His head swam, as he as he came to; dark shapes moved in a black world around him. Flinching in pain, he shut his eyes tight as everything flared bright white.
Where am I?
He heard sounds, voices, their words tumbled around him and through his head. German, they were speaking German. He understood them, how did he understand them? How did he know German?
Basic .... Training after Basic Training ... In England with the 107th ... German language classes ...
Words flew at him accusingly, they knew he was awake.
“Bucky Barnes, Sergeant, 325725...” Bucky said mechanically. Name, Rank, and Serial Number ... he had been repeating it for hours. Or was it days? He couldn’t be sure.
England, he remembered England. Grasping onto that thought to steady himself, James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes felt a wave of nausea pass through him. Something was in his arm, a needle. It felt like his veins were on fire.
Think of something else. What about England?
They had been stationed near a small village, just off the boat from the United States. The 107th was waiting on Colonel Chester Phillips, he was stateside building some special team and they were in a holding pattern until he arrived.
They spent too much time out in the field on maneuvers for Bucky’s liking. It was busy work, and Bucky hated busy work.
England was cold, wet and grey. He remembered being unhappy about that, and he remembered being unhappy with the letters from home. They had started out long and meandering. His best pal Steve Rogers took delight in relaying all the news from back home, but abruptly the letters had become short and perfunctory. What was wrong with Steve?
"Whattya think Bucky?" Private Carroll said at his elbow.
Bucky was looking out across the open field at a particularly unconvincing clump of brush. He adjusted his binoculars, bringing it into sharp relief.
“There's no way we're walking out there,” Bucky said. The eleven men in his squad looked at him with differing degrees of confusion.
“But that's the rendezvous point,” Carroll protested. “Ain’t we supposed to meet Sergeant Ross, over there?”
“I don't care. We're not walking into a trap. That's the worst excuse for camouflage I ever seen," Bucky grinned, handing the field glasses over to Carroll.
The men looked at Bucky questioningly. Shrugging, he ignored them and pulled one of Steve’s old letters out of his front pocket, and unfolded it to read. After a moment he felt an odd tension in the air and it occurred to him that they were all waiting. He looked up into eager faces. They were all expecting something from him. Bucky found it a little daunting, he had never had a group of men under him before. Not like this. It was always just him and Steve and they knew how each other worked.
“Do you think Ross, will?” Carroll asked.
“Will, what?” Bucky was confused.
“Fall for it?”
“I'd lay money on it.”
“Where is he?” Private Franks asked. He sounded unsure and Bucky didn’t blame him. The sergeant who was supposed to lead this squad had gotten himself injured horsing around, and Bucky had found himself pushed into his spot.
“Probably lost, again,” Carroll smirked, no one really cared for Ross. Bucky looked at Carroll and at the men.
“Jimmy...” Franks started.
“It’s Bucky, no one calls me Jimmy, or James, that was my dad.”
“Sorry, Bucky,” Franks continued,”What are we doing here? I mean, what’s the plan?”
“Hell, if I know,” Bucky said thoughtfully. “We’re just dogfaces, ain’t our place to ask questions. They tell us where to go we go. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah, but what do you think?” Franks pushed. Bucky smiled at him. Emile Franks was a good kid from the lower east side. God knows how he’d stayed a good kid, Bucky knew how rough that neighborhood could get. But here he was, all bright eyed and bushy tailed. He liked Franks, heck, he liked all his men.
Crimony, when did they become my men? I am in so much trouble.
“I got this friend back in Brooklyn,” Bucky started.
“Yeah, yeah, we know, Steve Rogers,” Carroll said almost giggling. “Your runt of a best friend, what pearls of wisdom did he lay down that pertains to our present circumstance?”
The men looked at Bucky in surprise wondering what his reaction would be to Carroll’s gibe. Barnes talked about Steve Rogers all the time. Carroll might as well have insulted Bucky’s mother, or his best girl.
Bucky’s eyes narrowed and he quickly punched Carroll in the arm, eliciting a surprised yelp. He gave the shocked Carroll and evil glare then broke into a guffaw and several of the men chuckled with him. Carroll breathed a sigh of relief while rubbing his arm.
“So what’d he say?” Franks asked.
