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Born in the Blood

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Leaving Indiana turned out not to be quite that simple: Gertie was adamant that they had to have Teddy's first birthday party at her place.

"If he's not secret anymore," Gertie said, "then he's got a lot of family to meet."

Steve winced. "Gert, he... you know he doesn't do so well with strangers."

"Well I ain't expecting him to make a speech," Gertie said, throwing her hands up. "He's a baby, Steven! Plenty of babies are shy about strangers. He's not going to learn any better if he never sees any, and folks will understand if he's not feeling up to making their acquaintance. They still want to see him in the flesh, and chat with you boys about him, and give him presents. Haven't you--" She cut off, squinting at him, and then said, "I don't suppose you ever have been to a first birthday party, have you? Not nowadays."

"Haven't been invited to any, I don't think," Steve agreed. Technically he'd probably been invited to dozens, hundreds, but that was the kind of mail that the PR people filtered out before he ever saw it. That led straight to the thought of people who plausibly could have invited him to their kid's birthday party. He started running down the roster of SHIELD personnel he knew--or thought he knew--well enough to know anything about their families, but quickly shut down that train of thought.

Gertie clearly saw something on his face, because her expression softened a little, and she just nodded. "Well, you don't have to worry about anything, I'll get it all organized with my girls. Just think of who you'd like to invite from your group--and Sam's family, of course, we oughta meet them too."

Steve just nodded acceptance--Sam's mom would want to come to Teddy's birthday party, and of course the invitation should be extended to Sam's sister. If some number of Avengers were coming, they could probably bring along a few Wilsons without any trouble, so they wouldn't have to deal with flying commercial just for a day or two in Indiana.

And then Steve realized that they were inviting some number of Avengers, which meant they were going to have to invite Tony. If they didn't he'd show up anyway, twice as ridiculous to hide that he felt excluded and twice as ridiculously extravagant as he tried to persuade them to like him well enough to regret not inviting him.

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking about it, and then went to find Sam and work out how to divide up the necessary phone calls.

That was his only excuse for not noticing that Gertie slipped in an overdue wedding reception along with Teddy's birthday party.

Steve had actually attended a few modern weddings in the last couple of years, and Gertie's party was certainly low-key and relaxed compared to those. On the big day he ventured out, all unsuspecting, to the big white tent that had been put up in the backyard to keep off the August sun. Tables were being set up in the shade beneath it, and there was one table at the side decorated in bright colors with Happy Birthday Teddy! signs and photos of Teddy with Steve and Sam and Bucky and Gertie, in various combinations. Beside it, all decorated in white and silver, was a table with a banner that read Congratulations Steve and Sam!

Steve stood staring at it in mute horror for a moment and then looked around for Sam, who hadn't been far behind him when he came out to see if there was anything to help set up. Sam was also staring at the Congratulations Steve and Sam! table, looking sort of horrified and pleased all at once. It wasn't an emotion Steve would have thought people experienced very often, before he met Tony and started experiencing--and witnessing other people's experiences of--his idea of being casually helpful, to say nothing of his approach to gift-giving.

"Oh, God," Sam finally said. "Tony's coming. I thought we'd have a chance to prepare, or flee the country or something, before he..."

Steve reached out for him, and Sam leaned into his side, their arms going around each other automatically. "It won't be so bad," Steve said, more determined than optimistic. "There will be lots of normal people, he'll... have to..." Steve trailed off, unable to actually finish that thought.

"Best bet is gonna be to try to make him hold Teddy and hope that scares him out of the county," Sam decided.

Steve hummed, not disagreeing. "Hell of a thing to do to Teddy, though. And Pepper, if she's standing next to Tony."

Sam tilted his head. "Also, could backfire. Which would be a much worse thing to do to Pepper."

Steve let his eyes unfocus while that vision unfolded.

"Possibly still a net positive for, uh, humanity." And then, on the heels of that thought, came a tangentially related and much more immediate worry. "Wait, has anybody told Buck what Vision looks like?"

