Timothy Aloysius Cadwaller Dugan didn’t sign up for this shit. He’d joined the damned war effort before anyone, got himself over to Britain and got enlisted, that’s what. Didn’t wait for Pearl Harbor, didn’t wait for no Japs, gave up his circus act, got himself orders and a gun and got himself killing Nazis. Killing lots of Nazis. Dugan had been in the Italian theater for two years before the rest of the Yanks showed up, green boys, draftees. And there wasn’t nothing that got under his collar hotter than some ninety-day wonder fucking up and pissing his pants and almost getting him killed, or worse, fucking up and giving an order that would get him killed.
…and now this. Some damned Buffalo Soldier strolling through camp like he owned the place. Worse, had the gall to stand next to him in formation the next morning. Piece of shit.
“Didn’t sign up for this shit,” Dugan muttered under his breath.
From the front of the ranks, their drill instructor frowned. Stalked over, stood not a foot in front of him, gave him the once over, then a wide, crooked smile. It didn’t reach his eyes.“You got something you wanna share with the class, doll?” he drawled.
“Didn’t sign up for this shit,” Dugan repeated.
“I said I volunteered to be a soldier. I didn’t volunteer for this shit.” Pause. “Sir.”
And that uppity little shit took another step closer, stood so close Dugan could almost fucking feel him, count every single one of his eyelashes. Girl’s eyelashes, Dugan chuckled to himself. Little fairy couldn’t scare him. “And what shit would that be?”
Dugan looked pointedly to his left. Through the ranks there was a murmur of assent.
“Oh,” the Sergeant laughed, stepped back, put up a hand in apology. But you’d be a fucking idiot to think it was real laughter. “You got a problem with him?” Blue eyes flashed. “What’s your name, Private?”
“Jones, sir. Gabe Jones,” the Buffalo said, eyes forward, smartly at attention. “92nd Infantry. All black, all proud, sir.”
“All black, all proud,” the Sergeant chuckled, turned back to Dugan. “And what do you have to say to that?”
Fuck you, fucker. “This ain’t the 92nd,” Dugan continued, loud enough for the entire parade ground to hear.
But Sergeant Smartass DoeEyes wasn’t done yet. “Private Jones gave up a spot at university to stand next to your sorry ass, private. He’s the best damn radio-man I’ve ever heard of. Got him on special loan from the 92nd Infantry ‘cause the Krauts have learned to cripple our communications, got their rifle men looking for radio boys like Jones. Jonesy-here was single-handedly selected to serve whereas I don’t know you from the shitter. What do you have to say to that, private?”
“Nigger university. Sir.”
“You hear that, Jones?” the Sergeant asked. “What’s your name, private.”
“I ought to let him fight you, Dugan. But that’d only make you hate him more when he licks your ass, and all the low lifes like you’ll just hound him, find him some night and put him in his place. So tell you what, champ, you’re gonna fight me instead.”
“You heard me, Dugan. You’re going to fight me. You lick me, you keep calling Jones here a nigger and I don’t say a word about it. I lick you, and you owe private Jones an apology, and ain’t no one gets to call him that again.”
Dugan looked this uppity little shit over. Some dumb city-slicker, Brooklyn-born and bred, probably a damn draftee with his fairy eyes and his stupid swagger. Dugan had been a Strong Man, for fuck’s sakes. Tough as an ox, and heavy as one, too. Never lost a fight in his life. Sarge here didn’t stand a fucking chance. “You got it, Sarge.”
And before he could drop to stance, do anything more than grin, the little fuck swung back and jabbed him straight in the nuts. Dugan let out a yelp, staggered back, clutching himself and snarling.
The fucking Sergeant fought fucking dirty, the little shit! “That was a dirty move, Sarge!”
“This is war, shithead!” God, but the fucker had stance like a boxer, sent a fist right into his face, and he like an idiot didn’t have an arm up because his hands were still trying to find his fucking balls, let alone clutch them. He felt his nose break, saw blood and stars. Let out a roar and tried to get to his feet, cold adrenaline taking over, but there was blood in his eyes and they were swelling up and all he could do was stagger.
Sarge ducked under his punch. Sent one straight to his gut. Fuckin’ danced around then did a sweet little combo to the back of his head, had his ears ringing like hell.
“Fuck!” Dugan roared. Clamored up again.
Sarge got a small foot under his, tripped him, sent him sprawling. Hit the ground, hard, wind knocked out of him, took a kick to the head, the gut, the balls all over again. Little bastard was raining blows down on him like the Blitzkrieg. Hot damn, the little fairy could fucking fight!
…still. In a fair fight, Dugan’d take him flat. Told him as much.
“Fuck you, Dugan!” Sarge put a fist through his face, grabbed him by his neck and shook him, bony knee in his balls “There’s no fair! There’s not some referee! No illegal moves! This here’s the man who’s gonna have you back, gonna have your six, gonna call in your orders, this man here’s the only lifeline back to camp, back to home you got! You really wanna go pissin’ him off, calling him nigger?” Barnes shouted, hit him again. Dugan swore he felt some teeth rattle loose. “That’s right, asshole, you’re in the army now!”
