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To: Master Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes
–The rehab facility I am trapped at has encouraged me to work through my depression and regain my mental balance and health by becoming pen pals with a soldier. Definitely their words, not mine.
–I pulled your name from the box, so lucky you. I’ll be perfectly honest, I think this is a terrible idea, and I can’t see how it will help me, but they are insisting and I don’t really want a crazy stamp on my forehead so here goes.
–You know what? Before we start, I guess I should emphasize that this isn’t a rehab center for narcotic abusers, even though after months of these heavy duty pain killers they are giving me, I might need a stint in that kind of place as well. This is more of a physical rehab place.
–Anyway. My name is Tony. On Thanksgiving Day I was in an accident that nearly cost me my life. I broke my sternum and several ribs and they had to restart my heart twice on the operating table. Several other broken bones, a breathing tube and liquid only diet for way too long. And now a stint in a rehab/hospice, where all I do is stare at four walls all day and try not to go crazy.
–(You know as I’m writing this I realize I may in fact be depressed. Who wouldn’t be?Maybe the doctors do know what they are talking about.)
–Anyway, whether you write back or not (and I won’t blame you if you don’t because I am just terrible at this) stay safe out there. You and all the other boys making sure jerks like me sleep well at night.
–Well, the letter was a nice surprise, I had to sit and think who from home would be writing me at all. I forgot I put my name in that whole penpal program, same as you it was a program to encourage soldiers to look out for our mental health by keeping in contact with someone back home. Apparently writing letters counts as therapy. Who knew?
–By the way, I wouldn’t care if you were in rehab for drugs, everyone’s got their own demons, you know? But it sucks it’s rehab after an accident. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking.
–Depression is a bitch, Tony. If writing me helps then write all you want, I’ll answer every time. Even shitty letters like your last one. Seriously man, write better than that. Tell me something about yourself at least. Are you married? Single? Somewhere in between?
–Are you just Tony or is there more there I want to know about?
–Did that come across weird? I was trying to make a joke but that doesn’t seem to translate super well with hand written letters I guess.
–I’ve been in the military since I was 18, enlisted right out of high school. I enjoy old school music, parties that don’t require a tie, and I have been known to write the occasional terrible poem,
–I’m safe tonight. We are all are. The good vibes are appreciated.
Write back Tony
Tony folded the letter with a small smile, placing it on the nightstand in his hospice room.
He hadn’t expected the soldier to reply to what had been, at best, the half drugged ramblings of his depressed mind, but the short letter made him happier than it probably should, and he knew he would be writing back. It was the least he could do after James had taken the time to reply, right?
It took more effort than he wanted to admit to sit back on his pillows, and his chest ached even with that small movement.
Tony rubbed gingerly over the heavy bandages that were holding him together. His ribs were wrapped as well, there was a cast on his left hand, and some days he felt like his back and legs would never stop hurting.
“How are we doing Mr Stark?” the overly cheery nurse came in with an annoying mega-watt smile and Tony mumbled something rude under his breath.
“What was that now?” she paused expectantly. “Something uplifting and encouraging, no doubt?”
Tony pasted a tense smile on his face. “Right. Uplifting and encouraging. Time for medication?”
“Time for physical therapy!” she actually clapped her hands, and Tony wanted to throw the lamp at her.
She had no right to be that cheerful over something that caused him so much pain.
“Lets get your chair!” She announced, pulling the wheelchair from the corner, and motioning for him to get in. “Come on now! I know you can get in here by yourself!”
“Patricia my dear.” he managed between clenched teeth. “Didn’t we establish last week that I can walk just fine, and have no use for the wheelchair? So maybe you put that back where you found it and I can walk the hundred yards down the hall.”
“Oh nonsense Mr. Stark! You need your strength for therapy!” her smile didn’t even flicker in the face of his annoyance. “Let’s go, let’s go!”
Tony leveled her with his fiercest glare, but Patricia had faced crankier patients than him, so after a moment Tony just sighed and stood from the bed, giving himself a minute to find his balance before dropping into the chair.
“Alright sunshine.” he muttered. “Let’s get this over with.”
Two hours later, Tony was wheeled back into his room and lifted onto his bed with the help of one of the physical therapists.
The nurse arranged the pillows around him, tucked the blankets around his legs so he wouldn’t be cold and with a wholly sympathetic smile, pushed the box of tissues closer to the bedside so Tony could reach them.
Then she put a few pain pills and a glass of water on the table, dimmed the lights and slipped from the room with a quiet reminder to call her if he needed anything.
It was a full ten minutes before Tony’s hands stopped shaking enough for him to reach for a tissue, and another few minutes before he stopped crying long enough to swallow the pain pills and take a sip of water.
Tears were still tracking down his cheeks as he reached for the letter from the soldier, reading it over and over as he tried to take his mind off how badly he hurt, how unproductive the physical therapy had been.
Of course, the nurse had assured him that no physical therapy was unproductive, that every little bit helped, but Tony didn’t believe her.
