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where the dread fern grows

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Sam’s sister is getting married, and Sam has a duty. He already got Sierra the new car stereo like she wanted, but since Randy’s contribution to compiling the gift registry had been a bag of Hershey kisses and a roll of baker's twine, he felt justified in going off list for a few more purchases. And Sam likes Randy and wants her to feel welcome, because half the time the news refers to elves as “endangered species” and there’s always some bullshit about how elves shouldn’t intermarry for their own sake because they need to preserve the species and protect their community. Sam wants the whole world to have to redo basic fucking biology. If elves and humans can procreate and have viable fertile offspring then they aren’t two separate species. Christ. Maybe he’ll get that on a t-shirt. Or sky write it somewhere and maybe drop gift baskets down.

Point is, he wants Randy to feel like part of the family, and part of being in the Wilson family is getting good gifts. She is going to feel welcome and she is going to like it.

He knows Randy likes food, and drinks, and anything with sequins or reflective bits or glitter. Sam doesn’t buy clothing gifts as a rule, so it’s gonna have to be a food gift. Something gourmet. Randy’s the patissier in residence at the Park Plaza hotel, so she’s always talking about nut flour and weird fruit and caramelizing things that don’t sound like they should be caramelized. Maybe he can get her a cool ingredient, but something just for her instead of her rich customers.

He doesn’t google “elf food” because he’s not a fucking idiot, but he’s pretty aware that it is, in essence, what he’s doing when he looks up elvish gourmet. What he gets are 5,000 slideshows of tastefully minimalist and totally incomprehensible food. Apparently what makes elvish food gourmet is the skill in combining otherwise batshit ingredients; one of the top results on instagram for the elvish gourmet tag is a cheeto panna cotta with a molecule-thin sprig of lemon grass and three extremely shiny pebbles on top. Sam’s hopes of finding an elvish gourmet shop are dashed by the mounting evidence that fine elvish dining is more about combining whatever’s already in your cupboard, shelf-paper included.

The alcohol, though.

Sam reads six articles about how elvish booze is so smooth and delectable and amazing and like nothing you’ve ever had and also incidentally how super illegal it is, which means it’s only made by moonshiners. Or, according to Epicurious, bloomshiners. Because it’s usually made of flowers. Of course it is. Bloomshine is usually drunk at births, weddings, first harvests and celebrations of “great deeds”. Due to tradition and complicated legal customs elves rarely make it themselves; but if you’re on good terms, ask your local witch if they have a drop. Before you drink, however, be sure to follow the instructions!

Well shit.

Well shit, he does know someone, but… no. Sam would rather spend another eight years neck deep in research, even if the internet does liberally seed everything with racist bullshit about milk and bread. There has to be something else that will work.

Sam digs back in.

After seven more articles about how bloomshine is the taste du jour and the perfect gift for a foodie and an unmissable “palate experience” Sam has to admit to himself that he either needs to man up or get off this choo choo train.

Sam doesn’t have much experience with witches. The Wilsons are all flyers, straightforwardly elemental, and while Sam met mages in the Air Force and his cousin dated a seer for a while, he only actually knows of only one witch.

The situation is, as his former sergeant used to say, suboptimal.

There’s nothing for it. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Sam puts his gear on, sends the FAA his flight plan - the civilian team knows him by now so it gets approved fast, if with the usual bird jokes - and kicks off for New York. He lands on the strip of green near the piers, a couple hundred yards from the Brooklyn Bridge, and spends the walk up to the street stuffing his parka and helmet and ski gloves into his backpack. It might be a balmy May morning down here, but at 10,00 feet up the temperature is twenty degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s not far to the address Steve gave him, where an unassumingly twee little brownstone currently houses Captain America, retired, and Captain America’s partner, reclusive. The front porch is aggressively landscaped, stacked so densely with potted plants that the path to the door is no more than a foot wide. Sam rings the bell.

Steve opens the door looking like he spent the morning playing beer pong with paint cans. “Sam!” he says, lighting up. He leaves a big streak of purple on the doorknob when he moves back to let Sam in, immediately transferring more to his hair when he brushes it out of the way. He looks like a dandelion got dunked in violet taffy.

“Hey, man,” Sam says, stepping in with Steve’s avid welcoming gestures; for once he’s pretty glad Steve isn’t going in for a hug. Sam still has a once-white shirt that Steve had done some… color commentary on, and Sam had gotten home and realized it was a good looking shirt. Which was probably more annoying that Steve had hug-created a great piece of clothing on accident. He’d gone back and made Steve sign it just to make a point.

