Steve knew something bad was up the moment he stepped inside Maria Hill’s office. Coulson and Fury were waiting for him, leaning against the walls and chatting with the Assistant Director, sipping at coffee from the communal machine.
“Ah, Steve!” Maria looked up with a smile as he entered the office. “Thank you for coming. Sit down.” She pointed to one of the chairs in front of her desk. Phil gravitated to the other one while Fury remained leaning in the back of the room.
Steve sat nervously. “What’s all this about?”
Maria sat back down and twisted her hair up, using a couple stray pens off the desk to keep it in place. “I’ll be frank with you, because I like you Steve.” Maria sipped at her coffee. “We want you to be classified.”
“C-Classified?” Steve felt something cold dropping into his stomach.
“We know you never took the test, Steve,” Phil chimed in.
“And you can’t technically work for SHIELD unless your classification is on file with our Classification Department,” Fury refilled his mug and gestured to the papers on Maria’s desk. “So we want you to take a team member and go to your appointment at the Classification Office on Wednesday. Short and simple.”
Steve looked like a deer in the headlights as he gawped around at all three of them. “T-There’s not…any way to just… grandfather me in or something?” he asked, not missing the irony of the question.
Phil pursed his lips. “I’m afraid not, Steve. There’s only one way forward, and it’s through the Classification Department. If you don’t do it…” Phil sighed. “The long and short of it is, you can’t be Captain America anymore if you don’t go get tested.”
“We don’t want to lose you, Cap. But we will risk it if you decide you don’t want to get tested.” Fury spoke up again. “And we will know if you fake the results. I’ve tapped Stark to oversee the results as they come in. He’s going to be standing by remotely as the results are uploaded to the database.”
Steve gave a defeated look. “There’s no way around it, is there?” he finally asked quietly, rubbing at his face.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” Maria said quietly, all the respect in the world coming through in her tone. “I know it’s after your time, and you haven’t had to deal with it, but we feel it’s in your best interest. Just in case something does start to…show up on its own.” She said tactfully.
Steve tilted his head. “What do you mean….’show up’?” he asked, looking around at the two men.
“To put it simply, if you deny or continue to deny your biological impulses, whether they be caregiver, teen, or little…it won’t end well. You’ll be betrayed by your own body.” Nick answered.
“We don’t want you to end up compromised in the field, because you put it off and ended up having some sort of headspace episode,” Phil added. “I’ve seen it happen. It’s not pretty. Hell, when Clint was first classified, we didn’t know he hadn’t taken the test until he slipped into headspace on a mission for me. I had to pull him out because he nearly got himself killed.” Phil shook his head. “Stubborn little shit had lied on his intake paperwork. I should have known Duquesne didn’t give a shit about his headspace and hadn’t gotten him classified when he was with him. Hell, he didn’t hit classification age until he came to me anyway. But the point is, we’d all be safer and have more peace of mind if you just took the test,” Phil said gently.
Steve took the file Maria offered him and sighed softly. This is stupid. “Okay. I’ll take Natasha with me.” He finally agreed.
“Good. That’s all we wanted.” Maria responded. “You’re free to go.”
“Alright.” He stood and nodded around at all of them, immediately taking his leave.
“Bunch of bullshit,” Steve murmured to himself as he rode the elevator to the lobby. “I’ve survived on my own since the 40’s and not needed any dumb classification.” He was still seething as he walked into the tower’s common space.
“How was your meeting?” Natasha asked softly.
Steve flinched. He hadn’t noticed her sitting there. “Fine.” He tossed the paperwork onto the table. “I have an appointment at the Classification Office on Wednesday.” He said offhandedly as he popped the top off a beer and took a long swig. “Apparently I can’t continue being Captain America if I don’t go.”
Natasha looked through the papers curiously. “Stop it, Liho!” she scolded as the cat in her lap tried to bat the papers with her paws. “Go and bug Tony!” Natasha dumped the cat onto the floor. “And you want me to go with you?” She assumed as she finally got a good look at the intake paperwork—which Hill had already helpfully filled out.
“I uh—well, yeah. Yeah, I do.” He said as he sat down across from her. “You’re the only one I trust to really keep a level head about this. You’re a Caregiver. Clint, Bruce, and Tony don’t count. What if they had some sort of headspace episode and couldn’t help me with what I need?” he pointed out.
“You could also ask Phil, or Sam, or even Maria.” She pointed out. “Phil and Maria are also Caregivers. They would be happy to assist you.”
“Yeah, well…I asked you because I trust you.”
“And I’m glad.” She responded softly as she closed the folder again. “I’ll go with you. If you want me to, I’ll even handle the intake stuff for you, so you don’t have to worry about anything else except taking your test and talking to the evaluator.”
Some of his tension dissolved at her assurance. “Thanks.” He mumbled, feeling intensely awkward about the whole thing. What if he ended up being a Little? That’d be a field day for the press. Captain America, reduced to a drooling mess who couldn’t control his own bowels. Yeah, this was going to be great. But… on the other hand, he might be a Neutral Big or a Caregiver, which was better. Or even a Teen Headspace, which he’d take in a pinch over the younger headspaces. Sighing, he pushed to his feet and left the beer on the table. “Gonna go and box for a while, blow off some steam.”
Who knew what the next few days would hold?
The thought taunted him as he ducked and weaved and punched, panting as sweat ran down his face into his eyes. The shock of his fist making contact with the punching bag again grounded him as he pushed through his muscles crying out, whirling and kicking and grunting until he finally dropped. Panting, he slumped to the floor and used the tape on his hands to wipe the sweat from his face, arms and legs trembling with exertion. With shaky hands, he unwrapped his fingers and stared at his reflection in the mirrors on the wall. What was he so worried about? A small part in the back of his mind pointed out that it couldn't be all that bad, whatever his test turned out to say. Clint seemed happy enough at four, and Tony and Bruce were alright as teenagers. So... what was he so upset about?
Steve takes his test, with less than ideal (for him) results. Thor's a cutie pie and Loki is the bestest Caregiver.
So..this took an unexpected turn. I like it and it's cute and it fits, but it's unexpected.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wednesday dawned cold and rainy, weather matching Steve’s mentality as he woke covered in a cold sweat, screams fading from his ears as he pushed upright and untangled the sheets from his legs. The windows were fogged as he padded over to the bathroom and started the shower, dread pooling in his stomach. His entire body ached with the tension he’d accumulated from his nightmares as he stripped from his boxers and sweatpants, kicking them away. JARVIS was particularly helpful, directing jets of warm water towards the knots in his shoulders and back. Steve stood there under the warm spray and let his muscles relax, leaning his forehead against the wall of the shower. Once he’d felt a good measure of the tension release, he grabbed the soap and gave himself a thorough cleaning, rinsing his hair before he stepped out of the shower and threw on some clean clothes. He’d opted for comfort over style, not knowing how the outcome of his testing would go. That done, he slouched down to the elevator, following his nose as he exited.
“Something smells good,” he mumbled as he entered.
“Making eggs and bacon,” Bruce spoke up. “Clint’s making waffles,” he pointed with the spatula to where the archer was balancing another waffle on top of a large stack, pouring more batter into the waffle maker.
“How many, Steve?” Clint asked, picking up a plate.
“Um, just two, please.” Steve answered, and Clint frowned as he stacked them onto the plate.
“That’s less than normal for you. You feelin’ okay?” he handed Steve the plate and peered at him carefully, as if he could see something wrong with him and figure out what it was.
“Fine,” Steve assured with a tense smile as he sat down at the table and poured himself an orange juice.
“His classification test is today,” Natasha entered, plucking a piece of bacon from the tray and munching on it daintily as she poured herself coffee with one hand.
Clint’s brows rose. “Oh, yeah? I thought you’d already taken it, Cap.”
“Nope.” Was all Steve said, as Bruce exchanged a confused look with Clint.
“Well, you don’t need to worry about it, Steve,” Bruce offered kindly. “It’s really nothing to be scared of. You just have to answer a few questions, and then do a written questionnaire. Someone will be with you the entire time if you need help.”
“Easy for you to say,” Steve spoke up. “You didn’t get classified as a Little. You got off easy.”
Clint looked a little hurt, putting down the fresh waffle and going to stand in Steve’s line of sight. “Hey, it isn’t all that bad, Steve. Yeah, sometimes it’s embarrassing if I drop in public, and I’ll admit when the news leaked the press coverage it wasn’t that great but…” he blushed at Natasha’s firm look. “Okay, not helping, maybe I shouldn’t have used that example. But still, it really isn’t bad. I had a pretty shitty childhood, Steve. I’m not keeping that secret. But being classified gave me a chance to understand what having a good family is like, what being treated with love and kindness is like…” he shuffled a little and cleared his throat. “Before I had Phil, I didn’t really have anybody. My brother left me for dead. So I almost see it as a blessing that I was classified with a lower aged headspace. I get to see the color in the world, remind myself that there’s good and innocence still out there…to just…live. Without all my adult baggage. And that’s not a bad thing.” He squeezed Steve’s shoulder firmly. “Don’t worry. Whatever happens, we’re here for you. Right, Bruce?”
Bruce nodded. “Absolutely, Steve. Whatever you need, however your results turn out…we won’t leave you high and dry, okay? We’re a team, we’re a family, and we won’t leave you out to dry. Don’t worry,” His voice was soothing, a warm smile on his face. “Just try not to think about it too much, and to answer your questions honestly.”
“Tony’s on standby,” Steve blurted, and Bruce blinked in confusion. “If I don’t answer them right, he’s supposed to tell Fury. If I lie, he’s going to report me and I’ll have to take the test again.”
Clint whistled. “Ouch. Fury gave you a sanctioned tattletale. I’m sorry, man.”
“That sucks,” Bruce agreed with an empathetic face. “But hey, keep us updated.” He requested as Natasha finished off her coffee and started in on a couple of waffles.
“I will.” He mumbled with a sigh.
“Steve, please stop fidgeting,” Natasha sighed, laying a hand on his arm. The rain pattered down on the roof as Happy drove them across town to the SHIELD Classification Department. The heated seats were warm, and the two had bundled into hooded sweatshirts and coats before leaving the tower. “It’s going to be fine. I promise.” She assured him. Steve didn’t look convinced. “What’s got you so worried? Steve, even if you do come up as a Little, would it really be so bad to have someone take care of you? To get to sit around and color and have snacks in your pajamas, when you could be out fighting HYDRA agents, getting hurt?”
He shifted uncomfortably. When she put it that way it didn’t sound so bad. But he had to argue his point. “But, I’m Captain America! If word gets out that I am a Little, you know the media will rip me a new one!” he gestured in agitation. “I can see the headlines now! ‘Captain America: The Little In Charge Of Our Protection!’ Nobody will take me seriously, Nat! I can’t look HYDRA in the face as a Little! They’ll go crazy trying to get me to drop into headspace or some shit! I’ll be even more of a target for them!”
“Steve, shut up.” Natasha’s eyes flashed dangerously and Steve knew he’d inadvertently stepped over a line somehow, had offended her Caregiver side. “Being a Little does not make you weak. Nor does it make you a target.” She turned away from him and crossed her arms. He wisely shut his mouth and remained perfectly silent for the rest of the drive.
Natasha thanked Happy for the ride as they pulled up to the curb, and pulled her hood up. “Ready?” she asked curtly. Steve nodded and tugged at his hood. Together they pelted across the sidewalk and tumbled into the lobby, shoes squeaking against the wet tile.
Steve’s jaw dropped. The building was so different from most SHIELD brances that he nearly thought they’d gone to the wrong place. If it hadn’t borne a large SHIELD logo over the desk, he wouldn’t have thought it was a SHIELD branch at all. The colorful wallpaper and framed coloring pages all over the walls, along with the plush rainbow carpeting that began shortly before the desk all screamed ‘small child’. It was almost surreal. Natasha sidled up beside him and took his paperwork folder out of her satchel. “Shall we go up to the desk?” She asked, unperturbed.
Caregivers had to appear in the building every year to re-up their status, as well as to re-certify the Little in their care, if their Little was a SHIELD employee. Natasha was right at home. She slid a hand under Steve’s elbow and steered him toward the counter.
“Good morning, Agent Romanoff!” The cheery girl behind the desk beamed at Natasha. She was wearing a badge with several Disney stickers on it that said ‘Hi, my name is: MS CANDY, can I help you?’
Natasha smiled back, and Steve was once again smacked between the eyes with the oddness of it all. Natasha smiling? Natasha conversing with someone easily and not being under cover? SHIELD having brightly colored anything? It was like…like when Dorothy got sent to another universe in The Wizard of Oz.
“Hello, Candy,” Natasha said easily. “Steve here is ready for his test. I’ve got all the paperwork ready.” She handed the folder over to Candy, who smiled up at Steve.
“Righty-O!” She said cheerfully, and Steve’s brows went further up. “You two just go and take a seat in the waiting room! We’ll send someone for you when we get your paperwork processed.”
Natasha nodded and pointed across the lobby. A glass walled room with several beanbag chairs, a few wall mounted TV’s, and the same plush carpeting showcased a few Caregivers seated around looking bored, a few Teens playing an X-Box together in the corner, and one Toddler wearing a tu-tu subjecting her Caregiver to a game of Princesses and Unicorns at the dollhouse. Steve grimaced.
“Go on,” Natasha directed. “Wait for me. I want to chat with Candy for a moment.”
Steve pleaded mutely with her to no avail. She was absolutely impervious to his puppy eyes. She simply stared back until he nodded reluctantly.
“I won’t be long.” She insisted, and pushed at the small of his back as he turned.
His feet sank into the soft carpet as Steve wandered across the atrium to the waiting area. Large letters on the door proclaimed ‘WAITING AREA: PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE HEADSPACES YOUNGER THAN SIXTEEN YRS. UNATTENDED. THANK YOU!’ in a gaudy yellow script. Steve swallowed hard as he pulled the door open. He stepped inside to the same carpeting, gravitating to a chair that backed up to one of the glass panels. The waiting area smelled clinical and clean, and he had to wonder if anyone’s bodily fluid had been cleaned up recently. He sat with military posture, eyes roving curiously around. The Little at the dollhouse had her hair plaited into pigtails, and the front of her onesie proudly proclaimed ‘Bubba’s little monster!’ in pink cursive. He thought she was about twenty two or twenty four. The man with her patiently played along with her games, and Steve thought he was a complete saint for doing so. The Teens paid him no attention, arguing over their game of Halo until a uniformed attendant came to pull them out of the room. Their bored looking Caregivers trailed along behind, chatting to one another. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Eyes wide, he turned to the side, heart pounding.
“Easy, Captain,” Loki spoke softly, tone soothing and green eyes lit with amusement. “I did not aim to startle you.”
“No, it’s fine,” Steve stuttered. “I just didn’t see you, is all. What are you doing here?” he frowned.
Loki gestured to a more sequestered corner. “My brother is here for his dual status paperwork, as am I.”
“Dual—you mean you have a Registry on Asgard?” Steve asked curiously.
“We do,” Loki nodded. Steve hadn’t noticed his hair was in a bun until he nodded, and he couldn’t help the little grin that popped up. “What is so funny?” Loki asked, though he presumed he knew the reason for the Captain’s mirth. “Is my hairdo amusing, Captain Rogers?”
“I-no, no… just… you’re wearing a man-bun!” Steve couldn’t help a little stressed laugh.
Loki subtly sussed out the Captain’s mental state, confused as no classification came back to him. “You have not been classified?” he asked softly, taking a peek over his shoulder to check on Thor. Satisfied that his brother was perfectly entertained with the movie, he glanced back at Steve’s face.
“I…” Steve looked down at his knees. “That’s what I’m here for. I um, I brought Natasha. I’m supposed to wait here until they process my intake paperwork.”
“I see,” Loki sat down beside the nervous man. “Well, you have nothing to worry about, Steve. Regardless of your classification, I am sure your comrades will still respect you. You have the heart of a true warrior, and it does not go unnoticed.”
Surprised by the comments, Steve looked up at Loki. “You…make a really good Caregiver.” He blurted, not really sure what else to say.
Loki laughed, eyes sparkling with an otherworldly green sheen. “It is perhaps helpful that I have been a parent many times. I am father to many, mother as well.”
“Mother?” Steve was confused.
“Surely you did not think gender was an unchanging thing? Gender is fluid, and I have presented myself many ways over the centuries. I have been mother or father to my children, and it has given me the sensibilities I needed to be an excellent Caregiver to my brother.” He explained seriously, looking a bit put out at the backwards ways of the Midgardians. Progress happened so slowly on this planet! Why did his brother love it so?
Steve nodded. “I…didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Loki’s face transformed with an indulgent grin as Natasha came into the room. “Agent Romanoff.”
Natasha crossed her arms. She still hadn’t warmed up to him very well. “Loki.” She greeted as she took a seat on the other side of Steve. “What are you doing here?”
“I have brought my brother for our dual registration paperwork.” He informed, gesturing to where Thor sat, absolutely enthralled by the cartoons on the screen.
“Well, tell him I said hello,” She said, smiling as she looked over at him.
“I shall.” Loki stood and took a breath. “I had best get back to him. Captain, I wish you all the luck with your testing.”
“Thanks,” Steve murmured, suddenly tense now as he thought about what he had to go through, watching Loki saunter away, looking painfully casual and human in his emerald green hoodie and black skinny jeans. He looked…warm. Inviting. Natural. And it was weird as hell. He turned back to Natasha. “What did your friend say?”
“Oh, we were just chatting. I set her up with a blind date. She likes him, they’re going out tomorrow night.”
“That’s nice.” He murmured, distracted as the Little in the tu-tu began to cry loudly.
Natasha cooed softly. “Poor darling,” She said sympathetically, as the man picked up the Little and began to sway. “Someone needs a nap.”
The man met Natasha’s gaze. “Oh, definitely.” He replied over her sobs, rubbing her back. “C’mon, Sunshine!” he begged. “Won’t you go in the Nap Room for just a little bit? What if Bubba comes with you and lays down too? Will you nap if I go with you?” That got a teary nod. “Oh, thank God,” he looked at Natasha in triumph as he carted her off through a door marked ‘NAP’.
Steve felt the cold dread again in his stomach as an attendant came to get Loki and Thor, watching as they went back through the hallway door, leaving him alone with Natasha. The clock on the wall ticked loudly, the little cow moving around the moon to each number. He tapped his fingers against his legs nervously and shifted.
He was relieved when an attendant in a powder blue pair of scrubs finally came for them, calling out his name. Natasha stood and he followed suit nervously. The brunette wore glasses, and her hair was in a high ponytail with a purple scrunchie. Her nametag said ‘Hi, my name is: MS RACHEL, can I help you?’ She gave a clinical smile. “Hi, my name’s Rachel, are you Steve?” she asked, holding out a hand.
“Um, yeah, I’m uh, I’m Steve,” Steve replied, feeling rather dumb.
“And it’s always good to see you Natasha.”
Natasha smiled. “Rachel does my assessment every year,” she explained. “She’s very good at what she does, Steve. You have no need to worry, because you’re in good hands.”
“So, Steve, if you and Natasha will follow me I’ll go get you into a room.” Rachel turned and led the way down the hallway, ponytail bouncing. Steve followed uncertainly, listening to the rather certain sounding click of the automatic door lock behind them. The walls were a soft lavender, branching off to a soft yellow on one end and a pastel green on the other. “You guys are going to be in Green Room Seven,” Rachel stopped at the branch and pointed down the hallway. “That’s going to be right down on your left. Give me a minute and I’ll go grab an assessment kit for you.”
