Steve curled his fingers into the stretched tight undershirt as he waited for the doctors to prod him over to the next exam. Colonel Philips was leaning by the door, arms folded and his ever-present frown particularly deep, as he waited for the doctors to declare themselves done.
“Sir, do you know what my orders will be? I’m hoping I can head to the front with the rest of the SSR.” Steve eventually asked when the last of the doctors left.
“Huh, well I was hoping for an army, I got one fragile attempt at a super soldier who can’t go ten minutes without needing his blankie and cuddle from a Guide.” Colonel Philips grated out in reply.
“If we could just get out to the 107s I’m sure I’d be fine.” Steve said for the hundredth time since waking up from his two-day nap.
“Sure, but you know the rules as well as me, son. Can’t bond, can’t fight. Now maybe your boy makes it home for some leave and it all works out hunky dory but I can’t risk taking an unbonded sentinel, with a history of extreme feral episodes to the front.” Philips sighed before pushing off the wall to pat Steve on the shoulder as he continued, “Now, the scientists are bored of you and I’ve been told they have a sample of every damn thing they can think of so you’ll be working for the senator.” Philips looked uncomfortable at the thought of whatever the senator had planned before nodding at Steve. As He left the room he paused to say,
“Report to Fort Hamilton at 0600.”
“A couple of months proving I’m gonna be an asset out there and they let me go right?” Steve muttered to himself before dropping back on to the bed behind him as a doctor slipped through a side door with yet another blood draw kit.
– – –
” I’m thinking Admiral America….Hmm, maybe that would be too hard for people to relate too. Sargent States? No, no, too…. Major ‘Merica? Well, I guess it sounds good with his accent but too… slum to expect the President to say.”
The senator threw out catchy names and insults like they were one and the same as he circled Steve.
Steve watched him for a moment until, finally tired of the hours of waiting and debating, he quietly suggested, ” How about, well if you don’t mind the suggestion, Captain America.”
The entire room stopped and turned to look at him for the first time since he arrived. The senator snapping his fingers and giving Steve an assessing look as he thought about it.
“Captain America… I like it, the rank isn’t too high but makes you sound like you have a bit of an education in war. We’ll have to do something about that accent though. Silva, book one of those voice coaches to come in.” The senator shouted as he began to walk away and as he walked out of the room he bellowed, ” COSTUME!”
A youngish looking woman stood from the benches out in the corridor, picked up a large bag and quickly made her way into the room. She pulled out half a dozen different costumes and laid them out.
” Pick one, put it on and then stand still if you don’t want a pin somewhere uncomfortable,” she said in a weary tone.
Steve slowly peeled off his uniform until he was stood in just his, non-regulation, under things.
“Undershirt as well. They told me you were a Sentinel and I know my job. No sharp seams, all nice and lined.”
Steve quietly pulled off Bucky’s tee shirt and carefully wrapped it in his shirt so it wouldn’t collect any other scents. He quickly picked the only costume that didn’t involve shorts and tights and tugged it on. The woman looked at him for a moment before walking out of the room and coming back with a thin middle aged man. After a hushed discussion they both turned to look at Steve.
“Lift your arms above your head. Good, now lift your leg as high as you can.”
Another hushed discussion took place after the man’s instructions. The woman reached into his waist band and tugged something tighter, Steve flinched at her touch but bit back the squeak that tried to break free. The man tilted his head and ordered Steve to stretch again.
The costume cut the stretches short and the woman huffed, “Modesty be damned man, nice try but let’s get you in tights.” She held out the shortest and tightest of the remaining costumes and quietly waited for him to change. He wrestled his way into the thick tights and pulled on the slightly too big jacket.
“Dear lord, woman, I hope you made shorts to go with that! I don’t quite think that was what the Senator meant when he said ‘give it a cut to draw in the crowds’ ” The older man laughed.
Steve quickly grabbed the shorts, tugging them on quickly only to finally give in and whine when they got stuck half way up his thighs.
