Tony stepped out of his car outside of the old brownstone and stopped for a moment to straighten himself out. If he had been anyone else he could have been accused of being nervous, but he was Tony Stark so fortunately he didn’t have to worry about such specious slander. With the old photo album he found tucked under one arm he briskly walked, he did not run, up the few cracked concrete steps and pressed the doorbell before he could change his mind.
This was such a ludicrous idea, pure whimsy really. After the whole winter soldier identity reveal thing a few weeks before he’d decided to go through some of his fathers old albums, mementos and such from his happier days of being footloose and family free thinking that maybe when they found the guy it could help to jog his memories a bit having some things to latch onto that weren’t necessarily related only to his all-time best friend. He’d been aimlessly flipping though the old yellowing pages when he came across a photo that had piqued not only his interest but his imagination as well. That interest had eventually led him here.
At first he’d thought to just ask Cap about the picture, since he was in it, but the over-grown mound of flash frozen idealism wasn’t returning any of his calls. If he hadn’t been more than aware that the man was busy chasing down every lead on his bestest buddy he would be insulted, but since he did know he chose to let it go and try to find a different source. Some people would have said to just let it go until Capsicle was free to answer his questions, or that being so entranced by an old photo taken before he was born was going a bit overboard. Those people did not share his brain. He couldn’t let it go, he needed to know what the hell happened before, during, and after the flash went off in everyone’s eyes. So here he was standing on the doorstep of one of the few living, still mentally sound, individuals who might be able to scratch this mental itch for him without him having to resort to drastic measures.
The door creaked open to reveal a short, shapely woman in her mid-eighties. Her hair had gone shock white some time ago, but her eyes were still full of life and laughter. This was definitely the kind of woman who would share a stage with Show Pony Rogers.
“Hello?” The greeting was more of a question than it would have been for anyone else he was sure, most people could hardly fathom that he truly existed beyond the pages of the latest magazine articles let alone that he could randomly show up on their doorsteps with no warning. Come to think of it the no warning part of this little venture, was probably a little less spontaneous than it was dick-ish when dealing with an octogenarian you never met before. Oh well, they were both in it now.
“Hi there, I’m Tony Stark, I was wondering if I could steal a little bit of your time to take a walk down memory lane. I found some old pictures my father kept from the forties and you’re actually in some of them I was hoping to get some context.” Ha, he made the request without once mentioning the fact that she was in the hot seat because most everyone else was in the ground. See, he could be tactful, sometimes.
She swung the door wide open and began to walk back into the depths of her home, calling behind her to him as she went. Completely at ease.
“I suppose so, would you like some coffee while we talk, and oh I just made a nice lemon pound cake you must have a slice of that while you’re here. You are skin and bones young man, but it’s no wonder really flying around everywhere in that tin can of yours must leave you almost no time at all to catch a decent meal. Maybe I should make you a sandwich to munch on before I give you the cake.” Nodding to herself she headed to the kitchen without waiting for a reply.
Shrugging he made his way slowly behind her, if nothing else having to eat so much food would give him plenty of time to work up to the one photo he wanted to ask her about.
Stuffed full of more food than he’d had at one time in longer than he could remember, he braced himself to ask for the information he came for. Ms. Jean-Anne Baker had filled his afternoon with recollections and anecdotes, some of which matched up perfectly if a bit more colorfully with the ones his own father had told him throughout his youth giving credence to her still unfailing memory.
“There was one more I wanted to ask you about. I almost missed it to be honest when I was first going though everything it was stuck behind another photograph.” Pulling it out he slid the innocent looking rectangle of celluloid across the table to rest in front of the older woman and sat back to study her expression. Her eyes and face ran the gamut from recognition, to shock, to fondness before finally settling on a near soul deep sorrow.
“I recognize Cap of course but who’s the guy he’s coming to blows with?”
The picture that had thrown his entire perspective of the good Captain and his well-documented history into question showed none other than Steven Grant Rogers in all his souped-up glory standing with blood pouring down his face from numerous cuts and bruises and his fists up ready for another round standing opposite a shorter stocky man obviously his opponent who stood calmly without a mark on him. With Barnes in the background looking on in horror.
“James Howlett. He was a Canadian Officer working with the allies, he was so good at tracking and fighting that he didn’t so much have a single unit he belonged to instead he was a bit of a floater, always being loaned out to whatever outfit or group needed his skills the most. He was sent to join the Howlies several times throughout the war for shorter missions and operations that dearly needed his skillset.”
