blue floral-patterned curtains on the window.

"Tea? Coffee?" Harrison says, turning to look at me. I wave him off.

"Not to worry. I am more interested in hearing what this emergency is, the one that you spoke about on the phone," I say, turning to face Harrison.

"Right. It's… it's Sharon," he finally says, sitting wearily down in his seat. I listen carefully now, focused on his words. He sighs and begins again. "She…I still don't completely understand what happened. She came home crying one day about a friend of hers, and more or less locked herself up in her room for the rest of the day. Amanda said she didn't know why Sharon was upset, just that she was when Amanda picked her up from school. We, Amanda and I, tried persuading her to come down for dinner, but somehow she locked herself in. I ended up cutting out the chunk of door around the doorknob, I couldn't think of how else to get in," he says, looking even more tired than usual.

"What happened with her friend?" I ask, curiosity tugging at me now.

Harrison shrugged. "She won't talk to me or Amanda for that matter… I was actually hoping you would be able to speak with her. Figure out what is wrong, and maybe how we can fix it," he says anxiously.

Amanda refuses to look at me.

I ignore her. Instead, I say, "Are you sure Sharon will remember me? I haven't seen her since she was four."

Harrison looks pained and then says, "Please?"

Finally I nod. "Where is she?" I ask.

"Upstairs in her bedroom. Same place as last time," he says, looking grateful. "Do you need help going up the stairs?"

I arch an eyebrow, and he clams up, looking sheepish at the same time. For a moment, I am taken back to a private plane flying straight in to enemy territory. Only instead of Harrison Carter in front of me, it's Steven Rogers. Instead of my ability to handle household stairs, it's my apparent relationship with Howard Stark that is getting questioned. My throat tightens at the memory, because almost right away I remember the time when Steve became frustrated with me after I caught him with Private Lorraine, and the fuss over fondue that followed.

"Just be careful I guess. I'll get your bags from the car, and help you settle in while you are with Sharon," Harrison finally says, bringing me back to 1993. I can see the worry in his eyes, as though he fears that someday, I will not return back to the present. I offer him a smile before getting up.

Amanda's mouth thins even more, but she does not move as I turn toward the stairs.

I have forgotten that it is not difficult to find Sharon's bedroom. Four years may have passed since I saw her last at her fourth birthday party. I had been in the States as a favor for an old friend, and decided to come and surprise her. She had been shy at first, hiding first behind her father and then underneath her long blond hair that she'd inherited from her mother. After Harrison spent a few hours coaxing her out, she took to me quickly. I learned fast that she had a vivid imagination. Reasonably then, she was upset when I had to return home, but brightened a little when I promised to visit again, or maybe have her visit me when she was older.

Now though, Harrison said she was in tears. It is my job now to find out why.

I find her door easily enough; it is the only one in the hall that is wallpapered with crayon drawings. Harrison had somehow avoided cutting the piece of construction paper that was plastered on top of the cut that he'd made into the door. The drawings are of mostly mundane things, such as trees, yards, and a few stick figures that I realize are supposed to be people.

I hesitate; I can hear sniffling in the room. I still can remember how I was after Steve left: inconsolable and cold to the outside world. There is a chance she may not want to speak even with me.

I brush the thought aside and knock lightly. Then I walk in.

Her room is unusually tidy for an eight-year old. All of her books are stacked on the small shelf, her dirty clothes are gone from the floor, and the multitude of stuffed animals is piled on her bed. For a moment, a knife of panic slices through my heart; she is nowhere in sight and the window is open. I wonder if Harrison even bothered to at least check on her to make sure nothing was going to happen. But then a teddy bear moves on its own accord, and falls the ground with a pitiful plop. I recognize the bear then, it is a gift I had sent her two or so years ago. Then the stuffed animals move again, and I see a pair of shiny blue eyes peering at me through the hole in the pile.

I pretend not to see her, and instead turn around to 'study' the room. "This room is very neat, I wonder if Sharon is telepathic and cleaned up before I came," I say, pretending to sound surprised. Already I can sense her curiosity; Harrison apparently did not tell her I was coming. "But I can't see Sharon, so I suppose I'll have to go downstairs and wait to see her in the morning," I say, feigning disappointment in my voice.

I start toward the door. The disheartening thing is that I don't have to exaggerate or fake my sadness. It is a burden that is always there, but some days that it is bearable. Some days I can smile and pretend that I am completely fine.

Today isn't one of those days. There are too many ghosts.

"Aunt Peggy!"