Wanda and Natasha both rolled their eyes when Steve asked; Bucky just snorted and shook his head, cutting a quick can you believe this guy? look over at Sam, who just shrugged. He hadn't been sure either, so he couldn't throw stones.

"No," Natasha deadpanned. "We thought, given his well-known history, that surprising him with a stranger with a red skull was the best possible way to kick off a birthday party."

And, okay, fair. Natasha and Wanda were both pretty damn good at looking at a situation and seeing how it was about to unfold, if for different reasons. Standing with them as they watched the sky where the Quinjet should be appearing at any moment, Sam kind of wished somebody could tell him how the next several minutes were going to go.

The fact that Steve and Bucky had both wordlessly insisted that Sam should hold Teddy seemed like a prediction, and not an entirely encouraging one.

Or maybe it was just that they'd realized that Teddy was going to get squirmy and bored on top of being a sweaty-hot weight in the August sunshine, and supersoldiers already ran hot enough on their own. Sam bounced him, trying to avoid having to resort to anything more drastic--he'd already resigned himself to "Itsy Bitsy Spider" being a fixture of the rest of his damn life, now that he'd opened that can of worms.

Right before Sam broke at least as far as putting Teddy down on the grass, he felt Bucky and Steve both come to attention on either side of him. Bucky's arm whirred under the long-sleeved shirt he was wearing to cut down on both the weirdness and the glare, and that caught Teddy's attention.

His focus went straight to Bucky's arm, and he reached out one hand to pat at it. Sam leaned over to make sure Teddy could reach; he'd only freak out worse if he couldn't make contact. Bucky raised his right hand to pat gently over Teddy's hand on his shoulder, but didn't look away from the sky.

Sam followed his gaze, and then spotted it, still a black speck but getting bigger, coming rapidly closer. Sam had watched Quinjets land at close range plenty of times by now, but he still had to fight that feeling of that's too close, it's moving too fast, take cover.

Having Teddy in his arms didn't help with that sensation, although Teddy catching sight of the Quinjet coming in for a landing almost made up for it; his mouth was open, eyes wide in fascination. He'd literally never seen anything like it in his life, after all.

Sam did notice that the other thing about him holding Teddy was that both of Teddy's supersoldier dads could not-at-all-subtly edge in front of Sam and Teddy when the Quinjet got close.

The Quinjet set down with perfect precision in the center of the taped-off landing zone Bucky and Natasha had chosen and measured out that morning; even through a Quinjet Sam had no trouble recognizing Clint's touch.

Then there was no time to think about anything at all, because the ramp was coming down, and out walked Tony Stark with Sam's mother on his arm.

"Oh God, they're smiling at each other," Steve said, stepping aside from Sam slightly and sounding a little faint.

They were smiling at each other. Worse, his mama wasn't even giving Tony one of her large supply of socially-necessary smiles that meant she was somewhere between bored by him and actively plotting his downfall. She looked charmed, and pleased, and this was why Sam had carefully avoided his mom meeting Tony outside of controlled and supervised circumstances.

Granted, on the list of things that had gone suddenly and shockingly sideways in the last two weeks, it was pretty far down the list. Still. She was his mom.

Sam took a couple of steps forward, and it was, at least, satisfying to see Tony catch sight of Teddy and abruptly peel off back toward the Quinjet. Sam's mom only moved faster, striding across the grass to them, and Sam hesitated, looking down to see how Teddy was handling this.

He was watching, most of one fist crammed into his mouth, but he didn't seem on the verge of a freakout. As Sam's mom got closer, Teddy just started looking back and forth between them, like he was right there with Sam in wondering how this was about to go down. That continued until she was actually standing in front of them, and Teddy leaned out of Sam's grip to pat his hand against her cheek, then leaned back in to pat Sam's, looking back and forth with wide eyes.

Sam was thrown enough to just stare back. Belatedly, he realized that a) Teddy had just met a stranger and completely failed to freak out, and b) Sam's mostly-ignored background-radiation sense of being Completely Surrounded By Small Town White People for the past couple of weeks meant that--unless HYDRA eugenics experiments had much more equitable hiring practices than you'd think--Sam might actually be the only black person Teddy had ever met.

