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The First Mission

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From just outside the Hydra compound, Steve watched the factory fall in on itself in flames, small explosions still rocking the ground once in a while.

His Ma had seen Triangle Shirtwaist go up (fortunately from the outside) and she'd described it to him in detail when he was a child -- Ma had always indulged Steve's love of excitement, seeing as he couldn't have much of his own. Steve hadn't understood the sheer destructive force she must have witnessed until now.

They should go. The escapees were gathering, near enough that he could hear their shouts and the rumble of tank engines. They'd need a strong hand to get four hundred soldiers home. But he almost couldn't look away, and Bucky didn't seem in any hurry.

"I can't believe you did that, you dumb shit," Steve said finally.

Bucky turned to him, affronted. "Me? Where the hell have YOU been, pal?"

"Not without you!" Steve mimicked, his voice rising high, and then turned to grin at Bucky. "That was some radio melodrama, Buck."

"Ah, shut your oversized hole," Bucky told him, poking him in the arm. "They give you any extra brains to go with all that muscle?"

"Officers don't need brains, that's why we have sergeants," Steve said loftily, and then drew Bucky into a hug. "I'm glad you're all right. Even if you do look like you been run over a couple of times."

Bucky's eyes were dark in his pale face, and he looked exhausted, but he was here, and whole, and smiling, and that was enough.

"Sounds like you got a story to tell me," he said.

"We oughta get the troops out of here first," Steve decided, turning to follow the sound of engines and men. "We're three days' march from the nearest base, and my radio's broken. Hey, guess who dropped me over the factory to pull your ass out of the fire."

"At this point I wouldn't call you a liar if you said it was FDR."

"Howard Stark."

"No shit!" Bucky yelped.

"He's the supplier of the muscles," Steve informed him. "And hey, I need a hand here."

"You don't look like it."

"Yeah, I know, but I haven't got the command experience my bars say I do," Steve said. "You gotta play me up a little, I'm the ranking officer here and I know how to get home but I need the fellas in line."

"Ah, the 107th is a good outfit, they'll fall in," Bucky said. "You leave it to me and Dum Dum."

"The fella in the hat?" Steve asked, but before Bucky could answer they emerged into regimented chaos.

There were two tanks parked at the northern periphery of the clearing, their turrets swiveling wildly, presumably as the men at the controls learned how they worked. A handful of trucks were pulled up haphazardly, and there were three separate fires going. Men were wandering back and forth, clearly unsure what to do, and the wounded were being treated by firelight.

"Stay here," Bucky said, and trotted across to one of the trucks. He got up on the runner board and spoke to the man in the driver's seat, who obligingly pulled into the center of camp. Bucky gestured for Steve to join them, then gave him a tug and a boost that got Steve onto the hood of the truck before he knew what was happening. The driver, a young, dark-skinned fella, blew his horn until the men fell silent, gathering around the makeshift platform.

"Gentlemen," Steve said, as their faces turned up to him. He wished he had some cue cards for this, but at least he had his shield to hide behind a little. "I'm Captain Rogers. I'm in charge of this mess for now, by order of General Phillips, who sent me to get you all back."

Bucky could probably tell it was a lie. He didn't think anyone else would. There was a ragged cheer from the men at the front.

"We've got three days of marching ahead of us down a Nazi-held road," Steve continued. "Hydra may have retreated but they aren't beat, so we're gonna have to march fast and look sharp, and we haven't got time to sit around here. You fellas managed to sort out what supplies we have yet?"

The man in the cab of the truck leaned out. "All the food's in the back," he said, jerking a thumb. "They're pilin' up guns by the tanks."

"We got any tents, bedrolls? Any blankets?"

"Got a few!" One of the other drivers called.

"All right, well, get the canvas off one of these trucks and get it ripped up for tarps, at least we won't sleep on the wet," Steve said. "Drivers, you're now quartermasters too. You make sure every man gets a fair ration and a gun, two if they got 'em to spare. I want the seriously wounded in a truck, and the walking wounded riding whenever possible. We'll convoy up with a tank at the front, the food truck, then anyone who can walk. Arms and hospital transport at the back, and I want one of those tanks on rear point too. Listen to me, fellas," he added, as the men started to disperse. Like magic they looked up at him again, and he could feel a strange crackle of power.

