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Inktober 2019

Chapter Text

At first, Ray thought he just needed his glasses. He couldn’t wear them with the cold and all, so things were generally blurry. He rubbed his eyes as best he could with the thick mitts he was wearing, and blinked the sticky tears away, but it didn’t get better. The illusion of three suns in the sky didn’t go away. 

“Fraser?” he called over his shoulder. 

“Yes, Ray?”

“Do you see that?” 

“See what?” 

“The sun,” Ray explained. “It’s all weird.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a—” But Ray didn’t hear what it was, because one of the dogs started barking, and the others whined and whimpered and woofed along with him. “Dogs,” was all Ray heard.

“What was that? What about the dogs?” he asked.

“No, not dogs, Ray, it’s—”

“Oh, just pull over, would you?” Ray said finally. He was getting frustrated and didn’t want to argue over something so stupid. 

There wasn’t any need to pull over — not like there was a ton of traffic on this patch of ice and snow — but Fraser led the team to one side anyway and brought them to a gentle stop. 

Ray climbed out of the sled and stretched. Fraser stepped off the runners and did the same. 

“That, Fraser,” Ray said, pointing at the triple sun. “That was what I trying to ask you about.”

“Yes, the sundog,” said Fraser. 

“Sun… dog?” Ray repeated. So he hadn’t been hearing things after all. “What’s it mean?”

“It’s an optical phenomenon whereby ice crystals in the air act as prisms, refracting the light horizontally. It creates the illusion of two suns, one on either side of the 22-degree halo—” 

“The what?”

“The ring around the sun,” Fraser explained. 

“You couldn’t have just said that?” said Ray, but he was teasing, and from Fraser’s smile, he knew it, too. 

“If you look closely, you can see the arc of the halo as well,” Fraser added.

Ray squinted. The lines were faint, but they were there. “That’s really cool,” he had to admit. “But what’s it mean?” he asked again.    

Fraser stared, then blinked and started over. “Well, it means that the ice crystals in the air are shaped and arranged in such a way that—”

“No, not the science.” Ray wrestled for a second when how to express it. “It’s like, my dad used to say, red sky at night, it’s a delight, red sky in morning, something something warning.”

“Sailor take warning,” Fraser corrected.

“Right, that. So, this sundog thing, is there a saying with that? Why’s it called a sundog, anyway? Seems like a weird name.”

“It is a weird name,” Fraser confirmed, “and its origins are something of a mystery.”

“Even to you?” Ray asked incredulously.

“Even to me.” Fraser paused, thinking. “Personally, I believe it can traced to early peoples in the North using dog sleds as a means of transportation. You’ll notice that the mock suns and the real sun are perfectly aligned, one behind the other, like the dogs in the harness. The sun is just one of many, identical to his fellows.”

Behind them, Dief — the least deaf wolf that Ray had ever met — whined and warbled in protest. 

“Maybe,” Fraser replied absently.

“Okay, so it doesn’t mean there’s a storm coming,” Ray concluded, bringing them back to the point. 

Fraser glanced over at him, startled. “Of course not. If there were a storm coming, the signs would be very different, Ray.”

“Good,” Ray said, not without some relief. “That’s what I like to hear.” He looked again at the sun and its neighbours, and smiled. “It is pretty cool how we’re the only people to around to see this.”

“Right now,” Fraser added. “The Northern peoples have been witness to a myriad of weather phenomena, living in the Arctic Circle. In fact—”

“Well, I’m the only Chicago cop around to see it,” Ray interrupted. 

“That’s true enough,” Fraser conceded, with a slight laugh. “Shall we go on? It’d be nice to reach somewhere a little more sheltered before we camp for the night.”

“Sure,” said Ray, and they moved together — in one unbreaking line — back to the quest. 

Chapter Text

“Zombies?” Sam shouted as he landed on the grass to Bucky’s left. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Bucky confirmed. He reloaded and took out another creature on the far side of the stadium, putting a stop to its mindless shuffle towards them. The others around it didn’t even react.

“They’re actually not zombies,” Shuri piped up in Bucky’s ear. Sam, obviously patched in, frowned and held a finger to his ear, listening. “To say they are would imply that these are human beings who died and have been brought back to life, when in fact these creatures aren’t human at all. For what I can tell, they’re creatures of an unknown origin trying to invade and infect our planet.”

“Great, so, alien zombies,” Sam muttered. He took out his weapons and checked their ammunition. “What’s the plan?”

“Our brawlers are out,” Bucky reported. “We don’t know what these things are capable of up close, and we don’t want to find out either.” He paused to line up his next shot and fired, discharging the spent round in a move that was pure muscle memory. “I want you up high, shooting any on the perimeter looking to get out, and distracting as many as you can into looking up. Give me and Barton some clean shots.”

As if on cue, an arrow thunked into a zombie only 20 feet away. It fell flat on its face and didn’t stir again. 

“Okay, you got it,” Sam said, and he fired up his thrusters again.

Bucky was suspicious. Not once had Sam taken orders that easily; usually there was at least a little sass. Was the magic gone so soon?

Sure enough— “You know, Barnes, when you said to meet you at Yankee Stadium, I thought maybe you had something fun in mind.”

Bucky aimed, shot, reloaded, and grinned. “What’s more fun than this? It’s quality time together.”

Sam’s jet pack roared in his ears as he took off, but Bucky heard him say, “Yeah, yeah, I love you, too.” 

Chapter Text

But fishing, Ray heard while he threaded bait onto his hook. Fishing is ridiculous!

“You’re not wrong,” Ray muttered with a slight smile. “Mort, you weird old bastard, you are not wrong.”

Behind him, he could hear Fraser sawing at the ice. Ray refused to look. The sight freaked him out too much, so he baited Fraser’s hook, too, while he was waiting — though for Fraser’s all-clear or for the sound of his splashing into the frigid water and dying, Ray wasn’t sure. Both seemed equally possible at this point. He tried not to think about it too much. 

Finally, he heard a small splash — much too quiet to be Fraser or Dief, he assured himself — and Fraser said Aha in a triumphant kind of way. 

“You get it?” Ray asked without looking.

“You bet,” Fraser answered him. “We’re ready to go.”

Ray turned, careful not to slip on the ice, and grinned. He’d been waiting for this moment all day. 

“Nice hole,” he said finally.

Fraser’s reaction was well worth Ray’s patience. His face — already pink from the cold and wind — went even redder, and he coughed. He didn’t run away or start talking about Inuit legends the way he might have in the old days. 

Instead, he looked down at the ice and said, “Nice rod.”

Ray barked out a surprised laugh, while Dief woofed in approval and Fraser looked pleased as punch. 

Ray shook his head, but handed Fraser his pole. “Fishing is ridiculous.”

Fraser lowered his line into the grey water that was gently lapping at the edges of the hole he’d carved. “That may be true,” he admitted, “but there’s no one I’d rather be ridiculous with, Ray.”

Ray felt his own cheeks burning as he dropped his line beside Fraser’s. And I you, he thought, but he didn’t say it. He didn’t really need to.

Chapter Text

“You worry too much,” Ray had told him before he left the cabin ninety minutes ago.

“I worry a perfectly normal amount,” Ben had replied. His voice was hoarse with his cold, but he coughed and carried on. “Given the climate, and your experience—” 

“You think you haven’t taught me enough by now to make sure I don’t freeze my ass off?” Ray had asked.

“It’s not that, Ray,” Ben had tried to explain. His head was pounding with nasal congestion, and it was hard to think. “I don’t like you going out alone is all,” he said finally.

“I won’t be alone,” Ray reassured him. “I’ll have Dief.”

Ben had bit his tongue to keep himself from saying the first words that came to mind — that Dief was an old wolf now, that he wouldn’t be able to protect Ray if something came after them. And now it had been almost two hours. Something must have happened. 

Abruptly the cabin door opened, and, like Ben’s thoughts had summoned him, Diefenbaker bounded through the door with a blast of wind and a few flecks of snow. Behind him was Ray, cheeks pink from the cold and glasses completely fogged over. 

Ben opened the cupboard and took out their biggest roasting pan — first, to pretend that he hadn’t been standing in the kitchen waiting for the door to open, and second, because Ray had three rabbits slung over his shoulder, already dressed and ready to cook. 

“Honey, I’m home,” Ray called. “Told you I wouldn’t freeze to death.”

“I appreciate that, Ray,” said Ben. He reached for the oven, but sneezed three times in quick succession before he could touch the knob.

Ray’s cold hand landed on his. Ben felt a chill run through him that had nothing to do with his illness. 

“Sit down,” Ray said. “Take it easy, I got this.”

Ben was too tired to protest, and took a seat at the kitchen table. Ray went to the stove and arranged the rabbits in the pan, adding a pinch of salt and pepper before putting them into the oven. 

“There,” he announced, coming over to the table. “Dinner is on the way.”

He bent down for a kiss, but Ben pulled back. “You’ll get sick,” he warned. 

“I’ll take my chances,” he said, and kissed him. His lips were icy, but he warmed up quick. 

Ben had to pull back again when Ray tried to go deeper, because he couldn’t breathe through his nose enough to kiss Ray the way he wanted to.

“Thank you for not freezing to death,” Ben told him when they parted.

“You’re welcome,” Ray answered, polite and smug. 

Chapter Text

Vecchio was an ass — Ray had suspected as much while he was using his name — but he called one thing right: Ray did get most of his clothes from the thrift store. It just made sense. In his job, he went through a lot of shirts, what with the coffee and the blowback and the blood on the really bad days, so why should he spend money on fancy things?

Stella, of course, never agreed. She was always dragging him out to the high-end stores where you weren’t shopping, you were undergoing a retail experience, and asked him to try on things that never fit right. Ray wore them of course, because he was Stella’s plus-one to a lot of black tie events, and because he loved her. 

It was crazy, but he half-expected Fraser to turn into Stella and adopt her attitude on his clothing once they got themselves sorted out. But Fraser was still Fraser, fucking Ray notwithstanding, and Fraser was a practical guy, too. He lit up when Ray suggested they hit the Goodwill before leaving Chicago for good. 

“Good thinking, Ray,” he said. “Clothing is best ordered by mail in the north, and with the terrain, well, I’m sure you can imagine that delivery times are somewhat hard to predict.”

“Cool,” Ray said, trying not to bask too obviously in Fraser’s praise. It was just that he knew how useless he was up there; he’d learned as much when they went — or tried to go — on that adventure to find Franklin’s hand. It had ended after only a couple of weeks, when Ray realized that the adventure he’d been looking for had been staring at him with those pretty grey Mountie eyes this whole time.

