Originally posted to Tumblr
So, I wrote this story a while ago about Bucky being a soldier before we see him in the first Captain America movie, and I was like, “Doot, doot, de doo, this is the first part of a trilogy, but that’ll be done in a couple of months probably,” and ha ha ha ha ha. Parts two and three are 165,000 words long so far and there’s no end in sight. I have to share something or I might actually lose my mind.
This is from the (30,000 word long) interlude between parts one and two, Bucky back in Brooklyn and hanging out with Steve. They’re going to take Bucky’s mom and sister out for a glamorous night of dinner and dancing the next day, but they don’t have any plans for the current night and they’re walking back from Steve’s job painting the sign for a fancy law firm, which Bucky’s kind of making fun of when this snippet starts. Okay? Okay.
No real content notes except it deals with Bucky being a soldier who’s seen a lot of combat and there’s some period-typical casual racism.
“Lah di dah,” Bucky says, fishing in his jacket pocket for his smokes. He holds his cigarette out towards the street as they walk, making sure Steve doesn’t breathe it in. He looks healthy as Bucky’s ever seen him, sure, but once he starts a coughing fit, it’s a nerve wracking thing trying to get him to stop. He says, “Ma’s putting Becky’s hair up in rags tonight, so it’s just you and me.”
Steve says, “She’s putting rags in, wait, did you just say she was going to put rags in Becky’s hair?”
Bucky says, “Becky’s hair up in rags,” like it’s obvious. Steve looks like it’s really, really not. Bucky says, “To curl it. They wrap their hair up. Don’t you know anything about women?”
Steve looks back at him and says, “No,” and, okay, Bucky’d already known that.
Bucky sighs and says, “Stevie, c'mon. I was on an island with literally no women, not a single woman on the entire island, not a single woman for months, and you’re surrounded by them. You’re killing me here.”
Steve juts his chin up and shrugs his shoulders like he doesn’t care.
Probably to everyone else he looks like he doesn’t care, but Bucky can see how much he does, how much it cuts him that women won’t give him the time of day, which is actually his own damn fault but every time Bucky tries to talk to him about it they end up fighting, and Bucky doesn’t feel like fighting much anymore. He says, “We’re getting drunk tonight.”
That makes Steve laugh. He says, “Just like that?”
“Just like that. No little sister to tag along, no dames, just you and me, Archie’s Tavern, a couple of stools pulled up to the bar, and we’re going to get plowed.” They walk down the alley between Steve’s building and the next. He says, “And I’m buying.”
Steve says, “No, you’re not,” automatically.
“Stevie, come on, let me buy you a goddamn drink or fifteen. For your birthday. It’s your birthday in a couple of weeks but I’ll be shipped off again.”
Steve says, “I can buy my own birthday drinks and you know it.”
Bucky rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t argue as they climb the wooden stairs up to the second floor, then head down to the end of the hall. Steve rents a room that’s literally just one room, kitchen and sitting area and bed all together in the same space, but the ventilation’s good and he doesn’t have to pay much in the way of rent.
Bucky could get Steve to move into his old room in an instant, he knows. All he’d have to do was tell Steve he’d feel better about things if his mom and Becky had a man around the house to keep them safe and Steve’d move in that day. He doesn’t say it partly because any guy who tried to break into their place would find himself facing a twelve year-old girl with a vicious right cross and a woman who was still famous in the neighborhood for stabbing her kitchen shears into the thigh of an ice man who tried to get fresh during a delivery. The other reason he doesn’t say it is because Steve seems happy. His place is small and run down, sure, but it’s his. It’s clean and cozy and he just seems like he belongs there.
His kitchen table holds his art supplies on one side, and on the other side is a mostly-finished cup of coffee and a copy of Photoplay with Betty Grable on the cover.
“Really,” Bucky says, picking it up.
“It’s for work,” Steve says. "Advertising art, you know?“
Bucky says, "Mm-hmm,” and pretends that he doesn’t know perfectly well that Steve’s crazy for Hollywood glamour. He eats it all up, news about fancy parties and who had cocktails with whom, who’s getting divorced, which stars are secretly meeting for romantic trysts at swanky hotels. Steve loves all of that. Bucky’s not actually the only dreamer between the two of them.
