“Mr. Barnes, you were found out of bounds again.” Headmaster Fury gave Bucky a deeply unimpressed look. Fury ran the most prestigious teaching program in the world—not the state, not the area, not the country, but the actual whole world. There was a very strict schedule for students of the program, and one that Bucky wasn’t very good at sticking to.
It was just—they were all adults, and yet they had people supervising them all the time. In Fury’s program, you had to live in the dormitories and attend classes as well as taking meals with the other students and go to certain study halls at certain times and do your volunteer hours and help with chores around the campus.
Sometimes Bucky just needed to get away from it all, but he wasn’t technically allowed to do that. He was called in for meetings with Fury all the time, even though he honestly tried his hardest to be good.
“Do you even want to be a teacher?” Fury asked, not unkindly. Bucky gave a jerk of surprise.
“Of course I do,” he protested. “Why would I come here if I didn’t?”
Fury looked at him for a long moment, his one eye unblinking, and Bucky tried not to fidget. Fury had known him since he was a kid, and sometimes he felt like he still was a kid when Fury looked at him like that.
“I have an assignment for you,” Fury said evenly. “For the summer break, when we don’t have classes. A friend of a friend needs someone to tutor his children.”
Bucky couldn’t help but make a face. “Tutor his kids over the summer?”
“He won’t be around much. It’s more of an au pair position.”
“You want me to be a nanny?” Bucky cried. “Sir, come on, really?”
“I think it’ll be good for you,” Fury said, his tone indicating this wasn’t exactly a request. “These are the kinds of students you’d be teaching once you leave this academy. You can see if it’s truly the right fit for you.”
It took a second for the meaning to sink in. “Are you saying…if I don’t take this, I’m out of the program?”
“Yes.” Fury stopped beating around the bush. “That’s what I’m saying.”
Bucky blew out a breath. “Well, I guess I’ll be taking it then, won’t I?” He couldn’t quite keep the petulance out of his tone.
“This isn’t a punishment, James.” Fury rarely used his first name now that he was a student; it made Bucky look away.
“Where am I going?”
“Salzburg. The Captain has a summer home there.” Fury started gathering up some papers, probably some kind of dossier on the family. Fury ran his school a bit like a spy agency. A lot of the emphasis was taking nonverbal cues, reading between the lines of what students say, to understand the best way to gain students’ trust.
Bucky whistled. “Must be loaded.”
“They are fairly wealthy, yes, as will be the students at the schools you’ll be placed at.” Fury raised his eyebrow. “Money comes in handy when you’re raising eleven children.”
Bucky almost fell out of his chair. “Eleven?” He echoed, voice showing off his borderline panic. How exactly was he supposed to handle eleven kids on his own, all summer long?
Fury smirked a little. “You’ll have more than that in a classroom.”
“I won’t be solely responsible for my students every moment of every day,” Bucky pointed out. Fury just shrugged.
“There’s a cook and cleaning staff on site. Captain Rogers often has his best friend at the home for the summer, and he helps with the children. The main butler is also known to be quite close with the children. None of them are actually the Captain’s biological children. He and his wife had a habit of picking up strays.”
Bucky sighed. “Not like I have a choice anyway, so I guess I’ll figure it out. When do I go?”
“As soon as you pack your bags.”
“Seriously?” Bucky complained. “You’re kicking me out that fast?”
“It’s a summer job, Barnes; most everyone gets one. You’ll have free room and board and get paid every two weeks. You get Sundays off every week.” Fury gave him a frank look. “This is a very good job, James. I had to pull some strings to get it for you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Bucky mumbled, looking at his lap. He knew his background didn’t make him many people’s first choice to take care of their children, especially once they saw him and his missing left arm. A lot of people seemed to think teaching required two hands.
Fury shook his hand and gave him the file he’d need to take with him. Bucky walked up the stairs slowly to his room and started packing. He had to be at the airport in an hour.
Bucky read the file Fury gave him while he was on the plane. Of course Fury didn’t bother to mention in their meeting that Captain Rogers’s wife had just died a year ago. Like that wasn’t a bombshell. These kids would probably all be wrecks.