So they went to Goodwill and stocked up on the basics: jeans, pants, t-shirts and flannel for layering. Ray was a thrift store pro — he could have been in and out in ten minutes, but Fraser liked to browse. Ray caught up with him after a minute in the women’s section, flicking through the largest dresses on the rack. And, hey, there was a button Ray didn’t know he had, let alone one that could be pushed. Fraser’s cheeks turned pink when he realized Ray was there, but Ray just smiled and encouraged him, and wandered over to the bookshelves — he had a couple of long flights coming up, after all. 

And that’s when he saw it. Red spine, surprisingly well-kept with barely a crack. White letters that spelled out the title: How To Build A Log Cabin. He pulled it out from the shelf. The title was written in those bubble-edged letters that screamed 70s, but no pages were torn or missing. He thumbed through the black and white photographs, diagrams, and illustrations, thinking. 

He didn’t know much about building houses, but it looked pretty thorough, and didn’t Fraser say something about a cabin that burned down a few years ago? Maybe they could rebuild it next summer instead of trying to find the hand of Franklin again. They could rent a little place in town for the winter, Ray could adjust to feeling like his eyes were freezing shut every five minutes, and they could get started in the spring. He had to admit, it sounded like a pretty good plan. 

So he took the book, and he set it on top of his clothes in their cart. Then he went back to the shelves and eyed the romance. They were three for a dollar, after all, so it only made sense. 

A lot of things made sense these days.    

Chapter Text

Most people probably wouldn’t notice, but Sam wasn’t most people. 

There was a big, husky guy running behind and to the right of him the morning he met Cap. After Cap left him in the dust for the third time, Sam rounded the corner of the Reflecting Pool and saw the big guy doing a quad stretch. He looked like any other morning jogger — sweaty and out of breath, red-faced from the slight chill in the spring morning air. 

Sam knew right away that the guy wasn’t there for him. His eyes slid over Sam like he was invisible. Secret Service, Sam thought, not slowing his pace. Either Secret Service or private security for one of the higher-ranked officials. This was DC, after all. 

He only put it together when Cap appeared again and this time stuck around long enough to actually talk to him. The husky man — he must have been a linebacker in high school with that build — jogged by only seconds after Cap climbed into the car with the red-haired woman and drove away. For a split-second, Sam saw something in the big guy’s face: Sam was sure that he was pissed. 

Of course, when two superheroes showed up on his doorstop a week later and told him the entire government was trying to kill them, Sam began to understand why.

Chapter Text

When he came home from work, Sam generally expected a few things: a messy kitchen from Zoe’s lunch and snacks; the equivalent of one full toybox dumped on the floor; and Steve, tired but happy, outside with Zoe to greet Sam at the door. 

Today, the porch was vacant, and the front door locked. Frowning, Sam opened it and stepped inside. The kitchen was a mess, like usual, and a trail of toys littered the floor, but there was no Steve and no Zoe in sight. 

“Hello?” Sam called. 

“In here,” came Steve’s voice from down the hall. Sam followed it to the bathroom, and his eyes went wide. 

The first thing Sam noticed was the hairband. It was blue and sparkly and holding Steve’s hair back from his eyes, which were closed. Then Sam took in the rest of the scene — Zoe on her little stool, the tip of her tongue poking out of her mouth as she concentrated, the makeup palette in between her tiny fingers, and the ball gown that was stretched around Steve’s body. 

“What’s going on here?” Sam asked, though by now it was pretty obvious that he’d interrupted a game of dress-up.

“Papa!” Zoe cried. Steve’s eyes snapped open and he reached out to steady her when she hopped down from the stool, which wobbled and fell over behind her.

“Hi, sweetheart,” said Sam, accepting the hug that she offered. 

“We’re practising for Halloween,” Zoe announced. “Do you like my dress?”

It was blue, too, but darker than Steve’s dress. It had a pointed hood that hung halfway down Zoe’s back, and a bright pink bow under her chin. There was something familiar about the look, but Sam couldn’t place it. 

“It’s so pretty,” Sam told her.

“Thank you,” said Zoe. “And Daddy’s?”

“Uh,” said Sam, glancing over. He’d never seen Steve in drag, but it was a surprisingly good look. “Yeah, it’s nice,” he said honestly.

“Say thank you, Daddy,” Zoe reminded Steve when he didn’t right away.

“Thank you,” Steve said dutifully. His cheeks were pink with clumsily applied rouge, but some of his blush was natural. 

“So what are we all dressed up for?” Sam asked finally. “Did we get invited to a ball?”

“Daddy’s Cinderella,” Zoe answered, “and I’m his en-shan— inch— what’s the word?”

“Enchanted,” Steve supplied. 

“Right. I’m his enchanted fairy godmother.”

“You are?” Sam asked, with exaggerated surprise. That was why her dress looked familiar.  “Wow, that’s pretty cool, Zoe-Bear.”

“I know,” Zoe said smugly. “He’s gonna get glass slippers and everything.”

“He is?” Sam eyed Steve doubtfully — because what manufacturer would make glass slippers in a men’s 12? — and Steve shrugged. 

“I know what you say about making promises,” he said to Sam in his grown-up voice, “but I really can buy them online. Assuming you’re on board.”

“On board?” Sam repeated. “With what?”

But Zoe already had a crown in her hands. She held it up; Sam saw what she was going for and crouched down so she could place it on his head.

“Prince Charming?” Steve offered.

Sam stood up straight and grinned at himself in the mirror. “I love Halloween,” he said.

Chapter Text

On October 8, Mrs. Wiltshire died. It was a shock to the community; they’d seen her at church only two days before, her frail but energetic form a familiar sight at Sunday worship. Benton had seen her, too, had laughed with her about the way that M. DeGuerre protected his potato salad recipe. 

Benton was first on the scene when Mrs. Wiltshire’s daughter called that evening because her mother was unresponsive. Benton radioed for medical personnel immediately, but he could tell there was no hope — Mrs. Wiltshire had been sitting in her favourite chair with Annabelle, her beloved Yorkie, at her feet, dead for at least an hour. 

“It was a good death,” everyone said at the memorial service a week later, which got Benton thinking about all the not-good deaths he’d seen — starting, of course, with his father. Nobody had ever said his father had had a good death. What an oxymoron. What on earth was a good death, anyway?

Benton found himself getting angry as the funeral went on the way that small-town funerals for elderly people do: more like a social than a wake, with homemade squares and laughter ringing through the church hall. Not even the children were crying, and why should they? It was a good death. 

He noticed Ray watching him a few times throughout the afternoon, and he wondered how much of his attitude was showing on his face, and if anyone else could see it. Probably not. Like him, Ray had had years of experience with death — plus the added bonus of being able to see right through Benton’s uniform to the man underneath. 

So it wasn’t a surprise when Ray kissed him the second they got through the door of their cabin. Ray was a physical person — always more prone to speak with his body than his words — and Benton found himself responding in kind. He kissed back even harder, and when Ray touched him, Benton pulled his hands away, walked him backwards into the nearest wall and pinned him. 

“That’s it,” Ray murmured, while Benton licked a stripe down his throat. “Let me have it.”

Benton did.

After, he asked Ray what had gotten into him. 

Ray’s mouth twisted playfully. “Other than you, you mean?” 

Benton chuckled. Ray went on. “You think I can’t tell when you’re angry? Everybody talking about how good that lady had it, meanwhile you’re the one who had to find her, take her body to the morgue, lead the mandatory investigation. Not to mention, this lady died, and everybody’s happy — you think I don’t know the way that pisses you off, with all you’ve seen?”

“It’s not their fault,” Benton said, feeling compelled to defend the inhabitants of his community. “They don’t know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ray sighed. He rubbed Ben’s arm and looked him in the eye. “I know.”

And he did. Twenty years on the force in Chicago, Ray knew death better than anyone.

“So you don’t have to fake it with me,” Ray continued. “You get mad, you feel a thing, you tell me. You take it out on me. That’s what I’m here for. That’s why I’m your partner.”

“All right, Ray,” Benton said softly. He pulled Ray into his arms and held on tight. “All right.”

“Good,” said Ray. “That’s good.”

It was maybe not a good death, but a good life. Benton knew which he preferred.  

Chapter Text

With all the noise in the gym, Sam wasn’t sure what he just heard. He switched his phone to the other ear. 

“I’m sorry, why do I have to pick Devon up early today?” he asked the vice-principal. 

“Well, Mr. Wilson, Devon attempted to use the prom streamers to swing from the auditorium ceiling this afternoon, which I’m sure you’ll agree is quite dangerous.”

You're damn right it is, Sam thought, but he didn’t say that. “Quite dangerous,” he repeated blandly. “Was anybody hurt?”

“Well, no, but that’s—“ 

“Not the point,” Sam finished for her. “Yeah, you’re right, I’ll— I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wilson,” the vice-principal said smoothly. “See you soon.”

Sam hung up the phone and addressed the crowd of people who were waiting for him to finish. “We’re taking lunch early,” he announced. “Family emergency of sorts.”

“Is everything okay?” Kamala asked. 

“Oh, yeah, just my son doing something dumb and risky again.” 

Wonder where he got that from,  he added silently, thinking of how he caught Steve about to knock down a hornet’s nest in the backyard with their shield last week.

The All-New Avengers — like all teenagers — were happy with the news of an early lunch. They began to file out of the room while Sam took off his protective training gear.

“See you in a bit, Cap,” said Miles on the way by. 

“Yep,” Sam agreed, but then he was struck by a sudden thought. “Hey, Miles,” he called after him..

Miles turned back. “Yeah?”

“Can I ask you to do me a favor instead of training with the group this afternoon?”

“Sure,” said Miles, looking surprised. “What is it?”

Sam quickly explained the idea that had just occurred to him. Miles said he thought it sounded feasible — maybe even fun. Sam grinned and thanked him, then hustled to the locker room to change into his street clothes. Devon was waiting for him, after all. 

And if he was going to try and swing from the ceiling, he’d at least know how to do it safely. 

 

Chapter Text

“What do you suppose she’s looking at?” Willow asked.

Tara glanced up from her book and smiled. Willow was watching Miss Kitty Fantastico stare at the pattern of dust motes swirling in a patch of sunlight. 

“I don’t know,” Tara answered honestly. As much as she loved cats — and it was a lot — she didn’t know enough to guess at what MKF’s eyes could detect in the dust.

“Do you think she’s bored?” Willow asked.

“I think you’re bored,” Tara said.

Willow didn’t deny it. Her cheeks went pink, but she closed her textbook, giving up all pretext of studying. Tara followed suit, and slid out of the desk chair to join Willow on the bed. 

Willow scooched over to make room, but it wasn’t necessary — for one, the dorm bed was barely big enough to scooch at all, and, secondly, Tara wanted to be close. She lowered herself to her belly, resting on her elbows the same as Willow, and interlaced their fingers. 

MKF had glanced over at her movement, but she went quickly back to her patch of sun, seeming even more fascinated than before. 

“Maybe it’s magic,” Willow said.

