V-E Day was the most zealous day America had seen since the Roaring Twenties. A day of celebration for everything the Allied forces had saved and preserved. The celebration only continued once the surviving troops returned a few days later; for those who had soldiers coming home to them, that is. When Michael appeared in front of Moira at the docks alone, any semblance of joy in the occasion was gone.
"Bucky was killed behind enemy lines, and Steve crashed a giant bomb that was headed for here in the Arctic. I tried to get the Colonel to send condolence letters, but he-"
"I knew it in my gut." She was doing her best not to cry in front of all these strangers, but the pit that was growing in her stomach made her want to scream and tears prick at her eyes. "They never wrote me back."
"You know, he di-"
Moira wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him to her. "I'm so glad you're home safe." She did her best to sound happy, but the words came out in a monotone. She took him by the hand and pulled him away from the throng of eager women and children to the back of the crowd where their parents were waiting. She stood to the side as they embraced him, their relief and elation just making the pit grow larger. Then they had to ask where Bucky and Steve were; Michael mournfully told them that they weren't coming home. Mrs. Shilsky was the first to cry, hiding her face in her husband's chest.
"God rest their souls," he muttered into the cloth over her hair, rubbing her arm. "Moira, dear, are you alright?"
Moira looked down at the ground and closed her eyes, giving him something between a nod and a shake. She wiped at her face, trying to get the blush and peach lipstick off before her parents noticed. She felt like a clown for wearing makeup now.
"They both went honorably." Michael put his hand on his mother's arm. "C'mon, now, it's okay."
"He had such chutzpah." Mrs. Shilsky muttered, dabbing at her eyes with her coat sleeves.
"He still does, Ma!" Moira urged, several tears rolling down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away with her arm. "They both do...I...can we go home please?"
Everything was a blur for her until she was finally back in her cramped room – one that she would no longer have to herself due to Michael's return. She surveyed her half, feeling numb. A single iron bed with a ratty quilt draped messily over the mattress. A wooden table next to it, on which was a lamp and a small matchbox full of nickels. She threw her coat on the mattress and bent down, pulling out a large tin for chocolates. She took off the lip and stared down at her collection of Steve's sketches. On top was the one of Camp Lehigh; she set that aside to show the one of him as a monkey. When she pulled that away, her breath hitched. It was the sketch of her; no special scene, just her leaning on a shelf in the store, reading the newspaper. It was still her – same doughiness and wide hips, same uncontrollable hair, same large nose and brows. Somehow, despite those quirks, he made really did make her look beautiful. All because he thought that was what she always was.
She finally allowed the sobs to rack her body. She pushed the tin against the wall and collapsed on the bed, shouting into her pillow and soaking it with hot tears. The pit was devouring her stomach whole, and every nerve in her body was pulsating in pain; this was her hell. She had been preparing herself already; as soon as a month passed without any reply, she started thinking about what a life without Bucky and Steve would be like. She couldn't then, but now she had to.
She would never get to crack a joke, eat large meals, or tease with Bucky again. She doubted she would ever meet another person that she could carry on endless banter with or that could even remotely match his wit and snark. No more hair-ruffles. No more escorting him home in a drunken, giddy haze. No more people-watching, poking fun at the strange ones and interpreting strangers' conversations in what ever silly way they wished. No more smirks and full-blown smiles, even when they were sleazy. He was the leader of the trio, undoubtedly; it would be all too strange getting through every day without his guidance – even if he was a threat to all things pure. Still; the world had lost one of the most steadfast friends anyone could have.
After – oh, who the hell cared how long – she reached back under the bed for the box and fished out Steve's only letter. Crumpled and worn, covered in various stains from water, broth, tea, and cleaning solution; barely readable now. She clutched it like a lifeline and sobbed harder. She truly could not imagine a life without Steve; it was as awful as a world without a sun. Every kind word, selfless action, earnest look, pencil stroke, damn wonderful hug – all gone. As was the possibility that he could have loved her – but what did that even matter anymore? No one could be on his arm now. Still, how could he have died? He was supposedly the best there was; untouchable. He didn't deserve this.
And god, what was Agent Carter feeling? Yes, she hadn't known him as long and wasn't nearly as close to him, but she had witnessed him in action. She saw him evolve right before her eyes and become a marvelous war hero that lived up to his name. To see all that end on top of her feelings; she must have gone through pain herself. How lucky for her.
The creak of the bedroom door brought her back to her room, which suddenly seemed emptier. Michael stood in the doorway, looking war.
"It's late; you've been cryin' in here for hours." He twisted the doorknob and grit his teeth. "But you prolly don't wanna come out yet."