Eleven kids. Bucky didn’t know if he could even name eleven kids under eighteen. Well, he certainly could now, reading their names down the list. Timothy, Gabe, Jim, Jacques, Monty, Clint, Bruce, Tony, James, Thor, and Natasha. By the time he got to the end, he’d forgotten the kids at the beginning. Christ. This was going to be a long summer. They were a mishmash of ages, the oldest nearly eighteen and the youngest barely seven. Bucky was only twenty-seven; he could already foresee some issues with being put in charge of a kid only ten years younger than himself.
He didn’t sleep at all during the long flight, too nervous about what would happen when he got there. He stepped off the plane and saw a tall, thin man holding a sign that read James Barnes.
“Hi, Captain, I’m James Barnes,” Bucky said in his politest tone.
“Wonderful.” The man had a British accent; wasn’t the Captain in the US Army? “I’m the butler, Jarvis.”
“Oh.” Bucky could feel his face get hot with a blush. “Well. Nice to meet you, Jarvis.”
“Let’s be on our way,” Jarvis said crisply. “The Captain is leaving tomorrow and he’d like to be sure you’re all settled in before he goes.”
The house they drove up to was utterly massive and obviously very old. The grounds were huge, too, and the back of the house opened up to the lake. Great, Bucky thought. Gonna spend my summer fishing drowning kids out of the water.
Jarvis opened the heavy wooden front door and made a sweeping gesture, indicating Bucky should go in, and Bucky took a second to square his shoulders before doing so. Jarvis raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. He left Bucky standing in the foyer. Bucky didn’t know what to do with himself. There wasn’t a couch or anything; was he supposed to just stand here?
“Hi,” a voice behind him said, and Bucky turned to see—wow. He blinked at the sight in front of him. Tall, blond, and muscular. “I’m Steve.”
Steve. The Captain. “You’re the Captain?” Bucky blurted. Steve’s ears went a little red.
“Um. Yeah. You can just call me Steve, though.”
“You’re just…young.” Bucky couldn’t quite get his tongue under control. Steve’s blush spread down his neck and Bucky’s eyes followed. Steve rubbed at his forehead.
“I…yeah, I am, I guess. I’m twenty-seven.”
“You have eleven kids,” Bucky pointed out. At that, Steve smiled, but it was a sad, wistful smile.
“Yeah. We traveled a lot and just seemed to keep picking up kids who needed a good home. It was mostly Peggy, I mean—” Steve broke off awkwardly, wincing a little. Peggy was the wife.
They stood in awkward silence for a second. Bucky didn’t know if he should offer condolences. He hadn’t known the woman, and anything he’d say would be an empty platitude. Bucky hated those, and he was willing to bet Steve had already heard enough of them to last a lifetime.
“Well. Um.” Bucky licked his lips. “Can I meet the kids?”
“Oh! Yeah.” Steve smiled sheepishly. “Of course.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, “Hey, guys, get down here!” Bucky absolutely did not jump at the volume.
But then, suddenly, it sounded like a herd of animals was thundering down the stairs. Kids came spilling down and into the room, racing each other and pushing and yelling. Bucky felt a little winded looking at them all.
“Guys,” Steve chided gently, and the yelling died down almost immediately. “This is your new au pair, James.”
“But we already have a James,” the only girl, Natasha, broke in. She pointed down the line at one of the teenage boys.
“That’s right,” Steve agreed patiently. “More than one person can be named James. Technically Monty's a James, too.”
“That seems really confusing,” the little boy next to Natasha mumbled.
Steve seemed to flounder a little. Bucky grinned at the kids. “That’s alright,” he told them. “I go by Bucky, anyway.”
“Bucky?” Natasha echoed suspiciously. “Why?”
“Well, like you said, there’s already a lot of guys named James out there. My middle name’s Buchanan, which is kinda weird, so my little sister started called me Bucky when we were kids.”
“James Buchanan?” One of the teenage boys muttered. “Presidential.” Bucky laughed and nodded.
