Georgie slammed a fist into Steve’s face, careful to avoid breaking anything, and waited as he crashed into the wall at the end of the alley. She sighed and rolled her eyes as the skinny man spat blood onto the filthy alley floor, pulled his hands back up, and rolled his shoulders before aiming a roundhouse at her.She swayed to one side with ease, letting the fist slide past her before grabbing Steve’s wrist and shoving him back into the wall again. As she stepped forward to shove him to his knees, Steve kicked out at her legs. She hissed in shock as he connected hard with the side of her knee. Taking advantage of the hit Steve rolled to his feet and punched out at her ribs.
Georgie growled as he managed to hit her again, and with a firm blow knocked Steve off his feet and into the nearest trashcan, a harsh crack sounding out as he landed awkwardly. She moved to stand directly over him, and feet planted on either side of his hips, she grinned at him as she waited for him acknowledge her dominance.
As she waited instinct won out and she tilted her head to listen to the uneven pounding of his heart and the rasping edge as breath caught in his lungs. Need to protect her urban pack winning out over her desire to beat the shit out of Steve for challenging her. Unwilling to actually risk killing the only other Sentinel left in Brooklyn, even if he was dormant, she stepped back, leaving him sprawled in the mud, and turned to leave.
A rattle of metal and a painful sounding gasp had her turning back.
“Oh, come on, Steve! You really wanna go around this again?” she snarled as he defiantly lifted the trashcan lid in his hand and charged at her.
Hooking a hand behind the lid she heaved it out of his grip and grabbed him around the throat. Georgie prowled forward until they were pressed tight together, Steve’s back hard against the wall. She tilted her head and leant forward so she was speaking directly into his good ear.
“Look, Steve, I get it. It’s not fair, but challenging me isn’t going to fix you! You can’t fight your way into coming online, that’s not how it works.”
She paused to take a deep breath and get control of her urge to shout. “You want to protect the world, I get that and I can’t imagine how much it must hurt to have an Alpha Sentinel’s instinct trapped in a broken body. But keep challenging me when the boys are overseas and you won’t live to see Barnes come home. You hearing me?”
She lent back and glared at Steve, waiting for him to give in.
Hearing familiar, but long absent, footsteps heading down the alley she let go of Steve as he slowly nodded, leaning back into the wall as the man behind Georgie got close enough for Steve to see.
She carefully stepped out of the way before she could be shoved.
“Barnes,” she acknowledged as the man in question ignored her entirely in favour of running delicate hands over Steve. She watched carefully, backing down the alley quickly, as the Guide went from nearly 6 foot of fussing mother hen, to angry soldier when he reached the rib she had heard snap earlier.
“I’d have thought you woulda known by now to pick on someone your own size, sweetheart.” Bucky said coldly moving towards her.
“Well, everyone in my league was out of town and Stevie seemed a little bored. If I knew you were going to be home today I’d have waited longer to get my kicks.” Georgie shot back trying to lighten the mood, completely unwilling to get into a pissing contest with an angry Guide.
Georgie sighed in relief at Barnes’ soft exclamation and the light whack to the back of the head that her words earned Steve. She shrugged at Barnes as he frowned at her.
“Go find someone else to knock about with. Steve ain’t up for your kind of brawling.” Barnes huffed at her even as Steve protested.
Georgie grinned at him. “Anytime you want a good ‘brawl’ you just give me a bell, Barnes,” she purred as she backed down the alley, using one hand to map his outline in the air as she blew a kiss at him. “I’ll give any Guide a helping hand. Anytime.”
“Sure, next time I wanna try a VD for size I’ll hop right on that, Georgie.” Bucky replied sharply before turning his back and starting to fuss over Steve again.
“Well, you ever decide you want to play around with a real Sentinel you just let me know, Barnes, and I’ll set you right up.” She carefully straightened her Home Guard uniform and gave Steve a firm look as he glanced around Barnes to watch her leave.
Bucky stared down at the 5 foot 4 bundle of attitude that was his best friend and sighed. Steve was hunched, back clearly hurting as much as his pride – not that the stubborn little shit would admit to either of those hurts. His nose was bloody, a steady stream down his worryingly pale skin. A bruise already setting on his forehead with a deep purple cast.
