It wasn't until a few weeks later that Morita finally had enough of the careful silence and formality between the two friends, and called an end to it. Dum Dum was making more of an effort, and Dernier had never made much of an overt fuss, but there was still that reserve, especially when they made camp and Barnes and the Captain slept as far away from each other as possible, or in separate tents.
It was affecting morale. None of them had realized how much their working well as a group relied on their Captain and Sergeant having a free, easy friendship until it wasn't there any more. Until they hardly ever saw each other, almost never spoke, and quickly became self-conscious around everyone else.
Their CO's injury that day hadn't been that bad, relatively speaking. Nothing like the time a few months back, when he'd had to have twelve bullets dug out of him in the field - and if Gabe lived a hundred years he'd never be able to forget how it felt to dig around in Cap's shoulder while Cap did his best to hold still and stubbornly refused to scream, holding Barnes's hand so tight Barnes had had bruises for a week. The best part had been when he'd passed out from the pain, eight bullets in. But this latest injury hadn't exactly been a picnic. Cap's back was a mangled mess from the shrapnel that had pierced through the uniform, bandages cinched tight to keep his ribs in place, and sure, it was gonna heal within two days, but in the meantime he was miserable no matter how much he tried to hide it.
Gabe sighed wearily as he finished setting up the tents. They'd thought they'd be back on base tonight, but between Cap's injury and the cache of Hydra weapons that it was gonna take Falsworth three times as long as they'd thought to go through, they were stuck for at least another night. Probably more.
The Captain was slowly heating their dinner by the fire, his movements painful and stiff. Barnes was stoically working on the campsite, avoiding even looking at their CO, as he'd avoided being near him while Morita tended to him. Barnes's body language radiated tension, as it had ever since the blast. Nobody had been worried about their CO after the first couple of seconds, but it still had to be difficult seeing someone you cared about hurt and know there was nothing you could do to help. Not like the last few times, when he'd sat with Cap through field treatment and stayed with him afterwards, joking and telling stories to keep his mind off the pain.
"All right, it's ready," said Cap, and they all took their places at the fire and tucked in. Cap reached out to stir the pot and abruptly halted his movement, hissing slightly in pain and dropping the ladle.
"Are you all right, sir?" asked Falsworth, and Captain Rogers nodded, taking a quick breath and giving him a tight smile.
"Just a bit of shrapnel," he said reassuringly, though his voice was strained. "I told you, it's fine."
"I - I honestly thought--"
"Wasn't your fault, Falsworth," said Dugan.
Falsworth scowled into his beans, his lips pressed tight together.
"Falsworth, I told you it's all right," Cap insisted, a note of impatience creeping into his voice. "Been hurt a lot worse before. Hell, I've been hurt a lot worse back home."
"Believe him," said Barnes dryly. "Single-handedly kept Miller's Pharmacy on our block in business."
"I wasn't that bad," said Cap. Barnes snorted and rolled his eyes, and suddenly it felt almost like old times.
"At least now you're not getting hurt picking fights 'cause you're too dumb to back down from a bigger guy," said Barnes, and Gabe, as always, had trouble picturing their CO as a mouthy little guy. He exchanged a smile with Morita. "'Course now they got weapons. But hey, at least you heal faster."
Cap shook his head, amused. "You should talk. I never got my ribs broken from picking a fight with four other guys."
"It was one time!" Barnes protested.
"Four?" said Morita, chuckling. "What did they do?"
Cap and Barnes's eyes met briefly, and Barnes opened his mouth to respond.
"Called me a cocksucking little fairy," said Cap.
Barnes blinked, and Gabe wondered what he'd been about to say as a sudden awkward silence fell.
"Got my mouth washed out with soap when I tried to explain that to Sister Louise," Barnes broke the silence, and Gabe found himself unexpectedly laughing along with Falsworth and Morita, imagining Barnes saying those words to a nun. Barnes grinned wryly. "Which hurt like a sonofabitch with the ribs and all."
"You were still in the orphanage?" Falsworth asked.
Barnes nodded. "We were fourteen. She threatened to have me transferred somewhere else if I couldn't get along with the other boys in the neighbourhood. They were punks anyway."
"We were all targets at the orphanage," said Cap. "They called us every name in the book; beat us up just for fun. We didn't have parents to give a damn." He gazed at the fire. "I wonder where they ended up."
"Who cares," said Barnes, grimacing. "Best part about leaving the orphanage: never having to think about those assholes again." He paused, glanced at Cap. "I can't believe you said that."
"Got tired of the other version," said Cap shortly. He gave Barnes a tight smile. "You were gonna tell the nun story again, right?"