“You have a little sister?” Someone asked. Bucky couldn’t even keep track of who was talking, let alone who was who.
“I have three little sisters, actually.”
“Okay, hang on, let’s introduce everyone first so Ja—Bucky knows who he’s talking to,” Steve suggested. “Line up.”
There was some muttering and jostling as they rearranged themselves. It took Bucky a minute to realize they were going in age order.
“Which end should we start with today?” Steve asked. No one answered.
“I’ll start,” the oldest boy finally offered. “Tim. Seventeen.”
“James. Sixteen.” Tony and James almost said their names on top of each other.
“Monty. Eleven.” Monty was the first to break the bored tone the older boys were using. He sounded like he was trying to imitate them but couldn’t quite get it.
“I’m Thor and I’m ten.”
“Natasha. Eight.” She held her head up and looked Bucky straight in the eye.
Bucky looked expectantly at the youngest boy, who promptly hunched his shoulders shyly and shook his head.
“Clint is seven,” Steve offered. “He’s a little shy,” he added in an undertone.
“Wow.” Bucky tried to laugh but he felt like his insides were clawing away at him. This was a lot to take in. “Um, I’m gonna try real hard to remember all your names, but…”
“Oh, they’ll try to mess you up,” Steve warned him. “Especially Monty and Jacques.”
Monty stuck out his tongue. Well, Bucky thought it was Monty. He honestly wasn’t entirely sure, and he’d have no idea if they pulled a switch on him.
“Can we go swimming now?” Thor asked impatiently.
“Sure, I’ve got to get Bucky squared away.” The kids all started scattering. Tim scooped Clint up even before Steve could call after them, “Look after the little ones!”
Bucky let out a long breath once the kids were gone and Steve laughed. “I know,” he said conspiratorially. “It’s a madhouse around here.”
“You just adopted them all?” Bucky asked faintly.
“Well, some of them came together. Tony and Rhodey were together—oh, Rhodey is what everyone calls James. I guess no one wants to go by James. Gabe and Jacques were together when we found them. And Clint wouldn’t come until we’d let him show us where Natasha was, and then…well, we couldn’t leave her.”
Bucky watched Steve’s face as he spoke, and the way his eyes went a little hard. “Most of them had pretty fucked up shit happen to them, huh?”
Steve barked out a little laugh. “Sorry, I’m Army and all, but when I’ve been around the kids for a long time I don’t hear a lot of swearing like that. But yeah. I…” Steve took a deep breath. “I should tell you, especially with Clint and Natasha, because there’s stuff you’ve got to be careful about saying or doing.” Steve swiped a hand tiredly down his face.
“You don’t have to tell me right now,” Bucky said. “It can wait.”
“Yeah.” Steve took another deep breath. “Peggy’s always been—Peggy was better at that stuff.”
“Sorry,” Bucky said quietly, feeling like he couldn’t get around it this time. Steve nodded and shrugged.
Steve gave him a tour of the house and showed him his room, where Jarvis had already stashed his suitcase. Steve didn’t even blink at the fact that Bucky only had one suitcase. Bucky had been expecting some kind of disbelief; this guy had more money than Bucky’s whole neighborhood growing up.
“Breakfast during the summer’s at seven. The kids have…well, um, they do self-defense every day from eight to ten and weaponry from ten to eleven, then they shower and everything. Lunch at noon, languages from one to three, and then they can do whatever they want for the rest of the day. Dinner at six.”
“Self-defense and weaponry?” Bucky asked. Steve’s eyes darted around a little before coming back to settle on Bucky’s face.
“Okay, here’s something you should know…I’m not actually in the Army anymore. Exactly. It’s—it’s an intelligence agency. Peggy, too. So we just…” He shrugged. “The kids need to know how to protect themselves.”
“Is this some kind of spy school for kids?” Bucky laughed. Steve didn’t join in, and a muscle stood out in his cheek.
