Timothy wasn’t worried, despite the Hydra agents that were attacking the Howlies. That hadn’t been the case before they had gotten captured by Hydra, but with Steve as CO, it was easy to be confident in what would happen.
Steve was a fantastic strategist, and had the super serum, but that wasn’t what made him a good CO.
Steve was good at listening to other people’s opinions, never took it as an insult if someone thought his plans needed refining, and took orders from the brass as suggestions if following them would be bad for the team. He also fought hard for them, didn’t think of any of them as cannon fodder, and had Bucky as his second.
Bucky had always been the best leader the 107th had ever had, but he was even better as a second. He made sure that everyone had all the equipment and food they needed to do their jobs, that all of them were relatively ok, would even lead them to bed with a canteen of water when they got drunk.
He would also make sure that Steve didn’t do anything too stupid, like not eating as much as he should because “he felt bad because everyone else was on limited rations.” They had all seen what happened when Steve didn’t eat enough, and it was so much worse than what everyone else had to go through.
Bucky was also very good at translating Steve’s words into normal person speak, and back, making sure that everyone knew their orders, the brass didn’t kill Steve for his impudence, and Steve didn’t overestimate the other Howlies endurance and skill.
Steve and Bucky were a perfectly balanced team, and made sure that the Howlies were the most effective, and often the most content, team in the army.
Of course, Timothy thought in a brief pause in his fight, as he watched Steve chop through the enemy soldiers like wheat, it was very nice to have a super soldier fighting with them as well.
Then he saw something in the air from the corner of his eye, falling towards Steve.
“Grenade!” He shouted loudly. It went off with a boom.
“I’m fine!” Steve, who was the only person in the area, shouted.
The amount of soldiers was small now, the Howlies a perfectly matched team, and Steve had enough advance warning from his super senses that they had been able to break from their camp easily, and Bucky had been able to get up a tree so he could snipe. Bucky was a decent hand to hand fighter, but he was incredible with a sniper rifle, and having him up in a tree or something was always best.
Timothy ran out of soldiers to fight, the only ones left being fought by Steve.
The soldier that had thrown the grenade had been stupid, hurting his own allies in an attempt to kill Steve, who had an impenetrable shield as a weapon. It really showed how much Captain America being there affected them, they just panicked and threw everything they had at him.
Then the last soldier fell, Steve standing in a pile of fallen soldiers. He started moving toward them, tripping on the bodies and nearly falling, but making it out of the pile.
“Steve!” Bucky called, rushing down from his tree, towards Steve. “You idiot, why didn’t you tell us you were injured!”
“He is?” Gabe said, rushing towards Steve.
Bucky always seemed to know when Steve was bullshitting them, especially about being hungry, so they knew that Bucky was probably right about Steve being injured.
As they moved towards the swaying Steve, Timothy saw red on the white bits of Steve’s uniform over his belly, which only made him run faster. Bucky had already made his way to Steve, supporting him.
“How did you get hurt?” Bucky asked sharply. “And why didn’t you tell us?”
“Didn’t notice are first,” Steve grunted. “Especially because the adrenaline dulled it. I didn’t get my shield up in time, so I’ve got shrapnel in my gut.”
“Not in your chest?” Bucky asked.
“No,” Steve said. “Got a few cuts on my legs I think, but the worst of it is in my gut.”
“We’ll have to get that out,” Gabe said. “If they’re sharp like I would think, they would cut you open on the inside, super soldier or not. And none of us know how far your disease resistance goes, better to be safe then sorry.”
“Yeah,” Steve panted, as Bucky carefully lowered him to the ground. “Probably should.”
“At least it’ll be less dangerous for you than anybody else,” Gabe said, getting out his med kit. “I’ll get you some morphine now that the adrenaline’s gone down.”
“That won’t exactly work,” Bucky said, getting Steve to lay properly on the ground. “They tested it, and he goes through it faster than anybody, fast enough that the syrette will only make a dent in it, and only for a little bit before the effects wear off. Same with alcohol.”
“Shit,” Gabe said. “So we’re going to have to do this with nothing to numb the pain?!”
“Should save it for the people it will actually work on,” Steve groaned, panting a bit.
“Fine,” Gabe said, pulling everything he needed out of the med kit. “But if that’s the case, we’re going to need to hold you down so you don’t move too much, or kick anyone in the jaw. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about that, but you’re stronger than any of us, we might need one person to each limb.”
