A letter hardly seemed like something that should cause your heart to pound in your chest and your lungs seize, breath tight and painful, and yet that was the position Bucky found himself in.
The kettle let out a warning whistle as it came up to boiling and creak came from the bedroom as Steve climbed out of the bed. A combination of noises that would normally have had Bucky rising to his feet to make coffee, scrape together breakfast and paste a smile on his face to cover up the fatigue and burning ache from hauling engine parts all night. Today however, the kettle whistle had him grabbing the letter from the table and glancing around to find somewhere to put it before slumping into the sway of the uneven legs of the chair, letter gripped between two trembling fingers, half formed thoughts of bolting for the border rattling through his mind as Steve made his way into the room with a grumble.”
“Jesus, Buck, you gotta slam the door and chuck your boots at the goddamn wall every mornin’? And, what, now you think you’re a real joker, leaving the kettle screamin’? Mrs Kelly’s going to be round to dump the baby on you all day if you wake him up again…” Steve ranted half-heartedly with a grin on his face despite the horseness to his voice, Bucky watched as Steve putted about finishing the coffee and throwing the last of the bread and butter, that had probably been on the counter for a little too long in the summer heat, on to the tabletop before stopping next to Bucky to press a tender kiss to his lips as he reached over his head to grab two plates.
A deep breath rushed into his lungs as Steve stepped back and Bucky followed him. Standing up and taking the plates from his hands , dumping them carelessly on the table before pulling Steve against him leaning down to kiss him desperately. As they broke apart Bucky pressed the letter to Steve’s chest and half-laughed, a little brokenly,
“I think she’d let me off today.”
Bucky turned away, leaning over the table to saw at the bread, listening to the sound of tearing envelope and unfolding paper as Steve did what he could not and opened the letter. He blinked harshly as he forced his trembling hands to carve a straight cut through the bread.
“Ten days, enough time for me to try enlisting again, we could go together. It won’t be so bad, just training at first and then… well maybe we’ll get to see Paris.” Steve said over the sound of Bucky’s ragged breathing.
Bucky dropped the knife in his hand, shoving it away before pressing his fist into the tabletop until he felt his knuckles being to ache. “Christ, Steve! This isn’t some Grand Tour, you knew my Pa, the shakes and the nightmares and the, fucking, anger even twenty odd years later. You’ve seen the gaps in the pews, empty spaces for men we all know are never going to come home. It’s been less than a year and a good third of the guys from the docks have already had their number called.” Bucky yelled down at the tabletop, a year’s worth of frustration leaping out of his mouth in a bitter tirade, he gasped in a breath and softening his tone continued, “And if you made it through basic with your heart, your lungs… do you really think you could put a gun to someone’s head, some guy our age shoved into a uniform in the same shitty way as me, you really think you could kill someone, come home then go back to painting beautiful things?” he shut his eyes, gripping the table edge tight with the hand that wasn’t trying to bore a hole through the scarred top.
“There are men laying down their lives, Buck, I’ve got no right to do anything less, they are gonna put a gun in your hand and expect you to do it, why’ve I gotta be different? And art isn’t about beauty, it’s about meaning and experience, being a voice for the people around you. How can I do that if I get put up like some broken toy, just because some doctor thinks I can’t cope with fighting. How am I meant to relate to the people around me, if I never get the chance to do my part, never get to prove what I stand for?” Steve’s voice was soft as he said the last words, the floor boards creaking under his feet as he moved closer. A baby started wailing through the thin walls and Bucky turned to rest his hip on the edge of the table, opening his eyes to stare at the wall behind Steve as he said,
“No one could ever doubt what you stand for, Steve, but is it really worth dying just to prove it?” Bucky’s gaze skittered down the wall until he made eye contact with Steve. “And I already know I can… I’m not saying you couldn’t if you had to but is it really so bad not having to find out what it does to you?” Bucky held eye contact until he couldn’t stand the weight of it anymore. As he looked down at the darning on the toe of his sock, he felt Steve move closer and reach out curling his hand over Bucky’s where it was clenched in a fist at his side.
“I’m as capable of trying as anyone else and I can’t stay at home with the women and watch injustice being done from afar when there is something I could be doing.” Steve’s voice was soft, the argument over almost as fast as it had started, but Bucky knew neither of them had won or even managed to get the other to understand their point of view.
Bucky bit back the urge to confess his fears, for Steve when he left and of whether war would finish off the job of turning Bucky into his father, instead he offered Steve a sad smile and turned back to the bread with a whisper, “I’ll just miss ya is all, Stevie, I’ve nearly lost ya too many times already.” He dropped into his chair grabbing the slice of bread he had sawn off and smearing a blob of butter over it roughly before shoving it in his mouth to avoid having to say anything else.
Across from him Steve lent agains the counter, cup off coffee clenched in one hand, clearly still ready to carry on arguing, but when he opened his mouth he said,
“Guess we should go to that world fair then, the Stark thing you’ve been muttering about all month, might not get a chance to see it otherwise. We could go the night before you leave.”
Bucky took it as the peace offering it was meant to be and smiled,
“Sure, we can drop your commission off on the way if your done by then.” The soft words served their purpose as they sent Steve across the room to frown at the barely started canvas by the one window that actually got light. “Don’t forget to eat, Steve. “ Bucky said as he finished his bread, he shoved to his feet, searched through his pockets and carefully placed an expensive dropper bottle of epinephrine solution on the table before headed towards the bedroom.
