"Captain, perimeter secured," said Barnes, coming back to the campfire and putting down his gun. "No surprises. Except that footbridge isn't there any more."
"Good," Cap nodded, and glanced over the map. "We weren't sure we were gonna use it anyway."
"It's only a creek," Falsworth agreed. "We can probably all jump over the bloody thing."
"All right, then, let's finish setting up camp," said Cap. "It's an hour to dusk and we leave at dawn; I'd like us all to get to sleep early."
Gabe nodded and set up his sleeping bag near the fire, his discomfort growing. They'd mostly been on the base these last two weeks, doing tactical exercises, and hadn't really spent any time together as a unit, away from the other troops. Setting up camp should've felt comfortable, easy, getting what rest and relaxation they could before a difficult trek through the woods tomorrow in search of a rumored cache of Hydra weapons. Instead it felt awkward as hell. He glanced at the bedrolls, noting Cap and Barnes had put theirs on opposite sides of the fire, and felt queasy at the memory of how many times they'd gone to sleep next to each other, right in front of all of them.
And none of them had suspected a thing.
"Sir, should we set up sentry duty?" asked Falsworth.
"My intel said there's nobody within a day's march," said Morita. "Don't think there's a need until after dinner."
"Who's got first duty?" asked Gabe.
"I do," said Barnes. "I didn't see anyone while I was out there."
"No, let's have dinner first," said Cap.
"No surprise there," muttered Dugan. Cap's eyes flicked in his direction, but he didn't say anything.
Barnes glanced at Dugan. "I can go now," he said.
"After you eat," said Cap mildly, ignoring Dugan's scowl.
Morita nudged at Dugan as they gathered around the fire, where Dernier was warming a flask of coffee and Falsworth was breaking out the rations. "He's done the same before and you've never objected," Morita muttered.
"I didn't know before, did I?" said Dugan, not bothering to lower his voice.
Morita gave him a quelling look. "I mean he's done the same for all of us," he clarified. "Not just Barnes. We're a small unit; can't have someone on patrol all the time."
There was an uncomfortable silence as they all sat and ate, with Barnes and Captain Rogers as far away from each other as they could be and still be sitting at the same fire.
"Yeah, this is homey," Dum Dum muttered sullenly. Gabe sighed. He wasn't thrilled with what had happened either, and things had been strained in the unit - especially between Cap and Barnes, who made sure to never be alone and addressed each other as impersonally as possible. Dugan's attitude didn't help, though. In front of other troops he was the perfectly respectful subordinate with Cap, and didn't say a word out of place to Barnes. When it was just the Commandos, though? The snide remarks were getting old.
"You want another helping before you go out there?" Dugan asked Barnes coldly, glancing at their rations. "Wouldn't want you to be hungry or anything."
Barnes stared at him, his lips pressed together.
"You'd be more comfortable back home, probably. Plenty to eat there, I hear."
"You know what?" said Barnes mildly, and something in his tone brought Cap's head snapping up.
"Bucky," he said, his voice even.
"No, I've had enough."
Barnes turned to Dugan. "Dugan, the agreement was we'd never talk about it--"
"Shut up!" Barnes turned on Cap, and Cap stared at him. "You just take it, you let him say whatever shit he wants to say--"
"Because if it wasn't for him agreeing to keep his mouth shut, we both could've been court-martialled," said Cap forcefully.
"They don't do that any more!"
"Blue ticketed, then. You wanna live with that? Be grateful! He could--"
"He could shut the fuck up!" Barnes said. He turned back to Dugan. "You asshole, you have no idea what it's like, it's a fucking joke to you - we've loved each other since we were kids, ten years being in love and knowing self-righteous pricks like you think we're wrong and dirty--"
"If either of us was a dame we'd get nothing but praise - instead we're treated like lepers, and--"
"Sergeant Barnes, that's enough!" Cap snapped. "You're on sentry duty as of right now. Go."
Barnes's jaw snapped shut and he glared at Cap, his chest heaving. He clenched his fists, stood up, and picked up his gun, stomping away.
