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I'll Catch a Break Someday

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                I’m sorry… I’m so sorry, Al…

                His large golden eyes stared at me, wide and fearful. This… This isn’t how I wanted it to end. Neither of us wanted this...

                “Sister! Please! There has to be a way!”

                I slowly shook my head, my mind growing fuzzy. Am I really going to leave him alone?

                “Sorry Al… I was – was reckless again…”

                “SISTER!”

                I clutched the wound on my side. Yeah, I kicked that bastard’s ass but… at what cost?

                Will he be alright…? Alone?

                “Al, do you… Are you…”

                How can I even say it?

                “Do you want to go back? Alone?”

                Tears started falling from his eyes and it broke my heart. Already his frail body was hard to see but, to see him crying as well was too much.

                “Sister?”

                My world was starting to tilt. “I don’t… Leaving you alone… Will you be alright?”

                His face betrayed his understanding. “Isn’t there something we can do?”

                “Al… I can’t survive this… But, you can go back…”

                Alone…

                How can I leave him ALONE?!

                “I just want you to be happy,” I whispered, my voice hoarse.

                “Sister... Evelyn.”

                I chuckled softly which sent a spark of pain from my side, where the gaping wound – hole – poured blood onto the white floor. Al almost never called me by my full first name. Not unless I was in trouble and was about to be scolded.

                “Yeah… I’m sorry, Al…”

                I staggered towards him but tried to stay upright: if I couldn’t hold myself up, there was no way Al would be able to with his body the way it was now.

                “Al, what…? Should I…?”

                He slowly bridged the gap between us, wrapping his frail arms around me. “Can’t you save yourself, Evelyn?”

                “You’re first, Al. Always… I can’t bare… To leave you alone but… You can live. Be happy… Family…”

                He choked back a sob and I had to control myself before I broke down too.

                “Get strong, Al… Say goodbye… to the others… Teacher… Winry… Granny… Heck, the Bastard too…”

                Al leaned back and forced a small smile. “Which one?”

                Mine didn’t come as forced as I remembered Dad out there as well as the Colonel. “Both, I guess.” I reached out to him and he grasped my hand tightly – as tightly as his frail hand could manage. “Love you, Brother.”

                “Love you too, Sister.”

                “Live happy?”

                “I promise.”

                Before I lost the battle with my foggy mind, I clapped my hands and blue transmutation sparks danced around us. A blinding white light appeared behind Al and he staggered towards it. He glanced back at me, tears streaming down his cheeks but he managed to smile.

                Thank you, Al…

                That’s the image I want to keep with me, of my brother, happy and whole once more.

                And I collapsed.

Chapter Text

                What the fuck was that smell?

                My nose twitched as the odor assaulted my senses. Oh god… Antiseptics. Hospital. I hate that smell!

                I pried my eyes opened, blinking as I tried to focus on my surroundings. Weird… Pretty dark for a hospital. I tried to focus on something but a pounding in my head was making it very difficult at the moment. What happened?

                And where the hell was I?

                I tried to turn my head but it felt so heavy. I gave up after a moment, sagging onto the bed I was laying on, letting out a tired sigh.

                “Oh! Excellent, you’re awake!”

                My eyes shot open at the voice. The adrenaline helped me finally move my head and I spotted an older man approach, smiling at me.

                “How are you feeling?”

                I forced my mouth to move but it felt like lead. I frowned, trying some more before groaning.

                “Better, I take it. Give me a moment, Fraulein, I’ll get you some water.”

                Water. Just mentioning it made me realise how dry my lips were and how parched I was. The man returned quickly with a glass, setting it on the nearby table before going to help me up. My arms shook as I tried to push myself to a sitting position but the man easily lifted me and arranged the pillows behind me, letting me lean back. He then handed me the glass. Well, tried to hand me the glass. My arms were still shaking and I doubted my hands would be able to grasp anything.

                “That’s alright, here.”

                He lifted it to my lips and I hesitated a moment. What was I doing, trusting this man? Who was he? Where was I?

                He must have sensed my hesitation. “It’s quite alright, Fraulein, it is just water. After that wound you sustained, you need to regain energy.”

                Wound?

                My head shot down, knocking the glass out of the man’s hand and onto myself. But I was staring at the top that now clung to my side: my full side, as if the hole Father dealt me was never there.

                I shakily reached for it and, the moment my flesh hand touched area, pain shot through me, making me hiss out. Yeah, the hole is patched up but not completely healed it seemed…

                “Fraulein, please, do not aggravate your wound. I barely managed to stop the bleeding!”

                I stared at him for a moment, breathing deeply. He patched me up? Then…?

                “Al…,” He – he must be somewhere then! Was he? Dread filled me at the thought. Was he safe or… was it not enough? Why was I still alive? Did that mean that Al wasn’t? I turned towards the man again. “Al?” I managed to choke out. “Where’s Al?”

                He stared at me for a moment before sighing. “Fraulein, do you know how I found you?”

                I paused. Fraulein? Fuck… He knows… How did I just now understand that revelation? But, more importantly, if he knew about that, then he saw my limbs and my pocket watch must be somewhere. So… Why hasn’t he realized who I was?

                “My dear?”

                I shook my head and he sat down on a nearby chair.

                “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it but, there was some sort of cackling electricity from my basement,” he began. “I thought it was some form of an attack for a moment until I heard a dull thud and the electricity stopped. When I went to go see what had happened, all I found was you, my dear, sprawled on the ground, bleeding profusely from that wound on your side.”

                Electricity… Alchemic sparks… But why?

                “Fraulein, how did you end up in my basement?”

                “Where?” I choked out.

                “My basement?”

                I shook my head and he thankfully seemed to understand.

                “We’re in a little village just outside of Freiburg.” I blinked, not recognizing the name. “In the country of Germany, close to the border of France.”

                Fucking shit… Where the fuck was I?

                “Fraulein, where did you come from?”

                I stared at him for a moment, weighing my options. However, there really wasn’t any, not with my wound still healing and having no strength so to speak of at the moment. “I was… in Central. Amestris.”

                The man nodded slowly. “Is Amestris a region?”

                Dread started to pool in my stomach. “No… A country,” I whispered. “With Xing, Drachma, Creta and Aerugo as its neighbors.” I don’t know where this burst of energy came from but I kept spewing out information. “It has cities, like East City and Central, towns: Rush Valley, Dublith, and Resembool. Forts too! Briggs fort, up North!” I kept talking, hoping, praying that something sounded familiar to him, that I wasn’t losing my mind.

                The man placed a hand on my shoulder, stopping my rambling. I held my breath as he stared at me. “Fraulein, those names are sadly unfamiliar to me…” No… It can’t… I can’t… “And, add your advanced prosthetics, I do believe that we are not talking about the same world anymore.”

                I didn’t say anything for a while, processing those words.

                World. Another world. So… That was the price to save Al? But I was dying anyway. Why…? Why did that fucking gate have to send me someplace I would never be able to call home? My brother, my family and my friends are literally a world away!

                Why? Why does the Truth love to play games with me? Haven’t I finished paying the price for my sins? Have I not sacrificed enough?

                “Here, Fraulein.”

                The man handed me a handkerchief without another word. I gripped it tightly in my shaking hand but didn’t make a move yet to dry the tears.

                Al… Was he alright? Was he alive? Was he able to return to Amestris? Was he here, in this world?

                But… He was alone…

                Alone or gone. I did this to him…

                The worst feeling is knowing there was no way of getting those answers. And those questions will just keep eating away at me.

                Unless…

                I stared at my hands, breathing deeply. Could I go back?

                I exhaled, raising them and bringing them together.

                A heartbeat later, nothing.

                Nothing.

                No alchemy.

                It – it didn’t work here.

                If the man found whatever I just did bizarre, he did not mention it. Instead, he offered his hand. “Well, if you are to stay here until you are recovered – which you are, may I add – may I introduce myself. I am Doctor Abraham Erskine.”

                I reached out, shaking his outstretched hand. “Evelyn Elric. But, I like to go by Ed.”

                Dr. Erskine just nodded, smiling. “Well, Fraulein, I would say welcome to Germany but, as soon as you are healed, we’re leaving.”


                 True to his word, the moment I was able to walk around with grimacing in pain, Dr. Erskine packed a suitcase and announced that we were leaving the next morning.

                “It’s because of those Nazis you were telling me about, right?”

                Dr. Erskine was quickly filling me in on… well, everything: from geography to politics, social constructs to physics and chemistry. That last one was a god send because it resembled alchemy so much, it felt as if I already knew it. However, Dr. Erskine also informed me that alchemy was a dead science here, just like a language call Latin: no one practiced anymore but people still liked to study it.

                That wasn’t going to help me find a way home though… Not if I can’t transmute.

                Dr. Erskine nodded to my question, sipping from his drink. “From its elite science division, Hydra, to be exact, and a certain Johann Schmidt.”

                “True, you were telling me how he wants that serum you have. Which, you still haven’t told me what it does.”

                Dr. Erskine smirked. “All in due time, Fraulein.”

                “About that.” I sat straighter in my chair, catching his attention. “I’d prefer to travel as a male.”

                He slowly placed his drink down, looking confused. “I do not follow. Why?”

                “Honestly, I don’t really care whether people see me as male or female though I did realize the convenience of going around as a man offered. Clothes, for example! Travelling is so much easier while not having to worry about dresses or skirts. The way I acted too seemed let others assume I was male and I never felt the need to contradict them. Very few people figured out the truth about my actual gender.” That brought the faces of several people to the forefront of my mind and I had to take a deep breath to help push them back. I was not going to start wallowing in self-pity now. “Besides, you won’t have to worry about me as much if people think I’m male anyway.”

                Dr. Erskine looked hesitant, which was a first: he took it quite well that I wasn’t even from this world but to finally actively hide that I was female, that’s what makes him hesitate?

                “I’m already half way there,” I added with a smirk, motioning to the borrowed, too large clothes.

                The man sighed, nodding. “Alright, I’ll agree to this, even though I would prefer the reverse, just so you could show the men to not underestimate their female counterparts.”

                I shrugged. “I already give them a taste of what it means to underestimate a smaller opponent, I can’t very well destroy their ego in one fell swoop, now can I?”

                Dr. Erskine chuckled. “Fine. But that hair needs to be cut: men here do not wear their hair that long.”

                I breathed deeply, playing with the ends. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Where are your scissors?”

                Dr. Erskine stood, motioning for me to follow. “This way, Fraulein.”

                I caught up to him, shaking my head. “Edward, Doctor, it’s Edward from now on.” Since I knew he refused to use my nickname: it was always Fraulein or Evelyn.

                “Hence, Ed, I take it?”

                “Edward came afterwards, actually.”

                “Am I right to assume there is a story behind that?”

                I smiled sadly and told him about Al and his inability to pronounce ‘Ev’ when he was younger as the Doctor cut my hair. Al had been so used to calling me Ed that, when others heard him and then saw me, they automatically assumed I was male and that my name would be Edward. I didn’t exactly bother to correct any of them, though.

                Thinking back, I didn’t bother to correct many things people assumed of me. Except for my height: that I never let slide nor let anyone get away with calling me that horrid ‘S’ word.

                As the strands of hair fell to the floor, I thought about how much – or, in this case, how little – I had shared with Dr. Erskine in the past few days. However, sometimes, like at the moment, I let myself remember home. It did just as much good as bad: happy memories of what was but that I could never reach again.

                No. No, I can’t think like that… Al wouldn’t want me to think like that. There had to be a way of getting back. With or without alchemy, there just had to be a way.

                And I was going to find it.

Chapter Text

January 1943

                “So, Americans are coming to help?” I whispered as we pushed through the crowd in the train station. No matter which world I was in, I could not seem to escape trains and their overcrowded stations, even when we were at a border town between Germany and… France, was it?

                Dr. Erskine nodded stiffly, scanning the crowd. Not only could I sense he was nervous, he looked it as well. I nudged him, making him look down at me quickly. “Try to relax a bit, will you?” I hissed, keeping a smile on my face. “Breathe a bit.”

                “Edward –”

                “I know what’s at stake but you’re not doing a good job at blending in right now. Trust me.”

                He hesitated a moment before breathing deeply and exhaling, letting his shoulders sag.

                I looked up at him, nodding and actually smiling. “That’s better.”

                We continued to push through the crowd and, as Dr. Erskine concentrated on finding our contacts, I was just attempting to avoid getting elbowed or plowed by luggage onto still healing wound.

                “Excuse me, but do you happen to know which train goes to Volgelsheim?

                What the hell was that language? Dr. Erskine paused, glancing towards the woman before smiling. Oh, was this one of the Americans that were supposed to help us? She didn’t look any different than any of the other women we passed: brown hair, brown eyes but she held herself in a way that reminded me of Lieutenant Hawkeye.

                “Sorry, the earliest train leaves tomorrow at 11 o’clock,” replied Dr. Erskine in the same language.

                The woman smiled back, nodding her head. “Perfect, thank you.”

                “Is there time for tea, though?

                “Always.” She answered. To what? I haven’t the slightest idea! This barrier that just suddenly appeared because of the language had caught me completely off guard. Dr. Erskine did not mention this!

                She turned around. Dr. Erskine glanced down at me and motioned for me to follow. I kept up with him and, after several steps, leaned slightly towards him and hissed, “What the hell did she say?”

                I caught the slight surprise in his face before he answered. “Oh dear, I forgot that you may not understand English…”

                “English?” I repeated. “Crap… You know you’re going to have to teach…”

                We suddenly came to a stop when two men stepped in front of us. The woman stopped, eyeing the two men cautiously as Dr. Erskine tensed next to her. I’m currently guessing these two aren’t Americans as well…

                “Dr. Erskine, if you would accompany us, please. We have some things to discuss,” stated one of the men curtly.

                Dr. Erskine hesitated, glancing towards the woman and then myself. “I am a tad busy at the moment, going for tea actually. Could it not wait?”

                “No, it cannot,” snapped the other one, reaching out to grab Dr. Erskine’s arm.

                The woman was faster though.

                She lashed out, ensnaring the man’s wrist in her grip and stared him down. “Now that’s quite impolite. Where are your manners?

                The men sneered at her before the other pulled out a gun. Right, so I was correct about them not being the American help.

                I kicked the one with the gun in the gut, pushing him back and making him double over in pain. Meanwhile, the woman twisted the other man’s arm behind his back before kneeing him in the lower back.

                “Time to go,” she stated.

                What does that mean!?

                She took off to the right and Dr. Erskine followed. Oh! That’s what it meant. I ran after them, weaving our way through the oblivious crowd.

                “There!”

                I spotted from the corner of my eye a man burst through the crowd, heading right for Dr. Erskine. I sprinted, bridging the gap and tackling him before he reached his target.

                The moment we hit the ground, his elbow rammed into my stomach and pain erupted from my wound. I held back a cry of pain, trying to breathe deeply between jolts of pain.

                “Get off, child!” growled the man, shoving me off of him with enough force that I rolled on the ground, stopping over a meter away.

                Fuck me…

                I pushed myself up, trying to ignore the pain. I spotted the assailant but not Dr. Erskine and the woman anywhere. The man also seemed to be looking for them as he scanned the crowd, slowly drawing out a gun.

                I don’t think so.

                He wasn’t paying attention to me as I came up behind him and kicked him on the side of his knee. He buckled, flailing his arms, just like I needed him to do. I grabbed one arm and I flipped the man over my shoulder, grasping the gun at the last moment. As he hit the ground, knocking the wind out of his lungs, I glanced at the gun and released the ammunition from its base.

                Yeah, not only train stations… Guns as well are the same sadly.

                I tossed the useless weapon away before I approached the man. He was so focused at struggling to push himself up that he didn’t see me coming until I literally had a foot slammed into the back of his head, knocking him out cold on the concrete.

                “Edward!”

                Dr. Erskine was running in my direction with that woman. His eyes widened at he spotted the unconscious man. Even the woman showed a small sign of amazement but she hid it well.

                Just like Hawkeye…

                Stupid Gate…

                “Edward, your wound.”

                I glanced down and lifted my jacket. The off-white shirt was beginning to soak through with blood. Damn it… Just when I thought I forgotten about the pain, it came back even stronger.

                “We need to get going,” I replied, covering the blood up with the jacket and putting pressure on the wound. “There may be more of them…”

                The woman glanced at Dr. Erskine as he translated – I’m assuming her translated – before nodding, hopefully in agreement to the fact that there may be more out there.

                She motioned for us to follow her and we headed down the street. She stopped next to a parked car and opened the door.

                “Inside, gentlemen,” she said, keeping her eyes peeled around her.

                Dr. Erskine motioned for me to go first and I did, grimacing as my wound protested the awkward position I put it in. I flopped onto the furthest seat, breathing deeply as I put pressure back onto the wound.

                Dr. Erskine slid in as well before the woman closed the door, got into the passenger side seat, and the driver pulled away from the curb.

                “How is your wound, Edward?” asked Dr. Erskine, turning in his seat to face me.

                “Been better,” I breathed out, keeping the pressure on it.

                “If the stitches –”

                “Probably did,” I cut in. “But we can’t do shit about it in a moving vehicle.”

                Dr. Erskine stared at me for a moment before leaning forward, towards the woman. “How long before we arrive at our destination?

                She glanced back, eyeing me for a moment. “Fifteen minutes. Will he be alright?

                Dr. Erskine nodded. “In fifteen minutes, he should be.

                Stupid language barrier…

                Whatever time it took to get to wherever the hell we needed to go, it had been the longest I had felt in a while. I continued to put pressure on the wound on my side, my eyes squeezed shut, trying to block out the continuous throbbing.

                All while trying to keep the images of how it happened out of my mind.

                I hate to say it but it was near impossible for me… I still saw It – still saw Father. The fight. The anger that fueled me, having seen my brother’s armour lay motionless on the ground. How the seal had broken. His soul…

                GONE!

                The punches I threw. The alchemy I used. They depleted the philosopher stone’s strength.

                Not enough though…

                We both went in for the punch at the same time.

                We both hit our marks.

                While my fist went through his chest, his went through my side.

                “Edward?”

                I jerked, sitting up straighter, opening my eyes and blinking several times, trying to get those images out of my mind. The car had stopped. Dr. Erskine and the woman were both turned towards me, watching me carefully.

                “We’re here?” I asked, looking outside.

                “Yes, and while Agent Carter makes sure the preparations are set, we need to bind that wound of yours,” explained Dr. Erskine.

                Agent Carter? The woman said something else to Dr. Erskine before leaving the car. What’s an agent? Was that a name? And what the hell are we doing in the middle of a field?

                “Lift your shirt, Edward,” ordered Dr. Erskine gently, taking out a roll of gauze from a bag.

                It took a moment but I did as he told me, biting back a groan as the fabric unstuck itself from the blood and skin. I peeked at the wound, biting back a groan at the sight: my stitches had pulled on one side, leaving a large gash on my skin.

                Fucking great…

                “Sit up, Edward.”

                I leaned forward, more pain shooting through my abdomen.

                “Get it over with,” I gritted out just before Dr. Erskine began wrapping the gauze around my stomach.

                “Deep breaths, Edward. Deep breaths.”

                Easier said than done…

                Helium. Hydrogen. Lithium. Beryllium. Boron. Carbon. Nitrogen. Oxygen. Fluorine. Neon

                I faintly heard something from Dr. Erskine but I couldn’t let my mind wander.

                Sodium. Magnesium. Aluminium. Silicon. Phosphorus. Sulfur. Chlorine. Argon.

                “You can stop now, Edward.”

                I opened my eyes to a smiling Dr. Erskine as he leaned back.

                But I was confused. “Stop what?”

                “The periodic table. I heard you muttering the elements under your breath. So far, they were all the same as here.”

                I breathed out, avoiding eye contact. I hadn’t realized I was saying them out loud… “At least there’s something the same,” I muttered, pulling my shirt down and closing my jacket.

                “Is he better?” The same woman from before had opened the door, asking a question.

                Dr. Erskine nodded. “I’ve managed to stop the bleeding. Moving him should be fine now.” He turned towards me, motioning to the woman. “This is Agent Peggy Carter, she’ll be accompanying us to America.” Agent is a title then? If not, this world has some strange names…

                “Edward Elric, is it?

                I heard my name from her mouth so I nodded. “Nice to meet you?” I tried.

                Dr. Erskine hopefully translated that to her to which she acknowledged, leaning back outside. “Shall we, gentlemen? We have a short time frame.”

                Dr. Erskine got out of the car and I followed, taking care not to aggravate my wound. We followed Agent Carter through the field, towards a farmhouse. A deserted one from the looks of the rotting boards and chipped paint.

                This better not be a trap…

                As we went around the barn, I readied myself for any foul play that… could… 

                That was…

                The first and only thing I saw was a large metal contraption with bits of metal sticking out from each side and what I could only imagine were three propellers attached in the front. It was even larger than the tanks we had back in Amestris! What…? How…?

                I grasped Dr. Erskine’s sleeve, pulling him down slightly. “What the fuck is that thing?” I hissed.

                He glanced at the metal contraption and then back at me before an amused smile spread across his face. “That, Edward, is an airplane.

                I blinked, never having heard that word before.

                It must have showed on my face because Dr. Erskine continued in an amused manner. “It flies.”

                “BULLSHIT!”

                My exclamation caught the attention Agent Carter and some men – there were men going in and out of that thing – as they turned towards us, confusion written on their faces. Dr. Erskine smiled at them and said something in that other language. They seemed to buy whatever he said, everyone but Agent Carter: she stared at both of us with a calculating look before motioning for us to get into that metal flying machine.

                Flying!

                How the hell does that work?

                I hesitantly followed Dr. Erskine into that metal thing, scanning the area quickly.

                This thing is huge! And it flies?

                The notion that this place was somewhat similar to Amestris just took a large step back: they closest thing we have that flies back home is a hot air balloon. This thing, though, I don’t think it’s hot air that lets it gain altitude: the metal would probably melt if you had the necessary heat to even try to elevate it!

                Dr. Erskine pointed towards some seats and I sat down, him next to me. The men filtered in and out, shouting out… something. Orders? Witty banter? Meal orders?

                I’ll say it again: I hate this language barrier.

                Agent Carter took a seat across from us and buckled herself in. Buckles. Those sound like a good idea. I found mine and imitated her. I felt a tad safer but I still wanted to know how this thing was going to get up in the air.

                Dr. Erskine wasn’t much help at the moment as he discussed something with two men, giving them a good laugh.

                It wasn’t until all the men had boarded and taken a seat that Dr. Erskine was free. However, I didn’t have a chance to ask him my hundred questions when – what I can only imagine that’s what they were – the engines to this ‘airplane’ started.

                I glanced out the window next to me seeing the propellers begin to turn.

                Those aren’t going to help much with –

                The idea of how this ‘airplane’ flew was sent to the back of my mind the moment we began moving, the sudden and jerky movements of this box of metal. Scratch that, when it started gaining altitude was when my mind was focused solely on not panicking.

                I’ve been in vehicles of questionable sturdiness but this thing took the cake. The bumps we hit – which I can’t even begin to wonder WHAT they were seeing at we were in the AIR – and the rocking of this thing were worse than anything I had ever been on.

                And it hadn’t even been five minutes!

                “How –?” Another bump that jostled me in my seat. “How long of a trip is this?” I managed to ask evenly.

                Fuck, I made the mistake of looking out the window. How fucking high do we need to be?!

                “Several hours, Edward,” replied Dr. Erskine.

                He said I did but I’ll deny it to others: my face did NOT pale at the idea of staying up in the air for HOURS in this stupid, rickety contraption!

                I fiddled with my seat buckle, unsure of how I was going to last the trip. Trains, I can sleep in. They rarely derail and we aren’t – fucking shit… I shouldn’t have looked – KILOMETERS above the ground if ever they did fall off the tracks…

                I need to keep my mind occupied.

                I glanced around the interior of the airplane but there wasn’t much in terms of distractions… The men were talking amongst themselves while Agent Carter was reading through files. Well, it’s not like I could have talked to any of them… anyway…

                “Dr. Erskine?” I turned towards the man, hopeful. “Can you teach me English?”

                He seemed taken aback for a moment by the request. However, he smiled at me, putting his book down. “It would be my pleasure, Edward. Where would you like to begin?”

                “Teach me everything you know.”

                The look on his face was enough to make me forget the height and structural integrity of the aircraft.

                Was he – and everyone else – in for a surprise when they realize just how fast I learn.

Chapter Text

                January 1943

                Thankfully, I had fallen asleep during the flight to ‘America’. It may have been a relief to Dr. Erskine and the others because we had not stopped talking for hours. I had picked up a lot of words and some of the conjugation of verbs but there was still so much to learn!

                The sleep, though, got me to ‘America’, in one piece and blissfully unaware of how long we had really been in the air or how we landed.

                “Dr. Erskine, Mr. Elric, this way, please. A car is waiting.” Agent Carter was standing at the exit of the ‘airplane’, motioning for us to follow her. We headed towards the parked car across the paved area and I glanced around, amazed at the change of scenery. Just the buildings in the distance were taller than any I had ever seen.

                Bigger than any in Central and those were already quite large!

                Even during the drive to… somewhere, I kept staring out the window of the car. Well, at least most of the vehicles looked similar to the ones back home. But those buildings! I craned my neck but most of them I could not see their top floors!

                I was so engrossed by my surroundings that I barely noticed the car stopping and the others getting out. Thankfully, Dr. Erskine patted my shoulder, pointing towards the door.

                We exited the car and followed Agent Carter down the sidewalk, trying to manoeuver through the crowd. Well, there were A LOT more people here than back home. No wonder they had to have buildings so tall! Where else would you house so many people?

                “Ooh! What a dish! What are you doing tonight, Doll?”

                I glanced towards the man that had called out but his complete focus was on Agent Carter. She continued to march down the sidewalk, ignoring him but he was a step behind her.

                “What’s he saying?” I breathed out to Dr. Erskine. I understood ‘tonight’ but… What the hell did the rest mean together?

                “Woah there, where you off to? Say something, Doll!” laughed out the man.

                “Something and I’m not interested,” she snapped, not turning around.

                He’s bothering her then. I went to pick up my pace but Dr. Erskine grasped my arm, holding me back.

                The man’s attitude did a 180 as he yelled out angrily. “Stuck up, Broad! Go back to that shit hole you came from!”

                Agent Carter stopped suddenly, briefly glancing behind her with a small tilt of her head. I glanced up at Dr. Erskine, confused. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Did I understand what that man said correctly?

                “Changed your mind, you –”

                Agent Carter whirled around, yanking the man’s arm and twisting it behind his back. “Have you had enough?” she whispered, her voice even.

                The man quickly nodded and Agent Carter released him, shoving him back from where he had come from. I watched him run away, smirking.

                You go, Agent Carter.

                She straightened her jacket, patting it down before resuming her walk.

                The more I spend time around this woman, the more I find she resembles Hawkeye.

                It sent a pang in my heart, remembering Amestris but at least I knew I could trust Agent Carter from what I’ve seen so far.

                We walked in silence until we reached… Well, it looked like any other building around us so I can’t really tell why this one was special.

                Oh, I guess entering a code to get in was one of those reasons.

                Inside, there was a grumpy looking man waiting for us, dressed in a military uniform. When he saw us, he bridged the gap, holding out his hand towards Dr. Erskine.

                “Colonel Phillips, Dr. Erskine, a pleasure.” The Doctor shook his outstretched hand before translating for me and presenting me.

                But, at that point, I wasn’t really listening.

                Colonel. A Colonel. The gate had a really sick sense of humour…

                “Edward!”

                I was startled out my thoughts by the call and realized both adults were staring at me. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Pleasure, sir.”

                The Colonel frowned down at me for a moment before nodding and turning back towards Dr. Erskine. I wasn’t fully listening to their conversation, not when I had been reminded of Amestris again so suddenly.

                I needed to find a way back. And to do so I’ll need access to books. Hopefully some will have information on alchemy or on some way to get home.

                “Does he have to be here?”

                The question brought me out of my thoughts. Was that about me?

                “He is my assistant,” replied Dr. Erskine smoothly without any hint of animosity. How he did that is beyond me…

                The Colonel stared at me, a deep frown on his face and his lips pinched. Great. He doesn’t like me. And I haven’t even done anything to him! Or anything at all for that matter!

                “Fine, but understand this doctor: if he steps out of line, he’s out; if he makes a mess, he’s out; if he causes problems –”

                “He’s out, I’m guessing?” cut in the Doctor with a small smile and a tilt of his head.

                “Damn straight. Am I clear?”

                “Yes, sir,” nodded Dr. Erskine.

                The Colonel looked down at me, still frowning.

                I forced myself to not frown back but I don’t think it worked too well. Therefore, I added, half-heartedly, “Yes, sir.”

                I hadn’t listened to Mustang more than half the time and I’m expected to fall in line for this guy? Someone whose face is frozen in a constant state of disgruntled acceptance that a stick is permanently shoved up his ass?

                Stupid, fucking Gate…

                “Agent Carter, show them where they’ll be working,” ordered the Colonel, waving us off and walking away.

                Agent Carter nodded. “Yes, sir.” Before she motioned to us to follow her.

                We walked down some corridors and passed some soldiers – all of them were men. I wonder where the women officers were... Whilst most of the men ignored us, other gave Agent Carter a look of either disapproval or of lust. What the fuck was wrong with them? They’re trained soldiers! She’s an agent!

                We’re at WORK!

                “Agent Carter?” I called out. She briefly glanced back at me, waiting for me to continue. “What uh… Rank? Position?” I asked Dr. Erskine quickly for the translation.

                “Rank and position,” he answered softly.

                “Danke. What rank is Agent?” I wondered, looking back at her.

                “If you’re referring to military rank, there isn’t one,” she replied turning back to face the front. “I’m a special officer of the SSR.”

                Okay. I understood some of that and Dr. Erskine thankfully filled me in on the rest. The next question though, I didn’t know most of the words so I asked it in German.

                “Edward’s wondering if it has an equivalent rank in the army,” asked the Doctor for me.

                Agent Carter stopped in front of a door, looking puzzled. “No one’s ever asked me that before,” she muttered. “Why do you want to know?”

                The doctor went to translate but I waved him off. “Respect.” Was my only answer.

                Respect because I knew many female military officers who had the respect of their peers. Who weren’t subject to condescending and disgusted looks from others. They had the respect because they were colleagues, not because they did something extraordinary… Why isn’t Agent Carter getting the same thing for being a special officer of the SSR?

                “Respect of what exactly?” she asked slowly.

                “You. As person. As – what did you call it? – officer.”

                She scoffed, looking away but I spotted the faintest trace of a smile on her face. “One can wish, Mr. Elric. Now –”

                “You have respect from me, Agent Carter,” I cut in, hoping I used the right verbs. “And just Edward or Ed.”

                She hesitated, eyeing me carefully before finally conceding. “Thank you, Edward. Now,” she took a deep breath, opening the door she had been standing in front of, “this is one of the labs you’ve been offered to work in.”

                We followed her into the large room filled with tables and electrical equipment. On the tables were dozens upon dozens of pieces of… something. What all of this could be used for was beyond me but…

                I really wanted to know!

                “Edward?”

                I looked up from the arrangements of items before me, spotting Dr. Erskine and Agent Carter further in the room, standing next to a slightly shorter man. I quickly made my way over to them, studying the new man just as he was giving me a once over as well.

                At least he didn’t look displeased by the sight of me.

                “Right,” began Agent Carter. “Gentlemen, this is Howard Stark, he will be aiding you with anything you need,” she explained, motioning towards the man. “Mr. Stark, may I present Dr. Abraham Erskine and Edward Elric. Edward is the doctor’s assistant.”

                “Great to finally meet you, Doctor,” said Stark, shaking the Dr. Erskine’s hand. “I’ve started going over some of equations if you’d like to take a look.”

                “That would be wonderful, Mr. Stark,” replied the Doctor, nodding.

                Agent Carter glanced at both of them before bowing her head. “Well, gentlemen, if you need me, I shall be at my desk. I’ll leave you to your experiments. Good luck.”

                “Thank you, Agent Carter,” said Dr. Erskine, smiling at her.

                She returned the gesture with a small smile of her own. Shen then turned heel and walked away. That seemed like the queue for Stark and the Doctor to enter a quick and deep discussion concerning the serum and what was needed for it.

                Well, I think that’s what the discussion was about: I only understood certain words in their conversation and I wasn’t even sure I heard them correctly because of how fast they were talking.

                I stood next to them for a moment, trying to catch some information but I gave up. I only had a few hours of English lessons and none of those hours really covered complex scientific vocabulary. My gaze moved to the tables nearby, at the equipment and papers scattered on it.

                A series of papers, though, caught my attention.

                Those looked like chemical equations.

                I glanced at the still distracted men, happy to note that they did not notice how I was moving towards the set of papers. I picked them up, my excitement growing. These were chemical equations! So what is – ?

                “Hey! Those aren’t for kids!” cried Stark but I was already flipping to the next page. I actually understood this language of chemicals! His words though, I wasn’t too sure what he had said but I could tell from his tone that he didn’t want me anywhere near these.

                Thankfully, Dr. Erskine came up to him and said something to calm him down. To me, in German, he added, “Please don’t make a mess of Mr. Stark’s work, Edward. Alright?

                I absentmindedly nodded as I flipped to the next page. What the heck was he making? These are incredible! The two of them must have gone back to talking because I could faintly hear some background noises but my mind was so focused on all these numbers and symbols. This here… Who would have thought to do that? And here… Wait.

                “Berechnungsfehler.”

                Stark and Dr. Erskine paused in their discussion, turning towards me. I looked up from the papers I held, pointing at a line.

                “Berechnungsfehler.”

                I glanced over it once more. Yeah, I was right.

                “What did he say? Did he sneeze or something?” whispered Stark, glancing between myself and Dr. Erskine. The Doctor, however, had a look between surprise and pride on his face. He silently motioned for me to continue and I took a deep breath. Time to test out my English.

                “Um… Here. This… Uh, wrong?”

                I had no idea how to say a calculation mistake in English but the shock that spread across Stark’s face let me know that he understood the gist of it.

                He quickly snatched the papers away from me and scanned them, muttering something or another under his breath. All the while, Dr. Erskine stood back, smirking slightly. He caught my gaze and winked.

                “I – No… Damn… The kid’s right. He’s right.”

                That part I understood and smiled smugly at him. Take that.

                “I guess your assistant will be a good help, Dr. Erskine,” stated Stark, patting my head.

                I swatted his hand away, frowning, earning a chuckle from the Doctor.

                “I’m sure he will be.”


 

February 1943

                “So, Edward, officially, how old are you?”

                I looked up from the book I was reading, right at Agent Carter who held a clipboard in her hands as she stared down at me, waiting for an answer.

                “Uh… What date?”

                “Yes, date, year and age, please.”

                “No, I mean… today?”

                Her expression changed to one of confusion as she replied, “The 5th of February.”

                I lowered the book, chuckling softly to myself. I completely missed it. Completely!

                “Edward?”

                “17, my age is 17. Two days ago.”

                Agent Carter blinked once before marking it down on the clipboard. “So, February 3rd, 1926 is your date of birth. Thank you. Dr. Erskine provided the rest of the information. He just couldn’t remember when you were born.”

                He what? What information? I’ll have to ask him when I can get him alone or else we’ll just end up contradicting each other!

                Agent Carter glanced over the papers on the clipboard for a moment before nodding to herself. “Thank you, Edward. That will be all.” She turned around and took several steps before stopping. “And Happy Birthday.”

                “Thanks, Agent Carter.”              

                I watched her leave and waited a few moments before closing my book and leaving the room. Where would Dr. Erskine be at this time of day? I needed to talk to him about what he told Agent Carter. If we contradict each other, it could spell bad news for both of us.

                Well, they really needed Dr. Erskine so the bad news would be all mine.

                I finally found him in one of the labs and bee-lined towards him. “Dr. Erksine, can we talk?

                He looked up from his notebook, took one glance at me and removed his glasses. “What seems to be troubling you, Edward?

                Scanning the area, happy to notice that no one else was present, I sat down in front of him. “What did you tell Agent Carter about me?

                He nodded in understanding, closing his notebook. “Well, I let you fill in your day of birth, she passed by I imagine?

                “Yes and she said you remembered everything but that. I need to know what that ‘everything’ is exactly.

                “Alright then. I told her you come from the village of Hartem, in the Heidmark, an area in the north-western most region of Germany.” I had no idea where any of that was… “No worries on getting details of the area correct, though. It doesn’t exist anymore.

                Oh… “What happened to it?

                “The Whermacht happened. They are the German militia and they took the Heidmark area in 1935 to build their training grounds and barracks. Hartem was one of the villages destroyed, it’s inhabitants relocated.

                Hartem. Heidmark. By the Whermacht. Okay, so far I can remember this.

                “I chose that village in particular because of the story you had told me about your hometown. About the sheep festival. Hartem was known for its sheep farming.

                “Well that’s convenient,” I muttered, surprised. “Did you tell her anything else?

                He nodded. “She wanted information about your family, contacts. I told her it may be difficult with your mother gone, and your father and brother missing. I stretched the truth and said it had been years, since the forced relocation that you hadn’t seen them.

                I sat back, taking a deep breath. Since 1935, I hadn’t seen them in… Eight years. It’s been a little over a month but it was starting to feel like that. It probably hadn’t helped that Al and I had been apart since Baschool before the Promised Day.

                “Thanks, Dr. Erskine,” I muttered, standing. “I’ll leave you to your notes.

                I was halfway to the door when the Doctor called out to me. “Don’t give up hope, Edward. Don’t ever give up.

                I turned back to him, smiling softly. “Thanks. I won’t.


  June 1943

                I closed my bag, glancing around the room. I don’t think I forgot anything. It wasn’t like I had much to begin with… But, I don’t think we were coming back here so it would be best to grab what I could or suffer it being thrown out by some jerks.

                While most of the scientists had been kind – or more, tolerable – in the past few months, others had not taken kindly to our being here. Us being Dr. Erskine and myself. From what I gathered, it mostly had to do with our nationality: how being German was an incurable crime.

                Dr. Erskine had already told me before we left Germany that the world has been in the middle of a war for the past 4 years, a war that had been started by Germans. However, I learned during the past few months how deep hatred for a nationality could run.

                Thinking back, the Ishvalans suffered through discrimination much worse than this. Especially considering the civil war that had been started by those fucking homunculi!

                Maybe… Maybe when I get back, I can help them.

                Somehow.

                Just then, Dr. Erskine entered the room. Something was off. He was usually in a better mood…

                “What’s wrong?” I asked, catching his attention.

                He glanced in my direction, shaking his head. “What do you mean?

                “You’re demeanor’s different today. What’s wrong?

                He sighed, smiling softly. “I cannot hide much from you anymore, Edward.

                I rolled my eyes. Not when you spend everyday day together, working on perfecting the serum and the administration process for it. A serum I STILL don’t know what it is supposed to do!

                Dr. Erskine sat on his bed, breathing deeply. I tossed my bag on the floor and sat on my bed, cross-legged, and waited.

                “The candidates for the serum. They are what are troubling me.

                I had only briefly seen the list of soldiers that were chosen for the week of training leading to the decision of which candidate would be the test subject for the serum. Perhaps Dr. Erskine had met the men and… he didn’t like them from the look on his face.

                “So, are you still going to go through with it?” I asked.

                Dr. Erskine nodded half-heartedly. “They know who my first choice is but –

                “No. They told you no. I’m telling you ‘no’. Again.

                Around March, Dr. Erskine had brought up the idea of having me be the test subject for the mysterious serum. Even though the US government flat out refused the moment they heard the idea, I wasn’t a willing participant.

                I had already been a dog of the military back in Amestris: I did not need to be tied to the US army in this world.

                Dr. Erskine chuckled. “Fine, fine, fine. And to answer your question, I shall think about it, depending on how our outing tomorrow will go.”

                I paused, thinking back. What outing? We were leaving for Camp Lehigh the day after tomorrow. “Where are we going?

                “We are accompanying Mr. Stark to the World Exposition of Tomorrow where he is giving a presentation on one of his new inventions.”

                He was? Maybe he did mention something but I tune him out quite often, mostly because he talks about women more than work when Dr. Erskine isn’t present in the room. I’ve just learned to ignore him as a general principal.

                Dr. Erskine thankfully continued with his explanation. “There is a recruitment office there. I hope to find my own candidate there.

                I shrugged. “Okay. You know better than any of us who you want.

                “Yes, your replacement.

                “Damn straight. I’m NOT doing it!

Chapter Text

June 1943

                I waved back at Howard, not wanting to turn around and see exactly what he was doing with those girls. I’ve come to realize it quickly in the past couple of months but seeing Howard’s womanizing side is still a put off for me.

                I made my way through the crowd, scanning the surrounding displays and presentation booths. Everything drew my attention: the advancements this world has made with physics and machinery is INCREDIBLE! That – that thing over there with the –

                I got knocked to the side before a steadying hand grasped my left arm, keeping me upright.

                “Sorry! I’m really sorry!”

                A man in military uniform let go of my arm but his attention was already elsewhere, searching around the area.

                “You wouldn’t happen to have seen a man, about your height, blond hair, beige coat, walking around here?”

                I had not been paying attention to anyone to be honest, just the exhibits… I shook my head and he sighed in frustration.

                “Thanks anyway. I’ll keep looking…” He paused, his gaze fixed on something. I followed his line of sight, spotting the enlistment poster. “He can’t be serious…,” breathed out the soldier, exasperated. “Sorry again.”

                And he took off.

                I watched him run for a moment before shrugging my shoulders at the bizarre display. I was about to continue looking at the different displays when I glanced back at the enlistment poster. Fuck… I had promised Dr. Erskine I would see him after Howard’s presentation.

                I guess my sightseeing will have to wait for later…

                I made my way to the enlistment office, looking around for the Doctor. He had said he would be walking around the area to find a future soldier for the training tomorrow. Maybe he had been successful…

                Then where would he be?

                “Ah, Edward, there you are. Come along now.” Dr. Erskine had suddenly grasped my elbow, steering me towards the medical offices.

                “What’s going on?” I asked, trying to keep my balance because of the awkward grip he had me in. I glanced back at his face, noticing a smile. “And why are you so happy?”

                He glanced down at me, still smiling. “You shall see.”

                I sighed, rolling my eyes but I let myself get steered all the way to the examination rooms where an MP, a military police officer, was standing by. He handed Dr. Erskine a folder before pulling back a curtain and entering the examination area.

                Dr. Erskine opened the folder briefly, nodding to himself. “Hopefully he will agree.” He turned to me, patting my head. “Wait here.”

                I swatted his hand away, just like I’ve done over dozens upon dozens of times that him or Howard had thought it was funny to pat me on the head. I swear I may break their fingers one day!

                “Fine,” I grumbled, crossing my arms and leaning against the wall next to the curtains.

                Dr. Erskine smirked before entering the examination area as well, sending the MP out a moment later.

                “So, you want to go overseas, to kill some Nazis?”

                That was Dr. Erskine’s voice. I know I was close to the curtains but there was still ambient noise around me. How can I hear him so well? Though, at the same time, it is interesting to hear what the Doctor was asking this potential candidate for the training.

                Just to be safe, I scooted closer to the curtains.

                “Excuse me?”

                “Dr. Abraham Erskine. I represent the Strategic Scientific Reserve.”

                I held in a scoff at the name. I liked to forget how long the SSR name really is. Why give it such a long name? Why not just call it one thing and be done with it. I wonder if this man had heard about the SSR or not. I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be a known organisation… I’ve just been housed by them for the past six months.

                “Steve Rogers.” That was the man.

                There was a pause on their end and I waited, wondering what they were doing.

                “Where are you from?” asked Steve suddenly.

                “Queens, 73rd Street,” replied Dr. Erskine casually. “Before that, Germany. This troubles you?” I didn’t hold my breath… If he was like the other soldiers, chances were it did… I could perhaps hope for indifference but that was as far as it went for them.

                I waited for a while but I hadn’t heard any response from Rogers.

                I’ll have to wait to see if his answer was a good one or not.

                “Where are you from, originally, Mr. Rogers?” asked Dr. Erskine and I faintly heard papers rustling. “Is it New Haven? Or Paramus? Five exams in five different cities–”

                “That may not be the right file.”

                “No, it’s not the exams,” cut in Dr. Erskine. “It’s the five tries.” This guy is VERY determined. Who would try FIVE times to get into the military? Why do they keep rejecting him? “But you didn’t answer my question. Do you want to kill Nazis?”

                There was a pause from Rogers and I was growing more and more curious about this man.

                “Is this a test?” he asked instead.

                “Yes.” Dr. Erskine’s blunt answer nearly had me laughing out loud. I managed to contain it thankfully to a quick release of breath.

                “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies, I don’t care where they’re from.”

                I actually turned towards the curtains, towards Roger’s voice. Impressive. Very Impressive. That answer… I think Dr. Erskine just found his candidate for the training.

                “Well, there are already so many big men fighting this war. Maybe what we need now is the little guy. I can offer you a chance.”

                The curtain suddenly opened and I jumped up, straightening. Dr. Erskine briefly glanced in my direction, a small smile on his face.

                “Only a chance,” he repeated, heading to the desk with the folder in hand.

                “I’ll take it!”

                I was physically shocked at the sight of Rogers. He was as tall as I was, around 1.65 meters, but he was so thin – so scrawny – I could probably snap him in half. He quickly walked past me, a slight shuffle in his step. I could not stop staring.

                His body… It was only slightly better than Al’s had been at the Gate. Sure, Rogers had a bit more meat on the bones but…

                He did not look like he could be a soldier.

                He had the heart of one, but not the body.

                Dr. Erskine glanced back at Rogers. “Good,” he said as he opened the folder. “So where is the little guy from, actually?” he asked as he searched through the stamps on the table.

                “Brooklyn,” replied Rogers.

                The Doctor finally stopped searching, using the stamp on the file before handing the folder over to Rogers. “Congratulations, soldier,” stated, turning away.

                As he passed me, he stopped and leaned closer. “Can I trust you with informing him about the training camp, Edward?”

                He didn’t really wait for a reply as he smiled, patted my head, and continued on his way.

                I swear, those fingers are going to be broken one day!

                I waited a moment, letting Rogers beam at the acceptance of his file. Well, who am I kidding? Seeing him reminded me of Al, of how I left him in Amestris. I didn't want to talk to him when he reminded me so much of my brother... Hopefully after six months, Al’s gotten better.

                Taking a deep breath, I squared my shoulders. Just go.

                I approached him, stopping right in front of him. Damn, he really was my height… “Rogers, right?” I asked.

                It seemed I startled him as his head jerked up, staring at me. “Uh, yes. Sorry. Steve Rogers.”

                “Edward Elric, Dr. Erskine gave me the task of letting you know about where the training will take place.”

                Rogers’ attention was caught then and he straightened, closing the folder. Wow, he really looked like a soldier… ish.

                “Woah, there. At ease, I’m not military,” I stated, lifting my hands in surrender. Well, not military here, anyway. “I’m not going to…” I forgot the word court martial in English so I just let it slide. “Anyway, just relax.”

                Rogers paused for a moment but his shoulders did unstiffen. “Sorry.”

                I waved him off. “It’s fine. So, tomorrow. Camp Lehigh. Heard of it?”

                Rogers shook his head. “No, sadly. Is it in the state of New York?”

                I thought back, trying to keep all these areas straight. “No, New Jersey, I believe. I’m not from around here as you probably guessed.”

                Rogers shook his head. “I never would have.”

                I was taken aback for a moment. Did – did he just use sarcasm? “You’re joking, right?”

                He smiled, scratching the back of his neck. “Yes, sorry. You’re from Germany too? Like Dr. Erskine?”

                I nodded. “From the North of it. I’m acting as Dr. Erskine’s assistant at the moment.” I paused, thinking it over. “And messenger. So, Camp Lehigh, New Jersey. Training starts tomorrow so I’d get back home and pack up, say your goodbyes and… whatever else you need to do.”

                Rogers glanced at the folder. “Packing will be easy enough. The rest, well, that’s been taken care of already.”

                I frowned, wondering if I understood his words correctly. Yes, I had been learning English. Yes, those words separately, I knew what they meant. Together, with the tone he used, though, was another story.

                I’m not even going to start with some of the stupid expressions they’ve come up with…

                “You’ve said goodbye already?” I asked slowly.

                “Yeah, my friend is being shipped off to England tomorrow. I’d been trying to enlist to join him. Hopefully this will be my ticket there.”

                He didn’t mention family and I realized he may not have any left. Apart from the friend that was leaving, he was alone.

                That feeling, I understood far too well.

                “You really do want to join the army, don’t you, Rogers?”

                He looked up at me, determination in his gaze. “Men are laying down their lives for freedom, I got no right to do any less than them…”

                No wonder Dr. Erskine chose this guy. I smiled at him, nodding my head. “Then good luck with the training. I’ll be heading off there as well.”

                “As Dr. Erskine’s assistant or…?”

                I quickly waved my hands. “No, no, no. Just assistant. Though I may take part in some of the exercises.”

                “Well, I’ll know at least two people there, then.”

                I scoffed. “True. Alright, soldier,” I turned around, heading towards the exit. “Let’s get out of here. There’s nothing left to do anyway.”

                I heard Rogers shuffle to catch up and we left the enlistment building. I looked around, trying to remember where I had left off before I had been…

                Wait.

                I turned towards Rogers as he was pulling on his coat. His beige coat. I studied him for a moment recalling the one-sided conversation I had with the soldier previously. “Was someone looking for you?” I asked suddenly.

                Rogers turned towards me, surprised. “Yes, actually. Why?”

                “Small world,” I muttered, stuffing my hands into my pockets. “He ran into me before I came here,” I explained in a normal tone. I then remembered what Rogers had said about a friend – a soldier being shipped off. “He’s the one you said good bye too?”

                Rogers sighed. “Yeah. I told him not to win the war until I got there. Think it’s possible?”

                I shrugged my shoulders, heading down the stairs. “I honestly don’t know what could or couldn’t be possible anymore. Just look around you.”

                “Yeah.” Rogers did look around, a small smile on his face. “We’re in the future.”

Chapter Text

 

              Camp Lehigh -  June 1943

                I glanced up from my book to see Peggy walk in, in full military uniform. “Good morning, Agent Carter,” I called out, shutting my book.

                She glanced in my direction, nodding. “Good morning to you, too, Edward.” She then turned to one of the officers. “Are these for the recruits, soldier?” she asked, motioning towards the wooden box filled with clipboards and forms.

                “Yes, ma’am,” he replied curtly.

                “Good, grab them and follow me, then.” She didn’t wait for an answer as she turned heel, heading towards the exit. “Edward?”

                “Coming!” I called, watching the soldier stare between Peggy and the box, bewildered. I motioned for him to hurry before I caught up with Peggy.

                I heard him huff but he did pick up the box, leaving the room as well. We walked in silence through the camp, Peggy marching confidently slightly ahead of me.

                I was still marvelled by her attitude and how she held herself amongst all these men. When I had told her I respected her six months ago, I had not been stroking anyone’s ego. I meant it and, if possible, I mean it even more today. I had seen how soldiers – how men – have treated her and how she fights back every time.

                I had once snapped and confronted one of the men who insulted her. Peggy, however, had been quick to remind me that she could handle the derogative comments herself.

                She had thanked me but added the warning of never doing it again.

                From then, we had formed an understanding and – dare I say it? – friendship. She had offered me the possibility of calling her ‘Peggy’, which I did whenever there wasn’t any soldiers present. When there were, I always used her S.S.R. rank. I didn’t want to give them the idea that, because I could call her Peggy, they could as well, or worse, think they could disrespect her even more…

                “What are you reading this time, Edward?” asked Peggy out of the blue.

                I glanced at the book in my hand, “Albert Einstein’s Relativity. Dr. Erskine managed to find a German version of it for me.”

                “I remember that book,” remarked Peggy, nodding. “I read through the first part but I never got around to finishing it… Let me know if it’s worth getting back to it, would you?”

                “Sure thing,” and I couldn’t help adding, “Ma’am.”

                She glanced back, frowning slightly. I smirked, knowing how it annoyed her when I used ‘ma’am’ on her.

                As we continued to walk, I glanced at the book again. I had just started it but the theory of relativity may hold the answer to getting back to Amestris: the how space and time are related. Maybe at some point, he’ll talk about the possibility of other worlds. One can hope.

                “Behave,” muttered Peggy in my direction just as we reached a row of soldiers. “Recruits, attention,” she called out, reaching the new soldiers and stepping in front of them. “Gentlemen, I’m Agent Carter. I supervise all operations for this division.”

                “What’s with the accent, Queen Victoria?” called out one of the soldiers and I rolled my eyes at his tone. Two sentences. That’s all it took Peggy to say before someone jackass decided to butt in… “Thought I was signing up for the US army.”

                Peggy stopped in front of him, unfazed. “What’s your name, soldier?” she asked sharply.

                “Gilmore Hodge, your Majesty,” he drawled out, giving her a once over.

                “Step forward, Hodge,” ordered Peggy. He chuckled doing as he was told slowly and grudgingly. “Put your right foot forward.”

                “Are we gonna wrassle?” Wrassle? What the fuck is wrassle? Did he mean wrestle? Even I spoke better English than this asshole! “Cause I got a few moves I know you’ll like.” For the love of… He’s really asking for a beating.

                And a beating is what he got. Peggy punched him square in the jaw, making him fall to the ground.

                “Agent Carter!” I turned around, spotting the Colonel and Dr. Erskine heading our way.

                “Colonel Phillips,” she greeted, straightening her jacket and saluting him.

                “I can see that you’re breaking in the candidates. That’s good.” The Colonel reached Hodge and he stared down at him, shaking his head. “Get your ass up out of that dirt and stand on that line at attention ‘till somebody comes and tells you what to do.”

                Hodge stood shakily, stepping back into line. “Yes, sir!” replied Hodge as he tried to make his discomfort as unnoticeable as possible. Didn’t work though with the bloody nose and the way he was trying to move it without touching it.

                “General Patton has said that wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men,” began the Colonel. “We are going to win this war because we have the best,” he paused, taking a good look at Rogers, “men.” He visibly sighed, turning towards Dr. Erskine. I glanced at the Doctor but he was unfazed, not even returning the Colonel’s look.

                So, he hadn’t warned the Colonel of his last pick for the training. This will be interesting.

                “And because they are gonna get better. Much better.”

                Well, that can also apply to the other soldiers, especially Hodge. He needs to get better; get a better attitude.

                “The Strategic Scientific Reserve is an Allied effort made up of the best minds in the free world,” continued Phillips. “Our goal, is to create the best army in history. But every army starts with one man. At the end of this week, we will choose that one man. He will be the first in a new breed of super-soldier. And they will personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of hell.”

                Super-soldier…? That was a new word for me. I’ll have to ask Dr. Erskine later what Phillips meant by that.

                “Now, Agent Carter will be taking notes during this coming week as Sergeant Duffy,” Phillips motioned to a soldier standing nearby, “will be conducting the training. You will listen to both of them, am I clear?”

                “Yes, sir!” called out the recruits.

                The Colonel nodded. “Good.” He then spotted me and visibly sighed again. “Elric, are you still going through with this?”

                The recruits glanced in my direction, most in confusion. Not that it really bothered me or anything. “Yes, sir!” I replied instead, adding a mock salute because I knew it would annoy him.

                Whilst I had gotten closer to Peggy over the past six months, Phillips just did not like me no matter what I did: if I stayed out of his way, was in his way, was just PRESENT, he did not look the least bit happy about seeing me.

                Hence why I decided that, if I do bother him so much, I’ll have a bit of fun with it.

                Phillips breathed deeply, turning towards the Sergeant. “Sergeant Duffy, Elric will be joining the recruits in some of the training. Use him as a guinea pig if need be: he volunteered.”

                “Sir, yes, sir!” called out Duffy loudly.

                What’s a ‘guinea pig’?


 

                Well, I found out ‘guinea pig’ could mean the one that test runs most of the stupid training. When they said training, I thought sparring would be part of it.

                Not some stupid rope climbing exercise…

                This is what the officers back in Amestris had to do to get their rank?

                I took comfort in that fact, thinking of how Mustang would have to climb this net of ropes, failing dramatically at the attempt. I then thought of Hawkeye standing nearby, sighing in defeat as she went to cut the ropes before Mustang made good of his possible threat to burn them down.

                “ELRIC!”

                Sergeant Duffy was standing less than two meters away when he yelled that at me. I turned towards him, massaging my ear. “Was that necessary?” I gritted out in frustration.

                “Let’s go! Today would be nice!” He then turned towards the recruits as I rolled my shoulders, getting ready to climb that stupid rope wall. “I want you all to do this, faster than Elric, of course! MUCH FASTER!”

                Fuck you, Sergeant Asshole.

                I took off in a sprint, climbing up and over the wall in seconds. The moment I reached the top, I didn’t even bother to turn around and climb back down. I just jumped far enough away, diving and rolling in the dirt. I used my momentum to stand easily and spun towards Sergeant Duffy, smirking the entire time.

                “What did you say about faster?” I called back before bowing dramatically.

                Sergeant Duffy stood there, mouth agape for a moment before yelling out orders to the recruits, pointing them towards the rope wall. I wasn’t listening at that point, preferring to head towards Peggy as she took notes on her clipboard.

                “Edward, piece of advice,” she muttered just loud enough for me to hear, “behave this week, will you?”

                I sighed, looking up at her. “What –?”

                “Behave. For Dr. Erskine and my sake.”

                I bit my tongue, not liking this situation. I never ‘behaved’, doing pretty much what I wanted to do, what I needed to do.

                Until…

                The threat over Winry’s head had been enough to keep me in check.

                I didn’t like it though, not one moment.

                “Fine,” I muttered, crossing my arms. If it’ll be for Dr. Erskine and Peggy, I guess I ease up.

                Hopefully.

                “Rogers! Get up!”

                I glanced back, easily seeing Rogers dangling upside down from the entanglement he got his legs in. I groaned, he really wants this but he doesn’t seem to have any physical ability what so ever.

                “I’ll be back,” I muttered towards Peggy.

                “Edward, don’t –”

                “I can’t just leave him,” I interrupted, pointing to the still trapped Rogers. “The others aren’t helping even though I know soldiers are supposed to help their own. I’ll behave!”

                I didn’t wait for Peggy to answer as I ran towards the rope wall. By that time, all the other soldiers were up and on the other side, leaving Rogers struggling to get his leg untangled. I climbed up higher than him, hooking my right arm around rope and leaning back, holding out my left hand.

                “Come on,” I called, catching his attention.

                “I got this,” he gasped out, trying to lift his upper body.

                I rolled my eyes. “Sure you do, but humour me, why don’t you?”

                Rogers was still struggling to lift himself and then resorted to some type of kicking to get his leg untangled.

                I sighed, leaning back. “There’s no shame in taking my hand so you can get not-stuck and finish the exercise, Rogers.”

                He paused, his breathing heavy. His face was even turning a shade of red, probably from hanging upside down for so long.

                He thankfully reached out and grasped my still outstretched hand. I pulled him up easily – what did this guy weigh? 40 kilos? Barely that? – and Rogers finally got his leg out from the knot he had made.

                “Alright, you’re free. Have fun,” I said, sitting on the ropes.

                He didn’t move for a moment, his breathing laboured. “Thanks,” he gasped out before climbing up.

                From the movements I felt from the ropes, he wasn’t getting stuck again, hopefully. I glanced towards the side where Peggy was walking, still taking notes. We caught each other’s gaze for a moment and, even though the smile was slightly pinched, she nodded towards me.

                “ELRIC!”

                I breathed deeply, looking up towards the sky.

                Stupid fucking Gate and its horrible sense of humour. 


 

                “Pick up the pace, ladies! Let’s go, let’s go! Double time! Come on! Faster! Faster!”

                I was going to punch him in the face if he didn’t shut up… Ladies my ass. The only ‘lady’ here is beating them at their own game.

                Fucking assholes…

                “Squad, halt!” The soldiers slowed to a stop, the Sergeant pulling up next to them. “That flag means we’re only at the halfway point!” I rolled my eyes, continuing on my way, towards the vehicle parked up ahead. “First man to bring it to me gets a ride back with Agent Carter!”

                I walked up to the car, stopping next to Peggy. I nodded towards her before we both eyed the feral group of soldiers attempting to climb the flagpole.

                And failed miserably.

                Unbelievable…

                “I wouldn’t, Edward,” stated Peggy, just loud enough for me to hear.

                I sighed, nodding. “I wouldn’t have taken the free ride back to base.”

                “Edward,” she warned.

                I raised my hands in surrender. “Yes, I know behave. You’ve –”

                Rogers.

                He removed the pins holding the flagpole up and the entire thing came crashing down. Stunned silence followed as he unhooked the flag and handed it to Sergeant Duffy.

                “Thank you, sir,” he huffed before climbing onto the back seat of the car. Once seated, he looked, nodding towards Peggy. I eyed her, spotting the smile on her face as she faced the front. Okay, someone found something amusing.

                Probably the fact that the least likely soldier beat the others with something so simple.

                I heard the car start and I backed away, watching the trio head out. Alight, I guess –

                “ELRIC!”

                I winced at the shout from the Sergeant. I still wasn’t used to how LOUD he was.

                “Yes?” I called back in a normal tone.

                “Hang the flag and get the post back up!” He thrust the crumbled up flag at me, barely waiting for me to grab it. “Recruits! Let’s go! Double time!”

                And they took off. I could somewhat hear the snickers from the soldiers, somewhat hear their words as they left. None of them were nice…

                I stared after them in disbelief. He – they – what…?

                “Fucking assholes!” I yelled out, my grip on the flag shaking. I think I nearly tore it.

                As I turned heel, heading towards the stupid flag pole, I tried to calm down. I should be used to this. None of their actions should come as a surprise anymore. I’ve dealt with idiots like them in Amestris when they found out about my being a State Alchemist. I’ve dealt with pig heads in the S.S.R. when they found out I’m ‘German’.

                These ones…

                As I placed the pin back, I leaned my head against the cool steel.

                Who am I kidding? In Amestris, they had gotten over the State Alchemist title when I helped them, when I showed them I wasn’t like the rest.

                These assholes, no matter what I did, they discriminated against me the moment they heard me speak. Nothing seemed to change that.

                I began my run back to the camp, unmotivated. At least I had Dr. Erskine and Peggy here. Howard’s lucky to not have had to come all the way here thought I don’t think I would have wanted to stay with him… Science side, yes, he was great. Social – and I mean girls and parties – side, I could not understand.

                Though… Out of the recruits, Rogers hasn’t treated me any differently. Not even when I met him.

                I didn’t know though if it was because I was Dr. Erskine’s assistant or because he genuinely didn’t care that I was German.

                Speaking of Rogers.

                I spotted him along with some of the other recruits behind one of the further buildings, the others encircling Rogers with his back pressed against the wall.

                Fucking assholes.

                I ran towards them and I could start to hear their conversation.

                “ – not scared of any of you. I just want to know where Edward went.”

                That was Rogers’ voice. Why – why did he care where I was?

                “That stinkin’ German went running with its tail between its legs, ain’t that right? But we’re more cu–”

                “Did you do anything to him?” snapped Rogers.

                Hodge paused, looking at the others in bewilderment. “And what if we did?”

                Rogers looked ready to fight them but I decided to step in.

                “Really? You ‘did’ something to me? Do tell.”

                The recruits whirled around, some taking a step back. Hodge, though, didn’t move, just stared down at me, sneering. “This is none of your business, germ. Get lost.”

                I rolled my eyes. “I heard your conversation, idiot. I know you were talking about me. But, I’m not going to bother continuing this,” I motioned towards the group in general, “because whatever good English I learned may vanish if I continue to listen to your horrid speech. Let’s go, Rogers.”

                Hodge held out his arm, blocking Rogers’ way towards me. “You don’t like the way I talk than too bad, germ!”

                I cringed. “Yes, too bad you couldn’t be bothered with learning your own damn language. Now let Rogers leave.”

                “You’re going to have to make me, Nazi.”

                Fucking –!

                Hodge suddenly buckled, his knees giving out before he face planted on the ground at my feet. I stared wide eyed at the fallen soldier and then, there, behind were Hodge was standing, Rogers was seething in anger.

                “Edward isn’t a Nazi, Hodge! He’s an ally! We’re on the same side! Learn the difference!” he yelled out, his fists shaking.

                Woah…

                Hodge was scurrying to his feet, whirling around to face Rogers. That’s not good. I –

                “Ah, there you are, Edward.” I turned around as Dr. Erskine reached our group, taking in the situation. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

                I shook my head. “Excellent timing, Doctor,” I replied.

                He seemed pleased with himself as he glanced at the others. “Hodge, you do seem to have dirtied your uniform. I do believe Sergeant Duffy will not be pleased with that.”

                “I didn’t dirty it on purpose! I was pushed!” cried out Hodge, trying to dust off his clothes.

                “Pushed?” repeated Dr. Erskine. “By whom?”

                Hodge went to point to Rogers but I believe he finally realize how stupid his story sounded. Pushed by a man who was less than half his weight? Yes, what a story that will be.

                “Nobody,” he gritted out.

                Dr. Erskine hummed in acknowledgement. “Alright then, do be careful next time. Edward, let’s go.”

                I motioned for Rogers to come as well and he quickly squeezed past the other recruits, falling into step next to me. We walked in silence for a while, getting far away from where the other recruits had been.

                “Thanks, Rogers,” I finally muttered. “For what you said back there.”

                “I wasn’t blowing hot air, Edward, I really did mean it. We’re on the same side. I just wish punks like Hodge would realize that.”

                I scoffed, shaking my head. “One day maybe but for now…” I took a deep breath, finally looking at Rogers. “You can just call me Ed, by the way.”

                “And you can call me Steve,” he replied, smiling.

                I smiled back, turning my attention back to the front, just in time to see Dr. Erskine glancing back briefly, a small smile on his face.


 

                I flipped the page of my book, trying to ignore all the noise around me. I had been good at it back in Amestris: tuning everything out and focusing on the task at hand. Here, however, I just heard everything and I could not turn it off.

                “Why can’t it be Hodge? He’s completed every task we’ve thrown at him with flying colours.”

                Like that voice. Phillips must be getting closer to my spot in the bed of a truck.

                “Then by those same reasons, Edward would make just as good a candidate,” replied Dr. Erskine and I heard them stop just on the other side of where I was sitting.

                “I told you,” I cut in, “not doing it.”

                “The US government has already told you no, either way,” added the Colonel.

                I rolled my eyes before going back to my book. “Then we finally agreed on something.”

                “Come now, look at him,” sighed the Colonel, probably referring to Steve now, “he’s going to make me cry.” Yup, definitely Steve. From what I had seen with his attempts at doing a series of push ups, it could make a grown man cry and teacher to blow her fuse. “Hodge is big, strong, fast, and he obeys orders.”

                “Rogers obeys orders,” I put in at the same time as Dr. Erskine added, “He’s a bully.”

                We glanced at each other, a smirk spreading across my face. “Hodge is that too,” I agreed.

                “Oh please, both of you. You don’t win wars with kindness.”

                I bit my tongue at that comment, remembering Amestris, specifically Major Armstrong. The tales of Ishval that Hawkeye had told me came back to me along with how the Major didn’t want to fight, to kill innocents. And how he was sent home only to have his sister hate him for years to come… Yeah, you don’t win wars with kindness but you sure as hell have a better conscious about it at the end.

                Unlike Hawkeye and Mustang…

                The Colonel’s movement brought me out of my thoughts as he reached into a crate at my feet, pulling out a grenade. The hell is he…?

                He pulled the trigger off, turning towards Dr. Erskine. “You win wars with guts.”

                And he threw it towards the training soldiers.

                I had flung my book aside as he tossed the grenade, jumping off the bed of the truck and rolling on the dirt floor, dashing towards the soldiers. What the fuck was he thinking?

                Just as I was about to grab the grenade in the middle of the scattering soldiers, Steve dived onto it, covering it with his body.

                “GET AWAY!” he yelled, flinging his arm out towards me. “GET BACK!”

                Too late… Backing up wasn’t going to do me any good now…

                I held my breath for a moment, bracing myself for the explosion.

                One. Two. Three.

                Wait a minute.

                Steve uncurled slowly, glancing around. I breathed out, sagging to my knees as I massaged my head. Unbelievable…

                “Was – was that a test?” asked Steve, glancing at myself and then behind me.

                I turned slightly and spotted Peggy standing there, a small smile on her face.

                Fucking assholes, this was a test!

                I growled, reaching for the dummy grenade, ignoring the sputtering that Steve was doing. Knowing full well I couldn’t take it out on the Colonel, I turned around, towards the empty field near the training ground and hurled the grenade as far as possible into the air.

                    “Scheiß-… das Mistviech! You sick, demented, sons of bitches!” I yelled out angrily in German. “Give me a damn warning next time, assholes! I should pummeled you to the ground you –”

                “Edward.”

                Dr. Erskine’s voice cut off my yelling and I realized many of the soldiers were staring at me, most with fear and mistrust. Right… German. That wasn’t smart.

                “Sorry. Temper,” I mumbled, stuffing my hands into my pockets as I made my way back towards the Colonel and Dr. Erskine. “Warn me next time,” I managed to grit out instead of all the threats and insults from before.

                Dr. Erskine chuckled, patting me on the head. “And miss you demonstrating your ‘guts’?”

                I scoffed, shrugging my shoulders. “I don’t need to demonstrate anything…” I glanced around, finding the book I was reading several meters away. Jeez, I really flung it far.

                I walked towards it, hearing the Colonel mutter, “It’s still a no for Elric and Rogers is still skinny.”

                I shook my head. I don’t know how many times I told them that I didn’t want to be their test subject: I am not becoming a soldier again. I picked up my book, shaking the dust off of it.

                “Hey, Ed!”

                I glanced back, spotting Steve jogging towards me. Well, jogging is being generous: it was more he was dragging his feet quickly as he made his way towards me.

                “Hello, Steve,” I replied, tucking the book under my arm. “Training done?”

                He nodded. “That grenade seemed to have marked the end of it.”

                We walked away from the training ground, passing other soldiers that shot us weary looks. I learned to ignore them but Steve always seemed ready to start a fight with them because of their mistrust of me. If he went looking for a fight today, I believe it may mark the 10th time I would have to pull him away from one.

                And people say I’m quick to anger and get into a fight.

                It’s only been a week!

                Honestly, this is how Al must have felt every time he held me back when I yelled at others.

                Al…

                “Ed?” I turned towards Steve. “You okay?”

                I guess what people tell me about my face being an open book – easy to read every emotion – was true. Though, I wasn’t ready to share with anyone at the moment.

                “Yes, sorry. I was thinking.”

                Steve stared at me for a while longer before nodding. “Alright, I won’t pry. But if there’s anything, let me know.”

                I want to get back home, I thought. But Steve can’t help with that. No one could. I needed to figure it out for myself.

                “Thanks,” I muttered anyway. 

Chapter Text

June 1943

                I glanced up from the equipment, wondering why everyone had gone suddenly so quiet. I followed their gaze and spotted Steve and Peggy standing at the top of the staircase. Well, I guess it was time then.

                Once they made their way to the bottom of the stairs, I leaned back in my chair, waving at Steve. “Ready to get zapped?” I asked with a smirk. That sadly earned me a look from Peggy and a whack on the back of my head from Howard’s clipboard. “What?” I asked.

                Rogers gave me a weak smile as he approached Dr. Erskine. I turned towards Howard as he set the clipboard down and gave me a look. “Really, not you too.”

                “Try not to joke around too much today, Ed.” I glanced around before leaning closer to me. “You know they’re looking for any reason to send you packing.”

                I sighed, slouching in my seat. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. I’ll just sit here and shut up. Does that sound better?”

                Howard shook his head, rolling his eyes. “For now, yeah. But I need you back to your spunky self later. I want to go over some things with you.”

                I wasn’t too sure what spunky meant but I nodded anyway, turning back towards the center of the room where Steve was now shirtless and climbing onto the machine flat’s surface.

                “Mr. Stark? How are your levels?” Asked Dr. Erskine.

                Howard left my side, climbing onto the center platform. “We may dim half the lights in Brooklyn but we’re ready. As ready as we’ll ever be,” I heard him explain as I swivelled in my chair.

                I had been told to sit tight and, if need be, help Howard with the controls. So far, though, I’ve sat for the past hour and I’ve been itching to do… something!

                “Edward.”

                I turned my chair towards the voice, looking up at Peggy. She briefly glanced back towards the center of the room before leaning closer. “Make sure it goes well?”

                How she wanted me to do that was a bit beyond me but… “I’ll do what I can,” I replied. I didn’t want to be the pessimist today.

                She gave me a tight nod, continuing on her way back up the stairs.

                My attention went back to the center of the room when a series of loud thumping noises rang out through the room. Dr. Erskine was standing in front of the metal table, some type of microphone in his hand.

                “Do you hear me? Is this on?” he asked, his voice echoing. “Ladies and gentlemen, today we take not another step towards annihilation, but the first step on the path to peace.”

                Did he prepare that or was he told to say that? I’m thinking he was told because those words seemed weird coming from him…

                “We begin with a series of microinjections into the subject’s major muscle groups. The serum infusion will create immediate cellular change. And then, to stimulate growth, the subject will be saturated with Vita-Rays.”

                Stimulate growth? Steve’s going to grow? How is that possible? Is there an equivalence between what is injected into him and the reaction then created? The serum will need to work on everything inside Steve: as much his muscles, bones, and organs.

                Or else…

                Just trying to picture what would happen was enough to give me a shiver of disgust.

                Dr. Erskine’s voice drew me out of my imagination. “Serum infusion beginning in five, four, three, two,” he placed a calming hand on Steve’s soldier, “one.”

                The blue serum was injected into Steve as he groaned. Hopefully not in pain… Was this process supposed to hurt?

                “Now, Mr. Stark,” ordered Dr. Erskine.

                Howard pulled a lever and the table began to lift, closing upon itself, trapping Steve inside. As scientists added tubes to the machine, Dr. Erskine stepped in front of it, knocking on the metal. “Steven? Can you hear me?”

                “Probably too late to go to the bathroom, right?” came Steve’s voice from inside. Unbelievable…

                The Doctor turned around, a small smile on his face. “We will proceed.”

                Howard nodded towards him, grabbing the controls for the vita-rays and slowly turning the valve. He called out the percentages as the light grew brighter and brighter in the machine.

                It was at 70% that things started to go wrong…

                Steve began screaming inside the machine, whatever the procedure was doing to him, it was painful.

                Would – would it kill him?

                I was standing at the same time as Dr. Erskine was banging at the machine, calling out Steve’s name.

                “Shut it down!” cried Peggy from upstairs. “Shut it down, Dr. Erskine!”

                I was at the controls, trying to figure out which knob or lever it was to stop this thing. I couldn’t let him die!

                I could only watch as cracks in the metal had broken Al’s seal. I wasn’t going to sit back and watch today!

                I faintly heard Dr. Erskine’s panicked call. “Mr. Stark! Shut down the –”

                “No! Don’t! I can do this! Keep it going!” Rogers’ voice rung out from the machine, stopping all of us.

                I glanced up at Howard who, after a moment hesitation, nodded and went back to raising the energy levels. Moments later, the machines around us started short-circuiting, sparks flying around us but I kept my gaze locked on the machine that housed Rogers.

                There was silence for several heartbeats until Dr. Erskine turned around. “Mr. Stark.”

                Howard nodded quickly and pressed a button. The machine opened and I had to do a double take at who stood in it. No. Fucking. Way. That – that was not possible. I turned around, breathing deeply, wanting to calm the blush that rose up my neck. He – Steve, was...

                What the hell was wrong with me? Armstrong stood shirtless half the time I’ve seen him! Heck, the last time I saw him, he was shirtless! But… Jeez.

                I shook my head and turned around, pushing my way towards where Dr. Erskine and Howard were helping Steve down from the machine. Peggy joined me and I had to hold in my chuckle at how flustered she looked. Yeah, I wasn’t one to talk but I was holding it in much better than her.

                “How – how do you feel?” she managed to ask, handing him a shirt.

                Steve glanced around, breathing deeply. “Taller.”

                I felt a tinge of jealousy, thinking that if I had said yes to this, people would finally stop teasing me about my height. But that feeling was quickly pushed down. I did NOT want to be roped up in a military again just because they could make me taller!

                Instead, I lightly smacked his now muscled arms catching his attention. “So, liked getting zapped?”

                He chuckled, pulling the shirt over his head. “I’ve had better experiences.”

                “Training?” I tried. “Training seemed better, didn’t it?”

                He looked ready to answer when an explosion broke out from above us. I ducked down, whirling around at the same time to see the observation balcony in flames. What the fuck was going on?

                I straightened quickly, looking to see if anyone had caused that. The first thing I saw was Dr. Erskine, standing close by, his back to me.

                I then saw the man with the gun.

                “NO!”

                I dashed towards Dr. Erskine but the man shot. I saw the Doctor jerk once before I tackled him out of the way just as another shot rang out. I looked up, seeing the gun still poised towards us and shoved the Doctor away. I had enough time to roll away as the third shot was fired.

                Or so I thought. The moment I tried to stand, pain flared up from my right calf, making me cry out and fall back to the ground.

                Thankfully, the man was too busy running to try to take another shot at myself or Dr. Erskine.

                The Doctor!

                I turned around and spotted Steve hovering over the man. Dr. Erskine didn’t say anything, just lifted his hand and pointed towards Steve’s chest, over his heart.

                And that was it. His hand dropped and his body sagged. Nothing. There was nothing else, not even his chest moved.

                No…

                He – he can’t be…

                I pounded the metal landing with my right fist, yelling out angrily. Why!? Why the hell does this keep happening!? Dr. Erskine didn’t deserve to die like that!

                “Ed…”

                I turned around to see Howard hovering near me, trying not to look behind me – trying not to look at Dr. Erskine’s body. He reached down, offering me his hand to help me stand. However, the moment I put a slight pressure on my right leg, pain erupted from my calf, reminding me all too well of the bullet lodged there. I stumbled onto Howard who thankfully caught me, grasping my arm instead.

                “Come on, we need to get you to a doctor,” he explained, letting me hop next to him as he led the way down from the platform.

                I glanced around for a moment, noticing how much damage had been caused from not only the explosion but the experiment as well. Wait.

                “Where’s Steve?” I asked quickly, not spotting the now-tall soldier anywhere. He wasn’t the only one missing though. “And Agent Carter?”

                “They ran after the shooter. Hopefully they catch him,” mumbled Howard as we reached the stairs. “Can you manage climbing these?”

                I nodded, getting him to let go and grasped both rails tightly, pushing myself up, landing on my left foot. I continued like this until I reached the top. It was then that I finally decided to take a look at the wound.

                “Damn it…”

                I slid to the ground, grasping the end of my jacket and easily tearing a piece off. Howard had joined me and was watching with wide eyes as I quickly bound the wound, not wanting anymore blood to spill through it. I don’t need to add blood loss to my condition.

                And I really didn’t need to lose consciousness at any point either, especially when the only person who had known about my real gender was gone. I really didn’t know how the US government and its soldiers were going to react to the revelation.

                I didn’t know how Peggy, Howard and Steve were going to react if I ever told them…

Chapter Text

                I couldn’t concentrate on the book in front of me. The doctor had pulled out the bullet yesterday and I was stuck in one of the medical rooms at a S.S.R buildings. I thankfully managed to avoid taking off my pants for the doctor, resorting to just rolling the pant leg up high enough for him to work.

                Even though it annoyed him. I didn’t care. I wasn’t taking the chance.

                But… Since then, I’ve been stuck here, with the same book to keep me company even though the words just blurred together on the page. I couldn’t focus on it. I just couldn’t… Not when Dr. Erskine’s face kept appearing in the forefront of my mind, reminding me constantly that I wasn’t strong nor fast enough to save him…

                He didn’t deserve to die! He didn’t! He…

                With a frustrated cry, I hurled the book across the room, letting it smack against the wall and go crashing down in a flutter of papers.

                I tried to take a deep breath, to calm myself. Crying wasn’t going to do anyone any good… What happened is done and…

                It was then that I spotted an envelope on the ground beside the book. Was it in the book this whole time?

                I reached for my crutch and hobbled towards the fallen book. I leaned against the wall and slid down, never taking my eyes off the envelope.

                I hesitantly reached for it, picking it up and glancing over both sides. In the front, only one word was written.

                Edward.

                Okay… I ripped open the envelope and pulled out the folded piece of paper, a letter. To me? Who would…? The answer was right there, at the bottom and my breath caught.

                Dr. Erskine.

                Why would he write me a letter?

               

                Dear Edward,

                I am writing this letter in case something happens and I do not get a chance to tell you face to face. I’m sorry if it has come to this but, with Hydra constantly on my tail, I did not know how long I had left before they finally caught up to me…

                I know this world is different and strange to you, especially with the lack of familiar faces. If you are to trust anyone apart from myself, I hope it is Steve Rogers, Agent Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. I hope the time you have spent with each of them has given you the sense that you can confide in them because they have confided to me that they trust you.

 

                I had to put the letter down for a moment, swallowing the lump in my throat. Damn it, Erskine… And the fact that they trusted me… That made me think of Amestris, of Mustang’s men… Yeah, we talked but, I now realize that as much trust they placed in Mustang, they placed just the same in me and Al. Did I trust them as much? Probably not as much as they deserved…

                Did – did they know I trusted them too? Even if it wasn’t fully? And, thinking back, why didn’t I? What made hesitate to giving them my full trust?

                 I massaged my head, not really knowing the answer to that question. They knew about my limbs and about Al’s body all because of Scar…

                I sighed, glancing at the letter again. It shouldn’t be of much concern now… I can’t go back, not yet. But, once I do, I’ll need to figure it out and start trusting those men more.

