The world is at war but Steve is too young to truly understand what that means. Whenever he sees his mother cry while holding a picture of his farther, he doesn't understand why she's so sad. His father said he would be home by Christmas or soon after, so why is she crying? Whenever the teachers tell the children of his class to hide under their desks and pretend bombs are falling from the sky, he doesn't understand why the teacher seems so frightened. Steve's not the only who's confused. His friends are just as lost as he is. Their fathers, uncles and older brothers are all gone and the most their parents tell them is that they've gone elsewhere to fight a war.
"Everyone is so sad." Bucky says.
Bucky is Steve's best friend. They've been neighbours since forever. Bucky lives in the apartment flat just next to his and they go to the same school too so they're always together. He's just a year older than he is. He's a few inches taller, has short brown hair and eyes as blue as the sky. Bucky's quick to smile and make a joke or generally misbehave. He's typically the reason Steve gets into lots of trouble whether it be at school or when they run around town.
"I know." Steve says with a pout, "I wonder why."
"Me too." Bucky agrees.
Bucky and a lot of other children had also been told the men leaving to war would be back by Christmas. Steve notices that a lot of his peers are as confused as he and Bucky are in regards to why the adults around them are so sad. Nowadays, it seems like kids are the only ones with enough heart to laugh but that's just because none of them really understand what's happening.
"Bucky! Steve!" Natasha says and pops up from behind them.
Natasha is a little Russian girl that moved into their neighbourhood just about a year ago. At first Steve and Bucky hadn't wanted to play with her but she soon proved she wasn't as gentle and fragile as the rest of the girls. She is probably closer to being a man than the rest of them. This being said, Natasha is very into finding a boy she fancies and making him her boyfriend for a week or two. This time she's holding Sam Wilson's hand and she's actually been 'dating' him for far more than two weeks.
"Hi Natasha." Steve says and looks at Sam, "Sam."
"Hi Steve!" Sam says with a wide grin.
"You treatin' her right, Sam?" Steve asks warningly.
Steve is a small boy. He's very thin but that in no way means he isn't tough. He's one of the first kids to jump into a fight when a bully is being mean to someone. Bucky's like one of those kids too which means they often come home with bloodied or bruised faces. Their mothers always reprimand them for their carelessness.
"You betcha!" Sam boats proudly and raises Natasha's hand to the sky, "I'm going to marry her someday an' she's goin' to be the happiest woman alive!"
Natasha smiles and blushes while Steve and Bucky nod approvingly.
"Are you two going home?" Natasha asks.
"Yup." Bucky says, "Our mamas don't like it when we play outside anymore."
"Yeah." Steve seconds, "They're scared of planes and bombs."
"My mama doesn't like it too." Sam says grimly, "But I do it anyways. I don't understand why things are so different now."
"Me too." Bucky admits and lowers his head.
"It's 'cause of the war." Steve says like he understands but he really doesn't. He's just repeating what his mother has been telling him, "The people on the radio say enemy planes have been flying over the city. It's dangerous so we can't be outside."
"But we're not a part of the war." Sam says with a frown, "Why do they want to hurt us too?"
Steve can't pretend he knows the answer to that question so he drops his gaze and says: "I don't know."
"We gotta get goin'." Bucky says and he takes Steve's hand. "Our mamas are waiting."
"We'll see you tomorrow." Natasha says and she and Sam wave at them as they leave.
Bucky and his mother and baby sister now eat with Steve and his mother. Steve's mother is sickly but she doesn't let that keep her from being a good host or doing anything else. In any case, Bucky's mom often brings food she prepared in her apartment to lessen the burden of making a meal. Eating together is always very fun. Steve likes helping Bucky and his mother feed Bucky's baby sister Rebecca. Steve thinks of Rebecca as his little sister because he spends so much time with Bucky and his family. She smothers food all across her face rather than eating it which is as endearing as it is tedious to clean up.
It's as they eat that they hear the sirens for the first time. The sound is loud, repetitive and annoying. Steve and Bucky don't understand what's happening whereas their mothers are panicking and grabbing as many things as they can. Bucky's mother shouts at him to hold Rebecca in his arms and follow them. They leave the apartment and find their other neighbours running about like chickens without their heads down the hall and in their homes. Most of them are heading for the stairwell just like they are.
"Stay close!" Steve's mother yells at them as they push their way through the other people.
