It was a couple of weeks since he saw the last of Hydra Stalag 42, and Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes knew he might never stop appreciating the taste of English lager.
A Saturday was the day he was strapped down to the gurney in the "infirmary" for trying to defend a fellow prisoner. It was Monday night when Steve had come for them. Wednesday morning when three-eighty-three soldiers of eleven allied outfits came marching through the woods into Camp Sentinel.
Since then, Bucky and his fellow prisoners were shipped back to England. Many were then discharged and sent to their respective homes, their duty to their country paid in full. The rest were granted leave for two nights in London, and so he and the other five were there, on a Saturday night in a pub on Greek Street called The King's Whistle.
It wasn't just a bunch of soldiers on leave, though. The past week had also seen Steve awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which would've been the Medal of Honor if not for the unsanctioned nature of the rescue. He'd blown off the award ceremony to fulfill his new obligations as a member of a secret Army unit he'd joined, or rejoined, as it was the same one that made him Captain America to begin with.
Yesterday morning, Steve asked him to get five good men who knew how to fight and were willing to do a lot of it. When he asked what it was for, Steve said it was to get back at Hydra at everything they'd done and will do, by going after them.
"Then they'd have to be idiots, too." Bucky said at the time.
So five fighting men he got. He didn't have to look far, really. Dugan was in the same platoon as. Dernier, Falsworth, Dernier and Jones were kept in the same cell as they. It was Dernier who recommended Morita, whom he'd fought alongside the night of the breakout.
He'd bought them a round of drinks and was shooting the bull with them, getting acquainted with Morita, telling the same old jokes and talking about the same stuff they always talked about when they were locked up. He was about to have to shill for the next round when he saw Steve walk through the door in his dress greens. It wasn't a sight Bucky had gotten used to yet, between the towering physique and the bars on his shoulders.
He got up from the table as there was barely room for six, and he felt like doing some solitary drinking anyway. He exchanged a fond greeting with Steve, and retreated to the bar.
Steve looked down at the table and wondered how they thought of him. Helping a bunch of soldier escape a hellish prisoner work camp probably warmed them up to him, but the fact was that each of them had been soldiers in the thick of it for some time. He wondered if any of them ever went to a USO show, and prayed they didn't.
Of course, they were in awe of him. Bucky had talked about his little friend Steve back in Brooklyn, the kid with heart and balls but not the muscle to back it up. A few of them might've read about Captain America in Stars or Stripes, and to think that the two were one and the same, and not only that, but a true soldier to lead true soldiers, was pretty heady.
They went around the table, each briefly introducing himself.
"Jim Morita. I'm from Fresno. I was a Radioman in the 442nd."
Tech Corporal James Morita was in Hawaii on December 7th, nearly two years ago. He was visiting relatives, and volunteered his services after the attack, as he was a fireman back home. He was all of twenty-two at the time, and he knew he was doing the right thing.
Life wasn't exactly easy for the son of Japanese immigrants before, especially in California, and it got even harder after that. He spent almost a year in the Big Fresno internment camp. Everyday he hated; he hated some of his neighbors' lingering sympathies to the Emperor, he hated the Emperor's "Zeros", and he hated his jailers. He hated a world where sometimes doing the right thing might mean nothing because of which boat your father had came in on. But try as he might, he could never get himself to hate his country.
When the time came earlier this year, to the heartbreak of his mother, he joined the Army. He didn't expect it to be a thankful job, and he didn't expect to one day walk the streets of California, chest full of medals and met with looks regretful of their past distrust. He didn't expect anything at all.
"J.M. Falsworth of Birmingham. 1st Parachute Brigade. Pleasure to meet you, Sir."
2nd Lieutenant James Montgomery Falsworth, the 6th Baron Falsworth, wasn't always a soldier. For years he'd been one of London's set of young bohemian idle rich, or the Bright Young People as the tabloids called them. He was a hedonist given to every indulgence, devoted at University to nothing but girls, drinks and Cricket, just another rich fop with a peerage.
The truth about Lord Falsworth was that he never was politically concerned, if pressed for his position on Germany four years ago, he might've felt sympathetic. But then Battle of Britain came and went and left him changed. He lost no friends or family, his house was touched by no bomb, but somehow, much to his own surprise, he realized he had somehow developed an odd semblance of a sense of duty and worth. He lost interest in the set, the parties and every vapid excess and joined the Army in Infantry, and later the Paras.
