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12 November 2014 @ 11:31 pm
The Ice Demon and the Hydra, part 4  

Being without the poison clouding his mind felt odd. The pain was less as well, and Loki felt a new clarity of thought that he hadn't had in a long time.

Not so long, as even the mortals reckoned it, but long enough. He wore his borrowed enemy clothes and his enemy boots, and was eager to divest himself of them. But he was too weak still to form clothes, and probably shouldn't demonstrate his powers in any case. Who was to say the Allied military would not do the same as Schmidt had done, if they knew who had fallen into their grasp?

So he'd given an alias, and he was prepared to play mortal as long as he needed to. It was less difficult than it might be, with his wrists still hurting him and his lingering weakness.

Rogers knew about the healing, but he thought it came from an outside source, similar to his own serum experience. Loki would not disabuse him of that notion.

He rolled his shoulders and head, trying to work out the lingering stiffness and aches from being held immobile. He was healing but it was slow; the water was welcome, but food was scarce and Loki saw no point trying to claim it for himself, when he wouldn't starve to death, and he feared he wouldn't be able to choke it down in any case.

His wrists and hands twinged sharply, and he realized he was trying to clench his fists. Rage filled his chest at the thought of what Schmidt had done. Again and again.

With some effort he turned his thoughts to his current surroundings, hearing the convoy get underway behind him. Not all of the escaped prisoners were soldiers, though most were.

He should have claimed some high military rank, but his wits had been too dull to think ahead. Perhaps claiming his relation to Birgitte would ease his path into higher councils. Because he wanted - needed - to be part of the discussions of destroying Hydra. He wanted to do it himself, alone, but that was the same hubris that had gotten him captured in the first place. He needed help.

He glanced up at the sky. He'd needed help before. He'd called out, pain and misery finally cutting through the pride, but no one had answered. No one had come.

He'd sensed no attempt to contact him, not a whisper from anyone, including his mother. By the time he knew he'd was wrong about being able to free himself, he'd been too weak to initiate the contact. But even if no one had been able to hear or touch him in his weakness, they should have seen. Heimdall or Frigga or Odin himself should have seen something of his suffering.

They'd left him there. Left him to the humiliation and the pain. Left him to die.

Was this Odin's punishment for Loki's disobedience? Or was he just uncaring of his adopted monster?

Loki's jaw cramped from as tighly as he was clenching it as he glowered upward, wishing he could see Asgard from this ball of mud.

I'm free now, thanks to Rogers' compassion. I don't need you. I spent a century on this world before, alone. I don't need any of you.

It felt good to form the words, even if no one could hear. He held the glamour around himself with what power he could muster. If they didn't want to see him, then he would keep himself unseen.

He was going to avenge himself on Schmidt first. Destroy his enemies. And once that was done, then he'd decide what to do about his so-called family.

Phillips looked at the tall man who entered the command tent, as he snapped his fingers and gestured his two aides to get out.

He was taller than Phillips himself, at least as tall as Rogers if not taller, though more slender. His hair was jet black and long, framing a face less conventionally handsome but arresting in its angular features, pale skin, and sharp icy eyes. He was wearing an olive fatigue jacket over a German undershirt and trousers that were surprisingly clean and well-fit on his slender frame.

"Colonel Phillips. I am Lukas Onsdag. I'm told you asked to speak with me."

'Asking' had not really been part of it, but after Rogers' report, Phillips had known he'd have to speak to Onsdag.

"Rogers says you were a prisoner of Schmidt's as well, but you're not with the 107th."

"No," he answered. "I am not in the military." His accent was English, but tinged with something quite different from, say, Agent Carter's. "Queen Birgitte of Arendelle will vouch for me."

Phillips raised his eyebrows at the curious claim. Rogers had said that Onsdag had claimed to be from Arendelle, but he'd said nothing about the queen. That lent credence to Rogers' theory that Onsdag was someone high up in the Arendelle resistance. "Oh?"

"I was captured," Onsdag said with a sneer of distaste, "helping her escape. She should have made it to Scotland, if all went to plan."

"So you're with the Arendelle resistance?" Phillips asked.

Onsdag, if that was his name, smiled faintly and didn't answer the question. "My mission remains Schmidt and Hydra. I have some particular skills of use in that endeavour."

"Like what?" Phillips asked.

A knife went sailing past his ear and embedded itself into the wooden pole behind him, before Phillips realized Onsdag had one in his hand. He reared backward, far too late, heart thumping.