Their CO's jaw flexed. "Dugan." He took a deep breath. "We both appreciate all of you staying quiet. But we've done what we promised. Nothing improper has happened again, and--"
"But it did, and you just expect us to--"
"If we could go back and undo what happened, we would," said Cap. "But we can't. And you're right. You are absolutely right, and we should've both been turfed. We owe you. We both know that. But you are not helping."
"Barnes has no business telling anyone--"
"I have been trying since we were kids to get him to shut his mouth, and I've never been able to. I'm not gonna be able to now just because it's soldiers and not nuns that he's mouthing off to."
Dugan glared at him. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"You're the best commander I've served with, and he's the best sniper out there. But I didn't sign up for this. I was proud to be part of this unit; I'm not anymore. I'm no liar, and I didn't think you were either."
"I asked to resign."
"They should've let you."
"They didn't, and I'm sorry," the Captain said evenly. "But you need to hold up your end of the deal, and stop poking at him, or it won't make any difference what you agreed to do. He's going to snap, and I won't be able to stop him. And you will still be right, and we will both be blue-ticketed out."
"You wouldn't have to go. You could--"
Cap's eyes narrowed. "There is no way in hell I would let Bucky face the music alone, and you know it," he said, his voice glacial. "We will both be run out of the service, and this unit will break up."
"Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to stay quiet, then."
"Maybe you shouldn't have. Decide now whether you're going to or not. If it's gonna be a blue ticket, I'd rather have it come down than hang over all our heads for the rest of the war."
Dugan nodded grimly.
"I'm gonna go talk to him," said Cap, and left the fire.
"It's a sad day when you not only have to keep quiet about a couple of queers, but be careful about their delicate feelings, too," Dugan muttered after Cap left.
Falsworth stared at him. "I happen to agree with Captain Rogers."
"Would you want to hear shit like that said about you?" asked Morita.
Dugan scowled at them. "I'm not a fairy who got caught--"
"No," said Falsworth. "But you're being an arse. We agreed to keep it quiet--"
"And I am--"
"--because we wanted to keep the unit together," Falsworth finished. "There's no point to it if your childish attitude is going to push Barnes over the edge."
"He knows what I think of--"
"We all know what you think, Dum Dum," said Morita. "And you're going to get your ass kicked if you keep saying it."
"I'd like to see him try." Dugan's moustache bristled in indignation.
"I wouldn't," said Falsworth.
"You think I can't take on a limp-wristed--"
"I think I don't want to read the report Captain Rogers will have to write about it if you both behave like schoolboys and end up in the stockade," said Falsworth.
"I don't want to hear this," said Gabe, and got up. "I'm going for a walk." Dernier followed him as the other three continued to argue by the fire.
"Falsworth and Morita are on Barnes's side, aren't they?" asked Dernier grimly.
"There's no sides," Gabe snapped.
"Dugan is an honest man, with a strict moral code. He admired the Captain, and Barnes. You can't ask a man like that to ignore something like this, and lie by omission, and expect him to simply take it."
"He shouldn't have agreed in the first place, then," said Gabe impatiently.
"And be responsible for breaking up this unit?" Dernier gave him a hard look. "Don't be naive. And don't take their side. They're in the wrong, and we all know it. This is politics triumphing over decency."
"There's no sides," Gabe repeated. "And we all admired them." He paused. "We'd still all admire them if Morita and I hadn't opened our big mouths..."
Dernier shook his head. "You didn't have a choice about that. It was the only right thing to do."
Gabe shook his head. "I'm not so sure any more." He stopped, suddenly spotting Cap and Barnes across the clearing.
He and Dernier gazed out at Barnes, pacing with his gun slung over his shoulder, turning with a belligerent expression on his face as Cap called out. Gabe half expected him to snap at his friend, or refuse to talk to him, or - he didn't know what he expected.
He didn't get it. Cap said something, and Barnes's entire demeanor changed, his shoulders slumping as he put his gun down.
Cap came to stand near him, hands in his pockets, looking down and speaking softly, and now Barnes was nodding, a weary, sorrowful look to his eyes. At one point he frowned and started to interrupt Cap, who made a sharp gesture and continued to talk.
Cap finally stopped talking, and Barnes nodded. They stared at the ground for a few moments, and then Barnes looked up, and gave Cap a wry smile.
