Characters: Steve Rogers, Jacqueline Falsworth-Crichton, a slew of OCs
Spoilers: Generalized Captain America spoilers
Pairings: None, aside from a few mentions of the Commandos and their partners
Word Count 6,429
Summary: Steve is invited to the 14th Annual Howling Commandos Family Reunion, which turns out to be a bit more overwhelming than he'd expected, but rather heartwarming, too.
Author's notes: This is an expansion of the fic I wrote for consci_fan_mo in December. That fic makes the beginning of this one, and then I added on the rest now that I'm not limited by word count.
At the time I started writing this, the only Commandos we knew about were the ones in the original Captain America film, and to save myself a lot of trouble, I've elected not to fold in the ones we've learned of thanks to Agent Carter. Also, I'm not clear on whether Steve met those Commandos or not. To make things easier on myself and not have to come up with a billion surnames, Steve refers to each descendent by the family they come from (any descendent of Gabe is a 'Jones', any of Jacques is a 'Dernier', etc), even though I know there would be a ton of other surnames going by now.
Inspired by a post on tumblr quite a while back about the Howling Commandos being a big extended family and having reunions and such. It's here, though I sort of went off in my own direction with it. I wanted something with Bucky, but it got too long and would have been tacked on, so I've left it as is.
The huge banner set up at the park read '14th Quinquennial Howling Commandos Family Reunion'. 14th. That meant, starting five years after the war, there had been a reunion every five years for 65 years. And now, Steve was awake to join in.
The letter he'd received had been very polite. It was from a Falsworth so he supposed that was expected. It was handwritten on quality paper with a proper fountain pen in proper handwriting. They'd always made Falsworth write everything important. He'd had the best penmanship. 'Public school, my dear fellows' he'd said.
The letter explained about the family reunions—how and when they'd started and that the next one would be in 2015—and let him know that if he would care to join them, he'd be most welcome. There was no need to respond one way or the other, he could just show up if he cared to. If he didn't feel comfortable, that was quite all right, but his invitation would be open for the 2020 one and beyond.
It had taken some courage, but he'd decided to go.
He hadn't expected it to be this large. There was a huge tent, the kind they used for weddings and fairs. There were dozens of cars in the parking lot and a food truck was getting ready to feed everyone. Steve could hear the crowd of voices as he approached the tent. Laughter and screaming children and just a wall of noise. The glare of the sun made the inside of the tent too dark to get much of a look but he could see feet and flashes of color running around.
Outside of the tent, there was a table with a pile of name tag stickers and some Sharpies. 'You're not that important, identify yourself' was the instruction on the sign. Steve had the passing thought that that sounded like a Dugan. He wrote his name on a sticker and stuck it to his shirt. Then he took a deep breath and stepped inside. He had to wait for his eyes to adjust and, when they did, what he felt was...relief. It was an odd sense of total relief.
He couldn't place his finger on why he felt relieved. He just knew that the sight of all these people—so many people—that had come from his unit was somehow comforting. He'd woken up and all of his unit were dead. It felt like he'd had a nap and left them to die. Even if he academically knew that they'd gone on and lived for years, it still felt as though he'd abandoned them. Seeing so many people made it strike home that they had lived. They'd gone on and had children and those children had had children, and they had had lives, yet still cared enough about each other to meet up again every five years. Even after the original Howling Commandos were gone, they'd created enough of a bond that their descendents had continued the tradition.
He saw a few former S.H.I.E.L.D agents. People he'd passed by in the hallways a dozen times who'd never let him know that they were related to his men. There were many men and women in uniform, all branches of the military from America, Britain, and France. There were flocks of children and teenagers. People everywhere. So many people, enough to make him feel like he was being smothered.
Steve found himself outside the tent again, not even really aware that he'd decided to leave. A woman hurried after him.
“Captain!” she called, with Falsworth's crisp British vowels. “Captain. Hello. Welcome.” She came to a stop in front of him, holding out a hand. “I'm so glad you came. I'm Jacqueline Falsworth-Crichton. James was my grandfather.” She smiled at him warmly and placed her other hand over his when he shook hers, giving it a squeeze. “It's the Falsworths' turn to organize this anniversary, so I'm in charge. I'm the one who wrote to you.”