"Nun story?" asked Dugan.
"The nun story," said Cap. "That's what he's always said when we told anyone about it. That those punks were saying nasty things about one of the nicer nuns, and he stood up for her." He shifted again, trying to get comfortable, glanced at Barnes. "You turned me into a nun, pal. I kept telling you to come up with a better version."
Gabe chuckled with the others, and then frowned, suddenly wondering how many of Barnes's stories had significant omissions or changes. How many of his wild tales had nothing to do with some dame he'd tried to impress or some crazy dare.
He wondered if Barnes had fought those kids because they'd already known way back then that they were... that way. If those kids had called Cap a fairy because they were punks, or because of something Cap had done. If the nun story had been invented because it was embarrassing to Cap to have Barnes fight for him, or because what had been said hit too close to home.
He sure as hell wasn't gonna ask.
"I'll take first sentry duty," said Falsworth once they were done.
"Dernier's on first," Cap said.
"I don't mind, sir--"
"I'm only gonna say this one last time, Falsworth: it wasn't your fault," Cap said firmly. "You couldn't have known what would happen. If you knew how those things reacted with 100% accuracy, you'd be a Hydra operative and we'd be in big trouble." Falsworth nodded reluctantly. "I'm all right," he repeated. "No permanent harm done. And Dernier is on first duty. The rest of us, time to finish setting up and turn in." He stood up slowly, and Barnes made a small noise in his throat.
"You sure you're all right, sir?" Barnes said, his voice low.
Cap nodded stiffly. "Fine, Sergeant." He moved carefully towards his equipment, while Barnes chewed on his lip and headed off for his own gear, frustration evident in every line of his body.
"You know something?" Morita muttered as he grabbed his own pack. "This is bullshit." He raised his voice. "Falsworth?"
"I'm gonna share with you."
"Change of tent assignments," Morita announced, standing up. "I'm bunking with Falsworth."
Dugan and Dernier scowled.
"Morita--" Cap began.
"Barnes snores like a freight train, sir," said Morita.
"And you talk in your sleep, Captain," said Falsworth, not missing a beat. He grabbed his pack. "Come on, Morita. Good night everyone."
Cap and Barnes stared at each other as Falsworth and Morita disappeared into one of the two-man tents, then Cap turned to Gabe and Dernier.
Dernier blew out his breath. "I don't care any more, they can do whatever they want," he muttered under his breath at Gabe, and headed into the three-man tent where he'd put his own equipment.
"Come on, let's get some shut-eye." Gabe grabbed Dugan by the arm and pulled him to the tent.
"The Colonel said--"
"The Colonel said he didn't ever want to hear about this again," Gabe said, leaving Cap and Barnes outside. "I'm sure as hell not gonna say anything." He lowered his voice, because there was no way Cap's enhanced hearing wouldn't hear him otherwise. "They're not gonna do anything, Dum Dum. Not just 'cause the Captain's hurt, either. The time we overheard them, they were--" Gabe cleared his throat. "They'd been sharing a tent for weeks but Barnes said they hadn't, um, been together in a long time. I don't think, if they know anybody can walk in on them..."
"So why let them share a tent now?" Dugan said, his voice belligerent. Gabe grimaced. So much for being discreet and not making them feel awkward.
"Because it's the decent thing to do." Gabe glared at Dugan. "I don't like to think about what they could get up to if there was nobody else around either. But they're pals too. Let 'em just have some time to not have to worry that somebody's gonna be judging that they're standing too close or... or smiling at each other, or whatever the hell it is that you and Dernier don't like to see."
"I don't approve of this," said Dernier, looking up from his gun as he heard his name. "Just in case you're telling him I do. I just don't care enough to go against you and Falsworth and Morita as you play matchmaker to a couple of..."
"Shut up," said Gabe without heat, and got into his sleeping bag. "And go on sentry duty. Wake me up when you're done."
And it helped. A lot. Gabe - when he thought about it at all, which he tried very hard not to - really didn't think anything happened in that tent that shouldn't happen, and Cap and Barnes were still more formal with each other than they had been before but... well, he supposed it was different knowing they would at least be able to relax around each other once in a while when they were out on the field, rather than never being able to let down their guard. They were formal but not awkward. The entire unit was working better, however much Dugan's moustache got stiff with disapproval at the end of the night when they were in the field - which was getting more and more frequent as the war wore on. At least he kept his opinions to himself.