Natasha thanked her and took Steve’s arm, guiding him down and into the room. There were yellow tiles for flooring, complimenting the green walls, and posters about classifications with little cartoons and slogans scattered around. A single table was in the middle of the room, one chair on either side. A few padded chairs sat around the edge of the room, and there was a toybox in the corner near the chairs. A soft blue rug was underneath the chairs, so that if anyone wanted to play with toys they didn’t have to sit on the cold tiles. What Steve knew was two way glass was framed on one of the larger walls, at the back of the room, and he wondered who sat behind it, just watching him creepily. Natasha gestured to the table and he sat down obediently, watching as she moved to sit in one of the cushioned chairs, pulling a novel out of her bag. Not five minutes later and Rachel had returned, a bright sky blue cardboard box in her hands. She shut the door and sat down across from Steve with a smile, arranging her clipboard to the right and the box in the center of the table.
“Alright, Steve. Let’s start with a few simple questions. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer it. Then I’m going to record your answers on my clipboard. Sound good?”
Frankly, compared to what he had been sure they were going to do to him up to that point, it sounded amazing.
The questionnaire went smoothly, Steve’s tension leaving him as they got further and further into the fifty-six question preliminary info. Once that was over, Rachel produced a booklet from her box and gave Steve a pencil. “Simple.” She explained. “Same rules as if you’re taking a test at school. Number 2 pencil, bubble the answers in and I’ll time you. You’ve got an hour to get through as many questions as possible. Don’t rush, okay? I want you to take your time here, Steve. But don’t spend too much time on any one question,” she stressed. “We’re trying to get a baseline idea of your general way of thinking right now, okay?”
Steve nodded. He could do that, it sounded like the simplest thing in the world. He picked up the pencil and opened the booklet.
The stopwatch beeped and he began to scribble away intently, forgetting that anyone else was in the room.
Question 1: How would you describe your need for structure?
A) Must have. If I don’t have a routine, I get very upset.
B) I’m not too attached. If my routine is interrupted, I can roll with it.
C) I don’t have a routine.
D) Sometimes I have a routine, but when I’m not at work/school, it goes out the window.
Question 20: How would you describe your ability to take care of yourself?
A) I’m pretty good. I eat three meals a day and shower at least once every few days.
B) I’m perfect. I shower every day, brush my teeth twice daily, and eat three square meals. My sleeping habits are the recommended amount.
C) If coffee counts as a food group, I’m good. I sleep whenever I crash, and eat when it crosses my mind.
D) I’m okay. I try my hardest to remember to sleep and eat, and my hygiene is alright.
Question 37: Do you get upset easily? Does anything tend to make you cry? If so, please fill in what types of things and how it makes you feel on the lines below.
Question 58: In recent memory, have you felt a need for physical affection or to be taken care of? List on the lines below.
Steve got through over a hundred questions before the timer beeped, making him jump. Rachel laughed softly. “So, how’d you do?” She asked as she took the booklet back.
“Um. I got to 123,” he answered, watching as she withdrew what seemed to be a laminated ring bound book of pictures.
“Not bad,” she remarked as she showed him the book. “Alright. This part’s a little different, okay? I’m gonna show you these pictures, and you’re going to tell me how they make you feel. As usual, I’m going to write your answers down in my little clipboard, okay? Sound good?”
Time seemed to fade into the background, endlessly ticking on as Rachel asked him questions and he answered honestly. After they broke for lunch, walking just down the hall to the cafeteria, they went back to their room and Rachel asked for something different. This time they went over to the play area and she sat down. “Steve, I want you to sit down here with me, Natasha can come too, and I just want you to find anything in my box that looks interesting to you. It can be anything you want, or multiple things, and I just want you to engage me and Natasha in what you’re doing. I just want you to play with us for a little bit, okay?”
Steve folded himself down onto the rug and scooted towards the box of toys, looking through them until his eyes widened and he stilled, the object held in his hands reverently. “I…”
“Steve, can you tell me what you have?” Rachel prompted gently.
Steve showed her slowly, hands shaking. “B-Bucky Bear,” he stuttered, shocked that these could still even be found in good condition. “I…I found…Bucky Bear.” Steve rocked back from his toes to his rump, sitting heavily and staring down at the toy. He couldn’t help it. A few traitorous tears leaked out of his eyes and suddenly he was a complete mess, holding the toy to his chest and sobbing like an idiot in the middle of the assessment room while Rachel and Natasha watched him.
Back at the tower, Tony hovered over his computer nervously, watching the video feed of Steve’s testing. Results appeared on a hologram beside his elbow in real time as they were uploaded, the testers behind the two way glass continuously recording data into the system. “Oh, Steve,” he said softly, watching the man dissolve into tears. It wasn’t really fair of them to pull that card on him, when he was already a ball of nerves and stress. It was a bit heavy handed of them to pull the Barnes card like that.
He watched the continuous data upload scrolling past, the algorithm picking out important bits of info, classifying his teammate before his eyes. Tony reached over to absently throw a monkey-wrench as Dum-E squeaked at him, rolling off in hot pursuit of the object, and when he turned back the computer was beeping at him, flashing a green classification code at him in an obnoxious script.
“Congrats, Cap,” he murmured with a relieved smile. “Don’t be mad.” He cautioned nobody in particular, as his bot zoomed back and nudged at his leg, ready to play more fetch. “In a minute.” He took his phone out and sent a text to the rest of the group, Natasha included.
Cap’s classified. Congrats to us, we’ve got a bouncing baby boy on our hands.
It all happened so fast after that. Rachel pressed a button on the wall and some other people came in, all in different colored scrubs. They brought Steve a bag, and some other stuff, which they gave to Natasha. Steve couldn’t see much because he was crying too hard. But when he came up for air it was just him and Natasha. She gave him a gentle smile and it gave him the urge to cry more.
She’d read the text as soon as it had been sent, though she had suspected the moment Steve sat down and found the bear he was done for. Scooting forward, she brushed hair back from his hot face. “Sweetie, do you maybe want to get out of those clothes? Maybe get rid of those icky wet pants, put on a nice clean diaper?”
Steve wailed. He hadn’t even noticed he’d had to go to the bathroom! It wasn’t fair, his stupid body was already betraying him! He didn’t want to be Little! Certainly not this little! Why couldn’t he be older, like Clint? He whined and scooted away from Natasha. He didn’t want her. He didn’t want anyone. He wanted…he wanted…Bucky. He wanted Bucky. But he couldn’t have him, ‘cause… ‘cause it was his fault Bucky wasn’t here in the first place!
“Oh, darling,” Natasha’s heart broke as he clutched the bear to his chest in a death grip, looking utterly small and utterly, terribly, sad. She was a little hurt that he didn’t want her to help him, but she would respect his boundaries. Natasha wasn’t sure what to do for a while, who to call as she sat and watched him sob his poor eyes out on the rug. Then it hit her. “Loki.” She said softly. “Loki, we have a situation, I need you. I’ll go sit with Thor, but…I need help.” A moment later a puff of green smoke seeped under the closed door, forming into an emerald green rabbit, hopping around the room before entering Steve’s line of sight, distracting him suitably as Loki materialized beside Natasha.
“What’s wrong?” he asked softly as she stood up.
“He’s…upset. He doesn’t want me.” She explained. “But he’s wet and he’s going to get a rash if someone can’t change him.” Then she disappeared out the door to go and sit with Thor.
As soon as he caught sight of the poor youngling on the floor, Loki’s instincts went into overdrive. “Poor thing,” he crooned sympathetically as he sat down in front of Steve and dug through the diaper bag they had assigned him. “I know it hurts, darling,” he whispered, feeling very much like he wanted to mother the poor child. A bit of his magic told him that young Steven was very much grieving the loss of Sergeant Barnes, something he’d not ever truly allowed himself to do. “I know, sweetling,” he crooned, laying a cool hand over Steve’s hot forehead. Immediately the young one relaxed, and Loki gave a radiant smile, full of warmth and love. “That’s better.” He whispered with a wink. “Now, let’s put you into some clean clothes, hmm? What have we here?” he took out the clothes from the bag. Nothing personalized, nothing special. Just…clinical looking things that had the SHIELD Classification logo on them. A onesie that was the color of vomit. A shirt that was the color of charcoal, a pair of pants that were plain grey. That wouldn’t do at all. He waved his hand and the onesie transformed into a lovely soft pair of footie pajamas, patterned over with little soft bunny rabbits. “There we go, do you like that, darling?” Loki asked, showing them to Stevie. Once he’d gotten a nod, he smiled triumphantly. “Then let’s get you dressed.” In no time at all—for he was practiced from experience with his brother—Loki had Steve bundled into his new pajamas and a clean diaper. The little one had not let go of the toy for one moment during the process. Looking through the bag, he pulled out a pacifier and secured it to Steven’s neckline. The exhausted darling on the rug made lethargic grabby hands, and Loki couldn’t deny the request. He picked the little one off the rug and held him close, shushing him softly. “It’s alright, precious one.” He assured. “You are going to be fine.” He assured, following instinct and pressing a kiss to Steven’s cheek. A moment later Natasha entered with Thor, the pair stopping short at the sight.
“A baby!” Thor squealed happily, surging forward and dropping to his knees.
“Yes, brother mine,” Loki said, equally as satisfied. “He is a baby.” He rocked Steve from side to side as he started to fuss around the pacifier.
Thor vibrated in excitement, the three year old was clearly very excited that he wasn’t the youngest anymore. Natasha knelt beside Thor and rubbed his shoulder softly, chuckling. “Will you come back with us?” She asked. “He seems to like you,” she noted as Steve clung tightly to Loki and spit his pacifier out with a whimper.
“I will.” He agreed immediately, conjuring up a bottle out of convenience and offering it to Steven as he cradled him in his lap, head in the crook of his arm. “Here, now, that’s better isn’t it? No more empty tummy.”
“Empty tummies aren’t fun,” Thor noted seriously, and both Caregivers laughed.
“No, they are not, my darling,” Loki agreed softly, taken with the big blue eyes looking up at him softly as the baby urgently sucked down his bottle. “That they are not.”
So...apparently Caregiver Loki and Baby Steve are a thing? I really want to add Bucky at some point, if you have ideas for how/when that'd be great also if you want to keep Loki as Steve's Caregiver let me know. I'd like it to be Bucky all uncertain and like 'what if i hurt him?' but reluctantly getting classified anyway and figuring out immediately he wants Stevie as his baby. It'd cause jealousy between Loki and Bucky and tension is always good. Just leave thoughts below on all of this.
Steve adjusts to being Little and having Loki take care of him. Clint and Tasha make cookies!! Thor and Clint color together and are absolutely ADORABLE! Tasha and Loki are awkward around each other but are learning how to be civil and not hate each other's guts. Bruce is sick and Tony's grumpy that he has to have Loki stay in his tower. Also: a pint sized god of thunder throws a very loud tantrum!!
“So…they like, live with us now?”
Phil sighed softly and faced the somewhat belligerent teenager. “Tony, it isn’t like we don’t have room, and Steve’s only bonded with Loki so far.” He rubbed at his temples with his index fingers. “Just…be nice, okay? And remember that both Thor and Steve are very little. Please don’t cause any trouble.” Phil grabbed his suit jacket and shrugged it on. “Play nice.” He commanded, leaning over to kiss Tony’s messy hair. “And check on Bruce every once and a while, make sure he’s drinking water. I’ll be back with Maria around dinner time.”
“I will,” Tony sighed heavily and picked up the game controller. Whatever. He didn’t have to go down to common areas anyway. He could just stay on his and Phil and Bruce’s floor. Besides, Bruce was sick and needed him. He just couldn’t leave, it’d be way too rude! Although…he was curious about meeting the baby. Almost as soon as he’d gotten back to the tower with Loki and Nat, Steve had been bundled up to his floor to wait out his Adjustment Period and to socialize with his Caregiver. Or…Temporary Caregiver. At least that’s what Tony was hoping. Even though ever since they’d realized Loki was a Caregiver and he was actually a pretty nice dude when he wasn’t trying to kill anyone, Tony still didn’t like him very much. He hoped they’d be able to find a Permanent Caregiver for Steve, and that Loki could go back to his own place with Thor.
“There, now, precious boy,” Loki crooned softly, tucking Steve into his crib. “All cozy for your nap.”
The crib was carved using his magic, from wood he’d imported from Asgard. Shards of shed branches from Yggdrasil herself formed the basis for the exquisitely polished bed. He’d decorated the nursery painstakingly, using his magic to make the painted scenes on the walls move and change. Animals chased one another around, clouds moved across the blue skies, pegasi and Valkyrie swooped around the skies, keeping Steven safe.
It was still pretty rough going, being only day three since the Classification Results were solidified. Thor was excited to have the infant around, yet confused and sometimes angry when Loki’s arms could not hold more than one little one at a time. He had yet to understand that for the time being Steven was a permanent addition to their lives and living quarters. Loki, his mother’s heart long dormant before either he or Thor were of Asgardian Classification Age, was full to bursting with love and excitement over both his little ones. Even if Steven was potentially just a temporary addition to his little family. He was truly content for the first time in eons.
Loki made sure that Stevie had his Bucky Bear (it had been gotten special for Steve’s testing, and the center had gifted it to him) as he gave him a pacifier and politely asked JARVIS to play some music. “Sleep well, darling. I wish you the most pleasant of dreams.” He whispered as he kissed the baby’s forehead.
Emerging into the living quarters of the floor they had been assigned, Loki found Thor and Clint coloring together at the table, while Natasha stirred something sweet smelling in the kitchen. “What are you making?” he asked her, keeping polite distance.
“Cookies,” she replied, handing him a spoon. “Want to taste? I can’t decide whether I have added too much spice.”
Loki dipped the spoon into the bowl curiously and tasted the concoction, humming softly. “No. Not at all. I think the nutmeg perfectly compliments the slight hint of ginger.” He set the dirty spoon down. “Would you like some help? I can’t profess to be a cook, but I am good at following directions.” He gave a slight grin.
“Get the cookie sheets, and then take that little ice cream scoop—or, well I guess it’s a melon baller really—and scoop them out onto those four sheets. I will wash the utensils.”
Loki set quickly to work, efficiently spacing out the cookies on the trays, peering around the doorway to check on the two Littles. “Your Clinton seems to enjoy spending time around Thor,” he noted as he put the dirtied dishes in the sink so she could wash them.
“He does. But then, he’s never been shy. He is very outgoing and always eager to have playmates.”
“I feel…as if I have done my brother a disservice by not bringing him here to socialize with other Littles.” Loki admitted. “He needs to make friends and to play with them. I worry that I, in all my blindness seem to have stunted him somehow.”
“He is not stunted,” Natasha assured as she dried the mixing bowl. “He is a sweetheart, who is a bit shy, but never stunted. His intelligence is fine, as are his social skills. He may be a tad hot headed at times, but then again, he is also three. It is natural for tantrums to happen with toddlers. Even Clint has his share of temper tantrums, and he is five.”
Loki was heartened by their conversation, thanking her softly as he wandered into the living area. “What have you colored, my darlings?” he asked with a soft smile, one hand resting against Thor’s tangled locks. He clucked softly. “Brother mine, how does your hair get tangled so?” Loki waved his hand and Thor’s hair was instantly tamed, neat Asgardian braids holding the front part of his hair out of his face. “That is better. Far more befitting for a Princeling.” He tapped Thor’s nose with an index finger, relishing the sound of his laughter. His brother laughed far too seldom when he was not in his headspace.
Thor bounced up and down excitedly. “Loki!” he whined. “Loki, look! I colored a picture of Baby Steven! Do you think he will like it?” The Little pointed to the paper sitting atop the coffee table. “Look!” he crowed again.
“I see that my sweet one, but perhaps it is best not to shout when we are inside, hmm?” Loki bent down and pressed their foreheads together, sending his brother a bit of the happiness he felt with his magic. Thor squirmed happily, picking up his stuffed wolf and hugging it close, eyes closed contentedly at the fond contact.
“Okay.” He agreed easily, lowering his volume. “Is this okay?”
“That is more than perfect, darling brother.” Loki assured, hand still resting on Thor’s neck as he kissed his forehead.
“And what have you colored, Clint?” Loki asked politely.
Clint held up his picture. “Made Tony.” He mumbled, pointing to the cleverly drawn Iron Man flying over a field of daisies.
“I am sure young Anthony will adore your picture,” Loki enthused, sitting down and letting Thor clamber into his lap. “We shall have to show it to him when he comes down for dinner, won’t we?”
Clint looked shyly pleased, blushing as he stood up. “Gonna go find Tasha!” he squeaked, zooming off in the direction of the kitchen.
Loki chuckled as he held Thor close. “I am glad you have had fun today,” he murmured. “But now, I think, it is time for a nap.”
Thor whined softly. “But Lokiiiiiii,” he whined. “Cookies! Tasha made cookies!”
“And I am one hundred percent certain that they will still be here when you wake.” Loki insisted. “I will see to it that you get you allotted share. But for now I sense you are getting a bit cranky, dear brother. I would prefer it if you took a nap like Steven.”
Thor screwed his face up in irritation, sitting up suddenly and flinging his stuffed animal across the room. “No.” he crossed his arms and somewhere outside a bit of thunder began to rumble.
Loki sighed and pinched at his nose. Good. All he needed was a miniature god of thunder throwing a temper tantrum, lightning and all. He exhaled deeply. “I insist.” He said firmly, fixing his brother with an intimidating stare. Unfortunately for Loki, his brother had grown up with him, and somewhat become impervious to that stare.
Thor stared right back, thunder rumbling louder, eyes piercingly blue. “No. I will not take a nap. I do not wish to.” He said grumpily, and a bit of lightning flashed.
Loki rose to his full height. “I do not care if you do not wish to, you need to and you will.” He said firmly, a bit of his own green aura showing as his own temper increased.
“Will not!” Thor stood up and stomped one foot, a bit of sparks flying from his fingertips. He looked absolutely adorable in his kitten shirt and elastic waist blue jeans. Not at all like the powerful specimen displayed to the public. Wasn’t it ironic, considering he still held all his powers. Would that his powers diminished as well as his age.
Loki shook his head exasperatedly. “Oh, Norns give me strength.” He muttered to himself, hands glowing green. “Thor, you most certainly will and that is not a mandate to be argued with!” He took one step closer and Thor opened the skies, rain pelting the windows and thunder clapping loudly, shaking the floors. He heard the baby begin to wail loudly, and saw Natasha dart through the living area, Clint clinging to her hand as they went to comfort the baby. “Oh, now look at what you have done! You woke up Steven!” Loki strode forward and gripped his brother’s arm, ignoring his cries and protests as he dragged him into his room. “By Odin’s beard, Thor, you will behave!” Loki hissed, swiftly upending his bulkier formed brother and landing a succession of hefty smacks to his backside. He let go and the tone of the storm faded slightly, from anger to shocked sadness as baleful blue eyes glared at him.
“Do not give me that look.” Loki intoned. “You were begging for it. Now into bed with you,” he pointed and Thor slinked into the sheets. “Sleep, please, brother.” Loki begged, materializing Thor’s plushie in his hand and handing it over to him. “I beg of you, just a half an hour of sleep. You will feel so much better.”
Thor looked mutinous as Loki left the room, quickly heading over to the nursery. Plucking Steven out of Natasha’s arms, he cooed softly to the baby. “Hello darling,” he bounced the upset baby, grimacing as sticky fingers pulled on his hair. “Yes, I know, sweeting. I know Thor scared you with his temper didn’t he?” Loki patted the baby’s back. “How about I change your diaper and then we sit for a while in the rocking chair? Would you like that, darling?” Loki carried him over to the changing table and conjured a few smokey apparitions to distract him while he changed his diaper. Steve’s eyes sparkled, cooing softly as he grabbed for the bunnies and the puppies, just missing them. Loki magicked a bit of diaper rash away and taped him into a clean diaper, tickling at his tummy and relishing the giggle he received in return as he snapped the onesie back into place. “There,” he patted Steve’s tummy. “Now we can sit together, hmm?” He picked up Stevie and carried him over to the rocking chair, sitting down and holding him close. Soon enough the baby was mouthing at Loki’s chest hungrily and Loki chuckled softly. “Your appetite is insatiable, my sweet darling,” he murmured to the baby as he conjured up another bottle.