“No,” he said sharply. “They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to.” Bucky was taken aback by his harsh tone, and Steve closed his eyes and breathed hard through his nose. “I’m sorry. That was—part of what was happening with Natasha. She was being used as a child…soldier, kind of. Spy.”
“Shit,” Bucky muttered, heart starting to pound a little as he tried to stave off memories. “Sorry, I was—”
“No, I’m sorry, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know.” Steve rubbed at his forehead again. “I’m sorry, really.”
“It’s okay,” Bucky said awkwardly. He’d met Steve less than hour ago and already most of their conversations lapsed into uncomfortable silence. Bucky rubbed his palm against his jeans, trying to will it to stop sweating.
“Anyway,” Steve tried to force a smile. It looked more like a grimace. “I was impressed by your resume because of your language skills and your army experience. I thought you could do the language tutoring and help the kids with self-defense…” His voice trailed off as his eyes flicked quickly to Bucky’s empty sleeve and Bucky willed himself to stay calm.
“I can manage one-armed,” Bucky forced out.
“Great.” Steve nodded decisively, like Bucky saying it automatically made it true. “Most of them are pretty advanced already, actually, and they mostly just spar. The older guys help the younger ones. Bruce—” Steve bit his lip. “Bruce has some anger issues, and he, uh, he sits out self-defense sometimes. That’s fine, he’s allowed to do that.”
Bucky’s head was starting to spin with all the information Steve was dumping on him. Something must have shown on his face, because Steve immediately looked chagrined.
“I’ll write this all down before I leave,” Steve promised. “Why don’t we go out back with the kids?”
There was a dock that everyone seemed to be congregating around and jumping off of, so Steve and Bucky headed there. They all seemed to get along really well, so at least Bucky wouldn’t have to spend too much time doing kiddy conflict-resolution. He also figured there was probably a high amount of fist-fights to get over issues in a household like this.
“Swim with us, Captain!” Thor cried. Bucky side-eyed Steve a little. He’d adopted these kids and they didn’t even call him by his name? Steve noticed and blushed.
“Some of them won’t call me Steve,” he muttered. “No matter how many times I tell them to.”
“Come on, Cap!” Tim added. At least the diminutive seemed friendlier. Steve obediently stripped off his shirt and Bucky’s mouth went dry. Oh, hell. Fury said Steve wouldn’t be around much, right? Good thing. It would not be a good idea to fall for his boss.
“Are you going to swim?” Steve asked.
“Uh…” Bucky thought of the web of scars on his shoulder and chest, plus the scars all over the rest of him. “No, I’m, uh, I’m fine.”
Steve searched his face and Bucky got the distinct feeling Steve knew something was up, but he didn’t push. He just raised his eyebrows at Bucky and jumped backward off the dock. The second he came back up out of the water, Clint hopped from Rhodey onto Steve’s back.
Bucky sat on the dock, watching them splash and listening to everyone’s laughter and shrieks, and after a while he noticed someone was sneaking up behind him. His body went rigid. Whoever it was, they were incredibly stealthy; he almost missed it. But before he could fully panic, he listened hard enough to hear the footsteps and realized it was a very small someone. He scanned the water and counted ten heads bobbing along with Steve. He relaxed a little. It was Natasha.
Sure enough, he looked over his shoulder and saw her. She made a face when their eyes met. “You’re good,” she said. “I can sneak up on lots of people.”
“I bet you can. I almost didn’t hear you. But there are some people you shouldn’t sneak up on, you know.”
She watched his face closely for a minute. “I shouldn’t sneak up on you?”
“I’d prefer if you didn’t. I don’t like when people do.”
“Were you in the Army like Steve?”
“I was,” Bucky told her.
“He doesn’t like when I sneak up on him, either, and same with Sam and he was in the Air Force. Peggy told me—” She stopped talking; her words didn’t peter off or fade. She simply stopped.
“You miss Peggy?” Bucky asked softly. Natasha looked out at the water, squinting against the sun, and didn’t say anything. Bucky decided not to push.
“I’m from Russia,” she started up again after a minute. “Have you ever been to Russia?”