"We've got a hell of a mix of soldiers right now," Steve said. "Far as I can tell we got some Resistance fellas in with us and some Allies, and I know we got some men from the segregated units. But as of this minute you are under my command and I'm calling you the first Integrated unit in the Army. You don't have to like it," he said, as grumbling broke out, "but the first man who objects can report himself for insubordination. Don't like my command? You can surrender your gun and walk rear point."

Bucky and the fella in the hat -- Dum Dum -- were standing in front of him, and when he said that, Bucky adjusted the gun he was carrying. Dum Dum glanced at him, seemed to hesitate, then hefted his own, too. The grumbling settled down.

"I want drivers rotating in six hour shifts. If you can drive, report right now to the trucks, to get yourself on a roster. If you're riding, get off every few hours to let some other poor bastard on. NCOs, check in with me so I know who you are, otherwise try to keep some order. Let's get those fires out and get on the move," he called, and watched as four hundred aimless souls began to bounce around towards a semblance of order.

Bucky was staring at him, a look of pride on his face.

"Surprised?" Steve asked, a little drily.

"Never been less surprised in my life," Bucky said.

Steve hopped down and leaned into the cab of the truck, one foot up on the runner board. "What's your name, soldier?" he asked.

"Corporal Fury, sir."

"Well, Corporal, you've just been field-promoted to Truck Commander and Meal Quartermaster. I expect you to recruit three drivers and at least two aides to handle the rations. Fine some poor soul who can't walk but thinks he can and make him navigator."

"Sir, yes sir!" the man said, face lighting up.

"And if anyone gives you any bull over it, you report them to Sergeant Barnes and he'll bring it to me. Clear?" Steve asked.

"Yes sir!"

"Buck, I want you to go set up the hospital truck," Steve said. Bucky nodded, turning to go, but Steve caught his arm.

"Then you get on the truck and you stay there," he added.

"I'm not wounded," Bucky replied.

"I'll be the judge of that. That's an order, sergeant," Steve said. Bucky snapped his mouth shut sharply. "You can march with the others after you've had some sleep."

It took maybe half an hour to get everything sorted, and then Steve gave the lead tank the go-ahead. Field Truck Commander Fury had found a map and a navigator, thank God, and had a crew of the wounded riding along. Steve stood at the edge of the road and watched the tank roll up, then the food truck, then tried the best he could to count heads as the men marched past. He waved to Bucky, following in the hospital truck, caught a rifle someone threw him from the arms truck (loaded up with fellas already asleep across stacks of ammunition) and hopped up on the back of the rear tank.

"I'm going to march with the men," he said, and the rear tank commander nodded. "You fellas run into trouble, send up a flare."

"Where'd they find you, Captain?" one of the men called. "Front page of the comics?"

Steve grinned into the little cockpit. "Brooklyn, soldier," he said, and dropped off the tank.

***

Steve managed to get back to the head of the line just before day broke; he'd stopped to look in on the wounded men in the back of the hospital truck, then joined the marchers, falling into step here and there to strike up a conversation. It wasn't hard; the men were eager to talk, having been freed, and Steve had a couple of conversational aces up his sleeve.

"My father was in the hundred and seventh," he must've said a dozen times. "Always wanted to join the unit."

He could see dawn starting to rise as he reached the lead tank, and he waved them off the road and into a grassy field, flanked by trees. The men, looking tired, seemed aware of what to do; they began pulling blankets and bedrolls out of the trucks, huddling up under the truck chassys and the treads of the tanks, curling together for warmth and to make themselves a smaller target. They could sleep through the daylight, when the risk was greatest, and then eat as the sun was setting and be on their way when darkness fell again.

"Sir," one of the men said, stopping Steve as he went from group to group, making sure everyone was settled. "We pulled this from supplies. It's the only tent."

Steve looked at the bundle. "How many's it sleep?"

"Four -- "

"Give it to the wounded."

"They're sleeping in the trucks, sir," the man said. Bucky appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and patted the man on the arm, taking the bundle.

"Officers sleep in the tent," he said to Steve, under his breath.

