If anything stayed the same since Steve had been frozen in the ice, it was the spirit of Christmas.
It came earlier than ever. Back when he was young, all the Christmas decorations, songs, and celebrations started the first of December. Now it started the beginning of November. Steve thought it was ridiculous how all the commercials would start during that time, but he couldn't complain about everything else. He loved Christmas.
Christmas was the holiday that had the most importance in the Rogers household. Steve remembered all the rituals his family did; buying the Christmas tree from the OMalleys, whose family was in the lumberjack business upstate. How his mother would write Christmas cards to every single family member and close friend and have him and his father sign them. Going to the midnight mass with his parents. Waking up early to open his presents. The huge celebration on Christmas Day, where everyone on his mother's side of the family would come over to their apartment. He played with his cousins as the adults sat around and chatted, his mother would be in the kitchen cooking up the dinner: a roast turkey, ham, potatoes prepared three different ways, and a plum pudding for desert.
He had many fond memories of Christmas, and one in particular seemed to stick out lately.
He was nine. Bucky was ten. They were walking with Bucky's five year old sister, Alice as they lagged behind Steve's parents, Bucky's eight year old brother Tommy, and Bucky's parents who were pushing Bucky's one year old sister Sarah in a baby carriage. It was a cold Saturday in December, but the children were bundled up in layers of sweaters, coats, mittens, hats, and scarves. Underneath they were dressed in their best Sunday clothes. They were going to the fancy Macy's department store to see Santa.
"I can't wait to see Santa!" Alice exclaimed as she skipped alongside the boys.
"Santa doesn't exist you dummy," Bucky said.
"He does! He gets my letters! And we're gonna see him!"
"That's not Santa!"
"I believe in Santa," Steve piped up.
"See!" The girl beamed. "Steve believes in Santa! Do ya send letters to him?"
"Yep!" Steve nodded. "Every year. And he eats the cookies I leave out for him."
"Ha!" Alice spat in Bucky's face. She ran towards the group of adults.
"Why'da have to tell her that?" Bucky asked Steve.
"I don't want her to feel bad," he said. "We believed in Santa when we were five."
"Steve, Steve, Steve, it's not about whether or not Santa's real. It's about being an older brother," Bucky explained. "Ya supposed to get on their nerves."
Well, I'm kinda like your brother and you don't get on my nerves."
That's because you're my bestest pal. Friends are a different kind of brothers. The better kind 'cause you chose them."
"I heard that!" Alice called out.
Bucky let out a laugh.
"Allie!" He walked over to Alice and put an arm around her. "I'm just kidding with ya!"
A Few Weeks Later
At around seven in the morning, there was a rapping noise at the window. Steve jolted up to find that Bucky was outside on the fire escape, waving his hand back and forth. He had thrown his coat over his pajamas, his feet in slippers. Steve walked over and opened the window.
"Merry Christmas!" Bucky exclaimed.
"Bucky, whaddya doing?" Steve asked tiredly.
"Giving you your first Christmas present of the day!" Bucky reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a rectangle box wrapped in newspaper. Steve took it and opened it. There was a box of crayons inside, the fancy kind that Steve knew was used in art schools.
"Wow!" Steve exclaimed. His hands traced the outline of the box. "How did you get this?"
"Macys," Bucky said. "Made sure to have Alice and Tommy distract ya while I was buying this. You're always borrowing crayons from school so why not have ya own? I had enough money saved from the summer.
"How much did they cost?"
"Two bucks! Steve gaped at Bucky. "Bucky! You didn't have ta spend that much!"
"You're my best friend and my brother Steve," Bucky said with a grin. "I'm just showing ya that I care."
"Thank you!" Steve set the box of crayons down on the nightstand and took out his present for Bucky from the drawer.
"Here's your present," he handed the clump of newspaper to Bucky."
Bucky unwrapped it. It was a silver whistle with a bird figurine at the end.
"Golly! I'm gonna have fun with this!" Bucky held up the whistle and examined it. "Gonna make all the birds think that I'm one of 'em! Thanks Steve!" He put the whistle to his mouth and blew into it. It made a high pitched ringing sound that pierced the quiet of the early morning.
"James Buchanan Barnes, why is the living room window open and what in God's name are you doing on the fire escape?" Came Mrs. Buchanan's voice from the floor below. "Get down from there!"
Bucky glanced down nervously.
"See ya later!" He quickly made his way down the stairs back into his apartment.
Steve missed Bucky. He had not seen him since the battle at the Triskelion. He wondered what Bucky was doing for Christmas.
"It's beautiful," Peggy Carter's fragile hands loosely held the edges of the paper. She leaned her head in and squinted. It was a portrait of herself that Steve had drawn and painted in. He had used one of the more recent photos of her as a reference.
"Thank you," Steve nodded. "I thought your room might need a little something nice to brighten it up."
They were sitting in the main lounge of the assisted living home. Many of the elderly in the room gathered around the television, watching the movie of the day White Christmas While some were paying attention, most stared blankly at the screen. Their eyes were wide and lifeless, their mouths gaped open. Others were sitting at the long table participating in the arts and crafts project; making a paper snowflake. Those around the table fumbled with the materials in front of them; dropping the glue sticks, spilling the containers of glitter, hands shaking as they tried to fold the paper. Several had given up; frustrated that they weren't able to carry out a simple task that they were able to do a year ago or even a few months earlier.