She sat up slowly, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. "Yeah." Her voice was raspier than ever, her throat scratchy and dry like sandpaper. He sat across from her on his bed.
"I talked to Pa about breaking away from the faith and all." He offered her a weak smile. "He's disappointed, but he says he respects my decision. He hopes I can come back to it someday, but..." He shrugged.
"Good for you." She looked right at him, but her eyes were hollow.
"They wouldn't want you to cry, Moi." He sighed. "You out of everybody should be strong about this."
"Why?!" She pulled at her hair and let out an agitated yelp. "They were my best friends! Steve was the guy I loved, Michael! What, I'm supposed to pretend everything's okay, like the world's just gonna go on without them?"
"Dammit, yes! As unfair as that is, that's life; no matter how great a person was, life goes on for every body else."
"No. That can't be how it works." She got up and paced around the room, her heavy footsteps causing the beds and the table to shake. "They've gotta put it in the papers; there's gotta be a parade. A funeral, at least!" She paused, then lunged at the lamp. "This can't be it!"
"Moira." Michael gripped her arms and pulled her back. "Don't lose your marbles over this, please! The Colonel said all of Steve's actions would be leaked to the media; the papers'll be talking about how great he was for a long time. And Bucky...well, he'll find his way in there somehow." He rubbed her elbows with his thumbs. "Heh, you think Steve would want some grand thing? He'd just want people to keep on celebrating."
"How can we celebrate when we've lost what was worth fighting for?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, before she resumed bawling. "I don't care if they don't want me to, I'm doin' it anyway." She froze, then dropped to her knees and combed madly through the box. "I gotta have another picture of them. The Coney Island one wasn't the only one I had..." All of his sketches were strewn about on the floor now, and with no photograph in sight, she slumped over it. "Oh god, I don't. Michael, I'm gonna forget what they look like!"
"No you're not." He sat down beside her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "You're gonna remember them better than anyone. And if anyone ever comes around asking what Captain America was like, you can tell 'em all about him. Every damn memory you have of him and Bucky, you're gonna remember. Don't you dare doubt that."
She scowled. "Not gonna remember Captain America better than Agent Carter..." She mumbled, hiccuping loudly.
Michael pulled away with a huff. "Jeez, what is it with you and this woman? Okay, I get it; she ruined your...wooing, or whatever. But she's a real good lady; you'd like her if you knew her. But all you did was spend at least a couple sentences complaining about how difficult she was making everything. You think it was really her fault? Sis, men are the pricks; we're fickle. As good as Steve was, deep down, he was just a-"
Moira's fist colliding with his chest knocked the wind out of him. "Don't you dare."
"Alright, alright; yeesh, you been boxing while I've been gone?" He rubbed the now incredibly tender spot.
That actually got a smile out of her. "Steve had Bucky put him through a lotta training before he tried to enlist the first time, including fighting in the ring. I tagged along a few times; picked up a few things."
"See? You do remember." He rubbed her shoulder. "Anyways, my point. On V-E Day, we all went out to this pub close to the base. And Peggy was there, too; she needed a drink and didn't wanna be alone with her thoughts, I guess. I mean, she was on the damn radio with him right when he crashed! So Steve never gave her the letter you wrote to her – also, why the hell did you write a letter to her – but I found it in the base. Seeing as I was tipsy, I go up to her, greet her as gentlemanly as I can, and hand the letter to her. And she just reads it right there. You shoulda seen how many times her face changed, it was pretty funny. So then she finishes and starts chuckling – she's actually kinda buzzed herself – and is all 'so that's what he meant' all mysterious-like. So I of course ask her what she meant because hell, I just did her a service, she should do me one back. Now I bet she wouldn'ta told me under any other circumstances, but like I said – buzzed. She says that she thought she misheard him at the time, but Steve said 'I love you, Peggy, but she'll always be the most important', and that the woman who wrote this letter sounded like the 'she'. Then she asks me if I was the ass that you had referred to, and I say 'probably' and in then in that fancy British accent of hers 'mmm, I can tell'. So...what do you think?"
Moira blinked repeatedly, her weeping quieting for now. "Wh-what does that mean?"
"I literally just said- ...oy, you kill me, sis. It means that yeah, he had feelings for Peggy, but whether he had feelings for you or not, you were the most important woman in his life. That sounds like a good deal to me. And hell, the fact that Agent Carter admitted that so freely doesn't make her seem so evil, huh?"
