Hey y'all, I'm so so sorry this chapter has taken so long. I've been really busy with life and stuff. Good news is, this chapter is on the longish side! Thanks so much for the faves, follows and reviews!
I owe some special thanks to my amazing beta and the lovely BouncingKappa! You two are both so patient and helpful! If it wasn't for you guys, this chapter still probably wouldn't be done.
One more thing, this chapter opened immediately after the last so the letter Rose is thinking about is the one in the end of the last chapter!
Rose sat in the middle of her bed, legs folded in front of her. Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the window behind her, painting her dark curls a more vibrant shade of red as she read Bucky's letter for the second time since she had found in her mailbox earlier. She'd been anxious to hear from him, but she hadn't realized how much until she walked into her building with Sophie after work and found his letter in the mail. Sophie had accompanied Rose home to borrow a dress for a date she had tomorrow night, with her new fella, Ricky.
Rose had torn the letter open with total disregard for the envelope and her friend's presence and sat down on the steps, reading it right there.
Seeing her name written in his now-familiar handwriting had filled her with relief.
After she read the letter, and looked up to find Sophie gazing at her curiously, Rose was infinitely glad it was Sophie with her and not Max. Max would have taken Rose's actions and ran with it them, not letting up until Rose spilled the beans about who the letter was from. Sophie never said a word.
Rose had tried not to worry as she waited for him to write, but it wasn't always easy. So many others she knew awaited the same thing. Like Max, she still hadn't received word from either of her brothers. Rose had seen that same shadow in so many people's eyes.
Seven days ago, when word had first reached U.S. soil that the fighting in Sicily had ended, everyone had been relieved, but another sort of waiting had started, in the quiet that followed that day. It was almost worse in some ways than waiting for the battle itself to end. No official casualty lists had been released, but they all knew the death toll was high on both sides. While mostly everyone kept their worries to themselves, they all silently feared they'd find the name of a loved one or friend on those lists.
Laying Bucky's letter down on her bed beside her, Rose looked at it a moment more, her thoughts on the words it contained. To anyone who just read his letter, it would seem like everything was fine, but she knew it wasn't. She hadn't known him long and she didn't know him well, but everything wasn't okay. He'd made a couple small jokes, but his words lacked their usual lightheartedness and teasing tone. She couldn't imagine what he had seen and been through in those weeks.
Reaching toward her nightstand, she grabbed the sheets of paper, book to set them on and the pencil she placed there earlier.
She hesitated for a moment before she began, at first writing "Dear Bucky, I was so glad to get your letter," but then crumpling the paper up and starting over.
I was so relieved when I got your letter today—
Sicily, six days later
Bucky sat on the grass, back pressed against the trunk of one of the many olive trees that lined the park not far from where they'd set up camp when they first reached Messina. The thick branches overhead, casting broken shadows over him and the sketch pad he held in his hands. He watched as John, Sam, and Teddy along with a couple other guys from the 107th, tossed around the football John's parents had sent him. One of the other guys was a fresh replacement to D company named Gabriel Jones. Bucky had only talked to him once or twice since he'd arrived but it appeared Mr. Jones had a cannon arm. The other was a blond guy by the name of Thomas Raymond; he'd been with D company the day they stormed the beachheads. Raymond preferred to be called Toro, and once the guys had figured out that Toro meant bull in Spanish there'd been some speculation about where the nickname came from. He was of average height and build so the guys assumed the nickname came from the ladies.
The sun beat down on Bucky's shoulders, warming his skin through his shirt. The air was humid and heavy like normal, but thankfully, he had grown used to it and had finally started to somewhat relax. He no longer heard the echo of artillery fire when there was only silence, or jumped every time he heard a vehicle pass by like he had the first few days after they reached Messina.
Self-preservation made him refuse to think about the horrors he'd seen. They were filed away in the back of his mind, and if a wayward thought did sneak up on him, the images were almost surreal. As if he were looking at them through someone else's eyes. Not everyone had been able to do that though. There were still men fighting battlefield fatigue and waking up every night from a fitful sleep full of gruesome nightmares. Sam was among the latter.
Two nights ago, Bucky had been jarred from sleep by the sound of him screaming. The memory of it raised goosebumps along Bucky's arms for a moment. It had been an almost inhuman wail, mournful and eerie. And for the barest of instants, Bucky had felt himself being pulled back into the horrors of the recent weeks himself, before he snapped out if it, climbed from his cot and woke Sam.
