Chapter 1: Prologue
Ice and Fire: Strands of Yggdrasil
A bead of sweat dripped off his hairline, landing with a silent splat on his lover’s shoulder. It was less a testament to the sticky end of summer and more of the languid ease with which Steve slipped into Bucky’s body. His best guy shivered as Steve flexed his hips, patiently walking the line between eliciting exquisite pleasure and keeping his own heart controlled in a slow, steady beat.
Bucky hissed, arching his back as he uselessly attempted to hurry Steve along, then hissed again in soft apology. They’d learned the hard way about reckless lovemaking on humid days when Steve’s lungs sucked in the damp or the chilly ones where icy breaths made them seize up.
It helped that they had keep quiet. A couple of their neighbors were nosy enough to cause trouble if they figured out what was really going on in the little flat. The rest of tenants didn’t care all the much, and Steve figured there were a couple of others like him and Bucky anyway.
He dropped a kiss on the back of Bucky’s neck in mute contrition, then licked it to cause another host of sensations that made Buck shake. He nipped the slick spot, then bit it sharp enough to leave a purpled bruise there as Steve stroked Bucky’s dick. Bucky fucked helplessly into Steve’s hand, spurting his load into a mess on the sheets. The clench of his ass around Steve’s cock had him chasing his own orgasm. Two long strokes in that tight heat and he, too, was gone, letting out the softest of groans. “James,” he whispered as he held on. Bucky collapsed onto the bed, taking Steve with him.
When they separated, Bucky rolled to his back, tucking Steve against his shoulder. A breeze jerked the curtain aside, letting in a current of air that only pretended to cool off their sweaty skin.
“Tell me about your date, Buck.”
Bucky snorted. “Don’t think I’ll be seeing her again. She’s wantin’ a wedding and babies real soon. Told me she’s scared the war’s comin’ and she won’t find a husband before.”
“Least she was honest,” Steve noted with appreciation.
“That she was.”
“It’s okay, Buck, if you find a girl,” Steve said as he closed his eyes and snuggled into Bucky’s side, ignoring the ever present ache from the curve of his spine. “Ain’t gonna be me they’re looking at.”
“It’s gotta be the right dame, punk. Ain’t givin’ you up for nothin’,” Bucky grumped.
“You want a family.”
“So do you,” Bucky countered with firm conviction. “Four kids, that’s what you told me. Though I’m thinking that’s a couple too many.”
“Jus’ dreamin. I’d take one,” Steve whispered.
“Boy or girl?”
“Doesn’t matter, so long as they have your smile.”
“Keep those dreams, love. We’ll find her,” Bucky promised. “We’ll find a dame to keep both of us.”
Steve sighed, shoving his nose into Bucky’s neck, knowing it was all a fantasy. The war was coming. He could feel it in his bones.
Chapter 2: Moving On
A/N You guys are amazing. I had no idea how eager ya'll are for the next installment. This is the last big one, for certain.
So ... I can never do things the easy way. We're gonna take the Ice and Fire 'verse, we're gonna take the MCU 'verse, throw in some sexytimes, some smaller agents, a wee bit of angst,-- (hey, it's me!) --and we're gonna play.
Just a reminder that the blanket fort is fully stocked with wifi and laundry facilities. Tea, wine, and cookie deliveries are made nightly. Extra blankets are in the east wing. Welcome baskets are available for the newcomers.
Thank you with all the love in my heart for your astounding response to the prologue.
Chapter 2/Moving On
Shoulder-to-shoulder in the newly upgraded security room of Stark Mansion, Steve and Bucky watched the feeds, both visual and electronic, as Clint and Natasha attempted to crack the Mansion’s security. It was the last necessary step before Bucky could agree to make the move from the fully secured Stark Tower to their newly renovated house.
Vision and Darcy hovered over Tia, Darcy’s program designed to protect the servers stored two full levels below ground. She scratched at her peeling nose, a reminder that just a few days ago they were sunning in a Bermuda beach. Then she refastened her hair into a ponytail while monitoring Nat’s attempt to circumvent the security system.
Bucky swore softly as Clint disappeared from the cameras. Steve leaned over the work table to peer at the holographic map, neatly labeling the blind spot with a tap of his finger on the electronic diagram.
“What was he doing, hanging upside down from a tree branch?” Bucky complained.
Steve chuckled as he exploded the virtual map by flicking his fingers outward. A sliver of space, no more than six inches wide, appeared in yellow where the camera coverage didn’t quite meet and the motion sensors didn’t reach far enough. “He’s got to be there," he told Bucky. To Jason, he asked, "Can I get a satellite visual?”
The AI brought up another screen and zoomed in. Sure enough, Clint balanced on the low branch of a healthy bush, swaying gently up and down as it fought to hold his weight. The spy stretched out his fingers over his head, and with astonishing ease, caught the edge of the stonework overhanging his position by mere inches. He tucked himself under the cornice of the roof, disappearing from the satellite’s view.
“How long will we have the satellite?” Bucky asked.
Darcy glanced at her watch. “Four more minutes before it’s out of range.”
“Make sure Barton doesn’t come out of that niche,” Bucky ordered Steve.
“Copy that.” Steve crossed his arms, amused by the whole scenario. Bucky had worked his ass off since they’d returned from the short beach trip to finish updating security systems on Stark Mansion. Darcy and JARVIS had done an admirable job keeping the house on lockdown in the years she was away, but mostly they’d focused on keeping the riff raff from stealing the china.
With the Asgardian Embassy moving into a portion of the enormous house and the Stark family not being exactly low profile these days, Bucky insisted on going over every inch of the property from aerial coverage to the tunnels below the house. And now that Vision was sure JARVIS’s remaining programming was clean of Ultron’s mess, Darcy and Vision had fully integrated Jason into the house, along with the the latest tech Tony had developed for Friday in his newly rebuilt house in Malibu.
Then there had been a stretch of twenty-four hours where Bucky kicked everyone out of the Mansion, right down to Steve and Darcy. What Bucky did was anyone’s guess, but afterward Steve’d noted a scattering of pebbles on the walkway under the portico that would only be familiar to a Howling Commando. He’d done a triple take at the gossamer thread of silk stretching along the hedgerow before deciding it wasn’t a spider who’d strung it there. Close inspection revealed that it wasn’t silk at all, and whatever it was had a sensor attached to the end. Dugan had taught the Commandos how to set traps like that to secure whatever patch of land or abandoned building they camped in as they moved through the European countryside in pursuit of Hydra. Bucky had taken to those lessons like a duck to water. It seemed he remembered them, and Steve wondered just what lay in wait for the stupid soul who thought Stark Mansion would be their next target.
But no security system could be called successful until it was tested. Clint and Nat were treating this like any high-level op and had done their research with all the tools available to the Avengers -- except for, well, anyone related to or created by Stark. But they had Stark tech and would utilize that to their advantage.
All this because Bucky wanted to be able to sleep in his new home.
Darcy hissed as coding appeared on her screen. She did that thing where she revised Tia’s software on the fly with simultaneous typing, gestures at the holographic diagrams, and directives for Jason. Steve could hear the frustration in her voice when Jason didn’t catch on to what she wanted to do with the same speed that JARVIS could. Vision noticed, laying a hand on her shoulder. A quirk of her lips was the only acknowledgement, but she settled down and successfully blocked Nat’s attempt to hack Tia.
Steve smiled at her victory, though he knew this was only the first test to show Bucky where his coverage needed improvement. As Bucky had told Pepper once, the question wasn’t “if” someone would get into the house, it was how far they’d get once they did.
They called it a draw near dawn. Clint managed to enter the mansion through the art library and a hidden doorway that wasn’t on the house drawings, but Darcy had successfully kept Tia online. Jason reported the intrusion and locked the room down, though not fast enough to catch Clint as he smashed through a window to make his escape.
Darcy groaned, rubbing at her eyes as they gathered in the kitchen. The ponytail had loosened, letting one long lock of chestnut hair cling to her shoulder. Clint sat on the counter sipping coffee while Natasha rested her head on her fist at the table. “Really, Barton? You HAD to go through the glass? It’s like seventy years old,” Darcy groused. “You owe me a window pane.”
He snickered. “Jason almost got me.” He wiggled around to show the hole at the ankle in his pant leg where the security bars snapping into place had caught the fabric. “You owe me new tac pants.”
Darcy wiggled her fingers at him in tacit agreement.
Bucky drifted into the room after their wife, his eyes still the steel grey of the Asset. Steve wasn't surprised, any access to the mansion would count as a failure to Bucky's conditioning. He tugged his husband close enough to wrap an arm around him, holding him back-to-chest. There was a tremor there that maybe only Steve and Nat would notice on any given day. But Jason must have tattled through the coms Darcy and Bucky permanently wore, and Darcy popped her head up to give Bucky a worried look.
