Cover image courtesy of Ruminational on Tumblr; find the original post here.
The Music Room
Maria was playing piano when Tony came into the music room; she finished out the refrain (Close your eyes, close your eyes and relax / Think of nothing tonight) and looked up to see him with a half-smile on her face.
"Howard disapproves of this new fad for religious musicals, but I think it's quite catchy," she said, as Tony sat down on the bench and trilled out a few notes in the upper registers. She reached out to smooth down a stray curl from his hair. "I didn't expect you up so early."
"Everyone's a morning person," he complained, and she laughed. "They all wake me up with their jogging and showering and yelling about breakfast."
"How dare they."
"It's appalling, Mom," he said. "But I thought I'd catch you early anyway."
"Oh? Something on your mind?"
"Not really. Just Natasha," he said, and she laughed. "Not like that!"
"Yes dear, I know. Like what, then?"
"It's...I got to know her, right? And I think she's really excited about going shopping with you and Jan today. But I don't think she gets it and I don't know if you do," he said.
"What is there to get?"
"She's not naive, she's not a sheltered deb, you know. She's a spy, she knows how things work. She knows what's in fashion and all that stuff. But she never got asked about anything in her life, she just got told. They picked out her clothes, they told her what to do, how to be. I just don't want her to think we're like that."
"Even though, sometimes, we are?" she said.
"Dad's better than he was, but Starks are used to getting our own way," he said. "And that's you too, Mom."
She nodded. "Fair enough. So what is it you would like me to do for the worldly spy, Tony?"
"Just...let her pick. Make sure she knows it's her choice. I mean, that worked for me, on the ship, when she was choosing sides. She told me later, nobody ever offered her a choice before."
Maria beamed at Tony. "Oh, sweetheart. As if you're not talking to someone who knows how little choice women ever have if they don't fight for it."
His head snapped up.
"I understand Natasha, Tony. Women like her have fought for every shred of identity they own. Peggy perhaps knows better than I do, even, but I know. Let me look after her and Clinton, and you worry yourself with maintaining the kingdom. My little prince," she added, and kissed his forehead.
"What are you going to do about Clint, anyway? He's half-feral," Tony said, leaning in for a second before turning back to the piano.
"My only goal with that child is to get him into some decent underwear -- the state of his is downright shocking, according to the laundry service -- and a new pair of shoes. Anything beyond that is a bonus," she said. "Besides, he likes to feel as though he's earning his keep; he'll be thrilled to carry boxes for us. And it'll get up his appetite. Poor child's skinnier than you are."
"I'm not skinny!"
"Hm," she said, and slid off the bench, going to the carafe of coffee sitting on the side-table. "Play something, won't you? You never play anymore, you'll lose your touch."
"Not likely," he groaned, but he tapped out a few notes, letting the idle picking lead into a song he'd learned as a boy. "Why it's Gabriel! Gabriel playing / Gabriel! Gabriel saying / Will you be ready to go when I blow my horn?"
She gestured gently over his shoulder, out of Tony's line of sight. Natasha, who had been lurking in the doorway since Tony started playing, slipped into the room, Clint behind her, Bucky behind Clint.
"Oh blow, Gabriel, blow / Go on and blow, Gabriel, blow -- "
Steve leaned in the doorway, shoulder against the jamb.
"I've been a sinner, I've been a scamp / But now I'm ready to trim my lamp / so blow Gabriel, blow," Tony continued, eyes mostly closed, fingers flicking across the piano keys deftly. Such a comfort, that her son had something in his life that didn't involve engine grease.
He startled when Bucky joined in on the verse; twisting around, noticing everyone watching. Bucky had a nice voice, Maria thought, nothing operatic but solid, a soldier's voice.
"I was low, Gabriel, low / Mighty low, Gabriel, low / But now since I have seen the light / I'm good by day and I'm good bye night / so blow, Gabriel, blow..."
"This isn't a concert," Tony said, over a few bars of a bridge.
"You have a long way to go before you get to Madison Square Garden," Maria replied. Tony, impishly, modulated the tune into something that Bucky clearly recognized; he pointed at Steve and started to laugh.
"Aw, no," Steve groaned, as Tony burst into song, and even Natasha, clearly schooled in Western popular music, joined in.
"Who's strong and brave / Here to save the American way? / Who vows to fight like a man for what's right / Night and day?"
Maria relaxed back on the sofa, turning to catch sight of Howard, having replaced Steve in the doorway. He rolled his eyes, and he had a briefcase in his hand, which meant an early day at SI. But he leaned through the doorway, kissed her, and hummed a bar or two before disappearing down the hall, footsteps muffled by the sound of Tony's playing and everyone's singing.
