Sam finished the case management report for his last client of the day. He glanced at the cheap analog clock hanging in his government provided office and grimaced. He wouldn’t have time to go home and change before his date. He took in a breath and evaluated this current outfit; khaki pants, sky-blue button down, and dark colored dress shoes. He shrugged and unbuttoned the top three buttons and rolled up his sleeves as he pushed his chair away from the desk. He’d do, not that Xander had much room to complain given his usual wardrobe choices.
Sam walked down the long tan and brown hallways of the Veterans clinic to the metal double doors that opened to the parking lot. He sighed as he glanced around the parking lot and strode to his car. He slid into the vehicle, buckled up, and started a hopefully uneventful commute todays date night destination, The Red Tai Dragon.
After parking in the small lot he briskly walked to the entrance of the building. As he walked a glint of dying sunlight flickered across the corner of his eye and made him squint. Sam opened the clear class door and dodged the hanging bells which clanged as the door closed. The elder woman up front bobbed her long iron-grey covered head and merrily called out a greeting by way of Sam’s go-to order. He smiled, waved, and looked significantly towards the back room partially hidden by a red and gold beaded curtain. The old woman’s smile turned into a knowing smirk and a bright twinkle in her eye. As he passed he swore he saw her wink he was certain however that he felt her blatant stare as he passed. He ignored the blush that settled in his cheeks.
“I don’t know how he does it.” Sam muttered as he passed a red-head and brunet couple to his right and a blond couple by the window.
“How does he do what?” his lover asked as Sam approached the booth.
Sam huffed as he slid into the red and black pleather seat. “Turn such sweet old women into such cougars. She winked at me, man. And I think she was staring at by butt when I passed her.”
Xander sucked in a breath between his front teeth and smirked at his date, “Well I can’t really blame her, she’s got good taste. At least you didn’t get pinched this time.”
“It’s like that, huh?” Sam shook his head and smiled fondly as he glanced around the room.
“Yeah, it’s like that.” Xander focused his gaze on Sam’s lips as he answered and licked his own as he traced is eyes from Sam’s mouth to his brown eyes down to well-built pecks and back up. Sam rolled his eyes in response.
Xander glanced around the room too and quirked up the side of his mouth in a smile, “So, do you want to continue ignoring them or do you want to invite them to join us?”
“I was planning on ignoring them. Why?”
“Well, it didn’t work very well last time when we had dinner near the school. You remember what happened with Faith.”
“Yeah, and then Dawn. I never knew anyone could talk so much with one breath.” Sam shook his head in remembered amazement.
Xander got an evil glint in his eye, “You mean besides saying ‘OhgodohgodXanharderoh—‘“
He was cut off as Sam reached over and covered his mouth with his hand. Sam was clearly embarrassed. Xander reached up and took the hand that was still covering his mouth in to his and rotated it so he could place a gentle apologetic kiss on the knuckles.
“Sorry babe.” He murmured against the brown skin.
They held eye contact as he gently nuzzled the side of his face to the cherished hand of the older male.
Sam took a breath the reply when he was abruptly cut off by a loud voice next to their table.
“Well, that was enlightening and waaaay too much information about your love life. Oh hey, Sam—it is Sam right? Nice job with Hydra by the way, great moves in the air—saw it on TV. I think I forgot to say that before.” Tony Stark peered down at the two men where he stood at the open end of the booth; an exasperated looking Pepper Pots next to him.
Xander and Sam stared bemusedly at the multi-billionaire still chatting at them. They had both been sure Clint and Natasha would have approached them first. Bucky and Steve were still outside probably listening in with their super-serum hearing.
Xander turned his gaze from the still talking Tony and smiled at Pepper. “Ms. Potts, always a pleasure seeing you.”
“—upgrade the wings of the Exo—wait, you know Pepper? My Pepper?” Tony narrowed his eyes at the one-eye man, “How do you know Pepper?”
Pepper tisked, “You’ve met him too. During a trip to L.A. and then again at—at the funeral.”
Tony pressed his lips together and stared harder. “Hmm… … nope.”
Xander snickered, not at all offended, and waved for Pepper and Tony to join him and Sam at the booth. “If it helps, at the time I had both eyes.” Tony snorted as he plopped down next to the one-eyed man and across from the now seated Pepper.
Sam and Pepper shared a look and rolled their eyes at their respective other halves.
Sam cocked his head to the side, “So, Tony. Why are you here? Now? At my date.”
Tony huffed out at offended breath, “What? Can’t a guy take his lovely fiancé out to eat Tai anymore?” Sam continued to level a stare at him. “Not buying it huh? Alright—A certain red headed acquaintance of ours was sulking over the fact she got duped. And—“
“—And you just had to come see what the deal was?” finished Sam.
“Ah—yes. Oh come on! Anyone that can dupe one of the Assassin Twins should be at least marginally interesting... No offense.”
