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An Irish Solstice

Chapter Text

“I need an upgrade please,” Bucky told the desk clerk at the car rental business outside the Dublin Airport. He was bundled against the chilly Irish air and smiled at the desk clerk as charmingly as possible.

She gave him an apologetic smile in return. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said in her distinct Irish brogue, “but all we have are small compacts left.”

“Damn. I’ve got several boxes of books to cart around on my book tour,” he groused but not at her.

“Hey, Bucky?” came a soft voice behind him and Bucky turned to face a blond giant of a man, one very familiar to him.

“Hey, Steve,” Bucky returned. He and Steve Rogers had shared side by side seats in first class on their flight from New York City to London. They’d chatted amiably, sharing life stories and getting along famously. Bucky wasn’t the least bit fazed that Steve was Captain America as well, which Bucky noticed seemed to relieve the former Army captain significantly.

“I can take you to your first destination in the Land Rover I just rented,” Steve offered with an inviting grin.

Bucky’s heart hammered in his chest. He’d been terribly attracted to the blond man during the flight and flirted. To his surprise, Steve had tentatively flirted back. Taking a car ride with him seemed like dragging heaven out a bit more to Bucky.

“You don’t have much luggage?” Bucky asked in surprise. He knew Steve was planning on a long journey around Ireland, looking into his Irish roots and hoping to find distant relatives of his mother, Sarah Rogers.

Steve shook his head. “Nah,” he responded, “I’m not in a hurry to be anywhere.”

Bucky frowned at that but knew it would be churlish to refuse. Besides, he wanted more time to spend with Steve, if Bucky was honest with himself. Maybe he’d work up the nerve to ask for Steve’s number and ask if he’d be willing to go on a date once they were both back in New York.

“Okay,” Bucky agreed amiably. He turned back to the car rental clerk. “Can I pick up my next vehicle at a rental place in Kildare with this reservation?” he asked.

She looked relieved that things had worked out and she didn’t have an upset customer. “Certainly, sir. Just show them this voucher,” she printed out and handed Bucky a slip of paper, “and hopefully they will have the appropriate vehicle for you.”

“Thank you very much!” Bucky all but chirped and turned back to Steve. “Lead on, McDuff!”

Steve smiled shyly and Bucky pushed his trolly full of luggage and three boxes of books behind the other American. Steve led the way to the last Land Rover on the lot and helped Bucky stack his luggage in the back next to Steve’s lonely single suitcase.

They climbed inside the SUV and Steve started the engine. He stared at the console for a moment and then asked in a quiet, pensive tone, “Can you plug in the destination into the GPS?” He said GPS slowly as if he weren’t sure it was the correct word. Bucky reflected it was probably a new term to the man, who’d only been in the 21st Century less than a year. Everything was new, no doubt.

“Sure, no problem.” Bucky dug out his phone and the email with his destination’s address. It took some fiddling, since he was adjusting to GPS in a foreign country but he got the address plugged in and soon Steve was tooling down the road, driving on the correct side of the street per Irish traffic laws.

“You seem at ease driving in a foreign country,” Bucky observed.

Steve grinned, a natural expression that made his already handsome features much brighter and at ease. “I learned to drive in Blitz-torn London. Peggy Carter…” His voice trailed off and his expression turned sad a moment. He cleared his throat and continued, “Agent Carter taught me. Driving in America is what’s weird to me. They drive on the wrong side.”

Bucky laughed.

“You laugh, but it’s true!” exclaimed Steve, his sad expression melting away to a grin at Bucky’s laughter.

“I’m sure most of Great Britain and Ireland would not argue with you,” chortled Bucky.

“I know you said you are pagan, though I’m still not sure what that means, but do you have any music to listen to that’s holiday appropriate?” asked Steve after they were quiet for a few miles.

“I’ve got Enya’s holiday album and the Monkees Christmas album,” Bucky informed Steve, expecting to be given crap about having the Monkees in his repertoire.

He forgot who he was talking too, though. “The Monkees?” asked Steve. “Who are they?”

“Oh!” Bucky exclaimed, remembering that Steve was a time-displaced soldier from World War II. “They were a 1960s music group, kind of cheesy pop music, teeny bopper stuff really but they have a fun sound that I like. And yes, the pagan has Christmas music,” he added with a grin.

“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘pagan’, though, Bucky,” admitted Steve, making the turn as indicated on the GPS and taking them outside Dublin and into the dreary, wintery Irish countryside.

“Paganism is the worship of the old religions as much as we know about them before the coming of Christianity and Islam,” Bucky told him. “Ancient Roman, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, African, Native American, Celtic, you name it, someone on the planet still worships those old gods and goddesses and holds dear the old mystic ways.”

“And what old religion do you follow?” asked Steve with a furrowed brow.

“Mostly Celtic with some Greek and Egyptian thrown in for flavor. For my writing I pray to the Egyptian god Thoth, who was the God of Scribes among other things. For day to day I pray to Gaia or Isis depending on my mood. Some practitioners play around, some stay within a certain pantheon. Then there’s Wicca.”

“Wicca. I read about that when I first came back. Found a book on it at the library. So, are you Wicca?” Steve asked, slanting Bucky a quick look, his eyes bright blue and interested.

“Not really, though the coven I belonged to was predominantly Wiccan,” admitted Bucky. “I’m more ‘choose your own religion’ type of guy. Whatever god or goddess works for you, worship them. So many fulfill the same function that the names are just interchangeable and use whichever one you feel comfortable with, to me anyway. But some pagans are strict in following on one religion exclusive of another. My ex,” Bucky added, “was strictly a Norse practitioner.”

“She followed the Viking’s gods?” Steve clarified.

“He and exactly.”

“Interesting. I can’t imagine such a thing from my time.”

“Oh, I’m sure they were around, just not blatant about it.” Bucky looked out the passenger side window and watched as the falling light rain made trails of water on the glass. “The old religions never really went away, you know, The Church adopted many pagan holidays and turned them into Saints days or Church holidays. Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25, you see. He was likely a spring baby, but the Church needed to convert pagans so they made Christ’s birthday at the time of the Winter Solstice celebrations to make it more palatable for conversion and still brand it as their own holiday.”

Bucky looked at Steve, abashed. “Sorry, didn’t mean to go into lecture mode.”

Steve shook his head. “No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I was a practicing Catholic before the War but during it…” His voice trailed off thoughtfully before continuing, “I lost faith, I suppose, with so much mindless death and destruction. I couldn’t believe that a supposed merciful God would allow such travesties to happen. Men with arms and legs missing. A man standing next to you one second and his head blown off the next. Torture, disease, all that, it just seemed like God was allowing men to run amuck and doing nothing to stop them. Allowing man to self-destruct. It wasn’t a God I wanted to follow anymore. So, I stopped believing.”

“Are you agnostic, atheist?” asked Bucky, stricken at the heartfelt emotions of Steve’s experience with war.

“I don’t know,” confessed Steve, giving Bucky a quick look before darting blue eyes back to the road.

Bucky made a split decision. “I’m starting my book tour with a side stop, by invitation, to an Irish coven’s Winter Solstice celebration. I’m allowed a guest. Come as my guest. Find out what we’re about. If you like it, I’ll be happy to introduce you to more once we’re both back in New York. If you don’t like it, no harm, no foul. You can go on your Irish adventure and we can stay in touch by phone.” Bucky felt bold.

Steve ruminated on it for a long moment and then fatalistically shrugged. “Why not? Sure,” he said, slowing down for a stop sign.

“Great! Let me call my hosts and tell them I’ve got a guest after all. If anything, Steve, it’ll be a new 21st Century experience for you,” Bucky told him, pulling his phone out of his coat pocket and dialing the number for Aoife O’Keefe, the head of the County Kildare Coven.

“Hello?” came a sultry feminine voice over the line.

“Hey, Aoife,” Bucky said, pronouncing her name as a slurred Ava, making the v sound soft. “I’m just calling to let you know I’m on my way and I have a guest after all.”

“Bucky!” she all but chirped happily. “We’ve got hot toddies waiting for you. As for your guest, not a problem, but you’ll have to share a bed, if that’s okay. There a big King size bed here at the rental house we can put you in. Is you guest male or female?”

Bucky grinned and gave Steve a thumb’s up when the supersoldier slanted him an anxious expression. “Male. And, Aiofe, warn everyone that he’s Captain America. He doesn’t want to be treated any different even though he’s kind of famous. His name is Steve Rogers.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” Aoife told him with a husky laugh. “What’s Captain America doing in Ireland?”

“He’s looking into his Irish roots,” Bucky told her. Steve still looked anxious. “Hold up a minute,” he said to the woman on the phone. He cupped his hand over the microphone and told Steve, “They are thrilled to have you and you aren’t imposing. Stop looking like a kicked puppy.” He uncovered his phone again and spoke to Aoife, “Thanks a bunch. Our GPS says we’ll be there in about an hour.”

“We look forward to seeing you both. Welcome to Ireland!”

They hung up.

“Easy peasy,” Bucky told Steve with as much reassurance as he could muster.

“I don’t want to impose.”

“You aren’t. I’m thrilled to have you as my guest.” Bucky hesitated. “I enjoyed the flight over from New York, talking to you and stuff. I thought you’d be uptight and stern, but you aren’t. You’re just a regular guy, Steve, someone I’d like to get to know better. Besides,” he grinned a snarky grin, “someone’s gotta show you the best in 21st century life other than Tony Stark.”

Steve laughed. “Tony is a bit much,” he admitted. “Now how about you put on some Monkees. Start my late 20th century education.”

Bucky chuckled, fiddled with the car’s Bluetooth controls and soon Davy Jones singing “Mele Kalikimaka” flooded through the Land Rover’s speakers.

Chapter Text

Bucky and Steve arrived in good time, well before darkness fell on the Irish landscape, to the destination Bucky had plugged into the GPS. Global Positioning something. Steve couldn’t remember what it stood for, just knew it guided you places like a digital map. Maybe it was a digital map. He wasn’t sure. So much about this new century he wasn’t sure about, to be honest.

He was sure about Bucky’s offer of friendship and maybe a hint at something more. Steve admitted he’d responded to Bucky’s mild flirting on the flight to London from New York. Bucky had gaped a moment when he saw Steve in the seat next to his but had quickly recovered and smiled winningly at Steve as he put his carryon luggage in the overhead compartment.

“Hi, I’m Bucky Barnes,” Bucky introduced, holding out a hand for a firm, but not assholish handshake.

“Steve Rogers,” Steve said tremulously. “I guess we’re seat buddies for the trip.”

“I promise not to talk your ear off if you want to watch the in-flight movie,” Bucky promised with a charming smile. Steve responded to Bucky’s openness like a man thirsting for water in the desert. Everyone treated Steve either like delicate Battenberg china or condescendingly like he should already be up to speed to 21st century living after a mere few months of living in it.

“I probably wouldn’t understand the references in the movie,” admitted Steve. “I’ve got books to read for the flight.”

Bucky buckled up. “What are you reading?”

“History. Lots to catch up on,” Steve replied.

“I love history. Majored in it in college. I teach it to unruly high schoolers now.”

And that had started their first conversation on the long trans-Atlantic flight.

Now they were unloading their luggage from Steve’s rented Land Rover at a large Victorian house that looked out of place in the Irish landscape. It looked like it belonged on an avenue in Boston or some London street, not the stark Irish scenery.

Steve paused to look about him at the beauty of an Irish winter. It was mid-December but despite a biting wind, it was nothing like a New York winter. No snow on the ground, just a drizzling, chilly rain. He remembered some parts of England that he’d visited as a soldier during the war had similar winters.

The landscape, stark of anything green and lush like a summer or spring would produce, spoke to Steve’s half-Irish soul. It tugged at him and made him relax. He looked forward to perhaps escaping the large Victorian house and taking a walk in the peaceful countryside. He was a city-boy through and through but even then, he and his best friend, Arnie, had enjoyed occasionally escaping the city to the north to visit the New York countryside for a change of scenery back in the day.

A buxom woman in her mid-forties came rushing out, talking a mile a minute in a broad Irish brogue. “Bucky? Is that Bucky?” she asked of Steve’s traveling companion.

“Aiofe?” Bucky responded. The two hugged and chattered at each other for a moment. “This is Steve Rogers,” Bucky turned to Steve and Steve manfully stuck a hand out. He got hugged instead.

“We’re affectionate touchy people in this coven,” Aoife informed Steve after the hug finished. “If it makes you uncomfortable, just let us know.”

Steve smiled tentatively and was reassured when she beamed a smile back him, bright and sunnier than the weather. “I don’t mind,” he confessed. Her hug had felt good. He was so touch starved. No one in this century touched much, so different from his own time, when men slung arms around each other’s shoulders and women hugged freely.
“Gather your stuff and we’ll get you settled,” Aoife said brusquely, grabbing one of Bucky’s boxes.

“Not that one, Aoife. This one,” Bucky pointed out a box that had already been opened and was merely folded closed in that strange folding technique where all the flaps interlocked. Steve hadn’t mastered that yet. It looked like…what was it called? Origami. Yes, that was the paper-folding art style.

The men carried their luggage and was soon enveloped in the warmth of the house. There was a chorus of greetings and Steve was relieved when no one blinked twice at him. They didn’t seem to care he was Captain America, not star-struck at all. Maybe it was that the Irish men and women here had little historical association with his alias than Americans did, or they were just generally unflappable, but either way Steve was appreciative at just being treated like an everyday guest instead of the ‘guest of honor’. Bucky seemed to be getting more attention than Steve and he was relieved by that.

“We’re so glad that you were able to come,” gushed a woman introduced as Emma.

“You guys are going to be Steve’s crash course in pagan living,” Bucky told the assembled group of about ten men and women. “Sorry to spring him on you so suddenly, but I’ve communicated with all of you for years. I know you won’t steer Steve wrong.”

Steve felt heat suffuse his face when all attention turned to him. He shuffled his feet sheepishly, wishing Bucky hadn’t said that. He didn’t want to seem ignorant, even if he was.
Aoife dropped Bucky’s box next to the sitting room’s fireplace. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said authoritatively. She had a take-charge attitude so Steve assumed she was in charge of the coven. “Steve will get a thorough education. And,” she leveled a warning glare around the room, “we won’t try to convert. We don’t do that here. It’s a safe space, Steve. We just ask that you shed your prejudices and keep an open mind.”

Steve nodded. “I’ve had a lot of practice at that since waking up in the ice,” he told her.

She hugged him again and he soaked up her readily given affection. “You’ll be great. Just relax and ask questions. No such thing as a stupid question.”
“Let’s get you boys settled in your room, get rid of that luggage and then we’ll have hot toddies to ward away an Irish chill,” Emma said, heading out of the sitting room and toward a grand staircase across the foyer.

Bucky gave Steve a questioning glance and Steve gave a hesitant smile in return. These people were so welcoming and interesting. He would dig out his sketchbook and pencils and ask if he could draw them. They dressed in an interesting, naturalistic fashion that caught Steve’s artist eyes. Spangles that glinted in the light, bright colors that were at war with the grey landscape beyond the house, and the house’s interior was interesting and familiar to him as well. He wanted to capture it.

Emma firmly closed the door behind them and left them to unpack. Bucky was silent a moment and Steve had a moment of panic that perhaps Bucky was regretting his invitation.
“I didn’t push you into this, did I, Steve?” asked Bucky finally, hanging up a cable knit sweater in the tiny closet.

Steve jolted to life at the question. “No!” he said firmly. “I find them welcoming and interesting. They treat me like just anyone else, not Captain America.” Bucky frowned. “I like them,” Steve added and then decided to press his luck. “I like you. I’m happy to spend more time getting to know you. I feel like you’re my first friend outside S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers. You like me for Steve, not for Captain America.”

Bucky walked over and put a hand on Steve’s arm comfortingly. “That’s because I do like you as Steve. The Captain America is just a small part of you, not all you are. I recognize and understand that. I’m happy to be your friend, Steve. Honored, in fact.”

Steve felt a massive weight lift from his shoulders. In this century, he felt more like a burden on people than anything else. Bucky didn’t make him feel that way. He just felt like an average, everyday kind of guy with Bucky. It was such a relief.

He dug into his carryon luggage and drew out his sketchbook and box of pencils. “Do you think the coven would mind if I drew them while everyone talks?”

“You’re an artist?” asked Bucky with some surprise.

“A little bit,” admitted Steve bashfully.

“Of course, they wouldn’t mind. Paganism accepts everyone’s talents equally. I’m a writer, Steve. I carry a notebook around with me all the time. You never know when a scene or a sentence will strike you to put in your book.” Bucky rummaged around in his own pack and came up with a small journal and an ink pen. “Come on, let’s join the crowd downstairs and start the festivities.”

They found everyone still in the sitting room and soon Emma was bustling around, handing everyone their preferred hot toddies or hot cider. Steve opted for cider, because the apple cliché in his favorite dessert being apple pie was not really a cliché. He loved apples.

No one said a word as Steve began sketching first Aoife, with her long-sleeved blouse made from sewn together scarves, all billowing and light. Then he moved on to Edmund, a young man maybe in his early twenties with a scarred face from what looked like a fire and piercings everywhere. His face was just an interesting face, Steve thought, full of character. Edmund was not self-conscious about his scars and seemed to wear them with pride.

Steve finished Edmund’s portrait and moved to the one he really wanted to draw: Bucky. Bucky was movie-star handsome, with a granite-chiseled jawline with some rough stubble on it, dark brown hair and bright grey-blue eyes. He wasn’t as tall as Steve but had broad shoulders and an athletic figure that spoke of more than a few days a week at a gym to stay in shape. Bucky was, to Steve’s artist eye and libido, absolutely, stunningly gorgeous.

“We’re expecting one more guest,” Aiofe announced and Steve saw a puzzled look cross Bucky’s features.

“Am I not enough for you guys?” Bucky teased.

Steve wasn’t sure of Bucky’s relationship with this Irish coven, but he seemed to know several of them well. Perhaps they communicated over the internet by…email?

Aoife chuckled. “Oh, you are, I assure you, but I thought having both of you here would be interesting.”

“Both of us?” Bucky’s puzzled expression grew.

“I invited Brock Rumlow to join us as well,” Aoife explained with a warm smile at Bucky.

Bucky’s reaction was interesting, to Steve’s thinking. Bucky’s expression seemed to fall at first but he recovered and his smile was more rictus-like than happy, as if Bucky were merely going through polite motions. Steve, seated next to Bucky on a small settee, felt his companion tense as if poised for flight. Every soldier instinct within Steve made him tense up as well. Bucky was not happy with this pronouncement, that was certain. Steve had a feeling this Brock Rumlow guy was not welcome to Bucky.

