Pairings/Characters: Steve/Diana, Ma Hunkel
Genres: Angst, Drama, Historical, Holiday, Romance, Slice-Of-Life
Summary: Christmas in wartime can be both merry and sad.
Date Of Completion: December 2, 2014
Date Of Posting: December 17, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 2163
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
The entire series can be found here.
In a world of war,
Love’s heart dreads
The coming days.
Against a pink sky
As thunder rumbles.
The one left behind
As she yearns
For her beloved
To come home.
Edna St. James
Snow fell gently to earth as carolers sang, “God rest ye merry gentlemen.” A vendor was doing a brisk business selling hot roasted chestnuts on the corner while shoppers bustled down the sidewalks, carrying packages and bags. Wreaths decorated doors and displays were glittering with holiday decorations and goods to sell in store windows. Bells rang as women in Salvation Army uniforms and men in Santa suits stood by red kettles as shoppers dropped coins inside with a satisfying clank.
Diana and Steve walked down the street, Diana holding onto her beau’s arm. A giant plastic Santa Claus sat atop the entrance to the city’s main department store, surrounded by colored lights. Store workers dressed as elves handed out free copies of a small booklet entitled Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Diana took a copy and placed it in her shopping bag. The giant Christmas tree on the Common twinkled with matching lights and ornaments. A tinny speaker broadcast Bing Crosby crooning, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”
“Downtown during Christmas season is fun, isn’t it?” Steve asked. They passed a fragrant Christmas tree lot as children eagerly ran around looking for the perfect tree while their parents spoke with the owner.
“Verily.” Diana was pleased at the way the cold pinked Steve’s cheeks and set his blue eyes to sparkling. “A merry time is had by all.”
And, indeed, the gaiety was unforced if a little frantic. They passed a newsboy shouting the latest war news and the butcher shop reminded people about the points system under rationing. Blackout curtains hung in the windows of apartments over storefronts. War underlaid everything as the merriment covered worry.
Nineteen forty-two had not been a good year for the Allies. London continued to face Nazi bombing, sometimes as fierce as the Blitz. Hitler had a stranglehold on Europe, and American and British forces had been in retreat in the South Pacific in the first half of the year. Bataan and Corregidor had fallen, the Philippines were gone, and whispers and rumors about the incredible brutality of the Bataan Death March had made grim rounds. The Battle of Guadalcanal still raged. In the North Atlantic, German submarines were sinking Allied shipping with impunity, and Stalingrad was still under siege on the Russian Front. Oil still bubbled up rainbow slicks in Pearl Harbor as battleships and their crews lay in watery graves.
The only bright spots had been the U.S. Navy’s victory over their Japanese counterparts at Midway and the Doolittle bombing raids on Tokyo in springtime, and the successful landings of the U.S. Army in November in North Africa.
As they walked through downtown, Diana was well aware of how long wars could take.
War is always easy to begin but difficult to end.
She wore a warm, red winter coat and cap trimmed in white fur with silver bells attached, their merry sound delighting passersby and evoking nods and smiles. Her boots and gloves were also red with white trim. Steve wore his Army Air Force dress uniform under a brown greatcoat. Little puffs of frosty air came out of his mouth as he spoke.
“Want to go back to Ma’s for hot chocolate?”
“That sounds lovely.”
They passed a jewelry store and Diana admired the sparkling baubles. Steve smiled and joked, “Not on my salary, Angel.”
Diana observed shadows in Steve’s eyes. She had been feeling that something was bothering him for a week now.
They arrived at the brownstone of Ma Hunkel and went up the steps and inside. Both had a key and Diana used hers. The mouthwatering aroma of gingerbread greeted them as they removed their boots in the chilly vestibule and opened the door to the hall.
“Ma?” Diana called.
“She must be out,” Steve said as he took Diana’s coat and hung it and his greatcoat up in the hall closet. Diana set her bag on the telephone divan.
The house was merrily decorated with holly twining around the balustrade of the main staircase and festooned on the living room mantelpiece. A wreath with berries and a big red bow adorned the front door.
Diana and Steve entered the kitchen and Diana picked a note off the table. “She says there is gingerbread warming in the oven and hot chocolate on the stove.”
Steve scooped out the chocolate into mugs and added festive peppermint sticks in the shape of candy canes while Diana used a spatula to take out some gingerbread.
“They are in the shapes of reindeer and snowmen!” she exclaimed happily.
“Leave it to Ma to be creative this time of year.”
“Let us go into the living room,” she suggested.
Steve got a fire going and they sat on the worn but comfortable couch. It was a faded cranberry color with lace doilies on the back and arm rests. There were two overstuffed chairs with a design of birds and berries, and a dark-green ottoman with a piece of masking tape repairing a tear. The rug was dark-red and worn in spots. A picture of a couple in 19th-century wedding dress framed in wood was hanging on the wall behind the couch. The large mirror above the fireplace was etched with fancy swirls along the borders and the pale pink wallpaper was patterned with sprigs of red roses. A Christmas tree stood in one corner and electric blue candles were lit in the windows. In the opposite corner was a large Philco radio. A cuckoo clock was set on the wall behind one of the chairs. The Justice Society had offered to redecorate, but Ma was reluctant to change it.
“You think Ma will at least let Bruce buy her a new ottoman?” Steve asked with a smile.
“Perhaps.” Diana pointed behind her. “That painting is of her parents on their wedding day.”
Steve twisted around to look. “You know, you’re right. I can see the resemblance.” He turned around and sipped his chocolate.
The fire crackling was a peaceful sound. On Paradise Island there was little need of fires except in Io's forge or when camping out in the woods. She took a bite of gingerbread, appreciating the distinctive flavor.
