“Look, Cap, you know I’m happy to have him here –” Toni trails off at Steve’s arched brow, “Okay, I’m happy you found him because I missed being able to ogle your ass in the gym.”
Sam barks out a laugh before he can help himself. Steve blushes.
Toni pushes on. “He needs help. Professional help. It's not an option -- it's the only way I could get SHIELD to let him come stay here. Money is no object, I’ll cover whatever it takes if we have to hire the world’s foremost dozen psychiatrists and two dozen psychologists.”
“Not that I’m gonna make a habit of agreeing with Stark, but she’s right on this one, Steve,” Sam added.
“Can’t you do it?” Steve asks.
Sam shrugs. “Sure, I could , but he needs some intensive therapy, and it would probably be better if it came from someone who isn’t a potential teammate.”
“Believe it or not, it’s easier to talk about trauma with strangers than with friends,” Toni’s voice is so quiet nether man is sure if they were meant to hear the comment as her hand drifts to the faint glow just under her collar bones - Sam doubts she even notices the motion.
Steve heaves a sigh. “Fine. Either of you know anyone?”
Toni straightens back up, her devil-may care-persona back in place. “J can give you a list.”
“I don’t think we’ll need it, Stark,” Sam says carefully.
Steve and Toni both look at him expectantly.
“I know someone. Volunteers at the VA sometimes. Good with combat vets. An absolute miracle worker with P.O.W.’s. I ain’t ever seen anything like what Dr. Aresson is capable of.”
“J?” Toni inquires.
A mere second passes. “Dr. Arresson is very reputable. She was not included on the list I provided due to the near impossibility of actually acquiring her services. She rarely takes on new clients.”
Toni points at Sam. “Call. I’ll pay three times her normal hourly rate and provide room and board.” Toni demands as she turns on her heel.
Steve follows. “What twenty-four hour, three-hundred-and-sixty-five day duty? Come on Ton-”
Sam shakes his head and pulls his phone out, dials a number he’d memorized ages ago.
“Flyboy!” A feminine voice answers almost immediately, amused and fond.
“Case! How’s my favorite lady?” Sam grins.
“Better now that I hear your voice.”
“You in New York?”
“Can I buy you lunch?”
“That Italian café?”
“Meet you there in half an hour.”
Sam’s not surprised to find her already sitting on the patio when he gets to the cafe. Her raven hair is pulled into a loose braid, showing off the silver hoops and studs in her ears, and her blue eyes are heavily but tastefully lined. Her leather boots are scuffed, her jeans are grease stained and ripped, and her gray tee hugs her curves just right. He’s also not surprised to see a leather jacket draped over the back of her chair, despite the heat; he doesn’t think he’s ever seen the woman break a sweat.
“A picture would last longer,” she tells him without looking up.
He pulls his phone out and actually snaps a picture, just to be an ass. When he glances at the snapshot, she’s still not looking up, but she is flipping the camera off. “Classy.”
She’s grinning as she stands to hug him. “Class has never really been my thing.”
“You’re tellin’ me,” Sam releases her and they both sit.
She kicks his ankle, but she’s still grinning.
His smile softens. “It’s good to see you, Casey.”
“You too, Sam.”
They continue bantering and catching up over massive plates of pasta and too much wine for two in the afternoon.
Sam sighs and leans back in his chair.
Casey rolls her eyes at him. “So what did you really want to talk to me about?”
“I couldn’t just want to catch up with an old friend?” Sam protests.
“You can, and you often do, but we’ve known each other for years, Sam. Come on.”
“Alright, alright. Yeah. I uh, I actually came to offer you a job.”
Casey quirks an eyebrow. Sam is one of the few people on the planet that knows she’s probably in the same tax bracket as Toni Stark.
Sam holds his hands out defensively. “I know you don’t need it. I came in person so I can ask you to please take it.”
“Technically, you should have to sign enough non-disclosure agreements to kill a forest before you’re actually allowed to hear anything that’s about to come out of my mouth, but I trust you,” he leans across the table, “and I know you saw the Winter Soldier in the news when the Triskelion fell. Read everything Natasha released onto the web?”