Cap smiled back, obviously relieved. They gazed at each other for a moment, and it was funny, Gabe had seen those affectionate glances between them so many times and thought nothing of them, but now... now they were so obviously more than just a friendly officer and non-com that it amazed him that none of them had ever guessed.
Then Barnes made a small gesture in Cap's direction and Cap moved back quickly. They both glanced around, spotting Gabe and Dernier, and the easy affection and humor was gone, replaced by identical expressions of wary caution.
Barnes stepped back, shouldering his gun, and snapped off a brisk salute. Cap returned it, nodded, and walked away in the direction of the fire.
"Are you sure, sir?" Falsworth asked, eyeing the perch.
Dugan scowled. "We're all gonna be in danger, Falsworth," he said brusquely. "Just because Barnes is..." he trailed off, giving the wall a closer look. He cleared his throat. "Captain."
"That's... pretty exposed. No cover for Barnes, if anybody happens to look."
Cap nodded. "I know."
Dugan's jaw jutted out. "You don't have to prove anything, just because--"
"Give me another option, then," said Cap grimly.
Dugan scanned the buildings. Gabe and Morita looked too, and exchanged a glance. There really wasn't anywhere else. They all shook their heads.
"What's the problem?" Dernier nudged him.
"The Captain's looking for a better place to put Barnes than up there," Gabe explained, pointing up.
"Why? He doesn't want his boy hurt?" Dernier asked. Gabe gave him a shove and neglected to translate for the others.
Falsworth rolled his eyes. "I didn't need to know French to understand that. Dernier, kindly take your tete out of your cul. Did I pronounce that correctly?" He glanced around the buildings, shaking his head. "Sorry, Captain. I can't see anywhere else either."
Barnes gave Dernier a blank look, Captain Rogers a quick nod, shouldered his gun and started to scale up a half-crumbled wall to the roof. Gabe glanced at their Captain as the rest of them headed off to their ambush positions, and - the mission was dangerous, nobody wasn't in danger, Cap most of all, but suddenly Gabe looked up at Barnes and tried to imagine what it would be like to be his CO, sending him up there.
Ten years, Barnes had said. They were closer than brothers; they were lovers, had been for ten years, had been through life and death together. I love you, they'd both murmured, and talked about wishing they could be married.
Could Gabe send Alice up to an exposed perch like that, and go on as if nothing was wrong? Could he see Alice going anywhere near combat, know she was risking herself in any way, and not have it eat away at him?
Fairy or not, Cap had balls of steel. Gabe hunkered down to wait for the Hydra transport to roll by.
It wasn't as if Barnes's danger level today was all that far out of the ordinary, he told himself. They were soldiers, after all. Morita mainly did communications, but Dernier worked with explosives, for God's sake, and Falsworth often played around with Hydra weapons that he wasn't familiar with, and that could probably kill him if he wasn't careful. The Captain, more often than not, ended up doing hand-to-hand, and got broken bones and gunshot wounds that, no matter how quickly they healed, hurt a hell of a lot and might very well kill him one of these days.
None of them was safe. They'd be lucky if they didn't all get killed - today, never mind during the rest of the war.
And yet today was working out all right, they realized a few hours later as the Hydra trucks rolled past and everything went off like clockwork, and they captured the enemy shipment. Morita's intercepted intel had been flawless, Barnes had picked off the one man who could've given them away before everything was perfectly in place, Dernier's explosives had gone off right on time, they just needed to secure the eight or ten Hydra goons who were running off into the bush and then make sure that--
And then the building under Barnes collapsed.
"Barnes!" Gabe shouted, and he, Dugan, and Falsworth exchanged a horrified look. They turned to Cap, who had just seen the building fall, and who wrenched himself from the scene and kept running into the forest.
"Bloody hell," Falsworth grunted as they ran. "D'you think Barnes survived that?"
"Dunno," muttered Dugan. "God damn it."
They quickly captured nine Hydras and secured them, Cap barking out rapid-fire commands over the radio to their back-up support to come and deal with "possible friendly casualties" back at the site ASAP. He was as pale as the day they'd been found out, but seemed otherwise unaffected.
