Every time Steve thought the world couldn’t surprise him any more, it managed to pull a hat trick anyway. He thought, now that life had calmed down after Hydra and Ultron, now that Bucky was safe, now that the Avengers were back together, surely nothing could go so massively wrong that he couldn’t handle it. And then Nick Fury appeared at the compound’s front door with an angry teenager in a box and managed to ruin whatever illusions he had left.
He didn’t ask what Nick had been doing these last few years. He didn’t ask how he found the compound in the first place. He didn’t ask why he was here. A few years ago he might have asked those questions, but now none of the answers seemed important.
“Who is she?” He asked instead, nodding his head towards the girl sulking in their detention cell.
He wasn’t sure of her age, but she seemed small for it. Short and thin and wiry, she reminded him of a dancer, of Natasha. She looked delicate, but if she was anything at all like Natasha, nothing could be further from the truth. The Black Widow herself stood nearby, staring through the one-way mirror at the girl on the other side as if the weight of her gaze alone could break it.
“A rogue Hydra asset who could use some guidance,” Fury sighed, rubbing at the scars around his bad eye. It seemed to be bothering him more than it should. “Her story bears an uncanny resemblance to the three of you.”
Bucky stood up, frowning from the far wall. “The three of us. What does that mean?”
Fury grimaced. “She’s another attempted super soldier, except Hydra nearly succeeded this time ‘round. No brainwashing, no radiation, raised from birth in a lab for one singular purpose. And that’s without considering her genetics.”
The hairs on Steve’s neck stood up. Dread crept through his stomach. Please no more aliens.
“Congratulations, Rogers, Romanov. It’s a girl,” Fury said without an ounce of humor as he threw a file open onto the table in front of them.
Natasha caught Steve’s eye just before she began to read. “‘By taking advantage of Hydra’s extensive genetic databases and building on the advancements made by Operation Rebirth, the Black Widow and Winter Soldier programs, the subject represents a new age in the science of super soldiers.’” Natasha quickly stood up and frowned, looking up at the girl. “Is that possible?”
“A hell of a lot more than possible,” Nick grunted. “Just look at her.”
The girl had his hair, blonde and tightly braided, Natasha’s green eyes, and the Winter Soldier’s restless anger. Her face reminded Steve of his mother, all planes and angles and sharp lines. She paced and occasionally glared through the mirror as if she could see them. Her clothes were probably what teenagers would wear—Steve didn’t know—jeans, jacket, sweater, running shoes. Hydra had made her a weapon, the kind that blended in. He could walk past her at Peter Parker’s school and never notice her.
“What are we supposed to do with her?” Bucky asked. “It’s not programing we can just knock out of her.”
“She’ll adjust,” Natasha said, never taking her eyes off… her daughter. His daughter.
Bucky shook his head, smiling bitterly. “You know, I always figured it’d be Stark who ended up stuck with some kid.”
No one laughed, but Bucky didn’t really expect them to.
Steve knew he should feel surprised, but he only found guilt and anger, weighing down on him like heavy rain. His daughter hadn’t been allowed to grow up. She never had friends or birthdays, no family dinners or trips to the movies. Nothing but violence and terror.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Natasha said, moving towards the door.
“Nat, are you—”
“Yes,” she cut Steve off. “She deserves to know what’s going on.”
Bucky shook his head again as Natasha disappeared, grumbling, “I don’t even know what’s going on.”