A/N: Hello! So I finally decided to try my hand at a CA fic. I'm sort of using it as a vehicle to practice some character development and consistency. Also, I just really wanted to write a historical romance.
So, I've been doing quite a bit of research on WWII and I hope that comes through in the details of this story, particularly related to the military. I've bent a few of the facts and will continue to do so because part of Marvel's cinematic timeline does not match with the actual timeline of WWII. But I figure it's a fanfic…so that's okay. If you do notice some glaring historical inaccuracies, please let me know though!
In the meantime, hope you like this! It's going to be a semi-slow burn, taking place over the grand landscape of the Italian Campaign and Bucky's time with the Howling Commandos.
Disclaimer – I don't own anything affiliated with the Marvel universe. I also do not own Guiness or Band-Aid. I do however, own Sadie and her giggling friends.
Chapter One – Meetings and Marching Orders
A cloud of smoke created a haze in the entryway of Donovan's. Already the bar was packed to the gills with patrons, a mix of civilian and military alike. Drab green uniforms clashed against dark suits, white shirts, and floral print dresses. Dark wood paneled the walls, lined with the dings and dents from bar fights, bets gone awry, and years of loving use. Lazy piano music drifted from the back, carrying forward, barely audible over the din of the crowd.
Bucky Barnes stood in the doorway, a wide grin stretching across his face. After weeks of training and waiting in a shithole barrack in Camp Kilmer, he was back in Brooklyn where he belonged. Free for four days of leave before reporting to receive his orders, he straightened his tie and marched into the bar with purpose. In the grand scheme of things for days and nights was nothing and Bucky intended to soak up every second of his precious last hours in Brooklyn before shipping out to God-only-knew-where for God-only-knew-how-long to do God-only-knew-what. Determined not to let that show he cut his way through the crowd, looking for his company for the evening.
The grin on his face stretched wider, if possible. True to his word, Steve Rogers had managed to stretch his tiny figure out just enough to save an extra spot at the bar. A full pint of Guinness was already waiting, calling to Bucky like a siren to a sailor. Steve spotted him as he broke through the snarled knot of a crowd and he smiled broadly.
"Still haven't grown an inch, have you?" Bucky said by way of greeting as Steve got to his feet. Throwing pretense to the wind, Bucky pulled Steve into a bear hug, thumping him hard on the back.
"And you're still a jerk," replied Steve, repeating Bucky's actions.
"It's good to see you! How's life been treating you?" They separated and Bucky dropped onto a barstool.
"Same ole', same ole'," said Steve and he held up his pint glass to Bucky. Clinking the pints together, Bucky tipped his head to his best friend before taking a long draw of his beer. He stared at his pint with new appreciation, after going months without a good drink he now knew the full value of what he'd been missing out on. "How was Camp Kilmer?"
It was almost impossible not to hear the jealousy dripping from Steve's voice. Shifting uncomfortably in his stool, Bucky shrugged. "More tactical training, more mind-numbing lessons on map-reading, hand signals, language, customs. God awful food and not nearly enough pretty girls," he said and leaned back to watch a petite blonde cross the scarce open space, only to join her date for the evening.
Slowly, Steve nodded and stared pensively into his drink. Bucky fought the urge to roll his eyes. If brooding over the impossible were an art, Steve would have long perfected it by now. "Well it's better than kicking around here."
Now Bucky did roll his eyes. Dropping a firm hand on Steve's shoulder, he squeezed it. "Being one of the last few single guys in a city full of gorgeous women? I beg to differ my friend. Besides, I haven't seen you in months and all you wanna talk about is the shitty food at Camp Kilmer?"
Steven cracked the ghost of a smile and Bucky shook him by the shoulder, trying to imbue some cheer into him. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Steve. Both of them watched a couple of girls at a nearby table, gossiping over the tops of their glasses. One of them eyed Bucky and he flashed a winning smile. "Not even back five minutes and you're already lining up tomorrow's date."
Chuckling, Bucky watched as the young girl turned a brilliant shade of red and giggled wildly, turning to her friend. Deciding to put the charm on her friend and broker a way into conversation with both of them, he offered a smile for the other girl, only to be met by a harsh gaze. Shaking his head, he turned away and refocused his attention on Steve. "Not if her friend is giving us the evil eye. I can't go off and leave you to the wolves. Besides, she's not my type anyway."
Steve snorted in unamused laughter. "You have a type? Aside from beautiful and breathing?"
Bucky groaned and slapped his hands on the bar, drumming his palms on the lacquered surface. Pointing an accusatory finger at Steve, he grinned. "Yeah, you're a real riot, Rogers. One of these days I'm gonna be the one to take you out back and beat you up."