“Maybe what’s magic?”

“What she’s looking at,” Willow explained. “It swirls around this world all the time, but we can’t see it. Animals are more sensitive, though, so maybe she can detect it.”

“Like a dog whistle,” Tara said matter-of-factly. “But for eyes.”

“Exactly,” said Willow with a nod. Tara loved how she always treated her jokes with the utmost sincerity. She just had to lean in and kiss Willow for it.

She could sense Willow’s magic when they kissed — she could sense it before that, even. Just being close to her was enough to Tara’s skin hum, even when they were strangers in the so-called Wicca group on campus. And now — Tara wanted nothing more than to soak Willow in, to breathe her into each one of her pores.

Willow moaned softly when Tara deepened the kiss, pushing herself up to get a better angle. Willow’s hand was rubbing at Tara’s lower back, at that sensitive place just under the hem of her shirt. Tingles ran up her spine at the contact, and Tara felt a warm wave of arousal lick at the edge of her sensation. It was good — it was always so good with Willow — and they had plenty of time.

But no sooner had they found what Tara thought was a perfect rhythm when Willow pulled back. Tara chased her like a moth to a flame, but Willow’s mouth eluded her. Her eyes were darting around the room, her expression confused.

“What’s wrong?” Tara asked.

“Do you hear that?” Willow answered in a whisper.

Tara listened, and sure enough she did. It was an irregular ch-ch-ch sound, interspersed with tiny, barely audible squeaks.

“Do you think it’s a mouse?” Willow whispered. 

Tara huffed out a small laugh. “No, it’s our mouse hunter,” she said, pointing.

Miss Kitty Fantastico had her eyes locked on something invisible, and she was chittering, getting ready to pounce.

“Oh,” said Willow with palpable relief. Tara spared a thought for all the times in Willow’s life that an unknown sound had turned into death and mayhem, and rubbed her back. 

“Is there a bug?” Willow asked after a moment, trying to see MKF’s target.

“I don’t think so,” Tara replied. Still watching the cat, she let her hand slide down Willow’s back to her cute little bum, all wrapped up today in tight denim. Tara gripped it firmly the way she knew Willow liked, and Willow let out a soft, pleased sigh.

MKF chittered again. “Look,” said Tara.

Willow opened her eyes and watched while Tara touched her again. MKF’s pupils grew large, her hindquarters wiggled, and she pounced on nothing.

“Oh,” Willow laughed. “So it is magic.”

“Definitely magic,” Tara said, and she pulled Willow close for a long, enchanted kiss. 

Chapter Text

Sam had to admit: when Steve suggested they rent a cabin up North for an old-fashioned Christmas, he was a little worried. He had visions of hunting their own turkey dinner and nothing but a wood stove for heat. And, while Sam had no problem with Steve rocking the lumberjack look, he wasn’t too keen on long johns and no running water. But he didn’t voice these concerns; Steve said he was taking care of it, and Sam tried to leave it at that, trusting that the Man with A Plan wasn’t going to leave them hanging. 

Still, when they walked into a beautiful cottage with picture windows that looked out on a frozen lake, a large fireplace against one wall, and a Jacuzzi in the corner, Sam’s jaw just about hit the floor. 

“So, what do you think?” Steve asked.

“Well,” Sam managed. “Unless my knowledge of history is really, really, bad,” he said, “you didn’t have any Christmases like this in the 30s.”

Steve gave him a funny look. “What do you mean?”

Sam felt his cheeks heat. “No, I just meant — you said old-fashioned, and I thought—”

“Oh.”’ Steve laughed and stepped into Sam’s space. “No. Not old-fashioned as in the ghosts of Christmas past. Old-fashioned like we turn off our phones, drink hot chocolate with brandy, and make out in the hot tub.”

“Oh,” Sam echoed. Steve leaned closer and started running his hands up his sides. Sam let himself be drawn in. “Now that, I can get behind,” he said. 

“I certainly hope so,” Steve murmured against his lips. 

Just as Sam closed his eyes to kiss him, he saw the first flakes of snow start to fall outside.

Chapter Text

Personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon.


Angel wakes up, terrified and breathless in a room — a bed — that it takes him a moment to realize is his. The walls are purple, his sheets damp with sweat. Outside, a siren wails, while two men argue on the sidewalk. And inside, a few floors down, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, Lorne, and Cordy are laughing. 

It’s day. He can smell the sun on the other side of the drawn shades. For one crazy moment, he wants to get out of bed and open them — the windows are special glass, so the sun won’t hurt him. It’s just like being in Pylea. The things that science can do now, it’s incredible. He’ll have to ask Fred how exactly that—

But he can’t. Fred’s dead. She died when— when did she die?

No, he thinks a moment later. That’s ridiculous. Fred’s not dead, he can literally hear her right now, downstairs chatting with Gunn. Why did he think that she was dead?

And Connor — Angel sits up sharply, realizes the crib is empty. Then he hears the baby giggle, on the same floor as the others, and relaxes. Cordy must have taken him downstairs. Funny that Angel didn’t wake up, or hear them. How long has he been asleep?

He stumbles to his feet and stretches. He can’t remember going to bed last night, or what he was dreaming about, except that it was dark and frightening and somehow empty, like he’d dreamt that the world was wrong somehow, like something had come undone, and he was left alone. 

And, he thinks with a scowl, Spike was there for some reason. 

A quiet knock sounds on the door. Angel sniffs. It’s Cordelia, of course. “Come in,” he calls. 

She opens the door. “Hey, big guy,” she greets him. “Sleeping late, huh?”

“Guess so,” Angel admits. He still feels groggy, but his head is clearing slowly. “Everything okay?”

“Peachy,” says Cordelia. “Just waiting on you, we got a new case this morning.”

“Okay,” Angel replies. The familiarity of his work knocks the last of the fogginess away. “I’ll be right down.”

“Great,” says Cordy, and she gives him a flash of that brilliant smile before she shuts the door. 

Right, Angel thinks, going to his closet for clean clothes. This feels right. 


Cordelia walks to the elevator. The doors open without her having to press the button. The woman she’s begun to think of her fairy godmother — her veiny, scary fairy godmother — is waiting, right where Cordy left her. 

“Well?” rasps the vengeance demon. “Is it everything you wanted?”

“It’s perfect,” Cordelia replies honestly. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” says the demon.

Chapter Text

“Babe, you have got to stop going to so many fires,” Iris said, when her husband finally stopped coughing. 

“I’m all right,” Barry replied hoarsely. “Super-fast healing lungs, remember?”

Iris wasn’t moved. “Even if they do heal quick, I can’t imagine getting a bunch of ash into your throat is a good thing,” she said. “Also, who did you even save tonight?”

Barry’s cheeks went pink; Iris already knew the answer — Cicso had told her — but she wasn’t going to let Barry off the hook that easily. 

“Mr. Bubbles and Sir Goldsworth,” Barry muttered.

“Oh, really?” said Iris. “And who are these esteemed gentlemen?”

“They’re, uh, you know... goldfish,” Barry said quickly. 

“Uh huh,” Iris answered skeptically. She shook her head. “You know you can let the fire department handle a few fires, right? That’s kind of their job.”

“I know,” Barry sighed. He coughed just once more before he went on. “And I was going to. I just stopped by to make sure everything was under control, and it was. The alarm went off in plenty of time, the residents were all safe outside — even their dogs and cats.”

“But?” Iris prompted.

“But this kid was on the curb, crying, and when she saw me, she asked, and—” 

“And you couldn’t say no, “ Iris finished for him when he started to cough again. She rubbed Barry’s back and sighed. “Oh, Barry,” she said. “It’s good to know that I’ll have to be the bad guy with our kids.”

“Not necessarily,” Barry managed. “I can be stern.” 

Iris couldn’t help it — she laughed out loud. “Tell that to Sir Goldsworth,” she said. 

Chapter Text

Every kid knew the house at the end of the block was haunted. The windows were dark and dirty, with dusty curtains of an uncertain color covering the inside of the glass. One of the upper windows had been smashed years ago, and the front porch was caved in, the steps now swallowed by long-overgrown grass.

Sarah knew she’d get in trouble if she got caught going in there, and she knew she’d get in even more trouble for bringing her little brother with her, especially since Mom and Dad were both working and she was supposed to be babysitting. But Valerie had dared her in front of everyone — including Terry, whom she’d had a crush on since third grade — to go into the haunted house through the broken back door and bring something to school tomorrow to prove it. 

Everyone in the neighborhood was a lookout when things like this went down. The Peterson twins jumped rope on the sidewalk out front, but kept an eye on passing cars. Julia and Bobby wandered around the front yard picking dandelions, but they would whistle if a grown-up came out of the house next door. And James, who lived behind the haunted house and constantly told stories about ghosts in the back windows, was stationed in his treehouse just in case someone managed to sneak by the other sentries. 

So here Sarah was at the back of the rundown house. She had to do it, and she had to do it now, before she got caught.

“Just five minutes,” she told herself again. “Get in, find something, get out. I can do that.”

“I can do that,” Sam repeated at her side. 

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Imitation is a form of flattery, you know,” she told him. 

“Imitation is a form of a flattery,” Sam parroted back, but before Sarah could tell him to knock it off, he bounded up the steps and disappeared into the dark, musty house.

“Sam!” Sarah exclaimed, annoyed. She followed him at once.

The haunted house was filled with abandoned junk and animal mess. She stepped into the kitchen to find the floor was buried under old newspapers. Cracked and filthy dishes littered the countertops. The living room wasn’t much better. Animals — probably raccoons — had nested in the dust-coated sofa, and there was lint and bits of fluff all over the floor. 

Sarah shivered. It was eerily quiet, the faint sounds of her friends outside seeming miles away. “Sam?” she called, looking around for him. She caught sight of an old rocking horse tucked in one corner of the living room. Was it moving? “Sam!”

“Over here,” said Sam from around the corner. 

Sarah followed his voice to find him at the foot of the stairs. The wide bannister must have been beautiful in its day, but now the varnish was peeling, the wood chipped like it’d been gnawed. 

“I want to know what’s up there,” Sam said. 

“No, I don’t think—” Sarah began, but Sam was already climbing. Sarah blew out a sigh and followed, because if a ghost killed her little brother, she’d have a lot of explaining to do. 

Sam went through the first door off the main hall. “Oh, cool,” he said, his voice echoing around the empty space. “Check this out!”

Sarah entered the small room after him and found something terrifying: a doll in the centre of the warped wood floor with a black circle painted around it. At the doll’s feet was a dark stain that looked suspiciously like blood. 

Sarah felt like there was ice in her veins. “We have to get out of here,” she said.

“But you still have to get the thing,” Sam protested, getting closer to the doll. 

“What thing?” Sarah asked. She grabbed the back of Sam’s shirt to stop him from getting closer to the doll and the blood. “No, don’t touch that.”