“Oh,” was all Bucky could say before adding, “Emma, could I have some of the cider?”

Steve would have bet his entire sketchbook that Bucky wanted hard alcohol, not the light apple cider. Steve wondered what Bucky’s history was with this Rumlow guy. It probably wasn’t good. Bucky was vibrating in his seat like a live wire.

No one else seemed to notice, however.

The talk turned to the festivities planned, which Steve listened to with interest. There would be a small gift exchange, which caused both Steve and Bucky to look at each other with alarm. Steve glanced down at his sketchpad and wondered if his gift would be a drawing of whatever the recipient wanted. If Bucky was fretting over what he would give, Steve would suggest Bucky give a copy of his newly published book. To cover that awkwardness Steve piped up, “How far into town is it, Aoife?”

“Just a quick ten-minute jaunt in that fancy Land Rover you’re driving, Steve,” Aoife reassured him. Steve relaxed. They could drive into town, perhaps tomorrow, and buy something in a shop that would be appropriate.

“Tell me about your coven,” Steve asked. “Do you all practice the same ancient religion or are you all Wiccan?”

Everyone beamed at him and began telling him all about their origins, how some of their families have been pagans for several generations, usually in secret. That launched Bucky into the history of mainstream paganism that kept them until Aoife perked up and interrupted with an excited, “I hear a car. Perhaps Brock is here?”

Bucky looked fretful for a moment before schooling his expression into something more relaxed. His body, though, had gone taut. Steve had the feeling this was about to be an unpleasant encounter.

Aoife left the room and out the front door. A few minutes later they could hear her chattering as she and the last of the coven’s solstice guests entered the old Victorian house. A tall, well-built man with harsh if handsome features entered the sitting room behind Aoife.

Rumlow’s brown eyes held no hint of warmth despite the smile on his face. “Hey everyone,” he greeted. His eyes landed on Bucky and his smile turned knowing. “Bucky.”
“Brock.” Bucky’s tone was cold, the first sign Bucky had shown to the group around them he was displeased by the turn of events happening around him.

There was a moment of quiet at Bucky’s cold greeting, which Aoife eventually broke by clearing her throat and bustling Rumlow out of the room. “Let me show you your room, Brock. We were going to put you with Bucky in the big king-sized bed, but Bucky brought a guest, to our pleasure.”

Steve felt and saw Bucky shudder at Aoife’s words and a wave of possessiveness washed over him. Bucky had been repulsed by that thought, sharing a bed with Rumlow. There was some bad blood of some kind between the two men. Steve, for the first time since being welcomed by the coven, almost wished he wasn’t here, but then he thought twice. Bucky might need a champion. Perhaps it was Fate that Steve was here to stand by Bucky.

That’s what friends were for, after all, right?

Chapter Text

Bucky couldn’t believe it. Brock Rumlow. His nightmare ex was also a guest of the County Kildare Coven for this Winter Solstice celebration. Well, there went his relaxing holiday start to his book tour of Ireland. He wanted to rant and rave, scream to the heavens, scream at the coven for inviting the asshole but couldn’t. His mother’s stern lectures on the proper comportment of a guest resounded in his head. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t be that rude. It would embarrass everyone.

But dammit, he’d left his own coven because of Brock Rumlow, who ruled it with an iron fist. Now Bucky was a solitary practitioner without a coven. He missed being a part of a coven, admittedly, but was finding some satisfaction in exploring his spirituality on his own terms.

He understood why Aoife and the County Kildare Coven invited the both of them. They had written some fantastic books together, though, Bucky reflected, he did most of the writing. Bucky now had a flourishing publishing schedule with his new solo series, whereas Brock had nothing but his past laurels of having co-written their series with Bucky.

Their unfinished series. Bucky was arrested by a thought. Had Brock finagled this setup in order to sweet talk Bucky into finishing the series? He would have to keep an eye on Brock and his motives. Brock didn’t worship Celtic deities, being a strict Norse practitioner. Bucky eyed Steve and wondered what the World War II soldier’s reaction would be if someone went sky-clad for rituals, as Brock was sure to do.

The talk was desultory until Aoife returned and she smiled tremulously at Bucky. Brock had not returned with her, no doubt unpacking in his assigned room. “Bucky, may we talk in the kitchen?” she asked quietly.

Bucky sighed to himself but nodded. No doubt he would have to explain everything when all he wanted to do was move past his disastrous professional and romantic partnership with Brock Rumlow. He followed Aoife to the kitchen, a homey, rustic decorated room that Bucky normally would have felt at home in.

“Is something amiss between you and Brock?” Aoife asked forthrightly.

“We dated,” Bucky said, carefully picking his way through the topic. “It was not an amicable breakup. I’m no longer part of the Greater New York City coven because of it. He blamed me for losing his publishing contract when in fact I did all the writing and he just chimed in an idea here and there. I practice solitary for now, not formally with any coven.”

Aoife’s face fell. “Is Steve your new boyfriend?” she asked, also carefully choosing her words. “Is this going to be a problem?”

“I won’t let it be a problem, Aoife,” Bucky said firmly. “If Brock can act professional and decently, then we’ll have no problem. And no, Steve is just a friend.”

She gave him a long considering look before nodding as if confirming something in her head. “Very well. You are our primary guest since you are debuting your new book series. If Brock becomes a problem, we’ll ask him to leave. Is that acceptable?”

“I don’t want it to ruin the celebrations, Aoife,” Bucky protested. “We can be civil.” ‘I hope’, he added silently to himself.

“All right then.” Aoife led the way back to the sitting room. Brock had come back downstairs and was entertaining everyone with a story of a new practitioner’s cluelessness on how a coven worked. While everyone was laughing, Steve was not. He looked distinctly uncomfortable and it didn’t take Bucky long to determine why. Brock was shooting pointed looks at Steve, as if knowing how ignorant Steve was about paganism and covens.

Bucky stiffened his spine and directed the coven’s attention back to the scheduled festivities. “A gift exchange and, of course, the ritual on Solstice. What else is planned for the rest of our time?” he asked bracingly.

Emma launched into the activities, mostly indoors, planned to keep everyone entertained. A couple of painting sessions, which perked Steve up, and everyone was taking turns, sans guests, cooking the meals. She turned her attention to Steve, looking stricken. “Steve, do you have any food allergies we should accommodate?”

Steve looked embarrassed. “Not really. Supersoldier. Not much affects me anymore. Enhanced metabolism.”

And that was when the light went off in Brock’s head, Bucky saw. The brown eyes Bucky once thought of as warm and loving widened as recognition flooded over Brock’s face. ‘Ah,’ thought Bucky, ‘Brock just realized who my guest is. Good, maybe he’ll stop fucking with him.’ The idea of Brock getting a supersoldier punch to the face was a comforting one, even if Bucky didn’t see it coming to pass. Steve likely had even more manners as a guest drilled into him than Bucky did, considering when Steve was born and raised.

Emma, for her part, look even more abashed. “Of course. I didn’t think, I didn’t realize, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, Steve.”

Steve waved away her apology in a gentle fashion. “No, it’s nice to be asked instead of it assumed. I’m not fond of mutton, though. Ate a lot of it during the war. Or Spam. Ate a lot of that too.”

“I did plan on some nice lamb chops for those that eat meat, but you can take the vegetarian option that night,” Edmund told him. “We don’t want you to starve.”

Steve gave another tight smile. “I’m afraid I’m always hungry. Side effect of the metabolism. I’m glad a town’s nearby. I can buy some snacks so I’m not eating all your food.”

Emma clapped her hands once firmly. “Nonsense. We always have plenty of snacks, more than we eat and we always take leftovers home. Eat what and when you need too, Steve, we insist. You’re a guest. Your comfort is paramount.”

Bucky shot a worried look at Steve and found the blond giant chewing on his lower lip pensively. “I don’t want to be a Greedy Gus,” Steve began.

“You’ll be doing us a favor, eating all the biscuits, candies and crisps,” Aoife told him firmly.

Steve deflated at the coven’s unified expressions of resolve and smiled tremulously, to Bucky’s relief. “Okay, if you insist.”

“We do,” Emma told him with a big smile.

“Far be it for me to argue with my hosts.” Steve returned her smile with a more confident one of his own.

Brock chose that moment to pipe up. “You can always compensate them if you feel you are eating more than your share.”

Asshole. Bucky glared at his ex and noted Steve went back to looking awkward. Edmund saved the day by stating confidently, “We won’t ask that of you, however, Steve.”

Brock smirked at Bucky when the other man caught Bucky’s continued glare of disapproval. Oh yeah, this was going to be a fun few days.

The evening passed somewhat pleasantly, with the coven answering Steve’s hesitantly answered questions, with an occasional biting comment from Brock designed to make Steve feel stupid. By the time bedtime rolled around, Bucky was exhausted from the roller coaster of emotion being in the same room with the asshole elicited from him.

He followed Steve to their assigned room and blurted out as soon as the door closed behind him, “Steve, I’m sorry. I didn’t know he would be here.”

“It’s not your fault,” Steve said stonily, sitting on the neatly made bed with the dark green coverlet. “I take it there’s bad blood between you?”

Bucky sighed and leaned against the door, sensing that Steve needed space. “You could say that. We dated and it was an acrimonious break up. We used to write together too. His writing career has tanked since we broke up while mine has taken off. Plus, he’s now in charge of my former coven in New York City, which means I felt compelled to leave. As you can see, he’s petty and spiteful. It made being a part of the coven untenable to me.”

Steve’s expression turned mulish. “He made me feel stupid.”

“I know. You’re not,” Bucky said earnestly. “I hope none of the rest made you feel that way, only Brock.”

“No, the Kildare Coven is great.”

Bucky relaxed a fraction but tensed again when there was a knock at the door. It was Brock, he just knew it. He turned and opened the door, and sure enough, the smirking visage of Brock was before him.

“What?” Bucky asked briskly.

“Just want to talk, clear the air between us,” Brock answered amiably.

“You’re an abusive asshole and I have nothing to say to you that hasn’t already been said. We’re done, we’re through. I’ve gone my merry way and you’ve gone yours. Anything else is your problem, not mine. Good night.” Bucky slammed the door shut in Brock’s face, or tried to, but Brock forced the door open, bouncing it into Bucky’s chest.

“Don’t be that way, Buckster,” cajoled Brock winningly. “We have a lot to offer each other.”

“I hate that nickname, which you know, but never cared about,” Bucky told him, sensing Steve approach behind him. “And the only thing you want is to start writing together again so that you can reap the glory of doing jackshit in regards to the stories.”

Brock’s face suffused with red, a sure sign of imminent explosion. “I contributed!” he said hotly.

“And I did the entire rest of the it. You put in an idea here and there. I was such a besotted moron I let you co-author my work. Not anymore. Write your own shit. Leave me out of it. Now,” Bucky glanced down and saw Brock’s right foot in the doorway, keeping the door from closing. He stomped on it, causing Brock to jump back with a curse. “Go to bed. If you can be a congenial human being we might be able to make this weekend less than miserable. If you can’t, I’ll complain to Aoife and have you evicted.” Bucky slammed the door and turned to Steve, who had a fierce expression on his face.

“You said he abused you?” Steve’s tone was forceful.

“Just yelling obscenities and how worthless I was,” Bucky confessed. “I didn’t take it to heart, just thought it was him letting off steam. Don’t worry, Steve,” Bucky told the supersoldier, “I didn’t listen to his garbage and finally just got tired of it. I left him and he’s just a sour puss. You reap what you sow,” he quoted.

“The Bible?” Steve arched an eyebrow.

“Know thy enemy,” Bucky teased, trying to lighten the mood.

“Is the Bible really the enemy?”

“No, but sometimes those that believe too much in a book of fables are.”

Steve’s face took on a curious look. “Book of fables?”

“What is the Bible but Christianity’s myths and legends? Are they more valid because it’s one of the largest religions in the world over Egyptian or Roman mythologies?” Bucky argued.

“No, no, I guess you’re right. I just never thought of the Bible that way,” Steve said thoughtfully.

“The Bible has some factual information, history and social commentary, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it is mythology, Christian mythology, no less or more valid than Celtic or Greek mythology for those that believe it to be true.” Bucky yawned. “Too deep a conversation for right before bed. Let’s get some shut eye.”

They had an en suite bathroom and Bucky allowed Steve to change in it while Bucky changed in the bedroom, turning down the coverlet, blanket and sheet afterwards. Steve exited the bathroom and stopped dead when he beheld Bucky’s Slytherin pajamas.

“Slytherin?” Steve asked.

“Hey, we aren’t all like Voldemort or the Malfoys,” joked Bucky. “And I take it someone recommended you read the Harry Potter books when you first woke up?”

“I think I’m more Hufflepuff,” confessed Steve, looking comfortably rumpled in his sweatpants and US Army olive green t-shirt.

“Not Gryffindor?” Bucky asked.

“Everyone seems to be Gryffindor,” complained Steve good-naturedly. “Cedric Diggory wasn’t less brave as a Tri-Wizard Champion just because he was in Hufflepuff.”

“Valid point. I concede. And don’t judge every Slytherin by its cover,” laughed Bucky.

Steve flipped the overhead light off and they climbed into the huge king-sized bed. Bucky was just about to doze off when Steve’s soft voice floated to him. “If he continues to be an asshole to you, Bucky, I’ll take care of it.”

We’ll take care of it, together,” Bucky corrected drowsily. Steve grunted his assent and Bucky drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke to a deep sense of foreboding, a feeling he thought he’d gotten rid of once he’d broken up with Brock and moved out of their shared apartment. He just knew something uncomfortable was going to happen today, maybe even this morning, and he hoped he had the strength to get through it.

Steve was showering when Bucky climbed out of the big bed. The ormu clock on the desk in the corner read that it was a little after nine a.m. He yawned. God, he was jet lagged. He wondered if Steve suffered from jetlag and resolved to ask the supersoldier once he was out of the shower. Bucky hoped it was soon, for he had to pee and take a shower himself. He never felt alive until his morning shower.

Steve was out soon enough, looking squeaky clean. Even his jeans had a neat crease in the legs that didn’t come from just folding them. Bucky grinned at the idea of Steve ironing his jeans.

“What’s got you smiling this morning?” asked Steve with a grin of his own.

“Your jeans look like you iron them,” Bucky told him truthfully.

Steve looked taken aback by the statement. “I’ve never worn jeans,” he said the word carefully. “And we always called them denims. No, I don’t iron them but I’ve never worn this pair. I had to take the tags and stickers off them before I put them on after my shower.”

Bucky laughed. “Well, that’s me put in my place. If you want, go downstairs without me. I’m gonna shower myself and hopefully the coven has coffee. I could deal with tea any morning but this one. I’m jetlagged. Do you get jetlag?” he asked curiously as he gathered his toiletries bag and change of clothes.

“I don’t sleep much,” admitted Steve and Bucky turned at the almost guilty sound to Steve’s voice.

“Why?” asked Bucky, taking in how Steve’s shoulders were hunched defensively and he wouldn’t meet Bucky’s eyes.

The blond man cleared his throat and walked to look out the window before confessing, “I’m always afraid I will wake up another seventy years in the future, or not at all.”

“Oh, Steve,” Bucky said with great sympathy. He put his stuff on the bed and walked over to his new friend, wrapping his arms around Steve’s back and chest, hugging hard. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, no, I’m afraid to talk to anyone about it,” Steve said tightly. “It’s just silly.”

“It’s not silly at all!” Bucky protested, turning Steve around and cupping the supersoldier’s face with his hands. “It’s a totally rational fear considering what happened to you. I was inconsiderate for pressing the issue.”

Steve’s eyes welled with tears. “I’m glad you cared enough to ask,” he whispered and broke down into sobbing, burying his face in Bucky’s neck. Bucky held the taller man, rocking them back and forth and side to side as Steve cried out his fears and insecurities. Bucky ignored his bladder. Steve needed this, needed him. His damned bladder could wait.

“Steve, you have every right to feel whatever you want to feel. There’s nothing wrong with it.” Bucky used his hands to wipe away the man’s tears when Steve straightened up with an embarrassed expression. “Do you see a therapist or counselor about this?”

Steve’s face turned scornful for a moment and then he looked ashamed. “I know I should. Everyone presses me to get therapy but I can’t tell a perfect stranger my problems.” Steve shuddered, though whether from the force of his still roiling emotions or the idea of confessing his fears to a complete stranger, Bucky couldn’t tell.

“I won’t press, but you can get to know the therapist first. I had to go through four therapists until I found one I felt I could trust.” Bucky hesitated. “I could introduce you to her. If you don’t feel you can trust her, maybe she can recommend someone you can trust.”

Steve’s eyes went wide. “You’re in therapy?”

“I’m bipolar,” confessed Bucky. “Back in your day it was called manic depression. So yeah, I’ve got a therapist and a psychiatrist for my medication management. I’m not ashamed of it and you shouldn’t be ashamed of living through what you lived through. You’re a veteran of a war, Steve, that’s a lot of trauma, not adding waking up seventy years in the future when you thought you were committing a bravely suicidal act to save thousands of people.”

Steve chewed on his lower lip and nodded. “I’ll think about it,” he allowed.

Bucky hugged his friend close. “That’s all I ask. Now let me shower. You go downstairs and see what’s on offer for breakfast. If there’s no coffee, make sure my tea is strong enough to melt a horseshoe in it,” Bucky joked.

Steve offered a wan smile and nodded, walking to the bed to sit down and put on his socks and shoes. Bucky shuddered. He was not a shoes-on inside the house kind of guy. He would introduce Steve to the joys of lambskin slippers as soon as they both got back to New York.

Bucky peed and climbed into the still damp shower. The water was lukewarm, with everyone else straining the water heater with their own showers undoubtedly. Bucky didn’t mind. He just wanted to be clean. He got out of the shower, toweled his hair dry, shaved and brushed his teeth.

He eyed himself in the mirror. There didn’t appear to be any of the strain he was feeling at Brock’s presence showing on his face, which was good. ‘This need not be awkward,’ he told himself sternly. ‘Be civil to the idiot and hopefully manners will keep Brock from being too obnoxious.’

He exited the bathroom to find Steve had taken Bucky’s advice and gone downstairs already. Bucky slipped on his fuzzy wool fleece slippers and headed downstairs himself, ready for a cup of something warm and caffeinated to wake him up more.

“Good morning, everyone!” he called out cheerfully when he entered the dining room that the previous night had been indicated where all communal meals would be served. The place was fancy, Bucky noted. A formal dining room with a table big enough for about thirteen people was nothing to sneeze at. He could see why the County Kildare Coven favored it as a retreat location.