I manage to brace myself just as an eight-year old bundle of energy barreled into my legs. I turn around and act surprised to see her standing there, but to my shock there is little surprise to fake. Her long blond hair is in ragged clumps around her shoulders, and her blue pajamas are wrinkled from constant use. But her large smile brightens her worn face, and I feel a smile tugging at the edge of my mouth. I kneel down to her level and say, "Sharon! How are you feeling, sweetie?"

Her face clouds over at the question, and she almost drifts away as she thinks. I carefully shut her bedroom door behind me and follow her to the bed. I wonder how far gone she is. She is only eight, and her appearance reminds me of the dark days that followed me after Steve died. The mechanical following of routines, just to have something to do and not think about the horror and pain that follows the death of a close friend or lover. The physical and emotional detachment from the rest of the world.

I watch the phantoms in Sharon's eyes. She perches precariously on the edge of the bed, staring at an invisible spot on her ceiling. "I feel… cold. Like I am missing something," she finally says, turning to face me.

"Or someone," I prompt, seeing her hesitation.

She hugs herself. "Did Daddy tell you?" she asks, her blue eyes starting to shine brightly once more as tears come.

"Just as much as he knew, which wasn't a lot," I tell her, and I feel slight concern when the tears seem to hover as another emotion stole over her face.

"Mommy knows… she was there," Sharon finally says, her brow furrowing as she remembers.

Ah. There is part of the problem. I can only imagine what Amanda did or didn't do or say that day. "What happened?" I ask.

"My… my friend Mike and I were walking home from the park," she finally says, chewing on a fingertip as she speaks. I gently take her hand and wrap it in my own as she continues. "He was walking next to me, and I showed him that I remembered to look both ways before crossing the street. He was very happy!"

"I bet he was," I say, and I have a bad feeling about where the story is going. "So what happened next?"

Sharon looks down at the floor this time, and then says very quietly, "We were crossing the road when I heard a car coming, and it sounded really fast. He heard it too, and he pushed me really hard. I hurt my elbow and knee. I heard a loud sound behind me, and when I turned around, the car and Mike were gone. There was just… something… on the road… and Mommy came by then… and… and… she said that Mike was never coming back… and… he was…"

She dissolves into tears, and I pull her close as the sobs begin. Part of me is curious about what Amanda said or did, but I shrug it off. Perhaps it is better that Amanda's words and actions stay between her and her daughter. Right now however, I know I need to take Sharon's mind off of this.

A freak accident with fatal consequences. As Sharon's small frame shakes violently as she buries her face into my dress and cries harder, my mind wanders to the last time a fatal slip brushed my life.

For a moment, I am no longer in Richmond. Instead, I am in a broken London, sitting across the rickety table from not Captain America, but Steve Rogers. He is still mourning for his lost childhood friend, James Barnes, and I can feel his grief pulsating in the air. His pain-filled eyes look up at me as I reach across the table to take his hand into mine. "It was his choice," I hear myself saying as I squeeze his hand gently to offer him a little comfort. For a moment, I imagine the warmth and strength in his hand as he responds to the gesture.

"Whose choice?"

The sharp feminine voice reminds me where and when I really am. I look down into another pair of blue pain-filled eyes; only these are shinier with fresh tears. It just occurs to me that I spoke aloud, drawing Sharon's attention back to me. "I'm sorry sweetie, I was just remembering my friend," I say in a voice that is almost a whisper.

Her eyes widen and for a moment, she forgets that she is sad too. "Was it your best friend? What is her name?" she asks as I loosen the grip I had around her.

I hesitate, unsure whether to tell her about him. After all, she is only eight years old and probably knows next to nothing of the horror that was the Second World War. She would not know the desperation and evil that saturated those dark years, the unspeakable acts that were committed on both sides. But then I remember one of the three promises I had made to Steve fifty years ago, six months after he disappeared without a trace. I sigh, and then say, "Well Sharon, first it was a boy, not a girl…"

"You had a boyfriend?" she shrieks, sitting up straight to look at me in surprise.

Despite myself, I laugh, and she finally giggles with me, as though it is an absolute scandal that I had a boyfriend at some point. The laughter slightly eases the growing ache in my chest, and I smile before sobering. "And his name was Steven Rogers," I say. "I guess you could say we were close."

"Like Mommy and Daddy?"

I give her a sad smile as I think of Harrison and Amanda. "Yes, just like Mommy and Daddy," I tell her, unwilling to break the illusion I am creating. I don't have the heart to tell her that he and I never even danced together much less married.

She is still waiting expectantly for the rest of the story. I take a deep breath and say, "When I first met him, he was a foot shorter than everyone else. He couldn't keep up with everybody else. But what really caught my attention was that he was stronger than the others. You know why?" I raise my eyebrow as I ask the question.