“Any good pictures out, lately?” he asks as he sits down to thumb through an article about Maria Montez. "Oh, hey, Arabian Nights playing anywhere?“
"Down at the Starlight, I think,” Steve says with a shrug. "We can go if you want.“
"But?” Bucky asks.
Steve says, “No, it’s good. We should go.”
Bucky looks up at him with one raised eyebrow. He knows that tone, and it’s the tone Steve uses when he knows better but won’t say. "But what do you really want to go see?“
Steve shrugs and turns away, starts washing up in the sink. "It’s nothing. It’s kid stuff. Just, they’re playing a double feature at The Lennox tonight, The Wolfman followed by Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.”
Bucky says, “What?” because, jeez, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman, face to face?
“Bela Lugosi’s playing the monster and Lon Chaney’s the Wolfman, of course. Ilona Massey’s in it, too, and she’s real pretty.”
“How’s Lugosi’s monster compared to Karloff?” Bucky asks.
“Well, I mean, Boris Karloff is Frankenstein’s monster forever, but Lugosi does a good job,” Steve tells him. "You want to go see it?“
"Hell yes, I do,” Bucky says. He holds up the magazine with it’s large picture of Maria Montez. "Like even she could compare to a good monster movie. Sheesh.“ They’d been twelve or thirteen when they’d gone to see Dracula and had come out of it so terrified they’d run most of the way home. They’d gone back to see it three more times.
Bucky doesn’t end up buying any drinks when they go to Archie’s Tavern because everybody else buys them for him. It had been Bucky’s regular bar before the war, the one all the guys from the mill headed towards after shift if they didn’t head straight home, and Bucky’d been sixteen the first time they’d taken him along and gotten him shitfaced and laughed their asses off when he could hardly stand up when it was time to go. He’d had drinks before, of course, had practically grown up on vodka, but he hadn’t been able to drink like the men drank, not then. He’d built up a tolerance eventually, but those first few months of keeping up with them had been rough.
They toast him, now, and he tells them war stories, the stupid shit, the stuff you say when you’re just blowing hot air. He says of course he killed a bunch of Japs. He describes the beaches of Hawaii and how great Australia was and he bullshits and lets everybody buy him drinks. He passes half the drinks to Steve and they’re both rolling in their shoes and laughing as they stumble towards The Lennox.
"No,” Bucky says, tugging on Steve’s arm when they’re a block away. "Food first.“
"We’re going to miss the start.”
Bucky waves his hand and says, “We’ve seen the first one already, we can miss the beginning. I need food. I’ll be quick.”
Steve says fine and they stumble into an automat where the girl at the front window frowns at Bucky as he asks for change. He says, “I just got back from Guadalcanal,” just to test a theory and it’s like they’re magic words. She smiles at him and gives him his nickels and doesn’t give a damn that he’s drunk anymore.
“Magic words,” Bucky says as he grabs a tray and carefully places his handful of nickels in the corner. "What do you want, hey, what do you want to eat?“
"Nothing,” Steve says even though he’s a drunk as Bucky is. He says, “I’m getting coffee, that’s all. You get what you want.”
Bucky sighs and turns towards the food. There’s nobody in there but them and a couple in a far booth. There’s food enough to feed an army. Bucky looks at the walls of gleaming glass and chrome and thinks what he would have given to have an automat in the jungle. Then he gets the image of coffee dispensers tucked into the kunai grass, bowls of tapioca pudding nestled in curls of bamboo, and he has to push down a sudden bark of laughter. He couldn’t explain to anyone else why it was funny if they asked, and soldiers laughing at nothing was never good.
He swallows down his laughter and runs his fingers over the pile of nickels on the corner of his tray, then picks a few up. He ends up with a chicken salad sandwich, a bologna sandwich with cheese, baked macaroni, creamed spinach, a slice of honeydew melon, pineapple cheese pie, lemon meringue pie, apple spice cake, and another bowl of macaroni for good measure.
Steve laughs when Bucky sets his tray down. "Just something quick, huh?“
Bucky says, "I couldn’t decide and I want to get my fill before I have to leave. I dreamed about this food, you know, about being able to just walk up and get something to eat any time I wanted. You’d think after a while of being hungry you’d get used to it, but it just gets worse, starts to be the only thing you can think about.”