Dugan probably wouldn't be keeping his opinions to himself right now if he were here though. Things had gotten back to normal enough for Gabe and Morita to invite Barnes along with them on their leave time, for the first time since what Gabe was beginning to think of as The Shed Incident. Which had been fun, but they were so disgracefully drunk they'd gotten lost on the way back to their latest campsite. It had taken them forever to figure out where the hell they were; one bombed-out French village looked very much like another, and the forests were all the same.
"You gonna be sober enough for your sentry duty?" slurred Gabe at Morita, and Morita nodded.
"Yeah. Sure. We're about an hour's walk away, right?"
"'f we don' get lost again," slurred Barnes.
"So fuckin' tireda sleepin' in a tent," said Gabe. "Smells like cats, I swear. Can't wait to get back to base."
"Not 'till Falsworth'n'Dernier figure out how to disarm those Hydra bombs withou' blowin' the whole place up," said Barnes.
"Yeah, this way 's just us gets blown up," said Gabe.
"I don' mind."
"Don' wanna share barracks with Dum Dum, huh?" asked Morita.
Barnes shrugged. "Don' mind him so much." He was silent for a few minutes. "I uh... I really..." his steps stumbled to a halt and he gazed at both of them with drunken sincerity. "I know I never said nothin'... didn' know what to say, really. But." He cleared his throat. "I really 'preciate you guys. Doin' what you did, with field bunking." He cleared his throat again, going red. "I - I mean, we ain't - nothin' - you don' hafta worry that anything's... you know... uh." He stopped, gave a small laugh. "This is why we didn' say nothin', I guess. 'Cause, uh. Still. Thanks."
"Yeah, no problem," said Gabe, and Morita nodded as well. They walked in silence for a few moments, and Gabe cast about for some other, less wildly uncomfortable topic.
"You don't ever... you know?" Morita suddenly blurted, and Gabe nearly tripped. "I - sorry, man, none a my business, I guess I just sorta assumed that--"
Barnes's mouth quirked slightly and he waved off Morita's apology. "Not - no. I mean, uh." He shrugged and looked away from them. "I guess technically..." He swallowed. "Um... kissin', a bit, sometimes," he said softly. He sighed. "Once in a long, long time, after everyone's asleep. 'N it's great, don't get me wrong. I wish..." he sighed. "But he'd never. Never again, not till we're back Stateside. Tha's a long time to be right next to each other'n not be able to do more'n jus' kiss. He - he won' risk it."
"Really?" said Gabe, immediately telling himself he was nowhere near drunk enough to excuse being curious about whether or not two of his team-mates had sex, for God's sake.
Barnes shook his head, and the movement threw him off-course slightly. He straightened himself. "Sez it's 'is fault, jus' cause--"
"I know what I heard," Gabe snorted. "'f anything, it was your fault, man."
Barnes's shoulders hunched down miserably. "I know that. Think I don' know that?"
"How long before that?" Morita asked. "How long had it been?"
"Weeks. Since the last time we were on base. At his place on the base, real late at night when we were both off-duty an' nobody was aroun' an' nobody was watchin' who went where, an' nobody could hear..." Barnes kicked at a stone. "One hour, tha's all, no sleepin' in the same place, no nothin'. Just wham bam thankyou sir, then out the door. 'Cause tha's all a couple perverts want, right?" he said bitterly. "Now we ain't even gonna have that again till after the War. If we even survive."
Damn, but Barnes was a maudlin drunk.
He took a long shuddering breath and squared his shoulders. "'S better, 'course it's a lot better, sharin' the tent," he said, his voice subdued. "We're pals. But... Jesus. It's hard. Really hard. He... he's a real stickler for keepin' yer word, an' doin' what's right, an' we don't do more'n kiss an' even that's just real quick 'cause what if somebody comes in. An' - an' sometimes we jerk off 'cause shit, everyone jerks off, at least we're in the same place'n we can pretend... he talks real quiet an' I pretend it's him touchin' me, and I pretend I'm touchin' him 'stead of myself, an' it's... it's better'n nothin', sure, but..." he trailed off.
Morita nodded solemnly. "I'm starting to be real sorry we said anything."
"Nah. Not yer fault. 'M just glad we get to sleep in th' same place again. Thanks," he said, having trouble focussing on Morita.
Damn, they were drunk.
"So... never, wow," said Morita. "Shit."
"C'n you picture Captain America riskin' it all again for a roll in the hay?" Barnes shook his head. "Nah. Kissin' an' jerkin' off and dirty talk y'can hardly hear. Tha's all." He breathed deeply. "Wish I could fuck him," he said, his voice low. "Wish it all the time."
"You fuck him? Really? How's that work?"
"Used to be he'd fuck me, when he was a little guy, 'cause I didn't want him to feel like I thought he was a dame," Barnes said. "Took a few years for 'im to lie down for me."