"That," Onsdag said. "Among other things."

"Jesus, son," he gasped. "You could have told me."

"I find demonstrations save time. And I am no one's son." He stalked around the desk to retrieve the knife. Phillips saw in a brief glimpse that the knife was long, slim-bladed, and the hilt was golden. It was not a knife he'd seen before - it was certainly no military issue he'd ever seen- and he had no idea where Onsdag had gotten it. He slipped it into an inner pocket of his jacket and faced Phillips. "Your mission is Schmidt as well, so as loath as I am to work with anyone, it seems to make greater tactical sense to work together."

Phillips blinked and frowned. "You want to join the SSR?"

Onsdag gestured sharply. "I am not military, Colonel. And I have no desire to start now. I am not, shall we say, accustomed. But I am also grudgingly aware that what I want most is easier to achieve with pooled intelligence."

"And what you want most being Schmidt?"

"His head detached from his body specifically," Onsdag said, without a single glimmer of humor to suggest he wasn't being absolutely literal about it.

"Well, I understand that," Phillips allowed. "However." He pushed back from his desk and stood up. "Rogers, and the others who saw the factory are being pulled back to London for debrief and R&R. So if you're serious about pooling intelligence, that's where it starts."

"Then I accept, Colonel," Onsdag gave a polite nod of his head and saw himself out without being dismissed.

Phillips frowned severely, since he hadn't meant that as an invitation, but now it had become one. He stretched and shouted his assistants to come back in and add Lukas Onsdag to the list of those being evac'd to London. And to Agent Carter, he said, "And contact the War Department to confirm his story."

"You think he's a German spy? After what Captain Rogers said about how he'd been held prisoner? With those injuries?" she asked, in that highly polite and yet so-very-skeptical tone of hers that suggested, respectfully, that he was slightly bonkers.

Onsdag was still wearing bandages on his wrists, but he'd also just thrown a knife with pinpoint accuracy, suggesting that Rogers was right about the superfast healing. "No. I believe he was a prisoner and he wants to take Hydra down. But no sense in being gullible to any heroic story that comes along."

Which required a trip to London, as well as meeting with Allied command, something Phillips was not really looking forward to. He liked the field, not politics, and whenever there were two generals in a room, there was always politics.

But it had to be done. Schmidt and Hydra were a new, lethal danger to the Allies, different from the rest of the Nazi war machine.

He and Carter and their assistants flew on Stark's plane, ahead of the military transport bringing the former prisoners.

In the hangar just off the airfield, an envelope was waiting for Agent Carter. She first pulled out two telegrams, scanned their contents, and lifted her brows in surprise. "It confirms that Queen Birgitte is in exile in Scotland, with Hrothgar of Norway. The second is from her: 'Lukas Onsdag is our personal crown envoy. We thank the old gods for his rescue. He has our complete faith. HRH Birgitte, Queen of Arendelle.'"

Phillips nodded. "So he was telling the truth about that."

"Apparently. Curious a Christian queen would thank pagan gods."

"A code?" Phillips guessed.

"Possibly. Though …" her voice trailed off, and she looked thoughtful, even perplexed as if she was thinking something she didn't want to believe.

He glanced up at her, prompting impatiently, "Agent Carter?"

She was reading another sheet of paper from her envelope. "There are … stories… Colonel, about Arendelle and the traditions that linger there. The royal family is said to descend from a demon or a god, depending on the story, and not in ancient history but during Georgian times. A demon, they say, called to protect the land from invaders."

"Well, it didn't do a very good job of it," he snorted. "Arendelle was invaded with Norway in '41."

"True, but." She held up the third sheet of paper. "This is a report of interviews with those who escaped with the queen and later. They say a man identifying himself as the Ice Demon walked into the palace during an occupation dinner, killed all of the Nazi officers present, and helped the queen escape, before disappearing. This was when the man we now know as Johann Schmidt was in Arendelle."

He looked up sharply at her. "Are you saying that Lukas Onsdag is a demon, Agent Carter?"

She met his eyes, returning his look calmly. "No, of course not, Colonel. But I suspect Schmidt thinks he is. If he thought he had captured the so-called "Ice Demon of Arendelle" it's no wonder he tortured Onsdag. But it is a fact that the queen escaped, and our reports out of the Norwegian resistance agree that at least fifty Germans in Arendelle were slaughtered."