“Steve said,” Bucky’s tone turned serious, “That the Army teaches discipline. That’s what the stupid stuff like this is for. If we can’t find our way to a predesignated spot with a compass and map, how are we ever gonna win the war?”
They all thought about this for a minute. Finally, someone’s hand went up. It was Blonsky.
What am I, a teacher now? He looked heavenward.
“So what are we gonna do? You said it’s a trap, do we just walk into it? Did Rogers say anything about that?” Blonsky asked. He was a smooth faced kid from Jersey, who looked like he didn’t have hair number one on his ass, yet.
“As a matter of fact, yes. Steve said, ‘following orders is one thing, following them to stupidity is another.’”
“So, what do we do?” Franks repeated the question. Bucky stared, and the men all looked back at him, each with the same eager expression. They needed to believe their leader knew what he was doing, even if it was all bravado.
“All right, I got a plan,” Bucky said, and turned his letter over and drew a diagram of the field. “This is what we’re gonna do.”
Getting everyone in place took far too long for Bucky’s liking. It was largely because they had to be careful not to alert the men lying in wait for them, but eventually the men were successfully moved into strategic points surrounding the clearing. Bucky made his own way carefully through the field, making it into position just as Ross and his half of the red squad trotted up the middle of the field. It turned out to be a good thing the Sergeant was late, after all.
Right out in the open, you idiot, Bucky thought.
Once Ross and his men settled in to position, the blue squad popped out of their camouflage, guns drawn, capturing Ross and his men. Bucky rolled his eyes, watching Ross fume and curse.
Bucky waited until Ross and his men had surrendered their weapons and sat down, suitably ‘captured’, and then moved. Creeping carefully through the field, he emerged unseen near the combined group, his rifle propped jauntily over his shoulder and cleared his throat. The look of surprise on the soldiers face’s alone, was worth the effort. Guns immediately trained on him.
“That was very well done,” Bucky said sarcastically to Ross. It wasn’t a good idea to taunt a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, but there was no way Bucky was going to make officer, so he didn’t care too much. Waving the guns away dismissively, he walked toward the group.
“I’d be careful where you point those; Boys!” Bucky turned and made a cutting motion in the air. At this signal there was a rustling sound in the underbrush. “You see, you're surrounded.”
“In a real engagement we would have shot you on sight,” Sergeant Hamilton stepped forward, he was blue squad's leader.
“Sarge, in a real engagement. I would have picked you all off one by one, by myself from the tree line. I’ve been watching you numbskulls for over an hour. You're my prisoners now.”
The blue squad raised their hands.
"What now?" Ross asked.
"Well, for one, everyone lower your darn hands, it’s stupid. Where's the other half of blue team, the other squad?” Bucky asked.
“I'm not saying,” Hamilton frowned.
“Let's pretend,” Bucky picked up his rifle and pointed at Hamilton’s head, “I just shot your foot. Now the rifle is pointed at your head, what do you do?” They stared at each other for a long moment. Bucky’s eyes were deep, cold and hard, and Hamilton shrank from what he saw there.
“They were supposed to circle around and meet us here. They should be here soon,” Hamilton said.
“Oh good, we'll wait then. All right everyone ... lessee now. Ross, stay down, you’re still a captive, besides I like you on your knees.”
“When we get out of here,” Ross muttered.
“You’ll still be the idiot that walked into an open field and got captured. Now, the rest of blue team pop a squat, red team stand up take their weapons and keep them covered, obviously. Hamilton you stay there, standing, and pretend your still in charge. I’ll just sit here with my gun trained on you.”
“What if I refuse?”
“I’d just shoot something else and take your uniform.” Bucky pointed the rifle at Hamilton’s crotch, and flashed his movie star smile.
“You are a piece of work Barnes.”
“You have no idea.”
Within half hour they were rewarded with the worst impression of a bird call any of them had ever heard.
“Signal 'em back,” Bucky said, and shook his head in amusement.
Hamilton wavered, and Bucky just cocked and eyebrow and stared between the Sergeants legs. Hamilton had no doubts that Bucky would shoot him, if he had ammo. Hamilton let loose with his own bird call.
“You guys are really terrible at this,” Bucky laughed.
A lone scout popped up and waved, Hamilton returned the wave, this time without benefit of another threat.