She was supposed to say things like that, wasn’t she?
Tony took a deep breath to gather himself, and reached for his notepad to write the solider back.
To: Master Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes
–I can honestly say I would never pass basic training, because physical therapy just about kills me. I have just buckets more respect for you guys since I couldn’t even do a push up right now if I wanted to. I’ve never wanted to do a push up? But right now I definitely couldn’t.
– Just Tony will do for now. I am single, can’t seem to keep a relationship with my schedule. I stay super busy with work and I like to tinker in my garage here and there, so there just isn’t really time for more than a date every now and then. (And I have yet to come across a man or woman who can keep my interest past one night.)
–My accident. Well, long story short, I was heading back from the airport on thanksgiving and a big rig slid through a light. Clipped my car and sent me flying over a guardrail and down a hill before I wrapped around a pole. Not fun at all let me tell you. Hospice stay was mandatory after I was released from the hospital, so here I am, trying to get through physical therapy and wondering if I’d go to jail for throwing something at the nurse.
–How long have you been overseas? What branch are you? All the letters by your name don’t mean anything to me. No offense or anything. I know a lot of things, but military rank has never been one of them.
–Your joke definitely fell a little flat. Leave the funny to those of us who are actually funny. I wouldn’t mind a sample of your terrible poetry though. If it’s really as bad as you say, maybe I’ll use it as wall paper. Spice up this boring room.
–Stay safe soldier
PS sorry I really am terrible at this whole letter thing
–I don’t think you are as bad at writing letters as you think? But I’m happy to be a guinea pig if you want to improve your skill. Any letter over here is a welcome letter.
–The accident sounds like a real bitch Tony, I am really sorry about that. Be thankful you are alive and thankful you don’t have to do all the push ups I do for PT every week.
–I have been over here for three months so far. This is my third tour, first one was fifteen months, last one was twenty one. This one will be twenty one months, too. Hoorah and all that, am I right?
–I’m actually not really in a specified branch. Started out Army, and then was recruited for a special ops team, so not really affiliated with anyone anymore. I can’t say more than that for obvious reasons.
–Yikes, cut a guy some slack for trying to be funny. You must be a damn comedian. I guess if we are only using our strengths, I’ll just flirt with you all the time instead of trying to be witty. I’ve heard my charm is borderline lethal, so good luck withstanding it. (was that creepy? I wasn’t trying to be creepy)
–Hopefully I can keep your interest longer than the other guys/girls did. Perks of writing letters I suppose. It will take us a year to get through what is basically a night of conversation, right? So you shouldn’t be bored anytime before next Christmas.
–Threatening to use poetry as wall paper is pretty neanderthal, Tony. Almost enough to hurt a boys feelings. What are you trying to do to me?
–Stick with the physical therapy, it will be worth it I promise. And once you are all put back together the scars will be great stories right? I can tell your hand was shaking this last letter. Don’t feel like you have to write me right away if you’re hurting. But don’t STOP writing because these letters are becoming a highlight for me.
–I’m safe. We all are right now
Write me back, Tony
To: James Buchanan Barnes
–Happy Valentines Day. I hope they bring in some hookers and chocolate or something for you.
So… if they did bring in hookers would you want a male hooker or what?
That was in bad taste wasn’t it? Sorry.
–Are scars really great stories or is that something reckless people just say to make themselves feel better about their disfigurement? I imagine they make for a fairly awkward conversation starter and then… I mean, who wants to listen to someone talk about how badly they hurt themselves? Doesn’t that seem boring?
–So. Black ops, secret team…you’re an assassin, aren’t you? It’s okay you can tell me. The only person I ever talk to is Nurse Patricia and I don’t think any sound gets past her gigantic smile to actually reach her ears.
–This is your third tour? Why the hell would you go back again after making it home safe twice? Was it a choice? An assignment? How old are you? What do you look like? Give me something to work with here i spend almost all day in bed staring at the wall.
–Come on, soldier, fuel my imagination.
–Did that sound sexual? It was kind of meant to be sexual. Blame the pain pills if you want. Whether you take it like that or not, at least learning about you will keep my interest, which is a total plus, right?
–I don’t really know what else to say. This whole letter thing is harder than they say it is. Why don’t you get a phone and just call me like a normal person?
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes re read the letter for a third time, laughing because he could almost hear the sarcasm in Tony’s words. The writing was less shaky this time, and he wondered if that meant Tony was healing, or just drugged out on pain pills.
“Bucky!” Steve poked his head around the corner and frowned. “Come on. Dinner time. We’re out in the morning, you can’t miss a meal.”
“Just give me a second.” Bucky reached for a pen and started working on a reply.
“Quit writing your girlfriend and let’s go.” Steve insisted, “I can’t have you at less than 100%, Bucky, you’re my right hand man.”
“K, I’ll write over dinner.” Bucky sent the Captain a grin. “But only cause your blond ass would be lost without me.”
“Truth.” Steve nodded, and motioned for him to hurry up. “Now come on.”