Quickly pushing the thought away, Bucky turned his attention back to the sketch pad in his hand, assessing the drawing of a cobbled square and a fountain surrounded by tall stuccoed buildings. Now that over a week had passed since they had arrived in Messina and the memories of battle had begun to fade, Bucky could see a beauty about the place that had been lost on him in the bloodshed before. It reminded him of how he once imagined the Italian countryside looked when he read Shakespeare in school.
He knew if any of the others saw that he was drawing, they'd give him a hard time. If they knew he was silently comparing Messina to a Shakespearian backdrop, he'd never live it down. Good thing for him they couldn't read minds, and it really didn't matter if they figured out he was drawing. This sketch was for Becks.
She had sent him this pad and pencils upon deciding his descriptive prowess with words was lacking. She wasn't the only pain in his backside back home who complained about the lack of description in his letters, and he'd wondered a few times just what little Miss Rose O'Shea would have to say if he sent her a drawing. He had this idea in his head that it might shut her up for a minute or two, but he honestly didn't believe it. Still, the thought of her speechless was very entertaining.
Thinking of her made him wonder again when he'd get her response to his last letter. He had written to her the day they'd first reached Messina, he hadn't been in the best place mentally and for some reason that made him feel a little anxious about her reply. Shaking his head, he dismissed the thought and the unpleasant memories it brought with it and focused on his sketch.
One of these days, he might have to send her a drawing just to see what she had to say.
As for his sister, he had drawn others pictures for her before now, hastily scribbled ones of a farm in England or a cathedral, usually done from memory. He had also drawn her one of the strange looking pine trees that dotted the Sicilian countryside. He'd learned they were called Stone Pines, but where the name came from he wasn't sure. He wondered though, if the name didn't come from the way you saw lot of them in the rockier region's of the branches all grew outward from high up the trunk, making them look more like leaf-bearing trees than ones that had needles. No doubt his odd little sister would find them interesting.
This was the first time since he left home he had drawn her a picture while looking at what he was drawing.
Like most kids, he had drawn pictures when he was young, but art class had been Steve's idea. Bucky had agreed because Steve wanted to go and because of the women. The edge of Bucky's lips turned slightly upward with the memory.
One day after a couple months of classes, this pretty young blonde had walked into the classroom, wearing nothing but a long silk robe and a smile.
Steve had turned an uncomfortable shade of red, from the collar of his shirt clear to the tips of his ear, and instantly started fidgeting, looking at anything but the girl.
"Looks like we're finally getting to the good stuff," had been Bucky's response, to which Steve had turned a darker shade of red.
The girl hadn't posed in the nude. She simply sat down, letting her robe fall artfully off her shoulders and exposing one leg, but she might as well have for all of Steve's embarrassment. Bucky, however, had never done finer work. Chuckling softly, his pencil paused on the paper. Bucky had thought for a moment his shy friend was going to run from the room.
He still hadn't heard from Steve and that knowledge quickly chased the smile away. He reminded himself he hadn't written to Steve either. Honestly, he hadn't known what to say after the way he had left him the night of the Stark Expo. The next morning Bucky had searched the crowd of people who had gathered on the dock to see off their loved ones off before he'd boarded the ocean-liner-turned-troopship that would carry him to England, hoping to find Steve's face among them. That hadn't been the plan, but Bucky had just wanted to see his friend one last time.
"Watch it!" John shouted, drawing his attention and pulling him from his thought. He watched as the football landed less than a foot from where he sat. He leaned over and grabbed the ball, throwing to Sam as he ran toward him.
"Hey, Picasso! I thought you were supposed to be a football star. Why don't you stop doodling and get your ass over there." The voice came from behind him but it was familiar enough he'd know it anywhere.
"Wear out your welcome with the nurses, did ya?" Bucky said with just a hint of sarcasm as he looked over his shoulder and met the twinkling green eyes of Dum Dum Dugan. Dugan had been sick a few days ago. It wasn't the malaria plaguing the camp, but he had to go back for a check up.
Eyeing the sketch pad in Bucky's lap and ignoring his retort, he asked, "Which one of your lady friends is that for?"
Grinning broadly, he said, "My best one." He could have just said my sister, but where was the fun in that.
"I didn't think you played favorites."