There had been too much other DNA mixed in for Steve to find much of a resemblance to Falsworth in her, except maybe in her smile. He'd married a Canadian nurse he'd met in the war. Steve remembered that from his file. Jacqueline looked to be in her late-thirties, with pale blonde hair and a cleft in her chin.
“I got the letter,” Steve said. “Um. Obviously.”
She grinned. “I'm so pleased it made it to you,” she said. “Finding your address was a nightmare and I wasn't sure if it was too forward of me to write at all. I know it must be hard for you, but you can't imagine how wonderful it is for all of us to have you in the world again.” She gestured with her head. “You will come in for a while, I hope?”
“Um,” Steve said. “I don't know if I—maybe I shouldn't...”
Her face fell slightly, but she lifted her chin and gave him a smile. “I do understand how overwhelming it must be for you,” she said. “But it would mean a lot to all of us. Shall I give you a moment? I need to speak to the food truck driver, why don't I check with you again when I come back?”
“Okay, yeah. That sounds good,” Steve said. “I just need a minute.”
“Of course,” she said.
She moved across the field to the trucks and Steve moved around out of the view of the doorway of the tent to take a few breaths and collect himself. He wanted to go in. He just had to prep himself. He hadn't been expecting this many people. Would they all want to talk to him? Would they all be happy he was there? Maybe some of them were resentful. Maybe some of them wouldn't think he belonged there.
A group of kids spilled out of the tent, a good eight or nine of them of different ages giggling and playing with a ball and with some sort of hand-held video games. A little girl of maybe three toddled after them, eagerly. She couldn't work her way into the pack and looked around, pouting. She spotted Steve and her face lit up like a Christmas tree.
Two seconds later, she had wrapped his legs in a hug and had her face pressed to his thigh. “Captain America, hello,” she said.
Steve let out a surprised laugh, which drew the attention of the rest of the kids.
“It's him!” one of them said.
“Oh my God!” another exclaimed.
One of the kids pulled another's sleeve and made a gesture of tapping a sort of thumb's up on her shoulder. She pointed to Steve and repeated the gesture.
The next thing Steve knew, he was surrounded by children, all beaming up at him.
“Hi!” A boy with red hair and a name tag reading 'Andrew' said, excitedly. “Did you come for the party?”
“Of course he came for the party, why else would he be here?” An identical boy named 'Noah' said. “I'm Noah. I'm a Dugan.”
“Me too,” Andrew said.
“I'm a Morita,” a little girl named Penelope said.
“I'm a Morita and a Dugan,” a boy named Logan said. “That doesn't make me better than anyone else, though,” he added like he was reciting a rule.
One by one, sometimes more than one by one, Steve was given a list of each of their statuses, including a Dernier who did her best in English, but was too excited and so switched to French to explain that her name was Anaëlle and she was from Paris and she'd come on a plane and she was Jacques' great-great-granddaughter and she was happy Steve was there and she had a shirt with him on it, but she hadn't worn it today. The others let her speak, not really knowing what she was saying, and then carried on. There was also another girl who was signing at him, but he didn't know sign language, so was at a bit of a loss until someone translated for her.
“This is Zekaya--she's a Jones,” one of the Dugans—there were a lot of Dugans—explained. “Her sign-name goes like this—” She traced a Z over her heart. “Your name goes like this.” She tapped her shoulder again—the gesture she'd made earlier.
Steve repeated both gestures back, making Zekaya glow.
“I'm glad you're not dead anymore,” Andrew said.
“Were you cold under the ice?” Noah asked.
This sparked off a flurry of questions that Steve had no time to answer before the next one was asked.
“Were you really hungry when you woke up?”
“Did you see any polar bears?”
“How did you go to the bathroom?”
*Very fast sign-language*
“Avez-vous encore votre bouclier?”
“Do you really know Iron Man?”
“I like polar bears.”
“Do you want to play catch?”
“J'ai un bouclier comme vous.”
*More very fast sign-language*
“Polar bears are endangered. I hope you didn't scare them.”
Steve still had the littlest girl attached to his legs and felt his smile just get bigger and bigger at all the enthusiasm being thrown at him. There was no resentment here at least. Just joy. It was amazing. He could spot little traces of the Commandos in them all, eyes or hair or smiles or even the way they stood. It twisted at his heart but not necessarily in a bad way.
“What is this?” Jacqueline called out. “What are you doing to the poor Captain?”
