“Ready to go, sweetheart?” Bucky cooed as he lifted Sarah up from the changing table. She flapped her arms and kicked her legs as her papa scooped her up with a happy kiss to her forehead. When he settled her against his shoulder, he shrugged his backpack in place and carried Sarah to the courtyard for her daily dose of sunshine.
He liked winding through the black oaks that were almost as old as the house, with the dappled shade giving way to pockets of sunlight bright enough to warm his face. “Papa’s still got them by a good twenty years, darling,” he said in a sing-song voice that made Sarah brighten and babble right back at him, waving a fist in happiness.
He caught it and blew a raspberry against her palm. She squealed, pulling her hand away. Then she frowned, knocking her fist against his lips for him to do it again. Bucky did and she squeaked with glee.
They did this most afternoons now, taking a walk after Darcy nursed Sarah. It gave Darcy time to nap or work, whichever was most pressing, and Bucky got fresh air he hadn’t known he sorely needed. Living in the Tower had been a treat after before , but it was here that he discovered how much he liked having this little hidden patch of the outdoors.
A wailing police siren reminded him that the City was just a few feet away, but noises like that were as familiar as Steve’s youthful wheezy breathing. Cars honking were just a part of the background cacophony that meant home.
The meandering route wasn’t just to entertain his daughter. He checked sightlines and the traps he’d laid throughout the property as he walked, eyes flickering from point to point with methodical precision. When all were cleared, he aimed for the pocket of grass with the perfect amount of shade and sunlight for a blanket and baby.
Bucky shrugged off the backpack he carried, shifting Sarah to one arm while he fished out the coverlet and spread it out on the ground one-handed. (The first time had been a disaster: a squalling kid and a wadded-up blanket with the entire contents of the backpack spilled all over the yard. It didn’t help that Clint hyena-laughed from one of the trees above.)
Bucky set Sarah on the quilt and handed her a Rubik’s cube made of cloth and stuffing. She immediately crammed it into her mouth before pulling it back out again to study it with infantile intensity.
Sarah lost interest in the stuffed cube in a matter of seconds. She tried to work a foot into her mouth instead. When she discovered there was a sock on it, she was fully occupied with getting them off long enough for Bucky to arrange the blanket and toys to his satisfaction and stretch out beside her. She worked them off, dropping one and waving the other in victory. Sarah half-rolled, half-twisted on the blanket, babbling as she tried to find her papa.
He waved. “Right here, doll.”
Sarah gabbled out happiness, then went back to playing with her now-bare toes.
Sometimes Bucky wished he could take Sarah across the street to Central Park. He liked running there with Steve in the mornings, finding it funny to see the paparazzi’s disappointment when they appeared sans kid yet again. Even though sweaty pictures of Steve and Bucky had long lost their appeal, the hope of getting a shot of the littlest Stark was enough for six or seven determined paps to hang out around the clock.
They had no idea they would wait in vain. The garden facing Central Park had been leased over to the Asgardian Embassy. Even the entrance on that side led to the Embassy rather than the private portion of the house.
The family used the courtyard, which was thoroughly hidden from view. At least, any view of what was really going on. Darcy’d installed the same imaging tech she’d used at her gala at the edges of the house and courtyard-- even overhead--to project lights and movement on the property that had nothing to do with what the family was doing.
The privacy was priceless. If Bucky couldn’t relax under the trees in the way he might have as a youth, he could prop his head on his fist to watch while Sarah rolled around on her blanket confident in the knowledge that a photographer could be in the building next door and they wouldn’t see a damned thing.
When Sarah’s mood turned cranky, Bucky pulled out a water bottle for himself and a half-dozen books from the backpack. He set the darling in his lap, propping her up so he could read My Many Colored Days once and Pat the Bunny twice before she fell asleep.
He deftly shifted her back to the blanket and traded the board book for a tattered Asimov paperback he’d found in Stark’s library. (He didn’t think too hard whether the book he was holding might have been Tony’s or Howard’s. Some things he didn’t need to know.)
With his daughter soundly napping beside him, a warm breeze rustling the trees above him, and a good book about spaceships in his hand, Bucky Barnes found a moment of peace.
Sometimes happiness was just that easy.
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Darcy, on the other hand, wasn’t so mellow. Holding the title of “Mom” put a couple of new notches on her things-to-freak-out-about scale. (#2: The baby is awake was led by #1: The baby needs something .) Given that Dark Elves, kidnappings, and Hydra took the former top three slots, she spent most of her time in a low-level state of panic that was prone to flare up even when the baby was sleeping.