He snorted. "It's probably just the queen and her resistance creating some sort of folk hero out of their legends."

"Very possible, Sir." She agreed, but Phillips knew she didn't completely agree, though why she was attached to the idea that Onsdag was supernatural he had no idea. Though he was admittedly attached to the idea of an entire squadron of super-soldiers kicking Hydra's ass, so at least he might have one more if Onsdag was agreeable.

"Well, he has admitted he's a spy." Phillips glanced down at the telegram from the queen of Arendelle. "And it seems he does have that super healing now." He handed the papers back to her. "All right. Find out what you can," he instructed her. "But… quietly," he warned. "I need him to run against Hydra, not get stuck here as a plaything for the desk jockeys and docs. Let's keep that to ourselves for now."

She nodded, lips curling in a suppressed smile of shared understanding. "Yes, sir."

"As the queen's personal envoy make sure he's with Rogers, in the main debrief. Let's see how he handles himself." He snorted. The man had thrown a knife past Phillips' ear; he could handle himself just fine.

Steve was a little sorry he had refused Phillips' invitation to come with him and Peggy on Stark's plane and had stayed with the men. The transport plane was packed, with the men grabbing onto straps hanging from the metal strips riveted into the hull and sitting where they could on the narrow canvas benches. There was a stench of too many unwashed bodies mixed with machine oil, and Lukas had recoiled sharply at the ramp, gagging in disgust. He'd gotten over it, but he continued to be pale and quiet during the bumpy flight, and Duggan had found him a paper sack in case he threw up. His eyes darted around in alarm in turbulence, as if he feared the Germans were firing on them. He ended up in the most forward seat, behind the navigator's station, and Bucky sat next to him. Steve sat across the way, turning his shoulders sideways so he didn't feel like he was taking up so much room on the crowded bench.

"Never flown before?" Bucky asked Lukas.

"Not in a primitive craft like this," he answered shortly, clutching the bag in one fist. "I wish I could fly myself."

"That'd be nice. I wanted to be a pilot - I've got good eyes-- but that's no place for enlisted guys like me. Fancy ones like you, though...."

Steve was just as glad Bucky had avoided that. Fighter pilots might have the glory, but they also died at a rate worse than commandos.

"Fancy?" Lukas repeated, arching his eyebrows, and Bucky laughed.

"Like that. You're so Manhattan you squeak."

Lukas seemed offended, but also amused, as Bucky pulled a smile from him. "I am not American, Barnes."

"Whatever. You ain't a farmer, or a wharf rat, is what I'm saying."

"No," Lukas agreed. "That much is certainly true."

The plane landed with a big enough bump Steve nearly lost his breakfast, and Lukas' eyes flew wide, grabbing the edge of the navigator station with both hands as if he thought he could lift the plane back into the sky. Whatever he said, Steve was fairly sure this was the first time he'd flown in an airplane.

The landing gear rolled on the ground, and Lukas was wrenching open the hatch before they'd stopped so he could jump outside and take great big draughts of fresh air. Everyone else followed, not that much more slowly. Everything was green, including the buildings, painted and netted to make the airfield harder spot.

They were hurried into trucks, by a harried lieutenant and driven into the city. Lukas peered out the back of the canvas curiously, far more relaxed on the ground than he'd been in the air. "Some of it looks much the same," he murmured.

Seated beside him Monty asked, "Have you visited London before then?"

"Yes. It was... some time ago," Lukas answered. "I remember more horses."

"Ah, you must have visited when you were quite young, before motorcars became popular."

"I was younger certainly," Lukas agreed, staring at the buildings, some of them quite shattered and burnt. It wasn't all as it had been. "Different."

Bucky, on Lukas' other side squeezed his shoulder companionably. "We were all different before the war." Then he looked deliberately at Steve. "Some of us more than others."

Steve rolled his eyes at this attempt at wit.

Monty said, "Well, it isn't Arendelle, but I hope you can feel somewhat at home here in Britain."

Lukas glanced at him and nodded his thanks.

The trucks rolled to a stop and someone hit the side of the truck. "We've arrived, gentlemen," Peggy's familiar voice called out. "Welcome to the war ministry."

Within the building, she directed the rest to go with others for their debrief, while she escorted Steve and Lukas personally. Lukas hesitated at the entrance that headed down into the dark.

"You okay?" Steve asked quietly.