"There are other men who -- "

"Steve. It's a symbol. They'll feel better if you do. It's where you're supposed to be," Bucky said. Two other men, keeping a respectful distance, approached with what looked like folding metal cots. Steve looked from the cots to the dark circles under Bucky's eyes.

"Tent sleeps four. Get me that other sergeant and...who's the youngest in the 107th?"

Bucky chewed his lip.

"Come on Buck, I lied to enlist, I'm not gonna whip him."

"Lisle. He's sixteen."

"Fine, he's my aide de camp now. You three set it up."

He did a final tour of the makeshift camp, pleased to note that sentries had been posted (he hadn't even thought of it, and he made a mental note to be better at that). By the time he was done, there was a tent set up between a tank and a truck, two cots neatly made with blankets (stamped with swastikas; Steve supposed beggars couldn't be choosers), a little table from somewhere, and a lantern hung inside it.

"Cozy as home," Steve said, ducking inside. Bucky was laid out on one of the cots, Dugan on a tarp underneath it. A painfully young boy was sitting on the other and he scrambled up, almost knocking over the table.

"Easy, son," Steve said. "You're Lisle?"

"Private Lisle, sir," the kid said, ripping off a salute.

"Barnes told you I need an aide?"

"Yessir."

"Good. This evening, when we wake up, your job is to fetch breakfast and help us get the tent down so we can get out of here. Pull up a corner of the tarp and get some shuteye in the meantime."

Lisle looked uncertain, but he also looked longingly at the dry floor of the tent and the blanket folded under Steve's cot. "Sir?"

"You'll bunk with us until we get back to base," Steve said, easing himself onto the cot. "Take the blanket, I ain't cold."

Lisle hastily wrapped himself up in the blanket and settled on the floor, and Steve blew out the lantern. He saw Bucky watching him across the tent, and gave him a smile. Bucky's face lit up, and Steve closed his eyes.

***

Poor Lisle tried to keep up with Steve for a good portion of the following night's march.

The kid had woken Steve with hot coffee and the very first of the breakfast rations that the meal truck was doling out, mostly jerky and lukewarm beans. (Looting the factory had been fast and dirty and apparently there hadn't been any bacon.) He'd helped Bucky take down the tent and pack it away, and then a troop of men had descended to tidy away The Captain's Things, as if Steve were some kind of colonial governor on safari instead of a wet-behind-the-ears commanding officer who had very little clue what he was doing. He let them because he wasn't sure how to stop them.

Lisle followed him like a shadow as he got the men in order and watched the convoy roll into the darkness.

Steve's plan was to walk the convoy as much as he could -- he'd walk up to the head of the line, a little faster than the marching men, then walk the opposite direction on the other side so he got to see every soldier as he passed. Bucky didn't bother trying to follow, just took up a position at the head behind the tank and told Steve to yell if he needed backup.

(Later -- much later -- there would be a display at the Smithsonian, a pair of Steve's boots with a placard that Captain Rogers had walked three times what any other man walked during the escape, because he'd patrolled his men while they were marching home.)

Lisle made it two laps of the convoy, about halfway through the night, before Steve saw him visibly struggling to keep up.

"Private," he said, coming to a stop, and Lisle snapped to attention. "How's your penmanship?"

"Pretty good, Captain! I won a certificate for it in school last y -- " Lisle began, then seemed to realize the potential mistake. Steve ignored it.

"We still don't have a list of who's traveling with us," he said. "I want you to see if you can find some paper and something to scratch it with, and start taking roll. See if you can get a list of fellas who didn't make it out, too," he added. "I want every man's name, rank, serial number, the unit they're with, and their condition if they're wounded. Start in the hospital truck, get off your feet for a few minutes."

"Oh, I'm fine, Captain," Lisle said, with studied nonchalance.

"Good, then the rest'll be a bonus. I'll see you at sunup," Steve said, and started back towards the head of the line.

He fell in with Bucky, who was walking with a knot of soldiers who clearly knew him well, some of them joking and chatting quietly. They stopped when Steve approached.

"Captain," Bucky said, just a hint of an upturn at the corners of his mouth. "The men were just saying they didn't know I came out of a comic book."

"Haven't you heard?" Steve asked. "You're my sidekick now."

"Gee whilikers," Bucky said solemnly.