 

                Also, I know you constantly pestered me about the serum and I know how disappointed you were each time I did not tell you anything. It was to protect you, Edward. The secrets of the formula are so valuable, Hydra is willing to kidnap and kill to obtain it. I did not want you to get tangled in that mess. The less you knew, the safer you were.

                 

                I closed my eyes, breathing deeply and leaning back against the wall. Yeah, I know very well the dangers of knowing too much… The Philosopher Stone, for example, and everything that followed… Even Winry got dragged into our mess because we knew too much…

                So, I guess, thanks Dr. Erskine…

 

                However, there is something I never told you about the serum… And about the night I found you in my basement.

               

                That caught my attention.

 

                I was actually present when you appeared, when a large circle with symbols etched along the perimeter and geometric shapes inside flashed along the ceiling. A pair of doors then opened and long tendrils descended from them, reaching to the floor. When they began to recede, you were there, unconscious and bleeding. I could feel a pair of eyes on me and, when I turned towards the doors, something was staring at me. And then it spoke. “I will give you the information needed to complete your serum on the condition you use your knowledge to heal this alchemist.”

                As you could imagine, I did not understand at first but, with our conversations, I do believe that was the Gate you had mentioned once, no? But, at the moment, I agreed and the entity shared its knowledge…

                …As well as the knowledge it had of you, Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, soldier of the country of Amestris.

 

                I nearly tore the paper in my hands so much they were trembling. Why? Why the hell did the Gate want to save me? A pool of dread settled in my stomach. What did it take so that I was sure to live? Al? Did…

                “NO!”

                I pounded my fist on the ground. Al couldn’t, he wouldn’t! Then… Did my transmutation fail? Instead of letting Al live, it let me live instead? No… No! NO! That’s not what I wanted!

                I pounded against the floor over and over again, releasing all my pent up frustration and fear. Why? Why?!

                Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, making me freeze, my fist about to slam once more against the floor.               

                “Edward?”

                With a sigh, I stuffed the letter into my pocket and reached for my crutch. “Coming,” I called weakly, hauling myself to my feet and hobbling towards the door. Just before opening it, I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself.

                On the other side stood Peggy. She took one look at me and I faintly heard a soft sigh from her.

                “How are you holding up?” she asked cautiously.

                I shrugged, readjusting the crutch under my arm. “Alright, I guess. You?”

                She nodded. “The S.S.R. is being sent off.” What? That was sudden… “To London, tomorrow. Mr. Stark and I are going with them.”

                “And Steve?”

                She shook her head. “He’s staying here, as are you.”

                I clenched my fists to keep them from shaking. This didn’t make any sense. “So we went through all that trouble, went through Dr. Erskine getting killed, for nothing?” I growled. “Steve was supposed to be the answer! Why the hell is he staying here?!”

                “Colonel’s orders,” replied Peggy, unfazed by the tone of my voice but I did hear a bit of disdain to the idea. She paused, clasping her hands in front of her and, dare I say it, she looked a little nervous.

                “Edward? May I ask something of you?”

                Okay, this is weird. “Yeah, of course. What is it?”

                “Could you stay with Steve? It’ll be good for him, for both of you really, to have someone you know with you. A lot has happened in such a short time…”

                “Yeah, I don’t exactly have anywhere else to go anyways,” I replied, not really taking the time to think it over because what I said was entirely true: I had no idea what to do or where to go now that the only person that had known my secret is gone.

                “I greatly appreciate it, Edward.”

                “Don’t mention it.”

                There was a brief moment of silence as we stared at each other until Peggy cleared her throat, nodding towards me. “I guess this is goodbye, Edward.”

                “For now, hopefully…,” I muttered with a sigh. “Safe trip and don’t get killed out there, alright?”

                “I’ll do my best. The same goes for you as well, understood?”

                “Yes ma’am,” I replied, even adding a mock salute to her which drew a small smile on her face.

                She nodded towards me, giving me a small wave that I returned as she walked away. I watched her leave for a moment before closing the door and leaning against it.

                I guess I just went from following Dr. Erskine around to following Steve around. Well, hopefully that will be able to help me get back home…

                Home! Amestris!

                I reached into my pocket, pulling out the crumpled letter and unfolding it once more.

 

                …As well as the knowledge it had of you, Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, soldier of the country of Amestris.

                I knew then, I knew I had to save you, Edward. You had done so much and had sacrificed so much for your brother, friends and country that I could not let you die on the floor of my basement.

                That is why, with the knowledge from that entity, I modified the serum and inserted some in your system.

 

                What. The. Fuck.

                I reread that line over and over again, trying to process what he had done. There – there was part of the super-soldier serum in my blood?! Thinking back, my wound had healed amazingly fast for being a hole on the side of my stomach… It could also explain how my hearing had gotten much better as well as my physical condition during the training.

                But, I guess with everything that had gone down since then, I haven’t given it much thought.

 

                You don’t have the full capacities of the serum but there is enough for your wounds to heal faster as well as your body being more enduring. That is why I pushed for you to be the candidate for the full test: because I knew I could trust you with this power. However, if it wasn’t you, I am glad that it was Steve Rogers. Keep an eye on each other. For me.

                I trust you know to burn this letter once you’ve read it: no one, and I mean no one, can know you have part of the serum in you or you will be considered an easier target to kidnap to extract the secret from and I cannot even imagine anything like that happening to you.

                Please be careful, Edward. I hope you find a way home but, if ever you do not, please do not shut the world out: it is quite big, with many things to discover.

                Good luck.

                Dr. Abraham Erskine

 

                I leaned my head back against the door, staring at the ceiling.

                What have I gotten myself into?

Chapter Text

End of June 1943

                “Steve!”

                He stopped walking, looking around before turning and spotting me. “Ed?”

                I hobbled as fast as I could with the crutch until I caught up to him. “How are you doing?”

                He breathed deeply, shrugging his shoulders. “As best as I could be, I guess… I’m staying here finally. You?”

                I nodded. “Same, on both. The S.S.R., meaning the Colonel, was adamant that I wasn’t going with them so, I’m stuck here without much to do.”

                Rogers glanced towards the men further away. “Well, the Senator just asked for my help. I don’t have the details but… I wouldn’t mind the company, honestly.”

                I smiled. “Well, I guess you may be stuck with me, Steve.”

                “Well, that doesn’t sound overly bad.”

                He motioned for me to follow and I hobbled behind him, trying to keep up with Steve’s long and quick strides.

                I don’t think he’s used to how long his steps were!

                “Senator Brandt!” called out Steve.

                The man leading a small group stopped, whirling around, a frown on his face.

                However, the moment he saw who had called him, the frown vanished and was replaced by a practiced smile. Believe me, I know fake, practiced smiles.

                The only person I could not tell whether it was real or not had been Mustang and this ‘Senator’ was nowhere near Mustang’s level.

                “Captain Rogers! What may I do for you?” he asked smoothly.

                “May I request that Edward accompany us? He had been a great help with the S.S.R.,” added Steve.

                Brandt glanced in my direction as one of the men with him leaned in close, whispering something into the Senator’s ear.

                Lackeys to keep him informed too… This man really isn’t up to par with politics.

                “He must have better things to do though, seeing as the S.S.R. employed him,” began Brandt. “They are leaving tonight for London if I do recall.”

                “I decided to stay with Steve and help him out,” I put in and I somewhat regretted it the moment I saw the men tense.

                They must not have known I was German.

                Fuck…

                Steve seemed to have noticed it as well as he quickly added, “He’s a friend of mine, Senator. He just wants to help.”

                I guess the word ‘friend’ got the men to pause their refusal of me tagging along. Perhaps they were desperate to have Steve help.

                If they were, I may have a chance.

                “Fine,” grunted out Brandt before clearing his throat and continuing in a better tone. “Of course he can join but some accommodations, such as hotel rooms, will need to be paid for by him. The government is on a tight budget as it is.”

                Steve glanced in my direction, his gaze questioning.

                Well, that sounded reasonable if we were back in Amestris. Here though… “I don’t have that much money,” I explained. Dr. Erskine had given me some but I had a feeling in would not be enough for any type of lodging. “I can work for the rest though. I can help.”

                The Senator stared me down. “With that crutch? Last I heard, you took a bullet in the leg.”

                “Which is out and the leg will heal,” I gritted out, keeping his gaze. “I still have another arm that still functions while the other has the crutch.”

                “Senator,” interjected Steve before either of us could continue this back and forth. “This is all I’m asking. Just let Ed come along.”

                Brandt breathed deeply, his gaze flitting between Steve, myself, and the men accompanying him.

                There was a few moments of tense silence that followed until the Senator finally nodded.

                “For you, Captain, I can allow him to come along.”

                “Thank you, sir.” Steve nodded towards him, giving me a side glance.

                Swallowing my pride, I managed to also thank him without snapping.

                Two-faced son of a bitch.

 


 

July 1943

 

                I knocked on Steve’s door and waited. We were leaving for Buffalo in two days and, in the meantime, Steve had been showing me around New York, namely Brooklyn where he had grown up.

                And where he had gotten beat up.

                Frequently.

                Stubborn man.

                Steve finally opened the door and smiled upon seeing me. But…

                “What’s wrong?” I asked. The smile didn’t exactly reach his eyes.

                He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Is it that obvious?” he asked.

                I shook my head. “No but I notice things. We can not go out if you want.”

                Steve paused, thinking it over though he decided on shaking his head. “No, let’s still go. It’ll do me some good.”

                He left his room, closing the door behind him and we walked down the halls of the S.S.R. building, heading outside.

                Once out, Steve breathed deeply the fresh air, looking around him.

                “Where did you want to go today?” I asked.

                He thought it over. “Ever seen the Statue of Liberty?”

                “The very big rusty statue?” I tried. “The one holding the flame over her head?”

                “That’s the one and don’t call her rusty,” chided Steve.

                “She is! She’s green because of the – the… Scheiße.” How do I say oxidisation in English? “She’s made of copper and copper turns green because of oxygen.”

                Steve didn’t look fully convinced.

                “Chemistry!” I added in a sigh. “I can explain the process but it’ll be in German.”

                I managed to get a chuckle out of him with that. “That’s fine, I’ll believe you for now. But you’ve seen her?”

                I shrugged. “From afar. Howard brought me along on one of his trips. It didn’t go so well.”

                “What happened?” he wondered as he began walking and I followed suit.

                “A boat, too many women, too much alcohol, and the coast guard.”

                The look of pure shock on Steve’s face had me laughing loudly. The more I laughed, the more Steve’s expression of bewilderment grew until he couldn’t help but laugh as well.

                When we both calmed down, Steve was still smiling. “Thanks, Ed. I needed that.”

                “Anytime,” I replied. There was a brief pause before I added, “Captain.”

                It made Steve smile even more. “So, Statue of Liberty?”

                I shrugged, nodding. “Why not? Lead the way, Captain.”

                As we walked, I finally began to notice my surroundings and how… colourful they had become. Mainly in the red, white, and blue scheme.

                “Is there something special going on today?” I asked Steve.

                He looked beyond puzzled. “You don’t know?”

                “Don’t know what?”

                His surprise only grew. “We’re the 4th of July. Independence day.”

                “Independence from whom?”

                “Oh dear,” sighed Steve. “Well, it’s a good walk, let me teach you a bit of history.”

                And that history lesson about the independence of the United States got us all the way to the ferry that crossed to Manhattan.

                “You don’t learn about any of this in school where you come from?” wondered Steve as we boarded the ferry.

                I had no idea what they taught in German schools. But, the truth isn’t far from that. “Not sure. I didn’t stay long in school. I mostly taught myself.”

                “So you just didn’t have history books?”

                I scoffed. “Between a history book and a science book, I’ll ALWAYS choose the science one. What about you?”

                He chuckled. “If I had the choice, neither. I’d go for the art book.”

                “Art?” I repeated, surprised. Perhaps on this side, it had a much bigger use in society. In Amestris, there were few people who chose a profession as a painter.

                “I could say the same for your science,” argued Steve jokingly.

                “Mine’s useful,” I countered.

                “So is art. Maybe you just haven’t realized it yet.” I stared at him, unconvinced. “Next outing, we’re going to a museum then.”

                “In Buffalo, you mean?”

                “If that’s when it falls, so be it. I’m still dragging you to one.”

                I raised my hand in surrender. “Fine, fine. But you are NOT dragging me anywhere: I can still walk, even with this crutch.”

                That made Steve laugh. “It’s an expression, Ed. I know you can walk.”

                “Oh…”

                We were getting closer to Manhattan at this point. In the far distance, on an island of its own, was the Statue of Liberty.

                “So, how are we getting over there?” I asked, pointing in the statue’s direction.

                “Patience,” was Steve’s answer.

                “That’s not going to get anyone, anywhere. It’s a… Scheiße.” Virtue. How the fuck do I say that in English?

                Steve also looked thoughtful. “What do you keep saying?” he asked. “In German, I mean.”

                “Scheiße?” He nodded and I shrugged my shoulders. “I would say the English version if I knew what it was but… It’s a… uh… swear? Is that right?”

                His eyes widened. “You’ve been swearing this whole time?”

                I don’t know why he was so shocked. “Yeah, why?”

                He sighed, shaking his head. “Just – just try not to?”

                I gave him the best ‘you’re joking’ look I could muster. Good thing he can’t hear my thoughts or he’d have a heart attack at all the swearing I do.

                “Think of it as…” The rest of his sentence died in his throat as he returned his attention to the water front.

                “As what?” I asked. He’s been acting weird today… “Does it have to do with your mood?”

                Steve was saved from answering as the ferry docked and we needed to disembark.

                As we made our way through the busy streets of Manhattan, I didn’t push the question anymore. Steve didn’t press when I did not want to answer a certain question – like how I constantly wore gloves, even in July – so I’ll let this slide until he wants to talk about it.

                “Hold up a moment, Ed.”

                I stopped, puzzled. Steve motioned for me to wait as he quickly entered a packed bakery. He wanted something to eat? Something sweet?

                Now?

                He could have at least asked me if I wanted anything…

                Several minutes later, Steve came out and I pushed myself off the wall I had been leaning on. He held up a bag, smiling triumphantly.

                “What did you get?” I asked, humouring him.

                He just smiled. “You’ll see.”

                I stared as he walked past me and I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

                He continued to lead me around Manhattan until we reached another ferry, taking it to the island on which stood the Statue of Liberty.

                Once landed and on said island, I stared, tilting my head as far back as possible just to see as much of her as possible.

                I have to admit, for an oxidized statue, she’s still damn impressive.

                “Ed, over here!”

                Steve had found a spot in the shade of a tree further away and was taking a seat on the ground. I hobbled my away towards him and tossed my crutch onto the ground. Steve shook his head in exasperation, reaching for the fallen crutch and placing it neatly next to him.

                Just to irritate him, I flopped onto the ground without any grace and lay down, still looking at the statue.

                “She’s beautiful, no?” breathed out Steve.

                I tore my gaze from her to him. He had such a thoughtful look on his face, I didn’t want to interrupt.

                “She’s one of the first things immigrants see when they arrive,” he continued. “My parents told me she gave them hope: hope of a better life and of freedom. I still like to think she really does represent freedom. That that’s what this country stands for. That’s why I wanted to help give when I tried to enlist: I wanted to give people their freedom, to help them.”

                He breathed deeply, closing his eyes. “I just hope that’s what I get to do with Senator Brandt.”

                “Well, if you don’t you’ll find a way to still do something. You have the final decision at the end of the day.”

                Steve turned towards me, listening intently.

                “I, for one, kept thinking I had no choice in going with Dr. Erskine. That I have no choice but to stay with you. But, I still consciously made those decisions and I haven’t regretted anything yet.” I sat up, fully turning towards Steve. “You’ve made the decision of helping using Senator Brandt’s method. If that actually helps or not is yet to be seen. But, remember that YOU still have the final decision at the end.”

                Steve stayed silent but I could see a sliver of a smile forming on his face. I didn’t move my gaze until he met mine, his smile one of relief.

                “Thanks, Ed,” he muttered, patting my left shoulder.

                “Anytime, Captain. Seeing as I am stuck with you.”

                He laughed. “I thought it was the reverse.”

                I shrugged, laying back down on the grass. “Fine, I did say the reverse but, today, I’m stuck with you – how did you put it before? – dragging me?” He nodded. “Dragging me all the way here for a possible surprise dessert in that bag of yours.”

                Steve picked up said bag and opened it, pulling out two small cakes. He handed me one and I quickly smelled it, surprised by a strong odour that came from it. Something I did not recognize.

                “Banana cake,” stated Steve. “It’s tradition.”

                Steve took a bite of the dessert, leaning back against the trunk of the tree. He chewed in silence for a moment, giving me an opportunity to test out that ‘banana cake’. Whatever a ‘banana’ was…

                After swallowing the dessert, I found it didn’t taste that bad.

                “When I was younger,” began Steve,” on this day my parents would make the trip with me here, bringing a basket of banana cake my mom had freshly made that morning. We’d stay out until we saw the fireworks… When they passed away, Bucky would come with me.” Oh yeah, his soldier friend. “This year, I have someone else to share the tradition with.”

                I stopped eating, taking in the implication of his revelation. When Dr. Erskine had written that Steve trusted me, part of me didn’t believe it and I guess I still didn’t. Not until he said all that.

                “Why?” I asked softly, keeping my gaze fixed on the banana cake.

                “Why what?” wondered Steve.

                “Why share this with me? We’ve known each other for less than three weeks.”

                “Why not?” countered Steve and I could hear the smile. I glanced in direction. I was right, he was smiling. He took another bite of his cake before answering. “Us little guys need to stick together.”

                “DON’T CALL ME SMALL!”

                Steve was taken aback by my outburst but his surprise was quickly replaced by laughter. “I – I didn’t mean it – mean it like that,” he tried to explain between his laughing. “And – and I won’t again. Promise.”

                I was still frowning at him as he finally managed to calm down.

                “We’ll look out for each other, Ed. Since we are stuck with each other for who knows how long.”

                I paused for a moment before laying back down. “Fine. And you better not ever call me that again.”

                He chuckled again. “Can you at least forgive me today?”

                “Just today?”

                He shrugged. “It is a bit special.”

                “Don’t start on the independence day lesson again.”

                “It’s also my birthday.”

                His gaze was fixed on the Statue of Liberty and he looked – dare I say – sheepish, that he let that slip out. And then, it hit me what had been bothering him all day. He even explained it! He spent his birthday with his family and then with his closest friend. This year, that friend is overseas, hopefully still alive, and Steve is here.

                Stuck with me.

                “Happy Birthday, Steve,” I finally said. “And thanks for sharing it with me.”

                His embarrassment seemed to have lessened as he smiled. “Thanks for sticking with me.”

                “Anytime, old man.”

                “Ed!”

Chapter Text

                July 1943 – Buffalo

                “What do you mean there’s no room for him?”

                We had arrived in Buffalo about an hour ago and I was already getting a bad feeling about this trip…

                Steve and I had entered the hotel to check-in and, for the last ten minutes, Steve has been nearly arguing with the hotel clerk about –

                “There are no rooms available at the moment and we never got a reservation for a Mr. Elric.”

                As I said, bad feeling.

                Especially considering Senator Brandt had assured us that all the travel arrangements would be taken care of.

                “Fine!” huffed out Steve. “We’ll just find another hotel then!”

                “Well – uh… Well, you see, all the hotels in the surrounding area are booked, sir! Because of the upcoming shows!”

                Steve paused, staring at the clerk. “And you know this, how?”

                The clerk swallowed, hesitating. If that fucker is lying – “Other hotels have called to see if we had any rooms to spare for theirs were fully booked. It is quite an unusual turn of events.”

                Steve exhaled loudly, massaging his face. He turned towards me, clearly thinking. “Well, do you want to bunk together then?”

                What? “Want to what together?” I asked. Bunk? What verb is that?

                “Share a room?”

                I hesitated a moment. He could find out about my limbs and my gender; that I’ve been actively lying about both since the beginning. However, what other choice do I have? Sleeping on the street? Going to each and every hotel and hope to find a room?

                And pay for it with what money? I barely have enough for a room to myself…

                “Sure,” I replied.

                I’ll just have to be extra careful from now on.

                “But, sir –”

                “I’ll take the key to my room now,” cut in Steve, holding out his hand.

                The hotel clerk didn’t seem to want to argue with him anymore.

                When we reached the room, one thing we both noticed at the same time was the single bed.

                Just one.

                Not even a sofa was in the room.

                “Take the bed, Ed,” said Steve, dropping his bag in the corner. “It was my idea to share. I’ll take the floor.”

                “But this is your room. I’ll sleep on the floor,” I countered. “I’ve done it before anyway, this won’t be any different.”

                “But you’re injured.”

                “My leg will survive the carpeted floor. I’ll put some blankets down.”

                “So can I. Take the bed.”

                We were saved from continuing this fruitless argument when someone knocked at the door. We stopped, staring at it for a moment before Steve went and opened it.

                “Senator Brandt, what a surprise, sir.” Steve did actually sound surprised. Hopefully the Senator won’t make these impromptu visits a regular affair.

                “Just passing by to see if you’ve settled in well.”

                “Just got here, Senator, but we’re making it work.”

                “We?”

                Steve moved aside and the Senator finally spotted me. And his face betrayed him slightly on how unhappy he was of my being there.

                Too bad, I’m not leaving, asshole.

                “I do not believe both of you will fit in a single bed, Captain. Won’t it be more comfortable if Mr. Elric –”

                “I’m sleeping on the floor,” I cut in, earning myself an exasperated look from Steve.

                “We’re still discussing,” he added, turning towards the Senator.

                “But, Captain –”

                “It’s been a long day, Senator,” interrupted Steve with a yawn. “And it seems we have a long discussion ahead. Thank you for passing by. Have a nice evening.”

                The Senator was taken aback by Steve’s bluntness, gaping like a fish. Serves him right. “Of – of course! Good evening to you too, Captain. See you bright and early tomorrow.”

                “Will do.”

                “Auf Wiedersehen,” I added with an overly sweet smile.

                And Steve closed the door on a still stunned Senator.

                Steve took a deep breath, turning around. “So, where were we? I’m taking the floor, right?”

                We are just too stubborn for our own good.

 


 

 

                Mid July 1943 – Buffalo

 

                Steve had done several shows by now and I still couldn’t wrap my head around how he had gotten roped into doing this of all things.

                He was the poster boy for the US army!

                “We need something else, though.”

                I rolled my eyes at one of the workers comments about the show. More? More than two dozen chorus girls, a musical number, and so much red, white, and blue I was beginning to wonder if the designers knew other colours existed.

                “Something that’ll entertain the crowd!”

                “Something funny, maybe?”

                I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. Not with all this stupidity going around. “What more do you want?” I asked. “Do you want him to punch Hitler while he’s at it?” Because that would be the craziest thing I could think of.

                The crew members paused, glancing at each other.

                “That – that might work!” cried out one of them gleefully.

                I groaned, massaging my forehead. Unbelievable. Completely unbelievable.

                “Ed?”

                I looked up at the entrance of the room, spotting Steve in civilian clothes and no longer that red, white, and blue costume.

                He motioned with a tilt of his head for us to leave and I gladly limped towards him.

                “How’s the leg?” he asked as we left the theater.

                “Getting better, thank you.” I had ditched the crutch yesterday but, after an entire day on my feet, I was limping back to the hotel.

                “What did they have you do this time?”

                I rolled my eyes. “Moving boxes mostly. Cleaning up after them. It kept me busy.” I looked up at him. “How are those lines you have to say?”

                “I think I finally got them down.”

                “They may change it a bit though. They’re thinking of having you punch Hitler.”

                I noticed he was trying not to react to that bit of information. He was already weary of having to perform and now they’re adding even more to the display.

                It wasn’t enough they had a song that got stuck in your head at all hours of the day…

                “If that’s what it takes,” he finally said as we reached the hotel. “I’m on the floor tonight,” he added, changing the subject.

                I nodded in understanding. We had finally come to an agreement that we would alternate sleeping arrangements every night. It was that or both of us would end up stubbornly sleeping on the floor.

                During this arrangement, I had gotten quite good at getting ready for bed without drawing any suspicion to my automail and my bindings around my chest.

                Mostly my automail.

                One time, however, Steve almost caught me as he left the bathroom suddenly, having forgotten his toothbrush. I literarily fell to the floor behind the bed as I tried to yank my shirt over my head.

                Steve had gotten around the bed to check on me just as I pulled it down, placing my right hand under me.

                Ever since, I’ve been even more careful.

                Thankfully, tonight had gone off without a hitch.

                “Goodnight, Ed,” called out Steve from the floor.

                “Gute Nacht, Steve,” I replied, pulling the covers up and closing my eyes.

                If only it had been…

                “Sister.”

                Stark white area. Gate. Al.

                He – he looked…

                “Al?” I chocked. It – it can’t be him… Could it?

                He was paler than before, skin stretched tight over bone, hair patchy... He looked like he was –

                “You’re killing me,” he uttered, his hand shaking as his lifted it, staring at it.

                And it began to crumble.

                “AL!

                “You wanted this, didn’t you?” he whispered. “You never wanted to save me.

                “NO! No, Al! I wanted to, all I ever wanted was to get your body back!

                He stared at me, the skin on his face crumbling, leaving behind nothing but bone. “But you didn’t…

                “AL!

                I jerked awake, my breathing heavy. I could feel the cold sweat on me, could feel my heart beating in my chest – POUNDING.

                “Ed? Are you alright?”

                Steve’s voice. Fuck. I woke him.

                “Yeah,” I gasped out. “Sorry…”

                “Don’t apologize!”

                Breathe. Breathe.

                “Were they nightmares?”

                I sat up, folding my legs up against me, hugging them tightly. “What’s that?” I uttered between breaths.

                “Bad dreams. What you see when you sleep,” he explained softly.

                I scoffed. “Yeah. Nightmares. I’m fine though…”

                “Want to talk about it?”

                Fuck no. I shook my head before resting it on my knees.

                “Okay, if you ever do, let me know. Wake me up if need be, alright?”

                I nodded but I wasn’t going to share any detail of those nightmares.

                I had never shared them with Al, I definitely wasn’t going to share them with Steve.

                Especially not how I may have possibly failed my brother…

 

Chapter Text

                End of July 1943 – Buffalo

                The nightmares had thankfully lessened since that first incident. I still had some but they were not bad enough for me to wake Steve up.

                In the show, they had introduced the ‘punching Hitler in the face’ routine which actually did get the crowd cheering wildly.

                They did know it wasn’t actually Hitler, right?

                At any rate, watching Steve punch a couple of times had me curious about –

                “Where did you learn how to fight?” I had asked suddenly one morning.

                Steve didn’t have a show that night so we had the day to ourselves.

                He paused eating his breakfast, confused. “Well, Bucky and I trained at Goldie’s Boxing Gym before he enlisted.”

                “Did Bucky teach you to fight?”

                That earned me a chuckle. “He did what he could… I wasn’t the best at it.”

                “Well, we’re going to fix that then,” I stated shoveling the rest of my food in my mouth.

                “Sorry, what?”

                I swallowed partially but still answered with some food in my mouth. “We’re going to fix you not being able to fight properly. Or even punch someone properly for that matter.”

                Steve eyed me, cautious. “Are you sure about this, Ed? And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

                I nodded, swallowing and standing. “You dragged me around New York, I’m at least going to drag you somewhere where I can teach you some basics. And too bad about talking with my mouth full.”

                Steve hesitated long enough for me to head towards the exit. “Today, Captain!” I called back.

                I heard him sigh but he thankfully did follow me.

                We walked down the streets of Buffalo, following the directions of a local Steve had asked to get to the local gym.

                Once we found it, we paid the entrance fee and headed further inside. Steve led the way until we reached a series of hanging… something. Bags? Long cylindrical bags?

                “Alright, so, what do you want to teach me?” asked Steve, standing next to one of the bags.

                “First, what are those things?”

                Steve glanced to the side, motioning towards the cylindrical objects. “This?” I nodded. “Punching bags. They’re filled with sand and you punch them.”

                Oh… “So this is what you used to train?”

                Steve looked confused by the question. “As oppose to punching each other?”

                I nodded, shrugging my shoulders. “Or with an opponent who is… unsichtbar, who isn’t there.” What the hell is the English word for invisible? “That’s how I practice.”

                The comment seemed to have thrown Steve off for a moment which had made me realize I never actually fought in front of him: the solo sparring sessions I had sneaked in were just that, solo and unknown by pretty much everyone.

                “You do?” he finally asked. “When?”

                I shrugged again, sticking my hands into my pockets. “When you’re not around. But back to you. We’ll use your punching bag.”

                “Ed, when –?”

                “Get into position.”

                Steve stared at me for a moment, giving me a look that I knew now would mean we were talking later. He better not try to stop me from sparring alone…

                He thankfully did as he was told and got into a half-assed fighting stance, his fists raised.

                “Well, at least you know how to close your hand to punch so your thumb won’t break,” I stated with a sigh.

                “Uh… thanks?”

                I then suddenly shoved him and he took two steps to the side, unstable.

                “And that’s what happens when you’re not standing properly,” I explained. “Again.”

                Steve was probably a model student in this because he returned to a fighting stance without fuss.

                For the next couple of minutes, I nearly micromanaged his every muscle so that he could get into a proper fighting stance,, one he was not going to be easily shoved off of.

                “There, that’s better!” I exclaimed when I pushed him and he didn’t budge. “Now, punching.”

                “Can I ask you something just before?”

                I didn’t see why not. “Yeah.”

                “Where did you learn how to fight?”

                I hesitated. Could I tell him about Teacher? Would he even believe me if I told him a woman taught me?

                I chastised myself for that thought. This is Steve, not some chauvinistic asshole.

                “I had a teacher who believed to train one’s mind, you had to train the body too,” I explained, heading towards the next nearest punching bag.

                “I thought you said you were self-taught.”

                “Mostly but she did teach me everything she knew about chemistry. I then taught myself the rest.”

                I added to that explanation a quick series of punches to the bag, finishing with a jump kick with my right leg.

                And I pulled back on my hits.

                I actually just didn’t want the bag to break if I hit it too hard. I still don’t know how the serum affected my strength and I wasn’t going to test it out here, today.

                Steve stared at me, shocked. He quickly shook his head, chuckling to himself. “I honestly should not have been surprised. As for your teacher, she did a good job it seems.”

                I shrugged. “That’s just an advantage for me: people love to underestimate someone smaller than themselves.”

                “You just called yourself small, you know that?”

                “I’M NOT!” I cried out angrily. “And I said ‘smaller’. Everyone here is smaller than you!”

                Steve was chuckling, shaking his head. “Fine. So, punching. What’ve you got?”

                What I ‘got’ ended up teaching Steve how to punch the bag clean off the chain holding it up.

                We stared in shock at the fallen bag, sand spilling from the fist-sized hole.

                “What’s going on here?!”

                Oh fuck…

                A man was quickly making his way towards us and he did not look happy.

                “What the hell?! Did you do this?!” He yelled out, pointing towards the destroyed punching bag.

                “I am so sorry, sir! I’ll replace it. I can hang the new one as well. I – I… I’m not used to my strength.”

                That explanation left the man speechless. “Don’t know…? What?”

                Steve was already going towards the punching bag, closing his hand over the hole and picking it up. “Where do you want it?” he asked.

                The man stood there, flabbergasted, his mouth open. “You – you… You’re that Captain America guy!”

                Steve looked sheepish. I bet if he had his hands free, he would have scratched the back of his head.

                “Yes, and I’m sorry again for breaking –”

                “Nonsense! Nonsense! It’s fine! It was old anyway! I can’t believe Captain America is in my gym!”

                He really did a 180 in personality…

                “Can I get a signature?” asked the man, almost gleefully.

                I had to turn around so they didn’t see me holding in my laughter.


 

                Early August 1943 – Milwaukee

 

                “They’re asking you to do what?” I asked, confused.

                “A movie.”

                Repeating the word wasn’t helping… What the fuck is a ‘movie’?

                Steve seemed to understand my confusion as he sat back, sighing. “I’m guessing then you’ve never seen a movie?”

                “You’re going to have to explain the whole notion of that.”

                “But they have theaters in Germany! Fitz Lang is a German director!”

                “Good for him! This German,” I pointed to myself, “doesn’t know what a ‘movie’ is.”

                “It’s a moving picture.”

                What the hell? “How does a picture move?” I asked, sceptical. Steve wouldn’t be pulling my leg, would he?

                “Well, if I remember correctly, there’s a series of still pictures that pass by fast enough so they seem like they’re moving.”

                “Oh! Like when you draw a series of images on many pages and flip them fast!”

                Steve smiled. “Exactly! Though with a lot more pictures, for a longer period of time. Though, just picturing you drawing those images is amusing.”

                “Hey, I didn’t. A classmate when I was young did.”

                “Back in Hartem?”

                Resembool but it doesn’t exist here. “Yeah. We had to keep ourselves entertained somehow.”

                Steve nodded, thoughtful. “It must have been nice growing up in the country,” he stated after a moment.

                I shrugged. “It had its perks but we didn’t have any of those ‘movies’ you talked about.”

                Steve stood suddenly, making me jump. “Then let’s go.”

                “Go where?”

                “To see a movie. You need to experience it at least once.”

                “Isn’t this a little sudden?” I asked, confused.

                “And you bringing me to the gym the first time wasn’t?” he countered with a smirk. Oh. Well… Point taken. “Come on, it’ll be my treat.”

                “Your… what?” I asked as I caught up to him.

                “I’m paying. I‘m treating you to the movie.”

                “Oh. Got it. And you don’t have –”

                “Not discussing this or else we’ll miss the entire movie.”

                Fine I’ll just slip the money back into his wallet when he’s not looking.

                “And Ed, I better not find extra money laying around or I swear, you’ll be taking the bed for the next week.”

                I huffed, not answering to that true accusation.

                It had been close to two months that we had known each other and it was borderline strange how quickly we had adapted to each other.

                Steve never bat an eyelash when he had to explain things to me. Thankfully, most of the time, it was the issue but other times, like today, the world barrier came up. He still took it very well as I kept using my excuse that I lived mostly in the country.

                On the other hand, Steve had someone to talk to: about the past, about his current situation and what possible lay in the future. Every time he talked, I could see the relief at the end.

                I don’t know how he’d do this alone…

                One thing we both discovered was how stubborn we both were. If we had thought the sleeping arrangement argument had been a hassle, we should have seen it coming when we were eating out, going sightseeing, or even travelling to the next city.

                We spent almost the whole trip to Milwaukee arguing on who was going to carry the third bag we purchases together – another stand still argument that finally ended in splitting the cost – to put some extra items we both didn’t have room for in our own bag.

                It nearly ended in a tug-a-war…

                As I had said, people called me stubborn but I may have met my match with Steve.

                “Two tickets, please.”

                Steve handed over the money and received two small tickets in return. He motioned for me to follow him into the building.

                I noticed a few others were milling around before a strong smell hit my nose. What the hell was that?

                I tugged at Steve’s sleeve, muttering, “What’s that smell?” I had learned a few weeks ago that it was best to keep my talking to a minimum in public areas or to whisper just so I could avoid the cautious or even scared looks others gave me upon hearing my accent.

                “Popcorn,” answered Steve. He took one look at my face before heading towards a counter. “You need to at least try it.”

                “But what is it?” I whispered.

                “Corn kernels that are heated up and that end up popping.”

                No idea what a ‘kernel’ is. Maybe it’s a kern

                Corn…. I vaguely remember hearing the word as a type of food. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one though… Another difference here: so many different types of food!

                “I’m paying for it though,” I added softly just as we reached the counter.

                “Put your money away,” ordered Steve before turning towards the man behind the counter. “A bag of popcorn, please.”

                “Steve!” I hissed.

                “Not listening,” he answered as he handed over the money and got a bag of ‘popcorn’.

                Yup, it definitely was that that smelled so strongly.

                He handed me the bag. “Just a ‘thank you’ will do. Let’s go find seats.”

                “Danke,” I muttered, following him. Stubborn, stubborn man.

                We quickly found seats in the large room. There was a curtain up in the front, just like at the theater and it was closed. What was behind it here though?

                “Steve, at least let me pay for this!” I whispered, holding up the ‘popcorn’.

                “I told you, it’s my treat. Don’t worry about it.”

                “But you weren’t planning on buying this!”

                “Who said I wasn’t going to?”

                “You were going the opposite way until I opened my mouth.”

                “You just reminded me of it.”

                “I’m still paying you back.”

                “I’m going to be taking the floor for the week if you do.”

                I growled, slumping down in my seat. “What’ll stop me from sleeping on the floor on alternating nights?” I asked instead.

                “I’m picking you up and throwing you back on the bed,” replied Steve without hesitation.

                “Scheiße…,” I grumbled.

                “Ed.”

                I ignored him. He won though with that argument because he could possible feel my limbs when he lifted me. “Fine. Fine! Thank you and next outing, I’m paying.”

                “We’ll see.”

                For the love of –! “Steve! I’m –”

                “Shush. Movie’s starting.”

                The lights had dimmed and the curtains opened, revealing a stark white screen behind them.

                Am I supposed to be… seeing…?

                Woah…

                It was like I was there, seeing a black and white version of the world.

                It was incredible! The sound as well!

                Science had progressed at such a faster rate on this side of the Gate and those advancements just kept astonishing me. Nothing seems to be slowing the imagination of these people!

                “Popcorn,” whispered Steve, reaching out and grabbing a handful of pieces. “Try it, as least.”

                Fine, I’ll humour him. I went to grab a piece but he stopped my hand. Thankfully it was left one!

                “There’s butter on the popcorn, you’ll get your gloves dirty,” he whispered.

                I glanced at him, my hand, and then the popcorn. Well… If it’s only the left glove, it should be fine.

                “I’m just suggesting, you don’t have to if you aren’t comfortable, Ed.”

                I shook my head, biting the fabric at the end of the fingers and pulling. I spotted Steve from the corner of my eye trying to not look obvious as he tried to get a look at my hand. He had asked a while ago why I constantly wore gloves and I had given a vague answer. He brought it up from time to time, especially when the temperature outside was scorching, but I evaded answering him and he always backed off.

                I guess if it’s personal enough, our stubbornness vanishes.

                And, sorry Steve, you won’t figure out why I wear gloves today.

                I took a single piece of popcorn and popped it in my mouth.

                Once I got over the amount of butter on it, it wasn’t all that bad.

                “Thanks, Steve,” I whispered, taking another piece.

                “Anytime, Ed.”

Chapter Text

                End of August, 1943 – Milwaukee

                I waited outside the dressing rooms for Steve to finish changing out of his Captain America outfit.

                Ever since his ‘movie’ came out, the crowds had been getting bigger and bigger: they had to add some shows here in Milwaukee before we head to Philadelphia, wherever that was…

                Even the production had gotten bigger, especially the amount of chorus girls. Proof of that fact was near the end of the corridor where more than half a dozen of them were chatting and giggling together in a tight group.

                I hope they leave before Steve is ready or else we’ll need to try and make it through that crowd.

                “Ready, Ed?”

                Fuck…

                I looked up at Steve, nodding. “Yeah, you?”

                He nodded back and began heading down the corridor. I think he only then spotted the group of girls.

                And they spotted him.

                “Steve!” cried out one of them and they nearly stampeded towards us.

                What the hell is wrong with them?

                Steve, meanwhile, was getting flustered with all the attention as the girls nearly surrounded him.

                “Uh… Evening, ladies,” he managed to utter.

                “Come dancing with us,” called out one of them excitedly. “We were just about to head off!”

                “Yes, please join us!”

                “It’ll be fun!”

                “There’s a great spot just down the way!”

                The more they talked, the more Steve got red and flustered, attempting to stutter out some answers that even I couldn’t hear nor understand.

                And I was standing behind him!

                “Ladies!” They kept talking. “Ladies!” Steve tried a little louder. Nothing. “LADIES!”

                They finally stopped, looking at Steve expectantly.

                “Listen, I am flattered by the offer,” he began, “but… perhaps another day…”

                The chorus of disappointment and pleas followed which had Steve stuttering to try and fix the situation.

                And it got me snickering behind him.

                “Ladies! Maybe Ed here can take you dancing tonight!”

                He moved aside and I was in clear view of the chorus girls. I froze, eyeing Steve while he just wore an unapologetic smirk.

                Asshole… He probably heard me laugh…

                What shocked me, though, was that some of the girls were congregating around me now!

                “Ed! Please! You can’t just leave a group of girls alone at night!”

                “I – I can’t dance!” I managed to utter, avoiding their grabby hands.

                “We’ll teach you!”

                “We all will!”

                “You’ll have the best teachers you could ever ask for!”

                Fucking shit… Now Steve was the one laughing and I was getting backed up against the wall. They were still trying to grab me!

                “Seriously, I’d step all over your feet! I’d ruin your pretty shoes!” I tried as an excuse. I needed to get out of this!

                “Aww! You like our shoes?”

                “He’s so sweet! You won’t hurt us!”

                “Don’t worry! Our feet can take it!”

                “Why don’t both of you just come?”

                Good, some of their attention was back on Steve. Serves him right.

                His smirk had vanished and he stared wide-eyed at the girls and then back at me. Why he was looking at me was beyond me at that point. What did he want me to do? Back in Amestris, I would probably have just shoved my way out of here.

                I don’t know how well Steve would take to that method.

                “Listen,” I began, loud enough to be heard over their constant chatting, “it’s been a long day! We wouldn’t be good… uh…” What’s the word?

                “We wouldn’t be good partners tonight, ladies,” finished Steve and I saw that he was trying to reach out towards me. “We’d just ruin your fun.”

                I yawned loudly, shuffling my way towards Steve. “Yeah… I need some sleep… It’s been a long day.”

                “And I need to make sure he gets back to the hotel safely!”

                “Thank you again for the invite.”

                “But maybe another time.”

                And Steve grabbed my left arm and nearly dragged me down the corridor, away from the disappointed pleas and cries of the chorus girls, and out the theater.

                We walked down the streets of Milwaukee, hoping the group of girls were not following us at this point.

                They were overly persistent!

                “Think we’re safe?” asked Steve, glancing behind us.

                “I hope so…,” I grumbled sticking my hands into my pockets. “They REALLY wanted you to go dancing with them.”

                “They asked you too.”

                “As an alternative,” I replied, sounding almost bitter about it: I was technically there second choice. “I think they were trying to get on your good side by asking me.”

                Steve paused, thinking it over. “Really? That would be a shame… Still, why didn’t you go with them?”

                I scoffed. “I could ask you the same question.”

                Steve nodded. “Well, it always seemed daunting asking a girl to dance… Bucky always had better luck with the ladies… I just figured I’d wait for the right partner.”

                Woah… When I thought Steve couldn’t get any more of a ‘goodie two shoes’, he goes and says that.

                He may just be too good for this world…

                Or any world for that matter.

                “How about you?” he asked. “Because you looked just as embarrassed as I did back there.”

                I frowned, hating that he was right. “I was telling them the truth. I can’t dance. I would most likely step on their shoes.” Not to mention that some of the blushing was because some girls were definitely attractive…

                “Pretty shoes if I remember your wording.”

                I massaged my face. I had said that… “Scheiße.”

                “Ed,” warned Steve.

                His attempts at trying to get me to stop swearing weren’t working, no matter how many times he tried.

                Unsurprisingly.

                “So you had never wanted to learn?” continued Steve.

                “I had other priorities,” I muttered, shrugging my shoulders. “None of them included learning to dance.”

                “But you’re so agile on your feet,” remarked Steve. “You’d probably make a good dancer. I could teach you!”

                I literally stopped in my tracks, staring up at Steve. “You’ll what?”

                “Teach you! It’s only fair since you’re teaching me to fight.”

                All that came to mind was the close dancing couples had done in Resembool during the sheep festivals. Replace a couple with a picture of myself and Steve and my face turned bright red in embarrassment.

                I do not like him like that!

                That would just be OVERLY awkward…

                I quickly walked away, trying to get that image out of my head. It felt like I was going to dance with someone I considered a…

                Don’t bring that up now!

                “It’s fine, Steve! I don’t need to learn! I swear!” I called out, nearly jogging to the end of the street.

                I faintly heard Steve laughing behind me. “It’s – it’s alright, Ed,” he laughed out. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to!”

                I needed to stop at the street corner because of a red light so Steve caught up and stood next to me. He was still chuckling.

                “Besides,” I began, not able to look at him just yet, “I thought you said you were looking for the right partner. I highly doubt it’s me!”

                “I don’t know who the right partner is. Don’t count yourself out just yet!”

                And he crossed the street, leaving me to stare at him, stunned.

                He – he doesn’t know… Does he?

                “Let’s go, Ed!”

                I shook my head, trying to clear it. “Coming!” I called and I crossed the street, joining him as we continued our way towards the hotel.

                No… No, he couldn’t have figured it out.

                There’s no way.

                I just kept repeating that all the way to the hotel.


 

                October 1943 - Chicago

                “My little Ed.”

                Mom… She was sitting on her bed, illuminated from the back from the sunlight coming through the window.

                She was smiling.

                “Gotten into trouble again?” she asked, tilting her head to the side.

                Trouble? I guess. I’m a world away from home…

                Her head kept tilting, more and more. I took a step back. This isn’t normal.

                Her head… Her face was upside down.

                Decaying flesh. Red eyes.

                “Such a troublesome little brat!” The thing we created, the thing that wasn’t mom was yelling out. Its voice ragged, haunting.

                I ran away.

                “Brother?

                I blinked. Hallway.

                I know that voice…

                “Play with me?

                I was shaking as I looked down, to my right.

                The chimera of Nina and Alexander.

                I stumbled back, hitting my back against the wall.

                “Big brother? Please? Play with me?

                My knees buckled and I slid to the ground, unable to tear my gaze away from the chimera’s haunting stark white eyes.

                “Play?

                I managed to shut my eyes.

                Did I?

                It’s dark. Too dark. I can’t see –

                “Sister…?

                White. Everything was white.

                Alphonse…

                He was staring at me, cautious.

                “Are you my sister?

                I couldn’t breathe. What…?

                “You can’t be. My sister is younger. She doesn’t have automail. Who are you? What did you do to her?

                “Al! It’s me! It’s Ed!”

                “What language are you speaking? What are you saying?

                “AL, PLEASE!”

                “What did you do with my SISTER?!

                I backed up and my hand couldn’t find ground anymore.

                And I fell backwards.

                “AL!”

                Weightlessness.

                Acceleration.

                Impact.

                “Ed!”

                I shook my head, trying to get the image of Al, of my mother, of Nina out of my head.

                It wasn’t working.

                “Ed, are you alright?”

                I wasn’t breathing evenly. Short gasps.

                I couldn’t save them…

                Had I saved Al?

                “Ed, talk to me!”

                I turned over.

                Where…?

                Blue eyes.

                That’s not Al…

                “Steve,” I gasped out.

                Hands on the side of my face.

                “Ed, take a deep breath, alright? Deep breath.”

                Shaky breath.

                “Again, Ed.”

                Deeper breath.

                Exhale.

                “Once more.”

                Breathe in. Breathe out.

                Better.

                I placed my left hand over Steve’s right, lowering my head. “’m fine,” I muttered.

                “Ed…,” sighed Steve, not moving his hands. “You’re still shaking.”

                I paused in my breathing, noticing he was right: my body was trembling. Just keep breathing.

                Steve got closer. Arms circling me. NO!

                I shuffled back, away from him.

                My back hit something hard.

                But he can’t hug me. He’ll find out.

                He’ll find out.

                I couldn’t keep my breathing even anymore.

                I curled up, crushing my legs tightly against myself.

                Why does it hurt so much?

                “Ed, what can I do to help you?”

                Nothing. Fucking nothing because all this is my fault!

                All my fault.

                I shook my head, burying my face in the crook between my knees and chest.

                “Ed, please…”

                I ignored him.

                Breathe in. Breathe out.

                I faintly heard shuffling around me. It stopped.

                Next to me.

                On my left.

                I peeked to that side. Steve was sitting next to me, just close enough to leave barely space between us, leaning against…

                Nightstand.

                He’s leaning against the nightstand.

                I’m leaning against the nightstand.

                We’re both of the floor.

                I was sleeping in the bed…

                I fell off the fucking bed…

                I groaned, trying to bury my head even more in the crevice my body created.

                “Ed… You were yelling again…”

                I groaned again, willing myself to curl even tighter. I just want to disappear.

                I want to forget about that stupid nightmare.

                Because I don’t want to remember the possibility that my brother has no memory of me.

                Al…

                I paused, thinking back.

                Again?

                I peeked in Steve’s direction and caught him staring. “Again?” I repeated softly. Had I cried out the first time? I don’t remember. I didn’t think I did…

                He sighed softly, nodding. “You’ve had nightmares since the first time. You thought I was asleep most of the time but… I heard you.”

                Fucking shit… I couldn’t look at him anymore…

                “Ed, it’s fine. Just understand that all I want to do is help you, alright?”

                Help me… That’s a joke… How can he help me?

                “Ed, I don’t want to see you like this. If even talking about it could help –”

                I shook my head. No talking about this…

                “They’ve been going on for months, Ed.”

                Years…

                Steve sighed. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen again… I hate to see you like this, Ed.” He paused after that. I hate it too but they haven’t gone away for years… I doubt they’ll go away now. “Can we at least try to talk next time? If there is one? Just a little to see if could help.”

                I peeked over at him again. He was still staring down at me, his blue eyes filled with worry. Moments like these, Steve reminded me too much of my brother… Of how much he cared, how much he wanted to help people.

                Of how he cared about me.

                I felt the tears come took quickly for me to even thinking of hiding or stopping them.

                I miss Al. I miss Winry.

                I miss Amestris.

                I miss HOME.

                And I can’t get back there!

                “Ed –”

                I reached out with my left hand, grasping his right one tightly as I buried my face against my body again.

                And I cried.

                “Ed…”

                Steve didn’t say anything else. He just held onto my hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

Chapter Text

End of October, 1943 – New York City

                “Hey, Kid.”

                For the love of… I frowned at the man who had called me. Why do people keep referring to me like that?

                “Easy there, Kid, just letting you know someone is looking for you backstage.”

                My frown deepened. Who the fuck is looking for me? Steve was still with his fans in the main hall of the theater. No one else actually cared about my whereabouts.

                “Who?” I asked.

                The man shrugged. “I’m just passing along the message. Didn’t give a name. It’s maybe for the show.”

                I rolled my eyes. I had finished all the tasks they had assigned me already. I was now just waiting for Steve. If they’re going to ask me to carry shit again, I’m going to punch them. “Fine. Thanks,” I muttered, heading back towards the stage.

                The area was empty as I took the side entrance, towards the backstage area, squinting, trying to get my eyes to adjust to the change of lighting behind the scenes. Why the fuck is someone looking for me here?

                “Hello?” I called out.

                No answer.

                I didn’t like this…

                Something –

                Sharp pain. Back of head.

                I stumbled to the ground, the back of my head pounding, my ears ringing, and my sight blurry.

                What the fuck just happened?!

                I was then knocked to the side by a hard kick to my stomach, making me cough out.

                “Nazi spy!”

                Should have known…

                I tried to see where he was coming from.

                Tried and failed.

                My eye sight was still fuzzy and it was still so dark. Where –?

                Another kick landed on my stomach.

                I gasped in pain, curling on my side.

                Need to –

                Another kick.

                Fucking… bastard…

                “You may have fooled them but you’re not fooling me!”

                Idiot…

                Of course my eyesight began to clear only then. Just in time to see the man get on the ground and straddle my stomach.

                What the fuck?!

                I went to try to lift him off, to try to get out but –

                His hands went to my neck and squeezed.

                It’s not like I never had someone try to kill me.

                I just usually had the upper hand.

                No one ever tried to strangle me either…

                I tried to pry the man’s hands off of my neck.

                And kept trying. I wasn’t getting a grip.

                He squeezed harder and I couldn’t fill my lungs.

                Punch…?

                I couldn’t reach his face…

                Hitting stomach…

                I think…

                Vision swimming…

                Lift him off…

                Punch arms…

                Can’t… breathe…

                Can’t… see…

                “ED!”

                Imagine… voice…? Did… I…?

                AIR!

                “ED!”

                Can’t… catch breath…

                “ED! Come on, stay with me!”

                Gasping. Air.

                Needed air!

                Off ground…

                Curl…

                Hurt…

                “Hospital. You need a hospital, now!”

                No… NO! I can’t go…

                Shake head. Shaking. “No…,” I gasped out. Grasping… something… Someone… “No… pl… please!”

                See… someone…? Maybe…?

                Was I looking at him?

                “Ed, they can help you!”

                Shaking. Please no… “No. Please…. No… Ho… spi…”

                Dark.

Chapter Text

                End of October 1943 – Steve’s POV

                I didn’t sleep. I sat there, staring at Ed; kept staring at his unmoving form.

                He didn’t want to be brought to a hospital. He was nearly begging me. I kept my word but, if he didn’t wake up by eight o’clock, I was dragging him to the hospital. He can hate me afterwards.

                I just needed to make sure that he was going to be alright.

                I would have to ask the doctors, though, to not –

                I heard his breathing change. I sat up straighter in my chair, my gaze fixed on him.

                At least he was waking up. It took a couple of tense minutes before Ed finally shifted.

                He slowly sat up, his eyes bleary. I could see the pain in his face when he tried to breathe deeply.

                I still cannot believe someone tried to strangle him to death…

                If one of the chorus girls had not heard the commotion and had run to the main hall, yelling for help…

                I couldn’t even picture losing Ed like that…

                “Ed?” I called out softly.

                He blinked several times, looking around.

                I stood up, heading closer to the bed. “Ed? How are you feeling?” I asked just as gently.

                He tried to speak but the noise that came out of him was painful to hear; painful for him too it seemed. He settled for shrugging his shoulders, his hands raising to massage his face. The moment they touched his face though, he froze.

                His hands were shaking as he slowly lowered them, staring at them with wide eyes.

                Perhaps I should have put his gloves back on…

                I had wanted to get him more comfortable: I’d taken off his boots, his coat, and his gloves. When those came off, I finally understood why he wore them constantly, even in the summer heat. His right hand was completely metal. From the slight poking I had done afterwards, I managed to discover his entire right arm was metal. I didn’t touch anything else after that…

                Was his arm encased? Or was it… all metal?

                He was staring at me now, his eyes full of fear.

                Did – did he think I would be mad or…? I don’t know why he would be scared of me…

                Of my reaction.

                “Ed, it’s fine,” I whispered, sitting at the edge of his bed. “It’s your arm, right?”

                He was gripping his right wrist tightly, something I had seen him do multiple times in the past. I just never understood that he had been gripping metal this entire time.

                “Is it encased in metal or…?”

                He didn’t meet my gaze, continuing to stare at his right hand. “Metal,” he gasped out, his voice raspy. “Full.”

                His entire arm is metal? What – what had happened?

                His closed his eyes, attempting to breathe deeply but, from the scrunched expression on his face, it was painful.

                He suddenly released his wrist, pulling the covers away, nearly tossing them to the ground.

                “Ed? What’s wrong? If it’s because of your arm, I’m…”

                He had knocked against his left knee with his right knuckles several times and, each time, the distinct sound of metal hitting metal was clear to my ears.

                His… His leg? I met his gaze briefly and, if possible, he looked even more scared than before, his eyes shifting from me to everything and anything around.

                “Your leg too?” I whispered. He had lost both limbs? They were – are – both metal?

                Ed slowly nodded.

                But… I shook my head. How stupid could I be?

                “But how are you doing, Ed?” I asked, surprising him.

                He cocked his head to the side, confusion clear on his face. He hesitated a moment before pointing to his arm and then to his throat, a questioning look on his face.

                “Your throat. And… Whatever else he did. Are you in pain?” I clarified which seemed to surprise him even more.

                I don’t think he was believing his ears. He just stared at me for a while before he finally shrugged.

                “No talking, I’m guessing?”

                He shook his head.

                “Do you want a cold cloth for your neck? I heard it could be inflamed for a while. Maybe something cool will help.”

                He slowly and gently touched is neck with his left hand, wincing. He still nodded though.

                “I’ll be right back,” I stated, standing and heading towards the bathroom.

                When I returned with the cold, damp cloth, Ed wasn’t in the bed anymore. I had a brief moment of panic, wondering if he had taken off.

                Thankfully, he was just at his bag. He pulled something out and shakily stood, leaning heavily against the nightstand.

                He paused for a moment before he made his way back to the bed, getting on and leaning back in exhaustion.

                I had been watching his metal limbs the entire time.

                If he had never told me, I would never have guessed they were anything but flesh and bone. They moved all too well for fully mechanical limbs.

                Who had made them?

                Had Dr. Erskine designed them? Is that why Ed had been with the Doctor prior to going to the S.S.R.?

                Ed was now scribbling in his notebook with his left hand, seeming unaware that I had returned to the room.

                “Here, Ed,” I called out, bridging the gap between us and handing him the cloth.

                He looked up, spotting the cloth. He nodded his thanks, grasping it with his right hand and gently placing it on his neck. He winced, tensing but still kept it there, going back to his writing.

                “What are you –?”

                He flipped the notebook around, lifting it so I could read what had been written on the previously blank page.

                Dear me… His handwriting was not very legible.

                I took the notebook, nearly squinting as I tried to decipher the words.

                “‘Why are you handling the news of my limbs so well?’ Is that the question?” I asked. That sounded like a good sentence.

                Ed nodded, motioning for me to give the notebook back. He sat there, poised to write as he stared up at me.

                Right. The question.

                “Ed, you wouldn’t be the first person I’ve met who has lost limbs,” I began, sitting down on the bed. “Honestly, I’m more disappointed that you hadn’t said anything for the past several months… You know you can trust me, right?”

                He stared at his notebook, his head bowed. He fiddled with his pen before he quickly scribbled something else down.

                “‘I trust you, Steve. I just don’t share well.’” I read out loud.

                I sighed. That was a very true statement.  I only knew a few details of Ed’s past. Just a handful and, as I had said, we had known each other for several months. Sharing a room every night.

                Speaking of…

                “Is it because of you trying to hide your arm that you fell behind the bed that time?” I asked suddenly.

                Ed was taken aback by the question. However, he managed to smile softly, nodding. I smiled back, even chuckling at the memory. I had thought he had fainted because of how sudden the fall had been.

                Ed frowned in my direction and I tried to stop my laughter. “Can – can I feel you hand?” I asked instead, trying to change the subject.

                Ed shrugged, lowering his right hand from his neck, switching it with his left for the cloth. He then extended his hand towards me.

                It looked like it was an actual hand with all the different parts. In one of my art classes, we had done anatomy and the structure of these parts resembled those of a hand extremely well.

                Whoever made this knew exactly what they were doing.

                “Who made them?” I wondered out loud.

                Ed picked his pen back up and wrote down an answer. ‘A friend. A while ago.’

                “Was it Dr. Erskine?” He had been my first assumption.

                Ed shook his head. “Old… Friend…,” he repeated, his voice still raspy.

                I don’t think I was getting anything else from him… I needed to push down my irritation of that fact.

                I returned my attention to his hand, turning it and moving the fingers. “Can you fell any of this?”

                Ed shook his head. He wrote something down and it took me a while to decipher it. ‘No nerve endings at plates. Only inside.’

                “It’s connected to your nerves?” I repeated, shocked. “How?”

                Ed gave me a look of exasperation. Right. He’ll need to write everything down.

                And it’s getting harder and harder to read his writing…

                ‘Long process. Painful as hell.’, was all he had scribbled.

                Painful…? And it had been a while ago…

                How young had he been?

                “Alright, I won’t ask you anything else,” I stated. “You need to rest, alright?”

                He nodded half-heartedly though he wrote down one last thing in his notebook and showing it to me.

                ‘Thanks but don’t ever remove my clothes again.’

                I stared at the page and then at Ed, raising an eyebrow. Did I read that correctly? He frowned back at me, staring me down.

                “I won’t,” I answered, even though my curiosity was perked wondering why he didn’t want me to see him: I knew about the limbs, what else is there to know?

                He nodded, placing his notebook and pen on the night table. I moved the covers aside and waited for him to get comfortable before covering him up.

                “And Ed, whenever you feel like sharing I’ll be here to listen, alright?”

                He didn’t answer, staring to the side. However, he did nod slowly, finally meeting my gaze. “Thanks, Steve,” he managed to breathe out.

                I gripped his shoulder, his right shoulder and felt where metal met flesh… “Anytime, Ed. Now rest.”

                As he turned on his side, closing his eyes, I sat back down on my chair, watching him again, going over what I had learned.

                He had been young when he had lost his limbs, when he had gotten those metal ones to replace them.

                The process was extremely painful.

                And he was only 17 years old, not even considered a legal adult.

                What had happened to him?

                From all the nightmares he’s had, I can only imagine how difficult his life must have been.

                No wonder he doesn’t share anything. Maybe, at some point, he will.


                 The day following the attempt on Ed’s life, I thankfully didn’t have a show that evening. I spent the entire day with Ed in the room, tending to him to the point of annoyance it seemed by the frustrated glare he had sent me at some point.

                I chose to ignore it.

                The day after, however, I had not been so lucky: there were two shows back to back, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

                Even though Ed had assured me that he would be alright for those hours alone, it still bothered me leaving him alone in his condition.

                “Captain Rogers!” Senator Brandt and one of his assistants were heading in my direction, smiling brightly. Too bad there were no cameras back here for this show they’re putting on.

                “Senator Brandt,” I greeted in return. “I don’t have long, though. I hope that’s alright.”

                Brandt waved me off. “Of course, of course! Your fans anxiously await you. I just came by to see how you’re doing.”

                “Can’t complain,” I replied. “Thank you.”

                “And how’s… Oh, what’s his name?”

                 “Elric,” muttered his assistant.

                “Ah yes, Elric! I heard of that horrid affair.”

                It had been months. Brandt should know Ed’s name by now. But I needed to play nice. He had some pull with the higher ups which could get me on the front lines.

                “He’s getting better,” I replied. “I hate to leave him alone back at the hotel but, duty called.”

                “Yes, yes. Quite right,” remarked the Senator. “As long as he’s doing better, that’s what’s important. Now, Captain, break a leg!”

                Behind me, on stage, was my cue to go back up there. “Thank you, Senator.”

                It had been hard to focus on the second half of the show, even more later on with the fans. I seem to have been so distracted that the producer of the show ended the affair early.

                “Go get some rest, Cap,” he had told me, shooing me backstage.

                “Thanks,” I muttered, doing just that.

                I changed and made my way out the back exit, quickly heading back to the hotel.

                Part of me knew that Ed could take care of himself for a couple of hours, that he’d hate it that I worried so much about him.

                I just can’t stop worrying.

                I guess I had a good reason to: kneeling in front of our hotel room, a man was attempting to pick the lock.

                “Hey!”

                He jumped in surprise, spotting me marching towards him. He tried to scurry away, tripping as he got up. I easily caught up to him, grabbing him by the collar and lifting him up.

                “What do you think you were doing?” I asked angrily.

                “No-Nothing,” he stuttered out.

                I frowned, taking a good look at him and the gun hidden under his jacket.

                “Let’s try that again,” I gritted out, moving back towards the room, dragging him with me.

                I unlocked the door and swung it open.

                And ducked just in time to avoid getting hit on the head.

                “Steve!” Ed managed to wheeze out.

                His voice had been getting better, the swelling of his throat having gone down. It still seemed to hurt when he talked though…

                I took a look at what had almost hit me, still clutched in Ed’s hands: the metal lamp from the night table.

                Ed, meanwhile, was studying the man I still had by the collar.

                “He try… get in?” murmured Ed, motioning towards the intruder with his head.

                “Yes. And I want to know why,” I answered, shoving him into the room and onto the only chair.

                He went to grab his gun but I was faster, yanking it out of its holster. Ed stared wide-eyed at it, going between me and the man.

                “So,” I began, shutting the door, “care to explain what you were doing?”

                “I said ‘nothing’!” repeated the intruder, looking for a way out.

                I leaned forward, placing my hand on the back of the chair, staring intensely at the man. “Let’s try this again. You were picking the lock. Why?”

                “I – I thought it was my room! I misplaced my key!”

                I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at that pitiful excuse. “You could have asked the front desk. Try again.”

                “I – I was embarrassed!”

                I kept staring.

                “I swear! I –”

                I pushed against the back of the chair, making it lean backwards and the man began to panic. “You have seen me lift a motorcycle, correct?” I asked, titling my head to the side. “You’re easily half the size. What do you think I can do to you?”

                The man paled, his gaze shifting from myself to Ed behind me. “I – I…”

                “You were picking the lock. Why?”

                He was beginning to shake so I pushed the chair just a little more back.

                “I was paid to take care of him!” cried out the intruder, pointing towards Ed, finally cracking.

                I knew it…

                “Why?” I snapped. “By whom?”

                “I don’t know! I was called tonight to do it before you got back!”

                “Whoever called didn’t say why?!”

                “It’s for you own good, he said!”

                I paused, thinking those words over. For my own good? Why would someone think that?

                “Please! Just let me go!” he begged.

                I stared at him, wondering if there was something he had kept from us.

                “Just go,” said Ed softly, his voice raspy.

                The man stared between Ed and myself, unsure. I nodded, leaning back and the man bolted, yanking open the door and running out.

                He could have closed the door…

                Ed instead went and closed it with a sigh.

                “Fun way to… start night,” he remarked slowly, in a low voice.

                I sat down in the vacant chair, massaging my face. “Why is someone out to get you, Ed? Why is it for my own good?”

                He cocked an eyebrow in my direction before pointing to himself. “German.”

                “Ed, we’ve been over this…” We had on multiple occasions when other didn’t like Ed, he brushed it off as him being from Germany. I had to remind him that he did have a rougher personality or that others just didn’t like people.

                He had just specified again ‘Germans’ at that point.

                “We discussed,” he repeated, rolling his eyes. “Don’t change… people… disliking… like Brandt.”

                I sighed. Brandt was a lost cause on getting him to at least tolerate Ed. Though, he had at least asked how… Ed… was…

                Brandt knew Ed was alone here.            

                He wouldn’t…?

                Would he?

                ‘For my own good.’

                “Steve?”

                He would though… “Brandt,” I stated, standing and beginning to pace. “He had asked about you. He and his assistant were the only ones to know you were here. Alone. And he would have the most to gain getting you out of the picture.”

                Ed was fuming. “No German. Lost friend. Sympathy… Asshole.”

                “Ed,” I chided half-heartedly. But I couldn’t help but agree with that statement.

                “Can’t prove,” stated Ed in a sigh, crossing his arms. “Assumptions. Useless.”

                He had a point.

                Well, for the meantime. “You know I’m not letting you out of my sight again, right?” I said.

                Ed looked defeated. “Scheiße.

                “Ed!”


                The next day, I had a show in the evening and true to my word, Ed was NOT leaving my sight: he had trudged along on the way to the theater and I kept pulling him to my side every time he decided to venture more than three feet away.

                He swore several times because of it.

                “Captain Rogers!”

                Not again…

                Senator Brandt and his assistant had made their way backstage once more and I faked a smile upon seeing them. Ed and I couldn’t pin the blame on him but I still wasn’t about to roll over and do nothing.

                “Ah Alreck! How are you fairing?” asked the Senator a bit too loudly.

                “Elric,” Ed gritted out. “And fine.”

                Even though he didn’t sound fine just yet.

                “Terrible, terrible affair. Hopefully there’s no repeat,” remarked the Senator.

                I couldn’t let that slide. “There almost was one,” I put in. “Last night. Someone tried to break into our hotel room.”

                The surprise on the Senator’s face was not overly genuine….

                “Thankfully, I left earlier and scared the man off,” I continued. “If anything were to happen to such a dear friend,” I even placed my hand on Ed’s head. He can curse at me later. “I don’t know if I’d be in the right mindset to continue with these shows… I’d need some time to myself.”

                I believe the Senator understood the threat all too well. He nearly back peddled, his eyes wide.

                “Of course! Of course, Captain! If anything, I’ll increase security! No harm will come to either of you!”

                I nodded. “Thank you, Senator.”

                He quickly said his goodbyes and nearly jogged away.

                Just as Ed smacked my hand away. “Good job,” he stated but he was frowning. “But don’t do that again. I break fingers.”

                I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Chapter Text

                November 2nd, 1943

                The US government was very, and I mean VERY, hesitant to send both myself and Steve overseas to see the troops, to try to boost their moral or what not. I wasn’t sure which one scared them most: sending their boy wonder away near enemy soil, or sending him there with a German.

                However, whatever reservations they had, they must not have been too important because here we were, in the middle of a camp full of tired looking soldiers.

                I pressed myself into the wall as the chorus girls giggled past me, having finished their song, leaving the stage all clear for Steve. And man, did that not go well… The even heckled him! They were lucky Steve was the one up there and not me because I would have probably gotten enraged and caused a scene – along with more than several bloody noses.

                I motioned for the girls to head onstage, hopefully it’ll save Steve from anymore embarrassment. They hesitated a moment before a handful rushed up the stairs, plastering on their bright smiles.

                And then, Steve came down, his face grim.

                “Don’t let it get to you, Steve,” I said, as neared me but he just bypassed me completely. “Hey!”

                “Not now, Ed…,” he sighed, barely avoiding a collision with the other chorus girls.

                “Steve!”

                I ran after him, into the dressing room as he tossed his shield onto a box and yanked off his hood.

                “Steve! What the hell is wrong?”

                He dropped down onto a box, his head in his hands.

                “Steve,” I sighed, standing in front of him.

                “Am I really making a difference?” he asked, sounding defeated.

                Damn it… It was a delicate question and I was horrible at being delicate.

                “Well… If you’re asking that, probably not in the way you wanted to.”

                He sighed heavily, passing a hand through his hair. “This isn’t what I wanted… I thought if I played their game, I’d finally be able to help on the front lines. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

                “I’m just going to be stuck being their show monkey until the war ends. Maybe even longer.”

                “Steve –”

                He cut me off, frustration filtering through his voice. “I know what you’ll say, Ed. I know I technically have a choice but my choice won’t lead me to being a part of that,” he motioned to where we could hear the soldiers cheering for the girls.

                I went to say something but he held up his hand, sighing. “Can – can I get some time alone, Ed?”

                Uh… Seeing as he didn’t want me out of his sight just a couple of days ago, this was new.

                But…

                “Fine,” I muttered. “I’ll leave you be.”

                And I did, heading towards the camp and readjusting my scarf before heading into the rain.

                Stupid rain…

                I massaged my shoulder port, trying to release the tension that built up with the change in humidity and pressure. This wasn’t exactly the place for it to give out on me…

                “Edward?”
                I turned towards the voice, spotting Peggy under one of the tents. What was she doing here?

                I quickly made my way towards her, ducking under the canvas. I gave the area a quick glance but she was alone.

                “Peggy, this is a surprise,” I greeted.

                “Likewise. I didn’t think they would actually allow you to leave the country.”

                I shrugged my shoulders. “They learned that wherever Steve goes, I follow. If not, their poster boy may quit on them.”

                Peggy looked sceptical. “Quit?” she repeated. “I hear his America’s new hope.”

                I scoffed at her intonation: she sounded as convinced as I was. “Yes, the shows are what keep the soldiers fighting…,” I muttered, looking back at the desolate looking cap.

                We stared out for a moment, both quiet. I knew I was trying to formulate my thoughts. I wonder if Peggy was too.

                “Is he happy?” she finally asked softly.

                Easy question. “From his actions before I left, not one bit.” I heard her sigh and I finally looked back at her. “Can I ask you something, Peggy?”

                I had a feeling she caught on to the reference from when she had done the same thing five months ago.

                “Yes, Edward?”

                “Do you mind going to talk to him? I’m not good with delicate situations like this. And I’ve said my bit multiple times. Maybe a new voice will help.”

                Peggy didn’t hesitate. “Of course! Where can I find him?”

                I motioned in the direction of the stage. “I don’t know if he left the dressing room area or not yet. That’s where I left him.”

                She nodded, grabbing her coat. “I’ll go. Stay out of trouble until I get back, alright, Edward?”

                She went back to asking me to behave AGAIN and we hadn’t even talked for five minutes.

                “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, just to annoy her.

                From the look she gave me, it had somewhat worked.

                I watched her for a moment as she ran through the rain, holding a coat over her head, until she was out of sight. Maybe I could just wait here then. I wasn’t going to bother anyone and I’ll be dry. That sounded…

                A medial truck drove past the tent, stopping a little further away, at the medical bay. My curiosity was peeked as I headed out into the rain, reaching it just as two soldiers quickly went to the back of the truck and pulled out a stretcher, a wounded man on it, writhing in pain. I took one glance at the injury on his leg and frowned at the infection growing on it.

                I followed the soldiers into the tent and glanced around. “Do you need any help –?”

                “What the hell do you think you’re doing in here?”

                I got shoved out of the tent and I fell into the mud. I glared the soldier that pushed me as he was joined by three others. “We surely don’t need your help here! Get lost!”

                “I’m on your side idiots!” I yelled, pushing myself to my feet. “Jeez! Fine, don’t take my help! But that soldier’s wound is infected!”

                “Leave here now before we show you off camp!” ordered another soldier.

                “But –!”

                They took a step forward and I quickly backed up. Getting into a fight with these soldiers was probably the worst idea possible here so I squashed my stubbornness down.

                Instead, I threw my hands up in the air and sighed. “Fine! Fine! I’m going!”

                I turned around and stalked away, stuffing my hands into my pockets, ignoring the mud dripping down my jacket. The rain would wash it off anyway…

                But… I sighed, glancing back slightly at the medical tent. I should probably be getting used to this but it still stings somewhat. Not trusting me for my age and appearance was bad enough. Now, you put in my nationality and it seems I’m the last person anyone wants on their team.

                Hence why I’ve just been following Steve around, I guess. If I wasn’t, I would probably have been shipped off somewhere or put into a cell like back in Briggs.

                Who am I kidding? Someone else could have another attempt on my life like Brandt had done…

                Suddenly, Steve and Peggy ran past me and I had a moment of hesitation, part of me wanting to just let them run. However, curiosity got the better of me and I followed, easily catching up to them.

                “What’s going on?” I called over the wind and rain.

                Peggy glanced in my direction and shook her head, her expression telling me she knew just as much as myself. We followed Steve under a tent and I spotted Colonel Phillips at a desk. Great, Grumpy, why does Steve need to see him?

                The Colonel looked up as we approached. “Well, if it isn’t the star-spangled man with a plan.” Well, as for as greetings went, that could have been better. “And the kid is still following you around, too. So, what is your plan for today?”

                Steve ignored the jabs and went right into it. “I need the casualty list from Azzano.”

                “You don’t get to give me orders, son,” replied the Colonel curtly. I would have been in so much trouble if his was my superior officer back in Amestris. Mustang really did let me get away with a lot of things now that I think about it…

                “I just need one name, Sergeant James Barnes from the 107th.”

                Oh. James Barnes. Bucky. That was Bucky’s full name. Part of me hoped for Steve’s sake that his friend was not on that list but… Another part of me knew deep down that he probably was.

                How was Steve going to handle that?

                The Colonel didn’t answer right away, instead, pointing towards Peggy of all people. “You and I are going to have a conversation later that you won’t enjoy.”

                “Please tell me he’s alive, sir. B – A – R – ”

                “I can spell,” interrupted the Colonel. Neither men said anything as the Colonel stood, pacing behind his desk. He finally stopped, his back towards us. “I have signed more of these condolence letters today that I would care to count but…,” he turned around, finally having a look other than irritation or disappointment on his face. He almost looked sorry. “The name does sound familiar. I’m sorry.”

                Steve tried to hide how torn he was but it still showed. He’s at least keeping it together better than I would if I had gotten the same news about Al…

                Steve steeled himself before asking, “What of the others? Are you planning a rescue mission?”

                The Colonel huffed, “Yeah, it’s called winning the war.”

                Really? Who knows how long it’ll be before the war ends? From what I recall, it had started in ’39. We’re in ’43 with still no sign of an end. What could stop it from continuing for another four years?

                Steve seemed to share my thoughts. “But if you know where they are, why not at least –”

                “They’re 30 miles behind the lines though some of the most heavily fortified territory in Europe. We’d lose men than we’d save. I wouldn’t expect you to understand that because you’re a chorus girl.”

                “I think I understand just fine,” replied Steve curtly.

                “Then understand it somewhere else,” snapped the Colonel, moving past Steve. “If I read the posters correctly, you have some place to be in 30 minutes.”

                I watched Steve but his focus was purely on the map; the map showing not only our location but the Hydra base that was, in fact, 30 miles behind the line.

                He wasn’t…? Was he?

                What type of talk did Peggy give him?

                “Yes, sir, I do,” called out Steve and he walked out.

                I turned towards Peggy, eyes wide. She seemed to be understanding the same thing as she studied the map.

                We shared a look, both knowing he was going to do something reckless.

                Maybe she should have told Steve to behave.

                I ran past the Colonel and Peggy, barely hearing the Colonel say loudly. “If you have something to say, now would be the perfect time to keep it to yourself!”

                Steve was also running at this point and I was always more than two meters behind, until we entered the tent that housed our cots and bags.

                Steve was going around, grabbing what he could and stuffing it into a duffel bag. Peggy and I were right it seemed.

                “Steve, do you even know how we’ll get there?” I asked.

                He slowed but didn’t stop. “We? You’re staying right here, Ed. I don’t –”

                “Hell, no!” I cried out, loudly. “I’m going with you so you don’t get your sorry ass hurt out there, especially considering you don’t have –” My vocal cords gave out on me then, seizing, and I choked.

                I stumbled back, landing heavily on my cot, continuing to cough. It wouldn’t stop, not until I had tears in my eyes and I was gasping for breath, making the condition of my throat even worse.

                “Ed, take this.” Someone took my left hand and placed something in it. “Drink when you can.”

                I blinked, trying to see through the blurriness. Water canteen. I attempted to catch my breath first but it was hard: my throat felt constricted.

                I yanked at the scarf around my neck, trying to get it off but it wasn’t going so well with my right hand. I could tear it off maybe.

                “Ed, let me.”

                I sensed more than I felt my right hand get lowered and the scarf was easily unwrapped from my neck. I already felt better.

                “Is he alright?”

                Peggy. That was Peggy’s voice. When did she get in?

                “What are those bruises?” There was venom in her voice and I didn’t want to look at her to confirm how angered she was. I just needed to focus on my breathing.

                “Agent Carter, it’s alr–”

                “Captain, someone tried to choke him, didn’t they? Why is he halfway across the world? He should be resting!”

                Breathing was doing better. I opened the canteen and took a sip of water. Ow… That still hurt…

                “I wasn’t going to leave him in New York, Agent Carter, alone.”

                “Has he at least seen a doctor?”

                I finally looked up at the two of them, my breathing returning to normal. My throat was still sore but at least I could breathe and swallow without much difficulty.     

                Steve was looking at me, hesitant. Might as well face the music now…

                I shook my head. “No doctor. No need,” I responded, earning myself a glare from Peggy.

                “No need? Edward, you were –”

                I waved her off, taking another sip of water before standing and handing the canteen over to Steve. “I’m fine. So fine, I’m following Steve to whatever he hasn’t yet planned to do.”

                “You are doing no such thing!” snapped Peggy. “Either of you! What were you planning, Captain? To walk to Austria?”

                “If that’s what it took,” replied Steve, going back to packing his bag. “And tying Ed down here so he’d be safe.”

                I rolled my eyes, reaching for my own bag. “Good luck with that,” I called out, grabbing my things.

                Peggy huffed. “You heard the Colonel, your friend is most likely dead!”

                “You don’t know that.”

                “Even so, he’s devising a strategy that’ll –”

                “By the time he’s done that, it’ll be too late,” interrupted Steve, closing his bag and storming out of the tent.

                “Steve!” called out Peggy, following after him.

                Good, they got so distracted by their fight that I finished packing my things and followed them out, being forgotten the entire time.

                “Get back inside, Ed,” ordered Steve without turning around.

                Well, I thought I had been forgotten…

                “Not listening,” I called out in German, jumping into the back of the truck just as Steve tossed his bag in there as well.

                “Ed, I can’t risk you getting captured or worse, killed, by bringing you with me,” stated Steve in exasperation. Fighting both Peggy and myself must not be easy.

                “There’s no risk. I’m a better fighter than you are. I should be worried about you, not the reverse.” Steve breathed deeply, frowning. “Steve, we both know this standoff could last hours, if not days. Your friend and the others don’t have that much time,” I argued.

                He sighed, massaging his face. I was right and he knew that. He finally conceded, nodding towards me, waving me off, before turning towards Peggy. I guess he had one fight over, now to finish the other one.

                “Edward is not –”

                “You said I was meant for more than this,” cut in Steve. “Did you mean it?”

                Peggy hesitated, perhaps actually taking in the question. “Yes,” she replied. “Every word.”

                “Then you gotta let me go,” he stated, getting in the car.

                “Us! Let us go!” I corrected. “You’re stuck with me, Captain.”

                Steve bowed his head but didn’t contradict what I said.

                Peggy, meanwhile, reached the driver’s side of the vehicle. “I can do more than just let you leave,” she stated.

                She can what?

 

Chapter Text

 

               November 2nd, 1943

                Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

                “Flying hasn’t gotten any better for him, has it?”

                I keep hearing Peggy…

                Most likely talking about me.

                Why the fuck are we flying there?

                “We can drop you around the doorstep!”

                And Howard’s the one PILOTING it!

                Wait…

                “Drop?” I repeated loudly.

                Steve and Peggy turned towards me, amusement and confusion on their faces. “Ed,” began Steve, “we put a parachute on your back. You knew that, right?”

                I blinked, vaguely remembering them having me put SOMETHING on my back. I was just not paying attention to what it actually was…

                “Ed, you can stay. It’s –”

                “I’m going with you,” I cut in, taking a deep breath. “I said I would and I will. I’ll get over it.”