Steve takes him upstairs and shows him the current painting - a violent catastrophe of colors that’s probably going to look really cool once Steve is finished doing whatever the fuck he has to do with it - and gives him the usual studio tour. For self-explaining reasons Steve used to do a lot of charcoal work and then he’d stumbled his way into the future and decided he needed to grab every color by the back of the head and face slam it into his work. Picasso had a blue period and Steve had seen fruit loops and gone: alright, sounds good, let’s go.

It’s a lot more fun than his pottery phase, at least. That had just been sad. Steve had told him about how he used to sit in the community center firing kiln all night because “it was something to do” and “it helped cut their power bill a little” and “helped me fine-tune my control a lot, so really they were doing me a favor”.

“I gotta finish this today, but we could go get dinner after?” Steve offers, once they’re back in the kitchen and Steve has failed to locate any clean glasses to offer Sam juice.

“I’m actually here to see Barnes,” Sam admits.

“Oh, he’s out back,” Steve says. “What for?”

“Well,” Sam says. “Remember you told me he makes booze?”

-o-

The entire backyard of the actually really charming brownstone Steve bought has been converted into a thirty foot high greenhouse. The glass roof is almost higher than the brownstone itself. There’s less than six inches of clearance between the back wall of the house and the front wall of the glass, and the fence is snuggled right up to it on all sides. The glass isn’t quite frosted but there’s a kind of wobble in its surface texture that means the most that’s visible inside are vague, looming shapes in brown and green.

“He’s in there,” Steve says, opening the door for Sam. “I’ll come join you in a sec, I just gotta finish the layer before the paint dries.”

Stepping inside is like setting foot into a surround-sound swamp, though probably one in the early Paleocene. Banana plants and big, hearty palms stretch up all over the place, casting shade over the thick bushes and ferns below. The floor is just dirt and nothing seems to be potted, though there are some flat rocks picking out a main path through in somewhat irregular spacing. Sam sticks to that as he edges further. It seems to be pretty straightforwardly traversing the greenhouse, though in the middle an actual pond’s been dug out, filled with fuzzy green things and flourishing lilypads.

Sam comes to a stop at the water’s edge. Frogs are croaking. Running water is trickling somewhere in the green. It’s pretty peaceful, actually, and if not for the dogbreath humidity he might be tempted to sit down and read a book here.

“Wilson,” Barnes says.

Sam very nearly backhands him in reflex. “Jesus Christ. Don’t jump out like that,” he says, staggering back manfully.

“I didn’t jump out of anywhere,” Barnes says. “I was standing here and you nearly stepped on my foot.”

Sam hadn’t seen him at all. Which, as Sam looks him up and down, is not a surprise. Barnes’ family, as Steve had explained it, were not witches as such, they just sort of, you know, sometimes did things that witches do. But definitely not witches. That was frowned on by the church. And in Ireland back in the day they didn’t wait for the church and went straight for the bonfires, so while the Barneses definitely never had anything to do with witches and had emigrated over a complete misunderstanding, Steve just wanted to make it clear that Bucky wasn’t, y’know, a witch. But if Sam ever needed anything that might maybe look kind of witchy if observed by uneducated people not in possession of all the facts, then, well, there could be someone Steve knows who can help.

Barnes does not look like someone pretending not to be a witch. He’s wearing heavy workman’s coveralls, but the original color is impossible to discern under the mud, grass, dirt and various earthen slimes that give the cloth a camo-print sort of look. One sleeve has a tear stitched together with what looks like twine and there are singe marks all down the front. His hair looks very… organic. His boots appear to be actively decomposing. If Sam didn’t know better he’d think until he came in Barnes had been lying down in the dirt here somewhere and trying to become one with the bog.

The overall effect is more mad compost scientist than witch, but, Sam thinks critically, the look doesn’t exactly scream Definitely Not Occult. If Barnes is trying to convince people he’s not the kind of person who sacrifices goats under the full moon then he’s not trying very hard. If Steve is trying to convince people Bucky’s not the kind of person who sacrifices goats under the full moon he’s not trying very hard either, because if Sam were a cop looking for enchanted weed the first place he would look is the giant fucking greenhouse in the middle of Brooklyn.