“Why not?” asked Sam, trying to break free. 

“Because I said so,” Sarah told him. She was too freaked out to come up with something better. 

Luckily, with Sarah’s oldest sibling clout, it worked. “Okay, fine,” Sam huffed. “But I’m gonna keep looking. Bet you I’ll find something cooler than you.”

“No you won’t,” Sarah said automatically, even as she followed him down the hall.

The next room was a bathroom, and it was so gross that even Sam didn’t go near it, but after that they found a big bedroom, with a stained mattress leaning against one wall and a dilapidated dresser with a flowery book on top. As soon as Sarah saw that, she knew what it was — a photo album as big and as old as her grandmother’s. That would be the perfect thing to complete her dare. 

Unfortunately, she couldn’t get to it. The floor was rotted. “Damn,” she said under her breath. 

“Swear jar,” Sam announced gleefully. “Give me a quarter now and I won’t tell Dad.”

Sarah groaned, but she dug a quarter out her pocket anyway, bidding farewell to the gumballs she was going to get on Saturday. “This is a dumb arrangement,” she grumbled. 

“You just say that cause you swear a lot,” Sam said. 

“Yeah, well, wait till you’re thirteen, you’ll catch up.”

“Nuh uh.”

Uh huh, Sarah stopped herself from saying. It was pointless and immature and a waste of time that they didn’t have. 

“Come on,” she said, turning back towards the stairs. “Let’s just get something from the kitchen.”

“But this is better,” Sam said. “I bet there’s family pictures in front of the house like Mom makes us do. You can prove it’s from here.”

Sarah paused. She had to admit that was a good point. 

“I’ll go,” said Sam, taking a step forward. 

Sarah stopped him with her hand on his shirt again. “It’s my dare, I’ll go.”

“I’m smaller,” Sam pointed out. 

“Well, I’m older,” said Sarah, playing the trump card. 

“Fine,” Sam huffed, and he moved back. 

Sarah stepped carefully toward the rotted patch of floor, testing each spot with her foot before trusting it with her weight. It creaked ominously, but it held. She edged around the gap in the floor and made it to the dresser. 

She grabbed the photo album and retraced her steps. She was so close to having achieved her goal that she started to speed up — and this proved to be a mistake. She was only two feet from Sam when the floor gave a loud crack and gave way. 

Sarah screamed, the photo album went flying, but she was lucky — her foot fell onto a support beam. Just an inch over and she’d be on the first floor, probably with a broken neck. 

“Sarah!” Sam yelled. 

He moved forward, but Sarah yelled, “Stop!” The floor was cracking again, he’d fall. 

“Go,” she said. “Get help. I can’t move without breaking it more.”

Sam nodded once and turned away, but then he came back. 

“What are you doing?” Sarah demanded. “Go!”

But Sam didn’t listen. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled forward until he was able to grab Sarah’ arms. 

The floor cracked again. Sarah yelped, but Sam didn’t flinch. He started pulling, just enough to take some of her weight, so she could find her footing. She pushed up against the beam, crawling up on her knees on the edge of the hole. The floorboards creaked and shivered, but they held. 

“I got you,” said Sam, crawling backwards as Sarah moved forward. “Come on, let’s go slow.”

“Okay,” Sarah whimpered, holding onto him for dear life. 

Another few careful movements, and Sarah was free. She and Sam collapsed in the hall, and Sarah started to cry. 

“It’s okay,” Sam said, patting her arm. “It’s okay, Sarah.”

Sarah nodded and gave her brother a tight hug. “Let’s never do that again,” she said shakily.

“Yeah,” Sam laughed — quiet and almost giddy. 

Sarah pulled back, and that was when she noticed the blood on Sam’s knee. 

“You’re hurt, she said. 

Sam looked down, and his face went a little grey. “It was a wire,” he said. “Is it bad?”

Sarah leaned in close for a better look and grimaced. “It’s pretty bad. Come on.”

She carried Sam out of the house and straight home. Her friends swarmed her at the door, asking questions that Sarah didn’t answer. Then one of them saw the blood and backed off.  

That very night the whispers started. While Sam got three stitches and a tetanus shot, and Sarah got grounded for six weeks, the whole school buzzed with the story: Sarah Wilson saved her little brother from a ghost. 

And Sam, bless him, never once corrected them.

Chapter Text

“If you’re a time traveler, you’re never late,” Ava announced when Sara finally answered the comm. “It’s that was Rip always used to say?”

“Ava, hi,” said Sara. He eyes darted between the screen and what Ava could only assume was the windshield of the WaveRider. “I know, I’m late, but I promise I have a good reason.”

Ava clocked Sara’s frantic voice, the sweat on her brow, and Ray in the background with his arm in a sling. “What’s wrong?” Ava asked at once. “Do you need back-up? I can—”

“No,” Sara practically yelled. “No,” she repeated a little more calmly. “We’re fine, I’ve just got one more tiny aberration to fix, and then I’ll be there.”

Ava nodded, but Sara must have sensed her doubt, because she added, “I’m not gonna stand you up on your birthday, Ava, I promise.”

“Well, it’s a phony birthday anyway,” Ava pointed out. “It won’t make a difference if we celebrate tomorrow.”

“No, Ava, don’t say that,” Sara told her, even as the WaveRider seemed to shudder with an explosion. “I swear, I’ll be there soon, okay?”

“Okay,” Ava repeated, still hesitating. “You’re sure you’re all right?”

“Right as rain, babe,” said Sara, with a quick glance at the comm. “See you soon.”

Sara disconnected before Ava could reply. She was left staring at dark, black screen. She watched her reflection frown for a moment, then activated the computer system and ran a check for time aberrations. 

But before the search could be completed, Gary appeared on her screen — at an uncomfortably close angle.

“Gary,” she said, averting her eyes from his nose hairs. “What is it?”

“Oh, hi Director Sharpe,” said Gary brightly. He still hadn’t adjusted the camera. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, Gary,” Ava answered impatiently. “You called me, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Gary scratched his head. 

Ava waited a beat, and finally asked, “What do you want, Gary?”

“Oh. Uh, just to talk. You know, we never talk anymore.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “Goodbye, Gary,” she said, moving her hand towards the disconnect button. 

“Wait!” Gary exclaimed. “Wait, just— uh. I need your help.”

Ava paused despite herself. “With what?”

“Uh.” Gary’s eyes moved around behind the comm, clearly looking for something. “I need your advice on what to wear—”

“What?”

“—on a date,” Gary finished quickly. 

“What?”

“I got asked— yeah, it’s a— it’s a real date.”

Ava’s eyebrows were halfway to the ceiling by now. “A date with who?”

“Nobody you know,” Gary said in a rush. “Just… someone.”

Ava took in his demeanor and guessed. “It’s not John Constantine, is it?”

“No,” Gary said quickly. “No, no, it’s definitely not… that. Whatever that was.”

“Okay. Good. “ Ava felt relieved despite her annoyance with Gary. For some reason, the idea of Sara’s ex sleeping with her assistant — again — just seemed wrong. “So…?”

“So, yeah,” Gary said. “I can’t decide what I should wear.”

Ava sighed. She glanced at her watch. Unless Sara walked in the door right this minute they were going to miss their dinner reservation, but there wasn’t anything she could do about that. Helping Gary seemed like a good distraction, if nothing else. 

“Okay,” she said. “Show me the options.”

Gary hopped up from the comm excitedly and came back with an armful of shirts and pants. He held them up to his body in various combinations, presenting the seven — seven! — outfits he was considering. 

Finally, they’d narrowed it down to two, but Ava was spared from having to make a final decision by blip of a portal behind her. She turned, just in time to see Sara’s cabin at the WaveRider blink out of existence, leaving just Sara — and her very revealing dress — in Ava’s office.

“Hi,” Ava said, getting up from her desk to greet her. 

“Hi,” Sara said, somewhat sheepishly, accepting Ava’s kiss on her cheek.

“Hello Captain Lance,” Gary chimed in from the computer.

“Goodbye Gary,” Ava said pointedly. Gary saluted in Sara’s direction, then disconnected without another word.

“Hi,” Ava said again, leaning in for a proper hello. It was then that she noticed that Sara had a bag slung over her shoulder, much larger than the clutch that she typically brought when they went out.

“Did you bring weapons?” Ava asked, eyeing the bag.

“No, it’s— never mind.” Sara took her hands. “Let’s just get dinner, I’m starving.”

They had missed their reservation, of course, but Ava knew a little Thai place around the corner from HQ that was never busy at this time of night. They had the place to themselves, the food was delicious, and the owner even gave them a discount.

While they were waiting for dessert, Sara pulled her bag into her lap and opened it. She took out a large object wrapped in newspaper.

“This is for you,” she said, almost shy. “Sorry it’s not properly wrapped.”

Ava eyed the newspaper and noticed the date. “Whoa, 1964? Is this why you’re late?” she asked.

Sara nodded, seeming embarrassed. “As a matter of fact, yes. In taking that, I may have created a small disruption in the timeline that I had to fix.”

Ava blinked. “Anything serious?”

“No,” Sara replied quickly. “Well — not really. Only a six.”

“Only a—” Ava sighed. “Why didn’t I get an alert?”

Sara opened her mouth to explain, and the pieces fell together. “You had Gary cover for you,” Ava said.

“Guilty,” said Sara, though she didn’t look it. Ava shook her head and decided to open her present instead.

When she saw what it was, she literally squealed in delight. The owner of the restaurant looked up sharply from behind the front counter, but Ava barely noticed. She was over the moon. She finally had one, an original Troll with violently orange hair and a perfectly adorable round belly.

“I love it,” she cried.

Sara was beaming. “That reaction makes fighting a giant lizard worth it.”

“A giant— oh, who cares.” Ava brushed back the doll's hair. Its squat feet were like tree trunks, perfect for it to sit between them on the table.

“I’ve always wanted one of these,” said Ava.

“I know,” said Sara, with just a little smugness. “Happy birthday, Ava.”

“Thank you, Sara,” said Ava. She felt oddly overcome, and she chuckled to lighten the emotional resonance of the moment. “I guess this comes with the territory when you’re dating a Legend, huh?”

Sara’s smile turned a bit wicked. “I’ll show you what comes from dating a Legend,” she said.

Ava laughed, even as a thrill of desire ran through her. The waiter brought them their dessert. She clinked spoons with Sara and dug in; she couldn’t wait to get Sara home for the next part of her birthday celebration. 

She had a feeling it would be legendary.

Chapter Text

Ray knew his target was here before the guy even stepped inside.

He heard the truck roll up outside. Its muffler sounded like a motorcycle and the stereo — currently blasting the chorus of “Wild Thing” — was somehow even louder. When the front door swung open, Ray saw exactly what he was expecting: a heavyset man with a large, grey beard, black motorcycle boots, and a leather jacket that looked as old as he was.