“We were just saying 'hello', Aunt Jacqueline,” one of the Falsworth children, Sebastian, said. “We weren't doing anything naughty. Were we?” He looked up to Steve.
“No, they were just making me feel welcome,” Steve said.
“Well, good. But you should run along and let the poor man breathe, ruffians,” Jacqueline said. “My word, he'll think we haven't managed to breed manners into any of you lot.”
The children reluctantly backed-off, except for the one who was hugging his legs. He crouched down. She had 'written' her name on her sticker, with someone putting '(Gabby)' underneath.
“Captain America,” she said. “Hello.”
“Hi there,” he said.
She beamed at him and kissed his nose before following the others away. Steve chuckled as he rose. Jacqueline gave him a questioning, hopeful look.
“I don't know how long I can stay,” he said. “But I'll try.”
“Excellent!” she said. “We can be a bit overpowering, I will warn for that. Everyone who marries in says it's like joining a cult. I suggest using your elbows if they crowd. Stick by me, I'll make sure you aren't swarmed.”
Steve took another deep breath and nodded. He headed toward the opening of the tent. A little hand slipped into his. Penelope.
“Are you going to stay?” she asked. “You can sit with me! Do you like hot dogs?”
“I love hot dogs,” Steve said.
“We have hot dogs,” she said.
“Well,” he said, with a grin. “I guess I'm staying, then.”
Word seemed to have traveled ahead or maybe people had noticed the first time Steve had gone into the tent as, when he went in the second time, there was a distinct buzz of excitement that hadn't been there before. And, once he was in there, more and more people joined in the buzz and more and more eyes sought him out until it felt like the whole tent was staring at him and talking about him.
“Your hand is all wet,” Penelope said, with a giggle.
“Oops,” Steve said. He took it back and wiped it on his shirt. “I must be hot.”
Penelope reclaimed it as soon as he put it back at his side and smiled up at him. He tried to smile back, but it was hard because the buzzing and staring was overwhelming. Then, someone in the back somewhere gave a whoop and somewhere else clapping started and that spread until the whole of the tent was clapping and cheering. Steve blushed so hard that he felt his entire body was going to burst into flame.
“Hold tight, Captain,” Jacqueline said, in his ear. “I'll settle them down.”
She hurried up to a small stage on one side of the tent and picked up a microphone. She tapped it several times and made a few pointed coughs into it. Slowly, very slowly, the noise died down.
“Ahem,” she said. “May I have your attention over here, please?” The clapping died away. “Thank you. I believe I'll forgo the usual welcoming ceremony for the moment to address the rather large elephant in the room. As you are all now aware, we have a special guest with us this year. Captain Rogers has accepted an invitation to join our little gathering.”
There was another, smaller round of applause and cheers.
“I obviously don't have to ask you to welcome him, as you've done an excellent job of it so far,” Jacqueline went on. “However, I will ask you to remember that he is one man and we are a great many people and even though we are all very excited and happy to see him, he did come to enjoy himself. I'm sure we can allow him some breathing room and not smother him with our attentions.”
She looked meaningfully over the crowd and there were a few nods here and there. Steve was just grateful that some of the eyes had moved off of him, though there were plenty left. He felt exhausted already and he hadn't even been there ten minutes yet. He wondered how long he had to stay to be polite.
“Now that that is out of the way, I will carry on with our usual traditions,” Jacqueline said.
This seemed to consist of a welcome to everyone, a regret for those who couldn't be there, and a moment to remember the members of the 'family' that they had lost during the five years since the last reunion. Jacqueline ran down the technical details of where the food was and where they could find 'facilities' if they were required and who was in charge if any questions needed to be asked. Finally, someone 'better suited than [Jacqueline]' came up to say grace before the food started to be consumed.
“Let us pray,” the man said. “And for those who don't want to pray, y'all can be quiet while we do.”
There was a gentle titter, and everyone bowed their heads while he thanked God for the food, the friendship, and family, and for everyone who had come home safely and asked for those who were still in danger to be protected.
“Amen,” Steve muttered, when the prayer was done.
Jacqueline came back up to declare the festivities officially open.
“Come on,” Penelope said to Steve. “I'll show you where we're sitting.”
Any worries Steve might have had about being overwhelmed were quelled when he realized what a good bodyguard Penelope was going to be. She didn't let anyone stop him for any great length of time. Whenever anyone tried, she declared 'he's sitting with me!' and pulled him onwards as though this was a time-sensitive mission and any delays would result in disaster.