Nobody would clock him as the Winter Soldier, at least. He would not make it through a single round of Who Here Makes Magic Meth lineup, but those charges are a lot lighter than “treason” and “terrorism.” He’s even holding something that looks suspiciously like a cigar rolled from moss, which isn’t helped by the fact that one end is smoking.

“So. Steve says you make… liquor,” Sam says, because it wouldn’t be the best move to be rude to the guy who runs the moonshine factory when he’s trying to get some of it. “I was hoping I could buy some.”

Barnes narrows his eyes. “What kind.”

“The… elf kind,” Sam hazards.

Barnes’ eyes narrow further. “What’s it for,” he says.

Sam feels he is being unfairly judged. The counter guy at the ABC wouldn’t be asking him what he plans to use his whiskey on, thank you very much. Then again, they don’t sell anything Barnes has at no ABC, and no Whole Foods or Thousand Grains either.

“It’s a gift,” Sam admits. “My sister is getting married. Her fiancée is elvish.”

Barnes sucks deeply on his moss cigar. The resulting cloud he breathes out is invisible the same way that the flames immediately outside jet engines are invisible. Barnes isn’t blowing it at him, but Sam’s pretty sure he feels his eyelashes crinkle regardless.

“Wedding gift or engagement gift?” Barnes says.

“What?”

“Is it for the engagement or for the wedding,” Barnes says.

“Oh. Wedding.”

Barnes nods thoughtfully, then carefully puts out his paint-stripping cigar on his metal hand and pockets it. “Come on.”  

Sam has no choice but to follow Barnes’ retreating back. It turns out the coveralls have a giant daisy embroidered over the shoulderblades, much battered and stained but still clearly recognizable over the text BARNES PLANTS & REMEDIES. The words Déanann Garraíodóirí é ar an Talamh! are embroidered further down, where the ass of the wearer might be if the coveralls could be persuaded to hold any kind of shape besides “angry bag”. There are two trowels and some kind of spray bottle holstered in the general vicinity of his belt.

The entire outfit looks like Barnes dug it out of the ground. He looks like he dug himself out of the ground. He definitely looks like somebody who makes moonshine - and has apparently started a business since the last time they saw each other - but also, Sam is starting to have questions about things like sanitation and food prep safety and botulism.

Barnes pushes aside a massive palm frond and reveals a tiny clearing with a workbench set against one of the greenhouse walls. He goes right to a row of fist-sized pots and then starts picking them up one at a time, frowning and hefting them like he’s weighing them. Sam just kinda stands there. They all look literally identical to him and not real clean either, but hey, maybe that’s the mystical energies making them look all stained like that. Hopefully. He should probably say something. He really, really doesn’t want to be the person who gives his sister’s fiancèe elf salmonella.

“So… you gonna… cook in that?” Sam asks, trying to think of the politest way to ask you gonna wash that first?

“It’s just the harvest pot,” Barnes says, like that should explain everything. “What color is her skin?”

“What? Why does that matter?”

“Because it has to be complementary,” Barnes says, slowly and patiently like Sam’s an idiot. “Light? Dark? Cool tones, warm tones?”

Randy generally tends to look like an oil slick even in direct sunlight, her skin glossy and dark except for where it gives off subtle rainbow reflections. Sam doesn’t know if that’s natural or if every time she’s been over she was slathered head to toe in Fenty Body Lava or what. “Darker than me,” he hazards. “Pretty dark. I don’t know about tones, but she’s… usually sorta rainbow. She seems pretty into bright colors?”

Barnes nods like Sam just confirmed something and picks up a pot that looks exactly as grubby and dinged-up as the others. “Copper,” he says decisively.

“Totally,” Sam agrees.

Barnes, surprisingly, rolls his eyes at him as he turns and goes back to the plants. Sam trails after him as Barnes crouches down a thick patch of dark, lush plants with thick, heavy fronds. He carefully lifts up a dense fringe of ferns and reveals a plot of tiny flowers, miniscule and somehow crystal-looking in their bed of moss. The jewel tones of the tiny petals almost seem like they glow in the low light. “What plant is that?” Sam asks, fascinated.

“Bugwort.”

“Oh.”

Barnes takes a small penknife out of his pocket and very delicately cuts off a single flower, one of the peachy-gold ones with a deep crimson heart. When he draws away a very small toad jumps back into the leaves; Barnes frowns down at them. “You’re not supposed to eat that,” he says.

“What?”

“Talking to the toad.”