Steve’s eyes flash dark and he stares down at his coffee to keep Bucky from having to bear the brunt of his angry glare. Bucky’d forgotten how quick Steve’s temper was. He says, “Then they should have fed you,” and his hand’s gripping the handle of his mug so tight he might crack it and Bucky gets the feeling that he wants to march down to Army headquarters and demand answers.
Bucky wants to cry a little bit at Steve’s ferocity. Fierce, brave Steve railing against what? Against nothing. Against the way the world was, things he could never change. Bucky says, “Hey, it’s all right, they fed us fine.”
Steve looks up at him with angry, disbelieving eyes, and Bucky knows what he must look like, halfway a skeleton in his too-big civilian clothes. He knows it’s plain to anyone who’d known him that he hadn’t fared too well, that his cheekbones are too sharp, now, that his skin’s stretched too tight over his bones.
He says, “They wanted to, all right? They didn’t starve us on purpose. We got cut off from the supply lines for a while is all. They were trying to get food and medicine through to us but the Japs kept blocking them at every turn, sunk a lot of ships. Lots of guys died trying to get us supplies, so don’t get mad like the Army wasn’t taking care of us. We were hungry, but I was lucky most of the guys weren’t city boys like me, knew how to hunt and fish. We roasted an alligator one night, even.”
Steve raises one eyebrow suspiciously.
Bucky digs into his baked macaroni and cheese, eats a few bites before saying, “Or a crocodile, I guess. I don’t know the difference between the two, tell you the truth. Oh, those were ugly bastards. Twenty feet long if he was a foot, I swear to you, and once he was dead, it took twenty of us to drag him up the bank so Hutch and Okie could gut and skin him, which I didn’t stick around for, I don’t mind saying. As far as I’m concerned, meat should come from the butcher’s the way God intended.”
“What’s it taste like?” Steve asks, and he’s still not quite sure Bucky’s telling him the truth.
“Different,” Bucky says. "Flakes like fish, but tastes more like chicken. A little sweeter. Not bad. Better than another goddamn coconut for dinner, that’s for sure.“ He kicks Steve under the table, then once more just to be a jerk. He says, "Eat your bologna sandwich.”
“It’s your bologna sandwich.”
Bucky says, “Don’t be ridiculous, I don’t even like bologna and cheese. I got it for you.”
Steve rolls his eyes, but he eats his bologna sandwich, plus one of the bowls of macaroni and all the lemon meringue pie.
The movie’s all right. It’s not as good as The Wolf Man, but hardly any movie could be. God, they’d been kids the first time they’d seen it. Bucky’d still been working at the mill and Steve’s mom hadn’t been gone but a few months, and the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor just days before, and Steve had wanted to go down to the recruitment center but Bucky had put him off.
He’d still had a mark on his shoulder from where Leo had bitten him when they were fucking. It had been the last time and they’d both known it. Leo had said, “I can’t do this anymore,” and Bucky’d said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to join the Army,” and that was it between them, but Bucky’d still had the mark on his shoulder and he was afraid the Army doctor’d be able to tell it came from another guy. He’d been afraid that a mark or the way he moved or something would give him away, so he’d put Steve off and they’d gone to see The Wolf Man instead.
The next week, he’d put Steve off by offering to give him boxing lessons. He knew the Army wouldn’t take Steve, but Steve didn’t, and Bucky’d put him off partly because of his own fear and partly because he hadn’t wanted to see the look of rejection of Steve’s face. He put Steve off for two weeks and then finally, the day before Christmas, he couldn’t put Steve off any longer and they’d gone down to the recruitment center and Steve had gotten his first 4F and Bucky’d gotten orders to report to Fort Dix the first week of January. Bucky’s mom had cried all Christmas day.
Steve talks nearly the whole walk home, the way he does sometimes when he’s got something he’s passionate about. He tells Bucky all about the special effects makeup and the lighting and all the other stuff they had to do to make the movie look so good, and Bucky just smokes and nods and listens. They near Archie’s Tavern on the walk home and Steve looks over at Bucky with a silent question. Bucky shakes his head and they don’t cross the street to go back inside and have another drink or ten.