It wasn’t fair that silent assassin vibes translated to chill parenting mojo and Sarah was Bucky’s sidekick in the just hangin’ department as long as he was around. Clint and Nat gave off the same air; Sarah gazed at both of them with adoring eyes.
Even Steve totally had the knack for dealing with Sarah when she’d fuss in the evenings. He’d carry her until the moment before she fell asleep, then he’d sneak her into the crib where she’d sigh and smack her lips as she passed out.
Darcy totally had two DILFs in the house and didn’t have enough energy for a good liplock, much less actual sex. Feeding Sarah every couple of hours was all on Darcy, and while she rocked at staying up for sixty hours straight on a hacking binge (or avoiding sleep while Steve was off saving the world), this took her into Tony Stark levels of sleep deprivation.
Which reminded her -- “Hey, Jason, call my dad, please.”
“Of course, Ms. Stark.”
“Enough with the Ms. Stark,” she admonished. “Let’s come up with something not boring .”
“Madam, Milady, Queen, Her Grace, Her Royal Highness, shall I go on? And Sir is on the line.”
Darcy snickered at Jason’s quip. He was getting better. Tony’s face appeared on the video screen. He was in his lab in Malibu, of course.
“Hiya, heir apparent.”
“Ha ha. Dad, we need something better for Jason to call me. I don’t like Ms. Stark. Dr. Stark is too pretentious.”
“Yeah, I never liked it either. Being Tony Stark was enough of a pain in the ass without adding a Doctor in front of it. Duchess.”
“Barnes calls you Princess. You have your own house now; you get a raise. I dub thee Duchess of the Eastern Stark Empire. Pepper holds the west, in case you didn’t get that. Jason can call you ‘Duchess’ or ‘your grace,’ whichever floats your boat.”
“I’m American. ‘Duchess’ is totally incorrect and kinda perfect. Jay?” Darcy announced, “Duchess it is.”
Darcy grinned happily.
“So why are you calling dear old Dad?”
“How’d you do this? The kid thing without losing your mind.”
“I had zero responsibilities besides keeping you alive and out of Dad’s sight.”
“I feel like a bumbling idiot.”
“Amazing how something so tiny can do that.”
“James is so much better at this. Sarah likes him best,” she whined.
“He had sisters, right? Babies don’t scare him.”
“I think that’s more to do with living in tenement housing than siblings. And just the one.”
Tony snorted. “You know babies can sense fear, right?”
“I’m doomed,” Darcy said with a groan. “I’m always thinking I’m going to scar her for life by being an awful parent.”
“I’m a terrible parent.” Darcy sucked in her breath to refute her dad, but he continued, “You know this, spawn of mine. I partied too hard. Slept with the wrong people. Pawned you off on Pepper or Peggy when I needed a break. Drank too much. You’re too young to remember a couple of lost weeks in Vegas. Rhodey can tell you that one. Forgot important stuff all the time. I still do, but Pepper’s on my ass about that.” Tony hunched over at that admission. “Point is, Darcy, you’re gonna fuck up. A lot. Own it. Apologize when you’re wrong. Do better. But be there for all the times it really counts.”
“That’s what Howard didn’t do,” Darcy muttered. “He was never there for you.”
With a shrug, Tony looked away. “That’s what I remember anyway.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She blew him a kiss. “For showing up.”
“You good?” he asked, squinting at her.
“I’m good. Still clueless, but I feel better.”
“Good. Go conquer the world, spawn of mine. Later.” With that, the video disappeared.
Darcy did feel better. If Tony could do this at eighteen, surely she could figure it out?
“Alright, Jay. Bring Ava online. We’ve got work to do,” she said as she pulled her hair back in a ponytail, with a simple double loop of the elastic from around her wrist.
There was an infinitesimal pause. “Ava is online.”
“So, where did we leave off?”
“I believe we were uploading her new compiler.”
Darcy grinned. As screens popped up all over her lab, she blew on her fingernails and rubbed the tips together like an evil genius. “Alright Pinky. TIme to take over the world.”
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Stifling another yawn, Steve paced the long hallway with Sarah draped over his arm. She’d refused to settle tonight, letting out ear-piercing wails made worse by super-soldier hearing.
It was a sympathetic Thor who got Sarah to sleep sprawled across his forearm, with dangling legs and curled up toes. She hadn’t even minded being transferred to Steve’s arm, promptly smashing her face in his elbow and drooling on it as she smacked her lips in her sleep. (Sweet, sweet, silence. He kissed Thor for that, right on the lips.)