"Okay, so there might be some kind of messed up assumptions going on in your baby head," Sam informed him. "We'll work on that. But yeah, that's my mama, and you should definitely like her almost as much as you like me."

Sam's mom, when he looked over to try to smooth that over with her, wasn't even looking baffled or annoyed. She was just looking at Teddy and beaming a weird, besotted grandma-smile that was sort of disorienting to see on his own mother's face, especially when he was expecting a somewhat less delighted mother-look.

"Hello, sweetheart," Sam's mom said, reaching out. "You must be Teddy. I'm your grandma, and you should like me much more than you like your--Sam." Sam had already briefed her on the terminology: Teddy's parents were daddy and papa and Sam. "I am gonna spoil you absolutely rotten and you are going to give him at least as many gray hairs as he's given me."

She hadn't even finished speaking when Teddy leaned willingly into her arms, only looking uncertain when he was held against her and looking back at Sam.

Sam offered him a finger to hold, hoping to keep up the truce, and Teddy clutched it and grinned. So far, so good. Maybe this wouldn't--

Then Sam caught sight of his sister walking next to Tony Stark, carrying a stack of Tupperware containers while Tony carried something that could not possibly be a wicker picnic basket and yet clearly was a wicker picnic basket. Pepper, on his other side, carried a red plastic cooler and was wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat. Sam resigned himself to the afternoon being infinitely weirder than he could possibly predict.

Steve stood out of the way while Sam introduced Teddy to his mom, which seemed to be going fine. In that case, the next priority was to stick close to Bucky until he'd met Vision, but Clint's kids came flooding out of the Quinjet to jump on Natasha and Wanda, screaming happily and seeming somehow like far more than just two children. Though there were three now--little Nathaniel Pietro and Laura had stayed behind from the party, and Clint had brought the older kids to give her a break.

Steve still backed away from the kids, even knowing what to expect. He was overtaken by his familiar instinctive nervousness around kids old enough to ask him confounding questions but young enough to burst into tears for no apparent reason.

It really did not help to consider that he was a dad now and Teddy already fit into one of those categories and would probably join the other sooner than Steve expected. Bucky just stood watching the kids with a little smile on his face, not seeming to notice Steve's desertion, or his continuing wariness of children. Sam didn't notice either, being busy with their actual child, who was not crying at all even though he was now being held by Darlene. Some kind of grandma magic, presumably.

Steve registered someone carrying something heavy in his peripheral vision and darted over to help before he'd quite registered that the someones in question were Tony, Pepper, and Sam's sister Sarah, trailed by Sam's nieces and nephew, who were... all potty-trained and more or less of a size with Clint's kids, the youngest a little smaller.

Steve focused, only a little desperately, on Pepper. "Can I take that for you?"

"Yes, you absolutely may," Pepper said, beaming. She handed him a big red plastic cooler, then turned and took all the containers Sarah was holding and piled them on top. "Show Tony where to put stuff before he can wander off, please?"

Tony was also carrying something: an improbably homely-looking picnic basket as big as the cooler. He just waggled his eyebrows behind his sunglasses.

Steve said, "Uh, yeah. It's--" Steve jerked his chin toward the tent where the tables were set up and headed that way, giving all the kids a wide berth. Tony stayed right at his side, doing the same.

No one else was in the tent, and the comparative cool dimness was a relief. Steve led the way to the table where some food had already been set out, and looked over at the picnic basket again. "What, uh... what did you bring?"

"A dish to pass," Tony pronounced, like it was a foreign phrase he'd just learned and wanted to get right. "Or, several dishes, because it's going to be a big crowd and it counts for multiple people's contributions. Everyone I consulted said that was okay."

Tony set the basket on a table and started looking through it, and Steve, no less mystified than he'd been to begin with, set down the cooler and tower of Tupperware--presumably the Wilsons' contributions, so at least that wouldn't be anything weird--and started setting it out as best he could to coordinate with the system Gertie's daughters and nieces had already established.

