Washington, D.C. – 2014
One of these days, Clara told herself she was going to learn her lesson when it came to grabbing coffee at the last minute, or anything at the last minute for that matter. There was an unwritten, universal law dictating that if you need to be somewhere, anything and everything will stand in your way – red lights, pedestrians, little old ladies who have clearly never ordered a cup of coffee in their lives.
Now, she knew it was rude – those menus were not made for beginners after all – but the thought of picking the woman up by the shoulders and placing her somewhere else had crossed her mind. It was D.C., and if you're not with the program, it's better that you step aside and let the adults get to work.
But she didn't do it – because she's not that person – and instead resigned herself to her fate. She blew a stray hair out of her face and avoided looking at her phone for the fifth time that minute. Instead, she took to reading over the menu.
By the third time, her eyes were beginning to glaze over.
When fate finally decided that she had suffered long enough and the woman shuffled away, having ordered the first thing she was offered several minutes ago, Clara stepped up to the counter and slammed her money down, exact change and all.
"You were thinking it, weren't you?" Kelly, her barista and occasional friend, asked, charging the usual order. Two coffees. One pitch black, and the other full of so much creamer, it probably didn't qualify as coffee in certain countries. "I know everyone else was."
"If you're referring to the forcible removal of a certain roadblock, I don't know what you mean," Clara replied, taking her receipt. "I'm a nice person, and nice people don't think like that."
"That's too bad. Guy behind you probably would have proposed if you acted on your 'non-thoughts.'"
Clara turned around to a businessman who had been staring at his phone – and totally not her ass – and gave him a onceover. Ginger. Tall. Well-dressed. Smiled like a creep. No thanks.
Rolling her eyes, Clara swept around to the other end of the counter to wait for her order. "I don't come here to get a date. I'm here for the mediocre chain coffee that convinces my boss that I like him slightly more than the rest of his worker drones."
"Hey, what do you mean mediocre?"
Clara gave the barista a look that she eventually caved to.
"Alright, alright, fine, but you can't blame a girl for trying," Kelly said as she shuffled over to her side of the counter, making a point to ignore the growing line of impatient customers. It left her co-worker to deal with the mess for the time being. Clara hadn't realized it was possible to shoot daggers while making pleasant conversation about nutmeg. "I worry about you."
She sipped at her coffee. "What's there to worry about? I'm fine."
"How can you say you're fine when you return to that empty apartment every night?"
Kelly was ever the champion of true love, having married her high school sweetheart. Ten years, two kids, and five annual trips to Disney World later, she remained utterly convinced of it. Which was fine for her. Clara only wished she would stop trying to make her a convert.
"I can say it very easily, actually, and in only two syllables: I'm. Fine," Clara replied, leaning against the counter. A man reached around her for his drink, but she hardly paid any attention to him. "Besides, my apartment isn't empty. Mister Bubbles is there to keep an eye on things."
The barista raised an eyebrow. "Mister Bubbles?"
"Well, Señor Cornelius Ricardo Ramon Bubbles the Third was a bit of a mouthful, but given we are both professionals, we refer to one another on a last name basis."
There was a beat. Another man came for coffee he could barely reach.
Kelly sighed. "This is why a goldfish doesn't make up for human interaction."
"Hey, I get plenty of human interaction," Clara replied, pointing an accusing finger. "My lack of socialization at night keeps me from stabbing people with my pen come morning."
"Whatever," the barista finally submitted, raising her hands in defeat. "Just looking out for your best interests. No need to bite my head off."
"Look, I'm just curious as to why everyone insists that I simply cannot be happy without someone else in my life. I appreciate me, is that not enough?"
At least with her mother, she understood. It wasn't so much about happiness as it was about getting those grandkids she wanted before she was too old to spoil them properly. She still couldn't visit home without being bombarded by a handful of names, some who lived in the building, most she met at the local market. Her little brother, Theo, was apparently a lost cause, so all her family's hopes and dreams rested with her.
"Alright, I get it, you wanna be a spinster," Kelly replied, grabbing an empty cup her co-worker all but shoved in her face, briefly reading his scrawl before setting to work at the espresso machine. "Just don't go buying any cats. It wouldn't do well for your look."
