Chapter 1: And so it begins
"Are you alright?" No. Of course he isn't. He's in the 107th, he's just been released from the POW camp by Captain America. He must be so tired, and he looks somehow odd. I wonder why? I shake my thoughts back on track as he answers, not moving to uncurl or turn around.
" No. I'm not. I'm really, really not."
"Yeah, that was a really stupid thing to ask. I'm an idiot sometimes, sorry. What's your name? I'm...actually, I don't know if I'm meant to tell anyone." That's that, then. He's not going to want to talk to some nameless young woman who sounds rough, wild, and speaks English with an unintelligible Cumbrian accent at least a third of the time. I'm saddened by it because I want a friend, I've always had to be alone, I'm too dangerous.... But maybe, just maybe, I can be a friend to this man?
"Why wouldn't you be allowed to tell me a thing like that? Names are simple. Make one up. I'm James, James Barnes." He shuffles until he's facing me and I swear my heart skips. James is beautiful. Gaunt, half-starved, bruised and filthy, he seems to me almost angelic.
"Umm.... Oh! My name, yes, my name, I have a name, why don't you call me, ah, Minna. Yeah, that'll work. Minna. I don't think that'll upset anyone." A silence falls, like a dusting of flour when a new bag is opened, or when a spring breeze brushes petals off blossom trees. I realise that I like the name Minna and how it rolls out of my with two nasally syllables, not hissing fricatives or dull plosives, firm but not hard. He watches me as he seems to think about this. James must be very clever, I think, because it's obvious that those blue eyes hold intelligence that is constrained most of the time. Not many people think to hide the skills that cause their deaths. Perhaps that is why he only looks haunted and not tortured.
Pehaps he was conscripted.
"Do you want anything, James? Anything I can help you with, I mean. I think we all want to go home but I can't help you there because I don't know how to do it in a way that wouldn't get us all in trouble and that wouldn't be fair on you or your family if you've got one or on my Tom, he needs me to be around, he's in love and wants to run away with her to us here and join the service but that's a really crap idea cause they probably won't let him and I have nowhere for him which would be unfair and, oh, I'm rambling all over the place, I'm so sorry, I-"
"Stop." He's smiling. James doesn't look mad. He has a pretty smile. "Don't make yourself ill, doll. You can do me a job, though?" he asks as charming as any young prince. I nod, willing to do errands if it keeps me busy. I'm too dangerous if I'm lazy, they say, so I keep busy. "Great. You saw Captain America? Find him and tell him Bucky wants him, then bring him here. Can you do that?"
"Yes, that'll be easy enough. But...the Captain? You're sure?" I frown. Who is this young man?
"Yes." How can I refuse that smile? "He's my little brother."
Command are not going to like this. The Captain isn't meant to have family because people like us are a danger so they say and if we have families we put them in danger. Isn't that why I'm not meant to be in contact with Tom? Command will be so angry and I find that I don't want them to be in trouble.
"Oh. Yeah, sure, I'll do that, he's generally quite easy to find, I'll be quick, bye!"
I'm most of the way back to the command tent five minutes from the storeroom I found James hiding in when I'm hailed.
"Firebird! Here, now! Mission!"
Shit. This is bad. I can't refuse a direct summons, but I need to help James. The Captain is on the other side of the clearing, I realise as I catch a glimpse of blond hair towering over the nurses tending to the wounded. I decide to take the chance. The Captain will protect me. The sprint to reach him is short, but they're still visibly furious as I dodge around them. They say that if I disobey orders I'm dangerous and can cause harm to people around me- I'm a weapon not a civilian, so they say, and should not act like a foolish child. "Captain, Sir, follow me! James Barnes needs you! He's this way!" My brain informs me that my speech had too many exclamations there, so I tell it to be useful or piss off. The voices in my head are not really normal, so they say, but not necessarily dangerous. The Captain looks confused.
I don't hear what he says, because they've already got to my side. I hear one tell me I'm dangerous, or something like that, and it all fades to black.