Bucky kept his breathing even and didn’t let himself stutter at all, even though his heart rate was rising quickly. “I have,” he said evenly. “Do you miss Russia?”
Natasha was quiet for a long time. “No,” she finally said. “Russia was lots of bad things.”
“Russia was lots of bad things for me, too,” he admitted.
“I’m going swimming,” she said quickly, launching herself up onto her feet and then diving gracefully off the dock. She was biting her lip, and Bucky just nodded. She was a little girl. He could tell she didn’t want to talk about Russia and the bad things; she probably wasn’t even entirely sure how to process what had happened to her. He could appreciate that.
Dinner was, to say the least, hectic. Eleven kids made a lot of noise. And mess. Bucky was surprised when Jarvis and the cook, Maria, came and sat at the table, too. Admittedly, most of what he knew about rich people came from TV and movies, but he thought “the help” didn’t usually eat with the family. Though technically he was the help, too.
“Steve, how long will you be gone?” Bruce asked. His glasses were slightly askew after a scuffle with Gabe over the last dinner roll.
“A week,” Steve said apologetically as some of the kids groaned loudly. “I know, it’s a long time for summer vacation. Buuuut guess what I’m bringing back with me?”
“Sam?” Clint screeched excitedly, sitting up straighter. Steve laughed and all the kids started cheering.
“He’s coming back with me and he’ll be here for the rest of the summer.”
“The whole summer?” Thor asked gleefully.
“The whole summer,” Steve confirmed.
Bucky tried not to let his confusion show. He figured Sam was probably the best friend Fury had mentioned. He hadn’t realized all the kids loved him so much. Not that he was jealous. Obviously the kids would like someone they knew better than someone they just met that day. It was fine.
And so what if Thor kept stealing bits of Bucky’s food and raising an eyebrow at him, daring Bucky to make a fuss? So what if Jacques was sitting across the table and kept kicking Bucky in the shin? He wasn’t going to discipline them while Steve was still there.
The doorbell rang and Jarvis got up to get it while Steve started reminding the kids of their jobs for the week while he was gone. Apparently they had a chore wheel. Bucky was a little confused. Didn’t Fury say they had a cleaning staff? They were totally loaded—why did the kids have to do the dishes?
“Captain, it’s Pierce’s courier,” Jarvis said quietly. Bucky noticed Rhodey elbow Tony in the side and Tony’s eyes go wide.
“Just a document?” Steve asked. Jarvis nodded. Steve disappeared for a few minutes and Clint launched a spoonful of peas at Bucky. Bucky scoffed a little. Please. These kids thought food and kicks to the shins were warfare? They knew nothing.
“Which courier was it?” Tony asked Jarvis innocently. Jarvis narrowed his eyes at Tony a little.
Now Bruce elbowed Tony. Tony elbowed both Bruce and Rhodey back. Steve came back in, dropping a thick envelope on the table in the hall before taking his seat again.
“May I be excused?” Tony asked quickly.
“Take your plate,” Steve said with a nod, brow furrowed. He didn’t seem to be in the conversation anymore.
The kids played video games after dinner and Steve disappeared into his office, only emerging after a few hours to make sure Clint, Natasha, Thor, and Monty went to bed. Jim, it seemed, had just reached the exciting age of twelve, where he got to stay up later with the older boys. Monty was severely disgruntled, because he was eleven and that was old enough.
After that, the older boys put on a movie, and Bucky noticed Tim, Jacques, and Gabe with their heads together, whispering. That didn’t seem ominous at all.
Sure enough, when Bucky went up to his room, he found a very large, very obvious thumbtack under the covers of his bed. He rolled his eyes and set it on the desk, sighing and stretching his arm over his head. It had been quite a day, plus the jetlag was catching up to him. He used to be practiced at dodging jetlag, taking missions in different countries back-to-back, but it had been years since then and he felt ready to drop.
The bed was possibly the most comfortable he’d ever felt in his life, and Bucky even let out a little groan of satisfaction. He could get used to the high life, honestly. He just needed to win over eleven different children. Great.