"Well, I'm allergic, so no crazy cat lady route for me," Clara replied, taking another drink of her coffee before grabbing the other.
There was a pounding at the window. Clara – and several coffee patrons – turned to see a disheveled, dirty man rapping on the glass. He held up a sign made of cardboard. It read 'they're always listening.' Then he turned back to bother the foot traffic outside.
"Speaking of crazy," Kelly mumbled behind her, handing off the drink. "You want to take Earl with you this time?"
"C'mon, he's harmless."
"You try saying that when he's been standing outside your window for six hours straight. Last week, he tried to convince my customers that our drinks have mind altering chemicals."
"I mean, he's not wrong."
Kelly threw a coffee sleeve at her. "Get out of here."
Clara winked at her friend before heading to the door, backing out to keep her coffees intact.
The sound of D.C. traffic hit like a brick wall, as did the smell. Garbage, exhaust, sewage, and the waterfront to the sound of horns and rapid conversation. Above it all were the shouts of Earl as he tried – and failed – to get passersby to listen to his latest conspiracy theory.
"What's the scoop today?" Clara asked, balancing her cup on the windowsill as she dug in her purse for change.
"Eyes in the sky, Miss Garcia. Eyes in the sky," he replied, accepting the money with a smile. "SHIELD uses invisible ships to watch over our every move. They could be here right now and we wouldn't know it."
"That's why we have you, Earl," Clara replied, grabbing her cup again. No one actually knew his name. The man just seemed to accept whatever they called him. "Keep up the good work!"
He gave her a sloppy salute before returning to his preaching.
It took another ten minutes of traffic and people dodging before Clara made it to work. Whenever she told people that she worked at the Smithsonian, most assumed she was some kind of archaeologist and went digging up dinosaur bones or raiding Egyptian pyramids in her spare time. Their interest usually took a nosedive when she mentioned that she rarely interacted with the artifacts. The museum had its own employees who specialized in preservation and cleaning. She was more of a bookworm, researcher, and occasional designer.
She liked to remind people that when Indiana Jones wasn't fighting Nazis, he graded papers, but that never seemed to work.
It was their loss, really. Clara loved her job, and wouldn't trade it for anything.
Though there were several sets of employee entrances, Clara liked to take the front door. The early shift guard was aware of her routine at this point, and was usually waiting to open the door for her.
"Late again, Clara," he said with a chuckle as she slipped by.
She held up her additional coffee. "This says otherwise, Barry!"
His deep laughter barely made it above the click of her heels as she strode through the empty space. Before making her way to the offices, however, she had a quick detour to make. Skirting past all the retired planes, Clara slipped through plastic lining into the museum's newest exhibit under construction: Captain America – An American Icon. Construction was, unfortunately, behind schedule, and Clara found herself obsessively checking its progress every day. Sometimes things looked different, mostly they looked dustier. Backordered parts had really put a dent in their progress.
That morning, she could hear a few power tools at work, piecing together ever more parts. They had an interactive obstacle course for the kids, although she imagined several very uncoordinated adults would try it as well.
She approached one of the new additions from overnight, a glass display with an etching of a man on it. Standing beside the display was a young, red-haired man who had his hands on his hips and was shaking his head.
"What is it, Mark?" Clara asked, stepping beside him and glancing up at the work. "The picture translated well. It looks just like him."
Mark shook his head again. "Read the fine print."
"James Buchanan 'Backy' Barnes," Clara read, nearly smashing a coffee cup into her forehead as she tried to facepalm. "Joder."
"That's gonna set us back another week."
"We don't have another week, Mark. We're behind as it is," Clara replied. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to schedule this many dignitaries to the opening? We have the prime ministers of both the UK and France coming over, not to mention the president."
She took a deep drink from her coffee. "Just leave it to me. I will have that thing in here, replaced, in three days."
"You going to use your scary Spanish on them?"
She pointed to him, nodding. "I'm going to use my scary Spanish on them."
Clara proceeded to exit the area, making a beeline for the back offices. She made her way through a very mediocre hallway, with bare, white walls and unglamorous fluorescent lighting, passing interns who were scrambling to make copies or grab coffee themselves. The last door on the right belonged to her boss, Norman Stetler. Middle-aged, balding, and slightly overweight, he looked like a regular nine-to-five office father, only he put in more work than most of the employees combined.