Steve had saved a chair next to him and gave Bucky a shy smile at the greeting, but then resumed his glare at Brock. Good Lord, had Brock already started his bullshit before anyone finished breakfast? The meal was served buffet style so Bucky took his plate and filled it with eggs, bacon, toast and some fruit. He sat down next to Steve and smiled gratefully when Aoife offered him coffee. “Bless you, my lady, you bring the elixir of life!” he quipped.

Aoife playfully smacked him on the shoulder even as she poured his coffee. “Sugar and cream on the table, if you want it.”

Bucky obligingly put a few spoonfuls of sugar in his black liquid gold and stirred, looking around the table at everyone with interest. Steve was still glaring at Brock, Brock was studiously ignoring Steve and talking to Emma, who was seated beside him. Other coven members were trickling in, grabbing plates and seating themselves, talking in low, barely awake voices.

It took Bucky awhile to realize what had Steve’s back up. Edmund repeatedly tried to engage Brock in conversation, seated on Brock’s other side, but Brock ignored the younger man completely. Ah. Yes. Bucky had forgotten that particular, oh-so-charming facet of Brock’s personality. If you weren’t physically perfect, Brock pretended you didn’t exist. Edmund with his burn scars and piercings did not fit the profile of a ‘perfect human being’ in Brock’s book.

Bucky spoke up, loud enough for the group to hear, “Edmund, I understand you’re a budding writer? What do you write?”

All conversation stopped and attention turned to Edmund, who flushed. “Well,” he started and then stopped, giving a fearful look at the scornful expression on Brock’s face. “Well,” he tried again bravely, focusing on Bucky’s smiling, encouraging face, “I’m writing some fantasy with a hint of science fiction.”

“Pagan?” asked Brock noncommittally.

“No, I’m making up the world so made up religion and traditions, though I’m taking inspiration from my research in the pagan religions,” Edmund ventured. Bucky’s eyes narrowed when Brock grunted and turned his attention back to Emma.

“I’d love to read something, if you have it with you,” Bucky told the younger man firmly. “Though I’m primarily a history teacher, I also teach a creative writing course at the local community center in Brooklyn. I’d be happy to give a brief critique, if you’d like.”

Brock glared at Bucky at that, but Bucky could care less. He’d heard Brock was making it uncomfortable for the heavy set or not Hollywood attractive members of his coven. If you didn’t fit Brock’s idea of a perfect human being, then you were being slowly squeezed out of the coven. Bucky curled his lip at the thought and sneered in Brock’s direction.

Edmund looked almost pathetically grateful for Bucky’s interest, which gratified Bucky no end. Edmund was a good kid. They had struck up a conversation, introduced online through Aoife. He was glad to meet his Irish friends for the first time in person and was only sorry Brock’s prejudiced, dickwad ass was making Edmund uncomfortable.

Bucky smiled once more at Edmund and turned to Steve, mouth open to say something but he forgot what he was going to say when he saw the gleam of frank appreciation in Steve’s eyes.

“You are very perceptive,” Steve whispered to him, leaning close to do so.

“I take it Brock’s been his usual charming self this morning?” Bucky whispered back, leaning closer as well.

“Total asshole,” confirmed Steve and then he seemed to realize how close they were and moved back, flustered.

Bucky felt a warmth suffuse him, not just lust at the smell of the soap from the shower but also Steve’s faint shaving cream scent. Underneath that was something distinctly Steve that appealed to Bucky and made him wish he’d had the nerve to just give in to his desire and brush a quick kiss across Steve’s plump lips.

Now flustered himself, Bucky dug into his breakfast with gusto. He was ravenous. He got up at the same time as Steve for seconds, this time helping himself, bravely he thought, to the small fish he figured were kippers. He knew most people in the UK and Ireland didn’t have full cooked breakfasts, opting like their American brethren for something fast and easy. He knew the fully cooked breakfast he was eating was a special occasion and he was determined that while in Ireland he would eat like the Irish do.

Kippers were disgusting. He ate two bites of the fish and went back to his eggs.

“They are an acquired taste,” Aoife told him with no little amusement when she noticed his grimace at the fish.

“That’s okay. I can say I tried them without making the judgement I don’t like them without having done so,” Bucky told her with a laugh. “I’m a ham and eggs kind of guy usually, if I have a cooked breakfast.”

“Bucky,” Brock weighed in sarcastically, “like his food like his men, fast and easy.”

Steve dropped his fork and Bucky rolled his eyes. “So, what does that say about you, Brock, since I used to date you. Does that make you fast and easy?”

There were a few uncomfortable titters around the table before other conversations resumed. Brock gave Bucky a scornful look and finished his plate. “I’m going for a walk,” he announced. “Looks like there’s a break in the clouds.”

“Don’t fall into a bog,” Bucky heard Steve mutter quietly and he suppressed a snort at that. They could only hope there were bogs around here for Brock to stumble into.

Once Brock was gone, the table’s chatter grew warmer and full of laughter. Edmund, who’d been awkward around Brock’s clear disapproval of his existence, asked Bucky questions about editing one’s work before an actual editor got their hands on it. That delved into a discussion on books others had read that were either badly written or badly edited. The discussion then veered into books that Steve should absolutely read. Edmund and Bucky both adamantly insisted Steve read some Neil Gaiman.

“He’s a genius,” Edmund insisted.

“I mean, he’s not Shakespeare,” laughed Bucky, “but his stories are gripping. In fact, I’ll let you borrow some of them when we get back to New York.”

“Speaking of which,” Emma asked both Bucky and Steve, “after you leave us, where do you go?”

Steve shrugged. “My mother sailed from Galway Bay to New York. I was going to start with the passenger records there. Her port of entry listing in New York City just says she comes from Kilkenny, Ireland, but she mentioned often in her talks with me County Antrim. I thought I’d hit all those places.” He ducked his head bashfully. “I think it’s just enough to be in the same country that birthed her, you know. Makes me feel close to her. If I find distant relatives, great, but I’m not holding out much hope.”

The group turned their attention to Bucky expectantly. “I have several bookstores hosting me all over the place and then I head into Northern Ireland. I’m going to fly out of Belfast back to London and then on to New York. I’m just flabbergasted that Ireland was so enthusiastic for my first solo work that the pre orders were through the roof. Enough attraction that my publisher thought a small book signing tour was in order.”

The coven as one beamed at he and Steve. “Now Steve, I do some local genealogy,” Aoife told him. “You’re on the right track, but if you’ll stick around a day or two after our solstice retreat is over, I can help you perhaps narrow things down. I’ve got contacts all over the country I can call and we can help you out. I mean,” she said over Steve’s beginning protests, “you came all this way looking for your roots. The least Ireland can do is help you succeed.”

Steve looked humbled. “Thank you, Aoife.”

“You are most welcome. As for you, scamp,” she said, turning to Bucky. “Kildare has a small bookshop as well. I want a few of your books to sell there. My cousin runs it. If you sign them, she’ll probably be able to move them like that!” Aoife snapped her fingers to indicate haste.

“Deal.” Bucky nodded to her with a wide grin. “Now, I’ve had coffee and breakfast. I believe I was promised some poetry readings this morning. Edmund, any of them yours?”

Edmund blushed red. “One,” he confessed.

“Fantasy with a hint of science fiction and poetry. A man of many talents,” praised Bucky. He turned to Steve, who was smiling warmly at the young man as well. “Right, Steve?”

“Indeed. And if there’s a break later today, perhaps Bucky and I can go to town to shop for presents for the gift exchange, since we were unprepared.”

“That will have to wait until tomorrow,” Emma told the giant blond man. “We have a full schedule after lunch too.”

Steve looked delighted at the prospect. “The painting?” he asked eagerly.

Emma laughed. “Indeed. I teach art at the local school. It will be appropriate, I assure you.”

Steve’s face turned thoughtful. “Are Yule logs pagan? I’ve never seen a Yule log and find myself wondering if I’ll see one while I’m here.”

“We’ll have one, yes,” Aoife told him. “They are a very old pagan tradition adopted by Christians. Norse, wasn’t it, Bucky?”

“Originally Germanic or Norse, yes,” nodded Bucky, “but in use all over Europe. Every country uses a different type of wood. To make it fun I hope you brought some borax to turn the flames green.”

“Table salt turns it bright yellow, doesn’t it?” asked Edmund eagerly.

“We have all the chemicals to turn the Yule Log all sorts of colors,” laughed Aoife. “Now, time to clean up breakfast if we’re all done. Bucky,” here Aoife hesitated, “should we hold the poetry reading until after Brock returns?”

Bucky hesitated. He knew Brock despised poetry but also knew Brock would get offended if left out of the reading just to be a spiteful prick. “Give him another half hour and if he’s not back, we’ll start without him,” he decided.

Aoife nodded and clean up began. The coven adamantly refused to let Bucky and Steve help, shooing the two Americans out and telling them to choose their seats in the sitting room. Bucky plopped down on the settee they occupied the night before and patted the seat beside him.

Steve sat but stiffly, not leaning back lazily like Bucky. “I wanted to thank you, Bucky,” Steve said.

“For what?”

“Letting me cry all over you this morning. We barely know each other but I feel as if I’ve known you all my life, like I can trust you implicitly and we just met two days ago.” Steve wasn’t looking at him.

Bucky sat forward. “You have nothing to feel ashamed about or sorry for. And while I appreciate the thanks, it’s what anyone with a decent heart would have done, Steve. You were hurting, are hurting. It’s not like I can ignore that. We’re friends now, and friends look out for each other, right?” Steve gave a terse nod. “All right then. None of this feeling ashamed nonsense. You’re here to experience and learn new things. I’ll bet,” and Bucky turned his tone teasing, “you didn’t attend a lot of poetry readings back in your day.”

Steve let out an involuntary laugh. “No, I can honestly say I didn’t.”

“There you go! I had kippers for breakfast, which were disgusting, and now you’re at your first poetry reading. How bad can the morning be?”

Steve finally turned to look at Bucky and leaned forward. “Tell me if you don’t want this,” Steve whispered and his lips descended toward Bucky’s. Bucky’s heart hammered so hard he was sure it beat like a drummer in a heavy metal band. His first kiss since breaking up with Brock and it was with the stunningly handsome, sinfully attractive Steve Rogers!

“Hey, hope I’m not interrupting anything?”

Brock’s voice was like cold water tossed on both Steve and Bucky. Steve jerked away and Bucky grit his teeth. He turned to the doorway to find Brock leaning against the jamb with a shit eating grin on his face. Oh, the asshole knew exactly what he was interrupting. Well, joke was on Brock. Bucky slept with Steve Rogers during this retreat. He would claim that kiss whenever the hell he felt like it. He glared daggers at Brock and then smiled sweetly as he chirruped, “You’re just in time for the poetry reading. I believe Edmund goes first.”

The smirk vanished from Brock’s face. Bucky felt a moment of petty triumph. ‘Disrupt my kiss, will you?’ Bucky thought viciously. ‘I’ll ruin your goddamned morning, you insensitive dickwad.’

He turned to Steve and it looked like Steve knew what Bucky was thinking. There was a promise in his deep blue eyes as well as an unholy twinkle of mischief.

Oh yeah, he and Steve would make sure Brock’s morning was hell.

Chapter Text

The poetry reading covered every topic you could think of, from pagan holiday spirit to fairies at play and an ultra-serious one that Edmund used to start out about a battle between dark and light in iambic pentameter. Bucky and Steve were both effusive with their praise of Edmund’s skill, but made sure to praise the other presenters as well.

Hot cider was served mid-morning by Emma and Bucky sipped his contentedly. Brock had behaved himself during the poetry reading with only minor fidgeting. The jerk had even clapped politely at the end of Edmund’s reading. The poetry had been good and Bucky turned to Steve to ask what he thought, only to find Steve staring off into space, his blue eyes glassy and his face milk white. The mug of cider was clutched tightly in his large hands.

Bucky reached out to shake Steve out of it when he heard Edmund say, “Don’t, Bucky.”

Bucky jolted, unaware anyone else had noticed Steve’s strangeness. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked in a hushed tone.

“I’ve seen in some of my friends who’ve returned from the war. They just space out in a memory. He’ll come out of it on his own. Just let his brain sort him out.” Edmund’s tone was sorrowful. After his first reading, Edmund had sat on the floor as far from Brock as he could get and was angled facing Bucky and Steve.

The group went silent, as if contemplating what Steve had lived through in his short life, even Brock. Some of the members present probably remembered relatives who’d lived through World War II and undoubtedly all had read about the brutal war in their history books. Before them was a man, now their contemporary, who’d lived through it not as a regular soldier, but as a special operations officer, doing the gods knew what in defense of the innocent and for his country.

Bucky saw Brock open his mouth, an unholy grin on his face, and he shot the man a warning look. ‘If you make his trauma worse, I’ll make you pay,’ Bucky thought at Brock. Brock seemed to pick up the thought, for his jaw snapped closed with an audible click even across the room.

Conversation resumed, quietly so as not to disturb Steve. A few minutes later Steve seemed to shake himself back to the world and sipped his cooling cider.

“Are you okay?” asked Bucky in a low tone. “You kind of spaced out there for a few minutes.”

Steve looked taken aback. “Oh. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Steve, but are you okay?” Bucky insisted.

Steve gave him a tight smile and took another sip of cider. “I’m fine. This place reminded of a place Agent Carter took me when we were in England between missions. Sorry if I worried you.”

“Agent Carter meant a lot to you, didn’t she?” Bucky noted, sipping his own cider after speaking.

“My best friend, Arnie, Arnold Roth, went into the Navy. I heard through the grapevine his ship went down in the Pacific, Midway I think it was. So, Peggy became my new best friend and,” here Steve blushed, “I hoped maybe something more.” His expression turned wistful. “She was amazing, Bucky, all spunk and tough. She took crap from nobody. She could swing a punch as well as any prize fighter and was hell in heels with a rifle.”

“She sounds amazing,” Bucky said, feeling inadequate. Steve had been in love with Agent Peggy Carter, it sounded like. She would have been the perfect match for the soldier Steve Rogers, Captain America. What did Bucky have to offer Steve?

“She was.” Steve cleared his throat loudly, gaining the attention of the room, as he’d no doubt intended. “Sorry about spacing off there, everyone. I assume we just relax until lunch?”

“It’s a bit of a vacation for all of us. We only meet once or twice a month, so it’s nice to spend more time together than just a couple of hours,” remarked Aoife. The other members of the Kildare Coven smiled and nodded.

“I’ve never had a vacation,” mused Steve out loud. “I guess this would count for me as well.”

“Never had a vacation?” gasped Emma in dismay.

Steve shrugged. “I was so small and sickly before the serum that any day off I took was because I was ill. There wasn’t any such thing as vacation days and paid time off. You might be allowed a sick day here and there but so many people were looking for work, you didn’t dare miss a day otherwise you’d just be fired and replaced with someone healthier.”

Bucky thought hard about what life must have been like for a sickly guy in Depression-era New York City and was amazed Steve had survived. “You’re amazing,” he said sincerely to Steve and the sentiment was echoed by several other people in the room. “You survived one of the worst wars this world has ever seen and survived when the odds were stacked against you during America’s Great Depression.”

Steve flushed and ducked his head. Bucky moved closer to him and leaned against the supersoldier’s bulky weight comfortingly. “Thanks, Buck,” Steve murmured and then cleared his throat. “Does anyone mind if I grab my sketchbook and draw until lunch? This room is fascinating.” He motioned at the mullioned windows, original crown molding and wainscoting. The artwork on the walls were of landscapes and the occasional animal portrait. On the mantle of the huge fireplace, in which burning logs gave off a campfire smell, were tiny figurines of Victorian-type of clutter: china dogs, people in various eras of dress, birds and a little ceramic house reminiscent of the house they were staying in, down to the gingerbread trim.

“Oh no, go ahead!” cried Emma encouragingly. “We planned for this just to be a relaxing time. It’s sandwiches for lunch today. Soup for lunch tomorrow, a nice tomato bisque, though you’ll probably want something to go with it, Steve.”

Steve flushed again, this time no doubt from being reminded of his high metabolism’s appetite. He stood up and left the room, undoubtedly to go upstairs to get his sketchbook.

“Such a dear man. Bucky,” Aoife turned to him, “it was good of you to invite him to join us. He seems so lost.”

It was Bucky’s turn to go red at the praise. “We hit it off on the plane to London, sitting next to each other in first class. When he took the last large car at the rental place and offered me a ride, I was wracking my brain on how to thank him. Inviting him here seemed a no brainer.”

Aoife gave a decisive nod. “I’m glad you did, my boy, I’m glad you did. Everyone needs to spend the holidays with people who care for their well-being. To think, he was just going to rattle around Ireland alone for the holidays.” She shook her head in disbelief.

“What’s he in Ireland for anyway?” asked Brock in an almost obnoxiously antagonistic tone.

“Looking for relatives and ancestors,” Bucky replied tersely. “His mother came from Ireland. He’s a man out of time, Brock, looking to find a way to fit in. I think it’s admirable.”

“You’re such a romantic,” sneered Brock, settling back in his seat. “Why don’t you do a reading of an excerpt from your book for everyone while we wait for lunch?”

Bucky sensed Brock was trying to discomfit him but it backfired when the coven took up the suggestion and begged Bucky for a brief excerpt. He laughed. “Maybe after dinner if nothing’s planned. I need to think of what part to read that’s tantalizing enough that you’ll buy my book.”

“Oh, like we weren’t going to empty that box you’ve got over there,” chortled Aoife, pointing to the half-empty box of books she’d lugged in the night before still sitting where she’d left it by the fireplace.

Bucky chuckled. “I know a few of you, but I don’t know all of you. What do you do for a living? What hobbies does everyone have? How long have you been practicing? How did you become interested in paganism?”

That started a conversation that had Steve riveted, once he returned with his sketchbook, asking question after question as the conversation moved along the lines of Bucky’s initial prompts. Except for an occasional snide remark from Brock when one of the younger members piped up with a somewhat naïve comment, the talking moved along smoothly, educating Steve in the various forms of paganism practiced by the coven.

“So, the Winter Solstice ceremony,” Steve inquired, “will it be a particularly specific tradition?”

“I’m heading the ceremony at Aoife’s askance,” Brock said curtly, “so it will be Norse in theme.”

“We agreed to discuss it later, Brock. Most of us practice the old Celtic religion. Perhaps a mix of the two?” Aoife’s tone was firm as she contradicted Brock slightly.

Bucky felt his heart drop at the almost mutinous look that crossed Brock’s face. Brock was going to force the issue, he could tell, and badger Aoife into doing it his way, the Norse way. Bucky shot a glance at Steve, who was looking back and forth between Brock and Aoife with a slight frown on his face.

