“—fifteen million in repairs and direct loss of revenue, and one-hundred-and-twenty-six million in collateral damage, not including the costs associated with healthcare and first responders.”
“No problem,” Tony says, waving a hand in front of himself. “I’ve got that covered. Done. Actually, not me, but I’ll get someone to take care of it. Business as usual. What’s the problem? Not that I don’t want to spend time with you guys and ol’ one-eyed there, but it’s not my idea of a fun Friday night.”
Bucky smothers a snort from where he’s practicing his best resting bitch face at the back of the conference room. (It’s currently a competition between he, Nat, and Fury.) He’s curious too, surprised to have been pulled into an unscheduled meeting just as he finished running through the next mission with Nat and Clint.
He flicks his eyes over to the window, once. The sun is setting orange and blue outside the tower, bright shards of light glinting off reinforced glass and the creeping frost. There go his chances of making it home for dinner.
Hill slides a finger over her tablet, a wry twist to her lips. “It’s a problem because it’s business as usual, Stark.” She looks around the table, met with uninterested stares and a guilty look from Bruce. “There’s been a noticeable increase in unfavourable coverage pertaining to each crisis — your response to each crisis. Some articles and outlets have been placing particular emphasis on the destruction of property and assets.”
Bruce flinches and Tony sighs loudly, propelling himself back into his chair. He’d be breaking out the alcohol any minute now if the impromptu meeting went on for much longer. “What else is new? It’s that Everhart woman again, right. God, I hate her.”
“That thucks, man,” Clint says around his mouthful of pizza (because of course he had called for pizza!) “but what does that have to do with us?” He wiggles his eyebrows and glances over to where Natasha and Bucky are seated. “Most of our missions are undercover. Some of us wear masks. People don’t even know us.”
Hill shakes her head, unmoved by Clint’s chewing, and the pizza, too. “Even if people aren’t familiar with your identities, they recognize your alias.” (“She means they know your superhero names, Hawkeye,” Tony adds.) “And that’s a target for malicious reporting.”
“There’s talk of some sort of superhero law,” Natasha says, and Bucky tenses, dread building in the pit of his stomach. “Targeting all enhanced or superhuman persons.”
They’re silent for a beat, before Fury speaks. “Public opinion about the Avengers is at an all time low,” he begins, looking more disappointed than usual. “You’re Earth’s most visible group of enhanced individuals. The people need a trustworthy symbol to believe in.”
“People always want too much,” Tony says. “That’s why Pepper’s the CEO.”
“We need to fix this,” Fury continues, fixing his eye on Bucky. “We need to bring back Captain America.”
“I don’t want to be leashed like a dog, Steve,” Bucky whispers into the dark.
It’s late at night, and Bucky is laying on his side with Steve plastered to his back. They’re home in their Brooklyn brownstone, the one with the refurbished hardwood and the pint sized yard. (They’d paid for it through the nose but growing up poor and a career in violence had taught them to take small luxuries and live comfortably when they can.)
He’d come back from the meeting silent and contemplative. Steve had been up drawing, and Bucky had stopped in the middle of the doorway, jacket still in his hand, looking at the slant of his nose and the curve of his cheek as Steve sat on the couch they picked out with his hair still damp and a shirt that’s gone through one too many washes. Steve had glanced back at him and smiled.
“I’d do it, Buck,” Steve replies, just as quietly. He’d known something was wrong by the expression on Bucky’s face, and had listened to him slowly outline Fury’s proposal without saying a word. “I’d do it in a heartbeat. What some people are saying. It’s not right.”
“No,” Bucky says, sucking in a breath.
For the past two years, Steve’s been here in the city while Bucky goes on covert missions with Nat and Clint. He’s taken over a more administrative role within the Avengers Initiative, overseeing emergency operations and response systems. Part of his job also involves training enhanced individuals, often children who have too much power in their hands but no control over their abilities and nowhere else to go. (“He’s like Professor X,” Tony had said, “Except I’m richer and Cap has hair.”) He frowns less, Bucky’s noticed, has lost that perpetual crinkle between his brows and laughs every time he talks about one of the kid’s antics.
Bucky is stuck working for Fury and taking the assignments sent his way, given his and Nat’s somewhat public deflection from the Soviets. Steve though — Steve isn’t. Bucky’s gotten used to coming home to Steve, knowing that the blond lug is out of the line of fire (mostly) and fighting the good fight by means other than his fists. (Also mostly, because Steve will never stop putting himself at risk for a righteous cause any day of the week.)
Bucky exhales, feeling the soft sheets on his bare legs and the weight of Steve’s arm over his torso. Despite everything they’ve built a good life for themselves, here. Accepting Fury’s plan means leaving behind all of this; means saying goodbye to Steve and not knowing when he will return.
“You’re retired. Unless you’ve forgotten, old man.”
“On hiatus, maybe, according to Nick.”
“What a joke,” Bucky says. “I know you were behind that drug bust last month.” He had found mud on Steve’s shoes and a rip in his hoodie, although he’d been seeing the signs for months.
Steve pinches his side, and presses a kiss to his nape. “That was Sam.”
“Shut up, Rogers. If that was Sam then why can’t Sam go?” He turns and buries his face into the pillows, already knowing the answer.
Perhaps one day Sam could take up the mantle of Captain America, if he’s willing. Right now, Cap is Cap and Falcon is Falcon, both characters instantly recognizable on camera but only one with substantial history and clout. There’s only one man for the job, and that’s Steve Rogers.