"Dugan. Boston. My friends call me Dum-Dum. I was with yer pal Barnes in the 107th. We both led squads in first platoon of How company."
Unlike Falsworth, Corporal Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan was always a soldier in his estimation. His father was a participant in the Easter Rebellion who fled to America with his two sons while the getting was good, and died in an industrial accident when Dugan was ten, leaving his sons in the care of the state. As a run-away teenager Dugan joined a gang and stole to survive. In his twenties he became a prizefighter, and after his fight with Mitch Barrow, he retired to become a docker.
Many thought the nickname Dum-Dum came about due to a supposed diminished intellect, when actually it was from his boxing days as a reference to the wide, gushing wounds he left in his opponents. Dugan had fought his entire life; his battles were waged against other street gangs of the similarly desperate, in juvenile halls, in the ring, and against racket crooks and bent bosses on the waterfront. Sometimes he fought to survive, sometimes because that was all there was to do, and sometimes he fought because that was what he did, and liked, best.
When the time came, joining the fight was no question at all.
"Gabe Jones. 92nd Infantry by way of Philedelphia."
Private First Class Gabriel Jones was alone in the table in not actually volunteering. His father was Maurice Douglass Jones, the noted writer, orator and activist, while his mother was Laura Schofield, daughter to one of the wealthiest Black families in Philadelphia. He grew up in a densely intellectual climate and was interested in history at a young age which later expanded to include a fascination with politics. He majored in both when he followed his father in entering Howard University and become involved in social activism.
Two years ago, he was with a few friends in Baltimore talking to labor leaders, trying to offer counsel and help to better organize their selves. Their efforts were less than appreciated and met with hostility, and as luck would have it, the meeting coincided with a police raid. The situation went from bad to worse, and in the end of it there were seven dead –one of them a policeman– and four times as many wounded. Much of the blame was shifted to the students from Howard, a few of whom had a history of radicalism. Jones was facing the prospect of a long time in prison, but his father was not without his influential friends, however, and due to his lack of priors, the court allowed him the opportunity to have the charges against him dropped if he joined the service.
"Dernier. J'étais, err… I was with the partisans in Marseilles."
Jacques Dernier had seen war before in Arras and Paschendaele as a sapper. He saw his friends die for naught everyday, filled with light by tracer fire or taken out by their own artillery barrages. It was years later when Dernier was a family man working as a mechanic that the Germans came, he did not collaborate with them, but did not take up arms either. He thought he'd seen enough of war and that if war was to be waged on the Nazis, it would be by someone else. His son, Philippe, thought differently as he joined the resistance, and was killed a few months later, shot in the streets while fleeing the scene where a soldier had been killed.
He arranged for the remainder of his family to be sent to neutral Lisbon, promising to be with them soon. He gathered some materials and built a bomb he hid under a German troop truck. It detonated hours later, while it was driving out of the city. He blew up another truck, and another, and another. Some times they questioned him, some others they did not. He came to expect a day when they'd just break the door at night and drag him away to an execution. Every time he wasn't, he contemplated making his way to Lisbon. But he pressed on until the day he was captured as one of many suspected resistance agents.
All together, they were seven men from six units and three nations. They were separated by social class, race and history, but they all ended up in Hydra Stalag 42 where they endured starvation and mistreatment. Together they had been to hell back, so what came next, after some prodding on their part, took them by surprise.
"Colonel Philips has authorized me to conduct operations against Hydra basses as allied forces advance." Said Steve, "Wherever enemy lines are; I'm going to be miles behind them hitting Hydra where it hurts. But I can't do it alone."
"Coulda fooled me." Said Morita and chugged from his pint.
"I asked Sergeant Barnes who he knew that had the chops and the gumption to do this job. Your names came up. So here I am, asking you to join me in a new special operations squad to bring the fight to Hydra."
The table fell silent.
"You don't have to answer right now." Said Rogers, realizing the magnitude of what he was asking.
"So let's get this straight-" Said Dugan, putting his mug down audibly.
"We barely got out of there alive," interrupted Jones, "And you want us to go back?"
"Pretty much." Rogers said sheepishly.
Falsworth remembered his first and last mission. He'd lead a Platoon in a Company that was tasked with taking out a Hydra artillery battery. The mission was a bust due to bad intelligence and bad orders he had to comply with, and later in captivity, he wondered what'd joining up accomplish and what hope did they have. But fighting on that night for survival, among unarmed men going against soldiers armed with what he did not understand, it made him feel as alive and righteous as he'd ever felt. It was the right way to go to war.