Then the second half of the blue team appeared, their leader was a guy named Pinter, Bucky immediately liked him if for no other reason than he had thought to check before walking into the open. He had Ross beat by a mile.
Pinter trotted up and shook Hamilton's hand with a grin.
“You did well,” Pinter surveyed the captured squad. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised. I didn’t think the plan would work. I thought no one would be fool enough to just walk right up in the open.”
Bucky coughed, making Ross groan. Hamilton sighed and dropped his head.
“You're surrounded and are now my prisoners,” Bucky stood up, brushing his fatigues off.
“Boys?” Bucky signaled his men with a hand wave. The woods all around them rustled again, as the men made their presence known, at the same time the standing members of the red team turned their rifles on the blue team.
“You bastard!” Pinter laughed, as he reached out to shake Barnes's hand.
“Thank you, I try,” Bucky grinned, returning the gesture.
“Nice signal, what was that, you trying to steal second?” Pinter asked.
“More like ‘home.’” Bucky was happily aware that Ross and Hamilton were staring bullets at him. He wished Steve was here, he would appreciate this.
“How’d you know?”
“I know a Brooklyn boy when I hear ‘em.”
“I can’t believe we got shown up, by this mook,” Ross stood up, straightening his shirt.
“Cheer up, Ross,” Pinter said. “I doubt Barnes’ll be a problem for you for too long.”
“At the rate you're going you'll get shot or captured soon enough." Pinter patted Ross on the shoulder.
Ross sputtered in anger, while Bucky looked on smiling.
“.... Barnes, Sergeant, 325725...” Bucky muttered, abruptly coming out of his delirium and pulled from the safety of his memories by a strong new voice in the room.
“This is tiresome,” The man with the strong voice said absently.
“We need to do these experiments, if we are to replicate the formula that made you,” The other voice said. He knew this voice, this was the voice that was always here. It was the Nazi Doctor.
“That is impossible, without Erskine we will never be able to replicate it. The man’s genius was second only to my own.”
“Even so, perhaps we can come close. Even a slightly enhanced fighter would be helpful to our goals.”
“Very well, continue then,” the stronger voice sounded bored to Bucky’s ear. “The treatments you’ve been giving them have been in phases, yes?”
“Yes, Herr Schmidt. We have gotten this one up to seventy percent, the highest yet. Most died at fifty percent inoculation.”
“Seventy percent, really?” the stronger voice, Schmidt, turned snide. “Well, he’s earned a short respite then. Let’s adjourn to the control room. We shouldn’t talk in front of the mongrel.
Bucky tried to jump, to move to lash out, but the drugs they were testing on him, as well as the lack of food and water, had sapped all his strength.
“He does have some spirit, Arnim. Maybe you found the lucky boy who will make it to one hundred percent,” Schmidt chuckled. “Before we put him down.”
Schmidt backhanded Bucky, violently knocking him back into delirium.
“Bucky Barnes, Sergeant, 325725 ... 32572521 ...”
“Back to his mantra, how charming,” Schmidt said with a smile. “Come Arnim.”
“Bucky Barnes, Sergeant, 32572521,” Bucky’s head swam, his sight dimmed, and he no longer knew if he was awake.
“ ... 325... “
Bucky ran down at the alley at break neck speed. He could still hear his father’s curses in his ear; drunk in the middle of the afternoon, the bum.
Jumping up on a crate, he planted a foot on a window sill and used it to propel himself upward, grabbing onto the fire escape. In minutes he was on the rooftops and making his way across the neighborhood. Some of the tenements had makeshift bridges from one building to another. If you knew how to do it, you could make an afternoon of it and rarely have to touch the ground.
Climbing down a fire escape on Bedford Avenue - there was a fruit stand near here with easy pickings - he heard a commotion. Peaking around the corner he saw two older kids, giving the business to a pip squeak. The little kid couldn’t have been fifty pounds soaking wet and the older boys were huge, they were at least thirteen. Bucky hated that, he hated bullies.
Setting his jaw firm he bolted down the alley. His mind racing, he saw his chance and bounded onto a large trash bin, using it to jump right in the middle of the bigger kids. One kid shrieked as Bucky hit him square across the jaw with his haymaker.