Steve and Bucky exchange weary glances. Bucky moves Rebecca so as to hold her with his hip and one arm to let himself hold hands with Steve as they run down the stairs with their mothers. When they step outside the building, they find the streets clogged with people running around and panicking. Steve looks at the darkening skies and sees a fleet of planes flying over the city. They look strange to him. They aren't painted like the other planes of his country.
"Steve!" His mother yells at him and Steve only notices then that they're trailing behind.
Bucky is also staring at the sky with Rebecca with an expression of awe and confusion. "C'mon." Steve says and gently tugs his hand before running towards their worried mothers.
They all run to the bunkers around town and pile themselves in the cramped space with a bunch of other people Steve and Bucky don't recognize. When there's no room left and it's hard to breathe, someone closes the door and they're left in darkness. Everything is deathly quiet aside from the heavy breathing of people who had previously been running when suddenly a first explosion is heart. People whimper and cry as the ground rattles beneath them and dust falls from the ceiling.
"What's happening?" Bucky whispers to Steve, clutching Rebecca closer to his chest.
"I don't know." Steve whispers back.
Another explosion hits the ground and everything rattles much more violently this time. They hear a couple of women begin to sob. Steve and Bucky move closer together, squeezing their hands. The bombings last the whole night.
The light of the next day invades the room as a soldier busts open the door to the bunker. The people in the cramped area begin to chat animatedly, a couple of them directly ask the soldier what had happened. The soldier calls for everyone's silence before he proceeds to explain that the enemy had launched their first aerial attack against the country. He says that this likely won't be the last one and for everyone to prepare in consequence for another pending attack. Before leaving, he informs them that most buildings are still standing but that a lot of them are destroyed.
Steve and Bucky follow their mothers out of the bunker and outside. The sky is covered in grey clouds and columns of black smoke raise to meet them. Debris is peppered all over the cobblestone roads and most of the immediate buildings around them seem to be missing parts. Steve and Bucky's mothers gasp and cover their mouths as they begin to cry. Both of the boys don't understand why they're so sad but they also don't understand why the buildings around them are broken.
"James, sweetie," Bucky's mother says to him and hands him his sister, "Carry your sister for mama, please."
"Okay." He says and Rebecca starts complaining and crying, preferring her mother's embrace to her brother's.
"I can hold her if you wanna." Steve offers.
"No, it's okay." Bucky says though he struggles with his sister as she begins to flail her arms around.
Steve intervenes and places a gentle kiss on her forehead, "It's okay Becca." He says with a soft smile and the baby immediately stops crying, "Your mama is right there."
She hides her face in Bucky's neck and peaks at Steve just before they start following their moms through the dirty and broken streets of their town. The closer they get to their neighbourhood, the more broken the homes and buildings seem. They hear their mothers worry about the state of their apartment but neither understand what they risked if their home was destroyed. Luckily, the apartment has generally escaped the brunt of the bombings. Only the windows and the road in front of it have been shattered by a bomb.
They climb back up the stairwell and return home. However, Steve and his mother don't stay in their home for long. She takes the essentials and packs a bag for Steve which she gives to him before sending him off the Bucky's flat. "Mama's going to gather some more of our things, okay?" She tells him, "We're going to live with Bucky and his family now."
"Why?" Steve asks, he looks around his room regretfully.
"Your papa and Bucky's papa are away, remember?" She says softly and rubs his hair playfully, "We both need help and we think it'll be easier to live together for the time being." She pauses and forces a smile, "It'll be fun. You get to live with Bucky for a bit."
"Do they got enough space for us?" Steve asks.
"Yes." His mother replies, "But you'll have to share a bed with Bucky, okay?"
"Okay." Steve says.
"Good." His mother smiles and pushes his back gently, "Now go next door. Bucky's mama is waiting."
Living with Bucky is very fun. Steve plays with him all the time. Sometimes they include Rebecca in their games though she's too young to actively go along with them. Often times she takes the role of a princess or a queen that needs to be saved by both Bucky and Steve. The games always end with either of the boys running around with her in their arms as she laughs noisily. They notice that their mothers are much less sad when they watch them play. Of course, the boys still don't understand why their mothers are sad to begin with.
Weeks later, the same siren that had disrupted their supper rings again. Unlike last time, the bombs start dropping much sooner. The moment Steve and Bucky step out the apartment with their mothers and Rebecca, a sharp whistling is heard before a nearby building explodes and the ground shakes. The impact is so strong that Steve falls on his butt but Bucky is quick to help him back on his feet. Their mothers yell at them and begin running with the other people. However, Steve's mother suddenly stops as she anxiously pats her body.
