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Blood of the Covenant

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Steve knows what it’s like, better than most, to be treated as incompetent. To be treated with kid gloves, soft words and empty promises. When Pietro died and the world was safe, he remembers how Clint had nodded at Wanda, unable to take his eyes off her twin, off the man as quick as silver who had a heart of gold, who had saved his life. How Wanda had said “We have not been formally introduced. I am Wanda Maximoff. I am…an Avenger”

“Steve Rogers. Welcome to the team”

Wanda comes back with them to Avengers Tower. It’s not like she has anywhere else to go after all. Something else Steve is all too familiar with.

 Its then that he vows that Wanda will always have a choice.

She might want to live elsewhere, only go on Avengers business when needed. Hell, maybe she wants to go to school or something like that. Physically they might only be a few years apart due to Doctor Erskine’s wonder serum but the kid that Steve was that would have smiled at Wanda across the movie theatre or the diner went into the ice a long time ago, after he let a scientist experiment on him to save his country. Saying that, Steve’s pretty sure the girl who would’ve smiled back disappeared at the same time.

She’s not at the first team meeting after they get back, at Stark’s insistence. “She’s not a member of the team just because of one of Barton’s motivational speeches. I thought we were a team. Like a democracy or something. Or am I just the guy who pays for everything and makes everyone look good?”

How Howard raised a kid like that, Steve will never understand. And even if Howard was…fondueing most of the way through Tony’s childhood, surely Peggy had been there to help the little guy?  

“So” Natasha says in her cool business-like way from where she’s sitting next to Steve, keeping the balance as only someone who’s been on both sides can do. Sam’s on the other side of him, casually lounging against the chair, beer dangling between his fingertips. Its where Steve feels safest, without Buck there even as a memory to keep him straight ‘The kid from Brooklyn. I’m following him’. Natasha and Sam are his gravity now, the two who proved trustworthy when the whole world, when everything Steve died for proved to be a lie.

He hopes, thinks that if she needs it, he’ll be there for Wanda, now that everything she was has died with the light in her brother’s eyes. He’d loved Bucky as a brother, but to lose the literal other half of yourself….he could somewhat understand why Wanda hadn’t let go of Ultron’s heart the entire flight back to New York.

“She’s got my vote. Clint’s obviously. Rogers?”

Steve nods jerkily, eyes hard on Tony.

“The more the merrier” Sam says quietly beside him, on his left.

“Tony” Steve begins before Thor or Banner can speak, surprised at how measured his voice is, “She did something terrible. But we’ve all made terrible choices, that meant we couldn’t sleep at night, but we did it so the world could be free. Wanda did the same thing and you saw how she fought when she realised what Ultron really wanted. People change Tony”

You changed. He thinks but doesn’t say. The guy’s already got an ego a mile wide, it’d be best not to step on it when all Steve wants to do is save Wanda additional pain.

Tony looks back at him, cool and calculating and Steve recognises it as the look Howard used to get when he knew he would have to do something he didn’t like.

Tony shrugs, getting up, meeting evidently adjourned. “Whatever. It’s not like I’m the leader or anything. But Captain,” he looked at Steve hard then, something beyond Howard. It’s something he’s seen in Natasha, in the mirror and now in Wanda. The look people get in their eyes when they’ve been left alone.

When you accept the end and somehow survive anyway.

“On your head be it”

The price of freedom is high. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

“Usual terms then” Steve agrees wryly before leaving to find Wanda and tell her the news.

****

The American is kind. Not Stark, who avoid everyone but the Hulk – Banner, his name is she remembers after a moment. The one who’d wanted to strangle her. The Captain American though. He leaves alone too, but in a kinder way.

He speaks when the others are silent. He leads. He makes sure she has a room away from Stark, has clothes that are not covered in dust and blood and failure. He leaves food for her too, on a tray outside her room. Stews with dumplings, milk or water, crackers, food meant for functionality, that she can choke down when the hunger gets too great. It gives her something to do. Keeps her heart pounding.

He makes sure Pietro has a grave.

She thinks he might have held her hand in the helicarrier too but she does not remember much about the ride to America, except for the smooth, slippery feel of Ultron’s oily heart as she turned it over in her hand.

Her room (more of a suite, with a bathroom and sitting room) is near the stairs, on an otherwise vacant floor, has big open widows that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. The Captain had pointed out the direction of the graveyard where Pietro now lies, across the water. Had explained why he could not be buried on Manhattan itself, given the size of the population. Wanda wonders how many people this city will kill.

