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Sweet Child of Mine

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Tony puts his lawyers on the case within a half-hour of Steve and Bucky's return. The search is thorough, and it takes a few days, but at the end of it, the news is good. Wade Cleve appears to have had no family at all after his parents' death; Jessica has a set of living cousins, but they already have four children of their own and are utterly uninterested in becoming responsible for her baby. It takes very little time for Tony's lawyers to convince them to give up their rights, and within four days of being pulled out of a wall, the baby officially becomes the child of James Buchanan Barnes.

“Do you want to keep her given names, or change them?” the lawyer asks, sitting at Bucky's kitchen table as he fills out the paperwork.

Bucky, who is setting up the brand-new crib with the same expression he uses when he disassembles his favorite Dragunov, looks up. “Um.” He hadn't thought of that. The name her parents gave her is Jean Anne, which Bucky feels is frankly uninspired, but he hasn't been calling her by her name anyway. Nobody has. She gets called everything from Beautiful and Dollface (Steve) to Squirt and Munchkin (Tony), to Little Bug (Clint) and Sweetheart (Bruce) and Babochka (Natasha, who speaks exclusively in Russian to the child, because it's never too early to become bilingual).

He casts a glance over at the child, who is sleeping in the soft, collapsible travel crib that was his stopgap measure, and he thinks about what to call her. He himself has yet to call her by any sort of name. Oh, he talks to her; he talks to her all the time when they're alone, standing in front of the huge windows in his apartment and staring out at the city that's so different from the way it was when he was born, and telling her about all the wonderful things she'll have that he and Steve never did. Telling her about his hopes and dreams, and even about his fears and his nightmares because she's too young to understand anything but the tone of voice he uses and the fact that his arms are warm and safe.

But he hasn't called her by name.

He sits there for a moment, studying her as she sleeps and thinking about names. He himself has had a few in his life - and there was a time when he didn't have any at all - and he knows that names are important. When he first started to come back from being the Winter Soldier, it had physically hurt every time Steve called him Bucky - something in his conditioning actually connected a pain response to that name. As much as it had hurt both of them, he'd had to beg Steve to stop calling him that. For a time, he was James to some and Barnes to others. But Tony had brought in a team of dedicated and highly skilled individuals to work with him on breaking the conditioning, and he'd healed, and gradually he had become Bucky again. Not the same Bucky - he'd never be the same again - but maybe, sometimes, a better one.

He says, “Stephanie. Middle name Faith. Second middle name Yakovlevna.” He spells the Russian patronymic carefully.

The lawyer nods. Then he holds out a pen. “All I need now is your signature.”

Bucky sets aside the crib slat in his hands and comes to the table. He looks over the paperwork carefully, nods, and signs where appropriate. The lawyer gathers his papers and stands. “I'll have all of this filed with the courts before close of business today,” he assures him. “Your copies will come by messenger tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Bucky says. He shakes the lawyer's hand, shows him to the door, and watches him head down the hallway with rapidly officious steps.

He returns to his work on the crib, and has just barely finished and turned the thing right side up when the baby wakes. She doesn't cry; he is the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes, and she waves her hands at him instead, cooing for his attention. He picks her up, checks and then changes her diaper, and gets a bottle out of the warmer. Resting her against his carefully-covered metal arm, her ear against his chest, he pops the nipple into her mouth and goes to the window, looking out onto the city of his birth. “Okay, Steffie,” he says softly. “Here goes nothing.”