“I’m back!” Phil kicked the door shut and Maria carried the dessert over to the counter. “We brought dinner.” He stuck his head into the living room to find a very weary and pale looking Bruce laying on the sofa, Tony sitting on the floor at Bruce’s head.
“Hey,” Bruce muttered.
“How are you feeling?” Phil asked, sympathetic.
“Like I got hit by a bus, and then someone started squeezing my intestines in their hand. If their hand was the size of a watermelon.”
Tony made a face. “Dude, ew!”
“I gotta be accurate,” Bruce deadpanned. “I’m scientist. S’what I do.”
Despite himself, Phil laughed. “Right, well, if you’re still feeling bad stay here while we eat. Tony, go help Maria get the utensils set out.”
Once he had fed the baby, Loki took him back out to say hello to Natasha and Clint, who were munching on the warm cookies straight from the oven.
“Hi, baby!” Clint said cutely, hopping on the spot in his excitement to see Steve again. Stevie blinked sleepily at him, but didn’t do much else.
“I think he may still be a bit sleepy.” Loki admitted, while Natasha stroked a finger along Steve’s cheek.
“Did you have a good nap, Stevie?” Natasha asked softly, with a smile.
“He slept well, and had another bottle.” Loki confirmed, shifting Steve to his other hip and magicking his blanket from the crib to his hand. “Here, sweet. Do you want this?” Stevie latched onto the item happily, humming.
“Here, try one!” Clint held out a cookie to Loki. “They’re really good!”
Loki took the offered item and took a large bite, making sure to exaggerate his reaction for Clint’s sake. “They are!” he agreed, and Clint beamed happily as he scurried back to his coloring pages.
Loki had just gotten Steven to settle down in his play pen, a rare moment he let himself be put down, when Thor emerged, hair mussed and looking very small. Loki approached him softly, making sure to move all the way into the hallway so they could have a bit of privacy.
“Hello,” he greeted. “Did you have a nice nap, brother?”
Thor rubbed his eyes tiredly and nodded as Loki once again magicked his hair into order. “Good sleep.” He mumbled with a nod, reaching out to hold onto the side of Loki’s shirt.
Loki frowned softly and reached out, cupping Thor’s cheek. “What is the matter? Hmm? What has you so preoccupied, brother mine?”
Thor shifted a bit, then looked up with shy eyes. “Do… do you love the baby more than me?” he whispered, looking stricken all of the sudden.
“Oh, darling,” Loki crooned, immediately wrapping his arms around his brother. “No, sweet. I could never love him more than I love you. I do love him, but not nearly as much as I love you,” he assured, right in Thor’s ear where he could hear it better. Loki squeezed him tightly and Thor clung back. “Of this I am absolutely certain,” Loki said firmly, kissing his brother’s blonde locks. He pulled back and patted Thor’s cheek softly. “Hmm? I would never leave you for him, nor would my affections for him ever be a greater amount than those I hold for you. For my brother. Yeah?”
Thor’s eyes widened and got a bit teary. “Y-Yeah.” He sniffled, and Loki smiled radiantly.
“Come now,” he took Thor’s hand. “Let’s go and have cookies.”
Phil, Bruce, and Tony have been keeping secrets of the deepest level.
Thank you to grayble! Your comment gave me the idea for this chapter, as well as for how to integrate Bucky into the storyline, and create some tension with Steve and Natasha versus Phil and Bruce and Bucky and Tony.
The fluorescent lighting overhead buzzed softly as the dark haired man walked easily into the room, sitting down at the table across from the woman in the suit.
“Good morning, Bucky. How are you feeling today?”
“Um, better. Thanks. I..I feel…good. For the first time in a while.”
“Have you been able to progress on the diet Agent Coulson suggested? How about your exercise program?”
Bucky leaned back in the cold metal chair and sighed softly. “Um, yeah. I’m on stage three now. I started with fruit last night. I should be able to eat smaller portions of solid foods by next month.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” She wrote something down on her clipboard. “And you’ve been regularly participating in your exercises?”
“Yeah, um, it’s…nice to have something I can choose. I like having options, being able to collaborate with Phil and find something that works for me. Doctor Banner’s comments have been helpful as well, about my diet and metabolism. I’d appreciate it if you could thank both of them for me.”
The former sergeant looked far better than when they’d freed him from the dingy base he’d been kept in. The dark circles under his eyes had started to disappear, he’d put on weight, and he’d begun to not reject solid foods thanks to a special diet and exercise plan Bruce and Phil had come up with. Lank hair had begun to take on a healthy sheen, and a trim or two had him looking human again. He’d been given a few options to choose from for clothing, as well as for amusement opportunities. Journaling had gone absolutely as well as hoped, working wonders on his battered memory as well as soothing his psyche.
Adjustment issues were still common, though if the current trajectory could be followed, hopefully soon to be a non-issue. Aggression was now only a problem at night, when dreams crept in. Guards were posted outside is quarters, and the computer system kept him sealed inside until seven AM, at his own request. Agent Coulson was very clear about Barnes not being another prisoner, but a protected citizen, a fugitive SHIELD was protecting. After all, he was a decorated prisoner of war. He deserved to be treated well. Anyone who didn’t treat him well would find themself waking up in the desert with no equipment and no explanation to how they’d gotten there.
Everything was the deepest level of classified information, and Bucky had comfortable (if a little military) quarters in one of SHIELD’s top-secret bunkers, along with unfettered access to the best doctors and psychologists money could buy. When funds got tight, Banner went to Stark and money was magically materialized into bank accounts within hours of petitioning. As things unfolded, Stark even offered to build a better prosthetic, Coulson obliging by sending him the schematics and introducing him to Bucky.
Bucky leaned forward, an easy posture, elbows on his knees, eyes earnest. “C-Can I ask…about…Steve again?” he sounded defeated—every request for knowledge about the Captain had been deflected, even from those he knew lived and worked with him.
“You may,” she answered curtly, listening carefully to the input in her earpiece. “Bucky, you’ve been informed about the Classification System, I take it?”
“Um, yeah. Yeah, I have. But what’s that got to do with Steve?” his brows crinkled in confusion. Coulson had only just finished explaining the modern systems of mental classification to him not three days ago.
“Captain Rogers has recently taken his Classification Test,” she said, testing the waters a bit.
“Oh yeah? And uh, how’d he do?” Bucky’s brain was still fuzzy sometimes, but whatever procedure Banner and Stark had come up with seemed to be helping regenerate his brain tissue. His memory holes were repairing themselves so rapidly he sometimes had a sense of whiplash. Steve had only just returned to him in full, and he’d asked about him every day since then, starving for information about the other man.
The psychologist pursed her lips. “His current test results stand at about one year of age or less.”
Bucky’s brows rose fully. “Jesus, that’s… that’s pretty small,” he murmured, slotting his fingers together and pressing them to his upper lip as he processed. “And…I’m assuming if you guys plan on using me at some point, you also want me to take the test?” he looked up over his fingers.
“That is correct, yes. We’d like you to be classified as well, just to know where you stand.”
“Will I ever be able to see him? In either headspace?” It was driving him crazy that nobody had told Steve he was alive yet.
“That’s up to your progress level. We’d like to see you improve more before you interact with Captain Rogers. He hasn’t yet completely stabilized after his Classification, so it’ll likely be a few weeks before he’s ready to be his older self again.”
“But you’ll keep me updated?” he asked hopefully, as Bruce and Tony showed up once more for his treatment and prosthesis fitting.
“As much as we’re able.” She assured him as he stood up and went to shake hands with the two scientists.
“So, what are you two doing to me today?”
“Well, we’re starting with the BTR and then we’ll see how this version of the prosthesis tickles your fancy,” Tony rattled off as they walked down the hall to the medical suite. “This version is as close to the final as I’ve gotten so far.”
Bucky’s face must have given away his confusion because Bruce immediately clarified. “Brain Tissue Regeneration. Doctor Cho is back in town, so we can have another session with her before we work on your arm. Or, if you’d rather, we can put you under and swap out the arm while we do both. Remember, it’s electrical impulses and nanotechnology, so we don’t have to actually do anything to your skull in order for this to work.” Bruce reminded him as they entered the room. “It’s all designed to be as minimally invasive as possible.”
Bucky’s jaw was set, a look of determination on his face as he took off his shirt and sat down in the chair. “Do it all at the same time.”
“You heard the man!” Tony clapped his hands and the door closed. “Alright, Barnes, same drill as usual. I’ve got complete and total control of the room, JARVIS is running this place now and has been since I set foot in the bunker. Nothing happens without your go ahead, and if you say stop, everything immediately stops. Nobody touches you without permission, and everything is monitored by JARVIS, he’s going to keep you updated right until you take a little nap from the gas, okay? No more needles, we’re just using gas this time because I know how the needles make you squirrelly.”
Once again, Bucky was touched by Stark’s thoughtfulness. Who’d have thought Howard Stark’s son would grow up to be so thoughtful and kind? He settled back and nodded when Cho asked if she could put the tubes into his nose. “Okay.”
When Bucky returned to his room later that night he filled three journals with the memories he’d regained. Then he stood in front of a mirror and cried, just staring at the sleek silver contraption that had replaced the ugly clunky version HYDRA had given him. Stark had even ordered Doctor Cho to removed the scar tissue. Instead of uneven puckering that flowed into jagged edges, now smooth skin flowed right into the metal plating. It looked…natural. Stark had even formed the curvature of his shoulder. It was lighter than the other by several pounds, so his balance was a bit off as he got used to it, and they’d managed to remove most of the plating and screws that had been fused to his ribs in order to stabilize the old arm, now only leaving the strongest titanium in the smallest amounts. Bucky swiped at his eyes and drew in an uneven breath. That Tony Stark really knew his stuff.
Clint is GOING to find out what everyone is keeping secret. Thor is grumpy, but Loki makes it all better. Tasha plays mom to everyone and makes lunch.
I think Tony would be like, always tinkering with Bucky’s arm like he does with his suits. It’s really sweet and cute. Bucky probably has to fight him to get him to stop trying to weaponize it like Phil’s arm in AOS. ‘Tony I don’t need a finger that launches darts or anything’ ‘Tony I just want a functional arm pls’ ‘GOD you’re totally Howard’s son’—and then the last one causes a bit of tension because in Bucky’s mind Howard isn’t the villain he is to Tony. L Hug Tony someone.
Clint was waiting for them when they emerged onto the streets of Manhattan, talking and joking back and forth as they adjusted to the brightness of the sunlight on concrete.
“What the hell are you three up to?” he asked, startling the trio as he materialized from an alleyway, half-eaten sucker in hand. “You’ve been more secretive than normal lately, and you work for a government organization.” He fell into step with them as they walked towards the subway entrance.
“Classified.” Phil spoke up immediately, Bruce and Tony bobbing their heads along with him silently.
“Bullshit. Tony knows every secret this agency has ever come up with,” Clint pointed out, licking at the sucker again, lips stained red. “And I’ve never known him to keep quiet about them for long.”
“That’s because it’s classified.” Tony shrugged.
Clint stopped in his tracks and looked up into the sky dramatically. “Bruce…Bruce, are pigs flying? Because Tony Stark just said the juicy, and I know it’s juicy, information he’s learned and been privy to for God knows how long, is classified. And he didn’t argue with it.”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “C’mon, it’s just a project they needed our help with.”
“Your project is human. You came out of the bunker,” Clint pointed out. “C’mon, who is it? You got the Fantastic Four on lockdown or something?” he nearly fell, missing a step down as he kept his eyes glued to Bruce’s face.
“Barton, it’s classified.” Phil spoke up. “You don’t have the clearance to know this information.”
“Oh, it’s ‘Barton’ now! I see how it is. And that’s a bunch of horse shit, Phil. These two dunderheads don’t have the clearance you do, so how are they on your level for this?” he asked, sidestepping an empty seat so a very pregnant and clearly exhausted young lady could sit down. He gripped at the pole and turned around to face the three as they sat down. “Come on. You have something good you’re keeping secret, I know it. You were so preoccupied you didn’t even notice me following you there,” he pointed out.
Phil looked a bit guilty. Clint wasn’t wrong. He’d been so busy thinking about Barnes, he hadn’t noticed someone was tailing them. He knew Clint wouldn’t shut up about it, and had most likely already told Natasha they were hiding something, but given Bucky’s complicated past, and how many of them it involved, it was best to keep him secret for a while longer. “I can’t tell you that.” He spoke up firmly. “And I can’t tell Natasha either, her clearance doesn’t extend that far.”
“She’ll just hack the system.”
“Well she can’t. Tony’s got this protected.”
“Don’t bring me back into this, please.”
“What was Cho doing there?” Clint’s eyes sparkled. He’d found his ace in the hole.
“Uh….helping Tony with something.” Bruce hedged.
“Oh, fuck it all, who are you hiding, damn it?”
Clint hadn’t gotten any further by the time they made it back to the tower for lunch. Natasha was in the kitchen, stirring something savory on the stove while Stevie sat at her feet and gummed at the plastic part of his pacifier.
“What happened to Thor and Loki?” he asked as he poured himself a glass of water.
“Upstairs, bathing.” She answered as Phil and Bruce traipsed in, Tony at their heels.
Steve whined softly and Phil bent down to stroke his hair. “Hey, what’s that face, bud? What’s got you so upset, hmm? Whassamatter, champ?” He crooned, looking up at Natasha.
“He had a bottle half an hour ago, I suspect he needs to be changed.”
“You wanna come with me and change your diaper, honey?” Phil asked the baby, scooping him up. “You three wash up,” he ordered as he left the room with Steve.
“I know you were doing something secret,” Natasha’s voice was quiet as she stirred the soup.
Bruce shoved an oven mitt onto his hand and went to check on the bread in the oven.
“It’s true, they were!” Clint piped up as he washed his hands.
“We are not at liberty to talk about classified information with you,” Tony said, stepping over after Clint and scrubbing the subway germs off his hands.
Natasha looked over at Bruce as he set the bread pan down on the counter. “Seconded.” Bruce said softly. “Please stop trying to get this information out of me, you’ll know soon enough anyway. All this interrogation makes me uncomfortable, please stop.”
Natasha turned back to her soup and fell silent as she ladled it into the bowls. “Fine. Bruce, wash your hands, Clint go and slice the bread. Tony, please get the cheese out of the fridge.”
A moment later Thor appeared, looking very subdued with damp braided hair as he sat down at the table.
“Where’s your brother?” Tony asked as he brought over a bowl of soup.
Thor shrugged quietly. It had been a trying bath time for him, and he didn’t feel much like talking. He’d already cried a lot and it made him tired.
“Don’t wanna talk? That’s okay. Just remember to blow on your soup.” Tony told him as he put down a spoon.
Loki came in not long after, hair damp about his shoulders and Steve in his arms. Tony didn’t miss the fact that it seemed to make Thor’s mood worse. Surprisingly, Loki passed Steve to Natasha as she sat down and instead started to gently coax Thor into eating something. Thor kept refusing unti Loki finally sighed and moved his brother bodily, plopping him down in his own lap and pressing the spoon against his lips. Reluctantly, Thor opened his mouth. Loki kept going until a full bowl had been eaten.
“Bruce, if you’re finished with your soup, would you mind feeding Steve his bottle?” Natasha asked softly.
“Um, sure.” Bruce pushed back and accepted the lap full of Steve, shushing him as he began to fuss when his pacifier was removed. “Hey, no look.” He waved the bottle in Steve’s face and Steve reached for it greedily. “Yeah, see? Here you go.” Bruce stuck it in Steve’s mouth and Steve began to suckle contentedly. “The soup was great, thank you.” He told Natasha, watching her as she began eating.
“You are welcome,” Natasha replied with a little smile. “I enjoy cooking when I have the kitchen to myself. It is therapeutic to me.”
Phil walked in, intent in a conversation over the phone as he got himself a serving of soup with one hand. “No… listen I can’t talk right now, the area isn’t secure. Just tell him what you’ve been telling him. I have to go.” He stuck the phone in his shorts pocket and sat down by Clint.
“More secrets? Or is this the same secret from before?”
“Clint, shut up and eat your soup.”
He did. He’d heard that tone before and didn’t want to pick a fight. Phil could be surprisingly strong when the need arose.
Once they had both eaten something, Loki left Steve in the group’s care and carted Thor off into the living area, gently pushing him down onto the couch. Crouching down, Loki cupped Thor’s cheek and looked him in the eyes.
“All this, because you fear I spend too much time with Steven.” He stated softly, and Thor nodded, lower lip quivering. Loki sighed and pressed their foreheads together. “Brother mine, you ought to know that throwing fits and splashing me with the bath water is not the correct way to let me know you are displeased.” Loki’s tone was not chiding, simply as full of warmth as he could make it, longing to soothe his brother’s hurt. “I know that I have not given you the full range of attention you require as of late, but you must understand that Steven is a baby, he requires ample amounts of attention, and more than that of love. How long have you had me to yourself, and yet here is one even younger than you with no assigned Caregiver,” he pulled back and put both of his hands on Thor’s cheeks, forcing the upset toddler to make eye contact. “My darling, I do not do this because I do not wish to care for you anymore. I do this because Steven needs someone to love him right now.” He sighed softly and took Thor into his lap as he reached out for cuddles.
They were silent for a moment, soaking in one another’s support before he spoke once more. “Do you remember how uncertain and scared you felt when you were first classified?” he undid Thor’s braids with one nimble hand, just running his fingers through Thor’s hair the way he knew always soothed him. Thor nodded softly against his chest. “Well that is how he feels right now. Except instead of having someone there for him, like you had me, he has no one. So do you see now why we must show him all the love we can, my most beloved brother?” Loki asked quietly, as he swayed from one side to the other.
It was a few minutes before Thor did anything, squirming as he pushed back and looked at Loki with wide blue eyes. “So…he’s scared, and he needs a friend?”
Loki nodded. “Aye. He needs one very much, smart boy,” Loki tapped Thor’s scalp lightly. “Turn around, and I will braid your hair.” Sometimes they both preferred the contact that it gave if he could do Thor’s hair manually instead of with his magic.
“I’m gonna be a good friend.” Thor promised. “I won’t be upset anymore, ‘cause it can be really scary if you don’t have any friends. He fidgeted with his fingers as Loki braided the silky soft tresses. “I was really scared until I met Clint. Then I met Tony and I got even more not scared!” he twisted at the hem of the tunic he wore. Loki had opted for something from home when dressing the two of them for the day. Thor wore a simple set of leggings and a sleeveless tunic in the style of youngsters, while Loki’s was full length with sleeves. He finished braiding an intricate pattern into Thor’s hair. “I am sure he will be very grateful for your help, brother dearest.” He murmured as Thor popped up to his feet.
“Can I go see if Clint wants to play?” he asked eagerly.
“Ask nicely!” Loki called to the retreating back, shaking his head softly. “I do love you, but Norns above, you are a handful.” He murmured to the empty room.
Loki takes Thor out for the day. There's a bit of an 'oops' on Phil's end while he's babysitting.
After seeing nothing of the outside world for three weeks, Loki was beginning to get antsy. “Do hold still, Thor!” he lamented as he tried to fit a shirt over his wiggly brother’s head.
“Park!” Thor whined, trying once again to make a break for the door. Loki caught him about the waist and plopped him down on the bed.
“Pants.” Loki gestured to the pair of jeans he held in one hand. “You absolutely may not leave this tower without trousers on. I forbid it. Now stick out your legs.”
Grumpily, Thor did as asked, entertaining himself by making faces at the baby as Stevie sat on the floor and watched the spectacle. “Loki, does the baby gets to come with us too? I wanna show him the flowers!”
Loki gripped Thor’s hands and helped him stand so he could work the jeans over the bulky Pull-Up he wore. “No, my darling. Stevie cannot yet leave the tower. It would be far too much stimulation for him at this stage in his adjustment.”