"Who, uh," he didn't look over at Tony. "Who did you consult?"

"Oh, well," Tony waved a hand, frowned at the container in it, and set whatever it was down. "Pep, and Rhodey. They know their way around this stuff. And Darlene, because she has opinions about a lot of things. And Har--uh, a contact I made in Tennessee during the whole--" Tony waved vaguely. "So, yeah, I think we got this. There's some salad thing, and bread rolls, and fruit--" Tony raised a container and squinted through the side of it. "--something. Darlene checked, she said it was all okay."

Steve was oddly, breathtakingly touched by Tony's care to get his contribution to a kid's backyard birthday party right. Now that he'd set the basket down, Steve registered properly that Tony was wearing jeans and sneakers and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up--not much different from what Steve was wearing, but a notable departure from Tony's usual wardrobe options, which seemed to be "very expensive suits" and "grubby workshop clothes" with no intermediate steps.

"Thanks, Tony," Steve said, moving the cooler down under the table after a peek at its contents. "That's--"

He straightened up to find that Tony, with a more familiarly Tony-like smirk, was holding out an envelope.

"What is that," Steve said, keeping his hands at his sides like if he refused to touch the envelope then this wouldn't be happening. An obnoxiously large box would have meant some elaborate and impractical but manageable present from Tony. An envelope--letter-sized, but thick--was... ominous.

"Well, I was also talking to my consultants about what kind of present would be appropriate for you and Wilson's nuptials and Teddy's birthday, and they all insisted that it had to be something practical, something you might actually need, so I asked myself, what can I possibly give these guys that they don't have, that they might need when embarking on their new life as a married couple with a kid and a brain-damaged fugitive in tow?"

Steve stared from Tony to the envelope, suddenly considering where exactly he and Sam were taking Teddy and Bucky home to.

Where were they taking them? Steve didn't even have an entire apartment back at Avengers HQ, and Sam's space was no bigger. They didn't even live together.

"Yeah, see," Tony said, waving the envelope. "Remember that family housing I put in over on the west edge of the campus, and then it turned out that pretty much nobody wanted to bring their families on-campus, because we're chaos-magnets? There were empty houses. Can't sell 'em to people who aren't affiliated with the Avengers, so their actual monetary value is pretty much nothing, technically. So it's not even that extravagant, really, I just picked one for you. And had all your stuff moved into it. Happy wedding and kid's birthday!"

At an utter loss for words, Steve reached out for the envelope and took it.

"I did also arrange for some furnishings which I guess technically cost money," Tony rattled on, while Steve unsealed the envelope and looked at the helpful map and the photo of a house with a yard and trees. It looked like a place where a kid should grow up. "And if you don't like it, there are other ones, you could switch, I just figured it would be better to have something ready to go when we got back."

"Tony," Steve said, looking up again, and Tony made a kind of alarmed face.

"Yeah, no big deal," he said quickly, backing up a step, "Really, don't mention--"

He didn't actually run or even raise his hands all the way, and he knew how fast Steve could move, so Steve took that as permission to take two quick steps and hug him. "Thanks, Tony. This is great."

"Yep, yes, really, do not mention it," Tony said, patting Steve's back stiffly, but he did actually relax into the hug a little, so Steve didn't feel too bad about inflicting it on him. "Except that you should probably go tell Wilson--Wilson-Rogers? Rogers-Wilson? America? Your darling husband, whatever his name is now, because I'm pretty sure Darlene's going to ask him where he intends to live with his husband and baby and he'll probably appreciate having an actual answer."

Steve looked in the direction he'd last seen Sam and Darlene with Teddy, as if he could tell by looking whether Sam had already gotten stuck in that conversational trap. They weren't actually visible from inside the tent, but Steve hurried in that direction, tossing a distracted, "Thanks again, Tony," over his shoulder as he went.