“Did Ma say when she’d be back?” Steve asked.
“Did the note say anything else?”
“Oh, yes, she said she would be back by eight. She went Christmas shopping.”
“Ah, good.” Steve took another sip and ate a piece of warm gingerbread.
“Is there something you wish to tell me?”
Steve smiled wryly. “I can never hide anything from you, can I?”
“No.” Diana smiled back. “What is it, Beloved?”
He swirled his chocolate with the peppermint stick. “I have new orders.”
Diana felt her stomach tighten. “Where?”
“England. I’m to report to the Eighth Bomber squadron the day after Christmas.”
“For what purpose? Is there espionage going on that needs Military Intelligence?”
“Probably, but I’m going to fly missions.”
Diana took a long sip of hot chocolate. “You are a fighter pilot.”
“Primarily, but I trained in bombers, too, when I was over there during the Battle of Britain in 1940. I was a fighter pilot and bomber commander. They were short of everything over there. I flew with a mix of Americans, British and Canadians. We even had a Free Frenchman for awhile.”
Diana kept her hand steady as she lifted the mug to her lips. How she wished she could keep Steve safe! If only she could go into battle by his side, but of course that would be unfair to all the other young men risking their lives.
“I just wish…” she murmured.
He covered her hand with his own. “I can’t have my own personal Guardian Angel, Angel.”
She smiled through her tears. “I know. However, as a Warrior, I reserve the right to fight in England on occasion, as I do in North Africa or the South Pacific.”
“Deal.” He squeezed her hand.
They kissed as the flames from the hearth reflected in the tree’s glass ornaments.
Ma Hunkel stamped the snow off her boots in the vestibule. She huffed as she bent down to remove them. She nudged the inner door to the hall open with her shoulder as she lugged her bags inside, noting the bag on the telephone divan. The cuckoo clock in the living room struck eight.
Soft music was playing from the Philco. She glanced into the living room. She still called it a parlor in her head.
Diana and Steve were canoodling on the couch. She smirked. Amazon or not, Wonder Woman was still a woman. Making out with her soldier boyfriend was perfectly okay as long as they didn’t go past the petting stage. Propriety was important, after all!
Ma lumbered down the hall, the bags crackling as they hit her legs. She hefted them up on the kitchen table and shut off the oven. Her mother would have appreciated this new-fangled oven instead of the iron monstrosity she’d had to cook on.
She heard movement in the hall. The kitchen door opened and Diana said, “Ah, you are back, Ma.”
“Looks like, honey,” Ma snorted.
Diana laughed. She looked smart in her red blouse and black skirt with black loafers. She wore a gold star-shaped pin and her usual round red earrings. Ma approved of her stylish outfit.
“Need help with those bags?”
“No, I can handle ‘em. Could you take care of the gingerbread and hot chocolate?”
“Certainly.” Diana took the gingerbread out of the oven and transferred the festive shapes to a plate and wrapped them in saran wrap, placing the plate in the icebox. She started next on the chocolate.
Steve poked his head into the kitchen. “Hi, Ma.”
“Hi yourself, Steven Trevor!”
Steve’s grin widened. He came inside and embraced Ma, who pushed him away in mock dudgeon.
“Here now, you fresh!”
Steve laughed. “Thanks for the wonderful gingerbread and hot chocolate, Ma. I’ve got to get back to the office.”
“This late?” Ma noticed how handsome Steve looked in his uniform, brass buttons shining. Nothin’ like a man in uniform.
“I have to pick up some papers.”
“Well, then, off with ya!” Ma’s eyes twinkled.
Diana finished putting away the hot chocolate and came over to Steve. “I will see you out, my love.”
The couple went down the hall after Steve got his greatcoat out of the closet. They spoke as lovers do, in muted tones and loving touches. Ma busied herself with storing the bags in a safe place. She would wrap the presents tomorrow. The orphanage would be expecting these presents for the party.
The vestibule door closed and Diana came back into the kitchen. Ma checked the blackout curtains. “What is it, dear?”
Diana put her hands in her skirt pockets. “How did you know?”
“I can tell when a young lady is upset over her beau.”
Diana smiled sadly. “A wise woman. You remind me of Minerva, a very wise woman indeed on Paradise Island.”
Ma felt an upsurge of pride. “Well, now, what’s your trouble?”
Diana sighed. “Steve has orders to ship out the day after Christmas.”
“England.” Her hands turned into fists. “He will be flying bomber missions.”
Ma understood the unspoken: she must not give any specifics of Steve’s mission outside of the J.S.A.
“I am a Warrior. I know these things must be done, but…”
“…you’re a woman in love.”
Ma put a hand on Diana’s arm. “You’re Wonder Woman. Your strength is more than physical.”
Diana smiled. “Truly wise.” She placed her hand on Ma’s and set her shoulders. “And many women face this parting.”
“At least you’ll have Christmas. Or Yule?”
Ma nodded. “Both it is.”
The two women talked at the kitchen table about the orphanage party, then Diana took her leave, picking up her shopping bag and going out into the snowy night
Ma went around shutting off the lights and sighed. So many couples would be forever parted because of this war.
She thought of a handsome young man in his dress uniform in the spring of 1917 coming to tell her that he’d enlisted, and she had watched him march in the parade of soldiers heading down to the train depot the next day. He’d promised to write as often as he could, and the letters came on a fairly regular basis, cheerful and chatty, though she knew better, but she wrote back in kind, until one day in the fall of 1918, the letters stopped coming.
She wiped away a tear and shut off the final light, the windows rattling as the snow fell and the wind blew.