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The Days of Reckoning Are Upon Us

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1.

Steve wheezed and coughed, trying to draw a breath. Beside him, his mother rubbed his back and kept up a litany of soothing words until the worst of the attack had passed. He smiled weakly at her and received a strained one in return.

“Stevie, you need to stop this,” she said, exhaustion coloring her voice.

“Mom, it wasn’t my fault –”

“Stop,” she interrupted, holding up a hand and looking at him sternly. “You can’t keep fighting people, Steve. You can’t.”

“But they’re bullies, mom. What am I supposed to do? Just let them win?” His eyes filled with tears, of frustration and the lingering effects of his struggle within his weak and frail body.

“And how is this,” she gestured at him still fighting for breath, “winning? Oh, honey, I understand how helpless you feel, but you can’t keep doing this. You’ll get yourself killed or seriously injured, and I won’t be able to help you. We can’t afford another trip to the hospital, Stevie, we’re barely holding on as it is. Please, just… try to understand.”

He didn’t. He didn’t understand how he could just let it go – or why he should. And his mother didn’t seem to understand that he had to stand up for himself, he had to prove to them (to himself) that he was just as good as them, that this stupid body would not define his worth. He wouldn’t let it. Still, he nodded anyway, because he didn’t want to upset her.

The next time he got into a fight (a few days later), he fell on his back awkwardly and ended up breaking two of his already fragile ribs. His mother used up all their savings to pay for the treatment, and had to miss a lot of days of work to take care of him. She ended up losing her job and they were evicted from their apartment. When they were and begging on the streets to get enough to eat, his mom kept looking at him in pain and despair.

“Why couldn’t you just listen to me, Stevie?”

 

2.

Being in the army and fighting for his country was all Steve had ever wanted. He had listened as his mother told him stories about his father and about how he had fought bravely in the war (and died), and he wanted to be like the father he had never known.

So he enlisted, all enthusiasm and conviction and the desire to serve his country.

He was denied.

He stared at the paper in dismay, even though a part of him had expected that outcome – Bucky had told him it was likely to happen, but Steve had hoped. And now that hope was gone. Denied.

“You’re not strong enough”, the officer had told him, “we need able-bodied men.”

Steve wanted to cry, but that was a sign of weakness, and he was not weak – not in mind, not in conviction, not where it mattered.

After a few days of licking his wounds, he decided to try again. Maybe he’d have better luck in another recruitment post. Everywhere there were posters for recruitment, the country needed fighters, surely someone would give him a chance.

He stood outside the office watching the men – big, strong men – go in and come out with a green stamp on their paper. One of them looked over at him, eyes roving up and down Steve’s tiny frame, and smiled. “Guess you won’t be going to war, huh, shrimp?”

Steve saw red. He wanted to hit the man, but the other walked away before he had the chance. How dare he imply that Steve wasn’t good enough? He was! He was strong and good – his mom had always told him so. He squared his shoulders and went in.

He lied on the application form. He knew it was technically wrong, but he had to try, he had to prove to everyone (to himself) that he was just as good as everyone else.

He was denied again.

The third time, he was caught. The doctor who saw him was kind, but warned him that he would get in trouble if he kept lying on the forms to try to get in.

“I’m sure there are other ways in which you can help,” he said and Steve clenched his hands into fists. He was a man, his father’s son, he had to be strong enough. He had to. He wouldn’t be shipped off to do factory work, he had to be better than that.

The fourth time he was also caught and he had to pay a fine.

“You’re not qualified for military service,” the officer said. “You’ll only endanger the people around you. You try this again and you’ll go to jail.”

Steve set his jaw and walked out. Bucky was already out there fighting. He had to find a way to join him.

The fifth time he went all the way to New Jersey to apply.

He ended up in jail.

 

3.

Steve hated the USO tour. Despised it. After everything he’d done, all he’d suffered through to prove himself worthy, they had him performing like a monkey in the circus. It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t done all that to get into the army to end up as a showgirl.

So when he heard that Bucky’s unit had been captured, he knew he had to go rescue him. Bucky had always had his back, Steve wouldn’t abandon his friend. Not now when he could actually do something, was actually strong enough to do his part.

He convinced Howard and Peggy to help him when Phillips refused to give him permission to go. He was Captain America, he was a soldier, not a circus performer. Wasn’t that why they’d given him the serum in the first place? He would not allow himself to be bullied by stupid politicians anymore.

The battle at the holding facility was the most exhilarating experience of his life, and he emerged triumphant, as he knew he would. He, Bucky and all the other soldiers marched back into camp laughing and singing, glad to have won and to be free.

Colonel Phillips and several officers met him at the entrance with weapons drawn. He was told to get on his knees and surrender himself.

“What? Look, I rescued all these people,” he said, still flying high on his success.

“You were not given permission to do so. This is the army, not your personal playground. There are rules to follow, and if you can’t do that, then you’re no good to us.”

“But I was given the serum. What’s the point of that if I don’t use it?” Steve said, standing his ground when the soldiers made as if to approach him.

“Just because you got the serum doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want. And I’m sad to say giving it to you was clearly a mistake.”

Steve reeled back as if struck. No, it wasn’t a mistake. He was a good man, that was why he was chosen. Because he was worthy.

“You’re under arrest for disobeying a superior officer and for being away without leave.”

“But I did a good thing. Look,” he pointed at the amassed group of soldiers again, desperate.

“It doesn’t matter. You clearly can’t follow orders and obviously think actions have no consequences. I need a soldier who knows his place and respects the hierarchy of the army, not a loose cannon that thinks he’s above everyone else.” He turned to the soldiers. “Take him away.”

Steve was too stunned to fight. This couldn’t be happening. He’d done the right thing, he’d rescued Bucky and his entire unit. He was a good man. After everything, it could not be over, it just couldn’t be.

It was.

 

4.

(This starts out similar to 3, but has a different ending. I couldn’t decide which issue to tackle so I figured I’d do both.)

Steve hated the USO tour. Despised it. After everything he’d done, all he’d suffered through to prove himself worthy, they had him performing like a monkey in the circus. It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t done all that to get into the army to end up as a showgirl.

So when he heard that Bucky’s unit had been captured, he knew he had to go rescue him. Bucky had always had his back, Steve wouldn’t abandon his friend. Not now when he could actually do something, was actually strong enough to do his part.

He convinced Howard and Peggy to help him when Phillips refused to give him permission to go. He was Captain America, he was a soldier, not a circus performer. Wasn’t that why they’d given him the serum in the first place? He would not allow himself to be bullied by stupid politicians anymore.

The battle at the holding facility was the most exhilarating experience of his life, and he emerged triumphant, as he knew he would. He, Bucky and all the other soldiers marched back into camp laughing and singing, glad to have won and to be free.

Colonel Phillips and several officers met him at the entrance with weapons drawn. He was told to get on his knees and surrender himself.

“What? Look, I rescued all these people,” he said, still flying high on his success.

“And because of your stupidity Howard Stark is dead. Agent Carter will likely be soon as well.”

Steve blanched. “What? No!”

“What did you think would happen when they flew into enemy territory, you utter idiot?! Their plane was shot down!” Phillips was almost purple with rage. “Take him away,” he told the soldiers, disgust written into his features.

The others – the ones he’d rescued – all looked shocked. Bucky stared at him in horror. “Steve, what did you do?”

Steve could say nothing as he was handcuffed and led to a vehicle.

From his prison cell, he heard how badly the war effort was going. The loss of Howard Stark, his money and his weapons was remarked constantly as being one of the worst defeats of the allies.