“Fine,” Steve panted, looking a little dazed.
“I’ll stay at his head,” Bucky said, moving Steve’s head to his lap. “I’ll get him a belt to bite down on too.”
Gabe gestured them all forwards as he cut away at Steve’s suit, and they each settled at a limb, Timothy at his right leg.
“What?” Gabe muttered, looking confused after the suit had been cut away.
“What is it?” Bucky asked, looking concerned, pulling his belt off.
“I...” Gabe said, biting his lip. “I think he’s healing around the fragments. We’re going to need to do this quick.”
“Shit,” Bucky said, doubling his belt over and putting it between Steve’s teeth. “May as well start now then.”
Steve nodded as best he could, breathing heavily.
“This is going to hurt,” Gabe said as they each grabbed a limb. Then he brought out his scalpel and tweezers, and began to cut.
Steve yelled through the belt, body jerking, so suddenly and strongly that Jacques almost toppled over, and Timothy barely kept his leg on the ground. As Gabe continued to cut, they all put all their weight on Steve, barely keeping him from bucking them off.
Steve’s breathing was raspy through the belt, groaning and keening in pain. Then he raised his head, like he was trying to look at the cut open mess that was his belly.
“No,” Bucky growled out, gently pulling his head back into his lap and holding on to his shoulders. “All you need to know is that we’re getting the pieces out, you don’t need to see that Stevie.”
Steve groaned again, but didn’t even try to argue, which was good.
Timothy was seeing so much in the cut open stomach, he was pretty sure he could even see Steve’s organs in the mess, remembering finding a kid in the trenches with his gut open like that, trying frantically to pack gauze into the wound, tears running down his cheeks... he looked away before he could throw up.
They needed to keep him down, if he moved too much it would only make it harder for Gabe to do his job.
Then Gabe must have hit something, because Steve screamed. It was muffled behind the belt, but piercing all the same.
Then he began to struggle properly, thrashing, trying to throw them off. It was like trying to hold a lion down while the keeper clipped it’s claws, but in the circus, they had only needed two people to hold the lion down, and they needed five here, Bucky holding down Steve’s shoulders.
Jacques actually fell off the leg he was holding down, and got kicked in the face before he could get back on.
“Merde!” He hissed out, grabbing onto Steve again.
“Steve!” Bucky said, then more calmly, “it’s gonna be alright Stevie, we just need to get all the pieces out, and once that’s done you can rest. It’ll be over soon sweetheart I promise, just breathe with me.”
He paused for a bit, breathing loud and slow. It seemed to work a bit, Steve’s muffled screams dying down to high pitched wailing, panting heavily for air, not struggling quite as much.
“S’all right darling,” Bucky continued. “You’re going to be right as rain doll, probably be begging us to let you walk home the moment you can stand up. Ya just have to stay awake, that’s all sweetheart, just stay awake for me an’ I’ll treat you when we get home.”
Gabe nearly lost his balance, having been listening to the honeyed words dripping out of Bucky’s mouth, not focusing on keeping Steve’s leg down. If he didn’t keep Steve still, then who knew how badly this would go?
“Maybe something nice to eat,” Bucky continued. “I’ll make sure you eat the whole thing ‘stead of sharing it with anyone. You deserve it sunshine, being so good for me. All you have to do is breathe sugar, just stay still and it’ll be over soon I promise, Gabe’s going as fast as he can.”
Gabe must have hit something else, because Steve screamed and arched again, struggling frantically.
“It’s ok!” Bucky said louder. “You’re going to be fine, I promise sugar, you’re perfectly fine, you just need to stay still doll, I know it hurts sweetheart, but it’ll be over soon I promise. You just need to breathe ok Stevie? That’s all you have to do, and then it’ll be over I promise. It’s all right darling, I swear-“
“It’s done,” Gabe said hoarsely, “all the pieces are gone, I just need to sew him up.”
“Get on with it,” Bucky growled through gritted teeth.
Steve was gasping for air, tears streaming down his cheeks, trying to move away from them.
Gabe started sewing quick, but Steve’s sharp gasps for air made it nearly impossible to pull the flesh together. Bucky seemed to catch on and began to talk again, in a near whisper this time, carefully holding Steve’s shoulders down.