With a sigh Bucky reached down and picked up an off-white piece of paper that had been half mashed into a puddle during the fight. Without even looking at it he waved it at Steve and asked, “Who were you today? Stevie Rogers from Paramus?” He peeled the folded paper open and laughed when he turned out to be correct. “You do realise that if you get found out you’re going to be in a whole pile of trouble.”
Steve laughed before bitterly spitting, “No, they figure out who I really am and all they’ll do is send me home with a slapped wrist and a note on some file somewhere to say I’m ‘a fucked up Sentinel going over the top to get to a fight.’ Hell, maybe there already is and they are just humouring me by not letting on that they know who I am.”
Bucky slung an arm over Steve’s shoulder and pulled him tight in response to the frustration in his voice. He tugged him out of the alley and down the road to the crumbling tenement they called home. Barnes indulged in the almost habitual pause on the 3rd floor before dragging a still wheezing Steve up two more flights of stairs and into their dank little apartment.
Pushing him into the less creaky of the two kitchen chairs Bucky began to fuss. Tipping the room warm water out of the jug on the side, he gathered a cloth and a dash of Mercurochrome to wash out the cuts. He muttered light-hearted insults as he pushed Steve’s head from side to side to inspect the idiot’s wounds.
“You never did have a sense for trouble. Mind you, I always figured you lost your mind when you lost your hearing.”
Steve huffed at him and reached up to tug the cloth out of Bucky’s hand, pressing it to the still leaking cut on his forehead so that Bucky had his hands free to begin fussing over the broken rib. Years of practice made the routine of fixing up Steve easy.
“I’m not always gonna be here to save you,” Bucky eventually muttered as he started to ease into the edges of Steve’s mind so that he could touch and soften the bite of pain.
“I never did ask you to save me, you bust in there all on your own. ‘Sides I should be the one sending people running for you.” Steve twitched suddenly, flinching out from under Bucky’s hands as he narrowed his eyes before reaching up and whacking Bucky with deceptively strong, lean, artist’s hands. “Stop focusing in on my pain before you drift off on it!” he snapped.
“Don’t you go lecturing me, had enough of that from your mom,” Bucky snarked back as he tore the sleeve off of the shirt he had peeled Steve out of. Carefully folding it in half, he twitched a shield up sharply, knowing his eyes went a little dead as he did.
“Well you should-a listened the first time round. It’s just not right that I have to tell you a dead lady’s words” Steve snarked at him as Bucky rolled his eyes and slumped against the bathtub table top in the centre of their kitchen. He watched for a moment as Steve tried to mop the blood off his face with the back of his hand. After a moment he dipped the shirtsleeve into the water beside him and knocked Steve’s hand out of the way.
The blood finally stopped flowing, and as Steve stripped out of his undershirt Bucky took it from him and dumped it in the last of the water, in the hope of soaking the stain out before it set.
Steve tugged on a fresh shirt. Bucky lent back to watch him change, fiddling with the buttons on his uniform jacket saying, “I ship out in the morning, around 0300, I have to be at the dock for midnight. I figured we could make a dash for the Expo. I know you wanted to go and I wanna see what Stark has to offer. It’s always a laugh right?”
Steve’s actions stuttered to a halt as Bucky spoke. After a long moment Steve moved to lean next to him, resting against him slightly as he softly murmured, “I thought they would let you stay a little longer. I guess… If you want to go out we can. Not like we can afford anything decent to stay in for right?”
Bucky carefully wrapped his arm around Steve and tugged him close.
They sat in silence as the June evening rolled in, until eventually Bucky rose to his feet, stretching out his back before offering Steve a hand and tugging his oldest friend to his feet.
“Come on, I’ll even buy you dinner and a drink after I force you to follow me around the stalls,” Bucky offered as Steve rose to his feet with a wince and more than one loud crack, years of high fevers and infections showing in the careful movements. Bucky carefully tugged his shields up, looped an arm over Steve’s shoulders and with a grin tugged him from the apartment.