“Of course you are,” Sam says resignedly.

“They’re not supposed to eat the cultivars. There’s plenty of food around,” Barnes says, raising his voice on the last part. “Don’t make me put up netting again. It upsets me as much as it upsets you.”

Sam decides that no comment is the best comment. Barnes seems to agree, heading back to the workbench. The flower is carefully transferred from the ‘harvest pot’ into a larger, blessedly much cleaner metal one. Then Barnes extracts a phone out of one unspeakable pocket - Sam has a legitimate moment of vertigo on seeing what’s essentially the offspring of Elphaba and Shrek pull out an iphone - and dials. “Steve,” he says

“What?” Steve says from the speaker. Speakerphone was probably a good choice. There might be some kind of caustic chemical reaction if Barnes puts the phone too close to his hair.

“Come down,” Barnes says. “I need your help. Fifteen minutes.”

“Yeah, okay,” Steve says, and Barnes pockets the phone again.

“I don’t keep fire in the greenhouse,” he says to Sam, in an explanatory tone. “The gases can get kind of combustible sometimes.”

“No, yeah, I get it,” Sam says, instead of with every passing second I am more and more convinced that Sergeant Bucky Barnes runs an occult meth lab. “Don’t want… fire… next to… plants.”

“Unnecessary in this kind of climate,” Barnes agrees. “And we wouldn’t be mimicking full natural conditions even if it was deciduous anyway.”

Before Sam has to figure out how to intelligently reply to that Barnes transfers his attention to Steve, who’s just bounded into the greenhouse like a rottweiler that’s rolled in a paint palette. “What do you need?” he asks, trotting up to them all perky and with his hair fluffed up. He looks freakishly happy. Sam’s gonna have to visit more often, if only to check for Barnes spiking Steve’s drinks with magic weed.

Barnes holds out the pot. “Low heat,” he instructs. “Ten minutes.”

“Ah huh,” Steve says, snapping his fingers under the pot and igniting a little palmful of fire.

Bucky frowns at some paint on Steve’s forearm and picks at it. “Are we out of the hand wash already?”

“Oh. Sorry,” Steve says, glancing at it. “We have some, I just figured I’d be back up in a minute.”

“It’s okay,” Barnes says, smoothing his hand over the spot like he’s not leaving mud smudges on Steve’s arm.

“We have a rule,” Steve explains to Sam. “No dirt outside the greenhouse, no paint outside the studio. And hey, Buck made this soap that gets paint out of anything, so if you want to clean that shirt up -”

“Rogers, I had you sign it,” Sam says. “That shirt’s gonna be my retirement package. Five more hugs and I can buy my mom a house in Cabo.”

“Oh, well, c’mere then,” Steve says, advancing with open arms.

“Fuck off,” Sam says, laughing and dodging, and then Steve says “ohshit,” as the pot in his hand wobbles in its firebed and nearly tips over.

“Rogers,” Barnes says, and the two of them turn guiltily. Barnes points at a patch of plants that look like green toilet bowls on stalks. "No swearing in the greenhouse. Little pitchers have big ears."

Steve rolls his eyes, the pot now held carefully close to his chest. “They literally dissolve insects alive, Buck, I think they can handle it.”

“If you set a bad example they’ll misbehave, and then they’ll become bullies, and then we’ll both have to do weeding,” Barnes says sternly, apparently unconcerned with the near spillage of the pot. “Do you want to do weeding, Steve?”

“No,” Steve says hastily. “No, that’s fine. Don’t swear,” he adds to the toilet plants.

“You’ve got to be sh - kidding me,” Sam says, staring at them. “They understand words?”

“They can sense the intent,” Barnes says. “They’re like babies, they soak up everything around them.”

“Bucky reads poetry to them sometimes,” Steve says cheerfully, all weeding threats forgotten.

“It helps them grow healthy,” Barnes mutters, but he’s turning away and Sam could swear he saw his nose going pink.

“Poetry,” Sam says, half to be an asshole and half because he has to know. “What kind of poetry?”

“Shakespeare,” Barnes says gruffly. “The sonnets.”

“It’s great,” Steve says, slinging one arm around Barnes’ shoulders to trap him and keeping the other stretched out, the flames under the pot tickling up merrily. “He reads them books and describes all the pictures. I come in here to listen sometimes.”

“I’m putting nettles in your underwear,” Barnes mumbles, fully turned away from Sam and looking like he’s trying to shrug himself into his coverall like a mud turtle.