Bucky noted Steve's desertion in the face of the Barton and Wilson kids, but didn't bother to say anything about it yet. He'd find a better moment to give him shit about it, when Steve started thinking Bucky might plan on letting it pass unremarked.

For now, Bucky held his position just behind Wanda and Natasha, studying these cheerful modern kids. Teddy was going to grow up to be a lot more like Cooper and Lila and Rudy and Jodie and Kaya than like any of the babies and kids from Bucky's ancient memories. That seemed to mean... loud, but also exuberantly happy, fearless even surrounded by adults. Bucky thought that trade would probably be worth it.

He didn't allow himself to be entirely distracted from what he was really waiting for, but even so he was alerted by Wanda setting a hand lightly on his arm a couple of seconds before Vision emerged from the Quinjet carrying two cake boxes.

He definitely was red--though a more purplish red than Schmidt had been under the mask, and with that glowing golden light between his eyebrows. He was also wearing khakis and a short-sleeved polo shirt, and his feet were floating just above the grass, though he swung his legs slightly like he knew he was supposed to be using them or at least pretending to be.

Wanda's hand tightened on Bucky's arm, and he felt a little static shock, like her excitement was actually jumping off her skin; when he looked at her face, she was beaming more widely than he'd ever seen her. "Viz! You look great! Did you do the cakes?"

Vision oriented instantly on Wanda and, as if the sight of her reminded him, settled firmly to the earth to walk toward her in quick, long strides. "Some decorative flourishes only--my baking skills are not yet advanced to this level. But I did think of a few things I want to try when we're back home, especially if you'd like to assist." He was voice was light and pleasant, with an English accent that took Bucky right back to the war; it was an officer's accent. Not far off from Monty's.

"Well, I'll at least supervise," Wanda said cheerfully, and Bucky bit his lip to keep from making any faces at their youthful mutual glow of excitement--which was a pretty nearly literal thing, with the two of them.

He shifted his weight very slightly, hoping he wouldn't have to resort to actually clearing his throat in a pointed fashion.

He didn't. Vision and Wanda both immediately refocused on him, their smiles dimming identically from infatuation to eager interest. "Ah," Vision said. "Mr. Barnes, I presume? I would offer my hand, but--"

Bucky took the cake box from Vision's right hand with his left, and Vision beamed and completed the handshake with the air of someone displaying a new trick he'd just learned. Bucky understood much better now, the thing Natasha had said about how it wasn't at all hard to believe he was just a baby in terms of knowing how to be a person, for all he was otherwise thoroughly adult.

Bucky knew the feeling, a little. He thought it would have been nice to have this shiny-new version of it, instead of his own sense of clawing up out of a hole to try again, and again, and again, piecing the person who was himself together from increasingly broken scraps.

"Why don't we go inside," Wanda said. "Gertie said we are to keep all the desserts where the children can't get into them too early."

Bucky turned in that direction immediately, and Wanda and Vision followed him up the steps of the back porch and into the kitchen. Sandy and Karen and Jen--two of Gertie's daughters and a niece, and Bucky was not entirely sure he knew which names or relationships went with which woman--were already in there, drinking iced teas and standing casually close to the windows overlooking the backyard.

They all turned, wide-eyed, when Bucky came in with Wanda and Vision. Bucky just raised the cake and said, "Where should we put this?"

"Oh, I'll take that," Sandy (or Karen?) said, stepping forward, and Karen (or Jen?) joined her to take the box Vision offered.

"We're just gonna--" Bucky pointed toward the front of the house, and the women variously smiled and nodded and made encouraging noises. Bucky hustled Wanda and Vision through the house and out the front door, to the front porch.

No one would actually come in by the front door; parking had been set up all over the grass and people would mostly proceed around to the tents and back porch from there. The front door, even though visible to everyone coming along the road, was paradoxically one of the most private spaces available with the house and yard so crowded.

Also, Bucky hadn't been able to stomach the thought of doing this in his bedroom, Teddy's nursery, or anyone else's bedroom. Bathrooms and the fruit cellar were also not to be contemplated, so: the front porch.