“Bedtime, people. Feel free to find a place to get horizontal.” She pointed at Clint. “Not the counter.”
Taking the cue, Barton grinned as he slid to the floor, carafe of coffee in hand as he followed Nat out the door.
Vision phased off to … somewhere … leaving Steve with his husband and wife. He was proud of both of them. They’d teamed up to make the Mansion a safe house in the middle of Manhattan. Steve would sleep here any time, even with the windows wide open.
Bucky hardly shifted when Darcy wound an arm around his waist, though his breathing stuttered. She tilted his face toward her. “You did good, James. The security hasn’t been changed in twenty years. Not bad for a first run against your protegee’ and her shadow.”
The praise helped, and Bucky leaned into the sandwich Steve and Darcy made of him. Steve pressed his lips to Bucky’s temple, grateful --as he was every day-- to have his loves close.
The tension in Bucky eased.
"If we stay here, you gonna be able to sleep tonight, love?" Steve murmured. "Mansion's secure enough that Jason will wake you if there's a problem. He proved that tonight."
"I dunno, punk." Bucky's stance shifted into the Brooklyn charmer he'd been seven decades ago. "I can think of other things I'd like to do first."
Steve laughed as Darcy unwound from their embrace, then pressed a kiss to Bucky's cheek and bolted, presumably to the not-quite-finished bedroom.
"Only if you catch me first," she called out as she disappeared around the corner.
Bucky whistled, long and low. "How long of a head start do we give her?"
Steve sidled his way toward the door. "Not that long." He darted out of the kitchen, Bucky hard on his heels as they chased after their wife.
When the Asgardian contingent investigated into their new quarters, they weren’t supposed to bring their security tech with them. Or much of their tech at all. In theory, anyway.
Bucky invited Clint and Natasha with him to make the final inspection before the new residents moved in this weekend. Once they were settled, Bucky, Steve and Darcy would officially move in too.
With a hum, Natasha leaned over Bucky’s tablet and tapped one of the images. “A Faraday cage around the whole mansion?”
He nodded as he passed the tablet to her. “Surprised me, too. That was Howard, by the way. Never say that man wasn’t paranoid about his electronics.”
“Progressive for his time.”
“Thor was amused,” Bucky said drily.
Clint snickered. “Yeah, well, Asgardian tech makes Tony’s look positively ancient.”
“You figured it out?”
The archer held up a hand, where a pea-sized dot nestled at the vee of his third and fourth finger. “Saw this while we were sneaking gifts into the nursery. I’m guessing it’s not yours.”
“No,” Bucky confirmed. “Got those in every room, though. But only in the Embassy.”
Nat and Clint exchanged a quick look, then Natasha kissed Bucky’s cheeks, three times in succession. “You should be proud, Utchitel. Anyone who gets in has to be powered or a god. It’s a good home.”
The slight emphasis on the last word had to be deliberate, because it was Natasha. He ignored it, though he slipped his hand in hers to brush a kiss against her knuckles.
Natasha gave him a soft smile. And it was genuine enough for Barton to slide his hand under Bucky’s to lay Nat’s hand on his arm. “Enough with the charm, asshole. We’re going to dinner.” He turned to Natasha. “Where do you want to go to dinner?”
She laughed, a lyrical thing that had always been a bright spot on even the worst day. But she headed out with Barton, happiness drifting in their wake.
Bucky closed his eyes. Home . Home meant a tenement with Steve that was barely held together with thick layers of paint and a radiator, but it was their haven against an often brutal world. Home meant Darcy’s carriage house, where he’d felt safe for the first time in seventy years. Home meant an apartment in Stark Tower, where he’d learned to be a person again.
How in the hell was he supposed to be home in a place where he’d killed the people who’d built it with his own hands? And yet, how could he deny Darcy this piece of happiness when she’d given him a chance to be that person by making room in her home and her heart?
Making one last round of the mansion, Bucky ordered, “Jason, lock up the house. Sierra Team is on patrol tonight. Give them access to the security suite, but no more.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” There was a brief pause, then Jason added, “Done, sir.”
Bucky slid a thumb across his phone to dial the Sierra Team lead. “Garcia.”
“Mansion is buttoned up; I’m heading back to the Tower.”
“Copy that. We’ve got patrol. Need an escort?”
“I’ll make my way home.”
“Yes, sir. Have a good night.”
If Garcia suspected there was an underground passage between the Tower and the Mansion, he didn’t let on. Only a handful of people knew about the hidden tunnel, a masterpiece of engineering and secrecy.
Oh, the public knew about the train tunnel from Grand Central Station to the Waldorf Astoria that presidents and celebrities used in the early half of the twentieth century. What they didn’t know was that Howard Stark had funded part of the railway so that it extended in both directions to the docks and the Mansion. Howard’s vault had been breached once by a Soviet spy group called Leviathan. In those days, the city sewer ran directly under the mansion, but in the aftermath, Howard had completely rebuilt the underground portion of the house, redirecting the tunnel and building a false ending to the train line just past the Waldorf. The secret codes to open the false wall had long since been replaced with bio metric sensors and links to the house AI.
Bucky slipped into the sturdy elevator, where Jason directed the car down four full levels below the house. When Bucky exited, a carriage waited on the tracks, powered by Tony’s repulsor tech, though the doors didn’t open until the elevator shut entirely. Just one more layer of security.
The carriage whisked him underneath the Tower, where a short hallway and a pair of locked doors led to Stark’s private elevator. With both Friday and Jason independently monitoring the connection from Mansion to Tower, it was as safe as Tony could make it.
Sometimes Bucky didn’t mind the short walk in the City, but not on days like this one, where the Asset hovered too close to the edge of his psyche for him to be in public without either Darcy or Steve.
“Sergeant,” Jason said through the subcutaneous comlink Bucky wore behind his ear. “I would remind you to use your grounding techniques.”
Damn. If Jason could sense Bucky struggling with the Asset, it was worse than he thought. Bucky rolled his neck as the elevator ascended, bracing his right hand against the cool metal wall to focus on the way it felt (hard, unforgiving ) under his fingertips. He ran a thumb across his wedding band. That was better. Out of habit, he tapped his wrist so that the Asgardian wedding bracelet appeared. The golden thread of energy that never failed to remind him of the beauty of Asgard and the ceremony of promises and blessings settled him enough that Jason quietly praised him.
“You did well, Sergeant.”
“Thanks, Jason. Appreciate the assist.” Bucky slipped out of the elevator.
The AI unlocked the apartment door before Bucky could put a hand on it, and it was a matter of habit for Bucky to ease it open and slip inside without a sound. Not even a click gave away the closing and locking of the door. The AI even suppressed the door chimes, knowing the sound would make him jumpy in this state.
Bucky scraped his hand through his hair, then set his bag on the floor and toed his shoes off in silence. He wound around the stack of boxes in the living room. The smooth wood floor against his feet helped ground him, even if he kept his weight on his toes out of habit. He didn’t mean to sneak up on his spouses, but maybe it was one of the perks when he found them nestled together on the couch soundly sleeping.
Steve had one hand carelessly threaded through Darcy’s hair where she rested her head against his chest. Bucky stilled, knowing damned well that Steve and Darcy didn’t get a lot of time alone these days. She’d had her hands full this summer, and Bucky’s issues hadn’t helped with that. Their relationship with Steve was easier than with each other. Blame Hydra or Stark-- or just the fact Bucky and Darcy’s relationship was newer. Really though, it was because Steve simply loved with his whole heart and waited for everyone else to catch up. As crazy as it sounded, even in Bucky’s own head (he, more than anyone, understood the tempest named Steve Rogers), Darcy calmed like the eye of a hurricane whenever Steve was around, especially as he navigated the stormy relationship Darcy sometimes had with Tony. The last few years had been remarkable, according to Pepper.
Steve had certainly run interference as Tony’s annoyed quips about the Mansion crawled under Darcy’s skin. He’d taken the phone outright from Darcy when the sniping had become too much. Whatever he’d said to Tony made him back off for a few days, and Darcy’s mood lifted.
Barring emergencies, Steve would be in New York for a while, flying between the new Avengers facility and home while he trained the newest members of the team. Bucky was damned glad to see the numbers expanding. Steve had hardly taken a break since Sokovia, determined to prove the Avengers’ value in a world that mostly operated in soundbites and budgets.
Rubbing his fingertips so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch, Bucky slipped past the pair snuggled on the couch into the now-empty study. A lone chair faced the window. Bucky sat in silence, unwilling to disturb his loves.
In retrospect, Darcy should have known that moving into Stark Mansion wouldn’t be easy. Too much history radiated from the bones of the house.
Darcy remembered many lonely hours wandering around the mansion when much of it had been closed off after Howard and Maria’s death. She’d played in the many apartments meant for hosting visitors, danced with JARVIS in the grand ballrooms, and taught her robots how to crawl through the legs of the enormous dining room tables that gathered dust from disuse.