“Here, this is my table,” she said, when she'd pulled him right through to the other side of the tent. “You can sit next to me.” She pointed to a chair next to a woman in her seventies. “That's my nana. Don't worry, she's nice. Nana, this is Captain America.”
“Yes, Penny, I know,” Nana said. She had her hand on her cheek and looked at Steve with wide eyes. “Hello. I'm Helen Nakamori. I'm Jim Morita's daughter.”
Steve couldn't remember much about who Morita had married. He knew she'd been interned in the same camp as Morita's family, and he thought she'd maybe been a teacher, but he couldn't remember her name or much else about her. Helen was tiny, so much so that even shaking her hand made Steve feel like a giant, but she had a pleasant, kind face, and a friendly, if bashful smile.
“It's nice to meet you,” Steve said. “Is it okay if I sit here?”
“You can sit anywhere you like,” Helen said, very fast. “I hope Penny isn't being too forceful. It's not ladylike.”
“I'm not a lady,” Penelope said, without remorse. “I'm tough.”
“You can be both,” Steve said, slipping into the chair between them. “You don't have to choose one or the other unless you want to. I know lots of tough ladies.”
“Maybe I'll be both,” Penelope said. “But today I want to be me.”
Steve smiled. “That's always a good thing to be,” he said. “How old are you?”
“Seven,” Penelope said. “But I'll be eight in February.”
It was May now, so Steve thought seven was probably a more accurate number.
“How old are you?” Penelope asked.
“Uh...” Steve said. “Well...almost 97. I'll be 97 in July.”
Penelope's eyes widened. “That's older than Nana!” she said. She cocked her head to the side. “Do you moisturize?”
“I took a really long nap in an iceberg,” Steve said. “I guess there was a lot of moisture in there.”
“It's all very strange,” Helen said. “Miraculous, of course, and wonderful, but very strange. You look exactly the same as all the pictures I saw growing up. You're the same man. But I'm old and you're the same. I'm sorry, I'm not saying anything you don't already know. But it's very odd to have a hero out of your bedtime stories step into real life and shake your hand!”
It was odd for Steve to be a character in anyone's bedtime story. “I wasn't sure if it would be too weird,” he said. “I was really honored to get the invitation, but I don't really feel like I'm supposed to be here.”
Helen smiled. “You deserve to be here as much as anyone,” she said. “You have to remember if you hadn't done what you did and rescued my father and the others, none of us would be here at all. That certainly deserves a seat at any table here, I think.”
Steve looked around the room at the hundreds of people in there. It hadn't seemed like much at the time. He was just trying to get to Bucky, the rest had sort of happened as a side effect.
“I did what anyone else would have done,” Steve said.
Helen shook her head. “No, Captain, they wouldn't. And they didn't.”
Penelope brought Steve a hot dog and a soda and told him there was lots of food so he could have seconds if he wanted. Helen told her seconds were not ladylike and Penelope made an official decision that she didn't want to be ladylike. The rest of Penelope's family trickled over and they were all very personable and nice, aside from a teenage girl who seemed nervous and blushed to a bright tomato red whenever Steve looked at her. So, he tried not to look at her, but he felt rude, so every once in awhile he'd feel obliged to look at her, and she would flush and he'd look away again quickly. It was a silly cycle.
Helen's husband, Hikaru, regaled Steve with stories of meeting and dating Helen and the trials Morita had put him through.
“You have to remember, I was a little timid fellow, and he was James Morita, an American war hero,” he said. “People respected James Morita—even Whites—and that wasn't common for a Japanese man in his day. I was terrified of him. It was like meeting the president. And on our first date, Helen brought me in to meet her parents and Jim was sitting there at the kitchen table, cleaning his pistol. I thought he was going to kill me.”
“It wasn't that bad,” Helen said, as Steve laughed at how much he could picture Morita doing just that very thing. “It was just for show.”
“I didn't know that,” Hikaru said. “But that was nothing to prepare me for my first one of these reunions. Then I had the whole of the Howling Commandos interrogating me on my intentions and making it very clear that if I chose to behave in an ungentlemanly fashion to any one related to any one of them, I was in for a world of trouble. I proposed the next day.”
“Because you loved me,” Helen said, with a sniff.
“Because I loved her,” Hikaru agreed. “And also because I was terrified.”