“Steve,” Bucky said in a near whisper, getting the other man’s attention, “a lot of the Norse rituals mean getting sky-clad, or nude or near nude. You don’t have to, of course, I sure as hell won’t be, and I doubt most of this coven will either, but I wanted to warn you, Brock will likely be nude for the ritual.”

Steve looked startled by this, glancing at Brock in amazement. “Won’t he get frostbite? Or catch an illness?”

“He’s pretty tough, inured to it, but we can only hope,” Bucky joked back, trying to lighten the awkwardness.

Steve looked pensive. “I don’t mind nudity, Bucky, but no, I won’t be doing that.” Steve shuddered and then, to change the subject, tilted his sketchbook to where Bucky could see it. “What do you think? Will Edmund like it?”

It was a portrait of Edmund, standing before the fireplace with his poetry journal in hand, gesturing enthusiastically as the young man had done during his exciting reading. It captured Edmund’s vitality and personality perfectly.

“That’s fantastic, Steve, and he’ll love it! Are you finished with it?” Bucky breathed in awe.

“Yeah, it’s done.”

“You need to sign it and give it to him right now. Kind of smooth over the atmosphere from the tension between Brock and Aoife.” Indeed, the conversation amongst the coven had gone down to a low drone, sensing the tension between their coven leader and guest.

“Edmund,” Steve called and the scarred young man turned around in inquiry. “I drew this. I hope you’ll like it.” Carefully Steve tore the artwork out of the book and, with a blush Bucky couldn’t help think was adorable, handed it to Edmund. Edmund took it, puzzled but the confusion melted into awe once he got a look at what he was holding.


A few nearby coven members looked over Edmund’s shoulder at the sketch and a general oohing and aahing began over Steve’s considerable artistic skills. Bucky sat back and smirked as Steve blushingly soaked up the praise and attention. Good. Steve needed some positive reinforcement and praise. He probably didn’t get much from his Avengers friends and, since it was a law enforcement/military setup, nothing at all from S.H.I.E.L.D. who probably only saw the stars and stripes uniform and not the man underneath.

The questions fired at Steve about where he learned to draw and his processes last until Emma stood up and announced she would set up the buffet with the sandwich makings. Bucky stood up too. “I’m helping,” he announced.

“You’ll not, you’re a guest,” protested Emma hotly.

Bucky turned stern. “I’m helping. I feel useless and underfoot.”

“That’s cuz you are.” Brock’s tone was joking but Bucky knew otherwise. He childishly stuck his tongue out at Brock, to keep the tone light and playful, especially with Steve watching the interaction, and followed a grumbling Emma to the kitchen.

“Emma, I wanted to talk to you about Brock and the ritual,” Bucky said now that they were in private. “I’ll try to get Aoife alone but since you’re second-in-command, so to speak, I’m talking to whomever I can.”

“All right,” Emma said uncertainly, handing him wrapped packages of ham and roast beef.

“He’s going to do a Norse ritual. He doesn’t know anything else, won’t learn anything else. The New York City coven is losing people right, left and center because of his inability to accommodate other beliefs,” Bucky told her. “He will not accommodate you, I guarantee it, even as a guest.”

Emma paused in rummaging through the large, industrial refrigerator for vegetables and stood up straight. “That will be a problem. None of us practice Norse rituals. We have some Norse in the rituals only because it blended with the ancient Celtic with the Viking raids and settlements and the mishmash that way but …” Her voice trailed off in distress.

“I’m just warning you. Do as you will, I’m not here to tell you what to do with your ceremony, but I’m telling you, he will force the issue.” Bucky fiddled with the white butcher paper of the meat he set down on the kitchen island.

“I share a bedroom with Aoife. We’ll discuss it tonight before we shut the lights out,” decided Emma. She hesitated before saying quietly, “He’s a very standoffish man, Brock.”

Bucky laughed quietly. “You have no idea. I understand your reasoning for inviting him here when I’m a guest as well, but I really wish you hadn’t.”

“Oh dear,” Emma murmured sadly. She then squared her shoulders. “Ritual is in two days, Saturday. We can muddle through surely and handle anything the man throws at us.”

“Steve offered to punch him if he gets out of control,” Bucky said teasingly but Emma looked distressed by the thought.

“Surely it won’t come to violence!” she exclaimed softly.

“If Brock gets out of line, I may punch him myself,” Bucky told her, half-tongue-in-cheek, half serious. “There’s a reason I broke up with him.”

Emma looked discomfited by the revelation and then stiffened her spine. “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Bread’s over there, Bucky.”

Bucky dutifully helped Emma carry the sandwich fixings to the buffet table in the large formal dining room. He then set out bottles of colas, tea makings for those wanting a hot drink and the leftover cider as well. Emma set down a pitcher of ice water on a pad so that the condensation wouldn’t ruin the antique buffet table.

“Shall we call in the ravenous hoard?” joked Bucky, hoping to lighten Emma’s thoughtful mood.

It worked. She smiled sunnily at him, the clouds in her eyes temporarily washed away. “Yes, let’s.”

Chapter Text

The afternoon’s painting party was a disaster for Bucky but a total success for Steve. Bucky’s moon was wonky, his sky more purple than midnight blue and the Stonehenge style rocks in the foreground looked…well, Bucky wasn’t sure what they looked like, to be honest, but nothing like Stonehenge.

Steve’s painting however was perfect. Perfect moon, Stonehenge looked eerie and silent in the moonlight caressing their ancient structures, his midnight sky gleaming with stars. Bucky tossed his paint brush down in disgust and groaned when Steve looked at him in askance at Bucky’s fit of pique.

“I’m hopeless. I’ll just watch a master at work,” Bucky told him cheekily.

“Just takes practice, like everything,” admonished Steve, concentrating on adding more moonlit highlights to his Stonehenge.

Emma walked over and surveyed Bucky’s attempt. “Ah, lad, don’t quit your day job.”

Bucky laughed uproariously. “D-don’t worry,” he wheezed, “I-I have no intention of being the next Rembrandt.”

“Did you at least enjoy yourself?” Emma asked anxiously.

“Immensely. But I think next painting session on Saturday morning, I’m just going to supervise and heckle Steve while he works his voodoo magic on his canvas,” Bucky told her.

“Still, take the painting home with you,” Steve told him, swishing his brush in the jar of water next to his canvas. “We can muck around with it later. I took an acrylics class right after I woke up from the ice, I like them much better than oils. Easier to correct something you don’t like. Just swish a little water on it, mop it up, and bam! Start painting again.”

“I’ll have to ship it, no way to get it home as carryon probably,” Bucky lamented, staring at his lopsided moon. He didn’t know how it was lopsided. He’d traced it from the paper plate like every one else. He sighed. He was hopeless with art unless it was words. Give him a pen and paper and he could go to town.

With the painting exercise largely a success the coven had the rest of the afternoon to themselves, with an hour and a half before dinner. Edmund was already banging around in the kitchen, making his lamb chops and assorted side dishes. Steve had been assuring the young man that he would survive a night’s meal of the detested mutton dish. He was too hungry to pass up food.

While the paintings were set to dry, Steve grabbed an apple and pear to munch on while suggesting to Bucky, “Let’s go for a walk.”

Bucky was game and went upstairs for his coat, hat and gloves. While not as cold as New York in winter, it was still plenty chilly. At least it wasn’t raining. He brought down Steve’s coat as well and Steve took a hat out of the coat pocket and put it on.

“It’s beautiful here,” Steve remarked as they walked a path around deeper into the Victorian house’s estate.

“I’ll bet it’s better in spring and summer,” Bucky told him. “It’s mostly gray right now.”

“Maybe it’s my ma’s Irish blood speaking to me, but I feel right at home.”

“You’re probably right. What about your father? Where was he from?” Bucky asked, picking his way across a small bridge over a trickling stream.

Steve followed and shrugged. “He was American, that’s all I know. Met my ma when he went to the Great War.” It took Bucky a moment to remember the Great War was World War I. It sobered him to think it was over a century ago for him, but not that long ago to Steve. “They met when my father was camped with his unit, met at a party, fell in love, got married before he went over to France. They met up a few times when he had a rare leave.”

“Romantic beginnings, war lovers,” Bucky commented. “But, forgive me, I don’t know your biography backwards and forwards, I sense this wasn’t a happy ending.”

Steve shook his head. “He got poisoned by mustard gas. He sent my ma to New York to live with his family. They hated her. When he came back to the States he was ill, dreadfully ill. Lived long enough to see me born and then died from the poison’s effects. He lingered, which was unfortunate. So many men died quickly from mustard gas, almost mercifully so.”

“They outlawed chemical warfare from war for a reason after that,” Bucky told him bracingly.

“Doesn’t really work, though, does it?” Steve said glumly. “Still chemicals being used against civilian populations all the time.”

“Yeah.” Bucky tried to think of a way to change the topic from something so morbid but was at a loss. They were some distance from the house; they could just barely see the Victorian two-story house’s rooftop.

Steve stopped walking and grabbed Bucky’s left hand. “This morning we got interrupted,” Steve said, changing the subject. Bucky’s heart hammered in his chest. Yes, this was a much more pleasant topic, if it was going where he thought it was going. “I got the impression you minded that we were interrupted.”

“Yes, I minded.”

Steve’s lips curled into a sinful smile and he dipped his head down. “Good,” he murmured just before he captured Bucky’s lips in a searing kiss.

Bucky’s head reeled. Steve was kissing him. God, was it a good kiss! Where did Captain America learn to kiss like this? Bucky gasped when Steve’s tongue brushed his lips, letting Steve in. Their tongues warred for dominance, tender licks of each other that had Bucky’s heart beating like mad, loud enough to drown out the birds chirping around them.

Steve broke off the kiss and rested his forehead against Bucky’s. “All right?” he asked breathlessly. Bucky couldn’t speak a moment and nodded. “Good,” Steve breathed and kissed him again.

This time the kiss was heated and Steve was in control. Bucky clutched at Steve’s broad shoulders for dear life as sensation after sensation washed over him. He was on fire, he couldn’t get enough of Steve’s teasing and command of the kiss. When Steve lifted his head again, Bucky’s eyes were still closed and he was breathing heavily.

“I couldn’t wait until tonight to kiss you,” Steve said, definitely breathless. “I didn’t figure the asshole would follow us outside to be a pain so I thought I’d seduce you in the romantic Irish countryside in winter.”

Bucky tried to speak, his voice came out a squeak, he cleared his throat and tried again, “Consider me seduced.”

Steve hugged Bucky to him. “How is this going to play out?”

“I’ve got to be back in New York and my school on January 13.” Bucky looked up shyly. “I had planned on an extra week just wandering London’s sights, but perhaps I could stay in Ireland and help you with your own research? You can go with me on my book tour beforehand?”

Steve’s hug tightened. “Yes,” he said tensely. “I’d like that. I want to explore whatever is going on between us.”

“Me too, Steve, me too,” Bucky assured him. “I haven’t had many relationships, I’m out to my friends and family, but not publicly. I don’t go to gay bars and the like, not my scene. I don’t have anything against them, just not my thing. I don’t do one-night stands or Tinder to find one-night stands. My last relationship was with Brock and that, as you know, was a complete fiasco. I’m just not a promiscuous guy.”

“No one in this century knows about me at all,” sighed Steve, pulling away a bit but still holding Bucky in his arms. “I’m bisexual, is that the term for liking men and women? Or is that pansexual? I get confused by the terminology.”

“Are you attracted to just men and women because they are men and women or are you attracted to the person first their gender second?” asked Bucky.

“Um, the latter?” Steve said a bit questioningly as he weren’t sure.

“Then you’re likely pansexual, but it doesn’t matter, just as long as you like me,” laughed Bucky. He got a pinch for his teasing.

“Good to know,” Steve said thoughtfully. “And I do like you. I did the minute I saw you and you spoke to me like I was an average Joe, not Captain America. I know you were a little starstruck but you didn’t let it determine how you talked and acted with me. I knew you were special in that moment.”

Bucky said nothing for a moment and then ventured, “I take it that doesn’t happen a lot?”

“Even the Avengers don’t call me Steve, I’m Cap, or Captain Rogers,” sighed Steve heavily.

“That sucks. You’re Steve first, Cap second. If I ever meet them, I’ll set them straight,” Bucky exclaimed indignantly.

“I’m glad I chose that seat in first class,” Steve confided. “I have my first real friend and maybe,” here he pulled back with a shy expression, “a boyfriend.”

“A bit too soon to say, but yeah, I think we’re heading there,” Bucky told him with a soft smile. Then he shivered as the heat from his arousal faded and the cold seeped in. “Okay, sun’s setting, it’s getting brisk. Let’s head back.” He slipped his hand in Steve’s and gave a tug. “No sleeping on the other side of the bed tonight, buddy, I expect that supersoldier, overheated body to be curled up with me tonight.”

“Okay,” Steve agreed happily.

Aoife was standing in the foyer with her coat in hand when they entered, still holding hands. She noted their clasped hands with a knowing, soft smile and put her coat back in the little closet by the door. It was tiny so most people had their coats in their assigned rooms. “I was just coming to get you boys. Dinner’s almost ready, Edmund tells me.”

“Good, we worked up an appetite,” joked Bucky. “Kildare is beautiful, even in winter, Aoife,” he added warmly. She beamed at him and nodded to acknowledge his comment.

He and Steve took their coats upstairs to their bedroom, where Bucky snuck another kiss, and then they headed downstairs to the dining room. Edmund was setting on the table steaming plates of lamb chops and perfectly cooked baked potatoes along with a nice side salad covered in what looked like ginger dressing.

“Looks great, Edmund!” enthused Bucky as everyone else came in and took their places at the table. Edmund, who had traded places with one of the other coven members next to Bucky to stay away from Brock’s cold attitude, smiled winningly at Bucky’s compliment.

“Thanks, my father is a chef,” he confided. “The old man has taught me everything I know about cooking a fine meal for many people.”

Steve hesitantly put a bite of lamb chop in his mouth and then his eyes involuntarily closed. “Oh my God,” he breathed. “If you’d served this to the soldiers during the War, we’d have won it without storming the beaches at Normandy.”

Edmund blushed a bright red, to the laughter of the table around him.

Bucky expected Brock to be snobbish about the fare, it having been cooked by Edmund, imperfect looking being in Brock’s book that the younger man was, but Brock ate and entertained the table with events at the last New York pagan festival. Steve hesitantly asked questions about the festival, which both Bucky and Brock answered, Brock graciously, to Bucky’s surprise.

Steve stood up after dinner and said in a tone that brooked no denial, “I’m doing dishes. Bucky’s helping. I’ll take no arguments.”

There was a pregnant pause and Bucky added a mulish look to the announcement. Brock, in his asshole voice, merely answered, “Better you than me.”

Steve stared around the room but no one argued. Aoife looked like she wanted to but she didn’t.

Steve and Bucky gathered up the dirty dishes. There wasn’t much leftovers, as Steve ate quite a bit of the seconds and even thirds. A supersoldier, Bucky was learning, ate a crap ton of food.

Steve ran the sink to rinse the sauce and dressing off the plates while Bucky stacked the glasses in the dishwasher. Once that was complete, Bucky loaded the rest of the dishes into the dishwasher while Steve scrubbed the pots and pans. There were so many plates, utensils and glasses, there was no room for the pots and pans. Once the dishwasher was chugging away, Bucky took a towel and dried what Steve was washing and rinsing. They worked in silent companionship, only speaking when needed in regards to their actions.

There was a tension between them, Bucky reflected, that was causing the silence. No awkwardness, just tension. He giggled at the idea of his editor remarking that Bucky needed more sexual tension in his writing. Well, here was a first hand experience with the sensation. All he had to do was write down how he was feeling.

Once the pots and pans were finished, Steve turned to Bucky, his blue eyes dark and mysterious. Bucky involuntarily swallowed, held his hand out and Steve took it. Together they walked hand in hand to the sitting room where the coven was gathered to listen to Bucky’s excerpt.

Chapter Text

Steve settled on the settee that had been saved as he and Bucky’s seats while everyone got situated. Bucky took one of the books from the box and flipped pages for a few minutes, trying to find the right place to start reading.

“Ah, here,” his companion said and Steve focused his attention on Bucky as the other man stood up and faced the crowd.

Bucky could write. Steve was captured by Bucky’s use of imagery. He could feel the rain pelting down on the followers of Brighid, could understand their confusion as their chieftain declared they would now all follow the Christian god but St. Brighid would be honored always. He understood that the priest advising the chieftain wanted to use the old ways to encourage the people to follow the Christian tenets. And when Bucky got to the part where the goddess watched these proceedings with bemusement and a mild rage, he felt her fury and fear as if it were his own. Would she fade to nothingness with this coming of a new god? Would her worship as this saint, a lesser being, diminish her somehow in ways she could not foresee, or would she retain her power with the people?

It was riveting, Bucky captured the time and essence of the people and the goddess perfectly. When Bucky finished his fifteen-minute reading, the coven broke into applause. Steve slid a glance at Brock for the other American’s reaction and found a semi-astounded expression warring with anger. Steve then focused on giving Bucky the kudos he undoubtedly deserved.

“What made you write about St. Brighid?” demanded Edmund.

“I knew the first book would be released around the holidays or maybe around her feast day in February and wanted to take advantage of that. I have a manuscript finished about Isis and her imagery being stolen for the Mother Mary that is slated to come out next summer,” Bucky explained.

“And what is the end game?” asked Aoife excitedly.

“The ancient gods will confront the Christian god and his angels over their worshippers. I haven’t decided if it will be a war or merely a truce. It’s a few books away for that to happen. I want to get the major players set up first. I’m still working out the kinks,” confessed Bucky with a grin.

“Oh, Bucky, it’s marvelous,” exclaimed Emma, hugging Bucky tightly in jubilation. “I’ll definitely want a copy now. I preordered one but I’m happy to have one signed by you for a keepsake and one to read to death until it’s dog-eared and worn.”

Bucky laughed and then turned to Steve, a bit of a shy look on his face. “What’d you think, Steve?”

“I better get preview copies of everything else you put out,” Steve told him earnestly. “I mean it, Buck, it was gripping stuff. I felt as if I was there, feeling what the people felt, the rain beating down on them, their confusion. I understood the goddess’ own fear and indignation.”

Bucky beamed. “I’m glad.” And then he turned to Brock with an arched eyebrow. “Well?”

“It was good. Not as good as what you wrote with me that’s been left unfinished, but good.” Brock’s face was impassive but there was a hint of spite there that got Steve’s back up.