"You know, you really aren't looking so good maybe you should go back to the hospital. " Bucky said as he stood, taking several steps backwards toward John and the others, he snapped his sketch book closed in the process.
"Where you going?" Dugan asked.
"Taking your advice."
Rose moved out of the flow of the foot traffic, milling up and down the dirty sidewalks of Hell's Kitchen and into the entrance of an alley that separated two of the many weathered brick businesses lining the street. It was Saturday and warm outside, and the streets were packed with people going about their business. Sighing, she awkwardly balanced the medium sized wooden crate they had placed her purchases in at the rationing office on her left arm. Slipping her free hand into the pocket of her dark blue dress, she fished around for her shopping list, amid the other things tucked inside. She kept thinking she had forgotten something and knew the nagging feeling wouldn't leave until she read the list.
Like any sister would be, she was always anxious and jittery in the days leading up to Mick's fights. She was always a little scatterbrained if she wasn't careful to keep her mind occupied elsewhere. She knew he could take care of himself; he always did, but that didn't mean she had to like the idea of him possibly getting beaten to a bloody pulp either and this time her anxiety was worse than it would normally be.
She pulled the paper out of her pocket, managing to leave her ration book and the candy bar she'd bought behind. Dismissing her worry for a moment, she quickly read the neatly comprised list.
One dozen eggs, milk, powdered milk, lard, yeast, oatmeal, sausage, bacon, salt pork, potatoes, cabbage, apples, and wax paper.
She had mentally checked her list several times since she'd left the butcher shop a few minutes ago and just like she thought, the only thing she didn't have that she wanted was the salt pork. She skimmed over the list a second time, just for good measure.
Excepting the fact she probably wouldn't know what she'd forgotten till the most inconvenient moment, like when she needed it, she dropped the note in the crate this time and shifted the box so it rested on both arms as she started down the busy sidewalk again. Her mind instantly traveled back to her earlier thoughts.
Normally, she just shoved her worry to the back of her mind and didn't think about Mick's fights too much, but today had had other plans for her apparently.
When she'd left the house this morning she had been anxious about the fight tonight, but like normal she had filed the worry away and concentrated on the errand's she needed to run so she could get home quickly and get Mick's lunch. She had had four stops to make. Landlord, rationing office, dry goods store, and the butcher shop. The second was always a slow stop, but her errands in general had taken much longer than planned. Everywhere she went, except the rationing office, people wanted to talk about Mick and his fight.
Fights like this one weren't uncommon on either side of the East River in the immigrant neighborhoods. There was at least one every weekend and her brother was just one of the many who participated, but this one stood out.
Mick was fighting Dominic Decoco, a big Italian guy from the Bronx with a nasty reputation. Rumor had it that Decoco's last two opponents had landed in the hospital. Mick had a bit of a reputation himself, but nothing like that. Rose had asked him if the rumors were true, "Don't fash y'erself Roe, I'll be fine," was his response. Rose hadn't found his words, at all reassuring, but she didn't push the matter.
Mick firmly opposed Rose ever watching him fight; he always maintained it wasn't a fit place for a young girl or self-respecting lady to be. Despite how she felt about Mick's wishes, her opinion on this subject was one of the few things she didn't argue with him about. Today she wanted to, though. She had a firm belief in the possibility that if he'd ever just let her watch a fight, she might not get so anxious. Tonight she knew she would drive herself crazy, worrying about the outcome long before he got home and she could see for herself what kind of shape he was in.
It seemed like everyone that had the lettuce for it was placing bets and saying how people would be talking about this fight for years to come.
Quickening her pace, she forced her worries aside, focusing instead on getting home in time to at least get Mick's lunch started before he came home to eat it.
But it was not to be. As she stepped up the door of her apartment building, she felt someone grab her sides. Rose let out a startled yelp, her heart instantly dancing a jig. Loud booming laughter filled her ears seconds later. She didn't need to turn and look up to know who it was, nor see the wholly-pleased-with-himself smirk that would light the face to know it was there. One of the hands that had grabbed her slipped past her and opened the door as she turned.
"Scare't ya, didn't I," Mick said, in a laughing voice as Rose glared up at him, despite the good-natured smile tugging at her lips.
No more concerned with the scowl she sent in his way than she expected him to be, his attention dropped to the box in her arms. "Get me anything good?"
"I wouldn't tell you if I did, after that one, Michael Patrick O'shea," she retorted. Watching the playful spark in his eyes grow, she somehow managed to keep the scowl she adopted firmly on her face and her tone serious. She had learned to keep the candy she bought out of his reach or else she wouldn't get more than a bite.