“It's even worse now,” Penelope's dad, Leo, said. “You only had to deal with the original Commandos. I was interrogated by hundreds of people when I started dating Janet. I didn't think I'd make it out alive.”
“It's like having 200 older brothers,” Janet said.
The chatter was frequently interrupted by people coming up to the table to say hello. Everyone was respectful, for the most part, about waiting their turn and coming in small groups. No one was rude, but some were a little excited and rushed or swarmed. Steve shook hand after hand and smiled smile after smile and didn't take any of the names in as he was introduced to that Dugan and this Falsworth and that Dernier. There were a couple of Carters and one Barnes, who looked so much like Bucky's sister Rebecca that Steve nearly called her Rebby twice. She was Rebecca's great-granddaughter. Apparently, there had been enough checking up on the Barnes family after the War that Rebbeca's daughter had eventually fallen in love with a Dugan and married into the Howling Commandos family.
Steve was given babies to hold and anyone below the age of about forty asked for a selfie with him. It was a bit like the war bonds tour (though selfies weren't a thing then). It was exhausting, but he tried to keep smiling and take the photos and bounce the babies because he could see how important it was to everyone. Every single person who came up called him Captain or sir, as though he were the commanding officer of the whole tent. The military personnel all saluted, regardless of what branch or country they served. Even the children called him Captain America. It was as touching as it was overwhelming.
Steve and Penny both had a second hot dog, but he suspected it was for different reasons.
Penny brought him an ice cream cone for dessert ('you've never had cookie dough ice cream?! I'll get you two scoops') and, by the time he'd finished that, he was on good terms with the whole of the Morita clan at the table. Except for the teenage girl, who was called Naomi, and still wouldn't look at him. Jack, Naomi's older brother, who was about Steve's age (or the age he looked, anyway) declared it was time for the baseball round robin to begin and invited Steve along. Steve accepted because getting outside in a more open space seemed like it would be a good idea.
When he arrived at the diamond in the park, a pop fly had been hit by someone warming up. He ran backward a bit, caught it bare-handed, and tossed it back. It was a light toss, but the person who caught it took their mitt off and shook their hand out.
“Sorry!” Steve called.
About twenty different people simultaneously shouted 'We get the Captain!' and an argument broke out for which team was the most deserving of him.
“We should get him,” one of the Falsworth team members declared. “We're at a disadvantage, this isn't our sport. We only play baseball every five years at these reunions. We should get a handicap. You can have him for the football.”
The Dernier team all agreed in chattered French that Steve should play on the European teams for baseball and the American ones for soccer.
“I've never actually played either game,” Steve said.
This prompted a stunned silence, which was then broken by an objection from one of the American teams' members that, because Steve was Captain America, it was stupid to let him play for the Brits.
“He didn't have any problems working with us during the war,” one of the Brits replied. “He was happy to have us, then.”
“One of you,” an American replied, good-naturedly. “The rest of us were American.”
“Pardon?” One of the French players replied. “Where was Jacques Dernier from? Oh yes, it was France. Ze number of Americans only means zat more of you were captured during ze War, hein? Zhey had to be clever to catch us, but with you, you fell right into ze traps.”
“No, they just chose more of us 'cause we actually do work,” another American replied.
'Oooooh,' hummed around the diamond and laughter broke out.
“How about the Captain umps?” one of the older team members suggested. “He's neutral, he'll be a fair judge of play. If he wants to, of course. You could just watch, Captain, if you'd prefer.”
“No, I'd love to be the umpire,” Steve said. “I used to do that when I was small— younger.” Bucky always made sure Steve had a role in any sports situation, even if it couldn't be one as a player.
That settled matters. Steve still played a little though, accepting the request to hit a few balls to warm-up the outfielders. It rapidly turned into an experiment to see how far he could hit the ball, which turned out to be all the way back to the tent. He could probably have kept going, but Steve was afraid he was going to hit someone, so he pretended that was as much strength as he could put into swinging.
There was a long list of established rules for how the round robin worked. Teams faced off by captains pulling numbers from a hat and each game only lasted three innings. Otherwise, there wouldn't be enough time for everyone to play. The teams that won their first games met each other the second round and so on until there was a winner. The first games were casual, but by the time they were down to the final four teams, they had a huge crowd of people on the bleachers and on blankets around the diamonds, screaming and chanting just as loudly as any Major League game. Steve started being heckled for his calls, which he actually enjoyed because it meant he was being treated less like a figure of awe and more like a member of the family.