His cheek did the trick and Steve laughed, finally relaxing. They'd been this way since Bucky could remember. At some point in their relationship it became obvious that Bucky had raced ahead, but he'd been determined to never leave Steve behind. And so they were the way they were, Steve indulged in self-deprecating comments and Bucky verbally knocked sense into him.
"Hey, I wasn't the one with a different girl every week in high school."
"It wasn't every week. Besides, the odds are about to stack way in your favor."
"You know what I think?" Said Steve after he swallowed the last of his pint and slid the empty glass across the bar, motioning to the bartender for two more. "I think one of these days you're going to meet a girl you can't charm and you're going to fall hook, line, and sinker for her."
Bucky tossed his head back and laughed. "You're so full of it," he said.
But Steve could not be dissuaded. "Just you wait, she's gonna strike you like lightning."
For a few minutes everything in the world was right. Bucky could pretend that he wasn't going to receive his orders any day now. For just a few days he could act like going to war didn't terrify him to no end. Just for now he could spend the night getting drunk with his best friend, reliving memories and making up for lost time.
"How about you meet Mrs. Steve Rogers first and show me how it's done."
Steve laughed and shook his head. "Speaking of women that probably don't exist."
The bartender brought over two fresh pints and Bucky lifted his aloft. "Well, then, I propose a toast to the non-existent future Mrs. Rogers and Barnes."
They clinked their glasses and descended into the night's madness.
X X X
Three days later, Bucky woke with a pounding head. He smelled like he'd bathed in Irish whiskey and cigarette smoke, an unfortunate byproduct of being drug to one of the largest dance halls in the city. Last night's date, Holly, wanted to meet up with her other friends, all of whom had managed to wrangle soldiers of their own for the evening. The end result found Bucky sitting with a group of enlisteds with their heads shoved where the sun didn't shine, talking tall about all the Nazis they were going to kill, right up to Hitler's front door. Given that his date had unceremoniously dumped him for her giggling friends, Bucky found his only other recourse was to get rip-roaring drunk and stumble home at an ungodly hour.
Groaning, he rolled over in bed and stared blankly at the ceiling. Outside of his half-open window, he could hear the sounds of the city. New York would always be bustling, no matter the time or season. Bucky lay still for several minutes, wondering how long it would be before he was back in Brooklyn for good. He checked the time on his wrist-watch, he had just enough time to shower up and eat before reporting to the New York Port of Embarkation for a final physical and his orders.
"Hey!" A voice from the doorway alerted Bucky that he was not alone.
Steve stood there, straightening his wide tie.
"What?" He groaned.
"Get up, I'll buy lunch."
The prospect of free food was enough to get Bucky up and moving. A hot shower did wonders to assuage his pounding headache. Bucky stood under the running water for a long time. It could be several months until his next shower.
For days now Bucky had spent his time trying to enjoy the little luxuries of life. At the same time he found himself agonizing over what he would be giving up. No more hot showers, no more good food, no more bed. These things he could do without. But the prospect of terrible coffee and no beautiful women for months on end? Now that was his idea of miserable.
Twenty minutes later, Bucky found himself staring at the mirror over his small dresser in his small apartment. Grimacing, he pulled at the collar of his drab olive shirt. He was required to wear his Class A's only to be forced to strip down for his final exam and then dress back up again to receive his orders. The entire system seemed grossly inefficient. Tilting his head to the side, Bucky examined his reflection. Loathe as he was to admit it, the uniform made him look good, respectable even. He stood a little straighter in his jacket and adjusted the belt that made his shoulders look broader than they actually were.
"Wow, you almost look like an upstanding citizen," remarked Steve from the doorway of Bucky's room. He was agitated, Bucky didn't even have to turn around to look at Steve to know. Jealousy practically permeated the air and continued to forge and even large chasm between them. On the one or two occasions where Bucky imagined what could possibly drive a wedge in their friendship, he always figured it would be a woman or a job that would take one of them away from Brooklyn. Never in a hundred years did Bucky imagine that the Goddamn army would be the culprit of their current predicament.
"Almost," noted Bucky.
He picked up his peaked cap and set it atop his head, straight as an arrow. It looked all wrong, too respectable. Carefully he tilted it off to the side, giving him a nice devil-may-care aura.
"Come on Sarge, let's go get something to eat before you fall in love with your own reflection."