He was currently standing behind his desk, which was a clutter of documents and leaflets, listening to someone on the phone. He held one finger up and then indicated for Clara to sit, which she did once she cleared off space for the cups, as well as carefully remove the documents he had left piled on the chair.
"Okay, yes. Two o'clock. Someone will meet him by the entrance," her boss said, piquing Clara's interest. "Yes, thank you again. It really means a lot to the museum. Thank you."
With a sigh, Norman hung the phone up and sat down. Clara heard papers crunch, but clearly the conversation left him oblivious to it.
"What was that about?" she asked.
"Nope," was his immediate reply. He grabbed the coffee she brought him. "Your face says 'bad news,' so you're going to tell me what that's about before I even consider telling you this."
He took a drink. Sometimes Clara considered heating coffee creamer to save on money. There was no way the man could tell the difference.
She shrugged. "Well, it's not so bad if we can convince everyone that Steve Rogers' best friend was Backy Barnes."
Norman sighed. "The etched glass?"
"The etched glass."
He took another drink. "You've got this covered, right? Throw the la chancla at them or something?"
"That was incredibly racist and I should report you to HR," Clara deadpanned, flipping through the papers she had nearly sat on. They were various drafts of the exhibit invitations. "Unless you can show me the secret to getting a sandal through a phone, then maybe I'll take you up on the offer. But yes, Norman, they will be my first phone call."
"Good, good," her boss replied, nodding. She watched him silently drink his coffee, waiting, until he smiled. "We got him."
Clara blinked. "What?"
Norman leaned forward. "Steve Rogers is coming to the museum today to overlook the project and provide an interview."
She felt her heart jump in excitement. "How did you manage that?"
"Turns out not even SHIELD can ignore the President of the United States," her boss replied, sounding smug. "Not to mention, he's their best asset. Can't have him in a bad light, now can we? Gotta make sure everything is accurate."
Clara stood. "You have to let me be the liaison."
"Now, hang on a second-"
"Oh, c'mon, Norman, this has been my project from the beginning. I designed the layout, I wrote the scripts, I did the research…"
"Research that the interns were supposed to handle."
"I did not get a degree in military history only to have the interns do the legwork when I got a job actually pertaining to it," Clara argued, crossing her arms. "Norman, you know that I am the only person qualified to do this. You owe it to me. I wouldn't have brought you coffee all this time if I didn't think it would pay off eventually."
"Oh please, this is D.C. We all have ulterior motives."
Her boss sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Fine. Rogers is yours."
Clara's celebration was cut short when he raised his hand.
"But no asking him unnecessary questions," Norman warned. "You know what I mean. If you want to talk to Steve Rogers, leave your crazy conspiracy out of it."
Clara could not remember the last time she was so nervous.
Well, no, that wasn't true. She could remember the exact moment with incredible clarity. It had been her graduation from NYU. She had been chosen to give the speech and needless to say, the event did nothing to cure her fear of public speaking. One on one or in small groups? Fine, she could excuse herself with small jokes and apologies, but that didn't work in an auditorium full of people.
But this was different.
When majoring in history, no one expects to suddenly have an opportunity to speak to a figure from the time period they were working on. Maybe, rarely, someone older and with a less than intact memory, but Steve Rogers looked her age. It was like something out of science fiction.
Also, the whole superhero thing.
Yeah, that was weird.
And incredibly intimidating.
She arrived at the front doors a good twenty minutes before she needed to, tugging at her jacket and skirt every other minute as she patiently waited.
If you're early, you're on time, and if you're on time, you're late.
Both her father and older brother – jarheads to the end – had parroted that to her over the years, so Clara fully expected Steve to follow those sacred rules.
And follow them he did.
At ten to, she watched a man in a leather jacket and very unsubtle baseball cap step inside the building. She took a moment to watch him as he glanced around the area, eyes eventually landing on the poster for his exhibit.
He looked so…normal. She hadn't really expected him to glow or anything, yet she wouldn't have been surprised if he had. But no, he acted like any other person, casually avoiding the traffic of tourists and ducking his head.