Morita hesitated. "So he's the dame now?"
"'Cause... y'know, there were these two guys back home, one was pretty he-man but th' other one..."
Barnes shook his head. "Nah, I know, we got fairies too back home. Can't even do that right; we're neither one of us the dame." Barnes sighed. "Used to be he'd fuck me, but then we found out we liked it th' other way an' we started switchin'. But I was always so worried, 'cause he'd - he'd tell me ta fuck 'im through the floor, but I didn' wanna hurt 'im." Barnes smiled. "Tha's a great thing 'bout him bein' so strong now, I c'n do what I want an' he loves it... God I miss 'im." He stopped walking and closed his eyes, rubbing his face wearily. "Feels like we're hungry all the time. I c'n feel 'im lookin' at me at night. He... he says my name sometimes when he's dreaming. I miss 'im so fuckin' much. Even if he's right there."
Gabe cleared his throat. "Come on, fellas," he said. "Let's hurry up."
They walked in silence for a few moments, and then Barnes spoke up. "'sfunny. I never told anyone any o' that. We never told anybody anything." He paused. "Nobody. Nobody ever knew 'bout us. 'Cept the priest at the orphanage, 'cause of Confession. Nobody knew - nobody, ever."
"What'd your priest say?" asked Gabe.
"The usual, lotsa Hail Marys an' don't do it again." He grinned crookedly. "You fellas never wondered why two good Catholic boys never went to church? I mean, me, yeah, I'm not the type, but you never wondered about Steve?"
Gabe blinked. He had, once or twice. Dernier went whenever he could, and he'd seen the Captain go into Catholic churches, but never for Mass.
"He didn' take Communion, for years, 'cause he couldn't go to Confession and get absolution if we weren't gonna stop."
"Doesn't that mean you're... you know, gonna go to hell?" asked Morita.
"According to the nuns, yeah," Barnes nodded. "Steve ain't taken Communion since he rescued us."
Gabe frowned. "How could he, before?"
"We weren't... together, when I shipped out," said Barnes slowly. "He'd sent me away to live on my own a few months before, y'know, tryin' to do the right thing. For about the fourth time." He chuckled bitterly. "My last night Stateside, I went home with some girl whose name I don' even remember. Thinkin' about him the whole time." He cleared his throat. "Never told nobody that."
"I'm sorry," said Morita. "I'm real sorry everyone knows now, 'cause of us."
"So'm I," said Barnes ruefully. "But in a way... it's almost nice to not have to hide."
Gabe nodded thoughtfully. Suddenly 'nobody... nobody ever...never told...' sounded awfully lonely.
"Would you, if you could?" asked Morita.
"Would I what?"
"Not just go to sleep together."
"Fuck yeah," breathed Barnes. He sighed. "But I'd never even say nothin', not now. I got 'im into this mess..."
"Who'd know, though? I mean, out here?"
Morita rolled his eyes. "Barnes. We're in the middle of a god-damn forest. You could screw yourselves stupid and nobody would know."
Barnes shook his head. "He'd never agree. Too risky."
"What risk? Nobody around. Some damn French cows, and they wouldn't care. Only us seven here. Me and Jones don't give a shit, guarantee you Falsworth doesn't either--"
"Dugan and Dernier wouldn't say nothin'," said Gabe. "An' if Dernier did, I wouldn't translate."
Why was he agreeing with Morita? Even hinting that his buddy and his CO should get their rocks off out here, military regulations be damned?
Because they were probably all gonna die, that's why. And he might not think what they were doing was right, but maybe it wasn't up to him to judge. And they were gonna do it anyway, soon as they got back home. Not like they were gonna stop being perverts at the end of the War.
They were almost sober by the time they got back to the campsite. The night air, the cold, the two-hour walk back - all of it cleared their heads, and by the time they were back they'd stopped talking a while ago and Gabe wondered if Barnes regretted saying what he'd said.
Gabe looked at his watch. Made it right on time, and there was Dernier on sentry duty, looking relieved to see Morita. And the light was on inside Barnes and Cap's tent.
"All right. Good night," said Barnes at his door, and Morita suddenly narrowed his eyes and leaned forward.
"Uh. Captain?" he called into the tent. Barnes looked back.
"Tell Cap I wanna see him," said Morita.
Barnes frowned, and held the door open. There was a noise from inside the tent, and Cap appeared.
"Morita?" he said.
Morita chewed on his lip for a moment. "I uh, sorry, sir, we all got kinda drunk."
"You were off-duty. I figured you would," said Cap, his eyes fond as he took in Barnes's slightly disheveled state. "You don't need someone else to take over your sentry duty, do you?"