Two hours later, Bucky strode into the large medical pavilion at the NYPOE. Tomorrow morning he would return here for a completely different reason. In the distance he could already see the massive troopships awaiting the thousands of soldiers in New York. Many of them were luxury cruise liners, repainted and repurposed for the cheerful job of carrying America's finest to war. In the morning he would be on one of those ships, headed to battle and praying to God that the guy in the foxhole next to him wasn't a total idiot.
But that was tomorrow.
"Name?" Bucky's legs had carried him to the initial check-in point without his realizing it.
"James Barnes." Bucky used his real name so seldom it sounded almost foreign on his tongue.
"Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, report to waiting area five for your medical exam. A nurse will give you further instruction after." Bucky nodded stiffly to the attendant and he walked off, down a main thoroughfare to waiting area five.
Bucky had never been on a ranch, but he imagined a cattle drive had to be similar to the way the army herded men from point A to point B. Several rows of chairs were contained in his designated waiting area, the seats sporadically filled with other enlisted men. He didn't even want to know how old some of them were, they looked like kids in his eyes. Not that twenty-six was that old, there was still a lot of living he wanted to do.
Ahead of the waiting area he could see several rolling partitions had been linked together, forming a continuous row of small private examination spaces. A small desk sat outside each space, stacked high with charts, one for each soldier. Bucky's eyes wandered to the individuals manning each station. A lazy smile tugged at his lips.
God's gift to soldiers everywhere.
He tried to get a good look at the nurses performing examinations in his area. A few blondes milled about the area, but none of them caught his eye. Bucky had never been one for blondes.
"Goddamn, get a load of her," muttered a guy next to him.
"Huh?" Asked Bucky stupidly.
"The blonde right over there." The guy pointed to a petite nurse with carefully pinned blonde curls, cherry red lips and a perfect hourglass shape. "What a knockout. If I was her man I'd never let her out of my sight."
But Bucky wasn't even paying attention to the blonde. His eyes slipped to the right and his mouth dropped open by a tiny fraction. The blonde was a distant memory in comparison to her companion. Bucky had always been partial to brunettes and this nurse was no exception to the rule. From a distance Bucky drank in the woman's rich chocolate brown hair, pulled into a chignon at the nape of her neck, perfectly curled beneath her pristine white cap. She too wore bright red lipstick, highlighting her full bottom lip. Perhaps her cheekbones were a fraction high and her chin too stubborn for true beauty, but Buck would be damned if he wasn't mesmerized by her brilliant grey eyes.
"Her friend's not so bad either," he said slowly.
The brunette nurse smiled at something her blonde friend said and Bucky's heart started thudding hard in his chest. "Jesus Christ, why don't they put their pictures in the brochures? Men would be falling all over themselves to join up."
X X X
"So what happened after that?" Betty Parsons asked, hanging on the every word of her companion Evelyn Thompson.
"Oh, he put on the big song and dance about leaving for war without a sweetheart of his own. I let him go on for a couple more dances and got another sidecar out of the deal before I split to meet up with you again." Betty giggled wildly, sending a few sprays of her blonde curls everywhere.
"You're awful, don't you think so, Sadie?"
"Hmm?" Sadie Reid asked, tearing her full attention from the stack of charts she'd yet to get through. With Betty and Evelyn gossiping at the station next to hers it was almost impossible to concentrate. Already the afternoon as growing late and a fresh wave of soldiers were awaiting their medical exams and vaccinations before receiving their orders to ship out.
"Last night? Evelyn's impromptu date?"
Sadie snorted in unattractive laughter. When did Evelyn not have a date? Her perfectly curled red hair and perfect hourglass frame attracted men like a beacon. "Well, he probably deserved it," she said, knowing from experience that Evelyn also tended to attract a certain brand of idiot.
"Awh Sade you're just saying that. He was pretty cute though," said Evelyn and shrugged.
"I'm sure you'll find a better replacement tonight," she said, prompting another round of wicked laughter from her friends. A vague smile tugged at her lips. "At least do the next one a favor and buy your own drinks."
Sadie raised a hand to check that her white nurses' hat was still pinned securely in place. She would have loved for nothing more than to spend the remainder of the fine afternoon outside, soaking the warm afternoon. But relaxation would have to wait. Instead she stuck her hand in the pocket of her white dress and rubbed her thumb over the medal of Saint Agatha. Her father had given her the silver medallion when she'd been accepted to nursing school.
Betty sorted her charts and turned the conversation to the World Fair tonight. Betty and Evelyn were gravely concerned about whether they should wear their hair up or down. Sadie gave her opinions when necessary before re-directing their attention to work. Evelyn scuttled back to her station to begin her next round of exams. Each man needed a simple physical and any vaccines he hadn't already received. Betty let out an exaggerated sigh, but Sadie grabbed the first of her charts, happy to at least have a full afternoon of work to dive into.