Bucky pulled a wicker chair over by the swing and gestured Wanda and Vision toward it; they sat down, gingerly, not swinging.

"So, uh," Bucky waved at his head, watching Vision. "Wanda said you... might be able to tell what's going on in there?"

"Well, as with everyone, there is bound to be a great deal going on," Vision said, smiling with a gentleness that looked strange, but not at all false, on his alien-robot face. "She described to me the problematic anomaly she noticed, and--" Vision leaned toward Bucky, raising one hand tentatively. "If I may?"

Bucky nodded, leaning in as well, and Vision's fingers came to rest against his temple, thumb light on his forehead. Bucky had a sudden strong memory of a priest tracing the cross on his forehead with a thumb just like that, and Vision huffed softly and said, "Not quite, but I'll do my best for you all the same."

Bucky smiled a little and kept his eyes turned down, uncertain of how long this would take. It was only a few breaths later when Vision sat back and said, "Yes, I see the problem."

Bucky looked up, darting a glance back and forth between him and Wanda, who looked determined but not grim or worried. "So what is it?"

"Certain programmed linkages between words--words in Russian--and a desired pattern of behavior. An overriding compulsion, in fact--"

"To obey," Bucky said, his eyes closing as new memories rushed in, and memories he'd already noticed were explained. He'd been hoping some of those were nightmares. "Can't think, can't argue, just... comply."

"Yes," Vision agreed. "It is very clear to me that you would be quite unable to resist the effects. The connections are deeply embedded, and each use of the programming must have served as a reinforcement, so that it actually became stronger each time you were exposed to it."

Bucky squeezed his eyes shut, fighting memories, struggling to steady his breath. "Can you--can you break it? Will it fuck me up again if you do?"

"Our first priority will be to fuck up nothing that it is not imperative to fuck up," Vision said evenly, still in that plummy accent, and Bucky managed a smile.

"I think we can do best by doing least," Wanda explained, more usefully. "We won't try to remove the programming, or the words. Just the connections, so that the programming can never be activated."

"Like taking the trigger out of the gun," Bucky murmured. His mind immediately served up three or four ways a gun could go off in the absence of the trigger, but--he could work on that later, probably, and no one who expected the trigger words to work was going to be able to set him off reliably with anything else. It would be enough to make him... probably still not safe to be around Teddy and Sam and Steve, but not an immediate and overpowering danger, at least.

"Yeah," he said, looking up. "Okay. Do you need anything?"

"Just for you to be sitting comfortably," Vision said, and Bucky leaned forward again, bracing his arm on one knee and settling into a position he could hold. He kept his eyes on Wanda's hand, fingers interlaced with Vision's, making a pattern of pale and bright like a candy cane.

Vision touched his forehead again, and Bucky breathed steadily, watched a gleam of red rise around their joined hands. He waited for it to hurt, or for more memories to come flooding out, or for the rote phrase that had been beaten into him to rise on his tongue. Ready to--

"There," Vision said, sitting back.

Bucky blinked at him. "What?"

"It's done," Vision said, smiling. "Wanda? Try a few of the words; if the programming were still active the effect would be noticeable from the first."

Wanda gave Bucky an encouraging look and said, with only a trace of a Sokovian accent curling around her Russian, "Желаниe."

Bucky blinked. He knew what the word meant--longing--but nothing happened when he heard it. "Are you sure that's the right word?"

Wanda grinned wider. "We found it in your brain, Bucky. It's the right word. Here: pжавый, семнадцать, рассвет--"

Bucky winced at that one, as a memory surfaced, but it wasn't a memory of being emotionless and stripped of his will. He remembered being on a train, and a man in a suit sitting beside him, holding a red book. Every time the Soldier began to doze on the long night journey, the handler hissed, "Рассвет," and a cold thrill had rushed through him. The word meant daybreak, but it had been something else, too, on that long night. It had been a threat.

"Oh," Bucky said, rubbing his forehead. "That's... рассвет." Even in his own voice, it recalled the handler's whispered taunt, but... nothing else. He tried to think of those times he'd been brought out for a mission, the procedure that ended with him declaring himself Ready to comply. There were words said, a string of words, but... he couldn't remember them. Or he couldn't connect them?

