Steve trembled. Part of him was filled with five different shades of fear over what he’d done, what was happening. He’d confiscated a ride from Peggy and Howard to be dropped into enemy territory to save a bunch of POW’s that the US Army had just written off as lost. He was alone, armed with a handgun and a cruddy tin shield, and was about to assault fully operational Hydra base. Him. Little Stevie Rogers.
The rest of him was filled with certainty. He was doing what was right, what was needed, and he was living up to what Dr. Erskine wanted for him. And if he died here then very little was lost. The scientists had already taken what blood they could and done their tests, to little avail. He had no friends or family to mourn him, aside from Pegs, and perhaps Howard. The Army would lose a dancing monkey.
So little risk for so much possible reward. It was worth it. Those men were the 107th, his father’s old regiment. As he cut through the sentries, Steve imagined his pops looking down on him from Heaven; encouraging him and sheltering him. Pure fancy, but it felt nice.
He came across men in cages, and after some small talk he gave them brief orders of how to proceed.
“Is there anyone else here?” he asked before he ordered them to move out. Steve hated the thought of leaving anyone behind. No one deserved to be left in his hell hole.
The prisoners shifted uneasily and a large man with a bowler hat spoke up. “Well, maybe. There’s a series of rooms back that way; the Krauts called them ‘the labs’. They’ve never taken anyone back there, but there are screams. Every night there are screams, so bad it doesn’t even sound human. Some kinda animal maybe.”
Steve grimaced. “I’ll take a look. Even if I can’t…I mean, if it’s not…well, I can at least give whatever it is some peace. I’ll see you out front.”
The men nodded and Steve made his way to the labs.
He could tell when he was getting close. Statues of men started appearing along the halls. Weird, but after all the glowing weapons, it wasn’t really that out of place. Just one more bit of strangeness in a whole mess of strange. Who knew how Nazis decorated anyways?
Then he got a closer look. The statues were realistic. Alarmingly realistic, actually; armor, clothing, and weapons finely crafted down to the smallest detail. Each face was a twisted mask of horror. Some were fleeing or crouching. Many had hands waved up as if to ward away something. One memorable statue was kneeling in tear filled prayer. Steve shuddered. He loved art, but looking at sculpture twisted in such a way made his heart hurt and his spine itch.
He heard moaning from a room farther down the hall he was in; a short pudgy man with a bag and glasses was fleeing down the other direction. Given the choice between chasing down a combatant and saving another POW, Steve picked the choice that preserved life. They’d find the scumbag later.
Several more statues lined the room, each staring at an emaciated figure hanging from the far wall. Steve noted somewhere in the back of his head that the statues were wearing Nazi uniforms or scientist lab coats. They all looked upon the chained up figure in horror. Steve rushed up to the man, only to draw back in horror himself.
The man chained to the wall was a wreck. His skin was caked with dried blood and dirt; half healed wounds covered most of his body and one of his arms was missing; it was just a barely tied off stump at mid-bicep. Even though his head hung low, Steve could see he wore a full face mask; an evil looking leather thing with no eye slots and a mere single slit at the mouth for breath. Blood leaked out from under it. It was about this time that Steve realized the poor man was nude, but his form was so filthy and damaged that Steve couldn’t muster up any embarrassment, only pity and compassion. What had they done to this man? As he neared the figure, the wretch moaned; a low, pained sound that ended in a sob.
“Easy now, I’m here to get you ou—what the hell!” Steve jumped backwards a foot as he saw the man’s shoulder length brunette hair begin to writhe. It was filled with tiny brown snakes, the biggest of which no thicker than a finger’s width. The chained man whimpered again and seemed to shrink further toward the wall. Some of the snakes moved to cover his masked face, as if to guard it, others simply looked like they were trying to get away from Steve.
“Oh god. Oh my god,” Steve whispered. The statues suddenly made a horrible kind of sense. During Steve’s sickly youth, he spent a great deal of time reading anything he could get his hands on. One of his teachers had given him a few accounts of early Greek myths; stories that flooded back to Steve as he watched the snake haired man shiver in front of him.
“Medusa,” Steve choked out in horror.
According to the stories, Medusa was a once beautiful priestess to Athena who was raped by Poseidon and then cursed by her patron goddess for defiling the temple where she served. Medusa was turned into a hideous snake headed monster whose gaze turned anyone looking at her to stone. The great hero Perseus fought her with the aid of powerful magical items; a mirrored shield, winged sandals, a powerful sword, and a helm of invisibility. With those, Perseus was able to behead her and then used her head to turn his enemies to stone.