This guy worked with Iron Man.
Clara took a breath and entered the fray, not wanting to leave the captain stranded for too long. He had seemed more comfortable fighting Chitauri.
"Captain Rogers," she said quietly, hoping to not draw any unwanted attention. She'd already noticed several lingering and confused glances. "I'm Clara Garcia. Lead researcher and co-developer of the exhibit."
The man took her outstretched hand and shook it firmly – a handshake her father would have approved of – looking a little relieved that he was no longer alone, if she were honest.
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Garcia."
She smiled. He actually sounded like he meant it.
Biting her lip, Clara scooted a little closer, blocking the soccer mom who had pulled out her phone and was obviously recording something. "You know, I have to ask: what convinced you to come? This isn't on pain of death or something, is it?"
He chuckled, shaking his head. "No, nothing like that, but it was 'highly recommended that I attend.' Something about how not many people get to witness their own exhibits and that I should probably make sure you haven't labeled me as an agent of HYDRA."
"Oh no, we wouldn't dare," Clara replied, laughing herself. "Although, if you have some devastating secret, now would be a really good time to speak up."
"I'm afraid what you see is what you get."
He made it sound so terrible. Handsome, strong, tall, humble to a fault, Clara could think of far worse people to be, but she'd read enough about him to know why he acted the way he did, or at least venture a decent guess. It felt unfair, really, knowing so much about him; it must have bothered him, knowing his whole life story was just out there, a click away.
"Well then, shall we?"
Clara expertly led Steve Rogers through the crowded museum, sidestepping large groups of tourists with relative ease. Though she appeared thoroughly calm on the outside – at least she hoped – there was a little voice in her head keeping time, paranoid that she would forget how to walk and fall.
Once inside the construction zone, Clara kicked into demonstration mode. She'd presented the exhibit to the board of directors several times, updating progress and such. Doing so for Steve Rogers was easier than she thought it would be. She pointed at half-finished parts, and followed up the description with the finished visual on her tablet.
Steve, as it turned out, had few questions. He looked on intently and nodded along, but seemed content in simply letting her take control. It was probably a little overwhelming; it was his life on display. It was only now that she wondered if there wasn't something wrong about the whole thing.
They ended in front of the small – and unfortunately inaccurate – memorial for Bucky. He stared at the picture a while and Clara decided to give him a few moments of peace before continuing.
"So, um, there was a small error in the design," she pointed out, not wanting him to think they cared so little that they did not notice. "We'll have a new one within the week."
"Backy," he read, exhaling slightly. It almost seemed like an inside joke. "They did a nice job otherwise. I hope you weren't too harsh with them."
"Well, Captain, I-"
"Steve," he interrupted. "Please."
"Steve," she echoed. "I have two settings: civil and loud. You can guess which I used."
His lip quirked at that.
He looked to his feet then, his hands digging into the pockets of his jacket.
"I know it's a lot," Clara said quietly, suddenly feeling incredibly guilty about the whole thing. Perhaps historians ought to be grateful they don't meet their subjects. No one wants their life dissected. "We did this with the utmost respect, I promise."
"No, it's alright," Steve replied, looking up again. "Just a little crazy is all. Really, I should be thanking you, Miss Garcia."
"If I'm calling you Steve, you can call me Clara," she replied. "Though I'm not sure why you're thanking me."
He shrugged. "Most people when they try to talk to me aren't quite sure how. They try to explain how this and that works like I don't know anything, or they get caught up in talking about Captain America. You just proceeded like I was someone else, and I appreciate it."
She smiled. He really was the sweet guy she had read about.
"Well, Steve, you did fight aliens. I like to think you know a thing or two after that."
Clara paused, fingers tapping on the tablet. Steve had turned back to the memorial, reading it over again while she debated if she wanted to add to the conversation.
"I was there, you know," she said, walking away toward their mannequins. Displayed were the outfits of all the Howling Commandos, with Steve's front and center, along with his original shield, given his classic one had been lost at sea with him – and was still currently being used. One of the interns had actually suggested they ask to borrow it. "In New York. I was taking my mother to lunch…and that was how I lost my car."