He stripped off his clothes and tossed them onto the broken chair dumped in the corner before slumping to sit on the edge of their creaking bed. He looked at his hands as they trembled and slowly curled his right into a fist as a yell from outside morphed into a thick Irish accent promising to ‘ slice you up, backstabbing fairy.’ He shook his head lifting his left hand to rub over the deep, barely healed scar that ran over his knuckles the memory of the look of surprise that had appeared on Mckenny’s face when Bucky had managed to turn the other man’s knife back on him rising unbidden in his mind. He shook out his hands and dropped himself back to lie on the bed. As he shut his eyes he saw the bloom of foamy blood that poured from Mckenny when Bucky slipped on his own blood where it coated the frozen cobbles. The sound of a body breaking the surface of the water echoing around the empty room. Bucky twisted resting his face on the pillow so he could breath in the scent of Steve as the stench of burning blood and cotton filled his nose.
He lay on the bed until the silent tears that fell during his fitful sleep made it to uncomfortable to lie there any
Bucky crept into the apartment building and let out a hiss as he lowered himself onto the bottom step of the rickety stairs. He leant forwards and hooked a finger through his boot laces tugging one boot loose before moving on to the other, wincing as his ribs grated uncomfortably. He used the arch of one to ease the other off and slowly collected the boots off the floor, huffing in annoyance as he realised the hole in the toe of his boots had ruined another pair of socks.
He tugged his socks off quickly and shoved them into one of the communal bins before padding up to the second floor in bare feet. He paused outside the apartment doorway and began to hunt through his pockets for his key, he lifted the key towards the lock and just as he was about to put it in the lock he caught sight of the mess on his hands. He shoved the key back into his pocket and quietly crept down the hall to the shared washroom. He slowly turned on the tap letting the barest trickle run out to avoid the loud squeal that came with the full flow. He scrubbed his hands picking under his nails while carefully avoiding looking at the rusty colour that was running off his hands. When his hands finally looked clean in the pre-dawn gloom he picked his boots back up and crept into the apartment.
“You know, I ran into George this morning. He said you missed work last three days running, wanted to know if your backalley dealings had finally got you dead.” Steve said, his voice low and dangerous. “I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to get involved in that nonsense anymore.” Bucky pushed the door shut and quietly placed his boots down on the floor before folding his arms. He looked at Steve, sat in a chair with a broken back in his pants and no shirt and defensively replied,
“I’m not, I promised you after Da died that I wouldn’t be getting involved anymore. Besides I got too old and big to sneak about like that anymore.” He forced a faint laugh and gave Steve a cheeky grin as he crossed the room to drop into one of the kitchen chairs. “I got a job at the slaughter house an I offered to take the nightshift. You know my ma would lose her mind if she knew I was getting involved in that dirty business.” He crossed his fingers under the table hoping that Steve would accept the lie.
“Buck, I’m partially deaf not blind. I know that you’ve been sleeping for two hours then creeping out for half the day before sneaking back through the window just before you ‘go to work’”
“We needed the money, Steve, I knew you would be angry if you knew I was picking up extra jobs. My cousins finally got that shop sorted out and I’ve been working the front for them while they make orders up.” Bucky watched Steve carefully waiting for him to call him out or tell him off but after a moment of frowning at him Steve just shrugged,
“ You’re going away tomorrow and I would have like to think that if you were going to skip work it would have been so we could spend time together.” Bucky held in a wince at Steve’s words and then looked down as Steve snapped, “ But I guess as long as you weren’t out there doing something stupid ;like breaking a promise to me I can understand.”
“I just wanted to make sure that you had enough to cover any emergencies. Besides, I’ll be home for a few weeks after basic, and we can do something fun then.” Bucky shrugged, giving Steve a half-hearted smile. “You really gonna spend my last day at home yelling at me for making sure my best guy could have a little comfort while I’m away?”
Bucky watched Steve for a long moment as the other man clearly made a decision about accepting Bucky’s lies. When Steve grinned at him Bucky pushed up from the chair and leant across the table, ignoring the pain as the edge fo the table pressed into sensitive skin, to catch Steve’s lips in a kiss. When Steve slid his tongue along Bucky’s lips, Bucky broke away from him and stepped around the table, grabbing Steve’s shoulders when he stood to meet him. Steve pushed him back and Bucky let himself be guided backwards into the bedroom, falling back onto the bed when the back of his knees hit it.
Steve dropped with him and kneels over him as Bucky unfastened his trousers and pushed off the floor to slide up the bed. His trousers and pants falling to the floor as his head hit the pillow, Steve’s hands already working at unfastening his shirt. Bucky reached up and curled his hands around Steve’s hips slowly pushing his pants down, letting one hand slide to cup Steve’s cock, fingers sliding down to gently roll his balls before he pulled away.
Bucky reached back fumbling under the pillows and reaching down between the head of the bed and the wall to find the jar of Vaseline, just as his fingers curled around it Steve froze above him and pulled back.
“Buck, what the hell…” He gasped softly, running gentle fingers over the vivid colours that marked his chest and down over his hips.
“It’s fine, Stevie, it’s fine. Doesn’t even hurt. Come on.” Bucky murmured, tugging the jar out of its hiding place and offering it Steve even as he reached up with his other hand to pull him down for a kiss.
“Liar,” Steve breathed against his lips, “you going to claim that this was some pig that tried to escape and you wrestled to the ground for the slaughterman?” Bucky rolled his hips up and ground against him harshly as Steve started to pull back, popping the jar in his hand open to coat his fingers.