"Did you know I saw in the papers that Howard Stark is going to be putting on an exhibition tonight," said Betty. Sadie cast a sideways glance to her friend. "He's so handsome in all his pictures in the paper."
"Well, maybe if we get finished in time we'll be able to make it before Evie drags us to the Carriage Club or wherever she thinks her prospects are best."
"Yours too, you know it wouldn't kill you to go out with someone too."
Sadie chuckled. "You know how I feel about dating soldiers."
"I know, I know you've said it a hundred times. You didn't join the army to end up an army wife."
Sadie looked out at the men sitting in several rows of chairs at their designated check-in area. Each one of them was dressed down to their drab green slacks and white undershirts, dog tags shining on their chests. The strings of Sadie's heart pulled as she evaluated their faces. They were all so young, many of them younger than her own tender twenty-three years. Pursing her lips, she pushed the thought from her mind and looked down at the name on her first file.
"Hopkins, Roger!" She called out.
A young man stood, his back ramrod straight. Sadie stared at the picture on the file to compare, examining his coif of curly black hair and shining brown eyes. Opening his chart, she felt her chest deflate. He was only nineteen. "If you don't mind."
"Of course not, ma'am," he said and strode forward, chest thrown out. Sadie found that she often liked the youngest recruits the best. Usually they were too scared or too close to their mothers to disrespect the nurses the way the older non-commissioned officers did. Private Roger Hopkins walked behind the rolling dividers that joined up to form the small examination space that Sadie used to get through each physical.
"Have a seat Mr. Hopkins," she gestured to the examination table. Private Hopkins obliged her request, thus beginning another long afternoon.
By the time four in the afternoon rolled around, Sadie was in desperate need of either a cup of coffee or a drink, she couldn't exactly tell which. Her back was stiff from standing for so long and her feet ached in the white shoes given to the nursing staff. If she had to endure another cheeky comment about how if all the nurses looked like her then war wasn't so bad, Sadie was going to pull her hair out. Wearily, she glanced at the next file. Another Sergeant.
Nobody stood immediately, piquing Sadie's attention and irritation.
"Barnes! James!" She shouted over the din of the pavilion.
At length a young man lifted his chin. His eyes found her and almost immediately the corner of his mouth turned up in a lopsided grin, revealing straight white teeth. Rising to his feet, Sadie's annoyance only grew as he walked—no, swaggered—over to her, taking his sweet time. A too-innocent light gleamed in his blue eyes, set over devastating cheekbones. Oh, he was handsome alright, thought Sadie. And he knew it. Confidence bordering on arrogance practically exuded from him, as he shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled up to Sadie, not even bothering to hide the way his eyes took a casual flick from the top of her head down to her feet and back.
"Nurse," he said, practically dripping charm all over the floor.
It took every ounce of Sadie's considerable willpower to keep from rolling her grey eyes. As the young sergeant waltzed past Sadie into the private exam area she actually heard Betty sigh. Whipping around, Sadie found her friend holding a chart against her chest watching Sergeant Barnes with rapt attention. Now Sadie did roll her eyes, beyond unamused.
"I can't believe I joined the army for this," she muttered under her breath. Steeling herself for the exam to come, Sadie flipped open the chart and began reading the information. James Buchanan Barnes, read the top line of his chart. Twenty-six years old, 5' 11", 159 pounds, finished basic training with distinction, peak physical condition, these were all phrases Sadie had seen before pertaining to men just like Sergeant Barnes. "Well Sergeant Barnes, it looks like this is your last stop before picking up your shipping orders."
Sadie lifted her head to look at Sergeant Barnes, only to find him sitting on the examination table. He rest his forearms on his elbows and dropped his head, nodding in an exaggerated sort of fashion.
"That's what they tell me." One of Sadie's eyebrows slipped up her forehead, prompting another grin from Sergeant Barnes. "You're pretty good at that, you know. What's your name?"
"You can call me Nurse Reid, sit up straight, please."
Sergeant Barnes followed her command, straightening the length of his spine and folding his arms over his chest. Sadie reached for the thermometer she'd sterilized between soldiers. "Reid is your first name?
Irritation prickled just beneath the surface of Sadie's skin. If he were anymore slick, he'd slide right off the exam table. "Reid is my last name," she said, wishing immediately that she hadn't given him the ammunition. "Open your mouth."