"Chitauri?" she heard him ask behind her.
Clara turned back to him, making a face. "The Hulk actually."
"I take it insurance doesn't cover that."
"No…no, it does not."
The man who was Captain America actually looked awkward, briefly glancing at his feet.
"Look, I can't speak for Bruce, but I'm sure he'd apologize for…"
Clara waved her hand. "No, it's okay. The car was a lemon anyway. I'm not really sure why I brought it up, to be honest."
He'd literally just thanked her for treating him normally, so she immediately decided to talk about New York.
They were silent for a while. Clara glanced at Steve. He was staring at the mannequins.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Of course," she said, turning to him.
"Why doesn't your exhibit include anything on Yvonne Dupuis?"
Clara blinked, and then she smiled.
"So that's her name."
At the very beginning of her research, she had dug deep into the museum archives. Most documentaries were outdated and had less than reliable information, more focused on the propaganda aspect of Captain America versus his actual war contributions. Pictures and footage from that time period were hard to come by, weathered, worn, and some downright destroyed. Several evenings were sacrificed to reclaiming bits of history lost in filing cabinets.
And that was when she found her: a woman in several photographs with the Howling Commandos. Neither the history books nor the documentaries ever mentioned her – perhaps mostly due to the fact that none of the commandos had ever wanted to be interviewed – but she was in enough photos – some in summer, others in winter – for it to not be a coincidence.
But that was all she could find on her. There was no name attached to the mysterious woman, no backstory, no epilogue. Simply a woman with a rifle who stood proudly and equally with the Howling Commandos.
Norman had told her to let it go. They had a deadline to meet, and no one was going to believe her theory that there had been another member. At one point, he'd actually accused her of pushing an agenda.
And yet, here stood Steve Rogers, the actual Captain America, saying the woman's name like she should have been there all along.
Shaking out of her stupor, she stepped toward the man.
"Please, tell me everything you can about her."
Normandy, France – 1944
The mission was simple: take out the HYDRA base to ensure that they got no funny ideas when the Allies invaded Normandy. Their advanced technology could prove devastating to the assault that was already a huge gamble to begin with.
Bucky hated simple missions, because they usually became the exact opposite. Simple in detail did not mean simple in scope. What it meant was a lack of surveillance, intelligence, and only a general idea about how to proceed. Top that off with being stuck behind enemy lines and they had a potential disaster on their hands.
It wasn't that they hadn't done a mission deep in Nazi territory before – really that seemed to be the SSR's preferred method – but there had always been an escape plan, a line somewhere on a map they could cross to safety.
They didn't get that here. It was parachute in and wait for the Allied landings to clear the way. And if they failed? Well, it was going to be a long hike to Spain.
He began to clean his rifle for the third time that morning, looking around at the Commandos as he expertly dismantled the parts. Steve was staring at the map – and had been for a solid hour – while Jones and Morita watched over his shoulders, occasionally sharing a look. Falsworth was watching one side of the small patch of forest they had clustered in while Dugan watched the opposite. Dernier was the only one not doing anything in particular. He'd lost half his C4 in the drop and was still morose about the whole thing.
"Never seen a HYDRA base so close to civilians before," Jones commented, tracing his finger along what Bucky assumed was the town line. "Seems like a dangerous place to produce weapons."
"Unless that's not what they're after," Bucky replied, refitting his scope.
Sometimes, he could still feel the needles in his skin from their experiments. Nothing negative had happened to him so far – and the SSR had been thorough in their testing – but that wasn't going to be the case for everyone. And what better way for a constant supply of subjects? These people were cattle to the slaughter.
Steve gave him a concerned look, which he promptly shrugged off.
"Intel says the base is mostly subterranean, right?" Morita asked, waiting for Jones' confirming nod. "We've got no exits large enough for the kind of weaponry HYDRA is producing."
"They could be hidden."
"No smokestacks," Dugan commented. The group turned to him as the sergeant continued watching the road to the north. "Weapon production of that magnitude is going to have some crazy chemical output. There's no hiding those things. Whatever they're doing, it's got nothing to do with these weapons."
"Whatever the case may be, we know the guards will still be armed with them," Steve said, folding up the map. "Even one of those weapons showing up may prove to be too much."