“So he and Steve didn’t get along?” He’d never really heard of Steve not getting on with anyone who wasn’t higher up the food chain than he was and the Howling Commandos were always shown as being a tight knit group. Maybe that had been the problem, this James guy wasn’t an actual Howlie, just a ringer they’d stick with them from time to time. Tempers could run hot in combat situations, maybe he had blown this whole picture mystery out of proportion. Oh well, at least he got some good stories and even better food out of the trip.
“No not at all. They probably would have been just fine together if not for Sergeant Howlett’s boyfriend.”
Cap was a homophobe? No, there had to be more to it than that, Steve’s behavior since waking up in this new century hadn’t shown any deep seeded hatreds like that. A little misplaced misogyny maybe, but no real prejudices.
“What was wrong with his boyfriend?” Maybe the guy had been a troublemaker or a bully everyone and their mother knew how much Cap couldn’t stand that.
“Nothing at all, except for the fact that he was Bucky Barnes.”
Well that was a bombshell he didn’t see coming.
Jean-Anne sat across from The Tony Stark and waited for his brain to catch up with the conversation. A phenomenon she was sure didn’t happen all that often but given the absolute bombshell she’d just dropped on the poor boy he could be forgiven for needing a moment of silence to process everything.
After coming back from the war she’d watched as the myth and legend of Captain America and Bucky Barnes grew by leaps and bounds with the many blank spaces being filled in by people who barely knew the pair if they knew them at all. The Howlies all refused to speak of them, preferring to respect the dead and hold their peace and most people simply blocked out or just never knew about Steve’s origins on the stage so the dancers were largely overlooked as an information source. That left Col. Phillips as the unsung leader of the group, often displaced in the history books by the good captain, who gave the bare bones of their assignments as was allowed by law and not much else not wanting to say too much or give a false impression. Howard Stark who’d only really known the pair for a little over a year collectively having seen them around base when the group was being formed and then only when they needed to resupply or get their newest orders. Or Peggy Carter whose lovesick devotion to a dead man and a need to keep the man unique and untouched after his sacrifice lead to an over inflated story rather than what really happened.
Leading to one inescapable fact, that the myth of the Howlies was just that, a myth. To find that out for the first time had to be like a mental freefall with no idea how far you were from the ground only knowing that the ground was there somewhere and would eventually come up to meet you.
“I’m sorry, did you say Bucky Barnes, as in Cap’s best friend. They were fighting over Bucky?” Ah she could see where the confusion was coming from, best to nip that in the bud before the idea could take hold and run away with him.
“Not in the way you might think. Rogers couldn’t stand that there was someone else around who had a hold on Bucky, someone else that he would listen to, so he dealt with the perceived threat to his place in his best friends life the way he dealt with every threat with his fists.
“When they were growing up Steve and Bucky were as close as brothers, anyone could see that just in the way they talked to each other, and when the War split them apart it was hard for them both each one worried about the other for one reason or another. When Steve finally managed to get over to where Bucky was he was sidelined away from the fighting and was still left to worry about Bucky, not able to see him or even tell him what had happened since they’d been separated. At least until word came down that Bucky had been captured, then Steve charged into the fray without even a thought spared for another way to do things, a way that would actually be safer or more in line with his new role as a soldier in the United States Army, all he thought about and all he could see was his friend in trouble and his body finally now being healthy enough to actually help him physically. So he charged off to rescue him and against all odds and prevailing common sense actually managed to do what he set out to do, which is what started the myth of Captain America I’m afraid the Super Soldier who never failed in his missions no matter the odds.
“After Bucky was saved though Steve thought they would be inseparable, together ‘til the end of the line, just like it had always been before. Only Bucky was being offered an honorable discharge and a ticket home, one that Steve asked him not to take so they could have this whole new adventure together now that he was big enough and strong enough to keep up. Bucky relented, worried not only about whatever side effects Steve’s little transformation might bring later on down the line, but more than a little worried about what Steve would do with his head so far up in the clouds and a bunch of ragtag soldiers under his command who didn’t know him well enough to reign him back in when he went too far. So he stayed when he really should have just packed it up and gone home to rest and get himself back together.
“Bucky had a hard time of it after Azzano, and Steve was so punch drunk about being able to protect his friend for once instead of it always being the other way around he didn’t really see it, but James did. The two of them had met before, the boys always teasing that two James’ was better than one and other typical roughneck humor but they didn’t really get together beyond the occasional quickie until after Bucky’s stint as a POW. James became his sounding board, his confidant, his rock Bucky needed him and when Cap found out things just went south from there.”
“How so?” The boy was enraptured like a youngster hearing old war stories for the first time on his grandpa’s knee.