“Sarge! That’s enough!” Jones’ baritone voice rang sharply.
Aw, hell no, Dugan thought thought the haze of pain and shock of surprise. Anyone but him.
But surprisingly—miraculously, even—Sarge stopped. “You think so, Stevie?” he asked coolly.
“Sir?” Jones asked.
“Alright. What about you, Dugan? We good here?” the Sergeant asked, standing briskly. And fuck, was Dugan thankful that weight was out of his balls. Sarge here was a lean little fucker, deceptively heavy, and Dugan was gonna need those later. “We clear? All of us? Dismissed!”
There were murmurs of dissent, of course, whole parade ground full of dissatisfied soldiers, hungry, sick, tired, and far away from home. Now they had this bullshit to deal with on top of it all. Typical, Dugan groaned. Just typical. Made a man want to up and run away, join the fucking circus.
Dugan let his head fall back. Gave out a groan.
“Hey, man,” Jones’ voice. “I got you.”
“You got some mean friends, Jonesy.”
“I ain’t his friend,” the Sergeant growled. ”I just hate bullies. Don’t care who they’re picking on. So you’d best change your tune, Dugan, or I’ll beat the living piss out of you.”
“Who the hell are you?” Dugan blinked, trying to clear his sight.
“Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. Welcome to the 107th. Now get some grub, and try not to make a such an ass out of yourself.”
“Did that just—“
‘It happened, man,” Jones offered him a hand, uncertain smile on his handsome features.
“Well. Fuck me,” Dugan took it. Let himself be dragged to his feet.
“I’d rather not.”
Dugan chuckled despite himself, brought a hand to wipe his still-streaming nose. Got blood fucking everywhere. “You really go to university?”
“Well. Fuck,” Dugan shook his head, still hearing ringing and seeing stars. “You’re a college boy. How ‘bout that.”
“That your idea of an apology, Dugan?”
“Go easy on a fella,” Dugan moaned as Jones stopped him from stumbling. “Already got my ass handed to me once today, Jones. Gotta conserve what’s left of my pride.”
“Man, fuck your pride. You need a medic.”
“Alright, Jonesy. Medic it is then.”
And that, Dugan would tell his children and his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren and the one great-great grandchild he got to meet, was the story of how Poppy met Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes. He hated the little fucker at first sight, but hey, he was a simple man, and anyone who could hand him his ass like that. Well. Timothy Dugan was a man’s man, and putting his ass out cold on the ground was no small feat. And that deserved respect.
…also, don’t be racist. No, seriously, kids. It doesn't make you cool, it just made you an asshole. That’s all.
Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes was a strict disciplinarian, brilliant tactician, brave soldier, born leader, and all around smug little son of a bitch. He was also, Colonel Chester Phillips sighed, a royal pain in his ass. Christ Almighty, he thanked the Lord everyday that Barnes and Carter had never met.
And now here that fool was, standing dripping in his tent, shoulders at a brisk attention, with a look of laughter tugging those lips. Phillips didn’t consider himself a violent man, per se, but there was something about the bastard that made him want to take a swing. Every. Single. Damned. Time. Perhaps it was the swagger. The easy confidence. The constant cigarettes and swearing. The bootlegged booze, late night poker games, and incessant flirting. Thank God and the US military for army issue condoms, or half the WACs in Europe would be pregnant, and half the bastards would be Barnes’, he was sure of it.
“Sir.” Son of a bitch didn’t even have the decency to wipe the smirk off his face. Barnes got under his skin, and worse, Barnes knew it. Toed the letter of every line, tested the waters at every encounter just to see how close he could get. Sighing, Phillips removed his glasses. Rubbed his eyes. He did not have time or the patience for this little shit. Not today.
“You sneak a black man onto my base and have the gall to stand there smirking,” he began.
“Didn’t sneak him. Sir. You signed,” Barnes reminded, unhelpfully.
“I did,” he agreed, frown deepening. Signed the damned transfer orders for a new radio man without even blinking or reading the damned paperwork and lived to fucking regret it. “That said, the hell are you thinking, son?”
“Needed a radioman, sir. Needed one now. Jones was the closest.” Then, still smirking that shit-eating grin of his. “Sir.”
“This is going to get ugly. And you know it.”
“I can get uglier. Sir.”
“See that you do,” Phillips frowned. “And Sergeant?”
“Don’t let Jones eat in the mess tent. One war’s enough, and I’m already losing.”
“That an order, sir?”
Phillips replaced his glasses. Looked over the frames with as much menace as he could muster. “It’s not polite suggestion, if that’s what you’re asking, son.”
“With all due respect, sir, fuck you.”
There was silence. For a long, long time. “Barnes?”
“Don’t try my patience, son.”
“Yessir. No sir. Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Barnes gave a picture perfect salute, turned on his heel, and waltzed away. Yes, waltzed. Phillips came out of these encounters with an ulcer every single goddamned time. And Sergeant James Barnes? Barnes got away with a spring in his step, the bastard.