"So, we best get on that, lads," Falsworth said, crushing his cigarette into the dirt and pointing to the southern road. A covered truck was moving slowly in their direction. "Who ordered the lorry?"
Five unconscious Germans later, the Howling Commandos stood in their new uniforms while the original owners were tied to a tree some fifty feet from the road. Only Jones and Dugan were left in their original attire, and the latter was none too happy about it.
"Why is it that I always get left out of these things?" Dugan griped as Jones climbed into the back of the truck.
"Well, that mustache is hardly German regulation," Falsworth commented, handing their discarded outfits to Jones.
"Not to mention Nazis don't come in your size," Morita joked, getting a solid kick in the ass before he, too, climbed into the truck.
"Does the hat even come off?" Bucky asked, buttoning up his jacket.
"None of you are going to live to find out," Dugan replied, prompting soft laughter from the group. He grabbed Steve's shield before turning back to the truck.
Bucky watched Steve adjust his uniform. With his blonde hair and blue eyes, his best friend looked oddly suited to the uniform. The Nazis would have plastered his image on every recruitment poster they could find.
"Falsworth, I want you in the cab with me. Dernier, Bucky, sit closest to the truck bed opening. Think German thoughts."
"And don't open your mouth," Morita said, eying the Frenchman. Dernier gave him a crude gesture in kind.
Steve turned around, noting Bucky's scrutiny. "What?"
He shrugged. "Captain America in a Nazi uniform. Better hope no one takes a picture."
His best friend managed to laugh. "Yeah, that wouldn't go so well back at headquarters."
"Peggy wouldn't miss this time."
Steve clapped him on the shoulder as he climbed into the back of the truck. Jones and Dugan sat near the very back, but once they got closer to town, they would have to duck under the tarp that hid their gear.
This plan was also simple: roll into the HYDRA base as far as they could go before everything fell apart. Given HYDRA had broken away from the Nazi party, it was safe to assume the unit here was keeping a very low profile. Regular German uniforms should do the trick.
Bucky, however, had a different course of action.
Just short of the town, he hopped out of the truck. Near the outskirts was an old church with a bell tower that would give him a clear view of the action. Given their predicament, they had to be careful about reinforcements. The Germans had been comfortably nestled in France for nearly five years. They weren't about to tolerate anyone disturbing that peace.
The instant anything started to look overwhelming, he'd fire a flare. Morita would be above ground and on the lookout for it. He'd clear the Commandos out while Bucky hightailed it to the rendezvous point.
"Keep a low profile for as long as you can," Steve told him as the truck lingered a moment. "You're going to be a sitting duck up there so don't fire that flare unless absolutely necessary."
"Don't worry, Steve. I won't let HYDRA get me again," Bucky replied, swinging his rifle onto his shoulder. He'd traded in for a German model, but kept his scope in his pocket. "Just don't take your time. I get bored easily."
And then he was alone, wandering through small alleyways in a French village. For a town so small, there was a lot of traffic passing through the main road. Bucky kept a close eye on the people as he walked parallel to them. He'd seen half a dozen groups of uniformed men, mostly young, joking around and smoking cigarettes. None of them were armed. A popular destination for leave perhaps.
He sighed. This wasn't a complication they needed.
The church was very unassuming, made of brick that had faded over the years. Vines had begun to crawl up the side and a small well sat in front of it on the street, once the source of water, but probably dried up now. Above, the bell tower loomed over everything else. With the town dropping away to just fields behind the church, it really was the perfect vantage point, which made it all the more dangerous.
Bucky gripped the rifle tighter and headed up the steps.
As he reached the door, a young woman stepped out.
Like the gentleman his mother taught him to be, Bucky held it for her, briefly wondering if that, in fact, was not the German way to do things. Given the look she was giving him, maybe it really wasn't.
"Fraulein," was all he managed to mumble. It was all he could before his terrible accent gave him away.
She spoke something rapidly in French, tucking a stray hair behind her ear, before walking briskly away.
He watched her a moment, noting how she looked back over her shoulder several times.
"Hope that doesn't come back and bite me in the ass," he mumbled, stepping inside the church.