– – –
“So when I get back I was thinking I could get off the dock work, spend all my time fixing up engines instead of just picking up the odd shift.” he muttered, trying to draw Steve’s attention away from the army booth at the end of the fair.
“Sounds good. It pays better but you know maybe everyone is right, there’s gonna be a small mountain of Sentinels out there and you…” Steve huffed quietly prodding Bucky into one of the tents “You should take the time to find someone who suits. Get a real life ‘stead of looking after me all the time.”
Bucky glared at the smaller man even as he let himself be pushed into the tent. He grinned as he realised that the mechanic in the tent had spread out the guts of an engine and Barnes turned to get Steve to come look at it, sure that the other man would be able to sketch the parts out for him to practice naming when they got home. He span a full circle and realised Steve was gone. Sticking his head out of the booth he saw a skinny form heading to the army tent and with one last look at the engine he sighed and followed his friend.
“STEVE!” He yelled down the fairground, grinning when Steve jumped and looked at him like he had been caught sticking damp fingers in the sugar pot. He caught up quickly, his longer stride eating up the distance in no time.
“Steve how many times are you going to lie and get turned down? Until they catch you? And then what? You gonna try until they lock you up?”
“If I have to!” Steve snapped back at Bucky, quick and almost cold. “Bucky, I can’t lose you, I can’t just let you go out there. I have to keep trying.”
Bucky stared at him for a moment, “There is a war on, Steve, it’s not just some playground fight. I know it is killing you being kept out of it but it would kill you dead if they let you out there.”
The two men glared at each other for a while, Steve stubbornly and Bucky sadly.
”There are men laying down their lives. I’ve got no right to do any less than them.” Steve broke gaze with Bucky to look at the Uncle Sam poster behind him “That’s what you don’t understand. This isn’t about me.”
”Right because you have nothing to prove?” Bucky snarled, finally annoyed. “Huh? Not a damn thing and you never have!”
”Not everything is about me not coming…” Steve started with a growl,
”Jesus, Steve, I wasn’t saying…” The pair’s words tripped over each other as both tried to get the last word in and silence the other.
”It’s fine for you, you get to go running to the front and take one of those real Sentinels up on…”
”You are all I have ever wanted!”
Finally Steve stopped arguing, he stood staring at Bucky with his mouth open slightly until he eventually gathered himself to coldly say, “Shame that it was just a dream, Buck.”
Bucky took a deep breath as Steve stepped forward and looked up at him. “I never was what you need.” Turning sharply Steve walked away.
“Don’t do anything stupid Steve” Bucky shouted after him.
“How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you.” Steve turned back with a grin, like always their harsh words almost instantly forgiven.
“You’re a punk.” Bucky said with a laugh, getting the familiar answer.
Bucky quickly walked up and wrapped Steve in a bear hug muttering,
“Be careful, Steve.”
“Yeah, well, don’t win the war until I get there!” Steve said finally pulling out of his arms and walking away for good.
Bucky watched him go slowly walking backwards, as Steve disappeared into the tent he muttered, “Couldn’t if I wanted”
– – –
Steve sat on the high table, clearly set for a taller man. He held his feet carefully still, not wanting them to swing and make him look smaller than he already was.
The curtain was pulled to one side as the Doctor walked in, tapping the brown file against his hand as he looked at Steve.
Rogers bit back a twitch as he realised the file was a little too fat to be the usually two pages of reasons to reject him.
The Doctor took a deep breath and opened the file, ran a finger down the top sheet and raised an eyebrow.
“Where are you from Mr Rogers? Is it New Haven? Or Paramus? Five exams in five different cities.”
Steve held a hand up quickly cutting across the Doctor. “That might not be the right file.”
“Hmm? No, no. It is not the exams I am interested in… It is the five tries. Why try so hard when you know you will be rejected?”
Steve looked down at his feet as he tried to think of a good reply.
Before he could come up with something the doctor continued, “Yes, the urge to protect is there but this is something more. Tell me, do you just want to kill Nazis, Mr Rogers?”