“Molson,” the man said in the direction of the bartender.

The bartender hurried to get a bottle out of the fridge while the man pulled out the stool next to Ray. He tilted his head like he was tipping a hat.

“Do you mind?” he asked.

Ray wondered what would happen if he said yes, but he shook his head nonetheless.

“Thanks buddy,” the man said. “You live here?”

“At the bar?” Ray asked, sarcastic before he could stop himself.

“Funny guy,” said the man, but he didn't smile, let alone laugh. “Name’s Mike,” he said.

No, it’s not, Ray thought. “Andy,” he said, offering his hand. This part was easy; it was an old habit not to give his real name in a seedy place like this.

“Andy,” Mike repeated. “You don't sound like you're from around here, Andy.”

Ray shrugged. “Just passing through,” he said. “Heading back to the rig here soon.”

That got a tiny reaction from Mike — just the barest hint of a smirk.

Here we go, Ray thought. 

But Mike turned away to watch the hockey game, and Ray drank alone for a bit. If his instincts were right, he wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

He had another drink, and then one more for safety. He made sure to pay in cash, handing Bobby behind the counter a crisp red fifty, and angling his body in such a way that Mike — and anyone else in the bar, really — could see the array of hundreds crammed into his wallet. (Fraser’s, of course.)

“Well, good to meet you, I gotta get going,” he told Mike.

“You going far?” Mike asked, with a credible amount of fake concern. “Need a lift?”

“Nah,” Ray said easily, waving a hand and catching himself when he wobbled. He didn’t have to play it up — the whiskey had been going to his head a bit. “Just up the street. Around the corner. Take it easy, man.”

Mike nodded. Ray turned his back like he didn’t know that he would be seeing him again very soon.

This was always the toughest part — walking away and hoping that he did his job right. Hoping that there wasn’t one small thing he did that showed his hand, that nothing about him said cop.

He felt his heart rate pick up once he was outside, and it wasn’t just the chilly air. He knew he was being watched now. If it wasn’t Mike watching behind him, it was Fraser and his team in the surveillance van around the corner.

Ray tried to keep his pace uniform, his path that of a meandering drunk. Not for the first time, he wished this town had street vendors. Nothing said drunk guy oblivious to everything like stopping for a pretzel or a hotdog. He supposed he could duck into Tim Hortons for a doughnut, but it just wouldn’t be the same.  

Finally, after a block and half, he caught the sound of footsteps crunching behind him — steady, but gaining speed. Ray’s adrenaline kicked up the way it always did in situations like this, and he really hoped that he was about to get mugged.

Christ, for all the paperwork that Fraser’s bosses made him sign before he could do this, he’d mug himself.

The footsteps sped up even more, and soon the guy was on him. Ray slowed down, moved off the plowed sidewalk into the snow like the polite mostly-Canadian he was, but the guy didn’t pass him. Instead, he grabbed Ray from behind and shoved something ice-cold under his parka.

“Wallet,” said a raspy voice in his ear. “Now.”

“Okay,” said Ray. He made himself sound shakier, since he was Andy-the-civilian, who didn’t have experience with this kind of thing. “Okay, just let me put my hand in my pocket.”

“Hurry up,” said the mugger.

What Ray wouldn’t give to pull out a badge right about now.

“Jewelry too,” the criminal instructed. “Hand it over, pretty boy.”

Come on, Fraser, Ray thought, taking off his watch, his silver bracelet, and his wedding band. He hoped to hell that Ben would forgive him if this whole thing went sideways and he didn’t get it back.

He’d no sooner put his wallet into the thief’s hand when sirens blared around them. “RCMP,” someone yelled. “You’re surrounded, drop the knife!”

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the mugger’s eyes dart back and forth over the bandana that covered the lower half of his face. Ray wondered for a second if they were going to have a hostage situation on their hands, but Mike seemed to think better of fighting, and raised his hands. A uniformed Mountie came over and took the knife. He gave Ray back his things while another officer handcuffed Mike, AKA Robert DeGroot, who’d been robbing oil rig workers of their hard-earned cash for weeks now.

Ray slipped his ring back on and turned around at the sound of a car door slamming. In the flashing blue and red lights of his cruiser, Fraser had never looked prouder.

Chapter Text

It’s a cheap little thing. Plastic, thin, and probably breakable, it’s the kind of item that usually ended up at Goodwill inside of five years, or the landfill in less. But it’s cute — Sam has to admit that it’s cute. 

Two reindeer with antlers entwined, a heart between with Dad + Dad written on it in square black letters, followed by the year. Sam’s seen ornaments like this in kiosks at the mall; he knows how overpriced they are, and how Taylor and Jamie must have pooled their allowance for weeks to be able to afford it — a real sacrifice for two kids who love gumballs and Pokémon cards. 

When he’s finished unwrapping it, he holds it up, watches Bucky’s eyes get a little misty. Jamie insists that Uncle Steve take a picture of them holding it, and Sam notices that his eyes are a bit cloudy, too — the big softie. 

Not that Sam can blame him. He’s feeling pretty soft himself when he hangs the ornament on the tree, right under the red and white star, so everyone can see.

 

Chapter Text

“Dad, look!” cried Josie.

Ray glanced in the direction she was pointing and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “The shirt?” he asked, following her. 

“Isn’t it cool?” Josie was practically petting the t-shirt now, and her puppy eyes were turned up to eleven. 

Fraser, ever the more susceptible of the the two of them, actually reached for the price tag. When he flipped it over, though, he grimaced. “Gosh, that’s dear,” he muttered. 

“It’s not the 1800s, nobody says dear like that anymore. Dear,” Ray teased him, but when he looked down at the tag he had to agree. “That much for a t-shirt? That thing’ll fall apart in three washes.

“It does look very worn already,” Fraser observed. “I wasn’t aware this store sold secondhand items.”

Josie rolled her eyes. “It’s supposed to look like that,” she explained. “Can I have it? Please?”

Ray stepped back and took a more critical look at the shirt — it was black with the iconic ginning skull of the Misfits emblazoned on it in bright green. “Do you even know who these guys are?”

“Yeah,” Josie said in a voice that meant No. “James likes them.”

Fraser shot Ray a started look, but Ray wasn’t alarmed. Fraser wasn’t the dad that Josie talked boys with, is all. 

“Tell you later,” he told Fraser to make him feel better. “He does, does he?” Ray asked Josie. 

“Uh huh,” she replied. She was probably trying to sound innocent, but Ray saw right through it.

“You like him, and he likes the Misfits, so you like the Misfits,” he summarized. “That sound about right?”

“Well,” Josie started, but she kind of trailed off.

“This James fellow,” Fraser put in, obviously very much wanting to be included, “he’s a nice boy?”

Josie huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Can you guys not be cops right now? This is why I don’t tell you things.”

“Okay,” Ray said, placating. “Okay, fair enough. But we’re not buying you the shirt.”

“But Dad—” Josie looked to Fraser for support on this, but Fraser wasn’t budging. Nobody could stonewall like a Mountie; Ray was as glad as ever that they were on the same team.

“Tell you what,” he went on. “For this price of this shirt, you can probably get a couple of used Misfits albums. Listen to them first, then decide if it’s something you want to wear around. If you actually like the band, I’ll buy you the shirt.”

Josie, seeing that she wasn’t going to get a better offer, nodded. “Okay.”

“Come on, kiddo,” Ray said, leading her away. “Let’s hit the record shop before it closes.”

“Ugh,” said Josie, which meant she was back to normal and didn’t harbour any resentment. “They’re called CDs, Dad. Nobody listens to records anymore.”

Chapter Text

Steve pushed open the door of the bar and grimaced at the blaring music. Why’d it have to be Aerosmith? If there was one thing he hated more than Nazis, it was Aerosmith.

As he stepped fully inside, he realized why it was sounding even worse than usual — it wasn’t just Aerosmith, it was Aerosmith karaoke. Or CLASSIC ROCK-AOKE, Steve supposed. That was what the banner said.

A man in his twenties with his right arm in a sling was at the back of bar, bellowing into the microphone. A large group of people his age were in the table in front, shrieking with laughter and taking pictures on their phone. 

Ignoring them — as much as he could, anyway — Steve scanned the bar. It took him a minute, but he finally spotted Sam at a table in the far corner. He raised a hand in greeting, and Sam waved back with an easy smile that made Steve’s heart flutter the way it always did. He dragged his eyes away, so he wouldn’t crash into anything en route, and started making his way to Sam’s table. 

“Hey,” he greeted Sam. Luckily, the music was quieter over here, and Sam could hear him. 

“Steve,” said Sam. He shook Steve’s extended hand, then used it to pull himself up into a half-hug. 

Steve shivered a bit at the contact — he still wasn’t used to that — and reminded himself not to hang on too long or too tight. 

“Good to see you, man,” said Sam when they parted. “Sit down, have a beer.”

“Thanks,” said Steve, doing just that. There was a second glass on the table waiting for him, so he poured some from the pitcher and took a sip. The beer was still cold, and not too watery the way a lot of beer was these days. Steve swallowed, smiled, and waited for Sam to tell him why they were here. 

“This place is such a dive,” Sam said instead. 

Steve surveyed the room — broken arm guy had sat down, but a blonde woman in her forties had taken over the mic and was butchering some old power ballad. He nodded. “Good beer, though.”

“Yeah, not bad,” Sam agree, then he sighed and leaned forward. “Listen,” he said, low and serious. “I called you here because I didn’t want to tell you over the phone: I found our missing person.”

Steve’s heart stopped. “What?”

“Well, actually, he found me,” Sam amended. 

“Jesus,” Steve murmured. He felt cold all over. The din of the bar was faint in his ears. “Did he hurt you? Are you okay?”

“I’m good,” Sam replied. “He, uh. He just wanted to talk.”

“Okay.” There was something off about the way Sam was telling him this. He wouldn’t make eye contact, and he kept fiddling with something under the table. 

“And,” Steve prompted, “you did?”

“Yeah.” Sam shifted in his seat, more proof that he was uncomfortable. Steve wanted to reach over and touch him, steady him, but he didn’t know if that was allowed. 

“He said to give you a message,” Sam said.

Steve leaned forward, but Sam didn’t go on. “What’d he say?” Steve asked after a moment.

“He said.” Sam expelled a short breath and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Make a move, bonehead.”

Steve blinked. “What,” he managed. 

“That’s what he said, that’s the message,” Sam finished. He still looked uncomfortable, but also a little hopeful? But that didn’t make any sense.

Even with superhuman processing speed, Steve had to take a beat and think.

Bucky had been following them; they’d known it for weeks. They’d hoped — Steve had hoped — that he would eventually come in,and half of why Steve had settled in DC was to allow him the opportunity. And, he supposed, it had worked. But Bucky didn’t come to him, didn’t talk to him. He talked to Sam. And what he said....