                Steve and Peggy both eyed me for a moment before they seemed to concede.

                “You two will be in a lot of trouble when you get back,” stated Steve after a while.

                “And the two of you won’t?” countered Peggy.

                “Well, where we’re going, if anybody yells at me, I can just shoot them.”

                Shoot someone?

                Why didn’t it occur to me that going into a Hydra base would entail that? I guess I was so used to charging in with alchemy and my fighting skills that not having one of them would ential… However, I was not going to replace alchemy with using a gun. The mess of faces that had been Envy’s body still haunted me, especially when I had aimed the gun at them. I couldn’t pull the trigger then and they weren’t even human.

                “Edward, are you armed?” asked Peggy, already rummaging through a duffel bag.

                Well, technically… I caught Steve’ gaze and moved my right hand slightly, smirking. He seemed to understand the joke as he tried to hide his smile.

                “Edward.”

                “Not with a firearm or weapon if that’s what you mean,” I replied quickly.

                She handed me a holster and a pistol from the bag. “Do you know how to use one of these?”

                I stared at it for a moment, wondering if I lied that I didn’t, that she wouldn’t force it on me. However, she may also force me to stay on the plane if I didn’t know and I didn’t have it to defend myself.

                In the end, I nodded. “Yeah, I do,” I murmured.

                She held it closer to me and I reluctantly took it. Just because I had a gun didn’t mean I was going to use it.

                Steve was still watching me, a questioning look on his face. I waved him off. I’ll live.

                “Agent Carter!” called Howard from the controls. “If you’re not otherwise occupied later, I thought we could stop by Lucerne for some late night fondue.”

                I rolled my eyes at the question. Back in the USA, Howard had asked quite a few women to go out for some fondue… I had this feeling Peggy won’t be one of them.

                “So… Uh, you two… Fondue?”

                I frowned at Steve’s question. Does he not know what fondue is? Because he just used it as a verb if I understood correctly.

                “Howard’s the best civilian pilot I know, we’re lucky to have him,” stated Peggy instead.

                What the hell is going on here?

                The plane suddenly jolted, explosions resounding around us. I gripped tightly to my seat, whatever terror I had buried deep inside me during the conversation resurfaced tenfold. People aren’t meant to fly!

                “STEVE!”

                I pried my eyes open, seeing Steve taking a seat at the edge of the now open door. Fucking shut, he’s going to jump here.

                “The moment I’m clear, turn the plane around!” he yelled out.

                “When we’re clear!” I corrected just as loudly, staggering towards him.

                “Ed, you don’t –”

                I pushed him out of the plane and jumped a moment later before my brain could register what my body decided to do. The sense of weightlessness that followed… I still don’t know how I felt about it. Did I like it? Did it terrify me?

                Both?

                “PARACHUTE!”

                I briefly saw Steve disappear from the corner of my eye and heard the sound of the parachute. I tugged mine open and it jolted me up, pulling at my chest and shoulders.

                My breathing was getting better at this point, not having realized beforehand how little I had been breathing. Heading closer to the ground was probably helping on that account. I could live without the incoming trees, however. I tried to avoid them, I swear I did. I still crashed through branches, breaking some off until I came to a sudden halt.

                Three meters off the ground.

                I looked up, seeing my parachute entangled amongst the branches.

                Fucking shit…

                I tried to pull it free: tugging, jumping, all while cursing this stupid thing… It did not budge. I looked back down, sighing. It’s not that high. I could make the jump easily. It was the landing though that would be a small problem: it was too dark to tell if there was a hole or a branch on the ground that I could possible land on and twist my ankle.

                I don’t need any more injuries!

                Alright, just think this through: I can possibly lower myself slowly after I unhooked the parachute from my back. That could work. I unclipped the buckle around my chest and I immediately felt the strain on my shoulders increase, all my weight now on them. I reached up, hooking my left arm around the ropes and pulled myself up enough to remove my right arm from the straps.

                The stupid branches decided at that moment to snap and I fell about a meter before the parachute got caught again. I was closer to the ground but now my arm was stuck…

                I sighed heavily, cursing my horrid luck.

                I squinted up at the tangled ropes, trying to see how I could get –

                Rustling. There was some noise on my left. I froze, eyeing that spot until I saw some branches move.

                Shit… Someone was coming this way. I wasn’t getting my arm untangled anytime soon from the strings of the parachute so my best bet was to get higher up, to hide amongst the branches. I turned my body enough to reach up with my right hand, grasping at the ropes of the parachute and pulling myself…

                I froze, hearing the distinct sound of tearing. No, no, no. The fabric can’t decide to tear NOW! Why do I have the worst luck? I tried readjusting myself and, of course, when I did, my left arm came free from the entanglement of ropes. My entire body weight was now just hanging from my right arm and the continuously tearing fabric.

                “Ed!” hissed Steve, coming out from the bushes.

                Uh oh… I could hear the fabric tear even more just as Steve stopped, looking around – probably also hearing the noise – but he stopped right under me.

                “Ste… Ah!”

                The fabric gave out and I fell, colliding with Steve and knocking both of us to the ground. That could have gone better… I groaned as I tried to manoeuver myself off from where I lay sprawled over Steve. Thankfully I landed on my back on him: I don’t want to know how much he would have felt if it was my chest pressed against him instead of my back.

                “Are you alright, Ed?” murmured Steve and I could hear him trying to hide his discomfort as well.

                “Fine,” I grumbled, finally rolling off of him. “Just the stupid parachute…”

                He sat up, breathing deeply. “You know, for someone your size, you’re heavier than you look.”

                “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I snapped, glaring at him. I’ll kick his ass if he thinks he can insinuate that I’m small without consequence.

                He held up his hands, seeming to realize his words. “Sorry, I meant I forgot about your limbs. I didn’t realize they were that heavy.”

                I stared at him, not exactly believing him. “Good try on saving your comment,” I said instead, standing and walking away. “Let’s go now before you say something else stupid.”   


 

                Damn, this place is big! It’s bigger than Central Command!

                What type of founding does Hydra have to make a base this huge?

                Steve led the way towards the side of one of the side buildings, stopping near a tank. He turned towards me before glancing around. “Can you climb?” he asked, motioning towards the tank.

                I scoffed. “Damn straight.” And proceeded to easily scale said tank and then the wall next to it.

                Steve joined me a moment later, nodding to me before running along the length of the roof, towards the main building. I followed him and, as I studied the structure, I wished that I still had my alchemy. It would have been so easy to get to the top – or any other floor – with it.

                But, we just had to do everything the old fashion way now…

                We snuck past the guards and into a large room. I glanced around and realized it was some type of assembly area. And all the weapons had a strange blue glow to them.

                “What are these?” whispered Steve, slowly picking a piece up and studying the blue light.

                “No idea…,” I whispered because the closest thing I could think about was an alchemic glow. Which isn’t possible on this side.

                Steve pocketed the piece before leading the way through the room.

                We ran into very few guards, managing to knock the ones we did see out cold and hiding their bodies so that the alarm wouldn’t be sounded too early.

                We made our way through a good part of the base until we came to a fork, leading in two opposite directions.

                “Alright, I’ll take the –”

                “We’re going right,” I cut in, motioning to the sign in front of us. “Right is the holding area.”

                Steve paused, staring at the sign for a moment. I’m not sure why because he didn’t speak or read German. “Okay, that sounds like a better plan.”

                We continued our way, hopefully towards the prisoners, not encountering many Hydra soldiers at this time of night.

                Finally, we reached the large room, filled with cells and imprisoned soldiers.

                Steve held me back from going further in, pointing higher up. I looked up, spotting the Hydra soldier patrolling the rafters. I glanced towards Steve and he motioned to climb up for himself and, for myself, to head towards the cells quietly.

                I nodded and hid amongst the shadows, keeping out of sight from the patrolling guard and the prisoners: I did not want them to see me and start a ruckus – or even a hush of murmurs.

                I only had to wait a couple of moments until I heard the dull thud of someone hitting the rafters. The guard must be down. Good. I rushed towards the nearest cell, startling the prisoners in it. They stood up, staring at me as I gripped the cell door and shook it a bit.

                “No use,” whispered a soldier. “We need the –”

                I yanked it hard enough and close enough to the lock that it sprung open, the bolt falling to the floor, broken in two. Maybe I cheated because it was with my right arm but, seeing the look of pure bewilderment from those men just made my day.

                At the last moment, I remembered to keep my voice quiet, not letting my German accent be audible amongst these men. If the ones at camp didn’t take well to me, I do not know who these ones will – they’ve been imprisoned by Hydra for over a month!

                “Soldiers,” I whispered as I swung the cell door wider, letting them out as I moved to the next cell and did the same thing. That time, it took two tries but I still broke the lock, letting the trapped soldiers out.

                I spotted Steve from the corner of my eye unlocking the cell doors, moving to the last one, the same one I was a foot away from. I smirked at him as he went to hand me the keys. “No thanks, Cap,” I whispered, gripping the cell door and yanking it open.

                Steve stared at me for a moment before shaking his head. “Maybe that could have saved some time.”

                I smirked, letting the soldiers out. Steve kept looking around, probably to find that friend of his but it didn’t seem like he was anywhere to be seen.

                “There’s an isolation ward,” explained one of the soldiers with a French accent.

                “Alright,” Steve turned towards the soldiers and then looked down at me. “Ed, go with them, show –”

                “Excuse me?” I hissed, just loud enough for him to hear me. “That’s not going to go well and you know it! Besides, I promised to stick with you and that’s what I’m going to do!”

                “Ed, now’s not the time to argue about this.”

                I stepped back, frowning. Well, if he doesn’t believe that me going with those soldiers is a bad idea, I’ll just have to show him. Therefore, turning towards them, I smirked, crossing my arms. “Well, gentlemen, you may just as well be stuck me.”

                And, unlike the other times, I wasn’t whispering and my accent – my German accent – was clearly audible, making mostly every soldier tense. Some even looked ready to fight. I raised an eyebrow, turning towards Steve. “So, Cap, do you still want me to go with them? Make it easier for them to accidentally shoot me in the back?”

                “Ed,” sighed Steve, exasperated. “They –”

                “I’m going this way,” I motioned to the door Steve was going to use. “Someone needs to find your friend, right? Besides, they’re grown men, they can find the exit themselves, right? Right. Wunderbar.”

                I ran down the hallway, leaving Steve to follow me after he called out some orders to the others. He easily caught up to me within a few strides as we ran down several corridors.

                “Ed, that wasn’t really necessary, you know…,” whispered Steve as we checked around a corner.

                “Save it, Steve,” I snapped. “They were being held captive by Nazis, or Hydra in this case. Their feelings towards German’s are dreadful at the moment… Just ask the soldiers back at camp.”

                I faintly heard Steve sigh but he thankfully didn’t continue the conversation.

                We continued to run until the alarms went off and Hydra soldiers began to storm into the hallways, guns out and ready to fire.

                “Don’t get shot!” I yelled back at Steve with a smirk, running up to the first soldier and slamming my automail fist into his face.

                “Same goes for you, Ed!” he called back, hitting another soldier with his shield. “Even though you’d be harder to hit!”

                He. Did. Not.

                I briefly saw red from the insinuation that I was a smaller target than Steve. Which is probably how I ended up in the middle of a pile of unconscious Hydra soldiers, breathing deeply.

                Shit…

                I spotted Steve further ahead and ran up to him just as he smashed his shield into another Hydra soldier’s face.

                “Don’t ever call me small again,” I growled out, behind him.

                Steve whirled around, spotting me and then the pile of soldiers behind me. He chuckled, shaking his head. “That’s not what I meant. You’re just faster than me.”

                I rolled my eyes. “Another save. You’re not getting off as easily next time, Captain,” I stated as we ran down towards another hallway.          

                We entered a darker corridor and I faintly heard gunfire and explosions from outside: so the imprisoned soldiers were giving the Hydra soldiers hell. That’s good. Hopefully all of them make their way out…

                Suddenly, a man left one of the rooms, whirling around and spotting us. From this distance, I could barely make out his features but they looked frightened. Which would probably explain why he ran away, clutching a bag and papers to his chest.

                “I’ll get him,” I called, even as I bolted towards the man, leaving Steve to check the room he just left.

                The man had a good head start but I managed to slowly close the gap between us as we ran. “Hey! Stopp!

                He must have understood the command because it didn’t really change between English and German. However, he didn’t stop, bolting through a door and slamming it shut behind him. I faintly heard gears turn and, then moment I reached the door, it wouldn’t budge, no matter how much I pulled at it.

                I slammed my fist against the metal. “Damn it!”

                I breathed deeply before turning around and running back to the room the man had left, hoping to catch up with Steve.

                “I thought you were dead.”

                I entered the room, spotting Steve helping another man up as he managed to utter, “I thought you were smaller.”

                “Quite a funny story, actually,” I added, running up to them before turning towards Steve. “He got away, the way ahead is on lock down now.”

                I took a good look at the soldier Steve was holding up and needed to do a double take. I remembered him from when he ran into me at the World Exposition of Tomorrow. However, the pristine uniform and clean cut man that I remember was not the one standing in front of me right now. The man in front of me now looked like he went through hell and back again… He looked haggard and worn.

                This what not the James Barnes I remembered.

                Barnes blinked in confusion, looking down at me. “Uh… Since when are kids sent in?”

                That fucking bastard… “I’M NOT A KID!” I yelled out angrily. “We BOTH came here to save you guys! You –”

                “Ed, get the map over there,” cut in Steve, motioning with his head to my right.

                I huffed before turning towards it, seeing the map he was talking about in the separate room. “Yeah, yeah. Give me a second.”

                I faintly heard Barnes ask Steve, “Who’s the not-kid?”

                “I can HEAR YOU!” I yelled, glaring at them from the other side of the glass before I turned towards the map. I couldn’t just yank it down, the pins would fall and the information would be lost. I looked behind me at the desk and grabbed a pen. I quickly marked the map as I pulled down the pins and, once done, that’s when I let myself yank the map down, folding it quickly and stuffing it into my pocket. “I’m 17 for goodness sake!” I added, rejoining them. “And now that we have the damn map and we saved the soldiers, can we get going?”

                Steve nodded and we all took off, Steve almost literally dragging Barnes with him.

                Just as we left the room, Barnes managed to ask. “What the hell happened while I was gone?”             “I joined the army,” replied Steve.

                “And befriended a German?”

                I glared back at Barnes. “Not all Germans are Nazis, asshole.”

                “ED!” cried Steve, looking exasperated. I wasn’t sure if he was reprimanding me for cursing or for cursing at his best friend. Knowing Steve, possibly both.

                “What?” I cried back, giving him a look too. “I’m not going around stereotyping people because of their nationality!”

                “No one –”

                “Everyone,” I cut in. “You just saw how the other soldiers reacted! Don’t try to sugar coat or I’ll kick your ass.”

                “Can he?” whispered Barnes, finally managing to stand somewhat on his own.

                “I don’t exactly want to find out, actually,” replied Steve. “But Ed –”

                “I know, I know! We’re friends, you don’t have any problems, and I could very well kick your ass. But –”

                We turned the corner, coming face to face with a pair of Hydra soldiers. Without breaking stride, I ran up to them and knocked the gun out of one’s hand, nailing the other one in the face with a kick. The second one went down as I turned towards the first, jumping up and pulling him straight down to the ground, slamming his head into the concrete. Just for good measure, I kicked the second one in the head to make sure he was down for the count.

                I turned towards Steve and Barnes and both stared at me for a moment, Steve recovering much faster. “Yeah, I don’t want to find out,” he repeated as he made his way towards me.

                “Damn…,” muttered Barnes, catching up shakily. “Makes me glad you’re on our side then. Well, a friend of Steve is a friend of mine. Sergeant James Barnes, nice to meet you.”

                I rolled my eyes. Now wasn’t exactly the time for introductions… “Edward Elric. Same. Though it isn’t the first time we’ve met. Now, let’s go!”

                I saw the confusion in Barnes’ face, the double take he made as he stared at me. Even as Steve and I began running, Barnes was trailing, seeming to wrack his brain. “When?” he finally called out as we turned another corner.

                “World Exposition of Tomorrow. I finally did see your friend,” I explained as we checked around a corner, making sure it was clear. “And I haven’t stopped seeing him for the last five months. Honestly, getting tired of him.”

                I briefly heard Steve chuckle next to me. “I’m the one stuck with you, remember?”

                “You’ve gotten very clingy, to be honest, Steve.”

                He gave me a look. “With reason.”

                Barnes was watching us as if he was trying to digest the banter and friendship we had: this was all new to him. He finally shook his head, saying, “You’ll have a lot to talk about later, then.”

                We ran down several other corridors, retracing our steps if I were to guess. It was quiet among the three of us, only the sound of more explosions and gunfire from outside were heard.

                “Did it hurt?” called out Barnes after a while.

                “A little,” replied Steve

                I scoffed, reaching for Barnes as he nearly stumbled onto me. “Understatement if you ask me,” I mumbled but, from the small smile Barnes shot towards me, I guess it wasn’t as soft as I had hoped.

                “Is it permanent?” he asked.

                “So far.”

                We reached the main part of the building and were greeted by another explosion, this time sounding like it was inside instead of out. I looked down the factory area and saw machines starting to explode one after another. Well, that’s not good…

                Steve glanced around before motioning for us to climb further up. Steve took the lead and I let Barnes pass in front of me because I honestly didn’t think he’d be able to go up all those stairs alone.

                He stumbled once, making me nearly collide with him but he impressed me by making it to the top landing.

                “You okay?” I asked softly to him as he tried to catch his breath against the railing.

                He glance at me and nodded. “I’ll be happier once we’re out.”

                I completely agreed on that one as we ran to catch up with Steve.       

                “Captain America! How exciting!”

                From across a walkway, on the other side of the building, stood two men, one of them being the man I had been chasing from before.

                “I am a big fan of your films!” The man who spoke, however, was another story and he just screamed bad guy to me.

                “He made films?” whispered Barnes towards me, confused.

                “Later!” I answered, not wanting to stay here any longer than necessary.

                Steve stared him down and slowly began crossing the walkway. “Steve!” I hissed, glancing at the burning equipment below us. This place isn’t going to stay standing for long.

                And nor was Barnes the way he held himself on the railing.

                “Dr. Erskine managed it after all,” continued to man and I tensed. Was he…? “Not much of an improvement but still, impressive.”

                “You’ve got no idea,” replied Steve darkly. And he punched the man in the face, sending him reeling back.

                That’s not a good sign. Barnes noticed me tense next to him. “What’s wrong?”

                I didn’t stop staring at the man. “Steve’s punch can knock someone out. It barely fazed this asshole though.”

                Barnes turned quickly back towards the two of them, just in time to see the man approach. “Haven’t I?” And he lashed out with a punch.

                Steve raised his shield just in time and a loud clang resounded around him. That – that should have fractured his hand!

                There was no doubt anymore. This man must be Johann Schmidt! The one who had used the super-soldier serum before it was ready! This man was the head of Hydra. He was the reason Dr. Erskine is dead: he ordered the kill, he was after the Doctor.

                Steve went for his gun but Schmidt was faster and knocked it away. I somewhat heard Barnes sputter something when I got onto the walkway just as Schmidt knocked the Captain down.

                “Steve!” I cried out, using the railing to vault over my fallen friend and landing right in front of Schmidt.

                He seemed surprised for a moment, just enough for me to go in for a punch. However, he easily pushed my fist aside, his focus now solely on me now. The palm of his hand went for my chest, wanting to shove me back if I were to guess but I was having none of that. Not only did I dodge to the side, I used to railing to side flip behind him, going for a kick at the same time.

                The kick brushed his shoulder: he was moving just as fast as me, probably even faster. Just as I landed, I felt the walkway shift and metal grinding.

                “ED!” yelled out Steve.

                Moving, the walkway was moving. I ducked down, missing the punch to my face, and squatted down, wanting to swipe my legs under him. He jumped over my legs and I cursed. Fine. I need to go. I rolled on his right, passing him.

                The gap was getting bigger between the two halves of the walkway with Steve just on the other side, watching me with wide-eyes. He looked ready to jump but Schmidt was standing too close to the edge. My roll got me just at that edge and I pushed myself across the g –

                I suddenly stopped, midair, the fabric of my scarf, shirt and jacket stretching across my neck and chest.

                “ED! LET HIM GO!”

                “Just who is this misguided German child?” came Schmidt’s voice directly behind me making my heart stop for a moment.

                Fucking shit… I briefly glanced down, seeing nothing but the burning factory floor meters below me; that would be one hell of a fall… How did Schmidt turn around so fast and manage to grab me?!

                This is not going as planned!

                “Who are you calling misguided, asshole?” I called out, trying to wiggle my way out. “I’m not the one enslaving hundreds of soldiers!”

                The gap was too big now. I wasn’t jumping across. Fucking shit. It was just getting bigger.

                “Such spirit for such a small –”

                “PUT ME DOWN YOU BASTARD AND I’LL SHOW YOU EXACTLY WHO YOU’RE CALLING A MICROSOPIC PIECE OF LINT THAT NOBODY CAN –”

                He listened, which normally people don’t do. Of course, Schmidt had to be different…

                Gravity took over and I fell straight down, briefly seeing Steve’s terrified expression before I willed my body to turn around, reaching up and feeling my left hand hit the walkway, my right one following suit with a loud clang, and I jolted to a stop.

                “ED!”

                I couldn’t look down, not at the burning equipment meters below. Instead, I looked up, catching Schmidt’s smug smirk staring down at me. But something was way off about his face. I hadn’t noticed it before but… His right eye, the socket around it, it wasn’t… sitting right?

                “What the fuck is wrong with your face, bastard?” I called out as I readjusted my grip on the walkway.

                Schmidt didn’t seemed fazed by the question, instead looking back up at Steve. “No matter what lies Dr. Erskine told you, you see, I was his greatest success!”

                Schmidt then proceeded to pull at under his chin and the skin slowly peeled back. I frowned in disgust as he pulled the fake skin over his head, revealing the mutilated red face underneath.

                Well, that explained why his face was off…

                I shook my head, pulling myself up –

                I cried out as Schmidt stomped on my left hand and I fell back, holding on with only my right. I didn’t like this situation: not having any feeling in my automail didn’t let me know if my hand was about to slip or if I had a good grip on the walkway.

                I saw Schmidt go to slam his foot on my right hand as well but I swung my body to the side, grasping onto the corner with both hands. “You’re not getting another hit, asshole!” I yelled out.

                Another explosion shook the building under us and I faintly heard the other man call out to Schmidt. The Hydra leader glanced back at the man and then down at me. I sent him the best glare I could muster which just seemed to make Schmidt smirk in amusement.

                And he walked away.

                “Yeah, that’s right, keep walking, asshole!

                Schmidt laughed, glancing towards Steve. “You have quite an outspoken friend. It will be an honour silencing him when the time comes.”

                “Good luck with that!” I yelled as I finally lifted myself up, holding on to the railing on the wrong side of the walkway.

                “Ed!” I glanced to the side where Steve and Barnes were still standing. “Go find a way out on your side. Bucky and I are heading higher up.”

                I frowned, looking up. There was nothing but the final landing under the roof. “Where are you going?” I asked.

                Steve and Barnes were already heading towards the stairs. “Up! There’s an exit door over you!”

                I looked up again, trying to understand his… Fucking shit. I knew Peggy should have told Steve to behave. I vaulted over the railing and dashed towards the staircase, taking the steps two at a time.

                Fucking stupid idiot. He was going to use the beam to cross over, a beam I just saw bounce because of another explosion. Steve could possible get across but what about Barnes? Is he strong enough to keep his balance on that thing?

                I made it to the landing just as Barnes got onto the makeshift walkway. He went a few steps, looking steady enough. Steady, that is, until another large explosion right underneath us sent the beam bouncing again. I dashed towards the railing, sliding and reaching out with my right hand, grasping the beam before it could slide any further.

                I groaned at the strain on my automail, from the weight of the metal and Barnes on top of it as well. My automail better hold up for this…

                I faintly heard my name from the other side. I think I did, actually: I was a bit preoccupied at the moment with the stupid beam. I have the worst luck with those to be honest… I readjusted myself so that my left hand could reach the metal as well, putting less strain on just my automail. Hopefully what Dr. Erskine said was true and that serum did somewhat increase my strength. Or else both my automail and Barnes are gone…

                “Hurry it up!” I cried out, already feeling the metal slide against my left hand. I changed my grip one at a time for both of my hands but I don’t know how much longer this would hold.

                It seemed to be getting heavier and heavier as the moments passed, the grip of my left hand slowly slipping away. Come on… “HURRY UP!” I yelled out, my arms shaking. An extra push of pressure sent the beam careening out of my hands and I looked up, my eyes wide. Barnes, he can’t be –

                Jumping towards the railing! I moved aside just as his feet landed where my body was laying a second ago. I jumped to my feet and grabbed onto him as his top half flayed between getting past the railing and falling backwards.

                He held on tightly, his breathing laboured. That was too close… Steve could have actually lost his friend today…

                “Come on, I got you,” I breathed out, helping him over the railing.

                Once he had both his feet on the walkway, he whirled around, towards Steve, his eyes wide, staring between the now empty space between us and him.

                “There’s got to be a rope or something!” cried Barnes desperately.

                Steve shook his head. “Just go! Get out of here! Ed, get him out of here!”

                “NO! Not without you!”

                “Scheiße! NO!”

                Barnes and I glanced at each other after having shouted at the same time. At least we were on the same page for this.

                Steve glanced around and then at us. I don’t know what he was planning as he bent the railing out and took several ste…

                “He’s going to jump,” I whispered in realization.

                “What!?” cried Barnes just as Steve jumped.

                There was no way he…

                He’s going to make the jump! I reached out as he neared, grasping his arm and pulling back, just as Barnes caught the other. We pulled him onto the walkway and I didn’t know what to say to what I just saw.

                “So, are we going?” asked Steve, standing.

                Barnes and I glanced at each other, still speechless until I slowly nodded. “Yeah, let’s – let’s go.”

                We ran to the door, Steve easily kicked it open and we headed out.


 

                November 3rd, 1943       

                I stifled a yawn as we neared the camp. It must have been close to midday by now and I hadn’t slept in a very long time… I had kept close to Steve and Barnes the entire walk back, avoiding the other soldiers because I was not in the mood for their looks, comments or even actions. Good thing they never try anything when Steve is around.

                “Almost there,” remarked Steve, glancing back towards Barnes and myself.

                “Good,” I mumbled, stifling another yawn. I could get a nap and toss this stupid gun away… It still felt heavy against my leg even though I didn’t use it at all. Just knowing it was there made my stomach churn…

                I caught Barnes eyeing for a moment but I pretended not to notice: honestly, I wasn’t in the mood for much talking at the moment…

                We continued to walk until I could see the entrance to the camp along with the crowd of soldiers waiting for us. A scout must have seen the large procession: we were pretty noticeable. The soldiers were cheering as we walked past and, for the first time, I was getting a cold, disgruntled look from them.

                Part of me was pessimistic, thinking that they just weren’t seeing me amongst the others but, a part of me felt a weight off my shoulders to not be singled out at the moment.

                We made our way through the camp until we stopped in front of Colonel Grumpy and Steve saluted him. “Some of these men need medical attention,” he stated. “And I would like to surrender myself for disciplinary action.”

                “That won’t be necessary,” replied the Colonel. “For you or Elric.”

                Wait, what? “Hey, I’m a civilian in all this!” I snapped, crossing my arms.

                “That’s even more of a reason. Don’t push your luck, Elric.” The Colonel barely glanced at me as he said that and I rolled my eyes in response. The feeling I felt from the soldiers was snuffed out now because of the Colonel’s words…

                I turned away from the Colonel and Steve, coming face to face – more face to chest – with Barnes. He looked down at me before smiling and patting my shoulder. “Thanks, Elric, for the rescue.”

                I shrugged, looking away, slightly embarrassed by the praise. “Don’t mention it. And, it’s Ed. Only Colonel Grumpy over there actually calls me Elric.”

                Barnes chuckled. “He never does seem happy, does he? Well, if that’s the case, you can call me Bucky.”

                “Bucky?” I repeated, confused.

                “Middle name is Buchanan.”

                “Ah, makes sense then. Bucky it is.”

                He clapped his hand against my left shoulder again before turning towards the others. “Hey! Let’s hear it for Captain America and –”

                I elbowed him in the stomach, cutting him off before the others started cheering. Bucky coughed, trying to regain his breath as Steve turns towards us, looking partly humbled, partly confused on why his friend was in pain.

                “Must have chocked on some spit or something,” I explained, smiling innocently at Steve. “Getting all emotional and stuff.”

                I really didn’t want the attention in this world. Being known as the Hero of the People back home was more than enough fame for me… As long I could help out as I try to find a way home, that’ll be good for me. Let Steve get the credit. That way, at least it’ll prove that the serum was worth it.

                Maybe he’ll be able to help out on the battle field now, instead of being a part of a show.

 

Chapter Text

November 1943

                I shifted in my seat, anxious. Steve had filled me in on the mission that the S.S.R. had gave him, about taking care of all the Hydra factories and bases that were on the map we found. Steve needed a team though, one that consisted of more than just Bucky and myself with him.

                That’s the reason the three of us were at a bar, in London: we were waiting on the rest of the team Steve chose for the missions. I had heard Bucky had some pull on the decision making process, having spent so long in captivity with the men.

                Speaking of… I turned around in my seat, glancing towards the other half of the bar.

                Even though he seemed fine in Italy, Bucky had left Steve and myself to talk to the group of soldiers as he went to get a drink. He was still there, hunched over the bar, looking into the glass at the liquid in it, a deep frown on his face. Yes, he looked fine a few countries over but I think whatever happened at the Hydra base was catching up to him.

                “Is he going to be alright?” I asked out loud, glancing briefly at Steve as he took a seat next to me, beer at hand. Steve turned towards me and I motioned towards his friend with a tilt of my head. “Bucky. Is he?”

                Steve twisted in his seat to take a good look at Bucky, breathing deeply. “Honestly, I hope. He hasn’t said anything about what happened yet…”

                Steve had tried: I had heard him trying to talk to Bucky about the reason we found him in the isolation ward, about what that Doctor had done to him. However, Bucky had waved him off, changing the subject or insisting that he was fine.

                Steve had his job cut out for him: having both myself and Bucky being as stubborn as we were about sharing.

                “And are you sure, Ed, about doing this?” asked Steve, turning his attention back at me.

                I rolled my eyes at his question. “My answer is still the same as before, Steve. I want to help, and I can do just that.”

                Steve breathed deeply but nodded. “Alright. I guess we’ll be stuck with each other for even longer.”

                I scoffed, crossing my arms. “Damn straight.”

                Steve chuckled, looking around the bar. His attention was caught as he straightened and I followed his line of sight to the entrance. Five men were heading in our direction, the one with a bowler hat leading them.

                “Captain,” he greeted, nodding towards Steve. “And,” he looked down at me, a spark of recognition in his eyes, “you were there too, no?”

                I nodded and gave him a salute. “Edward Elric, Ed for short.”

                I actually got a smirk from the man. Okay, this could actually go – dare I say it? – well. “I’m Private Timothy Dugan but everyone calls me Dum Dum.” I blinked, wondering if I heard correctly. Hopefully it wasn’t ‘dumb’ that they called him. That would be unfortunate.

                Dum Dum stayed standing and introduced the others as they took seats around the table. He motioned to the man with the darker skin first, “We have Private Gabriel Jones, easily enough we call Jones.” He moved towards the one sitting next to Jones, one of the many with a mustache and a receding hairline, “This is Corporal Jacques Dernier, our Frenchman.” On the other side of the table, he motioned towards the man who looked Xingese – I mean… Asian? Was that it? “Corporal James Morita, Jim for short and finally,” he pointed to the last man, another one with a mustache who looked the most put together of the group, “Lieutenant James Falsworth of her Majesty’s own army. We just call him Monty, though, so it doesn’t go to his head.”

                I had no idea who this Majesty was and a quick side glance towards Steve clued him in quickly. “From England,” he whispered.

                Oh. I nodded my thanks before looking back towards the men.

                “Well, thank you all for coming,” began Steve. “Let me at least get all of you something to drink.”

                Jim nodded, turning towards the others. “I like him already.”

                Steve waved down a waitress and ordered a round of drinks for the table. Though, that round didn’t include me. Steve hadn’t offered when we had gotten here – probably very conscious that I was underage – and I didn’t want to try any alcohol anyway.

                “Nothing for you, Ed?” wondered Jones, probably noticing the missing beer.

                “Are you even old enough to be here?” added Monty.

                I shrugged, “Nothing for me, no, and that’s debatable at best,” I answered, not sure what Steve did to get me in. He may have bribed the owner.

                “So, in other words, no,” clarified Monty.

                I scoffed but didn’t answer.

                “So, gentlemen,” cut in Steve, “here’s the reason I’ve asked you all to come tonight.” And he proceeded on explaining the mission the S.S.R. had given as the men drank their beer and listened intently.

                When Steve was done, Dum Dum was the first to talk. “So let me get this straight,” he began, setting his beer mug down. “We barely got out of there alive and you want us to go back?”

                Put like that, it was a pretty crazy proposition. Even Steve thought so as he nodded in resignation. “Pretty much,” he replied.

                “Sounds rather fun, actually,” remarked Monty. Fun? I have a bizarre definition of fun but these men’s take the cake.

                Jim actually belched before he gave his answer. “I’m in.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

                “Je combattrai jusqu’à ce que le dernier de ces batards soit mort, enchaîné ou bien pleure comme un petit bébé!” explained Dernier and I could only really hope that he was talking about Hydra agents and not Germans in general…

                “J’espère tous les trois,” added Jones, making Dernier laugh loudly, offering him his hand.

                “Moi aussi!” And they shook.

                Yeah, definitely hope it’s just Hydra agents.

                I glanced towards the others and tried to hide my amused smirk as much as possible at the sight of their confused faces. Jones and Dernier realized how lost the others were soon after and Jones added, “We’re in.”

                “Hell, I’ll always fight,” explained Dum Dum. “But you got to do one thing for me.”

                Steve chuckled. “And what’s that?”

                Dum Dum finished his beer, setting the mug down. “Open a tab.”

                Steve shook his head, a smile on his face, but he still got up and grabbed the empty mugs.

                “Well, that was easy,” chuckled Dum Dum and the others joined in.

                Steve joined as well and, before he walked away, said, “Alright, I’ll get another round, you guys get acquainted. All of you here will be working together from now on.”

                It was pretty quiet at the table at that revelation. Maybe Steve could have picked a better moment to tell them that I was tagging along with all of them. They stared at me and I stared back at them, trying to look unfazed. Deep down, however, I wasn’t happy that all of them were hesitant – if not completely against – my joining of the team.

                I helped save their sorry asses!

                So much for this going well…

                They then started glancing at each other, trying to size the others’ reactions if I were to guess.

                “So, are any of you going to say anything about this or are we going to continue this silence?” I said, trying to keep my anger at bay and leaning back in my chair, crossing my arms. “Because I am joining this team.”

                “You know it’ll be dangerous,” explained Monty hesitantly.

                “Yes, I am well aware of that,” I replied offhandedly. “Just like I knew it was dangerous going into the Hydra base where all of you were held prisoner.”

                “There’s a chance of injury and death, you know,” added Jim, leaning against the table.

                I rolled my eyes, huffing. “I had a feeling that dangerous would include that. I wasn’t expecting a stubbed toe or something similar.”

                Dum Dum was next in the questioning it seemed as he asked, “And you’re sure you’re up to this?”

                “What experience do you have in the midst of battle, though?” added Jones as well.

                I breathed deeply, feeling the anger build inside me. I was a fucking major, assholes. I was A PART of the military, outranking every single one of you. I nearly died fighting a near immortal being and ended up in this shit hole.

                I wish I could say all that.

                Instead, I opted for, “I helped get you out of the Hydra factory, remember? Steve didn’t do it alone. And I have experience. Why the hell can’t I fight alongside you?” I was being aggressive now, I knew I was but this was getting me really frustrated that they’re looking for any possible excuse to keep me off the team.

                The men stared at each other again, silence heavy in the air.   

                “Penses-tu que c’est une bonne idée?” whispered Dernier towards Jones.

                Jones caught me staring – alright, frowning – in their direction. What are you going to answer Private? Do you think it’s a good idea? None of your buddies believe it is.

                He glanced back towards Dernier and gave a small shrug of his shoulder. “Je préférais qu’il reste ici, honnêtement.” Stay here? STAY HERE? And do what here in London? I don’t have anywhere to go!

                “Kid, you can’t just –”

                I slammed my hand against the table, cutting Dum Dum off. “No one here is going to tell me what I can or can’t do with my own damn life, got it? We’re supposed to be a team and teammates trust each other. So far, all of you have a done a shit job about trusting me and an even worse job of trusting Steve’s judgement in letting me help. Vous êtes des soldats! Commencez à agir ainsi!

                I stood abruptly before stomping away, leaving a group of stunned soldiers behind me. I didn’t get too far when Steve returned to the table, looking confused. I slid behind the corner, out of sight but just within earshot.

                “Where did Ed go?”

                There was a pause from the others before Dernier cleared his throat. “Uh, Captain, you never told us he spoke French.”

                “Didn’t really answer my question but I guess he does. I’m not all too surprised, to be honest. When I met him, he was learning English and he spent hours in the libraries learning other things. I guess French was one of them.” Damn straight I learned French so fast. English was longer because I couldn’t go to the library: the S.S.R. didn’t want me leaving the base. Steve, however, let me wander. “So, where did he go?” asked the Captain, his tone a bit more clipped.

                “Scared him off,” muttered Dum Dum but his voice was deep and loud enough that I heard him. “Sorry, Cap but we have some reservations working with –”

                “Someone that helped rescue you from a Hydra base?” cut in Steve. “Let’s just understand one thing, unless Ed explicitly states he doesn’t want to join us, he is a part of this team. Understood?”

                “But, Cap, he’s just a kid.”

                Even Steve paused at that. A kid… People hadn’t thought about me as a kid in a long time… I was a dog of the military, a State Alchemist. I was never just a teenager. They nicknamed me kid sometimes on this side but…

                I guess that’s why they’re all so hesitant. I thought it was because I was German. Who could blame me? I’ve been given dirty looks, was even attacked, because of my ‘nationality’. Even the way the soldiers reacted back at the camp and Hydra factory.

                These soldiers, however, saw past the German and just saw a teenager.

                I heard Steve sigh as he put the glasses of beer down on the table, the scraping of the chair indicating he sat down as well. “Believe me,” he began, “I had a glaring reminder back at the Hydra factory of the reality of the situation, that I had let a 17 year old enter a war zone. However,” he continued, “Ed wants to help; he’s risking his life and he knows the dangers. But he’s good in a fight and has a brain that could possibly rival Stark’s.” Well… I doubt that, especially with my lack of understanding of this world’s technology and science. “So, again, unless he says otherwise, Ed is part of this team, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

                “You may not like it, I don’t particularly like it either but, I’ve learned I can’t stop him from doing something. So we’ll make this work, alright?”

                I sighed, leaning my head back against the wooden frame. It’s not like I can say ‘no’ anyway… If I do, where will I go? I barely have any money and people are weary enough of me as it is.

                Even though I’m a part of this team, the half-hearted agreements I heard from the other soldiers told me I still wasn’t there yet.

                “Are you eavesdropping?”

                I look straight ahead, towards the voice. Two meters in front of me sat Bucky, sipping at his drink, a smirk on his face. Well, at least he didn’t seem to be in his moody state from before anymore.

                “Guilty,” I mumbled, stuffing my hands into my pockets.

                “Anything interesting?” he asked.

                I shrugged, realizing my anger had deflated completely. “I was expecting their reaction but not for that reason.”

                His smirk disappeared as he took a deep breath, nodding. He motioned to the seat next to him and I took it, leaning forward and resting my head against my arms.

                “Drink?”

                “No, thanks,” I mumbled. I really wasn’t in the mood to find out how alcohol tasted. Besides that, I was still underage.

                He nodded, taking another sip of… whatever alcohol he was drinking. “And the reason is?” he wondered.

                “That I’m too young… They probably won’t trust me much.”

                “They’ll warm up to you eventually.”

                “When? In the middle of a mission? When it’s too late? Are they ever really going to trust me? A kid as they called me.”

                “Well, Steve and I trust you so that’s a good start. You saved my life on that beam.”

                I sighed. “I guess...”

                “Oh, don’t give me that,” he snapped, hitting his glass against the bar, making me jump in surprise. “I have eyes, Ed. I saw how hard it was to hold that beam, let alone the beam with me on it. It was made completely of metal. If you hadn’t been there, I would have fallen along with it.”

                I didn’t answer nor did I look at him.

                “Ed, you stopped me from giving you any credit in front of the others but let me at least do it when no one else is around to hear it.”

                I sighed, finally turning to my head towards him. “Fine… Thanks, Bucky.”

                “Don’t mention it.” He patted my back before sliding his drink towards me. “At least humour me in trying it.”

                I could smell the strong alcohol even without the glass being too close and I crinkled my nose in disgust. “No thanks. I’d rather try a beer if I –”

                “Done.” Before I could stop him, he flagged down the bartender and ordered a beer.

                “Asshole,” I hissed, smacking his arm. “I said no to a drink!”

                “Sorry, I’m a bit deaf. I thought you said you wanted to try a beer.”

                “No… I – That’s not what…”

                But it was too late. The bartender placed the beer in front of us and Bucky slid some money across the bar before pushing the mug towards me. “Drink up.” He added, unable to hide his amused smirk.

                I stared at the offending liquid in front of me, crinkling my nose again. What’s the point of alcohol anyway?

                Thankfully, Steve showed up then, distracting Bucky from trying to force me to drink it.

                “So, are those idiots in?” asked Bucky with a smile, motioning to the other part of the bar where the soldiers were sitting.

                Steve chuckled. “Yeah, they are. And how about you two? Are you ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of hell?”

                Bucky shook his head. “Captain America, no. The kid from Brooklyn that was too dumb to run away from a fight, him, I’ll follow.”

                Steve smiled. “Thanks, Bucky. And you, Ed?”

                I fiddled with the mug of beer, hesitant. “You know you can’t get rid of me that easily, Cap. I told you that you’re stuck with me. But… is it the best idea for the others?”

                Steve frowned. “I’ll tell you what I told them. You –”

                “Oh, no worries, Steve, Ed already heard the spiel you gave, eavesdropping,” cut in Bucky.

                Steve eyed his friend and then myself. I shrugged my shoulders, not really denying that accusation.

                “Then, believe me when I say that all that was 100% true,” explained Steve. “Unless you say differently, you are on this team, no matter how they or I feel about it.”

                I took a deep breath, glancing towards the mug of beer next to me. “Even if they don’t trust me?”

                “They will. You just need to show them.”

                I nodded, picking up the mug. How do I get them to trust me? I mean, apart from being in the middle of a fight, when our lives are on the line. My knowledge on making friends is quite limited… But, Mustang’s crew… They trusted each other. Had they been in a lot of fights together? Probably… But, they also went out together often so maybe part of the answer was…

                I glanced at the mug in my hand and then back at the group of soldiers. “You know what, I’ll leave you two to catch up.”

                The two of them looked at me in confusion before Bucky spoke up. “Where are you going?”

                “And when did you get that beer?” asked Steve, seeming to finally notice it.

                “Going to get those thick heads to like me and you can blame your best friend,” I replied, standing and walking back to the table, beer at hand. I ignored Steve’s sigh of exasperation as he began to reprimand his friend.

                The moment I neared, the conversation slowly died as they all stared at me. I stared right back before raising my mug. “Bottoms up, gentlemen?”

                That seemed to surprise them but Dum Dum was the first to snap out of it. “Damn straight, Kid!” He raised his own mug and the others followed.

                “Cheers,” I said with a smirk, knocking my mug with theirs.

                I brought the mug to my lips and, after a second hesitation, chugged the entire beer down in two gulps, slamming the empty mug onto the table. The sudden noise made Morita and Falsworth jump, spilling the rest of their beer. The others finished soon after and stared at me with wide eyes.

                Ugh… That was horrid. How did they enjoy so many of these?

                But I didn’t have time to think that over when Jones cheered loudly, laughing in delight. “That was crazy!”

                “Sacré bleu!” breathed Dernier. “Incroyable!

                I stole a quick glance behind me, where Bucky and Steve were sitting and I couldn’t help but smirk at their reactions. As Steve stared, his eyes wide, Bucky was hunched over the bar, trying to control his laughter.

                I turned my attention back to the other just as Dum Dum stood, picking up the mugs with a large smile. “Well then, Kid, you’ve got yourself a competition!”

                Fuck…

                I don’t know how much time had passed. I was staring the mug of beer in front of me, my chin resting directly on the table. Why was everything moving so much?

                “You guys are still drinking?”

                Hey, that was the Captain’s voice! I straightened quickly. Maybe too quickly. The spinning got worse…

                I breathed deeply, turning around, looking for him. There he was! “Yes, sir!” I replied with a mock salute. I paused, looking up at my hand. Left hand. Wrong hand. I quickly switched it with a chuckle. “Drinking them… sous la table.” I grinned, finding the confused look on his face really funny.

                “How much has Ed had?” asked the Captain.

                “I’m right here, du weißt.” A hiccup made my entire body jump and I chuckled in amusement.

                “Lost count, actually,” laughed Dum Dum. “But I do know that if I had drunk that much at his age, I’d be passed out in the corner.”

                “Agent Carter is going to scold all of you when she finds out you got Ed drunk.”

                I leaned forward, resting my head on my hand. “Peggy… She kick all your asses. I vant to see that.”

                “First name bases?” asked Jones. Did he sound surprised? Maybe. Oh… Called her Peggy… Shit…

                “Agent Carter to you… And to me when you’re… Around. She, Freunde. She trust… me,” I replied before pointing to them. “You guys not yet but…” I eyed the beer in front of me. “Drink. Yeah, drink and maybe they…”

                I reached for but my arm stopped moving. Why wasn’t it moving?

                “That’s enough, Ed.”

                I shook my head, making my world spin a bit more. “Not yet. No trust yet… Gotta… Daran arbeiten…”

                “What did he say?” someone whispered but I didn’t care who it was. I needed to reach that beer but my arm wasn’t moving.

                “Uh… I think – I think he said he needs to work at it or something.”

                Work on it. Work on getting beer. Work on getting trust. Why won’t my arm move? Left arm. Move. I reached for it with my right one but stopped midway there. Other arm! I went for the beer again but the other hand was stopped too! Why can’t I reach the beer!?

                No more beer. Not in front of me anymore. Why was everything so fuzzy? I looked to the side. Upside down? I laughed as I looked around. Everything was upside down!

                “Jeez! He’s heavier than he looks!”

                “Bucky, I can take him.”

                The world jumped for a moment and I laughed some more. Whatever was going on, it was funny.

                “No, it’s good. Just needed a better grip, Steve.”

                Pause. “Fine, if you say so, Bucky. Come on, Ed. We’re getting you home.”

                Home…

                With Al…?

                With Winry…?

                With Colonel Bastard…?

                And teacher…?

                And Hawkeye…?

                But… I can’t get there… “Can’t… Not yet… Home… Al…”

                I bit my lip, missing all of them terribly. Why did the Gate need to be so evil and send me here? What if I can’t find a way home? What then? I don’t really belong here…

                “Are you okay, Ed? You’ve gotten quiet.”

                “M’fine,” I managed to utter, feeling tired. “Where we…?”

                “Back at the barracks, actually.”

                Barracks… Al and I were there often…

                “I’m going to move you now, Ed.”

                Move me where?

                My world went spinning again before I felt something extremely soft beneath me. Bed. Sleep. Yes. I turned on my side, snuggling into the mattress.

                “We need to get his boots off.”

                “It’s fine, Bucky, I’ll get them.”

                “Then I’ll get the coat and gloves.”

                “Wait, Buck, it’s fine, you don’t –”

                I briefly felt the boots come off but, the moment someone touched my coat, I gripped their hand tightly, stopping them. “No.”

                “Ed, you’ll be more –”

                “NO.”

                “Ouch! Ok! Ok! I won’t touch them! Let my hand go!”

                I released my grip on the person and turned in the opposite direction, trying to get comfortable.

                “Are you alright, Bucky?”

                “Yeah… Yes, fine. His grip is like iron though…”

                There was a scoff. “You think he’ll be okay alone?”

                “Loud…,” I mumbled, burying my head into the pillow. “Go away.” I just wanted to sleep.

                “Alright, good night, Ed.”

Chapter Text

November 1943

                My head was pounding and no matter how I massaged it, nothing helped. What the fuck happened anyway?

                A series of loud noises just made the headache worse. What’s going on?

                “Ed?”

                Loud. So damn loud. “Whaaaat?” There I managed to say something.

                “Ed, we need to get going soon.”

                “Why… you yelling?”

                “I’m not, Ed. Are you feeling okay?”

                I groaned, prying my eyes open but I could barely squint with all the light in the room. “Do I look okay?” I gritted out, slowly pushing myself up.

                “You look like hell actually.”

                New voice. I finally managed to pry my eyes open wide enough to look around. Steve was at the side of my bed while Bucky leaned against the doorframe, a smug look on his face.

                “What’s funny?” I asked, massaging my head again to try to somewhat lessen the pounding.

                “You,” replied Bucky. “You and your hangover.”

                “You drank too much last night, Ed,” added Steve. “We had to carry you here.”

                I blinked, trying to remember. “Someone carried me?”

                Bucky raised a hand. “I did. You’re quite heavy for a kid.”

                “I’M NOT…” Too loud. Way too loud. I groaned, falling back onto the soft pillow and covering my eyes. The lights were bright too.

                There was shuffling next to me before I heard Steve’s voice again. “Here. Drink this.”

                I lifted my hand just enough to squint at what he was holding out to me. A glass of water. I pushed myself back up and reached for it. “Thanks,” I mumbled, slowly starting to drink from it. “And where am I?”

                This is a single room. I haven’t had a room to myself in… Ever.

                “My room,” explained Steve. “A captain does have a few more perks.”

                I groaned. Damn… I got drunk. I took Steve’s room. This could have gone better… “Sorry…”

                Steve shook his head. “It’s fine, Ed. But, are you up to going to the S.S.R.?” he asked.

                “Hell do they want?” I mumbled between sips.

                “New equipment. If you’re up to it. We were both asked to come but I can just tell them you’re not feeling well.”

                I scoffed. “Tempting but I want to see what Howard’s been up to. See if he made another berechnungsfehler.”

                “A what?” asked Bucky.

                “Mistake. Calculating. I’ll get to make fun of him again.” I finished the glass and set it on the table. I didn’t think I put it down with that much force but the resounding noise made me wince.

                “Stark made a mistake?” gasped Bucky. “Howard Stark made a mistake?”

                “See? That’s why it’s fun teasing him.”

                Steve sighed and helped me stand. “Fine. But we’re leaving in ten minutes. I brought you a change of clothes. Get ready.”

                “Thanks... Out then.” I followed Steve to the door, gripping it tightly as I took a deep breath to steady myself. I glanced at Bucky and then noticed the bruise on his hand. I motioned towards it. “Got into a fight already?”

                He glanced down at it, shrugging. “Yeah, it’s called your grip.”

                It took a moment for the comment to register but, when it did, my eyes widened in shock. “I – I did…”

                “Don’t worry about it, Ed,” he quickly cut in, shaking his head. “It’s just a bruise.”         

                “But –”

                “Don’t. Worry,” he repeated.

                I sighed, nodding. “Sorry for that though…”

                He waved it off, pushing off the doorframe. “Apology accepted. Now get ready, Steve isn’t really one to be late.”

                “Yeah, yeah.”

                He waved as he turned around and headed down the hall. I hesitated a moment before closing my door, wincing at the sound as I tried to push down the guilt that I already hurt one of my teammates.

                After changing and washing up, I left my room, groaning as I entered the loud hallway.

                Alright, maybe it wasn’t all that loud seeing how few soldiers walked around but all the new noises just added to my headache.

                Steve and Bucky were waiting at the end of the hallway and, the moment they saw me, Steve looked concerned as Bucky looked amused.

                “Well, at least you look less like hell and more like a distant cousin of it,” he remarked with a smirk.

                “Fuck off, Bucky…”

                “Ed!”

                I winced at the volume of the Captain’s voice. “Jeez, Cap, lower your damn voice! I’m right here.”

                “Language.”

                I groaned, massaging my head. “Preferably German…”

                “That’s not –”

                “I know…,” I cut in, grumbling. “Joking… but the headache isn’t letting me filter what I say.”

                I faintly heard Steve sigh and Bucky chuckle.

                “Who even taught you that?” asked Steve. “You were still saying Scheiße before yesterday!”

                I blinked, realizing that I did use the English translation for it, or the closest thing. However, how I knew that and who exactly told me… “No idea, honestly. Must have been one of the others…”

                Steve sighed again, massaging his head. “Why would they do that?”

                I shrugged before I someone pat me on the back. “Well, have fun out there, keep up with the swearing. I’m going back to bed. See you two later.” Bucky. That was Bucky.

                I groaned out a response, waving him off before following Steve out of the building. I wasn’t exactly paying attention to where were heading, concentrating more on putting one foot in front of the other as the noises outside added to my headache.

                “Captain Steve Rogers and Edward Elric here to see Howard Stark.”

                Oh, crap, we’re here.

                “He’s in the lab at the moment,” replied the secretary. “However, he should be nearly done. If you wish, you can meet him before heading towards the weapons’ lab.”

                Steve nodded. “Thank you. I think I’ll do that.”

                The secretary pointed in some direction but a wave of pounding returned with a vengeance in my head. I took a deep breath, trying to massage the throbbing away, not realizing that Steve had walked further ahead. “Ed? Are you coming?”

                “Weapons’ lab is where?” I mumbled, squinting towards him. He pointed behind me, in the opposite direction he was walking. Hell no. “You go, Cap. I need to sit down,” I uttered, breathing deeply.

                “Are you sure, Ed?”

                I nodded, waving him off. “I’ll be fine.”

                I didn’t see what he did but I heard his footsteps walk away. I headed to the nearest, unoccupied desk, hauling myself onto it and sighing in relief. I leaned forward, massaging my head and breathing deeply, trying to get the throbbing to stop. It wasn’t as bad as when I woke up but it was still an annoyance.

                “Good morning, Edward.”

                I looked up to see Peggy standing in front of me. “’Morning, Agent Carter,” I managed to utter, earning a confused look from her.

                “Are you alright?”

                I shrugged my shoulders. “Headache. It’ll pass.”

                “Would it have something to do with last night? You did seem to be enjoying yourself.”

                “Huh?” I blinked in confusion. How did she know? “You were there?”

                A smirk spread on her face. “I passed by to relay a message to Captain Rogers. You were singing at a table with the other soldiers.”

                “I was singing?” I gasped, covering my face. “God… How much did I drink?”

                “Enough for that headache, it would seem,” she replied. “Remind me to give those soldiers a talk about providing so much alcohol to you, a minor none the less.”

                That sounded familiar and I tried to think back. It then hit me and I couldn’t help but chuckle. It didn’t last long because it sent another wave of pounding pain through my head.

                “What is so amusing?” wondered Peggy.           

                “Last night. I think I actually did say that you would kick their asses if you ever found out. I want to be present for that.”

                Peggy smiled at the comment. “Why thank you, Edward, for having such confidence in my abilities to school those boys.”

                “Anytime, Agent.”

                She took a glance at her watch and then around her. “Where is the Captain? The meeting should start any moment.”

                I motioned down the row of desks. “He went down that way to see Howard… I think. I’m not 100% sure to be honest. I just needed to sit down.”

                “On a desk, none the less,” she remarked. “I’ll go find him but, once we’re back, I would rather not see you sitting on one anymore.”

                “Yes, Ma’am.”

                Peggy walked off and I slowly slid off the desk, taking a deep breath. I tried to focus on blocking the noise around me out as well as the pounding but I guess I was so concentrated on the task that I barely registered Peggy march past me.

                “Agent Carter?” I called, looking back at where she came from, only to see Steve standing there, looking unsure.                “What happened?” I asked, motioning to Peggy’s retreating back.

                Steve hesitated a moment before heading in the same direction. “Nothing.”

                Why did I feel like I didn’t believe him? Steve followed Peggy down the hall and I tried to catch up to him. There was a tense silence among the two of them as she showed us the weapons’ lab, muttering something under her breath about paperwork and storming away.

                I watched her leave before looking back at Steve. “What happened?” I tried again.

                “Ed… What’s fondue?” he asked instead just as Howard joined us, patting my head.

                “I swear –” I grumbled, trying to grab Howard’s hand. Maybe I’ll bruise it as a warning. However, images of Bucky’s bruised hand sent an uneasy pang through my stomach and I stopped my attempt quickly.

                “Fondue is cheese and bread, my friend,” explained Howard, shaking Steve’s hand. “What did you think it was?”

                The blush that appeared on Steve’s face was priceless. If my head wasn’t in the state it was, I think I would have been openly laughing at his misinterpretation of the situation.

                “Howard isn’t Peggy’s type, Steve,” I added, still managing to smirk. At least I got him to sputter.

                He glanced between Howard and the direction Peggy went in, his mouth opening and closing several times. “Then, you two… I mean. You’re… I didn’t think –”

                “Nor should you pal,” put in Howard, motioning for us to follow him. “The moment you think you know what’s going on in a woman’s head, it’s the moment your goose is well and truly cooked. Me, I’m concentrating on work. Which, at the moment, is about making sure you and your men,” he paused, glancing at me with a smirk, “and the Kid, don’t get killed.”

                “Rub it in, Howard, why don’t you?” I grumbled, shooting him a glare. “Pain in the ass.”

                Howard chuckled, going to pat my head again but I ducked out of the way. The sudden movement made my head spin and I groaned, leaning against the table.

                “Someone had fun last night, it seems,” remarked Howard, still smiling. “You went drinking and you didn’t invite me?”

                “Ed wasn’t supposed to drink,” sighed Steve.

                I breathed deeply before finally looking up at them. “As I told you last night, blame your best friend. He bought me the beer.”

                “You still drank it. And I don’t want to know how many others you drank after with the others,” said Steve, shaking his head. “That will be one heck of a tab,” he muttered under his breath.

                “You’ve taken up drinking, Kid?” wondered Howard, stressing the work ‘kid’. Did the others’ nickname for me spread that fast?

                I shook my head. “Just last night. I don’t think I’ll repeat it any time soon.”

                “Not until you’re officially 18 years old,” added Steve with some finality in his voice.

                I waved him off, nodding. I don’t really need a repeat of what is happening right now any time soon anyway.

                “Why did you drink so much, Kid?” asked Howard.

                I sighed, leaning back. Thinking back, it was a little immature way of thinking. Drinking with them to get them to like me? How was that supposed to work? Maybe… Maybe it does, maybe we bonded but… “I’m…” Socially inept. What the hell is the English word for that? Is it one word? Two words? Damn this hangover. “I’m not good at making friends,” I said instead. Hence why I couldn’t tell anyone if what I did worked or not – if it would have worked or not.

                My response got a good laugh from Howard. He thankfully didn’t have anything to add to that as he motioned for us to follow, showing Steve some other shields he had designed, all while trying to keep his laughter under control.

                “What about this one?” wondered Steve, picking up a shield from under the table.

                “No, that one’s just a prototype,” explained Howard quickly.

                Steve held it out in front of him, examining it intently. “What’s it made of?”

                “Vibranium. It’s stronger than steel and half the weight.” My ears perked up at that. Half the weight of steel? Stronger than it? I gripped my right wrist, eyes wide. I still had the automail Winry had given me in Briggs, the Northern one. However, her words kept replaying in my head, about more prone to damage it could be because of the lighter materials. If I could somehow get a replacement arm made of vibranium, I wouldn’t have to worry about my automail as much.

                It begs the question though, who would make said automail. It would mean I’d have to tell at least Howard about it…

                “How come it’s not standard issue?” wondered Steve, trying it out.

                “That’s the rarest metal on earth. What you’re holding there, that’s all we’ve got,” explained Howard and I could feel my hope getting doused at the prospect of new – lighter – automail.            

                “Are you quite finished, Mr. Stark?” Peggy came marching into the lab, still not looking any happier than before. “I’m sure the Captain has some unfinished business.” 

                Steve, though… I’m not sure what was going through his head. He turned towards her, holding up the vibranium shield. “What do you think?”

                Peggy paused for a moment before reaching for a gun on the table next to her and aiming it right at Steve. His eyes widened in shock as he raised the shield just in time to block the four shots. Everyone ducked away, even I crouched slightly behind the table, silently cursing the loud noises.

                When she finished, Peggy took a deep breath, lowering the gun and letting out a content sigh. “Yes, I think it works.”

                And she walked away, leaving a stunned Steve and Howard.   

                “What the fuck did you do to piss her off?” I asked, wondering what the hell I missed.

                Steve turned towards me, still in his state of shock. “I – What?”

                “You, Captain, pissed her off. What did you do? And don’t give me that ‘nothing’ crap like before or just ask what the fuck fondue is.”

                Steve tried to formulate a response but nothing really made any sense in all his blubbering. I sighed, throwing my hands in the air. “How can you storm through a Hydra base and rescue over 400 soldiers but the concept of having a decent conversation with Peggy eludes you? Honestly… You’re hopeless.” He was still stuttering, trying to explain but I waved him off. “I’m walking over there and sitting down. You two have fun.”

                I continued to ignore Steve’s attempts at explaining something or another as I headed across the lab and threw myself onto the empty chair, kicking my feet up onto the desk. The pounding that had somewhat lessened had returned full force because of the gunshots. Why the fuck did I go and get myself drunk?

                I was nearly asleep when someone shook my shoulder. “Kid, wake up. There’s a reason you needed to come here too, you know.”

                I groaned, stretching. My head felt better at least. I opened my eyes and was looking up at Howard’s smug face. “Come on, Kid,” he said, shoving me slightly. “Don’t got all day.”

                I shoved him back, pulling my legs off the desk. I stretched again, trying to get kinks out of my stiff muscles. I guess that will teach me to fall asleep in a damn desk chair. “So why am I here?” I groaned out, finishing my stretching.

                “Well, since you aren’t military,” began Howard, heading back into towards the middle of the lab, motioning for me to follow him, “you’ll need something a bit sturdier than what you’re currently wearing.”

                I looked down at my clothes. He did have a point. Back home, I had leather pants and resistant fabric for my vest and coat. Here, on the other hand, my clothes were on the flimsy side, meant more for everyday living than storming Hydra bases.

                “What did you have in mind?” I asked, stopping next to him at a table.

                He showed me a handful of sketches of different outfit designs and my eyes widened. I get to choose my clothes? Scratch that. I get new clothes? I never thought I’d get excited over that but…

                It had been months since I crossed over and I never had enough money for something new.

                “So, which one is more your style?” asked Howard, hopefully not having noticed my state. “We thought it best to just start from scratch since nothing will really fit your size: we’ll have to custom make the items anyway, so why not let you choose what we make?”

                I scoffed, ignoring the jab about my size: I was getting new clothes out of this so I can take it this once. I took a good look at the sketches in front of me and one caught my attention more than the others.

                “This one,” I held up the sketch.

                There was nothing too fancy about it but… It reminded me a lot of what I wore back in Amestris. It had multiple layers – perfect for hiding my automail – one of them being a jacket. They had put it in some dark green colour but I wanted –

                “Can the jacket be red?”

                Howard looked at me, skeptical. “You want me to put you in on of the brightest colours out there? Why? So the enemy can spot you a mile away?”

                I frowned, hating that he had a point. But I missed my red coat. “How about a dark shade of red?” I tried instead.

                Howard sighed, massaging his face. However, he nodded half-heartedly. “Fine, dark red. Very dark red,” he specified.

                “But still red,” I clarified.

                “You’re been pretty insistent about this.”

                I shrugged. “I like red. And I use to have a red jacket,” I explained.

                Howard nodded, taking the sketch from me and noting next to the jacket ‘as dark a red as possible’. “And what happened to said red jacket?”

                I thought back and had to hide a shudder. The last time I wore it was on the Promised Day, back in Amestris – it hadn’t made the trip across the Gate with me. How could it? I had left it underground with what remained of Pride’s form. Thinking back, I wonder if someone had found him…

                “Lost it,” I said instead. “Before I met Dr. Erskine.”

                And before I lost everything else too…

Chapter Text

                December 1943 – Stargard, German Conquered Poland

                “Al, how are today?

                Winry… Winry and Al were in her kitchen back in Resembool. I knew that kitchen anywhere.

                Al was sitting at the table. He – he was back in his body but he looked…

                Older?

                And the moment he turned towards Winry, towards me, he looked angrier.

                “Are you still –?

                “How can you not be mad, Winry? How can you just think that her abandoning us is alright?

                Winry… She looked mad too. “I am mad, Al. I am mad because she decided we weren’t good enough for her. And I do believe her abandoning us was completely intentional. She never really got along with others, who knows if she ever really got along with us.

                “Exactly! We don’t mean anything to her, she never cared! She left and never came back!

                “Like we were just pawns for her!

                Every word was a dagger to my heart. I – I want to go back. I’ve been trying…

                “She didn’t even try to get back to us!

                “She’s probably forgotten all about us!

                This can’t be happening…

                Why is this happening!

                They turned towards me at the same time, glaring. “Why are you back?” growled Al, taking a step in my direction, his fists clenching.

                “Al… Winry…,” I choked out. “Please…

                “Get out,” he snarled, venom dripping from his voice. “I don’t ever want to see you again, Evelyn. You never cared about us, about any of us! I would have had a body, Hughes would be alive, Nina and Alexander as well would never have been turned into a chimera if you weren’t there, shoving your accomplishments in Tucker’s face! All of it is YOUR FAULT! You should have just died in Baschool.

                I stumbled back before falling to my knees, feeling an intense pain in my abdomen. I looked down, seeing the metal beam protruding from there again. I almost died then. Should – should I just…

                Al hates me.

                “Ed, come on.”

                I’m – I’m not needed. Al and Winry. They – they mean everything to me… And they could be… They could hate me.

                “Ed.”

                My own brother. My childhood friend and first crush.

                Hate me.            

                “ED!”

                My eyes snapped open and I sat up, gasping for breath. My entire body was trembling so badly, I barely felt someone gripping my shoulders tightly, barely heard them over my own breathing.

                “EDWARD!”

                I jumped, looking up, right towards Steve’s intense, worried gaze.

                “Ed! It’s alright, everything is fine!”

                He continued to repeat that, over and over again as I tried to take several deep breaths. Finally, my body slowly stopped shaking and I managed to reach up, gripping Steve’s forearm with my left hand.

                “I’m good. I’m good,” I whispered, taking a final deep breath.

                “Kid? Are you okay?”

                Steve moved aside and I saw Dum Dum and Bucky standing at the end of my bed.

                Fuck…

                I nodded, massaging my head. “Yeah, sorry for waking you…”

                “You sure you’re okay?” asked Bucky this time.

                “Yeah. Just a nightmare… I’m fine now. Sorry…”

                The three men shared a look but Steve motioned for them to go before turning towards me. “Try to get some sleep, alright Ed?”

                I nodded, laying back down and turning away from Steve. I could still sense him standing there for a moment before he placed a hand on my arm, giving it a squeeze before walking away.

                I heard the others return to their beds, probably able to fall asleep soon.

                I knew I couldn’t.

                I stared at the wall in front of me, my eyes wide because I knew if I closed them, I would…

                They hate me…

                I bit back a groan at that thought, forcing my mind to only focus on the blank wall in front of me.

                I stayed like that for hours, until light began to filter through the curtains of the window. I glanced around the room, at the still sleeping men.

                No use staying here any longer.

                I slowly and quietly got out of bed, picking up my boots, coat, and scarf, and headed towards the door. I took one last glance at the others, hoping I didn’t wake them again, especially Steve considering how good his hearing was...

                Not one stirred, thankfully.

                I left the room, slipping into the hall. No one else was awake at this hour it seemed.

                I headed downstairs, across the deserted lobby towards a narrow corridor I had seen yesterday. Down the corridor was a smaller, inconspicuous door and I could faintly see the snow covered courtyard just through the glass. I dropped my boots onto the floor, slipping them on, shrugging on my coat, and wrapping my scarf around my neck.

                I pushed open the door, onto a thankfully empty courtyard.

                I breathed deeply, taking in the cold morning air. It helped somewhat to calm me but, even if it was hours before, I still couldn’t shake the agitation away. Fucking nightmare… I headed further into the courtyard, ducking under the low hanging branches of the surrounding trees.

                I was near the middle of the area when I decided to stop. I took another deep breath, looking up at the grey sky. I just stood there, the words from my nightmare replaying in my head. They could hate me… They’d have more than enough good reasons for it. I’m still here, right? I’m nowhere near getting back to Amestris and it’s been almost a year…

                Not for the first time, I wondered what the fuck I was doing…

                “There you are.” I whirled around, spotting Steve trudging his way through the snow, hands in his pockets. “I was wondering where you ran off to,” he stated, stopping near me.

                “Just needed some air,” I mumbled, turning away from his partially and looking back up to the sky. “And I didn’t run off…,” I added halfheartedly.

                He nodded. “It’s more an expression that you went somewhere.”

                I didn’t feel the need to add to that so we stayed in silence as I stubbornly kept looking up at the sky even as I felt the weight of Steve’s gaze on me.

                “It’s been a while since they were that bad.”

                It had been a while… The last time, we were still in the United States and it played out almost exactly like this time.

                Save for Dum Dum and Bucky being present…

                “You were crying out again.”

                I sighed, covering my face with my hands and leaning forward. Not again… Why can’t I just have quiet nightmares? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?

                Why do I let them affect me so much…?

                “Ed, you didn’t go back to sleep after, did you?”             I groaned, not bothering to uncover my face and answer. Especially not when the question sounded more like a statement. “Will you be alright for the mission?”

                I nodded, dropping my hands from my face. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”

                Steve sighed at that. “That’s the problem, Ed, I do worry. And I want to help you. You agreed to at least talking about the nightmares if they happened again. Can we do that now?”

                Fuck… I had agreed… I had hoped he had forgotten about that but I guess I was wrong: Steve doesn’t seem to forget much of anything. The question then became… How much to I share with him? How much to I tell him about my nightmares?

                “Any chances of me getting out of this without answering?” I tried.

                “Not really. But we can start with an easy one. Who’s Al?”

                I stiffened. I had said his name out loud in my nightmares, hadn’t I? He was a constant in them… Do I…?

                I breathed deeply before mumbling, “Brother…” I couldn’t look at Steve as I repeated in a stronger voice, “He’s my younger brother.”

                Steve didn’t say anything for a while nor did look at him.

                “I didn’t know you had a brother,” he whispered. “Didn’t even know you had any family.”

                I shrugged my shoulders. “Mom’s gone. Dad’s… Not sure. Maybe he’s still alive. And Al… I want to believe that he is… That he is alive…”

                “I’m sorry… Didn’t know…”

                I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t share, Steve. We both know that overly well.”

                He actually chuckled at that statement which seemed to lighten the mood. “Don’t you want to go find him?”

                I frowned. “What stupid question is that, Steve? Of course I do.”

                “Then –”

                “I don’t know where he is and where exactly should I start, Steve? I can’t just…,” I threw my hands in the air, exasperated because these were the same excuses I’ve been repeating to myself for months. “What am I supposed to do, Steve? I’m a German without a home, right in the middle of the biggest war of the century caused by Germans. There’s a part of me that wants to help you but another part knows it’s because I don’t have any other option at the moment… I don’t have the luxury of going from country to country, trying to find my brother.”

                Steve came up next to me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Ed, you know we’ll be going country to country to get rid of the Hydra factories.” I looked up at him, confused. “If you need time to search for your brother in each city we stop in, I’ll find you that time, alright?”

                I hesitated. What can I respond to that? Yes, I need the time but not to go door to door asking if someone had heard of an Alphonse Elric. I need time at a library. I need to figure out how to cross the Gate without alchemy.

                I need to figure out if this side even knows what the fuck the Gate is.

                “Ed?”

                “Thanks, Steve,” I finally answered.

                He smiled, patting my back. "See. Talking helped." I rolled my eyes and it seemed Steve noticed as he shook his head, sighing. "Thanks for sharing, Ed."

                I halfheartedly nodded. It's not like I said much to him concerning my nightmares but I don’t need to remind him of that. He’ll probably –

                I stumbled forward from a hit of something at the top of my back. I whirled around, expecting an attack, an ambush, a…

                Bucky?

                He was kneeling a few meters away, scooping snow into his gloved hands, chuckling as he did. “Good hit, no, Ed?”

                What the hell? What did he do?

                Bucky was pressing the snow tightly into a ball in his hands as he continued to smile at me. “Feeling better, Ed?”

                I shrugged, glancing towards Steve. However, looking up earned me an empty space and it threw me off. Where was…? Steve was kneeling at the ground, scooping some snow up as well. What are they doing?

                It hit me then.

                Literarily. On the top on my head.

                My head felt cold as snow tumbled all around me and I could just stare at it fall, stunned. Bucky – Bucky threw a fucking snowball at me? Twice?

                “Ed, think fast.”

                I looked up but I wasn’t fast enough to dodge a snowball lobbed at my face. From STEVE!

                And the entire team had the gall to call me ‘kid’!

                The two men were having a good laugh at my expense now but…

                “You two better run,” I threatened, scooping up some snow of my own.

                At least they took me seriously.

Chapter Text

                December 1943 – Outside Stargrad, German Occupied Poland – Hydra Factory

                 Alright, so, long story short. We managed to get into the Hydra base without much fuss. One would think that the outside of it would be better protected. One would also think the INSIDE would not have that much protection… Hydra soldiers littered every hallway, locked doors at every turn, little box things in the top corners – I have been told that those things are called security cameras. It’s not like that word means anything to me really…

                They seemed better prepared for an outside assault in this place than back in Austria.

                So, getting in wasn’t a problem; getting further in was proving a more challenging task. We were running down corridor after confusing corridor, Jones and Bucky shooting down the ‘security cameras’ as we went.

                Just as I was about to turn a corner, I got suddenly pulled back, falling onto my ass, cursing. What the fuck just happened?!

                “Ed, hush!” hissed someone above me and I felt a pang of irritation blossom inside me. Who the fuck…?

                I changed position, squatting as I leaned against the wall, looking up at… Steve. Fucking Steve pulled me back and shushed me. What’s…?

                I then heard the sound of footsteps. Alright, fine, he had every right to pull that stunt. Even though I could have just ran towards them and disarmed the soldiers easily: people don’t exactly know how to react when someone runs towards them instead of away and I love using that to my advantage.

                I glanced up at Steve who was holding up a hand, signaling to the others to wait. He held up four fingers, letting us know there were four soldiers heading towards us. Just as the footsteps got near enough, Steve motioned us to go and I took off, ramming head first into the stomach of one of the soldiers. I briefly heard Steve’s shield slam into another one and the scuffle as the others took down the last two. I punched the soldier I had tackled in the head with my right fist, ensuring he wasn’t waking up any time soon.

                “Good job,” said Steve. “Let’s go.” And he led the way down the corridor.

                As we ran, I took note of how this factory differed from the last one. Well, to begin with, we had yet to reach the production area: that are seemed to be further inside and with very few entrances to and from it. Second, the holding cells were BEHIND said production area.

                Did I mention this base was carved into the side of a hill? Those trapped soldiers probably haven’t seen daylight in weeks… And that got me even madder.

                “Ed,” called Steve, motioning towards the upcoming signs.

                I read them over before answering, “Right.” That way would lead us to the factory floor and then, hopefully, to the holding areas.

                Steve nodded and stopped at the corner, peering around and nodding to the rest of us that the way was clear. We continued to run until we reached an open area, where several Hydra soldiers were standing guard in front of a set of doors. The others didn’t hesitate. Well, the others save Bucky who took an extra moment to pull me back and stand in front of me before raising his gun like the others and all of them shot at the enemies.

                I bit the inside of my cheeks at the sight of the fallen soldiers. Yeah, I knocked them out but the others dealt a final blow on the enemy…  Bucky lowered his gun and glanced behind, at me, raising an eyebrow. “You good, Ed?” he asked softly.

                I nodded, muttering a “Thanks” to him before I followed the others towards the only other exit in the room. Of course it was closed off, sealed by heavy, metal doors. I did it on purpose to avoid the fallen soldiers that lay sprawled on the ground, avoided looking at them.

                “Well, that’s wonderful,” muttered Monty, holstering his gun and looking over the doors and testing them out. “They wouldn’t have been expecting us, would they?” he asked sarcastically.

                 “We just need to figure out how to open these doors to get in,” replied Dum Dum.

                “Here’s a control panel,” called out Jim, glancing over it.

                I, meanwhile, glanced around thinking over how we could get inside the fortified area of the factory. Honestly, I didn’t think using the control panel was exactly going to work: it would be too simple to just access it from there. They would need at least a card or something. So, we’d need to break through or break in. Somehow. I can’t say I’ve broken into much in the past.

                However, I had broken into Lab 5 with Al.

                Lab 5. Air vent.

                I looked higher up and spotted one. Perfect.

                “I have an idea,” I called out, already heading towards said vent. This way, we wouldn’t need to force our way through the steel doors.

                “Ed, what are you doing?” wondered Steve as he watched me push a crate under it.

                I climbed on top of the crate, going for the screws. “I found a way in,” I explained, already getting one loose and working on the next.

                “Through the vent?” asked Jim, skeptical.

                “Yes, through a vent,” I repeated, pulling the grate off. “I’ve done it before, it’ll be –”

                “Ed, you can’t go in there,” cut in Steve.

                I paused, mid crouch, confused. “Why not? I’ll go in, get to the other side, open the doors and tada, we’re all in.”

                Steve shook his head. “I can’t let you go alone.”

                It took everything I had to not bend the metal grate with my right hand. My face, however… I felt a definite frown forming.

                “Last I checked, none of you can fit into that,” I gritted out, pointing at the vent.

                “Kid, we’ll find another way,” explained Dum Dum, heading towards the controls where Jim still stood. “There’s got to be a button somewhere, an access code or something.”

                Both examined the controls though either of them even bothered to call me over to translate the obviously German words on the console.

                Jones went and gave a hand with that.

                The others waited in silence – I waited, fuming. I couldn’t even sneak away, not with Steve’s gaze locked on me. This was wasting so much time. I would have already –

                Another set of doors closed in front of the first ones. The trio at the controls glanced between the doors and the rest of the group, looking like a group of kids who just broke the cookie jar they were stealing from.

                I didn’t even wait for an ‘okay’. I turned around and hauled myself into the vent.

                “ED!”

                “I’m going to fix this! Just trust me damn it!”

                I don’t know if they said anything after because I was already far into the vent and was crawling my way even further in. Alright, I have to admit, it was a snugger fit than Lab 5 which I took as a good thing: it means I grew since then.

                I won’t take into consideration that the vent may be smaller than those in Lab 5.

                I didn’t take long to find the vent leading to the other side of the barred doors. That room, however, was occupied by Hydra soldiers. I couldn’t just pop into that room, even if I did have a gun. My resolve hasn’t changed since Briggs and since Steve and I rescued the soldiers from the Austrian Hydra factory: I was NOT firing that weapon. I couldn’t get the others to stop – just like the Briggs soldiers – but at least I could decide on my actions.

                Therefore, since I wasn’t using my gun and I was not stupid enough to alert a group of soldiers that I was in the vent as I tried to get out of it, I kept crawling until I got to a hallway. A deserted one.

                Perfect.

                It took a few hits from the palm of my right hand to each corner of the metal grate but I managed to pop it clean off its screws. I just hoped the resounding metal clang didn’t alert any Hydra soldiers…

                Of course, with my luck, just as I landed on the ground, two of them burst into the corridor.

                I cursed in annoyance as I ran up to them, dodging the gunfire. I kicked the gun away from one of them, lowering the nozzle of the other one with my hand as I finished the kick. I used the rest of my momentum to land a kick on the head of one of the soldiers, pulling at the gun I still had in my hand.

                Two more punches and both soldiers were down for the count.

                I tossed the gun away, annoyed. This could have gone better. Well, it could have gone better from the start if they trusted me to do this alone.

                I went towards the room the soldiers had come from, peering inside –

                And ducked away as gunshots were fired in my direction. Well, I knew that they hadn’t been alone in there.

                This will be interesting.


                 Several minutes later found Steve and the others running in on me tying the last of the Hydra soldiers up with the electrical wires found behind the big machines in the room. They skidded to a halt, staring at the scene in front of them in confusion.

                Well, all but Steve and Bucky looked confused.

                “Are you alright, Ed?” asked Steve, holstering his gun.

                I shrugged, nodding. “Of course. Piece of pie.”

                Bucky choked back a laugh. “Cake, Ed. It’s a piece of cake.”

                I paused in my tying, thinking back. He was right… “Yeah. Piece of cake.”

                Bucky just shook his head, still chuckling to himself.

                “Uh, Kid, did you even use your gun?” wondered Dum Dum.

                I shook my head, standing, having finished the last of the knots. “I won’t use it, actually.”

                “Kid, you –”

                I cut Jones off. “Won’t. Use. It. I don’t need to,” I added, motioning towards the unconscious Hydra soldiers around me.

                “Ed,” began Steve. Steve of all people. “For my piece of mind, could you at least try to use it?”

                I scoffed, crossing my arms. “For mine, I won’t. Be happy I’m carrying the damn thing.”

                “Ed –”

                “I’m not shooting anyone and that’s final,” I stated, pushing past the group and heading back into the hallway.

                I glanced left and right, taking off in the opposite direction the group had come from and headed further into the Hydra factory. I somewhat heard their footsteps following behind me but my mind was focused on trying to keep my anger under control. Just because they chose to use their guns to fight Hydra soldiers, didn’t mean I needed to do the same.

