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Bucky's side of 'Fun and (War) Games' (Chase Collins and the Winter Soldier bodyswap)

The B Side

Far above him, the sky is blue, clear but for a few puffy clouds. Nearer, trees with leaves of yellow and red-orange stir in the breeze. Somewhere nearby, geese call to each other. As if on cue, a ragged V-formation flutters across the sky, flying free.

He draws a shuddering breath. Where is the processing chamber, the technicians? How is it that he’s awakened out of doors, alone? He thinks the last thing he remembers is being prepped for a mission, but he can’t be sure—is seldom sure, when it comes to his memories.

There must have been a fight, he thinks, because he’s sore all over. As he sits up, a stone jabs into his palm, and he stares at the mark…the skin is indented; it’s not the metal prosthetic he expects to see, but an actual flesh-and-blood hand.

Hastily, he strips off his tattered coat and filthy button-down shirt to stare at his shoulder…it meets his torso seamlessly, no cuirass marrying cybernetics to muscle and sinew; his body is whole and unblemished save for some bruises.

For a few minutes, all he can do is stare at his hands. How can it be? It would take a miracle, and no one who has been subsumed by Hydra can ever believe in miracles.

Unreal as it is, it doesn’t feel like a dream. His rare dreams are disturbing things, full of blood and death. This is peaceful.

He pulls the garments back on. They were of good quality once. Not at all his normal uniform…no armor, no combat boots, no weaponry. He rummages through the pockets for clues.

A folded sheet of yellow paper announces ”Fall Festival – Saturday Night!”. A laminated Spenser Academy student ID card has his picture on it… the image is much younger than he is…the young man smiling out at him has never fought a war, he’s sure, never been subjected to conditioning.

“Chase Collins” is the name on the card, and further search finds Chase Collins’s wallet in his pocket, containing a fat stack of twenty-dollar bills, miscellaneous receipts, business cards and a driver’s license with the same cheerful face as the ID card above a different shirt….

Eighteen? Ridiculous, no one will ever believe he’s eighteen. True, he has no idea how old he really is, there have been too many interludes in cryo-stasis, but he’s certainly older than that.

It’s confusing…why is he here? What is he supposed to accomplish? For that matter, where is ‘here’?

Easy enough to deduce that it’s autumn. He’s in a wooded area—based on the flora, it’s North America. There’s a burned-out structure nearby—it still smells of charred timber, so the fire must have been fairly recent. There are no other buildings in sight, but there’s a road not too far off.

A lot of heavy vehicles have been on and off the road here lately. Probably emergency vehicles when the fire happened. Judging by the tire tracks, that way is most likely to lead to civilization….

He takes the card from his pocket again, looking at it as he walks. “My name is Chase Collins,” he says aloud. Chase Collins looks back at him, well-groomed and confident. For the first time, he realizes that he doesn’t have longish hair straggling in his face.

There’s no traffic on the two-lane road, and he reckons he’s walked about three kilometers before he comes to a crossroads boasting a gas station-convenience store on one of its sides.

His face in the restroom mirror is a shock—the youthful face from Chase Collins’s ID looks anxiously back at him. He really can pass for a teenager. There’s a suggestion of curl in his hair—which he can’t remember ever being this short. He washes his hands and face, taking his time, still marveling at his left hand.

“My name is Chase Collins,” he says to his reflection. It sounds tentative. He counterfeits the jovial expression from the ID card. “Hi there, I’m Chase Collins.” Better.

He practices making the face smile. Two of the technicians had had a conversation once… something about how it took fewer muscles to smile than it did to frown, the second tech retorting that the smile muscles were all fighting gravity.

Drying his hands with a paper towel, the sensation of friction where before there were only dull sensor readings elicits a genuine smile. Chase Collins is a lucky man.

The new and improved Chase Collins emerges from the restroom, looking around the store. A stack of newspapers, The Ipswich Daily Standard, reveals the date…it’s the day after the Fall Festival he had the flyer about. He wonders if that’s significant.

He buys a pint of milk and a pre-made tuna sandwich to tide him over on his walk to the town proper. His stomach growls. According to the clock over the door, it’s past noon, so it’s not surprising he’s hungry if he’s been out in the woods all night.

As he exits the store with his purchases, a car glides into the parking lot, a Mercedes convertible, late model, pricey. The driver looks pissed about something as he gets out of the car. He’s tall and lean, about the same age as Chase, and has curly blond hair and grey eyes.