“Oh,” Steve said finally, when he caught on. “Oh. Sam, I— um. Nothing has to, I mean. I feel— “

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Sam said. He pushed their beers to the side and leaned forward on his elbows. “You like me. Romantically. Don’t you?”

Steve took another breath. He realized he could smell Sam’s aftershave and noticed what it was doing to him. He nodded. “Yeah.”

The bar broke out in half-hearted applause. Steve supposed a song must have just ended, but he really wasn’t listening. 

“Bucky thinks you should act on it,” Sam said. 

Steve thought about that for a moment. “He always told me to seize the day.”

“So why don’t you?” That note of hopefulness was back in Sam’s voice, and Steve still didn’t know what to make of it.

Steve sighed, looked away. He wished he could talk to Bucky — to anyone else — about his feelings for Sam, but Sam was his closest friend and most trusted ally. (Hence Steve’s feelings.) 

“Because I didn’t— I don’t know if you want to,” Steve said finally. “And I didn’t want to wreck what we have. I thought if I tried, and you didn’t like guys hitting on you, or—”

“Steve, I’ve talked about my ex-boyfriends with you,” Sam said flatly. “You think I’d date other guys and not you?”

“I know,” Steve said, burying his face in his hands. “I know, it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes, it does,” Sam said. Steve chanced a look up, and saw that he was smiling. “You don’t think you deserve good things, so you don’t put yourself out there going after them.”

Steve had a feeling he’d just been therapized and wasn’t sure if he should be offended or not. “Okay. Any other insights, doc?”

Sam chuckled. “Just one. Since you clearly haven’t picked up the hints I’ve been dropping for seven months now, I’ll just say it: I like you romantically, too. And I’d be more than happy to go out with you if you asked.”

A small hope, which Steve had tried to dispel for almost a year, now poked its nose out of his heart, like a hibernating creature sniffing the air for a trace of spring. “You would?”

“I would.”

And then something miraculous happened. Sam leaned forward, tilting his head, and Steve felt himself moving, too, pulled into Sam’s gravity. Their lips met, sweet and hesitating and perfect. But if Steve was expecting the dulcet tones of an angel choir, he was sorely disappointed, because all he got was the opening riff of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” 

He pulled back from the kiss, grabbed Sam’s hand and squeezed it. “Fuck this place,” he said, looking seriously into Sam’s eyes. “Can I take you out? Somewhere nicer than here?”

“Yes,” said Sam at once. “Yes, you can.”

“Good.” Driven to action at last, Steve got to his feet and dug money out of his wallet. He threw it on the table, then pulled Sam out the door without looking back. 

***

A block away from the bar, on the other side of a pair of high-powered binoculars, Bucky smiled.

Chapter Text

Sam loves going to the gym with Misty. Mostly because he hates going to the gym alone, but also she is such good company. She does the same circuit that Sam does — cardio warm-up, strength, cooldown in the pool. She keeps Sam from slacking off without triggering too much of his competitive streak. Plus, she always has the best gossip.

“Did you hear that Jess and Luke hooked up again?” she asks him when they’re on the treadmill.

Sam had not heard. He says so, and Misty spends the rest of their warm-up filling him in.

By the time they reach the pool, she’s done talking about all their friends’ love lives and she’s beginning to turn her attention to his.

“Nope, nothing doing,” Sam answers, when she asks.

“Come on,” she says. “How are you and Steve not fucking yet?”

Sam wishes she wouldn’t be so pushy about it. It was enough of a shock for Sam to discover that Steve was bi; he’s not ready to share what, until recently, he’d thought of as a futile crush.  

“I just don’t think he likes me like that,” Sam says.

“Have you asked?”

He pretends he didn’t hear the question and ducks under the water. He swims to the far end of the pool, but she’s right there waiting, treading water, when he surfaces.

“Steve’s tricky,” Sam says defensively.

“The dude punches tanks,” Misty pointed out, “I think that's pretty straightforward.”

“Sure, in the field.” Sam gets out of the lane because there are a couple of guys coming his way. He swims away, Misty at his side. Once they’re in the shallow end, they find a corner near the old ladies doing what looks like Tai Chi.

“It’s a lot more complicated when we’re not fighting bad guys,” Sam concludes in a lower voice.

“Why?” Misty asks. “Can't you just say to him, Hey, I like guys too and I think I like you? It even rhymes. You could put it in a poem. Roses are red, your shield is blue—”   

Sam groans, while Misty laughs. “No?” she says. “No poetry?”

“No poetry,” Sam begs.

“Alright, fine,” says Misty. She wades over to the edge of the cement and lifts her leg into stretch that almost makes Sam regret that he’s not straight.

“What about the bathroom test?” she asks over her shoulder.

Knowing that she won’t see him, Sam rolls his eyes. The bathroom test is Misty’s ridiculous theory that if a guy likes you, he’ll clean his bathroom before you come over. “The bathroom test’s a sham,” Sam says.

“Hasn’t failed me yet,” Misty counters.

“Sure, maybe with straight guys who weren’t in the military,” Sam concedes. “Steve’s bathroom is always spotless. Just like the rest of his place. I think the guy’s just a neat freak.”

“Maybe,” say Misty thoughtfully. She’s still using the side of the pool to do some stretches, and it occurs to Sam that he should stop talking and do the same.

“Or maybe it’s the opposite for Steve,” Misty adds, once they’re side by side.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe you'll know he likes you if he lets you see it messy.”

Sam thinks about this for the rest of the day, and the day after that, and the day after that, until the next weekend, when Steve gets hit with a superbug in a Hydra lab and actually has flu symptoms for the first time in half a century. The doctors want him to stay in the hospital in case it gets worse, but between Steve’s hatred of hospitals and his worry that he’ll transmit antibiotic-resistant germs to vulnerable patients, he checks himself out in the first 3 hours of what supposed to be a 72-hour stay.

Sam follows him — how could he not? — making peace with the doctors he leaves in his wake and promising the nurses that he’ll bring Steve back the second anything changes. The doctors are worried that Sam will get infected too, but he got dosed with the germ spray at the same time Steve did, so if he got the bug he’s already carrying it anyway. The doctors agree, and suggest that Sam and Steve stick together. Sam assures them that he has no intention of going anywhere.

Still, Steve is big and stubborn about Sam staying with him, and he’s mildly feverish, so he keeps repeating that his place isn’t neat enough for Sam to see. But Sam tells him to hush and practically shoves him into his unmade bed when Steve tries to be a good host and offers Sam coffee.

“Lie down, I’m making you tea,” Sam says. It’s a fight, but he pushes Steve’s rock hard shoulder back when he tries to get up, and Steve finally stays down.

Sam heads to the messy kitchen, pausing along the way to gawk at the sweater draped over the back of a chair and the small pile of balled-up socks in front of the couch. He’s never seen the place so untidy.

He kind of likes it. Like the rest of the world, he forgets sometimes that Steve’s just a guy. All of those feats of strength and superhuman accomplishments, it’s hard to separate the man from the mask.

The tea kettle — Steve hates microwaved hot water — is on the stove, obviously right where Steve left it. There’s even a couple of used tea bags on a saucer nearby. Sam digs through the cupboard directly above and finds it stuffed with boxes. From classic English Breakfast and Earl Grey to raspberry-mint and chamomile, the man has a lot of tea. Sam chooses lemon-ginger, both because of the healing properties and because the box is nearly empty; Steve obviously likes it. He opens another cupboard to find just one clean mug — the Best Boss one that Natasha got him for Christmas as a joke.

He ducks into the bathroom once the kettle’s on. When he flicks on the bathroom light, he is astonished: toilet seat up, grime under the rim, hair and soap rings in the sink. Frankly, it’s kind of gross. Sam does what he has to do, and the tea kettle whistles while he flushes the toilet. Swearing, he hurriedly washes his hands and comes out of the bathroom to find Steve turning off the stove.

“What are you doing?” Sam asks him. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“Kettle was done,” Steve explains. “You want tea or coffee?”

Steve’s voice is rough, his eyes bleary — his body is racing through these symptoms; no wonder the doctors wanted to keep him. Sam sighs.

“Get out of here,” he says. He nudges Steve away from the stove and back towards his bedroom. For a guy who can probably stop a truck with his bare hands, he is surprisingly pliant. Sam sees him safely back into bed, then fetches the tea from the kitchen. He helps Steve sit up with a pillow before handing him the mug.

“Careful, it’s hot,” he warns. Steve nods and dutifully blows on it. “You want Netflix or something?” Sam asks, finding a TV remote on the cluttered nightstand.

“No,” Steve says. “No, it's okay.”

“Okay,” Sam echoes. “I’ll be right outside.”

“No,” Steve says again. His eyes are closed. “Can you stay?”

“Sure,” says Sam, though he’s really not sure how that’s going to work. Steve's bed is a King size and he’s more or less centered. Sam glances around for a chair before he gives up and perches on the edge of the mattress.

“Sorry my place is such a mess,” Steve tells him again. “I try to make it nice when I have you over.”

“That’s normal,” says Sam, thinking of Misty’s silly theory. “I do the same when I have people coming to visit.”

“Not people,” Steve says with a frown. “Just you, Sam.”

Sam’s heart stumbles but he tries to keep his face impassive. It still doesn’t mean anything, he reminds himself. They’re friends, so—

“Did it work?” Steve asks suddenly.

“Did what work?” Sam replies, confused.  

“Impressing you,” says Steve. He chuckles. “All the girls in my old neighborhood used to say you had to make a good impression with your housekeeping if you wanted to find a husband.”

“A husband?” Sam laughs, albeit nervously. “Is that what you’re going for?”

But Steve doesn’t act like it’s a joke. His eyes, though bleary with fatigue and fever, are steady on Sam. “Maybe,” he says, and damned if he doesn’t sound hopeful. “Would that— do you think— maybe?”

Sam’s heart is doing somersaults now. “How about we start with dinner?” he says. “Once you’re better.”

“I’m good now,” says Steve, shifting like he’s going to get up. “Let’s go now.”

“Nuh uh,” Sam laughs. “You’re staying put.”

Just the barest hint of a challenge appears in Steve’s pale face. “Make me.”

Sam puts a hand square in the middle of Steve’s chest, but he doesn’t even need to push down. Steve stops squirming, raises his hand and puts it over Sam’s wrist.

“All right,” says Sam with a smile. He turns so his back to the headboard, propped up right beside Steve with little room to spare.

Steve sighs happily and rests his head on Sam’s shoulder. Within seconds, he’s asleep, and Sam has to grab the tea before it spills in Steve’s loosened grasp.

When he reaches over to set it on the nightstand, he carefully extracts his phone to update Misty.   