Bucky grinned at him, “Nah, you see right through me.” He murmured, rolling over and shifting so his chest was pressed against his thighs. Steve’s fingers pressing in had Bucky gasping rocking forwards before he settled himself down and let Steve work him open.
A kiss pressed against the base of his shoulder blade as Steve’s fingers slide out of him, a meaningless jumble of words was muttered against his spine as Steve shifted and knuckles bushed against him before he felt Steve pressing his cock against him.
“Ready?” Steve whispered at the base of his neck, Bucky shook his head, “Did I hurt you, Buck? Are you…” Steve started, words filled with concern as his hands brushed over Bucky with care. Bucky shifted under him and turned over.
“Nah, I just want to see ya.” He murmured, pulling his knees up to base on either side of Steve’s chest. He slid his hand between them and gently took hold of Steve’s cock, guiding it towards his ass with an ease that hid the worries he was really feeling.
Steve slid in slowly, pausing halfway to let Bucky adjust, and as he pressed a kiss to his chest he whispered, “It’s just basic, you’ll be home before you know it. And this is all meant to blow over by Christmas, no need for the nest egg or planning to be away for years.”
“Steve,” Bucky murmured, rolling his hips up to encourage Steve to start moving again, “I’m never goin’ to stop fussing. I need ya to be safe but I swear if you don’t start fucking me soon I am not going to be responsible for what happens.” He gasped the last few words are Steve pulled out a little and then rocked home, setting a slow but firm pace, each thrust rocking right against where Bucky wanted him most.
Bucky moaned for a second before remembering the neighbours and bringing his forearm to his mouth and pressed his lips against it. Steve rocked forwards a little harder and after half dozen harder thrusts he head butted Bucky’s arm out of the way and caught Bucky’s lips with his. The kissed softly for a moment until Steve shifted, bringing on knee all the way up against Bucky’s ass to get more leverage. He slammed home, curling his hips forwards with each movement until Bucky was whining into their kiss and one hand was scrabbling agains Steve’s back and the other curled between them, wrapping around his cock.
Steve’s thrusts turned sloppy as he started to come, he dropped Bucky’s lips to press gentle kisses down his throat until he was resting his forehead against Bucky’s chest, his breath ragged and catching in his chest. Bucky bit down on his own lip as he alternated between fucking into his fist and fucking back onto Steve. With a grunt he came, his hand stilling even as Steve gave a few last thrusts before slipping out to lie on top of him. Bucky wiped his hand against Steve’s back as he stroked his hand up and into Steve’s hair. Steve grumbled something against him and Bucky laughed knowing why he was grumbling even if he wasn’t sure what Steve had said.
He shut his eyes, content to let the gentle pressure of Steve press him into the mattress comfortingly. He fully intended to nudge Steve out of the way and get cleaned up before their neighbours started to go about their day but the next time he opened his eyes the sun was streaming through the window and he was alone.
He stretched and sat up in the bed feeling more refreshed by sleep than he had in months, he slid from the bed and pulled on an undershirt and pants before padding out into the main room of the apartment. The large canvas that Steve had been working on was wrapped in brown paper and Steve was stood at the sink scrubbing blood from the shirt Bucky had been wearing the night before.
“Not much point in that. I’ll get a uniform and I’m pretty sure they’ll pay me enough to afford a new shirt by time I get home.” Bucky said softly as he watched the lithe muscles play in Steve’s back.
“I was just killing time, seemed a shame to waste the shirt for the sake of a little scrubbing. But if we don’t go soon, there won’t be time to drop off the painting and make it to the Expo.” Steve said with a blatantly fake smile.
“You let me sleep all day?” Bucky huffed as Steve threw the shirt into a pan of cold water.
“Hardly let. I tried to wake you up for lunch but you swore at me in something that wasn’t English and rolled over.” Steve shrugged at him before wondering into the bedroom to get changed.
They both dressed in uneasy silence, the arguments of the last two weeks still unresolved and fresh in their minds. As Bucky searched for socks Steve began to move the painting across the apartment. Bucky tugged on his socks and jammed his feet into his shoes before quickly slicking a little brylcreem through his hair with a comb.
He threw a jacket over his arm and rushed out of the bedroom to help Steve to wrestle his awkward canvas out of the door and down the stairs. They wordlessly hauled the piece on and off the subway without knocking anyone over before making the traipse up 5 flights of stairs to deliver it to it’s new owner, Bucky quietly taking all of the weight as Steve’s skin grayed and his breath started to come in sharp bursts mixed with cut off coughs. Bucky helped Steve rest the canvas against a wall and ducked back into the stairwell to wait as Steve collected his fee and made small talk.
As they slowly headed back down the stairs to street level Steve split the money and pressed half into Bucky’s hand. Bucky took it without protest, already planning to add it to the drawer of cash he had hidden under the bed, in the hopes of avoiding yet another of their bitter arguments.
“So, which way we going?” Bucky asked, dropping back half a step so he could set his pace against Steve’s a little easier.
“Back on the train, over the river a dozen stops and then a short walk.” Steve muttered distractedly as he watched the road for a second before dashing across and down the subway stairs.
They pressed through the crowded train in the hopes of finding a less crowded carriage before eventually settling for standing. The seemingly permanent fatigue that had haunted him for nearly half a year creeping back in despite the sleep he had gotten earlier, Bucky leaned against a partition letting himself shut his eyes and half doze until they reached the end of their journey. Bucky jumped as Steve elbowed him in the stomach and motioned for him to get off the train before huffing at his sleepy response and grabbing his sleeve to drag him across the station and out onto the street serving as an entrance to the Stark Expo, every light already on despite the fact the summer sun hadn’t yet set.