Steve wasn’t particularly happy about leaving Darcy and Bucky cuddled up on the bed without him. (Good thing Sarah was cute as a button. She had Darcy’s pout and Bucky’s little dent in her chin.)
He yawned, wishing he’d been able to get Sarah to settle on the couch with him so he could doze a little. But she’d set up a howl whenever he stopped moving. After a handful of attempts, Steve wearily shuffled the halls of Stark House in between trips to Darcy so she could nurse Sarah.
His route took him along the atrium separating the Asgardian Embassy from the family side. At the far end, he climbed the stairs, not wanting to disturb the first and second floor apartment occupants. (Clint got bitchy when his sleep was interrupted. Nat was worse.) He headed for the long row of offices on the third floor. His art studio was up here, next to Darcy’s and Catalina’s offices.
A clicking noise gave him a moment's warning before a small fleet of cleaning ‘bots zipped down the hallway toward the freight elevator tucked into a paneled corner. He chuckled softly as one dodged a neighbor and careened toward an antique bench. It stopped sharply, chattering at the other ‘bot with vigor before darting down the hallway after the others.
The ‘bots were Darcy’s mark on the mansion.
When Steve first considered moving here, he’d expected that he’d have to get used to house staff to keep the house running. The three of them splitting chores in the Tower had been one thing; cleaning even just the master’s apartments in the massive Stark House was another. Darcy’d had a different idea.
Catalina herself took care of the grocery shopping and household errands, leaving nothing to chance when it came to privacy and security. To Darcy’s amusement, Steve and Bucky still split their everyday laundry. (Laugh all you want, Darce, it’s nothing at all to jam everything into a couple of machines every so often.) Darcy didn’t employ an on-site chef, but the Embassy did, and food could be had whenever they wanted.
Between Jason, Catalina, and Darcy’s fleet of ‘bots to manage the day-to-day household clean up, a select crew came over from Stark Tower twice a month for the heavy-duty chores and repairs that needed a human touch. Bucky monitored the activities in real time and ran a full security sweep as soon as they left.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but they’d found a rhythm that worked. (And if there was anyone as twitchy as Bucky about security, it was Clint and Natasha. Steve wasn’t entirely sure they’d asked Darcy about moving in; they’d just appeared one day and never left. Tony still pouted about that.)
Sarah heaved a long sigh, interrupting his musings. Steve took one careful step, then two, keeping his pace slow so she’d go back to sleep. The tyke shuddered, smacked her lips, and turned her head so that she faced Steve. After one more sigh, her breathing grew quiet and even.
Steve yawned. With aching arms after the long hours of walking, he wanted nothing more than to crawl in bed between his loves. He held his daughter through the long night instead. This, he decided, was what being a dad meant. (Tony had told him it was about being there for all the awful, exhausting, and completely awesome parts of having a kid. Maybe he was right.)
At last, Sarah crashed hard enough that Steve could prop himself up on one of the chairs facing the windows to the courtyard. He closed his eyes …
… and the soft pad of footsteps behind him caught his attention. Catalina had her coffee in one hand and briefcase in the other as she approached her office. It wasn’t the first time she’d caught him with Sarah as daylight began to break.
Steve shifted, his muscles cramping from the awkward position he’d stuffed himself into so he wouldn’t drop the baby in his sleep.
“Mr. Rogers,” she offered with a smile for the littlest household member.
“Ms. Martinez,” he said as he rose to his feet. The little exchange of last names was their thing and all about Steve giving her the respect she deserved as the majordomo of the house.
Sarah let out a yawn as she stirred too, lashes lifting as she came awake. She was slow to rouse, having eaten heartily just a couple of hours before. Steve calculated he had about twenty minutes before she fussed.
“If you’ve got a minute while she wakes?” Catalina asked. “If not, I’d like a few minutes later today.”
“Won’t promise my undivided attention, but I’m here.”
She laughed as she unlocked her office door. “I don’t think anyone had my undivided attention the entire time I had kids at home.” She held the door open for Steve.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“We’ve got a mail problem.”
“Mail,” Catalina said firmly. “Since your retirement, the amount of mail coming to Stark House is getting out of hand.”
“Darcy has staff at the Tower handling all our mail and email,” Steve remarked.
“You do. But you also had the Avengers’ staff sifting through it for intel.”
Steve smirked, just a little. “I take it that’s no longer the case.”
Catalina grinned. “I’ve had a number of polite inquiries from Maria Hill asking for access.”