Barton is kind too. She doesn’t hate him. He had not judged her hesitance, her fear, only offered support, offered to find Pietro. She hates that her brother had to make that choice.

Her eyes find the patch of green, obscured by the rain on the glass and she thanks Heaven that he is under the sky at least. They had spent so long underground, spent years walking beside death. It is no surprise, she thinks bitterly, that it caught Pietro in the end. Twelve minutes older and yet her little brother had always been the fastest, even to the grave. You didn’t see that one coming?

There are three smart raps on the door. The Captain. The others interact with her via the electronic lady named after the day of the week.

“Yes?”

“Wanda, hi. Just checking in.” He hangs awkwardly in the doorway with the all the words he hasn’t said. Checking to see if she’s eaten. It’s fair enough. She just  doesn’t know why she’s his responsibility all of a sudden. She says as much, not caring for formalities, then thinks better of it, managing to add “Please do not misunderstand me. I am…I am grateful for the concern”

Steve smiles at that, a brief subtle pull of his lips. He looks sad all the time. Gone is the focus of the mission and now there is this resigned look that haunts his features, a look that speaks of silent understanding and there is a hope there too she thinks. Worn and buried deep, but it is there.

When you are going through hell, keep going. They are the words of Winston Churchill, words from the war this very man died for and survived she realises. Words that kept two children in a dark cell resilient for all those years.

It makes him handsome she decides.

Steve looks beyond her into the empty mess of her quarters. Wanda has lived spartanly for many years, space is a luxury not given to soldiers. He smiles again, deeper like a fire being stoked as if at a private joke “It’s your bed right? You feel like its gunna suffocate you”

Wanda feels the smile before she thinks it, wondering curiously how he knew she’s been sleeping on the sofa. “Can I come in?”

“You are the only one who has asked” she says by way of acceptance, moving aside to allow entry. Vision is the only other who regularly visits, eager as a child to learn, he’s taken a liking to her, sticking close to the other new recruit. The inhabitant of Ultron’s intended body does not understand the meaning of a closed door yet. Again, Wanda accepts this, if begrudgingly. He was only born a month ago.

They sit awkwardly on the sofas, watching anything but each other. Wanda offers water, mechanically, out of habit from what Mama and Papa used to do for guests when she was a child.

“I know you can do this alone. I’m not here to manage you, I’m here to be a friend, if you want one” he sighs, ever tired by the weight of time and seeing too much. Wanda is lucky in that regard, the memories she sees, the minds into which she steals like a thief, fade eventually. Yet Steve’s mind, from what she saw, has a memory as long as his lifespan. Lest we forget…

“I mean that I know better than anyone why you and – and Pietro would let a scientist experiment on you to save your country. I’m here if you need me. Your choice.”

Wanda can only nod, lost for words once again at his kindness. He truly is honest.

“Steve?” the Captain turns, hand on the doorframe and for a second he looks his own age, even if he is a man out of time. It is the first time she has said his name. “Thank you”

She had meant what she’d told Ultron that first night in the church. Every man shows himself and Steve Rogers is honest in a way few men she’s met have been. And she likes what she sees.

Choices.

****

It is a week after this that the silence becomes deafening. That watching life going on outside of the Tower window has gone from the reassurance that life goes on to watching life go on without her. True enough, she died with Pietro did, when the hum of his mind in the back of hers disappeared. But her brother’s number one goal in life was that she would live. And living means living and all that entails. So Wanda ventures forth from her room, in search of the older soldier. It’s not to talk, not yet. Simply to hear the sound of life beyond her own lungs, someone else’s breathing.

Wanda finds the door to his quarters ajar and knocks, literally hovering in the entryway. Wanda manages to calm down just quickly enough that the levitation ends just as Steve comes into view from the kitchen area. “Wanda?” His tone is light but his eyes have narrowed “You okay?” She nods, somewhat robotically, stepping into the room.

“I wondered if we could have lunch now?”

Steve’s face automatically relaxes, his shoulders drop and he grins easily. Always the soldier, ready to engage. “Course”

It becomes a thing, their thing, to have lunch together every day. At first its pure silence, adjusting to someone else in the room, people breathing, life continuing outside of yourself.

