Outside of Colonel Phillips’ office, Steve quietly observed Xander. The young man was nervous again. There was no obvious reason for it. “Are you okay?”
Xander really took in Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, for the first time since they had met. The man was not much, if any, older than Xander himself. Steve was what every kid, like him, who read the comics, wanted to be. Now he’d been thrown in the past and ended up meeting his idol. The way things were moving he’d be here a while and end up working alongside the man for the duration. It both terrified and excited him. He had a hard time reining in his inner geek. Then it dawned on him. Even during the war there were comics out about the adventures of Captain America. So he didn’t have to control his impulses too much.
“Yeah, I’m just having an inner geek meltdown about meeting Captain America in person. I’ve read so many of your comics.” Xander bounced a little with a goofy smile on his face.
Steve couldn’t stop the genuine laugh that escaped. He didn’t understand how the term geek, could be applied to the young man he was quickly considering a friend. “You do know, that a lot of the stuff in the comics and movies, I didn’t really do.” He gave Xander a sheepish smile. It slowly changed to confusion as he caught something in the young man’s eyes. Something he was afraid to ask about at the moment.
Xander slowly spoke, his tone taking on a serious note. “Where I’m from, your actions in this war, real or otherwise, live on as a measuring stick to others. You are what people think about when things get tough and seem hopeless. You’re the very definition of excellence and good for your generation.”
Xander’s words made Steve self-conscious and sent chills down his spine in foreboding. He didn’t dare stop Xander from speaking.
“Steve, people will remember you for the good man you are and they’ll strive to be the same. Some will succeed, and others will fail. But you…are the motivating factor behind it all. No matter if it turns out good or bad.” Xander stopped before he said any more than he already had.
Steve uncomfortably rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at his feet, “Um…thanks. I think.” He looked up through his lashes to see if Xander was going to say anything else.
“Come on. We’ve got the colonel’s orders to obey. That way I can show you that snack we talked about.” Xander gently smacked Steve on his arm. “Which way to the PX? Maybe we can find some ingredients there if they sell food as well. Whatever we don’t get there we can see if we can find it somewhere else.” Xander bounced a bit in excitement.
Steve grinned at the young man’s antics and enthusiasm to help. “Sure come on, it’s this way.” Steve turned and walked back the way they came, then took a different hallway. He didn’t know much about Xander Harris. But what he had seen so far, there was nothing that kept him down for long. He seemed to roll with the punches. Steve hoped that he’d be able to stick around for a while, so they could become good friends.*******
The shopping trip had been a huge success. Xander had been able to get two sets of civilian clothes, socks, underwear, shoes, toiletries and a small bag to put them all in. They were able to find some raisins, peanuts and sunflower seeds. The really big score had been the M&Ms that were in stock. They were lucky as there had just been a delivery of them. The rest of the fixings for trail mix they were able to get from the general store. The extra ingredients gave Steve options to put together different mixes to be available when he wanted.
Xander entered what was now their room ahead of Steve. “So what’s next on the agenda, Captain?” He had gotten a kick out of watching the lower ranks salute Steve, who self-consciously saluted them back. He put his new things on his bed and turned expectantly toward Steve.
Steve smiled. He knew Xander was teasing him about all the salutes he was still getting used to. “Well, after you clean up and change we can head out for lunch. Then we can put together that trail mix thing.” Steve didn’t notice the bounce he did in anticipation.
Xander noticed it and grinned. “Sounds like a plan. Do you have something we could put it in?” He turned and grabbed his toiletries along with a set of clothes to change into.
Steve’s joy suddenly vanished. “Um, what kind of container do we need?” He asked warily.
Xander stopped in his actions and thought about what they’d need. Ziploc hadn’t been invented yet. Was Tupperware around at this time? Did they even have plastic containers for storing food stuff? He noticed Steve’s anxiousness increase as he took his time answering. “Well, what you’ll need is something that’s light, reusable, small, durable and won’t easily pop open if dropped. It will also have to be fully waterproof. Do you know where we can get something like that?”
Steve’s face drooped. “I don’t know of anything like that. Guess it was too much to hope for, huh?”
“Hey, don’t get down on me, man. I’m sure we could cobble something together for you. There’s bound to be stuff lying around we can use to make one.” Xander encouraged.