"Yes," Peggy looked over the drawing again. "It is beautiful. You always drew so well."
"Thank you," Steve said again. "You know what you're doing for Christmas this year?"
"Oh I don't know," Peggy set down the drawing and glanced up at him. "I hope they'll take me home. That would be nice. I hate this place so much."
Steve didn't have the heart to tell her that she would not be going home. Peggy always asked Steve if she would be leaving the assisted living home each time he visited.
She wasn't able to give an address or describe the house she lived in back in England for the past twenty years before the move back to the United States. For Peggy, home was an abstract idea that gave her comfort: something that gave her hope, a reason to wait out these long days in an unfamiliar place filled with strange people.
"I heard that Sharon is going to pick you up and take you over to Johnny's house," Steve told her.
"Ah yes," Peggy blinked. "Sharon."
Like home, Sharon was just another abstract concept to Peggy. A face she couldn't quite remember that came and went every other month when she visited.
They were quiet. Steve picked up the mug of tea and took a sip. Peggy gazed over him with a smile. The nurses there told Steve that Peggy was much more responsive whenever he came to visit which was once a week. A bad day turned into a good one. A good one into a better one. Usually quiet, Peggy talked more when he was around and even attempted to involve the others in the home in their conversations. It was like she had regained a part of herself that she had lost.
"I'm going to spend Christmas Eve with The Avengers," Steve said. "But I'll be joining you guys on Christmas Day. I can't wait. I heard your family knows how to throw a party."
Peggy took notice of the drawing beside her. She picked it up.
"Who's this old lady?" Peggy pointed at the drawing.
"That's you!" Steve told her.
"Oh," she squinted at it again. "Oh yes. She has my eyes. It's beautiful. She's beautiful."
Steve reached out and touched her hand. Her skin was soft and wrinkled. It reminded him of how his grandmother's hand on his mother's side hand used to be. His fingers absentmindedly traced over the purplish veins that protruded on the surface of her hands. He glanced down at his own hand which still had the same firmness as it did back in 1945. Would his hand be just like Peggy's if he had not been frozen in the ice? If he had come back to her and they grew old together? Would they be in a retirement complex now? Sitting on the porch in two rocking chairs, gazing out at the sunset? A cane sitting by his chair, similar to the one his grandfather used? Would they reminisce about the past, the laughter lines on their faces stretching with each smile and chuckle? Holding hands, his' just as soft, wrinkled, and purple as hers'?
Peggy stared into his eyes. She beamed; the widest smile Steve had seen from her that day.
"Steve," she whispered. "We should celebrate Christmas together."
"We will," he answered with a grin.
Steve was driving back from the grocery store. Christmas Eve was in a few days and he had decided to try to make a plum pudding for the party. He wished he had his mother's recipe but he knew it was long gone along with everything else in the past. He had looked up many on the internet and found one that seemed easy enough. He had never baked anything before but he was willing to give it a try. He was decent at cooking and figured that baking was similar.
He turned at the corner and headed south. The radio station was playing Christmas music. Most of the tunes were newer ones---from the last sixty or so years, that Steve was introduced to during the past three years, but occasionally a song popped up that Steve recognized from his youth. He sang along to every song, even the ones he wasn't entirely familiar with.
Many of the newer songs made a good impression on him. He thought Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus were cute. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree and All I Want For Christmas Is You were upbeat songs to dance to.
But there was one song that stood out for him and quickly became one of his favorite Christmas songs of all time. It was playing on the radio as Steve stopped at the light.
So this is Christmas. And what have you done?
Another year over. And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
Steve felt chills go down his spine as John Lennon sang the opening lines. Never had a Christmas song resonated with him so strongly before. He had a tough year: finding out that his best friend was still alive and had been brainwashed to work for HYDRA, that Peggy struggled with Alzheimer's and her days were numbered, that HYDRA had been active in SHIELD all along. Sometimes he wondered how much he could take.
And so this is Christmas.
For weak and for strong
For rich and for poor ones
The world is so wrong
But the hope he felt was stronger than despair. He marveled at how much the world had changed. And for better or for worse, he had survived to see it play out in front of his eyes. And with every single bad event that happened, Steve found hope if he dug deep enough. He had started out alone, but had become friends with a group of people he could relate to and who cared about him. SHIELD had fallen to HYDRA, but Steve could help pick up the pieces and rebuild it from the ground. Peggy and Bucky were still present in his life. And it was wonderful knowing that he had touched their lives as much as they touched his', and that he still had that opportunity to connect to them. He was a survivor. The world may be as bleak as it was back in the 40s but Steve knew that humans could adapt, fight, and change. He wanted to make an impact. He wanted to keep on moving.
And so Happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
It was the same with Christmas. He could be stuck in his own little world of Christmases past, refusing to let go. But he knew that was no way to live. The best was to move forward. Take the old memories and mix them with new ones. Create more fond Christmas memories that he could be proud to look back on.
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
Steve hummed the last few stanzas as he reached the parking garage.
War is over. If you want it.
War is over now