"Did you really punch Hitler in the jaw?" one of the men asked, and the others laughed.

"What are you, some kinda fool? If Captain America punched Hitler in the jaw, we'd be on a boat home by now," another said.

"It's just the funny pages, fellas," Steve said.

"Sergeant Barnes told us he had a pal back home named Steve Rogers," a third put in. "He didn't mention you were eight feet tall and breathed fire when the Nazis got your back up."

"Well, that's just how they breed us in Brooklyn, he probably didn't think it was out of the ordinary," Steve replied. He felt a little tug of jealousy, that these men had been fighting with Bucky since they shipped out, that he'd made other friends while Steve was cooling his heels in a song-and-dance show. But he caught the look on Bucky's face, and the jealousy dissipated.

"Back in Basic we had one of those pinup drawings you did up on the notice board," Bucky said. "The boys appreciated your way with a lady's knickers."

"Wish some ladies did," Steve remarked, which got a louder laugh than he expected. "Listen, I should do another loop of the convoy. You fellas all right?"

"Yes, Cap." "Sure, Captain." "Yessir." "We're fine, Cap."

Steve stepped out of the way of the marchers, to let them go past, and then started walking back towards the rear. At one point he passed Lisle, who was hustling along next to a knot of men, taking notes.

Just past Lisle and his new pals, Steve saw a soldier stumble and a few others grab him; he shouldered his way in and found that the man was marching in one boot.

"Where's your other shoe?" he asked.

"Fell off me about a mile back," the man said. "Road's clean, doesn't matter. I just tripped."

Steve crouched and picked up the man's foot, studying the instep. It looked like raw meat.

"There's fellas in the hospital truck who've got boots to spare," he said, straightening and turning around. "Hop on, I'll haul you back."

"You don't have to, sir -- "

"Hey, you're going my way and I don't charge for a flag drop," Steve said, and the man hesitantly wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Steve reached back and hefted him by the thighs, until the man was awkwardly piggy-back. "Boys, give him a boost, I'm sagging."

There was a shove from behind and then the man settled, gripping Steve's shoulders as he started making his way towards the hospital truck.

"You make a habit of toting your soldiers around, sir?" the man asked.

"It's the personal touch," Steve said, and heard laughter.

***

When morning came, Steve found himself somewhat useless; the men were settling into a routine, and they didn't really need his supervision to make camp. Bucky and Lisle got the tent up while Dum Dum fetched dinner, and it wasn't even fully sunup before Steve was sitting on his cot, Bucky next to him, eating his ration of still-barely-warm beans and a hunk of bread with a tin cup of Ovaltine in one hand.

("Ovaltine?" he'd asked Bucky, who shrugged.

"Maybe Schmidt got a taste for it.")

"We've made good time," he said, studying a map the navigator, Jones, was showing him. "I think tonight if we push on past dawn we'll make it to base by mid-morning."

"Hospital truck's reporting in some of the fellas are in bad condition," Dum Dum said. "You should consider sending them ahead."

"Can they go much faster than the convoy?" Steve asked.

"They'd beat us by an hour, maybe two," Jones said.

"And if they get taken out, all our medical supplies and some of our men are lost," Steve said. "Even if we send them with an armed guard, I don't think splitting up makes sense. Can anything be done for the wounded? Is anyone septic, or just uncomfortable?"

Dum Dum grinned. "Uncomfortable mostly, I think."

"Well, they'll have to lump it. I'm not risking their lives for an hour of daylight," Steve decided. Jones got up to carry the news back to Fury; Dum Dum nodded at Lisle, who scrambled up and took off running for the hospital truck to convey Steve's orders.

"Kid that young's got no business being in uniform," Dum Dum said.

"He wants to serve his country," Steve said. "I know the feeling."

"His mother's got two other kids to feed," Bucky said. Steve glanced at him. "He might want to serve his country but a steady paycheck and free meals has its appeal, Cap."

"Either way," Steve said. "I don't mind why a fella's here, long as he does his best."

Bucky was grinning at him, and Steve cocked his head, curious.

"What's that look for, smart guy?" he asked.

"Nothing. Just glad joining the Army didn't change you much," Bucky said.