Wasn't like Gabe and his Alice, then. Of course; two fellas, they couldn't be the same. No way would Gabe be just talking over the radio and staying with the prisoners if Alice was buried under a ton of rubble. He'd be racing back, the hell with everything else, to tear the place apart with his bare hands. 'Course if Cap did that they'd all be up shit's creek because there were only four of them, and only one was a Super-soldier, and Hydra goons were slippery bastards even with their weapons removed and all handcuffed together, but what kind of man could just ignore his... his lover like that? For the sake of a damn mission?
"All right, we don't need all of us here," said Cap, going off the radio. "Falsworth, head back to the site. See if they have any of those XK4 weapons the reports talked about." He paused. "And radio me back if you hear anything about that building," he added, his voice low.
Falsworth nodded. "I will. He'll be all right, Captain. He may not have been on that wall at all; he may have been on his way down. Everything was winding down."
"He hadn't been told to come down yet," Cap pointed out, his voice bleak. Falsworth nodded and left.
An hour later, they finally decided to chance bringing the prisoners back themselves rather than keep waiting for back-up and risk having them escape into the bush. As they entered the small farmsite, Gabe and Dugan struggling to keep up with their Captain despite the fact that he was carrying three times as much of the Hydra prisoners' equipment as they were, Gabe heard Dernier shouting.
"Captain!" Dernier ran straight for them, in the middle of a crowd of soldiers who quickly took control of the Hydra prisoners. "Jones - he's all right, Barnes, the medics got him, just a sprained ankle--"
Gabe rapidly translated for the Captain, who stared at him expressionlessly. "He's all right, sir, he's at the hospital tent--"
Cap closed his eyes and leaned forward, putting his hands to his knees and his head down, breathing deeply.
"It's all right. He's all right," said Dugan brusquely, taking Cap's arm and pulling him to the hospital tent. They hurried, and if Gabe had thought Cap was unemotional before, he was kicking himself for it now. Cap's eyes were blank, his fists clenching and unclenching, and he looked just about ready to collapse. Dugan, holding on to his arm grimly, seemed to be the only reason he didn't.
"Oh thank God - he's in there, sir," said Falsworth, coming out. "Sorry, the radio took some damage, I couldn't get through - the medics said he'll be fine in a day or two. He's the only casualty - the only one in the tent right now, as a matter of fact."
They trooped into the tent and Barnes was looking a bit of a mess, covered in dust and dirt, but Gabe glanced over him and the blood and bruises seemed minimal.
Cap moved forward slowly, and Barnes sat up and gave him a small half-smile. "Sorry, sir, gonna be out of commission for a while," he said, his voice hoarse from the dust. "Then again, what do they know, right? Brooklyn boys can take a little fallen concrete."
Cap nodded numbly.
"I'm all right," said Barnes. Cap nodded again, opened his mouth, and then closed it. "Seriously, it looks a lot worse than it is."
"Yeah, well it looked like a house fell on you, you jerk," said Cap, his voice unsteady. Barnes's impatient look softened.
"I'm fine. It didn't. I landed under a big slab and it covered me, I guess." Barnes glanced around at the other Commandos. "I'm fine, Steve. Sprained ankle and a mouthful of dust, is all."
Cap nodded, and Gabe suddenly realized he was shaking, hands gripped into tight fists.
"Hey, you're just getting yours for all those times I thought you were dying, right?" said Barnes gently, and Cap gave a sharp laugh that barely missed ending in a sob.
"Good to see you're fine, Barnes," said Morita suddenly. "Fellas, let's go outside."
Dugan and Dernier frowned and Cap raised his eyebrows.
"You can say whatever you want," said Morita. "We'll be outside. We'll let you know if anybody's coming who shouldn't overhear... anything."
Cap's eyes widened.
"Go on, sir," Falsworth said uncomfortably. "Come on," he put a hand on Dugan's shoulder and pushed him out the door, and Gabe blinked and did the same to Dernier.
The men left the tent, and Gabe glanced back, catching a glimpse of the Captain finally moving closer to the bed, and then hesitantly sitting down. Barnes reached out for him, pulling Cap's head onto his shoulder and Cap seemed to suddenly lose his rigidity, clinging to Barnes tightly. Gabe paused at the door and Barnes eyes met his. Barnes hesitated, then mouthed, "Thank you," and turned back to Cap, murmuring in his ear.
Gabe closed the door behind them.