Sam ignored Xander’s laughter and pinched the skin between his eyes and shook his head. So much for a quiet relaxing date. “None taken.” Resigned, he sat up and raised his voice, “Steve, Bucky, ‘Tasha, Clint… you might as well come on over. Pull up a table and some chairs.”
The blond couple stood and were unsurprisingly Clint and Natasha. As they approached they dragged the rectangle table they had been seated at and placed it next to the booth’s table. They both sat on one side, leaving the other free for Bucky and Steve, who were now entering the dining area. Bucky’s face was mildly blank but Steve looked embarrass at having been caught.
Sam smiled, “I guess I better do introductions. Everybody, this is Xander. Clint, Natasha I believe you’ve met before.” Natasha stared intensely at Xander and fingered one of her chopsticks. Sam quickly continued on with the introductions. “Steve, Bucky this is Xander. We’ve been dating for three—no four, four years not, offf and on. Wow.”
He and Xander shared a long look and dopy smiles that made Tony roll his eyes and Pepper smile at the pair. Steve, Clint, and Natasha shifted uncomfortably in their seats, but Bucky merely stared at the one-eyed man.
He had been looking at him since he had entered the room. This Xander looked familiar somehow. Bucky narrowed his eyes, and his brow furrowed.
“I know you.”
Bucky’s quiet statement got the attention of all the Avengers present. Sam broke off eye-fucking his lover and raised a questioning eyebrow. Xander didn’t see it because he had transferred his attention to studying Bucky. Steve whipped his head around and stared at Bucky and then at Sam’s boyfriend. He tensed. He re-assessed the seated man and mentally reviewed past mission reports, if this man was Hydra or somehow involved with what was done to Bucky…
“You were…me? I remember a girl in a red dress— she wouldn’t stop screaming. And another girl. A ghost?” Bucky’s hesitant statement derailed Steve’s paranoia and made Xander widen his eye in recognition.
A half-smile stretched across Xander’s face as he slowly nodded, “Halloween, my sophomore year of high school. We had a Chaos Mage that turned everyone into their costumes. I went as a Soldier. I had always assumed that it was the gun the spell latched onto, but now…” Xander trailed off as he thought about what could have been the trigger for him to end up with the Winter Soldier in his body.
The other occupants of the table had hushed at this exchange and were shooting questioning looks between the two men.
The silence was broken by a scoffing snort from Tony, he leaned back in his chair and raised asymmetrical eyebrows. “Spells? Magic? That’s what you’re going with. Really?”
Pepper reached across the table from where she sat beside Sam and took Tony’s hand in hers. “Tony? Remember when I told you about my second cousin, Tara? About her and her girlfriend?”
Tony looked puzzled at his fiancé and shrugged, “I couldn’t figure out why you kept calling them witches. I mean – they were so nice when I met them. Mmm, they made the best cookies. Wait…you meant actual witches?” He opened and closed his mouth a few times and then threw up is hands. “Why not? We have Captain Popsicle, the Winter Soldier, and a Norse Thunder god. Witches? Why not?” He crossed his arms and settled back into his seat with a dramatic huff. Pepper sighed and looked back at Xander.
“What was your numerical designation?” questioned Xander to Bucky, “On your tags or in your file?”
Bucky reared back in his seat. He didn’t really want to remember—but, at the same time he did. He settled in his seat and tried recall. He…He didn’t remember.
He couldn’t remember.
Xander looked understandingly at the formerly brainwashed sniper and didn’t push. He caught Steve’s eyes, “Do you know? I’m certain you’ve come across a number assigned to him when you were looking. I mean, even Logan had a number and he’s Canadian. You had a number.”
No one spoke as every head turned to look at Natasha. Xander nodded and pulled out his phone. He shot a quick inquiry to Dawn who could access the archives. Steve leaned sideways in his seat and bumped his shoulder into Bucky who attempted to smile back. It looked like the attempt hurt.
The silence was getting heavy as three patrons reflected on their own run-ins with mind control. Clint shook it off and picked up his water and took a sip. He glanced at Natasha out the corner of his eyes to see where her head was at. But she was casually munching on a spring roll that had arrived shortly after the group was seated. He was impressed with her blasé, aside from The Winter Soldier, she had the most history with mind-fuckery. He glanced up as the waitress approached the table with six menus.
He took half the menus and help her distribute them to the group. She bowed a little and let them to decide what they wanted to order.
Xander paused as his phone chirped with an incoming message. It was from Dawn, and she had attached a picture. He opened the picture, nodded, and then faced the screen out to show Sam, Bucky and Steve. It was a match. All four of them settled back to digest the newest piece of information. Steve and Natasha shared a nod and she tightened the corners of her mouth. Clint, noticing the look, nudged her booted foot with his own and she relaxed.