Hasn't failed yet, she texts back in less than a minute.

Chapter Text

“Trick or treat!!”

“Avast, me hearties,” Steve greeted the kids, who giggled.

“Whoa,” said one of them, an older boy in a soup can costume. “Cool outfit, dude.”

“Dude?” Steve repeated. “I am no dude.”

“You’re a pirate!” said one of the younger kids with glee. She was a classic fairy princess, complete with two shimmering wings and lots of glitter.

“The lady doth speak true,” said Steve. “Here be some of my treasure for you!”

He distributed two pieces each — they had lots — and waved as the kids thanked him and trooped back down the laneway.

Sam, who had been watching this without a word, chuckled. “May as well leave it open,” he said, as another group came down the street.

“But the chill,” Steve said, still in his pirate’s drawl. “You’ll catch your death of cold, Sam!”

Sam rolled his eyes. The temperature was in the mid-forties — he’d been outside in worse. But he stepped back anyway and let Steve close the door.

“You regretting not wearing a costume yet?” Steve asked in his normal voice.

“Nope,” Sam said honestly. “You have more than enough costume for both of us.”

Another knock on the door sounded, and Steve went back into character. One of the kids asked him why he had a hook for a hand, and Steve told a brief story about a shark that got them laughing as they walked away.

“You realise you’re going to have to do this every year now, right?” Sam told him. “I’ve spent the last three Halloweens pretending I’m not home, but now that the word’s out, I hope you’ll be prepared.”

“I’m good with that,” Steve replied. He lightly smacked Sam’s hand to keep him out of the candy, but Sam managed to snag one anyway. The next second the doorbell sounded.

“Scoundrel,” Steve scolded him, back in full pirate as he opened the door again.

It went like this for another hour. They depleted five boxes of candy before the knocks finally started to slow down. But Steve never tired. He put on a good show for every single kid. Sam shook his head in awe.

“You’re kind of renewing my faith in Halloween here,” he said.

“So you’ll dress up next year?” Steve asked, hopeful.

“I didn’t say that,” Sam cautioned. He stepped closer until he was practically pinning Steve to the back of the door. “I do like you in makeup, though.”

“Do you?”

“Mm hmm,” Sam murmured. He slid his hands around Steve’s waist and watched the goosebumps rise on his neck before he leaned in to nibble his ear.

“Shiver me timbers,” Steve muttered, and Sam burst out laughing, just as the doorbell rang.

Sam ducked in and kissed him quickly on the mouth. “Maybe later,” he said, and he stepped back to let Steve open the door again.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take Sam long to fit in at The Factory. His fellow actors are students, too — overgrown drama kids looking to make some money before they go home for Thanksgiving. And besides, there’s something about doing a show that brings people together, whether that show is Shakespeare or scaring the hell out of people in a re-purposed 19th century gun factory.

He thinks he’s met everyone by the end of the first week. It’s a small cast, but they all have a part to play, and they have to be in sync to make sure nobody gets hurt every night. He doesn’t remember everybody’s name, but it’s cool. People call him Scientist, since that’s his character, and he does the same.

Still, at the second week-end party at 3AM one Sunday (the show wraps at 2), he sees someone he doesn’t recognise hovering in the corner by the food, sending furtive looks in Sam’s direction and munching on baby carrots.

Sam thinks maybe the guy is checking him out. Which is okay, he realizes after a minute. He’s cute, with a skinny frame, blonde hair, and glasses.

“Hey,” Sam says, snagging Donny as he passes by. “Who’s that guy?”

Donny — at least, Sam thinks that’s his name, it could be Bobby — looks over and snorts softly. “Oh,” he says, “that’s Ghost.”

“I didn’t know we had a ghost in the show,” says Sam.

“Oh, no, he’s not an actor,” Donny or maybe Bobby replies. “He’s crew. Sound engineer. We call him Ghost because he mixes all the spooky soundscapes. Plus he’s kind of anti-social,” Donny adds quietly. “Nice enough guy, but he doesn’t come out with us much. Shy, I guess.”

“In this crowd, who wouldn’t be?” Sam mutters. It’s a room full of actors, after all — people who love the spotlight and aren’t afraid to attract it.

Don-Bobby obviously doesn’t hear him; he gets called away by the Banshee — Jen — and the trio of women who play the Dracu-Babes. Sam can’t tell them apart, and they rarely go anywhere independently, so it doesn’t matter.

He thinks he sees Ghost flinch at their loud laughter, and he definitely backs off when another actor comes over to food table. Sam makes a decision.

“Hey,” he says in a low voice as he approaches from Ghost’s other side.

“Hi,” says Ghost, obviously cautious.

“I’m Sam, I play the Mad Scientist,” Sam tells him.

“Steve,” says Ghost. “I play sounds.”

Sam laughs. Steve’s cheeks go slightly pink with embarrassment. “I mean,” he tries to explain. “I’m crew, I—”

“Yeah, I know,” says Sam, coming to his rescue. “You do the score, and all our soundtracks. We wouldn’t have a haunted house without you.”

“Yeah,” Steve replies, sounding a little dazed. He shakes himself. “I mean, thanks.”

The conversation grows from there — Sam learns that Steve was pushed into theatre by a friend who thought it was cure his shyness (“Little did she know I’d find another opportunity to hang out in a dark room all by myself”). Sam tells his own origin story, how he loves the stage, but he also wants to write. Then, because Steve seems interested, he recounts how he got onto this path how, at the age of ten, tired of being cast in the same role as a mute shepherd in every Christmas pageant, he wrote his own, and gave the big juicy role of the angel to himself.

Steve laughs out loud at that, and he’s got a really pretty smile. Sam’s just thinking that maybe this could be the start of something when Bob-Donny comes back and tells them they have to get out.

“It’s almost 5, you guys,” he says, slurring slightly. He smells of beer and pot. “Either come out to McDonalds with us, or go home and go to bed.”

Steve shoots Sam a look so fast that Sam almost misses it. He smiles back, and reaches out for Steve’s hand.

“Yeah,” he says. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

“Need I remind you, we are on a Hellmouth, and any attempts at divination could release an ancient, unspeakable evil?” Rupert concluded.

His cheeks were flushed a healthy pink, his glasses slipping down his nose with the increase in sweat. Keeping herself from laughing was the hardest thing Jenny ever had to do.

“Oh, Rupert,” she said instead. “It’s just a Tarot reading. No conjuring, no summoning. No Ouija boards, even. Okay?”

“But what if—”

“I know what I’m doing,” Jenny said firmly, and not just because it was sexy as hell to see him react to the authority in her voice. “Now sit down and shuffle the deck.”

Rupert hesitated for just one more second before giving in. “Oh, all right,” he said, sinking into the chair. “But I’ll have you know, I’ve never had much luck with Tarot.”

“Maybe you’ve just never had the right reader,” Jenny countered, lowering herself into the seat opposite him.

“Perhaps,” said Rupert with a slight smile.

Jenny returned it, and for a moment neither spoke. Rupert shuffled the deck one way, then the other, then took some cards out and inverted them before incorporating them back into the deck.

He noticed her raised eyebrows and chuckled. “Just because I never had much luck with the cards doesn’t mean I don’t know how to handle them.”

And with that, he expertly cut the deck into three piles and stacked them. He slid the deck over to Jenny.

She took a moment to center herself before touching the cards. As much fun as she was having with Rupert tonight, she couldn’t let her feelings influence the reading.

She flipped the cards one by one, watching the story unfold without speaking. And what a story it was: nearly all Major Arcana — The Lovers, The Emperor, and Death, all inverted. There were only a few Minor Arcana, and those were big ones: the Nine of Swords, the Eight of Cups, the Five of Pentacles. The Tower was the last revealed.

“Hm,” Jenny said without really meaning to.

“This doesn’t look good,” said Rupert. The crease that had been in his brow when he warned of the dangers of trying to access esoteric knowledge on the Hellmouth was back, and it was deeper than ever.

“The cards themselves aren’t good or bad,” Jenny said, hearing in her voice the generations of wise women who read cards before her. “They reflect what’s within us to show us the path that we’re on.”

“So it’s less about the future than it is about the present,” Rupert remarked.

“Possibly,” Jenny agreed. “But knowing our path and tracing its forks can help us to create the future.”

Report eyed her over his glasses. Jenny huffed out a small, embarrassed laugh. “Wow, that was pretty old-woman-in-a-wagon of me, huh?”

“Perhaps,” Rupert acknowledged with a chuckle. “On the contrary, what you just said sounded very much like Buffy, so it evens out.”

“Buffy,” Jenny repeated, glancing back of the cards. She pointed at the Knight of Swords prominently displayed in the future worries area of the spread. “You’re concerned about her.”

“Always,” Rupert confessed.

Jenny nodded. She indicated the Nine of Swords nearby. “This, I’d guess, is a pretty relatable image for you.”

“Indeed,” Rupert said thoughtfully.

“You have good reason to be concerned,” Jenny told him. “The cards are warning that danger is coming. And even though you want peace and love—” she pointed to the idealistic Ten of Cups— “it's beyond your reach for the moment.”

Rupert didn’t say anything to that.

“What I’m seeing is a challenge ahead,” Jenny concluded. “From an unexpected but not unfamiliar enemy. I'm seeing war and strife. Beyond the usual, of course,” she added.

Rupert half-smiled, but it faded quickly.

“You’re going to have to make a choice,” Jenny concluded. “The danger that’s coming, it’ll hit close to home. You’ll have to decide between your heart and your duty.”

“Don’t we all?” Rupert asked, soft but serious.

“I suppose,” Jenny conceded.

Rupert leaned back in his chair and assessed the cards for another moment. “Well, you’ve given me quite a lot to contemplate,” he said at last, getting to his feet.

“Are you going?” Jenny asked, startled.

“It’s getting late,” Rupert replied. “It is a school night.”

“Yeah, I— okay,” Jenny said. She rose and followed him to the door. “I didn’t upset you, did I, Rupert?”

“Of course not,” Rupert reassured her. “I told you, I never have much luck with the Tarot.”

He gave her a chaste goodnight kiss and turned away before Jenny could formulate an answer to that. She watched from the front porch as he started his car and drove away. He didn’t wave.

Stupid, she told herself as she shut the door. What a dumb idea to read for him. This wasn’t high school, her boyfriend wouldn’t be impressed by her abilities. He knew far more about the dark arts than she ever could. She should have known better, and suggested they watch TV tonight instead.

Still, there was something in Rupert’s eyes — some discomfort, or even fear, when she had interpreted the spread for him. And now, as she picked up the cards, she could detect traces of his energy on them, scattered and frightened.

Well, she thought, cleansing the deck. At least it wasn’t as frightening as the readings she’d been doing for herself lately.