The inside was simply decorated, with plain, wooden pews and a pulpit sitting at the front. A small cross rested against the back wall, while beneath it were several lit candles. Over the door, he noticed, a Nazi flag hung. Not by choice, he assumed.
There was a shout.
The parson stepped into the room, waving his arms and crying out in French. Bucky maybe understood one or two of the words – other languages had always been Steve's department – but it wasn't hard to tell what bothered him: the uniform or the rifle. Probably both.
"I need to use your bell tower," he said calmly, walking forward as the man tried to wave him back. He was still in robes as if just out of service. "I need to use your bell tower."
The man only continued to raise his voice. Bucky glanced out the small windows, hoping they weren't attracting any unwanted attention. Then he sighed and placed his hands on the man's shoulders.
"I'm American," he said quietly, reaching into his collar to produce his dog tags. "American. New York City."
"American?" the man echoed, paling slightly. At least he'd calmed.
"Yes, American," Bucky continued, pointing upward. "I need your bell tower."
The man followed his gesture and seemed to understand, leading him away to a large door on the right. He produced a set of keys, slowly unlocking the room, before turning to him and saying something in French. He hoped it was permission.
"Merci," Bucky said, stepping inside. He grabbed the ladder that led to the top and paused. "You might want to leave. Uh…partir?"
When his butchered French failed, Bucky settled for waving in the general direction of the door and that seemed to do the trick.
The day hadn't felt windy, but up in the tower, a steady breeze was flowing. Bucky grimaced as he glanced in the direction of the base. He could still make shots if needed, but it would require a lot of adjustment on his part, extra seconds that they desperately needed.
Again, he hated simple.
Bucky crouched down, retrieving his scope in order to watch the unfolding chaos. The Commandos had waited outside the base for fifteen minutes in order to give him the chance to get into position, but the truck was well on its way to the front gates now.
The secret HYDRA base didn't look so different from their camps back home. A few administrative buildings, barracks, some tents, guarded by little more than barbed wire and a couple towers. If anyone wanted to find a super-secret organization, there were places far higher on their lists to check. It was the perfect hiding place.
As expected, the truck did not make it very far into the compound before the first shots kicked off. If he was a betting man, Bucky would have said it was because Dugan got impatient.
His trigger finger itched. He wanted to be part of the action, to help his brothers-in-arms, but Bucky knew his job was paramount to their survival. If they were fortunate, Dernier could plant the explosives before reinforcements arrived and he would just have an easy work day, but plans rarely went that well. Without Allied territory to retreat to, he was the only person they could rely on to stay safe.
He knew his mission, and he would complete it.
The alarm began to go off at the base. Bucky crudely fixed the scope to his rifle.
A slamming sound below the bell tower caught his attention. Bucky glanced down, watching as several Germans evacuated what was supposed to be the cellar of a house two doors down.
"Shit," Bucky whispered, ducking. The base was subterranean, alright. It ran all the way beneath the town.
As he listened to the sound of more and more men exiting the cellar, Bucky became aware of a low hum in the distance. Glancing to the south, he spied two Panzer tanks cutting across the fields, making a beeline for the base. To the north, a Tiger tank. Each came with a company of soldiers jogging behind.
"What in the-" Bucky started, fumbling with his flare gun. There was no way in hell that the explosives were planted – they'd barely started – but this was a disaster that none of them were about to walk away from.
He pointed the gun to the sky, fired the flare, and prayed to God that Morita was paying attention.
Bucky didn't get the chance to check, because almost immediately, gunfire was spraying his location, kicking dust off the building and making the bell clang.
Abandoning his rifle completely, Bucky scrambled to the ladder, sliding down to make up for time. Just as he dropped to the ground, he heard the distant 'boom' of firing artillery.
The tower exploded.
Debris fell through the opening, the bell included, collapsing the roof of the small room. Bucky barely managed to escape out of the door, coughing as dust churned from the small entrance and coated him.
When he began to run back into the church, another round burst through the wall. Suddenly, he was airborne, then on the ground, all sound gone except for a sharp ringing in his ears. He was covered in bits of rubble and wood, lodged under half a pew.
His side was pulsing, and when he moved his hand to the spot, he felt blood.