Bucky turned to the second kid, just in time to duck his swing. As the fist swung overhead, Barnes punched the older boy in the balls, making him double over in pain. He was just about to congratulate himself on his work, when he heard a loud crash and turned around.
The first kid he punched was out cold, lying on the ground. He still held the brick he had been about to use on Bucky. The pipsqueak was standing over him with a trash can lid in hand, smiling. The kid had saved him!
The other thirteen year old limped away, cradling his nuts.
“Good work, kid,” Bucky told the scrawny boy.
“Hold on,” The pip-squeak picked up a rock and threw it at his retreating assailant, the one holding his balls. The rock rose up and over, and Bucky thought was about to fall to far, when it popped the kid in the head, making him curse.
“Nice aim, a little more arm power and it might’ve taken him down.”
“Yeah a little more arm power,” The scrawny kid wheezed and turned away. He picked a book and pencils up off the ground.
“You okay?” Bucky was concerned. The kid only shrugged in response. “Why were they hasslin' you?”
“They said I had to pay them to cross Eighth Avenue, it’s their territory.”
“Oh, why’d you want to cross Eighth Avenue, anyways?”
“There’s a neat building over there. I like to go there and sketch, there’s a great view from its roof.”
“You draw?” Bucky asked impressed.
“Yeah! Here!” The kid brightened, and opened his sketch pad.
“You’re really good,” Bucky said as he looked over the smaller boy’s shoulder.
“Thanks, thanks a lot!” The boy stuck out a hand. “I’m Steve - Steve Rogers.”
“I’m James Buchanan Branes, but you call me Bucky. My friends call me Bucky.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bucky,” Steve smiled widely.
Bucky thought that Steve Rogers had the most expressive eyes he had ever seen.
“Darn,” Steve’s face fell.
“Look, I tore my shirt. Ma will be sore, she doesn’t like me to fight, but then she says I should stand up for myself more!” Steve said forlornly, and started to walk back toward the street. Bucky followed him.
“But you do stand up for yourself, I saw,” Bucky protested.
“She doesn’t get it, you know? The guys, they gang up on you, and ... well, on guys like me, I mean. I draw, and I’m too small, so I get picked on a lot. I ain’t got a chance.”
“You do now that I’m here,” Bucky said with fierce determination.
“Say, you want to come back home with me and meet my Ma? We don’t have much but there’s usually a meal to be had. My mom even has a job.”
“You’re lucky,” Bucky said impressed.
“How about you? You got parents?”
“Sure I do, got a Mom and a Dad, but my little brother died two years ago,” Bucky felt warm suddenly, dizzy. He shook it off. “He got hit by a car.”
“I’m s-sorry,” Steve choked up.
“Hey, don’t you get all misty on me.”
“My dad died in the war, he was in the 107th, like I’m going to be,” Steve announced.
“I thought you were going to be an artist?”
Yeah, you. You’re really good. I mean, I don’t know nothin’ but I knows good when I see it.”
“You’re okay, Bucky Barnes,” Steve Rogers smiled at him. Bucky liked the light in Steve’s eyes when he smiled.
“Bucky Barnes, Sergeant, 32572521,” Bucky mumbled through clenched teeth as his body was racked with spasms.
What did they do to me?
Bucky felt hot, feverish, and he knew that wasn’t good. He knew he had to hang on, but he couldn’t remember what for. Bucky tried to focus, find one thing, one moment to hold on to, but it was becoming so hard. The memories tumbled around inside his head, slipping and sliding like they were falling down a hill.
He was sitting on the fire escape outside the flat Steve shared with his mother. Steve was drawing in his sketchpad, while Bucky read the funny pages to him.
There was the sweet woman who was Steve’s mother and the hacking cough that would kill her only a few years later. She would become a second mother to him
Bucky watched stonily the day they took the body of Steve’s mother away. The feeling of Steve’s slim shoulders under his arm, vivid in his mind. It tortured Bucky that he could feel how broken Steve was, and could do nothing but stand there beside him, holding him.
Bucky's parents offered to let Steve come live with them, of course, but he refused, so Bucky moved in with Steve.
Somehow they had made it through school. They spent their weekends on the beach at Rockaway Park feeling like teenage kings, like they were living the life of Riley.