Chapter 2: Two
Minna finds the Captain and James again, and the plot begins to thicken.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
I wake up as a soldier does, as a hunter does, all at once. I’m perfectly still just as I was in sleep but I can feel my body heat up.
What do I remember? A man, a beautiful damaged man. Captain, one-oh-seven, brother, secrets, mission. Words strung together in my mind that make no sense. I have a mind like Swiss cheese, a man’s voice tells me, but you’re a sieve. You lose more than you collect!
I want to laugh.
I don’t know why.
Tears are dripping off my temples, I think I hear them land on the pillow, but I don’t understand why I’m crying. Am I afraid? My mind is not my own, I know that, but then whose is it?
I am afraid. The darkness is rising again. I don’t know what to do.
This time I wake slowly. My mind is mine, fiercely guarded by Tom’s magic dancing around inside me. I don’t know why their machines block magic but I need to know- one day, they’ll put me down and it will be a mistake. It’s war, and assets of war are not welcome in peacetime. The words on the string make sense again: the man was James Barnes and he called Captain America his brother. It’s not that which worries me, because my blood family can’t be used against me. No, the blood of the coven is stronger than the waters of the womb. Your chosen family is the one which poses the greatest risk. They’ll need to be careful: the Captain is as much an asset as I.
Assets are not permitted bonds.
This is my room, or cell, with my bed and bag of wool and crochet needles in their little blue felt packet. People have so few possessions these days. My wool is made of shredded clothes. People send me clothes ruined beyond repair and I shred them and tie it all together and crochet socks, gloves, hats. It’s bloody freezing here most of the time.
What should I do? If I look for them, and actually find them, what do I do next? Will they be angry that I’m different and dangerous? Likely not, because the Captain was made by science. James seemed kind, gentle, but strong. They will protect each other from me, I’m sure. I decide to try to get up and dress. I should eat, I still need food. I don’t eat right, because I struggle to tell when I’m hungry. I don’t need hunger, I just need to be doing what I’m meant to be. My legs stay under me so I ignore my shaking body and dress as quickly as unstable fingers will let me- I don’t have time for this.
I walk out of my cell and manage not to stagger as I pass my guard, so far so good, and set as a goal the mess tent. Food will be a good starting point. A hungry predator is a dangerous one and there are enough injuries here without me adding to them. I’ve never actually hurt anyone outside of training, but they tell me I’m a threat to more normal ordinary people. There’s no reason not to believe them. There’s hardly anyone milling around the makeshift centre square, but that’s not surprising. People don’t tend to loiter here because if you do you end up picked for all sorts of really irritating errands.
I hang around here a lot.
Scanning the square which isn’t particularly square but reminds Peggy and I of several squares at home in England doesn’t give up any results in the search for James and the Captain. They’re probably together. The man at the mess tent eyes me in the detached careful way so many do as he serves up a tin of today’s grub. Taking the plunge I decide to ask what I want to know. “Excuse me, but do you know where the Captain is? Captain America, I mean. I need to talk to him-” I’m wracking my brain for a reason as fast as I can- “about... the mission I was offered...yesterday.” He raises an eyebrow. I wish I knew how to do that.
“You sure ‘bout that, sunshine? They’re at Gen’ral’s tent if they’re not with ‘em nurses. Least, ‘at’s what I ‘eard last.” His accent makes me smile, a little bit of home in a place that is more like a nightmare. Accents can stick, it seems, even when he says some words differently to ensure he’s understood properly. I thank him, eat standing, and whirl away to the nurses’ tent as soon as I’ve returned the bowl.
The tent is full of red, metal, the tang of blood and sweat. I hate it. They’re not here, and a haggard nurse no older than twenty tells me they went to the General’s tent. I thank her and leave quickly.
General’s tent is large and full of tables and maps and attitude. I don’t like it here, either, but I see the Captain and head for him, dodging through the hurrying aides. The air is crisp and it smells of mud and wet and rain, of intent and resignation. James is beside the Captain.
