It's still technically International Fanworks day, since it's not yet midnight everywhere in the world (purposefully ignores my own clock and gazes at the time in New York), and so I bring a fanwork! A small ficlet in the On a Pale Horse
verse. It...probably won't mean a lot unless you've read that, sorry (salient facts needed for this: Steve can turn into a horse, he and Bucky fight together).My Kingdom For a Horse
It was almost Founding Day, the day each year that marked the founding of the Kingdom.
But this year was special: it was the two hundredth
Founding Day. Two hundred years since Sam's great great great great (Steve wasn't sure exactly how many generations there'd been) grandmother founded the Kingdom of Autaan and got crowned Queen for her trouble.
It was a big deal. The celebrations and competitions would stretch for weeks on both sides of the day itself, people coming from all over, in-Kingdom and out, to be part of it. No small number of the competitions were horse-based, but no Horse Guard were entering. Given the things people believed about them—and thanks to the rumours and gossip catalysed by Steve, there'd been a whole new chapter added—too many people would think they had an unfair advantage.
They were, however, giving demonstrations: of fighting on horseback, of horsemanship, of training. Falcon Company's group ride was one of the most anticipated, taking place when all four Dukes had announced they'd be attending the festival and led by Prince Samuel himself.
Which might be a problem, since you couldn’t lead a ride without a horse. Sam had pulled Steve in to handle Redwing, to keep him distracted and calm while he and Bruce checked out his sudden lameness, since the stallion was notoriously grumpy when he was in pain.
Steve gently scratched under Redwing's forelock while Sam stood near his flank, one hand on his back, half-leaning over Bruce, who was crouched down, probing Redwing's right rear leg.
Redwing flattened his ears, flicking them forward when Steve gently tickled his upper lip.
"How does it look?" Sam asked.
"Not great." Bruce stood and shook his head at Sam. "You're not going to be riding him in anything, not for at least a week or so."
"Damn." Sam let out a gusting sigh. "He'll be okay?"
"He'll be fine. It looks like someone kicked him, hard, given the depth of the bruise and the swelling, but I'm not seeing anything that indicates permanent damage."
"Did you chase someone? Get them annoyed enough to let you have it?" Sam asked Redwing, coming around to stand at his head. Redwing snorted softly as Sam caught his chin, giving it a little shake. "This wasn't how I wanted to find out if Sparrow is ready."
"You don't think she can handle the ride?" Steve asked.
"I don't know. She's been coming along well, but that sort of pressure, that precision, is a lot to ask from a horse as green as her." He sighed. "At least she knows the patterns, which is more than any other horse would know."
"And you can't just…bow out? Have someone else lead?" Steve asked, already knowing the answer.
Sam gently took Redwing's lead out of his hands, and Steve had the distinct feeling it was Prince Samuel, not Sam, who replied, "No, Steve. Not everyone approves of the King's son riding with common folk." Sam's smile was mostly teeth. "It's important that they see it." He gave a brief nod, friendly but clearly dismissing him. "Thanks for your help."
"No problem," Steve said, giving Redwing a last pat and saying goodbye to Bruce before he headed out of the stables in search of Bucky........
Bucky was sitting on the grass, Steve's tack spread out around him, rubbing an oily rag over Steve's reins.
It was almost a ritual with him, something he refused to let Steve help with. The first time he'd tried, not long after their day in the field, and Bucky had waved him off, he'd almost gotten mad, because he hadn't understood, had thought it must be still-lingering guilt.
Until Bucky—haltingly, brow furrowed, obviously struggling to find words for gut-deep, bone-deep feeling—had explained. It wasn't guilt. It was love. Love and care and Steve had said they were partners
. This was his side of things: making sure Steve's tack would never rub, would never pinch, would never hurt. Would never snap or break in the middle of a fight and make everything more dangerous for both of them.
Steve had only been able to stare as the true depths of Bucky's acceptance had swirled through him, then he'd hauled him in close, kissed him hard, and said, "You'd better keep doing it then."
And so Steve never tried to help. He enjoyed sitting with Bucky, watching him work, his clever hands sliding over the leather, keeping it clean and supple and soft, watching him frown over it when it didn't meet his exacting standards, but he never interfered. It was Bucky's job.
Bucky glanced up and grinned as Steve moved his saddle out of the way, then dropped to sit next to him in the grass, tilting his head expectantly. Steve leaned over and kissed him, then nuzzled behind his ear, breathing in the smell of oil and leather, laughing softly as Bucky moved his head to give him better access. He kissed a line down his neck, brushed his nose across Bucky's skin, then returned to Bucky's mouth when Bucky nudged him with his chin.
"Hi," he said when they pulled back.