Bucky steered them away from the recruiting station he could see over the heads of the people in the crowd. He spotted some sort of show starting on the main stage in the exhibition hall and towed Steve along, carefully planting them close to the stalls advertising research, far away from any signs about the war effort. He slung an arm over Steve’s shoulders, tugging him a little close than would usually be seen as friendly before loosening his grip and letting the spectacle of a flying car draw his attention. Bucky laughed with the rest of the crowd as the car fell back to the stage in the middle of Howard Stark’s speech about the future, he felt Steve duck out from under his arm and glanced over at the other man in time to see him bob up onto his toes to see the stage a little better, he grinned to himself and tucked his hands into his pockets as he watched the rest of the show.
As Stark started advertising the various stalls, Bucky looked over at Steve to ask where he wanted to go next only to find the man missing,
“Damn it…” he muttered, striding through the crowd to the nearest clear patch glancing over heads and desperately hoping that Steve hadn’t spotted any of the signs for the recruiting centre. He scanned over all the stalls he could see and just as he was preparing himself to head over to collect and angry and vicious with it Steve from yet another rejection from the army he spotted a familiar head of blond hair. He quickly jogged over to the stall that Steve was inspecting,
‘Can you unravel Egypt’s oldest riddle? These unknown symbols match no known hieroglyphs and many Stark researchers…’ the sign proclaimed before breaking off into a wall of text that explained why these symbols were so unusual. Bucky glanced over the geometric patterns that were interspersed with the birds and eyes he expected to see in Egyptian writing, he frowned at them before giving up on trying to figure out what had caught Steve’s attention.
He tilted his head slightly as he looked at Steve’s frowning face and twitching fingers that clearly wanted a pencil and paper, Bucky laughed to himself and tugged a thin notebook out of his back pocket and passed it over to Steve, who scrabbled through his jacket pockets until he produced a nub of pencil lead and quickly copied down the collection of symbols.
“So, Egypt, huh?” Bucky said, dropping his arm over Steve’s shoulders again.
“It’s just interesting, is all. I might be able to use it for something, a sign or in the background of a painting… I couldn’t see anything at that stupid show anyway.” Steve huffed.
“Sorry,” Bucky muttered half-heartedly, making Steve glare at the side of his face, “Hey, look…” Bucky exclaimed with a grin before dragging Steve deeper into the warren of booths determine to enjoy his last night of freedom without an argument about something neither of them really wanted to argue about.
Steve looked up from the
He reached under the bed and tugged his shoes out, frowning when they caught against something. He dumped them to one side and reached back under grabbing the thing his shoes had caught on and dragged it out, he froze as the drawer appeared with a thin roll of bills and a receipt for a rent advance for enough months that it was worth more money than he had ever seen, more than they had even on the weeks that both he and Bucky had managed to get paid at the same time. For a moment he let himself wonder what Bucky had done to gather that much cash but when he remembered the nods Bucky would exchange and the beers Bucky would always send down the bar, to the Irish when they were near the docks and to the Italians when they were nearer to the bridge. He remembered the exhaustion in Bucky’s eyes, the man-sized bruise, clearly broken ribs from their last night together and decided he didn’t want to know. He shoved the drawer back under the bed sharply after extracting a single bill from the pile. Steve pushed himself to his feet, shoved into his shoes and headed out of the apartment for the first time in days, just before he slammed the door he paused and reached back to add his sketchbook to the pile of stuff he was taking with him.
He stopped by the door and checked his mail box, slamming it shut with frustration when there was still no mail.
He kicked a trashcan lid that was lying on the pavement before talking a deep breath and forcing himself to calm down.
As he neared the subway he ducked into the greengrocers, handing over their repaired sign and adding a single apple to the promised payment of his month’s produce for free. He shifted the weight of his packages and carefully picked his way down onto the train. As he slumped into a seat in an almost empty carriage, he crunched his way through his breakfast and wished that he had remembered to buy extra coffee when he was getting groceries for free the month before.
The train rattled to a stop and he rolled his shoulders before lifting his parcels so he could slip through the thickening crowd of morning commuters, off the train and out onto the street. Steve looked up at the once grand building the Community arts centre was housed in and with a deep sigh he pasted a smile on his face and braced himself to make nice with the Arts Program director.
He reached the top of the stairs and took a few careful breaths before knocking on the open office door and leaning into the office,
“Steven! I was beginning to think I’d get another apologetic visit from that Grecian beauty-esque friend of yours,” the lanky older man sat behind the single desk in the office called at a volume just short of deafening, “Speaking of, I’ve been looking for a new model and he seems the sort to have good musculature.” Steve held back from rolling his eyes and carefully dropped his posters onto the man’s desk, watching nervously as they were unrolled and inspected.
“Sorry, he was called up over a month ago…” Steve trailed off, not really knowing what to add, no idea of how long Bucky would be gone or if he would even get leave before they shipped him out to god-knows which front.
“Damn, well this ridiculous European war is getting rather frustrating. I didn’t realise this whole draft thing had got quite that far, no real reason for us to get all that involved they should just be shoring up the home guard and waiting it out. It’ll all be over by Christmas.” The director muttered as he unrolled yet another poster with a happy nod. Steve clenched his fists at his side and carefully replied,
“That’s what they said last year, and the year before…”
“Humm… well, these all look like they fit the bill you can collect your stipend at the end of the week. I’ll have some new commissions together for you as well. As always there is space for someone with your skills to teach a class. If you could manage to turn up every week.”