They counted stars in the sky from the roof of the building and planned their lives out together.
There were dates, and double dates, and first times, and grand dames that teased them. Some even took pity on them.
“Bucky Barnes, Sergeant, 325725...” he mumbled aloud.
Sharp pain racked his body, whatever had they done to him? Hold on, he told himself, hold on to something ... and there was always Steve, always there for him.
“Bucky ... Oh, my god,” Steve said.
“S-Ste ...” Bucky stammered. He was confused. Steve was there for him, Steve with those deep blue eyes. Bucky was dimly aware of a ripping sound and the restraints holding him down were gone.
“It’s me. It’s Steve.”
“Steve,” Bucky looked at the man, it looked like Steve, but it couldn’t be.
“I thought you were dead,” Steve said, concern and relief mixed in his voice.
“I thought you were smaller,” Bucky said through the haze in his head. Those were Steve’s eyes, he knew them anywhere, but they were in this new person.
Steve looked around the room, surveying it. God, it was Steve, Bucky had seen that look a thousand times, getting the lay of the land before plunging into another damned fight.
“Come on.” Steve half supported, half carried Bucky toward the door.
“What happened to you?”
“I joined the army.”
Explosions racked the complex around them.
“That’s not much of an answer.”
“It’s the only one I can give you, it’s classified,” Steve was bringing him down the hallway. There was the sound of gunfire and something else in the distance.
“Did it hurt?”
“A little,” Steve said, but the nonchalance in his voice told Bucky the truth, it had been hell.
“Is it permanent?”
To Bucky’s surprise he found he was walking on his own. He was following Steve, this strange different Steve - who was also exactly the same person he had always known. It was the strong, capable Steve Rogers he loved, only now his outsides matched his insides. Bucky’s head hurt trying to think about it, but his heart was full.
“So, they made you into this? You’re that Captain America guy in the movies and comics, we heard about? That’s why you quit writing?”
“Bucky what could I say, what could I write? Just about everything about me is classified now.”
“Why’d you quit writing?” Steve asked.
“I never write,” Bucky choked out a laugh.
“You sent notes with the pay you sent back home, which is in a bank account, by the way.”
“You trust the bank?”
“No, but I couldn’t leave it under the mattress, could I?”
“Worked for me.”
“Yeah, all that’s in the bank too. Why’d you quit sending the notes?” Steve demanded.
“Seemed like I was rubbing salt in the wound, ‘cause you didn’t make it in. Figured as long as I kept sending the money, you’d know I was still around.”
“Jeez, you’re an idiot sometimes.” Steve led him up though the maze of catwalks and stairs.
“We can argue about this later, if we survive,” Bucky looked unsteadily into the inferno below.
“Oh, we gonna survive all right, ‘cause you need to have your butt kicked and I mean to do it.”
“God, I missed you Rogers,” Bucky smiled, part of him was afraid to meet Steve’s eyes for too long. He worried that he might break down and get hysterical. There’d be time for that later, but for now Bucky knew he had to hold it together until they go out.
“You darned well better have,” Steve stopped to look out over warehouse burning down around them. An explosion rocked them back, making Steve instinctively bring up his shield.
“Well, it’s no garbage can lid, but it works,” Steve said in mock embarrassment, as he half pulled Bucky up another flight of stairs.
“What are we doing?” Bucky asked.
“What we always do!”
“Oh, making it up as we go along,” Bucky grinned like a mad man, this was the stuff.
“You and me,” Steve smiled in return.
They reached an upper level and were headed to a retractable bridge that hung over the warehouse, when a tight voice hit them. Bucky recognized the voice from his fever dreams. The person was in severe garb like that of the Nazi SS, but with the Hydra emblem. There was another, smaller man behind him. It must’ve been the Doctor.
“Captain America! How exciting, I am a great fan of your films!” Schmidt’s voice all but trilled as he walked across the bridge toward Steve.
“He’s Schmidt,” Bucky hissed. “I think he runs the joint.”
“So Doctor Erskine managed it after all ... not exactly an improvement, but still ... impressive,” Schmidt smirked as he inspected them.
With incredible speed Steve surprised Schmidt with a round house punch, knocking him backward.
“You got no, idea.” Steve said, angry that this Nazi speak Doctor Erskine’s name or presume to know anything about him.