“The Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes. Hydra’s had him the last seventy-some-odd years. He got away after the Triskelion. We finally caught up with him. Brought him back. He’s messed up, Case. I ain’t ever asked you how you manage the way you do with hard cases, and I’m not about to ask you now - the past year has taught me there’s always gonna be things beyond my knowledge, but we need your brand of miracle.”
Casey blinks back the shock quickly enough to manage a half-hearted grin. “You knew I was going to say yes before you ever called me.”
Sam shrugs. “I hoped.”
“So what’s Stark offering?”
Sam grins. “Triple your hourly plus room and board. We pretty much need you to be there around the clock.”
Casey laughs. “Did you tell her what my hourly is for the clients I actually charge?”
Sam shrugs, loose and easy. “She can afford it. She told Steve she’d hire three dozen at a time if that was what it took.”
Casey cocks her head to the side. “They have a thing for each other?”
“Big as a damn planet. Only thing bigger is both of their denial.”
Casey stands and shrugs into her jacket as she tosses a hundred dollar bill on the table. “Lead the way.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Thought I was buying you lunch.”
“Do you even have a paying job right now?”
Sam shrugs as they start down the sidewalk. “Technically, not so much.”
“Then shut up and let me treat you to lunch.”
Sam acquiesces with good grace and hooks her arm into the crook of his elbow to lead the way to the Tower. He’s not even remotely surprised to find Toni and Steve in the main common area, still bickering. Bucky is curled into the corner of the only couch that sits against a wall, watching with something akin to amusement trying like hell to creep into his eyes.
Casey watches them for all of twenty seconds before she starts singing I Won’t Say I’m in Love under her breath. Sam nearly chokes on the laugh attempting to burst out.
Toni jumps nearly a foot in the air at the strangled sound. “Damn it, Wilson! Don’t you knock?”
Sam quirks an eyebrow at the billionaire. “First of all, this is the common room. And second of all, point me toward a door in this building that isn’t automatic, and I will gladly knock.”
Toni flips him off and nods toward Casey. “Finally get yourself a girlfriend?”
Casey scoffs. “I love Sam endlessly, but I like my men with a little more edge.”
“You sayin’ I’m soft?” Sam protests, mock offended.
Casey wraps an arm around his neck smacks a kiss on his cheek. “Complete cinnamon roll.”
Sam shrugs in good humor. “In all fairness, I’ve met her aunt. I’d bet money she could kill me with the knitting needles she carries, and Casey swears she’s the sweet one in the family.”
“ Riiight , so who is she?” Toni drawls, speculatively eyeing the grease stains on her jeans.
She steps forward and offers her hand. “Dr. Casey Aresson, head doc for Broody McMurder Machine.”
Toni whistles. “If any of my shrinks had been as hot as you, I might've stayed in therapy.”
Steve shoots a glare, probably meant to be a warning, at Toni as he shakes Casey’s hand. “How’d you call the broody bit?”
Casey nods over his shoulder. As Bucky straightens to his feet from the couch, Casey peruses him from head to toe. Well-fitting jeans and tee shirt, tightly laced boots. A gun at his ankle, another at the small of his back, and several hidden knives about his person. She gets a side view when Steve rushes over to grab his shoulders and mother hen over him, whining about how he should still be in medical.
Too thin, great ass . Casey mentally relabels him Sexy Broody McMurder Machine. Those thigh muscles should be illegal.
Sam leans in close. “You’re drooling.”
Casey elbows him. “What? He is my type,” she steps toward the super-soldier duo and punches Steve in the shoulder.
He looks at her in shock. “Uh-”
“I know you mean well, but if he doesn’t want to be in medical, he doesn’t need to be in medical. Forcing him to stay in there will do more damage than good.”
Bucky looks at her strangely.
Steve looks back and forth between the two of them before shrugging. “So you’ll take the job?”
“I wouldn’t even have come back here with Sam if I wasn’t gonna take the job.” Casey nods. “So, why don’t you boys show me to our rooms and then hot stuff here can come help me get a few bag from my apartment.”
“Okay, I was under the impression you want me on hand around the clock. That doesn’t necessarily mean the same room, but it does mean very near vicinity.”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Sorry. There’s a spare room on mine and Bucky’s floor. All yours.” Steve agrees.
“Great!” She turns to Bucky, “Come on, Muscles, let’s go get my shit.”
Casey turns and raises her eyebrows at Steve.