“Charming as always, Rumlow.” Bucky turned away from his ex dismissively, to which Steve found a measure of triumph in. Brock was handsome and had a certain charisma, Steve was willing to admit, but he was also abrasive and unfeeling. Steve was glad Bucky got away from the man. Rumlow would have eventually smothered all that was good and true about Steve’s beautiful and talented Bucky.

There was a concerted rush as people went to where they’d stashed their purses and wallets to buy Bucky’s books. Steve also bought one and was pleased when Bucky laughingly signed it “To my punk, yours always and forever, Bucky Barnes”.

It warmed him, being called a punk. He hadn’t been called that since Arnie went into the Navy. It was like Bucky knew it was a word Steve associated with friendship and light. That Bucky signed “my punk” made Steve’s heart go pitter-patter with excitement.

Their kisses this afternoon on their walk had gotten him hot and bothered. Bucky was water and Steve a thirsty man. While he wasn’t certain he was ready for sex, he was ready to just hold Bucky in his arms, smell the coconut smell from Bucky’s shampoo and bury his face in Bucky’s neck and breathe in the spicy flavor that was on Bucky’s skin. He couldn’t wait for bedtime.

The coven stayed up late that night, chatting excitedly or reading Bucky’s book out loud to each other. Bucky was a little embarrassed by the last part and Rumlow had finally gone to bed in a snit at such goings-on. Steve got the impression Rumlow was used to being the center of attention, even when he and Bucky had been co-authors. That he was getting no attention didn’t set well with the New York coven leader.

When it was time for bed, he and Bucky slowly made their way up the grand stair case, listening to the rest of the coven’s idle chatter as they silently entered their bedroom and closed the door. They stood staring at each other, Bucky with an endearing smile twitching his lips. Steve was overheated, overstimulated. Bucky had been rubbing his hand on Steve’s thigh absently all evening. Another thing that probably got Rumlow’s back up.

“Bed?” Bucky asked, finally breaking the silence between them.

Steve took Bucky in his arms, as he’d been wanting to do all evening. “I can’t wait.”

“Then let me go, dummy,” laughed Bucky. “And I have a suggestion for tomorrow morning to make.”


“To conserve hot water, let’s shower together.” Bucky’s tone was sly and Steve about gave himself an aneurysm at thinking of Bucky slick with water, naked in the luxurious shower stall in their shared bathroom.

“I’m fine with that,” Steve croaked out.

Bucky took his Slytherin pajamas and slipped into the bathroom to change, while Steve changed in the bedroom and turned down the sheet and blankets. They traded places so Steve could brush his teeth and then before Steve could think, they were snuggled up together on the large king-sized bed. Doing what he’d fantasized of doing earlier, Steve buried his face in the back of Bucky’s neck as he spooned the slightly smaller man. Sure enough, the spicy scent that was Bucky’s flooded Steve’s senses, tempered only by a hint of Bucky’s coconut shampoo.

“I’ve been envisioning this all night,” Steve told Bucky softly.

Bucky gave a joyous chuckle. “Me too,” he confessed. Then he shyly asked, “Did you really like my writing?”

“I loved it!” Steve exclaimed. “And I meant when I said I better get preview copies of all future books!”

Bucky gave another laugh, this one a bit relieved. “I’m glad.”

Steve hesitated to bring the asshole up but the question had been nagging at him all night. “Brock said you wrote with him. What was that like?”

Bucky snorted derisively and snuggled deeper into Steve’s embrace. “I did all the writing. He put in an idea or scene here and there but I came up with most of it. He did a little bit of research when he had too. They were books kind of like almanacs, but stories for each ritual or holiday. I focused on a different religion each year. There was an overaching storyline that interlinked them all, that’s what he meant about ‘unfinished’ but I don’t care. I tried to write on them after we broke up but I associated them too much with him. Maybe one day I’ll finish them but not right now.”

“When did you break up with him?” Steve asked tentatively.

“About a year ago. Left the coven about two months after that when he became head of it. From what I understand, there’s been an exodus of people leaving since then as well, but they can’t figure out how to get him out.”

Steve let out a sigh. He was really not liking Brock Rumlow.

“Enough talk of assholes.” Bucky kissed Steve’s arm where it was wrapped protectively around him. “What do you think of you going with me on my book tour and then me helping you out with your genealogy search afterwards? I don’t need to tour London. It’s an excuse to come back.”

Steve thought for a moment. “Let’s do it. Ireland’s not a huge place, not like America. We can surely get a bit of my research done in a week. And two heads are better than one.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. Besides, I don’t want my New York life to intrude on my Irish idyll just yet. You’ll have your Captain America duties once you get back to the States, I’ll have my teaching and writing deadlines. Life will intrude. I want to get to know you, explore what this is, without life intruding to upset things just yet.”

“I like that plan,” Steve agreed, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s soft, coconut smelling hair. He would forever associate the smell of coconut to his time here with Bucky, he resolved. He turned the subject. “You teach history at a high school, you said?”

“Yes, at Aldrich Stoneman High in Brooklyn.”

“I’m supposed to do some public service videos for high schoolers starting the end of January,” mused Steve. “Films like eating right for growing bodies, exercise, and detention.”

Bucky wheezed out a laugh. “That’s gonna be priceless!”

“Yeah, I’m not happy about it, but S.H.I.E.L.D. insisted I need to do good PR to ‘introduce myself to the world’,” Steve said, making the quotes gesture in front of Bucky’s face. “Apparently, fighting aliens two weeks outta the ice wasn’t a good enough introduction of myself to the world.”

“Two weeks?” Bucky’s tone was arrested.

“Yeah, I’d barely been awake two weeks when Loki and the Chitauri attacked,” Steve sighed. “Not the best way to be introduced to a new century.”

“To be fair, no one else knew aliens existed either, except maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. From what I hear about them, they’re up to their necks in all kinds of stuff. A coven member in New York works for them. She’s always muttering complaints about her workplace’s secret stuff. Nothing that would compromise them, just in general,” Bucky rushed to add.

“I get it. I’m not happy with them either,” confessed Steve, “but Peggy and Howard founded S.H.I.E.L.D. in honor of me, I understand, so I feel honor bound to at least give them a chance to show me that they’re worth my time and effort.”

“You could always retire, write a best-selling autobiography and retire on the proceeds,” joked Bucky.

“Black Widow, Natasha, told me to do the same thing.”

“Listen to me and Natasha,” advised Bucky teasingly. “We won’t steer you wrong.”

Steve laughed, shaking both him and Bucky with the movement. “It’ll be my plan B.”

“All right, enough jabber, sleepytime for high school history teachers, hopefully an upcoming best-selling author, and supersoldiers. Don’t forget we gotta drive into town tomorrow and shop for the gift exchange,” Bucky yawned.

Steve pressed another kiss to Bucky’s hair, said ‘Yeah’ and drifted off to sleep, content holding Bucky tightly in his arms.

Chapter Text

Morning came, dawn’s fingers creeping through the room and caressing Bucky’s face with its dim light. He blinked awake and immediately smiled, snuggling into Steve’s embrace. Steve was snoring lightly in his ear. Never had Bucky felt so contented. Amazing that he felt this way with a guy he’d only known a few days, but there it was. Contentment personified.

Steve was holding him tight and despite his insistent bladder, Bucky was loath to move. Eventually though, he knew he needed to and pulled reluctantly away from Steve’s arms. Steve roused sleepily. “Good morning,” the supersoldier said with a drowsy smile.

“And good morning to you. I gotta pee,” Bucky greeted with a lazy grin, slipping from beneath the covers. He shivered. Was it his imagination or was it chillier in here than it was last night?

He quickly did his business and peered at himself in the mirror. He looked delightfully sleep rumpled, not like some scary monster from underneath the bed like he usually did first thing in the morning.

He quickly made his way back to the bed, dove back under the covers and into Steve’s arms. “Its freezing,” Bucky said, brushing his cold feet against Steve’s sweatpant covered legs. Good Goddess, but Steve generated a lot of body heat!

“You were out like a light but Aoife knocked on the door late last night and said the heat went out. She’s called the rental company but there’s a couple big fireplaces and the kitchen stove is gas. We won’t freeze to death. If it gets below 35 degrees Fahrenheit I’ll be surprised,” Steve rumbled, hugging Bucky tight to him.

“Layers it is then,” chuckled Bucky. “And an excuse to stay in bed with you longer.” He looked at Steve through his lashes in what he hoped was a flirtatious manner.

“You also promised me a shared shower.” Steve returned the flirtation and Bucky went flaming hot with desire. He wanted to see water sluicing over Steve’s muscles more than anything.

“It’s pretty early,” Bucky ventured. “If we shower now, we might actually get some hot water and can get downstairs for breakfast. Then we can go into town for our shopping.”

Steve’s blue eyes went dark at the suggestion of the shared shower and he brushed a gentle kiss on Bucky’s lips. “I’d like that,” he confessed. “I must admit the idea of you naked and wet is very appealing.”

Bucky gave a soft laugh. “I was thinking the same thing about you.” When neither made a move, Bucky wiggled a bit. “We have to get out of our warm cocoon to shower, Steve.”

Steve let out a whine but released his hold on Bucky, allowing the smaller man to slip out of bed. Bucky held out his hand invitingly. Steve took it and allowed Bucky to tug him free of the covers. Together they entered the en suite bathroom. Steve started the water while Bucky took his medicine, trying to be casual about it. He’d forgotten to take it yesterday. While he could skip an occasional dose, he couldn’t skip multiple doses.

They stripped clinically and stood there staring at each other. Steve was beautiful. He was pale, peaches and cream complexion, a few scars here and there, but what gave the supersoldier them Bucky didn’t know. There was one on his left bicep that Bucky traced. “Bayonet,” Steve explained.

Bucky gulped. He then touched one on Steve’s right side. “Slipped running from an angry dog when I was a kid, tore my good shirt. Got whooped good for that. Ma had just bought me that new shirt and I had it torn with a stupid schoolboy stunt within a week.”

Bucky reached down and brushed Steve’s member. “No scars here?” he asked coyly.

Steve shifted and looked flustered. “No.”

Bucky removed his hand, even though he could feel Steve’s cock filling a little at his touch. He gestured to the shower. “Shall we? We’re wasting hot water.”

Steve nodded and motioned for Bucky to go first. Bucky slipped into the shower stall and Steve crowded in behind him. Steve reached around Bucky and grabbed the genetic bar of soap provided by the rental agency. He lathered up his large hands and ran them over Bucky’s shoulders and upper arms. Bucky swallowed hard. He’d imagined them bathing each other but figured Steve would be too shy. This was his fantasies come true.

Steve kept soaping up and running his hands over Bucky’s arms and chest. Then he knelt down and washed Bucky’s legs. Bucky felt himself getting hard at Steve’s gentle, almost reverent touch. Steve finished and stood up. “Now your hair,” the blond said. Bucky tipped his head back in the spray, wetting his locks. Then he turned around and soon Steve was lathering up Bucky’s hair.

“I love the smell of your shampoo. I’ll forever associate coconut with you,” Steve said huskily.

That was the most romantic thing Bucky had ever been told in the shower.

“Rinse,” Steve ordered gently. Bucky turned around and tipped his head back underneath the spray. Steve sifted his hands through Bucky’s short hair, making sure all the shampoo rinsed out.

They stood there staring at each other for a moment before Bucky cleared his throat. “My turn. Let’s trade.” He shuffled Steve under the hot spray of water and repeated Steve’s movements, soaping up his hands and running them over Steve’s shoulders, arms and chest, eventually kneeling down to soap up Steve’s legs. He chanced a look up and right at eye level bobbed Steve’s thick cock.

It was gorgeous and Bucky wanted more than anything to go down on Steve. He gave it serious consideration for a moment but then reasoned that they hadn’t talked about sex and Steve might not be ready. He made sure all the soap was rinsed off Steve’s legs before rising to his full height once more.

Steve bent his head down and kissed Bucky, the water wetting their kiss, tongues mating. Bucky felt dizzy, lightheaded, from the kiss. Steve was more man than Bucky ever imagined he’d get. And to think he was once content with Brock Rumlow. He pushed thoughts of how inadequate Brock was from his mind and concentrated on the man in front of him. Their kiss broke and Bucky buried his face in Steve’s sweet-smelling neck.

The water abruptly shut off and Bucky blinked in surprise. “I thought we’d conserve the hot water for everyone else,” Steve said. Bucky realized Steve had reached behind him and shut off the water while Bucky was daydreaming after the kiss.

“Back to bed or on to breakfast?” asked Bucky dazedly.

“It’s barely seven,” Steve mused, opening the shower door. “Do you think someone’s made coffee yet or are they still abed where it’s warm themselves?”

“Good point. It’s supposed to be a lazy day, the way Emma was talking, with the hike later this afternoon weather permitting. I vote we snuggle back under the blankets,” Bucky mused, taking the towel Steve handed him. “I didn’t wash your hair like you did mine.”

Steve rubbed his towel over his chest and then over his head. “I’ll live. You realize I didn’t bathe every day back in the thirties and forties, right? This shower every day seems like a waste to me.”

“I usually shower every other day myself,” admitted Bucky. “Yesterday though I just wanted to wash off the airplane and travel tension.”

“I get it. I’m just saying.” Steve hung his towel up and took Bucky’s to hang it next to his. Then he took Bucky’s hand and tugged him back to bed.

Once snuggled back in the warm bed, Bucky half-dozed while thinking that shower was easily the most erotic thing that had happened to him. Sure, he’d showered with his lovers before but none of them were Steve.

An hour later they roused when they heard people in the hallway talking. “We should get up, I guess,” sighed Bucky regretfully. He was warm and comfy. He didn’t want the real world to intrude.

“I am getting hungry,” admitted Steve, which was punctuated by his stomach grumbling. Bucky laughed at Steve’s sheepish expression at the noise.

“I get it. Breakfast, then trek into Kildare for shopping. We’ll get some recommendations from Aoife or Emma.” Bucky quickly shuffled over to the closet and pulled out his cable knit sweater and a light t-shirt, tugging on a worn, comfy pair of jeans with them. He shoved his feet into some nice woolen socks and then into his boots.

Steve dressed in a dark blue sweater that made his eyes stand out electric blue and a pair of dark navy slacks. He too slipped into some thick warm socks and boots. Before Steve opened the door to exit and go downstairs Bucky said, “Hey.” Steve turned and Bucky reached up to kiss him softly. “I’m glad I met you, Steve Rogers.”

Steve’s smile was soft and affectionate. “I’m glad I met you too,” he whispered.

They left the comfort of their shared room and headed downstairs. The dining room was boisterous despite the chill in the air. Food was steaming on the buffet table and both Steve and Bucky grabbed plates and filled up. This time, Bucky took hot tea instead of coffee.

“How did you two sleep?” asked Aoife with a knowing grin at them.

“Very well. I didn’t even realize the heat went out until Steve told me this morning,” Bucky told her.

“The landlord said he’d have it working by tonight. He’s going to be out this morning to take a look.” Aoife took a sip of her drink and then cleared her throat. “You boys still planning to go into Kildare to do some shopping?”

“Yeah, you got any shops or streets to recommend we shop at?” asked Bucky, before forking some eggs into his mouth. The eggs were seasoned with fresh thyme, delicious.

“Plenty of shops, there’s even a bunch of outlet stores, Fossil, Coach and other brand names. Take all morning, eat lunch in town, if you like, the hike isn’t until two this afternoon. You have plenty of time to take in some shopping and looking around,”
Aoife told them cheerfully.

“We’ll just cruise until we find some likely spot to stop then.” Bucky looked questioningly at Steve, who nodded a bit apprehensively.

“Is there a spending limit?” asked Steve cautiously. That was a good point. Bucky hadn’t thought of that.

“We set it at fifty Euros,” Emma told them from her spot next to Brock. Then she turned politely to Brock. “Do you need to shop as well for the gift exchange?”

“Nah,” Brock said lazily. “I’ve got something appropriate.”

Bucky idly wondered what Brock drug from New York that could potentially be used as a gift for a gift exchange and then dismissed the thought. Unless he was the recipient and it was nothing embarrassing to the recipient of Brock’s gift, then it was none of Bucky’s business.

Steve ate three helpings, he was indeed hungry Bucky reflected. Once finished, Steve set his fork down and leaned back with the air of a man who ate his fill, even patting his stomach contentedly. “I don’t know who cooked breakfast, but will you move in with me? I can’t cook half this good. I can afford to pay your upkeep.”

There was laughter around the table.

“I bet the government owed you a lot of money, huh?” asked Brock. Bucky tensed for a second but realized Brock just sounded curious not sarcastic.

Steve looked pensive for a moment. “I got backpay for my rank, with raises per the shift in years, from when I went into the ice back in ’45. Then I get a nice stipend from S.H.I.E.L.D. for helping train new recruits and the like, on top of being an Avenger. I’ve got more money than I ever dreamed of having back in the forties.”

That sobered the table. Brock whistled as if impressed. “Nice,” he drawled. “It pays to be a specialist, I guess.”

“Yeah.” Steve shrugged and then looked at Bucky. “Ready to go?”

Bucky pushed away from the table. “Let’s go. I have a feeling that today I’m getting a work out. Good thing I had a big breakfast.”

The table laughed again and Steve and Bucky went upstairs to get their coats.

Soon they were tooling down the road, heading for Kildare Town and their shopping expedition.

Chapter Text

They wandered around Kildare Shopping Village but it was mostly outlet stores for Prada, Coach and Guicci, big name brands and not something appropriate, to Steve’s way of thinking, for a pagan gift exchange. So, they climbed back aboard the Land Rover and tooled into the old part of town, full of pubs and kitschy gift shops. ‘Much better’, thought Steve, as he found a parking place and locked the doors once both he and Bucky clambered out of the huge SUV.

Bucky snuck his hand in Steve’s as they wandered the shops. In a pharmacy of all places Steve found his gift. It was a clock with artwork for the different seasons and some of the pagan holidays he’d heard the coven talk about. It was a pretty thing, to his artist’s eye, and everyone could always use a clock somewhere. Though, he thought with a moment of discontent, everyone seemed to rely on watches or their cell phones to tell the time. But still, he liked it and he bought it. Then he went looking for Bucky, who was wandering the store.

Bucky was standing in front of a cache of books, a pensive look on his face. “What is it, Buck?” asked Steve, slipping an arm around Bucky’s waist.

Bucky gestured to a book, The Norse Almanac of Stories by James B. Barnes and Brock R. Rumlow. Steve’s gut clenched. “I didn’t think these were still around, but I guess it’s old stock. It is on sale.”

Steve picked up the book and flipped through it. He almost wanted to buy it and also didn’t want to because while it had Bucky’s name on it, it also had Rumlow’s.

“I’ve got plenty of copies, I’ll give you a set,” Bucky told him tersely, “if you want to read them.”