Eventually the man, who turned out to be the director for the USO tours, and the woman were content and released him. Finally dressed back in his own clothes and with strict orders to find some food, Steve slunk off to find a quiet spot to eat the sandwiches he had wrangled out of the mess staff.
Sitting in the late evening shadows at the back of a building looking out over Brooklyn, Steve slowly calmed his mind and reached out to slip in to his mental field. The usual burnt-out landscape had patches of green blooming through the char. The large, fire-ruined tree at the centre had fresh bark busting out to cover the seeping wounds that had been there for as long as Steve could remember.
Steve prowled through the field until he reached where there had once been thick black walls, he put a hand up to the barrier that sheltered him from the rest of the world. The impenetrable dark had faded and through the now milky walls he could see another field butted against his, a deep, but narrow gulf keeping them separate.
Steve leant against the barrier, expecting it to hold solid under him, only to find that instead it bent and supported his weight as he lent over the gulf to peer into the field. In the distant centre of the field was a bright tree covered in flowers, the field more of a meadow blooming with wildflowers. Ivy grew in bright and exotic colour over the edge of that field’s side of the gulf, reaching out to Steve’s side, tips burnt where it had touched the old barrier.
Letting his senses spread over the field Steve heard a gentle and familiar sleepy huff and made his sight follow his hearing until he spotted dark hair and pale skin curled in a soft nest of grass.
Steve pulled back slightly remembering his mother’s muttered remarks about, ‘Souls rest only when the body is so tired that only strength of spirit has driven the meat onwards.’ And ‘you’ll sleep true tonight, James. Not even a dream to disturb you when your soul sleeps in your field.’ Muttered sayings whispered on the days when Bucky had spent more hours than was fair nursing Steve through his latest illness, soothing him with his Guide gifts as another sense was stolen from him.
As he watched Bucky’s soul sleep Steve quietly wondered what had worn his friend so thin; physical exhaustion or caring for another Sentinel.
– – –
Steve endured the USO tour with gritted teeth, as the promise of being allowed to go to Europe if he could prove his control was dangled in front of him at every turn. Months of standing in front of brilliant lights and walking off stage into pitch black taught him how to keep tight control on his vision; holding screaming babies in the press of a thick crowds to control scent, taste and sound.
The one thing he was pandered with was soft clothing, smooth bedclothes and Sentinel safe soap in the laundry. The Senator was not willing to risk his star being off the stage because of a skin reaction.
And yet of all the new senses for Steve to lose himself in it was always scent that would send him drifting away, chasing the fading smell of Bucky on the few undershirts he had snuck into his pack.
After touring almost all of the states they drew to a halt in LA. The next leg of the tour was being planned as they made half a dozen films staring Steve as the dashing young Captain risking his life to ‘Bring the boys home safe’, and ‘Save the good old American way!’
Every time he passed the tour manager’s room in the hotel Steve knocked on the door and reminded him that the guys overseas deserve a visit. By the time they had finished the third film the manager had taken to simply shouting, “I know! You want to go to Europe!” through the door at him before muttering about crazed Sentinels making terrible actors.
At the end of the sixth and final film Steve arrived at the manager’s door to find an envelope pinned to it. Peeling it open Steve grinned; a two-month tour of Europe had finally been approved. The flier in the envelope simply read. “Captain America: Off to visit our boys!”
– – – –
Boats were hell, Steve decided as his stomach lurched and he swallowed nausea down. The slim dancer next to him quickly bounced out of her seat and dashed for the cupboard the company had named ‘Vomitville’. The storm showed no sign of breaking and Steve showed no sign of adapting as the days rolled on. Three days at sea found him lying on the floor pressed into a corner in the hope that his senses would adapt and it would stop feeling like the world was rocking apart.
The one Guide in the dance troupe sat pressed against him carefully trying to soothe him with her mild gifts. Only once did Steve attempt to find refuge by crawling into his mental field. The sensation of being still while his body was rocked by the ocean left him shaking and even more off balance for days.
Hitting land felt like exactly that, as the boat crashed into the dock with a bone-shaking blow and even after crawling off the boat Steve had to curl up on the floor of the truck as the world refused to still. He pulled his kitbag close and tried to immerse himself in the long since faded scent of Bucky, whining to himself when it didn’t work. He settled for simply burying his head in the clothes and waiting for it all to end.