The occupants of the booth and table were quiet for time with their own musings.
“So Cap, I noticed that you weren’t surprised about the whole “magic” thing.” At Tony’s observation Clint sat up in his seat and glanced back at Natasha. She had done the same and they shared a wary look. They’d had their own interactions with the supernatural and they didn’t want to repeat it. It was Xander’s fault. And freaking Budapest.
Steve paused in reviewing the menu. He slowly set the menu down and carefully closed it and loosely steepled his fingers as he considered his answer. He drew in a careful breath with the side of his mouth, “Well, Tony, I’m not. You’d be surprised…” he nodded slowly with slightly unfocused eyes, “…surprise at the things you’ll see and find once the wreckage has settled.” He shook his head sharply to dispel lingering pique and glanced at the members of his team, “I had my first encounter with the super natural after Bucky…was gone.”
Everyone straightened in their seats and waited to see if Steve was going to continue.
“I had wanted to get away from everyone and I—I found myself in a blown-out bar. Everything was destroyed except a cracked table and a set a chairs. I sat down at the closest chair and then… I saw him. Well, first I saw his eyes. He’d been standing in the shadows the whole time and I hadn’t noticed him, hadn’t heard him. Nothing.”
He paused to reflect on the memory. Xander started to get a sneaky suspicion the he know who ‘he’ was.
“He glided to where I was seated and placed a bottle and a glass in front of me. He didn’t say anything. Just squeezed my shoulder and looked back at these three neat piles of black ash. And then—he was gone. Not long after that Peggy found me.”
Silence settled around the group once more as they digested what they had just heard.
“That was it? Just a man standing in the shadows that you hadn’t heard or seen when you were distraught. And you automatically assume—what? Vampire?” Tony, ever the doubting tom asked.
Steve shot an irritated look at Tony. “Yes. But, as I said that was only the first time. It was more blatant later.” He rolled his shoulder to dispel built up tension.
“Huh, you were lucky he was mourning; too emotional to make the Thrall work.” Said Xander as he scrunched down in his seat to reach the bag that rested by his feet. “I’ve heard this before and he still brags that he got to meet the original Captain America; a man whose story is almost as well-known as his. And that he got to see you punch Hitler seven times.” As he spoke, Xander felt around for the front flap and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. It had a blood-red wax seal inscribed with an intricate D with rivets of hardened wax making it look like an open wound.
“This, I think, belongs to you.”
Steve stared at the offered paper and hesitantly took it. He didn’t open it. He held it in his lap for a moment, pursed his lips, as he considered the page and what it could mean. A small sound from the man next to him had him sitting up and tucking the paper in a pocket. They’d read it later.
“Dracula? You’re saying Dracula is a fanboy?” This time it was Clint that spoke. He looked at Xander, “What does that make you? What with delivering his letters and all. His Rumsfeld?”
The dark look that flickered over Xander’s face had Natasha reaching for her chopsticks again and Clint’s hand twitched for the nine mil that was tucked in a hidden holster. Xander took in a slow breath and Sam grabbed the hand that had curled into fists. He stroked his thumb of the tense knuckles. He wasn’t quite sure what had caused it, but he knew the look that had been on Xander’s face. He’d seen it several times of Veterans’ faces when they encountered something that made them remember particularly unpleasant things.
“For a time. When I was in high school…and then again, almost a two years ago.” Xander’s voice was quiet and a little rough. “But, like you” he nodded at Bucky, “I had good friends that found me and brought me back.”
Any further conversation was halted by the arrival of the waitress. Everyone gave their order and settled in to talk amongst themselves on the information they had just been given.
Sam leaned forward in his seat and studied Xander’s face. He hadn’t stopped holding the younger man’s hand. Xander smiled slightly as he interlaced their fingers. “They funny thing is, we still keep in contact.” At Sam’s slightly horrified look, he continued, “I know what you’re thinking but. After I got back a lot of shit happened and our whole world changed, and then changed again. He helped us and…he changed too. Plus the next time he even thinks about it his head and shoulders will be separating ways.”
Sam still stared at Xander, but eventually he sighed. “How do I keep attracting guys like you and Steve?”
Xander half-stood to lean over the table and pecked Sam on the lips. “You’re just lucky.” Xander sat back down and he and Sam continued to ignore the looks now being thrown at them.
The waitress and two others arrived, carrying heavy, steaming bowls and plates of food. There almost wasn’t enough room for all the dishes on the table. As the party started to tuck into their food their still hovering waitress asked the group how to split the check.
“Its not.” replied Pepper. She stared at Tony and spoke, “Tony here is going to be footing the bill since he crashed our friends date.”
He opened his mouth to protest, just for the principle of the matter, but the narrow-eyed look he got from Pepper convinced him to close it. He turned to the waitress and offered his press smile.