Chuckling again, he slipped past her and made his way toward the mailboxes built into the wall of the dingy entry.
She stepped inside, not sparing him a glance as she made her toward the stairs and started to climb. Hurrying to catch her on the steps he dropped the mail into the box, taking it from her to dig through the contents.
Rose kept walking.
"I know you got something sweet somewhere," Mick called after her.
"Why would you think that, brother?"
Ignoring her question, he followed along behind her. "Where is it, then?" The question was punctuated by a large chomp as he bit into an apple and the smile she'd been repressing finally bloomed on her face. "I was going to make you a pie today."
Taking another loud bite, he said around the apple filling his mouth, "One apple won't make a difference."
Keeping himself open, Bucky ran down field, sweat pouring down his face and soaking his t-shirt. The noise of the crowd that had gathered on the sidelines filled the air. Bucky watched over his shoulder as John tossed the football to Teddy. Teddy nearly fumbled it, but he managed to keep control and tried to throw a lateral pass to Gabe Jones only to be tackled the second it left his hand. In turn, the ball was intercepted by Sergeant Mannox, who immediately threw it in Bucky's general direction, meaning it for Toro. Bucky started moving quicker.
After Dugan's Picasso wisecrack earlier, John had suggested they play and what had started out as a friendly pickup game had turned into a heated competition and drew a crowd. The Brits watched in curiosity, but the Canadian and American troops cheered loudly. One of the things Bucky liked most about school was playing football; he was good at it. When the game had grown more serious it awoke the competitive side of Bucky's nature and that was part of what made him good.
Squinting against the sun, he kept one eye on the ball flying through the air toward him and the other on the men charging in his direction.
He was determined to intercept the pass before Raymond could catch it.
Luckily for Bucky, he was leaner and faster than other man, but if Raymond tackled Bucky, he was built like a bull so it was probably going to hurt. And Bucky had already been tackled a half a dozen times or so since they had started playing and he had the bruises to prove it.
Bucky caught the pig skin, tucked it under his arm and sprinted down the length of the grass toward the waist high stone wall covered in a vine of roses that had been labeled the end zone, dodging others as he went.
Lt. Raine was fast approaching on Bucky's right. For a split second Bucky thought he was going down until John arrived just in time, catching the private in the side. Teddy was there less than a second later, throwing himself on the other two men.
Without missing a stride, Bucky jumped over the pile of men and sprinted the last few yard to the end zone, the other twenty-one players fast on heels. A cheer went up in the crowd.
Bucky dropped the ball just as a hand landed squarely in the center of his back, nearly knocking him down. Sam grabbed his shoulders at the same time and squeezed, "Way to go, Sarge!"
Rose wasn't any closer to admitting she had chocolate, and though Mick had moved on from that, his pestering hadn't stopped. In between bites of his apple, he had asked her why she wasn't already home with his lunch made and pie cooked like any good little sister would be. She refrained from telling him, it was because everywhere she went people wanted to talk about his fight. Instead she let his infectious good mood distract her.
Once they were inside she grabbed an apron from a hook on the kitchen wall, hurried down the hall and into her room, leaving Mick in the kitchen. She slipped the apron on, securing the strings around her waist then made her way toward her dresser. Picking up a wide yellow ribbon from the top of it she slipped it under her curls and secured it in place.
"Micah O'Brian wants to know if you're dating anyone. Actually, he wanted to know if you were rationed. It took me a good minute to figure out what that meant," Mick called from the kitchen. Before Rose could make any sort of response he went on. "I told him it didn't matter, 'cus my sister wouldn't be dating a man that uses words like rationed."
A smile tugged at her lips as she looked at her reflection in the small mirror above her dresser ajusting the wide yellow ribbon holding her hair back from her face, opening her top dresser drawer she tucked the candy bar safely inside and left her room.
"I also told him he was too late anyway, you'd been swapping letters with some Brooklyn boy for weeks now."
Almost missing a step, Rose face flamed red. "What?!"
She should be use to his teasing by now. Rose wasn't a complete ninny, she knew she'd sealed her own fate that first day when she'd turned red as a beet and ran down the hall to her room. Mick had seen an opportunity and, never one to pass up a chance to pester and embarrass his sister, he had teased Rose incessantly for two days about her "mysterious letter." She had hoped his silence after the first couple days meant he had forgotten, but a few days later when she was checking the mail, Mick happened along behind her, snatched it from her hands and read every envelope addressed to her.