                And considering I took down more soldiers than them at the moment, my way of doing things was working out very well for me.

                We continued to run through the corridors, taking down Hydra soldiers until we reached a large set of doors, thankfully not sealed shut like the last set.

                I peeked through the glass of the door, trying to get a better idea of what’s on the other side, what the situation was. Well, I tried to figure out the situation: I could barely see anything but I could tell that it was the factory floor that we had been looking for.

                I went to go open the door a crack to get a better view when a hand pushed against the door, stopping me from opening it. I spun around in surprise to find – without much surprise actually… - that Steve was holding the door shut.

                “What now?” I sighed, crossing my arms.

                “Let us take a look,” he stated and my grip on my right arm tightened drastically. I even felt the metal bend slightly. “Give us a moment.”

                Steve and Dum Dum went to the door, forcing me to move back until I was at the same level as Bucky. He placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze but it did nothing to calm my anger.

                “Some Hydra soldiers are in there but no sign of any of the prisoners,” reported Steve as he closed the doors. “There is a second floor so we need to be careful of any gunfire from above. We take care of Hydra in this area and then we get the prisoners and leave.”

                “Destroying the base as we do,” added Monty, a smirk on his face. “I do believe explosions are in order for that.”

                Steve nodded in agreement as he raised his shield. “Everyone ready? Let’s go.”

                We entered the next room quickly and quietly. Well, even if we tried to be quiet, so many people entering a room at once still got the attention of some Hydra soldiers and they opened fire. We ducked behind the nearby machinery, spreading out. On my end, I glanced around the machine, seeing a clear path ahead of me. Alright, that’s good. I remembered about the second floor and looked up. Clear as well.

                Just as I was about to sprint out of my hiding place, a strong hand landed on my left shoulder, keeping me squatting in place. I swear to…

                “WHAT?!” I hissed, looking back. I honestly was shocked for a moment when I saw Dum Dum holding me back this time. That threw me off for a moment. Dum Dum too?

                “Is it even clear, Kid?” wondered Dum Dum, going to look for himself around the corner.

                “Do you think I’m stupid?” I yelled out in anger, wrenching my arm from him and standing.

                Before I needed to fall back down because of the shower of bullets that ricocheted around us from above. I cursed in German, slamming my fist on the machine. It HAD been clear! What the fuck is going on here?

                “See, Kid –”

                “Just fucking shut up!” I growled out, checking if it was clear once more.

                The moment I went to move, I was pulled me back once more and I stumbled back, losing my footing, rolling backwards and making acquaintance with the machinery. More curses than ever flew out of my mouth as I rubbed my head and glared at… Fuck! Steve AGAIN!

                “What the fuck was –?”

                “Ed stop being so reckless!” scolded Steve loudly.

                I’m what…?! “I’m not being reckless! I know what I’m doing and I know what I’m capable of! Why can’t you just trust me?!” I yelled back, my temper reaching its limit.

                “I can’t let you just run in there without backup or protection! You can get hurt or worse killed! Especially if you’re not sure the way is clear! How are you going to find your brother if you're dead?”

                I could feel the stares on me as I stood frozen in front of Steve. Why - why did he have to mention Al? Why did he have to bring him up in front of the others? 

                My fists were shaking and my voice was dangerously low. “Don't you fucking dare ever bring my brother into this ever again, Captain. And remind me to never ever tell you anything again! If you don’t trust me, then kick me off this fucking team!”

                And I turned around and bolted further onto the factory floor, my mind numb but my fists flying, my only concern was getting as far away from the others, from their stares and their possible questions.         

                Steve... He brought Al up in front of the others. He used Al against me. He used that knowledge that he knew was private, that he knew I had only told him because I trusted him.

                And he went and blabbed it to the entire team not even 24 hours later.

                What the fuck happened?

                I continued my onslaught on the Hydra soldiers, leaving unconscious men in my wake. I was across the factory floor by the time I took a breather, leaning against one of the machines.

                I still couldn’t believe it…

                I picked up a broken pipe off the ground, testing its weight. Yes, this will work just fine. They wanted me to get a weapon and a weapon I now have. I glanced around, wanting to figure out where…

                Where…

                I nearly let the pipe drop to the ground.

                It – it can’t be. No.

                Standing in front of a group of Hydra soldiers, looking like he was in charge as he barked orders to those around him.

                Solf J. Kimblee, the Crimson Alchemist.

Chapter Text

December 1943 – Outside Stargrad, German Occupied Poland – Hydra Factory

                It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. I thought…

                He was gone.

                Wasn’t he?

                As Kimblee finished giving order, he and the surrounding soldiers took off running towards another exit on the factory floor.

                I didn’t think this through as I ran after them.

                It couldn’t be the Crimson Alchemist. It couldn’t be the Solf J. Kimblee from Amestris.

                They must have heard me following them because one of the Hydra guards stayed back, aiming his gun at me. He tried to shoot me but I dodged to the side, swiping my makeshift staff in his direction. I knocked the gun clean out of his hands, sending it flying in the air. He made the mistake of following the gun’s trajectory that I easily knocked his head with the pipe.

                He crumpled to the ground without a sound.

                And I continued running.

                I began to recall the last time I saw Kimblee or, what I thought would be what remained of Kimblee. Pride was trying to take over my body but I turned it right back at him. In that mass of screaming… souls? I shuddered at the idea of that many poor souls being trapped within a monster like that. But, among them, I remember seeing Kimblee. He wasn’t a mass of darkness like the others.

                He still had that god awful white suit.

                I guess only he could actually stay sane amongst that chaos and darkness: he did enjoy being a sadistic son of a bitch.

                I took down two other guards, whacking one in the stomach with the pipe while the other’s face had a rude acquaintance with my right fist.

                Pride had done something to Kimblee; had swallowed him?

                If he had, Kimblee would definitely NOT be here at the moment. However, that face…

                I couldn’t forget about it, not when he was the reason I nearly died back in Baschool. That last nightmare was some damn premonition… Remembering that day sent phantom pains to me abdomen and I gripped the spot where the beam had impaled me, trying to get my mind to stop playing tricks on me. I wasn’t injured. Nothing was in my abdomen anymore: it was completely healed.

                After hitting the fourth guard in the head, I straightened, looking around. Four guards. Where did Kimblee go then? He was with –

                Arm around my neck. Hand grasping my left wrist, making me drop the pipe in pain. “My, my, you are a persistent, gör,” grumbled Kimblee behind me and I froze for a moment. Even his voice was the same…

                I took a deep breath, putting up a front as I rolled my eyes. Especially considering the others called me “Kid” and now he calls me a “brat”. He squeezed his arm around my neck tighter and I elbowed him in stomach. He gasped out, cursing, letting go of my left wrist. I went to toss him over my shoulder, to get him away from me when –

                “LET HIM GO!”

                Steve and Bucky ran down the corridor, their guns poised in our direction. I froze in surprise. What the hell? How did they get here? Was I so focused on Kimblee that I didn’t hear them running?

                My hesitation seemed to be exactly what Kimblee needed as I felt the cold metal of a barrel of a gun on my temple.

                “Meine Herren,” began Kimblee and I could hear his smirk on his lips and it sent shivers down my spine. He was still just as crazy. Was it really the same one from Amestris? If he was, why didn’t he recognize me yet? “I would drop your weapons or this gör –”

                “Enough with the brat calling, asshole,” I growled out in German, putting on my tough persona. “Not to mention you called them gentlemen… Hypocrite,” I added as an afterthought.

                There was a pause from behind me. “You speak German?” wondered Kimblee with a hint of surprise in his voice.

                I rolled my eyes. “I am German, depp,” I replied, glancing down to my left side, getting an idea. Well, that’s what I figured… This just got easier. “And if you’re threatening to shoot me, just do it already, Hurensohn.”

                “ED!” yelled out Steve in desperation and Bucky was staring at us with wide eyes, his gun still aimed at Kimblee.

                “You do have quite a foul mouth, gör,” remarked Kimblee with a sigh. “Been spending too much time with these vulgar Americans, have you?”

                I chuckled. “I’m the vulgar one, arschgesicht.” I could feel Kimblee grow annoyed behind me. To be fair, I had called him ‘idiot’, ‘son of a bitch’, and an ‘assface’. This was my chance to get out of this. “Are we going to continue this fulfilling conversation or are you going to do something? Like shoot?”

                “Do you have a death wish, gör?” wondered Kimblee.

                I shrugged which got Steve and Bucky in front of me even more worried. “Ed, what are you doing?” stammered Steve, which is actually the first time I’ve heard him sound like that. Well, I couldn’t just tell them.

                I had to smile at him just as Kimblee pulled the trigger. I heard the click, saw the shocked faces of Steve and Bucky. Steve even dropped his gun. But there was nothing but silence.

                Pure, enjoyable silence; for me of course.

                I used Kimblee’s surprise and hauled him over my shoulder, slamming him onto the floor. He was still stunned as I dropped on top of him and began punching him.

                And punching. And punching.

                His face. His chest. His head. Anything I could reach.

                I couldn’t get that smug face of his out of my head. That smug face that haunted me for months after Baschool. That smug face that reminds me that I could have died that day.

                I could have died because I didn’t want to kill. I didn’t want to kill the fucking bastard that was now in front of me. Even after he threatened Winry and disrespected the soldiers of Briggs. Even after all the horrible things he did in Ishval, being sent to prison because he couldn’t stop killing.

                “Ed, enough!” Strong arms easily lifted me off Kimblee and held me back as I tried to squirm out of them. “Ed, just calm down!” urged Steve behind me, holding me even tighter.

                I tried to take a breath but each one was just as shaky as the previous one. Seeing the man on the ground from further away, it made me realize that he was not Kimblee. It’s not the Kimblee that… That one didn’t collapse a mine on me. He didn’t. The one who did is gone. GONE. He’s gone.

                “He’s gone,” I muttered out loud as my breathing was finally calming down. “Not… him.

                “Ed, what the hell happened?” wondered Bucky, picking up my fallen pistol. “And did you have a death wish?”

                “Don’t ever do that again, Ed!” added Steve finally releasing me and turning me around to face him. “What were you thinking?”

                I rolled my eyes, massaging my face. “I was thinking that I unloaded the fucking gun,” I replied, turning around and taking the weapon from Bucky. “I unloaded it because I was not going to use it and there was no point of giving the enemy a free weapon by leaving it loaded.” I holstered the gun, glancing back at Steve. “And I had the situation under control before you barged in like that.”

                Steve was breathing deeply, his clenched fist shaking as he stared down at me. “Under control? Under control?! You nearly died and you say that you had it under control?!”

                “Hey! I didn’t nearly die! The pistol was UNLOADED!”

                “He had it to your head!”

                “It was UNLOADED! Am I speaking English now or not? UNLOADED!”

                “That’s not the point, Ed! You –”

                “Alright, both of you,” cut in Bucky, getting between us and pushing each of us back. “We don’t have time for this.”

                Steve took a deep breath, covering his mouth and massaging his jaw. Meanwhile, I was seething, my fists clenching and unclenching at this useless argument we were having.

                “Bucky is right but we will be discussing this when we get back to London. Am I clear?” stated Steve tersely. I didn’t answer to that because there was nothing to discuss. “Ed?” He still wasn’t getting an answer from me. He took another deep breath. “Fine, go with Bucky and make sure the last of the prisoners are heading out the building. Can you at least follow that order?”

                With the same glare on my face, I saluted him, gritting out, “Yes, Captain.”

                He seemed to do everything in his power to not yell at me at that moment, his jaw clenched as he shook his head.

                “Let’s go, Ed,” said Bucky. “We’ll radio in, alright, Steve?”

                Steve stiffly nodded and Bucky pulled at my left arm before I followed him down the corridor.


                 “You seriously do not have much in terms of self-preservation, do you?” remarked Bucky as we searched the empty holding area.

                “Verpiss dich,” I muttered, still annoyed.

                “Gesundheit,” replied Bucky and I could hear the smile.

                I rolled my eyes at his sense of humour at the wrong moments… It wasn’t even the right answer to telling him to piss off anyway.

                “But, seriously, Ed, what’s going on?” wondered Bucky as we entered another holding area, his gun raised and ready. “You did give us quite a scare back there.”

                “What do you want me to tell you?” I grumbled. “That I won’t do it again? Because that isn’t a promise I’m about to make any time soon.”

                “Ed, he had a gun to your head.”

                “An UNLOADED gun,” I corrected for what felt like the 12th time as I peeked into a third holding area. How many did Hydra need? How many soldiers were kept here?!

                “You’re being very blasé about this.”

                I turned towards him, confused. “I’m being what?”

                “Blasé. Nonchalant.” I kept staring at him. “Unconcerned,” he tried instead and I nodded. That’s what he meant.

                “Yes, I was unconcerned that he had a useless weapon pointed at my head,” I remarked, shrugging my shoulder. “I wasn’t in real danger. It’s not my fault you thought I was.”

                “Ed, it is, actually.”

                “This conversation isn’t going anywhere,” I finally snapped, turning towards Bucky. “I’m reckless, Steve pointed that out. But that’s how I am. I’ve seen Steve do things just as stupid, like plan to jump out of a plane or walk to Austria, but none of you are giving him a hard time about it.”

                “Because he’s Captain America,” answered Bucky giving me a look. “He has a super soldier serum running through his veins that allows him to survive crazy, idiotic stuff. Believe me, he got an earful back in London about what he’s been up to. We just never got around to doing the same to you. You know, because you ALSO jumped out of an airplane.”

                “Fine,” I huffed, throwing my arms into the air. “Do you want me to say I’m a stupid reckless kid who is in over my head and should just stay out of the way so that I don’t get hurt, or worse, killed?”

                Bucky sighed in frustration, lowering his gun. “Ed, that’s not… I…” He massaged his head as if trying to figure out what to say to that. I didn’t even know what I should have said. “You are definitely more stubborn than Steve…,” he mumbled.

                “Yeah, right,” I huffed, taking out my radio and switched it to the right frequency. “There aren’t any more prisoners in this area,” I stated dryly. We had checked all the holding areas as we had talked which, at least, meant I finally followed an order today.

                “’Bout time, Kid! Bucky! Monty’s just finished setting up the explosives. Get your asses out of there!” called out Dum Dum from the other end.

                I rolled my eyes, irritated. “Fine, we’re leaving,” I replied.

                “Hurry up!”

                I turned off my radio and Bucky and I ran out of the holding area.

                Steve’s been up my ass all day, the others don’t seem to trust me to do anything by myself, Kimblee decided to re-enter my life without much warning, and now Bucky seems to want to have some stupid heart to heart about my life choices. Is there anything else that could go…?

                Fuck.

                Bucky and I skidded to a halt in the middle of the factory floor as Kimblee stood in front of us, gun raised and his face…

                Fuck… I did that to him…

                His face was covered – drenched – in blood, as much from the broken nose to the open gash on his forehead. One of his eyes was so swollen, he couldn’t even open it. However, it seemed his good eye was enough for him to be able to effectively point a gun at us.

                “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the brat?” remarked Kimblee, spitting blood onto the floor. “Maybe I should teach you a valuable lesson today.”

                “Ed,” whispered Bucky, “what’s he saying?”

                I swallowed with difficulty, not liking where this was going. “That I need to be taught a lesson,” I replied hesitantly.

                “Yes, a lesson,” repeated Kimblee in English, cocking his gun and pointing it directly at me. “If you have a chance to kill, take it. Or else you might be the one ending up dead.”

                My breathing was shaky as memories of that day surfaced. The mine, the chimeras, the metal beam, the blood… So much of MY blood from the wound in MY body.

                “ED, MOVE!”

                I was tackled just as a gunshot echoed through the factory area and I hit the floor heavily, a weight falling on top of me. Not even a moment later, the weight was off and more gunshots were fired around until…

                Quiet. It was just… Quiet.

                “Ed!” I looked up, my mind returning to the present as I stared at Bucky. “Ed, what the hell happened? I’ve never seen you freeze like that!”

                I shook my head, trying to get the images of the incident in Baschool out of my mind. “Sorry…,” I whispered. I glanced to the side, briefly seeing the body of Kimblee laying on the floor, unmoving.

                Bucky… Bucky killed him.

                “Ed, seriously, what was that?”

                “I’m fine,” I replied instead, using the machinery nearby to push myself up.

                “I didn’t ask if you were fine or not. I’m asking what the hell happened.”

                “Nothing, Bucky. Just leave it!” I grumbled, heading towards the exit.

                “You froze, Ed! FROZE! He could have killed you!”

                I threw my hands in the air, yelling out in frustration. “I’m sorry! DAMNIT! I fucked up! I’m just a fucking mess! That’s my job it seems! To just made things worse than they are! I. FUCKED. UP! Now can we just go so I don’t ruin something else today?!”

                And then, of course, the explosions started.

                Bucky looked around, eyes wide and I heard him curse which was a first, actually. “Horrible timing,” he muttered, grasping my left arm and pulling. “We need to get out of here!” 


 

                Just as Bucky and I ran through the doorway to the outside, one explosion just behind us sent us both flying forward. Whilst Bucky slid across ice and snow until he was stopped by a snow pile, I hit a tank.

                Heavily. Right shoulder first.

                And so much pain followed. Jolts upon jolts of pain kept piercing my shoulder blade and I cried out.

                “Ed!”

                Arm around my waist and I was pulled back. I managed to find my footing. I think I did.

                “Come on, Ed. We need to go.”

                My left arm was thrown over someone's shoulder, the arm around my waist tightening, and the person – Bucky, glancing to the side, confirmed it was Bucky – nearly hauled me away from the exploding Hydra base.

                And we ran. We just kept running as I tried to keep one foot in front of the other, as I tried to ignore the throbbing pain from my right shoulder.

                This could not have gone any worse... My automail especially... I know that pain was from my automail. I just hope that it's easily fixed or else I'll have too much explaining to do. Explaining that I don't think will stay quiet either. 

                If Steve went and mentioned my brother, who knows what else him or the others will blurt out? I don't need the S.S.R. knowing about my automail. 

                And I definitely don't want them to know that I've been pretending to be male this entire time.

                “Alright, Ed. We can stop here.”

                Bucky slowed us to a stop and let me lean against a nearby tree. I slid to the snow covered ground, not caring how cold it was: my focus was on my automail, on trying to find a position that wouldn't send jolts of pain through my entire body.

                Bucky, meanwhile, had pulled out his radio and was trying to get in touch with the others. Trying is the key word... His attempts at getting the right frequency were getting annoying. Maybe setting the frequency to change with the time was not a good idea for some people… I heard Bucky was good with technology but math was another story. Therefore, I reach up and pulled it out of his hands, ignoring the indignant yell from him.

                Three seconds later, having checked the time and done the calculations, I handed it back to him just as Jim finished saying, “Do you copy?”

                Bucky glanced between the radio and myself for a moment before he radioed back.

                “Bucky here. Ed and I made it out of the base. We're about 3 miles northeast of it.”

                “Are both of you alright?” asked Jim.

                “I’m fine but Ed – oof!” Bucky doubled over and I grabbed the radio from him. Maybe I shouldn’t have kicked him so hard in the stomach…

                “Fine. We’re both fine,” I managed to say evenly. I think I may have found a good position for my arm. It didn’t hurt as much but it made me wonder if the wires were the problem here: they were the ones connected to my nerves.

                “What happened to Bucky?” asked Jim, concerned.

                “He tripped,” I replied, earning a frown from the man who supposedly tripped. He was kneeling in front of me, trying to catch his breath.

                “Alright. We’ll head in your direction. Wait for us there. If you need to change position, radio in. Roger?”

                Why was Jim calling Steve? It’s not even his actual last name… What –?

                Bucky grabbed the radio from me and replied, “Roger.” He lowered the radio, taking one last deep breath. “Why did you hit me in the stomach? Again?” He didn’t really give me a chance to respond as he stood, groaning as he did. “Stupid question. Same reason you hit me the first time. You don’t want the others to know. But you’re hurt, Ed, and –”

                “I’m fine,” I cut in even though it was a dirty lie. I couldn’t explain my injury to Bucky: if I did, I would need to tell him about my limbs. And I was definitely not in a sharing mood, not after what happened with Steve…

                Bucky was staring at me, his shoulders sagging. “Why are you so stubborn, Ed?”

                I raised an eyebrow. “Really? You do know your best friend is just as or perhaps even more stubborn than me?”

                “I know Steve is stubborn and I know why he is. You –”

                I stood suddenly, walking away. “I don’t share. And when I finally do, some Scheißkerl decides he can just bring it up in front of everyone.”

                Bucky ran in front of me, making me stop for all of a second. I changed direction, wanting to just get away from him. “I know all of you hate the idea of leaving me alone for some damned reason but LEAVE ME ALONE!” I yelled out, storming off and – FUCK – changing direction again when Bucky decided to get in front of me again.

                “Ed, come on,” he sighed, trying again to stop me. “Can you stop for a moment?” Still avoided him. “Ed, listen for a second.” Dodge. I’m going in a fucking circle at this point. “Ed –”

                He went to grab my arm just as I was changing direction. My attempt at avoiding his outstretched hand resulted in me slipping and falling on my ass, curses flying from my mouth.

                I heard Bucky sigh before he knelt in front of me, watching as I held onto my right shoulder tightly. Stupid, fucking automail... “Can we talk now? Or am I going to have to wrestle you to the ground? I wouldn’t even feel bad because, according to you, you’re not injured.”

                I glared at him. No matter how sound his reasoning was, he still pissed me off. I held my right shoulder, somewhat finding a position that didn’t really hurt as I glared at the snow covered ground, ignoring Bucky.

                “Ed, we’re just trying to look out for you,” murmured Bucky, sitting down in front of me. “We’re all weary of you being out there with us, in the midst of danger.”

                My glare moved to him. “Weary? That just means you don’t trust me out there. You don’t trust me and you have this weird idea that something bad is going to happen to me so, to keep your conscious clean, all of you will treat me like a child until… what? I snap and decide to leave? Is that what all of you want?”

                Bucky sighed, passing a hand through his hair. “I didn’t say any of that, Ed.”

                “You don’t need to say it with words, Bucky. All of your actions spoke loud enough on their own. You. Don’t. Trust. Me. It’s damn clear.”

                “Hey, we do trust you, Ed. If we didn’t, you wouldn’t be on this team,” snapped Bucky. “What I can’t seem to understand is why you stubbornly want to do things alone. We watch your back and worry because, so far, you’ve had a tendency to run off alone and do things, do dangerous things, alone. And, whether you like it or not, sometimes it seems you actually do need someone there to have your back. That Hydra soldier wasn’t going to play nice when he aimed that gun at you and you decided – for reasons I doubt you’ll share – to freeze on me. Why? Why put yourself in that dangerous situation, Ed?”

                I growled, hating this situation. Bucky did have a point and he echoed so many things that Mustang had said once upon a time to Al and myself. He had been right back then and Bucky was right at the moment.

                “Ed, you keep talking about trust but it goes both ways. You need to trust us to have your back, to watch out for you just as we watch out for each other,” added Bucky in a softer tone.

                I huffed, feeling a sense of guilt begin to creep in.

                “Ed?”

                Fucking stupid guilt… I swallowed with difficulty, taking a deep breath. “I put myself in dangerous situations because I always did,” I finally answered. “I put myself in them so that my brother didn’t have to. Hence why I’m in this fucking situation and he’s… I don’t know.” I massaged my face, kicking myself for saying so much but I needed to say it, I needed them to understand. “What I need you guys to get is that I do those things and that, yes, sometimes, shit happens.”

                “Like with that Hydra soldier,” remarked Bucky. “Twice”

                I shrugged, “That’s another story… But I’m a front line person, who usually has the situation under control, so I just need to know you’ll let me do what I need to do. I put myself in danger so others don’t have to, because I know I can get out of those situations. And if things actually do fuck up, I know one of you will be there.” I breathed deeply, staring intently at the snow. “Like you were.”

                “Honestly, Kid, that’s the most I’ve heard you talk.”

                I sighed, rolling my eyes. How did I not hear them coming? I glanced back to where the rest of the group was standing. “How much did you hear?” I grumbled.

                Jim held up the radio as he answered, “All of it, Kid.”

                I turned back towards Bucky, giving him a look. “I thought you didn’t know how to use that,” I remarked, motioning to the radio still in his hand.

                “I never turned it off,” he answered with a smirk. “Believe me, everyone needed this.”

                “Fuck you,” I muttered, pushing myself up and, not even half way up, someone gently grabbed my left arm, helping up the rest of the way. I didn’t even have to look at the person to know who it was. “Thanks, Steve,” I mumbled.

                “You’re part of the team, Ed,” said Steve as we began to walk further away from the Hydra base. “You’re the most stubborn part of this team; that I have to admit.”

                I finally looked up at him. “Really? You want to have this discussion? On who’s the most stubborn between the two of us?”

                “You, Kid,” answered some of the men behind us and I turned around and gave them a look.

                I faintly heard Steve and Bucky chuckle next to me and I rolled my eyes. Unbelievable…

                “Let’s get to the plane,” stated Steve, leading the way.

                “PLANE?!”

Chapter Text

 

December 1943 –S.S.R. Headquarters – London, England

"Thanks, Peggy," I muttered as I glanced around the medical room.

Peggy nodded tightly. "You have complete access to the equipment in here. Though I wish you'd let a doctor look at your injury."

I motioned towards Steve. "He's good, I promise."

Peggy didn't even look in Steve's direction as she gave another tight nod. "If you are sure. Good day, gentlemen."

And she left, the door nearly slamming shut behind her.

"She's still mad at you," I remarked, looking up at Steve. "Still not telling me why?"

He returned my stare. "Only if you share as well. This has to go both ways, Ed."

Oh… Shit. I bit the insides of my cheeks, thinking it over. On one hand, I would finally know how Steve fucked up and Steve would maybe ease up on getting me to share. On the other hand, he did spill the information on Al to the others…

"Can we agree what is said here actually stays here or wherever we're going later?" I asked, going to cross my arms and regretting the action as it sent jolts of pain through my system. I added the second part because Steve and Bucky wanted to talk afterwards, most likely about what happened but… One thing at a time. "Unlike your knowledge on Al," I mentioned as an afterthought.

I could see the physical guilt wash over Steve just as I finished saying those words. "That… I apologize for, Ed. I was out of line in bringing that up. I – I was just so frustrated."

Oh… And… "That was my fault," I said out loud, stuffing my hands into my pockets. "I guess we both let our tempers get the best of us."

"We'll work on that," stated Steve with a nod. "Just like we'll work on functioning like a team, knowing when to step in or back off, and when to let others handle a situation." He gave me a look on that last comment and I half-heartedly nodded.

"Yeah, I'll work on it," I agreed. "It could take a while though."

"As long as you try, Ed."

"I'll try," I repeated. "As long as you tell me why Peggy is mad at you." He actually turned red at that and I grew confused. What the hell had happened? "Steve?"

He cleared his throat, massaging the back of his neck. "Well, you see…" He sighed, hesitating a moment longer before quickly stating, "Agent Carter caught me kissing a secretary."

That sentence didn't register in my mind until a couple of heartbeats later. He…? Steve…? "What the fuck did you do?" I cried in disbelief.

"Ed, language."

"Oh no." I shook my head. "This deserves heavy swearing. You kissed a secretary?! But I thought you liked Peggy!"

He turned redder at that comment and began stuttering. "I… When…? How…? ED!"

I couldn't help it anymore and I began chuckling at his situation as I managed to say. "I'm not the only one who talks while sleeping."

Steve just stared at me, his mouth opening and closing in disbelief. With a final sigh, he looked defeated, shaking his head.

"You should apologize if you want a chance with her," I remarked, hoping onto the examination table. "You never know with women and you already fucked up so you don't have much to lose anymore. Now," I began yanking my gloves off, "arm. It's still giving me trouble…"

I continued with my sweater, taking it off all while trying to not move my right arm too much. I thankfully always wore a loose tank top under my shirts: an easy way to keep my gender a secret from the others. Just as long as Steve doesn't need me to take that tank top off, I'll be fine. Once that was taken care of, I glanced to the side, at Steve, and caught him staring.

What was surprising about his staring was that it did not stop on my automail but also ventured towards my left arm as well.

Hopefully nothing else was showing…

I discreetly glanced down, pretending to flick a piece of lint off my tank top. Well, thankfully my chest seemed flat and I hoped he didn't see anything more than he should because of the serum…

"Ed, what happened?" he finally asked, his voice soft, barely above a whisper.

I looked back at him, confused. "You're going to have to be more specific than that," I countered.

"You're covered in scars."

Oh… I had actually forgotten about my scars, even back in Amestris, I never really paid attention to them. I glanced at my left arm, turned pale from so many months being covered up. The fine lines of scars were barely visible but I guess super-soldier serum affected eyesight as well.

"Fights," I answered. It wasn't a lie: most of the scars were from someone swinging something sharp in my direction. My automail always took the brunt of the attacks but my left arm usually suffered some damage.

Steve didn't answer as he continued to stare at the scars, his gaze moving to the large on next to me shoulder port.

"Are you going to stare all day or can you find those stupid wires? The ones I told you could be stuck in the plates?" I asked, turning around on the table, placing my back towards Steve. I didn't hear him move so I tugged the fabric away from my port at my back. "You can stare at the scars as you're looking for the wires. It still hurts."

I guess mentioning that I was in pain got Steve to quickly move closer, to finally do something about those fucking wires.

As he fiddled around my shoulder port, he softly asked. "Just how many fights exactly?"

I scoffed. "Too many too keep track of. You aren't the only one with a problem about not running away."

Steve didn't answer that and we stayed quiet for some time after. I stared at the wall in front of me, hoping that Steve was able to fix the wires. I didn't have much of a plan B if he couldn't and my stomach churned just trying to come up with one. The only other option I had was Howard and… I wasn't sure how he would react to seeing the automail or if he would keep it quiet. I wasn't sure how deep his loyalties to the S.S.R. were and I wasn't ready to find out.

Finally, Steve muttered, "I think I got them."

I sat straighter and slowly rotated my arm. No sudden jolts of pain. I moved it even more, happy that the problem did seem resolved. The tightness from the worry finally dissolved and I felt myself relax, slouching.

"Thanks, Steve," I said, turning towards him. "It feels much better."

However, he was frowning slightly as he stared at my automail. "It sounds metallic now," he noticed. "It's squeaking."

Oh… When was the last time…? Maybe because of all the layers I wore, I didn't hear it like I normally did. "It needs oiling, I guess. It's been a while."

Thankfully, I always carried a small bottle of oil. I hopped off the table and went for my bag, rummaging through it until I pulled it out.

"I wondered what that was," remarked Steve. "I thought it was medicine."

I shrugged. "Close enough: medicine for mechanical limbs."

Steve held out his hand. "Want me to get the back of your shoulder?"

I froze at the question. No one apart from Winry and Pinako had ever oiled my automail. Not even Al had because of his larger hands… Larger hands in the suit of armour…

How did I feel about Steve doing it?

He seemed to sense my hesitation as he slowly lowered his hand. "Oh, well, I don't have to –"

"It's fine," I said, making up my mind and handing him the bottle.

They had wanted me to start trusting them and I had agreed on trying. This would be something, right? Oiling my automail didn't seem like a lot but… as I said, only Winry and Pinako had ever oiled it if I hadn't done it in a while.

Steve seemed taken aback for a moment but he still took the bottle and opened it.

I sat back down on the table, my back to him and he began dabbing the oil at the joints. It seemed to have been going well until I heard an "Oh no." from him.

"What happened?"

"Uh… Your tank top… Um… Oil spilled on it."

Shit… That'll soak through my shirt and, since the S.S.R. hadn't given me completely black shirts, only off white or cream coloured, it'll definitely show… I won't hear the end of the questions.

"It's fine," I huffed. "I have another one. I'll use this one to wipe off the excess."

I took the oil bottle back from Steve and I quickly finished the process, standing and heading for my bag again. This time, however…

Steve could NOT stay.

I turned towards him, my extra tank top in hand. "I think you've ogled my body enough for today, Steve. Out."

He seemed startled by my statement, even turning red around the ears. "I – I… That's not… I…" He suddenly turned around and headed for the door. "I'll meet you at the main lobby, alright?"

I nodded, motioning for him to get out, which he quickly did. Thankfully.

With that, I nodded to myself, pleased with myself. He won't ask questions with the excuse I came up with. Seeing him turn red like that was a bonus. It was still amazing that, for the last six months I had spent with Steve, he never found out –

"Gentlemen, sorry to interrupt but –"

I stared at Peggy. She stared at me. Both frozen.

Holy fuck…

Her gaze. To my face. My arm. The tank tops in my hand. The bindings around my chest.

I don't know if my legs gave out on their own or if my reaction has become throwing myself on the ground behind the nearest object. This time being the table.

I sat there, frozen, trying to breathe. Peggy will know… She'll tell the others. She'll tell Steve. Shit… He'll be mad that I kept it a secret for so long.

I'll –

The door shut and locked. Then I heard her heels clicking against the tiles, heading… in my direction. I gripped the tank tops closer to me, trying to cover the bindings. It was futile though… She had seen them.

Maybe I can play it off as a wound? Maybe –

"Ma'am?" Her voice cut through the little hope I had been holding onto. Fucking shit… She figured it out.

Peggy was standing over me, her arms crossed, staring down at me, a questioning look on her face. That raised eyebrow was definitely a question for an explanation.

"Ever – ever heard of knocking?" I managed to utter.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps. I've also heard of Edward being used as a male name. And a limb that was not encased in steel."

I cleared my throat. "Limbs. And they're fully made of a mixture of aluminum and carbon fiber. Just so we're clear."

"Just so we're clear?" repeated Peggy, raising an eyebrow. "Out of all that, the composition of your metal limbs is what we're clearing up?"

I stood, pulling on my tank top and the sweater as I said, "Yeah, because I need to get to Steve before he decides to come back and finds us in a room alone."

Peggy stared at me and I could tell that she was thinking it over. The moment I had my coat on, Peggy sighed, shaking her head. "Fine, I'll let you get your way for now but we are talking later, Ed… Well, I should still be calling you Edward," she thought, her lips pinched.

"Evelyn when we're alone," I offered. "If you want," I added quickly.

Peggy sighed, nodding once more. "Fine, Evelyn," she replied, waving me off. "You can go but we are discussing this later."

I nodded back, unlocking the door. Before I opened it, I turned back towards her for a moment. "You – you aren't going to tell anyone, are you?"

"Your secret is safe with me for the moment, Evelyn. After our discussion, as to your reasons…"

My eyes widened at that. She – she couldn't tell the others, not yet. "Peggy, believe me, it was never to purposely trick any of you. I don't care if I am seen as a man or a woman but you and I both know that women do not have the same privileges and rights as men. I wouldn't be able to help Steve if they knew I was a woman. Please believe me, Peggy."

She massaged her head, nodding. "We'll talk about this and I won't tell anyone. Now go."

"Thank you, Peggy," I breathed out, opening the door and running down the corridor.

I only slowed down a couple of corridors away as it finally caught up to me that I screwed up by not paying attention to my surroundings, by not making sure the damn door was LOCKED! Peggy now knew about my secrets, my multiple secrets…She hadn't seemed to happy about the matter and I couldn't help but worry that she may tell the others… Was she mad? Was she disappointed? Am I going to be kicked off the team because of this?

So many questions went through my head, so many fears…

"Ed?"

I turned around in surprise, spotting Steve and Bucky further back. I was so lost in thought I had completely bypassed them! They shared a look before they made their way towards me. "Everything alright, Ed?" wondered Steve.

I nodded. "Fine, all fine. So where are we going?" I asked quickly, trying to change the subject.

The two of them shared a look once more and it bugged me that I couldn't seem to keep much from them. That realization made my heart hammer in my chest. What if they found out about my gender? What if Bucky found out about my limbs? What if they already knew about them? What –?

"Alright, let's go grab something to eat," suggested Bucky, pulling a knitted hat from his pocket and – I still can't believe I wasn't fast enough – pulled it over my head and patted it. "It started snowing," he explained, pulling out another one and putting it on his own head. "Seeing as we don't have Steve's high body temperature, we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way."

I didn't get that expression but I nodded anyway, adjusting the… new hat. Even with my gloves it felt new. I didn't have time to say anything as Steve and Bucky headed out and I didn't have much choice but to follow them.

Bucky was right when he said it had started snowing… Thankfully the snow on this side of the Gate hadn't reached the amount similar to the blizzard at Briggs and I would be very happy if it stayed that way as well.

I followed them through the streets of London until they finally decided on… a pub if I read the sign in front properly. I wasn't too sure what a pub was exactly but as long as they had food, I didn't really care.

Once inside, the two of them decided on a booth, sliding onto the bench on one side while I took the other. For some reason, that made Bucky chuckle and he said, "Hold on," getting up and moving next to me instead. "There," he added. "It doesn't look like you were sent to the principal's office because you misbehaved."

I shrugged my shoulders at that remark. I hadn't exactly been sent to the principal's office in years. To the Colonel's office is another story. "That I'm used to," I replied.

"Being sent to the principal's office?" wondered Steve with some surprise. "Though, that does make sense."

I scoffed. "So, what –?"

"Evening, gents." A young woman came to our table, staring at all of us with a sly smile on her face. "What can I get you?"

Bucky smiled up at her. "Two beers would be great, thanks."

She nodded at him, giving him a wink before turning her attention to me. "And for you, golden sunshine? I don't know what you did to your hair but I love the colour!"

I felt my face heat up at the compliment. "It's… Uh… Natural," I managed to stutter out in an American accent. Thankfully, my practicing was paying off… I don't think I sounded too bad as an American. I hope. Well, the waitress didn't go into a panic so that's a good sign, right?

The waitress, meanwhile, leaned in closer, staring at me intently. "Bullocks!" she cursed – I think she cursed, that sounded very British – as she shook her head, actually reaching out and playing with the strands. "What I wouldn't give for a colour like that! It would look wonderful long!" My stuttering was getting worse by the moment at her – her flirting! Why can't I ever figure out someone is flirting with me until it becomes WAY to obvious! "You should grow it out! You look like someone who'd look wonderful with long hair! You have the right cheek –"

"He'll have a soda pop," cut in Bucky quickly even though I did hear a slight laugh from his direction.

The waitress played one more time with my hair and, with a sigh, nodded. "I'll be right back with your drinks, gents. Let me know if you want any food," and she gave us a wink, "or anything else."

My face turned even redder at that and I unconsciously brought my hands to my face, covering it and trying to massage the red away.

"You do seem to have difficulties with girls flirting with you, Ed," remarked Steve with a smile.

"You're one to talk, Steve," I snapped back with a sigh, leaning my head against the table. "I do remember how red you got when the chorus girls surrounded you."

Steve didn't respond to that statement so I glanced in his direction. He had turned away, his face now red as well and I smirked at my success. I turned even more to face Bucky next to me, to share in that success but… Bucky wasn't paying attention. He looked deep in thought, staring in the direction the waitress had gone off. I frowned in confusion, wondering what was going on.

Steve seemed to have noticed his friend's change of demeanour as he said, "At least she flirted with you as well this time!"

Bucky snapped out of his state, staring at his friend confused. Why… Why would he be confused? "Yeah," he finally replied, shaking his head before quickly continuing, "yeah, she did. Not as invisible as with Agent Carter." He even smiled at the end but, from my point of view, it didn't look too genuine.

That confused me even more. What's bugging Bucky? Did I miss something while I was embarrassed with the flirting?

"Bottoms up, gents!"

The waitress had returned with our drinks, placing them in front of us. She sent us another flirtatious smile before sauntering off, reminding us that if we were hungry or if we needed anything else to call for her.

Steve raised his beer and we cheered to a 'successful' mission before taking a sip. Well, this soda pop was alright. It was sugary but I was fine with it for the moment. Anything was better than beer as the smell reminded me of the night I got drunk as well as the hungover the following day…

"So, Ed," began Steve, putting his mug down. "Did you know that Hydra soldier?"

Well, he hit the nail on the head and he did VERY quickly… Something I wasn't too happy about. I thought I would possibly have some time or I could possibly avoid the conversation all together but with Bucky blocking my only way out, I didn't have many choices. None really except for not answering at all – which I'm sure neither of them will let me do.

Assholes...

"Ed?"

I sighed, massaging my face. I didn't have much of an appetite for anything anymore... And I had wanted to try this fish and chips these English people keep raving on about… "Yeah. I did know him," I muttered.

"And...?" Wondered Bucky, trying to get a look at my face.

"And it didn't go well last time either," I continued slowly, hoping they wouldn't pry further.

"What happened last time?" Asked Steve and I had to hold back a groan. They didn't seem like they were going to give up any time soon. "Ed, we just want to help, you know that, right?"

I bit the insides of my cheeks to keep myself from answering sarcastically. They really were just trying to help... And... Well, our last mission hadn't gone well because nobody actually trusted anybody – namely me – so I should probably start showing these men that they could trust me.

"A year and a half ago. That's when I last saw him. He... He was threatening my brother and my childhood friend." The two of them stayed quiet as they waited for me to continue. I sighed, massaging my head. "I stayed behind to give them and others a chance to get away. I made the same mistake as this time, I let him live and it nearly cost me my life." I paused, not looking at either of them, staring intently at the wood grain of the table. I hated that I said so much but, if that's what it takes to get them off my back, so be it. However, "That's all I'm saying on that matter, it should be enough for you two…"

I kept my gaze stubbornly on the table, not wanting to know they're reaction to the story, not wanting to see the pity on their faces. I hate pity… I always have, especially when it's directed towards me.

"Is that why you went after him?" wondered Steve, softly.

Was it? Why exactly did I follow Kimblee? I should have known from last time that I could possibly not beat him. I had taken a chance that he also couldn't use alchemy, that he wasn't the Kimblee from Amestris. But, even if did have his alchemy, even if he was that Kimblee, I still would have gone after him. "I wasn't about to let him continue doing whatever the hell he wanted," I finally answered. "He's a murderer who killed too many innocent people. I wasn't going to stand back and let him get away." I felt my fists clenched tightly at the memory of the stories I heard about the Crimson Alchemist.

And how he threatened Winry.

I suddenly felt a hand rest on my shoulder and I glanced to the side, not sure if I wanted to see Bucky's reaction to the story. He squeezed my shoulder in a comforting manner and I finally looked up at him. "Well, you did do the right thing, Ed," he explained, smiling softly at me.

"Even though you did go alone," remarked Steve with a sigh. "But, Bucky's right. Just tell us next time, alright? So we can have your back."

I scoffed, nodding half-heartedly. "Fine," I muttered. "I will."

Bucky squeezed my shoulder again. "Well that's better than trying so I'll take it," he remarked with a smile.

I narrowed my eyes at him before finally glancing at the hand that was still on my shoulder. "Are you done? Or are you trying to get back at me for bruising your hand?" I also needed him to stop in case he thought this was something he could continue to do, especially if he was on my right instead of my left like today. He'd be squeezing my automail and I couldn't have that. Besides, my skin was getting hot were he was touching me…

Bucky blinked, staring at me and then at his hand before he removed it, a semblance of a smirk on his face. "At least I can control my strength, unlike someone," he teased.

I scoffed again, picking up my glass. "Go cry to Steve," I replied, taking a sip as I heard a muffled snort from Steve across the table. I caught his gaze and smirked.

Well, this went better than expected. Just one last little thing.

"Nothing said here leaves this group, got it? Or I will kick your asses."

Steve nodded, raising his mug towards me and Bucky followed moments after. I eyed both of them before raising my glass as well. I hope it really does stay between us this time around.

Later that night

"Goodnight Steve," called out Bucky as the three of us reached the fork in the corridors of the London barracks.

"Goodnight to both of you," he replied before placing a hand on my shoulder. "And Ed, thank you for sharing. I know it must have been a chore for you but we appreciate it."

I shrugged, not meeting his gaze. It had been a chore at first, getting the story out, to remember Baschool and Amestris but… I can't say I felt like I made a mistake telling them.

Just as long as they don't tell the others.

"Not everyday though," I mumbled, finally looking up at him.

"Whenever you feel like it, we'll listen, right Bucky?" Steve glanced towards his friend who nodded quickly in agreement.

"Definitely," added Bucky.

Steve smiled, patting me one last time before bidding us goodnight and walking towards his room. I'm still jealous he gets a room all to himself: Bucky, myself and the rest of the team had to be split amongst the rooms filled with cots that housed the other soldiers. If anything good came out of this horrible situation was that I was in the same room as Bucky at least.

From what I had gathered, he had insisted. That had puzzled me and I scratched my head to… Hat. My new hat. It's true…

"Bucky," I started, looking up at him as we continued to walk down the corridor, "I didn't thank you for the hat before so… thanks."

Bucky smiled down at me as he replied, "It was nothing, Ed. I had noticed you didn't have a good, thick one when we were on the mission so I went and bought one. Really, it's nothing."

"It's new, that's what it is," I specified. "And new isn't cheap. It's not nothing, Bucky, so thank you. I'll repay you –"

"Oh no you don't, Ed. It's a gift. Your thanks is good enough so let's leave it at that."

But I couldn't. I knew soldiers weren't paid a lot and the fact that Bucky would spend that money on me… I couldn't just let it be! "But, Bucky –"

"Ed, if you still want us to believe you aren't the most stubborn member of this team, you'll need to let this go," remarked Bucky with a smirk.

"But –!"

Bucky huffed, stopping in his tracks as he turned towards me. "Repay me with a thank you and a smile, that's all I ask for."

I stared at him in surprise at his request. He couldn't be serious.

Could he?

He raised an eyebrow, still staring, waiting. He even crossed his arms. Okay… He was serious about his request. I blinked in surprise once more before sighing. "Fine," I muttered, breathing deeply. "Thank you, Bucky," I said, smiling up at him.

He smiled back, ruffling my hair and kept walking. "See, wasn't that hard," he remarked, laughing at the curses that flew out of my mouth because of his action. Why do people always insist on ruffling my hair?! Why can't they just stop?!

I ran after him, still cursing and him still laughing at the situation. He laughed even after I whacked his arm which only seemed to make him laugh harder. I huffed, stuffing my hands into my pockets, giving up on trying to get him to stop…

When Bucky and I entered the room, I immediately spotted the rest of our group standing near my cot. I frowned, confused. What the hell where they doing there? Especially considering only Dum Dum had a cot in this room with Bucky and myself. Monty spotted us and smacked Dum Dum on the arm, catching the others' attention.

As they turned towards us, they all looked hesitant. Great… Is it because of the mission? I thought it had gone better after the stunt Bucky pulled with the radio. What's wrong this…?

I had reached my cot and my heart dropped at the sight, all the warmth I had felt during the evening vanishing. My bag…

Whatever was left of it…

"Kid, it'll be alright, we'll –"

Anger boiled within me and I kicked my bag away, ignoring Dum Dum's words. It slammed against the wall, sliding down pathetically with pieces of my clothes falling around it, shredded.

"Ed, what…?" Bucky came up next to me, the rest of his sentence dying in his throat as he stared at what remained of my few belongings. "Ed…"

"Leave it," I grumbled, yanking the sheets off my cot and curses flew out of my mouth. The entire mattress was soaked and it smelled horrible. I didn't even want to know what they used…

"Kid, come on, there's an extra cot in the other room," explained Dum Dum, placing a hand on my shoulder, trying the steer me away.

Anger kept simmering within me and I knew if I stayed here, I'd bow up on the others. I wrenched myself away from Dum Dum and bolted from the room.

Why did I think it was starting to go well? Why did I even humour that idea? How could I have been so stupid?

I slammed against the door of the barracks, stumbling outside into the snow-covered streets of London. I breathed deeply, staring up at the sky and I couldn't stop the tears that prickled in my eyes.

I just want to go home...

Bucky watched as Ed left, motioning for the rest of the team to stay back. Bucky knew Ed would hate it if they followed right away. The look on Ed's face said it all… Bucky sunk onto his cot, massaging his face as he sighed in frustration. Whatever progress Steve and himself had made that evening just got thrown out the window because of this fiasco. There seemed to have such a deep mistrust in Ed and Bucky had hoped to remedy that… He thought he had started the mend but... With the soldiers' actions, everything may have been for naught.

"I'm so sorry, Ed. You don't deserve this," he mumbled under his breath as he got up, wanting to go after his teammate.

Chapter Text

Christmas Break

                I breathed deeply, standing outside the apartment complex’s door. Today was the day I was talking to Peggy about… well, almost everything actually. She found out about my limbs and my gender in one fell swoop Thankfully, she’s kept her promise about not saying anything to the others because no one has come to my door looking for answers.

                At least I have a door now. When Steve had found out about my things, his first instinct was to go school every single soldier in the barracks save our group. I thankfully convinced him to back off. Mostly because of out talk at the pub the other night. And this was exactly a moment he needed to back the fuck off. Even if it would have been such a treat to see the soldiers wet themselves with Steve’s scolding… Instead however, he had given me his room and as he now used a cot in the common areas with the rest of the team.

                My stubbornness for that action was barely there at that time, all too happy to get a place to myself with a door that locked on top of everything.

                Pride be damned.

                However, I needed to focus once more on the task at hand: talking to Peggy. Why did that simple task seem so much more daunting than storming a Hydra base?

                I couldn’t ponder that thought anymore when the door opened and Peggy stood on the other side, an eyebrow raised in my direction.

                “I got tired of waiting upstairs for you,” she explained, holding the door open for me. “And good evening, Edward.”

                I swallowed down my fear, managing to utter a reply a “good evening” as I entered the building.

                She led me up the stairwell to her apartment and, once inside, she motioned towards the small table where two cups of tea were already waiting. We took a seat, me immensely more hesitant than Peggy.

                She stared intently at me before she finally asked, “So, Evelyn, was it?”

                I nodded slowly, keeping my gaze locked on the cup in front of me, unable to look at her anymore.

                “And from what I have gathered, none of the others are aware of this?” I shook my head. “Not even the Captain?”

                “Limbs,” I mumbled. “He knows about my limbs but not that I’m female.”

                “I see. And why exactly are you masquerading at a man?”

                I sighed, massaging my face. “I never actually had a problem being seen as a male or female. I just don’t care. But…” The image of Dr. Erskine came to mind, making me swallow with difficulty. “But, travelling with Dr. Erskine and the condition I was in… I couldn’t risk it, Peggy. I couldn’t risk someone thinking we were easy targets because one of us is female. You and I are all too aware how much men take us for granted, how we’re brushed aside, seen as weak. I’m already unliked for my age and nationality. If they knew I was female on top of everything…”

                I finally looked up at Peggy and her hard stare had softened. She stayed quiet for a moment before nodding, a sigh escaping her lips. “All true points, Evelyn, and I say that with a heavy heart. However, wouldn’t it be easier for you now? To stop lying to them?”

                I shook my head. “Not with what happened last mission… Too much talk about trusting each other or the lack thereof… I don’t feel like they’ll want me if I tell them I’m female, that I’ve been lying to them.”

                “You don’t know that. Especially not with… with Steve.”

                Her hesitation saying his name had a smirk pulling at my lips despite the nerves.

                “I can’t risk it, Peggy. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

                Peggy sighed again before taking a sip of her tea. It looked like she was debating with herself but nothing would change.

                Not for now.

                “Peggy. I’ll tell them but not now, not with our missions to take down Hydra,” I suggested, hoping that the compromise would be good enough for Peggy. For the moment.

                “Alright, I’ll indulge you in this ruse, Evelyn. However, I will hold you to your word. You will tell those men when Hydra is shut down.”

                I nodded in agreement tightly but I was ready for something similar. It as really the idea of telling them I was a girl and their reaction that sent knots to my stomach.

                What if… what if I lost them because of this? What if I lost Steve?

                That last question was new to me. Actually, the entire concept was new. Back home, I didn’t care if others saw me as male or female and when the truth came out, I shrugged off their shocked faces.

                Here, however, with these men that I barely know I…

                I’ve grown attached. Shit, I –

                “Would you like to stay for dinner, Evelyn?”

                Peggy’s sudden question jerked me out of my thoughts, my shocking thoughts. But I couldn’t…

                “Sorry, Peggy, I already ate and the others are gathering for a… Chris… Christmist celebration?”

                The moment I glanced at Peggy, I could tell I fucked up. Her gaze was confused as she stared at me, midway to picking up her tea cup.

                “Christmas, Evelyn. You do know what that is, correct?”

                Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Stupid thing on this side of the Gate. What the fuck was Christmas anyway? Was it that important that not knowing it would be considered weird?

                Maybe I should have asked Steve more when his response was that it happened on December 25ht… At the same time, he’s already found many things I don’t know to be confusing, I don’t want to add to the list with this Christmas thing.

                “Did you not celebrate Christmas, Evelyn?”

                “Uh…”

                “Do you know what it is?”

                “Well…”

                Peggy looked even more confused but her next words sent a wave of relief over me. “It’s a shame you weren’t able to celebrate it with your family in your hometown when you were younger, Evelyn.”

                Okay, she assumed we didn’t get to celebrate this Christmas. Maybe I can work with that. Didn’t celebrate it, don’t know what it meant to celebrate it. Covers most bases, no?

                “No… I guess we didn’t. Never really did.”

                Peggy sighed again, putting her cup down. “Alright, you should go see your team. Celebrate it as least once.”

                “What about you?”

                She glanced around for a moment before answering. “I’ll be here. Maybe I’ll get some work done.”

                Peggy doesn’t show emotions very often and with that statement, I caught the slightest bit of… defeat. After all our talk and how she’s keeping my secret, it was obvious what I was going to do.

                “Want to come with me?”

                She looked genuinely surprised by the suggestion, as if it never crossed her mind that she could possibly go.

                “The team won’t say no,” I continued. “Well, I’ll make sure they won’t have a problem with it.”

                “Evelyn, I don’t know if –”

                “Peggy, you get to celebrate Christmas as well. And not alone for that matter.”

                Peggy pursed her lips, glancing around her apartment for a moment before nodding. “Alright, let me get changed and we’ll head out.”

                That was easy. 


 

                Half and hour later, I was holding the door open for Peggy before following her into the bar the group had chosen for the celebration. We glanced around for a moment and, in that brief amount of time, many men had stopped, stared, and even catcalled Peggy.

                Not cool…

                Flirting is one thing. This however, this wasn’t flirting and that pissed me off.

                “Ed! Over here!”

                In the corner of the bar stood the team, already celebrating with beer in their hands.

                “Agent Carter! What a surprise!” exclaimed Dum Dum as he greeted us. “Couldn’t keep you away from us, now could we?”

                Peggy shook her head, a smile spreading. “You have Edward to thank for inviting me.”

                Dum Dum overtly winked in my direction before focusing his attention back on Peggy. “Can I buy you a drink then, Agent Carter?”

                “That’s kind of you, Private,” she responded.

                “Think nothing of it. It’s on the Cap’s tab anyway.”

                Peggy and I glanced in Steve’s direction who seemed to have heard his title and turned towards Dum Dum’s voice. The moment he spotted Peggy, he froze, eyes wide and cheeks turning red. What the hell is wrong with him? I continued watching Steve as Bucky came up next to him and nudged him. Bucky followed Steve’s gaze until he noticed Peggy and myself and he smiled. He shoved Steve a few times before both of them began walking in our direction.

                Why was Bucky so happy?

                “Agent Carter! How are you tonight?” asked Bucky with an overly bright smile.

                “Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers,” replied Peggy with a nod. “I’m doing well, thank you.”

                “That is wonderful, isn’t it, Steve?”

                “Uh… Yes, yes, it is,” stuttered Steve. “It’s – It’s… Uh… You look nice… good… Uh…”

                Peggy stared at him for a moment until I noticed a faint curve of her lips. Was she trying to smile? To hide her smile?

                Was this whole situation a good idea with what had happened between the two of them? I had wondered if Steve had gotten around to talking to Peggy about the kiss but I guess he hadn’t.

                “Thank you, Captain,” she finally responded.

                “Come on, Ed, I wan to show you something,” stated Bucky all of a sudden.

                I looked up in confusion. “Show me what?”

                Bucky already had an arm around my shoulders and was pulling me. “Doesn’t matter, really,” he muttered, leaning in close.

                “Then why are you –?”

                “Something important then,” cut in Bucky with a sigh and an eye roll, pulling me even more.

                “Fine, fine, shove off!” I grumbled, shrugging his arms off my shoulders. He didn’t give up, putting his arm right back until we were at the bar.

                “Hey team!” called out Bucky to the others, a huge smile on his face. “Who wants to see Ed drunk again?”

                A very loud and distinct group of “No”s was heard amongst the cheers of agreement, specifically from Peggy, Steve, and myself. That got a good laugh out of Bucky as he took a seat at the bar, motioning for me to do the same.

                “Are you sure, though? You do make for a funny drunk,” remarked Bucky.

                “Hilarious. You won’t see me drunk again. Ever.”

                “Shame but I’m sure you’ll change your mind, Ed.”

                “Doubtful,” I muttered but I did take a seat on the stool next to Bucky.

                “One step closer,” he chuckled, nudging me and catching the attention of the bartender.

                I eyed him darkly. “Don’t you dare.”

                “Just one drink won’t hurt,” he replied with a laugh, ordering two beers.

                “A drink won’t but I will hurt you.”

                Bucky continued laughing, not even taking my threat close too seriously. I rolled my eyes, ignoring the drink placed in front of me. “So, what was so important that you needed to show me?”

                Bucky eyed me for a moment before looking back at where we had left Steve and Peggy. I followed his gaze, noticing that they were talking and smiling at each other. Oh…

                Why hadn’t I realized?

                “Sneaky bastard,” I muttered, turning back towards the bar.

                “Honestly, not really. You should just try to catch on to those things a little faster, Ed. You’re supposed to be the smart one, no?” He held up his beer in my direction. “So, for that reason, cheers and drink up. It’s Christmas as well, even more reason.”

                “I told you no, no matter what you say about my intelligence. You’re just wasting your money.”

                “Well, to be honest, you’re wasting Steve’s money since it is on his tab. And also, it’ll just be a 2nd one for me if you really refuse to drink it.”

                Well then… I slid the beer in his direction to which he pushed it right back.

                “Not now, of course! I need to finish this one first. Until then, that one is all yours. Now cheers.” He was still holding out his beer towards me, waiting with a cheeky smile at his lips. I didn’t move as I continued to stare at him. “Ed, honestly, with the amount of beer you drank last time, one beer will barely get you tipsy. If getting drunk is your fear, one beer won’t do that and I’ll personally make sure you don’t get yourself drunk. How about that?”

                I eyed the beer in front of me, debating internally. No, the hangover had not been pleasant but the parts of the night I do remember were fun. And I do clearly remember Dum Dum pointing out the amount of alcohol I had drunk would have put him in a corner, passed out, at my age.

                Thank you serum…

                Also… I could trust Bucky. He had joked about getting me drunk but… I didn’t believe him. That’s all it was: a joke.

                I sighed, staring intently at the beer for a moment longer before grabbing it. “Cheers, you pushy bastard.”

                He laughed and there was a resounding clang of glasses as ours and a third one knocked together. Dum Dum had snuck in on my other side, laughing loudly. “That’s the spirit, Kid!”

                Bucky laughed and I couldn’t help but crack a smile as well. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad.

 

Chapter Text

 

January 22 nd , 1944

Let me say one thing: war isn't fun. It's probably a universal truth, a widely known fact but, it really hits home when bombs are falling from the sky, directed at the city.

It hits home when you're running for your life amongst the chaos of screaming civilians.

Even more when the soldiers running next to you don't have a better idea of what to do against an enemy you can't see nor reach.

All this had started sometime after 8:30 at night. I was just getting back to the barracks after having spent most of the afternoon and evening with Howard in his lab, helping him out with his projects. I had called it quits around 8 o'clock, caving into a growling stomach that just would not stop.

I was just passed the entrance of the barracks when the first bomb hit.

The first thing is utter confusion. Soldiers milling around the area glanced around and at each other, each wondering what had just happened and what they should do.

The second explosion got them running.

Orders were called out and soldiers began streaming towards the exit, right towards me. I managed to dodge to the side just in time, watching as they ran outside, trying to discern some of the words they were yelling at each other. It was still too hard though… Casual talk was fine but frantic yelling, a mixture of American and British accents, was undiscernible for me still.

I stayed plastered to the wall a little while longer until another bomb hit nearby and I realized I couldn't stay inside: it just wouldn't be safe.

I followed the soldiers outside, looking around, hoping to spot one of the members of Cap's team. It was a fruitless attempt when I realized the soldiers were now mixing with civilians.

"Get to the tunnels! To the tube!"

Tunnels, tunnels. There were tunnels in the city? Tunnels that were…

Oh! The underground transportation tunnels!

I ran alongside soldiers and civilians alike, knowing they would have a better idea of where the entrance to those tunnels where they I would. I followed up until one of the children of the family next to me tripped. I barely broke stride, reaching out to the young boy and yanked him to his feet. He stumbled, his legs buckling under him. Without a second thought, I hauled him onto my back and caught up to the family, the father reaching out to his boy.

"Bless you!" cried out the mother, tears in her eyes as she held onto the hands of her other two children.

I just nodded, handing the boy over. We were almost at the entrance of the tunnels when the boy began crying out, his face twisted in horror, tears streaming down his face. What he was yelling was incomprehensible to my ears but the parents must have understood something as they looked around the ground frantically.

"His toy, where is it?" gasped out the mother.

A toy?! I glanced back at where the boy had fallen, spotting something there.

"I'll grab it. Get to safety!" I yelled out, already running towards the toy, ignoring the surprised looks the parents shared.

I skidded as I crouched, grabbing the stuffed toy and turning heel in one quick movement. I couldn't believe that I actually went back for this thing but… the boy looked devastated. I wasn't about to let that happen and do nothing about it…

I spotted the parents disappear down the stairs that led to the tunnels and I picked up the pace. I was several meters away when a bomb landed on the nearby building, sending it crumbling to the ground. I dived out of the way, using my momentum to roll to safety, kneeling behind a car as the dust settled.

I breathed deeply, trying to calm my racing heart, leaning my head back against the car.

That had been close. Too close…

I got up, glancing towards… I cursed out as the entrance of the tunnels was completely buried underneath the rubble of the building.

Near the blocked access, soldiers were already motioning to the few remaining civilians in the direction of the next closest tunnel. They knew better than I did and for that reason, I stuffed the toy into my bag and followed the civilians and soldiers.

We ran for a while more, through the chaotic streets of London. I kept an eye out and an ear peeled for anymore signs of bombs from the overhead aircrafts.

And I heard it before it impacted nearby. I stumbled to the side as another bomb exploded across the street. I glanced up in time to see the building start to collapse onto itself and my heart sank. That was an apartment complex. People, families lived in there. I desperately hoped most of them had evacuated by now…

"Watch out!"

The cry came from a soldier directed to his colleagues as they ran away from the crumbling building. Most of them looked like they would make it away in time.

One didn't.

My legs were running before I even processed a decision. He wasn't looking back. He was more focused on pointing his colleagues in the right direction, to trying to get them away. He didn't see the slab of concrete falling directly in the direction he was heading in.

He would be crushed.

Instead, I tackled him out of the way and I felt the slab hit the ground behind us, lifting dust and rubble high into the air. The soldier and I rolled across the street thanks to the momentum of the tackle, finally stopping near the opposite sidewalk.

I coughed out, trying to not breath in the dust that surrounded us. The soldier was in a similar situation, groaning as well. My tackle had probably not been the softest…

"You alright?" I coughed out groggily, looking up at him.

He nodded, pushing himself up. "Yeah, I –" Fuck… The moment he took a good look at me, he froze, his eyes wide in shock. Great, he's going to cause a scene and –

"George! You're alive!"

Another two soldiers joined us, looks of relief on their faces even as they were hunched over, out of breath. They glanced towards me, also sending me surprised stares.

"I know, I know," I began, getting up and already backing away, hands in the air in surrender, hoping they understood I wasn't a threat to them, "I'm leaving. You don't need –"

"Thank you."

It was my turn to be surprised. Did I hear him correctly? Did the soldier that I tackled actually… thank me? He must have hit his head because this –

"Elric, right?" began one of the other soldiers. I hesitantly nodded, my guard still up and ready to leave at the mere sign of hostility. "We saw you tackle him out of the way of the debris. Thanks to you, my brother is still alive. Thank you."

I glanced at the two men, noticing for the first time the similarities. Even as the first helped the other stand, it was glaringly obvious.

"Uh… It was nothing," I hesitantly replied, trying to suppress memories of my own brother at the moment. I didn't need to think of Al when the city was getting bombed. "Uh… really."

I didn't let the men reply to any of that, turning heel and bolting away.

That hit home more than I would have ever expected. Brothers. They had to be brothers! I had a painful reminder that I had no idea if I had even been able to save my own brother.

And… barely anybody on this side of the Gate ever thanked me. That concept had been near impossible for almost a year. It brought back so many memories of Amestris, of its people.

Of how I had gotten the title Alchemist of the people.

I did not need this painful trip down memory lane in the midst of a bombing across the entire city.

"HELP!"

I skidded to a stop at that cry, whirling around to find out where it came from.

At the base of another destroyed building, a young girl no more than 12 was crying out, looking around her frantically. Our eyes met and, even at this distance, I saw a flare of hope in them.

"Please! My father!"

I ran towards her as she motioned behind her, at the rubble. I saw a man sprawled on the ground, partially buried underneath the slabs of the collapsed building. Fuck… This could not be good. I didn't see a pool of blood around him so I hoped that he wasn't injured too badly.

I knelt next to him, trying to see if…

I swallowed my growing nausea at the memory of the beam impaling me in Baschool. If this man was impaled by something, I may not be able to stop whatever was left in my stomach from making a reappearance…

"I'll see if I can lift this and you pull him out, alright?" I suggested to the young girl and she nodded vigorously.

I took a deep breath, getting a good grip on the largest piece of rubble over the man. Back in Amestris, this would have been a long shot. However, with the serum coursing through my veins, this should be alright.

Should be.

I took one last deep breath before beginning to lift the rubble. My arms began to shake but the slab was moving off the ground and off the man. The girl grabbed onto her father and began pulling, inching him away from the pile of debris. Because of her size, it took longer than I had hoped but she managed to move him away, letting me finally drop the pile.

"Father! Father, are you alright?" cried out the girl, shaking the man's shoulder.

The man groaned, his eyes prying open slowly. "Abigail?" he breathed out painfully.

I knelt next to them, giving the man a once over. He didn't seem to have any outer injuries but he could be bleeding internally or have a broken bone.

Or several…

"We need to get underground," I stated, already reaching for the man. "Hopefully there's a doctor there that can take a look at him."

The girl, Abigail, nodded. "Yes, thank you, sir, for getting my father out."

"It's nothing. Help me lift him?"

She nodded again and, together, got the man on his feet. He groaned painfully a few times until I had a good grip on him, having most of his weight leaning on my shoulders. Abigail stood on his other side, offering whatever support she could but, seeing as she was smaller than me, the support was mostly moral.

It was a difficult trek to the tunnel entrance but we did manage to get to it and it was thankfully unaffected by the debris of fallen buildings around it. Several men spotted us from further away and ran to help me, even lifting the man amongst two of them and bringing him down the stairs. Abigail followed closely, glancing back at me for a moment and mouthing 'thank you' before disappearing down the stairs as well.

I followed more slowly, happy to finally be safe. Or as safe as these tunnels could be… As another bomb exploded, dust fell from the ceiling and the lights flickered.

Please hold up…

I walked through the masses of people, trying to spot anyone I knew, anyone from Cap's team. If I could find them, I could finally relax properly. Until then, I had to avoid the other soldiers as much as possible in case they took offense to my being there in front of all the civilians.

I didn't want to be thrown back out there…

Further down the tunnel, I didn't find anyone from the team but the family I had come across with the three children. The boy was still crying, in his mother's arms as she tried to comfort him. He couldn't be more than four…

I reached into my bag, feeling the toy. It had thankfully stayed intact and I pulled it out, heading towards the family. I stopped near the mother, catching her attention. She looked up at me, her eyes widening as she recognized me and I handed the boy his stuffed toy.

His tears stopped instantly and he cried out in joy, yanking the toy out of my hand and holding it tightly. The mother didn't stop staring until she reached out, grasping my left hand tightly, whispering 'thank you' over and over again. I smiled hesitantly at her, nodding but she hadn't let go of my hand yet. The father stood, walking up to me and patting me on the shoulder.

"That was very brave of you, lad," he stated. "We are very grateful."

"Uh… You're… It was nothing," I mumbled out, trying to keep my accent as minimal as possible.

The parents smiled, the mother squeezing my hand one more time and the father patting my shoulder before both let go.

"It was everything to our son," added the father as he returned to his other children.

I nodded hesitantly before walking away. I couldn't say what I was feeling was unease but… On this side of the Gate, thanks were something rare for me to receive. I wasn't used to it anymore. I had been proud back home helping people. Here, I felt like I didn't deserve their praise even though nothing had really changed.

I had. My mentality had.

Is this what happens when someone is systematically berated? Is this what had happened to the Ishvalans? It would make so much sense…

I walked a little more until I reached an occupied section of the tunnel wall. I leaned against it, sliding to the ground, my mind awhirl with what I was realizing.

"HEY! NAZI!" Shit… I wasn't careful on where I actually stopped it seemed. "Get out of here!" I was kicked in the ribs before I even had a chance to see who had yelled out, making me fall to the side. "Your friends are bombing us up there! Why don't you go join them?!"

I glared at the soldier and his buddies, suppressing a groan as I pushed myself back into a sitting position.

"Get lost! We –"

"Stop it!"

We all whirled towards that screeching yell that echoed through the tunnel. Standing tall – as tall as she could for her petite figure – was the girl from before, Abigail, the one who had been calling for help.

"German or not, this man saved my father! Without this man, my father would have remained buried underneath the very home I grew up in! He has every right to stay here, same as you and me!" She purposely marched towards us, stepping in between myself and the soldiers. "I will not let you lay another hand on him! He's clearly on our side, you dimwit!"

Shit… I didn't know if those soldiers were above hitting girls or not. I scurried to my feet, wanting to get in between the two glaring individuals when another voice echoed through the tunnel.

"Private, stand down, that is an order."

My eyes widened. That – that was the soldier I tackled. George, I believe his name was. In the midst of the bombing, I hadn't noticed but now, even in the dim light of the tunnels…

"First Lieutenant, sir," saluted the other soldiers.

His rank was clearly indicated on his uniform.

"I owe Elric my life and I am ordering you and any other soldier who has a problem with his being here to stand down. Have I made myself clear?"

The first soldier glanced back between George and myself several times before physically swallowing his pride and nodding tightly. George motioned for him to get going and the soldier did, storming off down the tunnel.

Meanwhile, Abigail turned around, looking up at me. "Thank you again, sir. My father and I could never be able to repay you for what you did."

I shook my head. "Just this was thanks enough, really."

She smiled at me and caught me off guard, wrapping her arms around my neck and giving me a quick hug. I didn't have time to process the action before she had already let go and was hurrying off, back to her father.

I watched her go, still shocked. A hug. Now I was sure my mental state had been affected by the constant berating I had received from everyone who hated me for my nationality. The idea of a hug never bothered me before and now, I nearly felt like I didn't deserve it…

"Elric, right? That is your name, correct?"

George, the First Lieutenant, had approached, eyeing me.

"Yes, sir," I replied carefully. "Thank you, sir."

He waved me off. "Drop the 'sir', Elric. You saved my life. George is fine."

I nodded. "Then Edward is fine as well."

"Deal." He motioned in the direction Abigail had run off to. "You seemed to have been busy after helping me. Captain America is lucky to have you on his team. Keep up the good work."

I felt heat rush to my face at the praise as I slowly nodded. George smiled warmly at me, nodding as well before turning heel and walking away, waving back at me.

I stood there, motionless for a while, unsure of what to do now. The civilians around me had slowly stopped staring, going back to their conversations which left me alone with my thoughts. It was a lot to process in such a short amount of time. I glanced at my pocket watch, realizing it was barely after 9 o'clock… Yeah, very little had passed and so many things had happened.

I massaged my face, breathing deeply. I guess my best bet was to find… I scoffed, of course. Speak of the devil. Or the sometimes-overbearing Captain. Walking down the tunnel was the team, led by none other than Steve himself. They were glancing at everyone they passed, searching…

The moment Steve lifted his gaze and caught sight of me, his shoulders visibly sagged in relief.

"Ed," breathed out Steve as he purposely walked over to me and – I am honestly still shocked about this – he pulled me into a tight hug.

Too tight…

"Steve," I gasped out. "Steve, enough!" I started hitting him with my right arm as best as I could in this awkward hold. "I said enough!"

He finally let go of me, holding me at arm lengths as he studied me. "Are you alright?"

I nodded. "Fine. I swear. Why wouldn't I be?"

"You're filthy to begin with."

"You don't look any better," I countered. And it was the truth. I wasn't sure how much dust and debris I had stuck on me but, if it was anything like Steve, we both looked horrendous.

"I'm just glad you're okay. We were all worried," he explained, motioning behind him where the other members of the team were standing. And, they did look relieved.

"You gave us quite a scare there, Kid," mentioned Dum Dum.

"I think telling you to not do that again will be futile though," added Bucky, coming up next to me and brushing off dust from my hair. "Trouble magnet you are to begin with."

I swatted his hand away, scowling at him.

"Captain?"

Steve turned around at where a group of soldiers were standing. "Soldiers. What can I do for you?"

The one in front actually nodded in my direction. "We were wondering if we could have a word with one of the members of your team. Elric to be specific."

Steve glanced back at me, a questioning look on his face. I, however, was an equal amount curious as I was weary. Hence why I nodded slowly.

The soldiers came up next to Steve as the one who had spoken first continued. "Well, to begin, thank you for watching out for the First Lieutenant. William had been there when you saved him." The soldier motioned to one of the others and I did recognize him being there with George and his brother. "We realize how you've been treated lately hasn't been… well, to put it lightly, nice. However, if the First Lieutenant, his brother, and William say your alright, then you're alright in my book as well. In all our books.

"Hence why, we'll give you a chance, a fresh start."

I stared at the men, unsure if this was an elaborate prank or not. I had to be dreaming, right? This wasn't actually happening. Was it?

"What, cat got your tongue?" joked one of the soldiers, actually smiling.

That brought me back to the present as I shook my head, confused. "A cat? What…? How can a cat –?"

That got a laugh out of some of the men. "I guess it didn't."

"What?"

"I'll explain later, Ed," put in Bucky, patting my shoulder.

He better because I still didn't see a cat in the vicinity.

Chapter Text

January 30 th , 1944 - Outside Prague, Czechoslovakia

"Captain, we're going to have to detour through Prague."

Steve did not seem to like that idea, sighing heavily as he studied the map. "I wanted to avoid going through the city," he stated, rubbing his chin. "The guerillas going on in Prague mean more Nazi and Hydra soldiers. We would need to go undercover to go unnoticed."

Bucky, who was leaning against the hood of the car, shrugged his shoulders. "Listen, Steve, it's either undercover work in Prague or the world's longest detour. We'd probably end up in another country considering how far we have to go around."

Steve nodded but he still didn't look happy about the situation. However, even though I was looking at the map upside down, leaning a little too much against the car, I could tell there was no way but through at this point. Nazis had set up camps and checkpoints to the North whilst the South was mostly a mass of mountains and peaks. It would take weeks probably to navigate through that and we didn't have that luxury, not supplies wise anyway.

Not for me specifically. I was not going to last weeks with my secret intact with what my body was telling me.

I caught Steve glancing in my direction and I wish I had a better answer for him. "Prague. It's the best way to get to the outskirts of Kutná Hora." That was the small town East of Prague where Hydra set up another factory.

I wish the S.S.R. had been able to drop us off on the East side of the country: it would have made things so much easier. But with the Nazi occupation, they were watching the skies and no plane other than German ones were getting past the capital.

"Alright," concluded Steve, straightening. "We'll go visit Prague. But this means we're leaving the cars. Bring what you can easily hide on you. Guns and ammo, hide them well in case they're watching the entrance to Prague."

Jones sighed, glancing back towards one of the cars. "I was looking forward to using my new machine gun," he whined.

"Another time, Jones," stated Steve. "Make yourselves look like civilians. We'll have to split up, to seem as inconspicuous as possible so we can cross the city fast and safely. We'll regroup here," he pointed on the map to a small town called Říčany, South-East of Prague. "You have until nightfall, got it? From there we can get some cars to get to Kutná Hora, hopefully. If not, it's at least a 10 hour walk there."

"We'll hotwire a car if necessary, Cap," added Dum Dum. "Cause that's one hell of a walk."

Steve stiffly nodded but I don't think he would be too happy with the idea of stealing a car or two from the locals. He glanced one last time at the map before folding it. "Alright, team, let's get ready."

We had agreed to time the flow of our smaller groups through the entrance of the city, to space them out just enough to not cause suspicion.

I, of course, got placed on the same team as Steve. Bucky had gone in first, followed by Monti and Jim. Jones and Dum Dum would go in last behind us.

"Hopefully this goes well," murmured Dum Dum, glancing down the lane from our hiding spot amongst the trees.

I didn't say it out loud but I'm pretty sure he just jinxed it with that comment... But that comment was at least a good distraction. Could we not get going yet?! I needed to move. Moving helped, it always had. Crouching amongst bushes was NOT a good idea for me…

"All clear." Dum Dum glanced back at Steve and myself, nodding towards us. "See you on the other side."

"Stay safe," replied Steve as we headed off, following the path towards the city.

The two of us walked in silence for a while, nearing the entrance of Prague. Damn, this already felt better… Just keep walking, don't think about it. It's fine.

Meanwhile, I glanced up at Steve, noticing how he looked relaxed but he was overtly alert to his surroundings. Unlike me… My focus was currently split and that was not a good thing.

Focus on something else. Keep my mind busy. I glanced at Steve again wondering if he had perhaps a gun, maybe two. He mainly relied on his shield anyway and that had been a feat in itself to try and hide it. We finally managed to put together pieces of wood into a square around the shield, wrapping them in pieces of fabric. It almost looked like Steve was carrying a painting and we hoped that it would fool everyone we passed.

"Hey, Ed?"

Shit, did he catch me staring? Play it off. It's fine. "Yeah?"

"I've been thinking." Hopefully good things. I didn't say anything, letting Steve continue. "Remember back in the US, when you taught me how to throw a punch?"

"How could I forget?" I replied with a chuckle which I quickly regretted. Hopefully Steve didn't notice the wince. "I don't think the owners of the gyms will ever forget it either." Because we had gone back to other gyms and, no matter how careful Steve was, once he got started on punching, he nearly always ended up busting a bag…

Steve massaged the back of his head. "Yeah. Not my best moments. But, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind continuing those lessons when we get back to London."

I glanced up at him, thinking it over. It could be a good idea to get back to training. Perhaps I could even convince him to spar with me! With the serum and him already knowing about my limbs, it should be fine.

Should be.

"Yes, we can. It's a good idea, honestly. You may have gotten rusty."

Steve chuckled. "Me? Rusty? Out of the two of us, you're the one who could actually get rusty, remember?"

I literally stopped walking, mouth hanging open at that comeback. And then, I laughed. I couldn't help it. Not even that bastard of a Colonel had ever thrown the rusty card at me because of my automail.

Steve had also stopped and was smiling, looking all too proud. "You made it all too easy, Ed."

I shook my head, my laughter slowly dying out but I couldn't help but agree. "I guess I did."

Steve placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze as he continued to smile down at me.

I smiled back before patting his hand. "Alright, Captain Sentimental. Let's keep going."

He chuckled at the comment but followed me none the less down the path towards Prague, towards the entrance of the city. I needed to get back to focusing on the mission.

At least that conversation had distracted me from my monthly bitch of a visitor for a while...

As we got closer to the gate, I took in the amount of guards, how they studied the flow of people coming and going from the city.

Especially how they manhandled anyone they thought looked suspicious.

I wondered how suspicious the two of us looked and swallowed down the beginning of that fear. One reason Steve and myself had been placed on the same team was, of course, because everyone felt better if Steve was there to watch my back. The other was because of our blond hair: we'd pass more easily as relatives than other duos. With that in mind, I couldn't let the fear show. I needed to act like I had every right to pass through those gates, that I lived in that city and I had nothing to hide.

Act cocky, like I usually did anyway. I couldn't become a burden for Steve. No matter how my body was acting…

Unfortunately, the guards wouldn't be able to see the show I could put on.

Inside the city, an explosion resounded that sent the civilians and guards running, as much towards the city as away.

The two of us shared a look before bolting towards the city, taking clear advantage of the guards' confusion to bypass them completely. One step down, who knew how many more to go: we still needed to cross the city.

And to do so, we needed to use one of the many bridges. I just hoped the one we chose was not filled with militia men or Nazi. Or worse, both.

"This way," called out Steve as we ran down the smaller streets of Prague, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible.

I knew we were at a slight disadvantage crossing this city. If Steve decided to use his shield, word could get to the Hydra base that Captain America and his team were nearby and the security could get increased.

Or they could use the captives as collateral...

Therefore, Steve was down a weapon, his preferred weapon on top of that.

Dum Dum really did jinx it.

Run. Duck. Hide. Run.

It was the same pattern for quite some time as we crossed the city. Even though both of us seemed to have a constant need to play the hero with the civilians, we needed to get out as soon as possible.

But, as I said, we needed to play hero. I guess it was in our damn nature…

Steve and I were ushering civilians towards an empty alleyway we had just come out from, motioning for them to keep running. That path had been clear and without obstacles so it should help them get away easier.

I glanced around, not spotting anymore civilians. I caught Steve's eye and we nodded to each other before taking off.