Steve thinks the first time Nat and Sam drop by for lunch rather than breakfast after something in D.C. that Wanda will bolt from the room like a wildcat. But he grins at her like always and she smiles shyly back, picks up the empty plate from beside Nat and slinks towards the pan holding her hands out as demurely as Oliver Twist.

She glances nervously at the other Avengers, clearly concerned, but they only nod and return to their argument over where the best place to conceal a knife is. Sam’s arguing straight out of the manual, training talking for him. Natasha on the other hand is vehemently declaring that she has had 37 knives of various size on her person at one time. Steve knows for a fact that she carries a minimum of 6 at all times although how she’s achieved that in a pair of sweats and oversized shirts, so large that it hangs off one shoulder, Steve doesn’t know.

Anyway, Wanda sits and listens and he tries to remember what polite conversation consists of outside of the Avengers, how to talk to a kid. New York is as safe a topic as any he decides, and Nat in that infuriatingly friendly way of hers tells Wanda that she’ll give her a map with all the best places and then Wanda’ll be able to drag Grandpa over there for a day of sight-seeing.

He knew it was Natasha hacking his personnel file.

FRIDAY pops up then in her cheery lilt and projects a map of the city for Natasha right there at the breakfast bar.

****

It takes a long time, takes misunderstandings and fighting their adopted family, finding Bucky,  fleeing to Wakanda and only being allowed to return to the USA when the truth of the explosion and the depth of Bucky’s programming is revealed and neutralised. The number of HYDRA heads multiplying.  They make it though.  Eventually Wanda sits in the Common Room, eats at the weekly Team dinner, joins Steve, Natasha and a pissy Sam on their morning run (‘Getting my ass handed to me by one superhuman wasn’t enough, I gotta have it three times over?!’) and sits on Team meetings.

She refers to the Tower as home. She lets Nat drag her to Target and Pottery Barn and comes home weighed down with soft furnishings. Even a little Captain America shield Frisbee for Steve.

Most importantly she lets herself be a survivor. Let’s herself live.

They’re sitting at breakfast; Steve, Sam, Nat and Bucky (who have become one name, glued together by their past romance – and wasn’t that a goddamn shock – and joint circumstances) when Nat pushes him. Those two are perfect for each other, he’s spent a good deal of his time trying to tell Bucky and Nat to fuck off as lovingly as possible to no avail. 

Tony’s just left mouthing off about Wanda participating in some experiment with the Stark doctors and Dr. Foster in order to understand the full capacity of her abilities and a veiled threat about how Wanda still doesn’t have a visa. It’s left them all cold and staring, their easy Sunday atmosphere gone because Tony has a need for labels that they all seem to have left behind long ago.

'She's not a US citizen and they don't grant visas to Weapons of Mass Destruction!'

Tony's words, repeated from the whole registration ordeal hang like a shadow over the breakfast table and Steve can't help but look at Bucky, like he always does when he's lost. She's just a kid. Clint's right, she should be in school or something, not dealing with this shit. And if she's a Weapon of Mass Destruction what does that make him? 

She's family. End of. 

“Here, Rogers” Natasha slides a stack of papers stapled together across the table like its drugs or something. She’s not even looking at him, head turned, expression invisible by the flounce of her red bob, staring down the corridor after Tony. This can’t be good. Nat only calls him by his surname when she’s taking the piss.

He’s talking about Natasha Romanov, knowing her it probably is something illegal, some contact from the old days in the Red Room, who can secure Wanda’s future by secreting her away across a border or something.

Christ.

Rolling his eyes, Steve is unable to resist shaking his head. He’s known Natasha for quite a while now, become friends ever since discovering Bucky was alive, since they’d found out that Hydra had been poisoning S.H.I.E.L.D. for years now. She’s fucking pushy when she wants to be. Natasha won’t leave till he looks at the papers. The last time he’d refused to get involved in one of her hair-brained schemes, got up and walked away from the idea of doing an Avengers Fourth of July Birthday Bonanza  for the public (it’s the fucking irony of his life that he’s born on Independence Day. If Ma could see him now) she’d left flyers she’d mocked up everywhere. She’d even hung round in the vents above his apartment in the Tower, dropped down and veritably showered him with leaflets during one of his Internet researching sessions.

So it’s safe to say from experience that he just look at the fucking paper and get it over with. It’s no surprise Natasha and Bucky have started seeing each other again. They’re perfect for one another.

Stamped across the top reads the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES followed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DEPARTMENT OF STATE BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION

Oh.