“Well, James Howlett wasn’t the most respectful man around, he got bounced around so much that he never really had time to form real lasting opinions about most of the brass beyond their orders and what the outcome of those orders tended to be, either good or FUBAR with not much tract in between. So when Captain Rogers with his one week of basic training under his belt and a single shoddily thrown together mission that could have gone bad as easily as it went well came up to him and started giving him orders, especially orders concerning his personal life, let’s just say he didn’t take it well. Rogers was convinced that James was taking advantage of his friend and wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to tell him otherwise. James on the other hand thought that if Steve was really the friend he claimed to be he would have let Bucky take the out he’d earned and go home instead of standing around whining about how they hadn’t gotten to play together because he came late to the party. They were like oil and water, and nothing and no one was going to change their minds about each other.”
“Not even Bucky?” It was a good question, except it failed to account for one very important factor, male stubbornness.
“Not even him, though boy did he try. The problem was that Rogers wouldn’t listen to Bucky because he was convinced that James was manipulating him somehow and the longer Rogers refused to listen to Bucky about what he wanted for his own life the more sure James was that he was right about Steve all along and the less willing he was to budge on his own opinion. Eventually Bucky simply gave up on trying to make them get along and set to just trying to keep them apart. Which got harder and harder to do the longer the Howlie’s were out on assignment, the more difficult their operations got the more often Phillips would request James be sent over to help ensure their success.”
“So what led to the fight in the picture? Did they come to blows often? How good a fighter was James that he doesn’t have a scratch on him? What happened after the fight?”
“Take a breath young man, you’ll pass out if you forget to breathe.” The boy looked sheepish at the reprimand but she had actually begun to worry about it by the end there.
“No, they didn’t physically fight often. In fact I’m fairly certain that this picture was taken of the only fight they really had. James was a real calm sort of guy, hard to really rile and was more likely to just laugh in your face and walk away when challenged. He was so sure of himself and his skills, he never really felt the need to prove his worth among the boys, and most of the boys had gone on enough missions with him to know better than to try it anyway. Rogers on the other hand was so sure of his physical superiority he went and picked the fight anyway. I have no idea what he said to get James to actually stand up and fight him, but it must have been nasty to get him all hot under the collar and looking to teach a lesson on manners, and a lesson it was, James never advanced never took the offensive he only dodged the blows sent his way and took advantage of it every time Steve stepped too far into his space.
“I heard later on from the rumor mill that the fight started because Rogers had walked in on the two of them together the night before and had some pretty mean-spirited things to say about it the next day. No one as far as I know was close enough to hear what was said by Rogers but everyone heard James during the fight dressing him down for sticking his nose in other people’s private business. Afterwards the Brass decided that the two of them needed to be separated for a little while until cooler heads could prevail, they both got a slap on the wrists for fighting in public or something equally as minor and the Howlies were sent on their next mission to the Alps.”
Taking a deep breath she tried not to think about what happened there. It was no use dwelling on the past, nothing could be done about it now.
“When news came down about what happened to Bucky James was devastated, he and Steve had a beer together and talked for a bit, though I don’t think anything really got settled between them. After that I never really saw James again, couldn’t rightly tell you what happened to him or if he even survived the war at all. I hope I answered all your questions.”
Stark nodded his head absently and mumbled something of a thank you before stumbling out towards his waiting car in a bit of a daze. She wouldn’t have let him go in such a state if she hadn’t seen the driver waiting to take him home.
It was a hell of a story really, and normally she wouldn’t have told it at all, but she wasn’t getting any younger and now that Steve was up and around again someone needed to be at least a little aware of what really happened with him and Bucky. It was one thing to let it all rest when there was no one left to be affected by the exaggerations of the media, but now, well the truth will out after all. She had given the younger man enough to do some digging on his own and knowing Stark men the way she did, it wouldn’t be long before he had the whole story for himself.
It was about damn time.
A/N – This idea started as part of a different story, then I decided that instead of telling the tale of Bucky/Logan in a flashback type of way with Jean-Anne narrating I would post this present day version as a one-shot and then post the longer story later so I can tell the whole thing and not just what she would have learned second-hand or been around to see herself. I’m also thinking about making this a series of one-shots dealing with the new knowledge that Tony now has, how that would change his perceptions of the Avengers and more importantly his interactions with Bucky. Kind of like a missing scenes kind of series with no real lead up just a snapshot of what happened as the scenes pop into my head.
P.S – I looked up the spelling of souped-up and yes that is apparently the right way to spell it since the phrase was coined longer before super charging something became a possibility.