“..and so our asset Firebird will be attached to you now, if that’s what you agree to, and if you can find volunteers for a team that’d be great. Speaking of...” The young man I think I know trails off as he ratches through his files and folders, “Here. It’s your next assignment. The on-highs say you’re a good fighter, which you are, but they also say you’re a danger to civilians, which is bullshit.” It’s said so dryly I smile, but I don’t think he’s right. I’ll always be a danger to others. James is staring at me, and he looks stunned, but I don’t know why. Maybe the comment about fighting? I don’t look like much. The Captain is angrily whispering, so I begin flicking through my mission file to avoid the temptation to listen in. James whirls around and joins the conversation- 'it’s whispers! It’s a whispersation!' Tom’s sarcastic voice rings in my memory and I shake it away because now is not the time or the place and there’s nothing to worry about, Tom’s safe, he’s safe-
I startle at the hand that nudges my shoulder. I don’t remember closing my eyes, but I did, and open them to see James at arms length in front of me. It’s his arm on my shoulder. “Hey, Minna? Look at me, please?” I do, but he looks a bit sad and angry and disappointed so I look down again. “Hey. That’s better. How many missions have you done?” I don’t know. I reach for my file, it’s thee on the desk, and open it. There- age, name, codes, information...missions. That can’t be right, can it? I haven’t fought that much. Surely not.
I breathed the words into existence, and I wish I hadn’t because even without looking away from my file, eyes burning, the Captain’s anger makes itself known. I’m dangerous. I shouldn’t have come.
“How old are you?” James asks. How old? What year is it? Wait, I know this one. I remember my age. I don’t want to tell them in case the answer makes them angrier, I seem to have done a lot of missions in very little time, but the Captain asked my age first so I can’t refuse. He outranks me. He’s a hero.
“I...I think.. I’m twenty-two. I’ve been running missions for three years.”
Why does the Captain look so horrified and James so upset? I do not understand.
Hello! I finally wrote more for this, and I know roughly where the story leads. At the minute it should end when Steve puts the plane into the ice, but hey. I have no idea. Leave prompts if you want to see something particular in this story and I'll see what I can do. (I'm thinking of Having a bit of Peggy/Steve but we'll see.)
Chapter 3: An author's note (gasp)
Not dying, just education
I'm just putting it out there that I'm not dead, or dying (yet) but I am doing my a levels. In April. I am not ready. This is going to be migraines and pain and work. I'm not looking forward to it. I took three coursework subjects! Three! Why?!
Anyway, not dead, but don't expect anything like an update schedule. I mean to have one up last week but school was like NO so sorry about that, but no update. I'll try though. Or die. Either is likely enough at the minute, I'll either update or die of strain and migraines.
I'm writing chapter three! Updates are in sight.
Behold, I managed an update!
Character building is a nightmare. Favourite book? Pfft, I dunno, she won't tell me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is little that they didn’t teach me, but this I don’t understand. James has a look that means he isn’t upset with me, and the Captain looks a moment away from storming away. James puts his hand firmly on his brother’s shoulder and murmurs something. My nails are grimy, needing cut again, my eyes still burn, and –
“Right then, we’re going to go somewhere else and confer our options,” James announces and I try not to be upset, “so she can stay with us for now. Come along.” His hand is firm on my shoulder as it was on the Captain’s and I don’t think he’s going to punish me because he’s not grabbing my shirt or pushing against the muscles that would drop me where I stand so maybe just maybe he’s not like them. They would have put me back in my room. They are cold and cruel and unfeeling and sometimes I hate them, but mostly I don’t, because I’m a danger. The room James ducks his head into is small, but there’s a table I can see and even a chair, so he decides it’ll do and tugs us both inside. I don’t understand his familiarity with his brother the Captain. He pulls and pushes as if the Captain isn’t one of the largest men I’ve ever seen, as if he’s accustomed to being the one to deescalate the situation. Well, I suppose he would be: I heard that the Captain applied five times to join up when he was known to be entirely unfit.