“I thought you’d like to know potential routes” Natasha adds softly. God bless her and her endless strategizing.

Wanda's a kid. But nobody'll be able to say anything if she's Captain America's kid.

“But d’you think she’d go for it?” he asks softly, trying not to think of how quiet his voice actually is. Here he is Loudmouth Rogers with nothing to say. His eyes find Bucky’s. That’s the thing now, all these years of wishing he could know what Bucky would think and finally he can ask his oldest friend.

“I think you have to ask pal. You two were as thick as thieves before I turned back up. You’d go to hell and back for the kid. If that’s not family I don’t know what is”

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve sees Natasha’s fingers interlock with Bucky’s and the two of them reach for him, so that they form a triangle around the table of fingers and family. They may insult each other with every other breath but they understand each other with every fibre. Natasha’s nodding and smiling and that’s when Steve realises that Bucky’s right. He has to try.

“Hey what am I chopped liver?” asks Sam, completely breaking the moment with his trademark timing.

“More like mutton dressed as lamb” Bucky smiles with faux sweetness.

Maybe next week.

Chapter Text

It takes a month.

It’s not like its Steve’s fault, what with the world nearly ending a couple times, chasing leads on HYDRA, training and children’s hospital visits.

But all in all, it seems that it’s quite fitting that he ends up asking Wanda if she wants to be a family on Thanksgiving. That in itself is once again Natasha and Bucky’s doing – Steve had woken on this national holiday to find a sticky note fucking duct-taped to his forehead (light fingered bastards):

Stevie,

Today’s the day buddy! Just fucking ask Wanda will you so we can go to Coney Island! Disneyland

Bucky   Fossil #2 and Nat

Natasha’s elegant corrective scrawl looking decidedly out of place beside her lover’s boxy script.

They couldn’t have a chosen a worse day to do it either, because the traditional holiday chaos hasn’t spared Avengers Tower. When Steve reaches the top of the tower where the Stark penthouse is, it’s to see an explosion of festive bunting, food on every surface and a roaring fireplace. Pepper and Tony are attempting to head the celebrations with their usual clash of efficiency and flair. The massive dinner table in Tony’s penthouse is already set but the plates and cutlery are fighting for space with the cornucopia centrepiece and the hotplates Pepper had insisted upon to give them actual space for the food. Tony is shouting something about instructions for the turkey over FRIDAY’s screen at the Tower’s culinary team and Steve can’t blame him because of the racket going on around them. Bruce is nodding and scribbling on a pad beside him probably coming up with the chemical equation for perfect gravy.

Bucky, Darcy and Wanda are trying to keep out of the way by teaching Vision and Thor to play Gin Rummy with Dr. Foster looking on and laughing. By the kitchen, Natasha and Pepper seem to be the only ones doing anything actually productive although given that they’re both wielding blowtorches it could be to keep everyone else out of the kitchen. Nat’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Brooklyn NYC’ over a heart. She looked up at the sound of Steve’s greeting that had been otherwise drowned out by the din and winks at him.

Clint and Sam have commandeered Tony’s gaming chairs and are loudly bellowing over an XBOX game. Maria Hill grins at Steve’s raised eyebrows and waves the coffee pot at him. Nodding gratefully he heads over to her, surveying the chaos together.

“Happy Thanksgiving Steve”

“Uh- we’ll wait and see” he jokes before accepting the cup she offers “No you’re right. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Family’s who we fight for, who fight for us. Fight with in our case” Maria comments with a smile as they watch Thor accidentally smash the table he and the others are playing at as he slams a winning hand down.

“Both alongside and against” Steve agrees, unable to help thinking of the darker days during the Sokovian Accords fight and the scars that episode had left. Tony’s still not all that comfortable in a room with either him or Bucky. Mind you, neither is Steve. Sensing his melancholy, Maria nudges his mug with her own in a small toast.

“Speaking of family, wasn’t there someone you were meant to invite to join you in Clan Rogers?” she asks pointedly, looking very obviously at Wanda across the room.

For a spy, Romanov has a surprisingly big mouth when she wants to. “She tell everyone about that?”

Maria shrugs. “Natasha, Pepper and I have a cocktail night. It’s good. Head down to the shooting range, get away from the testosterone, then see which ridiculous cocktails we can get FRIDAY to shake up.” She waves the tangent away “Anyway, you’re the one who’s the authority on waiting too long right?”