"Oh," he said again, as the realization sank in. "It's gone."

He grinned, and Wanda and Vision grinned back, and Bucky remembered what Natasha had told him, when they knew no one else was coming after Teddy. You can go home.

Maybe he could, now. Maybe he really could.

Sam didn't manage to keep his mom distracted by her grandkids for the entire length of the party, but it went a lot better than it could have--especially after Steve turned up with an envelope tucked in his pocket and asked her if she wanted to see pictures of their new house back on the Avengers HQ campus.

His mom had raised her eyebrows significantly--Sam had not mentioned a new house because what new house?--but Sam had just smiled along as it occurred to him that Steve had gone into the tent with Tony, the perfect setup for an overblown-generosity ambush, and also, oh shit they really needed a house to live in.

It wasn't like they had nowhere to live, since he and Steve were Avengers and both had quarters at Avengers HQ; there was a process for requesting housing changes and getting both Teddy and Bucky out of everybody's hair probably would have made them a pretty high priority if being one-third of the Avengers didn't.

Still. Apparently they had a house now. It looked like a place Sam would probably like to live; lots of room for art on the walls. And family pictures.

That thought carried him through the rest of the party, including the parts where Teddy inevitably did lose his mind, and needed a nap or diaper change or a round of Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and all the other kids lost their collective minds running around the yard high on God knew how much sugar. There was food, and Sam met probably every living person who was related to Bucky within four degrees of consanguinity, with many of the introductions happening while Bucky was hiding in the house or the barn or lurking at a distance with one other person keeping him company.

Vision wound up doing a bunch of that, even though he'd put on his not-scaring-the-children white guy face. Sam was vaguely aware that he and Wanda had been planning on doing something to help Bucky with the whole brainwashing situation, although even with the powers they both had Sam wasn't sure how much could be done about decades of trauma in a single afternoon.

Still, Bucky seemed more relaxed about lurking at a distance--he lurked where people at the party could see him, and not holding any visible weapons, for instance--so something must have helped. And their house would have space for him, and Sam happened to know that there were some pretty good, and really unflappable, therapists on staff at Avengers HQ.

In the meantime there was, of course, cake, when Teddy got as close to sociable as he seemed likely to be. They set him up on a tarp on the grass wearing nothing but a diaper and put his little cake in front of him; Steve coaxed him to try it and got frosting generously shoved up his nose for his trouble.

Steve immediately retaliated by scooping up some frosting and smearing it across Teddy's nose and mouth, but that led to Teddy getting a taste of buttercream, and after that he attacked the cake with enthusiasm if not accuracy.

After Teddy had been--literally--hosed off, there was more cake, this one aimed at him and Steve. No one stripped their clothes off or put them on a tarp, thankfully, but they were watched just as expectantly when it came time to feed some of it to each other. Sam saw the gleam in Steve's eye just as he was committing to go full-face with the slice in his hand, and, well. It was tasty frosting even when he was licking it off of his own lips and hands.

Bucky, standing at a little distance, laughed loud enough for Sam to hear over the cheering of the rest of the crowd, so that alone was probably worth it.

When Sam and Steve had washed up and changed clothes, Gertie and Sam's mom insisted on taking some nice pictures of the two of them with Teddy.

"Buck, too," Steve said, catching his arm before Bucky could just hand Teddy off and make his escape. "Come on. You're part of this family, Barnes."

Sam's mom had found out about Teddy's last name by then; she gave Sam a raised-eyebrow look and Sam just smiled a slightly plastic we'll talk about it later or preferably never smile and said, "Yeah, come on, man, get in here."

Bucky heaved a sigh but let them pull him in close.

Bucky was more surprised that he fell asleep, on the first night in Steve and Sam's house in New York, than that he awoke sharply in the middle of the night. He knew he hadn't heard anything; it was something in the air.