"Sounds rather fun, actually."
Morita belched, and then said, "I'm in."
"Moi je combattrai jusqu'à ce que le dernier de ces bâtards soit mort," said Dernier, "Enchaîné, ou bien pleure comme un petit bébé!"
"J'espère tous les trois." Said Jones.
Jones and Dernier exchanged a vigorous handshake and a heartfelt chuckle, while the rest of the table looked on in puzzlement.
Dugan sized up the Captain. He recognized him as an honorable man and a patriot, and the fact that he was a fellow Mick was a plus, but what mattered the most was that sitting opposite to him was someone crazy, brave or stupid enough to jump thirty miles behind enemy lines all by himself, make his way through the woods and into the camp undetected just to save a friend, armed with nothing but a sidearm and a star-spangled shield. The Captain was his kind of guy.
"Hell, I'll always fight." Said Dugan as he raised his mug, "But you've gotta do one thing for me."
"What's that?" asked Steve.
Dugan chugged all that remained in his mug before slamming it down.
"Open a tab!"
Steve rose to comply as everyone chuckled, collecting their mugs as he did.
"Well," Dugan said, "That was easy."
They were re-supplied with drink soon enough and Steve excused himself to check up on Bucky. Dugan got up and convinced the piano player to play 'There is a Tavern in the Town' and returned to the table in time to begin sing along off-key, the other joined him. The song was cut short when a woman walked in wearing a red dress, looking splendid and finer than most things they'd seen in many long months.
"Get a load of that talent." Morita muttered.
"Oui…" said Dernier, "Not bad…. For an Anglaise."
"I'm a married man…" Dugan reminded himself, "M'ma married man…"
"What did I just agree to?" Jones said, "I don't want to join Rogers' squad. There are no girls in it!"
"Oh, dear." Said Falsworth, "I've seen this happen before… Luckily I know the cure."
Falsworth called for a round of the pub's finest Scotch, which was a relative term, but did the trick. The woman passed through again on her way out as the Scotch arrived and then the night was back on. Steve and Bucky joined them at one point. They drank, they sang, drank a little bit more, threw a wild punch after one perceived insult or another, and then had a drink to smooth things over.
And then it was closing time. The seven walked or staggered out into the streets in various states of inebriation.
"Bunch of fat-heads." Bucky said with a mild slur as he saw Morita stumble into Dernier's arms. Bucky was in better shape than the rest, but still well wasted, "I don't think we'll make it."
"My hotel's a block and a bit away. They'll sleep it off there." Steve said.
"Otel?" Dernier asked, "Where?"
"Just follow me, Barnes and I are on point."
They five began shuffling after the two as Bucky groaned with his eyes closed
"I'm going to hate everything if I wake up." Bucky said, "What about you? If you wake up, will you hate everything with me?"
"Actually, I feel great."
"Tell…Tell me this, Jonesy…" Falsworth managed to say, his received pronunciation a touch impaired.
"Yeah?" replied Jones.
"Apples… Right? And pie? Been around for… ages. You yanks think you're the first to put them together?"
"No… No. It's like tea, man. Tea is very British. But from, like India and places."
"But I have tea three… *hch* Or four times a day. Inna brigade we fired the ol' fifty-cal to get it hot enough for a brew… How many apples pie did you eat t'day, eh?"
"Peggy looked nice." Bucky said.
"I really shouldn't have let all of you get so drunk." Steve said.
"Eh. We deserve it after what we been though."
"Sure. But we're supposed to be on a C-47 bound for Ireland in the afternoon."
"Yeah yeah…. For… For…?"
"Right. What was the name of the town again?"
"Carrickfergus!" Dugan howled, the word having flicked something on in him, his love of song but not an actual ability to carry a tune. In no time, he was once again belting out the old Irish song.
"I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only for nights in Ballygrand!
"I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find!
"But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over and neither have I wings to fly!
"If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and die!"
"Yeah." Bucky said, "You really shouldn't have let the guys drink so much."
"My childhood days bring back sad reflections of happy times I spent so long ago!
"My boyhood friends and my own relations have all passed on now like melting snow!
"But I'll spend my days in endless roaming, soft is the grass, my bed is free!
"Ah to be back in Carrickfergus on that long road down to the sea!"
Thanks for reading. I think I'll write the story of the Howling Commandos' first mission together at one point. But first I'm writing the follow up to my last fic.