I loiter, hesitant to sit in the only other chair when the Captain outranks me so highly. James is drooped on the rickety stool, rubbing his lean bruised finger through mussed dark locks. Heaving a sigh, he peers up at us two and gestures for me to sit. “You should sit, doll. I need to think,” he tells me. The chair is rickety but I don’t mind because he let me sit down, I’m never allowed to sit during briefings, James is like no man I’ve ever met, even my Tom can be cruel and yet-
“You've done forty-three missions in there years. How long is each mission?” James has set his arms on the table so he can lean without leaning whilst he thinks this through. I understand, because I like him greatly and don’t want to accidentally harm him on this mission.
“Well, about a week, I suppose. Some are only a day or a day and a night, but the longest mission was thirty-four days, almost six weeks.”
James nods, asking, “And what do you do?"
I hesitate. He looks straight at me, level, reassuring, and I don't think he’ll be angry at me for what they made me do, trained me to do.
“Spy, hunt, even....even....kill.”
It's nothing I’m proud of.
I'm an asset, a thing, for guns and knives and flame and fire-smoke. James is nodding wearily, and the Captain is observing warily. He looks sad, but why? Maybe I can ask. Neither of them seem to be ready to speak, so, “May I ask a question, Captain?”
I keep my tone meek and head down. Don't cause a stir and you won’t be punished, the young nurse told me as she sewed my arm closed. Keep calm, keep still, and come to me for shelter, we girls gotta stick together. That was the day I shaved my hair. Tom told me that in ancient times, rulers cut their hair when they went to war, so I did too. The Captain gestures me to ask so I force down the nerves and count cuts on my palm and ask “Why are you both upset by my file? Why were you angry before?”
They look to each other as if they don’t know why I’ve asked. My life’s unusual yes, but so am I, because my pyrokinesis -they told me that’s the Greek name, meaning fire moving- makes me useful to them and so I was taken into training in 1937 a bit after I turned sixteen if my birth records are right and our orphanage wasn’t the worst, at least it was small, and our mistress wasn’t cruel to us, so they probably are, but they still haven’t answered and my eyes burn because I don’t want to lose my almost maybe a friend-
“You’re young, doll. Not that young, hell, not more’n a couple years younger than us, but you've done this since you were eighteen, yeah? Right, so, answer us this if you can: when did you start training?” Bucky’s eyes are firm on mine, and his palms are down on the table, and when the Captain steps forward I flinch away but he stops, and he’s stiff and angry and I must have done something wrong but I don’t know and I don’t have any idea what to do-
“Doll? Look at me?” I dart my eyes up to his and he isn’t angry, he’s soft and sad, and he tells me, ”For you to have done what you have, they had to have got you a while ago, when you were a kid. To us, child soldiers are unacceptable. It’s cruel and soulless.” The Captain nods and crouches down to look at me and I see in his eyes that he’s a good man, and I find myself praying that neither of them lose who they are.
“If you don't want to come, okay. But I saw what they did to you and I’m angry at them. I don’t think you're a danger to anyone except those who deserve to be endangered.” He means what he’s saying, believes it, but there's nothing he can do because I am a danger to everyone and he’s not fireproof so he’s not safe either no matter how strong he is. But, he’s not angry at me. “You don’t have to tell us,” he says gently, “but if something’s important and might affect the team we’re going to need go know.”
“My file, it’s got everything. They'll let you read it. The man from before, ask him.” He told me I wasn't dangerous but they say I am and they must be obeyed. I flick my eyes back to his, and the Captain nods. James twitches and I see he's rubbing his temples again. I wonder if I can take the pain away? No, I realise, I can’t when I’m this tired. Tomorrow, maybe. James sighs, and looks at us both.
“Come on Stevie, let's go get that team.”
The Captain holds out a hand to me. “Coming?”
“Of course,” and I’m not afraid anymore
Anyway, let me know your thoughts, eh? Even if you just leave "I read it" in the wee box.
Oh, and I have been informed that 'to ratch' meaning 'to rummage about looking for' is a colloquialism. Only my county uses it. Anyway, I ratch, you ratch, he/she/it ratches, etc etc. Past participle 'ratched'.