At the mention of that name, the man flinched as if slapped and shrunk further away from Steve as far as his bindings would let him. Garbled sounds came from under the mask; unintelligible, but it had the tenor of pleading. A fresh trickle of blood dribbled down the man’s chin.
Steve paused a moment and took a deep breath. He looked at the poor being in front of him and took stock of the statues around him; soldiers and scientists. He looked at the wounds the man sported and noted the shivering fear in his frame. Steve squared his jaw and started to unchain the man.
“Easy now, I’ve got you. I’m gonna get you out of here. I won’t leave you to them. No one deserves this. No one. You’re gonna be okay. I’ve got you,” he murmured as the prisoner sagged in his arms.
The man didn’t try to fight him. Occasionally a shiver or whimper would wrack his frame, but he just clung to Steve with his one good arm and buried his masked face in Steve’s shoulder. The snakes in his hair felt feather-like against Steve’s skin, but they tended to stay away from him, much to Steve’s vast relief. He felt the need to quietly narrate what he was doing; partly to comfort the man and partly to talk himself through this mess. The key was to keep calm. Just keep calm.
“Good, there we go, you’re all out of that mess. Now I’m gonna leave that mask on you, but I promise as soon as we get you somewhere safe you’ll be able to take it off. Alright, now walk with me. There we go. Good. Now I’m gonna find something to cover you up and then we’re getting out of here. You’re doing great. That’s it. Come on, a few more steps and we’re out of here…”
They managed to stumble their way out, finding a scrap of tarp along the way to wrap up the man with, and then met up with the other prisoners in the surrounding forest. Not more than a few moments after Steve and his strange burden left the front yard, the whole factory went up in a series of explosions.
Steve kept them moving and wrapped the cloth over the man’s head like a hood. The last thing they needed was for the other POWs to panic at the sight of the hair snakes. As they moved, the soldier with the bowler hat and a few others he seemed close to found their way to Steve.
“Christ, you found someone back there! Well goddamn, you really are unbelievable,” the man who introduced himself as Dum-Dum Dugan said. They had all stopped for the night to rest up for the morning march and tend to the wounded.
An Asian looking soldier (“I’m from Fresno, ace.”) tried to pry Steve’s burden from him.
“Hey, look, I’m a medic. I don’t have much gear, but someone should look at this guy,” he wheedled. Spots of blood had soaked through the tarp in various places.
Steve ground his teeth a bit in worry and then said, “Fine, but come over this way. You guys come with, we’ll need some cover. And grab some extra bandages.” It had honestly never occurred to him to consider they wouldn’t do as ordered, much like it probably never occurred to them to disobey.
They wandered off from the main group a ways and Steve set the wounded man down and bid the others stand around in a loose circle. He looked up at them. “Look. Don’t lose your cool here. This guy, he’s—well, I’m pretty sure he’s not totally human. I think the Nazi’s were experimenting on him. He’s in really rough shape.” The group around him exchanged uneasy looks.
“Ok, Cap.” The soldiers were disconcerted by his little speech, but this crazy loon had just single handedly saved them from a death camp. They were willing to give him some leeway.
Steve sat kneeling next to the poor wretch; close enough to help or hinder, if he needed to. He wanted to save everyone he could, but he wouldn’t put the men around him at further risk. He very carefully pulled the cloth down from the man’s head, exposing the mask and the hair full of snakes. Upon closer inspection, Steve could see a few writhing bloody stumps mixed in with the hair and serpents; the snakes themselves looked worse for wear too. Their scales were cracked, dry, and slightly oozing blood and their eyes were cloudy and slow to track. Even the poor man’s monstrous appendages were in pain.
Steve took stock of the reactions around him. Confusion was quickly followed by shock, disbelief, and even a bit of revulsion.
“Mary, mother of God! Is that a, ah, Medusa?” a man with a British accent, introduced earlier as Monty, breathed out in fascinated horror.
The masked man tracked Monty’s voice and raised his one good hand flat outwards, palm down, then wobbled it a bit, as if to say, ‘sort of’. That effort alone seemed to take something out of him and he dropped his hand like a rock after that, slumped with exhaustion. Steve was fairly sure that the man was close to falling over. The cloth that was wrapped around him slid a bit farther down showing off the crusted wounds and the stump where the man’s left arm should be. The small Frenchman who was with them, Dernier, swore under his breath. They were suddenly all reminded of the endless nightly screams that haunted the factory.