I think we were heading closer to the fighting…

As we neared one of the bridges, I noticed the trails of smoke on the other side of the river and my guess seemed spot on: the fighting was happening on the side of the river we needed to be on to reach Říčany.

"This will be fun," I muttered just as we neared the tower of the bridge.

Steve stopped next to me, surveying the other side as well. "I guess that was just the warm up."

I scoffed but I agreed with him. "Let's go."

We managed to cross the bridge safely, reaching the other side's tower.

And then a bomb went off. The bomb itself should have been a scare all in itself. I was more scared of Steve's instinctive reaction.

Rubble from the explosion went flying in our direction and Steve grabbed me from behind, just below the chest as he pulled me against him. He was covering both of us with his still hidden shield but my mind was racing at what had just happened and if he would notice anything.

Notice my gender.

I think I even stopped breathing. I didn't want to test my luck at the moment.

Let go. Let go.

"You okay, Ed? Did anything hit you?"

I shook my head, still holding my breath.

"You sure?"

Nod. Let go. Let me go. I didn't want to move just in case.

Steve finally did release me and I stumbled away, trying to keep my deep breaths as inconspicuous as possible.

Just act normal. Just act normal.

I turned around, trying not to do so slowly. If he isn't suspicious, I can't give him a reason to be.

I could have cried out in happiness.

Steve wasn't even paying attention to me, his gaze searching the area. He looked back at me after a moment, tilting his head to motion for both of us to head out.

That was too close.

Steve couldn't find out about my gender now. Well… If he did, how long would it take for the others to find out? And for the news to reach Colonel Grumpy? And for them to kick me to the curb? Where will I go then? What will I do? How could I get back to Amestris?

Back to my brother?

We turned the corner and froze. The two of us realized our luck had suddenly vanished as we came face to face with a full-on battle between Nazis and the militia.

And men from both sides spotted us.

"FUCK!" I cursed out, diving for cover at the nearest alleyway. I used my momentum to roll back onto my feet and skidded behind a stack of crates. I peeked around them, spotting Steve in the other alleyway, in the same predicament I was in.

"Just great. I hate you, Dum Dum," I muttered.

Steve and I caught each other's gaze for a moment before Nazis blocked our view. Their leader ordered for the soldiers to detain both of us and the group split in two.

Fuck! I stood, sprinting away from the soldiers. I turned the corner, skidding as I did and thankfully avoiding the gunfire. I knocked down another set of crates as I went, hoping that would slow them down and I could get away.

And get back to Steve.

I won't hear the end of this.

I turned another corner and came up on a more residential street. I could hide. I could. I bolted to the nearest door, trying to open it. Locked.

Shit.

The next one wasn't any better.

Maybe I could break the lock.

I tried the next one. Still locked.

And I could hear the soldiers' footsteps getting nearer.

Fine, I'll keep running.

Maybe not.

I felt something grasp my wrist and yank me back. Before I could even yell, a hand was covering my mouth and I fell against someone just as a door slammed shut in front of me.

And the soldiers that had been following me came barreling down on the other side of said door. I breathed as deeply as I could with the hand still covering my mouth. Did I just leave one bad situation to fall into another one? I was pressed against someone as we waited, probably to make sure the soldiers on the other side were good and gone. If they were, I was going to need to leave this place as soon as possible to get back to Steve. If I didn't, I knew I would get a lecture from him.

And I was not looking forward to that…

"What the hell were you thinking, Kid?"

German? That shocked me out of my thoughts of getting back to the others. A German? Here? Was he a Nazi? No… He couldn't be. Not with the small troop that had just passed on the other side of the door. He would have been with them. Then what the fuck was…?

Oh… Oh fuck… I didn't think anything of it before because it felt so familiar, so normal.

It wasn't. More like it shouldn't be. Not for anyone else.

The hand grasping my left wrist.

It was metal.

I had grasped my own wrist enough times to know the feeling. It was near identical. Part of me wanted to push myself away and confront the man but another part of me was frozen in place, trying to understand what the fuck was going on.

Because automail does not exist on this side.

The man finally released me and walked past me towards the heavily curtained window. Even if it was dark in the room, my eyesight had gotten better because of the serum and I could make out a man taller than myself wearing a heavy trench coat, his long hair tied in a ponytail.

He moved the curtain aside and light filtered in, hitting him, and I took a step back. Golden hair…

D… Dad…?

He glanced back at me and even he faltered.

Not Dad. He's too young. But he has golden eyes too.

Golden hair. Golden eyes. Metal arm.

"You wouldn't happened to be named Edward Elric as well, right?" he asked.

What the fuck is going on?!

Chapter Text

January 30th, 1944 – Prague, Czechoslovakia

                 The two of us stared at each other for a good moment as if neither of us wanted to believe the other standing over a meter away was the same person. That we – well, him – was named Edward Elric. Well, I didn’t want to believe it but the man in front of me only seemed slightly confused and only for a moment.

                “So where did you come from?” Edward wondered, crossing his arms, leaning against the wall.

                “Excuse me?” I gasped out, throwing my hands in the air. “How are you so calm about this?

                He shrugged. “We’re from different worlds, in one that doesn’t know alchemy and we are both sporting mechanical limbs. What part of this,” he motioned between the two of us, “is supposed to be unnerving?

                I paused, mouth opening and closing. I – I didn’t have a comeback for that… “So, that means you’re –

                “Ed? Ed, where are you?”

                Shit! Steve! I glanced towards Edward, fear building inside me. Steve can’t see him. If he sees both of us together, they’ll definitely figure out I’m not male! I had one damn close call before, I don’t need another one now!

                “Friend of yours?” asked Edward, motioning towards the door. “If so, let’s –

                It was my turn to yank him back and cover his mouth. “Don’t you fucking dare,” I hissed and I had to listen to Steve run past our hiding spot, a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m going to have to get to Říčany by myself at this point. He cannot continue searching for me… If he’s smart, he’d realize that I’d head to the village with or without him.

                My focus had been so much on Steve that Edward managed to pull my hand of his mouth and push himself away, cursing under his breath.

                “What’s the big idea?” He yelled out angrily, straightening his clothes. “He is a friend, no?” I paused, reluctantly nodding my head. “And are you heading somewhere with him?” Another reluctant nod. “Then have you hit your head or something?

Hey! Uncalled for! We’re leaving the city and I have my reasons to not get to him now!

Edward threw his hands into the air in exasperation. “Really? Bizarre reasons then. If your friend is searching for you so you can leave, you need to –

                “Brother, who are you yelling at?

                My blood ran cold at the voice. Brother. He called the Edward in front of me ‘Brother’. The voice was much deeper than I was used to, much older.

                My body was shaking as I turned around, turned towards the owner of the voice.

                Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t fucking cry!

                An older version of Alphonse had entered the room and was staring between Edward and myself, mouth slowly falling open as he continued to study the two of us.

                “Brother, mind explaining what’s…” Alphonse motioned between the two of us, confusion clearly written on his face. His face… My Al will look like that at some point. No? If he… I restrained myself from shaking my head, trying to get rid of those dark thoughts and focusing on the matter at hand.

                Edward sighed, massaging his head. I watched him and found it eerie how similar that habit was to my own. I didn’t need anymore reminders how we were the same person – but not exactly same person.

                “I pulled him in here as he was running away from the Nazis. Apparently, him and his friend had gotten split up,” began explaining Edward.

I continued to watch Alphonse and his confused expression grew for a moment before a smile began to spread. But why…?

                Edward, meanwhile, continued his angered rant. “He’s stupidly refusing for us to meet up with his friend who CLEARLY just passed by so that he can get out of the city. Honestly, I know I was stubborn at his age but –

                Brother,” cut in Alphonse as he tried so hard not to laugh at the moment. He’s finding something overly funny and I had a sneaking suspicion what it could be.

                “What? What’s so funny?

                Alphonse choked back a laugh, covering his mouth. “You don’t realize it but I do, having seen you for so many years.

                Edward stood there, confused, and my suspicion was nearly confirmed. Edward glanced at me and then back at his brother. “Al, you better start making sense soon. We don’t have time for this. He doesn’t –

                “She.”

                Suspicion confirmed. Of course, Alphonse would notice.

                Edward stood frozen, staring intently at his brother, mouth moving but no words seeming to come out. He finally turned towards me, studying me from head to toe until his face betrayed his dawning of understanding.

                “You’re a girl? 100% female? Born female? This isn’t some messed up idea from the Gate?

The rapid-fire succession of questions had me laughing as well, joining Alphonse. I shook my head, “Female, always have been but I really don’t care whether people see me as female or male. Well, I mean, back in Amestris. Here… It’s not the same as back home.

Edward breathed deeply, frowning. Damn Gate… His manners really do resemble mine all too much. “Amestris, you say. Alright. But it can’t be the same Amestris that we come from. No, that wouldn’t make any sense.” He began passing across the room, deep in thought.

True. If the three of us are not from this world, that we crossed the Gate, how can it be that were all from Amestris? Could it be that there are multiple dimensions of one same world?

That thought made my blood run cold. What if I did find a way to cross the Gate? Would I even end up in the right version of Amestris? Would the Gate Keeper play such a sick joke that It would send me somewhere else just for fun?

He would… That was the problem. He enjoyed toying with me all too much.

Not that it mattered at the moment… I had no idea how to get back. However…

You wouldn’t happen to know how to cross the Gate, would you?” It was a stretch of a question at the brothers in front of me. If they had, wouldn’t they have already left? But, I still needed to know.

They glanced at each other and I felt another pang of hurt in my stomach.

Might as well tell her, Brother.

My heart skipped a beat. They – they knew something?

Edward sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Fine,” he huffed. “A transmutation had been done years ago and it opened a Gate on this side, a stable one that remained open.

Remained… open? How…?

My confusion must have been clear to Edward as he explained, “They used Envy and our Dad. Dad was the sacrifice and Envy’s lifeforce, the battery.”

I shuddered at the memory of Envy. Thankfully my version hadn’t survived by in Amestris: I would not have wanted a shapeshifting maniac following me around here. And then my thoughts shifted to… Dad. I had called him that before performing the transmutation – my last one.

And what happened to that Gate?” I asked.

Destroyed it before that Thule Society could destroy Amestris,” replied Edward with a grumble.

Thule Society?” I don’t remember hearing about them.

Short story, Nazis who believe in the occult. They thought Amestris was some mythical place with magical powers that could win them the war,” explained Edward half-heartedly.

Which, to be fair, is what alchemy is considered on this side of the Gate,” added Alphonse.

I nodded in agreement. Whatever I had come across that mentioned alchemy was limited to the very basics of what a child in Amestris could know about the science. Basically, that you can transmute lead to gold and that damn Philosopher’s stone…

Edward seemed to be in agreement as well before he continued his story. “I crossed back to Amestris stop them. With the military’s help, we did but someone needed to be on this side of the Gate to close it for good. We couldn’t let this world’s technology go against ours. Even with alchemy… We were badly outgunned.

Another thing I had to agree with. So far, our versions of Amestris sounded all too similar. Well, apart from Edward and I being of opposite genders. Technologically, this world focused on physics and its weapons advanced in consequence. Amestris was years behind in that department, having relied heavily on alchemy for nearly its entire existence.

This stubborn head,” Edward motioned towards Al, “followed me even after I told him to stay in Amestris.

                Another fear. I didn’t want my Al to cross the Gate and be stuck on this side!

                “I wasn’t about to lose you a second time. The General was more than capable of closing the Gate on his side.

                “General?” I repeated.

                “Colonel Bastard.

                If I had even an inkling of a doubt that this Edward and I were one and the same, that doubt flew right out the window with that comment.

                “Well, good for that bastard for getting a promotion,” I muttered, massaging my head, thinking of the one I left in Amestris. Blind. Would he have gotten a promotion for what happened during the Promised Day? Would they even allow a blind officer to serve in the military?

                And why the hell am I having an existential crisis at this moment when I needed to get out of the city? But before…

                “Did you use a transmutation circle to open the Gate?” I asked.

                Edward sighed but nodded. “Yes. A complicated one.

                “And it activated?

                “With the sacrifice, yes.

                I breathed deeply. Sacrifice. I wasn’t about to sacrifice someone to cross the Gate. But the circle may be of use. “Can you draw it?” I asked, looking up at Edward. Why was he taller?

                Edward stared right back at me, looking like he was thinking it over. Alright. Think it over but I’ll still want – “No.

                What…? “Why not?

                “I’m not giving it to you.

                My fists clenched in irritation. “I’m not going to sacrifice someone to open the Gate! I refused to do it for that damn stone and I’m not about to do it here!

                “No, that’s final.” Edward moved towards the window, peering out before opening the door. “Now let’s go. We’ll get you back to your friend.

                “Brother,” sighed Alphonse, sounding exasperated. Well, that tone sounded all too familiar.

                Meanwhile, I frowned deeply, my fists shaking. “You know, you’re starting to sound all too much like that Bastard.

                Edward frowned right back, opening in mouth to retort when Alphonse moved between us. “Alright, let’s get going. I don’t want the two of you fighting. Seeing one Ed fight is enough and it would be unnerving to see two Eds fighting each other.

                I grumbled as did Edward but neither of us was about to argue with Alphonse. That seemed good enough for Alphonse as he smiled at both of us.

                “Good.” He turned to me. “And since your name isn’t Edward, what is it?

                I eyed him for a second, unclenching my fists and sighing in defeat. “Evelyn.”

                “Nice to meet you, Evelyn.

                “Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled, stuffing my hands into my pockets. I returned my attention back to Edward but he was already leaving the house. “Bastard…

                Alphonse and I followed Edward out onto the now deserted street. I gave the street a once over before following the brothers, not quite running but trying to be fast and inconspicuous. I don’t know how inconspicuous we could look, especially with two of us looking near identical.

                At least both of us were wearing a hat. I still had the knitted hat that Bucky had gotten me and it covered most of my golden hair. Edward, meanwhile, had one of those fashionable ones I had seen men in London wear. It didn’t quite hide the golden hair but it at least took the attention away from it.

                “Where are you meeting your friend?” asked Edward curtly as we crossed a street, keeping to the shadows.

                “Říčany,” I replied in the same tone. “And we’re a group. Steve and I were together to draw less attention to ourselves.

                “Didn’t really work, did it?

                “Fuck off!” I snapped, catching up to him. “We were fine until we came across the militia and the Nazis fighting each other!

                Edward gave me a look. “It didn’t then.

                “Listen, you –

                “The two of you need to make up and Brother, you need to grow up.” We both glanced back at Alphonse who stared at us, exasperated. “You’re nearly forty, start acting it.

                Nearly forty? I studied Edward, noticing for the first time the signs of white hair mixed in with the gold. How – how long have they been here?

                Meanwhile, Edward couldn’t seem to decide on a comeback to that reprimand. He finally just huffed, turning his attention back to the street ahead of us. “Fine, but I’m still not showing her the circle.”

                “Mustang really did rub off on you,” I muttered, following only several steps later.

                Did my Mustang rub off on me as well? Wait, my Mustang? I shuddered. I did not just think that. Too awkward. Way too awkward!


 

                We managed to reach the outskirts of Prague without much incident nor many more arguments. The three of us looked around before Edward walked further ahead.

Alright, wait here, I’ll check the road up ahead,” explained Edward, not really waiting for a response as he headed off.

                Alphonse didn’t even make a move to follow. He just called out a soft “Be careful,” to his brother as he waited with me. Weird. Al always followed me wherever I went. Why isn’t Alphonse doing the same.

                Alphonse glanced around the area for a moment before motioning towards the side of the road. I shrugged but followed him and we pushed past some branches of the trees and bushes until we were partially hidden amongst the foliage. At least we could still see the road.

                “How are you doing, Evelyn?” wondered Alphonse suddenly.

                I looked up at him, surprised. His gaze was focused on the road, trying to see where his brother had gone. “Uh, fine.

                Alphonse’s gaze fell on me and I could only hold it for a moment before I looked away, back to the path. I couldn’t hold it because it was my brother but, at the same time, he wasn’t.

                “That’s what I thought.

                Next thing I knew, I was wrapped in a hug from Alphonse, being pulled tightly against him. I held my breath, unsure. This… I can’t… He isn’t…

                But I couldn’t push Alphonse away. I couldn’t. He may not be my brother but… He still is.

                I returned the hug, burying my face into his chest.

                “Had – had you fulfilled your goal, Evelyn?

                I wanted to nod. I wanted to believe that I did. But… “I don’t know,” I breathed out. “I don’t know if my sacrifice was enough to get him back.

                Alphonse sighed. “I believe you did. If you’re anything like Brother, you succeeded.

                I felt tears stream down my face. “But, what if I didn’t?” I was shaking.

                Alphonse sighed as he pulled me down, both of us kneeling on the ground. Alphonse stared at me but I couldn’t meet his gaze. I could have failed my own brother and looking at his doppelganger knowing that… I just couldn’t.

                “Evelyn, I don’t know if what you went through is the same as Brother. However, so far, the two of you seem so similar. He succeeded and I’m sure you did as well.

                I breathed deeply, finally looking up at Alphonse. His kind gaze was the same as my Al’s. His voice nearly the same. It had me crying even more. He reminded me of what I’m missing: how I’m missing my other half.

                I want to get back to my Amestris and to see MY brother.

                Alphonse reached out and brushed my cheek, wiping away the tears. “Let it out, Evelyn. It must be hard for you but I believe you will do it. If anyone can find a way back to Amestris, it’s the Fullmetal Alchemist.” He paused, a smile on his face. “Did they call you Fullmetal back home as well?

                I choked a laugh out and nodded. “As I said, didn’t care if they saw me as a guy or a girl. Fullmetal was just a cool name for me.

                Alphonse chuckled, shaking his head. “Yup, you and my brother are definitely the same person.”

                I smiled more as I wiped my face. The tears had stopped but I still took a deep breath, calming myself down even more. When I glanced back at Alphonse, I didn’t feel the urge to look somewhere else. He may not be MY Alphonse but he was still Alphonse Elric. The sweet, caring Alphonse I knew and loved.

                “Thanks,” I muttered, smiling at him.

                He smiled back before patting my head. I wanted to get mad at him for that, same as every other time that the other men did that to me but…

                I’ll let it slide for Alphonse.

                We waited in silence for some time as we waited for Edward to return. Until Alphonse asked, “Had you told anyone here about Amestris?

                I glanced towards him, shaking my head. “When I arrived here, someone did know about it but… He was killed. The group I’m travelling with had no idea.

                “I’m sorry for the man… Have you ever thought of telling them?

                I gave Alphonse a look. “Really? How exactly do I start that conversation without them thinking I’m insane?

                Alphonse smiled, shrugging his shoulders. “Who knows? Apparently, Brother had been telling my doppelganger about our adventures in Amestris. He thought they were made up and that Brother should write novels with those ideas.

                “Wait, your doppelganger? You…” I frowned. If Alphonse had one, then Edward did as well. I did. What if the original Edward Elric from this world is found? How will that –

                “Both Brother’s and my doppelganger passed away years ago,” explained Alphonse. “And, if you’re worried about names, apparently, doppelgangers don’t necessarily have the same name as the people we know back home.

                “Really?

                Alphonse nodded. “My doppelganger was called Alfons Heidrich. Brother met Furher King Bradley’s doppelganger as well. He’s a movie director by the name Fritz Lang.

                “That is no where near the original name,” I remarked earning a smile from Alphonse.

                “So, you needn’t worry about anything much. Brother and I have been keeping a low profile. The name Elric should be safe.

                I couldn’t help but chuckle. “For once!” I wasn’t going to add how being part of Captain America’s group could change that though. They weren’t willing to share the transmutation circle, I could keep my involvement with the SSR a secret.

                For now.

                “Why won’t Edward show me the transmutation circle?” I asked suddenly, turning back towards Alphonse.

                He hesitated, looking unsure.

                “Vstávej!

                I jumped in surprise and I noticed Alphonse tense beside me. We slowly glanced back and I cursed out loud. Militia men were aiming guns in our direction. Great, just when I was about to get some semblance of an answer!

                “Vstávej!” repeated the man in front, motioning with his gun for us to get up.

                I raised my hands, seeing from the corner of my eye Alphonse doing the same thing.

                “We’re not your enemy,” explained Alphonse calmly in English as he stood.

                “Don’t make me laugh, German,” spat out the same soldier. “How do we know you are not Nazi spies?”

                “We aren’t,” I added quickly. “I’m –”

                “You will have all the time to make up a story in a cell.”

                “No! Listen, I –”

                Another man slammed his gun into my back and I fell forward, groaning in pain.

                “You listen, Nazi spy. You are coming with us or you are dying here,” growled out the one in charge as he squatted in front of me. “What is your choice?”

                “We’ll follow,” answered Alphonse quickly. “We’ll follow you and hopefully you will hear us out.”

                The man scoffed as he stood, turning heel and barking out orders to those around him. I felt a hand grip my arm and was about to pull away when Alphonse’s voice whispered, “If you’re anything like my brother at that age, please behave.

                I nodded as he helped me stand and we followed the men back into Prague.

Chapter Text

January 30th, 1944 – Prague, Czechoslovakia

Edward’s POV

                Had I really been that stubborn? Really? No, impossible. I saw reason. I listened.

                Didn’t I?

                I had walked a good distance and hadn’t come across anymore militia or Nazis. The rest of the road should be clear to send Evelyn off by herself.

                Evelyn. Another version of Amestris.

                Unbelievable. I thought I had left most of that behind, specifically when Al and I crossed over for good. It’s been 20 years! There’s no way I can even think of going back. Besides, now we have the added difficulty of different versions of Amestris! Knowing that being that calls itself Truth, I’m sure It would take pleasure in sending us to the wrong one just for the fun of it! I couldn’t risk it.

                Especially not with my family on this side.

                I sighed, massaging my face. They had better be safe. They should be. I left them in good hands back in America. I had needed to come back to this damn continent to get my brother. He, unlike the rest of my family and even his, wasn’t safe.

                Why didn’t he try to leave when I told him to? Back when the war had just started? It would have so much simpler. He’s been here so long, I’m shocked the Germans hadn’t tried to recruit him yet, if not as a soldier, as a scientist. If I had thought getting to Prague to find Al was a pain, I can’t imagine how it’ll be to leave.

                Al’s gotten more stubborn with age, it seems...

                Speaking of Al… I had gotten back to where I had left Al and Evelyn but no one was there: the path was deserted. Were they hiding? There were many trees and shrubs around. Were they –?

                I cursed when I spotted a group of militia men entering the city, especially when I saw who they were surrounding.

                Well, I spotted my brother. I could only guess the hat covered head I could see was Evelyn. I forgot about my height issue when I was younger…

                Great. I leave them for five minutes and they get captured by the Czechs. How could they not have heard that group? What the hell were they doing?

                With a huff, I walked back into the city, keeping a good distance away from the group of men but always having them in view. I needed to come up with a plan to rescue them. Could I risk getting them while they were still outside? Should I wait for them to reach their base? If I did, would there be more men? Would they let the two of them live in there?

                A good thing my mind was still sharp.

                “Any sign of him, Bucky?”

                I stopped, frowning. I recognized that voice.

                “Nothing, Steve. He may actually have gotten out of the city.”

                Steve. That’s what Evelyn had called the friend she had been with. The friend who had passed our hiding spot previously. That’s why I recognized the voice.

At another street corner stood too men. They must have just missed the militia group. I studied the two of them, my plan revising itself. They looked like fighters and I caught briefly a gun hidden on the darker haired one.

                I untucked my scarf before wrapping it back around my neck so it covered most of my face. Knowing Evelyn is hiding her gender, that must have been why she held me back the other time: she couldn’t let her friends see both of us, especially together.

                Actually looking at her, she did have more feminine features… How her friends have not noticed yet is beyond me. I paused, thinking that over because, to be fair, I hadn’t realized it until Al pointed it out. And Al only noticed because he’s been with me since we were kids: he knows how I had looked when I was Evelyn’s age.

                Alright, so they can’t be that daft.

                Hopefully these men are trusting though. I will look bizarre for a man with most of his face covered to get them to agree to anything but, if they want to save Evelyn, they’ll need to.

                “Hey!” I called out softly and, surprisingly, caught the blond man’s attention. I thought I would need to try a few times considering the distance. He turned towards me and I motioned for them to join me on my side of the street.

                He frowned, searching the area. Ah, a soldier it seems. I sighed at that. What was Evelyn doing getting mixed up with military personnel again? Well, to be fair, was she even part of the military back in her Amestris?

                I scoffed. I shouldn’t care. Not now, anyway.

                The two men finally crossed the street, joining me.

                “Looking for a friend?” I wondered, pointing towards the militia group as they turned a corner, revealing Al and Evelyn in the middle of them.

                The blond man sighed deeply. “Why am I not surprised?” He turned to his companion. “Come on, we can’t lose them.” He then pointed at me. “And I’ll have questions for you.”

                I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Definitely a soldier. What did Evelyn get mixed in with in this world? The three of us followed the group of men, glancing around the corner. They were still on the street. Good, we hadn’t lost them.

                “How do you know Ed?” wondered the blond man as we hid.

                How would I know her? Well, him. I’ll have to be careful around these men to not reveal her – his secret.

                “Are the two of you related?” The blond man and myself turned towards the brunet, both surprised. He ignored our looks, focusing on studying me. “You have the same eyes.”

                Damnit. How well did these men know Evelyn? Especially that brunet! I kept my gaze fixed on the man, unwilling to show signs of fear or else they’ll never trust me to help them get my brother and Evelyn back.

                “Uncle,” I finally replied evenly. “Ed’s my nephew and that was my brother captured with him.” That should be plausible enough.

                Unless Evelyn said she never had uncles. Then I’m fucked.

                Thankfully my statement hadn’t been promptly denied so Evelyn must not have mentioned the lack of uncles. Good.

                The two men shared a look before the blond one sighed. “We know he doesn’t share. It could be possible.”

                The brunet nodded in agreement. “Sadly true.” He glanced back at me. “And the eyes give it away. Well, let’s get your nephew and your brother back.”

                That was thankfully easy. I began walking in the direction the militia men had gone and I needed to not stumble when the blonde asked, “What’s your name?”

                Name. Name. Name. “Russell,” I replied without looking back.

                I mentally groaned, frowning deeply. All these thoughts of Amestris and lookalikes with Evelyn had brought forth that damn brat that had used my name! Why couldn’t I have chosen any other name? Any of them! It just had to be that damn Tringham!

                “Well, Russell, I’m Steve,” began the blond, “and he’s Bucky.” He motioned towards the brunet.

                I nodded briefly but kept walking, still cursing myself. I’ll never hear the end of it from Al when he finds out…

                As I glanced around the next corner, I watched as the men entered a residential building, shoving Al and Evelyn inside as well. Great, now there’s a possibility of more men watching them.

                “We’ll need to draw them out,” I muttered, frowning. I didn’t like that idea but we couldn’t burst into the building and let them use Al and Evelyn as hostages.

                Or worse, shields.

                “Think they’ll listen to you?” wondered Bucky.

                I turned around, confused. Listen to who? Definitely not me. I made sure to be a nobody on this side. Just a simple professor. So, the question became, why would they listen to Steve? What made him so special?

                Steve didn’t look convinced. “I had to leave my shield back with the others. I don’t think they’ll believe me.”

                Shield?

                “Who exactly are you?” I asked out loud.

                The two men stopped discussing and seemed hesitant. Right, trust issue. It can’t be the German issue if they’re fine with Evelyn. I heard her accent when she spoke English so they know very well of her ‘nationality’. Must be the random appearance and the covered face.

                “I want to get them out as much as you,” I began, attempting to convince them that they can trust the alternate version of their friend. I just couldn’t come out and say that. “I crossed an ocean to come get my brother and I’m not leaving without him. Is that enough proof that I’m not going to turn on you? Now, why would they listen to you?”

                Steve breathed deeply before he answered, “You’ve heard of Captain America?”

                I studied him once more and going over what I’ve heard of the new American Hero. My son was one of his biggest fans and the information that got repeated over and over back home was useful at the moment.

                Steve fit every detail.

                But, he did have a point about the shield. “If you don’t have your shield, it will be harder. These people are not as well informed since being under Nazi regime for so long,” I explained, looking back at the building.

                “You believe that I’m Captain America? Just like that?”

                I chuckled. Unlike them, I didn’t have a reason to mistrust them. So, if Steve says he’s Captain America, I was going to believe him. Besides… “You haven’t met my son.”

                There was silence for a moment. Weird. What had I said? The look on Steve’s face was hard to read and even harder when he breathed out, “Ed has more family. He’s not alone.”

                Fuck… I turned away, trying to suppress the memories of when I had crossed over without Al. I didn’t have... No, that’s a lie. I had Alfons. He wasn’t my brother but he was at least a small reminder of home. I at least had him. Evelyn, on the other hand…

                “Yeah, he has a few cousins,” I whispered back. Not exactly but they look enough alike to pass as such.

                Will I be picking up another stray? I’m turning into Al but instead of cats, it’s people.

                “We’ll need to talk when this is done,” added Steve and I could almost hear the regret in his voice.

                “Steve, you –”

                “Later.”

                Maybe Evelyn wasn’t as alone as I had first thought. Bucky looked like the mere idea of letting Evelyn leave was the end of the world and Steve didn’t look any happier.

                This will be an interesting conversation.

                “I have another question before we storm the building.” Great, now what? Steve’s demeanour changed as he eyed me carefully. “Have you heard from Ed’s brother?”

                Evelyn’s Alphonse. I shook my head and I hoped I never did hear anything about him. She’s dead set on getting back to her Amestris and it would kill her if she got back and her Alphonse was now stuck on this side.

                Steve just took the answer in stride before beginning explaining a plan he had somehow just come up with. Maybe the tales my son had been continuously going on about were true.

                I offered my input from time to time and, minutes later, we had a plan.

                And for once, I was surer that it will work than I normally did.

                Maybe that wasn’t a good thing…

                “One last thing.” I frowned. What did Steve need now? The plan is all set and all of us are set to go. Both men seemed willing to trust me more and we’ve established family relations. What else is there?! He eyed me as he asked, “Why are you hiding your face?”

                Damnit. This had been going well. I guess I should have known better. That question was actually very obvious, I should have seen it coming. “I’m cold,” I replied with a shrug of my shoulders, hoping it was a plausible enough excuse. “I live further south nowadays and I’m not used to this cold.”

                Steve and I stared at each other for a while until he seemed to finally accept the explanation. Even though he didn’t look fully convinced, he turned his attention back towards the building and the plan. I guess he was going to be more trusting towards me, towards Evelyn’s ‘uncle’.

Steve glanced down the road, breathing deeply as he made sure it was deserted.

                “Good luck,” said Bucky to his friend.

The Captain smiled, nodding his thanks and then taking off. Bucky and I stayed hidden and I couldn’t help but rearrange the scarf to make sure it did cover most of my face. I didn’t need them to figure anything out…  As I watched Steve, I had to hope his acting skills are as good as they seemed in his films. He stumbled, gripping his arm tightly as he began yelling and I was pleasantly surprised. I guess they were.

                “Someone help! Nazis! Someone!”

                That caught the attention of the militia men as two exited the building, heading quickly towards Steve. The Captain pointed away from us, describing a supposed Nazi blockade and how they were going after Czech civilians as well. He was even selling the injury. Just as long as these men spoke enough English to understand to idea, we should be good.

                Steve sold it enough that the men called for reinforcements and they followed him down the street. Hopefully he will be able to get away from them when they were far enough away.

                I dismissed that thought. He was Captain America for a reason.

                Bucky and I waited a moment longer before heading off towards the building and I hoped there were very few men left watching Al and Evelyn. We reached the door and, with one last glance towards the direction the militia men had gone off to with Steve, I twisted the handle.

                It was locked of course, I wasn’t expecting those men to be completely inept. However, that lock was no match for me. I was using my right hand. I twisted the handle harder and heard the lock break. You just had to love cheap locks.

                I pushed the door, letting it swing open but Bucky and I were pressed against either side of the doorframe, waiting for a rain of bullets.

                None.

                We shared a look, surprised. Could it be that easy?

                I peeked inside, not seeing anyone. I couldn’t believe our luck. Those men were not completely inept but somewhat so. That’s good for us.

                “This is too easy,” remarked Bucky, pulling out his gun as he slowly entered the building.

                “I agree.”

                Just as we entered the next room, a young man walked in from the opposite side and yelled out in surprise. Crap. There goes our element of surprise! I ran up to him and punched him square in the jaw just as he raised his gun. He was knocked back, crumpling to the ground, unconscious, and I picked up the discarded gun.

                “Yeah, I can see how Ed’s your nephew,” commented Bucky as he headed towards the further entrance just as another militia man entered. Bucky slammed his gun into the face of the man, knocking him out as well. “Your fighting styles are similar,” he explained. “Run towards the enemy and punch them. Effective.”

                I didn’t respond to that seeing that we were both taught by the same woman. Different versions of her but I’m sure Evelyn went through Teacher’s training as well.  The more time I spend with Evelyn’s comrades, the closer they could come to figuring something out. We needed to find Al and Evelyn and get out of here.

                And Al and I will need to leave. If it’s with Evelyn or not will need to be discussed it seemed. First with Steve and then with her.

                Bucky and I took down several more men until we reached the basement. I guess whoever had been down here had ventured upstairs and was now laying unconscious with his friends.

                “Think they’re behind that door?” asked Bucky, eyeing said door across from us.

                “Only one way to find out.” I got to the door first and tried the knob. Locked again. “I think they are.” I broke the lock the same I had done upstairs.

                “How do you keep doing that?” wondered Bucky.

                “Doing what?”

                “Breaking locks?”

                Automail. “Cheap locks,” I replied, pulling the door open.

                I breathed a sigh of relief seeing Al and Evelyn sitting on the ground, unhurt. They stared at both of us in surprise before Al chuckled, shaking his head.

                “I should have known the commotion was you, Brother,” remarked Al, pushing himself up.

                “I had help. It wasn’t all me.

                Meanwhile, Evelyn also stood and Bucky moved past both Al and myself, beelining directly to Evelyn and engulfing her. I heard a clear “Oof” sound from her as he pretty much collided with her, followed by groans and curses hinting to exactly how tightly he was holding her.

Interesting,” I muttered and thankfully only Al heard me over Evelyn’s protests as she tried to get free.

What’s interesting,” began Al with a chuckle, “is the things you do notice and things you’re oblivious to.” I knew he was referring to several difference instances and I scowled, unamused. “Both of you are much too similar,” he added before bypassing me and exiting the room.

“Enough, Bucky! I’m fine!” growled out Evelyn as she finally managed to wiggle herself out of Bucky’s hold. Did she know her face had darkened?

“But I can smell blood. Are you sure there’s not an injury that you’re hiding?”

She froze just long enough for me to notice before she waved Bucky off. “I’m sure. I’m fine. Completely fine.”

“Ed –”

“Probably someone else’s at some point. I don’t know. I don’t care.” She wasn’t paying attention to where she was going, gesticulating as she did. This is getting even more interesting. “I’m fine. You’re fine. Everyone is fine. Let’s get going.” It’s almost amusing.

It was until her right arm hit metal and a very clear ‘CLANG’ was heard. She froze, her eyes wide and fixed on an equally stunned Bucky.

He doesn’t know about the automail. That much was all too clear.

“Ed,” began Bucky carefully. “What – what was that?”

“Uh…” Her breathing was getting quicker and I stepped forward. “Mechanical aid?” she tried hesitantly. I’m sure she’s thinking over all the possibilities, all the lies she could tell that didn’t include a fully mechanized limb attached directly to her nerves. “It helps me move my arm.”

Bucky studied her and then her right arm. “And you –?”

“Maybe we should have this conversation outside. Maybe even outside the city?” I offered, stepping next to Evelyn. Hopefully this will buy her enough time to come up with a good excuse for her automail. She annoyed me, yes, but that didn’t mean I was going to sit back and do nothing. Besides, I’m sure I’d get an earful from Al if I let this play out. Speaking of. “Oh, and Bucky, my brother,” I motioned towards Al, “and Ed’s uncle Fletcher.”

I was using one Tringham’s name, why not go for both? Besides, that would be another awkward explanation as to why both of our brothers had the exact same name… The less things to draw attention that Evelyn and myself where the same – almost the same – person, the better.

 Thankfully, Al was used to this and played it off well, smiling at Bucky as they exchange greetings. Evelyn, on the other hand, was confused until I sent her a quick look that I hope she understood as ‘play along’.

Since she didn’t say anything else, it must have worked.

I was nearly shoving Evelyn up the stairs just in case she decided to have a late comeback or remark on Al’s new name. I was happy to note, once on the main floor, that no one had returned just yet.

“Bucky, why aren’t you in Říčany with the others?” asked Evelyn as we left the building. “Wasn’t the agreement that everyone had until sunset to get there?”

Bucky nodded. “Yes, but when everyone but you showed up, I came back with Steve. And I know what you’re doing, Ed. We will be discussing that mechanical aid.”

She sighed heavily and I noticed the deep frown on her face. “Yeah, sure. And I thought we already went over the fact that I can take care of myself and that you needed to trust me to do so.”

“Yes, but we’ve also discussed that, as your teammates, we are going to worry, especially when the city became a battle ground.”

Evelyn grumbled at that response. “And where is Steve?”

“Up ahead.”

“Good, I’m going to kick both of your asses.”

She stomped towards Steve, Bucky following closely behind, leaving Al and myself to bring up the rear and for me to go over the conversation I just witnessed.

Al beat me to it, though. “Teammates. Who would have thought?

I was thinking the same thing. But… She’s still mixed in with the military. Somehow, she still is.

What do you mean, Brother?

That’s Captain America, the American hero. The American soldier.” I was discreetly motioning towards Steve. “And the way Bucky holds himself, he’s also military.

Al’s face saddened as he watched Evelyn berate Steve. We kept our distance, knowing that a young Ed Elric was prone to violence and we didn’t want to get mixed up with it.

Al, Steve is going to want to talk to me later and I have a feeling of what it could be.

Really? Is it about Ev… Ed?

I nodded. “Yes. And I may just agree to what he will offer.

Al seemed awfully confused next to me but I ignored it for the moment, watching the trio ahead. I think they were talking about Evelyn’s automail the way they were motioning towards it. Steve didn’t seem as confused as Bucky. Actually, he looked like he was helping Evelyn with her story. Either she had already told him the same lie or he knew.

Steve and Bucky seemed like good men – young men. They were definitely younger than myself and younger than Mustang’s men had been in Amestris. Evelyn seemed to trust them enough so it’ll be interesting to see what she decides.

I stuffed my hands into my pockets. “Besides, I don’t think Winry will mind two extra mouths to feed instead of just one.

Al eyed me for a moment before smiling warmly. “She’s growing on you, Brother. I think she just reminded you too much of yourself at that age.

I frowned slightly but I couldn’t deny his observation. It was probably right. “I guess I forgot how I was at 15.

She’s turning 18 in a couple of days, Brother,” remarked Al with a laugh.

I resisted the urge to groan out loud. And I thought I had height problems back then!

 


 

 

Evelyn’s – Ed’s - POV

                All of us had made it out of Prague and we didn’t stop like last time. We learned our lesson: get far away from the city and then rest.

                At one point, I noticed Steve and Edward were talking in the back of the group in hushed tones that even I couldn’t catch the conversation. I tried to get an answer from Alphonse but he just shrugged, feigning ignorance. I knew he had an idea of what the whole discussion was about but he wasn’t sharing.

                That left me to dodge the barrage of questions from Bucky about my automail. Or, as he knew it, my mechanical aid. Steve had thankfully helped with my white lie, adding some explanations that had seemed to satisfy Bucky at that moment. I guess it didn’t last long enough…

                I shot the sky a dirty look, cursing that damn Gate.

                “Oh, go cry to Steve, will you?” I grumbled out finally, having had enough of the questions, as I shot Bucky a dark look. He thankfully stopped after that and I had some peace and quiet at last.

                Well, for now, at least.

                After several more minutes of walking, we reached a small village. It wasn’t Říčany but some place even smaller, so much so that I didn’t even catch its name.

We stopped to rest on the side of an abandoned barn and I leaned against the wood, part of me hoping that it will stay standing. It had started snowing again and I let the snowflakes fall onto my face. I had probably thought about it before but I am still damn glad I had the northern automail Winry had made for me or else this would have been a rough and painful several months. Winter lasts too long on this side of the Gate.

“Hey, Ed?” I lowered my head to see Steve approaching. I briefly caught Edward turn away, going back to his notebook, and wondered if he had an automatic reaction to hearing his name. “Can we talk?”

I nodded, wondering in the back of my mind what name Edward had given to Steve and Bucky. He had given Alphonse the name Fletcher. How he came up with that one is beyond me.

“Listen, I’ve talked it over with your uncle and…” Steve stopped, his voice growing weak. Oh dear, what is this about?

I straightened, pushing myself away from the wall. “And what have you been discussing with my uncle exactly?”

                Steve wasn’t even looking at me anymore, his gaze fixed on the ground. “Ed, I don’t want you to be stuck with me because you don’t have a choice. I don’t want you to get hurt because of it. You now have a choice.” Steve gestured towards Edward and Alphonse. “You have a family that can take care of you.”

I was not expecting that. I hadn’t expected to find my doppelganger in Prague and I definitely wasn’t picturing leaving with him. Edward and Alphonse were both glancing in our direction and I felt like they already knew what Steve and I were talking about.

To be honest, it was tempting. Very tempting. I could go back with Edward and Alphonse and do my own research on how to get back to my Amestris. However… Could I drag them into that? How would they feel about me continually trying to get back to Amestris when they have made their peace on staying?

I looked back at Steve and he still wasn’t meeting my gaze. Bucky? He had his back turned to all of us so I had no idea what he was thinking.

This was all on me.

“Ed, don’t feel obligated to stay on my account,” whispered Steve, placing a hand on my shoulder, my right one. I didn’t have the heart to shrug him off. “You’ve done a lot already and no one will judge you if you decide to leave.”

Leave. Get out of the fighting. To focus solely on getting back. So damn tempting.

Then why wasn’t I jumping at the opportunity?

Steve still wasn’t looking at me which let me stare at him more intensely than I expected. I realized then, even if Alphonse had the same body of my brother, Steve had the soul of him. He was the one I would call a second brother.

I reached up, gripping Steve’s hand with my right one, catching his attention. “I told you, Steve, you’re stuck with me and you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

“Ed –”

“That’s my choice, Steve. We have Hydra to take down.”

We stared at each other until Steve’s shoulders sagged and he seemed… relieved. I guess I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t ready to lose the other. I only faintly felt his grip on my shoulder tighten but I clearly saw his smile.

I couldn’t help but smile back at him.

I glanced towards the others briefly, noticing how Edward and Alphonse were giving us somewhat some privacy. Meanwhile, Bucky still had his back turned towards us but, this time, his head was tilted towards the sky. Had he even been paying attention to the conversation? If he hadn’t, that would be fine with me if it meant less questions from him later.

I looked back at Steve, smiling once more as I patted his hand. “Don’t get too sentimental on me, Captain.”

Steve laughed softly, lowering his hand. “Don’t give me reason to, Ed.”

“Deal.”

“Sorry to interrupt.” Edward and Alphonse were approaching us, the oldest of course in the lead. “This is where we’re going to have to say goodbye.”

Oh. Already. And with Steve and Bucky nearby, I couldn’t ask Edward for the circle he had used all those years ago. Fuck you, Gate. My only lead a year and it’ll disappear into thin air. Whatever content feelings I had before were quickly doused.

Maybe Steve and Bucky will think my change in humour is for the departure of my ‘uncles’. One can hope.

By that time, Steve and Bucky had said their bit to the brothers who now focused their attention on me.

“We’ll let you say your goodbyes,” offered Steve as he and Bucky walked further away.

I watched them leave and sighed, unsure of how to proceed. How do you say goodbye to your and your brother’s doppelgangers?

Edward was the first to make a move, holding out his hand, his left one. I eyed it for a moment, sighing again. Fine, I guess this is a good way. I reached out with my own left one as well. We shook and, the moment he let go, I felt something in my hand. I glanced at it discreetly and my eyes widened. That was paper. Did he…? Was that…?

He leaned in close and breathed out, “Don’t let anyone know you have that. People could be willing to kill for that information.

He moved back, patted me on the shoulder and walked away. I gripped the paper tightly, my hand shaking. Whatever dark thoughts I had previously vanished, replaced with hope. I – I had a clue to getting back. I was a step closer to seeing my own brother again. I couldn’t believe it.

And I couldn’t stop beaming.

Alphonse chose that moment to step up to me, smiling down at me before pulling me into a hug. I wrapped my arms around him, holding him tightly, my joy taking over. He may not my brother but he’s still an Alphonse Elric.

Be safe,” he whispered.

As long as the two of you do the same,” I replied.

You know how Brother is.” He even winked at that and my smile grew wider. Yeah, I definitely knew.

Speaking of… Edward was waiting for Alphonse near the trail. I ran up to him and nearly tackled him into a hug. He was shocked at the action, attempting to keep his scarf up with one hand as the other wrapped around me. Once the initial surprise passed, he sighed, returning the hug.

Be careful, Fullmetal.

Yeah, sure, Fullmetal.

Chapter Text

February 2nd, 1944

I was sitting on my bed, leaning against the so-called pillow and wall. We had returned to London last night after the successful mission in Czechoslovakia. Since then, I had somewhat slept, the adrenaline of the mission and stress of the plane ride back finally wearing off.

However, I hadn't slept that long.

It was early morning, early enough that it was still dark outside but I was wide awake.

I couldn't sleep, not when I could study the transmutation circle Edward had given me. The paper lay unfolded over my own notebook. It was already getting well-worn with how much I've handled it so far. There was even a tear at the bottom of the page but that was entirely intentional: Edward had written an address in Washington on it and I figured it was his. I memorized it, tore that part of the paper off, and burned it.

His warning was still fresh in my mind and I didn't want to involve him and his family by accident if someone managed to find this paper.

Though, I couldn't focus on that now. I needed to study the transmutation itself. The one I've been staring at it for the past forty minutes without much success in deciphering it.

I couldn't believe how complex it was. Every time I thought I understood a section and the use of a symbol, something contradicted it and I had to rethink the entire process.

This was not going to be easy.

I needed to start off by deciphering this circle, to understand exactly how it worked before I could even think of modifying it so that a human sacrifice was not necessary. I basically needed to perform the steps of alchemy but with a circle.

Understand. Deconstruct. Reconstruct.

I just needed to do the understanding part without the help of alchemic books. Maybe the books I had seen on Nordic ruins could offer some answers. Some symbols had been similar so perhaps there meaning would be as well.

I hope.

I'd have to double check before venturing too far down that road.

I breathed deeply, readjusting myself and going back to the section that –

I jumped at the knock at my door. Who the…? I searched the room for the small clock and saw it was barely five forty five in the morning.

"Ed? Are you up?" whispered a voice on the other side of the door and I breathed a little easier.

"Yeah, give me a second, Steve."

I shut my notebook and stood. I went to where my coat was hanging and stuffed the notebook into one of its pocket. It had been one of the reasons I chose that notebook in particular: I could easily hide it, even without a bag. It helped that men's clothing offered large pockets: I could even hide it on me!

Not that anyone would be able to decipher whatever notes I've taken anyway: they were in German and coded. If Al hadn't been able to decipher parts, no one here was going to either; especially when the coded elements were alchemic terms that they didn't exactly use.

I headed towards the door, unlocking it and opening it. Steve smiled at me from the other side, dressed for the day and with a coat on. "Morning! Did you sleep well?"

I shrugged. "Well enough. What are you doing up so early?"

"I could ask you the same thing," he replied with a chuckle. He had a point. I was doing… research. I guess you can call it that. Steve on the other hand... "I was passing by and saw the light under the door," he explained. "I figured, since we're both awake, we could get back to training. If you're up to it, of course."

True, I had agreed to that. It wouldn't be a bad idea, actually. Sometimes I thought better as I moved, especially considering I still had some lingering cramps. Maybe training with Steve will help solve some trickier symbols and sections as well as stretch those damn muscles.

"Sure, but we're not using a punching bag this time," I said as I headed back into to my room.

I heard Steve follow me inside as he voiced in confusion. "Then what are we going to do?"

"Spar."

Steve eyes widened. "You and me? Ed –"

"First of all, you can't use a punching bag forever. That and the tab you keep accumulating at the bar is enough money spent without replacing each bag you break."

Steve sighed, waving that reason off as he continued, insistent. "Money shouldn't be the issue. You –"

"Also, I haven't had a good spar in over a year and, as you mentioned, I could be rusty."

I thought it would get at least a smile out of Steve but he just continued to stare at me, unsure. "Ed, I might hurt you," he finally murmured.

Oh… I smirked, trying to reassure him. "You won't. And you can only possibly hurt me if you manage to actually get a hit in."

Steve was silent for a moment longer before reluctantly nodding. "Fine, but we're starting off easy, to test it out. If I do hurt you, it is over, we're not trying again."

I nearly rolled my eyes but I nodded instead as I walked back towards Steve. "You do remember though…" I didn't finish that sentence. Instead, I lifted my right arm in front of him, waving it slightly.

Steve gave me a look, grabbing my wrist and lowering it away from his face. "Yes, but since you're unwilling to share that with anyone else, no one will be able to fix it if I break it."

"You underestimate the strength of the metal."

"And you're underestimating my strength."

I pulled my arm back, smirking as I bypassed Steve and left the room, shrugging on my coat as I did. "One way to test it out! Let's go!"

I made sure to lock the door behind us and then followed Steve down the corridor.


 

It had taken a while but we finally found a gym that opened ridiculously early. We were the only ones there so we took advantage of the –

"The what ring?" I asked. I don't think I heard properly because it did not look like a box nor a ring for that matter…

"Boxing ring," repeated Steve, taking off his coat and placing it on a nearby chair. "It's where people box." I blinked, confused. "Fight with just their fists."

To that I frowned. "Just their fists? But what about their legs? Kicks? Their knees? They can do so much more than just punch someone!"

Steve chuckled as he climbed into the ring. "I don't disagree with you, Ed. And that's what I want to practice."

"Good." I shrugged off my coat, placing it with Steve's and following him into the ring. As I stretched out my limbs, I noticed that the floor was slightly matted, giving me a bit more boost than I normally had. This should be fun. Once I finished stretching, I eyed Steve. "Ready to not hit me?" I slid into my fighting stance as I said that, a smirk playing at my lips.

Steve stepped into his stance but he looked more worried than ready. "Remember our deal, Ed."

"Yeah, yeah, I remember but I also remember saying you wouldn't be able to get a hit in. Want to prove me wrong?"

Steve sighed but still stepped closer.

And he completely missed me with his so-called punch as I moved aside easily. Maybe this is how Teacher felt when she took on both Al and myself while reading. If we were as slow as Steve was at the moment, I too would be reading.

"Yeah, not going to hit me any time soon," I remarked as I rounded a kick at him, nailing him square on the shoulder. At least I held back on the strength of the kick and I used my right leg. "Good luck."

Steve stumbled back in surprise but he quickly recovered, getting back into position. "I cannot underestimate you, Ed. I should know that by now."

"Damn straight." I motioned for him to try again. "And you're also taking on someone who is used to fighting against bigger opponents. You're at a disadvantage."

Steve was trying to hide a smile. "You just called yourself –"

"I didn't," I cut in quickly, frowning. I didn't want to hear him say that dreaded word. "You're ridiculously tall. I've fought against other ridiculously tall people. I'm not… Not… You know." Steve was really trying to stop himself from smiling from what I could tell and I scowled. "Yeah, have your laugh but you still won't be able to get a hit in and I'll take that as a win."

He did let a chuckle out and I frowned. Fine, he thinks he can laugh at this. I ran towards him, ducking under his messy punch and spun around him, knocking his back with my elbow as I did. That got him to quickly refocus on the sparring. We continued for fifteen minutes in silence, Steve's smile disappearing completely after the first three minutes. He was now fully concentrated on the fighting, at trying to catch me off guard. That wasn't going to happen but I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was getting closer to landing a hit as time progressed.

During the fifteen minutes, I was getting more used to the fighting area and even used it to my advantage. Just as I moved back from a kick Steve sent my way, I used my momentum to flip backwards, sending my own kick as I did.

Well, neither kick landed but I'll still take that as point for me because Steve still hadn't got a hit in.

"Hey, Ed?"

I ducked a punch, circling around Steve quickly to squat and try to trip him. No success. "Yeah?"

"Why didn't you go with your uncles in Prague?" he asked as whirled around, trying another kick. "Not that I'm complaining that you're still on the team," he added quickly as I ducked again to which he followed with another lower kick, faster than I expected. I rolled away, standing and getting back into my fighting stance. "I just felt there was more to that explanation but, honestly, I didn't want to push it."

I backed away, holding up my hands as I took a breather as well as a moment to come up with a plausible explanation that Steve would be alright hearing. Steve relaxed, placing his hands on his hips as he breathed deeply.

"Well, do you at least believe that I do want to help you get rid of Hydra?" I began. I had gotten too invested now to stop. I couldn't just turn my back on the team nor on the soldiers that Hydra captures to use as worker slaves in their factories.

He nodded. "But that's not the only reason, is it?"

Sometimes I hated how well Steve knew me…

I sighed, crossing my arms as I tried to formulate an answer, one that would be the trust but was still not the full truth. "I'm trying to find my brother, Steve. I can't do that in America. Besides, I – I don't know where I'd want to stay once this war is over… E-Russel and Fletcher made up their minds in staying in the USA. I don't need to be there, reminding of what they left or of possibly moving somewhere else."

Steve nodded slowly and I hope he took the explanation well. What I told him was the truth – parts of a bigger truth – but I didn't lie to him. I didn't like lying to him anymore than I already have…

And thankfully I caught myself before calling Edward by his real name… That would never have flown.

"Makes sense," agreed Steve finally and I felt my shoulders sag slightly in relief.

"And I'm nothing but trouble anyway. They don't need that," I added with a smirk to try and lighten the mood. It did get Steve to crack a smile but I sensed something else was bugging him from the look on his face. Damn… If he was getting to know me, the same can be said about me knowing him. "Is something else bothering you?" I asked slowly.

Steve breathed deeply and I waited until he finally said, "Bucky, I'm worried about him."

Oh. I had not been expecting that topic. "What happened?"

"He… It may sound weird but… He isn't the same since we got him back from that Hydra factory."

I thought back to all the stories Steve had told me about Bucky while we toured in the USA. They had spent many years together, were practically brothers, inseparable until Bucky enlisted. I had heard of people coming back from war different, changed – Mustang and Hawkeye came to mind – but I didn't know how Bucky changed.

No one even knew what had happened to him at the Hydra factory.

"I'm guessing he won't talk about it?" I tried.

Steve shook his head. "He insists he's fine but I can tell something is still bothering him."

I leaned against one of the corner posts, massaging my chin. "Stubborn. I'm not surprised."

Steve scoffed. "How did you think I got used to you so fast?"

I smirked, looking away. "Yeah, you're still getting the hang of it. Now, what could we do to help Bucky?" I thought back to the stories I had heard, going over common factors. Most common one: Steve. But Bucky's with Steve near constantly nowadays when on missions. "When was the last time he went out for fun?"

"The time with us and everyone else from the Team. Christmas."

"Okay. How about just the two of you?"

Steve thought it over. "About a week ago. I tried to get him to open up. It didn't work so I changed the subject." I sighed, trying to figure out what else we could do. Steve, on the other hand, seemed to have had a realization. "He hasn't been out on a date in a while."

A date? Thinking it over, that was another common thread in the stories: how Bucky had always been good with the ladies. Since I've met him though… I haven't really seen him even flirting with someone.

I nearly scoffed out loud at that thought. I barely notice flirting to begin with so I'm sure I must have missed any flirting attempts from Bucky on women.

"It could work," I finally said. "Get him to talk to someone not involved in the fighting like we are. Who wouldn't know about Hydra." The more I talked, the better the idea sounded to me. "Good luck even though I hope it does help him somewhat." I paused, lowering my gaze as I stuffed my hands into my pockets. "If you want…," I began slowly, "I guess… I guess I could try at some point to talk to him as well." It would be a good idea even if it gave the possibility for Bucky to ask his own questions.

But… I couldn't sit back for this either.

I glanced up at Steve and he was smiling gratefully. "Thanks, Ed, it means a lot." He did look more relaxed. "And, in the meantime, we'll try to get rid of these Hydra factories as quickly as possible so we can end this war."

"That sounds like a good plan," I agreed, pushing off the post and walking back towards the center of the ring. "Ready for round two?"

"In a moment, there's one last thing."

I frowned at that. It didn't look like he had anything else bothering him like he had with Bucky. "Yeah. What is it?"

"Seeing as you're free tomorrow night, be ready to head out by 7pm, alright?"

My frown deepened. "Who said I was free?"

"You had plans?"

Well… Apart from being with anyone from the team, Peggy or Howard, I would have gone to the library. However, it wasn't open that late tomorrow and I really hadn't planned anything with any of them either. "No…"

"Good. Stay that way and be ready."

"Ready for what? Are we going on another mission already? We just got back!"

"No, no mission. Just be ready."

I threw my hands in the air in exasperation. If he didn't want to make sense of the situation, I wasn't in the mood to push it. "Fine, fine. Be all secretive. I'll be ready. But, "I held up a warning finger at Steve, "if it's something silly, I'm heading right back to the room and locking the door."

Steve was trying to keep his smile to a minimum as he answered, "Don't worry, it'll be worth it."

That didn't exactly make me feel better…


 

The next day, I was back in the bed, still staring at that damned transmutation circle. I nearly had the outer rim deciphered but it was such a slow process… It was driving me crazy! I spent nearly all day on it and got almost nowhere!

I guess I should be thankful that 7 o'clock rolled around and that a knock on my door distracted me from the circle and from pulling my hair out.

I slid on my jacket, stuffing my notebook into my pocket as I opened the door. Steve and Bucky were waiting on the other side and they both greeted me.

"Ready to go?" added Steve.

"Almost." I reached for my scarf and hat, putting them on as I left the room, locking the door behind me. "So, where are we going?"

"You'll see."

I rolled my eyes at their behavior seeing as neither of them seemed to be willing to give me a clear answer.

"Did you eat?" wondered Bucky and my stomach answered for me. "That's what we thought," he laughed, handing me a paper bag. I opened the bag and my mouth started watering at the sight of the sandwich.

"Thanks," I said as I grabbed the food and taking a large bite of it. I followed them as we left the barracks, wondering, "So I'm guessing we're not going for dinner?"

"You'll see," replied Steve again and I rolled my eyes, taking another bite of the sandwich. As we walked, they attempted to make small talk and I indulged them, trying to figure out where they were leading me. I sadly finished the food too fast and I hoped there was more food wherever we were going.

I had to stop in my tracks though as they reached the entrance of a bar.

"Really?!" I cried out, unamused. "What is with all of you and drinking? If the whole point of this outing was to see me drunk again, it's NOT happening!"

Steve chuckled as he shook his head, making his way behind me and steering me all too easily to the door Bucky was holding open. Sometimes that serum gets on my nerves: he was even stronger than Armstrong and I couldn't wriggle myself out of the grip Steve had on my arms.

I swear, I'm going –

"There he is! Birthday boy has finally arrived!"

I was damn thankful Steve still had that grip on my arms or else I would have stumbled. Probably even tried running away.

The entire team was waiting for us, beers already in hand. I even spotted Peggy and Howard with them! I was stunned, moving automatically. Steve guided me to the table, finally letting my arm go. Someone handed me a beer and I just stared at it.

Birthday. We were February 3rd. It really was my birthday today.

Memories of the last ones flashed through my mind. Last year, I was at the SSR headquarters. I hadn't even realized my birthday had passed. The year before that, I was hiding out in the middle of the woods with three people who had tried to kill me at some point or another. I wasn't really into sharing that it had been my birthday.

Three years. It had been three years since I've celebrated my birthday with my brother. I continued to stare at the beer in my hands, trying to process that. Three of Al's birthdays I had missed as well.

How many more would I miss before I got back?

"Ed?"

I glanced to the side as Steve placed a hand on my shoulder. His expression was questioning and I almost felt bad. He had most likely organized this night and here I was, wallowing…

I smiled at him, the knowledge that I was going to finally spend a birthday amongst friends making it easier. Al would be celebrating his with Winry most likely. Granny would be there as well. Maybe even Colonel Bastard and Hawkeye. I needed to believe in that.

"Thanks everyone," I said, raising my beer to them.

"Happy Birthday, Kid!"

"A year older!"

"You can finally legally drink!"

I laughed at that last one. "Yeah, I guess so." I stole a glance at the beer, unable to believe the thought that crossed my mind. Oh, what the hell? "And I'll legally kick your asses at a drinking contest."

"You're on!" laughed Dum Dum as well and everyone save for Steve and Peggy knocked glasses.

I ignored Steve's cry of my name, bringing the mug to my lips and chugging the entire contents down in two gulps.

An echoing sound glass hitting wood from me first was well worth the exasperated sigh from Steve. Looks like I still got it.

The moment the others had finished, Dum Dum started yelling in celebration and the others followed suit. Why did I get the feeling this hadn't been their first beer that night…?

"Would you stop with all that – that howling?!" I cried out with a laugh, trying to be heard over the men.

They laughed and Falsworth leaned forward, finding something overly amusing. "Howling! I like that! Remember gents when I was trying to find us a name?"

"A name?" repeated Steve.

"Yes, for the rest of us!" continued Jim. "You have a cool name as Captain America, we thought we'd get one too!"

"And I suggested Commandos but I like it even better as Howling Commandos!" finished Falsworth as he motioned for another round of beers for most of us.

Meanwhile, I scoffed, a smirk on my face. "Seriously? That's the name you want to go with?"

"Have any better ideas, Kid?" remarked Dum Dum.

I didn't really, nor did I think the rest of us really needed a name but… I shook my head, only saying, "Nah, I guess it'll do."

The waitress returned with more beers and handed them out. Falsworth raised his, saying a little too loudly, "Cheers to Captain America and the Howling Commandos!"

Just as I toasted, Steve leaned towards me and whispered, "Try to savour this one, please."

I rolled my eyes. "Yes, sir." Just to annoy him, I took a large gulp, keeping eye contact with him and smirking he let out another exasperated sigh. It's his own fault anyway: I was going to slow it down by a lot but he decided to be a mother hen once more.

He'll learn one day that telling me what to do will have the opposite effect most of the time. Especially when it comes to trivial or logical matters. I haven't gotten drunk since that first time and I've barely drank since. Even last time, I wasn't even tipsy!

"You're such a mother hen, Steve!" laughed Howard, patting his friend on the back. "Let the Kid live a little. He's only 18 once! Let him have some fun tonight! Drink, laugh, maybe even dance with a pretty young woman." He gave a wink, motioning with his head. "I saw a few in that direction, heads up."

I was very thankful that I wasn't drinking anything at that moment or I could have choked on it. I should not have been surprised by that idea from Howard of all people but still! Now?! In front of everyone?!

Because they seemed to be agreeing to it!

"I'd want to dance with a pretty dame!" laughed Dum Dum before he raised his mug towards me. "But I'll let you have your pick first birthday boy!"

I was turning red, I could feel it and I hated that I couldn't stop myself from having that reaction. The idea of dancing with a girl I never met, a pretty one on top of that. Fuck, my face is heating up some more.

"Come now, don't be shy!" Howard moved next to me, turning me around and motioning towards a group of young women. "So, tell me, which one catches your eye?"

Which one…? "Wh-What?" I asked, shrinking back as some of the women noticed us staring. Howard even gave them a wave with his fingers.

I tried to turn back around but Howard got closer, stopping me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He's way too close to my automail!

"Seriously, which one do you prefer? I'll introduce you!" continued Howard and I don't know if I should be thankful of how much he's already had to drink: he'll be oblivious to the automail but that's because he's distracted by trying to get me a date! "The blonde? Brunette? Just tell me which one!"

I really didn't care. I really didn't, they were all pretty but that wasn't the issue. "It's fine, Howard. You don't need to!"

"Ah! Very manly of you, Ed. You'll go yourself. I like that and those girls will as well!"

"NO!" I hissed, finally pulling away from Howard and turning back to the table. My entire face was burning by then and I focused on my drink.

"Howard, it's fine. You should drop it," added Steve softly.

"Nonsense! It must have been a while since Ed's danced with a lovely lady! He'll –"

"I can't dance, alright?" I hissed quickly, hunching over my drink even more. "I haven't dance with a girl and I'm not planning on it at the moment… I'll most likely step on her foot and hurt her."

That finally got Howard to shut up. For a couple of seconds. "Well why didn't you say so? No shame in that, Ed! Remind me to take you out, just the two of us and I'll teach you a few things they ladies are sure to like!"

I groaned, massaging my head as unwanted images popped into my head at what Howard would possibly teach me.

"Don't worry, Ed," whispered Bucky next to me and I turned towards him. He was smiling as he continued, "Steve or I will distract him while the other actually teaches you. We don't need another Howard Stark running around!"

I chuckled at that, feeling more relaxed that the conversation was moving away from myself and my inability to dance. Bucky smiled back, patting me on my back before raising his mug towards me. I raised mine as well and we cheered before taking another sip.

Bucky actually took a gulp of his beer and I let myself study him for a brief moment, my conversation with Steve coming back to me, about how Bucky was different from how Steve had known him. I wondered how exactly. At the moment, Bucky looked relaxed, happy. Maybe it was because he was with us? I didn't see Bucky alone or just with Steve so maybe…

Is this an act he's putting on for the others?

I had to pull my gaze away and focus on the others before they caught me staring too much at Bucky. However, in the back of my head for the rest of the night, I constantly wondered what exactly was different about the Bucky I know and the Bucky Steve knew.


 

"Edward."

I paused in the middle of pulling on my coat, glancing towards Peggy. "Yeah?"

"Would you be free two nights from now?"

I blinked, confused on how two different people have asked me similar questions in the last two days. And I began wondering if I should actually start planning things because, once more… "I don't have anything then so I guess so." I paused, thinking it over. "Is it another secret thing like this?" I motioned around us, for the idea of a surprise party. Was it someone else birthday soon?

Peggy hesitated as she glanced around. I noticed how the others were already at the door, talking, so no one we knew was nearby. "Not quite. Most likely a similar setting but its reason is quite different."

That peeked my curiosity. "Really? And why's that?"

She leaned in as she said, "SSR related. I need your help."

I tried not to let my surprise show at that. Peggy needed my help for a mission? At a bar setting none the less? What would I have to do? Out drink the person and have them drunk enough to spill their secrets?

I eyed Peggy as she waited patiently for my answer. I was tempted to reuse only for the first five seconds of the thought process only because it could be at a bar. However, it was Peggy who was asking for help.

After everything she's done for me…

"Of course," I replied.

Chapter Text

Even if it was Peggy who asked, I should have said ‘no’. I probably would have felt bad for a couple of hours, maybe a few days but… It would probably have been worth it.

                Instead, I was standing in the middle of Peggy’s apartment, staring wide eyed at the clothes on the bed. I was trying to process what Peggy had in mind as a mission and no scenario I ever imagined included… included…

                “Evelyn? Are you still with me?”

                I absentmindedly nodded at Peggy’s question, still unable to tear my eyes away from…

                “Evelyn, I promise you, it’ll be fine,” Peggy began, stepping next to me. “I’ve already explained that the others will be out already, well away from wherever we will be going. No one will recognize you.”

                Recognize me. Yeah, that’s the worst case scenario… “Peggy, you – you’re asking me to… That’s a…”

                “Dress, Evelyn. And a wig. With some makeup and the eyeglasses, no one will dare make the connection.”

                “A DRESS!”

                I’ll admit it was a pretty dress. I really did like it, especially considering it was red, the shade I liked. I hadn’t actually worn a dress since after the Baschool incident when I was laying low as my injuries healed. It added more safety since no one thought of looking for a female Fullmetal Alchemist.

                But on this side… I could only dream about wearing one. I couldn’t actually go through with putting it on: it was too risky!

                “Evelyn, listen.” Peggy placed a hand on my shoulder, leaning a little closer. “I promise you this will work out. I wouldn’t ask this of you if I had another option: I don’t. I’ve already sent someone else who knew basic German but it wasn’t enough to get all the information. The other agent fluent enough isn’t comfortable out in the field: she has no training. You’re my best hope.”

                “But why do I need to wear a dress? Why can’t I go as Edward?”

                Peggy smirked, “You said it yourself, Evelyn: women are disregarded. These men drop their guard around women. What do we know, right?” Even though she said that last part with a hint of sarcasm, it still looked like it bothered her to actually verbalize it. With a sigh, she took a seat on the bed. “Besides, we’ve already tried sending a male agent. He didn’t get a shred of information… We know sending female spies is our best option, we just need one who is fluent enough in German to get us the proper amount of information.”

                I bit back a groan, debating internally whether I should go through with this or not. The entire idea of the mission seemed simple enough: gather information from the Hydra spies in the city and find out what they were planning. The fact that Peggy and I would be going was a near guarantee success in my opinion.

                But it was that a damn – a damn pretty – dress.

                I had not gone out at ANY point as Evelyn since arriving here a year ago. Ever since being in the presence of the SSR and of Steve, I never dared.

                But…

                I missed it. I couldn’t lie to myself. I did miss it. Being seen as a guy or a girl is good and all but I much prefer it when it wasn’t a choice forced on me because of the circumstances. In Amestris, if I had wanted to go as a girl, I would. I’d be freaking out a few locals from time to time which was fun. Other times, if I wanted to look male, I would.

                Here, as I said, I didn’t have a choice. This world may be advanced technologically speaking but their social norms is lacking.

                And, if Peggy thought using that weakness was a way to have a successful mission, I had to trust her.

                “Fine,” I finally sighed, massaging my face.

                Peggy smiled, reaching for my hand and gripping it tightly. “Wonderful. Thank you, Evelyn. If it all goes well, you could possibly even have some fun tonight as well.”

                I held back a scoff at that idea: I needed to keep an open mind but… I will have that looming fear over me that someone will recognize me.

                Peggy stood suddenly. “Shall we?”


 

                Half an hour later, I stood in front of Peggy’s full-length mirror, transfixed. I was unable to pull my gaze away from the girl staring back at me. I faintly heard Peggy moving around behind me as she got ready as well but…

                I… That was me?

                I – I didn’t know where to begin…

                The dress. The dress itself was beautiful. I had never worn something like this back in Amestris, I never had a reason to, to be honest. It thankfully had long sleeves and covered my shoulders – and my scars. I tugged slightly at the neckline as it dipped a tad too low for my liking but I guess it helped pull attention away from other things. Like my left leg. Peggy had fashioned a stocking like cover for my automail in a cream color that made it look like it actually was skin as well as hide the sharper edges of my automail. The whole thing was covered with dark stocking and I could almost believe I had a flesh leg.

                Almost but it was enough to fool others. I hope.

                I had the shortest heels Peggy could find on my feet, simple black ones, and thankfully she had found them. Without the feeling in my left leg, I couldn’t exactly tell if my foot was about to wobble off balance or not: hence why I wore boots with a single surface across the sole.

                Just in case, we wrapped my ankle tightly to keep it straight.

                Finally… I had never pictured myself with dark hair but… it was growing on me. It was a shorter cut than what I had in Amestris but I had never styled my hair like this back then: I actually had CURLS at the ends! Curls! My hair is much too straight to have even considered that.

                I readjusted my glasses and played with the bangs. Yeah, I guess those will work in distracting others from my golden eyes. I knew back in Amestris golden eyes were rare but I didn’t think it would have been the same case on this side. I was wrong.

                I took a deep breath, my gaze going over the makeup Peggy had applied, the red lipstick just as deep a red as the dress. I turned from side to side, hands on my hips, watching the material of the dress swish around my legs.

                And I kept staring at how small my waist looked. I had completely forgotten I even had a waist and the synching of the dress emphasized it a lot.

                “You look wonderful, Evelyn. Are you ready?”

                I turned towards Peggy, taking in her disguise. She had also switched hair colour, wearing a pale blonde wig. And she looked good in her blue dress which was more flattering than what the SSR had as a uniform for their agents.

                I nodded towards her. “I’m ready and you also look great.”

                “Ready for the act?” she asked, adding a significant amount of peppiness to her voice.

                I breathed deeply, putting on the accent I had been practicing, the British one. “Ready as ever.” Which, in all honestly, wasn’t a complete lie. I was just ready enough with the nerves I had eating away at me from the inside.


 

                I followed Peggy inside the dance hall, trying to keep my breathing under control. No one you know is here. I kept repeating that over and over in my head, even as I handed my coat to the clerk and we followed the flow of people into the hall itself.

                “Breathe, Evelyn,” whispered Peggy as she leaned down slightly, smiling brightly.

                I swallowed with difficulty but did as she said. Breathe. I also recalled her previous comment: even though it was a mission, I could possibly enjoy myself as a girl for one night.

                I shakily smiled up at her which seemed to be the right thing to do. She hooked her arm around my right one and led me through the crowd of people on the edge of the dance floor. As Peggy easily searched for our targets above the heads of others – which reminded me all too much of our height difference, even if I was wearing heels – my gaze was drawn to the couples on the dance floor.

                That was NOT the same dancing as in Amestris! Even what I had seen at the bar the other night was nothing compared to this!

                “Evelyn.”

                I pulled my attention back to the crowd, focusing on our targets – trying to spot them through the crowd unlike Peggy who could search for them over the others. “Sorry,” I muttered in my British accent.

                Peggy only nodded before pulling me towards a nearby, empty table. Discreetly glancing around, I noticed our targets one table over.

                “This one is wonderful!” cheered Peggy happily as she plopped into her seat. I followed her lead less enthusiastically, biting my tongue from telling her that that blond girl stereotype is too much. “What did you have in mind for a drink, sweetie?” Yeah, way too much…

                But, I needed to play the part of an unassuming woman. “Whatever you’re having,” I replied with a bit of a laugh and a smaller smile. Peggy’s was enough for the both of us at the moment.

                “Oh, then, you’ll love this!” She winked, sending me a signal as she motioned towards a waiter and began ordering. My focus turned to trying to hear the conversation of the men behind me.

                I guess it was because of the serum but I could pinpoint some sounds much better than I used to. Not that I’m complaining.

                “- we’ve spent too much time preparing this…

                Peggy had finished ordering and returned her attention to me. She gave a slight tilt of her head and a smile. I just returned the smile and nodded, letting her know that I was able to hear the conversation behind me.

                “Shut up. You know how the boss is with this. He doesn’t want to fuck up.

                The other man scoffed. “Yeah, I know all too well about that. He just wants to kiss the Red Skull’s ass and move up the ranks.

                “Well, if this goes as plan, he will and he’ll reward those loyal to him.

                “Yeah, whatever you say.

                The waiter returned to our table with our drinks and I smiled up at him from under my bangs. I was still getting used to them but, as Peggy had said, it helped hide the colour of my eyes on top of what the glasses distracted from. I was fine with that: anything to keep others focused on something else than my golden irises and the possible connection between Edward Elric and Evelyn.

                “Do you know when it’ll happen?

                “Planning for this week.

                I glanced at the glass in front of me, confused by its contents. Why did I think I’d be drinking a beer? Why aren’t we drinking beers…?

                “Well, the SSR won’t know what hit them.

                “They will not be expecting this!

                “We just need to make sure the Captain’s team is occupied at that point.

                “Agreed.

                There was a pause in the conversation behind me so I took advantage to ask Peggy, “What is this?” I held up my glass and the smell of alcohol hit my nose.

                “A Manhattan,” replied Peggy with a smile, raising her glass and knocking it with mine. “Enjoy!” To which she added under her breath, “It’s not that strong but don’t gulp it down.”

                Good to know even though I didn’t understand why the drink had the same name as the place in New York... Was it invited there? Anyway, I couldn’t ponder on that for now.

I sent her a thankful smile before taking a sip of the drink. I needed to focus on not making a face as it went down. I don’t think I would have ever thought it but… I preferred beer. At least beer didn’t taste this – this strong!

                I noticed Peggy’s gaze lift slightly behind me and I resisted the urge to turn around to see what was going on. It was my turn it seemed to provide the small talk and I kept the one-sided conversation going as Peggy nodded, smiled, even as her eyes followed whatever was going on behind me.

                “Hey, I’ll be right back,” cut in Peggy at one point, giving me a wink. Okay… I’m not sure what that would mean…

                I watched her leave, lifting the glass of alcohol up as I did. Smelling it once more made me change my mind and I just pretended to take a sip. I was not going back to that hard taste just yet.

                Peggy had made her way across the dance floor by now and “accidentally” ran into one of the men from the table behind me. Giving it a quick side glance, only one of them was left. Well, I wasn’t getting more out of this conversation anytime soon… Peggy continued to put on that overly preppy act and it actually seemed to be working on the man. Hopefully she would get some more information out of the idiot.

                “Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?”

                Peggy had a hand on the man’s shoulder, laughing at something he said. And then, something registered… Why did that voice I heard sound familiar?

                “Miss?”

                Oh, fuck. Whoever it was, he was talking to me. That familiar voice was talking to me! I slowly turned, pulling my gaze away from Peggy and the man reluctantly. Maybe I convince whoever it is to leave –

                I stopped breathing.

                FUCK. YOU. GATE!

                None other than Bucky Barnes was standing at the other side of the table, leaning slightly on the chair across from me. I couldn’t believe it. What sick game was the Gate playing?

                “Sorry if I bothered you, miss,” he began quickly. “Just thought you’d like the company.”

                My first instinct was to run, run far away and not look back until I was back in Peggy’s apartment and out of this dress once and for all.

                However, it would also cause quite a scene, drawing more attention to myself than I would ever want. Besides, I’d be leaving Peggy alone with those Hydra goons and I couldn’t do that in good conscience.

                Then I should just say ‘NO’. Simple as that. I wouldn’t want the company and I’d prefer being alone. Maybe even telling him I already had a date. That was what Peggy was, no?

I was struggling to say that though…

On one hand, Bucky could figure out my secret if he stayed and that was my worst case scenario coming true.

On the other hand… The conversation I had with Steve came back, how he was going to convince Bucky to try and go on a date with someone, to get back to his normal self. This must be why Bucky was here of all places while the rest of the Howling Commandos were off somewhere else. If I flat out reject Bucky now, that could be a HUGE step back for him and I’d have to live with the disappointment Steve has towards the girl who rejected his best friend.

Why was this so damn complicated? This was supposed to be an easy mission!

                Just actually studying him now, I could see that he was hesitant, like he expected me to reject him.

                Well, to be fair, it had been a while since he asked…

                “Um… Sure, that would be lovely,” I finally replied, putting on an even thicker British accent.

                I watched him closely and was thankful to notice he didn’t seem to recognize me just yet. I’ll be pushing my luck but… I was doing this for Bucky and for Steve.

                He smiled gratefully at me, almost looking relieved. “Thanks!” He pulled out the chair he had been leaning on and took a seat. “I’m sorry to have intruded as I did, I just didn’t want pass up this opportunity.”

                Uh… “What opportunity?” I asked, frowning. To sit down? There was still several empty seats around the dance hall. I even saw some with girls all by themselves as well. I internally groaned. Why did Bucky have to find me out of all of them?!

                Bucky’s smile seemed easier the more he talked to me; looking more like the man I knew from our time together when I was Edward. “To be in the company of a pretty dame such as yourself. I’m sure you have lines of guys asking you for a dance.”

                Fuck… My face was burning up at what he said and I felt my mouth drop open. That was the opportunity? Why did I even think it was just because he wanted to sit?!

And how – how do I respond to that?! How do I even process that BUCKY just called me pretty?!

                “Uh… Not really. You’re the first to talk to me,” I replied, grabbing my glass and going for a drink. Maybe I’d need something stronger if Bucky keeps this – this flirting up. Ugh, just that thought had my face flushing even more.

                “Really?” Bucky sounded genuinely surprised at that. “Shame… By the way, name’s Bucky.”

                I know… “Evelyn,” I replied instead. “Nice to meet you.”

                I had only rarely seen that smile on Bucky since I met him. He looked… happy, relaxed.

                Stop fucking blushing, Evelyn Elric!

                Bucky’s gaze finally pulled away from me as he looked around. His smile lessened though the moment he spotted Peggy’s unfinished glass nearby. He motioned to it, “Friend? I’m sorry if I insisted too much.”

                I felt some guilt eat at me so I shook my head. Why I felt guilty was beyond me because it would have been a good thing for me if Bucky left but not for his self-esteem. “It’s fine, I said it was okay and she’s currently occupied.” I gestured to the dance floor, spotting Peggy dancing with our target. Maybe I should keep a closer eye on her just in case she needed help instead of worrying about my moral dilemma with Bucky…

                He glanced over the dance floor before turning back towards me. “Well, what do you say? Want to join them?”

                I froze, watching the couples dance. They were close and they moved FAST, doing steps I had never seen. “Uh… Well… I – I can’t dance,” I replied staring intently at Peggy, not wanting to see Bucky’s reaction.

                “Really? I’m sure you’d do fine!”

                I shook my head. “No, really,” I said quickly. I really didn’t want him to keep insisting and push for us to go onto that dance floor. “I have no idea what to do. I’d step all over your feet and probably hurt you. I wouldn’t want that…”

                Bucky didn’t answer right away but I stubbornly refused to turn towards him. My glass looked very interesting and I took another sip. Ugh… I hate to say it but I do miss beer…

                “Want me to teach you?” asked Bucky and he sounded so sincere that I had to look at him.  I guess this is why he had so many dates back in the USA: that look made it hard to say ‘no’ to him. “We can get the band to play something slow.”

                “Uh…” I really didn’t feel comfortable with that idea. The proximity and especially the hold sent red flags waving frantically in my head. He’d feel my right hand and he could put two and two together.

                ‘Mechanical aid’ will give me away easily.