“Is this a test?” Steve asked in a slightly offended tone,
“Yes.” The Doctor replied simply
“I don’t wanna kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.” Steve tried to explain, “Don’t matter where they are from.”
The doctor looked at him consideringly before offering him a hand. As Steve shook it the doctor looked him in the eye and said firmly,
“Maybe what we need is the little guy, to end a war big men started.”
The doctor tugged a pen out of his pocket and dropped the file down to sign next to where it had already been stamped 1A. “Welcome to the Army, Mr Rogers.”
– – –
“FALL IN!” Agent Carter yelled across the exercise field, where the newest recruits were carefully following the regime they had had barked at them an hour before.
Steve clambered to his feet from the worn patch of ground where he had been failing to carry out the perfect press up, and scrambled to join the line up.
Private Seath shifted uncomfortably and risked punishment to move down the line and away from him.
“Private, were you given permission to break rank?” The female agent growled as she prowled towards him,
”No, Ma’am,” he replied, straightening slightly more. In his position halfway down the line Steve shifted uncomfortably.
“Then get back in line,” she snapped.
“You can’t really expect a Guide to stand next to some Dormant freak, Miss,” one of the other privates drawled.
“I really can. And you would do well to remember your place, Private. Get back in line!” she snapped down the line without turning her head.
“Ma’am I would get you back in line any day,” burst out of the loudmouth’s gob before he could pull it back.
Seconds after he said it, Agent Carter motioned him closer with a finger. As he stepped in she carefully smiled with her perfectly red lips, placed a foot over his before hauling back and landing the perfect jawbreaker. The loudmouth slammed into the ground just as Colonel Philips arrived.
“Agent Carter,” he said politely.
“Colonel Philips,” she replied turning to salute him.
“I can see you are breaking in the candidates, that’s good. They are going to need every inch of discipline we can hammer home.”
He marched from the jeep he had arrived in to stand level with Agent Carter, giving her a neat nod. A snap of his fingers had Private Seath scurrying back into place. He glared down at the man on the floor.
“Private Hodge, get your ass out of the dirt and stand in that line at attention till someone comes tell you what to do.”
As Hodge leapt to his feet the Colonel looked down the line and almost imperceptibly flinched when his eyes passed over Steve.
“General Patton, has said that wars are fought with weapons but they are won by men. We are going to win this war because we have the best men…” He paused as he stepped in front of Steve, then after a moment, and a glance at the doctor from the recruitment tent, continued, “…and they are going to get better. You are part of the SSR. The Special Scientific Reserve, You have all been selected because you have something unique that this army can mould. Our goal is to create the best army in history, every army starts with one man. At the end of this week Dr Erskine will pick that man.”
The colonel pointed to the doctor leaning against the jeep, “He will be the first in a new line of soldiers…”
As the Colonel droned on about ‘extensive weeding out’ and ‘no shame in joining the regular army’, Steve let what was left of his damaged senses expand.
His hearing was already pressed to its limits to pick up every word the Colonel said and the damage to his sight left him barely able to make out the men running along the tree line. But the solid scent of pine filled his nose over the musk of too many men in too little space and the sweet hint of the Agent’s perfume. A hint of salt flooded his tongue from the distant ocean. Even with all his senses open he only felt Agent Carter’s prod to his shoulder like a normal man would, the Guide’s touch barely registering on his fever damaged nerves.
As he turned and followed the others towards the barracks he pressed at the edges of his mental field only to find it as barren as ever. A burned out wasteland surrounded by thick, dome-like walls. Tugging his attention back to the real world, Steve quickly made his bed with the supplies dumped on top of it, and hurried to the mess.
– – –
The week crawled by in a haze of exhaustion and pain. Rifle practice left Steve covered in deep bruises, climbing ropes left his hands barely able to open beyond a claw, joints swollen and stiffened. After he had spent three hours crawling under wire, finishing just to be sent back to do it again until his rifle stayed out of the mud, it was impossible to walk without a limp. His back pulling and hips aching.
“Just give up, Rogers. Crawl home and do your bit fetching water for the girls in the munitions factory. You know, something nice an easy,” Hodge hissed as he helped Steve limp to the infirmary after a sharply worded order from Agent Carter.