He's a little late for a debut, but prodigy (and arctic explorer) Tony Stark has been seen out on the town in Manhattan, looking for a swingin' pad to call his own with newfound friend Steve Rogers. Head of a pack of socialites known around the nightclubs as the Young Ultimates, Stark is settling in with a couple of fellow fellas to live the good life in a penthouse on the Upper East. You can be sure the dazzling Jan van Dyne will be a frequent visitor. Are the rumors of a romance between van Dyne and a certain recently rediscovered war hero true? Only time will tell!
The housewarming party that Tony threw at the end of the summer, to celebrate his move back to Manhattan, was magnificent and messy; he invited his friends, but for appearance's sake was also obliged to invite a certain segment of young society not known for its restraint.
Steve didn't fully approve, but Tony promised a quiet dinner with friends for the day after the party, and also promised to clean up (or at least to hire someone who would) so Steve tolerated it.
It was a nice night, the friends-only dinner, and Tony knew that any gossip columnist would have bitten off a hand to get an invite. The Young Ultimates, a nickname some enterprising club host had given them, were the stars of the fall season -- even Natasha, with a haircut and some signature dark sunglasses to keep her identity on the low side, came out with them regularly. Manhattan had fallen in love with the entire crowd: Rhodey the military man and Carol the captain-turned-coed, Sam Wilson (still on an FBI watchlist) and his mysterious redheaded "friend" Tash, up-and-coming designer Jan van Dyne and bona-fide war hero Steve Rogers, millionaire heir and perpetual playboy Tony Stark, and the roughneck little one, Clint Barton, the wild child that Maria Stark had taken under her wing and turned into Manhattan's little brother.
Rarely was Tony's bodyguard mentioned. Bucky liked it that way.
Now, though, in the comfortable warmth of the living room, in the penthouse where he and Tony shared a room and Steve had one nearby, Bucky relaxed, Tony reclining against him on one of the huge sofas. Various other Ultimates were strewn around the room, enjoying after-dinner drinks or still snacking on the remains of dessert. Here, among all of them, Bucky and Tony could still be who they were -- out in the wider world perhaps not, but none of the inner circle cared. Even Clint hadn't blinked. (Tony suspected Clint was likewise inclined, and looking for a role model, which Bucky said made him feel very old.)
"I think I've worked out a battle plan," Steve was saying, as Tony lolled his head affectionately on Bucky's shoulder.
"For conquering Manhattan?" Rhodey asked. "You work fast."
Steve grinned. "For my life," he said. "The next few years, at any rate. I'm gonna join Sam at SHIELD. Howard says they've got some really exciting plans I can be a part of, and I'd get to keep the uniform."
"You'd get to keep A uniform," Jan said. "That old one looks like it chafed. Dad's working with Howard on a new one," she added.
"SHIELD's putting together some kind of emergency strike team," Sam said. "Little vague on the details yet, but it seems like it's going to be a civil defense thing. After Hydra infiltrated, and with the Russians still rattling the sabres..." he glanced at Natasha, but she just smiled.
"I'm joining also," she said. Everyone except Sam stared at her. "Well, I really am only good at one thing. But I'm very good at that one thing."
"The one thing being wreaking havoc?" Jan asked, brows drawn together.
"More or less," Natasha agreed.
"You know you're still invited too," Steve said to Bucky, who traced a hand down Tony's arm.
"I'm fine where I am," he said. Tony beamed up at him, upside-down.
"You could still go to SHIELD," Tony said later that evening, undressing for bed. Bucky, already in a loose pair of pyjama pants, slid an arm around his waist and kissed his shoulder. "Steve'll be working for SHIELD but living here, you could too."
"Fine for Steve," Bucky said into his skin. "I don't mind fighting and I don't mind taking orders, but far as I can tell, I can do as much good taking ‘em from you as from SHIELD."
Tony leaned back into him. "I won't say no."
"Damn right you won't," Bucky replied, hoisting him effortlessly with one arm. Tony yelped and kicked, laughing, until Bucky dumped him on the bed, climbing on after him.
"I appreciate you got obligations, but I'm lookin' forward to having this place to ourselves after all these parties," Bucky continued, crawling over Tony and kissing his jaw, then his mouth.
"Why, Mr. Barnes, you only had to ask," Tony replied, batting his eyelashes. Bucky huffed and dropped down next to him, tugging their bodies together. Tony rubbed a knuckle down Bucky's cheek. "Someday I'll tell the world about you, you know."
"Yeah, but not tonight," Bucky replied. "Tonight you got me all to yourself."