"What are you doing!?" Bucky's mom snaps at her.
"My medicine!" She cries and begins running back to the apartment, "I need my medicine!"
"That's crazy!" Bucky's mom yells, "You need to come to the bunker with us!"
"I-I can't!" She insists and starts running, "Take care of my son!"
More bombs fall to the ground and shake it. Steve clutches Bucky's hand as he watches his mother run towards the exploding buildings. This is the last time he sees her.
They're homeless now but Steve and Bucky's school offer sanctuary to those who have nowhere else to go. The school is also a makeshift hospital and many rooms are filled with bandaged, bloodied and broken people, moaning and crying in pain. Steve doesn't like walking past those rooms. It makes him feel uncomfortable and scare though he doesn't really know why.
He and Bucky are beginning to understand a bit more what war is all about.
Bucky's mom is very sad now and she spends a lot of time anxiously cleaning everything around her. People often tell her to take a break to try and relax but she can't. The longest the boys have seen her still was around two minutes before she picked up a dirty rag and began cleaning the floor and the walls. She doesn't take much care of Rebecca anymore either.
Steve, Bucky and Rebecca spend a lot of time with the other kids staying at the school. They find Natasha within the first few days of their arrival. She's got a broken arm but it doesn't bother her much. They spent the rest of that day drawing things on it and playing with Rebecca. As for Sam, no one has heard anything from him but Natasha says she's sure he's fine.
The four of them play with the other children and make friends with Bruce, Pepper, and Tony. Bruce is much smaller than everyone else and he cries a lot when he gets frustrated. He's still very nice and Steve likes him a lot because he knows a lot of things about babies. Bruce helps them a lot with Rebecca when they don't know what to do and when Bucky's mom is too busy cleaning. Steve doesn't like Tony as much as he does Bruce. He's got a big mouth and says a lot of mean things without thinking. He thinks he's better and smatter than everyone else but Pepper is always there to knock him off his high horse. Steve and Bucky really like Pepper because of that.
The one thing all of them have in common is that their fathers are fighting in the war.
"My papa is helping the army build stuff to beat the bad guys." Tony claims.
Steve is helping Rebecca stand on her chubby feet while Natasha is encouraging her to walk in her direction. He raises an unimpressed eyebrow and says: "Yeah?"
"Un-hun!" Tony states with a proud grin, "He's super smart and super cool!"
Steve feels a pang of annoyance at Tony's boasting and decides to challenge it. "Well, my dad is in the army!" he says, "He's probably fighting the bad guys right now."
"Mine too." Bucky says.
"My pop's fighting in Russia." Natasha says and reaches over to take Rebecca in her arms. "I dunno why, though."
"It's because you're Russian." Pepper says. "My mama says you gotta fight for the country you were born in."
"I guess that makes sense." Natasha says and takes Rebecca's hands to move them around as though she were dancing.
Rebecca laughs loudly.
"My pa's making stuff." Bruce says, "He's a scientific."
"That sounds scary." Pepper admits.
"I'm pretty sure it isn't." Bruce says but his uncertainty is written all over his face. "My ma says he's making stuff to help end the war. Like Tony's pa."
"But my papa is better." Tony claims immediately, "He's the big boss."
"I thought my pa was the boss." Bruce hums and scoots closer to Natasha to play with Rebecca too.
"Nope! It's my papa!" Tony insists.
"That doesn't make him the best!" Pepper intervenes quickly. "The best is the one who stops the war."
"My papa says the other soldiers call him Captain America." Steve says thoughtfully. "I don't know why."
"Maybe it's because he's a captain." Bucky suggests.
"But we don't live in America." Steve says.
"Yeah, America is a comitent, not a country!" Tony scoffs, unaware he is using the wrong word.
"What's a contentment?" Natasha asks.
Tony frowns as he thinks the word over. "It's like a country." He says though it's obvious he's not sure at all of what he's saying, "But a real big one."
None of them are smart enough to correct Tony or even be sure that he's wrong. So they nod and continue playing and babbling about things until the familiar sirens begin ringing again and they're shuffled into the bunkers with everyone else.
By Christmas the war is roaring forth with a far more destructive intensity. Bucky's mother hardly looks at them anymore and only stares at Rebecca as she cries. She doesn't speak to anyone but mutters to herself constantly. Steve and Bucky can only make out a few of the words she's saying but even then neither can understand her. She is the shell of a woman who once was.