They’re waiting at a corner for the streetlight to change when Bucky notices Steve looking at him out of the corner of his eye, like he’s sneaking a look. "What?“ Bucky asks. "I got something on my face?”
Steve shakes his head and doesn’t say anything. He offers Bucky the ghost of a smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes and he looks away, but it’s like he can’t help but look back after a few seconds.
Bucky says, “Yeah, I missed looking at your ugly mug, too.”
Steve looks like he’s about to say something, then he thinks better of it and sighs and stuffs his hands into his pockets and they continue home.
They’re climbing the wooden stairs when Steve asks, “Did you really kill somebody, Buck?”
Bucky rolls the burning end of his cigarette off on the railing and doesn’t look up and says, “Yes.” He tucks the butt into his pocket and opens the door and walks inside.
Steve finds his key after checking all his pockets and lets them into his place. Bucky can hear at least two different radio shows coming through the walls from the other apartments and some muffled conversation. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He wishes Steve hadn’t asked such a thing.
Steve says, “I’m sorry.”
Bucky says, “It’s all right. You get used to it after a while.”
Steve says, “Buck. I mean it. I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to ask.”
Bucky shrugs and says, “You’ve been stupider,” and manages to fake a smile. He’d practiced in the mirror in Melbourne. The trick was remembering to crinkle the corners of your eyes at the same time so it looked real. He turns on Steve’s radio and lets it warm up for a minute before tuning in some music. He leaves it on low, then makes a show of settling down with one of Steve’s movie magazines.
Steve says, “Bucky.”
Bucky looks up at him and says, “Don’t you have homework for that class you’re taking at your fancy art school?”
Steve says, “We’re doing portraits.”
Bucky says, “Then knock ‘em dead with this kisser,” and gestures to his own face. When Steve rolls his eyes, Bucky says, “I’m not kidding. How many guys you met in your entire life who were more handsome than me?”
Steve raises one eyebrow and says, “All of them,” and that makes Bucky laugh for real and the pressure in his chest eases and he can breathe just fine as he settles into reading about the love lives of movie stars and Steve gets out his sketchbook and starts drawing.
Steve draws for a long time and Bucky gets caught up on all the Hollywood gossip he could ever want to know in his entire life and eventually it’s late enough that the radio goes off the air and they’re both yawning and Bucky strips out of his shirt and Steve heads over to his closet and pulls down his winter bedding. He folds the heavy quilt in half and lays it on the floor, folds the blanket to make a pillow, drapes it all with a flannel sheet. Bucky knows Steve’s planning to be the one to sleep on the floor, which isn’t going to happen, not when a clean, dry pallet on the floor is Bucky’s idea of luxury.
Bucky waits because he’s patient like that. They both take turns in the bathroom down the hall and they both strip down to their shorts and undershirts and Bucky waits until the last second before Steve tries to lay down and he lunges and picks Steve up with both arms.
Steve hates it when Bucky picks him up, and if Bucky dares to set him down gently he’ll get steaming mad, so Bucky doesn’t. He flips Steve upside down and gets a good poke into his ribs and drops him onto his mattress face first because Steve being mad at him for being a jerk is always easier to handle than Steve being mad at him for treating him like he’s small.
While Steve curses and tries to right himself, Bucky climbs into the pallet Steve’d made and yawns exaggeratedly, then snuggles up and says, “Mine.”
Steve looks over the edge of the bed and says, “You’re an asshole.”
Bucky beams up at him.
“I could take the floor.”
“So you shouldn’t have to.”
“Don’t have to,” Bucky tells him. "Chose to. You gonna kick a poor GI out of his chosen bed, Stevie?“
Steve flops back down on the bed out of Bucky’s sight, muttering, "Such an asshole. Won’t let me do one nice thing for you, will you?”
“Nope,” Bucky says. "You ever ask Irene McTaggart out?“
"You know I didn’t.”
Bucky sighs wearily.
“Can you lay off?” Steve demands. "Can you just lay off for one goddamn night?“
He sounds really sore about it, so Bucky says, "Sure.” One night, sure, but he’s going to have to find Steve a girl pretty soon. Steve needs somebody to look after him, not because he can’t look after himself but because he deserves to have somebody to love, somebody who loves him and won’t ever leave his side. Bucky’s going to have to be the one to find him a girl, though, because Steve’s awful with women when left to his own devices. He gets so nervous that he won’t even look at a girl or talk to her with more than one word answers, which makes him come off like a first class jerk who’s not interested, so of course no girls are ever interested in him. But Bucky said he’d lay off for one night, so he will.