Sergeant Barnes waggled his eyebrows in a humorous way but complied, opening wide for her. Under his tongue the thermometer went. Even when the thermometer kept him from speaking, Sadie could see the humor dancing in his wicked blue eyes. Absently, she wondered how many hearts he'd broken with those baby blues. The thermometer came out and he relaxed again.
"Ninety seven," she said to herself, marking it down on his chart.
"So, Nurse Reid, take pity on a poor guy and tell me where you're from? I know that accent doesn't hail from New York."
Sadie felt the flush creep up the back of her neck. No matter how hard she tried, it was almost impossible to hide the slight drawl that tugged the back end of her words. For most of her life, Sadie hadn't been bothered by her slow and low southern accent, betraying her Arkansas roots. Her exposure to the rest of the world through nursing school and then the army had changed that. Sadie wasn't ashamed of where she was from, but she certainly didn't want to hear the country girl jokes from a Brooklyn boy.
Besides, she'd made it her firm policy to keep distance between herself and military men. The realities of war were inevitable. The chances were painfully high that many of the men she'd already examined weren't going to make it out alive. Sadie wasn't interested in having her heart torn in two all over again by getting too close. No matter how charming or attractive those soldiers could be.
"You've got forty-nine other guesses, I think you can figure it out," said Sadie. She put the caps of her stethoscope in her ears and pressed the disk against the Sergeant's firm chest. Through the amplifier, she could hear the steady beat of his heart.
"I won't make fun, if that's what you're thinking. I'm actually a pretty nice guy."
Sadie lifted her gaze to find him looking right at her, unflinching. "I never said you weren't, Sergeant Barnes."
"Bucky," he intervened. "Everyone calls me Bucky."
A play on his middle name, Sadie was sure. She turned the name over in her head while she jotted down notes and then reached for the blood pressure cuff. Bucky. Sadie decided that the name suited the Sergeant well, living up to his blatantly mischievous nature. Bucky held his arm out and Sadie busied herself with his blood pressure and then his vaccination chart.
"Well it looks like you're getting off easy, Sergeant. You've already had your vaccinations for typhoid, malaria, and cholera. All you need is a tetanus shot and fortunately for you, I can put that one in your arm."
Bucky slumped in visible relief, nearly worming a smile from Sadie. "Thank God. You have no idea how embarrassing it is to have to drop your pants in front of a pretty girl."
And there it was, thought Sadie. It took Bucky longer than most to get around to the flirting. "Flattery will get you nowhere Sergeant."
"Bucky," he corrected her. "And who said anything about flattery? That's the honest truth. You are very pretty and I'm really glad I don't have to bare my assets if you catch my drift."
Sadie couldn't help it. She coughed over her laugh. Bucky gave her a broad smile, showing off as many of his white teeth as he could. "Well, that makes two of us."
"Georgia, you've got to be from Georgia."
Sadie ignored him and prepared his tetanus shot. Bucky didn't need her instruction. Instead he rolled his shirt sleeve off, all-too pleased to show off his muscular arm. A familiar pattern set back in. Sterilize. Dry. Stick. Band-Aid.
"Not Georgia," she replied after she'd finished. "But it was a good guess. Alright Sergeant Barnes, you're ready to pick up your orders."
The atmosphere changed in an instant. Orders. A small, innocuous seeming word that meant almost nothing before Pearl Harbor now had the power to strike fear into the heart of the hardiest man. Sadie thought to her own orders, received yesterday. She was shipping out in the morning on the Queen Victoria as a member of the 80th Field Hospital, First Clearing Platoon, attached to the 107th Infantry Division. Her ship sailed for Sicily and then onto the mainland. A shiver slipped down the length of her spine, who knew what horrors awaited her.
Bucky slid off the table to his feet, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, I guess it's that time, isn't it."
For the first time all day, Sadie looked one of her patients directly in the eye. Bucky gazed back, his blue eyes softening. It was a shame, she thought. He really was a very handsome man, the sort of handsome that got better women than her into trouble. She held a hand out to him, which he took, grasping firmly. Warm and firm, his handshake was the kind that inspired confidence. In fact, all of him inspired confidence and Sadie found herself thinking that maybe he'd be one of the lucky ones.
"Good luck, Sergeant."
"Like I said before, it's Bucky. It's been a pleasure, Nurse Reid."
With a cordial nod of his head, Sergeant Barnes walked out of the exam area. Sadie didn't see him turn back and look after her one more time.
A/N: I hoped you guys liked it! Next Chapter features Sadie and Bucky in Italy!
I love feedback both in the form of love and constructive criticism. Leave some love – Kappa.