Yep. Simple missions sucked.
When he moved to sit up, nearly biting his tongue off so he didn't cry out in pain, Bucky heard running footsteps. Through the new hole in the church, courtesy of one of the Panzers, two German soldiers emerged. He didn't know if they were from a normal unit or secretly HYDRA, but it didn't really matter in the end. Despite his very German uniform, they immediately pointed their rifles at him, shouting instructions that he was vaguely familiar with. He'd heard the same phrases the day he was captured.
Well, if they weren't HYDRA, he was technically holding true to his promise.
"Alright, alright," he said, holding one hand up as he used the other to balance. He stood slowly as they inched closer, noting that there was a piece of wood lodged in his side.
The Germans pushed in, the rifle of the first man maybe a foot from his face while the other remained in the back. They were both young and looked a little nervous. Definitely not HYDRA.
"I don't know what you're saying," he spoke calmly, keeping his right hand up in surrender while his left clutched his wounded side. His jacket was already soaked. "I don't know what you're-"
When the first gunshot rang out, Bucky was convinced that they'd shot him. In fact, he looked down at his chest expectantly, grabbing at his uniform and searching for the entry wound. It was only when the second shot rang out that he realized the bullets weren't meant for him.
The two soldiers fell into the rubble, dead. Bucky looked back up at his savior. Though he wasn't certain who to expect, Bucky hadn't thought he'd find himself staring at the young French woman he had passed earlier. She stood calmly, her outstretched arm holding a German Luger, waiting for movement from the soldiers. Then the moment passed, and she was on the move, deftly picking her way through the rubble to him. In her free arm was a large overcoat, which she promptly handed to him.
"Put this on," she said. Her accent wasn't thick, but her voice was commanding. Bucky found himself following her instructions without hesitation. "Can you walk?"
"I think so," he replied, buttoning the coat quickly, making sure it covered the uniform. The woman grabbed his arm as soon as he finished, and they walked rapidly out the front door of the church. "Not sure how far though."
"We aren't going far," she said, looping her arm in his. He could feel her subtly guiding him as they walked down the street, as well as helping his balance. "Do you speak French?"
"Then keep your mouth closed. Leave it to me."
He felt a nudge at his side. She'd put her gun in the pocket of his jacket.
The town was in chaos. Soldiers were running in the direction of the base, while the townspeople were scattering. Some tripped over themselves or one another, others were shouting. Children were crying. German trucks flew through the streets, just barely missing the fleeing civilians. And it was through this chaos that they were somehow able to sneak by unnoticed.
Occasionally the woman would call out something in French, her voice convincingly panicked.
At one point, she took them straight through the backdoor of a house, shouting at the owner when they tried to stop her. She grabbed a hat off the coatrack and placed it on his head before continuing through the front door.
They crossed the main road – just dodging another tank – at a brisk pace. Bucky bit the inside of his mouth as he did his best to keep up with her. He was bleeding, badly, and the evidence would seep through his coat soon enough. Of course, that was the least of his concerns. Remaining upright was becoming difficult. His head was starting to swim.
It was when they turned a corner behind a small cottage that his foot caught on a rock, and then he was down, taking the woman to the ground with him.
Bucky swore as he hit the ground, and barely felt the hands that were grasping his coat. He did become aware that she had shoved him against the building, so that he was at least sitting upright.
"Come now, we are almost there!" she shouted, though that had little effect on the pain in his side. "Just a little further."
Despite her encouraging words, Bucky could feel her tugging at his coat. When she opened it, several rapid French phrases fell from her lips. He recognized some of the words. It would have made Dernier blush.
"That good, huh?" he asked, attempting to smile. Nothing beat humor when the chips were down.
She almost laughed. He could tell.
Putting her arms under his, the woman helped lift him, slowly, very slowly, off the ground. It was more or less just sliding him up the brick wall of the cottage, but whatever worked. When he was fully standing on his feet, Bucky immediately fell forward and nearly crushed the woman beneath him, but she was ready that time, and was surprisingly strong.
"Name's Bucky by the way," he mumbled as she maneuvered him around, leaving his right arm hanging around her shoulder.
They shuffled a few feet in silence.
"I am Yvonne."