"Hi, yourself," Bucky replied. "How's Redwing?"
"Out of commission for a couple of weeks."
Bucky sucked in a breath over his teeth. "Ouch. How'd Sam take it?"
"Okay? It's Sam." Bucky nodded in understanding. Sam was a king's son; even if Sam had been furious, he wouldn't have shown it. "But he's worried about whether Sparrow will be able to handle the ride."
Bucky snorted and went back to oiling Steve's reins. "I'm not surprised. She's just a baby. I mean, she's old enough, but in experience terms? Yeah, baby."
Steve nodded in understanding. "He said something I'm not sure I understand."
"He said not everyone approved of seeing the King's son riding with common folk, and that they need to see it."
Bucky hummed thoughtfully. "I keep forgetting you didn't grow up here."
"Is that an answer?"
"Kind of. The Horse Guard accepts everyone as long as they can ride. Doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, and that's why most of us are common born."
"I know that."
"You gonna let me keep talking or do I have to gag you with these?" He held up the reins.
Steve grinned at him. "Is that threat or a promise?"
Bucky sighed and smacked him with the reins. "I don't know why I bother with you sometimes."
Steve covered his mouth with his hand.
"Better. So most common folk don't think about it or if they do, they're glad the King cares enough to have his son riding out to help them, right?" He twisted the reins in his hand. "But there's a certain kind of noble, they think it's beneath anyone noble born, and certainly beneath royalty, to serve with common folk."
A familiar curl of old anger rolled through his gut as he lowered his hand. Bucky said, "Yeah, me too," and he knew it must be written on his face.
"That's why it's so important to Sam."
"And a bunch of us, too, but especially Sam. He thinks it's important to…whatever the royal equivalent of rub it in people's faces is."
Steve thought about the ride. He'd seen them training, seen them practicing, and it was intense: fifteen horses and riders, galloping through complex patterns, wielding spears and swords, passing each other with barely a whisker's width between them. All it would take would be one misstep, one mis-cue, and the whole thing would tumble, like a precisely stacked pile of pebbles when someone yanked one from the bottom. Sparrow was a good horse, but she wasn't Redwing. If she got it wrong, if she couldn’t do it, rubbing people's faces in it would turn into an embarrassment, but like Sam had said: there wasn't another horse who knew the patterns.
Maybe what Sam needed wasn't a horse.
"Bucky," Steve said, gazing into the distance, no idea how Bucky was going to react to this.
"I want you to know I'm scared right now."
"The look on your face. It's terrifying."
Startled, Steve turned to look at him. He was smiling, the corner of his mouth curled up, but wariness was lurking in his eyes. "It's not—" He stopped. "Maybe it is bad. I don't know."
"Just say it, Steve."
"What if Sam rode me?"
Bucky's eyes went wide, then he bit his lip, hard. "Okay, first?" he said around muffled laughter. "We need to work on how you ask that."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You know what I mean." Bucky snickered. "Stop laughing."
"Sorry, it's just not every day the man I love asks if someone else can ride him."
Steve mustered up an unimpressed look, secretly fighting back a grin, but the look rolled off Bucky completely if his continued snickering was anything to go by.
Eventually Bucky subsided, leaning into Steve's shoulder. "That was great. Thanks for that."
"Anytime," Steve deadpanned. After a moment, he said, "Bucky?"
"Steve. You don't need my permission, if that's what you're asking."
"No. It's not," he let out a frustrated huff, "it's not permission. I just…"
Bucky turned to face him, wiping his hands on his pants and grabbing Steve's, sliding their fingers together. "Just what?"
"It feels like cheating."
A slow smile spread across Bucky's face and he leaned forward to give him a gentle kiss. "Why?"
"Because I'm your
"You're not, though." Steve opened his mouth to protest and Bucky held up a hand. "You're my partner
, in battle and out. Sometimes you're a horse, sometimes you're this," he waved a hand at Steve, "but whatever shape you are, you're always my partner. I can call on your strength and you can call on mine, without question, without hesitation. Always." He kissed Steve again. "But if someone else needs that strength, it's not cheating to offer it to them."
He suddenly understood how Bucky had felt, trying to find words for gut-deep emotion. All he could say was, "I love you."
"Good." Bucky's eyes crinkled at the edges as he leaned in and said, "I love you, too."
"I'm going to offer to take Redwing's place."
"Good," Bucky said again. "I'll find you some of that fancy tack that'll fit you."
"And I'll let Sam know." Steve rose to his feet, heading back to the stables.
He paused, turning back when Bucky said, "Steve?"
"Maybe don't ask Sam if he wants to ride you." He grinned, eyes glinting. "I'd hate for him to take it the wrong way."