"Fine," Lukas answered, even though he was plainly not fine at all. His skin had gone ashen and Steve could see his pulse fluttering in his throat, rapid as a bird's. He held his left wrist and rubbed it with his thumb as if the injury still hurt him, though Steve had seen him use it so well it had probably healed completely. Lukas murmured, barely audibly, "Something is wrong with me."

"You were a prisoner for more than a year," Steve reminded him. "That's going to leave scars."

"Actually it left none, on me," Lukas corrected.

"Not on the outside. Doesn't mean they're not on the inside."

Lukas gave him a look as if he'd never heard words like that before. Then he smiled a bit sadly, agreeing, and gestured them both forward. "Come, I'm sure Agent Carter would like you to join her." Peggy was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Lukas smirked at Steve, as Steve tried to splutter a denial, face burning.

But Lukas seemed better again, as they went below into a better lit region of the ministry buildng, underground, full of soldiers of all kinds. They were let into what looked like a high-level meeting and some maps.

It all seemed too high level for Steve, until he reminded himself that he was a captain, and he had important intelligence to tell all these colonels and generals. That let him walk forward to join them with confidence, and Lukas pacing him easily, his previous uneasiness passed. Steve noticed Agent Carter was one of only three women in the room.

One tall man with thick blond hair came forward to Lukas, his eyes widening, "You are him, are you not?"

Lukas gave him a narrow-eyed look and did not offer his hand. "You are?"

The general bowed to him formally. "General Arndt of Norway. On behalf of King Hrothgar, I wish to give our thanks to you for your assistance in freeing Queen Birgitte."

That unbent Lukas' hostility and he smiled. "She is well, then?"

Arndt nodded. "Yes, sir. She is with the king in Edinburgh. I am their liaison to the Allied command here. She said to keep watch for you." He nodded back toward the other commanders, which included Phillips, then he leaned a little nearer and said in a softer voice, "I am not certain, sir, what I should tell them."

"My name is Lukas Onsdag," Lukas told him. "Birgitte's... family. The rest," his gaze flicked to Steve, who was looking at Agent Carter and pretending he couldn't hear them, "is a rumor."

Arndt nodded sharply. "Ja, as you command, sir."

As Arndt brought Lukas up to the table and Carter gestured Steve forward, he looked at the back of Lukas' head and wondered. Arndt knew something about who Lukas was - he was someone important if a general would bow to him and accept his orders, when Lukas was from another country. Steve might have been willing to write it off as simple respect, one high-ranking person to another, except he knew that Lukas had some sort of secret, and this seemed to imply that it was something known in both Arendelle and Norway.

But if Arndt knew about it, it must've happened before he was captured. So it was not a product of Hydra. Perhaps it was something Schmidt had known and that was why he had held Lukas in captivity, draining his blood and, if what he suspected was true, forcing him to give sperm as well. Because he was some kind of super-human, and Lukas was trying to keep it a secret.

Steve's gaze went to Lukas, tall and thin and somehow immaculate in his borrowed, unmarked green fatigues. As Steve gave his report about the six other facilities he had seen marked on the map, he wondered about this stranger he had rescued. If he wasn't the recipient of some kind of Hydra experiment, was he someone else's? Who was he, truly?

"There is another facility," Lukas said, drawing attention as he peered at the map and the placement of the flags that Steve remembered from the map in the factory. "I know not where it is, but his headquarters are not any of these."

"Were you there?" one of the generals asked.

"Briefly," Lukas answered. "I saw cut stone walls. Granite. It was underground."

"How large was the facility?" another officer asked.

"I don't know."

"What did you see?"


"You must have seen something," the same officer persisted. "Anything could be valuable, a clue for us to find its location."

Loki's voice turned flat and tight, as if speaking was an effort. "When they had no immediate use for me, they kept me in a metal tube. I saw nothing but darkness during transport." His hands were clenched to tight fists, to try to keep control.

A metal tube? God, no wonder he'd had a problem going into the narrow dark opening upstairs. Steve touched his upper arm, and though Lukas shrugged it off, his voice seemed easier as he went on to explain, "All I saw was the stone wall opposite where I was held. I only know it was his headquarters because Zola said as much."

The British general pursed his lips. "We need to know where it is."

Phillips said, "Then we start taking down the ones we do know about. We light a fire under his ass." He glanced at Steve and Lukas and gave a small grim smile. "And I have just the men to do it, general."