                “Maybe another time?” I tried, knowing full well there wouldn’t actually be another time. Bucky looked disappointed and I felt bad once more. “Sorry, just not tonight…”

                He nodded plastering on another smile. “I’ll respect your wishes, Evelyn.”

                “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

                I glanced back at where I had last seen Peggy and spotted her walking off the dance floor, arm in arm with our target. I sat a bit straighter because they were heading towards the back of the hall.

                “Evelyn?”

                Had Peggy sent me a signal? Should I follow her?

                “Evelyn? Is everything alright?”

                If Bucky would stop talking for half a second, I could maybe figure out what my next action would be.

                “Evelyn?”

                Now the man left at the table got up and was walking in the same direction. Oh fuck. What did Peggy get herself into?

                “Ed?”

                I rolled my eyes, frustrated with Bucky’s constant calls. “What?” I snapped, turning towards him.

                We just stared at each other for several heartbeats, eyes wide. I – I fucked up. He called me Ed. What…? How…?

                Bucky finally leaned back, slapping the table, an overly large smile on his face. “I knew it!”

                “What…?” I can salvage this. I can. I – “You called me –?”

                “Ed. Nice British accent, by the way. Quite convincing.” He even had the audacity to wink at that.

                Fuck… FUCK!

I. AM. IN. TROUBLE.

Chapter Text

               I stared at Bucky, gaping at him. I couldn’t formulate the right words, nothing was coming out. He – he knew? How?! When?! Every instinct told me to run out of there, maybe even knock Bucky out in the process so he doesn’t follow.

               But I couldn’t. Peggy needed help.

               Bucky, meanwhile, gave me a once over with an appreciative nod. “You clean up nicely, I’ll have to admit.”

               I frowned to try to hide my blush. Okay, think this through. He said he knew it. Knew what exactly was the question. He could very well have known I was Edward this entire time. I can play that off.

               I could.

               Couldn’t I?

               “Thanks but now’s not the time,” I said, trying to keep my composure.

 I glanced back to where Peggy was heading. She was almost out of sight and I stood. That didn’t really help though… I still couldn’t see her any better…

               Bucky imitated me, trying to spot whatever I was looking at. “Mind telling me what’s going on?”

               I motioned for him to follow me as I headed onto the dance floor, ignoring the question for now. I’ll have other moments to explain this to him, preferably when I get my thoughts in order before.

I dodged the dancing couples, trying to keep an eye on Peggy as she appeared and disappeared behind the dancers. I kept my right arm close, not wanting to draw attention to myself in case the metal hit someone by accident. I have enough problems at the moment without adding anything else to the mix!

               Halfway through the crowd, I was suddenly tugged to the side by an arm around my waist and I immediately thought it was an attack. I gripped that arm tightly, ready to throw the attacker off and over my –

               “Back up, she’s with me,” cut in Bucky, prying my left hand off the man’s arm, keeping his grip on it as he pulled me away. He held me close to him and I finally got a good look at whoever it was who had grabbed me: it was just another patron of the dance hall and he looked slightly intoxicated.

               The man was massaging his arm, scowling. “Fine, keep that broad! She’s dangerous!”

               “I know and I will,” replied Bucky with a smirk.

               Oh, I’m going to kill him. I watched the man storm off before glancing down at where Bucky was still holding my hand. I cleared my throat but I don’t think he heard me over the music. I rolled my eyes instead, tugging him in the direction Peggy had gone and I saw her disappear through a corridor entrance.

               Shit…

               Bucky stopped next to me, leaning down. “So, what exactly is going on?”

               “Peggy. I don’t know if she needs help,” I explained, motioning towards the corridor.

               “Agent Carter?” repeated Bucky, surprised. “I’ve heard she’s pretty good in a fight though.”

               He had a point with that but… “Whether or not she’s good in a fight isn’t the problem. She doesn’t have a weapon and those men most likely do. They’re Hydra spies!”

               That caught Bucky’s attention and he straightened, looking around. “So you’re not out just for a good time… That does change things. What do you have in mind?”

               I looked up at him, frowning. “You really think I’d do this for the fun of it? Putting on a dress and a wig?” I motioned to the ensemble I was wearing, putting up the act that I was just crossdressing and not actually a female.

               “Why not? You need to enjoy yourself as a girl from time to time, no?”

               No, no, no, no. He can’t keep that train of thought. “What are you talking about?”

               Bucky frowned, eyeing me once more from head to toe. “Really?”

               “Really.” I repeated, masking my worry with a frown of my own.

               He did another once over which had me rolling my eyes and turning away. Just as I was about to take another step, Bucky squeezed my hand tighter, pulling me back and keeping me from going anywhere. “Listen, Ed, you don’t need to put up this act for me. Don’t you trust me enough to tell me the truth?”

               I – “What truth?” I wanted it to come out more snappy but the words had gotten caught in my throat and it sounded pathetic even to my ears.

               A flash of hurt passed over Bucky’s face and I had a hard time keeping eye contact with him. Maybe I had been wrong in assuming he thought it was Edward in a dress… Maybe he did know I was a girl.

               His exclamation of ‘I knew it’ made more sense now…

               I breathed deeply, letting out a shaky breath. “Fine…” I forced myself to look up at him, to meet his gaze. “I am biologically female. I don’t care whether people see me as a woman or as a man but… to stay on this team and to have the SSR trust me enough to even LET me stay on this team, I need to pretend I’m male.”

               Bucky had a small smile going on after my explanation. “That’s more like it. You definitely do not have the figure of a man dressing as a woman anyway.”

               I tried to push the thought of him actually studying my figure to the back of my mind. “I could. And besides, how would know? Ever dressed as a woman?”

               Bucky laughed out loud which I noticed eased the tension his shoulders. “Point taken. But I did have a feeling you weren’t a man, Ed. This,” he motioned to all of me, “just proved my suspicions.”

               Fuck… Suspicions. I’m going to have to interrogate him later on exactly how he got his suspicions… But, for now, “Can we have this conversation another time? Because I have a lot of questions for you but we need to help Peggy first.”

“That’s fine with me. So, what’s the plan?”

I breathed deeply, looking back at the corridor. Seeing as I was only somewhat proficient at sneaking around and not getting caught, we’ll have to settle for my favorite method. “I guess what we’re good at,” I explained with a smirk, “running head first and hope for the best.”

“That’s what you’re good at, Ed.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said. Let’s go.”

 

Bucky and I casually made our way towards the back corridor, trying to draw the least amount of attention to us. I scanned the area around us but no one was even glancing in our direction, more focused on their partners or friends.

Hence why we slipped away without problem.

Now came the harder part: getting to Peggy without causing a scene and tipping Hydra off that we were onto them.

And maybe also getting Bucky to finally let go of my hand.

I tugged at it a few times, trying to get free but Bucky just took that as assign to get closer. Too close.

At least with that proximity, I could whisper, “Can you let my hand go now? I may need it.”

“Oh, yeah. No problem.”

However, between saying it and actually doing it, I was tempted to yank my hand away considering how long he was taking. At least he had finally did let go… Good, now I could focus my attention back on –

Shit. A Hydra spy – the one that had been at the table – turned the corner and spotted us. Just as he opened his mouth, I slammed my right fist up, into his jaw. His head snapped back but he didn’t go down. Well, he’s tougher than most men I’ve faced before. He threw a punch at my head and I ducked to the side, trying to get out of his range.

I got out of range but not in the way I had expected. My fear about my left foot and the heels came true and I stumbled to the side, hitting the wall hard.

Damn it!

Just as the goon went for another swing, Bucky hit him in the back of the head and it gave me the opportunity to push off the wall, punching the Hydra man in the face.

That at least finally managed to get him crumbling to the floor, unconscious.

“Are you alright, Ed?” asked Bucky.

I nodded. “Yeah. You?”

He shrugged as he grabbed hold of the man’s arms. “I’m fine since I’m not the one who went flying because of their heels.”

I heard the amusement in his voice as he pulled the spy away and I scowled. “You put a pair on next time!” I hissed as I followed him into an empty room.

Bucky chuckled, shaking his head. “Nah, they wouldn’t look as good on me anyway.”

My scowl didn’t lessen as I watched with crossed arms as Bucky shrugged off the man’s jacket most of the way down his arms and then proceeded to tie his wrists up with it.

He stepped back once done, admiring his work. “Think it’ll be enough?”

“He could call for help if he wakes up,” I remarked, already getting closer and reaching for the man’s tie.

“Good thinking. If we can get him to the SSR on top of everything, we could probably get a lot of intel from him.”

That made me pause, remembering what Steve had said about the previous Hydra spy he had encountered: the one who shot Dr. Erskine.

I let the tie go and opened the man’s mouth, tilting his head up as I did.

“Ed?”

“A Cyanidkapsel is hidden in their mouths in case they get captured. We – well, I – need to get it out before he wakes up and uses it.”

“A what?”

“Poison,” I explained, finally spotting the tooth that looked out of place.

Keeping his mouth open with my right hand, I pulled off my left glove with my teeth and reached in. I managed to pull out the capsule without it breaking and held it out to the light.

“Cyanide, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah, that’s zyanid in English. Now he’ll be able to give us all the information we could need without killing himself.”

I pocketed the capsule, pulling my glove back on before tugging the man’s tie off and stuffing it in his mouth. I eyed him for a moment, more comfortable with this mission than the Hydra base ones to be honest. I’ll admit, the dressing up part, I could possibly live without, especially with what happened with Bucky. However, it was the fact that Peggy and I weren’t killing the Hydra spies; Peggy wasn’t even forcing me to carry and use a gun unlike the time she and Howard dropped us off at the first Hydra base.

However, I knew I wasn’t able to go on more of these types of missions for a very simple reason: I don’t have the disposition to flirt the information out of the targets… And I’m fine with that: I can only tell half the time if someone is flirting with me, I wasn’t about to attempt it with someone else!

“Quick question,” began Bucky, snapping me out of my train of thought, “were you supposed to get close to these spies? Did I mess up your mission?”

I quickly shook my head. “Fuck, no. I was just here to listen to their conversations and to translate any documents we found. And, even though Peggy had not wanted it to get to that point, fight my way through them… She was the one to get close to them if she needed to and I was to provide backup.”

Bucky attempted to hide his smirk but it wasn’t really working. “You? Not get into a fight?” He took a deep breath as he tried to hide a chuckle too. “Sorry to tell you, you did a horrible job at not doing that.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fuck you.”

Bucky let his laughter come out as he shook his head. “So, I guess the excuse we heard as to why you weren’t available tonight wasn’t a total lie.”

“Just not the total truth.” Peggy had come up with the excuse that she needed me to translate German files, to see if I could catch nuances that non-native speakers would miss. As I said, not a complete lie since I was on this mission mainly to translate “So, ready to go?” I asked as I headed back towards the door.

“Ed, wait, are you going to be alright if we get into another fight?” I gave Bucky a bewildered look. Me? Not being good in a fight? What was he…? He pointed at my feet. “Heels? That was the first time I’ve ever seen you stumble – without alcohol to be fair.”

Oh… I eyed my shoes and the height of the heels. I was still fine with walking but it was the quicker movements of my footwork during a fight that got me into trouble before. The only problem was my automail. I wasn’t about to take the chance of Bucky hearing my automail foot hit the tiled floor over and over again as we snuck through the back rooms. I didn’t care if there was music that could possibly muffle the sound: possible and certain were two hugely different things and I was NOT taking that chance.

I didn’t need Bucky on my case for something else.

“I’ll kick them off if it comes down to another fight,” I proposed, motioning towards the door. “And, to be fair, you won’t see me stumble because of alcohol ever again.”

Bucky sighed but followed me anyway.

The next stretch was a short one as we came across a door clearly marked “For Authorized Personnel Only”. Well, I’ll just pretend I don’t read English. I slowly pushed open the door, glancing on the other side. Another damn corridor without a soul in sight. That had me begin to worry for Peggy’s safety. Where was she? We got to a corner and I slowly glanced around it. No one. That didn’t calm my nerves what so ever…

Bucky and I continued our way in silence until I faintly heard a conversation from one of the upcoming rooms. As we got closer, I began distinguishing words and I motioned to Bucky for us to enter the neighboring, deserted room, telling him to be quiet as I did.

He looked puzzled but followed my instructions anyway. It is true though that he most likely didn’t hear anything from the other side of the wall but I just managed to catch their conversation.

“– plan working or not?

Yes, the SSR one is. We have the bombs prepped and ready to be shipped out within the week. If our information is accurate, we’ll destroy their headquarters on Ladbroke Grove and they won’t know what hit them.

I held in a scoff upon hearing that: their plan was doomed to fail from the start! The SSR headquarters was nowhere near Ladbroke Grove. Or at least, I don’t think it was near there. I knew the address and it definitely wasn’t on Ladbroke Grove. On the other hand though, innocent bystanders could get hurt because of these bombs and that’s where we come in to stop them.

That’s all good and everything but I want to know about the one dealing with the pests following Captain America.

That caught my attention and I concentrated even more on the voices, not wanting to miss out on information just because I tuned into the music instead.

“There isn’t any official word on that one yet…

But our intel tells us that they’re back in London! I even heard that they had been going out drinking. Those times would be perfect opportunities to catch them off guard like we’re doing with the SSR!

Oh shit… They have spies on us? Since when? And how much do they know? I’ll definitely have to mention that to Peggy so that she can let the team know. Sadly for the others, our outings may need to be limited in the future.

I’m not disagreeing with you.

Then we should at least push for it or something! We have so many different versions of plans that could work! We could even convince that German kid to spy for us or something!

Like that would ever –!

I was suddenly yanked back and I stumbled over my heels. I hit the wall solidly and, the moment I got my bearings, felt a presence looming over me. He quickly leaned an arm against the wall, blocking my view of the door while the other wrapped around my waist.

“Bucky –?”

“Sorry! Play along!” he hissed quickly.

And he leaned down, planting his lips on mine and I froze.

What the hell is… going on…?

Bucky deepened the kiss and my legs buckled. He held me tighter, keeping me upright all while pressing our bodies together and…

Play along.

I gave in.

I returned the kiss, gripping the front of his shirt tightly, pulling him towards me.

“HEY! What are you doing here?!”

Bucky pulled away, looking annoyed as he took a deep breath. I couldn’t stop staring at him, at his lips. There was lipstick on them.

My lipstick.

He – he kissed me. I kissed back…

It’s not like I hadn’t been kissed before but…

Breathe, Evelyn!

Why couldn’t I get my heart to stop racing? It was hammering in my chest almost painfully.

“Can’t we get a little privacy around here?” remarked Bucky and I realize he still had his arm around my waist and was keeping me close. I hadn’t exactly let go of his shirt either…

What is going on?!

“Not in here! Get lost!”

Two men. Brain, process things faster damn it! Hydra spies most likely from their posture and their accent. We have to take care of them, we had to stop them while not drawing attention so that others don’t show up on top of everything else.

BRAIN! FOCUS!

Bucky held up a hand. “Fine, fine, we’re going!”

He turned enough to have me let go of his shirt but he still had his arm around my waist.

And he was continuously giving my waist a squeeze, several times in a row.

I got this. On a normal day, I could easily take on two unsuspecting men by myself. With Bucky alongside, this should be easy.

As long as I lose my left heel before fighting.

Bucky and I made our way towards the exit and effectively towards the Hydra spies. Once close enough, I slipped off my right heel first, pretending to stumble as I did. I heard the men sigh in frustration as I bent down to pick up my shoe.

“Hurry up!” growled one of them.

“We don’t have –”

The other didn’t have time to finish his sentence, not when his chin made acquaintance with my shoe, snapping his head back. He lurched back, hitting the wall hard. Just before he regained his bearings, I had punched him in the face with my right fist and he slumped down, unconscious.

Next to me, Bucky had taken on the other spy, wrestling him to the ground before knocking him unconscious as well.

Well, a good thing we were effective on taking them down because two more spies showed up, flabbergasted upon seeing their colleagues unconscious. As they went for their guns, I kicked my left leg up, hoping my idea would work.

It did – mostly. The momentum had the shoe flying off my foot but the aim was off. The men ducked away from the projectile but at least I was now steady, two feet flat on the ground. I kicked one of them in the stomach and, as he doubled over, I grabbed his arm and twisted it away so that he dropped his weapon. Just as he was about to yell out, I kneed him in the face and he slumped in my grip.

And the other man fell to the floor at my feet as well.

I looked up, puzzled. Bucky wasn’t near him…

“Peggy!”

She lowered a trophy she was carrying, eyeing the unconscious men around us before her gaze fell on Bucky. I noticed her demeanor changed very quickly, going back to her blonde stereotype as she smiled brightly at Bucky.

“Oh! And who is this lovely –?”

“He knows,” I cut in, not bothering to use my British accent. Peggy didn’t need to keep up her charade if it wasn’t necessary.

Peggy’s gaze flickered between us for a moment before she visibly dropped the act. “Well, I apologize for that, Evelyn. I was sure all of them would be somewhere else with Howard.”

I shrugged as I headed to where my other shoe was laying. “It’s not your fault this stubborn man didn’t go with them.”

“To be fair,” began Bucky, deciding at that point to enter the conversation, “Steve convinced me to head out without them so I could find a date.” He glanced towards me as he added, “Not the type of date I was expecting or am used to but it was fun.”

I didn’t know if he was referring to the mission and kicking Hydra spies’ asses or the kiss but my body’s response was my face heating up one way or another.

Traitorous body…

Peggy hummed in acknowledgment as she continued to eye both of us. I couldn’t keep her gaze so I busied myself by putting my shoes back on, making sure my left one was well fitted.

“Well, as long as it was pleasant for both parties,” she stated and I heard the hint of amusement from her.

For the love of… I didn’t even look at either of them as I went back to one of the men and proceeded to tie him up as well.

“I hope it was for Evelyn. It was certainly on my part,” remarked Bucky and I stumbled. I fucking hate my body’s reactions tonight! I wasn’t even moving! How could I have stumbled?!

“Can we please talk about something else?!” I asked as I finished tying up the man.

“If you wish, Evelyn. We can discuss the rest later.” She gave Bucky a look that I didn’t exactly understand. “Girl talk.”

“No, no, it’s fine!” I quickly stated, heading to the next man.

Peggy just smirked. “Whatever you say. By the way, Sergeant…” Peggy didn’t finish her sentence but I caught her motioning to around her lips, her smirk growing.

My blush was growing at that point too. She noticed the lipstick. She must know we kissed… This was getting out of hand!

“We’re NOT talking about this!” I hissed, fussing over the spies jacket, probably tying too tight of a knot around his wrists. I didn’t care, I needed to focus on something else!

“Alright, alright,” sighed Peggy, heading to the spy I previously tied up and busying herself with removing the cyanide capsule from his mouth. “So, Evelyn, what had you overheard?”

Finally! I much welcome change of subject! “They’re planning on bombing a building they believe is the SSR Headquarters on Ladbroke Grove,” I explained even though I still refused to directly look at either of them.

Peggy nodded as she placed the now removed capsule in her bag. “They probably saw one or more of our operatives in the vicinity more than once.”

“I agree. They’re spying on our group as well from what I overheard.”

Bucky was surprised by that revelation. “Really?”

“Really. They knew we went out drinking the other night and they probably know the others are away tonight.”

Peggy nodded. “Well, their operation in here was bigger than our intel had suggested. Along with these four, there are another three unconscious in the other room.”

“Plus the one we took care of near the entrance,” added Bucky.

“Eight,” sighed Peggy, heading to the next man and she did not look pleased. “That’s double the amount we had originally considered were hiding around here. I’m not surprised then that we have movements of certain spies unaccounted for, allowing for them to follow the lot of you.” She removed the capsule and took a calming breath. “Alright, we’ll work with what we have at the moment. Evelyn, I’ll need you to take a look at several documents before the SSR shows up and rounds these men up.”

“Wait, you’ve called them already?” I asked cautiously.

“Once you’ve taken a look at the documents, I will.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I did NOT need the SSR showing up here while I was still in this dress! “Alright.”

“Good, Sergeant Barnes, please finish with these men and join us three rooms down, on the right.”

Bucky nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

I was already out the door so he didn’t see me trying to control my laughter. Peggy didn’t say anything but I did see her lips pinch. She still did not like being called ma’am. No one seemed to have told Bucky that though!

As we entered the room, I spotted three men unconscious in the corner, tied up with electrical wires and their ties wrapped tightly across their mouths. It seemed all of us had the same idea of what to do with Hydra spies.

Just as Peggy was riffling through several documents, she asked, “So, will I be needing to – how had you put it? – kick some arses?”

Uh… “I’m sorry?”

“Kick some arse? Namely the one of the soldier we left in the other room.”

               Oh… I blushed, reaching for the files to distract me. “No, no need for that…”

               I heard something close to a hum but Peggy moved the files further away from my reach. “So, whatever happened between you two was consensual.”

               “Was what?”

               “Wanted from both parties.”

               I groaned in embarrassment, covering my face and I could have sworn I heard Peggy give a light chuckle.

               “Do you like Sergeant Barnes?”

               “Peggy!” I cried, finally looking at her and seeing her amused smirk. “It wasn’t like that! I swear! He was helping! Yeah, helping! That’s it! The kissing was completely…! I mean, it wasn’t unwanted but…! It didn’t mean anything! He’s a friend! A good kisser but…! Why am I telling you this!? And why won’t I stop talking!?”

               Peggy eyed me for a moment before seeming to take pity on me and handed over the files. “If you say so and you have said quite a bit. So, before he comes in and you begin to imitate a beat once more, what can you tell me about these files?”

               I groaned, lowering my head as I grabbed the files. Hopefully the hair would provide enough cover before Peggy passes ANOTHER comment!

 

               “The SSR will be coming in through the back doors of the hall. You will be safe leaving through the front like everyone else, Evelyn,” explained Peggy.

               I had finished going over the documents – more detailed versions of the plans the spies had been discussing – and Bucky had joined us in the room. Once I was finished, Peggy called the SSR to report the success of our mission and to request they send several agents to pick up the spies.

               I nodded towards her. “Thank you, Peggy. I should get going just in case.”

               “Quite alright, I’ll have things under control until they arrive. And thank you, Evelyn, for your help. Yours as well, Sergeant Barnes.” Peggy nodded towards Bucky before looking back at me. “I’ll be transmitting everything you heard and have translated to the SSR though I will be leaving your name out of it.”

               “Much appreciated.”

               “You don’t need to mention I was here either, Agent Carter,” added Bucky.

               “Are you sure, Sergeant?” He nodded. “Alright, you have my word. Now off, the two of you.”

               “Yes, ma’am!” I gave her a cheeky smile as she furrowed her brows. However, she waved us off, turning her attention back to the stacks of files.

               I followed Bucky back to the main area of the dance hall. As we walked, my mind wandered back to the situation at hand. With the spies taken care of, I had my own questions for the man walking next to me.

Namely, with how he even realized I was a girl!

“Bucky,” I called out finally, wanting to get this over with. “I have questions, a lot of them.”

Bucky had been glancing over the dance floor before he turned back towards me. “I figured and I will answer them on one condition.”

I frowned, weary of what that condition would be. However, I still nodded slowly.

Bucky smirked, motioning to the dance floor with a tilt of his head. “I teach you how to dance. They’re playing their slow songs now so it’s a perfect opportunity.”

I froze. Dance? With Bucky? I instinctively gripped my right wrist, breathing deeply. It won’t stick, the idea of a mechanical air if he grips my hand…

Bucky cleared his throat, catching my attention and I noticed he had a hand outstretched towards me. He raised an eyebrow and I shakily took a breath to explain –

Wait. That’s his right hand.

I glanced towards the couples, noticing how they held their hands: woman’s right and men’s left.

Men’s left. Bucky wasn’t using the proper hand.

“I know you’re secretive about your right arm so we’ll reverse the hold,” Bucky explained before he leaned closer and added, “and you’ll be comfortable in that hold if you want to dance with a girl to keep your ruse up.”

It took a moment, a long one but still… I needed answers. If Bucky could find out about my secret, then the others could as well. I needed to find out how he knew so I’d be careful about it in the future. I finally reached out for Bucky’s hand, part of me grateful that he was at least taking my mechanical aid into consideration. “Thanks,” I said before he started moving.

He smiled, sending me a wink. “Well, it’s only right that we at least have a dance. Even though we’re doing this date thing backwards, I still like to think I can be a gentleman. Remind me to buy you a drink afterwards.”

I blushed at that, remembering the kiss all too well which caused Bucky to smile even more. He sent me one more wink before leading the way through the emptier dance floor.

The moment he stopped, he turned around, tugging me slightly by the hand to get me closer. I hesitantly did, my face heating up even more. I jumped slightly as Bucky slid his other hand around my waist, pulling me a bit more.

“You need to get a tad closer, Ed – Evelyn,” he chuckled which got me to blush even more. Closer. I had to get closer than I already was.

I reluctantly took a step forward and Bucky readjusted his hold around my waist, his arm snaking further around, sending shivers up my spine.

“Now, your right hand on my shoulder,” he explained.

I took a deep breath and imitated the hold the other women were in, just mirrored. I gently placed my hand on his shoulder, relying on the creasing of Bucky’s shirt to tell me how much pressure I was using: I needed to make sure I wasn’t leaning on him or else he’d surely feel the metal…

Bucky waited patiently but I did notice his gaze was slowly heading towards my right hand. “Evelyn,” he began slowly and I froze. Did I put too much pressure? I shouldn’t have… I’m barely touching his shoulder. “Can – can you feel anything with your aid?”

Fuck… How do I respond to that? “Uh… You see…”

“Hey bloke, I don’t know how it’s done in the Colonies but here, we have proper holds.”

I don’t know if I should be thankful for the distraction or annoyed by the drunken Englishman. Before Bucky could even open his mouth, I turned towards the man, glaring. “And here,” I said with my British accent, “we also mind our own bloody business. Fuck off!”

The couple was quick to do so and I breathed out, annoyed. Bucky, on the other hand, was trying to control his laughter.

“There’s the Ed I know,” he breathed out between his chuckling. “Though I think the proper term in British English is ‘bugger off’ instead.”

I looked at him, unamused as I tried to understand what the hell ‘bugger’ was. “Fuck off,” I repeated without the accent.

Bucky just smiled, shaking his head. “Don’t feel like it. Now, back to the lesson. It’s an easy one, just follow the music.” And he started moving. I panicked for a moment, not knowing what the steps even were! However, it began to be all too clear that… we were just swaying, turning slowly turning in place. “See, easy.”

“I guess it is, for now,” I remarked. “So, since you got me to dance, I get to ask my questions.”

“Ask away.”

“Since when did you know?”

He had the audacity to smirk at that as he raised his gaze, probably remembering the moment. “Since the night you had gotten drunk.” My eyes widened at that answer. That was MONTHS ago! “I knew something was off the moment I carried you and… I was trying to figure out if I was right or not ever since. You know how hard that’s been?”

 “That was the point! I didn’t want anyone to know about this until…” I took a deep breath, unable to look up at him. “Have the others suspected…?”

I briefly caught from the corner of my eye Bucky shaking his head. “Not that I’ve heard. No one has ever brought that subject up. I have to admit, Ed, you’re very good at playing the role of a guy. I’ve been torn between brushing it off as paranoia and actually believing you’re a girl.”

I still refused to look at him. “Are – are you going to tell them?”

“No way! You have your reasons for disguising yourself and I have no right to tell them without your permission.”

I felt myself relax at his words. That was probably my biggest fear if ever someone found out about my secret: that they would spread the word to the others, that they wouldn’t hear it from me. I finally – hesitantly – turned my gaze back to Bucky locking mine with his. His blue eyes didn’t waver from mine and I knew I could trust him with this, I could feel it in my gut that I could.

And I ignored the feeling in my chest.

He’d had his suspicions since November that I was female and he hasn’t even mentioned it to anyone, not even Steve, his best friend.

“Thank, Bucky,” I managed to say evenly.

“I’m just telling the truth, Ed. Besides, it’s thanks enough I get to dance with a pretty dame tonight.”

“Shut up,” I snapped, struggling to keep his gaze with my face burning at it was.

Bucky laughed. “So, any other questions?”

“Yes, actually. How did you know it was me in this disguise?”

“Well, the moment I noticed the gloves, my thoughts went straight to how you always wore them because of your mechanical aid, which doesn’t show at all with this dress so very good choice.”

Well, that’s a relief. “You can thank Peggy, she chose it. And, that was it? The gloves?”

“Of course not! It just got me thinking of you. And then you were adamant about not dancing. That was strike two. You should probably come up with another excuse next time: you gave the exact same one the other night.”

He had a point… “I – I panicked to be honest,” I replied, looking away.

That had Bucky smiling. “And strike three, your eyes.”

“Even with the hair and the glasses?”

“They are a good distraction but…” He didn’t finish that sentence and I wondered what else he had to say about my eyes. Probably that they were an unusual colour: I’ve figured that one out quite early, as much here as back in Amestris.

“I have a question for you, Ed,” began Bucky.

“I guess it’s only fair. What is it?”

“Well, it’s actually two questions. The first one is, why?”

I frowned. That was a very vague question. “Why… what?”

“The secret. Why keep your gender a secret. Why not be yourself? Like what Agent Carter is doing?”

That makes more sense. I breathed deeply, glancing around the dance hall. “I don’t care to be honest whether someone sees me as male or female. Well, I didn’t. Since meeting Dr. Erskine and being in the SSR, I had to hide…” I paused and Bucky stayed silent, waiting for me to continue. I took another deep breath, still unable to meet his gaze. “I was – am – scared to be honest… I pretended to be male at first to make it easier for travelling, so that people wouldn’t think they could take advantage of us. But, the longer I stayed with the SSR, the more I realized being a girl sucked. Already people mistrusted me for my nationality. If I ever told them I was a girl on top of that… Honestly, I don’t even want to think of what they’d keep me from doing. Take Peggy for example! She barely gets any respect and she’s in a position of authority as an Agent, is British, and can keep calm against unwelcome remarks. I’m… well, I’m a nobody. An unlady-like German nobody with a bad temper. I wasn’t going to be taken seriously. So… I kept the charade up and I haven’t stopped.”

Bucky didn’t say anything for a moment and I hesitantly looked back at him. The look in his eyes were remorseful. “I’m sorry, Ed, that – that really sucks. I didn’t realize it was that bad.” I shrugged at that. Why would he have ever noticed anyway: none of the Howling Commandos really spend time with female Agents. “I’ll watch out more for my own behaviour in case and, I hope for you, it’ll change soon. That way, you won’t need to hide anymore. You can be whoever you want to be.”

That made me smile unconsciously. “Thanks.” He smiled back and I caught myself staring a tad too long. Clearing my throat, I added, “What was the other question?”

His smile grew but he asked it anyway. “Why did you say ‘yes’ to me joining you if you didn’t want me to find out about your secret?”

Oh. That was a good question considering how much thought had gone into the answer of actually letting him stay. “I… I felt guilty,” I explained slowly, trying to find the right words. “Steve… Well, he’s worried which made me worried as well.”

“Worried?”

I shrugged. “Apparently you’re still not… I don’t the word for it but, like something is bothering you. Steve thought maybe sending you out to get a date would help. Who would have thought you’d come across me.” Bucky was quiet as he stared at me, those blue eyes… he looked sad. “I said ‘yes’ so you would at least have a chance at a date. I thought rejecting you would do more harm than anything else.”

“All because you were worried about me?”

“We both are, Bucky, Steve and myself.”

Bucky stayed quiet for a moment longer before the arm around my waist snaked even further around me and he pulled me flush against him.

“Bucky –!”

The rest got caught in my throat as he buried his face in my hair – in the wig – squeezing me tightly. “I’m sorry. I never wanted either of you to worry about me.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I said quickly. “Don’t be. We’re your friends. We will worry about you.”

I felt more than heard Bucky’s soft laugh from his chest. “Says the person who doesn’t want others to worry about them.”

Oh… Well, he had me there.

“If you get to worry about me, I can do the same for you,” said Bucky.

“Fine,” I reluctantly admitted.

“You sound so happy about the idea.”

“Of course I do…”

Bucky laughed once more before he loosened his grip around me and slowly pulled away. “And thanks for worrying. This has been a good date – unorthodox – but good.” I blushed at the mention of a date again. Why can’t I stop blushing?! “And thanks for putting your secret at risk to help me, Ed. You have my word I won’t speak of it to anyone until you’re ready.”

I looked up at him, seeing the sincerity in his gaze.

I knew I could trust him before but now just solidified it.

“Thanks, Bucky.”

He smiled back at me. “Twirl,” he said as he moved our connected hands, lifting them above me and I followed, twirling.

I should be damned thankful he did that because I spotted Steve and the rest of the Howling Commandos leave the back rooms of the dance hall.

I nearly tripped over my heels as Bucky pulled back towards him and he quickly steadied me. “Hey, are you –?”

He didn’t finish his question as I turned us both so that Bucky had his back to the group and effectively hid me from them.

“I have to go! Now!” I hissed, eyeballing the exit to my left.

Bucky was surprised by my sudden change in attitude. “What –?”

“Steve! The others! They’re HERE!”

Bucky’s eyes widened as he discreetly looked around. “Alright, where are they? I’ll distract them while you leave.”

I motioned behind him before adding,” Thanks again, Bucky.”

I didn’t let him answer for fear of the others getting too close and I took off, bee lining towards the exit and not looking back.

 


 

               Next day

                I leaned heavily on my right hand at one of the tables in the cafeteria of the barracks, moving my food around my plate. I was still hungry but I was still damn tired from last night…

               I had gotten back to the barracks ridiculously late because I needed to change as well as wait for Peggy to return to explain how I was supposed to remove my makeup… Thinking back, I should have asked her that before we even left but…

               Who would have thought I would have run off like that because Steve and the other would show up?

               I shovelled more food in my mouth before leaning again on my hand.

               I really hope we’re not sent out on another mission today. I need a day to recuperate. My foot does too…

               Running in heels for the first time reminds you how uncomfortable heels can be.

               “Morning Ed!”

               I looked up, spotting Dum Dum and Jones walking in my direction. I raised my fork, giving them a little wave with it. “Morning,” I replied, stifling a yawn.

               “Man, someone had a long night!”

               They had no idea… “I guess so. How was yours?” I asked before shoveling more food into my mouth.

               “Fun,” replied Jones. “Too bad you needed to work.”

               I nodded in agreement, mouth still full. As long as they don’t ask too many questions about the work itself, I’ll be fine.

               “Yeah, next time, we’ll find you a date too,” added Dum Dum with a wink.

               I choked on my food, reaching quickly for the glass of water.

               “See, he agrees with the idea!” laughed Dum Dum.

               Once I could breathe normally, I glared at him. “Not funny and I never agreed to anything!”

               Dum Dum and Jones laughed together, making me roll my eyes as I went back to my meal.

               “What’s so funny?”

               Jim, Steve, and Bucky had arrived to join us for their breakfast. As they sat down, Jim repeated his question. “What’s so funny?”

               “The Kid choked at the idea of us finding a date for him,” explained Dum Dum and I continued to glare at him.

               “Excellent idea!” agreed Jim. “Since it went so well for Bucky, it could work for Ed too!”

               For the love of… I buried my face in my hands, groaning in frustration and embarrassment. This cannot be happening!

               “Yeah! Barnes, why don’t you tell the Kid about your date?” offered Jones. “Give him some pointers!”

               This is getting out of hand! “I don’t need pointers!” I snapped. “Whatever those are, I don’t need them!”

“Of course,” laughed Dum Dum. “I’m sure you know all about getting a date.”

I opened my mouth to argue when Jones cut in. “Doubt she’ll be as much as a looked as the one Barnes described! Just hearing about her made me wish I had ditched you guys as well!”

Don’t react. Don’t you fucking dare react you damn body! You’ve blushed and stuttered enough in the last eight hours to last you months if not YEARS!

               “All of you are impossible,” chuckled Steve between bites.

               “You can’t tell me you aren’t the least bit intrigued, Cap!” said Jim.

               “I think he has someone else in mind,” remarked Dum Dum with a wink towards Steve, making the Captain turn away, trying to hide his blush.

               Good, put the focus on someone else.

               And the focus did drift away from dates all together which had me breathing a little easier. Just as the others headed off, Steve placed a hand on my shoulder, hinting for me to stay put.

               “See you in a moment!” he called to Bucky as he left after the others, leaving Steve and I alone.

               “What is it?” I asked.

               “It seems it worked to some extent,” explained Steve with a smile as he watched his friend leave. “He seems to have a more carefree attitude this morning. He seems happier.”

               Oh, Bucky. Date. What we had talked about together and what I had mentioned to Bucky as well. “That’s a good thing, no?”

               “Definitely. Maybe he just needed some time off from all this.”

               I shrugged. Yeah but I also told Bucky to his face how we were worried about him. Maybe he’s just changed his attitude? “I guess it does help, to not be reminded that we’re in the middle of a war.”

               “Next time, you should come with us, Ed. It wasn’t the same without you and Bucky there last night.”

               I nodded, trying not to think too much about last night. “Yeah, next time will be fun. But I’m NOT finding a date.”

               “Fair enough. But I think the others will still be looking.”

               I groaned, knowing Steve was right about that.

               Men…

 

Chapter Text

                March 19th, 1944 – Novara, Nothern Italy

 

                Where the hell was he?

                I ran through the Hydra factory, searching for Bucky. The others had already placed the bombs and had told us to get the fuck out so they could detonate them. We were all fine with that plan except for Bucky.

                Well, we were all fine with it because we radioed in. Bucky, on the other hand, he...

                Dernier had insisted that he wouldn’t set off the bombs until all of us radioed in that we were clear of the building. That at least gave us the time to search for our missing teammate amidst the Hydra soldiers still left.

At that point, Steve and I had been together but, the moment we realized Bucky wasn’t answering, even Steve was alright with splitting up to search for him. It probably helped that there were fewer Hydra soldiers left or else I was sure he would have insisted on keeping me nearby.

                As I ran through the corridors, I tried to dismiss my fear that something had happened to Bucky. He probably just had problems with his radio, tuning into the right frequency.

                Exactly like last time.

                That was probably all it was.

                Perhaps even his radio malfunctioned.

                He’s fine.

                He is.

                He has to be…

                I slowed to a stop, my thoughts growing dark. He – He… is…

                I stared at the remains of a radio, broken into pieces, irreparable pieces. That was the same radio model that all of us had.

                That must have been Bucky’s radio.

                I scanned the area but he wasn’t there. There wasn’t any trace of him, anywhere. That fact was as much of a worry as it was a relief. I didn’t know where to go from here but at least there wasn’t a trail of blood that could lead to him.

                “Bucky,” I muttered, massaging my head. “Where the fuck are you?

                Taking a deep breath to try and push back all dark thoughts from my mind, I continued running, trying to find any sign of Bucky. Even the smallest of hints would have been welcomed as I tried to ignore the hammering of my heart.

He needed to be alright.

                I rounded a corner, coming face to face with two Hydra soldiers. I growled in annoyance at my luck. I didn’t have time for this shit!

                As they raised their machine guns, I grabbed the weapon on my right, yanking it easily out of the man’s hands. With the momentum, I swung the gun at the other, knocking both of the guns together. The second gun fell out of the man’s hands and now both were defenceless and useless.

                I kicked one in the face and slammed the butt of the gun into the other’s head. Both went down easily.

                Thank you, serum.

                It’s been thanks to that serum in part that I haven’t ever needed to use the gun the others keep insisting I carry around with me. One that is now loaded too, might I add. After that stint at the last Hydra factory where I met Kimblee’s doppelganger, Steve and Bucky along with the rest of the team refused to hear that I carried a useless firearm.

                If I was going to have a last option of defence, it better damn work was their explanation.

                I hated it.

                I had thought the weight last time was a lot but now, knowing it was ready to be used did not sit well with me…

                It didn’t help that it triggered the memory of Envy and its true form anytime I held a gun.

                This sucks…

                Not for the first time, I wished I had my alchemy to help me. I never realized how much I relied on it in a fight until I lost the ability to use it.  I’ve finally kicked the habit of clapping my hands but it wasn’t easy. Thankfully I was still proficient enough in hand to hand combat: no matter which side of the Gate I was on, I could still kick ass with or without alchemy.

                As I passed a series of windows, I slowed down, eyeing the chaotic courtyard outside, my mind racing. Would Bucky be outside? Did he figure that his safest bet would be leaving the building altogether since he knew Dernier would end up blowing it up anyway?

                I pulled out my radio, keying it the right frequency. “Anyone tried outside?” I asked, scanning the courtyard as well as the gate leading out of the factory.

                “I’m doing a perimeter search with some of the soldiers we rescued,” explained Jim. “No sign of Barnes out here yet, though.”

                “We keep looking,” ordered Steve.

                “Was never an option to stop, Cap,” added Dum Dum, a sentiment echoed by the others.

                “Keep the channel open from now on. The moment we find Bucky, we can get out,” said Steve and I could hear the hint of worry in his voice.

                I’m not the only one who’s anxious about the situation then…

                “By the way,” I began, not liking that I had to share the bad news, “don’t count on getting a call from Bucky on his radio. I found it in pieces.” That earned me a bout of silence from the others. I wished at that point I had good news to follow that statement…

                “He’s somewhere. We’ll find him.” Steve sounded surer than before but… it may just be for our benefit. He’s probably more shaken because of that news than the idea his best friend is unable to work the radio.

                Yeah, he’s fine. He isn’t injured. He isn’t d…

                Fuck… Snap out of it! You’ll find him! Someone will find him!

                I continued running, searching every room I passed, focusing on my breathing as I did, trying to keep it as even as possible.

                I came across several more Hydra soldiers but still no Bucky.

                The others hadn’t reported anything yet either.

                I ran past a corridor, glancing down it –

                I skidded to a halt, my breath catching.

                All the way at the end, Bucky was locked in a fight with a Hydra soldier, struggling to push the man off. A moment later, the soldier knocked Bucky down with a punch to the face and Bucky hit the ground hard. He groaned as he pushed himself back up. My feet had been carrying me down the corridor but…

I wasn’t anywhere near enough…

                No…

                The soldier squatted and grabbed the gun on the ground, raising it and aiming it right at Bucky’s head.

                NO!

                People say time slows down when you’re faced with a situation like this one. But, in all honesty, time didn’t do that for me. If it had, I would have maybe found another solution.

                Any other solution.

                But no, time stayed at the same damn speed, leaving me no other choice. I was too far to fight and I had nothing to throw at the soldier. I had to react with the tools I had.

                I still can’t believe I actually went for the gun…

                I skidded to a halt, pulling the gun out, raising it and all the training Hawkeye drilled into my skull came crashing down on me. Two hands. Steady. Aim. Breathe out. Pull.

                The gunshot resounded and I may have faintly seen Bucky jerk away from the gun aimed at him. But, my eyes were glued on the soldier.

                The soldier I shot.

                I clearly saw the bullet penetrate his skull and the spray of blood from where it exited on the other side.

                I could only stand and watch, my arms falling to my side numbly, imitating the soldier as he crumpled to the ground, his lifeless eyes staring straight ahead.

                Hawkeye was right… It did take courage to pull that trigger…

                “ED!”

                The view of the dead soldier was blocked and all I saw was the chest of someone. Was someone grabbing my shoulders? Why were my ears ringing so much?

                “Ed! Hey! Ed!”

                “Two – two sekunden,” I gasped, bolting to the side, towards the window, shoving it open and upchucking the contents of my stomach outside.

                “Ed…”

                I leaned heavily on the window sill, groaning as I tried to get the image of the Hydra soldier out of my mind. That method worked for about two seconds.

                The image was replaced by Envy’s true form and another wave of nausea had me throwing up even more.

                “Dernier! What happened?” yelled out Steve over the radios.

                What…? I pushed myself up slightly, feeling the remnants of a tremor.

                “It wasn’t me!” cried out Dernier and I clearly heard a bomb go off in the distance. “Something must have triggered the detonation devices!”

                “But we haven’t found Bucky yet!”

                I fumbled with my radio, barely getting a grip on it and, just as another wave of nausea hit me, I shoved it in Bucky’s direction. I briefly saw Bucky grasp it before I doubled over the window sill.

                “I’m fine. I’m with Ed,” radioed in Bucky and I faintly felt a hand on my back.

                “Bucky!” called out Steve in relief. “Good, now everyone get out of there ASAP!”

                What the fuck is ASAP?

                “Roger!” replied Bucky. “You heard Steve, Ed. We need to get going, fast!”

                And another explosion shook the building.

                Fucking shit…

                Focus, Ed. No more thinking about –

                FOCUS!

                Taking a deep breath, I heaved myself up and caught a glimpse of the structures outside the window. Another explosion went off and I sore it felt closer; much too close for my comfort. I ignored Bucky’s tugs at my arm as I stared at the ledge a little further down.

                Ledge. Roof. Wall. Tower. Out.

                We’d get away from any other explosion happening around us that way.

                I took a deep breath, wiping my mouth with my sleeve before pulling my arm out of Bucky’s grip and climbing onto the window sill.

                “ED!”

                I turned towards Bucky as he stared at me, eyes wide. “Getting out, away from the bombs” I managed to explain, pointing to the first ledge. “Come on.”

                My legs shook as I pushed off the window sill, managing to land somewhat on the ledge. I fell on my ass, leaning against the brick wall as I tried to catch my breath.

                Bucky joined me a moment later but he at least landed on his two feet. “Now where?” he asked, looking around.

                I pointed up, towards the roof of the warehouse.

                Bucky eyed the route before returning his focus on me. “It’s high. I’ll give you a boost and then you can help pull me up.”

                The way my body was shaking, I don’t think I’d be able to pull a child up. Giving a boost though… I shook my head, pushing myself up and leaning against the wall. “I’ll give the boost. I – I can’t… Arms…” Bucky seemed to hesitate but I interlaced my fingers, bending down. “The bombs are going off. Come on.”

                He sighed and lifted his foot, placing it on my awaiting hands. “Fine.” He steadied himself, one hand on the wall and the other on my left shoulder. “On three. One. Two.”

                “Three.”

                I groaned at the extra weight but still managed to help Bucky up the wall and he succeeded in grabbing hold of the roof’s edge. He heaved himself up before turning around and getting onto his stomach, reaching down with one hand. “Go on, Ed, I got you!”

                Shit… That’s high…

                I breathed deeply, taking one step back. That’s all the running start I could afford unless I wanted to plummet down several floors.

                “I’ll catch you, Ed.”

                And I believed him. Ignoring my protesting body, I bolted towards the wall and jumped. I used the wall to propel myself just high enough to grasp Bucky’s outstretched hand. I still smacked against the bricks but I pushed the pain aside, focusing on climbing up as Bucky pulled.

                Once I was finally on the roof, we both collapsed on our backs, breathing deeply. “You were right, Ed,” panted Bucky with a small smirk. “You aren’t a lightweight.”

                I frowned at the remark. “Fuck off…”

                That only earned a chuckle from him.

                Which quickly stopped the moment another explosion went off, right by the window we had just left from. I rolled over onto my stomach, shielding my head as debris flew around us. When it died down slightly, I looked up, searching the area.

                Bucky was already on his feet and was already pulling me to mine. “Gotta go!”

                He didn’t release my wrist as he pulled me across the roof of the warehouse, as other explosions resounded from the main building behind us. We just needed to leave before the bombs in this section of the factory went off too!

                “Wall!” I yelled, pointing to the one closest to the watch tower.

                This one was easy enough to jump onto but my legs still buckled and I fell to my knees after the landing. Bucky didn’t hesitate at grasping my left arm and pulling me up. We ran towards the tower and I was damn thankful there was an emergency ladder on the side outside the factory’s walls.

                We bolted towards it and Bucky let me jump onto it first, him quickly following right after. We climbed down several steps until I reached the end, still several feet above the ground, way too high for us to safely jump. Why isn’t it going down?

                I kicked the bottom rung several times with my left foot but it wouldn’t budge.

                “Ed?”

                “It’s not working!” I yelled, wrapping my right arm around the ladder and jumping on the rung, using my full weight. Still nothing. Fuck… I looked up at Bucky, mouth open to explain, just as an explosion blew the top off the tower.

                I was knocked back but my right arm kept me anchored to the ladder.

                Bucky wasn’t so lucky.

                I briefly saw him fall past me and my left hand shot out, grasping at anything I could reach.

                “BUCKY!”

                I got his wrist and his fall suddenly stopped. I felt the pull on my automail, at the port and I bit back a groan. This could be worse. It could.

                It did.

                I felt weightless and I noticed the ladder was heading straight down.

                “FUCK!” I cried out, trying to get my right arm unhooked.

                Thankfully I wasn’t successful as the ladder jolted to a stop. It almost sent me flying off and the only reason both of us weren’t a mangled mess on the ground was because of my arm.

                “Ed,” gasped out Bucky. I still had a grip on his wrist as I looked down at him. His eyes were wide in fear as his gaze moved past me, further up. “The tower!”

                I didn’t have time to look back. I already saw the bricks falling around us and that told me all I needed to know about our situation.

                “I’m going to let go!” I yelled out and Bucky’s head snapped down, towards the ground.

                He must have realized the same thing that I did because he called back, “Do it!”

                I let go of his wrist and he dropped the four feet left between him and the ground. He fell backwards upon landing, tumbling away from the mess as he did before quickly getting up and whirling around. He was just in time to watch me jump off the ladder. I landed to his right, rolling back to my feet and ready to keep running towards the forest ahead of us.

                “ED!”

                I was suddenly pulled to the side, stumbling over my feet as I watched the spot I was just standing in be covered in a landslide of debris from the tower. Oh fuck… That – that was too close!

                “Are you alright?”

                I nodded, breathing deeply as I pried my gaze away from the debris. Think of something else. Think of…

                Fuck, not the soldier!

                I focused on Bucky, trying to push away my nausea once more. “How about you? Good?” I asked, taking another deep breath.

                “Yeah, happy to be out of there.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. I leaned forward, resting my hands on my knees as I attempted to take several deep breaths.

It really didn’t help that I still had a horrid taste in my mouth from before…

                “By the way, thank you, Ed.”

                I nearly stopped breathing as Bucky said that. He meant… I took an even deeper breath, my fists clenching before I articulated, “Yeah, no problem.” I really didn’t want to discuss it. Not now anyway.

                Maybe not ever.

                I saved Bucky but I still killed a man. I pulled the trigger when I had promised myself to never do so. There was a reason I refused to use a gun and here I was, having broken that resolve.

                I reached for the gun… I actually reached for it…

                How could I have done that?!

                “I mean it, Ed. I –”

                “I know you do, Bucky. I’m not questioning that. I just – just don’t want to talk about it at the moment.” Breathe. Don’t throw up again. Just keep breathing. Bucky eyed me for a while, seeming to have an internal debate. I, however, really wanted to avoid this all together. “Tell the others we made it out?”

                Bucky sighed, giving me a look that spelled out that he knew exactly what I was doing. “Later then,” he said. I didn’t exactly nod, just gave a vague movement of my head which made Bucky sigh again. “Fine,” he muttered. He reached into his pocket and paused, perplexed as he pulled out a gun before resuming to pat down the rest of his pockets, his expression getting more confused as he did. He kept that going for a several more seconds before his face turned apologetic. “I seem to have lost the radio…I have your gun though.”

                I groaned out. Of course he lost his radio and now he lost mine. When did he pick up my gun anyway? When did I give it to him? Had I? Had I dropped it? Either way, there was no way I was touching it at the moment, maybe ever again. Just to make it clear to Bucky, I stuffed my hands into my pockets, turning my body slightly away from him.

                Think of something else. Anything else.

                At least we were out of the Hydra factory. Yeah, that’s a good thought. The others will worry because of our lack of radios but at least we made it out.

                “You are hopeless,” I muttered with a hint of a smirk towards Bucky. “You’ll cost the SSR so much money in radios if you keep this up.”

                “I resent that!”

                I sent him a disbelieving look as he shook his head before I began walking in the direction of the factory’s entrance, the remnants of a smirk still on my face.

                Happy thoughts. Just focus on the happy thoughts.

 


 

 

                I made my way back to our makeshift camp, a bundle of firewood in my arms. I had wanted to get the wood mainly to try and distract myself from the image of the dead Hydra soldier.

                The man I shot.

                The image still upset my stomach even though there was nothing left in it… My body had decided to check about twenty minutes ago when I first went out to get the wood. Dry heaving left me out of breath and exhausted and with the knowledge I’d need to eat something at some point. If not, I could possibly faint from lack of nutrition…

                I don’t need someone carrying me around again…

                I had thought the menial task would do me some good, just walk around and pick up dry branches. Easy right?

Apparently not. It had the opposite effect: the quiet of the woods gave me way too much time to dwell on what I had done…

                “Barnes? Did you run out of ammo?”

                I was still a distance from the camp but my enhanced hearing gave me an advantage on eavesdropping. I also wasn’t going to complain about the distraction.

                “Run out of ammo?” repeated Bucky, confused.

                “Yeah ‘cause the Kid’s gun is missing a bullet,” explained Dum Dum. Why was he looking at my gun?

                Because that’s his job, said a little voice in the back of my head: he was responsible for our weapons. I still wasn’t happy that he thought it was fine going through my things…

                “We all know he doesn’t use his gun,” added Jones.

                There was a moment of silence before Bucky slowly said, “He did. He fired the gun.”

                The others didn’t answer right away, probably stunned that I did take the shot. Heck, even I’m still going over what I did… Though, probably not the best idea at the moment as my stomach churned. What the fuck is there left to get out? It should be empty!

                “A warning shot,” tried Jones. “He fired one to scare someone off.”

                I stopped walking by then, figuring if I got any closer, I’d tip them off to my presence and they would drop the discussion. I didn’t exactly want that or else my curiosity would be unsated and I’d have another thing floating around my mind for hours.

                “A head shot.” Bucky paused and I couldn’t make out the murmurs from the others. “A Hydra soldier ambushed me, had me at gunpoint when Ed showed up. He didn’t hesitate: he turned the corner and shot.”

                “Point blank, of course.”

                “Over a dozen feet away.”

                I’m pretty sure Dum Dum was the one to whistle in admiration at that and I squished down whatever pride I felt at that praise: I killed a man. End of story. It didn’t matter if they were impressed with how well I can fire a gun.

                There’s nothing to be proud about in this situation.

                Hawkeye was never proud about taking someone’s life: she had made that perfectly clear when she drilled the steps into my head. She wanted me to know how to defend myself and those I cared about if ever alchemy was not an option.

                If ever anything else I had wasn’t an option.

                She never thought I’d actually end up using what she taught me.

                To be fair, I hadn’t thought so either…

                “So you’re telling me Ed not only knows how to shoot but to shoot that effectively?” asked Jones and I could clearly hear the surprise in his voice.

                “Could it have been a fluke?” wondered Jim. “A lucky shot?”

                There was a pause before Bucky answered. “His stance was too good for a fluke…”

                Oh, so he noticed… I hoped they wouldn’t expect me to continue using a gun on our missions because they found out about… this.

                “So –?”

                “So nothing.” Bucky cut off Jones before he continued with the suggestion I feared hearing. “Ed doesn’t use a gun and we can’t force him to use one. We know he can use it and that’s as far as it should go.”

                Thank you, Bucky.

                “He’s right.”

                I jumped a foot in the air, dropping the firewood I had been carrying. I whirled around, getting into my fighting stance and coming face to face – chest – with Steve. He smiled apologetically at me, raising his hands in surrender.

                “Sorry,” he chuckled as I relaxed out of my stance. “I thought you heard me.”

                “I clearly fucking didn’t,” I muttered, earning a heavy sigh from Steve. “And what did you say?”

                “Bucky, he’s right. Just because we know you can handle a gun doesn’t mean we’ll be forcing you into using one on our missions. You using it this time must’ve meant didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter…”

                I shook my head. “Not really. If I did have another option, I would have taken it. I…”

                Steve placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “I understand, Ed. You don’t need to explain yourself to me.”

                Good… I didn’t exactly know how to formulate all my thoughts in English to Steve… The main point was that I didn’t want to be the one who decides who lives and who dies. I already had a hard time with leaving the unconscious soldiers inside the crumbling building… I don’t need to be the one pulling the trigger too…

                Steve just continued to talk, something I was thankful for so that I could focus on something else. “You made it clear when you joined this team where you stand and I won’t ask you to change that. You’re still an important part of this team whether or not you pull the trigger of a gun.”

                I looked up at Steve, smiling gratefully at him. “Thanks.”

                He squeezed my shoulder once more. “Ed... Listen, I know it must have been very hard for you to pull that trigger but I can’t be more thankful that you did. You saved Bucky. I’ll never forget that.” He patted my shoulder once more before kneeling and picking up the fallen branches. “Now, let’s get back to the others so we can finally start this fire.”

                I hesitated a moment before imitating Steve.

                How hard it was to pull the trigger…

                That was the problem, I didn’t hesitate.

                It wasn’t hard.

                My chest felt incredibly tight and I thought I was going to be sick again…

 


 

 

                As night approached and the camp got quieter, the image of the dead soldier became clearer in my mind.

                The memory of Envy and its true form.

                Of how easily I reached for my gun and pulled that trigger…

                I didn’t think I was going to be sleeping anytime soon…

                Hence why I took the first watch.

                Both Steve and Bucky had given me concerned looks but I ignored them as I settled into a spot near the fire, putting an end to any discussion that could have taken place.

                And, several hours later, I was still in the same spot, staring into the flames.

Those flames at least gave me some form of comfort. Ever since meeting the Colonel, I’ve always associated fire to him… It provided now a small reminder of home that I needed at the moment.

Mustang… He – he hated himself, didn’t he? For Ishval? I never really asked him… But, I know I that hate myself, and I only killed one person. Mustang… I don’t know how many he’s killed…

                And how will Al react? We had promised to never use the Philosopher’s Stone because it was made of human souls. But, killing someone, wouldn’t that equate to the same thing: a human life is still gone.

                Because of me…

                Would Al hate me?

                Do I hate myself?

                “Time to switch.”

I glanced to the side as Bucky took a seat next to me, leaning against the log. However, I didn’t see myself sleeping anytime soon, not with the soldier’s face still vivid whenever I closed my eyes and the tightness in my chest still present.

                I shook my head. “Nah, I’m good. Go back to sleep, Bucky,” I whispered. “I’ll be fine.”

                He finished getting comfortable against the wood as he said, “I don’t think so, Ed. You need to sleep as well. We all had a rough day with the mission and you need sleep as much as the rest of us. Heck, even Steve is sleeping!”

                I didn’t answer right away, just shrugging my shoulders. I continued to stare into the fire, the small flames dancing around the twigs.

                “Ed, go sleep,” insisted Bucky softly.

                I massaged my face, taking a deep breath before stifling a yawn. “Can’t,” I mumbled. It didn’t matter if my body was tired or not, my mind was still clouded with horrible images.

                Bucky sighed, leaning back against the log and staring up at the sky. “I wish I could tell you it gets easier, Ed. That it will stop eating away at you but it doesn’t… The effects may fade slightly over time but, well for me anyway, they don’t disappear. I guess that’s a good thing or that’s what I tell myself.” I glanced at him confused. He had a sad smile on his face as he continued to look up at the night sky. “If we didn’t feel remorse for what we do, we’re not really the good guys are we then?”

                He had a point even though it didn’t make me feel that much better about the situation. Especially considering that, as the good guys, we should be saving people, not taking lives.

                “How do you do it, Bucky?” I asked softly, rubbing my eyes.

                He took a deep breath before answering. “If I don’t then it could be one of you who gets hurt. Just like what you did, Ed: you took the shot before the Hydra soldier took his and finished me. That’s what keeps me going, makes me pick up that gun every day and pull the trigger. Do I enjoy it? Hell no. But I do it and I’ve made my peace with it. As I told the others, if you’ve made it your goal to NOT use a gun unless absolutely necessary, that’s your choice and we need to respect that.”

                I sat in silence, staring at the flames.

                Equivalence.

                That’s what came to mind and I nearly smiled. Bucky and the others take the lives of the Hydra soldiers to save the lives of the captured soldiers, of the villagers, of anyone else who could get hurt by Hydra.

                However, the Howling Commandos take one to save many.

                It wasn’t an exact equivalence but…

                I killed a man to save Bucky.

                I needed to see it that way, no?

                Besides, I have a grim reminder of the last time I didn’t take the opportunity to stop someone and it will always be with me. When I didn’t take Kimblee down… I nearly died then all for my morals.

                Would I do it again to not kill someone? Would I be willing to die – to let one of the others die – so I don’t have a guilty conscious?

                I sighed, not liking my answer. I would pull that trigger again if I didn’t have another choice.

                To save the Howling Commandos.

                To save Steve.

                To save Bucky.

                “Ed?” I glanced towards Bucky whose gaze was focused on… “Are you hurt?”

                I had been unconsciously rubbing the scar on my side and he had noticed. I shook my head, lowering my hand. “No, just an old… reminder.”

                Bucky stopped staring at my side, focusing instead on my face as if he was trying to determine if I was lying or not.

                “I didn’t get hurt recently, Bucky.”

                I small smile tugged at his lips. “That wording doesn’t make me feel any better about it, Ed.”

                That made me smile in turn but I didn’t add anything to his statement. Instead, I stifled another yawn, blinking several times afterwards.

                Bucky, meanwhile, sighed before moving his arm behind me, placing his hand on my head. “Fine, continue being cryptic. But that doesn’t change what I said, Ed. It’s your choice and all of us will continue to support you no matter what you do.”

                With a deep breath, I nodded. “Thanks, Bucky.”

                His smile brightened and he lowered his hand from my head, moving it around my shoulder instead. For the love of… I’m damn lucky he sat on my right or else he’d feel my automail! I can’t –

                I stifled a surprised gasp as he tugged me closer and I managed to turn in time to avoid my right arm pressing against him. I took a shaky breath realizing how close I was to having my automail revealed! And also, how close we were currently: I was much closer to him than normal and I instantly felt my face heat up.

                The proximity brought THAT night to the forefront of my mind and…

                That night…

                Bucky and I had not talked about that night, just the two of us: we hadn’t found the time to do so. The two of us were never alone together in a private enough place to even bring it up.

                Well, for me to bring it up.

                Bucky hadn’t even mentioned it, even with the joke from the others about telling me about the date. He had been going around like everything was fine, not once having mentioned anything about that night.

                Like it never happened.

                That was fine. I was alright with that: less chance of my secret being revealed by accident.

                I was fine with that. I was fine pretending.

                Wasn’t I?

                Of course. The kiss and the dancing were only for the mission. It hadn’t actually meant anything. Yeah, I kissed back to make it believable. That was it…?

                Then why the FUCK am I blushing so much right now?

                Must be the fire. Definitely the fire. We’re sitting close to it. That must be it. Close to the dwindling fire.

                “Now do you think you’ll be able to sleep?” wondered Bucky softly.

                No!

                Not with the two of us being so close to each other! But, as much as my mind was denying the idea of sleep, my body was rebelling. Taking a deep breath, I turned my body just enough and leaned against Bucky, keeping my right arm away from ever possibly hitting him.

                “More comfortable?” asked Bucky and, even if I didn’t see it, I could hear the smirk he was most likely wearing.

                “Fuck…” I yawned once more, ending it with, “… off.”

                He chuckled, readjusting his arm around me. Even though my heart was racing and my face was hot, I still couldn’t get my eyes to stay open and I felt my head begin to dip.

                “Sleep, Ed. I’ve got the watch.”

                I shook my head. Well, I thought I shook my head. I don’t know exactly what I did or didn’t do anymore. I closed my eyes again, too tired to fight to keep them open.

                “I’ll keep you safe, Ed.”

                I faintly remember some form of touch on my head before I was out to the world.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s POV

                Bucky sighed in relief as he finally heard Ed’s steady breathing. She was finally asleep. It had taken him a while to get her to that point but he was happy he succeeded. He even managed to sneak in a soft, chaste goodnight kiss on her head and, seeing as she didn’t cry out in indignation, he figured she didn’t realize. He was fine with that: he didn’t need to get her riled up at the moment. She just needed sleep.

                He studied her for a moment as she did just that but he was unable to stop himself from smirking as Ed’s body slowly leaned more and more to the side. Even if she had changed position, Bucky didn’t think it would be the right one to get a good night’s sleep from, especially considering how much she was leaning at this point. As funny as it would have been to see her slump to the ground, Bucky didn’t have the heart to let that happen. Not with the day Ed had had.

                Just before she fell to the side completely, Bucky gently manoeuvered both himself and Ed into more comfortable positions, letting her stretch out parallel to the log with her head resting on his lap. She may not be in the best of moods when she wakes up and realizes her position but Bucky was willing to live with those consequences: she needed the sleep and she was going to get it, no matter the position she would be in.

                After a sweeping gaze around the area, Bucky returned his attention to Ed, studying her features. He noticed the tension she almost always had in her body seemed to be completely gone. Her normally stony face had lost its hardness and Bucky couldn’t help but smile that it made it possible to see her feminine side more. That was one thing he had noticed about Ed during their time together, how she was mistaken for a guy so much. Yes, her wardrobe and her hair style didn’t help but her demeanour never really portrayed that of a young woman. There was also always a tension in her face, in her shoulders as if she was carrying the weight of the world by herself: she almost never just relaxed.

                And relaxed, Bucky saw the young woman behind all her layers of disguise.

                He sighed as he kept staring down at her as he thought of all the hardships she had gone through with the team. He couldn’t even start to imagine what had happened before she met Steve. Just the story of that Hydra soldier and how had threatened her as well as her brother and childhood friend had set off a burning anger deep within Bucky when Ed had told it. They had been teenagers!

                And just that day, Bucky had NEVER seen Ed look so shaken, so… He hated seeing her so conflicted. Steve had told him that he had talked to Ed when she had gone to get firewood and that she seemed better but what Bucky saw that night, Ed still had internal turmoil.

                It made Bucky realize that Ed hadn’t ever shot someone – hadn’t ever killed someone.

                She had done so to save him.

                His mind flashed back to the mission, to the factory at the moment where things had started going downhill. The moment he tried to radio in to the others, a Hydra soldier began shooting at him. Bucky had backed away quickly but he had dropped his radio to be able to lift his machine gun and fire back. He faintly heard something break but he was so focused on the soldier and getting out of the area in one piece that he didn’t care at that point what it was.

                He should have realized it was his radio…

                He didn’t have time to go back for it so he had continued heading towards the exit, hopefully coming across someone else in the meantime.

                When he had thought that, he meant one of his teammates, not another Hydra soldier. Both of them turned the corner at the same time, running smack into each other. That resulted in a fist fight and a struggle for the closest gun.

                And Bucky had been losing…

                When he saw the Hydra soldier raise the gun, he thought it was over, that he was a goner. His body didn’t move: he just stared at the barrel of the gun as his mind…

                He thought of Steve and Ed. He thought of his best friend, the man he considered a brother and of… Did he really think of her that way? She started off as a teammate, a friend but now…? He hadn’t thought of the other Howling Commandos at that point so there must be something there!

                But, it was as if thinking about her brought her to him.

                He heard the shot fired and jerked away from the gun pointed at him. One breath. Another one.

                He was still alive.

                He searched the area, spotting Ed down the hallway and his eyes widened in shock. Not only did she have her gun out and aimed in the direction of the Hydra soldier – the one Bucky briefly saw from the corner of his eye fall to the ground – the stance she was in looked too professional for a young adult who refused to use a gun.

                Now that he thought about it, he wondered – not for the first time – what had happened to Ed before meeting Steve. And what could she have possibly been doing that required her to know how to use a gun.

                Know how to use one but it didn’t seem that she had ever actually used it. That was clear when he saw her face after the shot. Her face had dangerously paled and her eyes were fixed on the fallen soldier. Bucky scrambled to his feet and ran towards her, watching as her arms fell to her sides and the gun slipped from her grip.

                It was painful watching her, filled with so much regret. He wanted to get them out of there, away from the dead soldier but Ed had become sick. It made his heart clench seeing her like that. He had picked up her gun before going to her side and trying to offer support but even he could tell his actions and words weren’t registering with her.

                He needed to resist the urge to pull her into hug at that point and he had felt his body physically shake from the restraint he showed. He knew Ed didn’t do physical contact – namely because of her mechanical aid – and hugging her was pushing it very far. But he had really wanted to because he knew she was in that state because of him.

                She had killed the Hydra soldier to save him.

                He was beyond thankful for that fact but… He hated seeing Ed like that.

                She didn’t deserve that…

                She –

                Bucky snapped out of that train of thought when he realized his hand had found its way to Ed’s and was gripping it tightly. He faltered, worried that he may have woken her up because of that unconscious action. He stared at her face but she didn’t show any signs of having noticed in her deep slumber. He breathed out in relief. That was the last thing he wanted at the moment: to wake her up from the sleep she desperately needed. And, seeing the calmness across her features, he hoped that she wouldn’t be plagued with nightmares on top of everything else…

                Bucky continued to grip Ed’s left hand for a while as he scanned the area around camp before his gaze travelled towards Ed’s right hand and arm. His thoughts went to her mechanical aid and his curiosity was getting the better of him. When they had danced, she had barely put any pressure on his shoulder and Bucky had begun to wonder on how the aid actually worked. However it did, Bucky realized Ed did not want to share that information with anyone.

                He didn’t even think Steve knew much about it from the conversation they had in Prague!

                Bucky eyed Ed’s sleeping form, taking in her steady breathing and relaxed features. He could take a peek. She wouldn’t know. She probably wouldn’t feel it either considering what he knew.

                But…

                Bucky leaned back against the log, shaking his head. As much as he wanted to know what the aid was exactly, he couldn’t betray Ed’s trust like that. She was already trusting him immensely with the secret of her gender. If he pulled a stunt like looking at her mechanical aid without her consent…

                On top of losing her trust, she’d probably kick his ass if he was being honest.

                And it wouldn’t be pretty. If the unconscious Hydra soldiers were anything to go by, he’d be hurting for a long time.

                No, he’d just have to wait and hope she’d share that information with him one day. It may take a while – considering how long she’s been keeping the secret of her gender – but Bucky was willing to wait.

                Bucky scanned the area once more, coming up empty so he focused back on Ed. Even if he contented himself to not looking at Ed’s mechanical aid, he still had an impulse and this one he wouldn’t suppress.

He guessed both Steve and Ed were rubbing off on him.

                As his left hand held hers, his right hand went to her head, gently moving some stray strands away from her forehead, smoothing the hair as well. He paused, making sure she was still fast asleep. He felt braver and kept his hand where it was, threading his fingers through her hair and slowly caressing her head with his thumb.

                He couldn’t stop the smile that spread on his face at that success, especially knowing how much Ed protested anyone playing with her hair – namely ruffling it. He had asked her once why that was and she had explained that people already think she’s young and immature just by looking at her; she didn’t need them treating her like a child and that’s what she felt like they were doing when they ruffled her hair.

                Bucky understood the logic and resisted the urge to ruffle her hair since then. However, at the moment, he wasn’t threading his fingers through her hair because he saw her as child. He did because he saw her as a young woman.

                He had for a while.

                He saw her as a young woman who has been through so many hardships that Bucky had witnessed or briefly heard of and yet she had stayed so strong and determined.

                Bucky admired her immensely for that.

                And, he had to admit, he did see an attractive young woman under the entire disguise. He hadn’t been blowing hot air that night Ed had been undercover. He hadn’t been stoking anyone’s ego when he complimented her even though part of him did do it to see her reaction: it was amusing to a certain extent.

                However, he hadn’t been able to voice any of this to Ed ever since. As much as he liked the team, their constant presence never gave Bucky the chance to bring up the subject with just Ed. And, if it wasn’t the team, civilians were nearby at the bars, restaurants and any means of transportation they used. She would not only hate him but also kick his ass if he accidentally revealed her secret even if the people listening were just civilians.

                Bucky was tempted to ask Ed to dress up again so they could at least have a conversation about what happened that night. A conversation and perhaps another dance. He had to admit, yes, he wanted to talk but he also wouldn’t mind seeing Ed in a dress once more. He could live without the wig though because he liked her hair colour so much more. He knew it was to protect her secret but the gold hue that her hair had was too eye catching to keep hidden.

                He figured, though, that he’d have to be careful on how he worded the whole proposal: it would not be like any other time he asked a girl out. Heck, she wasn’t like any other young woman he knew! She kept him on his toes and she definitely wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, even willing to fight for her beliefs, verbally and physically.

                He was realizing that he admired – even liked – that in Ed.

                The problem would be how she’d react to the proposal, how she’d react to any of it. He didn’t want to scare her off by being too forward but...

                He was OVERLY aware of how unaware Ed was when it came to any type of flirtation or show of interest. He had to watch in pure disbelief as Ed was flirted with and she didn’t even clue in on what was going on. Unless the person was very forward with her – like when he overly complemented her that night – she didn’t notice. His sweet smiles, subtle choice of words, and even physical contact that worked on any other girl just had Ed either smiling back or looking at him in confusion, oblivious to any other meaning behind them.

                He had his work cut out for him…

                The first challenge would definitely be trying to get her out and – hopefully – dressed up once more. Agent Carter hadn’t seemed to have…

                It dawned on Bucky that Agent Carter could be the answer to all this: if he could get her to help him convince Ed to go out again, they would finally be able to talk!

                He just hoped Agent Carter would agree to the idea because she was almost as intimidating as Ed when she wanted to be…

                Bucky REALLY had his work cut out for him! 


 

                Several hours later, Bucky heard movement from the other side of the fire pit. He frowned, glancing down at Ed one last time before reluctantly releasing her hand. Raising his gaze once more, he saw Steve sit up and stretch and Bucky wondered, not for the first time, how that super soldier serum changed Steve’s body.

                On missions and at the barracks, Bucky noticed how early Steve got up and it was always the same thing: ridiculously early. It was barely five in the morning and Steve looked completely refreshed and ready for the day. Bucky almost felt jealous of that fact. Almost.

                Steve glanced around the camp as he stood and, probably seeing that everything was still in one piece, he made his way around the fire pit and sat next to Bucky.

                “All’s good?” whispered Steve and Bucky nodded. “And…?” Steve motioned with his head towards Ed who was still fast asleep.

                “Better,” replied Bucky softly. Seeing as he did finally manage to get Ed to sleep, their talk must have done something to help her. But… “It may still take some time though,” he added with a sigh.

                “I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up a front for us, though,” remarked Steve, leaning back against the log. “I hope he’ll open up…”

                Bucky didn’t add to that because that hit home a little too close for his comfort. He had been putting up a front since Ed had revealed that both she and Steve had been worried about him. The very next day he had tried to act more carefree, happier, like he used to be. He had a good excuse for that considering the unusual date he had. Not that the others knew just how unusual it had been. He kept it to the date fundamentals, in the normal order even though it hadn’t happened like that.

                The others were impressed enough with the story they hadn’t questioned it, just the details on his date. Bucky was in part amused, in part uneasy that he needed to describe Ed of all people to their teammates. Those feelings only grew when the men commented that “Evelyn” seemed like such a looker.

                Well, Ed hadn’t threatened him yet about how he described her to the others so Bucky took it as a good sign.

                All that didn’t stop Bucky from going back to what had caused that string of thoughts though. He knew that he had been putting up a front for the team. He had since that “date” night… However, going over the last month, Bucky realized he had only been putting up a front only part of the time. Other times, he was genuinely feeling better and he didn’t need to pretend in front of the others. He did need to repress the memories of the Hydra factory from time to time but it wasn’t a constant need.

                He was actually doing better.

                He glanced down at Ed and wondered if she had anything to do with it. Did she? Or was Bucky finally moving on, slowly but surely?

                “I forget how young he is,” whispered Steve suddenly. “He looks younger when he’s relaxed.”

                Bucky knew better though. The only reason Ed looked young was because she was female. For a male, her features were still soft. He didn’t think that she would be able to keep the charade up if the war continued: the others will begin to suspect something if she still had a “baby face” in a few years… For the moment, however, Bucky had to play along. He turned towards his friend, nodding in agreement. “He does but he isn’t actually that much younger than us, Steve.”

                Steve smiled, giving a quick shake of his head. “True. Only a couple of years younger but… Still too young to be mixed up in all this.”

                “Yeah but you said it yourself, it’s his choice, Steve. We just need to make sure he gets out of this in one piece.” Bucky paused, repressing a chuckle so not to wake Ed. “Especially considering how much he’s like you when you were his age.”

                “Like me?” repeated Steve in disbelief.

                Bucky gave his friend a look. “Both of you run TOWARDS trouble, towards the fight. Neither of you don’t back down or run away. Believe me; the two of you are more alike than you think. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the two of you are related!”

                Steve shook his head and only answered that statement with a shrug of his shoulders. “Related or not, the two of you are still important to me and I’ll keep getting into fights to protect both of you and the others. We can be considered as one big fight-proned family.”

                “I’m the rational one then in all that,” added Bucky. “The older brother keeping the two young ones in check and still looking out for them.”

                Steve nods. “Yeah, that sounds about right. You always did get me out of trouble.”

                Bucky was about to add to that statement that he still did but stopped himself as he thought it over. He – he actually hadn’t gotten Steve out of trouble lately… The last fight he helped Steve with was the day before he would be deployed to England to begin his… enlistment.

                He still didn’t have the courage to tell Steve the truth about that…

                “Hey, Buck, you can get a bit of sleep before we head off if you want. I’ll finish the watch,” suggested Steve with a smile.

                Bucky absentmindedly nodded, his thoughts still on the fact that he’d been lying to his best friend and the fact that that same friend didn’t actually still need him there. Bucky wasn’t really looking out for Steve anymore, he didn’t need to.

                Why would someone need to look out for Captain America? The little punk from Brooklyn was more than capable of taking care of himself now…

                Bucky had closed his eyes, slouching against the log but he didn’t find much sleep as those thoughts kept swimming through his mind.

Chapter Text

April 1944 – London, England

 

                Dum Dum handed me a gun and I reluctantly took it, already fighting away the images of the dead soldier from my mind. It may have happened about a week ago but his face kept appearing at random intervals, constantly haunting me.

                “This is just a practice, Kid. I just need to make sure you can handle yourself with that.”

                I rolled my eyes. “Didn’t I prove that already?”

                “Humour me,” replied Dum Dum before motioning towards the targets on the other side of the training field.

                “I fucking hate you,” I mumbled but he ignored it.

                Dum Dum and myself were currently at one of the training facilities for soldiers just on the outskirts of London. He had dragged me there that morning against my better judgement. Steve and Bucky were nowhere to be seen so they couldn’t back me up nor find a better excuse for me not to go.

                The two of us had gotten into a car and I grumbled nearly the entire way to the facility as Dum Dum ignored any excuse or complaint I came up with.

                Even once we arrived, I continued to how my reluctance for being there but Dum Dum ignored it all.

                “Just show me how you handle the gun and it’ll be over,” repeated Dum Dum, motioning towards the targets.

                I sighed heavily. Fine. Just get it over with. I checked the handgun, making sure the ammunition was there and set in properly before removing the safety. I shifted into the stance Hawkeye had literarily kicked me into learning: I could still feel her boots hitting the sides of my feet to get me into the right position.

                I raised the gun, trying to block out the rising anxiousness within me. Just get it over with and they won’t ask this of you ever again.

                “Your stance is a little –”

                Whatever Dum Dum was going to say about my stance was drowned out by the consecutive gun shots that resounded through the area, followed by a hole in the dead center of each target.

                I lowered the gun, taking a shaky breath before quickly putting the safety back on and handing the weapon back to Dum Dum. “Nothing wrong with my stance if that’s what you were going to say,” I mumbled, ignoring his shocked gaze. “We’re good? Can I go now? I proved I could use a gun. That’s it. That was the deal.”

                Dum Dum nodded as he glanced between myself and the targets. “Yeah, that was he deal, Kid.”

                I nodded in return before turning heel and heading towards the exit. I faintly heard Dum Dum follow me, half-running to catch with my fast strides. I may not take long ones but I could walk fast at least.

                “Hey, Kid, I’ve got a question,” called out Dum Dum once he could finally match my strides. I didn’t answer which seemed to give him the indication to continue. “Where’d you learn to use a gun?”

                I should have said ‘no’.

                “Was it self-taught? Did someone teach you?”

                I growled softly but still said, “Second one.”

                “Alright, so why did he decide you needed to know that?”

                I stopped suddenly in my tracks, making Dum Dum stumble to a halt next to me. “She. She taught me to use one because she wanted to make sure I knew how to defend myself if no other option was available… Neither of us ever expected me to pull the trigger on someone though…”

                Dum Dum stared at me for a moment before nodding. “Then she did a good job, in all departments.”

                I looked up at him in confusion. “What departments?”

                “Shooting and not shooting. She made sure you could while making sure you wouldn’t just for a laugh. That’s what some soldiers need to master. Here, they’re taught to fire a weapon but never NOT to fire one.” Dum Dum ruffled my hair as he added, “That’s why you’re the smart one, Kid. And why you need to stop beating yourself up about it.”

                I tried, I really did but whatever scowl I had wanted to throw in Dum Dum’s direction for ruffling my hair was nowhere near strong enough.

                I just pushed his arm away with a sigh before nodding. “I’ll try.”

                Dum Dum smiled. “That’s all any of us can do.”

                I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Instead, I turned towards the exit, already making my way in that direction. “Now, can we get going? I wanted to get some reading in before tonight.”

                I briefly caught Dum Dum wiggle his eyebrows. “Have a date, Kid?”

                I scoffed. “Yeah, with SSR files that need translating.”

                A date. Really? In his dreams.


 

                Much later that day, I sat on Peggy’s sofa, playing with the hem of my dress as I waited for her to finish getting ready in her room. Maybe tonight would do me some good: going out, being in a dress, focusing on another mission.

                Peggy had mentioned a couple of days ago that she had a mission for us, similar to the last one. I had agreed to join her mainly to get my mind on something else, anything else really than that Hydra soldier.