Bucky laughed, inwardly he exulted to see his friend as this new, powerful being. He looked at Schmidt, taken aback but not cowed, like Schmidt half expected it. Then Barnes noticed something odd about Schmidt’s face, it looked ... loose.
Schmidt shrieked, near incoherently and launched a powerful blow. Steve just managed to get his shield up. Amazingly the shield dented under the blow, and the punch sent him sprawling. The pistol Rogers was carrying went sailing the edge. Schmidt approached menacingly, and Steve jumped off his back and landed a powerful kick to Schmidt’s chest that sent him flying backward.
The doughy little doctor behind Schmidt pulled a lever that caused the bridge to retract separating Steve from Schmidt. They faced off over the chasm.
“No matter what lies Erskine told you,” Schmidt taunted.
‘Erskine,’ again, I know that name, Bucky thought as he came to stand next to Steve.
“You see, I was his greatest success,” Schmidt finished, ripping his face off and revealing it to be a mask hiding a horrid red skull below. With an air of deliberate drama, he let the mask fall into the fire below them.
“You don’t have one of those do you?” Bucky asked in horror.
“You are deluded, Captain,” Schmidt turned and walked toward the elevator behind him. “You pretend to be a simple soldier, but in reality you are just afraid to admit that we have left humanity behind. Unlike you I embrace it proudly, without fear.”
“Then how come you’re running?”
The elevator door closed and Schmidt and his accomplice escaped, leaving Steve and Bucky standing on the bridge. Steve looked around, searched for and exit. His eyes lit on something.
“Come on, let’s go. Up,” Steve said and led them further up into the rafters.
Steve had found an exit to the roof, but the only way to get there was across a narrow girder.
“Let’s go, one at a time,” Steve said, helping Bucky over the rail.
If Bucky hadn’t been injured the walk across the narrow steel beam, would a been a piece of cake, but he could barely walk as it was. The girder buckled as he slowly made his way and finally collapsed, forcing him to make a last ditch jump for the far walkway. He clambered over the rail and turned back for Steve.
“There’s gotta be a rope or something,” Bucky yelled over the noise. It wasn’t just explosions and gunfire, the building was dying in flames. Metal was twisting, bending, and shrieking as it did.
“Just go! Get out of here!” Steve ordered.
“NO! Not without you!” Bucky yelled, pain and panic in his voice. He couldn’t lose Steve.
Steve surrendered to the determination in Bucky’s voice, looked around and made a decision. Bucky watched in astonishment as Steve used his phenomenal new strength to bend back the iron railing.
What are you doing? Bucky thought, as Steve stepped back and prepared to jump. Before he could protest, Captain America was sailing over the space between them.
Steve landed on the platform, right in Bucky’s arms, knocking them both down. Bucky hugged Steve desperately, clinging to him.
“I can’t believe you made it, you crazy fool,” Bucky choked, tears running down his face. He held Steve’s face in his hands and looked into his blue eyes and kissed him.
“Why’d you do that?” Steve gaped at Bucky, stunned.
“Well, considering we’re about to die, I was afraid I might not get another chance.”
“We’re not gonna die Bucky. You’ll get another chance,” Steve said and kissed him back.
“That’s good to know. Now, can you do me one favor?”
“Anything,” Steve looked deep in Bucky’s eyes.
“Get off me. I think one of my ribs in broken, and you seem to weigh a ton, now,” Bucky groaned.
“Sorry,” Steve rolled off him and sat up. Reaching one arm under Bucky’s, Rogers helped them both to their feet. Steve led them to a fire exit that took them to the roof. At the edge they surveyed the mayhem the freed P.O.W.s were causing. They shared a mischievous grin, and Bucky knew Steve was already calculating where to go and whom to help.
With a plan in mind they quickly made it down the ladder and to the ground. Steve grabbed a luger off a dead German, while Bucky picked up a submachine gun.
“Bucky, one more thing?” Steve said popping a fresh magazine into the butt of the luger, and pocketing several more.
“Yes, Captain America?” Bucky sighed.
“Don’t ever leave me again.”
“Steve, I will always be by your side. Now, let’s go help these mooks,” Bucky threw an ammunition belt over his shoulder and they walked into the fray.