“It’s alright sweetheart, just a few more minutes, just need to stay still for a little bit longer then you can move I promise. Just breathe doll it’ll-“
He stopped, as the belt fell out of Steve’s mouth. The belt had been decent quality, nice and tough, but there was now two pieces bitten out of it. Bucky immediately used one hand to try to get the leather from between Steve’s teeth, but his teeth were gritted so hard that Bucky made no progress, and had to go back to holding Steve down.
Then Gabe grabbed some gauze, and quickly wrapped it around Steve, then stumbled off, and promptly threw up.
Everyone got up off Steve, who curled into a ball on his side, spitting out the leather and sobbing. He was shaking head to toe, sobbing his heart out, sounding like a little kid.
Bucky crawled over to him, rubbing his back gently, talking even quieter now, but Timothy caught the word sweetheart.
What Bucky had been saying, his words, his tone, it was nothing like what a friend would say to another, even in that kind of circumstance.
It was the kind of thing that a guy would say to his girl when she was hurt, dripping with sweetness and reassurance, sweet names sliding off his tongue so easily.
Was it really possible that they could be queer?
They had never acted queer, or like fairies, had always been just as tough or tougher than the rest of them. Fuck, Steve was a super soldier, stronger than any of them, had run an unsanctioned suicide mission that worked! Neither of them looked like fairies either, were as brave as regular men. How could they be queer?
Steve was still laying on the ground trembling, but who wouldn’t after being operated on with nothing to help the pain?
Then Monty went over to the two of them and tapped them on their shoulders. “I would say that the cat is out of the bag,” he said softly. “You were pretty obvious beforehand, but now it’s almost impossible to deny.”
They both turned around and looked at Timothy. What little colour Steve had in his face vanished, and Bucky turned chalk white. They weren’t looking at anyone else, he noticed, just him.
“Please don’t report us,” Bucky said, sounding more scared than he ever had been, even in the factory.
“They won’t be our CO’s anymore if you report them,” Monty said calmly.
“I won’t report you,” Timothy grumbled. “We need you to win the war. But I’ll be going back to my tent now.”
He stumbled towards their abandoned camp and into his bedroll.
They probably wouldn’t be moving for at least a couple hours, because even with how fast and well Steve healed, he had still been badly hurt, and they weren’t quite back behind Allied lines, so being cautious was best.
His mind kept circling back though, how had he not known that they were queer? Monty had said that they had been obvious beforehand, but how? He certainly hadn’t noticed.
Then he remembered that Steve and Bucky had always shared a tent. They had asked at the beginning because “it was warmer,” that “they may as well rotate the officers tent around the others as a treat,” and “they were used to it.” But now... had they only asked that so they could be alone?
He remembered how they had all talked about their girls in the cells in the factory, how Bucky had talked about his girl named Stevie, how once they got out, he had never talked about her again, had even been confused about what he was asking about when he mentioned it once.
He had assumed that he had made the whole thing up then forgotten about it, despite how unlikely it was.
Bucky had talked about Stevie with such sincere love in his eyes, so many loving details, that fit the Steve before the serum that he had heard of in stories. Sickly, but stubborn and fiery, determined to do what was right at all costs. That would mean that Bucky had been telling the truth for the most part, because if Steve was just his friend, then he’d have no reason to lie about Steve being his girl.
But he had been told that queers were sinners, subverting the natural order of things just for some quick fun, nothing permanent.
But it didn’t make sense! Nothing fit properly with what he had been told and his mind was going around in circles.
He needed a nap.
He shuffled properly into his bedroll and turned over, trying to get the confusion out of his mind. A few minutes later, once he had occupied himself with thinking of Doris, his sweetheart back home, the tent opened, letting in a stream of cold air and Morita.
“You better not be planning on letting on what you saw to the brass,” Morita said firmly.
“I already told you that I won’t,” he huffed, turning towards him. “They’re our best hope for winning this godawful war, and are the best CO’s I’ve ever had to boot. I’m not gonna do that to them.”
Morita looked at him for a long time, but nodded his head and turned to his own bedroll, pulling out some paper.
“We will be heading out at 1400 sharp,” he said softly. “Take a nap, I’ll keep watch.”
Timothy turned over again, and pulled the covers over his head, eventually giving in to sleep.
~Timothy was in the trenches, mud everywhere, bodies littering the mud spattered ground. Steve was there, in the middle of the carnage, belly open, showing his guts, crying like a little kid.
He ran over, grabbing gauze, trying to pack it into the wound, trying to reassure him.