***

The following evening, Bucky was still looking pale and peaky; he muttered that he hadn't slept well, but Steve fretted that whatever had been done to him as a prisoner was proving hard to shake. He put Bucky on rear point, ordering him to ride the tank's behind and keep an eye out for attacks from the rear. Then he pulled Lisle aside.

"I want you to get updates on the wounded men," he told him. Lisle nodded somberly. "Once you're done, send word up to me wherever I am, so I can come check the paperwork. Then I want you to go ride with Buck on the tank."

Lisle's look turned knowing. "Sergeant Barnes don't like the hospital truck, does he?"

"No he doesn't. Can't blame him."

"Anything I should do for him, Captain?"

"Just keep him talking, and if he keels off the tank, get him into the hospital truck. He's a handful, Lisle, think you can manage him?"

"Funny, sir, that's what he said about you."

Steve grinned. "Well, we're two peas in a pod, I suppose. Go on now, kid. Remember to hustle with that update on the wounded."

The men were mostly too tired and miserable to make much trouble, that night; even the knowledge that they'd be safe in a couple of hours didn't help, since it was going to be an extra-long walk, and everyone's nerves were on edge. They hadn't seen a single Nazi, not a scout or a squadron, and Steve couldn't really believe his luck either.

He checked in with Lisle after he'd made a full lap of the convoy, and by the very dim light of a shaded lantern in the cab of the hospital truck, he skimmed the report. Fellas were starting to show signs of fever, and one or two were in a bad way; once he'd braced himself, he clambered around to the back of the truck and sat with the men for a little while. The ones who weren't feverish seemed happy to see him; the ones that were fixed their eyes on him like he was a beacon in the darkness.

It might've made him uncomfortable, once, but he'd spent enough time at the stage door signing autographs that he was starting to get used to being larger than life, at least in someone else's eyes. He smiled and jawed with them for a while, and told the worst of them -- the one everyone else knew was starting on a case of gangrene, the one who himself knew it and knew the hours would count -- that he'd be just fine.

He hoped it was true. He wasn't aiming to start his command by lying to the men, not about important things.

Lisle and Bucky were sitting on the back of the tank where they ought to be, at least, chucking stones into the darkness. Bucky was telling Lisle about the time Steve threw up on the Cyclone.

"You gonna tell every fella in my command that story?" Steve asked, hitching himself up next to them.

"Well, gotta keep you humble somehow, or the men'll think you walk on water, too," Bucky replied. "How's the convoy?"

"Just fine. Another ten hours and I think we'll hit base."

"You gonna do another loop?" Lisle asked.

"In a bit. I got time to tell you a story or two about Lothario here," Steve said, nudging Bucky gently. "I might'a thrown up on the Cyclone, but you should see the trouble he gets himself into with dames..."

***

It was just before dawn, with enough light to see by but not enough to call it day, when the bombing raid came. Steve knew he'd been pushing his luck, getting the men to keep going, but he also knew that they were as much a target sitting still as they were on the move, and at least on the road they had a chance.

The yell started with Lisle, who was spotting on the back of the tank while Bucky slept. Steve heard a faint shout, Air raid! and saw the neat column of marching men begin to scatter.

He was at the crest of a little rise, two-thirds of the way up the column, and as he turned back it rolled up like a wave -- the cry of "Air raid!" and the men scattering into the cover on either side of the road. The hospital truck pulled into the shelter of a tree just as the first bomb landed, and Steve couldn't see where the ammo truck was, but he could see flashes of blue through the smoke as the rear tank lit up the predawn gloom with return fire.

"AIR RAID!" he called, cupping his hands around his mouth. "SCATTER AND RETURN FIRE!"

Some of the men -- the ones Bucky and Dum Dum trusted most -- had been armed with the Hydra weapons, and as the others ran for cover they turned and mounted them to their shoulders, firing into the sky. The front tank's hatch popped open, then slammed shut again as the turret whirled and the cannon boomed.

Steve didn't have time to think of Bucky and Lisle, hopefully sheltering with the rear tank, or of any of the other men; he took off running for the nearest tree, a tall oak with low-hanging branches, vaulted himself up the trunk, and began climbing. A bomb threw debris across him even twenty feet up, and he prayed for his men as he kept climbing. The tree wouldn't give him much height, but it would hopefully be enough.