Weeks of frustration over having to give up his role with the team began to fizzle away as new ideas began to simmer in the back of his brain. He shared a look with Sarah, who stared at him with wide blue-grey eyes. “Da’s got some planning to do, doll.” He glanced up at Catalina. “Let me talk to Darcy. I’ll have something for you by the end of the day.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Catalina, then.” She held out her hand.
“Of course, Ms. Martinez.” Steve shook it with a grin.
Sarah didn’t squeak a peep for the entire trip through the house. At least, not until she heard Darcy’s voice, then she wailed as if Steve had been withholding food from her for hours. “You’re makin’ me look like a mook, doll,” he muttered as he passed her over. “She was fine ten seconds ago,” he complained.
Darcy wrinkled her nose. “Why I do I get the cranky kid all the time?” she grumbled, sitting up in the bed to feed their daughter.
Bucky turned his head on the pillow to give Steve a sleepy once-over. “You got that look, punk.”
“What look?” (Damn it. Bucky could always read him.)
“You’re up to something,” he mumbled.
That got Darcy’s attention. “Do I need coffee for this?” She wiggled to get comfortable as Sarah curled her fingers around her mama’s thumb and gulped her breakfast down with gusto.
“Then table it for twenty minutes so I can pay attention,” Darcy insisted.
Bucky leaned up on an elbow, squinting. Steve stifled a smirk at Bucky’s look of dismay.
“What’re you up to, punk? You’ve got that ‘I’m gonna make trouble’ look.”
Now the smirk came out, front and center. “I’m gonna make trouble.”
Sam scrolled through his texts, muttering, “I wanna know why the white boy gets to go to Wakanda to flirt with his boyfriend, and I’m stuck reading papers at the embassy.”
Steve pretended not to hear his friend’s grumblings. T’Challa owed a debt to Bucky; offering sanctuary was fair recompense. Steve felt as if he were trespassing as it was; he didn’t dare bring anyone else without explicit permission. They’d rented a cheap flat in Nairobi within walking distance of the Wakandan embassy. Shuri sent messages once a week or so. She and the doctors there thought they might have a solution to the powerful conditioning scorched into Bucky’s brain, but it would take months, if not years, to correct. In the meantime, the Wakandan diplomats idly mentioned they might have a small job for the exiled Americans, and would they be available in the coming days to discuss?
“There’s a jazz band playing at the mall tonight,” Sam suggested. “You in?”
Stifling a sigh, Steve nodded. “Sure thing. How’s the new cell phone?” He wouldn’t admit to missing his old device and having Friday at his fingertips.
“Wifi is fantastic here. DC should be a jealous. Miss the phone though.” Sam jerked his chin at Steve. “You still pissed at Stark?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “Tony was only doing what he thought was right. And I still think he sent access codes to Shuri for breaking into the raft.”
“You might be right, though I’m not sure that girl needs any kind of help with anything. You gonna tell him?”
Discovering his jaw hurt from clenching it, he rubbed at his cheek. “Think we can find a burner on our way?”
“A flip phone for the technological wiz?” Sam admired as he dug into his plate of nyoma choma while he waited on Steve to finish. “That’s cold.”
Steve wrote out Tony’s address on the Fed Ex package. “Gotta get my kicks somehow.” He stuffed the ticket inside the plastic sleeve and sealed it, then tucked the phone inside the box and sealed that too.
Sam leaned over to read Steve’s handwriting, as he forked up another mouthful of ugali. “Tony Stank? You did that on purpose.”
“A side effect of bad handwriting?” Steve said with a straight face.
Sam set his Fendi sunglasses over his eyes and used his middle finger to push them in place. “You really are an asshole.”
Steve smirked. “I'm from Brooklyn."
Sam rolled his eyes as he handed over the second plate of nyoma choma he’d bought off a street vendor a block away from the Fed Ex store. “Eat up. Concert’s in twenty.”
Two former soldiers didn’t need much time to tuck in a solid meal, and they cleared the plates in nothing flat. As they turned the corner to head to the mall for the concert, Steve’s phone vibrated.
Though Barton was on house arrest on his farm, it didn’t stop him from passing along intel from the contacts he’d cultivated over two decades of spy work.
Eager for the distraction, Steve held up the phone so Sam could read the screen. “Don’t know if we’ll make the concert. Looks like we’ve got work to do."
Sam had a way of going on alert Steve admired. His demeanor changed from lazy confidence to suppressed energy without twitching a muscle. “Fine,” Sam agreed. “But now that your boyfriend isn’t around to rip off my steering wheel, I’m driving.”