New York in the aftermath of war; the aftermath of war. I thought I had saved myself from witnessing disasters such as these a second time, but fate can change at its will. As it did for victims around me; the ones who weren't fortunate enough to steer themselves away from destruction. So many people damaged and hurt within their own territory. It is a devastation I wished I never saw again. So here they are in their hospital beds being restored back to their health. I walk through these white corridors without the mask, without the suit, but as a troubled friend. We are all scarred.
A few patients recognize me. They shake my hand if it's within their physical capability, and thank me for my duties. I smile and assure them that everything will be mended in time. As I remember it being in my days of old, they are still bright-eyed and full of life, the epitome of how the city is perceived; always lively.
I reach the end of the corridor and make my way up to the second story. The atmosphere is a bit calmer, and with every step I take, the volume of activity grows quieter and quieter. Some are sound asleep in their beds. Some stare at their box television with the volume at a low buzz. Eventually, a tiny patient manages to catch my eye. He is hooked up to several wires and looks too sickly to function. No hair, bones nearly protruding his pale skin; as if the machines have sucked the color out of him. Despite all this, he remains sitting up tall, gawking at the six freaks on the television screen, his eyes eager to absorb everything all at once. The name card on the door of his room reads "Steve Tilton".
I reach for the straps on my arm and swing my small duffle bag forward. Lying atop of several S.H.I.E.L.D. documents is a rusted helmet that I managed to find in all of the aftermath. Steven's door is open, so I take it upon myself to walk inside with easy steps. At first, he is too engaged in his admiration towards to the heroes to notice I'm standing beside his bedside. His eyes then shift, as if he is in deep thought, and he recoils at the sight of me. I offer a small smile, the most genuine of smiles I've given since my awakening.
"Hello," I say, remaining in my spot. He scrutinizes me from head to toe, trying to recollect and memory of me being a familiar face by chance, but to no avail.
"Hello mister." He replies. Despite his confusion, Steven seems quite thrilled by my presence. But then again, I doubt that any patient of his standing would bother to turn any visitor away. Most cherish the company they obtain. "Just wondering, who are you?" His expression translates as perplexed, yet interested. With a chuckle, I continue.
"My name is Steve, and I have something for you. To you from a good friend of mine." With this, I take heed of my cue and reach into the duffle bag, withdrawing the damaged helmet. Immediately, as if by magic, the boy's eyes light up at the sight of his hero's relic. That split second of evident joy warms me, and an involuntary smile seizes my lips.
I hand the helmet to Steven, who was even so reluctant to lay hands on it at first. He weighs it in his hands, runs his nimble fingers over the mars and rusting, examines it thoroughly with the utmost admiration, and turns to me with a smile.
"You're friends with Captain America?! He was on my TV just a few minutes ago!" I nod, and watch as he continues to toy with his new treasure and finally sets it on his lap. The bright smile then fades completely, and he turns to his window. "Do you know where he is now?" I can feel the melancholy vibes that emits from his sunken posture and voice.
"When I talked to him last, he wouldn't say. He apologizes for not delivering this to you himself. We both know he has lives to protect." My own words begin to sink into my head, and more and more thoughts get trapped in the quick sand of my mind. I do have lives to protect; not just those injured in time of war. I am Captain America. I speak and stand for soldiers and others who are too weak to do so for themselves. Steve, and other children, who are suffering from illnesses. The souls who cannot love another soul without being scolded or abused. Every day people who are denied approval for senseless reasons. I'm not merely a soldier out of time; I am a voice. A sense of freedom. A cure.
Steven shrugs his bony shoulders and glances down at the mask with a dismissive sigh. "Tell him I said it's okay, Mister. Those people need more help from him than I do." My heart shatters at that instant, but my expression is stoic. My foot twitches. I want so desperately to jump to my feet and run. On the other hand, I haven't the heart to do so. Instead, I stand.
"No. If I know Captain America, he helps everyone who needs him. Even you."
"Then how come he hasn't come to make me healthy again?" Ouch, I feel knives sticking me in the heart.
I feign a smile to ease the dismal atmosphere and nod. "He'll be here soon enough. Gotta be sneaky about it though; you don't wanna make the grown-ups jealous." I get a laugh out of Steven, and he sinks back into his pillow, adjusting himself in the bed for comfort. His eyes close, the helmet rests underneath his forearm. After he succumbs to sleep, I quietly reach into my duffle bag for my drawing pad and pen. I rip a blank paper from my collection of sketches and proceed to write hastily on the night stand.
My fellow soldier Steven,
I've heard that you're quite the fighter. The strength is great, if not greater than my own. You are the true hero here. Even though the help you are given doesn't do much to cure you, you continue to fight on. Whatever happens in the future, remember that you are stronger than any soldier I know. Keep your chin up, kiddo, and expect a visit from me soon.
Folding the letter into two, I stick it underneath the helmet gently, and linger until I finally exit the room, leaving Steven to sleep. Not even two steps out of the room, and I am already planning my next visit to Steven.
Two weeks pass. I have counted. New York City is undergoing a major reconstruction at this point, and after all, it is my obligation to partake in the process. I feel sincerely guilty for waiting this long to finally see Steven again. This time I arrive in the suit, the same helmet designed by the one and only Phil Coulson (May he rest in peace), and high hopes that this visit will be better than the last. No one else knows that I'm here. Not Tony, not Natasha, Clint, Fury, Bruce… no one. I plan on tackling this mission alone.
I take large steps up the flight of stairs and walk to Steven's room, peeking my head through the door. Wait… Where is he? I'm utterly confused. I walk inside and glance about the room twice, maybe three times. No sign of Steven, and at this point, I begin to think the worst, and my gut feelings no doubt prove me right.
I learn that Steven died on Thursday night, being just eleven years old, from a long suffering of leukemia. I keep still after thanking and dismissing the nurse, in great disbelief of the fact that I've lost yet another person I hold so dearly to my heart. Barely even knowing the kid, he grew on me, and the thought of him passing makes me feel ill.
I slowly circle the hospital again, eventually reaching his room. I decide to walk in again, even though I'm aware it is empty. I take a moment of silence to stand there and think, and I get lost in my thoughts for maybe several minutes. My head drops, and in the corner of my eye, I see an object painfully familiar to me. The rusted helmet that I gave him is sitting on his night stand with a bit of dust collecting around it. Underneath it is the note I wrote to Steven and I notice a few scribbles that look nothing like my penmanship. Carefully, I grab the note and read it aloud to myself.
Hi Captain America,
I feel very sick today. I don't know when you are coming to see me but when you do I want to give you this note. I still have your helmet and trust me; I will take good care of it. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I salute you.
I decide I want to keep this letter close to me, so I fold it once and place it in my jacket pocket. So Steven may have lost the physical battle against his illness, but he definitely won the war. What's that term they use in Greek mythology; an absurd hero? He who is determined to continue living with passion even though life appears to be meaningless. I feel as if Steven and I are alike. We feel as if we have meaningless lives, but unlike him, I drag myself out of bed every day with no will power to still be here. I have almost no one aside from my team. Peggy's gone. Bucky's gone. My spirits have been shot down once before, but Steven has become a reason for me to raise them again.
Resting the helmet on his empty bed, I am overcome with a feeling to start fresh, and move on from my troubles. "Thank you, soldier." I murmur, and exit the room, closing the door behind me.