“Don’t worry, Barnes, I never thought you were cool,” Sam reassures. Steve might be disturbingly cheerful but Barnes looks a hell of a lot better too. Sam hasn’t really felt anything beyond vague sympathy for the guy ever since he made the transition from “death cult murderborg” to “Steve’s sad roommate with more split ends than hair”, so it’s not like Sam came in here braced for a knife fight or anything, but it’s not bad to see Barnes is just another dude underneath the layer of topsoil. Another grungy, grimy, greasy white dude.

Steve laughs and smacks a kiss to Barnes’ ear - probably locating it on muscle memory, given the thorough hair camouflage in action - and brings the bubbling pot in to peek at it. “You said ten minutes, right?”

Barnes emerges from his thespian shame to examine the pot. “Almost done,” he says, swilling the pot around a little with his metal hand. “Take the heat off slow.”

Steve obediently makes the flames die down gradually. It looks to Sam like the beautiful golden flower has melted down into bubbling brown goop, which he can only assume is what was supposed to happen. “Good,” Barnes says with satisfaction, so probably yes, even though it now looks like an extra-large thimbleful of raw sewage.

“Do you need…” Steve starts, but Barnes shoos him off. “Go finish your paint,” he says, back at the workbench and poking the hot flower sludge with what looks like a fork.

“You’re staying for dinner,” Steve tells Sam, pointing a purple-stained finger at him as he walks backwards out of the greenhouse like he’s some 19th century fussy housewife with too many daughters to marry off.

“So long as you aren’t cooking,” Sam yells after him.

“I can cook,” Barnes says offhandedly, now apparently mashing something into the goop that’s making it turn a new and exciting shade of brown.

“Oh, wow, that is,” Sam says. “That’s. Cool. But I was actually thinking we could uh, go out. I know this great little place in…” Sam, knowing absolutely nothing about the restaurant scene in Brooklyn or for that matter the entire state of New York, takes a wild guess. “Park,” he says, and when the frantic gears grinding in his stupid tourist brain can’t spit out anything more than Central Park, he adds, desperately, “Avenue. Near… Broadway.”

“Near Times Square?” Barnes says.

“Kind - of?”

Bucky stares into the bubbling goop long enough and neutrally enough to give Sam an idea of how bad of a suggestion that is. “We’ll try it,” he decides finally, in the same way sergeants in Oscar-nominated war movies say we’ll have to take the beach.

“Cool,” Sam says, making a note to lock himself in the bathroom and go on a Yelp spree at light speeds. “It’ll be fun.”

“Yes,” Barnes agrees, picking up the pot in his metal hand and putting his mashing fork down. “This way.”

Barnes leads Sam inside - or at least into the cellar, which the no-dirt rule apparently doesn’t extend to. It must be regularly cleaned, though, because when Barnes turns on the lights Sam sees what is definitely a distillery. The center of the room is a table covered in serious mad scientist tubes and glassware; around it is the kind of strip-cut plastic sheeting Sam sees in butchers’ shops and cold storage warehouses, to keep temperatures and… fluids… more or less in. Some real Lord of the Rings looking casks line the walls, right next to tall shelves crammed with stacks of sealed jars that look like Sam’s mom’s jam pantry down to the checkered lids and strawberry-printed labels. The overall effect is of a yard-sale cache for an antiques store that opens into other dimensions.

“Hold this,” Barnes tells Sam, giving him a glass bottle selected seemingly at random. Sam tries not to feel like a mad scientist’s apprentice as they go down the shelves, Barnes stacking various jars and bottles in his arms, and mostly fails. “Be careful with this one,” Bucky adds, balancing a tiny mason jar of viscous pearlescent liquid on top of another jar. Sam tucks the whole wobbling stack under his chin and tries not to breathe too hard on any of it.

“You can put those down on the table and sit over there,” Bucky says, jerking his chin towards a dark mass of what Sam had thought was a massive pile of ancient dirty cleaning rags thrown into a corner when he first walked in. Sam squints at the pile, and it obligingly focuses into a brown beanbag-ish chair. “I’ll get you a mask.”

“A mask?” Sam asks unwillingly, staring at the stains.

“You shouldn’t breathe this stuff in,” Bucky says, back to Sam. He’s rummaging through a crate under the table.

“Should I, uh. Be here?” Sam says, as something that looks like a brass fireplace poker goes rolling across the floor.