The boys spend most of their time with the other children. Natasha's broken arm is healed but the adults are too busy taking care of the other injured to remove her cast. So she keeps it on and tugs at it in annoyance. She says it's very hot and itchy.
Sam is also now with them. He came to the school in late November with a serious head injury and a couple of broken ribs. He has lost a part of his memory and can hardly sleep anymore. Whenever he tries, he wakes up an hour or two later screaming and shrieking. The adults that pay attention to them say he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. None of them know what that means.
All of them have seemingly been abandoned by their parents. Tony's mom is nowhere to be found – the last time anyone saw her, she left the school in midday back in late October. Natasha's and Steve's mom are buried in the ground with all the other dead pulled out of the rubble. Bruce's mother is also missing and Pepper's mother has been dead for a very long time. They spend Christmas together and pretend like it's any other day.
Steve is lying if he says he's not sad.
He feels very alone but whenever he thinks he's going to start crying, Bucky takes his hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze. He's glad he's still with Bucky. Steve supposes he might not be as alone as he thinks.
When it's the New Year, everyone is huddled in the same room and stares at the clock intensely. Everyone is waiting for the year to change but ten minutes before the first of January, the sirens start ringing and bombs fall from the sky. Steve, Bucky and Rebecca and their friends are outside, playing in the snow, when the bombs start dropping. There are no adults to guide them to the bunkers so they start panicking and running.
"Guys! Guys!" Bruce cries and runs to the steps leading to the school. He's desperately trying to get their attention as the deafening explosions shake the grounds and make buildings collapse, "We gotta go in! We gotta—"
Steve and Bucky squeeze their hands tightly in fear as they hear the impossibly loud whistling of a bomb falling from the sky. They all look up and Steve's the only one who manages to find the courage to drag Bucky and Rebecca behind a pile of debris for cover. The bomb hits the school and everything explodes with a blinding light. The powerful force of the explosion propel rocks in every which direction. One of them hits Steve on the back of the head and causes him to black out.
Bucky and Rebecca are hovering over Steve and shaking him desperately. The sun is beginning to rise but it's still very dark outside. Bucky has been crying and he's very relieved to see Steve isn't dead like he thought. Steve slowly sits up and rubs the back of his head. He freezes when his hand feels a warm and sticky substance. He pulls away and looks at his hand, his eyes widening when he sees blood. His eyes water and the next thing Steve knows he's crying like a baby. His crying triggers more tears and sobs from Bucky who hugs him and holds him tightly while wetting his shoulder with his tears. Rebecca is the only who's not crying and trying to crawl onto Steve's lap.
"It hurts real bad, Bucky." Steve sobs.
"Maybe we get a big person to look at it?" He suggests, wiping his runny nose on his sleeve.
"Okay." Steve agrees with a shaky voice.
He rubs his tears from his face just like Bucky did before standing slowly. Steve then takes Rebecca into his arms and follows his best friend as they move from behind the debris that had saved them to find the school utterly decimated. The entire structure is just a pile of rubble under which the boys can see Bruce's legs sticking out.
"Where do we go now?" Steve asks.
"I don't know." Bucky says, "Maybe there's a hospital somewhere?"
Steve follows Bucky through the scattered bricks and bits of wall. They're steadily making their way to the street when they hear a girl crying. It doesn't take them long to recognize Pepper's voice and make their way to her. Natasha is with her and they're kneeling next to Tony's who's left leg is stuck beneath a huge wall.
"You gotta help us!" Pepper cries, "We can't get him out!"
Steve and Bucky exchange glances. Steve places Rebecca on the ground and tells her to wait for them there before he, Bucky and Natasha combine their strength to lift the rock. They only get it up a few inches but it's enough for Pepper to slide Tony from beneath it. His leg looks disgusting. It's completely mushed and bloody. There's a bone sticking out from the side which is also really gross. It looks like it hurts a lot but Tony's not crying.
"Can you walk?" Steve asks.
Tony shakes his head. "I can't feel it." He says.
"We'll have to help him." Bucky says and he looks at Steve to ask: "Can you hold Becca for me?"
"Un-hun." He says.
Bucky then helps Pepper get Tony on his feet and slips his arm around his neck while clutching a side of his waist. Pepper does the same on her end and Tony hardly has to lean on either of them. They're about to leave when Natasha looks around anxiously.
They looks around and Sam is nowhere to be found immediately. Natasha quickly begins to panic as she runs past Steve and looks beneath the rubble in desperation, hoping to find him.