Chase is about to compliment him on his wheels, maybe offer him gas money for a ride in to town, when the guy shoulders him roughly in passing. It’s not accidental; the guy growls, “Collins.”.

Chase turns to stare at him. Then the other young man smacks the sandwich from his hand and deliberately steps on it.

“What the hell?” Chase exclaims. He skips out of the other guy’s reach and evades a slap meant for his milk. “What’s your problem, asshole?”

“You and your smart mouth,” is the reply.

It isn’t hard for Chase to keep his distance; he’s been in hand-to-hand life-or-death fights since before this idiot was born. He’s annoyed about the sandwich, but not enough to seriously damage the kid—he avoids a roundhouse punch and gets in a short jab to his opponent’s ribs.

The guy keeps coming after him. Chase avoids several more attacks, rewarding each with a quick right-handed blow—he has the milk in his left hand—which just serves to make the other guy madder.

“I can keep this up all day,” he says, which isn’t tactful, but it’s accurate.

Another car door slams nearby—this time, it’s a black Corvette, and the young woman driving it storms over to them. Redhead, skinny jeans, smoking hot. “Aaron, stop that!” she snaps at the blond guy.

Aaron has his fist raised like he’s going to keep going, and Chase resolves that if he swings on the girl, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” Aaron says and bares his teeth as the redhead pushes between them and enters the store.
Chase rolls his eyes. “You started it. I don’t think you want me to finish it, but I can.”

“Yeah? Lets see how brave you are without your buddies to back you up.”

“Back up?” He uncaps the milk and takes a swig. “If you want to run and get some, great. Or if you just want to run, that’s okay, too.”

Aaron lunges at him again, but Chase is far enough away that he just stands there as his attacker slips on the remains of the tuna sandwich and lands on his ass. He’s still scrambling to get back up when the redhead comes back out.

Chase sees what’s coming, but Aaron, whose back is to the door, is taken completely by surprise when she dumps a large Styrofoam cup of ice water over his head.

“You bitch!” Funny how Aaron’s voice goes up an octave when the cold water hits him….

“You need to cool your jets,” she says firmly. “And wipe up that mess before anyone gets hurt.” She has amazing bone-structure, and at the same time, she projects a no-nonsense authority—oh yeah, Chase likes her already.

Looking enraged and humiliated, Aaron mops up the greasy mess with a handful of paper towels she provides and dumps it in the trash can by the door.

“Okay, now go about your business,” she tells him, and he stalks into the store.

“Thanks.” Chase doesn’t have to fake a smile.

“I’m sure you had it under control,” she allows, “but you look like you already went a few rounds with somebody twice your size.”

“Uh…I got lost. In the woods.”

Her glance sweeps the parking lot. “Need a ride?”

“Yes, please.”

Memory of long-past courtesy prompts him to open her car door for her, and she favors him with an appreciative smile.

“I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” she says as they zoom out of the lot and onto the road. “I’m Talia Roman. And you’re Chase Collins.”

Up close, she’s got a flawless porcelain completion and wide blue eyes. “We’re in a few of the same classes,” Talia reminds him. “Have you come up with a topic for that history paper yet?”

“I’m still thinking about it.” Chase shrugs, hoping he looks insouciant instead of clueless. “What about you? Any bright ideas?”

“I’d like to explore the ‘Can Do’ spirit behind World War II,” Talia says, taking her foot off the gas and coasting toward a red light ahead. “It’s inspiring, like we were all on the same side then, willing to work hard make sacrifices…and today everybody does their own thing and thinks someone else is going to do all the work. How did they do it?”

“It was the Depression,” Chase says before he knows he’s going to say anything, but the words come out of their own volition. “You’ve got to remember, there was a decade of grinding poverty, crappy employment opportunities and how do you fight that? Sure, there was the WPA and that helped, but it wasn’t a lasting solution.

“Then the war started, and there was a real enemy to fight. Not only that, you got paid for it and had a chance to see the world. Yeah, you were getting shot at, but at least you were doing something. Everybody had a job to do.”

Talia blinks at him. She zips through the intersection as the light turns green, then swerves into the parking lot of a sandwich shop. She rummages in the backseat and pulls out a notebook. “That’s good. That’s really good. I’ve got to write that down. You want to get another sandwich while we’re here?”

“You want anything?”

“No, thanks.” She’s opening a package of something called ‘Red Vines’ as he leaves her scribbling away.