“If you’re giving the gift you need to watch it be made,” Bucky says. “It affects the flavor. Here.” He thrusts out a bundle of pipettes and straws held together with a rubber band.

“Am I supposed to breathe through a straw?” Sam asks.

“What?” Barnes looks back, frowns, takes the pipette bundle back and replaces it with a disposable paper mask. It’s got a teddy bear printed on it.

Sam absolutely does not want to ask how his bearing witness would affect the flavor, so he takes the mask from Bucky and trudges over to the beanbag. He’s not convinced it’s not just an upholstered compost heap. Upon closer inspection it looks like it could eat him alive, but he’s already come across sixteen other things in Barnes’ greenhouse that could have done that if it really wanted to, so what the hell.

He sits down, tries to ignore the way the chair sucks him up faster than gravity would warrant, and pulls out his phone to do some restaurant googling.

Barnes strides to the table, pushes through the plastic sheeting and… does his thing. Stuff on the table starts making upsetting glooping noises. At one point Barnes picks up the poker, slams it violently against the table a couple of times, then grunts in satisfaction and tosses it back in the corner again. Sam googles harder. He doesn’t know how he ended up in a Studio Ghibli version of the Blair Witch Project but he has to believe he can get out. At this point, ignorance is his best defense.

“It’s done,” Barnes finally says, looking significantly sweatier when Sam dares look up from his two-and-a-half by five rectangle of phone screen. The end result of forty minutes and twenty-six increasingly distracted Yelp searches is a pint-sized bottle that looks like balsamic vinegar. Barnes takes approximately twenty years to hand write the label, using a pen he extracted out of his hair.

When it’s handed to Sam it feels surprisingly heavy. FOR RANDY, the label says, right below CONGRATULATIONS and right above IF INGESTING WHILE HUMAN: drink 1 cup of milk first & take off work for the next 24 hrs. I mean it. The rest is just a list of ingredients with names like Buxbaumia piperi, in Barnes’ surprisingly neat handwriting.

“What do I owe you?” Sam asks.

Barnes looks, for the first time, real fuckin’ uncomfortable. “Nothing,” he mutters. “We still owe you. For helping Steve. With the… Nazis and your car and everything. So, you know. If anyone you know gets sick. Or. Anything.”

“Oh,” Sam says, mildly, reluctantly touched and strongly, enthusiastically unwilling to get into the whole ethical concept of brainwashing and responsibility and owing people back. “That’s real sweet of you, but it’s not necessary, man,” he says instead.

Barnes looks down at the table, then back at the workspace, where Sam can still see what looks like green arterial spray on the plastic. “I didn’t think you wanted to come here. Or see me. After the whole…” Barnes moves his hand in front of his face in a way that Sam eventually understands means ‘Winter Soldier mask n’ shit’.

“Naw, man,” Sam says. “I’ve just been busy. It wasn’t a personal thing.” It’s true Sam hadn’t seen Barnes in over a year, but that was mostly because the Air Force had offered him a contractor position training specialized search and rescue operatives. It was at least partly a “clearly we need to keep an eye on you” post, but hey, Sam got to fly without a permit and he got to help people out, which would’ve been enough even without the whole “lead aerial training exercises with Colonel Rhodes” part of the job.

As a side effect, though, he hasn’t seen anyone in the past eight months due to living in Buttfuck Nevada, Top Secret. The last time he saw Barnes they were still living in Steve’s temporary place in DC and Barnes wouldn’t come out of the bedroom whenever Sam came over.

Now he is, admittedly, wearing an outfit that looks like he stole it from a scarecrow, but apart from that he’s looking miles better. It is, Sam reflects, some kind of indicator of something that his miles better looks like this.

“So,” Sam says, as Bucky starts puttering around and clearing stuff off the table. The pot is still smoking faintly. “Started your own business, huh?”

Barnes’ brow crinkles. “Didn’t start it,” he says. “My granddad did.”

“Oh.”

“My niece owns it now. She ran the business after my sister died.”

“Your niece,” Sam states, and then remembers that due to Nazis and cryo bullshit Barnes is technically, biologically, about forty years younger than his siblings’ children. “Your niece. Right.”

“Yeah,” Barnes says, either oblivious or gracefully ignoring Sam’s fumble. “She did a whole. You know. Rebranding.”

“Oh. Cool.”

“That’s why the daisy.”

“Ah-huh.”