Moira gaped and tugged on the ends of her hair. The pit in her gut shrunk to a manageable size, and a wave of sudden calm washed over her nerves, quelling the pain. "Yeah; a pretty good deal." She picked up the sketch nearest to her and hugged it to her chest. "I'm sorry for going off on you, you don't deserve it. I can't promise I'll be strong, but..."
"I get it. I know you'll fair a lot better than the rest of these weak broads, I can tell you that much." He poked her chin. "Hey, you know I'm always here to be your scratching post; more than ever now. Until I get a wife and kids, then you can rant to her."
She smiled again, smaller this time. "I think I'm going to sleep. For a couple of days, at least. You go remember what Brooklyn's like." She started gathering up all the papers.
"Are you gonna be okay? The city'll always be there; I'll stay with you 'til you're ready to-"
"No, really, I'm gonna be knocked out in a couple of minutes anyway. Crying my eyes out is hard work; s'why I hate doing it." She used the corner of her quilt to wipe her cheeks dry.
"Well...the guys from Steve's special squad are in town for a few days 'til they all go back home. I'm sure they'd like to meet you." He was trying so hard to get her out there; she had to give him credit for that.
"Maybe. I don't wanna be rude and all, but I wouldn't wanna make 'em uncomfortable if I start blubberin'." She positioned the papers neatly in the tin and put the lid on, pushing it back under the bed.
"Okay." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. "But before you drift off, I think you should read this. From him. S'not finished." He placed it in her lap, kissed her temple, and got up, going out of the room. "We're all outside for now." He closed the door behind him, but Moira didn't feel alone. The note felt heavier than it should have.
She started to unwrap it, but stopped herself. She was kidding herself if she thought she could handle this; she would plunge back into the weepy, decrepit state she so loathed being in as soon as she saw the first letter in his handwriting. Besides, he would probably just tell her about his new day-to-day and the like; not that she didn't want to know, but it simply wasn't the right time. Besides, if what Michael had told her was true, then that's all she really needed to know. She slipped the letter under the lid and climbed back on her bed, settling under the quilt and resting her cheek on the pillow.
"You're so good, Steve. Too good." As soon as she closed her eyes, the sun shined behind her eyelids, and she watched as children pulled their parents down the boardwalk of Coney Island.
"Goddammit, Buck!" She heard herself shout, following a smug-looking Bucky to the corn dog stand. Her arm around was scampy Steve, his complexion tinted green and his expression twisted in discomfort. "You ass, I can't believe you made him ride that. And you!" She flicked Steve on the back of the head. "I can't believe you let him convince you!" Steve attempted to speak, but he just groaned.
"Hey, now; he got a great rush out of that." Bucky forked over a couple of coins for a juicy corn dog. "Since drinking will probably poison him and he'll die, this is the closest he got to a buzz."
"Mmm, yeah. And just like getting drunk, he upchucked pretty good. And now you're eating in front of him, how nice. Gimmie that, I haven't eaten all day." She made a grab for it, but Bucky swiftly ducked away and sent her barreling into nothing.
"You guys are fighting over a corn dog now?" Steve rasped out, rubbing his neck. "We'll have to come here more often, huh?"
She started chasing Bucky around the area until she had to stop to catch her breath – during which time Bucky stuffed the entire thing in his mouth. "Really?! You're buying me a piece of jerky at the store just so you can give it to me as a consolation prize."
"Not if I eat it first," he teased, but with his mouth so full, his words were barely distinguishable.
She took Steve by the shoulder and led him in the opposite direction. "C'mon, Scamp, we'll see if the souvenir shop has alka-seltzer or something."
"I'm fine. Just because you guys are really bad influences doesn't mean I can't recover quickly." He smiled up at her, squinting his eyes in the sunlight.
"That doesn't make any sense!" Bucky shouted as he caught up to them, loosing a piece of dog that was hanging out of his mouth. Moira shook her head and hugged Steve to her side.
A jovial man with a black fedora and mustache stopped them in their tracks. "What a group of misfits you kids make! Care to have a picture to commemorate your visit to Coney Island?
The three of them exchanged questioning looks. "Why not?" Steve said, putting one arm around Moira's waist as Bucky did the same. The man counted backwards on three. In the pause between two and one, Bucky shouted 'cheese', opening his mouth to reveal the mess of corn dog inside. Moira tried to keep her composure, but burst out laughing as the camera flashed. She caught sight of Steve's slight, but forced smile out of the corner of her eye once it was over.
"Oh, Scamp. Not everything's like the Cyclone. You'll get better."
The look he gave her in reply made her realize that was a rather loaded statement. "Yeah," he said, smiling genuinely. "I will."
The next day, the war came to America. And she proved to be right.