"I'll be fine for my shift too, sir," said Barnes, his slur almost completely gone. "I'm on in two hours."
"I'll go on duty with Morita for the first little while, sir," Gabe offered. "Between the two of us we'll be fine."
"Good," Cap nodded. "Was that all?"
Morita shook his head. "Um - well, Barnes can tell you what he went off about, but I wanted you both to know that we'll be on duty for two hours. And we're gonna be looking to make sure nobody's gonna attack the camp, but it's no trouble to also make sure nobody comes near your tent without you knowing."
Barnes and Cap frowned at him, lost, and then Barnes's eyes widened slightly.
Morita held his gaze. "You've got two hours. You don't need to worry that anybody'll hear anything. Me and Jones'll warn you."
Now a light dawned on Cap's face and he quickly glanced at Barnes, who was gaping at Morita in disbelief. "Bucky?"
"I didn't - Morita, I didn't ask--"
"No, you didn't, but--"
"No," said Cap. "No, you don't have to - we said that--"
Morita nodded. "I know you did, but--"
"Steve," said Barnes softly, and Cap turned to him, and their eyes locked for a long moment. Barnes swallowed. "Steve, I didn't ask," he said, and the longing in his eyes and voice were almost palpable. "I swear, I didn't, but..."
"Bucky, we promised," Cap said gently. Barnes let out his breath and dropped his gaze, nodding tiredly. Cap's expression was unreadable as he gazed at Barnes's bowed head.
"It's our fault the two of you got found out," said Morita, his chin set. "And nobody should have to be too scared to - anyway. You got two hours. Sir." He saluted briefly, and jerked his chin at Gabe. "Jones? You coming?"
"Jones?" said Cap faintly.
"Two hours, sir," said Gabe, who hadn't realized until that moment that he was going to facilitate whatever might happen in that tent. "Good night."
They headed off, leaving Cap still staring after them.
"Sorry, I shoulda asked you first," said Morita once they were out of earshot.
"No," said Gabe. "I mighta said no." He shouldered his rifle. "Can't believe we're doing this..."
"I mean it. I don't care what's wrong or not; that sounded pretty fucked up, what Barnes talked about all the look-but-don't-touch."
"Yeah." Gabe sighed and headed off to his duty and tried not to think of what might be going on inside that tent right now. Tried not to think of the hopeless desire in Barnes's face and voice.
What Barnes had said... had sounded really fucking lonely. Really pretty pathetic, too. Ten years; ten years of being together and nobody knowing. Trying to stay apart and then getting back together, over and over.
Ten years. Damn, Gabe couldn't even remember who he'd been sweet on ten years ago. Millie? Eileen? Calilly? Gozer's sister, what was her name again?
Cap came to the door when they came to get Barnes for his shift. He nodded to Morita and Gabe.
"Barnes is still a little drunk, so I'm taking his turn," he said casually, and Morita and Gabe exchanged a glance. There was nothing outwardly strange in that; Cap had taken sentry duty for the rest of them before, what with needing a lot less rest and never getting drunk himself that Gabe had ever witnessed. Not that he ever drank much, what with being an officer and all.
"Right, sir," said Morita, and he and Gabe saluted and turned to head back to their tents.
"Oh - fellas, hang on," said Cap. Morita and Gabe turned back. Cap stood for a moment, looking hesitant. "Uh. I just. Thank you. I wanted to thank you both." He swallowed. "You don't - you didn't have to do that."
"Nobody should feel like what Barnes said," said Morita quietly. "I don't - I don't pretend to understand, but... whenever I'm on duty, you don't have to feel like that."
Cap gazed at him. "Thank you."
"That goes for me too, sir," said Gabe, surprising himself. Cap cleared his throat and rubbed a hand through his hair, looking almost... lost. Like he had no idea how to respond to them. Finally he nodded and shouldered his gun, and went off into the night.
Falsworth noticed - or, more likely, Morita told him. Which was a little weird, but what the hell - and now Falsworth was in on it too. As for Dernier and Dugan, who knew what they thought. Gabe suspected they both knew what was going on, but sure as hell wasn't gonna ask.
Gabe was on duty one night, pacing around and listening to the sound of frogs in the forest, when Morita jogged up to him.
"Hey, Jones, got a radio message. We're getting company. No, not that kind," he said as Gabe immediately stiffened and gripped his gun tighter. "Phillips and Agent Carter. Apparently there's some kind of big urgent news for the Captain."
Gabe glanced at Cap and Barnes's tent. He'd just left them about fifteen minutes ago, and Dernier was on sentry duty next. It was their first night out in the field in two weeks; it didn't take a genius to guess what was probably going on right now.