A smile slowly spread over Steve’s face. “I know someone who can help. I was going to ask him about the food thing before your suggestion gave me my answer. Maybe he could help us put together something.” He moved toward the door. “You go on and get changed. I’ll go find him and meet you outside the canteen. We’ll discuss it over lunch.” He walked out the door, then stuck his head back in. “The showers are to the left, third door on the right and mind the sign. The dames…girls…um ladies, take offense when you walk in on them.” Then once again he left only to pop back in a moment later. “Oh, almost forgot. You do remember how to get to the canteen right?” Xander gave an amused nod. “Okay then. See you there.” Finally he left on his quest to find Howard Stark.*******
A while later Xander found himself sitting at a table across from Howard Stark. He’d just finished his explanation about the trail mix idea and what they’d need for a container to carry it in. All while he ate his lunch.
“Okay, let me get this straight.” Stark stared incredulously at the two young men across from him. “You…,” he pointed to Xander who had rescued him the night before. “Want me…,” he pointed to himself. “To help figure out a container that is small, durable, reusable, secure and waterproof.” Both Steve and Xander smiled hopefully and nodded at him. “Just so that he…,” it was Steve’s turn to be pointed at. “Can be able to carry extra food while in the field,” he finished.
“Mr. Stark, I know you’re really busy, getting things ready for my team and me. But I’ve been meaning to ask you and Agent Carter. Did Dr. Erskine say anything, about how much food it would take for me to function properly?” Steve said quietly.
Howard blinked a couple of times. His mind reeled through the conversations he’d had in the past with the late doctor. “I think in passing, he mentioned that because your cells would work at their most optimum efficiency, you’d need a greater quantity of fuel to power them. But what’s that got to do with…” His voice trailed off as he finally got what was going on.
“Rogers, please tell me you haven’t been starving yourself all this time?” Stark said in a quiet but horrified voice.
Steve looked down at the table not willing to make eye contact. He awkwardly pushed some of the food around on his plate before answering. “I’ve been eating. I eat what everyone else does. I’m not starving.” The last was almost a whisper.
Xander could see that Stark was about to explode in a verbal tirade with the horrific realization. So he decided to deflect it as much as he could. “Mr. Stark, times are tough all around. No one’s been unaffected by it. Steve’s body can handle the food he already gets.” He gave Steve’s foot a reassuring nudge under the table. “His fear is that with the increase in his activity, he’ll end up taxing the food resources in the field. He’s not asking this for a selfish reason. He’s asking it so that he could function properly and not take from others more deserving.” He noticed Steve’s gaze was now on him. “He’s asking, so he’s not a liability to the men he leads in the field. I’m sure you can understand that?” He finished earnestly.
Howard was taken aback by Xander’s speech. His initial panic they’d lose Rogers, if he wasn’t eating enough, had overridden his usual ability to work out a solution. Harris’ explanation gave him the time needed to regain his equilibrium. Looking at Rogers, he could tell his initial reactions would have done more harm than good.
Steve was once again surprised by Xander’s intuition. He was embarrassed over the whole topic. It reminded him too much of how it was before, when he was always sick. Now, he especially didn’t want any special treatment because of who or what he’d become. He knew he’d never said anything to Xander about his fears. But the young man knew them anyways. He’d been prepared to have Stark yell at him, but it had been derailed by Xander pleading his case which he was grateful for.
“You’re right. It is something I understand. Even with the time restraints I’m put under. I do my best to make sure I test all the things I build, as much as I can, within my given timeframe. I don’t want my inventions to fail the men who fight, when they need it the most. So…I’ll help. We can get started on it after lunch. How does that sound?” Stark was pleased that he was able to put a happy smile on their faces. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to take time out from dealing with deadly things. It would be nice to help the living for a change.
Steve was happy that Stark was willing to help but saddened too. He had a meeting to go to in half an hour. “I’d love to but I have to be in a strategy meeting right after lunch.”
“It can wait until you have time to take me. I’ll just stay in the room. I’ve got to figure out how to get word back home anyways.” Xander knew Steve wanted to help too.
“Why do you have to stay in the room?” Stark asked puzzled.
“Well, it’s like this. I’d been stranded somewhere in London, without any ID or money. When I bumped into you guys last night, I’d been walking for a while.” Xander made a face at the thought of not having money of his own. “I’ve got to wait for Colonel Phillips to say it’s okay to move around unescorted.” He lied smoothly, though technically, all he said wasn’t a lie. He had money and ID they just weren’t valid for this decade or even this century.
Howard still didn’t want to believe what had happened the night before. He had lots of questions now in the light of day and sobriety. But he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know the answers. One thing he did recognize about the young man. Harris was different. He was a strange puzzle that piqued Howard’s curiosity. The only way he was going to solve it was by interaction with the subject of his conundrum.