“Uh, he’s not really supposed to leave the Tower unsupervised,” Steve blushes.
Casey rolls her eyes. “Then you can come too, Cap. But making him hole up in the Tower is also not gonna be helpful.”
“There’s probably an SUV or a truck in one of the garages,” Toni offers flippantly as she heads for an elevator.
Three hours later, Casey has given the contents of her fridge to her neighbor and loaded three bags, a box of framed photos, and her entire record collection into the bed of the truck they’re using. She debates the heavy wooden trunk at the foot of her bed before shrugging and instructing her voluntold muscle to load it up too. They give her some funny looks, but load it without question. And sure, she totally could have moved it all herself, probably more quickly, but she’s not one to turn down eye candy - she was bound to pick up something from her aunt, after all, and her habit of ogling attractive men is the lesser of many evils on offer.
They drop everything in a pile in her room at the Tower and she deems they leave it in favor of food.
Steve says something about takeout menus in the common room and they trek back down only to walk in on absolutely delightful smells wafting from the kitchen. Steve and Casey groan appreciatively. Bucky’s shoulders lose the tiniest fraction of tension.
“Darcy, is that you cooking?” Steve calls before they’re even all the way out of the elevator.
“Lasagna!” A cheery voice calls back.
“Whoever she is, I love her.” Casey decides before the kitchen is even fully in sight.
“And I love you, random citizen!” A pretty brunette beams at her as their little trio rounds the corner.
Within minutes, it's apparent that Darcy cooking is basically a siren call for the Tower residents. Soon the kitchen and dining area is nearly bursting with rambunctious superheroes making introductions in the midst of squabbling over food. Casey spots Bucky lurking in a slightly shadowed corner of the dining room and promptly begins loading a second plate with roughly twice as much as her own substantial portions. She tucks two beers under her arm and carries the plates directly to Bucky. She hands him his without a word and plops down on her ass, leaning against the wall and balancing her plate on her knees. She smiles at him when he slowly slides down next to her and mimics her position. She hands him a beer then looks at her own and frowns. She could open them, but that would draw attention she doesn't want yet. “Damn, I didn't think about getting these open once I was over here. I'll be right back with a bottle opener.”
A surprisingly gentle hand on her knee halts her on the floor. She turns to look at Bucky and he holds out his right hand. It takes her embarrassingly long seconds to realize what he wants and hand him her beer. He uses his left hand to pop the top with no apparent effort before hand the beer back to her.
She beams at him. “Neat party trick. Thanks.”
They spend the rest of the meal in comfortable silence, observing the happy chaos at the table.
“Come on, soldier.” Casey grabs Bucky’s hand as she passes the kitchen in their apartment.
He raises an eyebrow at her.
“Nope,” she pops her ‘p’ with a grin, “Words, or you don’t get explanations. Ask, and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. But two weeks of silence is more than enough.”
He almost grins. “Wher’re we headin’, doll?”
She beams at him as she drags him into the elevator. “Oh, ‘doll,’ there’s the 40’s charmer I’ve heard so much about! We’re going to the gym. Just ‘cause you don’t have to be a Murder Machine anymore isn’t an excuse to get lazy.”
As soon as they step foot into the gym, Bucky turns toward the treadmill. Casey grabs his arm and steers him toward the open mats on the far side of the gym.
Bucky freezes at the edge of them.
Casey turns to face him. “Words, remember? Talk to me.”
“Don’t think this is such a good idea,” he gestures vaguely to the mats.
“Do you trust me?”
He hesitates, but nods.
“I can take care of myself.”
Bucky mumbles something incoherent.
“Okay, changing the rules, words loud enough I can hear them.”
“I don’t trust myself,” Bucky mutters to his feet.
Casey chucks his chin up. “Buck, don’t worry about you. Just trust me.”
Twenty minutes later, they are both bruised and breathless, but Bucky hadn’t once gotten the blank look of the Soldier.
Bucky rolls his head to the side just enough to see her face. “You’re fast.”
“You’re not exactly slow yourself.”
Bucky shakes his head. “You’re faster than any human I’ve ever fought. You’re faster than Steve.”
Casey groans and shoves into a sitting position. “Look… I’ll make you a deal.”
He sits up and meets her eyes.