Thor pouted. “But…I want him to go!”
“I know that, my darling, I absolutely do.” Loki wheedled, bending slightly to peer into the grumpy face of his brother. “But this way I get you all to myself for the afternoon, how is that? And then we will meet Natasha and Clint at Clint’s daycare and have dinner wherever you two want!”
Thor did not look entirely convinced that this bribe would work. He stared intently at Stevie while the little one gnawed on a plastic lion innocently. “Okay. But only if we get to bring him back a present.” He decided with a serious nod.
Loki folded up another onesie and stuck it into the diaper bag. “Alright, love. We can stop at the toy store on the way back and get him one thing.” Loki decided as he put in a few extra pacifiers and Stevie’s blanket.
“Loki, who’s gonna watch the baby if Tasha isn’t here?” Thor plopped down on his rear end and reached for a few toys that surrounded Steve, making a plush puppy bark softly at Steve. Stevie hummed and made grabby hand at the object, the other of his hands still firmly wrapped around the lion he chewed on.
“We are taking him down to see Phil. Bruce and Tony will help keep him entertained as well.”
“They better be nice to him,” Thor’s face went so serious and so dark for a moment that Loki thought he might hear thunder soon. But as abruptly as it had come it disappeared, Thor perking up and dropping the puppy onto the ground.
“Can I bring Death-Chomper?” he begged, already racing from the room to locate his stuffed wolf.
“You must keep a tight hold on him at all times, lest he get lost,” Loki reminded as Thor came pelting back into the room, holding the toy aloft over his head like the scene from “The Lion King”. Loki zipped up the diaper bag and went back over the list in his mind. “Extra clothes, diapers, blanket, pacifiers…what have I missed?” he asked, tilting his head.
“You forgetted Bucky Bear!” Thor shouted suddenly, pointing to the spot on the bed where the bear lay upside down.
“Inside voices, inside voices,” Loki chided as he picked up the bear. “But thank you very much for reminding me.” He unzipped the bag and tucked the animal inside, zipping it back up. “I think we are ready to go,” He crooned at Stevie, who smiled back with a laugh. “Yes, darling! We are ready to go!” Loki bent and swooped Steve into his arms, Thor dancing around beside the door.
“Go, go!” He cheered, hugging his wolf to his chest.
“Did you relieve yourself?” Loki asked sternly. Thor blushed and shook his head. “Then hand me the toy and go try once more.” He instructed as he threw the diaper bag strap over his other shoulder. Thor grumbled to himself as he gave his beloved Death-Chomper to Loki, stomping his feet as he moved to the hallway bathroom.
Loki swayed absently, listening to Steven’s baby noises as he waited on Thor. “Wash your hands!” He shouted down the hall as he heard the toilet flush. A few moments later Thor came running out of the room, down the hall to the door.
“Go, go, go!” he chanted.
Loki chuckled softly. “Wait, little one,” He smiled in amusement. “You have gotten your shirt tucked into your Pull-Up. Perhaps we ought to fix that before we leave, hmm?” Thor squirmed as Loki righted his clothing. “There.” He handed back the toy. “Now we may go.”
Thor was full of excitement as they walked down the stairs to Phil’s floor. The name plate outside the door proudly proclaimed in what he assumed was Anthony’s idea, a lighted script, ‘Phil Coulson, Bruce Banner-Coulson, and Tony Stark-Coulson’. Loki pressed the button and rang the bell.
“Hey, come on in!” Phil met them at the door, smiling at Thor’s antics. “Boy, someone’s excited, huh.”
Loki rolled his eyes as he strolled into the spacious living area, where Bruce was reading and Tony was playing some sort of military game on the Play Station. “Oh, you’ve no idea.” He said dryly.
Phil walked over and held out his arms. “So, he feeds how many more times today?” He took the baby in his arms, who immediately looked unhappy at being separated from Loki.
Loki put the bag down on the empty end of the sofa. “Between three and five, however many you can get him to take, every few hours.”
“That heightened metabolism, huh?” Phil asked as he bounced a little, trying to soothe Steve’s fussing.
“It does make a challenge.” Loki answered as he leaned to kiss Steve’s head. “You will be fine,” he told the baby. “We ought to be back around the same time as Natasha and Clint. I believe we are meeting them for dinner when she picks him up from his daycare.”
“Loki, why don’t I get to go to daycare?” Thor whined, stopping in his tracks.
“Because you are not old enough, darling,” Loki pointed out. “You know the rules. All headspaces younger than five are to be kept in their own homes as much as possible.”
Thor pouted a little and Loki gave Phil a look. “I best get him moving. It is the only way he will be happy again.”
“Alright, well you two have fun!” Phil winked at Thor and Thor laughed, eyes brightening as Loki shepherded him out the door. “Alright, munchkin, it’s just you and us now.” Phil told Steve. Steve looked towards the door and started to fuss loudly. “Hey, none of that. You’re with Uncle Phil! The cool one!” he rubbed the baby’s back and moved over to open his bag. “I bet this helps,” he held out Bucky Bear and Steve hugged it desperately. “Yeah,” he cooed. “And maybe…” Phil clipped Steve’s Iron Man pacifier to his neckline and pressed it to the fussy little one’s lips. “There we go…” he encouraged as Steve latched on and began to suck hard. “You want to sit down, and just cuddle?” Phil plopped down beside Tony and let Steve burrow up against him. “In a while I may have to ask you to turn on something he can watch,” Phil said apologetically.
“S’fine,” Tony didn’t take his eyes off the screen.
“Do you have to play something so violent when he’s in the room?” Phil asked after a moment, as Tony’s character ran across a muddy field, dodging a tank and spraying enemy soldiers with bullets.
“He’s a baby, he can’t understand it,” Tony pointed out.
“At least turn the volume down a little.”
“Fine.” Tony grumped, mashing the remote control.
After a while, Steve fell asleep and Phil moved him over to the other sofa, arranging him carefully so he could sleep. “Don’t wake him up. I have to go prepare some paperwork for Bucky’s evaluation. Don’t bother me unless he wakes up.”
“Fine.” Tony grunted, pushing a button and making his character swap weapons from a pistol to a grenade, tossing it into a barn and watching the doors blow outward. “Aha. Gotcha you scumbags. I know where you’re hiding. You can’t run from me forever. I’ll find you.” He muttered, sounding a little manic.
“You sound a little crazy,” Bruce pointed out.
“Bruce, it’s Captain America and his Howling Commandos, how can I not sound a little crazy? This is one of the best games ever made. I’m actually playing as Dum-Dum Dugan right now,” he pointed out, making Dugan’s avatar run back and forth on the screen. “Look at him!”
Bruce backed off. “Alright. It is pretty cool. Can I play too?”
“Yeah, hang on. Go grab that controller and connect it while I save this game and swap into Co-op mode.”
Bruce did as directed, sitting down beside Tony. This game was cooler than his book-- he had to admit it. “So uh, who can I be?”
Tony flipped through the character screen. “Um, well this level doesn’t have many options, because it’s a smaller mission. You can be…Barnes, Dernier, or…..” he went through the options again. “That’s about it. The others are deactivated until we unlock them. But I got Bucky’s avatar last night. He’s pretty cool, he’s got sniping abilities and long-range weaponry. If you press the left trigger button, you can toggle his weapons back and forth between grenade, sniper rifle, and pistol.”
“Sweet.” Bruce’s eyes widened. “Yeah, I’m gonna be him.”
“Oh! And if you get into a tight spot, Barnes can swap into hand-to-hand combat mode. He’s got some mad boxing skills.” Tony enthused as Bruce’s avatar appeared on screen.
“Okay, what do we do now?”
“See that barn over there? There’s prisoners inside. We gotta get over there without being detected and save those people. That’s the first checkpoint.”
The two played for about an hour before Steve started to stir. “Phil!” Tony hollered. “He’s awake!”
“Oh.” Bruce’s face fell. “Shit, no…this might be bad for him to see right now.”
“Bruce, he’s a baby, what’s he going to do? I doubt he’s near the surface right now. Will you calm d—“ Tony paled. Things went south pretty quick after that. The game on the television switched to cut film from old war reels, with Barnes’ real face and voice on it, talking about Steve’s courage and his selflessness. “Shit!” Tony yelped.
But it was far too late. Bucky’s voice saying his name had snapped Steve halfway back to his other headspace. Groaning, he sat up and attempted to walk to the doorway, head still foggy.
“Steve? Where are you going?” Phil asked, fuming at the two sitting on the sofa as he walked past them.
“B-Buck…” Steve slurred, falling over and looking up at Phil with a determined expression. “Gotta find Buck…he needs me…”
Phil had JARVIS turn off the television and squatted down in front of him. “Steve, Bucky isn’t here right now.”
Steve’s expression cleared suddenly and he looked like someone had just kicked a puppy in front of him. “Bucky…” his tone was pleading, soft, desperate as he looked around the room. “Oh, God,” he dropped his head to the floor and groaned softly, looking abruptly back up at Phil with tears in his eyes. “I killed him, Phil. It’s my fault. I had the serum, I could have jumped and saved him, I-I just…” Steve choked off and let out a sob. “My fault. It’s all my fault.”
Phil’s gaze turned murderous as he looked over at the two stricken faces peering over the sofa back. “You two…” he was so mad he couldn’t get the words out all in one go. “Are in so much trouble.”
Bucky is chomping at the bit to see Steve. Phil and Maria argue about whether or not to let him. Bucky gets classified, and Thor is the cutest little button.
“What do we do about Barnes?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should let him see Steve.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea yet, you said he was pretty wrecked.”
“But we can’t just let him keep thinking he’s dead!” Phil burst out, pacing wildly around his office. “You should have seen him, Maria! The guy’s devastated! He’s been walking around this world for over half a century thinking that he killed his best friend! Wouldn’t you want to know if that weren’t true?”
“I would, you’re right. But we have to consider a lot more than that here. Steve’s still not done with his transition phase yet. I’m not sure what happens when you interrupt that by snapping someone out of headspace, but it can’t be good. How long did you say it’s been, something like three days and he still hasn’t gone back down yet?”
Phil sighed in irritation. “I say we bring him in.”
“You want to bring in Barnes, before he’s even passed his evaluations yet? He hasn’t even-“
“Maria, he’s on his last phase of his diet, he’s eating solid foods, and his brain tissue is regenerated completely! Tony’s updated the prosthetic, Bucky’s gained fifteen pounds, I don’t see what the issue is!”
“The issue,” Maria stepped right up to him and looked him in the eye. “is that we don’t know what this would do to Steve. And Barnes can’t go anywhere yet if he hasn’t done his Classification Test.”
“So test him!” Phil snarled. “Right now. Get someone over there and give him the goddamn test, so he can get the hell to the tower and see Steve.”
“We have to try something, Maria,” Phil sighed wearily. “Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and Barnes is a Caregiver. Maybe he can get Steve to age back down again.”
“A shot in the dark, if ever there was one.” Maria murmured as she tapped at the earpiece she wore. “I need someone over to Barnes’ quarters ASAP with a classification test.” She looked over at Phil. “I hope this works. We need Cap back in the field.”
“He’s not just Cap, Maria.” Phil pointed out angrily. “He’s a person who’s in danger of being massively fucked up if we can’t get him safely through this adjustment period.” Without waiting for a response, he left the office and flagged down a car. “Take me to Barnes.” He ordered.
“Wait, I don’t understand, why are we doing this now?” Some of Bucky’s Brooklyn accent had returned to him, coming out to play at the edges of his words now in his confusion.
The agent that was leading him down the hallway stopped and turned around. “Because. Coulson wants you classified as soon as possible.”
“Now that is just terribly unhelpful.” Bucky snarked as he entered the room. Coulson was already inside, with a girl wearing purple scrubs.
“Bucky, this is Liza. She’s going to be doing your test today.” Phil spoke up as Bucky sat down across from the girl.
“Um. Hello.” Bucky said uncertainly, sticking out his hand. The girl took it with a little smile.
“Nice to meet you. Now let’s get right to business. I’m going to have you go ahead and start the written portions of your test.” She slid the booklets across to him with a pencil.
“Wow, no pretense, huh? Just right into the material.” He opened the first book and she started a timer. “So I just, go?”
“Just go ahead and answer as much as you can, yes.”
“Please at least come out and eat something.” Loki begged the closed door for the thousandth time. He got no response. Worry gnawed at the pit of his stomach and he probed a bit with his magic, just to make sure Steve was in fact, alive still. When he received a life sign he pulled back, relieved. “I will leave the sandwich and chips outside of the door. You do not have to interact if you do not wish to.” Loki left and a moment later he heard the door open and shut. At least he had managed to be successful in getting their distressed Captain to eat a little.
“What’s this all about, Phil?” Bucky asked him frankly, as they ate the lunch that another agent had brought into the room. “Really, cut the shit, what’s this about.”
“Steve.” Phil was done beating around the bush.
“I can see him? Is he here?” Bucky brightened immediately.
“No, he isn’t here. But…we’ve hit a snag and you’re the only one I think can get us anywhere.”
Bucky put down his sandwich and frowned. “What do you mean? I thought he was doing great.”
“Well… long story short a computerized version of you snapped him out of headspace and he refuses to go back into it because he thinks he killed you.”
Bucky let out a fond but irritated stream of curses that would have made a sailor blush. Phil however, simply agreed with him.
“That little shit. I bet he walked around all the time I was gone thinking he’d caused it somehow. I can’t believe him.” Bucky shook his head. “So…what do you want me to do, exactly?”
Phil looked a little sheepish. “Well…basically it’s a shot in the dark. We were hoping that on the off chance you ended up being classified as a Caregiver, you could maybe convince him to go back down into his headspace so he could fully adjust to it.”
Bucky actually laughed. “Oh, I like you Agent Coulson! Always have. You’re a ballsy guy, I’ll give you that. Hey, listen, if I end up being what you want me to be, you absolutely have my word that I’ll help however I can. I think you knew that already.”
They tossed their trash into the bin without any further words, moving right along with the process of getting Bucky classified.
It didn’t take long. The more involved parts of testing were usually meant to discover what a mental age was if someone was a Little, and Bucky had none of those tendencies. He was direct and polite, but definitely not a Little. His test was smooth and quick, just as Coulson had hoped for.
Once someone was discovered to be not on the spectrum of headspaces, they were given another written questionnaire to discover whether they were Caregiver or Neutral. The booklet was yet another timed test meant to simply gather the intuition of someone rather than to pinpoint exactly the degree of their neutrality or nurturing spirit. By the time the stop watch beeped, it only took the reading the first ten questions to know where Barnes lay.
Phil picked up the book and his brows shot up. “Well, I would say we don’t’ even have to wait for your official paperwork to be drawn up. Congratulations, Bucky. You have the most strong classification of Caregiver I’ve ever seen.”
Bucky looked pleased, recalling what Phil had said earlier. “Um. Okay, so… so what now? Now do I get to see Steve?”
“There’s a car waiting outside if you want to grab your stuff.” Phil replied, relieved and not caring who saw through his normally professional demeanor. One of his agents, his friends, was in trouble and he’d found a way to make things run smoother.
“I won’t be long.” Bucky replied, already halfway out the door, nervous energy written all over him as he practically sprinted down the hallway.
Phil tapped at his earpiece. “Maria? It’s done. He’s a Caregiver.”
“S-so, explain it to me again?” Bucky asked, bags hanging off his shoulders as he shifted nervously, the elevator seeming to move endlessly slow as they climbed to Steve’s floor.
“Tony was playing a game with some news reels embedded in it, and when it got to your interview it triggered a raise in headspace. Steve hasn’t really adjusted to being in his age group yet, so it’s bad for him to force himself up so quickly. We need you, since you’re a Caregiver, to go in there and talk to him. See if you can get him to get back down to where he needs to be right now.” Phil noted the frankly terrified look on Bucky’s face. “Don’t worry. I’ll go with you if you want me to. And there’ll be plenty of time to catch up once he’s gotten through this first few months of adjusting.”
The doors opened and the two men were met with a very bouncy and excited miniature thunder god. “Phil!” he squeaked happily, immediately hugging him as Loki came running.
“Mnh, hello, honey.” Phil murmured, patting his back. “Gentle, remember? Uncle Phil’s more fragile than Loki is.” He reminded, and Thor looked adorably contrite.
“Sorry!” he stepped back and eyed Bucky curiously. “Who’s that?” he pointed and Loki immediately pushed his hand down.
“Don’t point, darling. It’s rude.” He looked at Phil wearily. “Please tell me that the two of you can help him.”
“Oh, um. My name’s Bucky.” Bucky said softly, giving a little wave with his metal hand. “I’m…I’m a friend of your Uncle Phil’s. I’m here to help Steve.”
Thor suddenly turned very serious. “He locked the door, and that isn’t allowed. He hasn’t come out of his room for three days!”
“Three days, huh?” Bucky drawled, rubbing at his jaw with his right hand. “That’s a lot, but I bet I can help him. I’ve known him for a really long time.” He told Thor with a wistful smile.
“Right, you two.” Loki looked weary and distressed, bags under his eyes showing as they walked into the darker hallway. “Please get on with it. I’m begging you.”
Phil patted his shoulder. “Just make sure you two are out of the way for a while. I told Natasha to keep Clint home today from daycare, so Thor has a playmate. You can take him down there once Clint’s done with his bath.”
Loki nodded tensely and disappeared in a waft of green smoke, Thor disappearing as well.
Bucky blinked. “Is…did I…is that the Loki from the stories?”
“Just go with it.” Phil advised, knocking on Steve’s door. “It’s what I do. Helps keep the crazy at bay if you don’t think too much.” He put his mouth right up beside the crack in the door. “Steve? Steve are you in there? I brought someone you might like to say hello to.” He gestured and Bucky put his bags down on the carpet.
“Um, Steve, i-it’s me,” he said nervously, pulse climbing. “It’s Bucky. Can I come in, please?”
Bucky finally reunites with Steve!! Phil helps because he's a good bro/wingman.
Steve was not in a good state. Laying on the floor, he looked pitiful: dark under-eye circles, a light scruff on his cheeks and only a pair of sweat pants on (because he couldn’t find anything in the damn room that wasn’t completely babyish). He heard voices in the living room and curled up, groaning as he put his hands over his ears. Loki had been trying to get him to eat something for a few days, but any meals he sent over got taken inside and straight to the trash can. He’d lost a couple pounds. As soon as Phil started speaking he dragged his lethargic hands away from his ears and licked his chapped lips.
The paintings on the walls moved around. The Valkyrie had all come down off the ceiling at the first sign of Steve’s troubles, their pegasi ambling around the grassy border at the bottom of the walls. When it became clear Steve wasn’t going to go back into his headspace, they had made a camp, fire and all. Tents had been erected, and they now stood all in a little huddle, clearly whispering to each other, though they made no sounds.
“Oh, mind your own business!” Steve whispered angrily at them, scowling. He opened his mouth again to tell Phil to take a hike, but before he could get anything out of his mouth, another voice spoke up. Steve froze, eyes wide and heart pounding.
No. It couldn’t be. Not possibly. Steve uncurled and inched closer to the door.
“Steve?” Bucky asked again, muffled through the door. It sure did sound like him, but…but Bucky was dead! Bucky pleaded again and Steve surged forward, overcome with curiosity as he opened the door.
Two pairs of legs met his vision: Phil’s, clad in regulation suit pants, and another in light wash jeans. Ever so slowly he traveled his gaze up the legs until he met a set of mismatched hands, then up, up…
“Bucky?” he asked, falling back from his kneeling position to his butt, shock on his face as he stared up at the pair of men. “What…what the hell?”
Bucky knelt down slowly, sitting cross legged and mimicking Steve’s position. “H-heya, Stevie,” he mumbled nervously.
“What-what happened to your arm?” he asked, unable to stop staring.