Mind made up Stark said, “Don’t worry about it kid. You can come with me to the lab. You’ll be escorted and the colonel can’t get mad at you about it.” He gave one of his most winning smiles.
Xander and Steve exchanged a wary look. “Um…Stark, I don’t think that’s such a good idea…” Steve started to argue.
“Of course it is. Besides he’d be bored out of his mind sitting in a room, with nothing to do, for the rest of the day. The kid might as well be in a prison behind bars, if that’s the case.” Howard rolled on as he noticed they were all pretty much done with lunch. He got up and tugged on Xander’s arm. “Come on kid. Let’s go make our buddy Rogers here his mini lunchboxes. Later, Cap.” Stark waved as he dragged a reluctant and complaining Xander along, before Rogers could stop them.*******
“You sure this is going to be okay? I don’t want anyone to get into trouble because of me.” Xander asked. He was glad that Stark had finally stopped dragging him around. He didn’t get what it was about him that caused people and demons to pull him around like a ragdoll.
“Sure, it is. No one’s going to get in trouble. I can always smooth things over. Not a problem.” Howard said. They got closer to his private lab. It was separate from the one he worked in with the SSR stuff. He grabbed one of his lab assistants and had them bring him the samples of the various containers the soldiers used to carry things. “Come along then. Once all the stuff gets here we can try to put something together for the good Captain.” He ushered Xander into the lab.
“Okay. But if anything happens I’m blaming it all on you. I never did well in science when I was in school.” Xander complained, while being shoved into a lab just a little bigger than the one at school. It was just as scary if not more, with all the odd stuff lying around.
“I said…don’t worry. We’re not even going to be mixing any chemicals. We’re just putting things together that are already made.” Howard found it amusing; the kid was reluctant to be in the lab. It was just another bit of the puzzle about him.
Xander looked around the lab, noticing all the odd but interesting gadgets. “Hey, we had one of these in our lab. It was so old, we hardly ever used it.” He looked around some more and stopped at Stark’s reply to his comment.
“Kid, that’s top of the line, brand new. It’s only been on the market for a year.” Howard’s gaze focused in on the young man.
“Really, huh…um…hey look, a claw thingy. How’s this work?” Xander poked at the robot claw looking thing.
Howard quickly rushed over and gently moved the mechanical hands he was trying to develop for remote manipulation of things in a sealed lab. “Hey be careful. That’s some delicate assembly there. The connecting wires haven’t been anchored down yet. It took me forever to get them on initially.”
Xander backed up hands in the air. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. I’ll just go wait for Steve in the room.” He headed for the door.
Howard realized the kid was deflecting from his slip up earlier. He wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. He knew how to play a long game. He’d wait for more clues to the mystery that was Alexander Harris. “That’s alright. Besides looks like our test samples are here.” Just then two of Howard’s assistants walked in pushing a cart with all sorts of containers.
Xander rushed over to help, put the stuff down on a clear space on one of the lab tables. The assistants left when they were done with their delivery. Not even giving voice to their obvious curiosity about what Stark was up to now.
Xander stared at the various things and knew right away that most of them wouldn’t work. “Um…so…now what?” He asked Stark.
Howard noted the quick way that the young man’s eyes roamed over the samples and immediately dismissed most of them. Something he himself pretty much had already done. Another puzzle piece, a quick mind behind a simple façade, Harris wasn’t stupid by any means, time to test his hypothesis. “It’s your idea where do you suggest we start.” He encouraged.
“Um…” Xander wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to unknowingly change something. He was hoping Stark would do all the work, with him only giving a little bit of input. “Most of this looks like it’s meant to carry ammunition and other supplies. Is there a way we can see how they carry food?” He asked cautiously.
The kid was cautious. It wasn’t a bad trait for a scientist. But Howard didn’t think it was because of the science. “Well most food the soldiers carry with them are in tins, heavy waxed paperboard, some are foiled wrapped with paperboard and I think that about covers it.” He informed the kid.
“What’s the waxed paperboard like?” Xander wasn’t sure he understood the reference but it may just be a good starting point. He knew that wax repelled water especially when you rubbed it into leather really good.
“Paperboard and cardboard are used interchangeably. What they are, essentially, is really thick paper. It’s dipped into a wax solution that impregnates the paper. Then it’s made into the desired shape for whatever use it’s meant for.” Howard explained.