“You can ask me anything, and I will never lie to you, but sometimes… sometimes I might have to tell you that I can’t answer. In return, I will never make you talk to me about anything you don’t want to, but you have to promise me that you will come to me when you want to talk to me. Any time day or night whether I’m technically on duty or not.”
Bucky nods. “Okay. Are you human?”
Casey shrugs one shoulder. “Partially.”
“And the other part?”
“One of the things I’m not ready to tell you… at least not yet.”
Bucky chews his lower lip.
Casey bites her tongue to avoid reacting.
His next question is hesitant. “Can I hurt you?”
At the first hoarse shout, Casey launches herself down the hall, Steve hot on her heels. Bucky is flailing in his sheets, and Casey ignores Steve’s protests behind her and leaps right onto the bed, straddling Bucky’s hips and deftly trapping his hands to the bed. His eyes open almost immediately, a wild panicked light in them.
“Bucky. Buck… it’s just me. It’s Casey, sweetheart. Just me, Buck. Look right here. It’s okay,” Casey assures softly, but firmly, “you’re safe. You’re okay.”
Bucky slowly stills under her.
“You with me?”
“Can I let go of your arms?”
Casey releases his arms, but leaves her ass planted on his stomach. “You good?”
“Did I hurt you?” Bucky croaks.
Casey smiles and brushes his hair out of his face. “Told you already that you can’t.”
Bucky sighs and draws his knees up at her back. She leans back against them.
“How the fuck did you do that?” Steve gapes from the doorway.
“Language,” Bucky reprimands with a smirk on his face.
“Fuck you, Buck. It takes every ounce of my strength and then some to even try and keep your arm in place. She wasn’t even trying.”
“She’s just special,” Bucky mumbles, closing his eyes.
“What were you dreaming about?” Casey asks gently.
“Cold,” Bucky whispers, “it was so cold.”
Casey’s heart breaks a little, and she thinks nothing of rolling off of him to scoot under the blankets and wrap her arms around his waist as she lets her body temperature increase. Bucky’s relieved sigh and raised eyebrows tell her he notices, but he doesn’t comment. Steve is still standing in the door with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“Go ‘way, Stevie,” Bucky mumbles, already halfway back to sleep, “you can interrogate ‘er later.”
Casey tugs at Bucky’s sleeve, never taking her eyes off the hall. “Let’s go.”
Bucky barely glances up from his book. “Isn’t it your day off?”
“ Yes , which is why I feel far less guilty about sneaking you out of here. Now let’s go .” Bucky doesn’t need to be told again after that and neither of them stops laughing until they’re flying down the highway in a car they “borrowed” from Toni.
“I like seeing you laugh,” Casey grins over at him as she shifts gears.
His smiles dims a bit. “It feels good to laugh. You make me want to laugh.”
They drive for miles in comfortable silence, stop at a gas station for caffeine and junk food and then keep driving. Eventually, they pull down a side road and sit on the hood of the car on a wide shoulder with hell of a view of the coastline.
“How much of this,” Bucky waves a hand between them, “is just because it’s your job? I know how much Stark is paying you. I hacked one of the servers.”
Casey chokes on her drink. “You hacked a Stark server? And she didn’t catch you and try to filet you alive?”
Bucky scoffs. “I’m not stupid. I hacked one of the bank servers.”
Casey shakes her head with a fond grin.
Casey takes a deep breath. “Did you follow the money past my account?”
Bucky shakes his head.
“Every cent of it has gone directly to the VA.”
Bucky chokes on his drink then. “That’s a lot of money.”
Casey shrugs and continues without taking her eyes off the ocean. “I don’t need it. I’m… I’m very wealthy, Bucky. I didn’t take the job for the money. I took the job because I wanted to help someone, and then I kept it because I wanted to help you . Nothing is because I’m getting paid for it.”
Tension that even Casey hadn’t noticed immediately drains out out of Bucky and he slumps back against the windshield.
Casey stares down at him. “You were really worried about this.”
Bucky shrugs. “I know I’m not exactly easy to like these days.”
Casey leans over and brushes a kiss across his cheek. “I like you, Bucky. I like you a lot.”
He grins up at her, slow and easy.
They sit a while longer before she turns to him. “Wanna go to Coney Island?”