Chapter Text

A lot of things changed when Steve got the serum. Some changes were obvious — like his size, strength, and agility. Some were more less obvious, like his mental processing speed or the inability to get sick. Since his was the first truly successful application of Erskine’s formula, he didn’t have a benchmark to compare his results to. There was a lot he didn’t know and no one to look to as an example.

So he didn’t notice at first that he couldn’t get dizzy anymore. In fact, it took Bucky reminding him of the Cyclone and the zipline ride that followed to make him realize that something was missing. There was no swoop in his stomach, no vertigo. No giddy laughter bubbling up through his chest to make his head feel lighter than air. He didn’t have time to experiment with it, though — that zipline was the beginning of the end.

After he woke up in the 21st century, he tested the theory, going to as many theme parks and roller coasters as his schedule allowed. The other Avengers gave him a hard time for it, calling him an adrenaline junkie — a fact he could not in good faith dispute — but it wasn’t all fun and games. He was trying to chase that old feeling, to see if he could find it. He never could.

But the first time Sam kissed him— well. That was a different story.

Chapter Text

Steve was in trouble. Not trapped-behind-enemy-lines-with-no-ammo trouble, but trouble nonetheless. Because his super easy, sure-to-be-relaxing undercover gig at an ice cream shop — fucking Nazis ruin everything — had gotten a little more complicated and he didn't know how to deal.

It started innocently enough. A customer came in one afternoon and Steve’s long-dormant radar went ping! The guy had kind eyes, a smile that lit up the room, and jeans that were just a hair too tight.

Steve managed to suppress his attraction long enough to get the guy his ice cream, then tried to put it out of his mind.

But the guy came back the next weekend, this time with a group of friends — all of whom were gorgeous, one of whom had a prosthetic arm like Bucky’s, only it was gold instead of silver. Because there was a group of them, the cashier took their names, and Steve learned that the beautiful woman with flawless curls and golden arm was Misty, and the hot guy repeat customer was Sam.

“Don’t you forget it,” Sam told him when Steve handed him his cone — waffle with birthday cake ice cream and M&Ms mixed in.

“I— I won’t,” Steve managed to say. Hot repeat customer grinned, showing off the adorable little gap between his front teeth.

“Good. See you around... Joey,” said Sam, reading Steve’s name tag before he turned away with a wink.

Steve had to take his break after that, sneaking out back into the parking lot and lighting the cigarette he stole from his manager with shaking hands.

He’d been flirted with by a man in public. It been a long damn time since that had happened.

Steve wished he had someone to talk to about this. But he was on his own — only supposed to call for backup when he’d sussed out the hidden operation behind the ice cream shop’s innocent exterior.

He blew out the last of his smoke and went back inside.

***

The next weekend, Sam came back. Steve was ready. He had to be professional and polite, but not encourage him, because he couldn’t follow through, no matter how much he wanted—

“Can I get sample of the chocolate hazelnut?” Sam asked, startling him out of his thoughts.

“Yes, of course,” said Steve, grabbing him a tiny spoon. He scooped a bit of the ice cream onto it and passed it over. “Here you go.”

Sam popped the spoon in his mouth and closed his eyes in pleasure. Steve’s heart started up a two-step in his chest, while the butterflies in his stomach kept time.

“Tasty,” Sam said, licking the spoon with relish before tossing it in the trash bin.

Was that really necessary? Steve wanted to ask, but first he had to get his blood to travel back up to his brain so he could form words.

“Would you like some?” he asked finally. Then he felt his cheeks light on fire.

“I’d love some,” said Sam. He glanced around, but the place was empty; Steve was working alone since Mary was on break. “Let me give you my number.”

But before he could, a Nazi walked through the door. Steve recognised him at once — he was one of SHIELDs most wanted.

Steve shoulders straightened immediately. He was grateful for his dark contact lenses, glasses, and the beard he had grown. Along with the hairnet he put over it at work, he was nearly unrecognizable.

“Cone or bowl for the chocolate hazelnut, sir?” Steve asked Sam.

Sam looked hurt, but Steve couldn’t pay attention to that. The bad guy was texting in the corner by the door to the restrooms. A minute later, Mary emerged from the back and shook his hand. Together, they walked out the front door, with Mary explaining that she was going across the street to get a coffee with her friend.

“Will you be alright on your own?” she asked.

Steve forced himself to smile and wave a hand casually around the empty room. “Of course,” he said. “Have fun.”

He watched them go, wishing he could follow. Until a cough caught his attention, and Steve realised he’d forgotten about Sam.

“Sorry,” he said at once. “Chocolate hazelnut, right?”

“Sure,” Sam replied. He didn’t say another word besides thank you, and then he left.

After Mary came back without her friend, and Steve got back to the crappy little apartment he had rented for this assignment, he realized just how much this sucked. He could have had something — even if it was just a one-night thing with someone who called him a different name — if not for this job.

“Fucking Nazis,” he grumbled. He vowed to make it up to Sam the next time he came in.

***

But Sam never came back. For the three more months that Steve worked there, he never saw Sam. He was desperately disappointed. But he knew that punching the bad guys when it all came to a head would soothe the pain.

The raid was to be a joint operation with Fury’s Defenders — a local squadron that worked more covertly than SHIELD. Steve had never met them, but he’d heard good things.

The night before the raid, he walked into Fury’s bunker expecting a group like STRIKE: big, burly, Special Forces type guys. Instead, he got a diverse team of men and women. Some were tiny, like the Japanese girl with a sword and the surly white girl with a grey scarf that could probably cover her entire body if it weren’t bunched up around her throat. Some were large, like a bald man wearing yellow who looked a bit familiar, and some were, no word of a lie, green.

“I’m Jen,” said the green lady because Steve was obviously staring. “This is Luke, Jessica, and Colleen.”

“Hi,” said Steve, a little embarrassed. “It’s nice to meet you all.”

“We’re still waiting on a few,” Jen said, “including our fearless leader.”

“He and Misty hit traffic,” Luke explained. “She just texted me.”

“Misty,” Steve echoed, and suddenly he knew why he recognized Luke. “You came into the shop.”

Luke nodded. “Kinda bold, maybe, but Fury said you’re shit at undercover.” Then, like he’d just heard himself, he winced. “No offense, Cap.”

Steve scowled, but he shrugged. He couldn’t even carry on a casual conversation that day he’d seen the Nazi when Sam was—

“Oh my god,” he said as he clued in. “Is Sam on your team too?”

“Sure am,” said a voice from behind him.

Steve whirled around, his breath catching at the sight of Sam’s warm eyes and cheekbones that could dent steel.

“How’s it going, Joey?” Sam asked, teasing.

“You’re late,” Jessica observed grouchily.

“Yeah, that’s what I get for flying everywhere,” Sam replied. “I forgot that rush hour was a thing.”

They had to get on with the meeting then so Steve didn’t have much of a chance to reflect on the situation. He caught himself watching Sam, though— the way he talked to his team, the way he outlined maneuvers and plans, the way he took into consideration everyone’s abilities. He was extraordinary. Steve understood at once why he’d felt so powerfully drawn to him so soon after meeting him.

Once everyone else had left, Steve lingered and soon the two of them were alone.

“So,” Steve said, a little awkwardly.

“Yeah,” said Sam, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I know it was a little over the top,” Sam replied. “I wanted to tell you who I was, but with the surveillance I couldn’t. So I thought if I could get you out of there, maybe we could talk.”

“Oh.” Steve blinked. “So you didn’t want to...?”

He expected Sam to jump in and shout, No, of course not! or explain that Misty was his girlfriend or Luke was his boyfriend. Or both, even. Steve was open-minded.

But Sam didn’t do any of these things. He was still rubbing the back of his neck.

“Oh,” Steve said again. His heart sped up again, like it had when Sam licked the spoon in front of him.

“Yeah,” Sam said.

“So?” Steve prompted.

“Tomorrow?” Sam offered. “We get through this, we take out the bad guys, and then....”

“Then we’ll go out,” Steve finished hopefully.

“Yeah,” said Sam. Then suddenly he grinned. “I’ll take you out for ice cream.”

Steve laughed out loud. “Deal,” he said. “Let’s punch some Nazis, then we’ll go get ice cream.”

Chapter Text

“Ugh, it’s getting dark so early now,” Loretta complained, the same way she did every year when the clocks went back.

“Yep,” Sam agreed, the way he always did when the clocks went back. He let her go on without interruption — she complained at length about the snow that was forecast later in the week, the long winter ahead, the wind and cold and dark, and how terrible it was.

Sam let her talk, because he’d been down this road before, and it never ended well. He held an unpopular opinion: he liked it when the time changed. It meant that winter would be here soon and Sam liked winter. Winter meant quiet snowfall, mittens, and hot chocolate. Darkness colorful lights in the parks, and night skates on the rink. Long, cold nights meant more time snuggled up under a blanket with Steve — because Steve was a human furnace, and Sam’s feet got cold easily.

So he let his co-workers complain. Winter was just fine by him.

Chapter Text

“I don’t wanna wear my coat,” Alexander said when Sam crouched down to zip it up for him.

“Well, too bad, it’s cold out,” Sam told him. “Now come on, quit squirming.”

“No.” Alexander twisted back and forth, his arms flailing from side to side.

“Alexander,” Sam warned.

“Daddy doesn’t have to wear a coat,” Alexander tried.

“Daddy has super powers. You don’t.”

“I hate my coat,” Alexander argued. “I want a new one.”

“Only when you outgrow it,” Sam reminded him. He finally got Alexander to hold still long enough to get the zipper halfway up. Then Steve walked into the room wearing just a hoodie.

“We ready?” Steve asked.

Sam glared — it was fairly obvious they weren’t. Steve at least at the good graces to wince apologetically.

Alexander took advantage of Sam’s lapse in attention and freed himself, running to Steve and gluing himself to Steve’s legs.

“Daddy, I don’t want to wear my coat,” Alexander told him.

“Well it’s cold out,” Steve began, but he must have read the here-we-go-again expression in Sam’s face because he redirected. “Why not?”

“It’s too tight,” said Alexander. “I think I outgrowed it.”

“Outgrew,” Steve corrected. “Already?” he asked, turning to Sam for verification.

Sam shook his head. “Well, aren’t you a smart cookie?” he said to Alexander.

At Steve’s confused look, Sam explained what he just told Alexander about when he would be able to get a new coat.

“Sneaky,” said Steve. He was obviously trying to look stern, but he wasn’t really succeeding. “Look, son, nobody likes wearing their winter coat. But we hate freezing to death more. It’s called making a sacrifice for the greater good.”

Alexander scowled, but nodded and consented to Steve finishing the zipper.

Sam ushered them out the door in awe. He’d seen Steve pull off some pretty impressive accomplishments since they’d known each other, but the ability to talk logically to a 6-year-old and actually convince him to come around to their way of thinking? That was a real superpower.