Tony hated being here. Since moving to Malibu, he’d come here no more than a handful of times in twenty years--all but abandoning the property. It had been Pepper and Catalina Martinez y Davila (the new majordomo to the Stark Mansion) who’d seen to its maintenance and upkeep until Darcy and JARVIS took over as they came of age.
Darcy loved every marble tile, every inch of wood--scarred or not, the antique chandeliers, and the weird little kitchens stuck in oddball spaces. She’d played for hours in the old-fashioned bowling alley in the basement that still smelled of cigars, even though no one had smoked down there in a quarter century. The magnolia in the courtyard had only grown bigger, spreading its branches to shade the driveway. She and JARVIS had made it theirs.
She couldn’t bear to have it empty like it was before. It was too big for just her and her spouses, even with Vision nearby. But when Thor had asked her advice about property for an Asgardian Embassy, a neat solution presented itself. Thor had even fronted some of the costs for sectioning off working portions of the mansion from where Darcy and her loves would live.
The Mansion had needed a professional hand to finish off the renovations Darcy had started, and in the master’s suite, Darcy and Steve gave Bucky free rein on the decor. He’d worked out a mix of pre-war influences with a modern vibe to appeal to all of them. Steve had made it clear--mostly through the faint look of panic he got whenever the topic came up-- he was perfectly happy leaving any selections to Darcy and Bucky. The few times he had to make a decision, he ran it by Pepper first, much to her amusement.
Bucky, on the other hand, seemed interested in the details of the project and got along well with Catalina. With twenty plus years of experience managing a Stark home, Catalina had firm ideas about how to manage both the private house and embassy; she’d set about staffing for both. Leaving security firmly in Bucky’s hands, Catalina took over Jason’s training. Having worked with JARVIS for years in both Stark Mansion and Tony’s house in Malibu, she had a solid understanding of both protocol and security. Catalina found it amusing to have come full circle, as the former student became the teacher.
On the surface, all looked well. The portion of the mansion housing the newly-invented Asgardian embassy held most of the antiques and art that Darcy had inherited along with the house, plus what she’d acquired on her own. (The Pollack was hers now; bought for a song when Tony decided he didn’t like it. She hung it in the portico.) Catalina’s meticulous inventory, created two decades ago, ensured the best pieces occupied places of interest throughout. The Roman architecture of the house lent itself well to both the richly detailed decorations preferred by the Asgardians on Embassy side and the simple Art Deco elegance of the family side.
Thor and Jane had already moved in, along with a half-dozen Einherjar as live-in bodyguards. Their presence was more about Jane’s pregnancy and impending due date than the Asgardian Embassy Thor had established, at least for the time being. Jane and Darcy spent one ridiculously fun afternoon picking out nursery furniture with Catalina, who, having two grown children, had plenty of good ideas about the line between practical and ridiculous.
A team of gardeners freshened up the lawn separating the house from Central Park, along with the indoor and outdoor courtyards. The fountains in both bubbled merrily--something that hadn’t happened since Darcy was a child.
Downstairs, the catering kitchens, laundry, Tony’s old lab, and Jason’s server farm had been thoroughly updated, along with the theatre down there. They’d left the original two-lane bowling alley, the billiards room, and the enormous bar area alone. A good cleaning of the fabrics, better lighting, and polishing up the wood had been all that was needed there. Steve had already figured out where the scoring sheets for the alley were kept and restocked the box with pencils himself. (The impromptu game had been unfair at first --Darcy knew exactly where the floor had warped too slightly to be seen by the naked eye. Bucky and Steve didn’t catch on until the fifth frame.)
Once Bucky pronounced himself satisfied with the mansion’s security, Darcy left a backdoor into Jason’s programming for Natasha and Clint. Two days later, she was fairly certain the pair had set up housekeeping on the third floor.
But one thing was certain: in all of her excitement about moving back to the mansion, Darcy screwed up--big time. Steve and Bucky had done a damned good job of convincing her that they were on board with the change of address, and Darcy’d pretended the obvious issues weren’t issues at all.
When the trio unpacked what little they’d accumulated in the Tower, she’d caught the doubt in Bucky’s stiff demeanor, and the echo of worry in Steve was unmistakable.
At three-thirty in their first morning as residents, Darcy awakened to find her spouses missing from their new bed.
“Jason? Where’s the Dynamic Duo?” she grumbled sleepily.
“In your office, Ms Stark.”
Darcy winced as she shoved back the covers. “Thanks. Don’t tell them I’m coming.”
She found a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on before climbing the stairs to the third floor. Steve and Bucky’s new art room was up here, in what used to be her grandmother’s office. (Funny that Darcy didn’t think of them as Grandma and Grandpa, just Howard and Maria.)
It was here that her granddad had built his office overlooking Central Park. Tony hadn’t cared for it, letting it remain a shrine to Howard’s work. Darcy had always loved this space, this bastion where her family’s legacy began.
No wonder Bucky leaned against the doorframe with the stillness of the Winter Soldier. Steve perched on the edge of Howard’s desk--now decorated with whimsical sculptures of the Avengers that Darcy had found on Etsy.
She squeezed in beside Bucky to hold up the other side of the door frame with her shoulder. “I missed the memo on the three a.m. meeting,” she quipped.
Steve tugged at the bangs on his forehead before flicking them aside in one of his few tells as he crossed his arms, tension radiating in his shoulders. Bucky’s silver eyes flickered among the artifacts Darcy had left in the office --photos, mostly. He lingered on the one of Steve, Howard, and Dr Erskine, taken moments before Steve stepped into the Vita-Ray machine. The Winter Soldier seldom came to the forefront these days, but he was here: silent, with rhythmic breaths and a tension that belied his stillness.
Steve’s quiet resolution worried her even more. He’d been content to let Bucky and Darcy work out the logistics of moving into the mansion and generally, if the two of them knocked heads, he’d play Switzerland and refuse to side with either of them. This time though, his stance made it clear he stood with Bucky on this one.
Since her wry quip didn’t get the faintest twitch of amusement from either spouse, Darcy backtracked, holding up her hands. “I can have us packed and moved out by noon,” she blurted, even as a curl of nausea cramped her stomach at the idea.
Steve’s mouth flattened unhappily. “Darce--”
She turned her hands up. “It’s not worth living here if you two are miserable. Stark Mansion’s a lot to take in, and the history, and my grandparents, and Tony--it’s,” she pressed her hands to her eyes, “it’s too much to ask you to live here, James. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. We can find somewhere else to live.”
Swallowing hard,she wrapped her arms around Bucky’s middle, ignoring the fact that he didn’t return the hug. “I get it. It’s a fucking elephant in every room, living in the house my grandparents built, knowing what you were forced to do. I just--” She bit her hip hard, pressing her forehead to Bucky’s hard shoulder.
“Just what--” Steve prompted when the silence stretched out.
“The way I see it, your living here is the ultimate ‘Fuck You’ to HYDRA,” Darcy stated with conviction.
Bucky startled, eyes dropping to meet hers. He shook his head once in automatic denial, even as Steve uncrossed his arms to rest his palms on the desk.
Darcy only laced her fingers together so that she held Bucky a little tighter. “Your being here means the Stark family understands who is responsible for Howard and Maria’s deaths and who the victims are in this scenario. It places the blame fully at HYDRA’s feet, not yours, James.”
Steve grunted in agreement, seeming pleased by her turn of phrase. He raised an eyebrow at their husband and lifted a shoulder.
It was times like these that the decade the two men had together in their time awakened a spark of jealousy in Darcy as they communicated without words. Then again, as Steve’s eyes softened in her direction, he understood what she had to face as a Stark and had been there for her time and again.
A soft sigh from Bucky got her attention. “Still my hands, Princess.”
Darcy drummed her fingers on his back in annoyance. “Fine. You took a couple of lives from the Stark family. Seems to me your ledger would be square if you gave them back.”
Bucky squinted in confusion, until Steve’s soft chuckle broke the tension. “I thought I had good plans. I like the way our girl thinks, Buck.”
Darcy grinned at Steve’s quip, but didn’t look away from Bucky’s eyes until they warmed to the faintest blue as understanding dawned. He shook his head in automatic protest even as his hands landed on her waist with his thumbs pressing into her hip bones.
“I--oh.” He scowled, slanting a look at Steve--who wasn’t any help at all, not with that happy grin on his face. “You too?”
“We always figured kids would be yours. Serum can’t fix genetics,” Steve reminded him. “I can use rubbers for a while.”
Darcy laughed. “You won’t even need a whole box. Pretty sure James will knock me up in, like, five minutes.” Warm hands curved around her back, and Darcy happily snuggled into Bucky’s chest as he hugged her at last. “So. What do you think of my plan?”