Most unfortunately for Rose, Mick had gotten his hands on the third letter she received from Bucky before she saw it. He made a great show of giving it to her. They were in the kitchen and he said her name, a deceptively innocent tone to his voice, one Rose had learned to be cautious of long ago. When she looked up at him, his eyes were twinkling slightly and he asked, "Would you be interested in a letter from Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th, little sister?"
It had taken her less than a half a second to realize blushing was the worst thing she could do, but it was too late. Mick's eyes were already dancing with mischief and she knew he would never let this go. She had opened her mouth to say we are just friends, but her brother was like a dog with a bone, so she closed it quickly, knowing anything she could say would be used against her. He had made her reach for the envelope three times before he actually let her have it.
Finally, after a lot of teasing, she gave Mick a version of the truth, leaving out that she only met him once and that he'd caught her stealing someone's wallet. She told him she met Bucky just before he was deployed and that he was from Brooklyn.
"You want me to tell Micah to come calling then?" Mick asked, abruptly halting Rose's thought. Not giving her time to absorb this remark, let alone reply, he said, teasingly, "So ya are serious about the Sergeant then?"
Red faced and exasperated, Rose placed her hands on her hips as she stepped into the kitchen, her eyes instantly alighting on Mick's back and said, "No, I don't want Micah to come calling and the other is n..." Her voice trailed off as he turned and met her gaze, his face was ashen, gone was laughter of moments ago. Mick looked down and her eyes followed.
Rose froze, her heart rate picking up, even as her stomach dropped and all the air in her lungs suddenly disappeared. She didn't have to be holding the long yellow envelope in Mick's hand herself to know what it contained. It was a Classification Letter. He had just been drafted.
Later that day, Sicily
Bucky left the mess hall, an amused smile on his lips. The late evening sky was painted red with the promise of another nice day tomorrow. The game had been close but his side had won in the end. He'd thought Jones had a cannon arm before but he'd seen it up close, since he'd been on the receiving end of Jone's pass to end zone that won the game. Just thinking about it made Bucky want to laugh. The field they'd used to play the game was a decent size but not as large as football field, but that pass must have been thirty-five yards and had left both sides in a little awe.
The mood had stayed lighthearted and infectious since the game ended and Bucky could still hear the laughter and boasting going on inside the Mess as he made his way toward the tent that he shared with his men.
Alert to every sound like recent weeks had taught him to be, heard the soft sound of crunching gravel before he heard the voice. "Hey, Barnes, I got something for you!" He looked up to find private Melon hurrying toward him, a stack of letters in his hand. "I was just on my way to your bunk, but this is the only letter I've got for your tent." He explained as he drew closer and handed one of the envelopes to Bucky. "That was a hell of a game."
"Yeah it was." Bucky replied, his attention on the letter as he opened it.
"I'll see you around," Melon said as he headed off.
I was so relieved to get your letter today. I hope this one reaches you before you get sent somewhere else again, to. I did write to you after I received your last letter and I did assume you were in Sicily. I would love to see temples like the one you mentioned someday and the Mediterranean sounds beautiful.
Have you seen any octopus? I know you probably think that's an odd question, but I saw pictures of them in a magazine years ago and I do find them rather fascinating...
The National League beat the American League, five to three. Would you believe I even listened to the game?
Maybe I took your advice and decided not to knock it till I tried it?
If that is the case, it doesn't, in anyway, mean I will be running off to watch a game.
I'm good and New York is... Well, New York. Nothing ever changes much. I know I told you Mick boxes. He has a fight coming up and he's been training most every night so it's been a little quiet and humdrum around the house in the evenings.
It's been nice out the last few days, particularly last weekend so I went to Coney Island with my friend Sophie and her fella. Sophie likes her feet firmly on the ground, but we did manage to talk her into riding the Hoopla! She flipped her lid. The Steeplechase is her favorite ride, but we couldn't even get her to ride that after the Hoopla so we just went to the dance hall. It was a lot of fun!
No one spilled their drink on me all evening, imagine that.
Everybody has a favorite ride so what's yours?
By the way and purely out of curiosity, was that an invitation to write to you as much as I want?
I really am glad you're all right Bucky, I was worried.