I smile as she immediately extends her arms and pretends to show off her arm muscles, which at this age aren't much. She frowns when I finally laugh a little while shaking my head.

I lean forward slightly. "He was the strongest right here," I whisper, pointing to her chest, where her heart is. "Although small, he had a good heart and he was very brave," I say, and realize almost right away that I am fighting back my own tears.

Sharon tilts her head at me, curiosity plainly written on her face. But she waits without speaking for me to continue talking.

I sigh and look at the ceiling, wondering how on earth I am going to tell her everything that Steve ever did. If I do that, then we are going to be sitting on this bed for hours, even days. I decide to tell her the parts that matter to me the most: about Steve himself. I can save his exploits during the war for when she is older and able to better understand. "He tried to join the army five times, but the army recruiters kept rejecting him because they didn't see his strength. But then a doctor named Abraham Erskine gave him a chance because he believed that Steve could do so much more if given the opportunity," I tell her, and smile as her eyes grow wide slightly.

She wrinkles her nose, and then asks, "Is there any kissing in this story?"

I pretend to frown, although I am curious why she arrives to that conclusion. "Why do you ask that?" I ask her.

"Because you talk about him like Mommy talks about Daddy," she says, watching my reaction carefully.

Oops, I have forgotten that children are unusually intuitive. "Do you want there to be kissing in this story?" I ask her, and then make up my mind when she scowls. No kissing, not today at least. Perhaps when she is older. "Okay, no kissing then. Do you want to hear about what he did before finally joining the army?" I ask, knowing that Steve's brief spell as a dancing monkey is more likely to be entertaining than all the gunfights he and the Howling Commandos endured throughout the years. Anyway, she wasn't old enough for the scary stories yet. In fact, as I watch her look around for her missing teddy bear, I see a little bit of innocence in her, something I haven't seen in years because of my close work to the battlefield.

I don't want her to know the horrors, the blood, and the overwhelming grief and fear I had felt during those long, dark years. Those were emotions that would greatly overshadow her grief.

I decide not to tell her the cold, hard truth of those years. Ever.

"No."

I jump at her curt refusal, and I wonder for a moment if she read my mind. I look down at her just as she says, "No, I don't want to hear what he did before the joining the army." She tilts her head in a curious manner and says, "I want to know why he made you so sad."

Oh.

I take a deep breath. I suppose I should have expected a direct child, she is my niece anyway. I finally say, "He… he and I were supposed to go dancing when he came home, but he didn't. He died to save a lot of people. So he and I didn't get our dance." I hope that is enough without scaring her further.

Sharon frowns, and I can see the questions forming. But apparently, she decides to settle on one today. "Did he promise he would dance with you?" she asks, turning to face me straight on.

I pause, my mind struggling to bring back the hazy memory. My hand had been gripping the cold microphone tightly as I strained to hear him through the crackly radio. He had asked for the rain check on our dance, had mentioned that he still didn't know how. I had reassured him that we'd start with something slow, that he had better show up at the Stork Club at eight on the dot. Most of all, I had ordered him not to be late. It was as though through those four words alone, I had the power to will him to survive the horrendous crash that was sure to follow the HYDRA bomber's descent. Through sheer desperation, those four words were my deepest request to the higher power that he survive the crash. The overwhelming grief and hopelessness that followed, crushing down on my spirit and will to live.

Those were dark days that followed, and not just because of the raging war all around us.

"Aunt Peggy?"

Sharon's chipper voice brings me back to the present. She is still watching me carefully. "I…I don't remember," I finally say while cursing my failing memory.

"If he fought, then what did you do?" she asks, her eyes widening as though she can't believe she missed such an important question.

I smile. "I worked with some friends in the Intelligence department. You know, gather information for the good guys," I say, ruffling her blond hair as I speak.

She purses her lips in an unladylike fashion, and then, hesitantly, asks, "How did he die? Did he get hurt really bad and the doctors couldn't fix him up? Like Mike?"

Again, I lose the heart to tell her that it was a suicidal mission from the start, to somehow stop the HYDRA bomber before it wiped multiple American cities off the face of the maps and the East Coast. That I tried to search for him afterwards in the North Atlantic waters, even years after the war ended. That I held on to the single hope that by some sliver of sheer dumb luck, he was still alive after all this time.

"Aunt Peggy."

"Sorry dear," I say, mentally scolding myself for disappearing on her again. "I was just thinking about him, that's all," I tell her, smiling as though to reassure the both of us.