“Morita? Medic, right? Do you have something we can use as bandages? Thanks. Ok, sir, here’s what we’re gonna do. These nice guys around us are gonna make a ring, backs turned toward you. We don’t want any accidents, right? I’m gonna sit behind you and undo that mask. Then you wrap up your face with these bandages. When you’re all set up, then we all face each other again and find you something more than just a sheet to wrap up in. Sound good?”
The masked man tracked Steve’s voice and nodded wearily at the end of the instructions. Dum-Dum looked fairly alarmed.
“Look, Cap, far be it for me to object, but what’s with all the turning around? I know this guy looks pretty banged up, but aren’t you worried he’s gonna do something?”
The masked man snorted and waved his stump at them. No one needed to see his expression to read the irritated sarcasm in the tilt of his head. Monty furiously whispered a literature lesson to the rest of the group.
“No, I’m really not. Even if he wanted to, seems like a pretty small chance he’d actually be able to. Besides, there’s no way I’m gonna sit here and watch him bleed when there’s something I can do to help. It’s wrong, and I ain’t doing it,” Steve said, nearly growling.
Morita shook himself, stood up with his back turned, and said, “Right. Whatever. Let’s get this over with.”
Everyone got into position. Steve made sure that the masked man was pointed away from the bulk of camp and himself, and then very gently unbuckled the mask. The man gave a strangled gasp as it came off and hung his head low for a moment. Steve looked at the thing and his stomach turned. Inside there was a sharpened mouth bit, designed to both block sound and cut into the mouth if the wearer tried to speak. Blood and spit soaked the leather.
“Oh, fuck, thank fucking Hera,” the man growled. His voice sounded raw, like he had been eating shards of glass, and bowed his head. The accent was more New York than anything else, much to Steve’s surprise. He could hear the drip-drip of blood falling from the man’s face to the forest floor. The guy covered his face with his hand and groaned.
Steve kept one hand on the man’s shoulder; he was pretty sure that might be the only thing keeping the wounded fellow upright. Seeing anyone hurt this badly made him furious. This was the whole reason he worked so hard to join the war effort. The people who would do this to another person were the real monsters here, no matter what this guy looked like.
“Fuck. The mask, I get. No one likes to turn to stone. But muzzled too? For fuck’s sake! Such bullshit.” The man ran his hand through his snake hair and drooped for a moment, his shoulders shaking under Steve’s hand. He was putting up a good front, but Steve could tell that’s all it was.
“Thanks. I know that’s not really enough, given the situation, but thanks for getting me out of there. Best I could hope for until now was a bullet to the head, but, fuck, I got to walk outta that place and hear it blow the fuck up behind me. I really can’t say thank you enough.” The man tilted his head just a touch back; not enough to show Steve his face, but enough to know that the man’s attention was on him. Some of the snakes were looking at him, too, and gently flicking their tongues.
“Ah, right, no problem. So…you’re a Medusa? Like, from the myths?”
The man snorted. “Medusa is a person, not a race. She was my auntie. You can call me Bucky. I’m a gorgon.”
“Bucky?” Steve frowned a bit. That didn’t really sound like a Greek name. There was a little muttering from the men around him; it seems they agreed.
“Yup. And you, pal? I didn’t catch your name.” Bucky fiddled with the roll of bandages in front of him.
“Oh! Right. I’m, uh, Steve. I mean, Captain Steve Rogers.”
“Nice to meet you, friend.”
“What the fuck were they doing to you?”
A mirthless laugh ground out in front of him. “They ain’t never seen something like me, champ. Wanted to see what made me tick. Fuck.” Bucky was full on trembling now. Steve reigned in his temper. The factory was already blown. No one left to punch, no matter how much he wanted to. Now he just had to concentrate on getting everyone back to safety.
“Speaking of which, I’d like a little bit more explanation on that front at some point,” Steve replied dryly.
Bucky simply grunted in response. He fussed with the bandages quietly for a short while; finally he gave a sigh that was just two hairs shy of a sob. “Hey Stevie, I’m gonna need you to put that muzzle back on me.”
“What? Why the fuck do you want it back on?” Steve had been looking the thing over and it was a cruel device. In addition to the sharpened mouth bit, there were also periodically placed tiny spikes on the inside. As far as Steve could tell, they were made solely to inflict pain on the wearer. No wonder Bucky’s face had been dripping blood.