When they arrived at the camp Steve let himself be tugged out of the truck by the dancers and tucked into a narrow, hard cot. The camp medic firmly assuring the tour manager that, ‘Some Sentinels simply fail to cope with a lack of solid ground’, and that Steve would be fine after a few hours of quiet.
Carefully trying to settle himself and with the ground finally solid and still beneath him Steve slipped into his mind field and pressed against the barrier between his field and Bucky’s. He tiredly grinned when he realised the gulf had closed to the point where a deep but narrow gap remained. He searched the field hoping to call out to the other man but while Bucky’s field was empty, fresh white flowers bloomed at the base of the tree and Steve grinned when he spotted them.
Steve woke to find a covered plate of food dumped beside him and ate like a starving man. A note under the glass of water reminded him they had a show in the evening. Checking his watch Steve realised he still had time to relax and sitting back he slipped back into his mind field to look for Bucky.
Walking through his field Steve noticed the first wild flowers growing out of the last patches of char. Crouching to inspect them he found they were delicate, thin-stemmed things, still low to the ground and nowhere near ready to bloom. He paused by the wall to Bucky’s field, his attention caught by the sensation that something was out of place. He frowned as he tried to find the source of the difference, his attention slowly drawn to the tree. Eyes widening he realised that the white flowers surrounding the tree were fallen petals. The boughs were stripped clean of flowers, the leaves limp and withered and the ends of branches drooping towards the floor. Leaning forward Steve realised that the grass around the tree was flattened, limp and dying. Ripping himself from the field with a gasp Steve surged to his feet and raced through the camp.
He slid to a halt in front of a Private, who neatly saluted at him, stared at the young man for a moment and then barked. “Where is the CO’s tent?”
“Umm, down this road, Sir, it’s the open sided tent with maps,” the young man stuttered holding the salute as Steve ran off.
Steve skidded slightly as he reached the tent and sharply stopped. Walking into the tent he straightened up sharply, surprised to find that Colonel Philips was sitting at a desk looking at him with raised eyebrows.
“Sir, Do you know where the 107s are posted?” Steve gasped finally deciding not to bother with convention.
The other man looked at him and sighed, “You and the damn 107s, Rogers.” The other man stood from his chair and moved to lean on the other side of his desk close to where Steve stood. “What’s left of the 107s is waiting to watch your show,” he said softly. “Not that they want to buy bonds but it comes with the promise of pretty girls dancing.” The Colonel shrugged.
“What’s left… I…” Steve stuttered not even sure what he wanted to ask.
“They ran into some trouble with Hydra out in the forest. What was your boy’s name?” The colonel almost managed to sound as sympathetic as he did tired.
“Barnes, James Buchanan Barnes. B A R…”
“I can spell!” The colonel snapped, “I’m sorry, Rogers, the name’s familiar,” the man searched through a pile of letters next to a typewriter, finally pulling one from the pile and handing it to Steve. He dropped back down into his desk chair and politely ignored the way Steve’s breath hitched as he read the letter.
“He’s not dead, sir. What’s the plan to rescue them?” Steve asked desperately, leaning over the desk in his desire for the colonel to understand.
The colonel looked up at Steve and laughed a little brokenly. “Winning the war. That’s the plan to rescue them. They were 20 miles deep in forest when they were ambushed, and even if they are alive the nearest Hydra base is another 30 miles of heavily defended forest beyond. Now all you can do is go pull your tights on and put on a show to raise moral.”
Steve bit back the urge to snarl something that would most likely get him court marshalled and politely nodded before walking out of the tent.
He walked clean across the camp and climbed up into the backstage. Carefully picking though his costume he grabbed the costume top and the shield before sorting through the box of spares for the thicker dark blue trousers that had been packed in case of bad weather. Tugging the collection of items on and sliding his leather jacket over the top Steve started to leave. As he reached the top of the stairs he stopped, walked back a few paces and with a grin grabbed one of the dancers helmets. Just as he dumped all his gear into a jeep he caught a familiar sweet scent and turned to find Agent Carter watching him.