Sharon eyes me a little longer, as though she is expecting me to disappear again. Then she says, "I miss Mike too. He was supposed to come watch me two days ago while Mommy was at the hair place. But he didn't come, so Daddy stayed home to watch me. It wasn't the same."

"I bet it wasn't. Was Daddy at least a little bit fun?" I ask, suspecting that it didn't go quite as well as Matthew had hoped; that is the day he called me asking for help.

"No," she says quietly, gripping the bear tighter.

We sit there in silence for a moment, listening to the summer crickets outside, each of us lost in our own thoughts. She is most likely thinking about Michael, and I hope that she is at least not replaying the accident in her head. I at least was spared witnessing Steve's death, and only had to deal with the aftermath. I consider my next words carefully then, and then speak. "Sweetie, you know that Mike wouldn't want you to spend the rest of your life missing him," I say carefully. I briefly wonder if Mike had become a surrogate parental figure in Sharon's life, always there when neither Harrison nor Amanda was there for her. I do know that Harrison works constantly, but I do not know how much attention Amanda spared for their only child.

"I miss him," she croaks, her blue eyes swimming in unshed tears.

"It's okay to miss someone, but he or she would want you to move on. Mike wouldn't want you to be sad forever," I say, remembering the raw pain that sometimes flared up whenever I thought of Steve.

She scrunches her face up and looks at me defiantly. "Then why did he go?" she demands, her voice thick with anger and grief.

For a split second, I am standing in front of Howard Stark in middle of the Stork Club, demanding the same question. Poor Howard, he'd just come to bring me home that night. "He left because it was his choice," I whisper, unaware I am speaking aloud.

"I wish he didn't," she whispers, tears falling down her face. "I wish…"

"Sharon, Mike didn't want to see you dead. You meant a lot to him," I tell her. She narrows her eyes, preparing a retort that is undoubtedly a jibe at my inability to let go of a fifty year old loss. I think for a moment, and then say, "How about you tell him how much he meant to you?"

She blinks, stopped in her tracks. The rant dies unsaid and she tilts her head in curiosity. "How do I tell him that? He's gone."

"Well, people can still receive mail when they're in heaven," I tell her. I try not to laugh at the stupefied expression on her face, and then say, "What you do, is you write a letter to say, Mike, and then what we do is we'll take your letter outside and burn it under the stars. The ashes will then go up into heaven and then reform into your letter so Mike can read it." Seeing her stare at the floor, hesitating to answer, I continue. "I'll write one to Steve, and we'll send both letters up, okay?"

She bites her lip, and then says, "Okay Aunt Peggy."

"Do you want to come downstairs and get some paper?"

She shakes her head, so I sigh and stand up. "I'll be right back with some paper and pencils, and then we can write our letters together," I tell her.

She just buries her head into her bear in response, and I interpret that as a yes. As I turn to leave, she says "Aunt Peggy? Do you think Steve would want you to be happy too?"

"Yes, Sharon. I think he would want me to be happy," I say, hearing my own words echoing around my head.

I am still pondering everything when I finally make my way down the stairs. I am nervous about leaving Sharon alone with her ghosts, but I hope that I reached her in time. As I am looking for loose paper in the kitchen, Harrison walks in, still wringing his hands anxiously.

"How is she?" he asks.

"Assuming my plan works, she will be fine," I assure him. After a moment of silence, I finally ask him, "Who was Mike?"

He grimaces, and then says, "Michael was her babysitter. He was a graduate student at the University of Richmond looking for summer work. Amanda's friend at the salon recommended him to us, and with my hours and Amanda's, um, schedule, it made sense to have Michael watch Sharon instead of continuing to put her in daycare. More personalized attention. He did such a good job the first summer that we kept him for the school year and the following summer… until now." Harrison at least has the decency to look embarrassed of his admission.

His explanation covers everything. Michael was definitely a parental figure for her. "She must have gotten extremely attached to Mike then, if he was giving her all that attention all day," I say pointedly, and Harrison nods slowly. "You do know that your poor mother would have a fit if she knew Amanda was neglecting her own daughter," I add.

"Don't get me wrong, I love Sharon and she and I would always do something after dinner," Harrison says, suddenly looking exhausted. "Amanda, she… she just hadn't been ready for kids when Sharon came along," he said, putting his face in his hands.

We're both quiet for a few moments, and then I say, "I take it then, you want me to stay in the States to help keep an eye on her," I say as I finally find the lined paper.

"Technically this house is yours," he says, looking up and clearly hedging his bets in favor of an approval.

"But I can't kick Amanda out," I say, winking to let him know I am only joking.

