Steve comes back from a morning run to a message on his phone asking him and Bucky to go into Fury's office (which is in Stark Tower now, something that delights Tony to no end) for a “very important meeting.” It's from Fury himself, not his secretary, so Steve figures it must be something big. Steve feels a little ill. Bucky's not exactly okay, but he's better than he was six months ago. What if Fury wants Bucky to join the Avengers? Of course Steve would love to have Bucky watching his back, but hasn't Bucky fought enough? Can't he have a break?
“I'll just say no, Stevie,” Bucky says, somewhat out of the blue as they're getting dressed. Steve looks up, surprised, and Bucky gives him a wry smile. “I can see what you're worried about. You're worried he's going to try to get me to join your little group. I'll say no.”
“It's not that I don't want you there,” Steve assures him quickly, turning back to face the dresser so he can figure out what shirt to wear. “I just want you to have some peace, is all.”
Bucky smiles faintly and comes over to wrap his arms around Steve's waist and rest his face against Steve's back. “Not sure peace is ever really going to be in the cards for me, pal.”
Steve sighs and covers Bucky's hands with his own. “I'm going to make it be in the cards.”
Bucky laughs. “You can't make things happen out of stubbornness, you know. Even if you are the most stubborn little shit on earth.”
“Are you not counting yourself in there?” Steve snorts. Bucky licks Steve's neck and Steve yelps, turning around in Bucky's arms to rest their foreheads together.
“I'm not stubborn,” Bucky mutters, fake-scowling at Steve. He can't even say it with a straight face.
“Button your pants, jerk. We're going to be late.”
“You don't want to button 'em for me?” Bucky's grin starts slow and Steve has to back away from him.
“Don't,” he scolds. “We have to leave in ten minutes! We're going to be late! Don't you come near me with your pants unbuttoned, you know I can't resist.”
“Gentlemen.” Fury nods at them as he closes the door to his office. Steve flushes a little because that eye looks a little too knowing about why they're late. Bucky just raises his eyebrows because he's Bucky.
“I'm not really sure where to start,” Fury actually sighs and Steve freezes. This must be something big. Beside him, Bucky also looks wary.
“Start at the beginning,” Steve suggests. Bucky smirks and Steve kicks him.
“Well, Cap, do you remember giving DNA samples?” Fury asks. Steve's brow wrinkles in confusion.
“Um...I don't know. I've given a lot of blood over the years.”
“Not blood. You gave a cheek swab to SHIELD when you first woke up.” Fury purses his lips as Steve shrugs. “It would seem the branch of SHIELD that came into possession of that sample was...compromised.”
“HYDRA,” Bucky mutters. “You can say it out loud, you know. I'm not going to freak out.”
Fury levels a glare at him for a second. “Well. Yes. HYDRA. And they decided to do some testing with your DNA.”
Bucky tenses. “What did they do?” He asks, sort of freaking out even though he'd just said he wouldn't.
“They were experimenting with creating new supersoldiers.”
“Like Zola did?” Steve asks, hand clenching against the arm rest.
“No.” Fury hesitates. “Creating them from birth.”
The office is silent for a moment. Bucky coughs. “They, um, they used Steve to make...kids?”
Fury sighs again. “Not just Steve,” he admits quietly. “They also had a sample from you, Barnes.”
“A cheek swab sample?” Steve knows from the look on Fury's face it isn't a cheek swab sample but his breathing is so fast he has to say something to steady it. Fury shakes his head just once. Steve starts swearing and looks at Bucky. He's sitting ramrod straight in his chair, staring straight ahead, jaw clenched.
“They used DNA from both your samples to create children,” Fury continues. “We just found the testing facility.”
“Children?” Steve asks faintly as Bucky babbles,
“We have to go—they can't be there. HYDRA's no place for kids, we gotta...we have to go bust them out.”
Fury holds up a hand. “There's just one child. And it appears he's been under private supervision. Still under HYDRA control, but not a HYDRA facility. They didn't know what to do with him when he turned out to not be superhuman.”
“He?” Steve swallows hard. “How old is he? What's his name?”
“He's three years old. According to the files and the intel we have, they call him Shyest.”
All the color drains from Bucky's face and his breathing picks up. “That's—” He presses his lips together, trying to regain control.
“What? What's that?” Steve asks.
“It's Russian for six,” Bucky says with gritted teeth. “Does that mean...?”
“The other experiments were unsuccessful.” Fury's voice is even.
“Unsuc—what does that mean?” Steve asks desperately. “They didn't...” He can't make himself say it.
“As far as we can tell, only two experiments actually produced children, and the other died shortly after birth.” He raises a hand at the look on both their faces. “Natural causes. A heart condition.”
Steve flushes. “Well, they obviously used my DNA,” he mutters.
“But where's the kid?” Bucky presses. “Even if he's not in a HYDRA facility, if he's under HYDRA's control, we gotta go get him out of there.”
“We've already done that,” Fury assures them. “He's downstairs, actually. He's being examined by some doctors.”
“What's going to happen to him?” Steve asks slowly. Fury raises an eyebrow.
“That's up to you,” he says. “He is product of your DNA. You can do with that information what you will. I'll give you some time to talk it over.”
It's not really a question, and they both know it before the door even closes behind Fury. They can't just send some traumatized kid out into the great unknown, especially not when he's theirs.
“Well,” Bucky huffs out a little laugh. “Always used to think about having kids with you, back before the war.”
“Not anymore?” Steve asks quietly.
“Steve, I can't even sleep through the night.” Bucky tips his head back to look at the ceiling. “But.”
“But,” Steve agrees, reaching over and lacing their fingers together. Bucky takes a minute or two to gather himself, then he stands up and pulls Steve to his feet.
“Let's go meet our kid.”