Steve bit back the urge to snap at the man and smiled tightly, “Of course, I still don’t think teaching is for me. I’ll see you on Friday.”
“No need to come all the way up here, I’ll leave it all with Doris at the door.” The director smiled dismissively already moving on to packing up Steve’s work to be sent off to the printers.
“Right,” Steve murmured nodding politely before traipsing back down to street level, as he reached the main door he offered a smile to Doris before stepping out into the sun. He looked over the street at the ornate park gates and as he placed his sketchbook down on the step beside him so he could search his pockets for a pencil he paused. He picked the book back up and flicked back to the geometric patterns he had spent nights sketching over and over, he frowned and walked across the street carelessly to look at the constellations carved into the stone pillars on either side of the gate. He lifted the sketchbook up and tilted it. He ripped the page out of the book, tearing the page a few more times before pushing tw pieces together to make the same shape as was on the gate. He dropped to his knees and tore the page into more pieces matching more pieces up until the pavement was covered in constellations made up of torn up sketches.
“Damn it.” He huffed with a little laugh, scraping the scraps of paper up and jogging to the subway station.
Over an hour later, he finally elbowed his way through the last station and jogged across the street to the exhibition hall. He quickly found his way back to the stand and ignoring the odd looks he got from passersby started to rearrange the fragments of wall that he had copied the symbols from until they formed a large ring covered in symbols that seemed to represent the constellations and some similarly styled shapes surrounded by lines of the symbols all ending in the same odd triangle beneath a dot.
A movement at his side had him flinching away from the table with an apology on his lips as he realised the display probably wasn’t intended to be moved, the man who had joined him however just smiled and continued to flick through Steve’s sketch book. Steve forced himself to not snatch the book away but the man must have caught sight of the aborted grab because he looked up at Steve and handed the sketch book over with a grin.
“If we had realised an artist was what was required to spot the pattern, we could have saved ourselves many months of head scratching.” The man said in an accent that Steve didn’t quite recognise, he offered his hand to Steve as he added. “Dr Abraham Erskine.”
“Steve. Rogers… I just saw that the lines didn’t match up well how they were. And they just… It just wan’t right.” Steve rambled, waving a hand over the table as though that would help him make more sense.
Erskine nodded happily at him, a wide grin still on his face. “Tell me Mr Rogers, are you good with languages?”
“Well, I made it through most of Latin at school if that what you mean.” He lowered his voice a little as he confessed, “And my ma taught me Irish. I always figured out enough Italian to get by, kinda like latin you know, a smattering of Spanish…”
Erskine hummed thoughtfully looking down at the fragments of wall again, he pointed at one of the lines of symbols and then another, “what do you think these are?” Steve glanced around in confusion, wondering if one of the researchers had joined them, seeing no-one he looked back at Erskine then down at the symbols.
“I don’t…” he sighed, closed his eyes, shrugged and finally said, “Sentences? The triangle thing could be a full stop, it’s at the end of every line and the order of the symbols isn’t ascetically pleasing or in any order from the night sky so…I don’t know anything about Egypt, doctor.”
“Oh, neither do I. I’m a doctor of medicine not Egyptology or linguistics.” Erskine laughed, “but this is not the sort of problem that those who can understand hieroglyphics could solve on their own. Didn’t you read the sign” Erskine mocked softly waving a hand at the board behind the table. “come, let me show you something else.” The doctor quickly walked away from Steve without waiting for a response and after a second of hesitation Steve jogged after him through the fair and into the back of the army recruiting station.
The doctor handed him a stack of photos, Steve frowned at the top one until he eventually realised that the symbols in the picture appeared to be have been drawn onto a sheet of ice with some kind of paint and then the sheet shattered much like the stone wall at the booth.
After a moment Steve looked up at Erskine and softly asked , “Is that blood?” and after another moment of hesitation, “When was this written? I thought hieroglyphics weren’t used anymore?”
“Don’t worry about that, tell me do you see a pattern like the other?” the doctor replied distractedly waving off Steve’s questions as he jotted something down of a piece of paper before asking, “Where were you born, Steve, and when?”
“Brooklyn, July 4th 1918” Steve replied automatically, looking up a moment later to ask why only to find the doctor gone. He moved to look out of the little office Erskine had left him in only to find the corridor outside empty except for the odd nurse bustling back and forth with clipboards. He stepped back into the office and sank down into the one chair to look at the stack of pictures in his hand.
Steve sat arranging and rearranging the photos until he ended up with a patten that seemed to work, all the patterns matching up into constellation like shapes that didn’t seem to dissimilar to the ones carved into stone. Just as he collected up the last five photos that he hadn’t managed to quite get to fit into place, Erskine walked back into the room with a clipboard in hand and lent against the wall.
“Tell me, Mr Rogers, why the 3 attempts to join the army. Most men would accept their 4F from the board and walk away, you however, appeal against their decision and when you lose the appeal you go to 3 different recruiting stations… Are you so desperate to kill Germans?” The doctor’s accent thickening, finally resolving to the newly familiar warm throatiness that Bucky’s cousins had abandoned as quickly as they changed their names when their boat had arrived from Germany.
“No, I don’t really want to kill anyone, I just can’t stand bullies… I could be doing’ something about it but I’m stuck here instead making posters to convince people to reuse and recycle! While everyone else has a chance to do some good.”
