James rolls over with a groan, yanking the blanket over his head and trying to figure out precisely what had woken him so early. Well, not early, exactly – it’s just after ten – but early enough considering he hadn’t made it home from headquarters until just before sunrise.
Frowning at the patterned blanket he’s drug over his face, James listens again for the sound that woke him. There’s music floating down the hall from the small radio Natasha likes to keep in the kitchen, and the clinking of glasses and plates being set on the kitchen table breaks through the melody. At the thought of breakfast, James’ frown loosens and he pulls back the blankets, reaching his arms above his head in a long stretch. He’s glad of the thought of a hot meal at home after the past two days spent huddled on a three-foot square ledge with Clint, waiting as patiently as the two snipers could for their mark to appear, and with Natasha cooking, there’s no doubt it will be a good one. Besides, he’s got a baseball game with Steve today – the SHIELD team had finally managed to get those desk jockeys from NYPD to agree to a game – and he can’t let Steve show him up, even if he is still exhausted.
Swinging his legs off the bed, James aims his feet for where he remembers leaving his slippers a few mornings before, only to land on cold hardwood instead. He ducks his head, eyes roving over the floor for the missing shoes, but he comes up empty handed. Shrugging, he stands and pads over to the dresser, pulling open the top drawer for his baseball jersey, only to find that gone, too.
James grumbles, but as he goes to rummage through the clothing hamper in the corner of the bedroom, he catches the scent of fresh coffee wafting down the hallway and gives up on finding the rest of his uniform. Instead, he lifts a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the hamper, pulling them on hastily as he makes his way down the hall toward the kitchen.
Pausing in the doorway to the kitchen, James takes in the Saturday morning sight that he’ll never grow tired of seeing: Dasha’s standing near Natasha’s legs at the kitchen counter, her four-year-old’s height still not quite enough for the counter, with one hand curled in the hem of her mother’s t-shirt as Natasha pours a cup of coffee. There’s a slow song spilling from the small radio on the counter, and Steve’s seated at the kitchen table, early to meet James for their game like always. Engrossed in the Daily News and nursing his own cup, he’s the first to notice James in the entryway. He folds the top of his paper over, smiling, and raises his mug in James’ direction.
A warm spring breeze ruffles the curtains in the window above the sink, and as it passes through the kitchen it seems to break the silent spell holding the scene before him in suspended animation. Before James can take another step into the kitchen, Dasha turns on the spot, her eyes widening in surprise at the sight of her father leaning against the doorframe.
“Daddy, you’re home!” The little girl cries, all blonde waves and bright blue eyes as she bounds across the kitchen tiles, launching herself at his legs in one last leap. Bending down to catch her, James lifts her into his arms, placing a kiss between her two braided pigtails before hefting her onto his shoulder. He retraces her steps, crossing the kitchen in a few easy strides before he can slip the arm that isn’t bracing Dasha around Natasha’s waist.
“Good morning.” James bends to press a kiss to her temple, and Dasha wriggles from her position perched on his shoulder, nearly upsetting herself in an attempt to bend down and kiss Natasha on the other side.
“Good mornin’!” She parrots, clapping her hands as James uses both hands to lift her off, settling her in the chair next to Steve. She busies herself plucking silverware off the table, and James leans a hip against the counter, watching her play. Steve looks up from his paper again, reaching out to accept the fork Dasha’s picked up off the table and offered to him.
“Thanks, Dash.” Steve gazes up at James. “Ready for the game?”
“I was born ready, Rogers.” James smirks, reaching behind him to accept the cup of coffee Natasha offers him.
Steve smirks back, the familiar curl of his lips a look that hasn’t changed in nearly a century, and nudges his head toward Dasha. “Looks like Dash is, too.”
James follows Steve’s gesture over to his daughter, only to finally see where his baseball jersey had wandered off. Natasha takes the seat on Steve’s other side, gesturing at the small girl with her mug.
“She found it in the laundry the morning you left. Insisted on wearing it to bed both nights you were gone.” Reaching for the sugar bowl in the center of the table, Natasha lifts a spoonful into her coffee before she settles back in her chair again. As she tucks one foot underneath herself, the second mystery of James’ morning is revealed: on her feet, hanging comically large, are his slippers.
Glancing pointedly at the stolen shoes, James rolls his eyes.
“I swear, if you two thieves have any say I’ll be running about the house without any clothes at all in no time.”
Steve stands, pushing away from the table and gathering up his coffee mug for a refill. As he passes, he plucks up James’ too, taking both back to the counter. Returning to the table, Steve sets the coffee in front of James and pats him on the shoulder with a barely-concealed chuckle.
“You know, the James Barnes I knew would’ve seen two beautiful girls in his clothes as a good thing, Buck.”
With a indignant sort of sound, James turns and aims a punch at Steve’s flank, but he misses his mark when Natasha’s foot collides with his shin, the cloth of the slippers softening the blow. With a hiss, James pulls back and Steve presses his advantage, reaching out to smack James on the back of the head.
Natasha raises a hand with a longsuffering look, all too familiar with playing referee during their Saturday morning breakfasts.
“Boys, please. Not in front of the child.” Natasha fixes James with a glare and a raised eyebrow over her coffee mug, sending him staring back down into his own sheepishly, and Steve’s abashed “yes ma’am” follows him around the table before he drops back in his seat.
“Boys, please!” Dasha pipes up from her seat, and James turns to look at his daughter again.
“Tell you what, Dash.” He abandons his coffee mug, reaching out to lift her onto his lap. “After breakfast, you give daddy back his jersey and I’ll help you find something to wear to the game, okay?”
Dasha’s eyes travel over his face, one small hand reaching up to pat his cheek.
“Okay, daddy. Deal.”
Wrapping one arm around her to keep her in place, James settles back in his chair and reaches for his coffee mug again. There are another few moments of peaceful silence between them as the adults sit sipping their coffee, Dasha more than occupied with attempting to steal all the spoons off the table. Another soft, buoyant melody floats from the radio. Once he’s finished his second cup, James looks up at Natasha, seeing his own easy smile reflected back on her face.
“So, about that breakfast…”
Natasha and Steve share a knowing glance before answering in unison, “No pancakes.”
It’s James’ turn to sigh. “Well, I tried.”