Bucky gets the biggest grin she’s ever seen on his face, and she can’t help but grin back.
“You’re driving,” she tosses him the keys.
* * *
“Where the hell have you two been all day?” Steve bursts the second they stumble into the common room.
Casey rolls her eyes at him. “We stole one of Toni’s cars. You could’ve asked JARVIS at any point in time.”
Steve mumbles something incoherent.
“Speak up, punk,” Bucky demands.
Toni looks up at them with a shit eating grin. “J has chosen sides, and Steve was not his pick. He’s got a soft spot for at least one of you.”
“You’re the best, J!” Casey beams up at the ceiling.
“My pleasure, Miss Aresson,” the AI sounds both fond and smug.
“ Aaand that answers who,” Toni drawls.
The day Thor shows up, Casey curses vehemently in a dozen languages, shoots Bucky an apologetic look, and vanishes in a flash of bright blue before the Asgardian even makes it off the roof. Bucky is still staring at the spot she was standing when Steve shows up five minutes later with Toni griping at him and a blonde giant trailing behind them.
“I thought Casey was with you,” Steve glances around the apartment.
Bucky visibly shakes himself. “She had to go… out.”
Steve grins. “And she didn’t sneak you out with her again?”
Thor is overly exuberant and reminds Bucky of a severely overgrown puppy right up until the moment Casey walks back in and plops down on the arm of Bucky’s chair. Thor’s exuberance vanishes in less than a second as he eyes her with blatant distrust. Bucky moves in front of her protectively without even thinking about it.
She leans down to whisper in his ear, by all appearances completely unconcerned with the deity currently glaring at her and everyone else’s eyes bouncing between the two of them. “Sorry for the whole uh, well, vanishing act earlier. I was a bit of a dumbass and forgot about the very real possibility of another deity showing up while I was here.”
Bucky arches one dark brow at her. “Another?”
She shrugs. “Not how I planned on telling you, but I was going to tell you eventually.” She straightens and finally faces Thor. “Are we going to have a problem here?”
“That,” Thor rumbles, “depends entirely upon why you are here.”
“She’s here for me,” Bucky answers bluntly, “to help me.”
“Gonna hazard a guess and say she’s not just a psychologist,” Steve says dryly.
“Psychologist?” Thor looks confused.
“Head doctor… healer. Whatever the hell you wanna call it,” Toni offers.
“Healer?” Thor bellows in clear disbelief, “the daughter o-”
“Watch your tone,” Casey warns, eyes flashing an inhuman blue, “I am not my father, any more than you are your father, son of Odin.”
Thor immediately looks chagrined. He bows deeply. “My most sincere apologies. I should not have assumed, though in all fairness…”
Casey nods. “I never said I was entirely unlike him, but you yourself are hardly an innocent. Do not judge those you do not know, Prince of Asgard.”
Thor straightens and offers his hand. “For all the millenia we have fought on the same battlefields, I do not believe we have been properly introduced. Thor, son of Odin, at your service.”
“What the fuck?” Steve sputters.
“Language!” Toni crows, then turns to Casey, “But seriously, what the fuck?”
“Hey Casey! Why’s your aunt's picture on the back of Darcy’s book?” Sam tilts his head to get a better look at the back cover.
Darcy slowly lowers the book to her lap as her eyes bug out at Casey. “Gabby Bard is your aunt and you never told me?!”
Casey ducks the pillow Darcy flings at her head. “Sorry! I didn’t know you were a fan!”
“I wrote my first senior thesis comparing her writings to other authors over the last millennia!”
Sam stares at her. “ First senior thesis?”
Darcy shrugs. “Poly-sci is my third degree.”
“You’re like 24.”
“My family is smart.”
“What authors?” Casey asks curiously.
Darcy ticks off authors on her fingers. “An unidentified bard from ancient Greece, another bard named Gabril from the golden age of Rome, an unidentified Egyptian scribe, a poet from Medieval England called Gavin, an Italian Renaissance short story author named Briel Meg, and a novelist from the early 1900’s named Elle Joxer.”
Casey falls out of her chair laughing, simultaneously trying to dig her phone out of her pocket to hit the 3 on her speed dial.
“Casey!” Gabrielle answers, followed quickly by, “What the hell is so funny?”