“And what if your county could use you for your mind rather than another body on some foreign front?” Doctor Erskine asked, pulling a sheet off the clipboard and folding it in half to offer it to Steve, “There are plenty of big men with guns out there, maybe what we need is a little man with the ability to plan…”
Steve took the sheet of paper and opened it to find an enlistment form, filled in and stamped with 1A, as he stared at the form the only thought in his head was that every protest Bucky had had about the military accepting him was right. After a long moment another sheet was slid over the top of the form,
“There is a project at Mitchel Field you will be working on, officially you will be a cryptographer working under the Signal Corps. You will need to report to the base to collect your uniform, this letter will let the quartermaster know you are part of Project Giza.” Dr Erskine rattled off the information as Steve stared at the letter in front of him in shock. “Oh, bring the photos with you.” Erskine added as he started to leave. Steve jumped to his feet, scooping the photos and his sketch book up and chasing after the doctor, as he caught up with him he asked,
“Wait, now. Right now? What about my training?”
“Why would you need training? It’s not like we’re going to put a gun in your hand and you’ll pick the rest up…” Erskine waved off his concerns without turning around or pausing.
Steve froze at the entrance of the tent opposite a life sized painting of a GI with a mirror where the face should be and as he stared at the part of the painting’s chest that was at eye level he wondered exactly what he had gotten caught up in.
Steve hugged his sketchbook to his chest and forced his feet to move. He blinked as he stepped out into the midday sun and as he looked around he suddenly muttered,
“How the fuck do I even get to the Hempstead line from Queens?”
Steve’s first day on base was filled with stuttering and getting in peoples way as he attempted to figure out where he was meant to be and how to get there, he got lectured by the quartermaster on how to dress, shouted at by two different sergeants and finally pushed into a tiny office with a window facing into a giant lab that had all the equipment shoved around the edges of the room so that the centre of the room could be filled by a giant ring.
Steve slumped behind his already crowded desk and looked over at the odd collection of star charts, illustrations of chemical compounds and mysterious symbols that covered all three walls in the office. He plucked the stack of photos from his pocket and shuffled through them for a moment before selecting one and standing up. He glanced out at the mostly empty lab before hoisting himself up to stand on the desk, he walked along the length of the desk and held the picture up to one that seemed almost exactly the same but from perhaps three feet to the left.
“Unusual isn’t it?” A soft British voice said from behind him. Steve twisted to look at the woman, plucking the photo from the wall before carefully hopping down from the table.
“A man painting symbols from most ancient Egypt on a wall of ice in his own blood before being shot dead? A little unusual? It’s a regular Pulp story.” Steve said with a faint laugh. He glanced at the woman’s uniform and quickly attempted to salute even as she waved him off.
“A little late don’t you think? And he was shot before he started writing apparently. It would have killed another man, especially in those conditions, but he managed to write all of that, it has become quite the fascinating subject around here. According to the journals brought back by the research team the man’s eyes glowed gold in the moments before his death…” The woman held out her hand and with a charming smile added, “Agent Peggy Carter, Scientific Special Reserve, you must be Private Rogers. Erskine is quite impressed with you, but frankly until you can tell me what any of that says I’m not quite sure what he sees.”
“Err, well I can’t actually… I just recognised a pattern.” Steve said a little stunned at her bluntness.
“Well, the Egyptologist can’t see the pattern so I’m sure it will all work out.” Peggy smiled at Steve before dropping a file that had been in her hands onto the desk and walked away. Steve watched as she made her way across the lab and out in to the base before shaking his head and picking up the file.
The content was mostly meaningless science that Steve skimmed through, with the desperate hope that he wasn’t actually meant to understand any of it, until he reached the final few pages where someone had drawn out the chunks of ice all matched up like a jigsaw. He pulled the pages out of the file and spread them out on the desk frowning at the odd notation the previous owner of the file had used until he realised most of the symbols didn’t match up the way he would have placed them, the hieroglyphics mixed seemingly randomly with the other symbols and the symbols once again forced into vaguely hieroglyphic forms. He spread his stack of photos out and carefully started to line them up following the pattern he had made before. He slowly crossed all of the distorted symbols off as he used them until he only had hieroglyphs left. He copied them out in the same order under the assumption that the last person had a better grasp of the actual Egyptian to him and dumped the page out of the way before going back to frowning at the photos.
He was still sat twisting one photo around and around in the middle of the stack hours later when Agent Carter leant back through the door, Steve gave her a faint smile when he caught sight of her before giving the picture a final twist and lifting his hand from it.
“Rogers, it’s almost midnight and no-one expects you to crack this today, go to bed and pick this up in the morning.”
Steve pushed his chair away from the desk and forced his face to stay blank as he stood, hoping that the deep crack that sounded out from his hip didn’t reach her, “I lost track of the time, no windows” he muttered as he stood.
Agent Carter let out a small laugh before leaning over to look at what he had managed to produce, “Are those constellations?”
“Some of them. Others just appear to be dots joined by lines but they don’t match to any constellations that I know of.” Steve said with a shrug, gathering up his sketch book and motioning for Agent Carter to step out of the office before him.
“That would make an odd sort of sense” she said refusing to move. “The little of the Hieroglyphics we could translate from the stone covering of the ring said something about a door to the stars. We assumed it was talking about some sort of observatory or early form of astronomy. It’s late and no-one does their best thinking when they should be sleeping. Let’s leave this on the translator’s desk and see if he thinks you’ve managed to come up with something that makes a little sense.” She said plucking the sheet of hieroglyphs that Steve had dumped to one side from the desk before sweeping out of the office. Steve quickly followed her as she left the lab, she almost immediately leant through another doorway and passed the sheet to a middle-aged man, who she lightly mocked for working through the night before shutting the office door.
