Chapter 1: Homesickness
Bucky settles into the military pretty quick. The routine's kind of refreshing really, after the mixed chaos of his adult life and his childhood since his mom died. The training is about what he expected, and all the newest recruits are kept busy – deliberately, Bucky guesses, because when the call comes for lights out, all they want is sleep.
His first proper day with the 107th, Bucky meets a kid who reminds him of Steve. Jackie Nelson from Michigan isn't small like Steve – quite the opposite, in fact. Bucky had tried hard to hide his relief at Steve's string of 4-Fs, and he feels the same way about Jackie, who's almost certainly lied about his age to enlist. This isn't the place for either of them.
When Bucky was younger, he tried and failed to protect his mom from his dad's total inability to hold down a job. After she died, he tried to protect Steve from the whole world. And now, he resolves to protect Jackie from the war, as much as he possibly can. The 107th all have each other's backs, but it feels good to have someone specific to look out for.
It doesn't hit Bucky until they leave for Europe that he is going very far from home. That he might never see Brooklyn again, might never catch a movie with Steve or sneak into a ball game. He knows other men feel the same, and have felt it the whole time. Jackie has a copper penny flattened from being left on the train tracks, and he holds it between his palms when he says his prayers. Other men have stuff too. There's fellas with pictures, with letters, with locks of hair tied in little ribbons. Bucky doesn't need much because he's never had much, and when he sees how the others look at their doo-dads, he can't help but be glad. They always look conflicted, like memory and homesickness have collided and left them reeling.
Home's always been a fluid kind of thing for Bucky, maybe because they moved around so much when he was a kid, desperate to keep one step ahead of landlords. Maybe because he always felt most at home in places he never lived. Hawking newspapers near the Williamsburg Bridge, sharing blankets with Steve in the warmth of Steve's mom's bed after she left for work. Home has never really been tangible enough for him to carry a part of it with him.
Bucky has his mom's wedding ring strung on his dogtags, and that's about it. Well, no. Not quite. Nobody realised Steve could draw until they were teenagers, and when he got a little more confident in his skills, he drew this picture of Bucky's mom from what little they both remember of her. Bucky made him sign it, and he keeps it, her face and his name, in the pocket closest to his heart.
He doesn't find the other picture until the 107th's third day in Europe. How the hell Steve managed to get the scrap of paper into the lining of Bucky's kitbag like that, Bucky will never know. It's a quick sketch, just lines and a little shading, showing the Stark Expo stage. There's the (briefly) floating car, the dancing girls, Stark with his arms outstretched, owning the damn world. On the back, Steve has scribbled 'see you at the next one', and as soon as Bucky sees those words, it hits.
So this is what homesickness feels like, he realises. It's this, this sick clenching in your stomach, in your throat. He feels like he could stagger, like he wants to reel away into a corner and curl up small enough to get himself under control, but there's no time for that. There's no time for much of anything in wartime but that doesn't mean that niggling feeling goes away.
No, if anything it settles in, becomes just another part of him. It worms its way inside so that it's not just trenches and rats and sniper fire and crappy rations and dumbasses up the chain of command, it's all of that, and this creeping, constant homesickness. Bucky feels like he could deal happily with one or the other, but both? Both seems cruel. It hits him at the weirdest times, a wash of sickness and something like sharp-edged boredom. Normally he thinks goddamn, I miss Steve. Not that he wants Steve there (that is the last thing he wants), he just misses him. Misses New York and taking girls dancing. Misses Steve's smart mouth, misses hauling his dumb ass out of trouble. (Misses his smile and his eyes, and the way his fingers curl to hold a pencil and how his shoulders fit just so under Bucky's arm.)
There are many kinds of fear in wartime, and many kinds of imprisonment too.
Written for hc_bingo prompt: imprisonment
The 107th walk into an ambush. An explosion heralds the beginning of the most confusing fifteen minutes of Bucky's life. He sees a lot of people die right there, in the explosion. Good men, men he's fought with and is maybe gonna die with, here in the middle of nowhere in Italy.
When the smoke clears, Bucky isn't as far away as he thinks from the main site of the action, and he gets caught along with everyone else. He does a quick headcount, and there's maybe a half dozen people he can't account for. Everyone else is dead or rounded up into the same little knot Bucky is being herded towards.
Bucky is cursing his luck and imagining being stuck in a POW camp for the rest of the war, when he realises – this isn't normal. They're not swastikas on their captors' badges, they're something else. Something new.