Bucky rubbed his chin in her hair. “Yeah, princess, we can work with that.”
She tipped her head back to see him once more. “We still don’t have to live here.”
In the moment of his hesitation before answering, Bucky darted a look to Steve. Darcy wasn’t quite sure if it was the soldier needing his handler to make the call, or a man needing his long-time partner’s thoughts on the matter.
Steve tilted his head as he studied Bucky. “We’ve got the Gala next month, the opening of the Embassy in October, and the Stark Expo in November. It’s gonna be easier to do the first two from here. Darcy will need to be in the Tower leading up to the Expo. If living here doesn’t feel right by then, we’ll go back to the drawing board and find something that works for all of us.” He crossed the room to press a kiss at the bare patch of skin where Darcy’s neck curved into her shoulder. “We owe it to Darce to give it a chance.”
She let out a relieved exhale as she covered Steve’s hand on her shoulder with her own. Steve’s idea was more than fair, but she waited for Bucky to agree.
With one more long look at the photograph of Howard and Maria holding a small girl with a shock of dark hair and wild curls, Bucky gave it a curt nod. “Maybe we owe it to them,” he murmured.
somewhere in another universe....
Steve rubbed his forehead, as if the pressure of his fingers could scrape away the tension there while he scanned through the documents again. One more reading wasn’t going to conjure up another lead on Bucky’s whereabouts.
Sam leaned against the countertop, arms crossed as he waited for Steve to reach the same conclusion he’d come to hours ago.
“I know. There’s nothing else.” Steve slapped the file shut, frustrated. They’d tracked Bucky from DC to Brooklyn to a cargo ship headed for Italy. From there, Bucky had grown increasingly hard to track, until the trail had gone cold in Moldova.
“Look, that’s a good thing, right? Means he’s staying low, keeping his head down.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Sam tilted his head, waiting. “So--”
“We wait. Eventually he’s gonna pull on a thread,” Steve repeated. He’d heard that refrain a dozen times in the past year.
“So what do we do now?”
“Go home, I guess. Pretty sure we can find something to do. We could all use more training.”
“Got any room in that schedule for--oh, I don’t know-- a movie or a nice dinner out?”
Steve gave Sam a wry smile. “Thought you’d had enough of my company.”
The flyer held his hands up. “Wasn’t thinkin’ about me,” he chided. “I’m gonna head to my Mama’s for Sunday dinner. Probably stay long enough to gain a few pounds on her cooking. You need to get out too.”
“Sounds nice.” Steve rose from the table, knowing there wasn’t a soul waiting for him back home. “You’ll have a good time.”
“And you?” Sam needled.
“I’ll see if Natasha’s in town.”
“Now that sounds like a real plan, Cap.” Sam held out his hand.
Steve shook it, pulling the other man in for a quick hug. “Thanks. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
When Sam left, Steve glanced at the folder one more time, taking in the single grainy photo of Bucky Barnes that had been lifted from a street camera in Chișinău. “Stay safe, Buck,” he pleaded.
With a thumb, he wiped away the damp at the edge of his lashes.
Chapter 3: New Beginnings
Chapter 3/A Beginning
With a flick of the wrist, the shield spun unerringly toward the target. The former HYDRA operative threw up his hands to protect himself, only to have the disc slam into him with enough force to lay him out cold at Natasha’s feet.
If Steve were prone to bragging, he might have patted himself on the back for that shot. Either the slightest tilt of the shield or a fraction of an ounce more force would have resulted in a dead man instead of a disarmed one. As it was, he spun around to guard Natasha’s back while she knelt to strip the cyanide capsule out of the operative’s mouth, then bound up his hands and feet with Stark-issued zip ties that couldn’t be snapped, even with the man’s enhanced strength.
“Nice aim,” she noted. “Clint’s gonna be soooo jealous when I tell him.”
“Short range, doesn’t count,” he retorted. Barton got squawky when anyone questioned his aim. Steve didn’t want to spend hours on the range just so the archer could prove his superiority. Stark liked to take bets, and Bucky would want to participate -- and that never turned out to be a good idea with an audience.
Nat laughed, and Steve was grateful that somewhere along the way, they’d become real friends. He wouldn’t have made it through the mess with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra without her and Wilson.
As if summoned by the thought of his name, Sam poked his head in the room. “You clear?”
“Clear,” Steve answered.
“Good. I missed lunch because of these assholes.”
“I hear there’s food on the return flight,” Natasha said sweetly.
“Yeah, but the flight attendant has a real bad attitude,” Sam shot back.
Natasha picked up Steve’s shield and handed it to Sam while Steve hefted the operative over his shoulder. “You shouldn’t talk about Rogers like that. I’ll bet he looked adorable in a short skirt in the forties.”
Enjoying the banter, Steve quipped, “Just the once. The USO girls got jealous.”
“I did not need that image in my head,” Sam retorted with a snort. Using Redwing as their handy lookout, he led the way through the back of the warehouse and to the white van waiting in the narrow Philadelphia alley near what had been a bustling district when Steve was a kid. Now, “For Sale” signs were tacked up in the windows of several of the row houses across the way, most of which were missing paint and the occasional pane of glass.
Natasha took the wheel while Sam and Steve settled on the bench seats, flanking the operative lying on the floor. Sam poked the captive with a needle to tranq him for the trip, then stretched out his leg on the seat, propping it up to get the weight off it.
“You good?” Steve asked. Sam’s first mission back since the Twins and Vision had FUBARed an op over the summer had gone well, but Sam was only just out of physical therapy.
“Never better,” Sam replied. The quick grin was enough of a front that Steve raised an eyebrow at his friend. Sam’s smile became a little more genuine as he settled against the wall of the van. “I’m fine.”
Given that Sam was a pararescue, Steve accepted his assurances. “Copy that.”
They fell silent, not wanting to chatter too much in case the man on the floor began to wake up. In any case, Steve was glad the op was done. It had taken Nat, Sam, and Steve three weeks to track down and capture the spy.
With HYDRA scattered to the four winds and S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to rebuild the gutted organization, the Avengers operated in the mess that was left as alien technology spilled loose into the world and people with strange powers sprouted everywhere. Coulson’s team did their best, and Charles Xavier’s school was stuffed to the brim--so much that some of the senior teachers had spun off to start others, one of them just for adults.
For all that the Avengers had been rounding up HYDRA, they’d stumbled across an equal number of frightened people begging for help in either getting rid of or controlling their newly acquired abilities. The Twins had come in handy in that department, once the professor had convinced Wanda and Pietro of his good intentions.
Steve preferred that method of dealing with powered people over Coulson’s Index, which smelled too much like government meddling. He and Coulson had a fair number of arguments over it, with Steve flat out refusing to report anyone not directly involved with HYDRA or deliberately misusing their powers. Not everyone on the Avengers shared his opinion though. Steve suspected Natasha passed along certain names and abilities. She was more pragmatic about these things, though even she’d promised to keep quiet on Darcy’s exposure to the super serum. After spending the summer battling the side effects, Darcy wasn’t thrilled with the few benefits she’d been granted.
In any case, though the Avengers had retreated to the new facility to train, missions never really stopped, and Coulson had needed backup with one of those enhanced people. Since Bucky seemed to be handling the move to Stark Mansion and Clint offered to train the newest Avengers, Steve didn’t have a good reason for turning down the op, especially when Natasha and Sam wanted to come along.
Debriefing, writing up the mission reports, and getting a recap from Clint about the team’s training efforts took up the whole day, and night was falling by the time Steve climbed aboard the Stark Industries helicopter he used for his commute. Clint was already at the stick, and Natasha slipped in beside him for the short flight.
If Steve didn’t quite think of the Mansion as home yet, he found it amusing that Clint and Nat had apparently moved into the upstairs apartment next to Vision’s without any qualms at all. Darcy had offered Sam, Bruce, and Betty a place too, but Sam decamped to the Compound with the twins instead, and Bruce and Betty stayed in the Tower.
When Stark Mansion came into view, Clint dropped the helicopter onto its pad in the courtyard, landing it neatly next to Darcy’s Quinjet. He and Nat disappeared the moment the engines powered down.
Steve nodded at the Kilo guarding the outer doors. “Sanchez.”
The hallway from the courtyard to the Stark apartments was quiet. From here, one wouldn’t know that an embassy occupied a space anywhere nearby. Darcy wasn’t kidding when she compared living here to a Vegas hotel, with whole suites, stairs, and elevators cleverly hidden from public access.
Still, Steve breathed a sigh of relief when he shut the apartment door behind him. He toed off his boots and socks in the living room, stripping off his shirt as he walked, then ditched the jeans and underwear in a pile outside the bedroom door.