The setup on the floor actually is really comfortable and Bucky’s body is tired and it feels so good to stretch out and not move and be clean and dry.
“Bucky?” Steve asks softly after a few minutes. "Are you asleep?“
"No,” Bucky says even though he’s mostly there.
“What kind of rags do they put in their hair? Wash rags? And what for?”
Bucky smiles at that. He says, “They’re just strips of old fabric. Girls with straight hair rip old fabric into strips and then wind their hair around them, tie it at the top in a knot. Then they sleep on 'em and in the morning, their hair’s curly where they rolled it up.”
Steve says, “Oh. Oh, that’s what that’s for?”
“That’s what that’s for,” Bucky says, and then he’s asleep.
He’s suffocating and he’s running and he’s slamming through a thick bamboo forest, running as fast as he can but the leaves are cutting his face and the trunks are growing so close together he can barely squeeze through and there’s someone right behind him and, Jesus, he’s making so much noise, he’s trying to be quiet but he’s making so much noise and over and over again he feels a hand on his shoulder, grabbing at him, feels hands pulling at his ankles and his arms and his gun is jammed and he fumbles for his knife and drops it and there’s an entire battalion behind him and they’re going to catch him, he can’t get away, they’re going to catch him and cut his dick off and stuff it in his mouth, and they have him, they’re grabbing him, they’re–
“Bucky!” Steve’s saying close to his ear, shaking him.
Bucky’s eyes pop open and he doesn’t move. Steve’s leaning over him, wide eyed and concerned. The touch of his hand burns hot on Bucky’s skin. Bucky’s sucking wind like he’s been running for days. He remembers how to move after a moment, pushes Steve’s hand off his arm, sits up and shakes his head at the bits of the dream still sticking to him like cobwebs. He stands up and he’s okay. He walks to the far side of the room and leans over with his hands on his knees. He’s all right.
“You were screaming,” Steve says, “screaming and crying something awful.”
“Just a nightmare,” Bucky says, trying to catch his breath. He’s home. He’s in the world. He’s safe. His undershirt’s soaked through with sweat, though, and he peels it off and tosses it to the corner as he breathes.
He’s fine. He’s in Steve’s place. There’s a wooden floor strong under his feet and it’s a little stuffy in the room with the window closed, is all. He can breathe just fine.
“Must have been some nightmare.”
“Yeah,” he says. "Yeah, I dreamed Whit Wyatt got purchased by the Yankees.“ He gets up and opens the window, sits on the sill and hesitates before he lights his cigarette. It’s the middle of the night, but there are no snipers in the buildings across the way waiting to pick him off the second he gives away his position.
"What was it like?” Steve asks in a whisper.
“I wish I–”
“No you don’t,” Bucky snaps, and there must be something awful about the way he says it because Steve just looks back at him with wide eyes like he’s afraid. But maybe it’s not the way Bucky said it that scared Steve, maybe it’s just Bucky himself. Maybe Steve’s looking at him like that because he caught a glimpse of the way Bucky is on the inside.
Bucky turns his face away and smokes and tries to keep his hands from shaking. "You think it’s fucking noble?“ he asks once he trusts his voice not to crack. "You think it’s a fucking lark? You jealous of me because I got to slog around in the goddamn asshole of the world killing Japs?”
Steve says, “Better men than me have died and I don’t have any right to sit here safe at home while you and other guys put yourselves in danger.”
Bucky sighs. Steve still thinks war’s some kind of noble game. He thinks he knows what it really is, but he doesn’t. Bucky hadn’t, either, not until he was in it.
Bucky pulls his bare feet up onto the window sill and looks down at them, runs his hand over the skin even though he knows they’re fine. He says, “I’m jealous as hell of you. All the guys are. Bucky’s friend Steve with the heart condition, they say, what a lucky fuck he is. And I don’t give a damn if that hurts your pride. It’d break something in me if I had to watch you get sucked down into the shit with the rest of us. You’re better than that.”
