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The Ice Demon and the SSR

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The hired car trundled to a stop, and the driver pointed to a construction site. "There. At the kirke."

The church he pointed to looked old, Peggy saw, and the front wall was gone. There was a team of men rebuilding it, and it was not difficult for Peggy to identify Barnes. He was the only one with a metal prosthesis and his dark hair was longer than Peggy had seen, but he was still easily recognizable. He was working with some men lifting bricks, helping hoist the bricks up to the men doing the actual laying.

"Yes, that's who I'm looking for. Thank you." She handed the driver some money and climbed out of the car. As it drove away, she watched Barnes. He was smiling and joking with the other men, and he seemed to understand them. He'd made an effort to the learn the language, when he'd gone to Arendelle.

But he turned, perhaps feeling her gaze or noticing the other men's distraction as they looked at her. She lifted a hand in greeting, smiling. He broke into a grin and loped over to her, eagerly. "Peggy!" he exclaimed, then corrected himself more formally, "Agent Carter."

She clasped his hand. She'd been a little uncertain both of her reception with him and of how she would feel seeing him again, but it was good. "I think we're past that. Bucky."

His smile faltered. "I'm using James now."

Because Steve had called him Bucky. "Sorry. James," she corrected herself. "And, please, I'm Peggy. We're friends."

He gave her some skeptical side-eye. "You came a long way just to meet a friend."

"I do have an ulterior motive," she acknowledged with humor, "but it'll wait until we catch up."

He called something to his friends and gestured her to precede him down the main avenue. "You can see the work I've been doing. Rebuilding this place."

"I was curious," she admitted. "I understand not wanting to go back to New York, but to come to Arendelle?"

He shrugged and looked away. "Plenty of work here. I asked Queen Birgitte if I could help the recovery and she agreed. I'm sure she'd like to see you. She's real nice, not stuffy at all. She lives in what was the hotel," he gestured toward one side of the square that fronted the harbor, "since the castle's still pretty much rubble. Germans bombed it." Across a narrow causeway, backed against a high peak, the former castle of Arendelle was a stone pile, one lone turret and a few walls still standing, and the rest collapsed and burnt. "They talk about restoring it, but I don't know when that'll be. The queen refuses to rebuild it until the town's in better shape."

"That's thoughtful."

His lips twisted wryly. "I don't think she has much choice. Germans looted the hell out of this place."

"You must have come here because of Lukas," she said. "Do you expect him back, James?"

Instead of answering directly, Barnes said, "He told me things, secrets, but not everything. I learned more here from the stories they tell." He lifted his eyes toward the distant eastern mountains and pointed to a high peak. "The Ice Demon used to live there. They say it's haunted, that there's a giant creature made of snow that's been prowling the mountain for three hundred years."

"Three hundred years?" Her eyebrows lifted. "Colonel Phillips told me his claim, but I wasn't sure whether to believe it," she admitted.

Barnes shook his head. "I know Steve's gone," he said after a moment, softly. "I know Lukas was with him. But I don't believe Lukas is dead, Peggy. All that I saw him do, he can't be. He jumped off that train to save me and didn't get a bruise. Hell, I saw him get shot and he brushed off the bullet like a bee stung him. Did you know he's not only the Ice Demon here, but they call him Loki? The Norse god. He said he wasn't a god, but… whatever he is, Peggy, he'll be back. And when he comes back, he'll come here."

"And maybe he'll have Steve with him?" she asked softly.

He didn't answer at first, eyes bleak. "Maybe."

"Oh, James." She reached for him, gripping his forearm with her fingers. "I want that, too."

His eyes flicked to her. "I know."

Her lips trembled, as she was momentarily overcome by memory, and she said in a softer voice, "We were going to go dancing. I waited… I waited until it closed. He didn't come." She'd known he wasn't coming. She'd known, and yet some foolish part of her had hoped anyway, and she'd waited and waited… Her voice cracked, "He didn't come."