There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell he could sneak in without waking Buck, but Steve chuckled at the sight of his loves, entwined as they were on the bed with not a stitch of clothing between them. He’d undressed for the occasion, that was for sure. The blankets were on the floor, the single sheet covering their legs and little else. Darcy lay on her stomach at the edge of the bed. Bucky covered her whole left side, one arm curled protectively around her.
Bucky raised his head at the faint noise to sweep the room, his eyes tracking straight to Steve. He scraped his hair off his face as he went to his elbow. “Hey, punk,” he murmured. “You’re early.”
“Thought I’d surprise you.”
Darcy rolled over as she woke to Steve’s voice, flinging back the sheet when she saw him. He caught her up in a long hug. When Bucky turned the lamp on, Steve didn’t miss that she’d been sleeping with cell phone tucked under her hand or that she wore Bucky’s leather cuff as a talisman against nightmares. Still, she was sleepy, not desperate, and met his mouth for a long, warm kiss that turned Steve’s insides to mush.
“You’re home. And naked. Awesome. Holy shitballs, Rogers,” she purred, hands skimming over his back. He forgot to breathe at her touch, want and need tangling up his brain. “I missed you.”
He scooped her up so that she straddled his waist, appreciating the way her ass fit into his hands. “Hi, doll. I missed you too,” he told her as he nuzzled the curve of her neck.
“Sex or food first?” she demanded with a knowing smirk.
“You’re naked, I’m naked, I’m hard as hell. You really need to ask?”
Darcy flicked her hair over shoulder so that her tits were on full display. “It’s happened.”
“Just once,” he countered. “Darce--you’re gorgeous. Don’t say it enough, but I think it every time I see you.”
She wiggled so that her ass bounced in his hands. “Same goes, Steven.”
He held her with one hand, reaching underneath to discover she was still swollen and wet from loving Buck when he drew his fingers along her folds.
“Yep, seriously not needing prep here,” she agreed. “Come on. I’ve missed you too much for foreplay.”
Bucky snorted as he tugged Darcy out of Steve’s arms with a kiss to her shoulder, then leaned over to ghost a kiss over Steve’s mouth. “Same goes.”
Steve flicked a look at Bucky’s swelling cock. “Is my best girl not taking care of my best guy?” he asked as he leaned over to the side table drawer for a condom.
Darcy stopped him. With a sly smile at Bucky, she winked at Steve. “Not necessary.”
“But--” Steve’s brain fritzed, sticking on the agreement they’d had since Darcy’d quit using birth control not even a month ago.
Bucky caught on first, his mouth falling open as he stared at their wife’s stomach. “Holy shit.”
Laughter pealed out of Darcy as Steve gaped too. “Already?” he sputtered.
“Just found out this morning,” she said with smug satisfaction. “Wanted to tell you both at the same time.”
“How’d you know?” Bucky blurted. “I’ve been watchin.’”
“Bruce and Betty are still checking my blood for hormones. Betty totally squee’ed when she saw the numbers.”
“I’ve only been gone since--” Steve rapidly calculated backward, narrowing down the window of opportunity.
Darcy flushed as Bucky cuddled her close, laying reverent hands over her belly. “Betty thinks Bucky knocked me up that first night --you know, when we--”
Oh. Steve remembered that night. He’d taken his time with Darcy, getting her all riled up with his hands and mouth, then teased Bucky’s pretty dick until his husband shoved him off with a curse. Steve’d stretched out on the bed with Darcy against his chest, letting his fingers dance on her clit while Bucky made love to Darcy. Feeling Darcy shudder as Bucky spilled his seed had been primal--raw in a way that made Steve choke up at the time.
“Oh really?” Steve knelt on the bed, leaning over the pair of them. He kissed Darcy first, then Bucky, love for both of them making a lump rise in his throat again. But he shook that off. “It’s a good thing. Buck would lose his cred as a sniper if he missed his first shot.”
That earned Steve a thwap to the back of the head. “Punk.” But Bucky had a bright grin as Darcy laughed and they both pulled Steve down to the bed where Darcy straddled him. Her pretty tits swayed, and he cupped them both, thumbs brushing the peaks before he had to her touch her soft belly.
He swallowed hard as he pulled Darcy to him, needing to hold her close. One hand flailed out for Bucky, who caught it in a hard grip. Steve wasn’t the only one with misty eyes, though Bucky tried to look away before Darcy could catch him at it.
But it was too late. She caught their laced hands and pressed a kiss to their knuckles. “These are happy tears, right?”
“God, yes,” Steve blurted.
Bucky echoed a fervent, “Yes,” of his own. “You feelin’ okay, princess?”
Darcy shrugged. “So far.”
Given the news, Steve would have been content to hold on to his loves, but Darcy wasn’t having any of that. “Sex first, please, then we can cuddle.”
Bucky laughed while Steve grinned at his husband. “Got anything left?”
Before Bucky could answer, Darcy wrapped her hand around Steve’s cock and drew it along her slick folds. “I do.” She rocked against him, and Steve sank into her heat with something like relief.
Buck slid a hand around the back of Steve’s neck to kiss him. “I’ll figure it out,” he murmured, his breath warming Steve’s mouth.
Darcy laced her fingers with Steve’s for balance as she rose and fell along his length. “What James can do with his hands should be illegal,” she said, as she bit her lip. “Fuck, you feel good.”
So did she. (Home.) Condoms were fine, but flesh to flesh was better. “I think it was illegal, at one point,” Steve got out. Darcy stepped up the pace, zipping him right up to the finish line. Bucky wasn’t helping, given the way he sucked at Steve’s nipples and mouthed at his throat. The orgasm came hard and fast for their girl. Steve flipped Darcy to her back and fucked her until she demanded that he come too. He did, she did again, and Bucky seemed bemused by the whole thing.
Steve tangled his fingers into Bucky’s hair as Darcy eased off him and settled into watch. Bucky sucked on Steve’s bottom lip.
It was a testament to how much Steve loved fucking his spouses that his dick didn’t even bother to soften a little bit. “Me or you?” he asked Bucky.
“Maybe our girl wore me out. Gotta be you doin’ all the work, punk.” Bucky rolled to his stomach and hugged a pillow as Darcy passed the lube to Steve. She leaned onto an elbow so that her tits were framed with her arms. Steve licked his lips at the view as he slid a pair of slick fingers into Bucky’s hole, finding him loose enough to know exactly how his spouses had entertained each other that evening.
“Sure you want me? Maybe I can wait until morning,” Steve demurred as he worked another finger inside. “Seems like Darcy’s already taken care of you tonight.”
Bucky’s hands grasped the pillow. “Stop playin,’ Rogers. I’m ready. Been ready. Knew you were coming.”
That was all the encouragement Steve needed. He set his cock against Bucky’s hole and pressed. Bucky shifted, taking Steve deeper. “More.”
After that, it was hard and fast--and damned if it wasn’t just what he needed after a mission. Sex with Darcy had taken the edge off. Bucky finished it, giving Steve a bone-deep acknowledgement that he was home. He held off until Bucky’s cock spurted under his hand, then he pulled Bucky to him, raining kisses over his shoulders as they shuddered together.
It wasn’t to his credit that he failed to notice Darcy had retrieved a warm cloth from the bathroom and used it to wipe them down.
“Be grateful she doesn’t make you take a shower. She scrubbed me damned near pink,” Bucky complained.
“That’s because you were covered in lube, not because of your spunk,” Darcy laughed, taking the cloth away and putting it in the laundry basket.
“Why were you covered in lube?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “She figured I was missing you.”
“I found his sweet spot,” Darcy admitted. “It was kind of awesome to hear him swear in Russian. Or was that German?”
“Romanian. Don’t you know the difference by now, Princess?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Languages aren’t my thing.”
But Steve didn’t quite hear all that. WIth the adrenaline of the mission falling away, the reality that Darcy was pregnant began to set in. He drew all four fingers along Darcy’s soft stomach with the lightest of touches.
“No foolin’, Darce?” He winced as the Brooklyn came out loud and clear on his whine. He wanted this. Oh god, he wanted this. Bucky’s hand dropped to Steve’s shoulder for a tight squeeze.
Darcy shrugged, and now he could see her nervous smile. “You know what I know. We can talk to Betty in the morning.”
Buck tucked his wrist under his head as he stretched out on the bed, rather smug now that reality was setting in. “Hey, punk.” He traced a thumb against Steve’s jawline. “Happy to deliver the goods for ya.”
“Yeah, yeah, shuddup, jerk.” Steve shifted so that Darcy was in the middle. “He’s gonna be insufferable,” he told her.
She snickered. “Just wait ‘til I’m throwing up my toenails. We’ll make him suffer. Now lemme sleep. Some jerk woke me up wanting sexytimes.”
Steve grinned as he turned out the lights. He and Bucky both lightly rested their palms on her middle. He didn’t fall asleep right away, neither did Buck, though Darcy was out almost immediately. He wondered if that had to do with her newly pregnant state.
