"Get the fuck down," Bucky snaps. "Stay down. You hear me? You poke your head out and you’re gonna get it blown off. Jesus Christ.”
The kid’s eyes are huge in his face. Steve feels a little bad, watching it, but what Bucky’s saying is true. The Germans are somehow closer than they were an hour ago: it feels like the battlefield is shrinking as more men on each side are picked off. If they breathe, the Germans are going to hear it.
"Only one person on this operation sticks his neck up there," Buck’s saying, "And that’s me. Got it?"
The kid nods. He swallows. “Sir, yes, sir.”
"Don’t call me sir," Bucky mumbles, tinkering with his scope. "I ain’t an officer. Call Rogers sir if you gotta call someone sir."
"Yes — " the kid blinks. "Uh, yeah. Sarge."
"Where are you from?" Falsworth asks. His voice is gruff, but not unkind.
"Texas," the kid says, and visibly he bites down on another ‘sir.’
"Texas," Falsworth repeats, mulling it over. "Hmm. Alright. Is that in the north?"
"Anybody got a smoke?" Bucky asks.
Dugan does. He shuffles it out of his pocket, and a match, too. They duck down as deep as they can into the trench. Bucky puts it in his mouth.
"M’lady," Dugan says. He strikes the flame and lights the cigarette for him.
"Fuck yourself," Bucky tells him, muffled. Dugan sticks the match into the mud. Bucky sucks on his cigarette and then grips his rifle. "Kraut nails me in the head, it’s been good knowing you assholes. Four days in the mud in a Mexican stand-off. Jesus fuck."
"Buck —" Steve says, warning.
"Shut up," Bucky tells him, softer. "Ain’t nobody’s nailin’ me in the head. Right? Keep your head low, you understand? No matter what, you keep your head down. Don’t goddamn engage."
"Don't engage," Steve mumbles. "I’ll engage if I damn well want to engage."
Bucky rolls his eyes. He sticks his head out of the trench, and Steve hears the familiar click of the safety, the quiet clinks as he settles himself into position. Steve is close enough, pressed to his torso, to feel the tenseness and stillness in the moment before the shot. And then out loud Bucky says, his voice flat with shock: “Jesus motherfucking Christ.”
"What the motherfucking Christ —”
Beside Steve, Texas is almost vibrating with terror. Steve can’t blame him: he’s frozen in fear, too. He imagines reinforcements. Tanks. Bombers. Frantically he tries to strategize. If they’re surrounded —
"A cow," says Bucky faintly.
"Sarge?" Texas asks.
"It’s a goddamn cow."
Steve jumps up and shoulders Bucky out of the way. Bucky doesn’t even shove back. His mouth is hanging open.
"Jesus God," Steve agrees numbly. It’s a cow. There in the field is a fat German milk cow meandering through the grass and the bodies, calm as can be, obliviously minding its own cow business.
"A cow!” Bucky suddenly shouts, and before Steve knows what’s happening, Bucky has lunged out of the trench and broken into a flat dash.
"Barnes!" Steve yells, and runs after him. And then he sees it: the Germans are running too. "Goddamn it," Steve says. "Oh, goddamn it."
"You speak any English?" Bucky’s yelling. "You Kraut motherfuckers better step the fuck back —”
“NEIN!" A voice roars.
"Oh my God,” Steve moans, and then he’s tackled. Unfortunately for the Nazi, however, Steve is probably stronger than all the men here combined; he flips the guy over his shoulder and keeps on running.
Bucky stabs a man in the neck.
The cow moos.
Steve doesn’t have his shield, and so he has to use his fists instead. He punches a man in the face so hard something cracks. He kicks another in the balls. Beside him he hears a terrible splashing noise and then a scream. He elects not to look, and instead takes down another Nazi.
"I cannot," Steve grits, holding a struggling German in a headlock, "fucking believe you."
Bucky is too busy suffocating a contender for the cow with his bare hands to hear him.