"When are they getting here?"
"About an hour," said Morita.
Gabe pressed his lips together and wondered if he looked even half as reluctant as he felt. "OK. I'll... I'll let Cap know."
Morita chuckled. Apparently he did. "Better you than me. Getting an earful once was enough for a lifetime." He shrugged. "Then again, I'm the one who got Falsworth outta that working girl's bedroom near Strasbourg when we were about to get jumped. Saw a lot more of that man than I ever wanted to see."
Gabe chuckled and turned to the tent, approaching quietly. He leaned close to knock on the frame, and froze as he heard a gasp from inside.
Rustling. Another gasp, answered by a soft moan.
No surprise, they weren't sleeping. He glanced at his watch.
"Yeah - please, God, yeah," a voice whispered, he couldn't tell which one, and nobody who was even a foot away would've been able to hear anything. Just Gabe's luck that here he was, trying to figure out a polite way to put a stop to--
Another gasp, a choked-off moan - that sounded like Cap, and--
The hell with it. He wasn't gonna interrupt them in the middle of anything. The others weren't gonna be here for an hour, Morita had said. He quietly crept away from the tent.
"What?" Morita raised his eyes as he went by the fire and he gave what he hoped was the appropriate facial signal for, "Captain and Sergeant engaged in tactical maneuvers, would rather start wearing nothing but a corset in public than interrupt right now." Morita smirked at him and took another sip of his coffee and Gabe continued into the forest.
Fifteen minutes later, he was back at the tent. And thank God, that was voices he heard inside, sleepy murmurs and rustling that could've come from any tent holding tired soldiers settling down at the end of the day in the field.
"Sir?" Sudden silence. "It's Jones, sir," he said, and there was the sound of breath being let out and movement inside the tent.
"Be there in a minute, Jones," said Cap, and Gabe could hear clothing rustle. The door opened. "Yeah?" Cap said, barefoot and in undershirt and pants, face slightly flushed.
"Morita got a radio message, sir," said Gabe, glancing into the tent before he remembered that probably wasn't a good idea and taking in Barnes sitting up on the bed in an undershirt, hair a mess, eyes a little dazed. He snapped his gaze back to Cap, telling himself not to think about the fact that the other bed was still neatly made, and oh God, the tent smelled like sex. "Colonel Phillips, sir. He'll be here in about forty minutes or so."
Cap's eyebrows went up. "Right now?" he checked his watch. "At one in the morning?"
Cap blinked. "OK." He glanced back at Barnes, who was getting up and pulling on his pants. "Did the message say he wanted to talk to the whole unit?"
"No sir, I don't think so."
Gabe headed for the fire, getting a coffee from Morita, and Cap joined him after a few minutes, getting coffees for himself and Barnes while Barnes moved his pack into Morita's tent.
"Here," said Cap, handing Barnes a coffee with the half packet of sugar Barnes liked, and sat down with his own coffee. He glanced at his shield. "Wonder what the big deal is," he mused, picking it up.
Falsworth emerged from Morita's tent, rubbing his eyes and yawning as he tossed his gear into Cap's tent and joined the rest of them at the fire.
"Didn't sound like we were gonna be deployed right away," said Morita.
"You could go back to sleep," said Cap to Barnes, and Barnes shook his head.
"Nah. Too curious now."
"Fair enough." Cap drained his coffee and set down his cup, and Barnes handed him a rag to polish the shield. Cap took it with a nod of thanks, starting in on the shield as they all waited by the fire.
It wasn't right, what they did, thought Gabe. It didn't matter that the unit felt more relaxed these days, that Cap and Barnes were almost back to how they'd been before, that Dum Dum and Dernier were possibly also going along with it all. It still wasn't quite right.
Then again, it was a little like going to whorehouses, wasn't it? Or getting stinking drunk whenever they had the chance. That wasn't right either. Alice hated it when he got drunk back home, and he didn't blame her, but here he did it anyway. And Falsworth's wife and Dugan's girl back home wouldn't want to know about what they did over here either, but...
They were all putting themselves out here, risking life and limb. Maybe they deserved the chance to grab what happiness they could, especially if they weren't hurting anyone.
"Why's everyone up?" asked Dernier, coming out of the tent. Gabe told him as Dernier got himself a coffee too, glanced at Barnes, then rolled his eyes. "Tell Barnes to do up his collar," he said to Gabe.
Gabe glanced over. "Barnes. Collar," he said shortly, disturbed that he hadn't noticed the mark himself.