Bucky rolled to his side so that he could keep an eye on both of his loves. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “This is really happening.”
Yeah. It was. Steve didn’t bother to hide his own happy grin.
Stark paced from one side of the office to the other. “How did I get stuck with the political side of the Avengers? Wasn’t that Fury’s job? Oh right, he’s conveniently dead.”
“I thought you liked telling Congress to shove off?” Steve answered.
“It’s a perk.”
“They won’t listen to me. I’m just the dancing monkey, remember?”
“You really believe that?”
Steve snorted. “You don’t?”
“Didn’t think anyone could keep you on a leash.”
Steve’s memories flashed to his best guy, with that way he had of calling Steve out. “It’s happened.” Even he could hear the bitterness in his answer.
Stark pursed his lips, uncharacteristically quiet at the reminder of all that Steve had lost.
Chapter 4: Glitter and Gold
A/N Seriously, peeps, who would have thought ya'll would still be game for this series four years later. Thank you, as always, for coming along on this insane journey of story. I had the plot for this story all mapped out. Then I watched Infinity War. I really, really wish I could just leave well enough alone, but hey, it's me. I couldn't resist the added complications, but I do always promise a happy ending. -SHO
Quick update: italic text at end of each chapter takes place at the same time in an alternate universe ...stick with me...you'll see where I'm going with this in the next couple of chapters.
Chapter 4 / Glitter and Gold
Jane waved her hand in Darcy’s general direction. “Help me up.”
Tugging her dress over her boobs, Darcy gave her BFF the side eye. “You know, I’m pregnant, too. What makes you think I’ve got the energy to haul you and the squid out of that awesomely comfy chair?” Darcy shrugged her shoulders in a futile effort to get her dress to sit right. Her breasts had swollen enough that her bras didn’t quite fit anymore, and the neckline revealed a touch more cleavage than she preferred. (Steve and James had definitely noticed the difference. More than once. Heh. Heh heh. Go team.)
“You’re vertical; that’s all that matters in physics.”
With a pretend scowl, Darcy used both hands to give Jane the leverage she needed to stand. Her friend’s hands went straight to her lower back. “Do I have to rub your back now too?” Darcy complained.
“I have snacks,” Jane cajoled.
Darcy’s stomach grumbled appreciatively. “Not fair.” She poked at her own belly and its barely-there curve. (It was weird being pregnant at the same time as your bestie. Even weirder to think they’d be moms soon.)
“Fair. You passed out twice last week. I think the whole mansion has orders from Betty to feed you.” Jane dug out a juice pouch and a nut bar from the back pack she’d carelessly tossed on the dressing table. “Eat those first. Then you can rub my back.”
Darcy didn’t quite suppress the automatic pout, but it was a fact that she had trouble keeping at a healthy weight with a secondhand, knock-off version of the super serum burning extra calories these days. Being pregnant only compounded the problem, and every last one of their friends kept a wary eye on her now. Jason tracked every bite she ate, with food appearing at regular intervals, usually accompanied by a doting husband, too-attentive PA, or nosy best friend who hung around her lab or office long enough to make sure she consumed said calories. Vision was the worst at the mother-henning, and she’d had to swear her brother to secrecy so she could tell their parents at the right time.
As Jane poked her lipstick and phone into the pocket cleverly sewn into her evening gown, Darcy nudged the Jimmy Choos lying on the soft carpet upright and stepped into them. She’d slipped the shoes off earlier after touring the set up in the great dining room and the grand ballroom with Thor and Catalina. Even five minutes without them while Jane woke up from her nap was kind of awesome. Apparently, her feet wanted to match the boobs, but swollen ankles were a lot less fun.
Jane tugged her dress to drape properly over her belly and refastened the Asgardian bracers on her forearms. “How do I look?”
Dusting off the crumbs from her hands, Darcy answered, “Like a fertility goddess.” At the roll of Jane’s eyes, she added, “What? Thor’s a fertility god.” She waited a beat. “Clearly.”
“That joke stopped being funny eight months ago,” Jane grumbled as Darcy came around to press her hands against Jane’s lower back. “But I’ll cut you some slack if you keep doing that.”
“It’s still funny; you just aren’t in the mood to laugh.”
“I can’t laugh. If I do, this little one thinks it’s time to wake up and start kicking me. Oh god, don’t stop. That feels so good.”
“Isn’t that what you told Thor eight months ago?”
That made Jane giggle, and Darcy put her chin on her BFF’s shoulder. “How are you feeling? Really? Tonight’s a big night.”
Jane shrugged. “Other than the fact that I waddle, I feel fine. I’m sure the Warriors Three will be at my beck and call. Thor promised I could put my feet up under the table.” She peered over her shoulder at Darcy. “What about you? Any nausea?”
“Not yet. Betty thinks the serum might have bought me a free pass.” Oh, Darcy hoped so. Jane had fought morning sickness (and afternoon .. and night) for the first four months.
Jane turned around and straightened the sleeves of Darcy’s dress. “Good. I don’t wish that on anyone. You ready to go?”
“Sure thing, boss lady.” She held her arm out for her friend.
“It’s been a long time since those days,” Jane mused, tucking her hand into Darcy’s elbow.
“Still roommates, though. Sort of.”
Jane let out a startled laugh. “You’re right.” She gave Darcy a quizzical glance. “Would you have leased out the house to Asgard if I wasn’t living here?”
“Maybe?” Darcy shrugged. “I don’t like the house standing empty, but I’m not going to entertain all the time to fill it up like Howard and Maria did. When Thor asked me about property for the embassy, it seemed like a good fit.” She flashed Jane a smile. “Then again, if it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be him, and this whole conversation would be moot.”
“What if we broke up?” Jane teased.
Darcy flicked a glance at Jane’s ready-to-pop bump. “I’ll send James and Steve after him, and you’ll have a great big house to clean.” Laughing as they passed the two Einherjar standing guard in the passageway leading from the residential quarters to the ballrooms, Darcy noted, “James was all in when he discovered Thor’s personal warriors would be stationed here.”
Jane laughed. “Our boys are a little protective.”
Darcy rolled her eyes as they approached the party. “Two sets of guards, Thor’s and James’, plus Jason, plus whatever stuff the Avengers can dream up. This place makes Fort Knox look like a cheap closet doorknob.”
Mingling guests filled the hallway, waiting their turns as the herald inside the ballroom threshold announced each arrival. The official opening of the Asgardian Embassy had a lengthy list of diplomats from all over the world, and the reception was in full swing when Jane and Darcy stepped into the room.
“The Doctors Foster and Stark! I present Lady Jane, consort of Thor Odinson, and Lady Darcy, Master of Stark House.”
Darcy and Jane exchanged rather smug looks. They’d stepped up in this world, and the view wasn’t bad at all.
Applause rose as Thor extracted himself from a knot of guests to take Jane’s arm from Darcy. Mindful of his role here tonight, Steve stepped forward to do the same for his wife. He didn’t miss the way both of the ladies had sparkling eyes and faint flushes in their cheeks as they made their entrance. Both ladies wore blue: Darcy’s pale crepe complimenting Jane’s dark chiffon.
Thor didn’t quite pull off the suave politician with the way his smile softened into something genuine and private as he took Jane’s arm.
But Steve only noticed that in passing. He was all eyes for Darcy and the delicious way she filled out the dress. He chuckled as Bucky whistled appreciatively through the comlink and decided he’d draw the scene later.
Still--“Stark House?” he murmured in Darcy’s ear.
“Stark Mansion is pretentious,” she answered.
Steve opened his mouth, then closed it again, somewhat like a fish as he deliberately scanned the ornately decorated room, with its gold trim and intricate detailing on everything from the ceiling to the furniture. “You’ve seen the place, right?” he teased.
Darcy swept him a look from head to toe with a lusty gleam as she tucked her hand around his elbow. “Once or twice. How is James?”
“Fine. Holed up in the security office to keep an eye on the cameras. He likes your dress.”
“Let’s be honest, he likes the new boobs. Anything to be worried about?”
“The boobs are nice. No worries. And if there were, Nat and Clint are here … somewhere.” He glanced around, as if in confusion. Darcy grinned at the insinuation. The two spies were unparalleled at undercover work, and Darcy would make a game of figuring out what they looked like tonight.
Thor tilted his head at Darcy. With a quick nod of acknowledgment, she indicated a cluster of people in the center of the ballroom. “Let’s start there.”
Steve escorted his wife tonight while she played “lady of the manor.” It would be the only time she would do this for an embassy event. Just before dinner, Darcy would officially turn over this portion of the house to Asgard. (There had been a rather gleeful discussion last night between Thor, Nat, Clint and Darcy about the opportunity for diplomatic immunity and asylum just by stepping across the hallway. Steve had to admit he filed away that information for future use.) For now though, Darcy introduced Thor to the guests. A great many of them she knew from her trips to Capitol Hill, and the rest Jason filled her in via the the comlink. She fed the guests delicious tidbits of information on the house and Asgard, setting up all parties for future conversations. It worked, impressing the guests who didn’t expect to be personally introduced by Stark herself to the Crown Prince of Asgard.