Then someone came up behind him, pulling Steve away, making him scream in pain.
He tried to pull Steve away from them, but moving was near impossible, like his whole body was moving through the thick mud of the trenches, he could only barely manage to turn his head, seeing Lohmer, the most awful of the overseers from the factory, holding Steve by the scruff of his neck, Steve’s guts on the verge of spilling out.
“Good job delivering him to us,” he said, full of superiority. “We will have no filthy queers in the army. We already have Barnes, so now we have a matched set.”
He began to laugh loudly, and some of the brass materialized around them, one of them holding Bucky, almost as beat up as Steve, eyes wide with fear.
Then, with no warning, they began to beat at them, blocking them from view, screams of pain coming from Steve and Bucky.
“No!” Steve pleaded, “no no no! Please stop it hurts! Please!” He sobbed out, Bucky matching him scream for scream.
Then Bucky began to beg, “stop! Please no-“~
He woke with a shout, lashing out at the arms trying to hold him down, panting for air. He was... in his bedroll, not in the trenches, but where were Steve and Bucky?!
“Steve,” he panted out. “Bucky, are they ok?!”
“They’re perfectly fine,” Morita said. “Steve’s still in bad shape, but as far as I know he’s perfectly fine, and Bucky wasn’t hurt in the last battle. They’re both fine.”
Timothy remembered hearing of raids on queer clubs, of police beating the queers inside to death, bodies found in alleyways that were carted away with no comment because the victim was queer.
He had always thought that they deserved it, because they chose to be deviant, chose to be disgusting like that. But who would choose a fate like that? Who would choose to be beat to death for a moment of pleasure?
“If you want to check on them,” Morita interrupted quietly. “We’re going soon, so they’ll probably be up anyway.”
He suddenly remembered the looks on their faces when they found out that he knew, how scared they looked of him... he felt like he was going to throw up. They had shown more fear of him, than fear of anything else. Even when Bucky had been taken by Zola into the back, where no one had ever come back from, he had never looked as scared as he had knowing that Timothy knew.
He stumbled out of the tent into the sun, needing to get out from under Morita’s piercing gaze.
After he went into the spit of woods and took a leak, he noticed Bucky leaning against a tree, looking grim.
“Bucky!” He said, startled. He hadn’t even realized that anyone had come up. “Were you... looking at me?”
“Nah,” Bucky said quietly, absentmindedly flipping his knife. “Whether I’m queer or not, you’re still ugly. I just wanted to talk.”
“You going to use that knife?” He said apprehensively.
“Wha-“ Bucky said, looking at the knife in surprise. “Sorry, didn’t know I was doing that,” he tucked the knife back in it’s sheath.
“I’m just here to say, if you want to talk to the brass about anyone, talk about me. Steve is finally getting the respect he should have gotten years ago, is finally being taken seriously, and if my reputation gets tanked, he can go with Peggy, and be happy about it. He doesn’t deserve the kind of reputation he would get if it got out, they’d make him disappear into a lab the moment the war was over, stick him there until he died. I’m the one who blurted out my feelings about him anyway, if anyone, I’m the one who started this. Just wanted to let you know.”
Then he walked away, leaving Timothy to stare at his retreating back.
Had Bucky really been ready to sacrifice his reputation like that? No hesitation, no stalling or beating around the bush, just saying it, bold as brass. And he thought that he would rat Bucky out, even after he said that he wouldn’t. What had make him think that?
His thoughts were interrupted by Bucky going through the camp, waking everyone else up. “We’re going in an hour,” he said loudly. “Let’s get this camp torn down!”
Everyone started moving, pulling themselves out of their tents and grabbing their things.
Steve poked his head out of the tent, but Bucky hurried over and said “nope! Our tent is going down last, and you are going to rest until we need to take it down. Don’t you dare try to get out of the tent.”
They stared each other down, but Steve eventually retreated back into the tent with a grumble.
The taking down of camp went surprisingly slowly without Steve’s strength, trying to wrench out the tent stakes that Steve had driven into the ground. It was Bucky who made the most progress on them, he would tug them a little bit in every direction, then tug them out with a few good yanks. It payed to have such a fantastic sniper on the team, someone with such a good knowledge of angles. But they managed to get the camp down only a little bit behind schedule.
When Steve had been evicted from his tent, groggy and staggering, he had looked like he was going to try and help. Bucky had glared him down though, and gently sat him down on a stump.