"We can't leave without Sam!" She cries.
"She's right." Steve says.
"But Tony's hurt." Bucky says and he looks down at his bleeding leg worriedly. "We need to get him help."
"Then you go." He says, "I'll stay here with Becca and Natasha to look for Sam."
Bucky seems uncomfortable at the idea of separating himself from Steve. He bites his lower lip and nods with resolution. "Okay." He says, "But you gotta promise you'll come find me."
"I promise." Steve responds with a sharp nod.
"Be careful." Bucky says before he, Pepper and Tony leave.
Steve and Natasha spend a lot of time looking for Sam. The sun is rising when they hear his feeble cries buried beneath a huge pile of debris. To make matters worse, it's very cold, none of them have many layers of clothes and it's starting to snow. They ask Sam if he's hurt but he says that he's fine, just stuck.
It takes them a long while to shove enough rummage to the side to allow Sam enough space to squeeze out of his prison. It's a miracle that he's completely okay but they don't question it. They don't even see it as a miracle. They're too young to understand what's happening around them. They're too young to understand that Bruce is dead and so is everyone else that was inside the school.
And it's because that they don't understand that they leave without looking for anyone else. Natasha and Sam hold hands while Steve struggles to find a comfortable position to hold Rebecca as they walk through their utterly ruined city. The snow is much thicker now and it's hard to see what's just ahead of them.
A blizzard has hit their city full force. Supplies are difficult to come by now that everything around them is destroyed and there are relatively no shelters left for anyone. Steve still managed to find Bucky and the others with the rest of the survivors in the city's center. Tony was taken to a doctor for his leg. They helped him as much as they could with their limited supplies but he's still not well. He's in a lot of pain now and he's also developed a fever. Pepper is always by his side, holding his hand.
Steve, Bucky, Rebecca, Natasha and Sam sit close together for warmth and hardly play anymore. The world around them is crumbling to bits and none of them understand why. They're afraid and they have no one to help them. Bucky hasn't even bothered asking about his mother because she became useless long ago.
"It's cold." Natasha mutters beneath her shaking breath.
"That's because there's no roof." Sam says and he shuffles closer to her for warmth.
"They don't got enough blankets too." Bucky adds and hugs Rebecca tighter.
She squirms a bit to find a comfortable position but accept the embrace. Her lips are blue from the cold.
"I wonder when the war'll be over." Steve mutters and rests his head on Bucky's shoulder as he looks up at the dull grey sky.
It starts snowing again.
Tony is dead.
The fever took him.
The adults say the fever was caused by an infection to his squashed leg and the lack of resources to take care of it. They use a lot of big words to explain and justify their failure in saving Tony so none of them really understand. Pepper lashes out at them, hitting them as she cries that they didn't try hard enough. Sam and Natasha pull her away while Steve and Bucky apologize for her behaviour. The adults look down at them condescendingly and leave.
Pepper spends the rest of the day crying and sitting by Tony's corpse. Steve, Bucky, Rebecca, Natasha and Sam are right next to her the whole time. This is the last day they ever see Pepper speak.
They think they're in March now but they don't know if it's the beginning or the end. Steve thinks it's the beginning of the month considering people have just begun to speak about it. This means that Bucky's birthday is just around the corner or has already happened. They choose to believe today is the day which consequently happens to be the day the military is dropping in extra supplies for the survivors. Bucky chooses to see the ration of food he is given for he and his sister as a birthday gift. Steve offers him a portion of his own food as a gift as well but he refuses it.
Steve is very thin. He's practically just a sack of bones. His clothes hang off him as though they were ten times too big though they once fit him perfectly. They're all pretty thin now what with the lack of food they're given as well as the lack of care provided by an adult. They're basically orphans now until their fathers return from the war. If they return.
The winter was terrible and the air raids were frequent. The city is just a pack of ruins and debris admits a ravaged land. The military moved in a while ago to relocate them and they lost Natasha in the midst of everything. They hoped they would find her again once they got to their new home but she must have been herded onto a different car.
Steve likes this new city even if he can't pronounce the name. There's no more snow and summer is just around the corner even if it still is pretty cold. The city is located next to the sea and he, Bucky, Rebecca, Sam and Pepper spend a lot of time on the white sand, looking at the waves crash onto the shore. Sometimes they find starfish and washed up jellyfishes mixed in with the seaweed. On very few occasions, they come across a scrap of metal from a plane or even a blue limb.
