"Do you have a moment, Sergeant?"
Bucky looked up from where he was fixing a tear in his spare uniform pants to see Peggy Carter in the doorway. He'd chosen an out-of-the-way storeroom to do his mending because it gave him the best chance at a half-hour of actual peace and quiet, nobody coming to him with shit he had to fix, nobody asking him where Steve was, nobody looking around for the first convenient enlisted man to task with something they were too lazy to do on their own. He doubted Carter had put the effort into hunting him down for the last one, but even odds on the first two.
"What do you need, ma'am?"
She gave a quick look behind her before coming into the room -- everyone might 'know' that she was the Captain's girl, but there'd be explaining to do if someone found the two of them together alone. Especially Steve, but not for the reasons the gossip mill would like. Which might likely be why Carter was here in the first place.
"The meeting tomorrow," she began with a frown. "Holmes is going to propose a Commandos mission to Northeast Italy that is ill-conceived and irresponsible, based on poor intel and worse analysis. It sounds splendid, of course, taking down a HYDRA base so close to the border of the Reich, and Holmes can talk with the best of them. But it's a mess, Sergeant. HYDRA's not anywhere near Aupa, but two Panzer divisions are and I don't want anyone to pay for Holmes's ambition. If he wants to be the head of the Italy section badly enough that he'll offer up a blood sacrifice, it can be his own."
Bucky paused long enough to do one more double-stitch before replying. "And what exactly do you want me to do about it, Agent Carter?"
He knew she'd unpack the question the right way: why was she coming to him and not Steve? She probably had as much sway with him as Bucky did these days and Captain America had a lot more power at the SSR than did any NCO. Certainly among the brass who were going to be at the planning meeting. Bucky would be there, too, of course, but he was expected to be silent unless spoken to except in emergencies. An emergency that might, apparently, include trying to kill a mission nobody else had a problem with.
Obviously, Carter'd tried to kill this mission dead before it got as far as plotting insubordination in storerooms. Which meant that the Colonel was going to be for it and there was probably not a whole lot of evidence that Holmes was actually wrong. Except Carter clearly thought he was. And, Bucky was willing to bet, she'd raised enough of a stink that if Steve brought up any objections, everyone would think he was doing it for her favors. Which meant that he was her last resort and best chance and it was up to him to decide whether or not to help her out.
They had a good-enough relationship, him and Carter. It had started out awkward for lots of reasons, but time and experience had evened it out. Managing Steve was more than a one-man job and Bucky'd been waiting years to foist that job off onto a woman worthy of the task. Carter was that, all the more so because she could've led him around on a leash and didn't. He respected her for how she treated Steve, which sometimes included having the grace not to shoot the idiot again, but he also respected her soldier to soldier as well. She didn't go out with them and that would never not matter, but she took care with them beyond not wanting her sweetheart to get shot at and, with his own responsibilities for keeping the boys intact and in line, he appreciated that. He'd spent the first part of his war as cannon fodder and that had learned him plenty.
"I shall be attending the meeting at SHAEF headquarters this afternoon," Peggy told him. "Before departing, I shall also forget to return the mission proposal to Holmes. It will be in the middle drawer, right-hand side. That is the drawer where I also have the file on the mission to Nancy that Captain Rogers has conveniently forgotten to sign."
She didn't do anything like waggle her eyebrows or anything, just simply said it and turned and left him there. With his sewing kit and a giant steaming turd of a mess to fix. Because he was the NCOIC and that was what he did and hiding in secluded store-rooms only worked so well in a house of spies.
Steve was in Mayfair doing radio interviews all day, so Bucky had packed the boys off to a morning of embarrassing the OSS in the name of inter-agency cooperation. He'd also told them not to get too drunk in the afternoon because tomorrow morning the Captain was going to want to work off his frustrations with his press obligations with a trek around the Heath at a pace that did not cater to hangovers. They'd taken his threat as real because everyone knew that Steve was always in a foul mood after a day of glossing over how ugly war really was for the sake of the listeners back home. Bucky'd do what he could this evening, but the big lug could drink like the Irishman he was to no real effect, so the boys would have to take whatever was left tomorrow.
Carter's desk was on the second sub-level, a cave of a room she shared with half a dozen other analysts of enough rank to avoid the teeming masses crowded together a floor below. The other cave-dwellers were used to him or Steve wandering in, so Greenberg was only mildly curious when he asked Bucky what had brought him by when he turned up after lunch.
"Here to forge Cap's signature on the Nancy report," he explained with a careless shrug. "The Colonel wants it by end of play and the Star Spangled Man's at the Dorchester doing his song-and-dance for Daly and the crew."
Steve and Carter forgot to complete Commandos paperwork at a rate that fooled nobody and Greenberg rolled his eyes. Because this would not be the first time that Bucky had had to cover for them.
"Second drawer on the right, I think," Greenberg said before turning his attention back to his own work.
Holmes's file was tucked into the Nancy folder, as Carter had promised, and Bucky read it over carefully. And it wasn't until near the end that he understood that she hadn't come to him just because she didn't want everyone assuming Steve was just doing what she asked so he could get under her skirt. Holmes's belief that there was a HYDRA base at Aupa was all based on evidence the SSR had gotten from old interviews from guys out of the 8th Infantry. Who'd been held alongside and rescued with the rump of the 107th by Captain America.
Bucky didn't want to think about that time too much, not when he still got nightmares and not when he still had to convince himself that there'd been no lasting effects from all of the chemicals Zola had filled him with. But Carter was asking him to do so anyway. It was a lot to ask of him, more now than when she'd pumped him for information back in Italy last year. They knew each other now, knew each other's tender spots and loyalties beyond a mutual fondness for Steve, and she would know that she was marching where even Steve was slow to tread. She was asking him to have faith in her anyway, for the sake of the boys and for Steve.
He'd heard the stories some of the guys from the 8th ID were telling back then, just as he knew what had actually happened from what he'd overheard while strapped down in Zola's lab. He scribbled a couple of notes on the back of a memo sheet and left that on top of the final page of the Nancy report, where he finally did scrawl a very good impersonation of Steve's signature. Carter would have some research to do to turn what he'd given her into something she could use, but he had no doubt she'd get it done. Because otherwise, if she was right, the Commandos were walking into a showdown with a couple of Panzer divisions.
The next day, Bucky showed up to the planning meeting with his notebook and a pair of sharpened pencils for Steve, who'd spend the meeting doodling while looking like he was paying earnest attention. (He was, but he'd still rely on Bucky to take notes.) Carter gave him a nod, a tiny one he thought everyone had missed, until Steve leaned over and elbowed him in the ribs.
"What did you and Agent Carter get up to?"
Bucky shrugged. "Same things we always get up to. Which is different from what you two always get up to, I should like to point out."
Steve made a noise that might've been frustration or irritation, but Bucky had mastered tuning out those sounds decades ago.
There was no mission to Aupa.