“Long, long, story,” Bucky said wearily, eyes crinkling as he smiled at Steve. “Right now I’m here about you.”
“What about me?” he asked, feeling his brain start to get foggy.
“I think you know what,” Bucky said gently, and Steve felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. It was...too good to be true. “C’mon, Stevie. Don’t deny it anymore. I got tested too.” Bucky said earnestly, leaning forward. “I…I’m a Caregiver an’… listen, they’ve kept me locked up for months, I just wanna help you, please…” the whole thing was trying and awkward, but Bucky couldn’t deny that he felt something churning inside of his gut that had him begging to take care of Steve. He wanted…he wanted to make sure he was safe, cared for, to be able to do all the things he’d used to do for him when he was just a scrawny kid.
Steve’s head was spinning. Bucky was here, alive and…and he wanted to help. Everything in him wanted to default, to just leave things up to the grownups and drop again. Being an adult when you weren’t ready for it was exhausting. Besides, hadn’t Maria said something about it being bad to force yourself if you weren’t ready to change headspaces yet? Steve made a soft sound of confusion, sticking his fingers in his mouth.
“Don’t be so stubborn,” Bucky coaxed, and opened his arms up, inviting a hug as he looked at Steve carefully. “Lemme just… lemme help you.” He murmured, watching as Steve ever so slowly inched forward. “That’s it, come on. I haven’t hugged you in so long. You won’t deny me now will you?” he teased.
Steve caved. He let himself fall back into that warm foggy part of his brain, shyly crawling into Bucky’s lap and wrapping his arms around him tightly. Bucky’s hand rubbed his back just like he used to when Steve was so sick, and Stevie couldn’t help bursting into tears. It was way too much for his poor brain to process. Lucky for him, Bucky had always been protective, and being Classified only seemed to amplify his natural abilities to nurture and to love. Steve whined loudly and Bucky held him closer.
“I know. I know, pal.” Bucky murmured, fighting off his own tears. “I missed you too.” Bucky kissed the side of Steve’s head and held him tightly. “Don’t worry. I’m gonna get you all cleaned up. I promise.” He told the distraught Stevie, who had lapsed fully back into his headspace. “Phil?” he croaked, swiping at the (mostly happy) tears that ran down his face.
Phil had waited politely outside until Bucky called his name. “Yes?”
“Is there a bathroom? I need to clean him up and get him changed into better clothes.”
“Just there,” Phil pointed to the door of the bathroom and grimaced. “Jesus, what’s he been doing, just…letting his dirty clothes lie around if he can’t get to the bathroom on time?”
Bucky met Phil’s gaze as he stood up and cradled Steve to his chest, letting Steve hide his head against his neck. “If I know Steve, and I do, then if he had any accidents at all when he was locked in here that’s exactly what he did. He got frustrated and just put them all somewhere so he didn’t have to look at them. Check the corners of the room.”
Bucky strode confidently towards the bathroom, and the Valkyrie on the wall nodded vigorously, pointing Phil towards the right place as they pinched their noses. A few of them got distracted by Bucky as he passed into their line of sight, putting their heads together once he’d disappeared and talking in earnest.
“Thank you, ladies,” Phil told them, and they smiled up at him. “Oh, and I wouldn’t get to fond of him if I were you. Something tells me he and Captain Rogers have a complicated relationship.” Phil gathered up the dirty clothes with a disgusted look and dumped them into one of the plastic bags they used for diapers, tying up the top and immediately carrying them to the laundry chute in the main room.
Meanwhile, Bucky attempted to wrestle a fussy boy into the large bathtub which JARVIS had so helpfully run warm water and some kind of aromatic soap into. “Ugh, thanks, JARVIS!” Bucky grunted, as Steve started to wail loudly.
You are most welcome, Bucky. May I say I am pleased to see you recovered, and to see you reunited with Steve.
“So am I, if he’ll sit still long enough to let me get him cleaned up!” Bucky lamented, trying once more to pry Steve off of him. “C’mon runt, I gotta clean you up! If you let me clean you up, we can sit together after!” he bargained. Stevie whined loudly and dissolved into sobs. Bucky sighed and held him close, pressing kisses to the top of his head. “I know it’s a lot, Stevie, I really do. But you’re going to feel a helluva lot better if you let me give you a bath.” He stroked Steve’s hair and bounced up and down a little. After a good few minutes Stevie had cried enough that he’d begun to tire out, and Bucky could finally strip him and lower him into the warm water.
“There’s bath toys under the sink.” Phil said helpfully, coming into the room and closing the door behind him.
“Thanks.” Bucky dumped the lot into the tub, hoping to distract Steve long enough that he could get him cleaned thoroughly. He at least wanted to tackle Steve’s hair and beard. He’d been nuzzling a little at Bucky’s neck already, and he didn’t want to get a rash from the scratchy stubble against his skin. Fortunately for him, Stevie settled as he saw the toys bobbing in the water, splashing a little and watching them move up and down. Bucky gave a sigh of relief and immediately picked up the bottle of baby shampoo that was sitting on the side of the tub, tackling Steve’s greasy hair quickly as he could. Once he’d done that, Steve had started to whine again, so Bucky picked up the pace as he washed his body with the fruity smelling children’s body wash he found. “Aw no,” Bucky cooed softly, as Steve squirmed. “Someone has some diaper rash, hmm?” Stevie whimpered and looked at Bucky with huge eyes. “I know, pal. I know it hurts, but I’m gonna fix it, I promise,” he assured, as Phil moved around the bathroom and set out a change of clothes and Stevie’s ducky towel.
Okay, so maybe Phil was pandering to himself with the ducky towel, but seeing Steve wearing the oversize towel with the duck hood was adorable. He leaned up against the counter and watched as Bucky took care of Steve. Sure, Loki had been completely natural with him, but…there was something to their having history with one another that seemed to make Stevie’s bond with him immediate and solid in a way it wasn’t with Loki. It interested him. He’d yet to meet a Little that had two Caregivers that weren’t either dating or married, but Steve had definitely formed a solid bond with Loki that Phil couldn’t deny. Perhaps they could keep Loki and Thor around the tower. But if Phil had to bet, he’d put his money on Bucky, given Steve’s strong reactions to him.
“Hand me that towel?”
Phil turned and tossed the ducky towel at Bucky, who caught it deftly with his metal hand.
“Alright, sweet boy. Time to get you changed.” Bucky crooned as he wrapped Stevie in the towel and began to dry him off.
“Want me to set out the changing mat?” Phil asked, rooting under the sink till he found the soft terry cloth contraption.
“Yeah, please,” Bucky mumbled as Stevie started to whine. “Hey, what’s the matter?” Bucky cooed with a warm smile. “It’s okay! I’m right here.” He shushed, and couldn’t help himself from holding the damp boy close as he turned around. “Yeah,” he murmured. “You’re gonna be okay, Stevie.” Bucky bent down and lay Steve on the mat, tugging softly until the towel was out from under him. He handed the item to Phil, who gestured at the box on the counter.
“A little of his diaper supplies are in this box, just for after baths and stuff. I’ll stick around just in case.”
“Thanks.” Bucky nodded and grabbed the box, putting it down beside the squirmy baby. “You better not pee on me,” Bucky warned as he unfolded one of the diapers and placed it under Steve’s bum. Bucky may have been out of practice, but it didn’t mean he didn’t care about Steve. “I haven’t changed a diaper since my sisters were kids,” he muttered as he rifled through the tubes and bottles in the box. “Aha. Here we go!” he said brightly to Stevie. “I found some diaper rash ointment. That oughta make you feel better real soon,” Bucky spread the cream on Steve’s reddened thighs, careful as he moved upwards and Steve started to whine. “Shh, I know it hurts, buddy.” He said honestly, making quick work of taking care of Steve’s private area and snapping the cap back on the tube. Steve squirmed and whined, eyes filling with tears as Bucky sprinkled on the powder and taped the diaper shut. Bucky sighed and rubbed at Steve’s tummy. “You might not remember me saying this, but…I love you.” He blushed and leaned forward to kiss Stevie’s forehead. He grabbed one of Steve’s slobbery hands and squeezed it in his own. “Been waiting a long time to get to say that to you, pal.”
Stevie kicked his legs a little and gave a drooly smile, cooing happily now that his bath and diaper change were done. Bucky laughed quietly, smiling. “You are a scamp, aren’t you?” he said fondly as he glanced up at Phil. Phil pointed to the counter.
“I brought a clean pair of pajamas for him, if you want to get him changed into them. I forgot to grab a pacifier.” He pushed to his feet and gestured towards the nursery. “Won’t be long. Just gonna grab that and check in with Tony. I think he’s got what Bruce had not that long ago.”
Bucky made a face. “That can’t be fun. Take as much time as you need.” He turned back to Steve with a little smile. “Alright, pal. What say I get you in these cozy pajamas, hmm?” Bucky plucked the soft materials from the counter and unzipped the footed garment, finding it a bit challenging to work the squirmy limbs into the soft fabric. Once he had, it was smooth sailing as he zipped them up and tapped Steve’s nose with a laugh. “Oh, I missed you, bud.” Bucky said happily as he gathered Steve into his arms and kissed his cheek. “I really, really missed you.”
Steve hid his face in his neck as they walked into the nursery and Bucky took a moment to just stop and press his face to Steve’s shoulder, holding on tightly and fighting a surge of emotion. He felt tears pricking painfully at his eyes and he took a deep breath through his nose. This was all going to turn into a sob-fest if he didn’t head it off quickly. Nevertheless, a few traitorous salty drops slid past his eyes to the point where he had to quiet a little sob. Shaking, he held onto Stevie tightly and breathed in the calming scent of baby powder and shampoo, trying his hardest to steady himself. It wasn’t until he felt a clumsy hand at his cheek that he looked up. “I’m okay, really,” he assured as the big concerned eyes looked at him. “I’m alright,” Bucky’s voice was rough, a few more tears falling down his face as he kissed Steve’s face all over, desperate and yet somehow incredulous that they’d been reunited once again, somehow, despite all odds and even what seemed like all of humanity itself working against them. So, so many things had worked to keep them apart and now they were finally together again.
“I’m fine,” he croaked, as Steve’s brows drew together confusedly. “Really, I’m fine, baby. I just… I missed you so much…” Bucky had to stop and swallow before he could speak again. “I missed you so much,” he hid his face in Steve’s shoulder again and just swayed for a few minutes until he could regain his composure, drool from Steve sucking at his fingers dropping now and again onto Bucky’s shirt. When he finally felt like the moment had passed he pulled back again with a watery smile. “I missed you so much.” He repeated in a whisper, as if he were almost afraid to speak to the precious angel he held in his arms. Stevie gurgled softly and Bucky lifted his metal hand to pet at his hair. “I know you did too. Even if you’re too little to say so right now.” He assured, making an immediate path towards the comfortable looking rocking chair he saw in the corner. What he assumed was Stevie’s blanket was draped over the back, and he took it down as they reached the chair, offering it to Stevie. “You wanna cuddle?” Bucky asked, sitting down and just drinking in the sight of Steve alive and safe and whole. He took the little one’s answer as a ‘yes’, considering the needy way he curled up against him as soon as his ass hit the cushion. He could tell Steve needed this just as much as he did.
Not long after they’d started to rock Phil came back into the room, tired look on his face and pacifier in his hand. “This one’s his favorite.” He said softly as he handed Bucky the Iron Man themed pacifier. “It clips to his shirt so he doesn’t lose it.”
“How’s Tony?” Bucky asked softly, deftly clipping the paci to the baby’s pajamas and getting him to open his mouth.
“He’s alright for now. Bruce was just a little upset that he hadn’t drank anything this afternoon while he was out. He went out to the art exhibition and when he got back Tony had gotten sick a few more times, but hadn’t touched the water. That’s why I told him to check the fridge. Tony only drinks Gatorade when he’s this sick, and it has to be the red kind, or he just refuses to drink it. So Pepper picked me up a case when she visited yesterday. She may not be around as much now, but she still has a soft spot for Tony. She knows him about as well as anyone can. It was her tip off about the red Gatorade.”
Bucky hummed and watched as Stevie drifted off to sleep in his arms, looking almost reverent as he did.
“I’ll let you two have some time alone,” Phil said softly. “Have JARVIS page me or Loki if you need something.” Swiftly, he crossed to the door and closed it behind him. Those two certainly did deserve time to catch up.
Bucky and Loki have a conversation. Stevie is cute.
Bucky dozed in and out, Steve’s warmth keeping him nice and toasty as he slept upright in the rocking chair. He hadn’t wanted to put him down. He wasn’t sure he would ever want to put him down. It was all too good to be true.
Soft memories floated across his consciousness as he slept: Steve, the night he’d left for the war looking distraught. Steve, looking terrified and desperate as Bucky finally walked back into their tiny apartment late that night, grabbing him by the tie and pulling until he’d yielded; Steve’s lips against his for the first time, the flush in his angular cheeks as he’d pulled away, the almost bashful nature of his best friend as he’d mumbled something about wanting to have done it at least once before Bucky went and got himself killed. They’d slept the rest of the night until Bucky left twined up in each other’s arms, not really sleeping, just staring at each other tensely, the air around them thick with unspoken feelings. Another scene, this time from during the war: a tactile memory. The way he’d finally felt like the luckiest guy in the entire world when he’d touched Steve’s bare skin for the first time, how pretty Steve’s pale skin looked in the moonlight as he lay stretched out beside him, sleeping soundly.
He recalled what it was like the day he’d remembered Steve. He’d been to another session with Tony and Bruce, then returned to his room to meditate until the images solidified enough in his head to write them down. It was an indescribable feeling of euphoria as he recalled the man he loved, not to be outdone by the fact that he’d then learned they could now be a couple or even get married with little fear of persecutions or physical harm. It was all too good to be true.
Bucky roused as Stevie started to fuss again, and he pushed with his foot, rocking again. “S’alright. I ain’t gonna leave you, remember?” though he doubted Steve in his current mind did remember, he’d say it anyway. “End of the line. You and me.” He mumbled tiredly, holding Steve closer and feeling another surge of emotion as he nuzzled at his hair. “I love you,” he whispered as Steve settled again. “I love you so much. I love you when you’re like this and I love you when you’re not. I love you all the time and I always will.” He said fervently, ignoring the paintings on the wall as the Valkyrie ‘aw’ed and made emotional faces in their little group.
Steve slept the whole night after that, Bucky only rousing as someone entered the room.
“Only me,” Loki murmured softly, and Bucky blinked blearily up at him. “I only came to check on how he was doing. I understand you two need your space, but I can’t help it. He’s an absolute darling and I have come to care for him greatly. I made this space for him. I cared for him. I have grown terribly fond of him, and if you ever treated him wrongly I would banish you to a galaxy so distant you would never return.”
“Huh?” Bucky’s brain seemed stalled out in ‘sleep’ mode. He was extremely confused.
“It is no secret to me that you were meant to be his primary Caregiver.” Loki responded softly, if a little bit sad. “I overheard your conversation as I came into the room. Given your history with him it is not a surprise. I only hope you will allow me to keep proximity to him, as well as my brother. Thor is very fond of him as well.”
“I…” Bucky’s brow wrinkled, trying to recall what he’d been saying. “Oh.” He blinked at Loki, comprehension dawning and chasing away all vestiges of sleep at it’s appearance. “I…said…” had he really said ‘Daddy?’
“You did.” Loki confirmed, with a bit of a smile around his lips. “You said ‘Daddy loves you so much’, though I imagine in your over-tired state you did not comprehend it at the time.”
“I.. said…” Bucky’s eyes were wide as Steve began to stir, waking up for good this time. He blinked a few times before looking down at the Little in his lap. “Morning, baby boy,” he greeted softly, consumed with love as he looked at the sleepy boy sucking at his pacifier and blinking cutely. “Did you have a good sleep? Hmm? Did you?” he rubbed at Steve’s tummy. “I love you.” He kissed his nose and sat him up a little bit, watching as Steve spit out his paci to yawn widely. “Daddy loves you, Stevie-bug!” his tone was warm and soothing and happy, and he suddenly felt like he’d found something he was good at, like…he was fulfilling some purpose he was meant to pursue.
Loki’s smile grew fond and wistful. “It is an amazing feeling, is it not? Knowing a bit of your biological purpose has been fulfilled?”
Bucky nodded and stood up, absently wandering over and starting to change Stevie’s wet diaper without really realizing he’d begun to do so until he was finished. He was absolutely and truly in full Caregiver Mode now, though he’d been a bit awkward last night, things had kicked into full swing as he’d slept holding Stevie. He got Steve zipped back into his pajamas and kissed his forehead, laughing as Stevie cooed softly. “Oh, you’re absolutely adorable, honey-pie.” He told him as he held him close. “How exactly would I go about becoming his primary Caregiver?” Bucky asked suddenly, facing Loki fully.
Loki handed Stevie his blanket and hummed. “You would have to go and register and let them see you interact. It’s quite simple.” Stevie cuddled up to his blanket. “You need not fear the process,” Loki continued. “It really is the simplest thing.” He assured, and conjured up a bottle just as Steve started to fuss. “He feeds several times in one day. Twice to thrice what a normal person would eat, due to his enhanced metabolism. It depends on his mood as well. On good days he will have about six bottles, on bad days more like three to four.”
Bucky took the bottle and nodded. “I see,” he coaxed at Steve by rubbing a finger against his cheek, so that he could swap the paci for the bottle. Steve latched on greedily, not surprising Bucky with his enthusiasm. “Boy your appetite hasn’t changed a bit, pal,” he teased lightly as Stevie stared up at him with intelligent eyes. “Don’t you worry,” Bucky murmured. “Pretty soon we won’t ever be separated again. I’ll make sure of it.” He was determined to go get registered with Steve, and Loki, all powerful being or not, could fight him on that. He’d been separated from Steve for long enough that he would be damned if he didn’t do everything in his power to keep them together. “Um, I wanted to say,” he spoke up, watching Loki as he conjured a basket of cleaned laundry from nowhere and began to put the clothes into Steve’s chest of drawers. “Thanks. For lookin’ after him. I…he clearly likes you and…” Bucky wasn’t eager to share Steve with anyone, but if it would make life easier for Steve then he’d do anything. “and I want you to be in his life, even if I do end up registering as his Caregiver.”
Loki did a little half turn, folding up another onesie as he eyed the man in the chair. “I appreciate your candor, Sergeant Barnes,” he stuck the onesie into the drawer. “But—“
“Bucky.” Bucky insisted, looking disgruntled by the usage of his title. “Please, call me Bucky. I don’t…I don’t like being called that. It’s…See, other names, they weren’t used by very nice people. I don’t wanna be called ‘James’ or ‘Sergeant Barnes’ or… or anything else. Just Bucky.”
Loki nodded, looking pensive as he tucked the last bit of Steve’s clothing away. “I understand. Thank you for letting me know, Bucky.” Stevie started to fuss and Bucky took the bottle out of his mouth, crooning to him softly. “What’s the matter? Hmm? You gotta burp or somethin’?” he asked, situating Stevie around and starting to pat his back lightly. “What were you saying?” he asked Loki.
“I was saying that if I am satisfied that Steven has a Caregiver then I do not see why I would stay around…but my brother benefits greatly from having other Littles around, and I have grown fond of Steven…”
“So stay,” Bucky suggested. “I bet the others like having you guys around. Tony was saying that Clint barely had anyone to hang out with that was close to his age anyway.”
Loki shrugged and laughed right along with Bucky as Steve let out an almighty burp.
“We shall see.” He murmured finally, as Bucky cuddled with Steve.
Jeez. Sorry I haven't updated in fifty years. So a lot happens here. A LOT a lot. There's some cuteness with Steve, a VERY cute Clint and an excited Pizza Doggo, and Tony has an emotional week. Seriously this chapter has LOTS of Tony. I know this story is about Steve, but...Tony needed some love. As did Loki. So have some Tony whump, several good bits of fluff, and Momma!Loki, which is my fave Loki. (Also, Loki has a basilisk he named after a Valkyrie and a badass study. Because Magic.)