After the briefing, Loki was glad to find open air again, disliking the underground confines and the overpowering smell of their cigarettes everywhere. Night had already fallen, and the city was shrouded in darkness. It felt empty, but for the sound of troops and cars moving slowly through the streets. The civilians he'd seen before - and that was few compared to those he'd seen in the streets the last time he'd been in London - were tucked inside.

"I'm going to the bar to find the others," Steve said and raised his brows at Loki. "You coming?"

Loki glanced at the pub's facade and shook his head at Steve. "I think I'll walk the city. I would rather be outside."

"But the curfew--" Steve objected. "You shouldn't wander around in the dark."

Loki smirked. "I do better in the dark. I'm going to visit Westminster. Enjoy your evening."

He walked away and as soon as he was out of sight, cast an invisibility glamour because no, he did not want to be bothered with the curfew or well-intentioned mortals. It felt good to exercise his magic again; though he'd recovered his strength, he could still use it little because of the mortals around him constantly.

He walked the city, in a growing foul mood as he saw familiar things all changed by this war. His feet carried him to Westminster Abbey, its great bulk ancient and, by moonlight, seemed mostly as he remembered it. It was the first thing that felt comforting in its familiarity. He circled to the north side, avoiding guard posts, and cracked open a door just enough to slip inside. The transept was dark and deserted, and he lit a candle with a thread of power.

But within, all was changed. From here he could see that what windows were not boarded up were missing, pictures and tapestries and the screens were missing, the tombs had been dismantled or blocked up by bags of sand, and the floor had been covered. Passing through the altar space, he looked up to see that part of the roof was missing, and there was still debris piled to the sides, and bits of lead all over the choir stalls from when the leaded windows had melted in the fire.

He went out of the choir, past the makeshift altar there, and turned to his right, his feet carrying him automatically.

There was nothing to see, both monument and grave stone buried by protective barriers. But he remembered what they were, and who they were for. Isaac Newton. He'd been a friend before Loki had understood he had a friend. He'd been the first one Loki had sought out after leaving Arendelle the Ice Demon behind all those years ago. They had discussed physics, religion, philosophy… so many things with an eager understanding and sympathy. Isaac had died in 1727. He had been the first, but certainly not the last to leave too soon.

He heard a door open and waited for whoever it was intruding on his solitude.

A quiet voice came from behind him. Agent Carter. "You are in violation of the curfew."

"Why so I am. How did you find me?"

"You told Captain Rogers you were going to Westminster." She took a few measured steps toward him, carrying a lantern that cast strange shadows across her face. "I thought you might be meeting a spy when you declined the invitation to the pub. I didn't expect you to come here. Can I ask you why?"

His gaze flicked up to the view of the sky. "I came to find something familiar and found it all changed."

She frowned at him. "It was hit in the Blitz, in '41. With Parliament. You're familiar with London then?"

"When I was young," he answered. It was a lie, but it felt true. Those years with Isaac felt like both yesterday and a million years ago. They had been before Elsa, so he'd still been angry and determined never to go home, beginning his project to advance Midgardian awareness of the world, only to find that it was so breathtakingly backward he had barely known where to start.

Now, as then, he was hiding his true name, so no one on Asgard could hear it. And now, as then, there were those tempting him with friendship. But he had been right to be more aloof from Isaac, and he needed to do that again. He was here to kill Schmidt and retrieve the tesseract, not make friends with mortals who would die. "But I suppose it is the lesson to be who I have to be."

"Who you have to be?" she repeated curiously.

"A solitary creature of shadow and death, Agent Carter. Not sunlight and camaraderie."

"A spy and assassin," she guessed, though it was not much of a question.

He smiled at her, and let her think that.

"Still," she continued, "even assassins must need a holiday?"

That would probably be true for some, but he shrugged. "I have been not much used to company."

Her expression fell into sympathy and she nodded understanding. "It may take some time to readjust. I can see the appeal of being in a quiet, holy place like this," she glanced around at the interior of the church. "Ruined as it is, it's still quite beautiful."

He opened his mouth to say it was no faith of his, but held his tongue as his gaze followed hers. She was right; it was beautiful. Beneath the damage, he felt its age, similar to his own. It was something that even these short-lived beings had made to endure.

He felt her gaze on him, as he looked toward shadowed northern aisle. Her voice quieted as she asked, "Why will you not tell us the truth?"


"Everything. Who you are. What you are. Where you come from. I've heard the story of Queen Birgitte's escape. That you killed all the Nazis in town, and you were hit by a tank shell."

