Sarah showed up with a diaper bag, two stuffed animals, a stroller and also Jodi, who was half asleep but cooed when she saw Sam, and stretched out her arms toward him. Sam took her automatically. "What's up?" he said.
"You're babysitting," said Sarah. Her mouth was set in a firm line, the one that meant Samuel Wilson would do as he was told, or his older sister would rain down hellfire.
"I am?" said Sam, and then cursed mentally and tried, "I can't babysit without notice, Sarah!"
"You gave up your day job to be a superhero," said Sarah, unimpressed. "I see no crises happening today. I'll be back tonight." Then she turned and marched off, leaving the pile of baby supplies at the door.
"Great," sighed Sam. Jodi patted his mouth and tried to grab his beard. "Mommy just jinxed us, sweetie. Wasn't that nice of her?"
"Was that your sister?" said Steve, poking his head out from the kitchen. He was on his third attempt at carbonara. It was somewhat less like scrambled eggs on pasta now, but he was still doggedly trying. Apparently Bucky had been the cook in their household, and Steve's skills were still limited to "boil pasta, open can of sauce". He'd apparently eaten in the SHIELD cafeteria a lot, which was horrifying at more levels than Sam wanted to think about. "Oh, hey, who's that?"
"This is my niece Jodi," said Sam, as Jodi put her head down on his shoulder and regarded Steve thoughtfully through her thick eyelashes.
She was just old enough to be unsure about strangers, and Steve was wary around babies. Something about having been too contagious to be allowed around many before the serum, and a persistent fear that he would break them in half after it. He liked little kids, toddlers and older, fine, but babies made him skittish and he made babies skittish in return. Steve smiled at her nervously. Jodi considered him for a minute more and then smiled at him and reached out.
"Aww, she likes you," said Sam proudly. He took the spatula from Steve and passed him Jodi, who clung to him and looked up at him with curious eyes.
"Hello, Miss Jodi," said Steve gravely. "I'm pleased to meet you." He passed her back to Sam and took his spatula back. "She's real pretty, Sam. Better keep her away from Buck, though."
"Shi-oot," said Sam. "I didn't even think of that. Look, I can call Sarah back, or get my brother to watch her instead, if it's going to be a thing."
Steve stared at him. "What?"
"You said to keep her away from JB," said Sam. "Is it gonna trigger him? Being around her, I mean. You're nervous enough, I don't want him to freak out or whatever."
"No," said Steve, and was interrupted by Bucky himself, who materialized in front of Sam, staring at Jodi. Sam took an involuntary step back. There was something starving in Bucky's expression.
"Baby," said Bucky. "Whose baby?"
"Uh," said Sam, staring back at him. Jodi hid her face in Sam's neck again, looking sideways at Bucky. There was a tense silence, and Bucky reached out his right hand toward Jodi, not quite touching, just hovering. "This is my niece, Jodi?"
Jodi turned her head toward Bucky, studying him carefully. Sam braced himself for tears or Bucky storming off and upsetting everybody, but instead Bucky curled up his hand and offered it gently to Jodi. "Hi, beautiful," he said, in a rough voice, like it was being dragged out of the far depths of his memory. "Why's a pretty girl like you hanging out with a smuck like that?"
"Hey!" said Sam.
Jodi considered Bucky for a second more, and then her face blossomed into the bright smile she usually reserved for her parents, and she leaned across the space, reaching out for him. Bucky scooped her up with one arm and nuzzled into her neck. He breathed deeply, and then lifted his head and wrinkled his nose at her. She giggled delightedly and poked her hand toward his mouth. Bucky caught it gently in his lips and pretended to eat it.
"What the fruit," said Sam, staring helplessly. "What the actual living fruit."
"I was gonna say," said Steve, "don't let Bucky see the baby or you'll never get her back."
Bucky tucked Jodi more comfortably into the side of his body. "You like pear sauce, gorgeous? I got some pear sauce. And some congee."
He wandered into the kitchen, still talking softly to Jodi, pausing to listen to her babbling replies, as Sam and Steve stared after him. When Sam turned to Steve, still in shock, Steve was smiling, a little wistfully. "Bucky loved babies," he said. "He had all his younger sisters, you know, and he helped bring them up, and after they got older he was always going around helping the ladies with their kids. He used to say he wanted ten of them for a start."
Sam was silent. He was pretty used to how horrible everything that had happened to Bucky was, as terrible as that sounded, but every now and then he was struck anew by how much had been stolen from him. "We could -- I bet we could arrange for him to sit with the newborns at the hospital. There's a program they arrange with the VA."
"Yeah," said Steve. "He'd like that."