This chapter has a warning for emotional and mental abuse/manipulation because Obadiah Stane is an asshole and Tony deserved better. Also mentions of Tony's bodily mutilation but nothing graphic, and mentions of Tony's suicidal thoughts as a teenager and young man, plus mentions of his water-phobia due to being waterboarded in IM1.
Bucky was glad to see that Loki and Thor had settled themselves into their own floor permanently on his suggestion. They had a suite of three bedrooms and a kitchen and a living room. Thor had a beautifully decorated room, much like what Loki had done in Steve’s nursery with the moving pictures on the walls. Only the depicted adventures the two brothers had gone on together (but watered down so that a little one could cope with them and understand them, which meant much less gore). Loki made sure to bring Thor to the common areas to play with Clint and Stevie daily to help build his social skills and to reassure him that his brother was doing just fine.
Natasha had broken her foot and was laid up temporarily, so she spent copious hours lounging on the sofa watching the kids play, Liho splayed out on her tummy and purring contentedly.
Tony had been having a resurgence of issues pertaining to Obadiah Stane and his time in Afghanistan, so he and Bruce had mostly stayed up on their own floor with Phil, who was running himself ragged trying to give Tony what he needed.
Word on the street was that Pepper had a new foster little, though nobody had seen her around lately, which probably supported this theory. Each time a new one came into her temporary care, she’d disappear for a few days to get them adjusted and to learn their care schedule, likes and dislikes, and to bond with them.
A clap of thunder sounded, and a soft rain began, lashing against the windows as Bucky tugged Steve up against him. Spooning him softly, he started combing his hand through the damp hair. “Looks like Thor isn’t too happy to take a nap,” Bucky noted with a little chuckle. Steve gave a weak one of his own. They’d just gotten back from a mission on their own, and he didn’t feel particularly Little at the moment. He curled up a little more, bringing his knees to his chest. “Why so quiet, babydoll?” Bucky asked, nuzzling at Steve’s neck.
“Just...thinkin’,” Steve mumbled quietly. “Missed you lots when you were gone. Glad you’re back. Don’t feel too Little, but you’re the best daddy in the world.” he said in that matter of fact way that meant a Little was getting so tired that they didn’t have much of a filter anymore.
Bucky let out a rumbly laugh that made Steve’s back tingle a little. “Well, I’m so glad you think so. ‘Cause nobody’s ever gonna get that job now that we’re back together. And as soon as we’re both rested up, we can make an appointment and go make it official.” he said, and rubbed his scruffy jaw against Steve’s neck, making him squeak.
“No!” Steve protested, instantly feeling smaller. Whenever Bucky did things like that just to make him laugh it always made him feel more Little.
“No?” Bucky laughed again, poking him in the side. “No? Well maybe I oughta do this instead.” He sat up and flipped Steve over, blowing a raspberry on his soft stomach.
Steve laughed loudly, squirming. “No…” he protested again.
“Say the magic word, Stevie!” Bucky crowed, kissing all along his stomach and his hips.
“P-please, s-stop!” Steve laughed, and Bucky did, beaming at him.
“Are you ready to be Little now?” Bucky asked, stroking his thumbs lovingly along Steve’s stomach.
Steve blinked up at him. “I think so.” he whispered. “Um. Can you maybe sing to me?” he asked, blushing.
“Sure pal,” Bucky agreed, scooping him up and taking him from their shared bedroom into his nursery. He promptly deposited Steve on the changing table and tapped him on one bicep. “Arms up.” Steve stuck his arms up and Bucky took his shirt off. Just being in the room with the soft lights and being laid out on the changing table like that had him sinking deeper into headspace by the second. He squirmed delicately as Bucky slipped his shorts down his hips, taking the underwear with them in one motion. “What’s the matter, baby?” Bucky asked, frowning. Steve squirmed again and let out a little whine. “Steve, do you have to go potty?” Bucky brushed a lock of damp hair from his face and Steve nodded, eyes large and desperate. “Do you want me to take you to the bathroom?” he asked urgently and Steve let out a conflicted whine, shaking his head. “That’s okay.” Bucky made sure to kiss all over his face to reassure him, not in the least phased by the fact that Steve wanted to use a diaper. It was far safer to let a Little tell what they wanted, rather than forcing something else. He’d learned that from Natasha, watching her with Clint.
“It’s alright, I don’t care if i have to change you again. It’s okay, that’s what babies do, remember?” Bucky reached underneath and grabbed a clean diaper, putting it underneath Steve. He snugged the diaper up around Steve’s hips and almost as soon as he taped it to prevent leaks, Steve let go, cheeks flushing as he let out an embarrassed whine. Bucky combed a hand through his hair and shushed him softly, taking his head in his hands and rubbing his thumbs over his cheeks comfortingly. “Wow, you really had to go, baby boy!” he said in surprise as Steve melted against him a few moments later, the wetness indicator on his diaper fully saturated. Steve gave him a relieved smile, and Bucky could tell that he was far more relaxed now, less embarrassed about bodily functions and modestly. Bucky kissed his forehead. “Alright, sweet boy. Let Daddy get you changed and we’ll go see what the others are doing.”
“Tony.” Bruce said wearily, crouching down and reaching out a hand. “Tony, please.”
Phil walked into the room with the groceries and took stock of the situation, setting the bags down immediately and making sure to soften his demeanor. “Tony? Honey, can you please come out of there?” He walked over to the corner where Tony had wedged himself between the entertainment center and the wall and crouched down, a little closer than Bruce, a soft smile on his face. “Anthony Edward Stark-Coulson, listen to me,” Phil said softly but firmly. A soft light glinted in Tony’s eyes at the use of his adoptive name, the dull brown tones brightening just a little bit, the frenzied look going just a little softer. “Hey, buddy,” Phil continued. “You’re right here, in the tower, with Bruce and me. Can you maybe tell me what’s wrong? What’s got you hiding today?”
The last three days had been an endless cycle of nightmares and phantom pains for Tony, not to mention an interesting insight into why he had been classified so late in life. It seemed that Obadiah hadn’t been so keen on having a Little under his roof, nor the face of a company with as much punch as Stark Industries had. He’d been rough with Tony, verbal with him, making sure he knew that being a Little was something to be ashamed of. That there was no place in Obie’s good graces for anyone as weak as a Little. So he’d fudged Tony’s test results without having him take any kind of tests and paid anyone off that tried to tell him Tony showed signs of being anything other than a Neutral. It revealed a wealth of reasons why Tony hadn’t wanted to open up to anyone after his real results had come through, or why he didn’t want to truly embrace his classification, why he’d fought so hard in the beginning against letting Phil help him.
Tony ever so slowly inched forward and Bruce and Phil exchanged a sympathetic look. “Oh.” Phil said softly, as Tony uncurled himself and slid out of his hiding spot. “Oh, Tony, that isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Is that why you hid?” he asked kindly, noting the wet spot on Tony’s pants.
Tony stifled a soft sob and shook his head. “N-no…” he rubbed absently at the reactor housing. “Hurts and...had another dream about Obie. He-” Tony sucked in a breath, a few tears spilling down his cheeks. “He was yellin’ at me. Said I wasn’t right. Said...said even that I was an older Little it didn’t mean anything. Meant I was defective and weak and...I just…” Tony shrugged and used the sleeve of his over-large sweatshirt to wipe at his cheeks. “I don't know. I’m not a baby. I know when to use the bathroom,” he whispered, and shifted awkwardly.
Phil stood up and walked forward slowly, arms out for a hug as Bruce scurried around him to put the groceries away. “You mean everything to me,” he reassured as he wrapped Tony in a big hug. Tony crumpled against him, large broken sobs leaving his chest painfully and making Phil’s heart hurt. “It’s alright, Tony.” He murmured against Tony’s neck. “It’s okay, I’m here,” Phil rubbed his back. Eventually Tony quieted enough that Phil felt safe letting him go. “Do you think you can make it to the shower, maybe clean up a little?” he asked, and Tony gave a miserable nod. “Good boy.” Phil stroked his cheek. “Maybe after we can go see what the little ones are up to?”
“I’d like that,” Tony whispered, hunching in on himself. “Wanna get out. Get away from all the bad feelings.”
Phil nodded. “I’ll go tell Bruce. You go on and get cleaned up. I think we all deserve a pajama day, hmm?” Tony looked grateful he didn’t have to pick out any clothes and Phil didn’t blame him. He’d had it rough the last few days. “Go on,” he smiled and pushed at Tony’s arm a little. “Go clean up. Then we’ll go down and see the kiddos.”
Stevie’s mouth formed a comical ‘O’ as he took in the scene before him. Natasha was in the armchair, foot up with Liho on her lap. Clint was squealing in excitement, a dog with what appeared to be only one eye dancing around him happily. “Yeah, there’s a doggie, isn’t there?” Bucky asked Steve as they moved deeper into the room. A girl he’d never met before leaned against the doorway, long black hair plaited over one shoulder and a big smile on her face. The dog’s leash dangled from one hand as she watched the scene with a blissful expression.
“Uncle Bucky!” Clint squeaked excitedly. “Uncle Bucky, Katie brought Lucky to visit! Look!” Clint plopped down on his butt and hugged the dog happily, Lucky wiggling in an over excited dog way, tongue lolling out in a happy smile as he sat down and let Clint love on him. “Lucky was my puppy, but...but then I couldn’t take good care of him, so Katie took him with her!” he pointed to the girl, who turned towards the new arrivals with a polite expression. “That’s Katie. She’s Hawkeye too, but not here. An’ she’s a girl.” he stated obviously, going right back to praising the dog and kissing all over his face, Lucky making happy little whines and growls as he wagged his tail.
Kate laughed softly and extended a hand. “Hi there. You must be Bucky. Natasha’s told me about you. I’m Kate Bishop, AKA Hawkeye. I live out on the other coast, though, so I don’t get to see that little monster very often.”
Bucky took her hand in his metal one, shaking softly. “I’m assuming you two worked together?” he swapped Stevie to his other hip.
Kate nodded. “Yup. We worked together for a while, but I relocated.” She didn’t elaborate, and Bucky didn’t really want to push the subject.
“What’s the deal with the dog?”
“Clint rescued him from his previous owners, who weren’t nice to him at all. He treated that dog better than he treated himself for a while. But when he got classified, he was worried he wouldn’t be able to take care of him if he kept living on his own, so I volunteered to give him a good home.”
Bucky nodded. “Shame he can’t have him here. He loves Liho to death,” he commented as Stevie let out a little whine and pointed at Lucky. “This is Stevie, by the way.”
Kate leaned forward and tried to catch the squirmy baby’s attention with little coos and waves, but nothing could overpower the allure of an animal. She laughed softly. “It’s okay, I understand. Dogs are the best,” she tapped at her thigh. “C’mere, Luck! There’s a good boy! Who’s the bestest doggie in the whole world?” Kate crooned softly, ruffling at Lucky’s ears as he trotted over and sat down in front of her. “You wanna pet him?” she asked Steve, and he lit up, nodding eagerly. “Alright. You can pet him if you want.”
Bucky leaned over and put Steve down, and Steve held out his hands, squealing happily as Lucky immediately came over and nuzzled at his face, licking all over his hands. “Do!” Steve cried happily. “Do! Do!” Kate and Bucky both let out inadvertent ‘aw’s at Stevie’s adorable mispronunciation.
“I see the doggie,” Kate said graciously. “That’s Lucky. He’s saying hi to you!” Lucky whined excitedly and wagged his tail so fast it made his butt vibrate, eager to keep the baby happy as he licked his hands.
Unfortunately, Clint was jealous. He didn’t want to share his doggie with anybody. The loud squeaking of Lucky’s favorite toy announced that, the dog zooming over to his former master and plopping down in a polite sitting position to receive the toy.
That did not make Stevie happy. The baby started whining softly, prompting Natasha and Kate to both deliver a very Mommy like glare and a sharp “Clint!”
Clint pouted. “I...I wanta play with Lucky!” he whined. “He’s my doggie, not Stevie’s!” Clint dropped the toy and Lucky lunged for it, tail wagging as Clint attached himself to his neck in a big hug. Kate strolled over to him and squatted down, Lucky’s leash dangling from her hand, the clip clinking falling into the plush rug as she leaned over.
“Clint, honey, I know you missed him baby. I really do. I get your text messages and your phone calls. I know you miss your buddy. But Stevie’s really little, and he doesn’t understand that. So you need to be a Big Boy for a while and share, just until Stevie’s attention runs out. Okay?” She ruffled his hair and Clint scowled as he looked up, letting go of Lucky. “He’s a baby, so his attention span isn’t that long. Promise.” Kate insisted.
Lucky’s tail wagged, toy squeaking as he chewed on it. Clint stared at her, then looked back to Stevie, whose eyes were watery as he clung to Bucky’s legs. “Okay, Katie.” he decided.
“There’s my strong man,” Kate smiled softly at him, running her hand through his hair as she stood up and pointed, clicking her tongue. “Lucky! Go on! Go over there, that’s it, good boy! Go see Stevie!” Lucky squeaked the toy a few more times, prancing excitedly as he side stepped towards Stevie, dropping the slobbery toy in front of him expectantly.
Clint crawled up in the chair beside Natasha, burying his face in her shoulder. “Momma,” He mumbled softly.
Natasha kissed the side of his head. “That was very sweet of you, baby. I’m proud of you for sharing Lucky. I know that’s hard for you to do. But don’t worry. Soon you’ll be able to play with him by yourself.” Liho purred and kneaded her little paws at Natasha’s stomach, and Clint frowned.
“Why’s she doin’ that, Momma?”
“Because she is comfortable. For cats, I think, it can be soothing. I make her feel safe and protected.”
Clint nodded. “Momma makes everybody feel safe. Even Uncle Bucky.” he murmured sweetly.
Natasha kissed his cheek, and Clint giggled. “You are very kind, darling boy.”
“I love you, Momma. And Katie, and Lucky too! An’ an’ Uncle Bucky, and Tony and Brucie and Uncle Phil too…” he looked a little confused as he tried to list off all the people in his life, counting them on his fingers.
“And what about Thor, and Loki? Or Rhodey? Or Maria or JARVIS?” Nat encouraged gently, stifling an amused smile.
Clint thought for a minute, Lucky’s little whines providing background noise while Kate and Bucky laughed at the dog’s antics with the baby. “Um. Well...I guess I just love everybody, Momma!” he said, throwing his hands up. “Don’t have ‘nough fingers to count on!”
“Maybe next time, little birdy, we will have to count on your toes too!”
Clint giggle madly. “No, Momma! Toes aren’t clean! That’s why the baby can’t chew on his!”
“Oh.” Natasha pretended to be enlightened by the news, tweaking Clint’s nose affectionately. “Well thank you for telling me, Clinty.”
“Momma, you’re silly.” Clint declared, and gave her a very wet kiss on the cheek before scrambling out of the chair and over to Kate, excitedly tugging at her hand as he began to list off all the fun things they could do while she visited.
Natasha felt a light warmth in her chest as she scratched Liho’s head. “What will we do with him, moy kotenok?” She asked fondly.
Stevie whined as Bucky picked him up, reaching for Lucky, who cocked his head with a confused whine, following with his good eye. “No, baby. You need a diaper change. Say bye bye to Lucky! C’n you tell Clint and Kate thank you for letting you play with their doggie? Say thank you!” Bucky cooed at his fussy boy.
Steve teared up and pointed sadly. “Do!” he said, brows puckering in a frown.
Kate laughed softly and stepped forward, taking the hand in hers and squeezing softly. “It’s alright, buddy. Lucky and I will be here all week, you have plenty of time to come back and see him. But you’re kinda stinky, and I bet you don’t feel very good. So let your daddy take you and get you all cleaned up, then you can come play later, okay?”
Stevie whined, but nodded. He was really quite taken with Kate, Bucky noted. “There we go, baby. See? The doggie isn’t going anywhere for a while. Now let’s go upstairs, hmm? Maybe we can see if Thor is awake from his nap?” Bucky jostled him lightly. “You wanna do that? Cuddle with Thor? Hmm?” he kissed the fussy little on the head and carried him out of the room, Stevie reaching over his shoulder the whole way and waving sadly at Kate.
On their way back up to the nursery they bumped into Phil and crew, who were looking tired and subdued. “Hey,” Bucky murmured softly, cautious not to be loud enough to scare anyone. “Where are you three off to?” Stevie brightened as he noticed Bruce and Tony, reaching for them with a little coo, all troubles forgotten.
“We were going down to see what everyone’s up to.” Phil replied, rubbing Tony’s shoulder softly as Bruce stepped forward and greeted the baby.
“Hey, buddy,” Bruce murmured, kissing Steve on the forehead. “Missed you.” he said tiredly, leaning into the baby’s hands as Steve patted his cheeks.
Bucky smiled. “Well, the living room is in quite the state, I’ll say. Kate Bishop is visiting this week, and she brought Lucky with her.”
Phil’s brows raised and he ran a hand through his hair. “Damn! I’d completely forgotten Bishop was supposed to be here today. I’d better go and say hi. Tone? You wanna come with me or stay with Buck?”
Tony reached out softly and gripped at Phil’s sleeve, not wanting to be separated from him for even a moment. “Don’t go,” he looked panicked and Phil hurried to soothe.
“Hey, alright… it’s okay, buddy. You can go with me. You wanna go down? There’s a lot of activity down there, you sure you can handle it? If you can’t, I’ll take Bruce and you can stay with Bucky, go up and play something quiet with the babies?” Phil murmured softly to him.
Bruce made a few funny faces, relishing the way he made Steve laugh and pat his cheeks. “You’re a good boy, Stevie,” Bruce murmured, kissing his cheek.
“And so is Bruce,” Bucky asserted, supporting Steve with his metal arm and tugging Bruce in for a hug with his flesh one.
Bruce flushed lightly, curling into the affection. “Uncle Bucky!” he protested softly, though Bucky knew Bruce hoarded praises, saved them up, basked in them. It made Bucky so angry he could scream that someone had denied most of the sweet littles in the tower that kind of love as children, had stunted them in some ways, had pushed them to be withdrawn and so utterly self sufficient that it was hard for them to learn to depend on their caregivers.
“Bruce!” Bucky mock whined back, nuzzling at his neck softly before letting him go.
“Tony?” Bruce asked, eyes all warm and lit up from Bucky’s affection. It warmed Phil’s heart to see it. “Do you want to go with Stevie, or should I?”
Tony shifted from foot to foot anxiously. “D-don’t...don’t think I c’n handle loud right now.” he murmured, looking ashamed of himself.
“Hey, that’s nothin’ to be ashamed of, pal,” Bucky said with a smile that crinkled his eyes at the edges. “We’d love to have you, and Thor hasn’t seen you in a while either.”
Phil nodded and kissed Tony on the side of his head, holding out an arm for Bruce. “See you later. You pick for dinner,” he reminded as Bruce went to his side happily, leaning up against him as they walked to the elevator.
“Alright, pal. C’mon. You can distract this little monster while I get him cleaned up.” Bucky murmured, holding his free hand out towards Tony in an invitation. He was surprised when Tony took it, though he could have guessed physical contact would be important to him from the minute he’d seen the kid walking down the hall. “I think we’re gonna go up to Loki and Thor’s floor after this, see if the almighty thunder god has recovered from his tantrum enough to be civil,” he joked softly, pleased to see a bit of light in Tony’s eyes.
“I’d like that.” Tony murmured, surprised to find that he wanted to see Loki.
There was something about him that was oddly comforting at times. Maybe it was his parenting skills, the motherly way he fussed over the sick or injured or sad, or maybe it was his quiet nature, the way his emerald eyes gleamed like you were the most important person in the entire universe (and Tony was sure Loki had been to many different ones) as he listened to you talk. He was a good listener and a top notch advice giver. Tony’s opinion on the god of chaos had certainly changed since they had all learned the real reasons for his actions, and gotten to know him better. He was also certain that if there had been more Caregivers or Neutrals in the tower, it might not have gone that way. Littles tended to be more forgiving, more willing to give second and even third chances.