There was an actual trophy awarded to the winners, a banged up, hand-carved thing that Dernier probably made. He was always fiddling around with something. The captain of the last reunion's winning team brought it up. Steve recognized her. Agent Hogan, who he must have been on three or four missions with. He pulled her aside after she'd passed the trophy to the captain of Team Real Dugans (not to be confused with Team Best Dugans).
“Why didn't you tell me?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “Didn't want any special treatment,” she said. “I wanted to prove myself to you myself and not just because I'm Gabe Jones' great-granddaughter. We wear our Commando Badges with pride, sir, but we don't use them as a crutch.”
“You have a lot to be proud of,” Steve said. “Commando Badge or not.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said. “Uh, can I ask you a favor?”
“Sure,” Steve said.
“My great-grandmother is here,” she said. “She's Gabe's widow. She'd love to meet you, but she wasn't up to trying to join the swarm earlier. Everyone's out here now, do you think you could go and say hey?”
Steve certainly could. He followed Hogan back to the tent. It had cleared out considerably and those inside were mostly of the older generation. Hogan led him over to a woman in a wheelchair. She was tiny and frail, with salt and pepper hair in coils under a little hat with a veil and cloudy brown eyes that were still somehow sharp. Hogan went over to crouch next to her.
“Sissy, Captain Rogers came to see you,” she said. “Captain Rogers, this is my great-grandmother, Gladys Jones. Sissy, this is Captain Rogers.”
“Well, so it is,” Mrs. Jones (Steve immediately decided 'Mrs. Jones' was the only way to address her) said. “Come here and give me a hug, young man.”
Steve grinned and did as he was told. She kissed his cheeks warmly.
“I'm not really a young man,” he said.
“Maybe not in spirit, but in body you sure are,” Mrs. Jones replied. “It's the opposite for me. Spirit's willing, body's unable.” She kept her hands on his cheeks as he pulled back and crouched down in front of her. “Look at you. Not a day over 1945!”
“A few days,” Steve said. “It's nice to meet you.”
“It's nicer to meet you!” Mrs. Jones said. “I wish Gabe could be here to see you.”
“Me, too,” Steve said, truthfully.
“He's smilin' down,” Mrs. Jones said.
“I know,” Steve said.
Mrs. Jones patted his cheeks a few more times. “He never got to thank you properly,” she said. “He was always regretting that he didn't get to tell you how grateful he was for all you did. I'm 94 years old and he's been waiting on me for a while up there, but I'll tell you one thing—if I get up there and haven't passed along that message, I'm gonna be in big trouble! So, I'll say thank you and you know who it's from.”
Steve smiled. “He was a good man,” he said. “A good soldier. I owe him a lot. I'd like to thank him, too.”
“Well, I ain't planning on going just yet,” Mrs. Jones said. “But when I get there, I'll pass that message right back to him.”
Team Falsworth United (not to be confused with Team Falsworth City) won the soccer round robin later in the afternoon. Steve had never been keen on soccer,and he joined the throngs on the sideline to cheer on rather than participate. There were other activities happening--pick-up games of American football, kids turning cartwheels in the grass, and tossing a plastic disc around. Steve heard all the gossip around him as he sat in the crowd. There seemed to be few secrets amongst the Commandos. They were all in each other's pockets.
“He's going to marry his boyfriend in June, now that they've allowed gay marriage in that state.”
“She's only sixteen, poor thing. Still, she's always been a bit of a wild one.”
“They just can't do anything with him, but I guess Paul Dugan's brought him down to his farm and he's smartened him up a bit.”
“She's over in Syria with Unicef, so she couldn't make it here. She sends her love, though.”
“Can you imagine, triplets?! What a miracle. All that IVF and three at once. They'll be set for life, now, but that first year is going to be a trial, bless'm.”
There was a Scavenger Hunt going on for the children and one of the items on the list was 'something American'. Many of the kids considered Steve to fit that bill, so he had an influx of little people coming over to him and asking for an autograph or picture as proof they'd found the item.
Steve ended up staying into the late afternoon and then into the evening. Each time he thought he should be getting going, someone approached or some activity started up and he stayed that little bit longer. The longer he stayed, the more at home he felt, like he belonged there and not just because he was the Captain, but because he counted as a member of the family.