Steve had to admire the way Darcy leveraged her political acumen for Thor’s interests and boosted her reputation at the same time. Stark Industries would benefit, as would the Avengers.
Jane wasn’t half bad at this either, but then again, academia was a hard training ground for politics and ambition, and she’d done well for herself on that front. The Nobel Prize would be announced in a week or so, and Jane was the frontrunner for that. Thor fondly pointed out her nomination to every third person he met.
Once the guests were called to the dining rooms, a massive Asgardian feast awaited them. Darcy welcomed Thor and his guests to the new Asgardian Embassy, gave him a friendly admonishment to be a good tenant, then passed the reins of hosting over to Thor. He was an eloquent speaker and surprisingly funny to those who didn’t know better.
The feast was far more relaxed than the reception had been, and Darcy had entirely too much fun with Thor’s old friends amid the stuffy envoys and politicians who’d descended in droves from DC and the other embassies. She scooted over to Hogun and Volstagg’s table when Thor rose to make the rounds of his guests. Steve agreeably moved to Jane’s side.
Keeping Jane company was never a chore. They shared a table with Sif, Fandral, and the Healer who’d come for the rest of Jane’s pregnancy. The lively conversation kept Jane in stitches.
At one point, Jane pressed a hand to her belly. Steve eyed the lump under the fabric that seemed to be moving. “Does that hurt?”
Jane poked at it. “Not really. Unless she tries to cram a foot into my lung or a rib.” She groaned. “And on that note, I need the ladies’ room again.”
Steve chuckled, imagining Darcy in a similar state in a few months time as he helped Jane to her feet. “Right this way, ma’am.”
Bucky sipped his morning coffee as he browsed through the headlines on his tablet. The papers declared the Embassy opening a success, and all eyes turned immediately to the exclusive Stark Gala, a landmark event in two weeks’ time to celebrate the official reopening of the historic house while raising funds for both the Maria Stark Foundation and the Sarah Rogers Foundation for Equality.
He peeked over at Darcy, who was still burrowed under the covers. She hadn’t moved-- neither when he got up to retrieve a cup, nor when he crawled back on the bed to sit against the headboard and read the news.
Steve had grumbled a bit this morning. With Sam living at the Avengers Compound, the punk had lost his running partner. Bucky wasn’t about to leave their girl this morning, though, so he’d shooed his husband off to burn energy at Central Park by himself.
Watching the security feeds for the event last night wasn’t too bad with Jason keeping him company. The only really concern had been a couple of busboys who seemed to be paying too much attention to the security details. At Bucky’s suggestion, Catalina had redeployed them to wash dishes for the rest of the night.
When it was all over, Clint banged on the security office door, showing off his pruney fingertips and bitching about having to be on the range this morning. Natasha hadn’t bothered to stop by, but Bucky was sure he’d pay when they sparred this afternoon. Then again, she’d caught his attention and that shouldn’t have happened.
(Rule four: Assets do not fail to complete the mission. Perfection is the only acceptable level of performance.) Bucky shook his head to clear that thought. Not an Asset. Not here.
He sipped his coffee, giving Darcy a long look to remind himself why he wasn’t an Asset.
Apprehension over the upcoming gala made him nervous, and not because of the increased security requirements. Bucky was expected to host the gala with his spouses. He’d never done that before. (Infiltrated parties? Yes, plenty of times. Hosted? Never.)
Invitations had been highly prized from all corners, with political, business, and celebrity luminaries all vying to attend. Darcy had limited the guest list to 700, a number that Tony and Pepper didn’t even blink at but made Steve and Bucky choke. All of the Avengers would be there, though, with Natasha promising to have Bucky’s back the whole night. The promise helped, but Bucky wouldn’t put a nickel bet on making it through the event unaffected by his time as the Winter Soldier.
He and Jason had already vetted every last server, janitor, and guest for potential threats. Catalina made whatever adjustments he wanted to access points and security staff. Bless that woman. She had a knack for running the house like a small hotel, with catering, event planning, housekeeping, and security -- all while allowing Steve, Darcy, and Bucky to live in their space without much interference.
He liked living here more than he’d expected. The courtyard alone was enough to entice Bucky to stay, but having Stark’s ridiculous garage to restore the GTO in made it all the better.
Darcy groaned as the rising sun caught a space between the curtains to shine on her face. She shuffled out of bed, spent three minutes in the bathroom, then crawled back to bed with one hand wrapped around his knee.
Bucky ran his metal fingers through her hair and kept reading.
For the gala, the ballroom and galleries at Stark House were transformed into a stunning winter wonderland. The carpets had been put away, revealing the white marble floors. White fabric covered the ceiling, and hundreds of ribbons of white flowers and glass icicles dripped in a shimmering light cast by strategically positioned spotlights on the great chandeliers. Tables filled the room for the dinner, decorated in layers of white and crystal. More fabric covered the walls, backlit in the palest of blues and purples to give the rooms a subtle glow. It was beautiful and elegant--and reminded Bucky far too much of Russia. Steve wasn’t a fan of the winter scheme either, but Darcy had that look that meant she had something up her sleeve.
A long line of cars spilled out the guests at 1 East 70th Street, and they climbed the short flight of steps to the main entrance hall. Darcy or Tony welcomed them by name, fitting each one with a delicate silver wristband. Bucky watched all that from the video streams in the security office while Pepper and Steve shook their share of hands and led the guests into the libraries. Pre-dinner drinks were handed out and the Stark legacy was on full display, including Howard’s earliest weapons designs, Steve’s shield, Tony’s arc reactor technology, and Darcy’s miniature robotics. Family photos lined the walls. A faint shimmer of fog rolled across the floor, adding to the frozen atmosphere.
Bucky joined Steve in the dining rooms as the guests migrated in from the libraries. They pointed out tables and seating arrangements while Steve kept up the small talk. With so many people in the room, the Asset wasn’t far away. As promised, Natasha hovered behind him, chattering to Sam and Clint. The lack of concern in her voice did more to settle him than any security measure he’d set up.
As the room filled, so did the sheer amount of white . The invitations had specified white attire only.
“Looks like a debutante ball,” Bucky muttered to his husband as he tugged his own pale sleeves in place over his wrist. He’d admit, though, that the punk looked beautiful in his white-on-white tuxedo.
“At least the silver blends in,” Steve quipped, lifting Bucky’s left hand to press a quick kiss to the knuckles.
“Kind of the point,” Darcy interjected, squeezing between them. Her eyes danced with excitement.
Bucky grasped her hand and Steve’s to ground himself in the face of so many people in the room. He pressed a kiss to her temple, then leaned back to study the dress she wore. The halter-top sheath had thin threads of silver shot through it in a pattern exactly matching his arm. And now Bucky noticed that Steve’s vest and tie had the same design threaded through it.
“Winter theme, doll? Kind of obvious,” he teased in an effort to cover how much the gesture meant to him.
Darcy was the picture of innocence as she smiled sweetly. “Is it?” She tugged both of them to the head table, where the Stark family held court over the four-course dinner.
As dessert was served, Tony and Darcy thanked the guests and explained the mission of the two foundations. Then Darcy demonstrated the purpose behind the wristbands. “One tap activates a number pad. Type in your donation and tap the green key.” Then she waved her arm over the table. Holographic and LED tropical flowers blossomed in bright purples and greens in between the plates and wine glasses.
Steve gaped a little as he cradled one of the images in his hand. It even moved as he “touched” it. “Darcy Stark: $1,000,” appeared at the top of one of the walls, running around the room like a Wall Street ticker tape.
Tony smirked as he keyed in his own band and waved along the carpet. An enormous palm tree in bright green and yellow appeared in the middle of the room. A guest leaned over to press a hand against the bark. Leaves rippled as the tree swayed. Clapping broke out, and “Tony Stark: $25,000” joined Darcy's name on the ticker.
The gala turned into chaos as the guests scrambled to make their own donations, touching everything from carpets to walls and chairs. The ballrooms transformed into a tropical paradise as money was raised for the two foundations.
Astonished, Bucky could only smile as as the color scheme changed from cool whites to brilliant reds, yellows, and greens. Few noticed the servers bringing out exotic orchids, red ginger, and fat hibiscus flowers to the tables. The bartenders brought out leis to drape their stations, and it only took moments for even the smell of the room to transform from cool ice to the lush tropics. The white gowns and tuxes reflected the bright colors, and summer abounded everywhere.