Tony bit his lip. “I kinda wanna talk to Loki.” he told Bucky.
“Oh?” Bucky raised a brow softly, gently shepherding the boy into Stevie’s nursery. “What about, if you don’t mind my asking?” He deposited Steve on the changing table and began to unbutton the onesie, sliding it up far enough that it was out of the way of a diaper change.
Tony drifted over to Steve’s head and began to play with his hair softly, enjoying the soft smile he got in return. “Um. Things. I don’t...I don’t want to share just yet with everyone. But Rhodey knows, and now Brucie and Pops know too. Pepper’s known for a while. She um, she kinda sorta fostered me for a while, till I met Phil and Bruce. So I hadta tell her. But Loki’s good at listening, and...I just really need somebody to not talk for a while and let me get it out.”
Bucky hummed and tossed a few dirty wipes into the diaper bin. “Bruce and Phil talking too much?” he figured that the two that were most likely to be more concerned for Tony’s wellbeing couldn’t exactly stop themselves from asking questions and giving reassurances, and while that was good sometimes, it was better to have a third party you trusted there that could listen till you were ready to stop talking.
“I love them, please don’t ever think that I don’t,” Tony looked up at Bucky with wet earnest eyes. “God, I love them so much, but..they just won’t shut up! Rhodey was like that too. Pepper didn’t...didn’t talk. She listened and I liked that. She didn’t talk till I was ready to listen. I just...I just need somebody to listen,” he repeated quietly, swiping at his cheeks as a few tears spilled over.
“I understand.” Bucky said softly, continuing to carefully make sure he got all the mess cleaned off of Steve. “Believe me, Tone, I do.” He tossed the wipes into the bin and got out a couple more clean ones from the package, going over all of Steve’s thighs and groin again just to make sure nothing would cause any discomfort. Bucky spared a short glance to Tony and a little reassuring smile as he reached down and picked up the powder and a clean diaper. “I won’t pry. But I’ll make sure I get the kiddos alone for a bit so you two can talk.” he assured as he diapered Steve back up. “There we go, sweet boy,” Bucky deftly wrapped up the dirty diaper and tossed it into the bin, closing the lid and sticking his hands into the quick sanitizer. A few puffs of steam and he was good to go, kissing at Steve’s tummy. “Oh, you’re such a little rascal, Stevie,” he chuckled as Steve gave him a big smile and a soft coo of happiness. “Yeah, that feels better, huh?” he asked as he snapped the onesie back up. “I bet you feel a lot better now.” Bucky looked over at Tony. “You wanna carry him?”
Tony wanted to for all the world--he’d missed the cuddly little boy so much, that special smile that Stevie got whenever he saw him made Tony feel all warm inside, but he just couldn’t spare that energy, not with his chest still throbbing with phantom pains. “Can’t,” he mumbled, looking apologetic. “Chest hurts.”
“Well, I understand that,” Bucky scooped Stevie onto his hip, patting his back lightly. “Sometimes I can still feel what it was like when they took my arm.” He confided, draping the appendage over Tony’s shoulders and tucking him firmly to his side as they left the nursery. “You don’t have to apologize for that.” Tony looked relieved.
“Thanks.” he leaned into Bucky as they walked towards the elevator, JARVIS helpfully taking them up to Loki’s floor. Sir, I might remind you that you’re not up to your hydration count for the day. Some water or Gatorade would be appropriate. Juice, even, if you like. Tony trailed a hand down the facing of the elevator fondly. “Thanks, J.” he murmured, looking up at Bucky with a shy smile.
Bucky jerked his head towards the hallway as the doors swished smoothly open. Sometimes, with the degree of trust and the amount of kiddos running around the tower, it made him feel like his real self again. Like he was just the big brother again, with all the little siblings running around the tiny apartment they’d shared as a kid, everyone depending on him and his nurturing spirit running wild. A lot of that had changed, but he didn’t mind so much. It was bittersweet, but Bucky still enjoyed being the one people loved on and asked to kiss hurt elbows and knees, the one the older ones looked to for horseplay and advice. He loved it. And damn it if he didn’t feel a swell of pride every single time somebody shouted for “Uncle Bucky”.
Tony stayed pretty close to him as he approached the door, reaching out his flesh hand and knocking softly. Stevie fussed quietly, wanting to see Loki, and Bucky swayed from side to side. “Hold on,” he told the fussy baby, and Tony spared a wan smile.
A moment later Loki came to the door, his hair twisted up in a bun and looking very cozy in a grey pair of jogging pants and an emerald green tee. “Well this is a nice surprise!” he smiled softly as Steve reached out insistently, making little impatient grunts. “Yes, hello, darling,” Loki plucked him right out of Bucky’s arms and held him close, kissing his face. “And Anthony! What a nice addition to the party you make. You’ve been under the weather, are you feeling better?” Bucky filed past loki with a soft smile, letting Tony do his own thing.
“Um. Not much,” Tony answered honestly, shifting awkwardly. “I wanted...I w-wanted...to um, to talk to you. If you aren’t busy,” he added, gesturing to Steve.
Loki’s brows rose curiously. “Busy? No, absolutely not. I’ve just put my rather impertinent brother in a time out for using a fair bit of filthy Old Norse directed at me. And this little one is no trouble, are you?” he cooed at Stevie, tapping his nose and making him go cross-eyed. “I shall drop him in the play pen with a movie and he’ll be good as gold, won’t you sweeting?” Loki nuzzled at his neck and Steve let out a little giggle.
“What did you do to him to make him so upset?” Tony asked, trailing behind and shutting the door as Loki drifted (his movements were so fluid it was hard to describe it as anything else) into the sitting room and put Stevie in the play pen.
“Oh, you know Thor. The usual. I simply tried to get him to finish off the rest of his grapes, and he was in no mood for it.” Loki gave an exasperated smile. “Hey, no, none of that! None of that! What if Anthony and I go get you some juice? Will you quiet down then, you little hellion?” Loki asked Steve, as Bucky flipped through Netflix idly, looking very comfortable on the large sectional sofa. “Would you like some juice as well?” Loki asked as he rose and headed for the kitchen.
Tony nodded shyly. “Um, J says I haven’t had enough to drink today, so I gotta drink some more fluids.”
Loki hummed softly as he rummaged through the cupboards, pulling down a bottle, a sippy cup, and a plastic tumbler with a lid. “I’m sorry Anthony, but after the little hawk spilled his grape juice on the sofa last week, I’m afraid Natasha has rather instituted a ‘lids only’ policy in the living spaces.”
Tony laughed softly. “S’okay. I’m not gonna throw a fit or anything.”
“Thank the Norns for that,” Loki muttered under his breath as he quickly got all three vessels filled with sweet mango-papaya juice. He handed Tony his cup. “I’ll just nip in and give these to the little ones. If you’d like somewhere private to talk, we can speak here or in my study.” He quickly bustled from the room.
There was a brief clap of thunder and a few ringing wails from the direction of Thor’s bedroom, and then silence as the door closed again. Loki returned a moment later, looking strained. “I take it he’s still upset?” Tony asked, amused as he sipped at the juice. It was surprisingly refreshing. It had been so long since he’d had anything tropical that wasn’t in a cocktail, he’d almost forgotten what it tasted like.
Loki pulled a face that made Tony laugh. “Yes, indeed he is. I’ve told him he can join Bucky in ten minutes’ time, but you’d think I’d sentenced him to exile on Niflheim.” Loki conjured a mug of coffee from midair and sipped at it luxuriously. “Have you decided where you would rather talk?”
Tony nodded. “Um. Study, please. It’s...it’s too public here.”
“Very well. Come this way.” Loki led the way down the hallway past the guest room and Thor’s room, past a closed door he assumed was Loki’s room and the bathroom, to another closed door. “Here we are.” He opened the door and Tony blinked.
He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting. Probably something like the Slytherin Common Room, to be honest, but...this wasn’t that. It was completely different from the architecture of the tower, for one thing, and for another it was... huge . Tony wasn’t sure he’d been gaping until Loki came up beside him with a laugh.
“Magic, youngling. Magic.” he murmured as he sipped at his coffee.
“You’re… it’s...it’s like Bleeker Street,” Tony muttered absently, taking in the natural sunlight streaming from large overhead windows (probably also magic), and the rows and rows of gleaming wooden bookshelves. There was a fireplace crackling merrily, and two comfy armchairs and a loveseat situated on a thick rug in front of it. A cart with alcoholic beverages and a tea service was tucked to the side of the fireplace, and an ornate desk was just beyond the cluster of seating. Scrolls were stacked on the surface, and just beyond that was what appeared to be a chemistry lab crossed with what Tony thought the Potions class at Hogwarts must look like.
Loki hummed dismissively. “Your Doctor Strange operates at a mere fraction of what Asgard does.” he noted Tony’s fascination and nodded softly. “The healing arts are an ancient and absorbing practice. I find it soothing to the mind, to experiment with various ointments, potions and draughts. I keep here a smaller version of my library in the palace. Magical arts, healing, potion making, biology, and tactical training are only a few of my specialties.”
Tony pointed to a small cage containing a very sentient looking bright red snake, about three feet long. The cage was vibrating slightly, and looked to be covered in some sort of blue magic.
Loki hummed as the snake spit at Tony. “Oh, do be nice, Brunhilde.” He turned to Tony with an apologetic look. “I apologize for her temper. She has never met anyone aside from myself.”
“But...what is she?” Tony stuttered, forgetting about his juice until Loki gestured to the cup and he took a sip.
“She,” Loki sat down in one of the arm chairs, looking comfortable and at ease. “Is a basilisk. I’ve raised her myself, hand fed her, and kept up the enchantment on her cage so that she cannot terrorize the public at large.”
Tony sat down in the loveseat and gaped. “I thought they weren’t real!”
“You also thought that my brother was not real, until you met him.” Loki reminded gently, setting his mug on the end table. “I would caution you not to take everything the world tells you as fact, Anthony. There is much that exists that Midgard has turned blind eyes to. But none of this is what we are here to discuss. I believe you have something weighing on you, do you not?”
Tony glanced at the door warily.
“No-one can get in,” Loki assured. “That door is charmed against anyone that does not enter either with myself or on my say so.”
Tony relaxed instantly. There was a vague smell of something plant like and medicinal that soothed him, and the chair was covered in a leather so supple it felt like fabric. He put his juice on the table by Loki’s coffee. “I need somebody that won’t talk. Somebody that will just listen .” he began. “I gotta say something that only...four people know so far. I had to tell Bruce and Pops because they wouldn’t leave me alone about it. But when I tried to tell them, to get it all off my chest, the asked questions and they tried to reassure me. I needed to just talk and get it off my chest first, but they wouldn’t stop. And I thought...I thought about people I know that are good listeners, and I realized I wanted to talk to you.”
“I’m flattered,” Loki said honestly, leaning back against the sofa. His mother’s instinct was piqued as he detected the upset beneath the boy’s words. He wanted offer as much help as he could. “Thank you very much for thinking of me. I promise I will remain silent as long as you wish for me to.”
Tony brought his legs up onto the chair, shielding his chest with his thighs as he propped his chin on his knees. “It’s like this. There was a guy, don’t know if you know about him, but he took over the company when dad died. Friend of dad’s, my mentor, kind of. Obadiah Stane. He was...a lot to handle. Fearless. I idolized him, for a long time y’know. We...we made magazine covers, Obie and me. Y’know, stuff like ‘Seventeen year old genius takes on first board meeting at SI’, and then they’d talk about how Obie’s leadership was shaping me into another pillar of society or some shit. Real sensationalistic stuff. They’d interview us sometimes together, sometimes apart. But he had that charisma, that...that voice that lit up a room and he didn’t even have to project it. He’d wink at the camera-man, offer a few well placed complements to the lady doing the interview, and they were putty in his hands. He oozed charisma. Just owned it. And I...I thought ‘Wow, if I can be like Obie when I grow up, then I’ll have it made.’ Then... then I’ll be somebody. I just...I didn’t have dear old dad around anymore, but I had Obie. And for a while it worked. I did what he wanted, I was a good little soldier, I followed orders, and he was happy with that. He wanted that. He wanted me to be smart and charismatic and sparkling and to...to do whatever he and the board wanted. I remember once, Aunt Peggy told me a story about how Steve said he saw himself as a dancing monkey, back when he was doing those USO tours. That’s how I felt, but I didn’t realize it for a long time. Because I thought that girls and flashy smiles and loud cars and being the face of the company was what I was supposed to do. Y’know? Different girl, different day, different hotel… Jesus Christ, I was a KID!” Tony burst out, a combination of tears and anger written in every line of his body. “I was seventeen when I graduated from MIT. Just let that sink in. Seven-fucking-teen. I was a child prodigy. Obie’s Golden Boy. He was my guardian, so I did what he said. I thought he cared. I thought he knew best. I believed that shit. I spent hours and hours coming up with prototypes for that bastard and his suit wearing cronies, because he told me that’s what my father wanted. Someone to continue that war-time legacy in a peace-time world. It didn’t sit right with me even then, but I didn’t truly realize until Afghanistan just how fucked up Obie had been with me. That he’d manipulated me. That he didn’t fucking care about me, he just...he just wanted….designs! He just wanted weapons he wasn’t smart enough to make himself! And every time I’d get close to speaking my mind, he’d put his arm around my shoulders and he’d say ‘Tony m’boy, you know I’m proud of you right?’ and I’d fucking melt because of course if he was proud of me, I was doing the right thing!” Tony took in a shuddering breath, tears streaking down his face.
“And he...he didn’t care about my classification either. As far as he was concerned, I was a Neutral, no questions asked, no test needed. And when I got older and it was evident my classification didn’t fit my biological age, he...he was livid. Paid people off to keep a lid on it. Forged official documents that said I was a Neutral, just in case anyone did ask instead of assuming. And...and any time I even got close to headspace, Obie got mad . He...he didn’t hurt me, because that would leave bruises, and he didn’t want me looking rough for the cameras. But he’d yell. He’d throw things. Do everything but hit me. Because he couldn’t risk beating up that pretty face he’d groomed so well to smile on command and to provide publicity stunts for SI whenever I’d end up drunk on another island, feeling up some model and not caring that the paps were ten feet away.” he swallowed hard, not looking at Loki, focusing on the way the flames in the fireplace flickered. “It...it wasn’t until I got back from Afghanistan and I’d been tortured that I realized that Obie didn’t care. That it really clicked for me. He tried to kill me to steal the arc reactor. He didn’t even care that I’d die if he did take it, he just wanted to use my tech for his own gains, to sell black market weapons based off the tech i was using to power my body. He was corrupt in every way. He made me feel bad about my biological functions. He made me hate myself. Can’t tell you how many times I almost killed myself as a teenager because of it. I was empty inside, terrified of giving in to headspace because I was afraid someone would yell at me for it. But then I met Bruce, and Phil, and the others and…” Tony’s chin crumpled, working for a bit to regain enough breath to speak. “And they were nice to me. They...they accepted me for who I was and they weren’t mad at me. Nobody but Rhodey had ever done that, when he’d started to notice my headspace creeping up as I got older. I felt...so... good the first time I let Phil help me. He never knew why it was so hard for me to give in. It’s been a long time since he adopted me and Bruce, and I never told them until now. I couldn’t tell them. How could I ruin the people that loved me by telling them that someone had hurt me so bad? I...I didn’t want Obie to ruin my family. But...I couldn’t just let them see the dreams I was having, the toll it took on me, the….the phantom pains of the arc reactor when I dreamed of Afghanistan, the way I can’t even take showers some days because of what they did to me there. I had to tell them. And when I tried to tell them I couldn’t even get the whole story out, because they wouldn’t listen!” Tony’s voice broke, stifling a sob with his hand, and that was all Loki could take.
Loki slid down from his seat on the armchair, to the floor in front of where Tony sat curled in on himself, protecting his most vulnerable point with his legs. “Anthony,” he whispered, heart breaking for the child. “Is it alright if I hug you, Anthony?” Loki asked softly, not wanting to cross any boundaries unless he was invited to, though his mother’s heart ached to comfort.
Tony’s chin quivered, and he moved his legs, reaching down towards Loki, suddenly feeling very empty and desperate for physical contact.
“Oh, darling,” Loki crooned, hugging the boy as tightly as he dared, considering he still seemed immersed in remembered chest pains. Loki sent a tendril of healing magic out, and felt the boy relax against him, crying harder at the absence of pain, the relief of his body no longer being under so much stress. “It’s alright. Thank you for trusting me, for telling me all of that,” Loki stroked Tony’s matted hair firmly. “I appreciate you sharing that. I realize it is hard for you to talk about all of this, but you need never fear speaking to me about such things.” he whispered, as Tony burrowed closer desperately. Loki held him tight and swayed slightly, knees digging into the plush rug. “You are safe here, Anthony,” he whispered fiercely. “There are so many people here who love you and who support you. We will always accept you for who you are. Never, ever forget that.”
Tony sobbed painfully until his body had no tears to cry left. He didn’t know how long they’d been absent from the living area, and he didn’t care. He felt safe there. A different kind of safe than what he felt when Phil hugged him. Because he knew Loki was a powerful ancient being, who would pulverize anyone that tried to hurt him. Not that Phil wouldn’t give it his best shot, but then, Phil was oh so very human. Tony let out a little huff and melted at Loki’s shushing, a soft whimper leaving his lips as those gentle fingers combed through his hair again. He didn’t ever want to move again. He felt a billion pounds lighter now that he’d shared with someone that was such a good listener.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Loki spoke up, chuckling deeply as the exhausted boy protested with a wordless whine. “Come,” he coaxed. “We have babies to attend to.”
Reluctantly, Tony came out from his hiding place and let Loki stand him up and lead him to the bathroom. He didn’t protest as Loki washed his face with a cool cloth, then ran some lip balm over his chapped lips.
“Tomorrow I shall mix you up a draught, to take in case of bad dreams. It will induce dreamless sleep, and leave your body healed and healthy in the morrow.” he gave an encouraging smile, his heart warming as Tony responded in kind.
“Thank you,” Tony murmured earnestly. “For everything.” he felt his eyes well up again and shook his head in frustration.
Loki rubbed his arm and dropped an impulsive kiss to the top of his head. “You are most welcome. Now come. We need to go give Bucky a break from the little ones.”
Steve has trouble adjusting to being Big again. Bucky and Steve sign their official paperwork together, and everyone at the tower pitches in to do something incredibly sweet for Steve and Bucky.
Steve was nervous, but he wasn’t sure why. He had Bucky with him, and Loki and Thor had agreed to come for support as well. But he still felt nervous as they all crossed the official seal of SHIELD on the floor of the airlock, passing from clinical and dark colors into bright colors and happy textures as they entered the Classification Department.
Candy beamed at them as they all approached. “Hello! Are you two here for paperwork?” She asked excitedly, turning her bright gaze on Bucky and Steve.
Bucky’s answering smile was so bright it could have lit the entire city block with its energy. “Yes, ma’am, we are! I’m here to fill out Steve’s paperwork, so I can become his official guardian.”
Steve shifted awkwardly. He was Big now, as was Thor, but he had a sneaking feeling that he wouldn’t be so Big by the end of the visit. He’d only just come down from his few months of Adjustment Period, and being Big for long stretches was still a little hard for him. So he just let Bucky do all the talking.
Candy’s smile got even sweeter, if possible. “That’s so great! I’ll get you guys all checked in, if you’d like to go wait in the waiting room!”