“I’m really not.”
“Fuck you, yes you fucking are, you stupid fuck.”
Steve laughs and says, “You talk like you’re in the Army or something.”
Bucky laughs, too. There’s nothing else he can do about it. Steve’d never listen, not even if Bucky could explain why it’s so important to him that Steve stays safe, untouched, above it all. He says, “You think I still look thin?”
Steve shakes his head, but it’s a lie. Bucky’s put a good amount of weight back on, but he used to be stronger. He used to be able to work ten-hour days at the steel mill and come home none the worse for wear.
Bucky says, “I lost about thirty pounds before we got to Melbourne. Know what we really ate over there? Crocodile one night, sure, but mostly rice thick with bugs and maggots. Tins of fish, sometimes, or fish heads. Ration bars. Sometimes dehydrated potatoes. So many goddamn coconuts that if I even see a piece of coconut cream pie I’ll probably throw up. I only got dysentery once, thank God. The malaria wasn’t too bad. Most of the times I got it, it was okay. You just ache a little and have a fever and sweat a lot, but I got the bone cracker one of the times. Thought I’d shake right out of my skin. You think you would have made it through that?”
Steve sets his jaw. He hates how fragile his body is, but he also knows his limitations. He says, “I’m not weak.”
“I know that. I know you’re not. I also know that heart of yours doesn’t work the way it should. If it was about guts, yeah, you’ve got twenty times the nerve of most guys so you’ll keep going no matter how hard it is for you, I know that. But it’s not guts, Steve. It’s goddamn miserable and that’s not even counting the times you’re getting shot at. We watch out for our own, but nobody can push you up that hill. Nobody can pull you through the mud. The guys in your unit would have to carry you every time your body gave out, don’t look at me like that, I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just saying how it is.”
“I pull my own weight,” Steve whispers, and he’s so angry his hands are shaking.
Bucky sighs and tosses his cigarette into the street below. He rolls his shoulders, then stands with his arms hanging at his sides. He says, “Come on, then.”
“I’m not going to hit you, Buck.”
“You’re aching to take a swing, so take it. First one’s free. Second one’ll cost you.”
Steve looks like he’s thinking about it. Then he shakes his head and grinds his fist into the mattress. "I got no right sitting here safe when so many other guys are risking everything.“
Bucky sighs. He sits down next to Steve close enough that their shoulders are touching. They’ve had to agree to disagree before, but never about something so important. He knows what Steve won’t say, that he’s embarrassed, that it burns him up inside when people look at him and see his frail outsides instead of his iron will and determination to always do right. He feels humiliated walking around with a 4F, like it’s been branded into his skin for everyone to see. And it’s not just anybody telling Steve he’s unworthy, it’s the goddamn Army, which Steve sees as some fucking pinnacle of humanity, something to strive to be a part of.
Growing up, Bucky never knew exactly how goddamn delusional Steve was for worshipping the Army the way he did. It seemed normal at the at the time, and Bucky couldn’t fault a guy for wanting to be like his dad. Steve says the words, “Private First Class Joseph Rogers,” and, “107th Infantry,” like they’re prayers. He doesn’t know what Bucky knows, doesn’t know what it actually means to be goddamn infantry, nothing but meat thrown into the grinder. Steve’s father didn’t die a glorious death, but how’s Bucky supposed to tell him that? How’s Bucky supposed to tear down the one thing that Steve’s always believed in?
"Aw, hell,” Bucky says. "You wanna get drunk?“
"It’s two o'clock in the morning.”
“Perfect time, then. You got whiskey?”
Steve nods and tips his head towards the kitchen cupboards.
Bucky pours them both a good three fingers worth and brings the bottle back to Steve’s bed so he won’t have to get up again when he wants more. He raises his glass and says, “To Brooklyn.”
“To Brooklyn,” Steve says softly.
They don’t get roaring drunk, just drunk enough to settle Bucky’s nerves and make him willing to sleep again. He doesn’t climb back down onto his pallet on the floor, just elbows Steve and says, “Shove over.”
Steve elbows him back and says, “You shove over,” and they laugh and shove at each other as they settle into bed side by side, sharing the same pillow the same way they’d done as kids. The last thing Bucky hears before he falls asleep is Steve’s soft snore.