“Well, at least we should have an answer by morning.” She laughed as she prodded Steve in the direction of the barracks. “Goodnight, Steve.” She said firmly.
“Good night, Agent Carter.” Steve replied with a polite nod before making his way into the barracks, careful to not wake any of his bunkmates up as he crossed the long room.
The morning came too soon, Steve blinked awake to the familiar noise of someone dressing and the unfamiliar sound of men laughing and horsing around as they readied for the day. He looked around, half expecting to see Bucky tiredly shrugging off his work clothes only to find a sea of men halfway into their uniforms as they made their way through a clearly well worn morning routine. Steve rolled out of his bed and carefully copied the actions of the man closest to him as he made his bed, he frowned at it when he realised it didn’t look quite the same despite the neatness of his hospital corners. The man he had been watching stepped up beside him with a huff of laughter,
“How did you make it through basic?” he said before looking Steve up and down. “Seriously, how? Never mind, I’m showing you once more and then your on your own.”
Steve just nodded gratefully unwilling to explain the odd circumstances behind his recruitment before he had even had a chance to find out if Erskine was really going to keep him.
He dressed carefully, grinning to himself with pride when he got a thumbs ups from the man who had helped him before. He followed the rest of the men to the mess to grab a single slice of toast and a cup of coffee, that he ate at a table on his own, before attempting to find his way back to the lab without crossing paths with anyone.
A single slip of paper was sat on the top of his photos when he arrived, with the ominous message of ‘Lord Ra will descend for us and his reign will be continued. Surrender to our might, for you shall ensure our survival.’ scrawled on it under a copy of the hieroglyphics. Steve picked it up and with a faint scowl he pinned it to the section of wall that seemed to contain the most picture of the bloody scrawl. As he started to fiddle with the pictures he had left half finished the night before he spotted Dr Erskine entering the lab and rushed out of the office to speak to him.
“Ah, Steven, I hear that you have already been making progress with our mystery. A door to the stars with coordinates to guide us and nearly immortal men with a strong belief in their god.” The Doctor motioned for Steve to follow him and as they walked he said, “I was working for a research team in the German Science Reserve when the Nazi Party came to power, we had thought that we would be shut down and made to work on other more bloody things but an interest was taken in our research. You see we were looking in to how this man had been preserved so well in the ice that he woke after many thousands of years as though he had merely gone to sleep the night before. We found things in his blood that were not usually in humans, an odd pouch in his stomach and a hole carved from his mouth to his brain, and so we had asked ourselves ‘how does a man survive such conditions?’ and when the commander we had been assigned came he told us to find a way of making all men such strong soldiers, that it would make them the best that they could be. He told us that we would need such men to recover what was left in the ice and to protect the Ring.” Erskine halted by a table and lifted a vial from a rack. “This and the photos were all I could hide when I fled, the Commander believed that we would be able to create these soldiers and he brought men for us to test our serums on. When my colleagues refused. Schmidt, the commander, killed them… and as he did his eyes glowed gold and I knew I could not stay, so I agreed to test the serum, it made the men strong but then they died and when the commander left I ran.”
“So how did you find out about the ring?” Steve asked with a frown,
“Well I arrived in America with a tall tale of a serum to make mighty soldiers and a Ring dug out of the ice of Antarctica. Someone heard of my tale and remembered a Ring being unburied in the desert and brought to America, there is a great fear that Schmidt will find a way to make these soldiers or discover the secrets of the Rings before we do. And if he does it may change the course of the war. It may change the way of the entire world.”
“A little dramatic, Agent Carter said that people thought this had something to do with astronomy…” Steve said as the doctor carefully placed the vial back in to the holder turned to look at Steve for the first time since they had stated talking.
“I believe that she is wrong. That this is not a doorway to understand the stars, it is a doorway to the stars. The Hieroglyphs you placed together spoke of Ra descending, of him coming to earth to save these men who we found in the ice, what if they did not mean an etherial God but a man… a being with more power than we could contemplate? A creature that we would have no words to describe but as a god, returning to Earth to resume his reign. Schmidt knew about my research before I could even tell him about it and seemed certain that the serum would work. He even told me what I would need to change to perfect it when he had seen how it failed. I believe that there is something in the ice that will allow us to control the gate. There are fragments of a pedestal that were found with this gate, it has some of the symbols you have been creating on it and those match to symbols on the Ring, but it is broken beyond any repair.” Erskine said quietly, drawing Steve over to the Ring in the centre of the room. “I have enough serum created to treat a few men, I am allowed to pick one, the others will be military men chosen for their skills, a sniper, an explosives expert, a medic, they are all being trained. But I have chosen to pick someone who can think, a man who can plan and see patterns. If the serum makes you the best that you can be then I believe that it will make you an unparalleled asset to this team.”
Steve blinked at the Doctor dumbly for a moment before finally asking, “did you even need me to solve those patterns or was that a test?”
“It will be helpful to know how they fit together, and everyone else has failed, but you saw something that no-one else did and it would seem that being thrown into new situations does not bother you.” Erskine laughed,
“When will the serum be ready?” Steve asked, not really sure if he wanted to take part or not.
“It already is, we have made a device that will correct the issues I had before. You are the last person to be chosen, the rest were selected from their aptitude tests when they joined basic, we needed men we could mould and who were not already weary of war.”
“I… I need to …“ Steve paused for a moment, and remembered Bucky’s desperate wish that Steve not do anything stupid. “never mind, when do we do it?” Erskine clapped him on the back at the words.