“Thank you.” Bucky nodded to her and gently took Steve’s elbow, guiding him across the way, Thor and Loki chatting softly to one another as they followed. “How ya holdin’ up, pal?” Bucky murmured solicitously as they sat down. His eyes were warm and bright and excited as he stared at Steve, and it made Steve’s stomach do a little flip. How on earth had he gotten so lucky?
Steve shifted a little, suddenly snapped back to rude grownup reality by a pressure in his abdomen. “Um. I uh, I gotta pee, Buck.” He mumbled, feeling so out of place in his starched long sleeve dress shirt and grey dress pants. The shiny leather shoes pinched at his feet and the stiff belt cut into him when he sat down.
Bucky rubbed his shoulder soothingly. “Okay. That’s good that you recognized that. There’s a bathroom right over there. You can go, and I’ll wait right here,” Bucky pointed to the door just inside the waiting area with the big blue sign on the front that advertized that it was in fact, a bathroom.
Steve took a deep breath. Going and doing things alone, even if for a moment, was still extremely rattling for him. It almost stung, doing things like dressing himself or going to the bathroom alone. He was still so sensitive to not reading body cues that he’d had several accidents and narrow misses the last few weeks. His self esteem had taken a hit from it. Being Big or mostly Big and still having to have Bucky remind him when to use the bathroom or how to tie his shoes did things to him.
He looked over at the room, then back at Bucky before standing up on wobbly legs, staggering the few feet over to the door and fumbling with the handle for a moment before finally wrenching it open. Steve didn’t bother to lock it, knowing that he only had a precious few seconds before ‘I have to pee’ turned into ‘I just peed myself because I got close to the toilet and lost it all’. Steve fumbled with the stiff leather belt, managing to get his fingers to be coordinated enough to get it open. His pants were another story. The delicately small zipper taunted his recovering motor skills, his hand shaking as he tried to grasp the zip and pull it down. The more time he spent standing there, the more his legs started to shake, and his bladder threatened to give out then and there.
Why did Bucky have to go and tell him to put on dress clothes? It was so much harder to get them undone than sweatpants! At least if he wore sweats he could just pull them down if he got flustered. These...these… grey adult monstrosities were a nightmare to get undone. The button wouldn’t come no matter how hard he tried to get it to move, and he couldn’t seem to get that little zipper to move at all. Steve took a deep steadying breath. “Zip!” he growled, fumbling at his zipper again. There was a click behind him and he whirled around, startled, feeling his bladder start to leak.
“Just me,” Bucky shut the door behind him and turned around.
“Help!” Steve yelped, shoving his hands in his crotch and dancing around. “I can’t get the stupid zipper undone!” He complained as Bucky came closer.
“Okay, hang on. Calm down. I can’t help if you don’t move your hands.” Bucky tried his best not to slip into Daddy Mode, knowing it was good to let Steve adjust naturally to going in and out of his headspace. But it sure was hard not to use his Daddy Voice when Steve was hopping around like that, near about to wet himself if he hadn’t already.
Steve let out a soft grunt and pried his hands off of himself, legs quivering as Bucky smoothly undid the button and the zip in one motion. That bastard. Steve envied his coordination. Breathless, he sank down onto the toilet, putting his head in his hands.
“That’s okay. So what if you had a near miss?” Bucky spoke up, rubbing his shoulder soothingly as he reached down to tug the tail of Steve’s shirt a little higher so it didn’t accidentally get peed on. “That’s a part of it. But you did okay, you read your body cues and you got to a bathroom.”
Steve flushed and let out a little moan. “Didn’t.” his voice was muffled by his hands. “There’s a wet spot.” He sounded defeated. “Buck, there’s a wet spot on my pants. I can’t go outside.”
Bucky tapped at Steve’s bare knee. “Up. You’re done. Get up and clean up.” he reminded. He knew it killed Steve’s independence, not being able to do something as simple as pee by himself, but soon enough he’d be back to reading body signals and having enough coordination that he could undress himself and aim properly again. The he’d be able to get some self esteem back.
Steve stood up miserably and wiggled back into his boxers and pants.
“Let’s see,” Bucky murmured, letting Steve tuck the shirt back in before he stepped in to do up the zip and button. “Can you get the belt?”
“Think so,” Steve whispered, clearly embarrassed as he fumbled for a couple tries before doing up the belt.
“Oh, it isn’t that bad, Stevie. Your pants are dark enough that you really can’t tell that much.” Bucky assured him, pushing at him gently to get him to wash his hands.
“S’not that,” Steve scrubbed his hands diligently, drying them on a paper towel and dropping it into the trash can. “If I sit in anything even vaguely wet, I’m gonna drop,” he explained as they exited the room together. An aide had come while they were in the toilet, and she looked at them expectantly as she scribbled something on her clipboard.
“This way, Mr. Barnes,” She said pleasantly, gesturing for Bucky to head into the hallway. She held the door for the two of them, and made sure to let Thor and Loki know that they would be back in a few minutes before following Bucky and Steve. “We’re going to be in office 3,” She pointed across the hallway, and Bucky led Steve into the room with the big blue number three over the door.
They sat down across the desk from the girl, and she typed a few things into the computer before speaking again. “Okay, so I’m just printing out the standard forms for you to sign. There’s no court appearance needed, as you’re not disputing a Caregiver assignment or a classification. I’ll just need you to sign, date, and follow the instructions on the sheets, Mr. Barnes. Steve will have a few places to sign as well, and to provide birthday information, as well as whether or not he wishes to live with you or for part-time Caregiver arrangements, if he has a separate apartment or other housing, if he wants to continue to live there and call you on an as-needed basis. That one is mostly for the ones that don’t plan to legally adopt someone, but do plan to be their registered Caregiver. If you’re planning to adopt you can skip that section. If the two of you are planning to live together you’ll need to indicate that you’re consolidating your housing arrangements into one place, and provide that address. Otherwise, he gets to keep all his bank accounts and things like that, but you’ll need to make sure that he had no access to those when he’s Little, as it can lead to some ill advised purchases. I’ve known some to drain their entire bank accounts on candy and cookies when unsupervised.” she shared a knowing look with Bucky.
“Obviously, we prefer all assigned full-time Caregivers to live in the same place as their little ones. There’s also a packet that has suggested nutrition and diet information for Steve’s age group, though I’m sure that Agent Coulson will want it modified for Steve’s metabolism. After you’re done filling out the paperwork I give you, I’ll have you sign an official certificate, make a copy of it, forward that to Candy for the Records Department, and then you two are free to go!”
Bucky and Steve both nodded, and she handed the freshly printed paperwork to Bucky along with a pen. “I’ll give you two a few minutes to get that done, just let me know when you’re ready.” She turned back to her computer and started typing again.
Bucky turned his attention to the paperwork, filling out all the requested information on an almost muscle memory basis: address, their names, birthdays, where they were going to live, and their social security numbers. He signed where prompted, certified that he would under penalty of federal punishment, provide and protect and care for Steve to the best of his abilities as his legal guardian, then handed it over to Steve to sign and date. When Steve had done his part, Bucky looked over it all again. Satisfied, he cleared his throat. “Um, I think we’re ready.” he said softly.
“Excellent! If you’ll just let me look over that real quick, then we can get that certificate for you to sign.” She paged through the clipboard, nodding softly. “Alright, let me just run that across the hall real fast, to records so they can get that put into the system.” Jumping up, she moved quickly across to the office across the hall and then came back with a big smile. “Alright. Now. Let’s get that certificate signed, and he’s all yours!” She rifled through a drawer behind her and pulled out a very official looking document, stamped with the SHIELD official logo, and the US Classifications Department logo. With a flourish, she deposited it across from Bucky and handed him a fountain pen.
Bucky signed his name carefully, then handed the pen to Steve, who signed the line below his. Steve gave the girl the pen back, and she officially signed and dated the certificate, running it underneath some sort of device to dry the ink. The device beeped, and she handed the warm piece of paper over to Bucky. “Congratulations, Mr. Barnes. Steve is now officially Steven Grant Rogers-Barnes!”
Bucky felt like his face would split from his smile. He leaned over and kissed Steve on the cheek happily. Steve looked withdrawn, and he couldn’t tell if it was from excitement that Bucky was now officially his Daddy, or that he was feeling Little again. Either way, he managed to get Steve up and herded out to the waiting room, where Loki and Thor stood up with big smiles as Bucky held out the piece of paper. “It’s done! He’s officially mine!”
Thor clapped him on the back and Loki spared a quiet smile for Steve. “Congratulations, Bucky!” Thor grinned widely. “This is an exciting day, indeed, for the both of you!”
Loki nodded. “I suggest we go out to celebrate. How does ice cream sound?”
“You wanna go get ice cream, pal?” Bucky asked Steve, but Steve shook his head. “No?” he turned apologetically to the brothers. “I think he’s still having a hard time adjusting. Maybe we should just go home?”
Loki looked Steve up and down, then gave a little nod. “That might be best. Though fair warning, I think Natasha and the others have prepared a party for when we get back. Nothing large, just those of us that live there, and Kate Bishop, I believe. Rhodey will be there too, since he’s staying at the tower this weekend.”
Steve looked a little overwhelmed by the news, following along and looking very small beside Thor. Which considering his massive size post-serum, was an accomplishment. He tugged at Loki’s sleeve as the two Caregivers walked side by side ahead of them, and Loki stopped and turned. “Did you want to tell me something?”
Steve looked like he might cry as he looked imploringly at Loki. “Do...Do I have to be Big? That’s just so many people and...and..being Big is so hard!” Steve decided with finality, a few tears sliding down his cheeks.
Thor looked at him in sympathy. “I understand. When I was first adjusting, it was just as hard for me as well.”
Loki produced a handkerchief from the pocket of his suit and wiped Steve’s face. “You have to get used to it, darling. You know you’re not completely Little, either.”
Bucky gently guided Steve so he was facing him. “That’s up to you. But I can tell by the way you’re acting that you’re not a hundred percent in either headspace. Just go with instinct. I know that’s a lot of people, but they’re basically your family, you’re comfortable around all of them. They won’t fault you for being Big or Little.” he kissed Steve on the forehead and took his hand. “Now come on. Let’s get in the car.”
“Congratulations!” The chorus of happy shouts broke over them in waves as the four men exited the elevator into the common space. A big banner had been hung across the room that said ‘Congrats Steve & Bucky!’ in big glittery letters. Everyone swarmed them as they stepped into the room, pats on the back and big smiles coming from every direction, bombarding them. Bucky smiled so wide he thought his face would split, and Steve stuck right close to his side.
“Thank you, thank you so much!” Bucky cried, as someone pushed a glass of champagne into his hand. Tony pointed to a table insistently and Bucky clambered up. “Alright listen up, listen up!” he insisted to the quieting group. “Um, I ain’t a guy for really givin’ speeches, so I’m just gonna say what I feel I need to say. It’s no secret that a lotta things have divided Steve and me over the years. I’m not really sure what brought us together again, but I’m glad it did. Because I’m never gonna let anybody else separate us like that. You all have been so good to us, so thank you. I’d never have become me again, and certainly ever gotten this far without the efforts of all of you guys. So, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” Bucky dropped down from the table and raised his glass, the little group clapping as he drained the flute of the champagne. Steve stood off to one side, flanked by Loki and Natasha, tears in his eyes as he staggered towards Bucky and wrapped his arms around him tightly. There was a smattering of clapping at the action, and then they broke apart. Bucky grinned. “Hey, somebody put on some music! Isn’t this a party?” he asked, deflecting attention from Steve to make the night easier on him.
The night passed in a blur of cheesy party games and Tony’s party playlist, and despite himself, Steve had fun. Up until he missed a pretty big bladder cue and ruined it all by wetting himself. Everything stopped. Every single Caregiver watched with bated breath, even Kate, who was a Neutral, looked concerned as she watched. They waited a beat, then two beats, Tony’s music still playing over the speakers as Steve sat there, looking horrified. And then he bolted.
“Let him go,” Bucky spoke, as Kate and Clint made to follow him. “Let him go for a while. He won’t want to be around anyone for a while yet.”
Kate and Clint sat back down and she squeezed Clint’s hand softly.
“Listen, I’m sorry about that. Steve hasn’t felt very competent today. He’s had a lot of trouble adjusting to being Big again, and he’s had a hard time this afternoon.” Bucky announced to the room at large. “Tasha, hand me that cushion and I’ll go get it cleaned up.”
Natasha pushed to her feet and carefully took out the dirty cushion, handing it to Bucky. “You don’t have to apologize, James. We all know how that goes.” A small chorus of supportive murmurs from both Littles and Caregivers backed her up.
He gave a soft smile. “Thanks. I’m sorry we kind of dampened the spirit, but we really do appreciate the party and everything. If he hadn’t been having such a bad day, I’m sure Steve would have been a bit more lively. I know you guys understand it all, but I still feel bad you went to all that trouble and we weren’t even very lively guests.” Bucky turned and headed for the bathroom, spraying the cushion down with stain remover and leaving it in the tub to dry off. Natasha trailed behind him, stopping him as he tried to leave the bathroom.
“James, really. You don’t have to feel so bad about it. We understand,” She said softly, rubbing at his shoulder. “Really we do. We just want to help however we can, and if not throwing a party is better for you and Steve, then we can just have a quiet night in.” Her lips tipped up in a soft smile. “I think Clint is already trying to get Kate to help him convince the others to turn it into a pajama movie night, when Steve is calm enough to come down.”
Bucky gave her a weary smile. “Thanks. Really. You guys are the best. I’m gonna disappear for a bit, see if I can’t get him to come down again once he’s cleaned up.”
Natasha gripped his shirt as he turned to leave, tugging him around and in for a hug. Bucky sighed heavily and propped his chin on her forehead. “I needed that.”
“I know.” she murmured as she gave him another firm squeeze and sent him on his way. “Now go and get Stivi. We miss our boy.”
Bucky took the stairs, taking out his phone as he climbed slowly. “J, you got a twenty on our absentee?”
Yes, Bucky. Steve is hiding, I’m afraid. He is currently on Thor and Loki’s floor, hiding in the guest room wardrobe. The AI answered from his phone.
“Right. Thank you. Anything else I need to know about? What are his vitals?”
Elevated, as expected considering he is upset and anxious. But nothing I see worries me. I would suggest that as far as mental health goes, you encourage him to spend a bit of time in headspace soon. I realize he’s having a hard time adjusting, and perhaps if you let him stay small for a couple more days, he might come around on his own.
Bucky nodded and tucked his phone back in his suit pants. “Alright. I’ll try it. He has been having a hard time lately. Maybe you’re right. I feel like now is as good a time as any to convince him to be Little.” he opened the door onto the hallway and traveled the few steps from the fire escape door to Loki and Thor’s apartment, opening the door. “Steve? Steve, are you here?” he said loudly, walking down the hallway towards the bedrooms.
Peeking around the doorway of the guest room, he heard a sniff and a little scuffling sound. “Steve, honey? Are you in there?” Bucky stepped over to the wardrobe and knocked on the door softly, crouching down. “Steve, everyone misses you, they’re wondering where you went.” He said quietly. “Do you want to tell me why you ran out on everyone? They’re all very understanding, and you know that. Nobody would have been mad at you buddy. Open the door a little, lemme talk to you. I gotta say somethin’.”
There was a soft sniff, a bit of shifting around, and then the door opened just a crack. Bucky peered into the darkness. “Hi there. Thank you for opening the door. Listen, honey, I gotta say somethin’ to ya. I think I’ve been to hard on you lately. I think I’ve pushed you too hard too fast as soon as you showed the barest hint of being adjusted to your headspace. I think I was too harsh. If you aren’t ready yet, then you don’t have to be. That’s okay. If you want to be LIttle for a while longer then I won’t push you. You have to let me know when you’re ready, and I think I ignored that when you tried to. So I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” Bucky let the words hang in the air for a few tense moments, Steve not responding for so long he thought he’d said something wrong before the door opened slightly more.
“I’m not bad?” Steve asked, and Bucky could see the tear tracks on his face.
“No, honey. You’re not bad, baby. I promise.” Bucky insisted, feeling like the worst Daddy in the whole world. “You...you really felt like I was mad at you this whole time?”
Steve nodded softly, and Bucky pushed the door open all the way, reaching out to put a hand on Steve’s knee. “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t mad at you, I was just trying to help you adjust to being Big again.” he said sadly. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated. “Now come on outta there. Will you let Daddy clean you up? I’m so, so sorry, honey bear.”
Steve nodded softly, using the sleeve of his dress shirt to wipe his nose. “M’kay.” he scooted forward and reached out, begging for cuddles. Bucky pulled him into his arms and kissed his cheek.
“Let’s go take a bath real fast. I think everyone else is gonna have a pj movie night, and they’d love it if you came too. Do you think you’d like to come back down, baby boy?” Bucky murmured to him as he carried him back to the elevator.
“Not mad?” Steve asked, sinking quickly as Bucky carried him.
“No, they’re not mad. They just want to celebrate with us. And if you can’t do a big grown-up party, then they want to find a way they can celebrate with you, one that you can handle.” Bucky assured, carrying him off the elevator and down the hall quickly. “Now we gotta get you cleaned up quick, ‘cause I think I heard a rumor that there would be Disney movies.”
Steve was far more at ease by the time Bucky finished dressing him in a pastel sleep set. The tee had a (Very not scary) purple stegosaurus on a teal shirt, and the pants matched with little purple dinos all over them. He wiggled a pair of socks onto Steve’s feet and picked him up. “Now we just get you a paci and we’ll be good, huh?” Steve pointed impatiently to where Bucky Bear sat in his crib. “Oh, sorry. How could I ever forget your bear?” Bucky laughed softly, picking up the bear first and giving him to Steve before he rummaged through the drawer and got a clean pacifier, clipping it to Steve’s neckline. “Okay, baby. Now you come sit on the bed while Daddy changes clothes.”
Bucky let Stevie sit and cuddle his bear on the bed while he changed out of his dress clothes and into his pajamas. Bucky slid a pair of slippers onto his feet and then picked Steve up again. “Okay. Now let’s go and see the others. They want to help us celebrate baby boy!” he jostled Steve as he carried him down to the elevator. “Hmm? Be happy!” he cooed, and Steve laughed softly. “There it is! There’s that happy boy!” Bucky stepped off the elevator and blinked.
The common room had been completely transformed. The ‘congratulations’ banner had been moved over the TV set, and the television itself was out of sight, completely hidden beneath the most elaborate blanket fort Bucky had ever seen. “What--”
Clint came barreling towards them, in his Ninja Turtle pajamas. “We made a fort!” he squeaked happily. “Momma said Stevie was feelin’ bad, so I asked Katie if we could do what makes me feel better when I’m sad!” he gestured excitedly. “I like blanket forts cause they’re cozy, and Stevie likes Disney movies!”
Kate came over and took Bucky’s hand. “Come see,” She said softly, leading them over as Clint scampered away. “Everyone’s inside. There’s lots of soft blankets and pillows.” She held the entrance flap open, and Bucky peeked inside.
A soft murmur of greeting met his ears, and he blushed a little. “Hey, everyone. Look who I found.” he entered the fort and sat down on a pile of soft blankets by Natasha, who was spread out so she could elevate her booted foot. Of course Liho was pressed against her other side.
“Hi, sweet boy,” Natasha cooed at Stevie, and he poked his head out of hiding for a moment to give her a bashful smile. “Hey sweetie.”
Bucky took in the scene, feeling emotional at all the trouble everyone had gone to. Tony was curled up against Rhodey happily, the two giggling and chatting, probably about one of their inside jokes. Clint and Thor seemed to have dropped into their headspaces, Thor curled up against Loki with his stuffed wolf and Clint laying with his head in Kate’s lap. Bruce lounged quietly, taking in the scene with Phil at his side. It really was an impressive fort. Bucky leaned back against the pillow wall and held Steve close, brushing his fingers through his hair idly as the lights dimmed to soft and JARVIS started to play Wreck It Ralph , the light from the television casting a blue light across the sheet walls of their little fortress.