Casey drags in a breath. “Aunt Gabby, please tell me you’re in New York. I’ve got someone you have to meet.”
“I literally just landed at Heathrow. Dinner?”
“I’ll send Sam to pick you up. We’ll cook.”
“See you then, sweetie.”
Casey shoves the phone in her pocket. “Sam, go pick Aunt Gabby up at Heathrow.”
“Please goes a long way, you know,” Sam burrows into the couch.
“I’ll make baklava.”
Sam jumps up and heads toward the elevator.
Darcy is staring at her. “Gabby Bard is coming here for dinner? Now?”
“Yup. I need to see that thesis paper.”
* * *
Casey flinches. That tone means she’s in trouble. She smiles as she stands anyway. “Aunt Gabby!”
Gabrielle smacks her arm. “You could’ve warned me I was coming to Stark Tower!”
“I don’t believe you for a second. Give me a hug.”
“So, who is it I had to meet so desperately?”
Casey scoops up Darcy’s thesis off the table and hands it to her aunt.
Gabby’s eyes widen as she scans quickly over the pages. “How old is this?” She flips back to the cover page. “Three years? How have I never seen this? Who wrote this?” The petite blonde looks far too delighted with the pages in front of her.
“Aunt Gabby, meet Darcy Lewis.”
Gabby spins on her. “This is brilliant! How did you make these connections?”
Darcy shrugs sheepishly. “Uh, I had to learn a few different languages before I recognized the similar cadences when you read them out loud. Then I input them into a computer program I coded and that picked out even more patterns.”
“Exactly how smart are you, Darce?” Sam asks suspiciously.
Darcy shrugs dismissively. “Doctorate in computer engineering, doctorate in literary analysis, almost done with my master’s in political science.”
Sam stares at her.
“You do know who my dad was, right?” Darcy asks carefully.
Steve comes in with Toni tossed over his shoulder. “I hope you made enough of whatever smells so amazing to share because genius here hasn’t eaten in two days.”
Toni is pounding ineffectually on his back. “Put me down or I’ll get mini Stark to sic her thunder buddy on you!”
“Stark… Howard Stark was your dad?” Sam asks.
Steve drops Toni.
Toni lets out an indignant sound and rubs her ass. “I said put me down not throw me down.”
“Sorry!” Steve pulls her to her feet. “Darcy is your sister?”
“Half-sister, technically… you guys seriously didn’t know that?”
“No,” Sam shakes his head, “we really didn’t.”
Darcy laughs. “Good job, super spies.”
“We’re super soldiers. Natasha and Clint are the super spies,” Bucky drops from a vent and lands next to Casey.
Gabby leaps and barely bites back a scream. She wags a finger at Casey. “He’s as bad as your mother.”
Casey shrugs. “So I’m already acclimatized.”
Bucky slings an arm around Casey’s shoulders. “Aunt, huh? You look nothing like her. She’s short, pale, and blonde to your tall, dark, and tan.”
Casey rolls her eyes. “The tall and dark comes from both my parents, the tan comes from my dad, and actually, dad’s sister is pale and blonde too, so, I don’t really know what that says for genetics.”
“Seen her lately, by the way?” Gabby asks curiously.
“Not since I was in Paris last,” Casey says, a concerned expression clouding her face.
Gabrielle mirrors the expression. “You haven’t been to Paris since…”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Call your dad.”
Casey’s already hitting the 2 on her speed dial.
“Hey sugar!” Her father’s voice answers.
“When was the last time you talked to Aunt Dite?” Casey asks without preamble.
“Your mother found her raising a bit of a cult in South America last month.”
Next to her, Bucky chokes on air. Damn super soldier hearing.
Casey sighs in relief. “Okay, sorry. Talking to Aunt Gabby and realized neither of us had seen her since Paris.”
Her dad whistles and laughs. “Any idea how much shit she’s gonna give you for that when you do call her?”
Casey grimaces. “Yeah, I do. Thanks, dad.”
“Tell short stuff I said hi.”
Casey gestures to the phone then waves at Gabby.
Her aunt flips her off.
“She says hi back.”
“She flipped me off didn’t she?”
“Every realm of hell will freeze before the two of you get along,” Casey confirms.
“Love you, kiddo.”
“Love you too, dad.”
“Cult?” Bucky gapes as soon as she hangs up.