When it started to get dark, Penny came up to tell him it was time to roast marshmallows.
“You can come to my fire,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him across the field.
The families seemed to have mingled together throughout the day and were less organized by ancestor, so Penny's campfire had more than just the Moritas around it. Steve took a seat in a camp chair and was given a stick and shown how to make S'mores. Penny took the lesson seriously and Steve didn't have the heart to tell her that he'd made S'mores before. These weren't exactly the S'mores he'd made with the scouts as a kid, though. There were all sorts of variations and different flavors of chocolate and marshmallows to add.
“Papi always said that his favorite memories were around the campfire,” one of the Derniers said to Steve.
“Yeah, we had some fun,” Steve agreed. Campfires came in the middle of a tense mission, which made being silly and raucous and distracting each other vital. Lots of wild stories and laughter. “Jacques always had good stories to tell.”
“He never lost that skill,” she said, with a grin. “Everyone gathered at his knee and he would...what's the phrase...hold court over the room. He told many thrilling adventure tales. I'm sure most were embellished, but we all were in awe.”
Jacques probably had a better go of telling stories when everyone in the room could understand him. Jones had to do the translating for him at the beginning until the rest of the Commandos started to pick up French and Jacques picked up English. Then it became a mish-mash of languages, which somehow made the stories even funnier because they were missing half of them and had to make up the middle bits themselves and everyone came up with a different interpretation.
At another campfire over, someone took out a guitar and started singing. That caught on at a few other campfires, but around Steve's fire, they just listened. Penny pulled on Steve's sleeve.
“I made you a friendship bracelet today,” she said, pulling it from her overall pocket. “I didn't put any beads on it because you're a boy.”
It was made of diagonal stripes of, appropriately, red, white, and blue.
“Wow, that's great,” Steve said. “Thanks.” He held out his wrist for her to tie it around. “I'm sorry I don't have something for you.”
“That's okay,” she said. “We can be friends anyway.”
“Good,” Steve said, with a smile. “I'm glad.”
Penny earnestly informed him that if he was going to stay overnight, he could have her bed in the camper. Steve told her he appreciated the offer, but he was in driving distance of his place, so he wasn't going to be camping like those who'd come in from out of town. Once the campfires died away and Penny was practically asleep where she sat, Steve decided it was time to go for real. He found Jacqueline to let her know he was going and to thank her. She gave him a rib-cracking hug.
“I'm so glad you came, Captain,” she said, holding his hands in hers as she stepped back from the hug. “It meant so much to everyone. I hope you had a good time.”
“I did,” Steve said, truthfully. “I had a really good time. It was really nice. I'm glad you all stick together.”
“Oh yes, you can't break us apart,” Jacqueline said. “Not with any weapon known to man. You're, of course, welcome back for years to come. If you'd like to keep in touch in the in between—and that's by no means to put pressure on you—you can join the mailing list.”
“The mailing list?” Steve said.
“Yes, we have a sort of weekly newsletter by e-mail,” Jacqueline said. “It used to be an actual mailing list and it used to be monthly, but time has moved on and the family has grown so vastly we couldn't fit it all in. It's also a good way to spread any important news—if you e-mail the address it gets sent to everyone. We mobilize very fast in a crisis that way. Lilou Rochette manages it, currently. She's over there. If you give her your information, she'll get you sorted.”
Steve waffled for a bit before electing to join in. He hadn't been sure about the reunion and it went well. He'd like to be able to mobilize in a crisis, too.
He spoke to Lilou, whom he'd met earlier in the day and had forgotten exactly which generation she belonged to. Everyone kind of blurred together and he'd been grateful for the name tags which made it seem like he'd been keeping track of everyone when really he'd had to spend the first thirty seconds of each new conversation making an educated guess as to who they were and which Commando they came from. Which was complicated by the fact that many of them had married into other families. He'd actually met a six-month-old who was proudly proclaimed to be the first of them to claim blood of all the Commandos.
“We call her the Chosen One,” her father had said, with a smirk.
Lilou promised to add him to the list. “It is all just birth and wedding announcements, mostly,” she said. “But we like to gossip.”
Maybe the next time Steve came, he'd be in everyone's pockets, too. He thought there would be a next time. He wouldn't be so hesitant about the 15th Quinquennial Howling Commandos Family Reunion.
He'd just be a member of the family, too.