“Just a soon as you do, meathead.” Steve gritted into the other man’s ear, breath rasping, as he was dropped onto the bed in Erskine’s office.
Hodge glared at him before turning, neatly saluting the doctor and leaving. Erskine carefully chucked the familiar inhaler at Steve before turning to prep an injection, the motions already routine after 4 days of practice. Erskine frowned at Steve’s skinny form as he took the asthma treatment.
Steve shut his eyes and gripped the edge of the bed as the medicine hit him with a wave of vertigo. He felt Erskine tug at his tee shirt before a sharp pinch warned him that a second wave was on its way. He gripped the bed tightly waiting for the worst of the floaty, dizzying sensation to pass.
The doctor hummed, poked and prodded Steve through a series of tests before reminding him to eat more and sending him on his way.
Steve slowly tipped himself off the bed and wavered on his feet for a second before straightening up and breathing deeply.
“Wish I’d had this stuff a few years ago, doc. Coulda got a good job if I could of breathed.”
Erskine laughed as he guided him to the office door. “Well, if all goes well we will not be needing this in a few days.”
Steve picked his way across the camp with careful steps. Pushing the door open softly and catching it before it fell shut with a slam, he crossed the barracks quietly so as not to disturb those already sleeping, the regime enough to wear a health man thin. He stopped at the end of the space where his bed ought to be and just looked at it resignedly. With a tired snort he marched back the way he had come, sure that he knew where his bed would be, planning to just collect the blankets and sleep on the floor. As he stepped out of the building he heard something being slid across the door.
Closing his eyes he took three deep breaths before walking across the camp to the middle of the parade ground. He gritted his teeth and slid into bed.
“Well I hope it doesn’t rain” he muttered as he tugged the blanket up to his ears.
– – –
“Grenade!” The shout echoed around the slight basin the camp sat in.
Men ran to clear the area, vehicles moved and medics assembled just outside of the expected blast radius, tucked behind vehicles and buildings.
Steve leapt without thinking, pure Sentinel instinct driving him to make one final act of defence, even for a tribe that had not earned his trust. Stubbornness was what kept him there when it didn’t explode straight away.
“Get Clear!” he yelled twisting to create a better barrier between the grenade and those stood too close.
Agent Carter and the Colonel stayed watching, too close for his body to shield.
“All clear, dummy grenade,” the Colonel declared without looking away from Steve, his look making Steve’s skin twitch.
“Is this a test?” Steve gasped as Agent Carter stepped forward and guided him to his feet.
“You know I didn’t get your fascination, doctor…” the Colonel said as he slid into the idling jeep.
As they drove away Steve heard the doctor say, “Strength of body does not create a strength of mind and that strength of rightness? That cannot be taught.”
Agent Carter kept hold of his hand for a moment and treated him to a rare smile. “Well, I guess I will be picking you up in the morning. We have a rather important event to get you to.”
“Yes, Ma’am” he replied quietly as she walked off, leaving him to stand in the middle of the parade ground with the dummy grenade at his feet. Behind him he could hear her telling the rest of the men to pack up.
The silence of the barracks that night was haunting, the scent of old sweat and the taste of stale hormones lingered.
Steve woke with the talk Erskine had given him the night before echoing in his head. As he dressed he tried to remember the stages of the procedure that Erskine had mentioned, but the long recitation of medical jargon was half remembered, and the order had muddled during the night. By the time Agent Carter had arrived Steve had resolved to bite his tongue and let them prod him to where they needed him.
The car ride passed in a blur. By time they reached Brooklyn nerves had won, and even Carter’s presence wasn’t soothing him as a Guide normally would, he babbled to fill the silence.
“That’s where I met Bucky. Punched him right in the face for being mean to Lucy Schaller. He caught my hand after I hit him and told me I felt nice. I made his nose bleed so I took him home to my mom and he just never left!”
Carter smiled but didn’t comment.
“Mark Batter broke my nose for the first time right… there! Oh, that’s where I asked Georgie Cole to the school dance and everyone swore she came online, right at that moment, just so she could punch me good and proper.”