She’s got a point. He’s always liked Maria for her bluntness. And now that he’s had some coffee down him, there’s really no excuse.  Dumping his cup on the counter he marches over to where the card players are sitting, skirting around the FRIDAY bot clearing away the remains of the table. Darcy spots him first, sitting up a little straighter and her mouth falling a little ways open. Sensing something is wrong, Wanda looks up but her face relaxes back into a smile when she sees who is the intruder is.

“Steve?”

“Hey Wanda” he waves, but his hand refuses to co-operate and just drop back to his side, hanging randomly in the air like he’s asking for a high-five. On his right, Bucky smiles into his cards. Jerk. “I, uh, I had something I wanted to ask you. Can we take a walk?” He jerks a thumb back at the door hopefully.

Wanda smiles her agreement, handing Jane her cards and sliding out of her chair to fall into step beside him. He leads her out of the Stark penthouse altogether, away from their fellow Avengers into the quiet of the foyer beside the lifts. It’s not exactly ideal but Steve stopped waiting for ideal a long time ago. Besides with FRIDAY around this is as close to private as they’re going to get.

It’s not how Tony adopted Darcy, in the middle of his lab when she’d come to flich a gadget to fix one of Jane’s machines, it’s standing in front of the lifts outside of a massive party but it’s the kind of quiet moment Wanda and Steve have come to crave.

“Are we not going somewhere?” she asks, brow creasing in confusion.

“Uh, no, here’s far enough” he lightly tugs on Wanda’s wrist to get her to sit with him on one of the conveniently placed leather Chesterfield ottomans in front of the lifts.

They sit in silence for a moment as Steve tries to find the best way to begin. Normally he’s good with words but this isn’t friendly advice or a rousing speech, this is a lasting commitment that affects someone outside of himself. Wanda smiles in soft encouragement when he catches her eye. Come on Rogers Bucky chides in his head.

“Wanda – I wanted to talk to you about what Tony’s been saying about you staying here” Wanda’s eyes widen into panic at the ambush of the thing that’s been hanging over her like the sword of Damocles on a national holiday and shit, shit, shit he ought to have rehearsed what he was going to say first because contrary to what Sam might think he’s not some brilliant orator. “What I mean is, I want to let you know that we’re gunna make sure we can keep you here.” He takes a deep breath, takes Wanda’s curiosity over his choice of words as encouragement.

“I didn’t know where I fit here, in this time. I just knew that the job would have to see me through, you know what I mean? But, after getting Bucky back, I remembered how much I needed a family, not just a home. Even when I had nothing else, I had him,”

Wanda’s eyes fog with memories of Pietro, shielding her back in a dingy orphanage bed, tapping reassuringly on the cell wall late at night.  Steve rubs his knuckles and presses on “Somewhere to start from every time, where you can plant your feet. And I’m thinking you might need that too, more than citizenship and visas. They’ve been interfering for far too long and it’s not going any further.  I can’t replace Pietro, I wouldn’t want to try – but,” Steve scrubs a hand across his face in his frustration at not having the balls to just get it over with.

Steve doesn’t specify the unquantifiable ‘they’, because whether it’s HYDRA or the world’s governments getting twitchy it doesn’t matter either way. “And shit this is hard I shoulda listened to Tony”

Wanda’s eyes go wide at his admittance and she places a reassuring hand on his forearm where his hands have interlocked themselves in an attempt to combat the fidgeting.

“It is rare for you to listen to Tony” she comments in soft observance of the facts. Wanda’s a gentle soul for all of her witch fire and despite what her first impression had presented she’s one of the most peaceful, unshakeable people he knows.

“Well” Steve huffs a begrudging laugh and wishes Natasha would come and find them to help make this easier. But its his mission, and his decision so he knows that really Nat will be the one making sure they get their space. Plus she enjoys making him squirm at every opportunity. “He’s got more experience in this area than I do which, considering my age is saying something. Damn.”

Despite what Sam may think, he’s not all that great with words. He’s just the kid from Brooklyn underneath the history. “What I’m trying to say is, that we’re a family and I don’t want anyone saying we’re not. And that, if you want I could look after you. Adopt you officially so they’ll never be able to say you don’t belong here.”

The thick curtain of mahogany hair nearly hits Steve in the face Wanda’s head spins round so fast. She stares at him, hazel eyes bright in her startled white face. Red sparks cartwheel out of her fingertips before sizzling out of existence.