When he reached the top of the tree he gauged his timing carefully, slinging the gun off his back and the spare cookpan he'd taken from the rations truck, where they assured him a frying pan with no handle on it wouldn't be missed. He returned fire against the squadron now flying overhead, with visible gaps where the tanks had already shot a few of them down. The rattle of the low-flyers' machine guns stopped briefly as they tried to evade, which was when he let the rifle fall to bounce on the strap over his shoulder, twisted, and hurled the frying pan as hard as he could.

There was a flash of blue light that illuminated the sky, one of the tanks taking down another bomber, and in the light he saw the pan impact the lead plane, slicing cleanly through an engine.

"Well," he said, as the plane faltered, and the two behind it slammed into it, all three falling in a flaming mass to the east of the road. "I'll be god damned."

"CAPTAIN, DUCK!" someone yelled, and Steve didn't bother trying to climb down, just slid cleanly off the branch and dropped thirty feet, avoiding the gunfire of the two remaining planes. He dropped again and landed on the ground just in time to see the lead tank take down the last two planes, one of them vanishing entirely in the hail of blue light.

"Buck!" he yelled, racing back towards the craters at the rear. "Lisle! Give a yell if you can hear me!"

"We're fine, Cap!" Lisle called back. "Bucky shot one of 'em down! I MEAN SERGEANT BARNES!"

"Good men! Got your field glasses?"

"Yessir!"

"Get on the rear tank and spot for me. I want to know if there are more coming. Everyone else back on the road, get the wounded to the hospital truck and let's make good time!" Steve called, as soldiers began to emerge from cover. "Anyone out of ammo, report to the rear! Those of you with the big guns, keep your eyes up! I want two squads of scouts to make sure those Nazis stay down!"

A handful of men went running towards the crash sites, guns out; the rest began to inspect themselves and each other to count the wounded. If there were any dead, they'd have to handle them; Steve would deal with that loss when they got to base. In the meantime he had to make sure the rest of them were ready to march.

The ammo truck had taken some ugly debris, and was missing a wheel when he got there; Steve spent a good ten minutes trying to find a spare, then gave it up.

"Nothing we can do," he said to Bucky, who was wiping his grimy hands on a rag. "Ride the hospital truck up to the front, send the rations truck back and we'll load this all in there and hope we don't blow the beans to hell. I'll send up a flare when we're ready."

Bucky saluted, which was strange to see, and took off; the truck arrived, bumping over craters and broken pieces of road, and the men began loading it up.

"You fellas heard the new Loesser number?" Steve asked, and one of them laughed. "Praise the lord and pass the ammunition!"

They got loaded pretty quickly after that, and as soon as the scouts had reported no survivors from the crashes, Steve fired up a flare; there was an echoing shout from the front of the line and the convoy began to move again.

"Keep spotting," Steve told Lisle. "The second you see a plane in the sky, you knock on the tank and get them shooting."

"Where are you going?" Lisle asked.

"Up ahead. We'll be at camp soon. When we get there, get a hot meal and some sleep and then report to Agent Peggy Carter with the SSR."

"Peggy Carter, sir?"

"That's right. Find Agent Carter and tell her Captain Rogers sent you, and that I want her to give you a job."

"I got a job, sir," Lisle said.

"That's an order, Private," Steve said. Lisle saluted automatically. "See you at base."

He wasn't sure what was waiting for him; after all, he'd gone AWOL, involved two more-or-less civilians in his mission, and disobeyed a direct order from Philips. But even if he spent the rest of the war in military prison, it'd have been worth it. Four hundred mens' lives wasn't anything to sneeze at. And anyway, if he played his cards right, he might get out of this with his skin.

So when he got to the head of the line, he pulled Jones out of the lead truck, got Dum Dum from where he'd been riding the tank with some men and got Morita out of the tank, gathering a few of the other men who'd been more or less in command during the long march. He pulled them up ahead of the tank and said, "Camp's not far. You fellas are with me."

"Yes Cap!" "Yessir." "Sure thing, Cap."

To Bucky, marching at his left, he asked, "I got my helmet on straight?"