“How good is it about keeping out water when used for food?” Xander asked, intrigued despite himself.
Howard smiled. He noticed the curiosity creeping into Harris’ voice. “For what you want to do with Rogers’ snacks, the food would have to be sealed into something that allows him to open it easily. That he’d be able to reseal to store in a waxed cardboard container. The best example of this without the resealing part is the first aid dressings they use. They’re foil wrapped and then stored in the boxes for use out in the field.” He outlined. “They usually hold up well to immersion in water. But can get a bit soggy around the bends and edges of the container. Usually they keep the stuff about ninety percent dry. Not enough to get all the way through to the interior contents.” He explained.
“This would be a good start.” Xander held up the first aid dressing box they’d brought as a sample. He looked at it and carefully tested the wax coating it had. Not as good as plastic wrap but it could work. “What we’d need is something that won’t allow water in at all. A lot of the ingredients for the trail mix are seeds. Granted they’re cooked seeds but they’re still seeds. Moisture is a concern. I’m betting that the foil wrap isn’t done by hand?” He looked at Stark waiting for an answer.
“No, the foil packing is a mechanical process that is done at a factory. The dressings are sterilized and put into the foil pack that has been sterilized as well. Or at least that’s how I think they do it. I’m not familiar with that part of the process. I know the foil is heat sealed so that no water can get into it.” Howard was intrigued by the way the young man’s mind worked on the practical instead of the theoretical. “What kind of containers do you use back home?”
Xander’s mind backtracked from how to adapt the waxboard to something they could use. “Um…we use a few different things. Some people like to use a small container with a screw on top that’s waterproof.” Xander hurried to think of how to explain the containers without mentioning plastic Tupperware containers or plastic zip baggies. “Most people aren’t worried about them breaking because the activities they carry them along on aren’t all that exerting. A hike through the woods, a bike ride or just to hang on the beach and snack on are the main things. Sometimes they take them as a lunch treat or snack when they go to work.” He tried to explain.
“So what you’re saying is that normally the container is anything that can be waterproof. That’s the biggest concern.” Howard pointed out.
“Yeah, that is the big thing.” Xander was glad Stark got what he was getting at. “See if there was a way we could take this waxboard…” He started to explain his idea.
“Hold on, waxboard?” Howard asked intrigued by the word.
“Yeah, saying waxed cardboard is too much of a mouthful. So waxboard covers it and is less to say.” Xander looked at Stark warily. “Was it the wrong thing to say?”
Howard grinned. “No, not at all, I just hadn’t heard anyone call it that before, it fits. I like it.” He was starting to like this kid and his odd way of thinking. “Go on what were you saying?” He encouraged.
Xander wasn’t sure if he didn’t just do a wrong thing but it was just a word. Others must have thought of it before him. He put it out of his mind and continued on the explanation. “The dressings are put in foil and then put into a waxboard rectangle open ended box. Another open ended waxboard box that is just slightly bigger is then slid over the other one.” He demonstrated by removing and showing the packing to Stark. “Is there a way we can make him a couple like this but that is more like how a canteen works…maybe a small metal container to put the waxboard container in. That would be easier to water proof wouldn’t it?”
Xander looked back down among the stuff that was brought. “Hey, maybe we can use this old Band Aid tin. Something that is about this size,” he held the tin up. “Well maybe a bit bigger, to slide the waxboard into. The space between the lid and body would have to be waterproofed. Maybe put in a rubber gasket or something.” He looked back over the things brought and realized that the obvious was missing. “You know what would really be good? A tin with a screw on lid we can put a gasket inside the lid to waterproof. Is there anything like that around?” Xander looked hopefully at Stark.
Howard was amazed at the kid’s thought process. His awareness of spatial relations was astounding as was his ability to improvise. He innately understood how things should relate to each other. He also was able to figure out the simple and often overlooked obvious solution. “Sure, kid. We can work with that.” He answered slowly as his mind fully processed what the kid wanted to do. He grinned. “Come on let’s get to work.”*******
Steve had been sitting in the strategy meeting with Colonel Phillips and several others for over an hour now. He had a hard time staying focused on the meeting as he was worried about Xander being in Stark’s lab. He knew that Stark knew what he was doing. What they were building wasn’t anything dangerous. He still couldn’t help the worry he felt about leaving Xander alone with Stark.