Abort Abort Abort Steve’s training yells in his head. He’s totally miscalculated and now she’s going to knock him on his ass. He can see the headlines now: CAPTAIN AMERICA RUINS THANKSGIVING

“You –“ there’s a slight tremor in her voice as she stares at him, rising to stand in a way that reminds him of a baby deer. “You would do that?”

“Yeah… hell yeah I would” he stares back and what he thought was anger appears to have been misreading of relief instead. Wanda’s shoulders sag, looking like Atlas being relieved of the weight of the sky. “I don’t want you facing this alone”

“I am not alone” Wanda smiles, big and confident, with a spark he hasn’t seen about her since Pietro. “I have you. Our – family” the word sounds even richer for her accent as she rolls it round her mouth, giving the full extent of it a try. “Yes. I would like that. Yes please”

She reaches down, easy, unfettered, he thinks and pulls Steve to his feet. They stand and grin at each other like a pair of idiots for a minute, letting the world accommodate the ripples.

But before Steve can gesture back towards the celebrations Wanda jumps and wraps her arms around him in a big hug. He catches her automatically, reflexes sharp and sure but it takes his brain a second before Steve’s own shoulders come down from his ears at the ready display of affection enough to truly hug back.

“Steve?” Wanda doesn’t pull away from his shoulder and Steve makes no move to release her

“Yeah darling?”

“You said a bad language word”

“On second thought maybe Tasha oughta adopt you after all”

Wanda’s laughter echoes down the corridor.

Of course, it being a big secret, everyone’s in on it as Steve knew they would be. He and Wanda return to the penthouse to find champagne in everyone’s hands and Banner jumping down from fixing a banner that reads ‘CONGRATULATIONS ROGERSES’ in massive sparkly red, white and blue lettering. The flicker of FRIDAY’S screen confirms that if they weren’t watching, the AI must have informed the group of the outcome. Bucky immediately throws an arm around Wanda, passing his new sister a drink which Natasha immediately relieves her of when Darcy makes to tackle her.

Tony smiles crookedly and claps him on the back “Glad you took the hint Rogers. You’re gunna love fatherhood.” Tony’s looking over at Darcy proudly. Steve can’t help but smile because there’s the Tony he knows, casually taking the credit just as he demands sole responsibility. Whereas Romanov doesn’t just know about how crack people, she finds existing cracks and the way to fill them too, Tony papers over them till he finds a way through. As the two men watch Wanda is passed from Darcy to Clint’s warm embrace. And while Steve knows that this isn’t the be all end all solution to the scars the last few years have left, it’s another step in the right direction and he’ll take as many of those as he can get.

The rather idyllic moment comes abruptly to an end however when the cybernetic turkey Tony had made for a laugh abruptly ceased breakdancing and erupted into a ball of flame on the other side of the room. Celebrations forgotten, the Avengers dived into action to save the food and decorations. Pepper, with foresight developed from years of cleaning up Tony’s messes yelled for FRIDAY not to let the sprinklers go off while Sam attacked the wayward bird with the fire extinguisher. Darcy contributed to the Stark tableau by barking at her father to shut up about performance issues and do something as the bird started to lunge savagely for Bucky’s ankles.

For a split second, Steve realised that Bucky was about to kick the malfunctioning robot into the wall before realising that murderous or not, Tony wouldn’t appreciate the gesture. Instead, snagging it with his new metal arm – another of Tony’s creations – with the ‘A’ of the Avengers proudly emblazoned where the red star used to be Bucky held the Turkey-bot at arm’s length until Tony could get close enough to deactivate it.

“Sorry everybody. Well done Barnes” Tony acknowledged, carrying the now defunct creation over to the dumb waiter that led straight to his lab for FRIDAY to dispose of. Bucky’s eyebrows took up residence in his hairline. Despite being able to join the team, make a home in the Tower, Bucky still wasn’t allowed on missions and relations with Stark were strange at best, the cloud of Howard and Maria’s death still cast over them. That’s gunna take time in the same way that Wanda still keeps her distance from Tony beyond professional settings.  But today is about being grateful, especially for the future.

And for the first time in far too fucking long, looking around at the team passing round the gravy Steve has real hope for a brighter year.

