Because there is a distinct lack of good Dr. Erskine fic out there. Also, I thought he was an awesome sort of mentor-figure, like a combination of Gaius and… um… maybe Uncle Iroh. (I wouldn’t know. I have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender.) I am not ashamed to say this: I cried when they killed him off.
Okay, here we go.
It Comes Down To One
Out of all the hundred recruits who were brought into Camp Lehigh, Abraham knew it really only came down to one.
He knew it when he crossed out the names of the first two platoons that had been on the list. Their names were sorted the next day. Two weeks later, they were all gone, shipped out for other camps, to different divisions.
The third platoon—technically, now a half-platoon—two squads—twenty men. Out of those two squads, only one was informed of their true reason for being here.
To a man, all of that squad volunteered of their free will for the project.
However, only one man’s eyes lacked the eagerness, holding solemnity instead, with a deep determination underlying it.
(“Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll do it.”)
Forner was crossed off the list when he sat down and refused to go any further on a march. He wasn’t going to be a supersoldier—but he was going to have his backside whipped into shape, one way or another. (The man, to Erskine’s total irritation, was a draftee—had Abraham had his way, the camp would have contained only volunteers.)
Bensley did not understand the reality of war. When Rogers tried to set him straight and told him that war was not glorious and death wasn’t funny, he flipped Rogers and shoved him under his bunk.
Rogers showed up to morning roll-call with bruises. Bensley did not show up at all.
By now, all of the remaining candidates couldn’t help but look a little nervous whenever Abraham, Agent Carter, or one of the other specialists walked by. (They had always been wary of Carter, and all of them always snapped anxiously to attention for Philips.)
Collough was probably Scottish, naturalized American; he spoke with a brogue and looked his commanding officers in the eye, calmly, when he told them that he believed he could serve his country better elsewhere. Phillips grunted noncommittally, but he sent Collough off to receive further training as a radioman, among the best in the country.
(Collough was probably the only man in the camp who had seen what Erskine saw in Rogers.)
Clay was the next to go. (He took the last apple so that Marley would have to eat the syrupy, disgusting canned fruit instead, at lunch.)
Marley went right along with Clay. (He’d taken the apple from Rogers, who didn’t finish his meal anyway, but it was rude all the same.)
(“Are you sure you want this?” he asked silently.
(Rogers’ earnest face looked back at him, saying quite clearly without the necessity of speech, “I know the risks, the dangers. I just want to help people.”)
Samson was out next, for being too good at his job. They couldn’t afford to lose a sniper that good on a mere science experiment.
(“Good riddance,” Phillips grumbled as Hodge’s crony was sent off. Somehow, he had managed to annoy even the colonel.)
When they were down to nine, he’d already discounted Hodge, but he did not have a good reason to send Hodge off, until the experiment was done.
Elliot was next to go. He hadn’t stopped firing when ordered on a training exercise. Not even when the sergeant had tried to take the rifle from him. He went to a desk job—“psychologically unfit” for front-line duty.
Coleman started a brawl with staff, then tried to pass it off on another man.
(“Are all the men in the camp this bad?” Erskine asked himself, in a moment of uncharacteristic cynicality.)
Hodge had never put a foot wrong.
But when it came down to the choice, there really had only been ever one choice.
Rogers did understand the risks, the danger, the possibility of failure.
Abraham feared that the younger man did not realize that the risk to him, personally, was greater if there should be success. He had seen heroes before—they had come back from the Great War, often broken men.
He knew the mark of true greatness well, and he saw it on the scrawny, unpromising recruit. Should the process succeed, it would mean difficult things would be asked of Rogers, and Abraham wished he could spare the young man that.
However, he could not pass this up. He could not deny the world the hero it so gravely needed, nor could he deny the chance to Rogers. (The chance that would give him the ability to do all he could with his big heart, to give him the physical strength to match his mental and spiritual strength.)
But Rogers did know what would be asked of him, the burden of this truly double-edged gift. And still, he volunteered.
(“Do you really want this?” Erskine asked silently. The young soldier’s grave expression was answer enough.
(“Do it.” the silent reply said, steely. “If I don’t try, then who else will?”)
From the beginning to the end, there really had been only one candidate.
It all came down to one.