“Going somewhere, Captain?” She asked softly, fingers drumming on the trunk.
“I can’t leave them. Those men are still alive, Carter. Something terrible is happening to them but they are alive!” he said quickly, words tripping over themselves to explain.
“Well, if you really want to do this then you are going to need to get a little close and a little faster than that jeep will allow.”
“Well, Ma’am, a jeep is what I’ve got.”
“Ahh but I know a man with a plane,” she said with a grin, motioning for him to follow her.
Agent Carter quickly shoved him into the tiny plane that sat at the edge of the camp and even as he settled himself into a seat it took off.
As they levelled off the pilot turned to look at him and said, “Well, look who it is. Damn we did a good job of making you fine! I could spend a whole night teaching you all sorts of things.” For all Stark’s words were lascivious his tone was standoffish and his body language warned Steve to keep his distance.
Steve grimaced even as Agent Carter sighed, “Really, Stark! Could you concentrate on flying, please?”
With a shrug and a mouthed ‘later’ to Steve, Stark turned back to his flying. Carter carefully helped Steve pull a parachute on and talked him through using it.
Just as she finished explaining for the second time Stark quietly said, “You’re up, Cap.”
Steve slid pulled the door open and carefully angled himself at the forest floor. He let go and quickly began to count the seconds as he fell through the air. When he hit ten he pulled the cord and tried to steer away from the trees. Failing miserably he crashed straight into a tree, a series of ripping sounds letting him know the parachute was dead. He crashed into the ground painfully, but forced himself to his feet and after glancing at the silk tangled in the branches he dumped the pack and started to run through the forest.
The base loomed in the distance, more of an old fashioned fort than a modern Army camp. Circling the place once, Steve spotted a gap in the patrol and quickly climbed the wall. Crouching low on the roof he moved towards a series of glass panels built into the roof. Through them he could see a narrow walkway suspended over a series of cages.
He carefully pried one of the panes off and slid it across the roof. He listened closely, pushing his hearing out until he was confident that no guards were about to walk through the unusual prison. With a careful twist he dropped through the hole and down onto the walkway, landing with an almost silent thud.
Silently he crept along the walkway until he was above one of the cages. Dangling his feet off the edge he lowered himself down so he was perched on the narrow rails that made up the roof.
“Bloody hell! Who are you meant to be?” A British Major asked in a surprisingly calm voice as he stared up at Steve.
“Captain America.” Steve said with a shrug before holding a finger to his lips and slinking to the edge of the cage. The guard he had heard paused at the cage Steve stood on top of as one of the men stuck his hand out. Steve tucked the shield under his feet as he jumped. The guard crumpled to the ground, keys snatched from his belt before they could rattle on the floor, shield back in Steve’s hand so he could land on his feet. As the men in the cage stared at him in shock Steve unlocked the door and pressed the keys into the Major’s hand.
“Sir, I think you should get these men moving.” Steve said calmly, words just forceful enough to get the man stepping forward.
“Captain America, you said? Bloody stupid name, Captain,” he said as Steve started inspecting the men still locked in cages, searching every face.
“Rogers. It’s Rogers really.” Steve yelled over the noise, he reached the last cage and started asking, “Anyone seen a James Barnes? Sargent Barnes from the 107?”
“Well, Captain Rogers,” the Major shouted as he unlocked another cage, “we’ll meet you on the road. There was a chap from the 107 with us, a Guide? Dark hair? Right. They took him through to the back. I’ll wish you the best of luck but no one has ever been returned.”
He stepped in close to unlock the last cage and, in a terribly British moment, offered Steve a hand. “Major Falsworth. See you on the other side, Captain!”
With a firm shake Steve raced off deeper into the compound, smashing Hydra soldiers in odd armour into the walls as he ran. As he ran he carefully focused on reaching for Bucky’s mental field, letting an awareness of Bucky flood him, desperately hoping that it would help him find his friend.