Damn, Gabe suddenly recalled. Barnes used to wear those like a badge of pride after supposedly picking up some French girl. Another thing that had changed.
Oh, and that put one particular question to rest: Dernier definitely knew. Oh well.
Cap was determinedly not looking at Barnes as Barnes buttoned up, his blush easy to see even in the firelight. They all looked up as Dugan joined them at the fire.
"We having a midnight cookout?" asked Dugan.
"Phillips and Agent Carter are coming," said Morita, holding out a coffee mug. Dugan took it and sat down.
The silence of the night was broken by the distant roar of a vehicle, quickly becoming louder as a jeep came into view.
"Captain Rogers," said Colonel Phillips, not getting out of the jeep. He returned Cap's salute and glanced around. "It wasn't necessary to wake up your whole unit. We're just stopping by to bring you to a meeting."
"They were all up anyway, sir," said Cap. He returned Agent Carter's smile. "A meeting?"
"We've received new intelligence about some movement happening in the next few days," she said. "The meeting's only a few miles away, a little place Howard's secured." She made a place for him next to her on the seat. "You'll probably be back in an hour - don't tell your men to strike camp tonight, they may as well get a good night's rest." She smiled at them.
"Sergeant Barnes, you're in charge," said Cap, getting into the jeep next to Agent Carter. Barnes saluted and watched them drive off, Agent Carter chatting animatedly to their Captain.
It was funny; Cap liked Agent Carter, that was obvious. He admired her, probably even found her attractive - hell, how could he not? She was beautiful, for a white girl. Smart as a whip, and she definitely liked him. He'd seen the flirty little looks she sent his way - well, flirty in a sort of demure British lady officer kind of way, anyway. And they spent a lot of time together on the base, holed up with the other officers making plans and working with that Stark guy.
What did Barnes think of it? Gabe remembered him talking the day he and Morita had overheard them, telling Cap he could go out with her if he wanted. Cap hadn't seemed interested, but... what would it feel like to say something like that?
Not real good, probably.
"You know, Agent Carter, she's one hell of a dame," said Dugan, breaking the silence. They all nodded.
"Yeah, she is," said Barnes quietly.
Dugan gazed at him for a long time. "She'd be with him in a second; he'd just have to say the word."
Barnes looked down. "Dugan. You're... not gonna be able to understand."
"I know you're all the family either of you've got. Seems to me you'd be willing to make sacrifices for each other."
"We are," said Barnes. He took a deep breath. "And if he wanted to be with her, I wouldn't stand in his way."
"That's funny," said Dugan. "'Cause you are."
"Dugan," said Morita quietly.
Dugan sat back. "Just seems a damn waste," he said after a moment.
"I don't... disagree with you," said Barnes, his voice low. He glanced at his watch. "Dernier, you're on sentry next, right?" He made a sign at his gun, and Dernier nodded. Barnes pointed at himself. "Want me to take your duty?"
Dernier nodded, able to follow along enough to get the meaning, and Barnes got up with his gun, heading into the darkness.
"I take it the rest of you don't care," said Dugan, gazing into his coffee mug. "Our commanding officers break all sorts of laws and commandments and common decency, and the rest of you don't give a damn."
"Doesn't affect how they lead us," said Morita. "As long as they're not bothering the rest of us... don't see why it's any of our business."
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Dugan. You've a woman back home, and so do I," said Falsworth. "Yet we've both slept with French girls. All of us have, except for the Captain, Morita and Jones. That breaks a few commandments."
"And nobody gives you hell about it," said Morita.
"This is different."
"Not sure it is," said Gabe. "And you know what? I don't care any more. They're not hurting anyone but themselves."
"I'm not my CO's keeper," said Morita. "Or my Sergeant's."
Dugan stared at them. "It's more than just not saying anything. It's - you three encourage them."
OK, so Dugan knew too. Not that big a surprise.
Gabe shook his head. "It's not encouraging anything to just not want them drummed out of the service."
"Doesn't it make you sick? At all?" asked Dugan, and now his voice was almost plaintive.
Gabe shrugged. "I just try not to think about it."
"This isn't the first time I've come across this kind of thing, Dugan," said Falsworth. "I've heard you Americans joke about British boarding schools, and I must admit, you're not far off the mark." Gabe's eyebrows went up. "Granted, most of what went on at our school was... well, they were boys. It wasn't anything serious. But there were some who became awfully taken with one another. I must admit it's... surprising to see it in grown men, but it's really not that shocking." He gave Dugan a small smile. "They were brought up in the same kind of environment. Only there were no suitable female cousins or friends of sisters during summer hols. Maybe they've simply... never grown up."