"Hah, hah, she'd just call the police. She tends to overreact about stuff like that," he says, grinning slightly. Of course he knows that I won't leave Sharon at a time like this. He turns to leave.

"Before you go, where is the lighter? I won't let Sharon get to it, I need them for something we're going to do tonight," I explain, seeing the panicky look in his eyes.

"In the kitchen drawer… just don't set anything big on fire," he says, still looking anxious.

I assure him that we won't, and then turn back to the stairs. I can handle the stairs now, but I can only wonder what is going to happen in a few years when I am unable to handle them anymore.

Once I am up the stairs, I return to Sharon's room. I find her lying on her stomach, a piece of light blue construction paper out in front of her and scrawled crayon letters across the front. A folded piece of orange construction paper sits nearby. I realize that I might have taken too long for her liking, and that she simply started without me. I find that I am all right with that, and I just sit down on the edge of her bed to write my note.

Neither of us speaks for a few minutes. She finishes her letter and carefully folds up the construction paper, and then sits up and turns to face me. She watches in silence as I continue writing to Steve. I tell him about the three promises I made at his memorial service, how I fulfilled two of them now, and that I plan to keep the third. I tell him about Howard Stark's marriage to a young woman named Maria, about how Captain America and the Howling Commandos became legendary for all the crazy and daring missions they conducted during the war. I tell him about the ambitious man named Nicholas Fury, and his ascension to the post of director of an international security agency. I tell him all about Sharon, and that she and I might end up taking care of each other. Finally, I tell him that I miss him very much, and that I am going to enjoy what life I do have left.

I fold the letter shut and set the pencil down on Sharon's bedspread. We stare at each other for a few moments.

"Are you ready?" I ask. She hesitates, and then nods. She clutches both pieces of construction paper, but I notice that she holds the orange one tighter.

We don't say anything as we leave the room, but I take her free hand in mine as we go down the stairs. She sniffles a little as we pause in the kitchen so I can take the lighter, but she doesn't cry. Her grip on the construction paper only tightens slightly as I push open the glass door that leads to the swimming pool.

The night air is still but cool. Crickets chirp as we walk to the gate that leads into the expansive grassy backyard. The sky above is covered in stars, and I make a mental note to ask Sharon some day about her favorite constellation. The full moon casts a white glow across the grass as I shut the gate behind us. I let her hand go, and she slowly walks ahead of us. I follow, simply content to let her choose the spot.

She finally stops in the center of the yard. "Mike liked this spot. He liked to look over there because he said the sun was the prettiest there. He only saw it like that when Mommy and Daddy were gone for the night," she says.

I sit down in the grass, and she follows my example after a few moments of standing still. I extend my hand, and she slowly puts her letters in it. "The blue one is for Steve, but do Mike's first," she blurts out, and looks away as though embarrassed to be writing to a friend of mine.

"I'm sure Steve will appreciate getting two letters," I tell her, smiling softly before picking up a flat rock that is sitting nearby. She watches in silence as I place her two letters on the rock, and then I put my own on top. "Ready?" I whisper.

She nods mutely, and I carefully flick the lighter open. She jumps, and is momentarily mesmerized by the sputtering flame. She is so distracted, that I wonder if she sees the letters now burning. But she does; I can see it reflecting in her eyes. I reach over and squeeze her hand as her lip trembles, and watch as the small flame steadily eats away at the paper. It leaves a blackened trail of ash in its wake, and I feel as though a burden is slowly disappearing from my chest.

A small whine catches my attention. I turn to see that Sharon is on the verge of crying again. I squeeze her hand and, after I had her attention, I said, "Sharon? I have an idea. How about you tell me a story about Mike, and I'll tell you one about Steve? We can tell one story a night, and alternate."

She is silent for a few moments, and then asks, "Will I ever be strong like Steve was? In here?" She points to her chest to emphasize her point.

I smile slightly at her. "Of course you can, as long as you work to be the best person you can be," I say softly as she lies down with her head in my lap. I slowly play with her light hair as I stare up at the starry skies.


A/N: The only original characters here are Matthew and Anne Carter, as well as Michael. In the comics, Peggy is actually Sharon's aunt and Harrison is Peggy's brother (after the characters were retconned that is), but since this is movie-verse, it doesn't work out well that way. As for characterizations of Sharon's parents, I only remembered that Sharon herself once said that she was never close with her parents, and that she was closer to Peggy than she was to her parents. So this is basically my interpretation of that. Anyway, everyone and all Captain America ideas/concepts except the aforementioned original characters belong to Marvel Comics.