The walls of the compound almost blurred as he powered towards the faintest hint of Bucky on the furthest edges of his mind. In the far distance a siren went off and almost instantly the halls emptied and doors started to slam as Hydra soldiers flooded into the courtyard of the compound.
Steve powered past a doorway, hand slamming out sideways to catch the doorframe as he flung himself backwards. He twisted and burst through the door. Everything ‘Bucky’ was overpowering in that first second, scent and taste flooding him. He exploded forward and tore the restraints off Bucky before dropping down to lean over the other man worriedly.
Bucky’s eyes flickered open and he muttered, “Sentinel?” in a confused little voice.
“Bucky!” Steve almost shouted as he carefully pulled Bucky up to sit on the edge of the table before wrapping him in a hug,
“I thought you were…” Bucky mumbled into Steve’s shoulder as Steve buried his head into Bucky’s neck.
“I thought you were dead.” Steve cut across him before he could finish.
Bucky poked him in the ribs and finally said, “… shorter?” Bucky’s eyes flickered shut and he tried to lie down muttering, “… wish you’d stop getting my hopes up like that… I know you ain’t real, dunno why I made you so big you were never that big.” Bucky mumbled as he fought Steve weakly.
After a moment his eyes flickered open again, “Steve? Time to go home, Stevie. War isn’t the place for you. Go on, ‘m right behind ya”
Steve looked into the glazed eyes of his friend before wrapping an arm around Bucky’s waist as the other man tired to stand up. Bucky slid to his feet and as he did Steve’s arm caught on the torn edge of his shirt, making it ride up. Steve’s hand pressed against the chilled skin of Bucky’s stomach. They both gasped and Bucky twisted, eyes clear and wide as he looked up and whispered, “Steve?”
“Yeah, I know Bucky…” Steve pulled him closer and, taking most of the other man’s weight, started tugging him towards the door. “Let’s get you out of here.”
Bucky slowly lent into him so Steve lent down and pressed a kiss to his forehead, pulling back and wrinkling his nose as the taste of many days worth of sweat and muck seeped over his tongue. In his arms Bucky rolled his head back to look at Steve, and with a grin the tired man started laughing.
– – –
Sobriety hit hard three corridors after he had started laughing; more hysteria than actual amusement. His head ached and his legs protested at the idea of running any further. As they staggered down another corridor Bucky became aware that through the usual pain of a beating he could feel an odd burning deep in his muscles, slowly spreading from where the scientist has injected him. “Zola…” he muttered to himself, rolling the name on his tongue. It felt familiar but he couldn’t remember why.
Steve twisted to look at him, “What?”
“What happened to you?” he quickly asked to deflect away from his mumblings,
“I joined the army.” Steve said with a grin,
“Did it hurt?”
Bucky huffed at the lie and lent against the wall as Steve carefully scouted ahead. Waiting for Steve to come back he pressed out with his gifts only to end up leaning forwards gasping in agony, one hand pressed to his head. Under his hand a deep bruise ached, Bucky frowned trying to remember when he hit his head but only remembering pressure and sudden pain.
“Buck?” A hand wrapped around his arm and Bucky quickly looked up with a reassuring grin. He let Steve lead him further out of the complex for a while.
“Is it permanent?” he asked, not sure if he could cope if someone could take this away.
“So far…” Steve trailed off and at the flick of his hand Bucky flattened himself against the wall. Bucky watched in amazement as Steve effortlessly flung himself through a wild attack before dropping the soldier in front of him off the walkway they were on. “Looks like this is the only place to cross.”
Bucky looked at the long walkway joining the two sides of the compound and shrugged. Motioning for Steve to go first he walked to lean on the railing near the end of the walkway.
Halfway across Steve turned around and shouted, “All waiting on you, Sargent,” in a slightly mocking tone.
For a second Bucky expected to see a 5 foot 4 asshole and had to close his eyes and shake his head to clear the image.
“Oh no, Captain America, you are quite wrong. You see the whole world has been waiting on you.” Bucky watched in horror as Steve span to face the man who seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Panic flooded Bucky as he fought the urge to curl up and crawl away. When he had finally got a grip on the fear, he looked up to see the scientist who had experimented on him standing behind the terrifying man. The small man stared at Bucky until suddenly Steve yelled in pain.