Steve was lucky that even when he wasn’t paying active attention, his mind still received and processed what was going on around him. If it didn’t he’d be in a lot of trouble in this meeting as he wasn’t really giving it his full attention. Finally everyone was done and he was dismissed. He headed straight for Stark’s lab as he left the room.
As Steve approached the lab he could hear voices arguing but not in a bad way. He stopped just out of view of the occupants but still able to see into the room. He smiled as he observed Stark and Xander bent over something on the table discussing whatever it was they were working on.
“No, no…see if you put it there then it won’t move properly. You want the cables to be able to pivot on the anchor pin as well so they move easier.” Xander argued.
“That’s not supposed to move. It’s a fixed point for them to be attached to. They’re not supposed to be a part of the motion.” Howard disagreed.
“I know. But look…” Xander pointed at a spot on the mechanical arm. “This you have to look at like it’s a joint in a human hand. Everything attaches to and around it. Even though the joint only goes in two directions the movement itself is supposed to be multi-directional in a way. See…,” he wiggled his fingers to show what he meant. A hint of shadow near the door caught his eyes and he leaned over to get a better look.
“Hey, Steve,” Xander smiled brightly at the other man. “Done with the meeting already?”
Howard Stark turned around and noticed the captain walking into the doorway. “Rogers perfect timing. We already finished up your little project. You’ve actually got a few models to choose from.” He grinned at the soldier.
“You sure? It sounds like you two were in the middle of something important.” Steve glanced at the table as he got closer. He was a bit puzzled over the mechanical looking arm that was on it.
Howard waved it off and walked over to another table. “Nah, we were just tinkering. Harris here actually has quite a few good ideas in his head. They may just help me get this thing working the way I want it to.” He gestured to the young man in question.
“It wasn’t anything.” Xander looked down at the floor embarrassed by the compliment.
Steve noticed Xander’s embarrassment and changed the subject. “So you said you had something for me?” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Xander chuckled. “Sure, thing Captain.” He gave a mock salute. “What we did was combine a couple of things. But overall we think it should work well for you. I’m hoping it works like a Mason jar but without the glass.” He pointed to a couple of metal containers that were standing on the table.
“The problem we had was making it completely waterproof. In the end we decided on a couple of sizes for you once we figured out how to modify existing containers. The other worry was how the food would oxidize with the metal. So we had to come up with an inner liner that would be an additional preservation method.” Howard picked up one of the containers. “Harris insisted on giving you a couple of different sizes to work with.
That way you can have extra stored in a backpack and personal sized ones actually on you.” He glanced over at the young man happy to see a smile on his face.
“Wow, this was more than I was expecting. If it was only just one container, I would have been fine with it. This…wow, this is too much you two.” Steve was amazed at what they’d been able to accomplish in such a short time. “Thank you. I mean it really. Thanks.” He looked over the containers.
Xander smiled. He was proud that he was able to help out in such a small way. To know it was appreciated meant the world to him. “Not a problem Steve. Come on let’s take these back to the room and test how well they really work.” He started to gather a couple of the containers.
“Thanks for helping us out with this Mr. Stark. It was great working with you on it.” Xander said.
“Yes, Mr. Stark. Thanks again for all your help. You don’t know now much this means to me.” Steve said as he grabbed the rest of the containers.
“It’s Howard, remember? And it was no problem.” Howard waved off their gratitude. He smiled “It was kind of like a vacation to put my mind towards something non-weapons for a change. So really, I should thank you two for that.” Steve and Xander both smiled at him for that.
“Well, either way, I really do appreciate it Howard. You don’t know how much this means to me.” Steve said sincerely.
Xander just nodded his head in agreement and grabbed a couple of the canisters from Steve before he dropped them. The two of them walked out together side by side. Harris avidly starting to instruct Rogers on what he could mix and store in the containers.
Stark watched the soldier and young man leave out of his lab. His mind ran through all the little tidbits and pieces about Xander Harris he’d discovered. The young man was smarter than he looked, had a good grasp of mechanical craftsmanship. He understood that any inventions should be a tool for humans to supplement their work. Xander understood that in order to do so, humans needed to be able to relate to the tools on that level. If people didn’t use it then it was of no use. Yes, Howard thought. Xander Harris might just be what the SSR needed alongside one Captain America and his Howling Commandos.*******
After Steve had picked Xander up from Stark’s lab, they went back to their room and worked on the trail mix for Steve. It was good going especially with Steve sampling the various combinations as they mixed them together.
