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Bucky hated Captain America.

He’d packed himself off to war with starched clothes, a stash of blue pictures and Steve’s dreams about freedom and honour, and all he’d found was a lot of mud and blood and men shaking so hard that they couldn’t sleep. Some days they told each other their best stories and their favourite jokes, and some days they just swore and argued over cigarettes. Or, they’d get halfway through the day just fine, and then somebody would get their best pal’s guts over their boots and it’d all go to hell. But what was the rest? No way to get to the high road when they’re making you fight in the trenches.

Not that Bucky didn’t put the face on, but, well. He’d never liked to fight but had never been one to shy away if someone wanted to start something, either.

The army’d trained Bucky as a sniper and the men he killed never saw his face.

Honour didn’t come into it.

He wrote Steve some letters, but seeing as he never got a reply he stopped sending them. Sometimes when he couldn’t sleep, he’d imagine what he’d say if he was going to write another one. He’d lie, but Steve would be able to tell.

He’d say that he was doing okay, and he’d tell Steve about France. Steve had always wanted to go to France, although he wouldn’t have liked to find it in the state that Bucky had. But Bucky would have lied, and would have told him the good things that he was sure that Steve would have seen and thought even if Bucky couldn’t.

Maybe the lies were why Steve hadn’t replied to the ones he had actually sent. He hoped so.

Bucky unjammed guns and reloaded them, and he talked to the other men about the girls he’d left back in Brooklyn, and he hoped that Steve was doing OK without him.

But a while after he’d shipped out, they’d started to show them newsreels with skits about the war. The men jeered, but they sat through them for the features that came after. Ingrid Bergman and Rita Hayworth could have driven most of these men to endure worse.

The skits starred a tall man who called himself Captain America, and Bucky hated him. He was healthy, and he smiled and told people to buy war bonds, and he pretended to fight the good fight, but his boots were clean and his feet were dry, and he didn’t have new scarring all down his left side where he’d just avoided being blown back into 1939, and he also didn’t have scars on his back from the time he’d fought three bigger guys off Steve and had been thrown onto a load of broken glass, and he’d probably gone home every night of his life to a warm meal and a bed with blankets on it.

Bucky looked at him through the haze of greasepaint and water-damage on the prints, and he reminded Bucky so much of Steve’s dreams. If Steve had been well-fed and hadn’t had whooping cough as a little kid, and if he’d grown up somewhere with air that you could fuckin’ breathe without choking on it - Steve deserved better than Brooklyn, although he’d have knocked you down if you’d tried to tell him that - then he might have ended up looking like this guy.

But he didn’t, and he hadn’t been, and Bucky loved him how he was, but it wasn’t fair.

And Bucky was afraid that Steve had found someone stupid and reckless enough to send him to war in the end, despite all of it, and that he was dead in a pile of mud and shit somewhere in Europe, and he’d never see him again, even if Bucky did make it out of the war with his eyes and his heart intact. Because if Steve got his orders, he’d keep fighting until there was nothing else left to defend. Bucky had seen it happen before, and he owed the long scar on his left hip to one of his more memorable interventions, but he’d do it again because Steve had no instinct for self-preservation and a fairly keen taste for oblivion and honour and this was the kind of war that would drag that out of you and make sure you got a taste of both.

Captain America saluted the soldiers the same as he saluted the children and women and men like, christ save him, Steve back home, but Bucky and his comrades didn’t salute back. They spat and they raised their chins, and most of all they waited for the fake gunfire and men in greasepaint to be gone. And sure, they hated Bogie and John Wayne too, but this felt more personal. At least Bogie had the decency to make romances.

They told the men that Captain America was touring the camps and performing with the showgirls, and Bucky clenched a fist and bit on his cigarette as he tried to light a match, and when he and the rest of his company got their orders to infiltrate a base deep behind the German lines, he thought, at least if I don’t come back I don’t have to sit through that.

 

***



When Bucky came to on the gurney, he thought he’d died and gone straight to hell because Captain America was standing over him, and he knew his name.