“She’s fine, then,” Gabby surmises and turns back to Darcy, waving the paper at her. “Seriously, though, this… I never expected anything like this.”
Darcy shrugs. “You’re an incredible writer,” Darcy gets a far away look and chuckles, “one of my peer editors suggested they were all the same author - some whackjob immortal conspiracy theory.”
Casey and Gabrielle both smirk at her until the smile falters.
“It is whackjob, right?”
“You live with no less than three enhanced humans, the youngest of which has been alive since at least the 50’s, a guy who turns into a massive green rage creature, and have poptart dates with what most of society considers to be a god. Is an immortal human really that far fetched?” Casey asks.
“When you put it that way…. Wait! Are you saying all of these authors are actually you?” Darcy gapes at Gabby.
Gabby offers a brief curtsy. “Gabrielle of Poteidaia, Battling Bard, at your service.”
“Don’t forget Amazon queen.” Casey smirks.
Gabrielle points a finger in her face. “I stepped down from the throne.”
“And no queen since wouldn’t step aside if you wanted it back,” Casey fires back.
“I knew those Amazon texts matched those patterns!” Darcy exclaims. “Wait, why do the rest of you not seem surprised?”
Sam shrugs. “I always knew her family was weird.”
“So how old are you?” Darcy asks.
Gabby shrugs. “That’s kinda complicated. I was born in ancient Greece, but I’ve technically died a few times. And at least one of those times about 20 years passed before I was resurrected.”
“And Steve and I were here the day Thor showed back up,” Toni explains.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You don’t forget a shouting match between two deities taking place in a building that would take you approximately a billion dollars to rebuild,” Toni’s tone is wry.
“I would’ve paid for it if we had destroyed it.” Casey offers flippantly.
“Right,” Toni scoffs, “‘cause that’s just pocket money.”
“Isn’t it?” Casey smiles sweetly.
“She shares your tax bracket, Stark,” Sam cuts off the building argument.
“Hold up. I thought you said immortal human ,” Darcy circles back to the initial topic.
“ I am human,” Gabby confirms, “my dear niece, however, not so much.”
The latest battle - yet another race of invading aliens - had wound down gradually. This race had few left of their kind, had invaded full force, and fought to the bloody end. Casey rushes from the Tower, through the wreckage of the city, in search of Bucky, heedless of the odd colored blood coating her boots and jeans as she runs. When she finds him, he's propping up a wall with Steve, surrounded by the other Avengers, eating a taco and grinning madly. When Casey is done worrying about how Bucky is going to come out of his first battle as an Avenger, she might take time to ponder how this motley group of superheroes always manages to find the last standing food establishment (or in this case, truck) in any given area they destroy.
Before Casey can even open her mouth to speak, a familiar tingle buzzes at the base of her neck. She turns, grin spreading, just as a tall figure in dark leather materializes. Steve and Bucky are suddenly in front of her, “I know you,” Steve says, eyes hard, “I saw you. Back in the war. With Red Skull.”
The grin falls from Casey’s face. The Avengers are all tense, weapons of choice in hand, but Steve and Bucky’s fists are so tight, Casey can see the veins in their hands.
Casey spins Steve toward her with a hand on his shoulder. “You saw him with who ?”
“Red Skull,” Steve repeats with no hesitation, still glaring.
Casey’s pretty sure her other hand on Bucky’s arm is the only reason punches haven't been thrown already.
Casey steps in front of the super soldiers, tuning out their protests and facing the man in front of her. “You have approximately twenty seconds to explain yourself.”
He shrugs. “It made things more interesting.”
“I don’t know how you survived the war, but I'm about to fix that,” Bucky growls over her shoulder.
“Oh no,” Casey shakes her head, “allow me.”
“My friends,” Thor interrupts, “I do believe you should let the lady handle this.”
“And why is that?” Steve growls.
“Because I can make him bleed,” Casey answers.
The man holds his hands out in front of him. “Now, sweethea-” Casey's first punch connects solidly with his nose and sends him flying halfway down the block. In a bright flash of blue, Casey's clothes are replaced by short-skirted leather armor. Bucky lets out an appreciative whistle as she flashes out of sight briefly before reappearing in front of the prone, leather-clad form.
Most of the Avengers gape.