He hadn't made any pretense of sleeping anywhere but on the floor by Teddy's crib, this first night, though there was a windowless room across the hall with a door that could be locked from either side. That would be his, narrow bed and concealed weapons locker and all, when he could bear to move that far from Teddy. It was... probably almost safe enough. And Sam and Steve had insisted that he had a place here; that room was his for whatever use he had for a room.

They hadn't argued about him sleeping in Teddy's room tonight. They just kissed Teddy goodnight--and Steve gave Bucky a quick peck, while Sam smiled and waved--before they headed off to the master bedroom and the enormous bed Bucky had glimpsed when they were all looking around the place to get their bearings.

Bucky realized what had woken him a second before the lightning flashed, and he scrambled up onto his feet and had his left hand splayed over Teddy's chest a second before the crack of thunder. Teddy snapped awake, his whole body jerking, and Bucky remembered that Steve had described Teddy's nursery back at the HYDRA facility as being underground.

Teddy had almost certainly never heard a thunderstorm before.

He blinked up at Bucky for a moment, just long enough for Bucky to think that he might follow Bucky's lead and ignore the sound, and then the machine-gun rattle of rain pounding against the windows started up, along with Teddy's howl.

Bucky picked him up and cuddled him close, then. "Shh, shh, I've got you, baby bear. Nothing's going to get you here, not in our house. Shh, you're all right. Your Daddy and Sam--"

Bucky looked up as he spoke, and he spotted both of them standing in the hallway--not quite on the threshold but close enough to see in. Teddy wailed into Bucky's shoulder, clinging, and Bucky moved to the hallway. It took them further from the window in the nursery, so it would be a little quieter.

"See, pal," Bucky murmured, turning a little so Teddy would be able to see them if he took his face out of Bucky's shirt at all. "See? We're all right here in our house, safe and sound. Nothing's gonna get you."

Teddy flailed out and caught hold of the nearest bit of his parents he could reach, which turned out to be the sleeve of Sam's soft and faded USAF t-shirt. Lightning struck again, and Teddy's wailing pitched up, though not enough to drown out the crack of thunder coming closer than the lightning.

Sam stepped in closer, so that his arm brushed Bucky's, and tucked his hand gently over Teddy's grip on his sleeve. Steve sidled around to Bucky's other side to murmur in his ear, "We've got the windows in our room blacked out, and there's a white noise machine."

Bucky nodded, and made to hand Teddy over to Steve before he could think about it or feel anything about it--obviously Teddy would be happier in Steve and Sam's room. Obviously he should be with his parents.

"Oh no, uh-uh," Sam said, although Bucky didn't manage to move Teddy three inches before he realized the same thing, as Teddy flailed and shrieked and clung tighter to him and Sam both. "Package deal, you and him. Come on, there's room."

Bucky frowned. He thought it shouldn't be so simple; they shouldn't want him in their bed, the first night in their new home as a married couple. Not that they'd be getting up to anything if they had Teddy in there with them too--and they were both wearing perfectly modest pajamas--but...

"You're outmaneuvered, Buck," Steve murmured, setting his hand low on Bucky's back, big and warm and steady. "Come on, just until the storm dies down."

He nodded, and Steve started shepherding them down the hall, moving in an awkward six-legged shamble as Bucky and Sam tried to keep close enough not to break Teddy's grip and Steve kept his hand on Bucky just as firmly. Steve twisted away to shut the door behind them as soon as they were through, and the noise of the storm lessened immediately, which only made Teddy's crying seem louder.

The room was really genuinely dark, though, just a couple of dim amber lights shining to let them find their way to the bed. Sam wound up in the middle and Bucky at one side, Teddy shared between them. Steve snugged up to Sam's back and reached across him to add his hand to the parental efforts to soothe Teddy.

Bit by bit, it worked; Teddy calmed down to little hiccupy whimpers and then to snuffly breathing and occasional mumbles of near-words, and then to sleep.

Or so Bucky had to assume; he fell asleep there, too, in Sam and Steve's bed with their baby between them, and didn't wake until morning.