                The shooting range this morning had NOT helped.

I hoped this mission would be a good change of pace for me, to get my mind to focus on something else.

                Even if I was dressed up once more, anything was better than my lingering thoughts on what I had done.

                “Peggy? What is the mission exactly?” I asked, looking up from my dress towards the closed door of her room.

                “I’ll tell you more about it once I’m done. It’ll be easier than explaining it with a door in the way.”

                I slouched back at that answer. She did have a point but that meant I needed to wait even more. What was taking her so long? It felt like it was longer than last time… Or perhaps I had spent more time than I had thought in front of the mirror.

                There was suddenly a knock at the door and I glanced towards it, my body still.

                “Was that the door?” wondered Peggy from her room.

                “Yes,” I replied hesitantly and I hoped she would eventually leave said room.

                “Would you mind getting it? It should just be the neighbor returning the butter I leant her.”

                I would mind very much actually… I still didn’t feel comfortable in this disguise and I didn’t want Peggy’s neighbors to start making connections between the young blond man and the young dark-haired woman that visited. Both with the same height and the same eye colour.

                There was another knock and Peggy called out, “Evelyn! Answer the door, please!”

                I sighed heavily before steeling myself and standing, heading towards the door. I just needed to grab the butter, put on a small smile, say ‘thank you’ and that would be it.

                Easy. Very easy.

                I opened the door, resolved to go through –

                I slammed it shut on instinct.

                What the FUCK?!

                That had been Bucky. Bucky was standing on the other side of that door! How…? Why is he here?! What the hell was I supposed to do?!

                “Evelyn, would you please let Sergeant Barnes in?” wondered Peggy, having left her room and was now standing in the middle of the living area, her arms crossed, an exasperated look on her face.

                I stared at Peggy, my mouth agape. Let – let him in? I glanced back at the door and then back at Peggy. What the…?

                Peggy sighed before calling out, “Sergeant Barnes, the door is unlocked, please come in.”

                “Wait –!”

                Too late. Bucky was already opening the door, hesitantly poking his head into the apartment. “I should have expected that to be honest,” he said as he entered, shutting the door behind him. “Evening, ladies.”

                “What are you doing here?” I asked abruptly and I heard Peggy clear her throat behind me. “What?” I turned around to face her. “We’re going…” Actually looking at Peggy made me realize that she was nowhere near ready to go on any type of mission.

                She gave me a look before motioning towards Bucky.

                I slowly turned back towards him, eyeing his attire. Contrary to Peggy, he looked ready to head out.

                “Wait, is there a mission or not?” I asked both of them. “Because I was told there was one and none of this,” I motioned between the three of us “is making much sense.”

                Bucky glanced towards Peggy, giving her a smile. “That’s actually a pretty good excuse, Agent Carter.”

                Peggy just gave him a look.

                “So, no mission,” I stated since neither of them actually answered my question. “Fine, then what the fuck is going on?”

                “Evelyn, honestly, think it through,” ordered Peggy, eyeing Bucky pointedly.

                My gaze went from Peggy, to Bucky, to myself and back.

                It finally fell into place.

                “What?! I’m going out?! With Bucky?! Alone?! NO!”

                All those words tumbled out of my mouth before I could process them. Instinctively I knew this was a horrible idea! I already risked my secret the last time we had ‘gone out’ and that had been for a mission. This – this was NOT a mission! It was…

                I stopped, actually looking at Bucky and slowly began to regret my words. I could tell he was trying to hide it but…

                I was being rash and wasn’t thinking about the impact of my words.

                “I thought it would be good to talk, Evelyn,” began Bucky slowly. “I figured this would be the easiest way without putting your secret in jeopardy by talking about it around the others while you’re dressed as a boy.”

                Great. Now I feel even worse. I really can be an asshole sometimes.

                Besides, a chance to talk is what I had been searching for as well for the past month and a half.

                I took a deep breath, staring at my shoes as I said, “Sorry, I overreacted… Yes, talking is a good idea, Bucky.”

                I briefly glanced in his direction and noticed how his face had brightened immensely at my words and I felt better already.

                “That’s a relief,” he stated. “I was somewhat scared that you’d possibly kick my out. Physically as well as verbally,” he said with a chuckle but I got the feeling he was being serious.

                To be fair, that did sound like something I would do…

                “Alright, now that that’s settled,” said Peggy with a sigh. If it had been anyone else, the exasperation would probably have been clear to hear. She then turned towards Bucky, giving him an intense look. “She comes back here, safe, unharmed, before midnight. Am I clear?”

                I frowned. And why the fuck was Peggy telling Bucky that? I was standing right there!

                “Of course,” replied Bucky.

                “Both of you know I am more than capable of taking care of myself, right?” I grumbled, crossing my arms.

                “Oh, we know,” they both replied. Peggy kept staring at Bucky but he had glanced towards me with a smile and a wink.

                What the fuck was going on?

                “Before either of you change your mind,” began Bucky, still smiling, “shall we head out, Evelyn?”

                I glanced between Peggy and Bucky, still confused. I was about to voice my questions when Peggy took a deep breath and motioned towards the door. “Have fun and both of you. Behave.”

                Why can’t I figure this out?


 

                There was a light drizzle as we left the apartment but Bucky seemed to be prepared for that as he opened an umbrella, holding it over us with his left hand as he offered his right arm towards me.

                He’s still looking out for my automail…

                I couldn’t but smile up at him as I hooked my left arm around his and we headed out into the night.

                “Thanks for agreeing to this, Ed,” said Bucky, leaning closer to my ear.

                I fought the rising blush at the comment and at the feeling of his breath against my ear. Instead, I answered, “The night is still young. It could very well end with you getting your ass kicked.”

                Bucky laughed at that which made me smile even more.

                I did enjoy hearing him laugh.

                We continued walking and I noticed that Bucky was closer than usual. Even though my first thought as for the explanation was that the space under the umbrella was limited, I was beginning to know better.

                Especially when it came to Bucky and his actions.

                But… I didn’t move away.

                Besides, it was still drizzling.

                I let Bucky lead us down the streets of London until we reached a small line outside a building. I bent slightly to take a look at where we were under the brim of the umbrella and paused.

                Another dance hall.

                I took a deep breath as I stared at the entrance. Would we be dancing again?

                “Evelyn? Still alright?” wondered Bucky.

                I glanced towards him and then back at the glowing sign above the entrance.

                “We’ll only dance if you’re comfortable with it, Evelyn. I promise.”

                I turned back towards Bucky, nodding. “That’s a deal, then.”

                He winked in my direction which made me, in return, give him a look that had him chuckling to himself. I wasn’t sure why but he did.

                Once we were inside and had dropped off our coats and umbrella at the coat check, we entered the dance hall itself. It was just as busy at the previous one I had been to and the dancing was just as fast.

                I didn’t think I was going to be learning that dance anytime soon.

                Bucky reached for my hand before he led us through the crowd of dancers and watchers. I focused mostly on making sure no one hit my right arm but that was also to keep my mind off the fact that we were holding hands…

                We were just out to talk. That was it.

                Right?

                We found a free table and sat down – well, I did first, Bucky having held out the seat for me. I couldn’t help but blush once more. He moved his seat closer to mine so that both of us were facing the dance floor before also sitting down.

                I gave him a look.

                He just smiled.

                Just talking, right?

                I was getting the suspicion that it wasn’t just that.

                Well, I better start the process then. “So, talking? That was the main reason for all this, no?”

                “Main reason,” repeated Bucky with a smile. “Not the only one but the main one.”

                Sometimes I hate being right.

                “Alright, since the main reason is talking, I’ll start it off,” I said, wracking my brain for how to start this. I wanted to talk but… About what first? Well… “I guess I’ll start by thanking you for not telling the others about…,” I motioned towards the dress and my body and Bucky thankfully understood.

                “Of course! It’s not my secret to tell, Evelyn,” he replied quickly.

                “It isn’t but you still could have said something. Especially to Steve.”

                Bucky shook his head. “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t tell Steve everything.” He didn’t meet my questioning gaze on that comment. He didn’t tell Steve everything? Sure, I believe that but the way he said it sounded like there was more behind those words than intended.

                I was about to ask about that but bit my tongue. If I started asking questions – personal questions – would lead to him asking them as well. I wasn’t ready for personal questions, namely for my ‘mechanical aid’.

                I wanted to talk but about what had happened the other night, not about personal subjects that I don’t share with others.

                “Want anything to drink?” wondered Bucky suddenly.

                Well, it seemed both of us were avoiding those touchy subjects.

                “I guess but not what I had last time,” I muttered, remembering the strong taste that drink had.

                “What was it?”

                “A Manhattan drink? I think that’s what it was called. Still don’t know why though. We’re in London.”

                Bucky chuckled at my comment. “Doesn’t matter, that’s what its name is. And I’ll order you something better then.”

                I nearly said a beer but bit my tongue. I can’t believe I almost said that. What was happening?!

                Bucky flagged down the waiter and ordered two drinks from him. He then turned towards me and a smile was back on his face.

                “Did I tell you that you look lovely again tonight?” he wondered and I blushed heavily.

                “No and you didn’t need to,” I replied, fiddling with my eyeglasses.

                Bucky chuckled as he went to brush a strand of hair away from my face. I swatted his hand, giving him a look as I went to fix the stray strand myself. He just shook his head and I believe I even caught him rolling his eyes.

                “Well, you do look lovely and it isn’t that I need to tell you, it’s because I want to,” he explained, going again to move a strand.

                “Fine, thanks but stop doing that!” I hissed, swatting his hand again and trying to get the strand that I apparently didn’t get the first time around.

                “You keep missing it!”

                “I’ll –”

                “Has this bloke been bothering you, miss?”

                The voice came from right behind Bucky and myself and we both turned at the same time. A man was standing there, his gaze locked with mine and I frowned deeply.

                “Bothering me?” I repeated before Bucky even opened his mouth. “You rudely interrupt us and you’re asking if he’s bothering me?”

                “Didn’t look like you were having the most pleasant of times,” explained the man, giving Bucky a dirty look. “If you want to be treated like a princess, I’ll be able to give you all that and more.”

                I scoffed at that. “Doubtful. And I don’t want to be treated like a princess.”

                “Well I’ll definitely treat you better than this pillock.”

                I stood suddenly, ignoring the hushed words from Bucky as he wrapped an arm around my waist. “The only pillock I see around here is you, so bugger off before I help you find the exit. It won’t be pleasant.”

                “Hey, I was just trying to save you from a horrible date. But if you want to throw away your evening with him, so be it. I was only trying to do the honourable thing and help you.”

                My fists clenched and I felt Bucky tug at my hip to get me to sit back down. “Honourable? Help me? I do NOT need your help. Besides, you haven’t listened to a word I said! You would be the horrible date, so do everyone a favor here and bugger off!”

                The man raised his hands in surrender and backed away. Before he was too far, he glanced towards Bucky and opened his mouth but Bucky was faster.

                “You wouldn’t have been able to handle her, buddy,” said Bucky with a smirk.

                The man growled out in frustration as he turned around and finally walked away.

                I flopped back into my chair and Bucky patted my leg. “You handled that well. You didn’t throw a single punch.”

                I sent him an irritated look and a “Fuck off.”

                “I’m proud of you.”

                “Fuck. You.”

                He smiled, giving my leg a squeeze. “I mean it, Evelyn. You did handle that well. I had been scared you would have started a fight but you didn’t.”

I felt myself blush at that praise. Yeah, fine, I didn’t punch the guy but I still was quick to anger. “Could have been better,” I mumbled, crossing my arms.

Bucky shrugged. “As I said, you didn’t punch him so that’s a great start. However.” He paused, giving me a look. “How in the world do you know what ‘pillock’ stands for but common expressions are still a mystery to you?” He was trying to keep a straight face but I could tell he wanted to laugh at the situation.

                I gave him a look. “You do know we spend almost all our time around soldiers, right?”

                “But still! You –”

                “Keep talking and you’ll realize that I know exactly what a pillock stands for as I kick you there.”

                Bucky stuttered at that threat, any signs of him wanting to laugh vanishing. He was thankfully saved by the waiter coming back with our drinks. Bucky hesitatingly thanked the man, handing over the amount to pay and then the waiter left.

                Bucky slowly moved one of the glasses towards me, one filled with an orange liquid. It was lighter than the one Peggy had order and I wondered if that meant it wasn’t as strong.

                “Cheers?” wondered Bucky as he raised his own glass filled with something different.

                I took a deep breath before picking my drink up and knocking it lightly with his. “Cheers and thank you for… whatever this is.”

                “Bellamy Scotch Sour. Hopefully you like it better.”

                I glanced between him and the drink and, with a shrug, took a sip.

                Okay, still strong but not as much as the one Peggy had ordered.

                “So?”

                “Better. Thanks, Bucky.”

                He seemed to relax as he took another sip of his drink. “So, no surprise kicks from you?”

                I chuckled, shaking my head. “Not yet. You’re safe.”

                He looked somewhat relieved at that. I watched the couples in front of dance for a while, a part of me trying to figure out what the hell the steps they were supposedly following were. Sometimes they would make sense but then another couple was not at the same moment in the count it seemed.

                I really don’t think I was going to figure out dancing tonight…

                “Hey, Ed?”

                I hummed in acknowledgment, glancing in Bucky’s direction, pulling myself away from the daunting task of figuring out a dance.

                “It may a tad personal of a question but…” He paused and I eyed him cautiously. Oh, so back to personal questions… As long as he didn’t try to figure out my ‘mechanical aid’ again, I should be safe.

                Should.

                “Well, ask and I’ll see if I answer or not,” I said.

                Maybe I’d be able to ask something afterwards then.

                That got a smile out of Bucky as he continued. “Alright then. The other night, had – had that been your first kiss?”

                I paused, surprised by the question. It had absolutely nothing to do with my automail and everything to do with the night that still had me blushing slightly thinking about it.

                “No, actually,” I replied, managing to keep my voice even. I glanced at Bucky who almost looked relieved but surprised at the same time. It was quite a feat. Hence, why I added with a chuckle, “I didn’t always go around every day as a man. Guys did see me as a girl from time to time.”

                And there was the problem for one guy in particular. Well, ‘guy’ was a loose term considering it was a homunculus in a guy’s body.

                After the… events in Baschool, I had been hiding out with Darius and Heinkel, dressing as a girl to throw off the military personnel who would be searching for me. I had even gone as far as to dye my hair black just in case they were smart enough to check my file and see I was female.

                When we had come across Ling – Greed, actually – he hadn’t believed it was me at first. That is, until I punched him in the face with my automail. That had him singing a different tune fast enough.

                I had just wished it wasn’t that particular tune.

                Greed lived up to his name and he wanted me. I knew exactly why and it didn’t sit well with me. I had clearly remembered the long declaration he had made when he had been in his other body, when he had kidnapped Al and I did NOT want to be checkmark on his list of ‘conquered’ exploits of women. There was no way!

                He didn’t see it that way, however, and he progressively got bolder with trying to win me over. It seemed the more I pushed him away or ignored him, more persistent his attempts got.

                It had reached the point where he had literally cornered me in the cabin while Darius and Heinkel were away and managed to kiss me.

                I kicked him in the balls with my automail leg with enough surprise that he didn’t have time to form his shield and he went down like a sack of potatoes.

                He thankfully didn’t try that again.

                “This was a better experience, though,” I added as an afterthought and immediately froze. Had I said that out loud? Why did I say that?! I briefly glanced towards Bucky, noticing his smug smile and I shook my head, adding, “Shut up.”

                “I didn’t say anything!” he laughed.

                “Your face said enough without you voicing anything!”

                He laughed even more which caused me to turn red in embarrassment. Well, I wasn’t going to let him get away with that. I punched him in the arm with my left fist and he yelped in surprise, massaging the spot where I hit him.

                “Stop laughing,” I said with finality as I raised my fist again.

                Bucky quickly grabbed my fist and lowered it. “Alright, alright, I’ll stop laughing!” He couldn’t exactly say that with a straight face though and I went to raise my fist again.

                Didn’t exactly work as Bucky still had a good grip on it and had actually managed to interlace his fingers with mine. How are we holding hands again?!

                “Bucky,” I warned.

                “I am definitely not letting go so you can hit me again, Evelyn,” he replied with a smile. “I’m not that stupid.”               

                I pulled at my hand a couple of times but Bucky was persistently holding tight. He even pulled back after my tries and – and

                “Bucky!” I hissed as he kissed my knuckles.

                He sent me an innocent smirk. “What? Want me to do it again?”

                My face was burning as I shook my head. What was he doing?!

                He just continued to smile, taking a sip of his drink as he watched the couples in front of us dance.

                Why can’t I figure this out?! I’m supposed to be the smart one here!

                We sat in silence for a while longer, Bucky still refusing to let go of my hand.

                “By the way, I may have said it in the moment but I want to apologize again for being so forward with that kiss, Evelyn.”

                I felt my face heat up at the memory of the kiss. With some hindsight, I understood why he did it, how it gave us a reason for being there that didn’t give away the mission. However… “I think you had but why did you kiss me?” I asked. There must have been other things he could have done?

                No?

                Bucky looked sheepish and I realized it may be the first time tonight that he didn’t seem confident. Maybe I’ll get a decent answer from him.

                “Would you believe it was mostly because I wanted to?” he answered.

                I rolled my eyes. “What type of answer is that?”

                “The truth!” I smacked our still linked hands on his leg, making him cry out again. “Fine, don’t believe me but stop hitting me!”

                “Technically, you also hit yourself and it was barely a tap!”

                “Same difference. And we’ll have to revisit the definition of a tap at some point!”

                “You are impossible, you know that?”

                “That is quite funny coming from you of all people,” laughed Bucky with a shake of his head.

                I sighed heavily, leaning back in my chair. Bucky eyed me for a moment and I gave him a questioning look. He just shook his head once more before going for his drink.

                Seriously, I’m supposed to be the smart one. Why can’t I figure any of this out?!

                I reached for my own drink and took a large gulp of it out of habit before Peggy’s words from last time came back to me. I wasn’t supposed to just drink the Manhattan down so I probably should do the same for this one.

                Well, should but I may be more immune to the effects of alcohol being of the serum.

                I should more for the price of the drinks than for the possibility of getting tipsy.

                “Evelyn, I was thinking,” he began after that stretch of silence. Oh boy, where will he be going with this now? “I figured,” he continued, “that since I know one of your secrets, you should know one of mine.” I paused, surprised. I was going to wait a bit before I asked a personal question and yet… Here Bucky was, about to tell me something without any prompting. “Not… Not even Steve knows.”

                And there was what he meant previously. However, even though I wanted to know… “Don’t feel like you need to tell me, Bucky,” I whispered. “I’m all for – what’s the word? – äquivalenz? I’m not sure of the English word for that…”

                “Sounds like equivalence,” tried Bucky and I nodded. It seemed right to me.

                “Yeah, probably but still...”

                Bucky just smiled softly, not meeting my gaze. “I know but I want to. I not only feel like I should tell you but also that I need to, so that at least someone knows.”

                Oh boy, what the hell is he going to tell me?

                Bucky stayed quiet for a moment and I didn’t push him. Maybe it was best that I didn’t know, that he didn’t tell me. Maybe –

                “I was drafted in the army,” said Bucky suddenly. “The day I found out, I told Steve I had gone to enlist, to finally be a part of the fight.”

                Um… I somewhat understood but the distinction he made between ‘drafted’ and ‘enlisted’ got me realizing they weren’t as similar as I had thought they were. “Just, wait a moment,” I began slowly. “There seems to be a big difference that I’m missing.”

                Bucky sighed as he nodded. “Yeah. You end up in the army either way but enlisting means you went voluntarily. Drafted… I didn’t have a choice…”

                My eyes widened. The government forced men to join the army? And Bucky had been drafted? That meant… That meant he didn’t want to fight.

                He was just like me: caught in the middle of a fight we never wanted to be a part of and yet, here we were.

                But… Why lie to Steve about it? Why not just tell him that…?

                I remembered then the talk Steve had with Dr. Erskine the first time they had met, how Steve had tried FIVE different times to enlist and how he had wanted to be a part of the military to stop the bad guys.

                Steve had been refused so many times to join and here Bucky was, unwilling to go.

                “You didn’t want Steve to know,” I repeated.

                “How could I tell him that I didn’t want to go to war when all he wanted was the chance to do just that?” wondered Bucky, massaging the side of his neck. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him so… I lied. I didn’t feel better about it though…”

                I nodded slowly. Lying to Steve. Yeah… “I guess we’re both keeping something from him.” Saying it out loud didn’t make me feel any better about my situation either…

                Bucky squeezed my hand tightly and I did the same thing. For different reasons, we were lying to Steve. For different reasons, we were caught in the middle of the biggest war of the century.

                For the same reason, neither of us let go of the other’s hand.

                Bucky gulped down the rest of his drink and I had the urge to do the same. However, before I did that, I tugged at our linked hands, catching his attention. “You do know that I won’t tell Steve this either, right?” I asked softly, looking up at Bucky. “That it isn’t my secret to tell?”

                His lips curved just enough for a smile as he raised our hands and kissed my knuckles again. I blushed at the action, looking away. “You really are impossible,” I mumbled.

                Bucky chuckled, releasing my hand before leaning back in his chair. I briefly saw his arm stretch behind me before feeling it land on the back of my chair. What…? Why did he do that?

                “Do you not have enough room?” I wondered, shooting him a confused look.

                Bucky sighed heavily at that which made me wonder what the hell I had missed. His sigh turned into an amused scoff as he shook his head. That just left me with more questions than answers.

                And he still hadn’t moved his arm.

                I glanced around the room, deciding to focus on something else because I didn’t feel like I was going to understand his actions anytime soon. It was then that I noticed a couple several tables away from us. I knew right away they were a couple by how close they were, how the girl was leaning in.

                I also noticed how the guy had his arm in the same position Bucky did.

                That had my face burning up.

                Oh… Bucky did have enough room. He was just…

                What exactly was he doing?

                Before I could begin trying to figure that out, Bucky leaned in close – just like the couple a few tables away – and I willed myself not to react.

                Well, react too drastically.

                “Can I still get that dance, Evelyn?” he asked softly and I felt his breath against my ear and neck and it sent shivers down my spine.

                Dancing…  The couples were still moving quite fast across that dance floor and I still hadn’t managed to figure out the steps to any of the different dances they were doing…

                “I had promised that I’d teach you to dance.”

                I watched the couples for a moment longer, seeing the happiness in the women’s eyes. “Alright.”

                Bucky’s smile was captivating and it warmed my heart. This would be interesting but it could also be fun.

                He reached for my left hand and I let him grab it. He gave it a squeeze and I couldn’t help smiling back at him. His smile brightened before he stood and I followed suit. He led me to the center of the dance floor before pulling me into the same hold we were in the last time we danced.

                I didn’t hesitate as much as I placed my right hand on his shoulder and got closer. “So, what am I supposed to do?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

                “Well, first set of steps are –” Bucky began moving us as he showed me the steps. I realized quick enough that he had slowed them down to show me and it wasn’t looking good from the start…

                Not when I nearly tripped twice and stepped on his foot once.

                I was damn thankful it had been my right foot and not my left… I have no idea how much pressure I put down with my automail and I could have really injured him.

                Bucky – I still couldn’t believe it – didn’t complain once.

                Alright, I needed to focus. I could get these steps.            

                I nearly tripped once more and cursed under my breath.

                Fine, I was probably lying to myself. I don’t think I was anywhere near getting the steps right, even less trying to keep up with the music.

                I was about to look up at Bucky, to voice all of this when his arm around my waist snaked further around my back and pulled me close and up.

                Right off my feet.

                “Bucky!” I hissed in surprise as I wrapped my right arm around his neck, my left hand gripping his tightly.

                He didn’t put me down as he twirled us around and I felt laughter bubble up from within me.

                I leaned back enough to look at Bucky’s face and he was smiling brightly at me. I let my laughter out and he joined me as he continued to hold me up, swaying in time with the music.

                “So? Not too hard, is it?” whispered Bucky. “And you’re not that bad of a dancer at all if I may add.”

                “Says the man doing all the work,” I replied.

                “I am, aren’t I?”

                I continued to laugh as Bucky twirled the both of us around before setting me down on my own two feet.

                “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, Evelyn,” said Bucky.

                I looked up at him, slightly puzzled. “Of course, I am.”

                “That frown before said otherwise,” he remarked. “But, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of the steps with practice. For now…” He pulled me close once more and we began swaying to the now slower music.

                I took a deep breath but went with the situation. I was definitely more comfortable this time around and I was finally resolving myself to enjoy the moment.

                I moved closer and leaned my head against Bucky’s shoulder and I faintly felt Bucky take shaky breath, his grip around my waist tightening. I smiled, understanding more and more the effect each of us had on the other.

                For a smart girl, I’m finally getting it.

                I think.


 

                We left the dance hall and I groaned upon seeing that it was still raining...

                “What? Don’t want to share an umbrella again?” wondered Bucky with a chuckle, having already opened said umbrella and holding it over us.

                “That’s not it,” I replied, moving my right shoulder. Being inside helped but the increase of humidity we had arrived made my port begin to hurt.

                “Are you alright?”

                “Yeah, just…” I hesitated, looking up at Bucky. He waited patiently but I did notice that his gaze was wondering towards my right shoulder that I did move once more. “It’s the aid,” I revealed. I guess I was just tired of hiding everything from Bucky. He at least deserved to know that my automail caused me some discomfort. “The change in humidity and pressure in the air is a real pain…”

                His eyes widened as he stared at my shoulder. Seeing as I told him, I was able to massage the port, trying to release some of the tension.

                “Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked softly.

                I shook my head. “The best thing that can happen is for it to just stop raining. But, until then…” I just shrugged, lowering my left hand.

                Bucky continued to eye my shoulder for a moment longer before he reached for my hand. He gripped it tightly, holding it close to his chest, making me stand closer to him. “If there is anything, let me know, Evelyn. Deal?”

                I smiled up at him. “Thanks, but as I said, nothing but the weather can really do anything.”

                “Then let me get you back to Agent Carter’s apartment quickly so you’re out of the rain. Can’t stand to see my girl in pain.”

                I sputtered at those words but Bucky was already leading me down the sidewalk.

                His girl?!

                What…?

                When…?

                His girl?!

                The more I replayed those words in my mind, the more I realized… I wasn’t exactly bothered by them. Yes, I was highly embarrassed and self-conscious about them and left wondering why anyone would ever think of me in that sense but… Not upset.

                His girl…

                I just could not wipe my stupid grin from my face.

                We continued walking for several more minutes until we came to an intersection and I slowed to a stop. Those puddles around us where huge and I didn’t want to step into one with these borrowed shoes… I glanced around, looking for an alternative route when Bucky suddenly held the umbrella handle out towards me.

                “What the –?” Why the hell was he giving it to me? There was no way this would be a comfortable arrangement for either of us! I’d have to hold the umbrella high enough to cover Bucky or he’d have to lean forward. He didn’t give me much choice in the matter as he nearly dropped it in my hand. “Bucky, what –?”

                I stifled a yell as my legs were swooped out from under me and I was lifted in the air. I nearly dropped the umbrella as my arms flailed.

                “Easy, Ed!” Bucky was laughing and I finally managed to regain my balance enough to understand that he had picked me up.

                Bucky had picked me up in his arms.

                “This way, you don’t need to avoid puddles,” explained Bucky as he walked around one. “I’ll do it for you.”

                “But you don’t need –”

                “You’re welcome,” cut in Bucky with a laugh as he continued to walk down the street.    

                I frowned towards him and just to annoy him, I lowered the umbrella over us. He didn’t seem too bothered by the fact. Actually, having provided such an amount of cover was probably what gave him the idea of leaning towards me and brushing his lips on my cheek.

                Alright, fine, I’ll call an apple an apple.

                He kissed me on the cheek and my face instantly heated up.

                I couldn’t keep denying myself that I was enjoying it.

                That I was enjoying being with Bucky.

                With an ever-present smile on my face, I readjusted my grip on the umbrella, holding it with my right hand while I swung my left arm around Bucky’s neck. He readjusted his grip in turn which brought my face closer to his.

                “Thank you for tonight, Bucky,” I whispered.

                “You’re very welcome, Ed,” he responded just as softly.

                We stared at each other for several heartbeats before Bucky said, “Since this was a slightly more orthodox date –”

                “Oh, it’s a date, now?” I cut in with a light chuckle.

                He somewhat nodded. “As I said, slightly more orthodox. Maybe next time I’ll actually ask you instead of going through Agent Carter.” I ignored the skip in my heart at the idea of another date with Bucky and let him continue. “But, since I’d like to keep it on the normal side, it’s only fair that I ask this time.” Oh fuck… “Evelyn, may I kiss you?”

                Fucking…

                Fuck, fuck, fuck.

                I couldn’t find my voice but my body was being very honest as I felt my head nod.

                Nod several times.

                Bucky smiled as he leaned in and, the moment our lips touched, the rest of my body woke up and I pressed myself against him, pulling him as well.

                It was even better than the first time.

                When we broke apart, both of us were out of breath but grinning like complete idiots.

                “Wow,” breathed out Bucky.

                “Yeah…”


 

                We finally made it back to Peggy’s apartment complex with minutes to spare on our midnight deadline. Bucky had snuck in one last kiss before walking away and I just stood at the entrance, watching him, a smile lingering on my face.

                I just couldn’t stop it. It didn’t matter that Peggy had been a part of the plan to get me out; it didn’t matter that Bucky had asked me out; it didn’t matter that I can’t dance to save my life; it didn’t matter that my port had given me problems. I just couldn’t stop smiling.

                It had been a good evening.

                I turned around and entered the complex and easily climbed the stairs. I needed to focus on not adding a hop to every step but I just couldn’t help it.

                It had been a good evening, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

                I hadn’t had one of those since –

                I missed a step and tripped, falling hard against the stairs and I just… laid there.

                I ignored the throbbing in my right leg, in my body as I stared straight ahead, unable to believe that I had completely forgotten about Amestris. COMPLETELY!

                “Are you alright, Miss?”

                I didn’t know who asked that but I nodded, shakily pushing myself help. I bypassed someone on the stairs and kept climbing, hobbling on my heels, trying to take a deep breath.

                How could I forget…? I needed to get back to Amestris, back to Al, to Winry, to Aunt Pinako… I – I couldn’t…

                Bucky… I…

                I stopped outside of Peggy’s apartment door, my body shaking.

                How could I just forget about them? How could I have even humoured the idea of…

                I couldn’t. Bucky and I couldn’t…

                “Evelyn? What happened?”

                Why did I ever agree to any of this?!

                “I fucked up,” I whispered, covering my face as guilt ate away at me on the inside.

                Guilt towards everyone in Amestris, everyone I had COMPLETELY forgotten about that evening.

                How the fuck could I have forgotten about Al? About my own damn brother?!

                And there was guilt towards Bucky.

                How…?

                What have I done?

 

 

Chapter Text

May 1944   -  Bucky’s POV 

 

Bucky slumped onto the bar stool, waving the bartender down and ordering a drink, a strong one. As he waited, he leaned forward heavily, taking a deep breath. 

“Rough day?” asked the bartender, handing Bucky the drink. 

He nearly scoffed as he took a gulp of the alcohol. “Two weeks of it,” he replied. 

The bartender nodded before motioning towards the rest of the area. “Maybe you’ll find a dame to keep you company.” 

Bucky didn’t reply to that statement because he didn’t want another “dame” to keep him company. There was only one that haunted his thoughts and she had nearly disappeared from his life in the last two weeks. 

And he didn’t know why. 

The day after his date with Ed – which he had thought had gone very well, to be honest – he couldn’t find her anywhere. He had tried the barracks, the gym, the library, the SSR labs but he found no sign of her. 

It hadn’t gotten better the next day or the day after that... 

Steve had said that he had sparred with Ed early in the morning but he figured Ed had headed to the library afterwards. 

Bucky had then followed Steve the next morning, beyond tired as he dragged his feet but he was at least sure he’d see Ed then. 

He did. She opened the door to her room, ready to leave but the fear was evident in her face the moment she saw him. 

And it hurt. It physically hurt Bucky inside upon seeing her reaction. 

Had he done something wrong? Had he pressured her into the date? Had he gone too far? 

He wanted to ask all these questions but sadly had to wait for Steve and Ed to finish their morning spar. He had waited but... Ed had disappeared again without a word. 

Bucky had tried the next day again, this time waiting outside the gym but Ed never left by that way it seemed... 

It had gotten to the point where Bucky snuck away to Ed’s room in the middle of the night to try to talk to her. 

Of course, she didn’t answer the door... 

Apparently, she was making it clear that she wanted nothing to do with him and, no matter how much it hurt, he would have to try to respect that. 

He just wished he knew WHY Ed was avoiding him... 

He had even come across Peggy at the SSR and had pulled her aside to ask, to see if she had any idea of what had happened, of how he could mend things. 

“Sergeant, I’m sad to say that I am as much in the dark as you are,” she had explained with a pinched expression. “She won’t talk to me either.” 

Bucky felt even more defeated at that news. 

“However, she did make it overly clear it was not your fault, Sergeant,” had added Peggy. “To make sure I don’t injure you on purpose or by accident.” 

Bucky had nodded and had thanked her but the conversation had NOT made him feel any better about the situation. 

Hence why, two weeks after the date, he was sitting alone at a bar, nursing his second drink in less than an hour. 

“Thought I might find you here.” 

Bucky glanced to the side as Steve took a seat next to him. 

“Hey,” he greeted, taking another gulp of his drink. 

Steve eyed his friend for a moment before patting him on the shoulder. “Girl trouble?” 

“You could say that...” 

“Want to talk about it?” 

Bucky didn’t know if there really was anything to talk about with Steve. Considering the fact that it was Ed of all people that Bucky couldn’t get out of his head, he couldn’t see himself explaining to Steve that the girl with whom he supposedly went on a date only twice, was now avoiding him and was causing him so much grief. 

Bucky shook his head. “Nah, I’ll get over it...” He honestly didn’t think he would, not any time soon, but he didn’t need Steve to know that... 

“I’m sure they’re be someone else even better out there.” 

Bucky didn’t respond as he took another gulp of his drink. Someone else? He thought, with a sigh. He had had that same sentiment a couple of days ago when he resigned himself to the truth that Ed was actively avoiding him. However, just one conversation with another young woman had that thought crushed and thrown out the window. 

The type of woman Bucky usually dated no longer appealed to him. He didn’t find sweetness endearing anymore. He didn’t want someone agreeing with him or stroking his ego. Even the flirtiest of smiles did nothing. 

He just kept comparing all of them to Ed and he hated himself for it... 

Ed had made it clear that she didn’t want anything to do with him and needed to live with that. 

Even though he wished she had the courage to tell him that to his face... 

“Alright, finish that drink and we’ll go for a walk,” stated Steve, patting Bucky on the shoulder once more. 

“But –” 

“Hey, I can’t do anything about Ed holing up in the library because he needs to learn Greek for our next mission but I’m not letting you hole up in a bar. Come on.” 

Bucky frowned slightly at that news. “Greek?” 

“Next mission is in Greece. We’re leaving in a week which will hopefully be enough time for Ed to learn a fair amount of the language. So, in the meantime, I’m making sure you don’t isolate yourself from everyone over some girl.” 

Bucky sighed but gulped down the rest of his drink and followed Steve out of the bar. 

 


 

 

Ed’s POV 

 

Alright, I knew I was being ridiculous, I completely, one hundred percent knew that. Normally though, I would have Al or Winry present to tell me that and offer a solution. 

Or perhaps even give me a swift kick in the ass. 

Even Hawkeye or Mustang would have done something. 

Here, stuck on Earth, on this side of the Gate, I couldn’t - there wasn’t...  

Fine, Peggy attempted to offer a solution to my damn predicament but her advice was skewed considering I never told her my home was another world. 

Her advice on seeing how things would go with Bucky and that perhaps I wouldn’t want to return to my home in “Germany” was NOT what I wanted to hear. 

My whole dilemma was about getting attached and possibly not wanting to go back to Amestris and to hear Peggy tell me I should do exactly that was not helping. 

I can’t just forget about Amestris; I can’t just forget about my family, about my friends, about the entire LIFE I had there. 

To give it all up for a guy? 

It scared me that I COULD actually consider it as some point... That I could go through with it... 

I never felt this way about someone, I never cared about someone to that extent that wasn’t family. Even then, what I feel towards Bucky, the way I care about him isn’t the same as I did – DO – for Al, Winry or Aunt Pinako. 

Or even Steve... 

As I said, I was being ridiculous because I was actively avoiding Bucky and ignoring Peggy’s advice and there was no one to tell me to do otherwise. 

I hid most of the time in the library – literarily hiding because Bucky and Steve would actively be looking for me on several occasions. I had been focused on continuing to decipher the transmutation circle Edward had given me but, the moment Colonel Grumpy allowed the next mission to start, I needed to learn Greek. 

Exactly how many languages are there in such a small of an expanse of a continent?! 

I had thought it would be simple considering we had a week before we left. I thought it would be similar to one of the three other languages I already knew. 

Ha. Really. Ha! 

The moment I cracked open a book and spotted the alphabet, I knew I was in for a challenge. 

At least it gave me a better excuse to stay hidden away at the library. 

Even if I had spent hours, days, studying, I was still not fluent enough for my taste considering I needed to act as translator once we landed in the northern part of Greece. 

Maybe it didn’t help that my head wasn’t fully in it... 

I am in so much fucking trouble. 

 


 

 

May 1944  – Northern Greece 

 

We had reached the Hydra base and I didn’t realize I could feel happy about that fact. Not only had we hiked for hours along the mountain range, we had a guide that spoke his own dialect and who didn’t seem to understand what I was saying half the time. 

I wanted this mission to be over with and it had only just started... 

As we finally entered the Hydra base, Steve glanced towards Dum Dum, nodding once towards the back hall. “Radio in if there’s anything, got it?” 

“Yes, Captain,” replied Dum Dum before jogging off in that direction, Jim, Jones, and myself following closely. 

In a surprising – and thankful – turn of events, it had been decided before we got inside that I was to be sent on the recovery team because I’d be the only one able to communicate with the prisoners. Meanwhile, Steve, Bucky, Dernier, and Monty would be taking down the Hydra soldiers in the base, drawing them away from us and everyone we could find. 

All the while, both teams would be setting up explosives to take the building down once we were safely outside. 

 I have to say, it was bizarre to not be paired up with Steve or... or Bucky like all the previous missions. However, it was a good change of pace, something I definitely needed after the past few weeks... 

I physically shook my head to stop myself from thinking about all that, I needed to focus on the mission. 

“You good, Kid?” wondered Dum Dum as we entered the factory floor. 

Yeah, sure... 

“Fine,” I replied as I glanced over the area, taking in the weapons that were in the middle of being built. 

Dum Dum didn’t seem convinced but he didn’t push the subject and I was grateful for that. 

“Ed, help me out over here?” called out Jones as he pulled out several pre-made bombs from his bag. 

I ran over to him as Jim and Dum Dum kept watch and, together, we placed the charges across the factory area strategically so that the building should come down and bury everything. 

I just hoped the bombs wouldn’t go off early like the last mission. 

“All set?” 

I barely heard whoever said that as images of the dead Hydra soldier suddenly flashed across my eyes. I quickly blinked and he was gone but I was left with a sinking feeling in my stomach. 

Please don’t let me be sick again... 

I’ve been mostly fine for a while! This shouldn’t – 

It then hit me that the main reason I had been getting better was because of Bucky... That thought brought out a whole new can of worms that I should not be dealing with at the moment” 

FUCK YOU – ! I didn’t even know who to curse out anymore... 

“Ed, you coming?” 

I nodded, following the group as I tried to focus my attention back on the mission. 

Please let this finish soon... 


 We reached the holding area and the others ran in first to take care of the guards. Normally I would have put up a fuss about the whole situation but, considering the circumstances, considering my state of mind at the moment, I let them take the lead.  

The moment Dum Dum gave the all clear, I rushed towards the first cell and unlocked the door. 

Eláte,” I said, trying to work in an American accent to the Greek so they don’t start yelling at me. I motioned for them to leave the cell as I headed to the next one. 

Who are you?” wondered one man with a slight frown on his face. 

Friends. We’re here to help,” I answered with what I hoped was proper grammar and wording. 

The man continued to eye me carefully before a younger man came up next to him, smacking his arm, saying something too quickly for me to catch.  

The first man huffed, walking away and the younger turned towards me, smiling softly. “Sorry. He is... vevarisménos. Thank you for helping us.” 

I had no clue what that word meant but nodded anyway, happy that someone spoke English. “Can you help me convince your buddies that we’re the good guys and we’re going to get them out?” 

“But you, who are you?” 

Damn, I thought this would be easy... With a deep breath, I said, “You can call me Ed. We’re with Captain America. Heard of him?” 

The young man’s eyes widened and I’m glad that Steve’s reputation proceeded him all the way over here. “Efcharistó,” he said in thanks. “My name is Taki. I’ll talk to the others.” 

I nodded, grateful that I had someone to help with talking to all these people. I wasn’t about to have another repeat like with the guide we had... “Follow me and translate if you can.” 

Taki seemed to agree with that and we headed to the next cell. Barely halfway through us freeing the captured villagers, they were believing our rescue attempt and made less of a fuss about the situation and of who we were. 

Once everyone was free, I made my way back to the rest of the Howling Commandos. They were supposed to be setting up bombs along this area before we headed out but... 

“Bad news team,” began Jones as he dropped his empty bag. “We’re out of bombs.” 

“What? How?” asked Jim as he finished setting the apparently last bomb. 

“How else?” said Jones, giving Jim a look of disbelief. “The place is bigger than expected, we didn’t pack enough, take your pick...” 

“Alright, enough,” I sighed, massaging my head. Could this mission even try to go smoother? 

“Cap,” started Dum Dum, already on the radio. 

“Go ahead.” 

“You wouldn’t happen to have any bombs to spare?” 

There was a moment of silence before Steve replied. “We’ve set the last of the ones we had. How many are you missing?” 

As Dum Dum discussed the numbers with Jones, I growled softly, not liking our predicament: we needed to get the prisoners out but we also needed to take this building down. If we wanted thing to collapse, we would need to retrace our steps and unhook nearly all the explosives we’ve already set in order to rearrange them, specifically around the factory fl– 

I paused, an idea coming to mind. 

I motioned for Dum Dum to hand over his radio and he did so without much fuss. “Steve, I saw a lab on our way to the cells and I think there’s enough materials in there to make more bombs,” I explained, clearly remembering several key ingredients I would need. I even remember seeing boxes of fuses in the factory area that I could use as well. It was just the main part of the bombs that I would need to make from scratch. 

“I’ll send Dernier over to make some then,” replied Steve and I visibly shook my head, not caring that he wouldn’t see it. 

“No need. I can make them.” I was already going over the chemical reactions needed in my head by that point. 

“I need you to stay with the villagers, Ed. You’re the only one who can talk to them.” 

I sighed heavily, glancing at the ex-prisoners as they shifted anxiously nearby. And then I spotted the young man who I had talked with before. “I have an idea,” I stated into the radio. “One moment.” 

I jogged up to Taki, pointing at him as I asked, “Boris na kaveis kati yia ego?” Can you do something for me? I know the grammar was butchered but I didn’t have time to get it right. 

What is it?” he replied shakily. It seemed he was just as anxious to get out of here as everyone else. 

I’m staying here to make... Explosives. Boom? You understand?” He thankfully nodded. “Good. You help these two,” I pointed towards Jim and Jones, “talk to everyone else, alright? They’ll get you out.” 

Taki nodded, seeming more confident than he did when I first approached. That was good enough for me. I turned back to my team, pointing behind me. “He, Taki, will translate. His English is as good as my Greek. Dum Dum and I can go to the lab and make more explosives.” 

“Ed,” began Dum Dum with a warning tone. 

“We don’t have time,” I cut in. “I’m not having a repeat of the last mission where the bombs went off early.” 

“He has a point,” remarked Jim before glancing at Jones.  

The two nodded to each other before Jim motioned for the villagers to follow them. 

“Hurry it up, alright?” called Jones. 

“Will do,” replied Dum Dum, still looking a little uneasy about the plan before the two of us ran back towards the factory floor first and I radioed in to explain the situation to Steve. 

As expected, he wasn’t that happy. 

“I’ll let you know when I’m done,” I said before handing the radio over to Dum Dum, not wanting to continue on with a conversation that would just be Steve trying to deter me from following up with my idea. 

Once we picked up the boxes of fuses and reached the lab, Dum Dum stayed near the door to keep watch while I started pulling several containers of ingredients. Alone, they were harmless but, by the time I finish with them, I should have some powerful bombs. 

Should. 

“Kid, not that I don’t believe you but, you sure you can make bombs with that stuff?” wondered Dum Dum. 

I rolled my eyes. “I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t,” I grumbled as I searched for some containers to pour the mixture in. 

“So, when exactly did you learn to make these?” 

I took a deep breath as I paused my search, trying to wrap my head around how we digressed back to doubting my abilities. “If you think I found a book one day explaining the science behind bomb making, you’re, sadly, very wrong,” I replied with a scoff. “I just happen to know chemistry all too well.” 

“Chemistry,” repeated Dum Dum almost in disbelief. 

“Yes. If you know how each chemical reacts with others, you know which ones to avoid mixing together. Or, in this case, which ones you need to mix.” 

Dum Dum nodded, humming a bit, almost as if he was impressed. 

“Hand over those fuses,” I said once I finished with all the containers. 

“These won’t blow up on us, will they?” he wondered as he brought over the boxes. 

“Shouldn’t.” 

“That’s reassuring.” 

I made a face in response but focused on placing the fuses properly. I was already planning on how to connect all of these to the rest of the ones we put in place. I just needed – 

“You wouldn’t have seen a metal wire somewhere?” I asked as I worked on the bombs. 

“How long of a wire?” 

“As long as you can find.” 

Dum Dum didn’t hesitate as he pulled out a ridiculously long, rolled up wire from one of the boxes, showing it to me with a smug smile. “Like this one?” 

I gave him a slightly annoyed look to which he just shrugged, still looking amused. 

“I do know a thing or two about bombs too, Kid,” he said with a chuckle. “Now let’s get these wired up to Dernier’s.”  


 

Just as Dum Dum and I reached the others outside the Hydra base, Dernier set off the bombs and I hoped we had rigged up my homemade ones properly... A second passed before explosions went off all around the base and I felt myself start to hold my breath. 

The new ones would only go off once the electric current finished going through the ones Dernier had brought before it ignited the ones I made. 

All the original ones went off without a hitch and the building began to crumble.  

And then, it was the homemade ones. 

It’s not that they didn’t go off. No. 

They went off all too well. 

I definitely made the mixture too strong for what was needed if the flying chunks of concrete were anything to go by. Even Dernier whistled, impressed by the display. 

“Ed, you’ll need to share whatever recipe you used,” he remarked, still watching the explosions with impressed, wide eyes. 

“I’ll see if I can remember it,” I replied, scratching the back of my head in embarrassment. I really had over done it... 

“You’re telling me you just made it up on the spot?” gaped Jones. “I thought you said you knew how to make ‘em!” 

I shrugged, pulling my gaze away from the explosions. “I said that I COULD make them, I just needed to find the right ingredients and mix them together.” 

“Mix them together,” he repeated, dumfounded. 

“I’m good with chemistry, that’s all.” 

“That’s all,” mocked Monty with a laugh. “You mean bloody brilliant.” 

“You’ve been holding out that you were a chemistry wiz!” added Jones. 

I didn’t add to those comments out loud but... Memories of the time spent studying alchemy with Al came to the forefront of my mind 

I was ‘bloody brilliant’ at chemistry because I spent years studying it with my brother, pouring over hundreds of books and it had paid off. I was the youngest State Alchemist, deemed a prodigy. 

For someone with that title, I didn’t feel like it very much at the moment, not with my inability to figure out a way back to Amestris. 

All those thoughts dampened my mood even more than it had been before we reached Greece.  

I managed somewhat of a smile towards the others before turning around and heading towards the natives, wanting to get them and all of us back to the nearest village as soon as possible. 

I barely registered Steve and Bucky standing a little further away. I only briefly caught the slightly annoyed look Steve had on his face before focusing on the villagers. 

I hadn’t even noticed that neither of them had said anything about the whole situation. 

It didn’t matter at that point: the sooner we got the villagers to safety, the sooner we could get back to London and I could finish deciphering that damned transmutation circle. 

If I could just my mind focused on that task...

Chapter Text

May 1944 – Village in Northern Greece

I ducked away from the outstretched hand of yet another young woman who tried to get me to join the crowd of dancers in the middle of the square. Even though the dancing looked a tad simpler than the time…

I shook my head at the memory, ignoring the pain in my chest.

Simpler than the dancing in England. I refused solely because everyone was holding hands as they formed multiple circles.

Nope, I wasn't going to risk the discovery of my automail.

And… I shouldn't really lie to myself like that: I wasn't in the mood, not when it brought up the previous time I had danced…

I maneuvered through the mess of chairs and tables brought out to the square – I have a feeling the locals brought them right out from their own homes – to a quieter area where people were eating and drinking.

Mostly drinking.

As I passed, someone held out a shot glass in my direction and called out, "Stin ygeiá sas!"

I had a vague idea that whatever he said was their version of "Cheers" but he said it so fast, I was in no position to translate it.

"Drink!" said the man, moving the shot glass closer.

"Um –"

"It's rude to refuse," laughed a younger man I recognized as Taki, holding up his own shot glass.

I took a deep breath. One drink wouldn't hurt… Especially considering they would probably hound me about it if I walked away. I took it and the man raised another glass, repeating the same sentence that was echoed by everyone at the table.

I still didn't understand it so I raised my glass before downing the contents.

Fuck did I regret that! I nearly choked at how STRONG the alcohol was.

Everyone at the table had a good laugh at my expense as I quickly placed the glass down, trying not to cough as the taste remained and the alcohol burned its way down.

"Thanks, but no more," I managed to utter and quickly walked away, ignoring their laughs.

I dodged a few more attempts at drinking when I spotted Bucky at a table, playing cards with the locals. I froze, willing my body to move further away before he spotted me and tried to have a conversation.

However, seeing how the locals were reacting and that everyone at the table was raising their voice, specifically towards Bucky of all people, I knew that I sadly had to intervene… It didn't help that I couldn't spot any of the other Howling Commandos anywhere nearby.

I had to be the one because I couldn't just stand back and watch this unfold.

Bucky suddenly stood and wobbled. I groaned at the sight, clearly seeing how drunk he was and that this whole situation could get ugly.

Before he could start saying – or yelling – whatever he wanted to say to the locals, I stomped towards the table, grabbed his arm and yanked him away, smiling somewhat at them. "I'm sorry about him. I'll get him to bed."

"What the hell?" slurred Bucky angrily as he tried to pull his arm back.

"Nope, you're coming with me to the inn," I stated, already dragging him in that direction, thankful for the added strength of the serum.

Bucky stumbled several times after that and, when I turned back to see what was wrong, he was staring at me with wide eyes.

"What?"

"Ed?"

It shouldn't have bothered me how surprised he sounded but it did... It was my fault anyways for avoiding him for the last three weeks.

"Yeah, let's go," I said softly, going back to dragging him.

He thankfully didn't put up a fuss and his previous anger had seemed to have completely vanished. I thought I could always just let him get back to the inn alone or possibly even let him rejoin –

Bucky tripped so suddenly and so badly he nearly pulled me down with him. I tried to stop his fall but he still landed heavily on the ground, groaning.

"What the fuck happened...?" I whispered as I lifted one of his arms and slung it over my shoulders, heaving him back to his feet.

There was no way I was letting him go back to the party and drink some more. I sighed heavily as I glanced around once more for any of the others but I still couldn't find them.

It'll just be me then, literally dragging his ass back to the inn.

"Let's go," I mumbled, eyeing him carefully but he seemed out of it...

Seemed sad.

It made my heart clench.

We were both quiet as we made our way to the inn. Once inside, I herded him towards the staircase, thankful that the place seemed empty. There wasn't enough room for both of us to go up at the same time so I had him go first and he stumbled his way up, leaning heavily on the wall and banister.

I couldn't believe how drunk he was...

Once at the top, I dashed to reach Bucky's side so he didn't fall over once more because of a lack of support. I just managed to steady him before leading the way to one of the rooms we rented.

The one Steve, Bucky, Dum Dum, and myself shared.

For once, I had wished I was in the other room...

By the time I got Bucky to his bed, he seemed to be more aware of his surroundings as he sat, slumped, but still watching me carefully.

"I thought… Thought you were avoiding me," he finally stated as he passed a hand through his hair.

I frowned but I couldn't deny that accusation. It still stung though because I had been avoiding him and I knew he would notice...

"Bucky –"

"Look." He hiccupped, frowning slightly before continuing. "If it was all… all a mistake, I wish… Why don't you have the courage to tell me?" he mumbled, trying to kick off his boots.

I nearly choked at those words as I stared at him with wide eyes. He pretty much hit the nail on the head with my excuse: I did think it was a mistake but...

I did.

Didn't I?

Then why did I feel sick? Why was so much guilt eating away at me?

Why hadn't I told Bucky that it was a mistake?

"I... I know you're mad –"

"No, I'm not mad," cut in Bucky as he struggled with a boot and ended up flinging it off across the room with more force than necessary. "Ok, fine. Maybe. But I'm – I'm disappointed. Confused... I'm... What's...? Hurt. I'm hurt."

He also had problems taking off his jacket, his wrist getting stuck as he tossed the piece of clothing around. I just watched him, feeling the pain in my chest increase at knowing that I caused him that.

"I'm sorry," I whispered but he didn't answer, finally tossing the jackets aside.

Why did I let myself get close to him? Why did I make that mistake?

"I wish..." I swallowed hard, unable to look at him. "I wish I could tell you why, I wish it was simpler. I really do..."

He shook his head, sighing heavily. "But it is simple, Ed."

"No... No, it's not, not for me." I took a deep breath, sitting at the edge of his bed. "I'm not supposed to get attached. I'm supposed to get home."

He had flopped onto his side as he stared at me, confused. "And…? I can go with you. Simple."

His suggestion sent another wave of guilt through me and I quickly shook my head. "No, you can't... You…" I couldn't pull him away from his family. I couldn't make him go through that retched gate. "That's why I can't... We can't..."

I couldn't finish that sentence as I tried to breathe normally but it was ragged and I almost hiccupped several times. I didn't understand what I was feeling, I didn't understand why it hurt so much to tell Bucky "no".

He didn't say anything, just reaching for my hand and holding it tightly. Neither of us was looking at the other as I tried to breathe normally, tried to understand why...

Why was I crying?

I quickly dried my tears, trying to muffle any damn sniffle that escaped unwillingly.

"I'm sorry... I wish things were different," I mumbled through my still haggard breathing. "I... I can't stand to hurt you like this..."

Why...? I didn't want to hurt Bucky, I knew that much.

So why was I feeling so much pain for doing this? For trying to protect him? He simply CANNOT follow me back to Amestris and I simply CANNOT stay here forever.

So why am I causing both of us pain for doing the right thing?

I massaged my face with my free hand, trying to dry the damn tears.

"I'm sorry, Bucky," I whispered, head bowed. "You probably won't even remember any of this in the morning anyway..."

I briefly glanced towards him, realizing he had fallen asleep at some point. I stared at him a moment longer before growling softly and kicking off my own boots angrily.

What the fuck was I even doing?

I lifted my feet up onto the bed, leaning against my knee as I tried to sort through my mess of thoughts.

I should not have been surprised that my life was a mess, that I needed to sort through getting back to Amestris, being a part of the Howling Commandos, staying alive, taking down Hydra, keeping ALL my secrets safe from others and now...

Bucky.

I groaned once more, leaning my forehead more heavily on my knee as if the pressure would magically give me some answer to –

I froze, hearing the sound of footsteps in the hall. I glanced at Bucky's still sleeping form.

And out still connected hands.

The footsteps got closer and I finally released Bucky's hand and, as quietly as possible, dashed to the next bed and dived under the covers.

Whoever it was, I was in no mood to explain this situation or why I was... I was crying.

The door opened just as I stilled and closed my eyes, pretending to sleep. I heard the person enter and close the door behind them. I was nearly sure it was Steve from the way he walked and I hoped he would just head to bed and not –

"He drank too much, didn't he?"

I wasn't sure if Steve was talking to himself or –

"Ed?"

Shit... He knew I was awake... I pushed myself to a sitting position, rubbing my eyes to try and remove any trace that I had been crying. Hopefully with the darkness in the room, he won't notice.

"Yeah. Stumbling drunk," I replied, glancing in Bucky's direction.

Steve sighed as he took a seat on my bed, also eyeing his best friend carefully. We were quiet for a while and I hoped that Steve would just leave the situation as it was and let me get back to sleep.

I should have known better…

"Bucky hasn't said anything to you, has he?" wondered Steve finally turning towards me.

I schooled my features at that question. He had said many things but I wasn't going to share that with Steve... I shook my head instead as I replied, "No, he wasn't very coherent."

"I meant before tonight...," added Steve before he massaged his head. "But, you've been avoiding him." I stiffened slightly at that comment, dread starting to worm its way through me. "You've been avoiding pretty much everyone, Ed, including me. I only see you more than the others because we spar in the morning."

That was too close, too fucking close... He wasn't wrong though. "I did need to learn an entire language...," I said slowly, focusing on the stitching on the blanket.

"That's one week out of three. Before that, what was your excuse?"

I stayed quiet. It's not like I could tell him about any of that either...

"Ed, please talk to me," insisted Steve, turning fully towards me. "I don't want to keep guessing what could be wrong. I don't know if it's still the other mission that's bothering you. I don't know if it's because you've changed your mind about going to your uncles. I just don't know."

Fucking shit... Just when I thought everything couldn't get any worse...

"No, I haven't changed my mind," I began with conviction. "I told you I was going to help and I will."

"I'll understand if you change your mind, Ed. You're allowed to."

I shook my head. "I didn't. Believe me."

Steve eyed me carefully for several heartbeats before sighing. "I want to believe you, Ed, I truly do but you are making it so difficult when you don't tell me anything."

"I…" I paused, taking a deep breath and becoming very impulsive. "Fine."

Steve perked up, looking genuinely surprised by my response. However, I wasn't going to share all that much with him if I was being honest: nothing of my gender, nothing of Bucky. If he wanted to talk, if it would ease his mind, I'll at least talk to him about the mission.

I couldn't do much about the situation with Bucky but I didn't want to have issues with Steve as well.

I didn't need more problems…

"It – it still bothers me, having a gun, using it," I admitted slowly as Steve listened, his focus completely on me. "Just having it with me it… I can feel how heavy it is."

"Had it been the first time you used it, Ed?" wondered Steve softly, placing a hand on my knee.

Thinking back on the first time I aimed it at someone – aimed it at Envy's true form – had me shutting my eyes tightly, attempting to take a deep breath. I felt Steve's grip increase and I hesitantly reached for his hand. Unlike me, he didn't hesitate and gripped my hand tightly, like the time back in the US, after a pretty bad nightmare.

It was just as comforting now as it had been back then. Perhaps even more.

"I didn't pull the trigger the first time," I explained once I felt more in control of myself. "I don't know if things would have been better if I had. I honestly don't know. This time… My thoughts keep contradicting each other. You said it was hard to pull the trigger but…" I gripped my head tightly. "It wasn't. I didn't think. I just acted."

"But if you hadn't –"

"I know," I cut in, glancing towards the other bed. "I saved Bucky and that's… that's what keeps me going. I don't want to see any of you hurt." Just the thought of anyone from the team getting injured sent a wave of queasiness through me. "On the other hand, though, I – I don't want to be the one deciding whether someone lives or dies. But if that decision saves the lives of hundreds of others –"

"Ed."

I paused, finally looking up at Steve and I finally realized how worked up I had gotten. I took a deep breath, glancing towards Bucky to make sure I hadn't woken him up. No such luck: he was still passed out.

"I don't want to do it again, I don't want to pull the trigger, but I know that I will have to do it if it means protecting the rest of the team," I finished softly.

Steve smiled sadly as he stared at me. "None of us really want to if that helps ease your conscious," he began and I shrugged lightly. I figured they didn't but it was a little nice to hear it. "And, to be honest with you, I don't really like using a gun either. I have to but it doesn't mean I want to."

I was a little surprised at that news considering that that had never showed in any of the missions we were on.

"That's why I like my shield: I want to protect, not attack. But I also know that we have to compromise in a war and sometimes, it doesn't always leave us with a clear conscious." He paused, giving my hand a tight squeeze as he said, "What I will tell you, though, is that you are amazingly brave to feel those hesitations and to continue on with the missions, to put on such a brave face for the rest of us."

I scoffed, whacking our joined hands on his leg. "You're such a sap, you know that?"

He chuckled lightly, shaking his head as a small smile spread. "And since I'm such a sap, I'll say that, even though this," he moved our hands, motioning between the two of us, "sharing your feelings, seems to be the hardest thing for you to do… Thank you for talking to me. Thank you for trusting me."

I felt a laugh bubble within me at the comment, at the gesture. He really was a sap… He reminded me so much of Al…

Without really thinking, I pushed myself up and wrapped my arms around Steve's neck. I felt him tense in surprise before returning the hug without any more hesitation. I held him tightly for several heartbeats, breathing deeply as I felt tension ease away.

I didn't realize…

"I needed this… Thank you, Steve," I mumbled, pulling away from him.

He was smiling softly, patting my back before lowering his arms. "I'll be here when you need me, Ed, I promise."

"And I'm here for you, you know that right?"

He chuckled, nodding as he patted my head. I rolled my eyes, swatting his hand away but I still couldn't help smiling at the action.

"Alright, get some sleep, okay?" he said as he pushed himself up.

"Yes, sir." I even saluted him. "Gute natch."

"Schlaf gut," he replied and I gasped in shock.

"Since when do you know German?" I managed to ask.

He shook his head quickly. "I only know a few words or greetings so that I can communicate a bit with you in your own language. Since you've put in the effort to learn English, French, and even Greek. Your mumbling is still incomprehensible to me though so bear with me."

Wow… I stared at him, mouth agape at that revelation. He – he was learning German? To talk to me?

"I rendered Edward Elric speechless," chuckled Steve with a shake of his head. "I'll need to write that down somewhere!"

"Shut up, it's not going to happen again," I replied in German which got his laughter to stop suddenly as he tried to process what I had just said.

It didn't seem to have worked.

"I still have some work ahead of me," remarked Steve. "Want to help?"

"Sure, I'd be happy to. Thanks again."

"And danke to you too. Now, sleep."

I rolled my eyes as I laid back down but I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

One thing at a time.

It'll work out.

It should.


Bucky's POV

Bucky woke up the next morning with a loud groan, regretting the noise instantly. He pried his eyes open, squinting against the bright sunlight in the room. He groaned once more, regretting it just as much as the first time. He took several deep breaths, trying to remember how he had gotten into that predicament.

It wasn't working.

His memory of the previous night was hazy, making him question just how much alcohol he had drunk. He stared at the ceiling as he tried to grasp at those fleeting memories but it just wasn't working.

More painfully then expected, he pushed himself into a sitting position, fighting back the nausea that followed.

He should have known better than to drink that much...

He glanced around the room, at the three empty beds and wondered what time it was. If Dum Dum was already up, it was probably later than he expected. He couldn't rely on Steve or Ed on that since they got up ridiculously early and –

Bucky paused, trying to grasp at the memory.

Ed.

She had been there. He had seen her last night. He...

He gripped his head tightly, wanting to remember what had happened! What had he said? What had he done? And what about Ed? Had she said something? Had she ignored him like before?

Bucky really started regretting having drunk so much.

"Wait..."

He couldn't remember words for the life of him but he did remember hearing –

"Why was she crying?"

He wondered if his mind was playing tricks on him, that that... event didn't happen.

Had he made her cry? Had he said something that bad?

Bucky leaned forward, burying his face in his hands as he grumbled, "I'm such an asshole..."

He wasn't 100% sure if he was but, if he, for any reason, made Ed cry, he definitely was. He just hoped he hadn't...

But...

What other reason could there be?

He thought he felt less like shit before, thought he felt useless but the fleeting memories of the previous night made him feel even worse.

He had felt, since even before the other mission in Italy, that Steve didn't need him anymore. Why would he? He was CAPTAIN AMERICA for goodness sake! Why would he need Bucky there?

And this mission? Steve actually got Bucky out of a tight spot! Ed had in the other one!

Bucky had never felt that useless in his life.

Add that to how Ed had been avoiding him ever since their date...

He couldn't stand how the two most important people in his life didn't need him...

No wonder he drank so much... He felt the need for another drink even then...

Thankfully, Steve showing up stopped Bucky's dark train of thoughts.

"Good, you're awake," stated Steve with a smile. "Feeling better?"

Bucky nearly scoffed considering how hungover he was but shrugged instead. "Been better."

"Hopefully you'll feel better soon, we've got to get going."

Bucky frowned, tossing the blanket away as he searched for his boots. "Where are we needed?"

"Ed moved your boots to the end of your bed. Bag and coat too," explained Steve, pointing in that direction before grabbing his things. "Colonel Phillips sent a message that Hydra is attacking villages in France. We're being sent in to help stop them."

Bucky attempted to process that information, noticing that his mind focused too much on the fact that Ed of all people got his things together. Had that been before or after making her cry? Was she still mad at him? Wasn't she?

He took a deep breath, remembering the rest of what Steve had said. They had a new mission. He needed to focus on that and put aside the puzzle that was Evelyn Elric aside for now.

"Alright, we're leaving now?" asked Bucky.

"As soon as possible. Grab Ed's bag, will you? I'll get Dum Dum's."

Bucky nodded, pushing himself up quickly and instantly regretting the action. He wobbled, his head spinning and the nausea returned all too suddenly. He steadied himself on the bed post, taking a deep breath and tried to not throw up on the spot.

He hoped it was going to take longer than expected to reach France so that his hangover could subside.

"Buck?"

He waved Steve off, smiling somewhat. "Nothing I can't handle. Don't worry."

Bucky could tell his friend didn't fully believe him nor did he seem too happy about those words.

"Between you and Ed…," he mumbled with a sigh, not finishing that train of thought as he grabbed Dum Dum's bag. "Let's go."

Bucky didn't want to think too much on those words, not knowing anymore than Steve what was wrong with Ed. He grabbed her bag and slung it over his shoulder before following his friend out of the room. "Where are the others?"

"Ed's negotiating transportation to get us to our rendezvous point, to the plane. Dum Dum's with him while the others are getting supplies."

Bucky nodded and, the moment they exited the inn, he bit back a groan. The sunlight was much too strong for him that early after getting up… He felt like this was going to be a tough morning…

"Over here," called Steve as he turned around, giving his friend a once over. "Are you sure you'll be alright?"

"I'm sure."

Steve sighed once more but couldn't push the conversation anymore when the rest of the team joined them and Jim handed him a container of water.

"This may help," he laughed, patting Bucky on the arm.

"Is everything set?" asked Steve to the others as Bucky took a gulp of water, thankful.

Ed nodded, motioning behind her. "Wagon's waiting down the street. We can leave the moment we're ready."

Steve glanced at the others as he asked, "Are we?"

"All good to go, Cap," replied Dum Dum as he held out his hand. "And thanks for the bag."

Steve handed it over. "No problem. Alright, Howling Commandoes, let's move out."

It was then that Ed seemed to realize that Bucky had her bag. As the others made their way to the wagon Bucky moved a little closer to Ed and slowly held out her bag towards her. She didn't look at him as she grabbed it but he didn't let go right away.

She lifted her gaze, meeting his and they both stared at each other. It may have been for only a moment but it was the longest since their date.

"Thanks, Bucky," she said, pulling the bag and he finally let go.

It just confused him even more: she didn't look the least bit angry at him.

Then why had she been crying?!

"Hey, Bucky," called out Jim as he waited for him to catch up, "you're not too hungover, are ya?"

"I'll be fine," he replied with a shrug, watching Ed walk ahead of them.

"You're lucky Ed dragged you back to the inn. It didn't look like you could find the end of your nose last night," continued Jim and Bucky grew even more confused.

"Ed got me back to the inn?"

"Yeah. I almost helped but he seemed to be managing fine by himself. Even after the fall you took."

Bucky massaged his head, having no recollection of those events.

As Bucky climbed onto the wagon, he eyed Ed, wanting to ask so many questions that could possibly sort out so many puzzles in his head.

He had thought Ed was mad at him. However, if she was, why get him back to the inn? Why find his boots? Why care about someone you don't like?

So now, Bucky didn't have a clue on why Ed had been avoiding him.

What the hell happened?!

And he knew he wouldn't get ANY answers any time soon because of this mission. He was going to need to focus even more while his mind tried to come up with some explanation to this... this fiasco.

He was not looking forward to any of it.

Chapter Text

May 1944 – Small town near the border of occupied France  

 

I was running down a near deserted street with Monty and Jim, looking for any townspeople or Hydra soldiers. Before running head first into the fray, the group made sure Dernier, Jones, and myself were on separate teams given the fact that we were the only three who spoke French. Jim had offered to go with me, remarking on how the last mission had gone well together. Steve had agreed, especially once both Jim and Monty added that they’d keep a very close eye on me. Steve then assigned Dum Dum and Bucky with Jones with him accompanying Dernier. 

It didn’t take long for the three teams to be split up as we dealt with the Hydra soldiers we came across and sent the townspeople in the direction of safety.  

It had been nearly an hour since we started and we hadn’t had too much troubles. That should have been the first clue... 

I held up my hand to stop the other two, catching the faint sound of... 

“What is it, Kid?” wondered Jim softly, scanning the area. 

Pounding of boots and they were in synch with each other. “Hydra,” I replied just as softly. 

The three of us didn’t hesitate, moving off the road and hiding around a corner. As Monty and Jim moved in front of me, raising their guns, I took a step back, my left hand hesitantly going for my handgun. 

I can do this. 

I undid the clasp and grasped the handle, pulling the gun out and removing the safety. 

I wasn’t about to let the two men in front of me take all the fire while I hid. I wouldn’t forgive myself if they got hurt taking care of me. 

The soldiers were getting closer and it seemed Monty and Jim could hear them too at this point. Taking a deep breath, I raised my gun, ready to aim at the enemy. I at least compromised and decided on shooting them somewhere non-vital. It still had my body somewhat disagreeing but I needed to focus my mind on the task at hand and not the discomfort. 

Just as the soldiers were but a meter away from our hiding spot, Monty’s radio went off, the static and whatever communication transmitted – I didn’t care at that point what was said – giving away our position instantly. 

“Take cover!” ordered Jim as the Hydra soldiers turned the corner and opened fire. 

I ducked away, doing exactly what Jim said, not worrying about returning fire at that moment. I heard footsteps behind me and, as I turned the corner, caught sight of two Hydra soldiers following me. I skidded to a halt just out of sight, making the two men ram into me and trip themselves to the ground. 

I kicked both of them in the head before they could recover, making sure they were unconscious before lowering my guard. 

That was too close... 

“Monty –” 

It was then that I realized the other two weren’t anywhere nearby. 

Shit. Shit. Shit. 

How did this happen AGAIN?! Why wasn’t I paying more attention? I shut my eyes as I took several deep breaths, crouching against the wall, trying to get my mind focused back onto the fight. I took a calming breath as I returning my gun into its holster which seemed to help somewhat. 

Now, next order of business, I needed to get back to Monty and Jim. 

Standing once more, I glanced around the corner, making sure the coast was clear to head – 

I suddenly caught the faint the sound of a whimper from behind me and froze. That did not sound like one of the men. I slowly turned around, scanning the alleyway carefully.  

“Hello?” I called out, using my American accent. “Quelqu’un est ?” I asked in French: is anyone there? 

From behind a crate, a small, terrified face of a young girl peeked just enough to spot me before she ducked down in fear. 

“Wait! Attendez!” I slowly approached her hiding spot, not wanting to scare her away. “I’m a friend. I want to protect you.” 

I had made it beside the crate and my heart dropped. The little girl wasn’t alone… About a dozen children were cowering in fear, huddled together tightly. 

The oldest, the first girl I had spotted, looked like she was barely ten. 

They had probably run from their school if their uniforms were anything to go by but… 

Why wasn’t there an adult, a teacher, with them? 

Who are you?” asked the girl. 

I’m a friend,” I replied softly, putting on a brave face for the kids. “We all need to leave here, alright? 

A lot of them didn’t seem to want to do that as they remained huddled together in their corner. I sighed, glancing back to the unconscious soldiers and the street beyond them. 

The children weren’t going to make it out if I left them alone… 

Follow me, I’ll get all of you out of here. 

You’ll do that?” wondered the girl looking a little sceptical. 

I nodded but she didn’t look convinced. “I promise… What’s your name? 

Colette.” 

My name is Edward and I promise you, Colette, that I’ll get you and your classmates out of here. 

She hesitated a moment before glancing back over the crates, at the unconscious Hydra soldiers. I hoped she knew that the Hydra symbol meant they were the bad guys. If she did, this would be easier. If she didn’t... She stared at them a moment longer before turning back around, taking a step towards and motioning for me to bend down to her level. I did and she moved even closer, cupping her hands to my ear. 

Our teacher… She didn’t… She’s gone. Men like those ones did it. Some of the others don’t know yet. 

I stopped myself from reacting too badly to that news, to not scare the children but… My fists shook as I clenched them tightly. They’re so young! They shouldn’t have to witness any of this! 

I understand,” I replied softly, forcing my hands to unclench before placing one on her head, wanting to comfort her. “But we will make it out. I’ll need your help, thought, Colette. Can you do that for me? 

She stared at me for a moment before she put on a brave face, nodding with conviction. 

Good. I’ll make sure it’s safe and then we head out. Deal? 

It seemed seeing Colette trust me worked on the others as well and they moved closer, ready to follow.  

Before we could leave though, I needed to let my team in on the situation and I knew Steve was not going to like it... 

I pulled out my radio, raising the volume ever so slightly. “Test,” I tried softer than usual to not cause another mishap like before. 

“Ed?” replied Steve and I instantly felt the lecture coming. I didn’t have time for that... 

“Kid, where are you?” asked Monty quickly. 

“I’m fine but I found about a dozen children. I need to get them out,” I replied. 

“Why aren’t you with Monty?” cut in Steve, worry laced in his voice. 

“It’s my fault,” I said before Jim or Monty could interject. They didn’t need Steve coming down on them for my mistake. “But I need to move as soon as possible. This area won’t be safe for long.” 

“Ed, wait for backup.” 

“I can’t,” I stressed, glancing back at the children. “I’ll try to keep you updated but I can’t have the radio on too loud. It could draw unwanted attention.” 

“But keep it on,” said Steve with finality and I absentmindedly nodded. 

“Fine.” 

I lowered the volume, hoping it would be loud enough for me to catch but low enough to not tip off Hydra if someone decided to radio in. 

I sent a reassuring smile to the children before glancing down the street, straining to pick up any signs of Hydra soldiers. I held my breath for several heartbeats and, once I deemed that no enemy seemed to be heading in our direction, I motioned for the children to follow me. 

At every intersection, I had them wait as I made sur the coast was clear. Several times it wasn’t but I had told the kids to keep out of sight while I took care of the soldiers. The men didn’t see them and they didn’t see any more violence than necessary. 

It felt, however, like the number of soldiers was increasing… They must be moving through the town faster… 

I – I grabbed one of their machine guns because of that. 

I couldn’t risk using my own gun for fear of other enemies recognizing the sound of a handgun in the midst of machine gun fire. 

I felt my stomach churn as I led the children down the destroyed streets of their hometown, gripping the gun too tightly. The feeling didn’t go away as I shot Hydra soldiers, aiming for their legs or shoulders, avoiding anything vital. I wasn’t killing them but I still didn’t feel good about using the gun. 

I just needed to keep repeating to myself that it was either Hydra or the children. 

And I wasn’t going to let the children down. 

Come on, just focus on the task, get these kids out and to safety. You can do that, Evelyn. I radioed in when I could, trying to give an accurate description of where we were but the others couldn’t seem to find us yet...  

I almost wished they would... 

A group of Hydra soldiers suddenly rounded the corner and spotted us right away. I skidded to a halt, feeling two kids ran into me from behind as the others stopped around me. 

Over there!” yelled one of the soldiers in German. 

I raised the machine gun, calling out to the kids to take cover as my mind raced on how I hadn’t heard those men heading in our direction! 

“DROP THE WEAPON!” 

The voice behind me nearly made me do exactly that. 

How did someone get BEHIND us?! 

Fucking shit… 

The soldiers in front of us lifted their guns higher, staring me down and I… I… 

I didn’t have a way out… 

Taking a deep breath, I slowly moved the gun away from me, trying to wrap my mind around how this happened. 

“Let the kids go, you don’t need them,” I said as I tossed the gun away and raised my hands. 

One of the men scoffed at that. “I don’t think so, Blondie.” 

“You don’t –” 

“One more word and you’re the one we won’t be needing!” 

Fuck… 

I tried to take a deep breath to calm down. I needed a level head if I was to figure out how to get out of this predicament. 

To get myself and a dozen children out of this predicament. 

The Hydra soldiers motioned for us to start moving, heading away from safety and back to where we came from. The children glanced between the soldiers and myself and I shook my head, nudging them to move because I didn’t want Hydra to get irritated with them. 

As we walked, I thought over the situation and realized that none of the men recognized me as being a part of the Howling Commandos. That could be my saving grace: if they see me as just a townsman than I can surprise them. 

I would just need to do it quickly before we reached…. Wherever we were going. The more we walked, the more chances we had of coming across other Hydra soldiers. I glanced around discreetly, trying to keep my head down to not draw attention to myself, to not give them a chance to recognize me. 

Alright, five soldiers. I can handle five of them, especially if I caught them off guard. Maybe I should distract them. I – 

One of the younger children tripped, falling to the ground. 

Shit. That isn’t the distraction I wanted! 

A Hydra soldier grasped the boy’s arm, yanking him up all while cursing him out in German. The boy was crying out in pain and fear which made the man even angrier. 

“Enough!” I growled out, marching towards the soldier. “He’s just a child!” 

Another man grabbed onto my left arm, pulling me back. “I thought I told you to shut up, Blondie!” 

“I don’t listen very well,” I snapped back, keeping an eye on the kids. 

“Maybe I should –” 

Hey! Secure him now! Don’t you know who that is?!” cried a man in German. 

That other voice made me freeze up in surprise. This was not good! Several more soldiers were making their way towards us, the one in the lead pointing directly at me. 

“Shit...” There goes the element of surprise I could have had! 

I grabbed onto one of the soldiers and tossed him over my shoulder, letting him hit the ground with a thud and groan. I kicked another one who was running towards me just as two grabbed onto my arms, trying to pin me. I struggled against their grip, managing to free – 

STOP or this girl gets shot! I know you understand me!” yelled out a soldier in German, making me look around, fear bubbling inside me. 

I felt my heart skip a beat. Colette... The man was pointing a gun at Colette’s head. She whimpered, terrified, as her gaze was fixed on me. It looked as if she hoped I would get her, get all of them out of this situation. 

It made me sick to my stomach that I couldn’t do that... 

Alright,” I replied softly. “Just don’t – 

I doubled over in pain as someone rammed the butt of their gun into my stomach. I briefly heard some gasps from the children in the midst of my heavy breathing and I prayed the soldiers wouldn’t do anything to them. 

Sir, something... 

The soldier didn’t finish his sentence and I glanced towards him, wondering what he... was talking... 

My automail. The man had pushed up my right sleeve, exposing the metal as it gleamed in the sunlight. The leader took one good look at it as he muttered, “What in the world...?” His gaze flickered from my automail to me and back before he turned towards the others. “You! Informe Zola of this. The rest of you, knock him out, tie him up and get this whole lot into a truck. Now! 

“No –” 

I felt pain in the back of my head and the world went dark.

Chapter Text

With a painful groan, I rolled onto my back, my head aching. The constant jerking motion didn’t help matters as I tried to recall what the fuck happened. 

It was only when I went to move my arms and found them bound together that everything came rushing back to me.  

The mission. The children. Hydra. MY ARM! 

My eyes shot open as I gripped my right fist tightly with my left hand. They knew. HYDRA knew about my automail and I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what they would do with that knowledge. 

I felt myself begin to shake involuntarily at all the dark thoughts that crossed my mind but I couldn’t let them take over: I needed to find a way out. Hydra had gotten me to cooperate because of the children. If I was – 

One glance to the side scrapped that idea quickly. 

The group of kids was there and all of them were watching me intently. I quickly counted them, to make sure they had all made it. I slowly exhaled when the number was good. 

Even Colette was safe. 

Édouard,” she began and it caught the attention of the one Hydra soldier in the truck with us. 

His sudden movement had Colette flinching away in fear. 

Hey, they’re just kids,” I grumbled in German as I sat up, glaring at the man. “I can talk to them, no?” 

Don’t push it,” he snapped. 

Just let me make sure they’re not hurt.” 

The man growled but, with a roll of his eyes and a hand wave, I got the sense that we could at least talk... 

I turned towards the children, switching to French. “Are any of you hurt? If you aren’t, someone pretend to be just so we can keep talking.” 

Colette seemed to catch on as she glanced at the others before lifting her arm. “The others are fine but it hurts here.” She pointed to her elbow, he unscratched elbow. 

I nodded. “How long have I been passed out?” 

Colette shrugged, massaging her elbow. “I don’t know... Long, I guess?” 

I paused, thinking over that answer. We could be far from the town at this rate. Or not that far, if her sense of time isn’t that good. She is just 10ish. 

Are you hurt?” asked Colette suddenly. 

I shook my head, more not the worry them then actually telling the truth. “I’m fine, don’t worry about me, alright?” 