He turned and his arms, flesh and metal, closed around her, clasping her loosely against his chest. With anyone else, except maybe Howard, she'd never allow herself this, but with Barnes, who'd loved Steve, too, it was easy to shut her eyes and let her head rest on his shoulder, while she blinked from the wetness in her eyes.

His warmer hand patted her back. "He loved you so much," Barnes murmured to her. "Nothing but death would've kept him from that dance, Peggy, I swear."

He held her, head tilted against her hair, and she could smell brick dust and fish, as her breathing settled and she was ready to dab at her eyes with the base of her thumb. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to offer her. It was iffy, crumpled at the very least, but she accepted it to wipe her nose as she sniffled. "Thank you. I suppose seeing you, it hit me harder than I expected."

"That's why I'm not in New York. I don't want to be where every other street corner would remind me of him," he admitted and took the handkerchief back from her, waving it to the middle of the square. "Some people want to put up a statue to Lukas in the middle there, can you imagine?" he asked. "He would hate that so much."

"Have you heard the Captain America radio show?" she asked dryly.

"I have." He chuckled. "Bet you hate it more than Steve would." His voice turned high-pitched, imitating the heroine of the show with uncanny accuracy, "Oh Captain America, thank you for rescuing me!" Then he squeezed her arm. "Don't worry, I set 'em all straight. Out of all of us, you were the only one who never needed rescuing."

She patted his hand in thanks. "That brings me to my reason for being here, actually. Howard and I have been tasked with a division of the SSR to more pro-actively go after HYDRA cells that remain. We keep turning over rocks and finding another one. Plus, the Soviets are very interested in these things, too, and we want to keep it out of their hands."

He grasped the implication of what she was saying, and shook his head. "I retired. Talk to Duggan, the rest of them. They stayed in."

"And they do help, but it's the military that's part of the problem. Most of them see "Betty Carter", not me. But you don't. You could join our team."

He turned his eyes toward the ruined castle. "I have a life here, Peggy."

She wanted to demand if it was really a life, burying himself here, waiting for something that was never going to happen. But that was cruel and unfair to say, so she said only, "I share your belief that Lukas might have survived. But if he did, he left us."

"He'll be back," Barnes declared softly.

"Maybe he will. But, James, you can't put your life on hold, waiting for that day to arrive."

"Tell yourself that a lot, do you?" he accused as a jest, and she felt the sting.

She wanted to deny it, but there was some truth that she'd been holding on to Steve, or at least to the idea of Steve. She wasn't sure what the world would look like if she stopped. Nodding she admitted, "I did. I still do, in a way. It's easier to give advice than take it from ourselves, but still, you and I, we're not immortal." She gestured toward the Ice Demon's mountain peak. "Our lives are short, and we have to make them count."

His lips curled together in a wry crooked grin. "You sound like Steve."

She smiled at that. "Then you know I'm right."

He hesitated and studied the ruins. "I'm doing useful work."

Rebuilding was good and useful work, but she also knew Barnes could do so much more. She gripped his arm. "Would Lukas want you here, or would he rather you help destroy the rest of Hydra?"

Barnes snorted a laugh. "Hey, now, that's not fair! You know he wanted them all dead." But it didn't take long for it to sink in, as his humor dwindled. "They're still out there?"

"They are, James. You know what they say, cut off one head... we have to keep cutting off the heads until they're dead and gone. And I want to do that. We lost them because of Hydra, and I don't want to lose more to that evil."

He looked again toward the ruined castle. "Can I think about it?" he asked. She knew then, he would come back with her, he just needed some time to mull it over.

"Of course. I don't fly out until Saturday. In the meantime," she tucked a hand around his arm, "you can show me the sights."  

On Saturday, James would be flying out with her, she was certain. And together, they'd cut off those lingering heads of Hydra that remained, one by one, until that evil was eradicated like the disease it was.