Bucky flinched and realised that the two men on the bridge were fighting, Steve already flat on his back as the shield tumbled from his grip and off the bridge. As Steve finally managed to get back to his feet and land a blow on the other man, the walkway began to sway.
“So, Erskine, managed it. Not an improvement as such but still…” The man looked at Steve appraisingly. Bucky realised with horror that the man’s face seemed to be slowly melting away from the muscle. Both men suddenly looked up as a loud crack filled the air and the bridge finally lurched to the side. They leapt off the bridge and Bucky grabbed Steve as he landed next to him, unnecessarily trying to steady him.
“You have no idea, do you?” the man taunted.
“Haven’t I?” Steve shouted back tilting his chin up, Bucky found the energy to grin at the familiar move,
“You see, no matter the lies the Doctor told you. I was his greatest success!” Bucky watched as the man opposite them reached up and slowly tugged the loosening skin off revealing what appeared to be a bloody skull. “As long as you refuse to admit that we have left humanity behind; that we have evolved and become greater, you will never match the power of Red Skull. So I will forever be his defining creation!”
At Red Skull’s side the scientist pulled on the monster’s sleeve and tugged him towards some stairs.
Bucky lent against the railing, head down, panting until finally, rolling his head on the railing so he could look at Steve, he asked, “Haven’t got one of those, do you?”
Steve just looked at him wide eyed and shook his head slowly.
“Okay, let’s get out of here.” Bucky said with a groan, shoving himself upright.
Silently Steve pointed at a thin beam, the remains of the bridge. Bucky looked at the thin beam, down at the two storey drop to the compound floor and then at the doorway that lead out in to the night. He looked at Steve for a minute, mouth open like he planned to speak until eventually, “Do you secretly hate me?” burst out of his mouth.
Steve smirked at him and murmured, “I really don’t, and that is why you get to go first.”
“So much love…” Bucky whined as he climbed onto the beam. Dropping to hands and knees he quickly scurried across. As he reached the other side the beam suddenly gave an almighty creak. Bucky threw himself at the railing just as the beam disappeared from under his feet. Hauling himself on to the walkway he stared at Steve in dismay.
Steve started to back up and realising what he was about to do, Bucky yelled for him to stop even as Steve launched himself through the air. When Steve neatly landed in front of him Bucky just looked at him in shock and kicked him in the shin.
“Ass!” Bucky yelled. Steve, the dick, just laughed.
Slowly they worked their way out of the compound, climbing over the tank-torn ground and the dead soldiers that littered the path the escapees had taken. As they climbed over the remains of the gate, Bucky let his eyes slip shut for a moment. When he opened them they were sitting in a clearing in the forest, a bowl of something in his hands, Steve mid conversation beside him and a headache pounding through his head. Fear and confusion flooded him and he started gasping for air. Quickly he placed the tin bowl on the ground so he could rest his arms on his knees and let his head hang before half whispering,
His friend turned to look at him, a frown settling over his face. “Hey, I didn’t give you that hot so that you could eat it cold! Don’t make me feed you. You know I will.” Steve muttered as the man he had been talking to moved away to speak to someone else.
“I don’t… How did we get here?”
Steve frowned at him before gently brushing soft fingers over the bruising on Bucky’s face. The touch grounded him, as familiar emotions weakly pressed against him.
“Huh, that must be worse than we thought. Buck, we walked, we just walked here.” Worry tinged Steve’s voice as he ducked to look into Bucky’s eyes, frown deepening.
“‘M tired” he muttered leaning forward to rest on Steve, moaning when he realised that he could really cuddle in. He heard the faint clank of cheap tin before a spoon was brushed over his lips. Obediently he opened his mouth and let Steve feed him, years of practice the other way around leaving it a series of easy moves and murmured familiar words.