They packed everything up, erasing all signs of their presence. Then Bucky rewrapped Steve’s wound, and they all began to make their way out.
Bucky was on Steve’s left, supporting him, faces close, talking. They were in the centre of the group, surrounded by everyone else just in case something happened. Dum Dum was in the back, and he couldn’t help but watch them.
There was a softness to them now, faces tucked close together, Steve putting his weight on Bucky. It reminded him of the couples he had seen on the streets, adoration shining from them, so in love that they didn’t even notice that they weren’t alone. He saw how careful Bucky was with Steve now that he was injured, walking slowly, being so attentive to Steve and his movements.
He remembered how stern Bucky had always been about making sure Steve was eating enough, seemed to know exactly what he was thinking and why.
He remembered seeing how viciously Steve would protect Bucky, fuss over him if he was injured, how they found out that the mission to the factory wasn’t sanctioned, how he had done it against orders, all because of the mere chance that Bucky was alive.
Most of that was definitely on the edge of things people would do for a good friend but... it wasn’t just that.
They were always so close, knowing just what the other was thinking, fighting together like their minds were joined, moving around each other, tangled together like climbing vines, so comfortable together. They fought sometimes, but always made up, with no hard feelings on either side, working through things together, being partners in all things.
Wasn’t that love?
Closeness and knowing and choosing each other, over and over?
If that wasn’t love, then what was?
He remembered what his parents had been like, his da constantly screaming at his ma, belittling her, beating her, how scared she had been of him. He knew how common that kind of thing was, how often he had seen the same scene play out over and over, in so many different households.
He had always admired his ma for doing the best she could for the kids, had always known how strong women could be, but the work and beatings had eventually killed her, and his pa had died soon after with his constant drunkenness, and no one to make him food. He had made sure that his siblings had somewhere to go, then ran off to the circus, where he could make a half decent living.
Steve and Bucky would be better partners, better parents then his.
How could that be a sin then? If even one queer pair was so much better than so many of the normal married couples that he had seen, how could being a queer pair be automatically a sin?
They walked for a while, Bucky coaxing Steve along, keeping him walking as long as they could. They were luckily only an hour or two from the Allied lines, but Steve was flagging.
“We’ll rest for a bit,” Bucky said. “We only have about an hour and a half to walk, so we will be heading out again in a little bit.”
He guided Steve to a rock and gently sat him down, then he and Jacques gathered up the canteens and went to fill them up in a nearby stream.
Steve gestured for him to come over, looking a little grim. His heart sunk, but he went over anyway, ready to face the music.
“Hey,” Steve said roughly.
“Hey,” he said back, seeing for a second Steve’s gut open, tears streaming down his face...
Steve started to talk quietly, jolting the image from his mind. “If you want to go to the brass, then go to them about me.”
He nearly did a double take, but Steve continued, faster now, like he was trying not to get interrupted. “I’m Captain America, they can’t just take me away from the war if they want to win it, and my reputation can take it. Bucky has it bad enough, he doesn’t need that kind of rumours going around, any more reason to be estranged from his family. They hated us being together when no one else knew about it, but if everyone knew? They would only treat him worse, maybe disown him. It was hard enough on Bucky when we got kicked out, but if he got disowned it would be worse. He’d never get to see his sisters again. It’s my fault that we are together anyway, I was the one who convinced him to try being together.”
Steve looked at him, chin raised like he was ready to fight him, voice raspy with exertion and pain.
He was so strong, having gone through so much, having had a major surgery without anything to numb the pain, walking for so long just a few hours later, then being ready to fight, to take all the blame for loving someone, like it was a crime.
He had seen war, he knew just how important and precious love was, how powerful. Who was he to condemn them for love? Something that the world needed more of no matter what.
“When did you figure out that you liked Bucky?” He asked, feeling the sudden urge to make Steve happy, to make him smile. He didn’t deserve to be hated for something he couldn’t change.
Steve looked surprised that Timothy was treating him like normal.
“We were pretty young,” he said softly, face softening. “Knew I loved him, but thought it was just as friends. Found out later that I wanted everything with him, to stay by his side forever. Never felt anything like it before or since. I really love him.”
“I can tell,” he said. “I really can tell.”
Steve smiled at him softly, looking young and happy, like a kid telling their parents that they’re in love.
“We’ll win this war,” he said softly. “Get us all out of here alive, get you two your happy ending. You deserve it.”