And their weapons...
One of the Privates tries to make a break for it only to be shot down in a flash of white-blue light. There's a brief impression of bones and then the Private is just gone. Not dead, not bleeding on the floor, but gone.
Jackie is still there, still standing, looks uninjured but terrified. Bucky edges through the spaces until they're standing shoulder to shoulder. There's no time for conversation or comfort.
There's a forced march, chained together at ankles and wrists, a long chain of men picking their way through the mud. Bucky has never felt more defeated. After that they're loaded into trucks, guarded heavily the whole time.
It's dark when they arrive wherever they're going, and Bucky gets just a brief impression of high walls bristling with armaments before he's shoved along with the others. They're taken to a large room at first, still chained together. At the end of the chain, one of the Privates is swaying on his feet, injured worse than he realises. He won't see dawn.
Bucky exchanges a look with Jackie. There are so few of them left, huddled in this dirty room. God. Bucky offers up a prayer, but apparently it's ignored because two of their guards step forward and start to separate Jackie from the chain. He tries to square his shoulders but he looks so young, so afraid. Bucky doesn't think twice.
"Take me instead," he says.
The guards talk among themselves for a moment before one of them steps forward to unlock Bucky from the main length of chain. Bucky gives Jackie a cocky, 'don't worry about a thing' kind of grin in the second before the guard shoots Jackie Nelson from Michigan right between the eyes.
"We take you instead," they tell him, and Bucky's knees feel like water. It's the hardest thing he's ever done to walk out of that room rather than allow himself to be dragged. His feet are chained together so his steps are hobbled, but still. He walks.
The first couple of days are about what he expected. A little rough treatment until they realise they're not getting anything more out of him than his name, rank and regiment. (Like he has anything else to give, that's what makes it so ridiculous. He's just a soldier.) On the third day someone new enters the room and there's a muttered conversation. Bucky has picked up enough German to understand that they're impressed by him (not very reassuring). They also mention a doctor, and then they inject Bucky with something.
The next time he wakes up he's alone, apart from a short, stout man with fleshy jowls and a smart little suit. Bucky likes this even less than he liked being woken by the butt of a pistol and opening his eyes to find three rifles in his face. This guy has an air of bureaucratic menace.
"Hello," he says, in precise but accented English. "My name is Dr. Zola."
Bucky realises that instant that he's unbound, and a second later that it doesn't matter because he can't move. At all. He can blink and breathe, and he can roll his eyes enough to see he's still in the same room as before but that's it.
Be brave, kid, he tells himself, trying to make it sound like his dad's rough rumble. It comes out more like Steve, all firm and principled. That's okay too.
The things Zola does scare Bucky worse than anything else. Worse than gas, worse than a sniper in the dark. He's afraid. He's so afraid, and he hates himself for it. There are drugs, electricity, bright pulsing blasts of light that hurt Bucky's eyes. Mostly he's aware of pain, and a horrible loss of control.
He tries at first to tell Zola that he knows nothing, is only a soldier. Pretty soon he realises there's no point to that. Zola doesn't want information. They tried to take Jackie for the same reason they allowed Bucky to trade with him: they are relatively unharmed. Zola is torturing him, yes, but not for intelligence.
No, Bucky realises. He's testing. Testing his techniques? Doesn't matter. All Bucky has to do, all he can do, is survive. Ride it out as long as possible. Because Zola looks scared. Whatever he's trying isn't working. So when he's worn Bucky down he'll take another man, and another, and another.
Bucky grits his teeth and vows to last another night. Zola leaves at night. It's respite. Peace.
He does last til nightfall. He drifts between sleep and unconsciousness until someone starts to shake him awake. Not as rough as usual, but way too soon. Bucky isn't ready. He comes awake suddenly at the sound of the man's voice, pretty sure he's dreaming.
The voice sounds like Steve's, the hands feel like Steve's, but Steve would never have been able to break those cuffs like they were paper and paste, would never have been able to haul Bucky upright like a sack of flour. Those hands cup his face, tilting him, seeking eye contact, and no, that is definitely Steve, that same sweet-natured face and the same earnest eyes.
Go, Bucky wants to say. Go, go, what are you doing here, it's dangerous.
His mouth won't cooperate though, and he sort of gapes at Steve instead. If this is another hallucination from whatever Zola has been pumping into his system, then it's the best one yet.