Eventually a hand brushed over his hair and Steve gently wormed his jacket open and tucked Bucky right in next to him. As Bucky hummed contently he felt Steve’s chest rumble under his head. He silently hoped he was talking about him and not to him. The hand continued to brush over his hair and, finally warm for the first time in days, Bucky let himself drift.
– – – –
The vehicles they had stolen turned out to be too damaged and too easy to track, the Major quickly gave the order to abandon them. Only one truck, painted deep green, was kept so the most injured could ride. Steve watched Bucky carefully as the man stumbled blankly on step after step as they slowly crawled towards the base, the forced march leaving everyone exhausted. Every time Steve offered an arm he was shrugged away, the offers of riding in the rumbling truck were rejected. Steve prowled along side his friend watching with worry as every few miles Bucky seemed to drift away, eyes going a little dead as though he was shielding his mind, only a mile later to shudder and glance around in confusion.
Rain fell heavily, just as it had done since they stopped the night before and through the entire day as they marched. The ground was slick underfoot, and even Steve’s jacket had given up under the weight of water. Bucky shivered back into his skin once more just as a shout went up from further down the group. Steve quickly let himself drop back and found one of the men being helped back to his feet.
Catching the Major’s eye Steve fell into step next to the more experienced soldier, “We’re going to have to stop.” Steve muttered quietly, keeping his gaze locked on Bucky’s back, worried that something would happen if he looked away.
“I recognise this patch of forest. Patrols come out this far, I’m sure we can’t be far from the base.” Major Falsworth replied softly.
Steve glanced around at the men, “Everyone is exhausted, hungry and soaked to the bone. I don’t think we can push any further.”
“If we stop we run the risk of Hydra catching up. Stopping last night was stupid, stopping tonight would be bloody stupid. We can’t be more than a hour away at this speed. And it’s not like we have any food left.”
“What if I run ahead, see if I can get some trucks out here?”
“In this piss down? We’re practically marching through a bog, what use do you think trucks are going to be?” Falsworth said grinning.
Steve looked at him and shrugged, dropping into a thick Brooklyn accent he muttered, “Well, I figured under this muck there had to be something hard.” He opened his eyes wide, “I ain’t never seen muck so thick you could lose a truck in it!”
Falsworth laughed, a tinge of hysteria slipping in, and reached up to smack Steve on the back of the head. “Lord, save me from city boys!” Ahead of them Bucky staggered sideways out of the march and slumped to sit on the ground. “ Half an hour. We stop for half an hour, Captain, and then we get moving again,” he said as Steve started to run up the line.
Tugging Bucky close, Steve winced at the chill of the other man’s skin. He quickly slid his jacket off and pulled it over Bucky’s shoulders, prodding him to slide his arms into the sleeves. Carefully he slid his hands over Bucky’s and started to rub warmth into them. After a moment Bucky slid his legs over Steve’s lap and curled up, arms wrapped around him. Around them men dropped to sit in the churned mud of the path they were following, too tired to even bother looking for a patch of solid ground. They sat wrapped around each other in the gloom.
Slowly Steve became aware of a familiar press on the edges of his mind. Glancing down he realise Bucky seemed clear-headed, tired but aware. Reaching into his mind field he focused on the edges where their fields met, the grass on Bucky’s side was still flattened, the tree still bare but ivy was once again creeping towards the barrier between them. The time raced by and Bucky continued to cling even as Steve lifted him back to his feet and guided him back to the path as the sun set, the last of the light fading from the forest.
The rain continued through the night, the dark a blessing as it kept them hidden from sight, but a curse as they stumbled blindly along what they hoped was the right path.
As the sun rose Steve let out a cheer, shouting along the line, “I can see the camp! Just a few miles ahead.” A few faint whoops rose from the line of men and a second wind seemed to strike.
“Steve?” Bucky said quietly without lifting his head from where it rested against Steve’s shoulder.
“Yeah, Buck?” Steve muttered pressing a kiss to the top of the other man’s head.
“I’m gonna sleep for a week. An’ then you are going to tell me every single stupid thing you did.”
“Sure thing, eat something first though.” Steve said softly.