Steve runs his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “Nick’s right, people need to be able to trust us. If that law goes through, it could mean persecution for anyone other than normal.” He flips Bucky around to face him. “It’s not forever, Buck, just until things die down.”
Bucky sighs, pressing a closed mouthed kiss to Steve’s lips. “Fine. But I’m coming with you to watch your six.”
“Why the fuck can’t I go with you?” Bucky fumes, pacing at the foot of the bed.
Steve pauses from polishing his shield. “Buck, this is a high profile op.”
“Widow’s going,” he says, crossing his arms and coming to a rest.
“Because she’s Nat. You don’t like the political ones anyway.”
“Nobody likes politics.” He flops onto the bed. “Sam’s going.”
“Because Sam’s reasonable,” Steve says, putting the cleaning cloth down onto the chair’s armrest and checking the shield’s straps.
“I’m reasonable,” he mutters to the ceiling, one second away from pouting. In his head Bucky admits, grudgingly, that he and Clint are the ones most likely to not pretend to tolerate assholes of high importance, politeness be damned. He had been willing to go for Steve, but it’s a relief to not have to try. He’s glad that Sam and Nat will be there to look out for Steve.
“And I need someone to look after the kids,” Steve continues, and Bucky grimaces. Hill will assume most of Steve’s responsibilities while he’s away, but had bowed out of dealing with the young Avengers. Since Clint is too clumsy to be around children and often nowhere to be found, the pleasure falls onto Bucky’s shoulders. “You’re good with kids.”
“That was a long time ago,” Bucky says, closing his eyes.
“I trust you.”
He blinks, and sits up to see Steve watching him fondly. There’s a lump in his throat, and he swallows before extending a hand towards him. “Fine, ya punk. Now come here and say goodbye to me properly.”
“This is Wanda,” the frazzled woman says, gesturing at a girl with red-brown hair and the white-blond boy holding his sister’s hand. “This is her brother Pietro.”
They’re twins, Bucky knows from the file they’d given him. Bucky’s never met them before, as they came in two weeks ago and Steve hadn’t had the chance to introduce them before he left. They’re eleven, according to the file, but the shadows under their eyes and their too thin frames make them look older and younger all at once.
“And this! This is Loki!” the woman says, a forced smile on her face. Loki is approximately one year old, found last week outside Mount Sinai’s bundled in an embroidered blanket. Steve had stepped in when the hospital began to complain about the strangeness. Just like the twins, the toddler is of unknown origin, but unlike the twins, his blood work is so foreign it’s almost alien. Loki seems to be in good health, Bucky notes, and the source of the nanny’s headaches.
The other kids under protection of the Avengers Initiative are a little older and a little more adjusted, Bucky thinks, but these three will need the most attention.
He decides to approach the twins, first.
“Hi, I’m Bucky,” he says, walking closer but not too close.
Wanda looks at him suspiciously. “Where’s Steve?”
“Steve had to leave for a job.” They appraise him from head to toe. “Is it okay if I’m here instead?”
Pietro leans in to whisper in his sister’s ear. “Steve doesn’t want us. This one will leave, too.”
“That’s not true,” Bucky says evenly, and both heads whip around to look at him.
Pietro’s jaw drops. “You speak Romani!”
“He didn’t want to go, so he asked me to come when he can’t. I won’t leave.”
“Are you like us?” Wanda asks, and Bucky thinks about being lost and coming home.
“Yes. And Steve helped me, too.” He gives them a small smile. “He does that a lot.”
They cautiously return his smile, and at that moment the nanny screams.
Her blouse… her blouse is on fire. (How the hell? Now it’s Bucky’s turn to be surprised.) Loki is babbling happily in front of her, clapping his hands as she holds him aloft.
“JARVIS!” Bucky calls, rushing forward to take the baby out of the woman’s hands before she dropped him.
The sprinklers come on at full force. The flames are out within seconds, but by the time the waterworks stop the nanny’s got mascara running down her face and hair matting her head like seaweed. She stares at him in horror.
“I quit!” She shrieks, running to the elevator as fast as her heeled feet could move.
When she’s out of sight, Bucky looks at the baby in his arms. “Did you do that?”
“We’re not normal,” Pietro says in Loki’s place, gaging his reaction. Their clothes aren’t wet, Bucky observes. Their clothes aren’t wet, and neither are his.
Bucky shakes his head, heart swelling a little bit. “No. You’re exceptional.” He winks, and offers them another grin. This time he’s rewarded by a larger smile.
“Will we get in trouble?” Wanda asks.
“Of course not,” Bucky says. “She knew she wasn’t dealing with an ordinary baby.” (Frankly, Bucky wasn’t sad to see the erstwhile nanny go. She didn’t seem that competent, and what kind of nanny wears high heels? She better not have tried to flirt with Steve.)
Wanda looks around them. “The room is ruined.”
Bucky takes in the dewy walls and the waterlogged carpet. Then he looks at the twins’ socked feet and plain t-shirts and Loki’s off-white onesie. It’s all a little lacking.
“JARVIS? Do I still have a floor here?”
“Yes, Sergeant Barnes. Sir has retained a floor for your and Captain Roger’s use.”
“In that case,” Bucky says, wiping a bit of drool from the corner of the baby’s mouth. “Let’s go see your new rooms!”