The car drew to a slow stop and Agent Carter rested a hand on Steve’s arm.
She slid out of the car, graceful and lithe, Steve rushed to catch up as she ducked into a shop and neatly negotiated the long series of guards and code phrases. Steve followed her blindly until he stuttered to a halt at the overwhelming whiteness, loudness and the piercing scent of disinfectant.
“Private Rogers? Steve.”
Steve took a long blink and realised that Carter was stood toe to toe with him. She kept a firm hand on his wrist as she led him to where Erskine was standing. Erskine peered at him worriedly, before instructing him to undress to his undershorts.
As he undressed Steve looked at the scientists and frowned when he spotted Stark hovering near a console, thoughts of falling cars chasing around his mind.
When Carter had to peel away to stand in the observation booth the doctor took over the firm, grounding grip and led him to the strange metal tube that lay in the centre of the room. He finally let go to prepare a hypo, and Steve fisted his hand to press his nails into his palm. The faint stab of a needle in his arm was followed by the harsh, sharp press of long needles set on pads pressing into his chest.
Erskine nodded at him and a burning pain spread through him, the sensation oddly similar to his lungs closing, and Steve choked for breath as the tube closed over him.
He expected the pain to fade but it grew; grew until it felt like his bones were ripping through skin; muscles tearing and ripping; light searing his eyes; skin wrenching apart and repairing in seconds.
Through the pain and over the sound of his own screams he heard someone shouting for them to stop and Steve yelled,
“No! Keep going. I can take it.”
The pain and the light intensified, and Steve finally clenched his eyes shut muttering, “I can take it. I can take… I can take it…” over and over. The light faded but the pain carried on growing, even as the tube hissed open.
Hands tugged him from the tube, someone was saying his name, “Steve, you can stop now. It’s done.” Her voice breaking.
Through the waves of pain he saw flashes of his mother running through Sentinel settling exercises with Bucky, the angle off somehow but he slowly followed the calm words until finally he could brave opening his eyes.
Above him he heard one of the Generals mutter, “Dear God! You made him a Sentinel.”
“He was always a Sentinel. I just made him the body he needed.” Erskine said calmly, proudly.
Steve carefully looked around tilting his head when he realised that Stark had place himself as far from Steve as he could get, even as everyone else pressed in close.
A gunshot rang out and even as Steve twitched forwards Erskine fell.
Newly sharp eyes caught a movement and strong arms hauled him onto the railing. Steve launched himself into the air, instinct driving him forwards as he leapt an impossible distance through the glass pane of the observation booth. As his feet hit the ground Steve growled. A burst of speed took him through a door and down the corridor. He reached the shop front as the assassin shot the Agent acting as doorkeeper. The scent of blood coated Steve’s tongue and he launched forward even as the assassin realised he was there.
– – –
Steve flinched, his eyes opened and he found himself sitting on blood drenched floorboards as agents calmly cleaned around him. He shivered at the chill of drying blood on his skin. Steve glanced up as a shadow fell over him, and even as Georgie Cole held a hand out warningly he took a deep breath and gagged. Soft hands and familiar scent lifted him off the ground even as he threw up on himself.
“Don’t do it, Steve. Just shut your eyes and let me take ya home kid. Hush, I got ya,” she whispered.
His old tormenter snarled when an agent tried to stop her taking him. She guided him out of the mess and through the familiar lanes, tucking him tight against her and leading him into his tenement.
She tugged him into the shared washroom and carefully washed him down. As she scrubbed him dry with her undershirt she growled at the agents and soldiers who got too close. Pulling him up the stairs she kicked a brick out of the way to collect the key and slowly pushed him into his apartment. She set herself in the doorway and when he looked at her, lost and sense-dumb, she just pointed him at the bed.
Steve crawled into the bed and with a relieved moan wrapped himself in Home. Years of scent were layered onto the bed, the linens fresh and slept in by only one person. It had been a treat, a reward for coming home. Steve burrowed impossibly further into the blankets and muttered “Bucky…” even as he was lulled to sleep.
The local pack leader at the door…
His territory firmly safe…
The scent of his one steadfast filling his senses…