What about your arm?” wondered a boy, almost – dare I say it – excitedly, making me unconsciously grip said arm. “What happened to it?” 

I paused for a moment. They had seen it so there was no use lying to them… “I – I made a mistake when I was young,” I explained slowly, keeping to the story I had told BuckyIt helps me move my arm but no one knows or is supposed to know about it.” 

A secret arm?” 

I nearly smirked at that comment. However, I could make that work for me. “Yes, and I’ll need you all to keep it a secret now too. Can you do that for me?” 

The children looked at each other before Colette answered. “Of course, we will.” 

I smiled at them softly. “Thank you.” 

Do you think your friends are coming?” wondered another kid hesitantly, glancing towards the Hydra soldier. 

Thankfully the man was having a conversation of his own with the driver and I managed to steal a glance down at my body, noticing for the first time how someone had taken away my gun and my radio. I took a deep breath as that question reminded me that I had promised to get them to safety and how I had failed at that... 

However, if I couldn’t... “I know they will,” I replied with conviction. 

You sure?” 

I smirked a little as I nodded. “You don’t know who my friends are.” 

That’s enough chatting!” growled out the Hydra soldier as he grabbed my shoulder and yanked me back. 

I hadn’t expected it and I ended up hitting my head once more, this time on the steel side of the truck bed. I saw stars for several moments, trying to blink them away all the while cursing the soldier and Hydra under my breath. 

Come on, Steve, get here fast.  


 

About twenty minutes later, the truck pulled up... somewhere. My head had thankfully stopped pounding by then and I could focus more on our surroundings, on what was going on. The Hydra soldier with us opened the back doors of the truck and jumped down, lining up with another group of soldiers, all armed with their guns pointed at us. 

Out. Now,” growled one of the men, motioning with his weapon. 

I glanced towards the children and their gaze flickered between myself and the guards. 

Let’s go,” I muttered, pushing myself up and heading towards the back of the truck. 

I jumped down first and turned around, helping Colette down the best as I could with my wrists still bound together. The guards thankfully didn’t put up a fuss about what I was doing and, as I helped the others disembark, I took the time to look around, noticing several trucks parked nearby and I hoped they weren’t as full as they could have been.  

Emptier trucks meant less prisoners. 

Once all the children were off, the men herded us towards a door several feet away and, just as we entered the building, someone motioned to two Hydra soldiers to take me away from the others. I steeled my features, not wanting to show any fear in front of the enemy. Each man grabbed one of my arms, their grips tight as they dragged me in the opposite direction than the prisoners. 

And that caused a small uproar from – shockingly – the kids. 

They started yelling and the Hydra soldiers were stunned for half a moment before they congregated on the children, some even lifting their guns. That made my heart drop. 

Kids! Don’t fight them!” I yelled out and even I heard the worry in my voice. It’s not worth you getting hu–” 

For the second time that day, someone rammed the butt of their gun into my stomach and I doubled over, biting back a groan. 

I didn’t want the children to become even more scared. 

At least they had stopped yelling… 

I took a deep breath before lifting my head and watching the kids, sending them a small, reassuring smile. That was all I could do before the soldiers dragged me back and away from them. 

Fucking shit... I was hoping I would have more time before they separated me from the others, to give Steve and the Howling Commandos a chance to get here. 

As the soldiers lead me through the corridors of the facility, their grips tighter than ever, one kept a gun poised at the base of my back the entire time. I needed to keep breathing evenly, that’s all I could think about at that moment. I couldn't start panicking now. If I did, I'll surely lose and Hydra… They'd do whatever they wanted with my automail and myself. 

I just hoped that… my team made it here in time. 

The men didn’t talk as we walked and I glanced around, hoping to find anything that could inspire an escape from this horrid situation. Every corridor we walked down was as barren as the previous and dread began pooling in my stomach the longer we walked. 

The men finally stopped at a specific door, not any different than any of the others we had passed and I swallowed hard. 

This… 

The moment the door opened and I saw the examination table in the center of the room, my face paled and I unconsciously dug my heels into the ground. All my fears of possible tests on my automail were all surfacing at the same time and I felt sick. 

So, this is the interesting case, is it? One of Captain America’s friends.” 

My head snapped to the side where a man stood, studying me carefully. I – I recognized him. He was at the very first Hydra base, the one Steve and I infiltrated to save Bucky and the others. He’s the one that had been with Schmidt, the one I had chased after. 

The one who had done something to Bucky. 

He had done something to Bucky. 

Anger burned through me and I lunged towards him, breaking free from one of the soldiers’ hold as the other yelled out in surprise. 

Don’t shoot him!” yelled Zola, backing away from my outstretched arms. “Just restrain!” 

Another man wrapped his arms around my waist and lifted me off my feet, grunting as he did, but my focus was purely on Zola. I squirmed as violently as I could in his hold and he dropped me. I landed in a crouch and – 

I felt a jab on the side of my neck and froze, wobbling slightly. 

Took you long enough!” said Zola through his shaky breathing as I felt my strength falter. “Put him on the table and strap him in place, quickly.” 

My body went limp as the soldiers manhandled me onto the table and things were growing...  

Fuzzy? 

Fuz... 

I groaned, flopping my head to the side, blinking in confusion.  

What...? 

Where...? 

Things were blurry. Why... blurry? 

I groaned, squeezing my eyes shut. I took a deep breath. Another. 

Better. Getting better. 

When I opened my eyes, things were less blurry. 

Good. 

Less good.  

First thing I see is Zola’s beady face staring down at me. 

Interesting,” he murmured. When did he get a clipboard? “You've recovered faster than expected from that dose of tranquilizer. We injected you 20 minutes ago.” 

My brain was still a bit foggy but I understood what he was getting at… This isn't going any better. Zola’s smart enough to put two and two together. Or something together... The serum inside me may be another outed secret. 

I fucking hate you, you stupid Gate. 

Give him another dose,” said Zola to... someone. “We can't have him trying to escape on us. 

Well, I wasn't going down without a fight. Well, that was my intention... I felt another stab of a needle at my neck and thrashed even more. Can't… No, can't let them… 

It hit me just like the other time and I felt my body slump against the restraints. No… Everything was blurry again. So blurry.  

Focus. Can’t lose.  

What – what was he doing to my automail?  

I couldn't tell what was going on. 

Sir, they've broken in.” 

They? Who?  

I faintly heard something – a reply – next to me but it didn't register…  

What - what's going on?  

My head flopped to the side and I tried to make out my surroundings.  

Where – where was I? 

I couldn't remember…  

There was bright light. Light? Why? 

I suddenly felt a tug to my right.  

Pull. Arm. Automail.  

They're – they're pulling at my automail.  

No… No! 

 I yanked back, yanked hard. I think I did. No.  

Can't take it…  

I won't let you. 

Sir, the Captain. 

You have the pictures done?” 

Yes, sir.” 

Give me the camera and hurry it up! Meet me in the hangar in five minutes or I’m leaving without all of you!” 

Pictures? Of what? Why?  

What's going on? 

What...? 

 


 

 

Steve’s POV 

 

Steve ran down the corridors, kicking open each door he came across. When the team had first arrived and rescued the prisoners, about a dozen kids ran up to them, crowding around and begging them to find Ed, begging them to find the person that had protected them. Steve still couldn't believe that Ed had gotten captured. However, finding out it was to keep those children safe, it made all too much sense. 

That didn't stop fear from bubbling within him. He had nearly lost Bucky in a Hydra factory, he wasn't going to have a repeat with Ed. That's why Steve needed to find him as soon as possible, alive and unscathed, so they could all get out of there. 

Come on, Ed. Where are you?  

Near the end of the corridor, Steve found an open door and skidded to a halt. His grip on his shield had never been tighter. 

“HEY!” 

Two Hydra soldiers were manhandling Ed, trying to lift him off an – an examination table. 

And Ed wasn’t putting up any fight at all as he hung limp between them. 

The men froze at the sight of Captain America and, for a moment, they hesitated. Finally, they released their hold on Ed at the same time and going for their guns. It was almost in slow motion as Steve watched his friend fall to the ground and his anger boiled. 

Before either of the men had even raised their weapons, Steve had thrown his shield at them with more force than he usually used. It easily bounced off both of them, sickening sounds coming from both as they were knocked to the ground.  

Steve didn’t waste any time running to where Ed lay, not caring where his shield had landed. 

He nearly fell to his knees next to his friend, his heart hammering. 

“Ed, come on now, speak to me,” Steve urged as he gently turned him over, checking for a pulse, noticing the deep bruises and the puncture wounds on the side of his neck at the same time. “Ed, please.” 

His golden eyes were glassy, unable to focus on much but he did seem to have heard Steve as a soft, pained and garbled sound came from him.  

“Ed...” 

Steve glanced over his friend, taking in the ripped right sleeve that exposed the entirety of the mechanical arm. Even his mechanical foot was visible and Steve spotted the discarded boot across the room. 

 How far would they have gone to get information on Ed’s limbs? Thankfully they hadn't had time to take them off which was a blessing in itself. 

Steve didn't know how Ed would have handled living without his limbs… 

With a deep breath, Steve stood and got his friend’s boot, slipping it back on before trying again to get an answer from him. “Ed, please show me a sign that you're alright.” 

He actually looked at Steve this time, his eyes a little more focused. That was a good start, Steve could work with that. 

“Ed, I'll get you out of here,” he whispered, trying to get him to sit up. 

Steve faintly heard something from his friend when he did move him and he stopped, waiting. “Auto… mail…” 

Steve frowned, confused. That had definitely been English but he had no idea what – 

Ed moved his right arm towards his body, holding it tightly against him and Steve understood: Ed’s mechanical limb. The others didn’t know about them and Ed had been adamant about them not finding out. Steve glanced towards the door, hoping no one was going to show up before maneuvering himself out of his jacket, wrapping it around Ed, trying to get his arms through the sleeves. The jacket was very large on his small frame but it at least hid the right arm. 

Just in time too. 

“Steve?” 

Bucky came running into the room, skidding to a halt at the sight of his two friends on the ground. The moment he spotted Ed and his condition, however, his eyes widened in shock, his breath catching. 

“What happened?!” He cried out in worry as he ran towards the two of them, falling to his knees and smoothing Ed’s hair back. 

It took Steve a moment to register Bucky’s reaction to the situation, surprised by how much it was affecting him. However, Steve quickly shook my head, dispelling the thought. Bucky had been in the same boat as Ed: they were both taken away and used by Hydra. Bucky probably had a better idea of what happened to Ed and that made Steve’s heart clench. He knew both of them didn't deserve that. 

“Ed, come on, say something,” pleaded Bucky softly. 

There was a faint mumble from Ed at that point. It was mostly nonsense, a mixture of English and German, and it made Bucky cringe. 

“We'll get you out of here, Ed,” he whispered before looking up at his other friend. “I can carry him,” he suggested, already moving Ed’s arms over his shoulders and around his neck. “I trust you to get us out of here.” 

As Steve watched Bucky lift Ed into his arms, a fear began to form in the back of his mind: what about Ed’s mechanical limbs? Would Bucky realize? He had only been told that they were aids… Hopefully Bucky didn't notice something too off… 

It would make sense for Steve to be the one to carry Ed so they were going to stick to that plan for the moment. 

Pushing that fear away, Steve nodded towards his friend, standing and jogging towards the corner of the room where his shield lay. When he turned back around, he paused finding the scene in front of him familiar and yet… 

Bucky had managed to stand and was looking down at Ed, his face filled with worry as he held onto him tightly, pressing him against his body. At that moment, Steve had another glaring reminder of how, once more, he let an 18-year-old get up in this war. He hated myself again for letting that happen: Ed should not have been put in that situation, to be put in danger and hurt. He should be out there, living his life, enjoying it. 

Not being a guinea pig for Hydra. 

“Ready, Bucky?” Steve managed to ask evenly through the guilt that was clawing its way through him. 

“Let’s get out of here,” murmured Bucky, finally looking up at his friend. 

Steve still had that nagging feeling that the scene looked familiar...  


 

 

By the time the trio had exited the building, safe and sound, Ed was out cold in Bucky’s arms. The rest of the Howling Commandos were waiting for them by the trucks, having helped most of the townspeople inside and getting them ready to head back home. 

The moment, however, that they saw Ed, unconscious, their once calm demeanor changed as they rushed to their teammates side, worried. 

“What happened?” wondered Jim, already reaching into his bag for some medical supplies. 

“He’s unconscious,” replied Steve, trying to keep his voice even. “I think they drugged him.” 

Jim seemed to have noticed the bruises and puncture wounds on Ed’s neck at that point and he nodded stiffly. Steve briefly saw Jim’s hands shake as he gripped some gauze tightly and the leader decided that it was best for everyone to get into a truck before they worried even more about Ed. 

"Let’s get ready to leave first,” suggested Steve. “So we can get everyone back home quickly.” 

“Cap’s right, let’s go,” said Dum Dum, leading the way to a truck he had set aside for the team. 

They climbed in the back, Steve helping Bucky get Ed onto the truck bed. Once most of the team was in, Jones and Dernier headed up front, calling out to the townspeople in French, probably telling them it was time to head out. 

“Alright, so what happened exactly?” asked Jim, already unrolling some gauze as he eyed Ed’s neck. 

“I couldn’t tell you for sure,” began Steve as he watched. “They were moving him by the time I got there. He was somewhat aware when I found him though.” 

Jim nodded as he began cleaning the side of Ed’s neck. “He does look like he was drugged. I’ll need to check for any other injuries just in case.” 

Steve paused at those words, worry pooling in his stomach. If Jim were to do that, he’d need to remove the jacket and Ed’s mechanical arm would be revealed. 

Steve still remembered when he had discovered the limbs and how Ed had reacted. 

After everything that had just happened to their youngest teammate, Steve did not want to add to that what so ever! 

By then, Jim had finished lightly wrapping some gauze around Ed’s neck and Steve realize he was running out of time. He needed an excuse, a valid reason why their medic couldn’t look at their teammate to asses for injuries. 

Just as Jim went to grab the jacket on Ed, both Bucky and Steve reached out, grasping onto it first and at the same time, much to everyone’s surprise. 

“You see –” 

“What it is –” 

Steve and Bucky both stopped their explanations as abruptly as they had started as they glanced at each other. They both looked like they were searching for any reason to avoid the upcoming situation but both were coming up empty. 

“Fellas, I need to check on him. We all know he’ll probably lie to us the moment he wakes up about his injuries,” explained Jim and Steve almost hated how sound the reasoning was. 

Ed would definitely lie to them about being injured... 

“But we also know how private he is,” began Bucky slowly as if stalling. 

“Well, as this team’s medic, I’ll take the heat for this,” replied Jim, going for the jacket once more. 

“But we have discussed this trust issue,” added Steve. “We don’t want to start all over.” 

“So, you’re saying to wait for Ed to lie to us about possibly being hurt? Just like every other time?” wondered Jim, looking unconvinced. 

“Guys, are you trying to hide something?” wondered Dum Dum slowly, his gaze going from Steve, to Bucky, to Ed and back. 

“No, of course not!” replied Bucky, Steve echoing that statement, only realizing afterwards how much it sounded like a blatant lie... 

“Fellas –” 

It only dawned on Steve then that they hadn’t been paying any real attention to Ed. 

Who had woken up. 

Confused and scared. 

Ed’s eyes were still unfocused as he shot straight up, his breathing laboured. He flailed violently, knocking Jim away before Steve managed to grab hold of the mechanical arm. His intentions were to make sure no one else reached for it and to avoid further injuries but it seemed to backfire. 

 The moment Ed realized he couldn’t move his right arm, his panic increased. 

“ED! Stop! It’s us!” tried Steve as his friend flailed even more. 

The others kept a distance, looking like they wanted to help but... Ed’s erratic and violent movements weren’t making it easy for anyone, even for Steve and his strength. 

The whole debacle didn’t last much longer, especially when Steve’s hold on Ed slackened the moment he heard a faint... whimper come from their youngest teammate. He didn’t know if the others had heard it as well but that sound felt like a punch in Steve’s gut. 

Until Ed actually kicked him in the gut. 

Steve completely let go of the arm and Ed scurried away from the group. It was clear he still didn’t know where he was as his back hit the side of the truck forcefully and he groaned painfully. 

The group waited in silence as they watched Ed, watched him breathe heavily as he pressed his right arm tightly against him, visibly shaking. 

It broke Steve’s heart to see him like that. 

“Ed, you’re safe,” said Bucky softly, catching Ed’s attention and making him freeze. “No one is going to hurt you here.” 

Ed blinked several times, seeming more aware of his surroundings as his gaze passed over each of them slowly, cautiously, as if he was assessing the threat level the group posed. 

“Bucky’s right,” began Steve, making Ed’s gaze snap towards him. “You’re safe. Hydra won’t get you here.” 

Ed didn’t seem to acknowledge that statement as he continued to stare, his breathing deep. 

It almost seemed to Steve that Ed was putting all his focus on keeping calm. 

“Hey.” Ed’s head snapped in Jim’s direction as the medic slowly approached, hands raised in surrender. “It’s fine, don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. It’s me, Jim, remember me?” Ed didn’t move so Jim got a little closer before kneeling. “Just want to ask some questions, okay?” Still nothing. “Ed, can – can you talk?” tried Jim, a hint of worry in his voice. Ed just nodded slowly. “No. I need a vocal answer. Can you talk?” 

There was a moment of silence before Ed managed to breathe out, “Yes.”  It sounded painful to everyone’s ears. 

Jim thankfully wasn’t going to give up. “Alright, good start. Now, are you hurt? Apart from your neck?” 

Ed’s hand slowly went to the gauze, his breathing shaky. 

“Stay with me. Are you hurt?” repeated Jim. 

Ed shook his head, his gaze seemed unfocused once more. Jim sighed, massaging his head before slowly moving closer. 

That seemed to be the wrong thing to do as Ed tried to back up even more, away from his teammate. When he realized he couldn’t, when he realized his back was already pressed against the truck wall, Steve was the one who tensed. 

“Jim,” said Steve with a warning look.  

The medic glanced at their leader, confused but Steve motioned to him to move back. He had seen how Ed’s muscles tensed, how he had shifted his weight and Steve feared that their youngest teammate would grow violent once again. 

The other man lifted his hands in surrender before backing away, seating himself at the opposite side of the truck bed as he eyed Ed carefully. Moments later, Jim’s gaze lowered and his shoulders slumped. Steve watched all this and didn’t know whether it was because of Ed’s reaction just now or because of what had happened in town. Monty and Jim had explained how they had both lost track of Ed, how it had been their fault. 

Steve had tried to assure them that it wasn’t but it didn’t seem that either of them fully believed him.  Ed’s reaction to Jim probably didn’t help... 

Steve felt like it would be a long ride.

Chapter Text

Steve’s POV 

 

Dernier glanced towards Steve, raising an eyebrow in surprise. “They’re insisting we don’t pay for our rooms,” he explained, translating what the inn keeper had told him. “And they don’t seem to be budging on that matter.” 

Steve, who had been holding the keys to their rooms at that point, took a deep breath as he thought over the situation. He didn’t want to impose on the inn keepers but he also didn’t want to start an argument in the middle of the lobby, one he wouldn’t even be able to participate in.  

Finally, he turned towards the woman at the front desk, smiling warmly at her. “Merci beaucoup,” he said in thanks, making her smile back. 

She replied in French to which Dernier translated. “She says it’s the least she could do considering we saved the town and our young friend protected her son.” 

Steve’s grip on the keys tightened at the mention of Ed, remembering all too well how he had found him. He thanked the woman once more before he and Dernier joined the others near the fireplace. 

“Alright team, get settled in, clean up, whatever you want. Supper is at 7PM,” explained Steve, handing out the keys to the others. “Meet down here then.” 

“Sounds good, Cap,” replied Jones as they picked up their bags. “But what about...?” 

He didn’t finish the question as his gaze and that of everyone else moved to where Ed was sitting in an armchair, staring blankly at the empty fireplace as a dog dozed off on his feet. 

Steve took a moment to center himself before saying, “I’ll talk to him. We’ll still meet with everyone here later.” 

Some of the Howling Commandos shared a look before slowly heading upstairs. Monty and Jim, however, kept staring at Ed before the Englishman spoke up. “If you do happen to be able to talk to him, please... Tell him that we’re sorry.” 

“We should have been with him,” added Jim, disheartened, echoing what he had said before the rescue. 

Steve glanced towards Ed who hadn’t seemed to have heard a word of the conversation. “I’ll say it again and I’m sure Ed will as well,” began Steve on a serious note. “What happened on this mission was no one’s fault. Just some bad luck and timing. I’m not blaming anyone and I’m certain Ed isn’t as well.” 

The two men hesitated but nodded solemnly at those words as the leader hoped they took it to heart. 

“We got him back, that’s what’s important,” added Steve. Jim and Monty picked up their bags, nodding once more before heading towards the stairs. 

As they left, only Bucky remained as he stared at Ed, worry evident in his features. Steve patted his best friend on the shoulder, wanting to relay that he had the situation under control. Bucky glanced between Steve and Ed a moment longer nodding and heading up as well. 

Steve placed the two keys left in his pocket, picking up the two bags left. He handed them over to the inn keeper who took them with a smile, placing them behind the desk. When he turned back around, Ed had yet to move and it nearly broke Steve’s heart.  

With a deep breath, he slowly approached Ed, not wanting to scare him. However, from the lack of response of the youngest teammate, Steve didn’t think much would catch his attention. 

He watched Ed for a moment longer, his heart clenching at the sight of his friend absentmindedly rubbing the side of his neck.  

Why had they needed to sedate him twice? What would have happened if they had overdone it? 

Steve didn’t even want his thoughts to go anywhere near that dark image... 

“Ed?” 

No response from him but the dog did look up at Steve, tilting its head to the side. 

Steve knelt in front of Ed, watching out for the animal as he placed a hand softly on Ed’s knee, making his friend jerked in surprise. “Hey, it’s just me. You still with me?”  

The dog whined and Steve used his other hand to rub its head. That seemed to calm it for the moment. 

Ed, meanwhile, took a shaky breath before finally untensing and nodding. 

Steve smiled at him, giving Ed’s knee a squeeze. “Then do you want to go for a walk with me?” 

Ed’s gaze dropped quickly at that suggestion but Steve wasn’t going to give up that easily. “Just a walk. If you want to talk, we will but I just want to walk. We can bring your new friend with us as well.” 

“Friend?” 

Steve looked down at the dog and, the moment Ed did as well, its tail began to wag as it stared at Ed expectantly. Had he even noticed the dog before then? Steve pushed that depressing question aside as he focused on his friend. 

“So, walk?” repeated Steve with a soft smile. 

Ed seemed to debating with himself before he shrugged lightly. 

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” said Steve, taking the victories he could. 

He stood, holding out a hand towards Ed who eyed it, hesitant for a moment. With a deep breath, Ed grabbed Steve’s hand with his left and Steve easily lifted him to his feet, the dog already standing and looking up at them. 

Steve glanced towards the front desk, glad to see the same woman there. She seemed to have been watching them but it didn’t bother Steve, not at that moment. He mimed walking as he pointed to the dog and the woman quickly nodded in understanding. She reached behind her for the leash, handing it over without fuss. 

Steve thanked her and, once the dog was leashed and said leash was handed over to Ed, they headed out. 

They walked in silence for a while, Steve keeping true to what he had said: it would just be a walk. He hoped not pressuring Ed to talk about what had happened would yield better results than his attempts in the past to get Ed to open up. 

Steve discreetly glanced towards his friend, noting how the dog stayed close, sometimes nudging its head against Ed’s hand to get him to rub it. 

The three of them were quiet for several more minutes until... 

“Steve?” 

It looked like a good start to the Captain. Even though it wasn’t very loud, it was a start. Steve turned towards Ed with a smile as he said, “Yes?” 

Ed swallowed hard, not meeting his gaze. “I... I’m sorry.” 

That was not what Steve was expecting. “Why are you apologizing?” 

Ed breathed deeply, stuffing a hand into his pockets. “Really? I fucked up... I got caught. I think... I think I even attacked one of you.” 

Steve bit his tongue to not comment on the foul language issue, deciding to focus on the rest of Ed’s statement. “First, you do not ever need to apologize for getting caught, let’s make that clear. This isn’t your fault, Ed. It ISN’T. And whatever happened between then and now doesn’t matter. I’m not letting anyone on my team take any blame, understand? Not you, not Monty, not Jim, no one.” 

Ed stopped walking, confusion clear on his face. “Monty and Jim?” he repeated slowly. “Why would...? Who’s blaming them?” 

Steve stopped as well, facing Ed. “They are, they’re blaming themselves.” 

“Why? That makes no sense!” he nearly exclaimed and Steve didn’t know if he was glad Ed was getting back to normal or worried that Ed would say it’s his fault instead... 

Steve crossed his arms, resisting the urge to shake his head. “And you taking the blame for getting caught does?” Ed paused, mouth open to argue but he was coming up empty. “What’s important at the end of the day,” continued Steve, “was that everyone got out of this alive. Remember that.” 

Ed sighed, turning away, staring up ahead as he thought over the conversation. “Everyone did?” he wondered softly. 

Steve nodded. “Even all those kids that wanted us to find you. They’re all with their families.” 

That got the tiniest of smiles on Ed’s face but Steve was still glad to see it. 

They took a few more steps before Ed turned back to Steve, a frown back on his face. 

“Monty and Jim really think it’s their fault?” asked Ed once again slowly. 

Steve nodded solemnly. “They thought they should have been with you. But, I’ll keep repeating myself until all of you understand that it’s no one’s fault.” Ed huffed but continued walking. “Ed,” began Steve, almost in warning. 

“I get it,” he replied in a mumble. “I...,” he paused, sighing heavily. “I’ll talk to them when we get back.” 

Steve smiled, patting Ed on the shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.” 

Ed didn’t answer but Steve didn’t mind. This conversation was more than he had expected and he didn’t want to push his luck: Ed was talking and Steve didn’t want him to bottle things up again just because he pried too much. 

This had been a good start. 

 


 

 

Ed’s POV 

 

Steve and I continued to walk for several more minutes as I mulled over what he had told me and over everything that had happened. Jim and Monty really thought it was their fault I got caught? I was the one who screwed up, not them. I should knock their heads together for even thinking that. How could...? 

What am I doing? Steve was right: how could I get mad at Jim and Monty for blaming themselves when I was doing the same thing? 

I needed to stop... I didn’t remove any guilt but... 

I guess knowing that the children I had promised to protect were safe made it slightly easier. 

That was at least some comfort in this whole situation considering – considering what had happened with Zola and my automail. 

How I had screwed up. 

And it nearly cost me my automail. 

That was perhaps the scary part. I didn’t seem to worry about what they could have done to me, that they could have just offed me the moment they realized I was part of Captain America’s team. No, I worried that they could have taken my automail, that they could have destroyed it. 

How did losing my mechanical limbs get more significant that losing my life? Not once had I thought Hydra would kill me even though they probably should have considering I was a part of the team destroying their factories. 

No, it was my automail. 

If I had lost my arm or my leg or even both, I’d lose... 

I’d lose my freedom. They didn’t have automail here and I wouldn’t be able to continue helping Steve with a prosthetic leg and no arm. I’d be nearly useless! 

All these thoughts just made everything so depressing. Whatever good I felt before with the news of the children almost completely vanished. 

“Ed?” 

I was pulled from my dark thoughts, glancing towards Steve. He motioned with a tilt of his head towards a small parc, specifically to an isolated bench. 

“Want to sit down?” 

I shrugged but followed him anyway: walking or sitting wasn’t going to change much for me in all honesty... 

I flopped onto the bench with a sigh and the dog wasted no time in imitating me as he flopped onto my feet. 

What is with dogs around me? 

I huffed, slouching as I stared ahead, not really registering what was actually going on. 

“Ed?” started Steve softly, catching my attention. “Judging from your overall body language... Well, if you –” 

I cut him off, my gut telling me exactly where that question would go. “If you’re going to ask if I want to leave the team once more, I’ll kick your ass,” I mumbled, crossing my arms. 

I may have dark thoughts in my mind at the moment but I knew that I was NOT going to be useless. 

I refuse. 

“I just want to make sure,” sighed Steve.  So, I was right about my assumption. “To give you the option.” 

I shook my head. “No. My answer hasn’t changed. It’s like with those kids: I can’t just leave.” 

I regretted slightly about snapping at Steve but I couldn’t quit, not when I still had my limbs, not when I could still make a difference. I needed to do this. Steve... 

I paused, thinking over... It wasn’t that I was second guessing myself, no, I was set in my decision no matter what had happened. However, I realized that Steve had asked me if I wanted to stop but... 

Had anyone ever asked him that question? He was doing all the missions but... Was it because he wanted to or was it because he felt obligated? 

“What about you?” I asked suddenly, catching him off guard. 

“What about me?” repeated Steve, confused. 

“Don’t play dumb. I’m asking if you want to stop this.” 

Steve’s response was near instant. “I don’t.” 

“Don’t or can’t?” I clarified, giving him a look. 

We stared at each other for a moment, neither backing down. 

Finally, Steve looked away, leaning back against the bench. “Same reason as you, Ed,” he began, watching the townspeople walk by. “I can’t leave people like this.” 

I just eyed him for a while, remembering what he had told Dr. Erskine the first day we had met. Steve really was doing this because he could. 

That’s why he was Captain America. 

“Fine,” I mumbled, also leaning back. 

We watched the townspeople in silence as I focused on what I had said. 

I will not be useless. 

And being depressed about what had happened won’t make me useful so I needed to get a grip on myself. I made it out. Steve and the others came for me, they got me out. That’s the important part. 

I made it out. 

“Hey, Ed...,” began Steve slowly, catching my attention. “You don’t need to answer but... Did they separate you from the others because – because of your limbs?” 

I took a shaky breath, gripping my right wrist. 

“Did they do anything to them?” 

My grip tightened at that thought. “I don’t know... Zola...” 

I noticed Steve tense next to me as we were both quiet for a moment. My thoughts swirled to what he could have done to my arm and how I’d need to find the time to actually look at it. If didn’t feel any different but I had barely used it since getting back. 

If he did do something... 

“Zola,” repeated Steve slowly. “He’s the one who...?” 

“Bucky, yeah,” I replied and I heard Steve let out a shaky breath.  

“If I had gotten there earlier, I could have –” 

“No use doing that,” I cut in, my voice stronger. “If you start, I’ll have a lot more things I could have done differently to add.” 

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, massaging his face. 

“You got there, Steve,” I added, catching his attention. “That’s what’s important, right?” 

He eyed me carefully for a moment before placing a hand on my shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. “You’re right, like usual,” he added with a soft laugh. With a final pat, he leaned back against the bench, staring up at the tree branches. “So, what lie do you want me to tell the others?” 

“About...?” Because there were so many... 

“Why they took you.” 

Oh... I glanced towards Steve, realizing what he was suggesting. He was willing to lie to the others, to lie to the Colonel on why Hydra singled me out from the other prisoners. To lie to his best friend. 

All to protect my secret. 

I leaned back against the bench as well, thinking over the question. “Well, they had recognized me as being part of your team,” I began slowly, remembering how Hydra had discovered my automail. “We could just keep it at that.” 

Steve thought it over, nodding. “And considering they...” There was a slight pause as he cleared his throat. “Considering they knocked you out, you don’t know any more than that either.” 

I shrugged, thinking over the story and how it could hold up. Since Steve was going to be the one to tell the half-truth, the Colonel would most likely be more inclined to believe it. If it was just me, there would probably be more questions and that would only spell trouble. This could – 

Édouard!” 

We both looked up to see Colette running towards us, a bright smile on her face. She jumped onto the bench between Steve and myself before nearly tackling me with a hug. It took me a moment but I finally did return the hug as she said, “You’re safe! And awake!” 

I felt a tug of a smile at that as I pulled away. 

I told you, you can trust my friends,” I replied. 

You never said one of them was Captain America!” scolded Colette, even wagging a finger in my direction. 

I glanced in Steve’s direction as he seemed to have perked up a little, probably having understood his title in the midst of all the French. 

Sorry, I guess I didn’t,” I said, going back to Colette. 

She shook her head, looking annoyed as she turned towards Steve, a smile now plastered on her face. She waited a moment before turning back to me and saying, “Can’t you introduce us?” 

I choked back a laugh at that question. I had not expected her to have this type of attitude! With the Hydra threat taken care of, it seemed the real Colette was coming out. 

And what I saw, I appreciated. 

Yes, of course, Colette, this is Steve. You know him as Captain America,” I began, motioning towards said man. “Steve, this is Colette.” 

I noticed at that point how much Steve was smiling before he nodded towards Colette. “Mademoiselle. 

She nearly squealed in happiness and I had to cover my mouth to keep myself from laughing at the reaction. 

“Anyone how can make Ed smile like that is a good person in my book,” said Steve suddenly and I caught him eyeing me from over Colette’s head. 

What did he say?” she asked, turning back to me. 

I lowered my hand, nodding towards Steve in agreement. “He said you’re a good person.” 

This time, she did squeal as she turned back to Steve, eyes wide. “You really said that?” 

“Just nod,” I told him and he did, albeit still confused. 

Merci!” Colette was bouncing where she sat, her smile bright. “He’s not only super nice, he’s also the prettiest man I’ve ever seen! Tell him that!” 

I choked at that request. “I’m not telling him that.” 

She pouted, staring up at me. “You don’t agree?”  

I...” I paused, confused by the turn in the conversation. “That’s not the point!” I never thought of Steve in that way and I wasn’t about to start. 

Just tell him! I can’t, you know that!” I took a deep breath, leaning forward. “Tell him,” repeated Colette, pointing to Steve. 

“What’s going on exactly?” he wondered, glancing between Colette and myself. 

She gave me another look and I massaged my face, not quite sure how I got roped into this. “Colette,” I began, pausing to take a deep breath. She just motioned for me to continue. “Colette thinks that, on top of being very nice, you’re –” Colette just stared as if knowing I hadn’t said it yet, “you’re the prettiest man she’s ever seen.” 

Steve’s expression slackened as he processed what I had just said before he started blushing. 

There,” I said, motioning towards him, “I told him. See, his face is turning red.” 

Good.” 

Steve cleared his throat as he tried to smile, scratching the back of his neck. “Merci...?” 

De rien!” 

The three of us continued talking for a little while longer as I acted as translator between the other two until Colette said she needed to get back to her parents. She bid us goodbye, pulling both of us this time into a hug before patting the dog on the head and running off. We watched her leave and, when I glanced towards Steve, I noticed he was still smiling. 

I was probably a mirror image if I was being honest. 

“And that’s why we do what we do,” he said softly, turning towards me. 

Honestly, I couldn’t resist. “So that little girls can call you pretty?” 

“Ed!” I think he wanted to sound disapproving but he was laughing at the same time which got me going as well. 

Once we finally calmed down, Steve was still smiling as he added, “I think that may be the secret to all of this.” 

“And are you going to share what that is?” 

“Happiness,” he replied, turning towards me. “Seeing how happy Colette was, how it made us happy too, it just makes what we do easier to deal with, don’t you think?” 

I... That actually made sense. Not only did my determination slowly come back, but I did feel... Lighter if that made any sense. Steve may be right and we just needed to find that happiness where we can. 

Happiness. 

That gave me something else to think about actually. 

Steve stood at that point, stretching as he did. “Ready to head back?” 

Well, the thinking will have to wait for now. I followed suit, nodding. “Yeah. And Steve, thanks.” 

He had been looking at the two keys for the rooms at the inn when I had said that. He sent a smile in my direction, glancing one last time at the keys before handing one over, saying, “And thank you, Ed.” 

I took the key but Steve... 

“I’ll meet you there,” he said, already heading in the opposite direction. “I need to get some stuff first.” 

I looked back at him, confused. What stuff? “Did you need any –?” 

“I’m good, thanks, Ed. I’ll see you for dinner, alright? Rest up. Your bag is at the front desk.” 

And he turned, walking away. I glanced down at the dog, still puzzled by what had happened. “Did you understand any of that?” I asked out loud to which the dog just barked back. “Me neither. Let’s go.” 

Once back at the inn, I unhooked the dog’s leash but it didn’t run off right away. 

You better not jump on me,” I muttered, eyeing it cautiously. I had made it all this time safely, I didn’t need it to end with me getting squished. It was a big dog... 

However, that seemed to be the wrong thing to say because he licked my face and pounced, pushing me to the ground. He continued to try to lick me as I just kept shoving him away. Why do dogs do that?! 

To me of all people?! 

Alexandre! Come here, boy!” 

The dog thankfully jumped off me and I pushed myself up, grumbling as I used my sleeve to wipe away the – 

Wait. Alexandre? The dog’s name is...? 

My breath caught at the sight of the woman petting the dog, especially when she looked at me. 

Her blue eyes. Brown eyes. 

That face. 

I’m sorry about him. He’s usually well-behaved,” she said in apology, smiling in my direction. “Are you feeling better? Édouard, right?” 

She...  

I nodded. “Yes, thank you.” 

I should be thanking you,” she said as she reached behind the front desk and lifting my bag. “You protected my son, I will never forget that.” She handed me the bag, patting my cheek softly. “So, if there’s anything you need, let me know, alright? Just call for Nina.” 

I swallowed down the lump in my throat as I took my bag and nodded. “Of course. Thank you.” 

She smiled, patting my cheek once more before walking away, Alexandre following closely. I watched them, unable to stop myself from smiling. 

Nina and Alexander. 

They – they got a happy ending on this side. She even has a son! A son! 

Heading to the staircase was a blur at that point. 

They’re alive. Alive and happy. 

Seeing that gave me... hope. Odd enough as it sounded. If Nina and Alexander can be happy... 

I reached my door, glancing at the key. 

Can I allow myself as well? 

“Ed?” 

I turned, spotting Jim leaving a room. He hesitantly waved towards me and I had a flash of lashing out on him while we were in the truck. 

“Jim, I...” I quickly walked towards him, knowing I needed to talk to him, to say something about what had happened. I had had the time on the way back to think it over and I just wanted to get everything I needed to say out. “I’m sorry about before,” I began to which he seemed to want to reply but I didn’t let him. “No, really, I shouldn’t have lashed out. I’m sorry for making you worry. I don’t blame you for what happened, you or Monty, believe me. I –” 

“Easy, Kid,” finally cut in Jim, placing a hand on my head. “Take a breather, will ya?” 

I resisted the urge to swat his hand away as I nodded, doing as he suggested.  

When I looked back at him, he looked a bit more relaxed, even smiling softly. “Better?” he wondered. 

“Yes, and I mean it. Every word.” 

“Alright, alright but,” he paused, putting slightly more pressure on my head, “I still want to apologize for losing sight of you. We should have been there.” 

“You were,” I countered. “You and the others came for the townspeople and for me.” 

Jim almost scoffed, shrugging in agreement. “When you put it that way...” I smiled at the sarcasm in his voice which got him smiling too. “Glad to see you’re back, Kid.” 

“Getting there. Thanks to you,” I added, rubbing the side of my neck, feeling the bandage still wrapped around it. 

“I have a feeling what the answer is but, humour me, are you hurt anywhere else?” 

“Honestly? I think I’m just more bruised than anything,” I replied, remembering the hits to my stomach I received. 

Jim’s eyed widened slightly at those words. “I think that’s the most honest answer I’ve gotten from you concerning your injuries.” 

I couldn’t help laughing, finally swatting his hand away before crossing my arms. “I’m trying something new. Don’t make me regret it.” 

“No promises. Are you sure nothing’s broken or anything?” 

I nodded. “100%. I will most likely tell you if that does happen.” 

“Most likely,” he repeated with a shake of his head. “Fine, I’ll take it for now. Now, go rest. Medic’s orders.” 

I rolled my eyes before saluting him and turning heel. “Yes, sir.” 

Jim nearly whacked me with his towel but I managed to slip away just in time, heading back to my room. I glanced back at him as he watched me. He motioned to the door before lifting his towel, almost looking like he was threatening to snap it at me once again. I just replied to that with a taunting face before unlocking the door and heading inside, a smile still on my face. 

Happiness.  

Hold onto it. 

I can do that. 

 

Chapter Text

I sat on the bed with a flop, a ghost of a smile still on my face, realizing that, yes, I may have some shitty days or, in this case, weeks, but... I and all of us still have reasons to be happy. 

Patching things up with Jim, seeing Nina and Alexander, the walk with Steve, even Colette being so carefree. Those were good things that made the rest worth it. 

But... 

I realized I should really start being honest with myself. Yes, everything today did make me happy but there is a happiness that I seem to have been denying myself. I was ignoring it because I thought we’d just get hurt at the end of the day but... I’m hurting both of us now with these games. 

And I shouldn’t. 

I’m going to need to talk to him. I just need to sort out what exactly I’d – 

“Steve! I heard you and Ed were back. How did –?” 

I shot to my feet, almost tripping over them as I... faced... faced... 

Bucky. 

Nearly shirtless Bucky. 

He only had one arm and his head through an undershirt as he froze at the doorway. He was... to see Steve... 

I just kept staring, especially at his chest and I felt my face flushing. Badly. Heavily. And I couldn’t stop. 

Why was he – he glistening?! 

“Ed...?” he finally managed to utter and I forced myself to lift my gaze, trying to keep myself from staring some more. Notice something else, anything else. Hair, wet. He just showered.  

NOT the image I needed!  

“Uh... What...? What are you doing here?” he wondered. 

I think I was almost... disappointed when he finally got his other arm through the other sleeve and pulled the undershirt down. What the hell is wrong with me? I’ve seen shirtless men before and I had NOT reacted this way. This shouldn’t... 

Wait. “Me? I...” Steve was my roommate, that’s why Bucky came in. Right? 

Then why was Bucky going to the bag at the end of the other bed and...?  

Fucking shit. That’s his bag. He pulled HIS shirt from HIS bag and things began falling into place. 

“Steve,” I muttered, massaging my forehead. “He gave me the key.” He set this up. 

Bucky paused as he was pulling the shirt over his head, seeming to come to the same conclusion. “Wait... You and... We’re... Oh.” 

“Oh,” I repeated. That summed up the whole situation quite well. 

Bucky finished putting on his shirt as we stayed silent for a moment. Why would Steve give me a key to THIS room? Why place me with Bucky? Why –? 

“I can ask to switch with someone,” said Bucky suddenly, snapping me out of my thoughts. 

I was stunned as he headed towards the door without any other word but I was quicker, reacting nearly instinctively: I almost slammed the door shut, blocking his way. He stopped, his eyes wide as he stared at me, confused. 

“Ed–?” 

“We need to talk,” I articulated slowly, taking a deep breath. 

I didn’t actually think this through, not like the way I had thought out what to say to Steve and Jim. However, I was on a roll and... 

And I really needed to talk to Bucky, to set things straight. 

His confusion and surprise just seemed to grow as he slowly nodded, backing up slightly as he waited 

Alright, I can do this. 

Besides, I’ve apologized quite a bit today, one more time won’t hurt. 

Right? 

“I... You see...” I cleared my throat, clenching my fists tightly. Shit, this was not as easy as I thought it would be. Come on, just start with the basic. “I’m sorry.” 

Bucky just continued to stare before sighing... in defeat? “Ed, don’t... you don’t need to. I get it. It was a mistake. I should not have forced you into that date. It’s my fault.” 

Force me? What was he talking about? What the –? “No, you didn’t, not at all. I agreed and – and I actually enjoyed myself that night.” 

He just gaped, looking even more confused. “Then...? Ed’s what’s going on then?” 

I lowered my gaze, thinking over that question. The simple answer? “I was scared of hurting you,” I said slowly. 

He waited a moment, running a hand through his damp hair. “And you thought avoiding me was the way to go?” 

I huffed at that question. “When you put it that way,” I mumbled, rubbing the back of my neck. “I just... I never thought something like this would happen.” 

Bucky tapped his fingers against his thigh, taking several deep breaths. “And...?” 

“And...” Why was this SO much harder? “And I didn’t think it was fair to you.” 

“Fair? Ed, honestly, it doesn’t even sound fair to you. In Greece,” he paused, collecting himself before continuing in a softer tone, “I don’t remember much of anything after we got back to the village but I do remember you cryingCrying. So, tell me, how is this fair to anyone?” 

Oh fuck. He remembered that? Out of all the things... I still needed to understand why I did but it was slowly becoming clearer, especially with this conversation. I just needed to be honest with myself it seemed. 

It scared me as much as it relieved me. 

“Listen, Ed,” began Bucky, “if – if it was a mistake, just tell me. Say that whatever had happened between us is over. No more guessing, no more worrying. Just say it and we can move on.” 

It wasn’t a mistake. I know that now. It pained me to even think about pushing Bucky away, to not be with him, happy like that night. I should – 

“Just say some–” 

“I don’t want it to end,” I blurted out, unable to even look at him. “I don’t. Being with you is the happiest I've been in... in a while, in a long time. I thought keeping my distance would avoid us getting hurt but that fucked up badly. I’m sorry.” I took a deep breath, keeping my gaze stubbornly on the floor. “I fucked up, I know that and I want to set things right. I realized how fast things can change and – and I don’t want to keep running away, I don’t want to regret what I put you through and not giving this a chance. But, that is... If you do, considering how badly I fucked up, I understand if –” 

“I do.” 

I hesitantly looked at him and my heart skipped a beat at the look on his face, at the way he stared at me, his gaze soft and... and something else I couldn’t pinpoint. But, he said he did. I didn’t completely ruin this. 

“I do want this to work but only if you’re sure, if you mean it.” 

I nodded without thinking. “Every word. I don’t know how you’ll forgive me for the shit I put you through but... I hope you do.” 

He shrugged his shoulders, his whole body language looking more relaxed. “Then I forgive you.” 

I smiled sadly at that, not completely believing him. “Really? It’s that easy?” 

He stuffed his hands into his pockets as he continued to stare at me. “You know, I really missed seeing that smile of yours,” he said instead, making me scoff before I realized that my smile grew because of that comment. “Yeah, that’s the one.” 

I shook my head, not believing what I was hearing. “You’re really forgiving me that easily?” 

“As I said, I want this to work, I can’t stop thinking about you, Ed.” He took a step forward slowly, eyeing me carefully. “It – it was painful when I thought that you didn’t... that you didn’t like me; that I thought I somehow screwed it all up. So, yes, I forgive you ‘easily’, as you put it, for the simple reason that...” He paused his jaw working as he seemed to think about what he was going to say. “Because we forgive the ones we love.” 

Oh.  

Oh! 

It had taken me a moment. Not proud of that fact. 

Even less proud with my reaction to be honest. 

I inhaled so sharply as I wanted to curse out in confusion, only to choke badly. 

Not my best moment, I will be completely honest... 

I coughed several more times before I managed to get my breathing back under control. Had he really said that? Did – did he really mean that? When I looked up, I just then noticed how Bucky had gotten closer, his face twisted in worry. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that...,” he whispered, eyeing me carefully. 

I waved him off as I breathed deeply, clearing my throat before saying, “Bad reaction. Horrible reaction. Can’t tell you if it’s a normal one or not though. Probably normal. For me anyway.” 

He eyed me for a moment longer, probably to see if I was telling the truth before he chuckled seeming to relax. “So, I didn’t overstep by saying that?” 

I shook my head quickly, seeming to notice only then how flushed my face felt. He really did say that. He probably also meant it knowing him. However,... “It’s just –” 

“You don’t need to say it if you don’t mean it. I can wait,” cut in Bucky. 

A smile broke across my face unintentionally as warmth flowed within me. It just felt so good to hear him say that, say everything and happiness just filled me. I now understood what Winry had called “warm-fuzzies” once upon a time and, even though I still find the word weird, it explained my state all too well. 

I still didn’t know if I loved him but, I knew I cared about him and... “Can I say – can I say something?” I managed to utter, grasping onto every shred of courage I had. 

Bucky nodded and waited, smiling softly at me. 

Maybe I was a tad forceful when I nearly tackled him as I wrapped my arms around his neck before pulling him into a kiss but it was worth it when he returned the kiss almost instantly, his arms snaking around my waist and back, pulling me close. 

I didn’t think it possible but it felt as if I melted into that kiss, pressing myself firmly against him as I breathed deeply through my nose, revelling on how his lips tasted. 

The previous kisses had nothing on this one. 

I barely registered when he loosened his grip around me but that changed when he bent slightly and hooked his arms behind my thighs, lifting me up. I gasped in surprise, breaking the kiss as I instinctively wrapped my legs around his waist.  

“Still okay?” wondered Bucky softly and I nodded. However, he still remarked, “You’re shaking a bit... We can stop.” 

“I – I guess I am,” I said, realizing he was right. “But I’m fine. I don’t want to stop.” And that was the truth: I wasn’t sure why my body was reacting like that but I knew deep down that it wasn’t because something was wrong. 

“I don’t want to pressure you into anything,” explained Bucky, his gaze locked with mine. “The moment you aren’t comfortable, you tell me. Deal?” 

I nearly scoffed at that. “Don’t worry, I can still kick your ass one way or another.” 

“True. But please at least try to tell me before then.” 

I just smirked. “Maybe.” 

That got a chuckle from him before he leaned in once more, capturing my lips with his.  

I don’t know how long we kissed before I felt him moving across the room, slowly lowering me onto my bed. He crawled over me, breathing heavily as he stared down at me. 

“Still good?” 

“If you’re going to ask that every couple of minutes, I will kick your ass,” I growled out before grasping his collar and pulling him down. 

As we kissed, I snaked my left hand up, around his neck and onto the back of his head as I tugged on his shirt with my right hand, pressing our bodies together, yearning for that contact. 

“You know,” began Bucky, breaking our kiss. “I’m still waiting for you to say something.” He even had the gall to smile cheekily down at me. 

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be an arschgeige.” 

“But I’m your arschgeige. Whatever that means.” He paused, thinking it over. “Does it have something to do with ass?” He then smirked. “Do you like my ass?” 

With a growl, I pushed him to the side, trying to get on top.  

However, I should have realized a single wasn’t exactly big enough to do that.  

We rolled off the bed, landing heavily onto the floor, his head smashing against my left hand as I fell on top of him. I faintly heard a gasp from Bucky and then a groan before I looked up at him. 

“Sorry,” I panted, trying to catch my breath. 

He blearily looked at me, a small smirk forming. “Nah... All good,” he wheezed. “Just… Caught me… Off guard.” He paused before his smirk grew. “Want to kiss the pain away?” 

I bit back a laugh, burying my face at the base of his neck as I stifled a damn yawn. I found the whole situation ridiculous and yet, overly fitting by our – 

I froze when I heard running footsteps and they were getting nearer. 

Without a word to Bucky, I jumped off of him and onto the closest bed just as the door burst open and Steve ran in. The three of us stilled, each eyeing the others with wide eyes. 

“Everything–? I heard a bang?” started Steve, relaxing slightly as he glanced between Bucky and myself. 

“Uh... Yeah.” I couldn’t really deny it with the way the two of us had fallen right off the bed. “All’s good.” 

“Then, what happened?” 

Good question. I tried not to look at Bucky as I attempted to figure out an excuse to – “Wrestling,” I blurted out. “Yeah. I... You see, I did make true to my threat of kicking his ass and yeah... Uh, that happened.” 

Steve frowned slightly. “Wrestling? Why did you need to kick his ass?” 

“Uh...” 

“I didn’t think he could?” put in Bucky as he cleared his throat and pushed himself to a sitting position. “You know, a challenge? Get his mind off of... the...” 

“Yeah,” I agreed quickly, stifling another yawn, liking where this made up explanation was going. “What he said. So that’s why he’s on the floor.” 

Steve just stared at us, his face clearly showing his confusion. “So, no one is hurt?” 

“Not the slightest.” 

“Nope, all’s good.” 

He continued to stare for several more heartbeats before his face changed. Well, it just lost its confusion I think and he nodded. “Alright, I guess?” He nodded again, turning away and heading back towards the door. “Maybe wait until tomorrow to – to wrestle again? Get some rest?” He suggested, glancing back at us once more, specifically at me with that last suggestion. “See you for dinner.” 

And he closed the door. 

A long exhale followed that, and I couldn’t exactly believe that half-assed lie worked. 

“Well that –” 

I slammed the pillow onto Bucky’s face to shut him up because I could still hear Steve’s footsteps nearby and, if I could hear him, he could definitely hear us. 

Bucky thankfully got the message and didn’t say anything else as he got up, tossing the pillow back onto the bed. He watched me as I motioned for him to stay quiet, stifling a yawn as I did, until I couldn’t hear anything outside anymore. 

“It’s safe now,” I muttered, untensing. 

Bucky nodded, making his way quietly towards the door and locking it. “As scary as how good your hearing is, I’m glad you heard him coming.” 

“Agreed.” 

“But.” He turned his attention to me, slowly moving onto the bed. “You really think you can beat me in wrestling?” 

I scoffed, my heartbeat increasing as he got closer. “Damn straight.” 

“I beg to differ,” he whispered as he kissed me once more.  

I inhaled sharply, closing my eyes and– 

And he lifted me just enough to drop me flat on my back, straddling me and pining me down. 

“See?” he chuckled, hovering over me, a damn smirk on his face. “I’d win.” 

“Cheater,” I muttered. 

He just continued smiling, placing a quick kiss on my nose before flopping onto the bed on my left side, leaving an arm draped over my stomach. “Maybe we should listen to Steve though, especially you. I’m sure you’re more tired than you’re letting on.” 

“No, I’m –” That denial was quickly interrupted by a yawn that had Bucky chuckling, tugging me a little closer towards him. “Fine.” 

“There’s still an hour before dinner, I’ll wake you up.” 

“You better, I’m already hungry,” I mumbled and I heard him chuckle once more, kissing me softly on the cheek before I closed my eyes, moving just a tad closer to him. 

  


 

 

Dinner was uneventful for the most part. I mean, after Alexandre decided to pounce on me once more much to the team’s surprise. Bucky and Steve had panicked for a moment before realizing I was fine. They could have at least gotten the dog off of me... 

The rest, as I said, uneventful. 

Because it was uneventful, I took some time during dinner to think over something else, namely concerning Bucky and one of the secrets I’ve been keeping from him. 

One of the many secrets... 

That realization didn’t exactly sit well in my stomach but... Some secrets were meant to be kept. 

For now, anyway. 

Amestris and the serum couldn’t be shared but... 

“Ed? Can’t sleep?” 

I glanced to the side, managing to make out Bucky in the darkness of the room. We had both gotten into our separate beds several minutes ago but I had yet to lay down. 

“Thinking,” I replied. 

“About...?” 

I stared at my hands for a moment but I knew it was the right thing to do, to tell him. 

“Try to keep your voice down?” I said softly as I pulled off my gloves, tossing them onto our shared nightstand. 

Bucky sat up in his bed, watching me as I gripped the bottom of my shirt. I hesitated a moment before yanking it off, leaving me in just a loose undershirt. 

“Ed?” 

I stood and pushed open the shutters, letting moonlight filter into the room, illuminating it just enough that he would be able to see... to see. 

The gasp I heard from Bucky was a clear indication that he could tell my right arm was automail and it made me freeze. I wanted to show him, for him to know but... was I ready for his reaction? 

It’s a completely metal limb! 

It doesn’t exist on this side! 

“Holy...” 

Bucky’s voice snapped me back to the present and, after a deep breath. I turned towards him. His gaze was fixed on my automail as it gleamed in the moonlight, contrasting starkly with my skin. His eyes were wide as he took in every inch of metal, but he didn’t say a word the entire time. 

“I... It wasn’t a complete lie when I told you it was a mechanical aid,” I explained softly, moving my automail, also staring at it. “But it wasn’t the complete truth either. My arm... it’s made of metal.” 

Bucky finally pulled his gaze away from my limb. “Completely?” 

I nodded. “I could just take it off.” 

“As fascinating as that would be,” he whispered with a small smile, raising his hand and motioning for me to come closer. “I just want to know how the hell it works! Can we open a light?” 

I couldn’t help smiling at his reaction: I should have known better considering how he is with Howard’s inventions. I had caught Bucky on several occasions in Howard’s lab, listening to the inventor rattle on about what he was working on.  

However... “No lights. I can’t have someone come in wondering why we’re still awake.” 

He nodded at that. “Good point.” 

I shook my head in amusement before moving closer, holding out my right hand so that he could finally take a closer look at it like I knew he wanted to. 

He slowly gripped my hand, smoothing his fingers over the metal before unfurling each digit, one at a time. 

“Silly question,” he began as he moved my hand more and more, “but, can you feel any of this?” 

I shook my head. “They’re connected to my nerves so I can move them but there aren’t any pressure plate to feel.” 

He hummed in acknowledgement before pausing and looking up at me slowly. “They?” 

I breathed deeply, taking a seat on the bed. Without needing to pull my automail hand away, I pulled off my left sock, rolling up my pant leg, exposing my other metal limb. “It goes all the way up to my knee,” I explained. 

I watched as his fascinated, almost excited look turned worrisome and his grip on my hand increased as he stared at my leg. “Both? What – what happened?” 

I stared at my leg, thinking it over but I knew I couldn’t tell him the truth. “A stupid mistake,” I replied instead. It wasn’t a lie but it wasn’t saying much of the truth either. 

Bucky eyed both limbs before wrapping his left arm around my waist and pulling me closer, manoeuvring both of us so that I was sitting between his legs, my back against his chest. It didn’t take long for me to relax into his hold, his arm grounding me. 

“I’m sorry,” whispered Bucky. 

I shrugged, leaning back against him. “I’ve learned to live with them. I just don’t want people knowing about them.” 

“So, no one else knows?” 

“Well, apart from you, Peggy and Steve know. Both times were accidental though.” 

Bucky nodded at that. “Since Peggy knows about your gender, does Steve as well?” 

“No. I’ve thought of telling him since the beginning but, every time, I got scared,” I mumbled, not exactly proud of that fact. I was glad at that moment I couldn’t see his face. “And now... It feels like I waited too long. He was disappointed that I hadn’t told him about my limbs. I don’t want to know how he’ll react about these...” 

He sighed, leaning his head on my shoulder. “That I understand: not wanting to disappoint Steve.” 

We were both quiet for a while which let me think about how I’ve been lying to Steve. After everything he had done for me, I still didn’t trust him with this secret. That was the problem: I should trust Steve and I do but... I still didn’t want to tell him.  

It just made my stomach knot up. 

Meanwhile, Bucky had returned to studying my automail arm, pulling me away from my thoughts about Steve onto other ones that... still weren’t as pleasant. 

“Bucky?” I started softly, catching his attention. “I may have missed something when looking at my arm before. Could...? Can you tell me if you see something wrong?” 

“Yeah, of course but, why would something be wrong with your arm?” 

My breath hitched intentionally at the memories before I managed to utter. “Zola. He – he was looking at it.” 

Just mentioning his name had Bucky’s grip around my stomach tighten significantly as he tensed. If I didn’t have good memories of that man, Bucky didn’t either. I reached for his hand with my left, covering his and managing to thread my fingers through his before squeezing. 

It was then that I realized... 

I had never touched him without my gloves. 

I almost never touched anyone without my gloves. 

I – I had nearly forgot how it felt. 

“I don’t see anything,” said Bucky after a while, most likely referring to anything abnormal with my arm seeing as he was still starring at it. “But I’ll double check in the morning with the sunlight to make sure.” 

I turned my head just enough to look at him, smiling softly. “Thanks.” 

“And I’m sorry,” he whispered, lowering his gaze. 

I frowned at that. “Why are you sorry?” 

“For not getting there sooner, so that asshole –” 

“Don’t,” I cut in quickly, knowing exactly where this was going. “Don’t do that to yourself or I’ll start too.” 

“You? Ed –” 

“Bucky.” 

He paused, almost huffing before he finally nodded. “I’m still sorry.” 

“Don’t make me kick your ass for real.” 

That got a chuckle from him as we both stared at each other and I hoped he wasn’t putting any blame on himself for what happened.  

As if reading my mind, he placed a quick kiss on my nose before saying, “You won’t need to.” 

I smiled, untensing as I leaned back against him. 

“Ed, thank you for showing this to me,” whispered Bucky, leaning his chin on my shoulder as he continued to fiddle with my automail. “Thank you for trusting me.” 

 I glanced towards him, noticing how his gaze was intently fixed on my arm once more. “You’re really interested, aren’t you?” I asked softly with a chuckle. 

He didn’t even move his eyes as he gave me a quick peck on my cheek. “Give me a couple more minutes. This is amazing work!” 

I continued to chuckle as I closed my eyes. “And thanks for forgiving me.” 

He squeezed his arm around my stomach, whispering, “I always will.” 

 


 

 

Bucky’s POV 

 

Bucky continued to study the metal arm, still trying to wrap his head around the idea that, even though the entire limb was just metal, it moved just like a flesh and bone one. Even Ed’s leg! She never had problems walking or even running unlike others Bucky had seen with prosthetics. 

He paused, remembering a specific situation that she did have a problem. 

Heels. 

He had thought it was because she wasn’t used to walking in them but, knowing that she had no feeling in those metal limbs, he realized her tripping was mainly because of the prosthetic. He remembered seeing his sister try heels for the first time, how her ankles had wobbled to the point where Bucky thought she might twist one. He didn’t think Ed would even realize her metal ankle was twisting and he was amazed she hadn’t tripped more than she had. 

Thinking about it even more, Bucky realized that Ed had been running circles around all of the Howling Commandos – except Steve, of course – without two limbs. 

His admiration and love for her just continued to grow. 

As he returned his attention to the arm, he noticed how the weight of it had increased. 

“Ed, you can just tell me to stop, you don’t need to pull your arm away,” he said softly. 

“What?” she asked after a yawn. 

“Arm. Want me to stop?” he repeated. 

She somewhat shook her head. “It’s fine,” she mumbled. “And I’m not pulling my arm away...” 

Bucky paused, slightly confused as he eyed the prosthetic carefully before lifting it higher. “You’re not using any force right now?” he wondered, feeling how heavy it was. 

Ed breathed deeply, as she leaned her head back, snuggling into a more comfortable position and closing her eyes. “None.” 

“You mean to tell me,” he began, moving the arm, having the hand flop from side to side, “that you have to carry all this weight around all the time? Your arm AND leg?” 

She groaned, prying her eyes open, glancing towards him, looking slightly annoyed. “You do remember that you have carried me, right? You knew that...” 

“I just thought you were naturally heavy or that – that I needed to work out.” 

He finally turned to look at her, noticing her frown turning into an amused smirk. “You could always join Steve and I for our morning spars.” 

“That is ridiculously early for me,” he said, remembering the few days he did follow them. He managed to get to the gym but he was in no mood to work out. 

Especially not in the way Steve and Ed had been: even that early, they were moving at incredible speeds. 

“You said you needed to work out,” she pointed out through a yawn. 

“You’re heavy.” 

“You’re an ass.” Was her quick response. 

“Again with the ass, I think you have a thing for mine, right Ed?” 

She scoffed and, if there had been more light, Bucky was sure he would have seen a blush on her face. 

“You’re still an arschgeige,” she mumbled, closing her eyes and leaning back against him. 

He didn’t dispute that – not that he really knew what that meant, he’d have to ask her in the morning. Instead, he finally let go of her arm after one last glance, wrapping his other arm around her as well. 

“Hey, Ed?” he called after a few minutes. 

She hummed in acknowledgement, tilting her head slightly towards him even though her eyes remained closed. 

He swallowed hard as he managed to say evenly. “Stay here tonight?”  

She groaned, frowning a little. “Why would I change room?” she wondered sleepily. 

Bucky chuckled, his tension easing as he shook his head, realizing he should have known better than to not be specific in his question. 

“Not change room, Ed,” he began, still smiling, “just, here, like this. Not going back to your own bed?” 

He felt her straighten at that suggestion, even opening her eyes and blinking several times. “Oh, I mean –” 

“Only if you want to, of course,” he added softly. 

She turned around to face him and they stared at each other for a moment before she nodded shakily, smiling softly as she did. He smiled back, moving back slightly to let her get comfortable first. 

“I – I can’t sleep on my right side,” she explained, eyeing the single bed. 

Bucky’s gaze went to her metal limb and he nodded. “I can imagine it’s not too comfortable,” he remarked, motioning for her to lay down. “We’ll figure this out.” 

She glanced at the bed once more before nodding, more to herself than to him. She moved under the covers, flopping onto the left side, leaving more than enough room for Bucky. He laid down next to her, pulling the covers over both of them. They faced each other, both smiling softly before Bucky slowly moved his hand over her side. 

“Come closer?” he whispered, tugging at her gently. 

She obliged, shuffling closer until Bucky could wrap an arm around her waist comfortably and their foreheads nearly touched. 

“Goodnight, Ed,” he whispered. 

Gute nacht,” she replied, stretching just enough to kiss him before she closed her eyes. 

He knew he had a stupid smile on his face but he didn’t care. This was the best thing to happen to him in a long time. 

He shifted once more before closing his eyes, breathing in Ed’s familiar scent as he drifted off to sleep. 

That night, it would be one of the rare moments neither of them was plagued by nightmares.

Chapter Text

I didn’t want to wake up. I really didn’t. 

But something was nagging me in the back of my head to do just that. 

I groaned, blearily opening my eyes, blinking. Fuzzy. Lots of weird fuzzy shapes. 

Why was I so uncomfortable? 

I glanced around, trying to get my bearings to figure out... 

Well, pretty much anything. 

Turning my head to the side, I blinked once more, noticing a familiar form. Familiar... Metal... 

I was right for not wanting to wake up... 

My eyes widened upon seeing my LEG on a cart, several feet away, wires sparking. 

What the FUCK happened!? 

I tried to turn, to get to it but I stopped short almost suddenly, unable to move. 

What...? 

Looking down, I... Restrained. Again. 

Awake once more?” 

I jumped in surprise, turning towards... towards... 

Zola. 

My heart was hammering in my chest at the sight of him. The memories of what had happened surfacing, making my body tremble. I was a captive of Hydra. They had me. 

But... 

Bucky and Steve had come for me, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was free. 

Wasn’t I? 

What is with that look, fräulein?” wondered Zola and I inhaled sharply, my body seizing. “Finally understanding your situation? This would all be much simpler if you would just stop struggling.” 

No,” I gasped softly as Zola just smirked, turning his attention to my automail arm. “No!” 

What did I just say?” wondered Zola, reaching towards the automail with his grubby hands. 

I tried to move my arm, tried to get it away from his reach but NOTHING was working. 

Nohting... 

Why couldn’t I do anything? 

No... Stop...” It disgusted me that my voice was weak, that my body was shaking so badly. 

Zola didn’t hear me, focusing on my automail and – 

It shattered. 

SHATTERED into a hundred pieces and I yelled out in desperation. 

Hush, fräulein, we wouldn’t want you to wake up our guests, now would we?” 

What...? 

I followed Zola’s gaze and, in the corner of the room, bound, beaten, and unconscious were Al, Bucky, and Steve. 

What...? How...? 

Let – let them go,” I gasped out, trying to glare at Zola. “Let. Them. Go.” 

Why would I do that? They’re perfect subjects for my next experiments.” Zola’s damn smirk sent chills down my spine but, when he held up a new, different automail arm – a LEFT arm – I froze, blood draining from my face.  

You – you wouldn’t.” 

Or should I try a leg first?” 

Don’t you dare!” 

Or what?” he taunted. “You’ll stop me? You’ll shoot me? We both know you won’t.” 

I blinked and a gun was in my hand, aimed at Zola as we stood several feet apart. My hand was shaking, my entire body was. 

Shoot me to save them, Evelyn.” 

I dropped the weapon at the sound of a gunshot. It wasn’t me. I didn’t pull the trigger... 

I took a shaky step back but my foot didn’t hit anything and I fell. 

I fell back and  

 

London Barracks, June 1944 

 

My back and head smacked against something solid and my vision went dark. I had difficulty taking a deep breath, each one just as ragged as the last. 

“Ed? Are you okay?” 

I jerked in surprise by the voice as I blinked, finally making out my room in the barracks along with more knocking from the door. 

“Ed!” 

“Coming.” That gasp sounded weak and painful to my ears but hopefully it would stop him from potentially breaking down the door... 

It took a moment to get my trembling hands to untangle my legs from the sheets and standing wasn’t any easier. I used the bed to push myself up and I almost stumbled back down before reaching the door. 

I unlocked it, turning the handle but I didn’t bother opening it as I leaned against the wall, sliding down to the floor. I faintly heard a set of footsteps enter and the door closed softly behind them. 

“Ed,” whispered Steve as he slowly sat down next to me. “Are you alright?” 

I shrugged, the images of my nightmare still vivid in my mind as I bent my legs, bringing my knees up close to my chest. 

“Nightmares again?” he asked softly. 

I took a deep, shaky breath before nodding and wrapping my arms tightly around my legs. 

It felt worse than before, than the other nightmares I had and I wasn’t exactly sure why... My heart was still pounding in my chest and I was just... hurting, aching. 

Phantom pains from my automail. 

My stomach in knots. 

Just... why?! 

I heard Steve take a deep breath next to me before feeling his arm slowly circle around my shoulders, pulling me slightly closer to him. 

My breathing was still shaky but... I let him be. 

“Ed?” he began softly after several minutes. “I have a feeling of what the answer will be but,” he leaned forward slightly, eyeing me carefully, “did you want to talk about it?” 

I inhaled sharply, my left hand gripping my right wrist tightly as images of the nightmare flashed through my mind once more. 

“I will take that as a ‘no’,” said Steve, leaning back against the wall. “But.” He paused before tightening his hold around my shoulders. “I will say that you are SAFE, Ed. And your mechanical limbs are still intact. Whatever happened in that nightmare, it wasn’t real.” 

It wasn’t real. Steve was right.  

It wasn’t real. 

It just terrified me that it could be... 

“Listen,” began Steve after a moment, “we don’t have to go spar. We can stay right here: I can keep talking or stop talking, that’s up to you.” 

Not spar... I took a deep breath, considering the option. However, I knew moving always helped me focus my thoughts so it would probably help me forget about the nightmare. 

Or at least just distract me enough... 

“No, we can go,” I murmured, finally turning towards Steve. 

He eyed me carefully for a moment before nodding. “If that’s what you want. I’ll let you get ready.” 

He easily stood before turning around and holding out a hand for me. I didn’t put up a fuss as I grabbed it and he lifted me to my feet without much effort. 

“Thanks,” I said softly. 

“You’re not that heavy,” he joked, patting my shoulder. 

A smile tugged at my lips. “I meant... for before.” 

He smiled back, giving my shoulder a squeeze. “I know.” And he walked out, closing the door softly behind him. 

I didn’t move for a moment as I took several deep breaths, focusing on keeping the nightmare at bay before I set off to get ready. 

 


 

At the gym 

 

“You two have seriously too much energy this early in the morning.” 

Steve and I stopped, turning towards the voice, spotting Bucky leaning against the ropes just outside the boxing ring, his hair still slightly messy as he stifled a yawn. 

“You made it,” remarked Steve with a chuckle as he finally let go of my arm he had in a lock and I climbed off his back. 

“Sorry to spoil your fun,” replied Bucky before his gaze landed on me. I noticed him studying me for a moment longer but I didn’t want him to start asking about the nightmare, not now. 

“Why are you up so early?” I asked, leaning against the ropes as well as I looked down at him. 

I could almost tell he wasn’t falling for the avoidance but he at least played along. “I was actually supposed to join you two when you left but I...” 

“Couldn’t get out of bed,” finished Steve with an amused smile. 

“I told you, this is a ridiculous hour,” countered Bucky, stifling another yawn. “No one should be up this early, especially not to work out.” 

“But isn’t that exactly what you wanted to do? To train with us?” asked Steve, seeming to enjoy himself a little too much at his friend’s expense. 

Bucky sighed, pushing and pulling at the ropes as he let out an almost defeated laugh. “I’m starting to regret the idea but... I’ll try it out.” He pulled himself up into the ring, stretching his arms. “So, who am I going up against?” 

Steve glanced towards me, raising an eyebrow in question. “Ed?” 

Before I could respond, Bucky added, “I do have a score to settle with him.” 

I tried not to blush at the memory of said score as I shrugged. “I have no problem kicking your ass again.” 

Bucky just smirked, wagging his eyebrows and I was damn glad he had his back turned to Steve at that point. Was he going to do that every time the word ‘ass’ came out of my mouth?! 

Who was I kidding? 

He definitely was. 

Steve backed away and stood in one of the corners while Bucky and I moved to the center of the ring and I easily slid into my fighting stance. 

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told Steve: don’t go easy of me. You probably won’t get a hit in.” I even smirked mockingly at him. 

He raised an eyebrow at that. “Is that so? We’ll just have to see!” 

I let Bucky try to make the first hit as he went for a straight punch. I swatted his hand away easily, sidestepping to his right, sending him a taunting face as I did. 

He nearly grumbled but went on the offensive once more, mixing in some kicks with the punches. 

I dodged all of them but... 

Was he getting faster? 

I shook my head. He hadn’t warmed up like Steve and I: he’s working his way up to a fighting speed. 

And that speed had him clipping my left shoulder as I ducked another punch. Alright, I was underestimating him apparently. 

I focused more on his movements, actually sending some punches back to keep him on his toes. 

As I ducked to avoid another punch, I spotted Steve from under Bucky’s outstretched arm, leaning against the post, his arms behind him – 

And I blinked. 

Steve hurt, bound, unconscious. 

I sucked in a breath seconds before a solid kick landed on my chest. I fell back, landing hard on my back, the wind knocked out of me. 

Blink. Breathe. 

No nightmare. 

Breathe. 

“ED!” 

Blinking once more, I could finally make out Bucky and Steve hovering over me, both looking overly worried. 

“I’m so sorry, Ed,” gasped Bucky, helping me sit up. “I am so sorry...” 

I shook my head as I cleared my throat and tried to fill my lungs. “No, I...” 

“Edward, what happened?” 

We turned towards the voice, seeing Peggy grasping at the ropes of the boxing ring tightly. 

“’m fine,” I muttered. “Got distracted. That’s all.” 

“Ed,” sighed Steve and I could tell that none of them believed me. 

“I’m. Fine,” I repeated, my voice stronger as I rubbed my face, trying to get the image out of my mind. 

“Ed –” 

“FINE,” I snapped, pushing myself to my feet. It took me a moment to straighten but I did eventually, trying not to groan, to not alert the others that the hit still hurt... 

The memories still hurt. 

I took a deep breath before turning towards the others, looking at their worried faces and realizing... 

“I’m sorry... I just got distracted. I really am fine.” 

I shouldn’t have snapped... 

They all shared a look and I didn’t know if they believed me or not. Honestly, I didn’t mind as long as they didn’t ask any questions about why I was distracted. 

“Really,” I repeated. 

Peggy was the first to stop staring so intently at me, releasing her hold on the rope and taking a step back. “If you insist,” she said slowly. 

That seemed like the queue for Bucky and Steve to stand and the Captain sent a tight smile towards Peggy. 

“Good morning, Agent Carter,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Bucky as well. 

Peggy eyed me for a moment longer before turning her attention to Steve. “Good morning to you as well. I didn’t realize you trained this early in the morning.” 

“They usually do. I’m just trying it out,” answered Bucky. 

“And I was kicking your ass,” I added, crossing my arms. 

Bucky glanced towards me and looked ready to comment on that statement but hesitated, not saying anything at the end of it all. 

I rolled my eyes. “You should be saying that I ‘was the one who ended up on the floor’.” 

He almost scoffed as he shook his head, trying to hide his amused smile. “You’re impossible, you know that?” 

“Well aware, thanks.” 

Meanwhile, Steve was massaging his temple and I was sure he was silently wondering how he put up with the two of us. Instead of voicing that, he turned towards Peggy. “What can we do for you this morning, Agent Carter?” 

She also seemed to have been silently judging us before answering, “Captain, the Colonel requests a meeting with you at 0900 hours to discuss the debriefing of the two missions.” 

Steve nodded, glancing at the clock on the wall. “I’ll be there. Thank you, Agent Carter.” 

Peggy returned the nod before turning her attention back to me. “Edward, a word?” 

I forced myself to not groan as I headed over to her, jumping down from the ring. I followed her further away until she stopped, turning around and studying me carefully. 

“Since you assured us that you are indeed fine about what had happened in the ring,” she began in a low voice, “I wanted to see how you were fairing after that last mission.” 

I should have seen this coming: of course, she would have read the reports Steve sent in. Even though he had promised to keep it as vague as possible, it was still clearly written that I was captured by Hydra. 

“Better,” I replied just as softly. “Really, I do mean that.” She gave me a disbelieving look. “Well, I was, alright?” 

Peggy seemed to accept that answer better than the other one. “Am I right to assume that something was missing from that report?” 

“I...” I was going to keep up the lie but... “I can’t keep anything from you, can I?” I murmured, shaking my head. “But, not now.” 

“This evening then? Around 4:30? I should be done at the S.S.R. by then.” 

Crap, that soon? But... “Fine.” 

Peggy seemed content with that answer before motioning towards the boxing ring. “I’ll let you rejoin the others. See you later.” 

Turning in that direction, I realized that we probably hadn’t needed to be so careful with our conversation considering Bucky was in the middle of whispered incessantly to Steve, his gaze constantly flickering towards Peggy and I. 

“Have a good day, gentlemen,” called out Peggy. 

“You too, Agent Carter,” replied Steve quickly as Bucky nearly threw his hands in the air. 

“Bye, Peggy,” I said as I climbed back into the ring, just in time to see Bucky smack Steve on the arm. 

“Now’s your chance! Don’t just let her walk away!” hissed Bucky, eyeing the direction Peggy had walked off in. “Go!” 

“Bucky, I told you, not now!” 

“Then when? You never want to ask her at the S.S.R. offices and I know you’ll never ask with the others around. I’m tired of seeing you pinning over her!” 

“I’m not!” insisted Steve even thought I had no idea what he was insisting on... “She...” 

“She’ll say ‘yes’, right, Ed?” 

I was surprised that Bucky would drag me into this conversation, especially considering... “What? I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” 

“Never mind,” sighed Bucky, turning back to Steve, nudging him some more. “Just ask her out, will ya?” 

Steve glanced towards the exit, Peggy only steps away from it. 

Bucky was about to say something else when Steve called out, “Agent Carter!” 

She paused, turning around, raising an eyebrow in surprise. Steve jogged over to her, leaving Bucky and myself to watch, nearly in shock that he actually did that. 

Steve reached Peggy and they started talking but it was too quiet for to distinguish any of the words. 

“Do you think,” began Bucky softly, coming to stand next to me, “he’ll actually ask her or find another excuse?” 

I sighed, that same thought having crossed my mind. “He’s sometimes too stubborn for his own good,” I muttered. 

“Look who’s talking,” he chuckled softly. 

I turned towards him and took a playful swing at him with my left fist. He dodged to the side, grabbing my wrist and pulling me forward, trying to get me off balance. Well, I wasn’t going to make it easy for him! 

We fought – I could almost call it play fighting at that point – until Bucky had me in a tight hold.  

He leaned close to my ear, whispering, “Dinner? Tonight? You and me?” 

I quickly glanced towards Steve and Peggy but they were still talking, unaware of what was going on between the two of us. 

“I need an excuse,” I replied, already going through the possibilities in my mind. 

“Library’s open late,” he offered and I couldn’t help smiling. 

“Library it is.” 

“6:30?” 

I nodded before breaking away from his hold and kneeling down, almost managing to swipe his legs right from under him. He jumped back but stumbled, landing awkwardly against the ropes. 

Just in time for Steve to join us once more. 

“So?” wondered Bucky, sounding almost too excited. “Did she say ‘yes’ like we thought she would?” 

Steve paused, eyeing both of us carefully before a... a SMIRK spread across his face. Since when did he smirk?! 

“You know what?” began Steve, crossing his arm. “You’re just going to have to wait and see.” 

“What?” gaped Bucky, leaning forward over the ropes, closer to his friend. “After all that work to get you to ask her and you’re not going to tell us?” 

“Who said I asked her?” 

“You’re killing me, Steve,” mumbled Bucky, almost doubling over the ropes with a sigh. 

Steve laughed at that and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the antics. Maybe I’ll get an answer from Peggy later. 

I do need to see her about my disguise. 

And... to talk about the mission. 

“So, who can I spar against?” wondered Steve, climbing into the ring. 

One thing at a time, I guess. 

  


 

Peggy’s apartment 

 

“Evelyn, how are you really fairing?” wondered Peggy, eyeing me from across the table, her grip on her teacup tight. 

I had arrived at her apartment several minutes ago and we had sat down at the table where two cups of tea had been waiting. 

I was staring at mine as I thought over the answer. “It’s better, honestly. I wasn’t lying. Just this morning...” I shrugged, taking a sip of tea. 

Peggy continued to stare, her lips pursed. “Evelyn, did Zola...? Did he discover anything, contrary to the report the Captain gave in?” 

I sighed but I knew there was no use lying to her. I lifted my right hand, wagging the fingers and that seemed like enough of an explanation for Peggy. 

“Did he do anything to them?” she wondered softly. 

I shook my head. “I don’t think he had the time. The others showed up at that point.” 

“Do you want me to double check?” 

I shook my head. “It’s fine. Buc...” I cleared my throat but the damage was done: she had heard me and had raised an eyebrow in surprise. 

“Sergeant Barnes knows? Also, you’re talking to him again?” 

I cleared my throat once more as I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yes, to both. I – I decided after... Well, I was going to follow your advice. I’m happy with him and after what had happened...” 

I finally looked up at Peggy who was smiling softly at me. “Evelyn, as long as you’re happy, that’s what’s important.” 

I ducked my head, smiling as well. “And, um... I’ll need your help again, actually.” I began slowly, feeling my face warming up. 

I peeked up at Peggy as her smiled turned to a knowing one. “Another date?” she wondered. 

My blushing seemed to be the answer sh