They hold hands the whole way, public be damned. Everyone knows they're together anyway; they've never kept it a secret, but they've never been big on PDA. It's a lingering side effect about having to be so careful before. But this—well, they have no idea how to handle this. The only thing they can do is cling together for dear life.
“The doctor isn't quite finished,” an agent posted outside the door tells them. Steve stops listening, stops breathing even, because he can see the kid through the glass wall. The white-blond hair is Steve—his ma used to tell him his hair was almost translucent when he was younger—the blue eyes could be both of them, and the cheekbones are all Bucky.
“Holy shit,” Bucky murmurs beside him.
“That's, um.” Steve licks his lips. “Wow.”
“No question of paternity,” Fury agrees. “Either paternity, I guess.”
“It's like someone melted our faces together,” Steve says, awed.
“Nah, just our DNA,” Bucky chuckles. “I'm not calling him Shyest. That's a number. He's not—he's a person. A tiny person, but a person. He needs a name.”
“I know, Buck,” Steve says softly. “But he may not react well to being called something else.”
“If I know HYDRA.” Bucky has to stop for a second and Steve squeezes his hand. “They probably didn't call him much of anything.”
The kid looks over toward where they're all congregated and Steve thinks his heart stops beating at how solemn those big blue eyes are. His lower lip is trembling a little, but his back is completely straight.
“He looks terrified,” Bucky whispers. “Hey,” he raises his voice to address the agent. “Is anyone telling him what's going on?”
“He's three,” the agent says skeptically. “He wouldn't understand.”
“Fuck that,” Bucky spits, and before anyone can stop him, he's stormed into the room. It's not like Steve can blame him—one, Bucky went through enough without being told what was happening, and two, Steve's hot on his heels.
“You can't be in here,” the doctor says without looking up from whatever he's writing.
“You can't treat him like he's not a person,” Bucky snaps. The doctor starts and looks up, eyes widening when he sees Steve and Bucky.
“And since this is our child,” Steve picks up Bucky's train of thought. “Shouldn't you be running all procedures by us?”
Bucky gives him a look that says nice one and Steve shrugs a little sheepishly. He'll use any card he has in his deck to stop someone from being mistreated.
“You're not his legal guardians,” the doctor says hesitantly.
“They are now.” Fury comes in behind them, dramatic entrance as ever.
“Hi.” Bucky kneels in front of the table so he's at eye level with the kid. “My name is Bucky.”
“I'm Steve,” Steve adds, bending down too. The kid's eyes dart between them but he doesn't say anything. “Can he talk?” Steve asks the doctor, who shrugs.
“Developmentally, he should be able to, but we haven't heard him say anything.”
“Have you only been speaking English?” Bucky's tone indicates he highly doubts the doctor's intelligence.
“No, Barnes,” Fury pipes up sarcastically behind them. “We're a highly classified intelligence agency, and we only tried one language, a language that isn't the one his name is in.”
Bucky mutters something about intelligence agency and infiltrated but switches to Russian to address the kid. The boy's eyes widen a fraction, so he clearly understands, but he still doesn't say anything.
“Can we get him out of this damn lab?” Steve asks. He remembers too well hospital stays as a child and being surrounded by the smell of antiseptic and scary machines.
“You can take him home. We've expedited the necessary paperwork,” Fury says.
“Expedited?” Steve asks, eyebrow raised. Fury shrugs.
“Kid didn't even officially exist until two days ago. Not hard to fix. For an intelligence agency.” He says the last part with a little glare in Bucky's direction. Bucky rolls his eyes but doesn't take the bait.
“Do you want to leave?” Steve asks the boy, trying to make his voice gentle. The boy's shoulders shake a little but he doesn't respond. Bucky says something in Russian, voice soothing, and the kid takes a shaky breath. He still doesn't talk. Steve stands up, because he may be a supersoldier but his knees still don't like being bent in a crouch for too long.
“Come on,” he says, extending a hand for Bucky to stand, too. “Shyest?” He asks uncertainly. The boy flinches a little but otherwise doesn't react and Steve can't decide if it's a good thing or not.
“How 'bout some ice cream?” Bucky suggests. Blank stare. Steve and Bucky look at one another, no idea how to respond.
“Oh, just pick him up,” the doctor says irritably. “He's not big enough to fight you.”
Bucky goes completely still except for his hands, which are balling into fists. “How scared he is doesn't matter, huh?”
“Buck.” Steve puts a hand on Bucky's shoulder and Bucky unclenches his hands. Steve turns to glare at the doctor. “What kind of doctor are you, anyway? What about first do no harm?”
Bucky sits down on the table beside the kid. “Hey, kid,” he says. “We're not going to hurt you, okay? I'm guessing you haven't had a life that lets you believe that, or really even understand what that means.” He breathes hard through his nose a few times, trying to steady himself. “But we want to take you home.”
The little boy eyes Bucky warily for a minute, then points at Steve. He still hasn't made a sound. “Yeah, me too,” Steve says. “I promise I won't hurt you, either.” The little boy tilts his head to the side and Bucky sucks in a breath.
“That's all you, Stevie,” he murmurs. “You always used to tip your head like that.” Finally, hesitantly, the boy puts his arms around Bucky's neck and allows himself to be carried, but as soon as Bucky stands up he squirms to be put down. He walks to the door and looks back at them.
“He wants to walk,” Steve says with a shrug. He and Bucky follow him. He's still silent all the way to the car waiting for them and doesn't even look at the driver who's offering him a piece of candy. They get home and Steve unlocks the door. The little boy walks inside and then stands just inside the door, back straight and chin up. He's standing at attention and Steve feels a rush of anger in the pit of his stomach. A three-year-old standing at attention. It makes him want to punch something.
“Well.” Bucky blows out a breath. “What the hell do we do now?”