Chase orders himself a roast beef sub that looks a lot more appetizing than the dead tuna had. Gets it to go, with a bag of chips, and wanders back out to the car, where Talia sits looking thoughtful.

“Oh, hey,” she says when he gets in. “I hope I didn’t—I mean, if that’s what you were going to do, I won’t—“

“Go for it.”

She’s got an amazing smile. Chase smiles back. Okay, so Aaron is a chump who’s got a grudge against him for whatever reason, but Talia is friendly, and some of his other classmates are bound to be congenial. What the hell, it’s just high school.

How bad can it be?

Okay, so intimidating isn’t the word for it. Spencer Academy looks like Bela Lugosi should be haunting the attic, and Chase feels dread join hunger in his stomach..

On his way into the dorms, he’s hailed by someone at the front desk and told he has mail. Conveniently, his room number is included in the address, so he doesn’t have to ask any dumb questions about where he’s supposed to go. He follows the signs up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway to the far end.

There are two twin beds in Room 239, with an attached half-bath, but only one side of the room shows signs of occupancy. That simplifies things; he doesn’t have to bluff ‘normal’ for a roommate. The big manila envelope is a stack of papers from a bunch of lawyers.

Apparently Chase Collins was orphaned last summer, and the attorneys are in charge of his trust fund. A monthly stipend is being deposited into a local bank—the amount makes him blink. He’s pretty sure it’s more money than he’s ever had at one time in his life—and he gets this every month? Wow.

Chase eats his sandwich, drinks his milk, and carefully goes through the contents of “his” desk, mostly file folders with financial statements and probate documents, trying to get a sense of his new life.

Luckily for the new Chase Collins, the original was organized. Textbooks are paired with notebooks for each class, handouts are neatly inserted in sheet protectors. He finds a daily class schedule, a new student handbook with a carefully annotated map. There are high-tech toys, a closet full of good quality clothes…not a lot of personal items; his past self doesn’t seem to have had a sentimental side.

Once he’s plowed through the books and papers, Chase decides he might as well make use of some of those clothes. What he has on is a mess. He grabs a pullover and khakis from the closet and heads down the hall for a shower.

He’s lighter, with less muscle mass than he’s used to…he’s in good shape, but leaner and more sinewy. He’s also got some impressive bruises, he notices as he undresses, but nothing too serious or the fight with Aaron would’ve gone differently. Was that how he woke up in the woods? A fight during or after the Fall Festival? The original Chase Collins might not have been any kind of fighter.

Maybe he’d been knocked out and left there as a joke…or a warning. Aaron by himself isn’t much of a threat, but if enough of his friends ganged up, or spiked whatever punch they were serving…he’ll have to watch his back. Bad enough he was careless enough to let Aaron score his sandwich because he hadn’t been expecting it. He needs to be alert in case Hydra somehow tracks him down.

The hot water rolling down his body feels incredible. Chase can’t remember the last time he’s enjoyed anything this much. The soap doesn’t smell like disinfectant, it’s something called ‘Tea Tree’ and it’s almost minty. He takes his time getting clean, feeling like he’s washing away more than just dirt.

He's revived when he gets back to the room. Using Chase’s laptop, he cautiously looks for references to Hydra…and gets a lot of Greek mythology…nothing that refers to Nazi scientists or nefarious quasi-secret organizations. The entries that pop up for ‘Alexander Pierce’ are for an architectural firm, Alexander, Bonham and Pierce in Chicago. Every search he tries fails to bring up anything relevant, as if his past has never existed.

No Hydra? He’s somehow surfaced in a world with no Hydra? He resolves to seize this second chance and make it work for him. He has access to money and a good education, he’d be an idiot not to take advantage of that.

The rest of the evening he uses to study his assignments. The math is troublesome until he realizes the method is not unlike acquiring a firing trajectory…if A is distance and B is muzzle velocity, with wind resistance as X… he does know this.

The paper Talia mentioned is due in eight weeks and needs to explore some aspect of 20th century American history, a person, event or issue. Well, that will be educational for him, all right—he missed most of those years, thanks to the Soviets and Hydra.

In the morning, he dresses and heads down to breakfast. Everything seems to be going smoothly, and Chase is relaxed and going with the flow, until a pretty blonde girl rounds a corner and almost runs into him. He’s about to say he’s sorry—although she’s the one who ran into him—when she lets out a little shriek at the sight of him and flees back the way she came. What the hell was that all about?


From a prompt:
Possibly more to come, depending on how many OTHER projects demand to be written.
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