“Were,” here Steve’s voice failed him and he cleared his throat before trying again, “were you and Brock together a long time?”

“Almost three years.” Bucky’s reply was almost cold but Steve knew the other man wasn’t upset with him. “At first it was fine, he was nice and attentive. Then little things, temper lost and shouting, throwing things. He never struck me, I’d have punched him out for that and he knew it. Finally, we missed a deadline, or rather I missed a deadline because it was at the same time as some intense school stuff. The editor knew about it and was cool, but Brock totally lost it. I moved out that night, moved in with my sister and her husband. We moved my shit two days later, when Brock was at work. Some of it had been trashed, probably in a temper tantrum.”

“You dodged a bullet there,” commented Steve gruffly. He tightened his hold on Bucky’s waist in a comforting manner.

“I’m over him for the most part. The only thing unfinished between us is this series. I can’t technically finish it because he’s a part of it. But in some ways I’m not sure I want to finish it. It just brings back bad memories.” Bucky sighed and turned away from the book display. He glanced down at the bag in Steve’s hand. “Find something?”

“Yeah, I think it’s perfect!” enthused Steve, glad for the change of subject.

“I still need to find something,” mused Bucky. “I overheard a lady saying there’s a little kitschy shop down the street, let’s hit it. Maybe I’ll find something there.”

They wandered the streets and found the shop in question. Bucky stepped inside to shop in private, since it was supposed to be an anonymous gift exchange. Steve could potentially be a receiver of Bucky’s gift. A few minutes later Bucky exited with a bag, looking satisfied with himself. “We forgot gift bags or wrapping paper,” Bucky told him. “Let’s hit that pub for a pint and some food and then we’ll go back around and look for gift bags.”

The pub was almost a stereotypical Irish pub to Steve’s way of thinking. It was dark: dark woods, dim light, years of smoke from fireplaces and smokers had darkened everything even more. A perky waitress nodded to them as they took a seat and she ambled over. “What’ll ya have, boys?” she asked as she set down menus.

“Two pints of your best,” Bucky told her.

“Ah, Americans!” she chortled. “None of that swill here that you call beer.”

“Good,” laughed Bucky. “I don’t drink American beer anyway.”

“I’ll grab your drinks and give you a mo to look at the menu,” she said, laughing still.

“I think I’ll have the roast beef au jus sandwich,” Steve said. “And an extra side of crisps. That means chips, right?”

“Yeah,” nodded Bucky, “but I’m just going to have a side of colcannon. I’m not that hungry. I had a big breakfast.”

The waitress returned and plonked two dark ales in front of them. They ordered and she left with a wink and a smile for both of them.

Steve looked at Bucky for a long moment, cataloging his features with an artist’s eye. “You are a very handsome man, Buck,” he said finally.

The comment took Bucky off-guard, if the start he made and the blush he gave was any indication. “You’re pretty nice looking yourself, Rogers,” laughed Bucky.

“I mean, you’re a gorgeous guy, but I meant artistically,” blustered Steve, realizing he’d just come on to Bucky when he didn’t mean to. Bucky’s head tipped to the side curiously but he was still smiling. “I’ve got several canvases in my apartment, been trying to find inspiration to paint. Nothing’s come.” Steve looked away, embarrassed but inspired to ask, “Would you sit for me and let me paint you?”

Bucky’s soft chuckle made Steve look at him. The other man’s expression was more than fond, it was downright besotted. “I would be glad to pose for you. I used to do modeling for artists when I was in college. A way to make some extra money.”

Steve wanted to sag in relief that Bucky wasn’t offended by Steve seeing him as an artistic inspiration as well as a potential boyfriend. “Good,” he said, “I’m glad. I think you’ve got a really interesting face. You’re well-built and fit, I could see putting you as a knight in shining armor or maybe a Roman senator in his toga?”

Bucky laughed and settled back in his seat as the waitress came over laden with their meal. “I like the idea of being a Roman…ooo maybe a hoplite in Alexander’s army?”

Steve’s artistic brain flashed to Bucky in bronze cuirass and wielding a sarissa, greaves and helmet shining in the Persian sunlit desert plains. He longed for his sketchbook so he could get the image down but alas, he was in an Irish pub, partaking of excellent conversation, ale and food.

Bucky picked up his fork and took a bite of his potatoes and cabbage. “Mmm, good,” he mumbled around his mouthful.

Steve’s roast beef was sitting on a plate full of au jus juices. Another plate had the bread for the sandwich and some chips. His extra side of chips was set on a third plate. He piled the roast beef on the bread, slathered it with the provided horse radish sauce and took a bite. Heaven. He finished chewing and motioned to Bucky. “Any of the stuff you pose for ever wind up in a gallery?” he asked.

Bucky shook his head. “Not to my knowledge, but one of the artists was pagan, got me interested in it. My family’s not very religious so I didn’t go to church much as a kid. It seemed interesting. I started reading up on paganism, the artist introduced me to the Greater New York City coven and boom! There I was, a practicing pagan.”

Steve swallowed another bite, this time of chips. “I wondered how you got into it.”

“I did a lot of reading,” confessed Bucky. “At first I was strictly Celtic, because Tom, the artist, was and he was kind of my mentor. But as I met others and continued to read, I started to expand my interests and belief system. Like I told you a couple days ago, I’m more ‘choose your own’ rather than strictly Celtic or Egyptian only.” He gave a lopsided grin, mischievous. “It irritated the hell out of Brock that I picked and chose.”

Steve shared the smile. “Anything to irritate such a small-minded person is okay in my book, Buck.”

Bucky snorted a laugh around his mouthful of potatoes and cabbage. “Just goes to show that progressive isn’t always progressive. Pagans are supposed to be liberal and progressive in our thinking, all nature based and obsessed with hemp products and oils. Not true. Brock’s a technophobe,” Bucky said and then added at Steve’s puzzled look, “He detests new technology. He uses an electric typewriter, doesn’t even own a computer that I know of. I talked him into his cell phone but I’m betting it’s the same one he’s had since he bought it three years ago.”

“I thought you didn’t have to upgrade if you didn’t want to?” puzzled Steve, feeling like he was ignorant of things. “And I have a laptop but not a computer.”

“Oh, a laptop’s a computer, just a mini-computer, but he doesn’t even have that. He keeps paper files of all the members of the coven, written on his electric typewriter.” Bucky shook his head. “He must waste hours instead of making a database on a computer.”

Steve picked at his chips, disconcerted that he had something in common with such a jerk. “I kinda get where he’s coming from,” he confessed.

“Yeah, but you have a valid excuse. You’ve only been in the 21st Century for a few months. He’s lived in this century since it started. He grew up around computers in his classrooms and in college. There’s no excuse. I mean, if using a typewriter is a muse thing for your writing, that’s one thing, but just adamantly because you think it’s ‘too modern’ and ‘steals the aesthetic of paganism’ not using a computer…that’s just stupid.”

Steve pondered Bucky’s point and admitted Bucky had one. “I get it. And I find technology today fascinating. I have trouble with it because I’m not used to it, but Tony and Nat tell me I’m a fast learner. I remember,” Steve said jokingly, “when there were party lines and only one phone per block or per apartment building.”

Bucky blinked around a sip of ale. “One per block?” He sounded aghast. Steve nodded. Bucky whistled in amazement. “They say the Hotel Pennsylvania has the oldest telephone number in existence,” he added.


Bucky laughed. “How’d you know that?”

“Glenn Miller did a song about it,” Steve told him before crunching on a chip.

“Music,” Bucky pondered. “I assume you still listen to Big Band and Swing music because it’s familiar and I’m down with that. I love it, personally. I’ve got a lot of it on my phone that I listen to when I’m writing. But have you delved into modern music yet?”

Steve nodded enthusiastically. “I love the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Billy Joel is cool. I like the Outlaw Country music like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. I don’t it called heavy metal?” Bucky nodded encouragingly. “Yeah, don’t care for them just screaming out lyrics. Tony loves that stuff so I get subjected to it a lot though. I do have some soundtracks for like Star Wars and Harry Potter.”

Bucky tapped his lower lip, making Steve stare at the plump specimen and squirm in his seat uncomfortably. “What about television? What do you watch?”

“Not much,” Steve admitted. “It seems to be all crime shows or reality tv. Nothing of interest to me. I watch the news, both local and national, but it’s so biased. No one just reports the news anymore, it’s always got a political spin on it, right, left or center.”

Bucky shrugged. “I’ll show you some good shows on the cable channels. Cooking shows, documentaries on history and science, they even have people who chase ghosts and search haunted houses, but that’s kind of reality television. Lots of true crime and stuff too. You can find a lot of good stuff off the major big networks.”

“I watched a documentary on my Amazon Prime account,” Steve said slowly, thinking out loud. “It was on dinosaurs, got me interested in them. Back in my day, we knew so little about dinosaurs, I didn’t find them interesting. But now we know there were different eras of dinosaurs and all the different kinds of dinosaurs and insects and plant life. Different climates and the continents were shaped differently. I find it fascinating now.”

“Ah, my first love,” crooned Bucky, clutching his heart dramatically, “dinosaurs. I still have the stuffed triceratops that my grandparents gave me when I was a kid. My favorite dinosaur is triceratops. What’s yours?”

Steve thought a moment. “Any of the Titanosaurs, really. Just the idea of these gigantic beasts bigger than anything we’ve ever seen walking the Earth is amazing.”

“I like sabertooth cats too,” confessed Bucky. “Big kitty, long teeth, take crap from no one.”

“I read somewhere they even found whole mammoths frozen in the ice,” Steve enthused. “Too bad they don’t have a superserum that allows them to thaw out alive.”

Bucky snorted. “Can you imagine walking through the Brooklyn Zoo and seeing a mammoth on display?”

“Gentle giants, I’ll bet,” countered Steve.

Bucky raised his hands in surrender. “I concede and I have a movie series for you to watch. It’s called Ice Age, and it’s about Ice Age beasts like mammoths and giant sloths dealing with the big thaw.”

“Is it computer generated animals?” asked Steve curiously.

“It’s animated, cute as hell, funny, especially the sabertooth squirrel named Skrat.”

“Sabertooth squirrel?” Steve laughed. “Was there such a thing?”

Bucky grinned. “Probably not but he’s the comic relief in the movie. All he wants is his nut and it eludes him the whole movie. We’ll watch them one night when we’re back in New York.” Bucky suddenly looked shy, glancing at his now empty plate. “I mean, that is, if you want.”

Steve looked at Bucky meaningfully. “Oh, I definitely want.”

Bucky looked relieved. “Okay good. It’s a date.”

“I hope it is one of many dates,” Steve confided. Bucky beamed at him.

They paid their tab and walked back to the Land Rover, hands clasped once again.

“Hey Bucky!” Bucky tensed as did Steve. That was Rumlow’s voice.

They turned to see Rumlow jogging toward them, laden with bags. “You guys have that big fuckoff truck, can you lug some of this stuff back?

“What’s wrong with your car and if it’s too small how to do you plan on getting it home?” asked Bucky curtly. Bucky dropped Steve’s hand, causing Steve to frown and wonder why.

“Ah come on,” whined Brock, thrusting a bag at Bucky. “It’s for the New York coven. You know, that which you were once a part of?”

“And I was made to feel unwelcome?” Bucky thrust the bags back. “I thought you were spending time with the Kildare coven this morning? Why the sudden need to shop?”

Brock leaned forward and confided in a low tone, “They are kind of sticks in the mud.”

Steve stiffened in outrage and saw Bucky roll his eyes. “You mean, you don’t get your way and aren’t the center of attention all the time,” Bucky translated. “Pull your head out of your ass, Rumlow, the world does not revolve around you. We’re done here. Come on, Steve.” Bucky grabbed Steve’s hand again and tugged, leading the way back to the Land Rover half a block away.

Steve glanced over his shoulder and saw Rumlow glaring almost hatefully at Bucky’s back. ‘Someone is holding a grudge and it sure as hell isn’t Bucky,’ Steve thought to himself. He turned away and stowed both he and Bucky’s purchases in the back seat of the SUV before climbing into the driver’s seat and starting the engine. “You okay?” he asked.

“Asshole,” Bucky groused. “They’ve been all that’s accommodating and hospitable so far. He’s the one who’s been a shithead.”
Steve agreed and decided to say nothing. He pulled out of the parking spot and headed back towards the countryside and the turn off to the big Victorian house where they were staying with their friends, the County Kildare Coven.

Steve had a feeling it was going to come to a head with Rumlow and was not looking forward to it. He would not, however, allow his new friends to be treated like lepers just because some high and mighty jerk thought himself above them. Steve didn’t hold to that kind of bullshit.

Yes, something might have to be done about Brock Rumlow. But Steve would wait and take cues from Bucky and the coven. He would step in only if needs be. He was a guest, after all.

Chapter Text

They arrived back at the Victorian house just before two and in time for the hike. Bucky and Steve didn’t even bother to change out of their coats, just trooped upstairs with their gifts and came back downstairs to join in the afternoon’s fun.

Edmund led the charge, since he was from nearby and was happy to tell the newcomers all about the county’s history and answer questions about the flora and fauna. Brock, to Bucky’s relief, had not returned from town and therefore was missing the hike. Not all the coven joined. Some didn’t like the chilly air and some were too ill health to bother with tramping about the countryside. There were maybe six people total on the hike, Bucky surmised, which was fine.

Steve paused by the boundary line’s low rock wall and looked about. Bucky stopped beside him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he noted.

“Yes.” Steve’s tone was thoughtful and Bucky considered asking what Steve was thinking but decided the supersoldier should have his private thoughts.

“Tons of history here.”

“Not all of it good,” Steve said with a slight frown.

“Doesn’t seem to keep the Irish spirit down any, though,” Bucky joked. “They bounce back like a quarter on an Army made bed.”

Steve cracked a smile but said nothing. Eventually he turned to Bucky and pulled him close. “Thank you for inviting me. I can’t say it enough.”

“It was my genuine pleasure. I’m glad you thought, ‘what the hell’ and agreed,” Bucky told him, burying his face in Steve’s neck.

“The other Avengers thought I was nuts, wanting to spend the holidays traveling Ireland instead of spending it warm and safe in Avengers Tower,” confided Steve. “But, nice as it is, it’s not home. Brooklyn’s not home anymore either. No place is home,” he added sadly.

“But you could make it your home. Just give it a chance,” Bucky said softly, pulling back enough to cup Steve’s face. “It’s good to look back, but you gotta look forward too. The future is it, pal,” Bucky told him gently. “You gotta face it.”

Steve heaved a heavy sigh. “I know, but the future I was expecting is not the future I’m getting.”

“No, I can’t imagine you’d ever thought you’d be seventy years in the future and not yet thirty,” Bucky mused. “But despite it’s ups and downs, the here and now isn’t all bad. And if nothing comes of us beyond friendship, know that you have me as a friend, someone to call at three in the morning when you just don’t get a meme on the internet.”

Steve’s lips tipped up in a smile. “Better watch it on that,” he warned jokingly. “There’s a lot of memes on the internet I don’t get.”

“And I’m happy to explain them.”

Steve nodded and looked around them. “We’ve lost the group.”

Bucky looked around as well. “That’s okay. We know where they’ll end up.”

Steve slipped his hand in Bucky’s and Bucky squeezed tight. Together they began to stroll through the grey landscape. The clouds were low but there was little wind and no smell of rain in the air. To Bucky it was like a fall day in New York.

They caught up with the group just as Edmund was expounding on the tale of an Irish Republican being trapped in the area and caught by the English, sentenced for transportation to Australia back in the 19th century. The two of them listened without comment but Bucky noticed the smirks that their clasped hands garnered from everyone. He and Brock might have been an item once upon a time and approved of by the Greater New York City Coven, but Steve and Bucky were approved of by the County Kildare Coven and, to Bucky, that was better.

Dinner that night was tense, at least between Bucky, Brock and Steve. Bucky thought the Kildare Coven must have picked up on it, for conversation was sparse, everyone concentrating on the excellent shepherd’s pie and freshly baked bread.

There was supposed to be the Yule Log again tonight, this time with the chemicals to make the flames burn blue, green, yellow and purple but it was obvious, with Brock’s terse commentary snapping at anyone who spoke to him, no one’s heart was in the playful idea. ‘It was a shame’, thought Bucky, ‘for Steve was really looking forward to the Yule Log.’

That stiffened Bucky’s spine and he put on a more cheerful mien when the group adjourned to the sitting room. The heat was back on, the landlord having fixed the issue, and at Bucky’s encouragement, the coven put the giant log back in the fire. Bucky then turned to Steve, “What color first?” he asked.

Steve looked apprehensive. “Blue,” he said quietly.

“All right.” Bucky took the copper sulphate bag and handed it to Steve. “Toss some on the log,” he encouraged. Steve dug a small fistful of the powder out of the bag and tossed it onto the low burning log. The flames burned a bright blue.

Steve’s face lit into a grin and he tossed another handful. Again the flames burned blue for a time as it ate away at the chemical. There was a small cheer from some of the coven and soon everyone was getting into the spirit of things. Bucky noticed that Aoife and Brock had not come into the sitting room from the dining room. He hoped nothing untoward was going on and decided that he needed to keep everyone distracted.

The flames were turned various shades from blue and purple to bright yellow and two shades of green. Each time the flames flared bright other than orange, there was a cheer and laughter. Satisfied he’d turned the evening’s mood around, Bucky sat back and kept a watch on the door.

Aoife strode in a few moments later, her expression thunderous. Brock strolled in after her, looking satisfied about something. Both surveyed the scene, Aoife all but stomping over to Emma’s side and plopping herself down on the chair. She relaxed incrementally as she watched her friends and guests enjoy themselves with the Yule Log. Brock eyed the spectacle with a bit of a sneer and sat himself away from everyone else in a chair beyond the reach of the flames’ warmth.

‘Yes’, Bucky thought, ‘Brock is up to something.’ The other New Yorker bore watching closely.

Someone began singing, Bucky couldn’t tell who at first, but the whole group soon joined in. It was in Irish, whatever they were singing, and Bucky couldn’t help but sway along with the catchy, bouncy tune. He saw Steve doing the same, his blue eyes bright with concentration as he listened. The mood had definitely lightened up, even with Brock’s sneering presence.

One song bled into another, some old Christmas carols, some pagan songs that were universal, others traditional Irish music that the coven just felt like singing. Some Bucky and Steve knew and sang along with, others they just listened. When Edmund broke into Silent Night everyone was startled when Steve began singing it in German. Everyone went quiet and listened as Steve’s strong voice sang the words in its original language. When he finished there was applause.

“Where’d you learn it in German?” Bucky asked curiously.

