Tom liked chocolate ice cream, liked mashing it with his spoon until it was a liquid solid. It always made it feel like it lasted longer, like somehow there was more of it. You couldn't do that with ice cream on a stick, but biting off Mickey Mouse's ears had a certain satisfaction.
Bucky was eating his plan ice cream bar with a grim determination, staring straight ahead at the kids playing soccer in the grassy area in front of them.
Steve's little girl, Maria, sat between them swinging her legs. Her bites were tiny and almost hesitant, almost as if she didn't know quite how to go about eating it. Tom was more than aware of her glances up at him, and was amused to find her copying him.
"Never had ice cream on a stick before?" he asked.
Maria shook her head, licking ice cream and melted chocolate off her lips. "No. Why do you bite the ears off first?"
"Best line of attack," Tom told her. "Otherwise where would you start? With boring bars like Bucky has you can start anywhere. With these you have to have a plan of attack."
She smiled, and then her eyes darted to Bucky before dropping to look at her shoes.
Bucky almost looked like he was going to smile and Tom counted that as a small victory.
"Is he always this much fun when he babysits you?" Tom asked.
He bit off another hunk of Mickey's smiling face. It was starting to melt, the chocolate making his fingers sticky.
"I'm not a baby," she protested.
Maria was a bit of a mess her face and fingers covered in chocolate and ice cream, but she didn't seem to mind with the way she kept licking her fingers and lips. Still they'd have to clean her up before taking her home, otherwise Tony or Steve might have a fit.
Tom laughed. "Okay, is Bucky always this much fun when he watches you for Steve?"
Maria's eyes darted towards Bucky again, watching him. When he stayed silent and looking ahead, she looked back at Tom.
"Bucky doesn't watch me much after I got sick. He didn't watch me much before that," Maria said slowly as if picking each word carefully.
It had been several months since Bucky fond him in a government warehouse, in cold storage so to speak, and Tom realizes there is a lot people still aren't telling him. He half resented it at times, but was grateful for it at others. Right now he resented the hell out of it.
"Oh," was all Tom could really say.
Maria finished her bar and Tom realized his was quickly melting around his fingers. He quickly polished it off.
"We should take her home," Bucky said.
And god damnit Tom knew that tone of voice. That 'I'm not really upset, I'm tough and I can take it only I really can't and I'm dying inside' voice.
"Can we go to the playground?" Maria asked hesitantly.
"I don't think --"
"Why not," Tom said smiling. "You must get bored cooped up in the tower all day."
He could almost feel the daggers Bucky was glaring at him as they walked toward the playground. Tom wished they'd had things like these when he was growing up. There were kids swinging high up into the hair, running, climbing, sliding, hanging upside down from bars -- it looked fun.
Maria blinked. "Why would I get bored?"
"Tony buys her anything she wants; she has a full library to read from, her own gym, and often a penthouse full of superheroes to entertain her. Why would she be bored?" Bucky snapped.
Tom watched Maria bit the inside of her cheek. "I hear your quite the acrobat, kid, wanna show me some of your moves?"
Her eyes lit up and she nodded. "I can do that," she told him before dashing off to the monkey bars (as she would later inform him it was called).
Tom leaned back against the barrier that set the playground off from the rest of the area and watched her. He was aware of Bucky next to him, just as he'd been aware of where Bucky was most of the time in battle. He'd almost always been able to pick Bucky out and it hadn't just been his costume.
"You want to tell me what is going on, Buck?"
There were things that didn't make sense. Bucky was practically Steve's kid brother. He always had been as long as Tom had known him. If Jim had been a father to him, Steve had been an older brother to Bucky.
And Fury had been the grouchy Uncle no one really wanted to piss off and gave you stuff your parents wouldn't approve of if you were on his good side.
But if Steve was going to trust anyone with his kid (and Tom still didn't understand how she could be Iron Man's - Tony's - kid too, but he'd thought of a android as his father and had entrained thoughts of a semi-happily ever after living with Bucky after the war so he wasn't going to judge) it should be Bucky.
"They don't trust me with her."
Tom wanted to glance over at him, but Maria was happily showing off for him, and he had to admit she was pretty good for her age. He remembered the worried look in Steve's eyes even has he suggested Bucky and Tom take Maria to the park for ice cream. The surprise quickly covered up in Bucky's.
"Why not?" He licked his bottom lip, it still tasted like chocolate. He wondered if it still would when Bucky pinned him against the wall just inside their room that night.