"What do you want, a medal?" Bucky asked, still pale, lips nearly bloodless. But his voice was strong and he was walking fine, and he was somewhat necessary for the next part.

"I gotta make a good impression," Steve said. "Gotta look heroic."

"Why?" Bucky asked. "You never cared about that stuff."

"I might not've had permission to go out to rescue you," Steve said.

"You went AWOL over Hydra territory?" Bucky asked.

"Sort of?" Steve offered.

"You dumb son of a bitch," Bucky muttered.

"So they might arrest me, but if I look heroic enough the fellas'll protest it, is what I figure," Steve said.

Bucky reached out and straightened the lapels on his jacket, spreading them to show off the white star on his chest. "There ya go. Leave the rest to me."

Just then they heard it -- shouts in the distance, strident American tones, yelling in English. "They're coming!" "Someone's coming!"

They could just see the gates of the camp, just a glimpse, before men began pouring out of them; soldiers lined up on either side of the road, staring, wide-eyed, as Steve and the rest of the lead phalanx passed. When they saw the tank and the truck rolling behind them, a couple of MPs scrambled to get the gate open, and Steve directed the vehicles to pull around to the side of camp with a wave of one hand. Fury gave him a grin and a salute as they passed.

"Let's hope I don't get arrested," Steve said to Bucky, as they passed the gates and into the crowd of soldiers.

"Told you, leave that to me," Bucky said. The soldiers began to crowd around them, and Bucky stepped back a little, almost disappearing into the mob. Steve gave him a baffled look, but he hardly had time to say anything; Peggy was suddenly there, pushing through the crowd.

"You're late," she said, and Steve's heart did a funny little double-beat in his chest, and he held up the busted radio.

"Couldn't call my ride," he said. A ripple of laughter spread backwards through the men.

"HEY!" Bucky yelled, "LET'S HEAR IT FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA!"

A cheer went up on all sides, and Steve found himself confronted with General Philips, just as the yelling died down. The timing was exquisite; Steve, even as Philips was excusing him from certain jail time, made a mental note to buy Bucky a beer.

Then Bucky staggered, and Steve slung an arm around his shoulders, half holding him up, half trying not to seem like he was.

"Let's get you to the hospital tent," he said under his breath. It was telling that Bucky didn't protest, just nodded and let Steve lead him off.

***

Bucky spent two days in the makeshift hospital, while they did what tests they could on him and fed him special rations. Steve carried in a cot and slept next to him, and the nurses hung a chart on the end of his cot that just read Stubborn & Disobedient.

At night, Bucky twitched and moaned, but he had no fever; he said he had cramps in his bones. Steve watched and wondered, because the kind of pain he described was eerily familiar. But surely -- Bucky hadn't grown any, and he'd been healthy to begin with, so it was probably just some experimental drug working its way out of his system. By the next day his face was less pale, and by the second day he was restless, ready to climb out of bed and take his meals in the mess tent. Just as well, too; they got orders to return to London with the rest of the SSR staff, for a new assignment. Steve said goodbye to the chorus girls, who'd been quartered in camp awaiting their next gig, and caught a ride to the nearest airstrip with the rest of the fellas who'd led the convoy.

Bucky had already boarded with the enlisted men, and Steve was just getting ready to join the other officers, when he heard a yell of "CAP! CAPTAIN ROGERS!" behind him, and turned to see Lisle bounding up, running past Agent Carter. The kid came to a stop in front of him and saluted sharply.

"At ease, Private," Steve said, grinning. "I see you did as you were told."

"Agent Carter's got me workin' as her amanuensis," Lisle said proudly.

"That so? Told you he was useful," Steve said to Peggy, who rolled her eyes a little. "Well, come along," he added, jerking his head at the plane. "You didn't get dressed down by Philips for helping me out, did you?" he asked quietly, as they passed the enlisted men and found their seats at the front of the plane.

"Nothing I couldn't suffer through," she replied with a dry smile. She opened her mouth to ask something else, but the plane's engines fired up, a deep throb that made speaking impossible. Steve leaned forward briefly, checking that Bucky and the others were all situated, then settled back to let the plane lift them off for London, HQ, and his new life as Captain America: soldier.

On his next mission, he'd do his best not to wear tights.