Steve shrugged, looking abashed. “During the war. I spent some time with some of the prisoners and one of them taught me. I was humming it when I visited their encampment and a guy walked over and began singing it in German. We managed to communicate enough that he taught it to me. I think it’s beautiful in German, better than in English.”

“Another Christmas Truce of a sorts?” asked Emma, referring to the famous incident during World War I where troops called a Christmas Truce in 1914.

“Well, sort of,” Steve said with a blush.

“Fraternizing with the enemy?” came Brock’s snide tone from his spot over by the wall. “I’m surprised you didn’t get court martialed or something.”

“For what?” countered Steve tersely. “Learning Silent Night from a prisoner of war? Hardly. The SSR weren’t assholes.” It was implied that Brock was an asshole for thinking such a thing and Bucky could tell Brock knew it. The other man’s face turned red with anger.

Emma quickly began singing a new song, another one in Irish that soon had everyone but Bucky, Steve and Brock singing along. It was jaunty and Bucky began to clap along, coaxing Steve into doing the same.

“Well, we know Steve can sing. Bucky, can you sing?” asked Edmund eagerly.

Bucky grinned. “Sure, I can sing. I’m not opera quality but I can hold a tune.”

“Sing something,” encouraged Edmund.

Bucky thought a moment and decided to go into his favorite Christmas carol. “It’s not pagan but it was my favorite Christmas carol as a kid.” Everyone looked encouraging. “Please sing along if you know it,” Bucky added with some embarrassment before clearing his throat and starting to sing.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green
Here we come a-wanderin’
So fair to be seen
Love and joy come to you
And to you your wassail too
And God Bless you and send you
A Happy New Year
And God Send you a happy new year.

Steve’s smooth baritone harmonized with Bucky on the next part.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Bucky stopped singing, laughing. “It’s all I know!” he protested when everyone hollered at him for ceasing his song. He turned to Steve, “Do you know the rest?”

“Yeah, but I’ve already had my limelight for the night,” laughed Steve.

Emma stood up. “It’s almost midnight,” she said. “The painting starts at ten, right after breakfast, holly and ivy painting to keep it festive.”

Steve’s eyes lit up. Bucky could never get tired of seeing Steve’s eyes bright and shining with enthusiasm. He had a feeling, that in this new century, it didn’t happen to Steve very often. The fire was banked and everyone slowly made their way upstairs. The mood was lighter than it had been after dinner, Bucky noted with a satisfied mien, thanks to his machinations and no thanks to Brock’s runaway mouth.

Steve closed the bedroom door behind them and gave a gusty sigh. “I’m glad the evening turned around,” he commented, pulling his sweater off. Underneath was a tshirt, much to Bucky’s disappointment.

“Yeah, it could have been awkward. You did enjoy the Yule Log then?” asked Bucky.

“That was so neat! Or cool, I guess is the proper modern word,” Steve said enthusiastically.

“And the singing totally took me by surprise,” added Bucky with a grin, removing his own sweater and hanging it back up in the closet.

“It was nice.” Steve’s voice came from right by Bucky’s ear. “The whole day, bar Rumlow’s interference, was nice. I’m glad I said yes in being your guest.”

Bucky turned around and hugged Steve to him. “Me too. I mean, I thought I’d missed my chance of getting your phone number when we parted at Heathrow. I didn’t even realize you were on the same plane to Dublin until you said my name at the car rental place.”

“You wanted my number?” asked Steve, taken back.

“Yeah. I, uh,” here Bucky flushed, “wanted to ask you out. I mean, we’d been flirting, we both live in New York. I thought if not a date date maybe coffee and become friends. You looked like you needed a friend.”

“I did,” confessed Steve, rubbing his cheeks against Bucky’s hair. “I still do. I think I’ve made progress on this trip already. Edmund asked if we could trade numbers tomorrow, as has Emma. It’s nice. I mean they are another continent away, but with the internet, the distance seems so minimal.”

“Ah the wonders of modern technology,” laughed Bucky. “You got a handle on email and the internet, have you?”

“Wikipedia is awesome,” Steve enthused.

“But not always right, so watch it. It’s flawed like anything done by humans. There are errors,” Bucky felt obliged to warn.

“Oh, I know,” Steve nodded and turned Bucky loose, giving a big yawn. “I’m beat.”

“Me too,” Bucky said around his own yawn.

Soon the two were curled under the covers, drifting off to sleep, wrapped in each other’s arms, warm and contented.

Chapter Text

Breakfast was a traditional oatmeal or porridge. Bucky poured milk over his porridge and sprinkled some brown sugar over it. Steve had maple syrup dribbled on his oatmeal and ate three helpings. Last night, Bucky remembered with a grin, Steve had put quite a dent in the snacks as well. Sipping his tea, Bucky surveyed the assembly and was gratified to note that Brock was missing. He also noted that Aoife and Emma were also missing. He wondered if it was connected and how he could help in wrangling Brock.

“Where’s Emma and Aoife?” asked Steve innocently.

Edmund cleared his throat but didn’t look up from his porridge. “Talking with Brock.”

Bucky took another sip of tea and frowned to himself. That didn’t bode well. Had Brock been out of line as a guest? Well, more than he’d shown Bucky so far, anyway.

Steve, thankfully, dropped the topic, sensing no doubt it was topica non grata with the coven, considering the uncomfortable silence that descended after Edmund’s response. Yeah, something had happened.

Breakfast was finishing up when Brock strolled in, looking fit to be tied. He threw himself into a chair and poured some coffee from the carafe that was silently handed to him. The New York coven leader glared at everyone. Bucky eyed him a moment and then scooped up the last of his porridge. He was swallowing the bite when Brock spoke.

“I’ll be doing a traditional Norse ritual tonight.”

Bucky’s heart sank. Typically Norse rituals weren’t bad, they were respectful of nature and the gods of the seasons. Brock, though, worshipped the more tempestuous gods and goddesses of the pantheon. Loki and gods of war, those types of things, anything aggressive or contrary.

“You’ll not, I’ve said so.” Aoife’s voice carried from the doorway of the dining room.

“You invited me to head the ritual. My decision, Aoife,” Brock snapped callously.

“None of us follow the Norse way and you’ll respect our wishes as guest.”

“I’ll do as I please,” Brock informed her with an air of superiority. “What the hell do you know, you cow? You and this wimpy group of pansies. Worship some real gods and goddesses, with proper notions of how the world works.” Here he sneered at Edmund and a couple of the more infirm members of the coven.

Bucky felt a sense of the calm before the storm as Steve carefully placed his spoon beside his bowl and, pushing his chair back with a scraping sound, stood up. Steve walked around the long table to Brock. Bucky swallowed and hoped no one interfered but he had a feeling he knew what Steve was going to do.

“I’ve had enough of you, your mouth, your rudeness and your attitude,” Steve said in a menacing tone.

“And what are you going to do about it?” sneered Brock, standing up himself.

Bucky saw Steve’s fist ball up and stood up himself, though what he was going to do, Bucky had no idea.

Steve’s fist flashed out, landing squarely on Brock’s jaw. Brock dropped like a lead balloon. The dining room was silent from shock at what had just inspired. Steve didn’t look the least bit perturbed as he turned to Aoife, who was standing in the doorway with a pale complexion. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t stand by while he disrespected you and the others that way. You’ve been all that gracious and kind, undeserving of his attitude.” Steve hung his head. “I will understand if you ask me to leave. I’ll take the garbage out with me.”

Aoife’s brown eyes welled with tears and she and several coven members rushed to Steve, embracing him and babbling, asking if his hand was all right, was he okay and that they weren’t upset by his actions at all.

“I wasn’t sure how to get rid of him. I told him he had to leave this morning and he refused. I was contemplating calling the Garda,” fretted Aoife, patting Steve’s cheek maternally.

Bucky spoke up finally. “Still call the Garda. I’ll pack Brock’s stuff from his room. Let them handle evicting him. There’s plenty of witnesses to prove that Brock was refusing to leave and had resorted to belligerence.” Bucky looked around. “Let’s just clean up breakfast. Aoife, you and Emma eat something in the kitchen, since you haven’t eaten yet. Call the Garda. Let me and Steve handle the rest.”

Aoife twisted her fingers together in a painful looking manner. “But you’re guests,” she half-protested, even as Emma gently pushed her in the direction of the kitchen.

“So was this clown,” Steve told her, nudging Brock with a gentle foot. “He abused that. He had no right to call you a cow and defy the coven’s wishes. I’m sorry I had to resort to violence but I had a feeling he wasn’t going to do anything unless it became violent.”

“Brock’s always been kind of a meathead and belligerent,” Bucky told her. “One of the many reasons I broke with him.”

Aoife deflated, nodded and let Emma herd her out of the dining room. The rest of the coven, under Edmund’s guidance, cleaned up the remains of breakfast while Bucky and Steve hauled Brock’s unconscious form into the foyer. Steve dropped the other man like a ton of bricks on the parquet floor.

“I’ll go pack his crap,” mumbled Bucky. “You babysit Mr. My Way Or The Highway.” Steve nodded and crossed his arms, staring down at Brock with an almost bored expression on his face.

Brock’s stuff was easy enough to pack up. Most of his stuff was still in the suitcase, except his shower and shaving toiletries. Bucky gathered that up, zipped it in the suitcase and hauled it downstairs in time for the Garda to arrive a few minutes later. Aoife explained the situation to the Gardi: Brock’s increasingly hostile attitude throughout the long weekend, his refusal to leave and attempt to take over the festivities instead this morning, his name calling of Aoife and inference that some of the coven were sub-beings, and ended with Steve punching Brock out in the dining room.

The guard taking Aoife’s statement glanced at Steve and Bucky wondered if it was going to come to Steve being hauled away for assault. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Bannon,” the guard told Aoife, “he caused a ruckus in town yesterday and when we found out he was your guest, we let him go with a warning.”

Brock chose that moment to begin rousing, groaning, eyes fluttering open and hand going to his bruising jaw. He sat up gingerly and looked around, noted the guards and sneered, “This is how you treat guests. Call the cops on them?”

“You were told to leave and that you were no longer a guest,” the Gardi responded. “Up you go, boyo, and I suggest you find someplace else to finish up your Irish vacation. You’re not welcome and we’re willing to enforce the situation with a stay at the station until you have to go back to Dublin to catch your flight.”

Brock scowled, stood up, swaying a moment. Bucky almost reached out to steady the other man but refrained. Brock deserved everything he got today. Brock shrugged into his coat, grabbed his suitcase and pulled out his rental car keys. With a sneer and an insincere, “Hope your solstice is merry and bright, you losers,” hauled his unwelcome self out the door.

The Garda car followed Brock off the property. Once the two vehicles were out of sight, Aoife broke down into tears. Bucky hugged her close and murmured in her hair that she’d done nothing wrong, the fault was Brock’s.

“He said he would forbid any of the New York Coven to have anything to do with us,” she hiccupped.

Bucky forced a chuckle. “Don’t worry about that, they’re trying to figure out a way to get him out of the coven there. I might show up as a guest with Steve in tow to punch Brock out there too.”

“I just might,” rumbled Steve, staring out of the window next to the front door, as if making sure Brock didn’t reappear.

“Awful tempting, isn’t it? I had no idea he’d become so militaristic in his belief of Norse paganism,” muttered Bucky to Aoife. “He was more receptive to other leanings when I dated him. I don’t follow Norse at all, but it seems he’s taken to heart the Neo-Nazi adoption of Norse beliefs for their own warped purposes.”

Aoife sniffled but said nothing. Bucky continued to pat her back and comfort her.

“You did nothing wrong and did everything right. You had good intentions in inviting him and me, thinking you’d scored a coup. You had no idea he was a dickwad, Aoife,” Bucky continued. “It’s over now. I know you’d planned on having him do the ceremony tonight but do you think you can pull it out of the bag?”

She nodded, her mind now focused on a new problem. “We can do the ritual we did last year, me and Edmund. He’s high priest of the coven.”

Bucky gave her a bright smile. “See? Not all is lost! Why don’t you and Edmund put your heads together this morning while we paint and plan what you need while we’re not underfoot to entertain. Don’t worry about me and Steve. We’ll be impressed and appropriately respectful of whatever the coven wishes to do for the solstice.”

Reassured, Aoife patted Bucky’s cheek and then walked over to Steve to do the same. “You’re both such good men,” she said almost to herself. “I’m glad you were here to handle Mr. Rumlow, Steve. It might have been a frightful brawl without your supersoldier strength.”

Steve flushed but nodded. “I’ll help Emma get everyone set up for the painting class,” the blond man said, motioning to a hovering Emma by the sitting room door.

Aoife nodded and scurried off to find Edmund and start planning the Kildare Coven’s Winter Solstice ritual this evening.

Bucky caught Steve before the other man disappeared into the sitting room. “My hero,” Bucky whispered, pulling Steve down for a kiss. “I might have been able to take him in a fight if I had Edmund’s help but it would have been a brawl. You took the loser out with one punch. I’m in awe of you.”

“He insulted Aoife, called her a cow, and the rest of these lovely people subhuman or less than what he thought they should be. I couldn’t stand for that.” Steve’s jaw jutted out mulishly. “I didn’t want to punch him but I got so angry.”

Bucky gave him what he hoped was a flirtatious smile. “I hope you realize how hot that was?”

Steve looked startled.

“Showing off how big and strong you are? Got me all hot and bothered,” Bucky confessed teasingly.

Steve gave an uncertain smile. “Really?”

Bucky kissed him again in answer.

Steve chuckled, took his hands off Bucky’s hips where they’d been resting while they were close. “Just for that, you’re trying your hand at holly and ivy this morning. Maybe I’ll have you thinking about my artistic skills too.”

Bucky grinned and then nodded. Steve disappeared into the sitting room, leaving Bucky alone in the front foyer.

Steve thought Bucky did better at this painting class, since the holly and ivy motif was stylized and not a real life still painting. Bucky complained that it still didn’t look right and, with a little help from Steve, made it to where Bucky seemed at least somewhat pleased with the effort.
Lunch was pretty much any leftovers from the previous meals, which Steve fell on like a ravenous wolf. The upset from this morning and then concentrating on the art to relieve the tension he carried made him very hungry. He tried not to eat like a pig, but Bucky and Emma kept piling food on his plate, which he ate, so he guessed it was okay.

Edmund and Aoife emerged from the house’s little study/library area looking pleased with themselves. Edmund was carrying a laptop. “We have a ritual,” he crowed in triumph.

The coven as one roused into a cheer, Bucky clapping along. Steve smiled contentedly. This was more like it. Everyone enjoying themselves and looking forward to the activities. It didn’t matter what holiday you celebrated as long as you enjoyed it, he decided.

“We’ve cobbled together what we remembered from last year’s ritual,” Aoife told the assembled group, “plus what other rituals we found online to flesh it out a bit more. It won’t be perfect,” she added, “but better than having something we don’t believe in rammed down our throats.”

Bucky squirmed in his seat and the two remaining New Yorkers shared an uncomfortable look.

Emma caught it and tutted. “No one blames you two, you know. You’re not responsible for Brock’s poor attitude and inability to accept others differences.”

“I know, but if I’d known you were thinking of inviting him, I could have warned you,” Bucky said in a morose tone.

“If anyone’s to blame, it’s me, for not telling you he was coming so you could have warned us,” Aoife said firmly. “But, as you said earlier, it’s done and over. All we can do is go forward. As our guests, we ask that you observe and participate to your level of comfort. I know Bucky worships others besides Celtic deities and Steve is a lapsed Catholic, finding his way in a new world.”

Steve felt absurdly grateful that he wouldn’t be asked to participate. While he was enjoying his time with the coven he was still unsure about this pagan business. Perhaps it was a hold over from his Catholic upbringing but it all seemed…sacrilegious to him. How could they get anything from mythological beings? But then, he reasoned, Bucky had pointed out the other night that technically the belief in angels and the saints was Christianity’s mythology.

He nudged Bucky. “Have you any books with you about your religion that I could flip through?”

Bucky looked surprised but shook his head. “Not hard copy. I have some that you could read on my phone’s Kindle app though.”

Steve nodded. “That’ll do, I guess.”

Bucky was more perceptive than Steve gave him credit for, and that was saying something. “A bit uncomfortable with the whole thing now that it’s approaching?” asked Bucky shrewdly.

“A little,” admitted Steve, antsy in his seat.

“It’s okay. We don’t expect you to just convert on the spot, Steve. We just ask you watch, participate if you feel the mood strike you, and learn. That’s all we ask.”

Steve felt a rush of relief. “Those books?” he prompted.

Bucky pulled out his smart phone and pulled up a reading app. “Try this one. One of the first books I read. It’s on witchcraft specifically, but gives a good overview of day to day living for pagans.”

The book was called Old World Witchcraft: Ancient Ways for Moderns Days. As the coven readied for the late afternoon’s activity of gift giving and then in the evening dinner followed by the ritual, Steve read Raven Grimassi’s words on modern witchcraft and paganism.

Chapter Text

Bucky sat and watched the coven organize the gifts around the cheerfully crackling fireplace. With the limited space, they’d opted for no tree, it being more Germanic in origin than Celtic. The packages were cheerfully wrapped. Bucky had gone up to gather he and Steve’s gift bags to add to the pile. It was all anonymous. Numbers would be pulled from a little plastic cauldron, which was fun, and you could pick whatever gift appealed to you.

Steve was buried in his book, blue eyes rapidly scanning the phone’s ‘page’ and finger swiping to the next page rapidly. Bucky was gratified that despite a bit of skepticism, Steve was willing to keep an open mind and learn. The coven was gathered and Bucky bumped Steve’s arm to get his attention.

“We’re starting the gifts,” Bucky told him with a grin. “Interesting read?”

“Fascinating,” declared Steve. “You’ll have to recommend more books. I get what the guy’s saying here but it seems a little too mystical for my tastes.”

“I have plenty of other books for you to read through, all sort of different religions,” Bucky assured him. He took his phone back, bookmarked Steve’s page in the ebook, and tucked the phone in his pocket.

One of the younger coven members, an Alice, got first pick of the presents and chose one. It turned out to be an incense burner in the shape of a dragon. Everyone oohed and aahed over it appropriately and the numbers continued to be called, presents chosen and opened.

Steve got number six and picked up a gift that had Edmund squirming, making Bucky guess that it was Edmund’s contribution. Steve carefully unwrapped the cheerful red plaid paper and found a box. Bucky waited eagerly for Steve to open the box, which he did just as slowly.

Inside was a mortar and pestle, made of black and white marble. There was also an athame knife made of obsidian stone and bronze handle. Bucky whistled appreciatively, but knew why Edmund had squirmed. It was not an appropriate gift for someone who wasn’t pagan, which Steve was not.