Rebecca has learned how to walk fairly well and doesn't crawl anymore. Though they live in an orphanage with a lot of other children, the adults don't have time to take care of them so it's up to them to teach her how to speak. It's very difficult seeing as none of them can speak particularly well but they do their best.
"I wonder where Natasha is." Steve mumbles as wind tussles his hair.
"I miss her." Sam says.
"I'm sure she's okay." Bucky says.
Rebecca waddles around on the sand just a few feet in front of them. She wears a bright smile and giggles whenever she falls on her butt. Steve notices he's not smiling anymore and reckons he hasn't been smiling for a while now. He wonders when that happened.
Is this because of the war? He wonders.
Life in the city by the sea is mostly peaceful but refugees clog the streets and drastically reduce the food supply. Steve and his friends are starving. No one pays special attentions to the orphans or children anymore because the country is in such a dire state. They are left to fend for themselves for the most part. It's not like the people at the orphanage spare them a second glance. They only care for the particularly young children and the wounded. Steve wonders why they're still with them at this point.
They don't sleep on beds because there aren't enough for everyone. They tried making mattress with blankets but that only meant the children would have nothing to wrap themselves in to keep warm at night. The orphanage doesn't give them any more food than what the military offers as rations. Steve reckons they're better off finding a new place to live which offers more space and liberties. He dreams of a place where they are their own bosses and no mean woman or man yells at them over nothing.
Steve later finds out that Bucky dreams of the same thing. They spend countless nights talking excitedly about their dream home where they're safe and nothing can harm them until one of the adults keeping watch at night scolds them to be quiet. They're very ready to make their dream a reality but they don't know where they would leave to. There's no place for them to go in this city.
Peace and tranquility end abruptly when familiar sirens echo through the crowded streets of the city by the sea. People shriek and panic whereas Steve, Bucky, Rebecca, Sam and Pepper find their way to the nearest bunker and huddle in a corner to hide from the bombs. It's clear that they and the other refugees from their old cities are the only ones who have experienced the bombings within the region because they're the only ones who are relatively calm.
Rebecca cries the whole time for a change until they're permitted to leave.
When they leave, the city is beginning to look like their old one and Steve remembers clearly how grey the sky had been when he had first walked out of a bunker. The same black columns of smoke rose to the sky as they had that fateful first time.
It's summer when things take an interesting turn. With the weather being warmer but still relatively cool, Steve and his friends spend most of their time outside and wandering the city by the sea. The military has established public bunkers just about everywhere within the populated areas and so there are multiple places to hide when the air raiders return with more bombs. Steve, Bucky, Rebecca, Sam and Pepper are so used to the bombings they hardly react anymore when the sirens go off. It almost feels like route.
In any case, the group begins by wandering to the sea and dipping their feet. The water is still very cold but it's refreshing and it's nice to see Rebecca playing in the waves and smiling and laughing. Pepper also seems to be in a lighter mood. They move on a few hours later, following the shore for as long as they can walk until the houses and buildings become scarcer and turn to long grass and trees. Eventually they come upon a forest and Steve remembers the animated talks he had with his best friend in regards to moving elsewhere where they didn't have to depend on mean adults who didn't actually care about them.
"Let's go check it out." Steve declares and leads the way into the forest.
No one objects but Sam and Pepper seem uncomfortable at the prospect of wandering somewhere potentially dangerous. They're mostly afraid of getting lost.
They stick close together, holding hands to make sure none of them accidentally get lost as Steve guides them through bushes and trees and further into the woods. They discover a magical place where the sun's rays pierce through the canopy giving the things it shined upon an ethereal allure. They felt like the brave knights in those stories their parents read to them when they were still alive and around. Surely they would find an elf or a princess in need of rescuing if they wandered far enough.
But rather than find an elf or a princess, they find a creek next to an abandoned farm house. The wood is rotten but the structure still holds itself without the slightest wavering. Steve carefully examines the roof and finds that it's mostly in tact which is good and means they have a place to stay when it rains. This being said, the place is a bit dirty and will need some cleaning up to be more habitable.
"We could live here." Bucky says and looks at Steve with an excited glow in his eyes.
"But it's in the forest." Sam says and his fright is very evident, "The forest is scary at night."
"We can make a fire." Steve suggests, "Monsters an' animals don't attack when there are fires around."
"How do we make one?" Sam asks, pressing his uncertainty forward.