He grinned, delighted that the truth had spread, even if he had to deny it. "Surely you know better than to believe such stories. They are always so exaggerated."

Carter pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him as she considered. "And you claimed to be the one known as the Ice Demon."

"If you know that, then you know the truth." Admitting an impossibility was even better than a lie. "I am the Ice Demon, Agent Carter."

"But what does that mean?" she persisted. She frowned in puzzlement. "Is it a hereditary position? A folk hero whose identity you assumed?"

He couldn't help a smile. "Ah, Margaret, you know the answer. You simply choose not to see it."

She shook her head. "I don't understand."

He chuckled, "You saw the transformation of Rogers into Captain America. He told you what Schmidt had done to himself. And yet still you think... small. This is a new age."

"Are you a part of it?" she asked, eyes intent on him. "Bringing that new age?"

He didn't look at Newton's memorial, but he felt the weight of it beside him. "I was," he allowed after a moment. "I wanted to help you achieve this new age, and bring technological advancement to your people."

"Your people?" she repeated. "You're not one?"

He wasn't sure if he'd slipped on purpose or accidentally, and had to grin. She was a clever one. "I am many things to many people."

"Now you're barely trying," she told him, but seemed amused. Her gaze was steady and strong. "I hope you will trust us with the truth," she said, more seriously than he had expected. "I believe you mean well, and certainly you hate Hydra, but it's difficult to trust you when I know you're hiding things that can help us, and help the war."

"But that is exactly why I need to keep the truth to myself," he said. "I do not wish to be... what is it Rogers called himself? The Allied Dancing Monkey? That's not my role, and I fear if I told you all of the truth, your war machine would demand… answers. Assistance. Things I cannot give."

She nodded slowly, understanding coming to her features. "Things Hydra sought to take from you by force."

"Some of them at least," he agreed. "And while I would be more willing to share them with the Allies, because we have a common enemy, nonetheless, I cannot trust that your commanders will be wise with the truth." Nor did he trust that they would not do to him exactly as Schmidt had done in their pursuit of his knowledge and immortality. They had not strapped Rogers to a table to try to backwards engineer the serum, but they could.

She considered that for a space of silence and informed him, "The SSR is being retasked with the specific mission to destroy these Hydra bases and gain further intelligence about the location of the secret headquarters and Schmidt's overall plan. I assume you'll be part of it."


"And then, when we are far from London and have only our unit to rely on, perhaps then you will tell us what we need to know," she suggested.

A smile grew on his face. "I could not deny my allies the same information that my enemies already possess, Agent Carter."

"Good. I look forward to it. May I escort you back? We leave England soon and you should take advantage of what little time we have for R&R." She looked around at the gravestones and memorials and back at him, her eyes softer. "Among the living?"

He glanced at his friend's grave, and knew he should resist. He should concentrate on his mission, not extraneous things, but there was something about Carter's face that reminded him of Elsa's, making him promise not to let his heart get frozen again. Torture and captivity, rage and vengeance, made it tempting not to feel anything, but that held dangers of its own.

And it seemed that none of these people were inclined to let him brood on his own. Their very human sentimentality was held out to him and he was too fragile to resist.

He gestured to have her precede him. "Agent Carter. We should indeed return to the living."

She nodded and smiled approvingly, and they left the damaged church together.

Steve was a bit taken back when Peggy entered the pub with Lukas, but he pushed down the snap of jealousy, reminding himself that he had no claim on her. He and Bucky waited for the two of them, as they made their way over through the men who had fallen quiet at her arrival.

"Captain. I bring you another member of your squad," she greeted him.

He smiled both at her and Lukas. "Glad to hear that."

"It couldn't have been much surprise," Lukas said dryly.

"Howard has some equipment he'd like you to try," she told him. "Tomorrow."

"Sounds good," he said, just to have something to say. The lighting in the pub was perfect for her, making her hair a rich gleam and her skin glowing. He wanted to sketch her, even if he knew he could never do her justice.

"Equipment?" Lukas repeated with interest. "I would be interested as well… And I would like to meet Stark."

She turned to him, arching her brows. "The new technological age, Mister Onsdag?" she asked in pointed reference to something that made him smile.

"Just so."

Steve glanced from one to another, curious, but they didn't elaborate. Peggy looked toward the main room where the squad was singing something in French.

"I see your top squad is prepping for duty?" she asked, voice edging a bit dry at the sight of them drinking heavily.