"Maybe if they did, they wouldn't be... caught up in each other like that," said Dugan. "They could be normal."
"Maybe," said Gabe. "But maybe it's none of our business." He met Morita's eyes, remembering what Barnes had said. Four times, Cap had sent him away, apparently. And yet here they were, still together, ten years later.
Gabe sat back, gazing at the fire with his unit, the French rural countryside around them comfortingly quiet. Crickets, soft wind, the crackling of the fire.
He wondered what the hell was going on with Cap and Colonel Phillips and Agent Carter. Wondered if the current surveillance mission they were on was going to go ahead after all. Didn't sound like it; if whatever it was, was important enough for the Colonel to go driving around at one in the morning...
Far sooner than they'd expected, the sound of a car engine broke the peaceful silence and the jeep drove up, Colonel Phillips, his aide, and Cap in it.
Cap got out, Phillips following him. He went to the fire, quietly said, "Sergeant, come with me, please, we need to discuss these plans," and headed for the tent he'd been sharing with Barnes, his face carefully blank.
Phillips stood by the fire and passed his stern gaze over all of the men. "We've got plans for tomorrow. Your Captain and Sergeant are going to finalize them, and you'll be picked up tomorrow morning to carry them out. As long as I'm here, though, I'm taking the opportunity to check in with this unit."
"Sir?" said Morita.
"That business that came up at the base a few months ago. Has there been any further trouble?"
Gabe's breath stuck in his throat. He kept his eyes on Phillips and his face blank.
"Your commanding officers are not here right now, and I am asking you men a question. Is there anything I need to know?"
There was a brief pause.
Dugan cleared his throat. "No sir," he said. "Nothing to tell."
Phillips stared at him, his expression unreadable. Beside him, his aide's lip curled in disgust - and Gabe was pretty sure he wasn't imagining deep disappointment in the man's face.
"The rest of you men agree?" said Phillips, still locking eyes with Dugan, who didn't so much as blink.
"Yes sir," said Gabe, and Morita and Falsworth echoed him.
"Dernier? What about you?" Phillips turned to Dernier, and his accent may have been horrible, but his French was passable. "Any complaints about Rogers and Barnes?"
"No sir," said Dernier.
Phillips nodded, satisfied, and gave his aide a nod. His aide got into the jeep and started it, and the Colonel got in, returning their salutes and heading off into the night.
Gabe raised his eyebrows at Dugan, who shrugged.
"He asked if there was anything he needed to know," Dugan said brusquely. "And there isn't." He blew out his breath. "Well, I'm gonna get some shut-eye before tomorrow morning. Apparently we're gonna be busy."
Gabe nodded, and headed for his own tent, passing by Cap and Barnes's tent.
"...not as bad as we always thought," Barnes was saying as he approached. "You notice that?"
Captain Rogers snorted. "Speak for yourself. Dugan and Dernier?"
"No, obviously, I ain't sayin' it's all been a treat. Just, it's nice to know. As long as we watch ourselves, the worst already happened. And it wasn't the nightmare we--"
"No, it hasn't. The worst would be everyone else finding out."
There was a silence. "Maybe it would be worth it."
"Would you still say that if Phillips had walked in here tonight instead of driving away? If the men had--"
"Still worth it."
"I don't ever want to see you in handcuffs again, Buck."
There was a small noise, a rustle of movement.
"Steve," said Barnes, and his voice was muffled. "That won't be an issue after the War."
"I want you to be happy," said Cap, and his voice was muffled too.
"What if I am? What if I prefer this, us, to pretending that--"
"What if you didn't have to pretend? What if you fell in love with some girl who--"
"What if I wanna decide who makes me happy, Steve?"
Cap blew out his breath. "Bucky. What if we just get some sleep, and talk about it later. Tomorrow's gonna be busy."
Barnes sighed. "It's always later with you. And then you make decisions that are supposedly for my own good and you make us both miserable."
"We got time," said Cap. "We don't need to decide anything right now." Gabe heard the sound of boots coming off, a belt being undone. "Besides, you wanna talk about our future after the War - it might be a little closer after this mission."
"I dunno, sounds pretty crazy to me. Jumping onto a god-damn moving train."
"If we can catch Zola, it'll be worth it."
"Well, guess we're gonna have to trust you. You're the star-spangled man with the plan," said Barnes, and there was a soft, "Oof!" sound.
"You're never gonna let me forget that, are you?" Cap asked, laughing. "Hey, gimme my pillow back."
"Jerk," said Barnes, laughing. "You threw it, get it yourself."
Gabe headed for his own tent. Jumping onto a moving train, huh? That oughta be fun.