Bucky lifted his head and in an almost reverential tone muttered, “Awww! Food, yeah.” After a second he added, “Not a C-ration though. Please,” in a begging tone.
Looking ahead Steve simply pulled a face and said nothing. He tugged Bucky a little higher, so that he was supporting most of the other man’s weight and slowly manoeuvred them to the front of the line as the camp grew closer.
By the time everyone could see the camp they were all standing taller, marching strongly, exhaustion forgotten. They arrived at the camp to whoops of joy, the members of the 107 who had been in the camp pressing forwards to welcome their returned friends.
Medics raced forward to collect the more visibly injured soldiers and one was brave enough to head towards Bucky until Steve’s glare and rumbling, complaining, growl drove him off. A tension Steve hadn’t even noticed seeped out of Bucky as Steve tugged him closer.
Pulling his gaze away from the medic, Steve stepped forward and saluted Colonel Philips, “Sir, I surrender myself for court-martial due to my abandonment of post.”
Colonel Philips slowly let out a familiar sigh. “Somehow, I don’t think that will be necessary, Rogers.” He huffed, twitched his lips and finally said, “Good job, soldier.” With a nod to Agent Carter, the Colonel walked back to his tent.
Agent Carter simply shook her head at Steve with a grin. “Well, Captain Rogers, I think I might have to take you back to headquarters. What do you say to joining the SSR for real?” She looked him up and down, while beside him Bucky stiffened.
“I’d be honoured, Ma’am,” he replied with a grin.
Pulling away Bucky stared at Carter and shouted, “Let’s hear it for Captain America!”
Steve looked at him worriedly as he almost heard Bucky tagging ‘The asshole who runs around fighting Nazis with just a shield,’ on to the end echo in his mind. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable Steve stepped towards Bucky.
“Agent Carter, I think I should let the medics fuss over my Guide for a while and then tuck him into a bunk. Excuse me.” Steve wrapped an arm over Bucky’s shoulder and carefully led him towards the medics.
“Presumptuous! Who says I even want the ridiculously huge version of my little punk?” Bucky muttered with a pout as he let Steve tow him along.
“Yeah, ‘cos I can just see you turning down the opportunity to watch me sleep without worrying that I’m gonna stop breathing.” Steve murmured, stopping just as they reached a clear space.
“I never watched you sleep. Watched you pass out from a fever a few times!” Bucky replied defensively.
Steve bent down slightly and nuzzled his chin along Bucky’s. “Fine,” he said with a grin, “Then I don’t really see you turning down getting me. All of me. Getting what you felt that day you followed me home.” Steve’s tone turned suddenly serious as he lifted his head away from Bucky’s to look at him.
“Didn’t follow you home. You stole me.”
Steve just hummed in agreement.
Bucky twisted to look him in the eye. “You could have anyone, Stevie. You don’t owe me anything, it don’t have to be me just because I’ve been your friend for forever,” Bucky said softly, hand coming to rest on Steve’s face.
Steve just smiled at him softly, leant forward to press his lips over Bucky’s and carefully slipped into his mind field.
Running across the field, Steve paused at one of the old patches of char. He looked at the delicate stem growing there, a rounded bud finally balanced on the top and he carefully plucked it from the ground. Holding it to his chest, he raced to the barrier between his field and Bucky’s. Leaning heavily on it, he pressed the closed flower forward. As he let go the flower floated, slowly starting to open before falling onto the flattened grass of Bucky’s mind. In the distance of Bucky’s garden something started to move and Steve slowly slipped away.
Keeping his eyes closed, Steve waited.
A gasp broke the stillness between the two men as Bucky pulled his lips away from Steve’s. Steve slowly opened his eyes to see Bucky holding an almost fully open flower.
“Steve…” Bucky gasped in a broken voice.
Steve reached up and cupped Bucky’s hands with his. “I love you,” he said leaning forwards to kiss Bucky properly. As their lips opened and the kiss deepened, the flower opened more.
Bucky parted his hands to slide his arms around Steve’s still narrow waist. The flower fell to the ground and set in the soil as though it had always grown there.
The petals finally fell open.
A bright Poppy blooming in the muck of war.