“We have a stall at the greenmarket,” Barnes says, a little desperately, which is where it hits Sam like a sack of bricks that the guy isn’t standoffish and kinda rude, he just has negative social skills and this whole favor is him trying to get Sam to like him. Sam looks down at the bottle in his hand, and the painstakingly handwritten CONGRATULATIONS on the thick paper label.

“That’s awesome, man,” Sam says sincerely. “You got business cards? Randy’s a chef, she’s always on the lookout for new ingredients.”

Barnes does have business cards. He leads Sam back into the house - this time they do have to take their shoes off in the back hall and wipe their hands on the handy clorox wipes lurking by the door - and out of a kitchen drawer Barnes extracts a rubber-banded stack of cards that Sam can tell at a glance were designed by Steve. They’ve got daisies on the back. Sam takes five. Bucky’s cheek tics, which Sam can somehow tell by gut instinct is an indication that he’s pleased.

Steve comes clattering back down with four empty gallon paint cans hanging from his forearms. He neatly swings them out of their way to avoid paint smudges, smacks a kiss on Bucky’s cheek, and transfers his beatific freak smile to Sam. “Will you stay for dinner?”

“Sam’s taking us to a restaurant,” Bucky says.

“Yeah,” Sam says, palms suddenly sweating. He mentally rifles through the twenty-six Yelp results and picks the one with the most colorful vegetables in the photo gallery. “Uh, the whatsitcalled. Greenline.”

“Oh, there,” Steve says. “We’ve been there. Bucky likes that one.” Sam’s ass cheeks unclench as Steve peeks into the bag on the table. “What’d you make, anyway?”

“Booze,” Barnes says.  

“Special occasion booze?” Steve says, squinting down at the bottle.

Sam looks between the two of them and thinks, fuck it, he hadn’t been planning to bring anyone anyway. “You guys wanna come to a wedding?”

-o-

The wedding’s in the Plaza hotel garden because Randy gets it free, and Sam talked management into letting them use the roof so Wilsons have been landing all morning. As a result he’s stuck playing air traffic control until practically the start of the ceremony - most people did okay but it took four of his cousins to get Great-Aunt Beulah’s wheelchair to land properly and she would’ve been hitting them all with her stick if she could - so he only catches a quick glimpse of Steve as they’re all heading for their seats. He doesn’t even recognize Barnes until the guy lurking next to Steve leans in to whisper to him.

Sam would be a liar if he said he wasn’t relieved, or impressed. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if Barnes showed up in his coverall, because half of Randy’s family is barefoot and covered in leaves, but Barnes is wearing a crisp dark suit and shiny shoes and not a speck of dirt anywhere, his hair tied back in a very neat twist. The scraggly half-beard has been shaved off and there’s even a curling green fern in his lapel. Steve’s in a suit to match, his hair plastered down and a matching fern pinned on.

The ceremony goes great. After the I Do’s Randy throws her arms around Sierra’s neck and they swing each other around, and then it’s on to the cake and the gifts and the dancing. Sierra cuts the cake and Randy cackles herself into a chair when hundreds of butterflies come streaming out; the Plaza marketing team sent videographers to record the celebration - probably what Randy traded for to get the space without event fees - and they look pretty happy about catching the moment.

As a direct family member Sam is nearly the first in line to give gifts. He hands over the illicit booze bottle and does not try to pronounce the standard elvish blessing. Randy squints at the label, lights up and immediately yanks the cork out with her teeth. “Schweet!” she says, a little muffled, and, after spitting the cork over her shoulder, takes a swig.

“Whoa,” Sierra says, as Randy’s dreads immediately shimmer and turn a deep, coruscating orange. Her eyebrows and eyelashes too, Sam can’t help but notice, and he shuts that thought down quick before it can continue onwards and arrive at any unfortunate conclusions about other potential body hair. There are some appreciative oooooos from the crowd.

“Man! Bugwort!” Randy chugs some more; Sam and Sierra watch her hair go ochre and then red, the color shifting like it’s underwater. Her skin is starting to sparkle more too. “Where’d you find this, Sam? Damn!”

“I’ll hook you up with the supplier,” Sam says. “He’s local. Small batch. Artisanal,” he adds, glancing around. “And he’s eating all your canapes.”

Randy and Sierra look around, spotting the dark figure industriously cleaning up the appetizer table. Sierra squints. “Is that Hozier?”

Randy lets out a teakettle noise. Her eyes have gone big. “Oh my god, that’s SPBB!”