Steve, however, looked thoughtful. “I was just reading about these and their uses in stuff. Thank you. Maybe if I convert, they’ll be my first tools of the trade, so to speak.”

It was so graciously spoken and well-received that Bucky’s eyes stabbed with tears. He blinked a couple times to make sure they didn’t fall. Edmund beamed with relief.

Bucky was number eight and picked up a gift, which turned out to be a necklace with a Celtic spiral design, representing water, fire and earth. It was wrought in silver on a silver chain, which Bucky immediately put round his neck. “Something to remember my time in Ireland by,” he told the coven.

Steve’s gift went to Edmund, to Steve’s unabashed delight. Edmund thought it clever and told the group he was going to place it in his kitchen for his kitchen witchery. Bucky’s gift went to an older coven member named Kevin, a fairy catching kit. It seemed that it went to an appropriate person, from Emma’s comment that Kevin needed more incentive to find mischievous fairies in his garden. That garnered some laughs from the coven. Apparently Kevin believed in fairy magic, so Bucky was relieved it would be appreciated.

Dinner was baked ham, potatoes, carrots and delicious bread pudding. Bucky was hungry but not as hungry as Steve, despite all Steve had eaten at lunch. Steve ate three helpings, Bucky one and half.

Soon it was time to dress for the ceremony. Bucky had his robes but knew Steve had nothing. As the coven adjourned to dress, Bucky pulled Steve aside. “I forgot. We wear special clothes for rituals and ceremonies.”

Steve looked uncomfortable. “I won’t offend someone not being dressed right, will I?”

Bucky shook his head. “Of course not, but let’s see if we can find something of the right colors. Every holiday has its own set of colors that are special to it. Same for gods and goddesses or the type of magic you are trying to cast.”

Steve led Bucky upstairs to their room and Bucky pulled out some of Steve’s shirts and sweaters.

“The traditional colors for Yule coincide with the colors for Christmas: red, green, gold, silver and white. Do you get pretty cold?” he asked turning to Steve with a red and green festively checked flannel shirt.

“No, the metabolism makes me run hot. I’ll be fine for the evening. I might wear my hat and gloves though.”

“Then wear this,” Bucky tossed him the shirt. “Wear a white t-shirt under it for an extra layer, though, just to make me feel better about you being out there with no coat on.”

Steve grinned and did as Bucky suggested. Bucky turned away from Steve’s bare chest, his mouth going dry. God, the man was built. Perfect, Adonis.

Bucky put on his own dark green robe, trimmed with gold and silver twined braiding. Both stood there looking festive in their own way before Bucky cleared his throat. “Shall we go downstairs and wait for the others?”

It took about half an hour for the coven to gather and get ready. Steve resumed reading on Bucky’s phone while they waited. Edmund and Aoife went out first, with a few of the older coven members to build the bonfire and ready the candles and incense.

When everyone was gathered in the front foyer to go outside to the back area of the property, Bucky snuck his hand in Steve’s and squeezed. “I know you’re nervous and not sure what to expect, but just relax and let it take you over.”

Steve nodded a couple terse nods, his gaze focused on Aoife, who was in bright red and gold robes with holly in her hair.

Steve wasn’t sure what to expect but walking to the ritual area outside two by two wasn’t it. He walked with Bucky, getting nervous by the moment. What if there were other gods other than the Christian god? Would they be angry that someone who didn’t seem to believe in them was present? Or would they just be philosophical and shrug their metaphorical shoulders?

He felt silly not dressed in robes like everyone else. Everyone else looked solemn and yet eager for the ritual, even Bucky. Steve felt like a fish out of water, out of place and intruding on something he had no business being a part of.

They marched to the built bonfire, not yet burning, but ready to be lit at any moment. The coven, plus Steve and Bucky, gathered around in a circle of the soon-to-be-lit bonfire and Aoife began to speak.

“Since the beginning of time, we have gathered in this season to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun. On the Winter Solstice, the darkest of nights, The Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth to the Sun and the new yearly cycle, bringing new light and hope to all on Earth. On the longest night of winter, and the dark night of our souls, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World. We gather tonight to await the new light. On this night, the Maiden, who is also Mother and Crone, prepares to welcome the Sun. Let’s now prepare to welcome the new light within.”

Steve watched as Edmund stepped forward towards the unlit logs and use a long lighter to walk around the twigs and logs, lighting as he spoke the kindling within the gathered wood to start the bonfire.

“I light this fire in your honor, Mother Goddess. You have created life from death, warmth from cold. The Sun lives once again, the time of light is waxing. We invite you, Great Mother, to our circle. Bring us new light, the light of your glorious Sun.”

Aoife once again spoke, her voice taking on a rhythmic tone, as she lit a white candle in the circle. “I come to you as Maiden, young and free, fresh as springtime, yet within me a yearning stirs to create and share and so I become…” Here she paused as she walked to the red candle and lit it. “The mother. I bring forth the fruit of my creativity, yet an ancient prophet once told me, as I stood with my son, a sword shall pierce through thy own heart also. And I knew I must become…” She lit the black candle. “The Crone. The ancient wise one, Lady of Darkness. We three – in – one who brought forth that special child as long ago, also anointed him for burial – A bright light that grew and was sacrificed to be reborn as a new light.”

Edmund took up the ritual once more. “Ancient God of the forest, we welcome you, return from the shadows, O Lord of Light. The wheel has turned. We call you back to warm us. Great God of the Sun, I welcome your return. May you shine brightly upon the Earth.”

Here Edmund picked up what was left of the Yule log they’d been burning the last few days, tossing it on the now merrily blazing bonfire. Aoife once again spoke, “Yule is the end of the old solar year and the beginning of the new one. Traditionally, the end of the year is a time to look back and reflect. It is a time to look ahead to the future, to make plans and set goals.”

One of the other coven members walked around with small pieces of papers and pencils, passing them out. At a loss what to do with this, Steve waited for instruction. He was moved by the words Aoife and Edmund spoke, caught up in the ritual much like he had been during Mass as a child in Brooklyn.

“On your piece of paper, write something you hope to accomplish during the coming year. When you are finished,” instructed Aoife solemnly, “throw the paper in with the Yule Log.”

Steve thought a moment, not only of the past few months of being in the 21st Century and what he’d accomplished in acclimating but what he thought would help him acclimate even more. His first thought was Bucky. Understanding, helpful, beautiful Bucky. His first real friend in the 21st century that wasn’t attached to him being Captain America. He wanted to see where this…whatever it was…with Bucky would take him.

I wish that Bucky and I become closer, that I’ll have an ally in this new world that I’m in that sees me as who I am, not what they want me to be. That I learn to accept my circumstances with grace and dignity, without churlishness or depression.

One by one, the coven members tossed in their paper to the burning logs. Steve fancifully reckoned that whatever god or goddess was paying attention was receiving wishlists from all present and considering which to grant and which to let go.

Sitting on the ground next to him, Edmund picked up a large silver-looking cup, probably what Steve read as the chalice in the book he was reading on Bucky’s phone. “We toast the new year and in token of its promise, we drink to our health and the focus of energies through which we accomplish our tasks and manifest out desires during the coming cycle.”

Here he took a sip and past it down the circle. When it came to Steve, it was half full and he sipped, finding it to be a sweet tasting red wine. He passed the chalice to Bucky, who also took a sip and passed it on.

Aoife raised her hands to the heavens. “You who have died are now reborn. Lend us your light through the winter months as we await the spring. Once these candles have burned with the Yule fire, they will contain the luck of the log throughout the coming year.”

Together the coven as one said, “Blessed be.” There was a small cheer from a few of the coven and Steve turned to Bucky.

“That was it?” he asked.

“You were expecting lightening, thunder, crashes of waves and storms to rise up?” laughed Bucky.

“Well no, but it seemed so simple. Just asking a goddess and god for blessings for the coming year. I mean, we do that in church!”

“Where do you think the church got the idea?” grinned Bucky. “But what did you think? Too weird for you?”

Steve shook his head “Not at all. It seemed,” he searched for a word, couldn’t come up with it and shrugged instead. “Now what?”

“We sit around, stand around, discuss, meditate, just whatever you want to do.”

Steve immediately plopped down on the ground in front of the merrily blazing bonfire, eager to talk. “So, the purpose of the writing what you want is like offering a prayer?”

Bucky sat down next to him and nodded. “Exactly. Most pagans believe that you make your own fortune and luck, but it never hurts to enlist a god’s help. They might be favorable enough toward you to not throw obstacles in your path.”

“Aoife and Edmund didn’t name any gods or goddesses names,” Steve said, “but they…” he searched for a word again. “Invoked, I guess? Yeah, invoked the maiden, the mother and the crone. What are they?”

“The maiden is youth, a girl usually before she’s old enough to start her menstrual cycle and thus become a mother. A mother is obviously a woman of child-bearing age. The crone is a woman who is past child-bearing, post-menopausal, though I know women who have had hysterectomies in their thirties and forties that have become crones because they can no longer produce children. I don’t get all that feminine stuff completely, but becoming a crone depends on when you think you should be considered one.”

“And is there a ceremony for each of those stages of life?” asked Steve contemplatively.


“And do men have a cycle as well?”

“Youth, warrior, sage,” answered Bucky.

“Well, you aren’t a youth,” chuckled Steve, “and I don’t think you’re old enough to be a sage so I guess you fall into warrior?”

Bucky laughed. “Yeah. It harkens back to the whole primitive law thing. Youths helped around the home, warriors defended the home and hunted for food, and the sage was the wise man elder.”

Steve nodded. “Fascinating!” he enthused.

“So, you approve of your first pagan ritual?” Bucky mused thoughtfully.

“You’ll have to teach me more,” begged Steve with almost embarrassing enthusiasm.

Bucky laughed again and settled himself against Steve’s side, looking out amongst the Kildare Coven as they settled into meditation or contemplative conversation. “That I can do, Steve, that I can do.”

Chapter Text

That night Steve dreamed.

His mother was there, standing with a saint’s halo over her head, smiling warmly at him.

He was intimidated at first. His mother had been no saint by any stretch of the imagination. She had her faults, God rest her soul, he knew them well. As well as he knew his own. And then she spoke, not with his mother’s soft soprano but with a lilting alto.

“I took this form so as to be more familiar to you,” the woman as his mother said. “Does it bother you?”

“A little,” Steve confessed.

“I apologize then. I dare not show my true form, however, so this will have to do.” She smiled his mother’s smile, soft and gentle. “I heard your plea this eve and wish to bring you comfort.”

“My plea?” asked Steve, puzzled.

“To find your way in this new world you find yourself in. That is why we put Bucky Barnes in your path. You needed someone to help you connect. It was agreed amongst us that he was perfect for the task. That romance sprouted from it as well,” here she gave him a sly glance, “that’s just icing on the cake, as they say nowadays.”

“Do you often personally answer prayers, Brighid?” Steve asked, cottoning on to who she was.

She laughed, a musical sound very unlike his mother’s gentle laugh. “No, Steven Rogers, you are a special case. Everything about you is special, from your birth, to your time as a warrior to now. You are only human and liable to misinterpret what I intend. I thought it best to reassure you in person, to forego any confusion later on.”

“I see.”

She looked amused. “Do you? I doubt it, young man. Bucky is special too. He is a special pet project, you could say, of the gods. His talent with words bringing us back to life pleases us greatly. He too struggles with the world around him, with his mental illness, but he does not let it get him down. He perseveres and achieves what he wishes to accomplish by sheer force of will, much as you do. We knew you would do well together, so we,” here she shrugged sheepishly, “arranged for you to be seated next to each other on the plane. The rest was all your own doing.”

“You don’t find men with men offensive?” he asked fearfully.

“Why would I do that?” She laughed. “Love is above all the most powerful force in the universe. Look what has been accomplished for love, whether romantic love or love for your fellow man. True, there is evil in the world, great evil, but we counter it with love and compassion. You showed that yesterday when you hit Brock Rumlow.” Here her face turned dark. “The Norse gods are not happy with him. He’s not going to have a pleasant coming year.”

Steve felt a vindictive satisfaction at that pronouncement and then felt guilty for it.

“Even now you show compassion towards those who have not earned it,” Brighid remarked to him. “You are so special, Steven Rogers, and none of it, as your fellow Avenger alluded, came from a bottle. It is all inside you and makes you shine to those smart enough and canny enough to recognize it.”

“Like Bucky.”

“Indeed, like Bucky.”

“I’m still not sure about this paganism thing. Does that offend you, that I’d rather see you as a saint than a goddess?” Steve asked uncertainly.

“I know what I am, Steven, and it affects me little. Believe as you wish, but know that you are beloved of the gods, much like Achilles, much like Hector, much like Alexander.”

“They all died young,” pointed out Steve, almost fearfully.

Brighid tipped her head to one side. “Is that not what you attempted to accomplish on the Valkyrie, to die young? It wasn’t all altruistic self-sacrifice. Were you not tired of the death around you, the pain, fear and uncertainty of war? Unsure that even if this war ended, they wouldn’t rope you into a new war, a new fight you wanted no part of, because you were ‘Captain America’?”

Steve hung his head. It was true. That was exactly how he felt.

“And how they still treat you today. Are you ready to fight a new war, Steven Rogers?”

He shook his head.

“Let Bucky guide you, let him be your friend and, perhaps, your lover. Learn who you are today, without being Captain America. Let him help those around you see you are more than a warrior born, but a man made of a god’s hands.”

“Thank you,” he said humbly. “He’s all the friend I could ask for since Arnie died all those years ago.”

“We know. That’s why he was placed in your path. You will help each other.” His mother, the goddess or saint in disguise, began to fade from view, revealing a burbling brook, water running over smooth stones and the lush greenery around them a balm to Steve’s soul. “Farewell, Steven Rogers, I might not speak with you again, but know that you hold a place in my soul, that I will watch over you until your last breath.”

“Bye,” he said awkwardly.

That morning he awoke refreshed and wrapped in Bucky’s comforting embrace. He smiled. He could believe her a goddess for the gift she gave him: Bucky.

Bucky woke spooning Steve, who was restless in his sleep. Bucky wondered if Steve was having a nightmare and contemplated waking the other man up. The task was taken from him when Steve’s ocean blue eyes opened and he turned to look over his shoulder at Bucky.

“I dreamed,” was all he said.

“That’s okay,” Bucky told him with a quirk to his lips, “we all do it.” He got a pinch for his insolence. “We leave today. Still ready to follow me around Ireland and then I follow you?”

Steve turned in Bucky’s arms and gathered Bucky in his own strong arms. “That I am,” the supersoldier said and kissed Bucky with such heat that Bucky was surprised the elastic in his underwear didn’t melt.

When they parted, Bucky was panting but Steve’s eyes were twinkling. “I think we’re meant to be together, whether as friends or as lovers, it doesn’t matter, as long as we have each other.”

Bucky thought the words and sentiment sweet and said so with an “aww, Steve.”

“Breakfast, pack up, say our good-byes and get on the road?” asked Steve, holding Bucky tight.

“I gotta go back to Dublin for my first signing,” Bucky told him around a lazy morning yawn. “And then I head for Cork. Heck of a drive, but you’ve got the fancy Land Rover, so it’ll be okay.”

“Let’s get moving then, Barnes!” Steve said after a quick hug. They rolled out of bed and dressed.

Downstairs the coven was already gathering for a quick breakfast of leftover oatmeal and porridge packets.

“I wanted to thank everyone for their generosity and hospitality,” Steve told the assembled group. “I would have been alone in some inn or hotel somewhere, probably lost, and now I have new friends and new experiences that I shared with them. I will always be appreciative. Please, keep in touch, and if you need anything, let me know.”

“We were honored to host you,” Aoife told him. “You gave us your direction yesterday and we will definitely keep you abreast of news among us.”

Steve beamed and Bucky felt himself smiling just as brightly.

Aoife turned to Bucky next. “And you, rascal, will swing by my shop before you leave the Emerald Isle so I can give you a proper good bye before you go back to New York.”

“I’ve got bookend signings in Dublin so I’m sure I’ll be passing through, but I think I’m going to stick around an extra week and help Steve with his family project,” Bucky told her.

“Ah yes, Steve, I’ll email you what I find on your family as soon I get home and do some research, but you’re right to head for Galway and their records first.”

“I get email on my phone,” Steve sounded unsure about that, “so I’ll get your email whenever you send it.”

“I’ve got my laptop with me,” Bucky added. “Send it to me and I can bring it up on a bigger screen than his phone.”

Aoife nodded, hugged them both and relinquished them to Emma’s tender mercies.

“You boys stay in touch, not just with us but with each other,” admonished Emma.

“Not gonna be a problem, right, Steve?” asked Bucky, a bit uncertainly. He was reassured when Steve clasped their hands and gave Bucky’s a squeeze.

“We were brought together by Brighid,” Steve told her. “I heard it in a dream.”

Everyone laughed, but Bucky had the distinct impression Steve wasn’t joking.

Edmund was next. He manfully shook hands with Steve first. “I’ll never think of you as Captain America,” the young man said seriously, “but as Steve Rogers, the guy willing to punch out a jerk. And,” here he turned to Bucky, “since we didn’t get around to it, can I send you a couple chapters of my book for you to look through at your leisure?”

“I’m holding you to it, man,” Bucky told him gravely. “I’d better get at least five chapters by the end of the week.”

Edmund beamed. The rest of the coven said their farewells and well-wishes before Steve and Bucky went upstairs to pack up. As Bucky folded clothes into his suitcases he watched Steve out of the corner of his eye. Steve seemed lighter, brighter somehow, like something had taken a weight off his shoulders.

“You said you dreamed,” Bucky recalled. “What did you dream about?”

“Saint Brighid said she brought you to me because we needed each other,” confessed Steve.

Bucky blinked. “The goddess came to you in your dreams last night?” Steve nodded, not looking at Bucky as he folded his own clothes into his single suitcase. “That’s huge, Steve!”

“I know. I thought I should heed her advice. Oh, and Brock Rumlow is going to have a crappy year, per her, his gods are going to make sure of it.”

Bucky couldn’t think about Brock right now, even though hearing that was gratifying. “The goddess came to you in a dream and said we belong together?”


Bucky let out an explosive breath. “Well, who the heck am I to argue with a goddess?” He came up behind Steve and wrapped his arms around Steve’s torso, kissing the back of his neck. “Let’s get loaded up and get on the road. I want to get to our hotel in Dublin and we can discuss our future at length in private.”

Steve turned around, his blue eyes shining brilliantly like sapphires. “I agree. I couldn’t really agree more, in fact.”

“To the end of the line?” asked Bucky.

“To the end of the line,” confirmed Steve.




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