Bucky laughed. Sharp, biting, and cold. "You don't want to know."
"I'm pretty sure finding out why Steve doesn't really trust his brother with his kid is pretty important," Tom pointed out. He smiled at Maria who'd glanced over at them; she was sitting on top of one the pieces of equipment, almost shyly talking to another girl about her age.
The silence stretched out, made all the more -- painful -- by the sounds of children playing. Bright happy sounds he'd almost forgotten existed during the war. Ones he'd horded during his marriage to Ann. Sometimes he still wished they'd adopted.
"He did trust me," Bucky finally said. "And I let him down."
If they'd been alone Tom might have tried to -- to do something. Instead he let himself be satisfied by brushing the back of his hand against Bucky's. "He trusted you today."
Tom glanced over at him. Bucky was watching Maria play as if it was something he hadn't thought he see again.
That look and Bucky’s words eat at the back of Tom’s mind. He wanted to know what happened before he came back. Asking Bucky doesn’t seem like an option. Buck was never one to be talkative about things close to his chest.
This thing? Is close to Bucky’s chest.
Maybe he should have left sleeping dog lie, but he doesn’t.
Something happened and he needed to know what.
Steve seemed like the person to go to. Steve was at the heart of this wasn’t he?
It turned out that getting Steve alone these days was harder than it looked. Steve was either with the Avengers, Tony and Maria, or Bucky it seemed. Tom’s intent to talking to Steve alone without making a big deal of it wasn’t happening.
“Cap,” Tom asked when no one else was really in ear shot. Cap, old habits died hard. “Can I talk to you a minute?”
Steve’s smile wasn’t as easy as Tom remembered, but maybe time and nostalgia had colored his memories. “Of course.”
Tom glanced around. “Alone. About Bucky.”
Steve’s smile slipped, but he nodded. “I know where we can talk.” He said it like he’d expected this. Tom’s not sure how.
He followed Steve into an office -- nothing like what he’d imagined Steve’s office, if he could imagine Steve having an office, to be like. Tony’s office this.
It was odd, he’d never have though Steve was -- well like him and Bucky.
“I’m not sure I’m the one you should be talking to about this,” Steve told him. “Bucky’s past is his own to tell.”
Tom shook his head. “It’s not about Winter Solider, but I suppose it is about his past.” Bucky had told him about working for the Russian’s as a brain washed assassin. As if it was supposed to scare him away. Hell, Tom’s past wasn’t all happy family. “It’s about something Bucky said and I know he won’t tell me.”
Steve looked uncomfortable and rubbed the back of his neck. “Why not ask Sharon. I’d thought you three were -- working on things.”
Tom ducked his head and tried not to flush. “Uhm, we are. But this has to do with you.” He cleared his throat. “He doesn’t think you trust him. Something to do with Maria.”
The silence was almost tangible before Steve spoke again. “What happened wasn’t his fault. He knows that.”
“What happened?” Tom asked.
Steve sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I still think Bucky should tell you this but...” he paused before going on. “Bucky had a sleeper code in place. Buried deep. It was used to have Bucky bring in a genetically modified virus into the Tower. It was designed to attack my genetic imprint in particular. Maria was exposed and got sick.”
Tom thought back to Maria in the park. How healthy and happy she seemed. “But she got better.”
“It was -- touch and go for a while,” Steve said softly, painfully. “I got sick but I’ve been sick before. Maria never had been.”
“Oh,” Tom said, swallowing. “And Bucky blamed himself.”
Steve nodded. “We all blamed ourselves. Tony and Bucky just more than anyone else.” He looked out the big plate glass windows for a moment before looking back at Tom. “I trust Bucky. You two and the Richards are the only ones outside of Jarvis we’d trust to take her out any place.”
Tom nodded. He thought now he understood a bit better.
Tom knew Bucky well enough not to bring it up directly. He thought about talking to Sharon but often outside of Bucky they didn’t see eye to eye on much.
“We should take Maria to the circus,” Tom suggested a few nights later as they all laid in bed.
Sharon raised an eyebrow over Bucky’s shoulder, but all she said was, “ I haven’t been to a circus in years.”
Bucky’s back stiffened. “I’m not sure...”
Tom pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “It be fun and you always promised to go to one with me.”
For a moment all is quiet then Buck sighed. “Alright.”
Tom counted it as a step in the right direction.