“Espy what?” Sierra says, so Sam doesn’t have to.

“The SPBB guy! Sweet Peat Bog Blog! You haven’t seen his insta? I love his bog vlogs, they’re so cool!”

“Bog vlog?” Sierra says. “Are you sure that’s not Hozier?”

“Yeah! You don’t know? Buzzfeed did a whole piece on him!” Randy says, and that's how Sam finds out Barnes is a youtube sensation.

“There’s like, legit thousands of followers,” Randy says, once she’s tracked him down after the gift line and demanded an introduction to Bog Lord Barnes. Sam, who is not dumb enough to turn down winning the wedding, is leading them over. Randy brandishes her phone under his and Sierra’s noses. “Look! His stuff is amazing.”

"This video is literally twelve hours of a fern growing,” Sierra says.

"It has eighty thousand views,” Sam says.

“It’s soothing,” Randy says, tapping another video. " Today we're going to learn how to get rid of meat and bones and offal using only carnivorous plants and natural decomposition,” says Barnes’ voice, slightly tinny from the phone speaker.

“Corpse disposal,” Sam says faintly as they approach Barnes, who by now has spotted them coming and is clearly trying to chew and swallow as fast as humanly possible. “He liveblogs corpse disposal.”

“Hi, hello, I am such a fan,” Randy announces, forging ahead with Sierra towed behind. “We didn’t know you knew Sam! Thanks for coming to our wedding! And for the booze, it tasted awesome.”

Barnes, wearing the usual look of someone experiencing Randy for the first time, swallows what’s gotta be like half a pound of apple-bacon fritterlets and sticks his hand out to shake. Randy pumps it up and down like a gas lever. “I actually make bugwort stuff too! It’s so hard to get in the city! I bet you grow your own though. Do you want to see the cellars? We grow our own wood ear and porcini!”

“Yes,” Barnes says, recovering faster than most people. And, Sam thinks bemusedly, he probably actually would like to see the Plaza’s shroom garden. “Are we - allowed to…”

“It’s okay, I work here,” Randy assures him, using her grip to drag Barnes off like an extremely small but powerful tugboat in a wedding dress made of two hundred and forty-four hand-stitched banana leaves. “They let me touch all the stuff. And it’s my wedding day! Isn’t that exciting? We have so much to talk about.”

Steve comes up to Sam’s elbow, two glasses in hand. “Did I just miss the bride?” he says, looking at Randy’s progress, her hair disco-balling a clear trail through the crowd. “One of the brides?”

“Yeah, the elopement is already in progress,” Sierra tells him. “I got bad news for you about both our honeys.”

“Oh no,” Steve says, not sounding all that upset about it. “She was a fan, huh?”

“It came as a shock to me too.”

“So you knew,” Sam tells Steve, “that Barnes is liveblogging how he gets rid of dead bodies?”

“And getting hella fucking views for it,” Sierra murmurs.

“I don’t pry,” Steve says equably. “What Bucky does is his business. Besides, I’m sure it’s just fertilizer. We’ve got a butcher up the street and Buck buys a lot of their scraps for his compost.”

That definitely isn’t a no, officer, I can for sure vouch there are no neonazis decomposing in my yard and incidentally making those begonias look just lovely, Sam notes.

“I know his blogging is very popular,” Steve continues, momentarily disorienting Sam by saying blogging in his familiar Captain America Off Duty voice. “He’s got a lot of gardening tips. He takes very nice pictures of plants, too.”

Does he take very nice process pictures of neonazis decomposing in shrubbery also, or, Sam thinks, then says, “Wait a second. Are you telling me that the congratulatory booze I just got my sister-in-law may or may not have trace elements of neonazis in it?”

“Well, I’m not telling you,” Steve says evasively.

“Are you telling me?” Sierra says, sweetly.

“How about we ask Bucky when he gets back,” Steve says hastily. “He can clear up any concerns for you.”

“Yeah, like are we sure he’s not Hozier,” Sierra says.

“Maybe don’t ask him any identity questions,” Steve says diplomatically. “He’s still working through some stuff.”

“Can we ask if he grows magic weed?” Sam asks.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. Weed is fine. He grows a lot of medicinal stuff. Makes a lot of his own medication.”

“Right,” Sierra says, taking one of the glasses from Steve and downing it. “Come on. We've got two self-medicators in the shroom garden and no chaperone.”