"You don't like music?" Bucky asked.

Her gaze didn't leave Steve's though, and she said to what felt like him alone, "I do actually. I might, when this is all over, go dancing."

"What are we waiting for?" Bucky asked.

"The right partner," she said, and Steve felt a warmth in his chest at the reminder of what they'd talked about that forever-ago day in the car. "0800 Captain. Mister Onsdag."

She walked away and Steve added belatedly, "Yes, ma'am. We'll be there."

"I'm invisible," Bucky complained as soon as she was gone. "I'm turning into you, this is a horrible dream…"

Lukas chuckled. "You're far too late on the scene, Barnes."

"What about you?" Bucky asked curiously, turning back to the small table and his beer. "You got a girl at home? Waiting for you? Is there someone crying happy tears to get that telegram that you're out of that hellhole?"

There was no smile, only stillness and a flick of his eyes heavenward, that made Steve think someone close to Lukas had died. But he answered simply, "No. There's no one waiting for me."

Maybe he had gone to Westminster to pray for someone. But this was no time for mourning, but for getting away from dark memories before they all went back to war. Steve clapped him on the back and coaxed him to the bar. "You're just waiting for the right partner, too, like she said. You want a beer? I'm apparently buying for the squad."

Lukas smirked. "That would be welcome, as I have no funds."

"Wait, you have no money?" Steve blinked at that. "But aren't you a prince of Arendelle or something? Surely you have some kind of stipend? Nothing?"

"I have money in a bank in Switzerland," he paused and corrected, "or I did, but other than that, no. So far I've acquired what I need, so it makes little difference." His gaze traveled around. "Except in the pub."

"Oh, well, shit, we'll get that straightened out tomorrow," Steve promised.

"After you go play with Howard Stark's doohickeys," Bucky said, sounding a little jealous that Steve and Lukas were going to get to see Stark's lab and he wasn't. Steve hoped he could get Bucky access, too. But he turned to Lukas with a curious face, "You like science stuff? I thought you were a spy?"

Lukas hesitated long enough to let the bartender bring him a beer. He turned the glass mug around without drinking. "I have been interested in scientific progress for quite some time." Then he smiled to himself. "And you would be amazed at the amount of progress made because spies carry information from one part of the world to another."

"I'd love to talk to Stark, but I don't know much. I'd probably just embarrass myself."

"Oh?" Lukas turned to him. "You have an interest?"

"Bucky insisted we go see Stark's exhibit at the World's Fair," Steve explained. "He's always been into that stuff. He's much smarter than I am, even if he likes to pretend he's not."

Bucky rolled his eyes at Steve, not accepting that at all, but answered Lukas' question, "We didn't get to learn a lot in school. So I was planning after the war's over, to go to college, study engineering or something cool like that…" he trailed off, glancing at his beer as if he thought Lukas was going to mock him for his plans.

Lukas watched him with a curiously somber eyes and then offered, "Was there a topic you would like to learn more about? I am a poor teacher, but I do have knowledge. And I have long believed knowledge should be shared."

"Really? You would do that? That would be great," Bucky said, leaning toward him with new excitement. "Magnets. Can you explain magnets? I get the whole positive-negative attract, but I don't understand why. What makes the same charges repel like that?"

Lukas smiled. "Ah, the fundamental forces of the universe. You ask interesting questions, Barnes. Now if only I had Birgitte's book…" he murmured to himself and then grabbed a fistful of hazelnuts out of the small bowl nearby and scattered them on the top of the table. "We'll begin with the basics."

"I know this. Atoms," Bucky said, very proud of himself.

Lukas laughed, and though it was definitely condescending, it didn't seem to be in a mean way. "No, far more basic than that."

"There's more basic than atoms?"

Lukas' face suggested he was restraining himself from rolling his eyes, and instead gulped half his beer. "Yes. But I'll start there and work our way back."

Steve listened for awhile in curiosity, but eventually wandered away to the other men, while Lukas and Bucky entertained themselves in the middle of a war with science instead of beer and bawdy songs.

It was something of a revelation to Steve. He'd known Bucky was smart and interested in such things, but to see him so engaged, as if this was the best thing he could be doing right now, was new. And it was another piece of the puzzle that was Lukas, watching him teach Bucky with nuts, toothpicks, and empty brandy snifters.

You're an odd duck and no mistake, Lukas Onsdag of Arendelle. Whatever you are.

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