Loathe as he was to break the camaraderie he had going with Captain America. Xander had to talk business. “I need to get a message home. In order to do so I have to find someone with the special skills to do it. I don’t belong here Steve.” He rushed on at the melancholy look Steve was getting. “Not that I don’t like it outside of there being a war and all. Hell, who wouldn’t like hanging out with you, Captain America.” At Steve’s crestfallen face, he clarified what he had said. “I also like hanging out with you, Steve Rogers.” He made sure Steve understood he knew the difference between the two.
Xander continued, “I have a life back home. Granted, it’s probably not the best in the world. But it’s what I have and I’m needed there, just like you’re needed here.” He sighed. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately even before the time warp. He had to shake his head to get the song out of it before it got stuck. “You may not like this. But I’m going to have to find the demon hangouts and ask around about the best way to get word back home. First, I have to figure out what areas of London, no matter what, are considered bad areas to go to. Once I find that out, I’m going to have to go there alone.” He waited for the inevitable tirade of you can’t do that he normally got.
“Why do you have to go alone? Shouldn’t you have back up? Isn’t it going to be dangerous for you to go to those places?” Steve blurted out. “Sorry, didn’t mean to say all that at once. What I mean is you don’t know the areas and backup is always good. I can come with you and watch your back. That way you can get the info and return home safe and sound. If there is trouble two is always better than one.” He finished sheepishly.
Xander was thrown for a loop. Steve didn’t want him to go because he thought he couldn’t handle it. It was because Steve thought he needed backup. Huh? That was a strange thing for him. He’d always been the backup and never the backee.
Before Xander could reply, they were disturbed by a ruckus in the hallway. Upon investigation it turned out to be Steve’s team, coming in from various meetings and training. Seemed they were gearing up for dinner and a night of relaxing if they could. They were arguing about where to go.
Bucky caught sight of Xander and walked over. “Hey, here he is, the hero of the hour.” He threw an arm over Xander’s shoulder and dragged him out into the hall to meet the others. “Yo, you crazies! This is the guy I was telling you about. He helped Stark and me last night out of a pickle. Seems he’s in a spot of trouble himself now. He’ll be enjoying our fine hospitality for a bit. At least until he can sort himself out.” He gave the young man a smirk. “If I heard right last night, over all the alcohol and excitement, you said your name was Alexander Harris, right?”
Before Xander could answer Steve did it for him. “He prefers either Xander or Harris.” He said leaning in the doorway of their room. He was interested in seeing how Xander would react and interact with the others.
“That’s fair enough. I hate hearing my full name too. I keep expecting my ma with her rolling pin, to be coming at me down the street. For something I was supposed to have done.” Dugan said with a jovial smile, “Usually, she was well justified in doing so, because I had actually done it.”
“And do pray tell, what is your full name, Dugan? We know the Timothy part, but that’s not all that terrible of a moniker, for one’s mother to yell across the glen.” Falsworth asked with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
“That’s none of your business you limey blue blood.” Dugan grinned fondly at Falsworth. “Besides we know that your name is plenty enough uppity, so no need to be going into others.”
Xander smiled in amusement as the banter continued between Falsworth and Dugan. “So how long have you two been married?” He looked from one to the other. While the others burst out laughing. “I ask because you two remind me of two others I know. They’re family of a sort but don’t see eye to eye.” He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped as he thought of how to explain Angel and Spike’s relationship. “Liam is always trying to tell William what he’s not supposed to do. William does it anyways because he knows it will cheese off Liam. Initially it was all about getting even with Liam for being so bossy and then leaving them the way he did.” Yeah that pesky soul spell was a real deal breaker for Angelus. “After a while he did it because it was so much fun to wind him up. And if you can’t tell by the names Liam’s Irish and William’s a Brit.” He smiled knowing that Spike in his time would get a kick out of hearing these two. He’d probably put his own two cents in. “Come to think of it, William just likes winding everyone up.” He said with a thoughtful look as he pondered why Spike did what he did.
“Sounds like someone that would fit in well around here.” Jones spoke up. “One more nut in this nuthouse and who’d notice.” He grinned. “I’m Jones, Gabriel Jones. Those two over there are James Montgomery ‘call me Monty’ Falsworth and Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan.” He turned to look at Monty. “I know for a fact that Dugan has two initials for his middle name. Saw them on his dog tags. We just haven’t been able to figure out what it is.” Gabe looked over at Steve when he snickered. “Heeeeey, Cap. You know, don’t you? That’s right? You’ve read our files when we joined the team. Come on man, you can tell us right?” He entreated especially when Dum Dum let out a groan of dismay.