"You Nazi bastard." They roll in the mud. Bucky is panting, and close to the man’s face. "I am going to eat the fuck out of this bovine. I am going — to eat — the fuck — stay still —”
The Nazi spits in his face. Impulsively Bucky punches his lights out. He sits back on his knees, and as an afterthought, shoots him dead. He drops the gun and looks up to the sky. Then he makes the sign of the cross.
"This," says Bucky, sounding a little choked up, "Is the best day of my entire goddamn life."
"You fucking asshole,” Steve pants.
The cow died, unsurprisingly, during the melee, when it finally decided to take cover elsewhere, which distracted the men from the general carnage and bloodletting. Luckily for Jones, however, the cow was very fat, and it ran very, very slowly. The challenge after that was keeping the Germans away from it. But they did. And now they have two dozen dead Nazis and one huge dead cow. Mournfully Steve recalls reading about the Christmas truce of 1914. If he’s being honest, though, he really, really wouldn’t have wanted to share food with a bunch of Krauts.
"Anybody here know how to…" Bucky wrinkles his nose. Imperiously he waves his hand in the direction of the cow, which is on the other end of the field. "You know."
"Uh," says a small voice from behind. It’s Texas. "Uh, I do. Sarge."
"The best day," repeats Bucky weakly. "Oh, God. Thank you, Mary, mother of the sweet baby Christ-child Jesus."
"Jesus fucking — get up,” Steve says, and hefts Bucky to his feet. “Quit talkin’ like the old ladies at church. You’re goin' to hell.”
Not only does Texas know how to butcher a cow, it turns out: he also knows how to rig a grill out of one of their half-dead Jeeps, which is sidled up close to the trenches. There’s a brief battle over moving the cow versus moving the car, which Steve gets sick of after about thirty seconds, and so to resolve the issue he drags all one thousand pounds of the cow over to the Jeep. Texas’s eyes go huge, but somehow he has no qualms, after that, about giving directions.
"I can’t believe y’all haven’t done this before," he says. The grill is making good, warm crackling noises, and Bucky and Dernier are knee-deep in the meat, flaying and slicing.
"What, killed a cow in Nazi Germany?" Steve asks.
"No," Texas says. "Been to a good old-fashioned backyard grill."
"My backyard is an alleyway," Bucky grunts. "I never seen a cow. This is fucking disgusting. I thought steak came from restaurants."
"Wait," says Jim, curious: "Then where did you think milk came from?"
Jones approaches with a trench knife to join the effort. “There is no motherfucking way,” he says, “That we are gonna be able to eat this entire cow.”
They eat the entire cow.
"Ain’t I always sayin’," Bucky’s laughing, once they’re stuffed full — Texas is even sucking something out of the hooves, which Steve and Bucky are both not thinking about, “Ain’t I always sayin’, Rogers —”
"Shut up —"
"I’m gonna take us somewhere nice, ain’t I always said —"
Steve shoves at his shoulder. Bucky’s grinning, huge and shit-eating, and stuffing more meat into his mouth. He licks his fingers. “Because here we are —”
"The European theater, Barnes; yeah, you got me, this is the goddamn Savoy —"
"Jim, we got any more?"
"I look like a waiter?" Jim asks. "Do I look like a waiter to anyone? The answer is fuck you."
"Go on, say it," Bucky mumbles, after a moment.
"Say what?" Steve’s voice is smothered a little from all the steak he’s chewing.
Bucky leans back on his elbows and grins. “Come on.”
"Well, if you ain’t gonna be polite," Bucky sniffs, "I’ll go ahead and offer out the olive branch. You’re welcome. You all owe me for one hundred years. We were down to our last chocolate bar. I was about to start eatin’ the meat off your thighs, Rogers. What?"
Steve shoves a piece of steak into Bucky’s face. There’s a brief scuffle.
"You are welcome,” Bucky repeats, muffled.
"Thank you, Sergeant," Texas says politely.
"This kid," Buck says, and points. "This kid I like."