Steve and Bucky both stop to consider it. Neither of them know how. Pepper grabs their attention as she leaves the farmhouse to find two pieces of wood. She rubs them together quickly and sparks and smoke suddenly appear before a small flame is born. Steve, Bucky and Sam smile in awe for a moment.
"But what are we going to sleep on?" Sam asks. "We don't got beds."
"We didn't have any at the orphanage too." Bucky points out, "This won't be real different."
"Plus we can grab some leaves an' pile them in the corner." Steve says and gestures the part of the farmhouse completely sheltered by a roof. "An' we're not far away from the city so we can walk to get our food from the army an' come back here."
Sam still seems hesitant about the idea but at this point, he's the only one with doubts.
"I reckon we're far enough from the city to avoid the bombings." Bucky says and glances out the missing door. "We'll be safer here."
"Okay." Sam finally agrees.
The first month in their new home is great.
They clean up the farmhouse to make it more livable, pile leaves in a corner to make a more comfortable sleeping place and make a trail with sticks from their sanctuary to the beach to find their way. They made a sort of shelf in their house where they put the rations they get from the military to keep bugs from crawling all over them. When they feel filthy, they bathe in the creek and wash themselves with that water. On particularly hot days, they go to the ocean which is just a short walk away to swim and have fun. They're trying to teach Rebecca how to swim.
There are three more air raids while they're in their new home. They hear the sirens and pile themselves into the rotten house while they wait out the explosions but none of them drop anywhere close to their new hiding spot. They can only hear the explosions from their sanctuary and that's how they all prefer it. Sam hardly wakes himself screaming anymore because of it.
However, things take a turn for the worse when the second month rolls by. The city by the sea has also been ravaged by bombings and supplies are hard to come by. The rations the military offers are smaller and so Steve and his friends run out of food fairly quickly because they aren't wise enough to know how much to eat at a time. They solve this problem to the best of their ability by catching frogs and bugs. Sometimes, Bucky catches them a fish with his bare hands. They even go looking for fruits but they hesitate to eat a lot of them because they're afraid of getting sick.
They're all thin and starving now.
Hadn't the adults told them the war would be done by Christmas?
Sam is sick and no one understands why. He throws up everywhere and can't keep any food down. He has a violent fever and seems to be in constant pain even though he has no apparent wounds. Steve, Bucky and Pepper are at a loss of what to do. They end up taking him to the doctor to see what is wrong with him and the man tells him he has the stomach flu. Unfortunately, he has no medicine to offer them to help Sam and dismisses them without even telling them what they need to do that could help.
Sam spends days in agony and in complete sickness before he too ends up dying. Steve, Bucky and Pepper don't understand why because the stomach flu has never killed any of them before when they had it before the war. They don't know that the flu wasn't what did him in, it was rather the lack of food and hydration for an extended period of time.
They bury him near the sea.
Their sanctuary isn't as safe as they think. They leave one day to play in the ocean around the end of the summer when the sirens sound. None of them react or let it interrupt the fun they're having until bombs start dropping dangerously close to their location. The ground shakes beneath them and the last bomb they suffer in their immediate vicinity happens to fall on the place they referred to as home for the past few months.
They're lucky they were away during this particular raid but they no longer have any food to help them survive until their next scheduled ration from the military. They also no longer have a place to sleep and so they wait for the raid to finish before they make their way back to the city by the sea in the hopes of being accepted back into the orphanage.
However, upon arriving, they find a ruin in the orphanage's place.
They're lost and don't know where to go. They're children stuck in the mess adults created and are suffering the consequences. Steve is beginning to understand why he saw his mother crying when she was looking at a picture of his father. He wonders if his father is still alive and fighting somewhere. He hopes he defeats the enemy soon if he is.
It's autumn and they now live in the ruins of the city. They've found a fairly cozy place draped in rubble with a very large bed only a small portion of which is submerged beneath debris. It's where they sleep as a group, all cramped together.
The rations offered by the military are smaller than ever and because of this, Steve, Bucky, Rebecca and Pepper look like a sack of bones. This being said, Rebecca gets more food than the rest of them because they give her more. She's younger and they need to take care of her which means sacrificing food for her sake.
Steve is developing strange rashes over his body. He scratches at them adamantly but he can't seem to make them stop. He forces himself to show restraint when he accidentally tears his skin open and bleeds. They have nothing to patch the wound with so it just stains his dirty clothes and adds to the muck covering his body.
They're a pitiful bunch.
Pepper dies during a pretty awful air raid.