Gabrielle walks up in time to wince. “Shit, what did he do this time?”
Toni swallows another bite of her taco. “As best as I can figure? Fought for the Germans in the 40’s and that fact pissed her off and incited,” Toni gestures as Casey lets out a battle cry throws a dagger, “that.”
Gabrielle’s eyes harden. “He’s gonna be lucky if she doesn’t kill him.”
“Who is he?” Natasha asks. “I’ve seen him before as well.”
“Where did you see him?”
“Dismantling the Red Room with his bare hands.”
Gabby hums thoughtfully. “Hopefully he lives long enough for you to tell Casey that. It’ll probably calm her down some. You’ve all accepted the idea of the Norse gods, right? How do you feel about Greek ones?”
The following fight levels another half a city block. Occasionally, the Avengers catch random snatches of Casey ranting, “--lost friends in that war! -- unnecessary bloodbath -- what it did to the man I'm falling in love with -- not for entertainment, you selfish bas--”
“Right… so, which god is he?” Clint winces as Casey smashes through a glass window four stories off the ground.
“Ares.” Thor answers gravely.
In the end, both are still standing, Ares far bloodier than Casey, and Casey is still fuming.
He spits a mouthful of blood. “Now what?”
Casey’s glare intensifies. “Now? Now I tell mom, and maybe I start talking to you again in a century or two.”
“Sweetheart -” he starts.
Casey cuts him off. “No. No. I just… I can’t listen to you right now.”
Another flash of blue, and behind him stands a tall woman with dark hair and blue eyes in dark brown leather. Gabby wiggles her phone at Ares with a smirk when he looks around in question.
“What. The. Hell?” Clint blinks.
Casey visibly untenses. “Mom!”
The woman wraps an arm around her shoulders and chucks her chin up before turning hard eyes on Ares. “Did you hit her?!”
“Woah! Easy! I was just defending myself!” Ares stumbles back.
“Did you start it, Case?”
Casey shrugs. “He deserved it. Did you know he started World War 2 on the Germans side?”
The woman steps away from Casey and her hand drifts to the odd circle at her waist.
Gabrielle groans and steps between them. “Everyone knows Ares is far from my favorite person, but I think we need to hear him out on this one.”
Bucky comes up behind Casey and wraps an arm around her waist. She leans back against him gratefully.
Gabrielle pokes Ares in the chest. “Now talk fast before your wife decides to finish the job your daughter started.”
Ares leans back against the wall and scrubs his hands down his face. “Okay, yeah, I started that war on the Germans side. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve fought on different sides of a war. It’s not even the first time since we got married and had the runt here that we all fought on different sides.”
“This one was personal,” Casey growls.
“Look, I didn’t realize how nuts the guy was until a few months in. As soon as I got a clue I switched sides. And I’m still cleaning up the messes today. I make up for my mistakes,” Ares shrugs, “because I’ve got a kid in this world and I want it to be a good place for her.”
“I’ve seen him before,” Natasha offers quietly, “when I went back to take down the Red Room… he was literally tearing the place down with his bare hands.”
“I made a mistake, sweetheart,” he spits another mouthful of blood, “and I’ve been trying to fix it ever since. I’m sorry it hurt people you love.”
Casey nods slowly. “You know if you weren’t my dad, I would still kill you.”
“I know. Am I forgiven?”
“I still expect groveling.”
“Loads,” Ares promises, “Xena?”
“We’ll deal with this between ourselves when you’re done recovering from our daughter handing your ass to you.”
Ares grins. “I can work with that.” He steps up close and grabs her hand to kiss her knuckles. “You look gorgeous, as always.”
“Ugh,” Gabrielle groans, “keep it in your pants. Someone call Dite. This is the first time we’ve all been together in decades.”
“ Sooo… ” Toni drawls expectantly.
Gabrielle rolls her eyes. “Avengers of Earth, may I present Arina, goddess of peace, daughter of Ares, god of war, and Xena, goddess of justice.”
“Goddess of peace? And you fight like that ?” Toni scoffs.
“Why do you fight, Stark? Or you, Captain?” Xena asks.
“Because we want peace,” Steve answers immediately.
“ Si vi pacem, para bellum ,” Casey says quietly.
“If you want peace, prepare for war,” Gabrielle translates.