Bucky sighed. “Because pal, I can’t manage these damn wraps one handed and I will fucking bleed to death before I chance you or anyone else here getting an unwanted glimpse of my face and getting stoned for your troubles. So give it here. I’ll settle it on and you buckle it up.”
Steve snorted. “Yeah, no. We’re not doing that. This is an implement of torture. Give me the bandages. You look straight ahead and settle the wraps in front where you want them and I’ll wrap them around back and make sure they won’t come off.” He mentally kicked himself for not realizing that Bucky wouldn’t be able to bandage himself one-handed.
Steve sat through another long silent pause before Bucky handed back the bandages. He slowly began the wrapping process, stalling only a moment as he first reached toward the snakes in Bucky’s hair.
“Oh. Yeah. Don’t mind them. They’ll move out of the way. Think of them like a cat’s tail; able to move on command but mostly moving with a mind of their own.” Bucky sounded a bit sheepish and ducked his head just a bit, as if he were shy. “They’re very friendly. Won’t bite, I swear.”
One of the guys around them snorted, and there was some additional muttering. Steve reached out a tentative hand. A couple of the tiny serpents flicked tongues toward him then gently nosed his fingers. They were…surprisingly soft. Kind of cute actually.
Steve let out a long breath and got to work. Between the two of them they did actually manage to get Bucky’s face covered. (“Just cover up the eyes too, Stevie, I’ll dig up some tinted goggles later. It’s not like I’ll be walking around by myself for a while anyways.”)
From there, Steve and the other soldiers rustled up a pair of pants and a light shirt for Bucky before they laid him down to sleep for the night. Morita jumped in to give the rest of his wounds a quick look see. Afterwards, Steve pulled each of the other soldiers aside and thanked them for their help. They all just shook their heads at him.
“Fuckin’ Nazis, man, whatta ya gonna do,” Morita said.
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth,” Monty said.
“You saved our bacon, it’s your call. Besides, the Nazis sneak up on us from behind, we’ll just point Bucky at ‘em, ha!” Dum-Dum said.
Dernier just muttered in French something that sounded an awful lot like swearing, and Gabe just laughed and nodded along with him. The whole group agreed not to whisper a word of it to anyone else. After all, who would believe them?
Privately, Steve thought that his cause might have been aided by how awful Bucky looked. Blood had seeped through the bandages on his face and his new clothes hung shapeless and slack on his thin frame. Terrifying cuts and burns peeked out from under his new clothes. It was hard not to feel bad for him, human or not.
The next morning, Steve’s little group of lieutenants took turns helping Bucky march along, still wrapped up in his threadbare sheet, and lagging behind the bulk of the POWs. Much to Steve’s amusement, Bucky kept up a running commentary of quiet bitching the whole way.
“…join the war effort, they said. Save the humans, they said. Fuck. It’s not like I can even spend time with the bulk of humanity without getting a lynch mob on my ass, present company excluded. Ever since that jackass, Perseus, decided that Auntie ‘Dusa’s head would make a great weapon, we’ve gotten no peace! First that slimy little prick had to steal our sisters’ eye just to blackmail information from them. Stole their eye! They only had the one! Who steals someone else’s eye? Why couldn’t he have just brought cake and wine or something? Plums, maybe. Everyone likes plums. Talked to them like real people, maybe…”
Monty confided in Steve later that it was damn hard to be properly fearful of the so-called monster in their midst when he complained like a pissy twelve year old.
Steve lost track of their new friend in the mad scramble that followed their return to camp. While he was giddy with relief at successfully getting everyone back safely, he felt pang of sadness when he heard that Bucky disappeared. Intellectually he knew that it was probably for the best. How could he, or anyone else really, explain finding a gorgon deep in a Hydra base?
Granted, this would be coming from a super soldier, so really how unbelievable would it be? Even still, in the days following their return Steve found that he worried about his unlikely friend. The guy looked like a wreck, all cut up like that, and was missing an arm no less!
It wasn’t just that, though. Bucky genuinely seemed like a nice guy. A little surly, perhaps, but given the circumstances he could be forgiven. Besides, Steve always enjoyed a bit of sarcasm. Bucky was smart and funny and seemed unwilling to put those around him at risk. Steve hoped that he got away okay and was able to recuperate someplace safe.