Steve stood there smiling like the Cheshire cat. “I might be willing to part with that information if the price is right? But then again those files are classified. What’s in them isn’t to be used frivolously.” He smirked. “So the question is…how much is it worth to you guys to find out. And…how much is it worth to you, Dugan to keep it a secret.” He smiled like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
Xander and Bucky both burst out laughing at everyone else’s face. “Oh boy, no one would believe that you have such a cutthroat streak in you, Steve.” Xander said as he caught his breath.
“I would. I know because who do you think he learnt it from? Yours truly of course,” Bucky said like a proud papa while leaning against Xander to stay upright.
“Aww, Bucky you say the sweetest things. And no it wasn’t you. It was the Rosenburgs down the block.” Steve noticed the tension that crept into Xander at the mention of the Rosenburgs. “You know the ones who owned the grocer. Spend enough time around him and his wife, you’ll learn the art of being cutthroat in a sweet way to get the best deal.” As he explained the tension slowly left Xander’s body.
“Oh yeah, they always gave you little errands to run for them for sweets money. They were sharp when it came to making a deal.” Bucky said unaware of the change in Xander under his hand.
“Well if you two are done tripping down memory lane. I guess it’s my turn for introductions. I’m Jim Morita.” Morita said and pointed to the Frenchman. “That’s Jacques Dernier but we call him Frenchie. He understands English very well. But he refuses to speak it all the time, I think it’s because he doesn’t want us to know he’s really insulting us.” He gave the newcomer a conspiratorial wink. The others laughed at his antics.
Xander grinned. “Of course he does. Why would you give up your ace in the hole, when you can pull it out and surprise everyone with the win?”
All the commandos including Steve stopped and looked at Jacques waiting for confirmation of this theory.
“If pretend unable to fully understand then you ignore the crazy Frenchman, oui?” Dernier said in a thick accent.
“That explains a lot about you actually.” Dum Dum carefully said.
“It certainly does. Then again he is French…they are noted for being, well, French.” He smiled at Frenchie and shook his head.
“Okay, enough of this small talk it’s time for some grub. Is anyone else hungry?” Dugan asked.
“Yeah, I can eat. I hope they’ve got something edible.” Morita intoned.
“Last I heard from the ladies earlier, they were looking to do some kind of stew. I’m not sure if it has any meat in it or not.” Steve said as he stood up to join his men in the hall.
“So long as it’s filling, I don’t care.” Dugan said with a smile.
“Then let’s get cleaned up and we’ll head down there together.” Steve grinned. He went back into the room to put away the trail mix things. Bucky and Xander followed behind as the others drifted to their respective rooms.
“What’s all this?” Bucky inquired picking up one of the metal containers.
“It’s something Xander told me about and that Stark helped modify containers for me to carry it in.” Steve said evasively. He didn’t want Bucky to worry about the whole faster metabolism and needing more to eat thing.
“For ammunition or what?” Bucky looked the container and opened it up to look inside.
“It’s nothing, Bucky” Steve tried to stop him from opening it but didn’t succeed.
Bucky looked inside it puzzled. There were seeds and nuts and what looked like M&Ms inside. “What’s this?” He looked at Steve for an answer.
Steve sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s for me to carry into the field on missions.”
Xander watched the two friends and saw the uncertainty in Steve’s face about his friend’s acceptance of this new thing. Bucky was just confused and concerned. It looked like Steve hadn’t fully explained to his friend exactly what had happened to him and what it meant.
“Why do you need to carry seeds, nuts and chocolate into the field for missions?” Bucky glared at his friend.
Steve rubbed a hand across his neck and refused to meet Bucky’s stare. “I just do, Buck. Okay? Can you leave it at that? Please?” He looked up and pleaded with his eyes.
Bucky watched his friend for a moment and realized this was Steve in ‘I don’t want you to worry mode’. But instead of giving in like he occasionally did in the past he pushed the issue. “No. I won’t leave it. If there’s something wrong with you then I want to know. Especially as I still haven’t gotten a good answer about what happened to you. You were very different when I left you in Queens, from when you rescued us from the prison factory.”
Steve looked down at his feet. What happened to him was classified and Bucky didn’t have the clearance for it. He wanted to tell his friend all about it but couldn’t. “You know I can’t tell you about that, Bucky. I wish I could but I can’t.”
Xander realized that this was something the two friends needed to work out on their own. He tried to quietly shift away and out the door but didn’t quite succeed.