It happens in early October and she is the only person at their 'home' when it happens. A bomb falls directly on her and destroys the bed and the rations they kept there again. Steve, Bucky and Rebecca stand in front of the ruins when it's all over and contemplate what to do. The most the boys do is exchange glances before nodding in mutual understanding.
Steve and Bucky take each other's hands and they leave. They leave the city by the sea and walk aimlessly away. If they stay, they'll die, if they leave, maybe they'll live.
So they walk and they walk for miles and miles. Sometime in the middle of the night, they come across a military camp where trucks filled with rations are unloaded. They watch the soldiers move the rations around for a long moment in silence before one of them notices them. He's a tall black man with a black eye patch. He looks mean at first but he smiles and he suddenly seems much friendlier.
"What are you three doing here?" He asks softly.
"We're going somewhere safe." Steve says quietly.
"And where's that?" The man smirks.
"Not here." Steve answers and the man's smile falters.
"I can't let you kids just walk around like this." The man says and stands up straight, "Come with me and I'll bring you back to the city."
"We don't want to go back." Bucky says and Rebecca buries her face in his neck, "We'll die if we go back."
"I understand you're worried, young man," The man says softly, "But I promise you you'll be safe. We'll protect you."
"Pepper died today." Bucky says, "She was starving like us. But it's not that that killed her. It was the bombs."
"We've got nowhere to go." Steve adds, "The orphanage is gone an' the place we've been sleeping is also gone. An' we got no food left."
The man frowns at them. He feels guilty and helpless just looking at them. He sees how sickly and thin they are and wants to do something to help them but doesn't know what. He can't give them extra rations because they already don't have enough to feed the others and yet the man doesn't want to let them die. His higher uppers had warned him of what he would see.
"Do you know somewhere we can go?" Steve asks and his voice cracks because he's so thirsty. "Somewhere where with no bombs?"
The man regretfully shakes his head. "I'll bring you back to the city." He says grimly.
This time Steve and Bucky don't say anything. They let the man lift them into his truck and bring them back to the city by the sea.
It's night and Steve, Bucky and Rebecca are lying on the white sand of the beach. Steve is holding Bucky's hand and Bucky's also holding Rebecca's. The night is clear and the stars are plentiful. It was hard to see so many of them before but now the city by the sea has no lights to impair their view of them. They're very pretty.
"I don't understand." Steve mumbles as he contemplates the twinkling lights above.
"Me too." Bucky says after a moment.
"But I think I understand." Steve adds and turns his head to look at Bucky.
Bucky meets his gaze and nods, "Me too."
They smile at each other and look at the sky. They notice something momentarily interrupt their star gazing. They know what it is.
"What do you think we'll be like…?" Steve says and pauses to look at Bucky again, "When we grow up, I mean."
Bucky looks at him curiously and contemplates the question seriously. "I don't know." He says.
"I think I'm going to be tall an' muscular." Steve says with a cocky grin.
"Yeah, right!" Bucky laughs.
A whistle echoes through the night and an explosion follows soon after. They feel the ground shake regardless of the fact that the explosion is still relatively far away from them.
"I'll be taller than you too!" Steve pushes on like the explosion never happened. "An' I'll be very handsome, just like my papa!"
"Well then I want to be muscular an' tall and handsome too!" Bucky says as another bomb falls.
It's closer this time.
"What about Becca?" Steve asks.
Bucky squeezes her hand and glances at her briefly. She's sleeping. "She's gonna be real pretty, Steve." Bucky says, "All the boys are gonna be in love with her. Even the girls. She's gonna be that pretty."
"We'll fight 'em all off." Steve says and another explosion sounds closer. "If they want to marry her, they'll have to work for it. To show they really love her."
"Yeah." Bucky says and turns to look at Steve, "Do you think you'll be married?"
"Hm," Steve thinks, "I don't know. I don't think I want a wife. I'm happy being with you an' Becca."
"Me too." Bucky smiles.
The next explosion that hits is so close some small bits of debris and dirt hit them. But Steve and Bucky don't flinch and Rebecca keeps sleeping.
"We can marry each other, right?" Steve suggests, "We don't got to deal with girly stuff if we do."
"Yeah." Bucky's smile widens. "We'll keep being boys an' we'll be able to do whatever we want. It's going to be real fun."
They hear another whistle from a falling bomb. This one is right above them.
"Together forever." Steve says and gives Bucky his brightest smile.
"'Til the end of the—"