“So what do you want today?” Bucky asks. He’s lying on his back on the floor beside Steve’s bed, idly tossing his baseball in the air and catching it as he speaks. “You want Africa? I can get you Africa.”
Somewhere under the blankets, Steve makes a noncommittal noise. He never wants to say no to Bucky, not when he’s got exactly one friend in the world and that friend is here, trying to make him feel better, when he obviously has a hundred other places to be. But still… “I’m tired of Africa.”
“Not Africa,” Bucky repeats. “A desert island, maybe? There are lots of desert islands.”
“I don’t want a desert island.”
“How about Mars, then? I could get Mars.”
Steve sighs. Bucky always means so well, trying to cheer Steve up when he’s sick by bringing him the kinds of stories he loves: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rider Haggard, Jules Verne. Steve doesn’t have the words to tell him how hollow those stories have started to feel to him. The longer he lies in bed while the world goes on outside with absolutely no regard for his absence, the more he resents how easy the heroes of those stories always seem to have it. Not that fighting monsters is easy, but even at nine years old, Steve has seen a thread of darkness running through the world, and somehow searching for pirate treasure or fighting a giant squid just doesn’t seem to him like it really helps with that. “I want…” he says, thinking hard about how to explain it. “I want something that’s true.”
Bucky frowns. “What, you want history? Like a war story or something?”
“Sure,” Steve says, without much enthusiasm. “Like a war story.”
“Okay.” Bucky hefts his backpack onto his shoulders and promises, “I’ll see what they got.”
He’s gone long enough for Steve to drift off to sleep repeatedly, only to wake himself up coughing every time, but it’s really not that long before Bucky clomps back into the apartment, brushing snow off his blue coat and pulling a worn hardcover book out of his pack. “I asked Miss Hartman for a true war story and she gave me this,” he says, handing the book to Steve. “She says you’ll like it.”
Steve looks at it and frowns. The cover is blank except for an embossed symbol that looks like two W s on top of each other; it doesn’t mean anything to him, not yet. Then he opens the book to the flyleaf, and even though he’s sure he’s never seen the design that spans most of the page, he feels a start of recognition. It’s a wheel, he thinks, with a ring of V s on the outside and a starburst at the center; and then, No. Not a wheel. A shield. He turns to the title page and reads the writer’s name first, Etta Candy, then the title: Lasso of Truth: The Secret History of Diana Prince, the Woman Who Won the Great War.
“It’s about a lady?” he says—not dismayed, only a little puzzled. He’s never heard of a lady being a soldier before.
Bucky shrugs. “Miss Hartman says you’ll like it,” he repeats. “I gotta get home. See you tomorrow?” and Steve nods, pulling the book into a circle of lamplight and turning to Chapter 1.
He reads late into the night, and somewhere along the way, Diana Prince’s words stamp themselves onto his heart forever. Fifteen years from now, he’ll carry them into a war of his own, and later, they’ll carry him into a longer, stranger future than even Jules Verne and H.G. Wells could ever imagine.
It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.
It is our sacred duty to defend this world.
I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Only love can truly save the world.
Sarah Rogers comes home from the late shift at the hospital to find her son in a deep, restful sleep for the first time in days, with one small hand still gripping the library book on the bed beside him. She sets it on the nightstand and tucks him under the blankets, brushing his fair hair back from his forehead before she quietly goes into the other room to hang up her nurse’s uniform.
He looks so much like his father when he sleeps.
Someday she’ll tell him about the handsome American soldier she met during the Great War, about the couple of nights they shared before she was reassigned and he vanished into the inner workings of the intelligence division. She has a sense about these things sometimes—the Sight, her grandmother would have said—and she knew neither of them was the other’s meant-to-be long before he died a hero’s death in the war, but she lives her life with no regrets, does Sarah. When she took ship for America with a baby in her belly, off to make a life for both of them in a strange new world, it was easy enough to invent a fictional husband, weaving in just enough of the facts to give her story texture: a wartime romance, a brave soldier, a hero’s death in a gas attack. Enough to give her son a sense of pride, even if he only carries part of his father’s name.
There’s always been an aura of a strange fate about her son, and since Sarah knows better than to try to stop destiny, she decided a long time ago that she’ll encourage it instead. Whenever Stevie looks to be in danger of giving up, she’ll whisper to him that he’s got his father’s smarts and his father’s courage, but his heart is all his own, and that someday, somehow, he’ll find a way that he can be a hero.