A rustle caught Bucky’s attention and he noticed Xander as he tried to sneak out. He realized that the other man had been in the room with Steve and must know what he’d been up to with the containers. “Oh, no you don’t. You know what this is, don’t you?” He held out the container with the food in it.
“Um…” Xander held up his hands in surrender like a deer caught in headlights. He looked at Steve asking with his eyes ‘what should he do’.
Steve hated being the reason for someone else’s discomfort and being put on the spot. He sighed, “It’s meant for me to eat out in the field.”
Bucky’s brows creased with a frown. “Why? We tend to get plenty of rations in the field even if it’s not always enough.”
“I need it because of what I went through that changed me. My body burns more energy than normal. I need to replace that energy with food.” Steve looked forlornly at Bucky. “In the field I’ll be working even harder than I did when I was doing the USO tours. So I’ll be using even more energy than I have so far.” He sighed. “It’s a snack that Xander told me about. It will give me the extra energy I’ll need without exhausting the field rations we’ll be given.” He finished embarrassedly.
Bucky stood there stunned, staring at Steve. His friend, who was the poster boy for scrawny but now suddenly was the all American ideal, was telling him that he needed extra food to function. “What happens if you don’t get enough to eat? Will you go back to what you were like before?” He asked worried.
“No, at least I don’t think it works that way. I don’t really know what would happen. I’d rather avoid finding that out.” Steve carefully took the container out of Bucky’s hand without any resistance. “It’s something for me to keep in mind though. That’s why I’ll be carrying this.” He held up the container he’d reclaimed and closed it. “It’s high in energy and portable. I wouldn’t have to worry as much about eating more than was available.” He turned around to stow the containers away in his trunk.
Bucky knew that he’d upset Steve. His friend always got upset when something he considered a weakness in himself was brought up. The crazy jerk didn’t seem to realize that half the times they weren’t as bad as he thought. He sighed and let the tension and worry go. He looked back toward Xander who was still trying not to be seen. “How’d you know what he could eat?”
Xander put his hands down and simply said, “I had a friend with a similar problem. To answer your question before you ask. If she didn’t eat enough, she tended to get hurt easier.” He nodded his head toward the containers. “That’s one of the ways we solved it.” He said quietly.
“You said had. Did she die? Was it because of needing extra food?” Bucky inquired worriedly.
“No,” Xander looked at him with sad eyes. “She died fighting something bigger and badder than what I rescued you from.” He looked at Steve. “I’m going to go wash up for dinner. Meet you outside with the others.” He left the room.
Bucky just stared in disbelief as Xander left the room. He really didn’t want to be reminded of last night but it was obvious that the kid knew a lot about that side of things. He turned toward his friend to say something but was stopped.
“Leave it, Bucky. He’s only recently lost her from what I can figure out. The grief is still too fresh.” Steve told his friend firmly and reinforced it with a glare.
“Sure, not a problem Squirt. Huh? Guess I can’t call you that anymore now, can I?” Bucky said sadly.
“I guess we really haven’t talked about the changes I’ve gone through.” Steve smiled sadly at his friend. “I’m still me Bucky. I’m just healthier and stronger. I can protect myself and others now. No need for rescuing anymore.” Unconsciously his voiced dropped to a pleading tone. “I can be good at this. I will be good at this. You just have to trust that I can do it. You can trust that I can lead you guys. And get you through whatever it is we’re gonna end up facing.”
Bucky hated when Steve felt the need to beg for acceptance. He hated it even more that he was the cause of it. It seemed a lot like their last meeting, at the fair in Queens. When Steve had pleaded with him to understand, why his friend wanted to enlist. Like then he did the only thing he could do. He pulled him into a hug and was glad to get one in return. “I know you will Stevie. I followed your lead more than you knew pal.”
Tears tickled at the back of Steve’ throat but he fought the feeling down. “Thanks, Buck. I don’t think I could do this if you were against me about it.” He held on tightly to his friend.
“Told you already, Squirt. I’m following the little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb to run away from a fight. I’ll keep following him even if you tell me not to” Bucky pulled back, holding his friend by still unfamiliar shoulders, to look him in the eyes.
Steve gave a small smile. “We better get going. The others are probably getting get restless.” He pulled away from Bucky.
“Sure, let’s go.” Bucky returned the smile. They both headed out of the room to go join their new team.Notes:
Sorry this took so long. It wasn't that the muse stopped talking. It was that they kept telling me about the ending when I kept asking what comes next.