“Good man, I will need to check that everything is ready with the device, but next week.” Erskine smiled and nodded before heading across the room to the single telephone.
“Wait, Doctor! What do you want me to do in the meantime?” Steve asked.
“See if you can find any more patterns… learn how to read hieroglyphics… expand your mind, Steven!” Erskine called across the lab as he lifted the receiver of the phone.
Steve stretched his back out as he finished making his bed, he straightened and double checked the lines of his uniform were correct with shaking hands. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before turning away from his bunk to leave the barracks.
“Good luck, Rogers, don’t get dead.” One of the men called as he passed,
“Thanks, Hodge, try not to step in front of a plane today.” Steve sniped back without turning around to look at the one friend he had managed to make in the three weeks it had taken to get everything set up to use the serum.
He stepped out into the early morning light and headed across the yard to the lab, as he reached the door he paused and took a few deep breaths pushing the urge to cough away when his lung protested.
A hand slid onto his shoulder and Peggy softly said “No one would argue if you changed your mind. Another month and the rest of the team will be ready, you could let one of them go first.”
“They are actually useful to the war effort though, Peggy, we all know the brass agreed to me because losing me won’t be a loss off a specially trained man. If this all goes wrong they can pull the program and have not lost everything they poured in.” Steve replied softly, refusing to let the fear he felt creep into his voice.
“Steve…” They looked at each other for a moment before Peggy finally added, “He is sure this will work, he wouldn’t risk this if he thought it wouldn’t.”
“Peggy, I need you to do something for me. If this goes wrong, I need you to deliver a letter… and tell him how.”
“Have you got a secret girl, Steve!” Peggy interrupted
“No, my best friend, we share a apartment, we’ve been friends forever and… I couldn’t just let him find out from a letter or when he comes home.” Steve handed Peggy a letter that he’d had tucked inside his jacket, “He might not be easy to find, he got drafted a few months ago but I would really appreciate it if you could try.”
Peggy frowned at the address on the letter for a moment before softly saying, “James Buchanan Barnes. Really?”
“I know James is a common name and Barnes … I guess but…”
“It’s fine, I’ll be able to find him.” Peggy said, Steve frowned a little at the odd tone to her voice but before he could ask she pressed her hand to his shoulder and pushed him towards the door, “Well, if you aren’t backing out, solider, you don’t want to be late.”
Steve took a final deep breath and glanced up at the clear sky before opening the door and stepping into the unusually crowded lab. He searched the crowd of lab coats and high ranked uniforms blindly until Erskine pushed his way to the front and reached out to grab Steve’s arm. Steve let himself be tugged through the crowd until they reached a
“You will need to undress, Steven, to your underwear will suffice.” Erskine said softly.
Steve quickly undressed, handing his uniform to one of the nurses who seemed to have appeared from nowhere, she folded it neatly and hurried off with it like she was attempting to keep him from changing his mind by sealing away his clothes. He folded his arm over his narrow chest self-consciously when he realised every eye in the room, that wasn’t occupied with setting up the odd device behind him, was on him.
Erskine stepped close and gently lifted Steve’s arm and pressed a needle in to his upper arm, muttering “You will need to lie down now.” As he depressed the dose.
“That wasn’t so bad” Steve sad with a grin, moving to sit on the edge of the sarcophagus.
Erskine raised his eyebrows at him, “That was penicillin.” A nurse stepped forwards and carefully guided Steve back so his head was resting on a slim pillow that she had placed down, she stepped back only to be replaced by another nurse. This nurse pinched his thigh muscle before giving him an apologetic look and sliding a large bore needle home. Steve bit his lip and shut his eyes as another nurse stepped up to repeat the procedure on the other side. The serum burned long after the nurses had stepped back and the doors of the sarcophagus ground their way shut. Steve opened his eyes into the darkness of the interior just in time to hear Erskine say,
“Keep your eyes closed, the light is very bright.”
Steve shut his eyes again as the chamber was flooded with brilliant light. Steve had enough time to think that it wasn’t to bad before the pain hit, wave after wave washing over him and making him want to curl into a ball. He head people calling back and forth outside the chamber and the pain suddenly worsened until it felt like his skin was sloughing off and every bone was breaking. He screamed, unable to keep the noise from bursting out of him as his entire body shook from the pain. The calling outside the chamber because louder and Steve realised they might think it was killing him. He forced himself to bite back the scream and shouted,
“I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t stop.” Until a faint whump and a bang let him know the machinery had been switched off. He shut his eyes and waited for the sighs of disappointment as the doors of the chamber opened.
“Steve! STEVE.” Peggy shouted, her hand pressing against his chest feeling oddly small. Steve though of his mother’s description of how everything becomes faint and harder to feel as you die, your whole body becoming numb as it shuts down, and he reached up to lay his hand over Peggy’s muttering,
“It’s ok.” He opened his eyes as his hand struck something mid way through it’s path. He looked up to see his hand covering the entire side of Peggy’s face the forearm oddly distorted, too long and wide. He pushed off the bottom of the sarcophagus and looked down at himself in shock as he realised his feet were pressed against the bottom edge and his chest seemed at least twice as wide as it had been.
A nurse stepped up beside the device and carefully helped Peggy pull Steve to his feet, he stepped out of the sarcophagus and looked down at Peggy from his new height before looking over at where Ersikine stood with a shocked look on his face.
“I guess it worked?” Steve said in a voice that had new strength to it.
Erskine grinned up at him and replied, “Yes, very much so, and now to see what else it has changed.”