****

Christmas in the 21st century is goddamn terrifying Bucky realises pretty much immediately after Thanksgiving when the next month’s holiday starts being rammed down their throats. Even from the sanctuary of Avengers Tower which Bucky doesn’t always leave, it’s noticeable. First, there’s the massive Christmas trees everywhere immediately. Including the Tower foyer where Bucky spends an inordinate amount of time because he keeps forgetting the ID card he was given. This is why he misses his dogtags; all the information was round his neck all the time and he could forget about it. This is also how he meets one Miss Darcy Lewis, swearing like a sailor by the reception desk, rootling round in her bag for her own ID card most days. He’s seen her around before of course, knows she’s the assistant to Thor’s girl, Dr Foster, the Nobel Prize winner. But they don’t actually meet properly until he catches her cell phone for her during one particularly hurried dash.

“You know who I am Paul, I brought you those gorgeous bagels, fresh and you’re telling me you can’t remember my face long enough to let me out of the fucking building. I am wounded Paul. Wounded. And that’s another thing, I’m not trying to break in, I want out.”

“I know Darcy but Mr Stark is very clear on security protocols and –“

“That’s another thing – I know Tony personally!” Darcy slammed her hand down on the steel grey counter, totally oblivious to the fact that it’s not longer holding her phone which Bucky is stood in awkward silence, offering like a lemon. “I am tight with your boss. Legitimately. He is my goddamn father. This is really stupid. I am going to miss my class. See if I bring you anymore baked goodness all the way down here on my way out.”

Paul looks genuinely horrified by this threat. Darcy must be one hell of a baker.

“Mr Stark needs to know who’s in the building all times for Avengers business”

I’m not even an Avenger Paul. I’m the assistant of Dr. Foster and she’s not even an Avenger, she’s boning one sure, but that’s not the point. Would you do this to Pepper?”

Well, at least Bucky’s not the only one feeling awkward now. Paul’s mouth hangs open before it presses into a line and he stares resolutely at the countertop. Darcy just scowls “Forget I said that. Let me out the gate ‘kay”

Paul doesn’t move. Bucky doesn’t move. Neither does Darcy.

“Oh fine for fuck’s sake” Darcy swears in a way Bucky’s just not used to outside of his Ma, God rest her soul, when he and Steve were jumped up little shits. She slings one arm of her large slouchy black bag free and starts using it to dig through it for her ID card. Several things end up slapped judgementally on Paul’s desk; gum, papers, a headset – headphones Tasha corrects in his head, a slinky and then a long red lanyard decorated with what looks like tiny emblems of the Arc Reactor attached to a little card. Unforeseen to Darcy in her triumph, the bag tilts dangerously now that it’s nearly empty and out tilts the hard lump of metal that is her Stark phone.

Bucky’s hand flicks out unthinkingly to catch it in his human palm and he taps her gently on the shoulder, holding it out with what he hopes is a gentle smile.

Christ!” Darcy jumps, hand on her heart, and spins round to look at him. There’s a moment where her eyes widen in surprise but she doesn’t recoil at the sight of the Winter Soldier, as was, lurking behind her.

“Don’t do that!” she flushes and Bucky wonders if it’s out of alarm or the fact that he’s just witnessed her entire tirade without her knowledge.

“Sneaking up on people like that, Jesus. I don’t care what they taught you in spy school Man Candy, but here we do not sneak up on people. I’m gunna get you a bell. I will pay Nat in tacos to let me get you a bell”

Bucky doesn’t actually know what a taco is but he only hopes he can outdo Darcy’s bribe with some damn good athletic sex.

“Man Candy?”

“You’re muscly, okay?”

Bucky nods to himself because Paul’s gone right back to pretending they’re not there. “Taco’s?” he would look it up on the internet but from what he knows of Darcy for all her bluster, she’s really rather nice.

Darcy looks up from pocketing her phone to see outright confusion settle on Bucky’s features. He’s gone from having no emotions to not being able to mask them at all and her frustration melts into what can only be described as horror.

“Please tell me you know what a taco is?”

Bucky has the grace to look abashed and ducks his head “No, ma’am” he laughs, sliding his own ID card across the desk at Paul. The security guard nods briefly, guarded in a way Darcy never seems to have learned and passes the card back without a further word except “Have a good day Sergeant”

Hmm. Maybe Paul’s not so bad after all.

“Right! Fuck class, I’m taking you for tacos” Darcy announces, shovelling the contents of her bag back where it came from. Then she grabs his arm, the prosthetic one, that Shuri and Stark collaborated on, without even thinking about it and starts dragging him towards the double doors.