Someone donated a hundred thousand dollars, and LED lights transformed the white marble floor into rippling three-dimensional waves that Bucky knelt to touch to make sure they weren’t real. “Water” broke over his hand, streaming away in rivulets as he played with it.
“This might beat flying cars,” he said in wonder.
When the donations broke seven figures, P!nk strolled through the burgeoning paradise, turning the party into a rock concert.
At five million, “vines” crawled up the walls with names of the donors written on the leaves as they unfurled.
At ten million dollars, the “sun” rose, and birds began flying from treetop to treetop while one half of the floor turned into a sandy beach. Most of the guests kicked off their shoes to play in the sand and surf.
But the best part, the absolute best part, was in the aftermath, when a DJ kept the party going well after most of the guests had left. The Avengers poked through the ballrooms, looking for leftover Easter eggs in the programming. Vision played “Hot or Cold” with Clint, Pietro, Wanda, and Sam. Glitter rained down from the ceiling at one point.
As the last dregs of the gala wound down, Tony and Darcy danced in a slow circle in the middle of the room. She whispered in her father’s ear.
Steve set a hand on Bucky's shoulder while Tony did his damnedest not to cry, and they got the honor of sharing the news with Pepper.
Two minutes later, Pepper physically restrained Tony from posting it on Twitter, enlisting Steve for the assist.
With a whiskey neat in hand, Steve sipped at the smoky drink as he hovered on the edge of the crowd. Stark wanted him to mingle a bit and shake hands with the politicians. Congress supported the Avengers so long as they didn’t have to allocate funding for the team. With S.H.I.E.L.D. bumbling along and the World Security Council in shambles, no one had any particular authority over the superheroes. Stark took most of the heat while Steve and Natasha chose the ops.
“Pretty sure it’s a party, not a funeral, Captain Rogers.”
Unfamiliar with the voice--female, crackling with amusement--Steve glanced behind him. The woman was a dead-ringer for a pin-up sketch he’d drawn for Bucky ages ago. Dark hair tumbled in untidy tresses over rounded shoulders left bare by the crimson red cocktail dress she wore. She was stunning. A vision of the past in this unlikely place. She sipped from a flute of bubbling pink champagne.
“With Stark, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference,” he quipped, letting his mouth run to cover his discomposure. He held out his hand. “Steve Rogers, but I guess you already know that.”
“Darcy Lewis.” She jerked a chin at the reception. “Have you glad-handed all the politicians then?”
He tilted his glass, peering at the bottom as he tried to place the name. It was familiar, though he was sure they hadn’t met. “It’s my third; I’d say yes.”
She gave Steve a sweeping look from head to toe. “Want to finish it?”
He liked her sass enough to say yes, but taking a dame home from an event like this wasn’t a good idea. He didn’t need the gossip. S.H.I.E.L.D. had been easier to find a like mind for a quick romp in the sheets, and discretion was guaranteed.
Darcy seemed to understand his hesitation. “I was a level 5 before all this mess. Not an agent, but Clint can vouch for me.”
That surprised him. “Can he?”
“Text him,” she challenged.
He did, because he wasn’t an idiot. “How do you know Clint?”
That detail teased out the memory of the report he’d read about the incident leading to the formation of the team. “You tased Thor.”
“Got it one,” she said with a wink.
Clint texted him a string of ‘thumbs up’ emojis. Steve slipped his phone in his pocket and dropped his glass on a nearby waiter’s tray. “You know, I think I’m done.”
With a laugh, she tilted back her own champagne flute, draining it, and set it beside his. “Captain.”
“Lead the way, ma’am.” He held his arm out, and she slipped a hand into his elbow.
They caught a cab to his place. She stayed the night.
When dawn broke though, Darcy woke him with a smile as she straddled his ready cock. An hour later, she stole a coffee mug as she breezed out the door in her heels and dress.
It wasn’t to his credit that she was long gone before he realized he hadn’t asked for her phone number. “Definitely left the stupid with me, Buck,” Steve muttered.
Chapter 5: Children of the Gods
A/N Hope everyone had an awesome holiday season. May 2019 be kind to you!
Chapter 5/Children of the Gods
The rumble of the senators and staff in the hallway of the Capitol covered the soft click of the Louboutin boots Darcy wore. She touched her new glasses with their link to Jason and a live stream video that went straight to Bucky’s security feed. They’d been Steve’s idea when he saw Darcy reaching for glasses she didn’t need anymore out of habit.
There was something comforting about having frames around her eyes again, and Darcy waved cheerfully at familiar faces as she made her way across the building. She only stopped once to catch up with a staffer who was keeping her posted on an energy bill undergoing revisions.
Vision walked with her, though he’d chosen to conceal his usual appearance with a more human version that didn’t elicit startled looks along the way. It wasn’t by accident that he dropped back half a step at Bucky’s suggestion. It was easy to mistake him for Darcy’s assistant that way.
A reporter seemed started to find Darcy walking into the Senate chamber and jotted down a quick note on her pad. Vision passed unnoticed and joined Darcy in the back row of seats where they could see Tony as he faced the Senate committee once more. In the row behind him, Pepper seemed nonchalant, but that was her modus operandus except under extraordinary circumstances.
Darcy sat up a little straighter in her seat in a futile effort to create a tiny bit of space between her newly thickened middle and the waistband of her skirt.
Vision darted a glance at her. Are you well, he asked via the contact.
Nothing a skirt size up can’t fix. I’m good, she answered.
He nodded once and turned his attention to the room. The hearing was a familiar setting. She’d participated any number of times as Stark Industries took point in weapons disposal, and Darcy had spearheaded that campaign since she’d finished school. She hadn’t been at the one where Tony had to answer for the Iron Man suit, though JARVIS had given her the full scoop afterward.
In any case, no one really wanted the Avengers on trial, but the international community had grown increasingly vocal as rumors that Tony Stark himself had created Ultron gained traction.
The last time he was here, Tony had been cocksure about right, wrong, and who had the right to use the suit. Even Rhodey’s “theft” of the Iron Patriot suit (Darcy still liked “War Machine” better.) had been an elaborate song and dance to ensure the Air Force got what they wanted and not a single thing more.
This was different.
The morning was spent reviewing Stark tech and how Ultron had commandeered the ‘bot army for his personal use. By noon, the committee was mostly satisfied that Tony’s tech had been compromised in a way that not even he could have anticipated. Certainly, the Avengers had done their best to mitigate the damage caused by Ultron. The Hulk was another story, but debate over Banner’s involvement in the Avengers was formally tabled for another day, and in any case, Bruce had removed himself from the team for now.
But all that was the easy part, really.
Darcy sat up again; the waistband of her skirt digging in enough to be outright uncomfortable. Plus, she had to pee.
“Hazards of having a hitchhiker. Seriously, I’m okay,” she assured him again, this time with a pat to his wrist.
“Mr. Stark,” Senator Collins prompted, “Why don’t you tell us how Ultron came to be?”
That was the 64-million dollar question, and Darcy stifled a groan. “V, I’m not sure Dad’s gonna get out of this one.”
“Perhaps not. It was an ill-advised experiment.”
“You can say that?” Darcy chastised. “No one could have anticipated Ultron going rogue right off the bat. Not even you.”
Whatever Vision might have said in reply was lost as their father took the stage.
“When two people love each other very much--” Tony began, eliciting an inadvertent snort from Darcy and a rumble of laughter from the audience.
Collins cleared his throat to interrupt. “Two people?” he pounced.
“Sure. Me. Banner. We’re scientists. We played in a petri dish. Something cool came out of it. I might remind you that this committee has frequently benefited from my creations. This is what I do. I make stuff. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”
“I’m not sure I would classify Ultron as ‘cool,’ Mr Stark. Your invention destroyed a city.” Collins scowled.
“My invention? Was this really an invention?” Tony hummed a little. “I suppose you can call my daughter that. Not really very nice, I think.”
The senator furrowed his brow. “We weren’t talking about your daughter, Mr. Stark. We were talking about Ultron.”
Tony waggled his finger. “Same difference.”
“You created a dangerous robot.”
“I created something new. Not on purpose. But there it was: a lifeform that didn’t exist--until one moment, it did. Ultron was a thinking, self-aware being. Just like my daughter.” Tony turned around. “Hi, Darcy.” He waved happily, and she played along with a little wave and the eye-roll of a long suffering teen.
Tony grinned. “That’s my kid.” He spun back around in his chair. “I thought you were a Republican, Collins. Pro-birth and all that.”
“I don’t think a robot qualifies as life, Mr. Stark.”
“No? Ultron had his own identity and agenda.” Tony drummed his fingers on the table. “Suppose your oldest kid had a drug problem. It’s not what you want for them. You’re gonna try to help him, but he’s just not listening and ends up killing a family of four in a DWI crash after a Friday night bender. Am I supposed to hold you, Senator Collins, responsible for his poor decisions? Especially when you’re out in the middle of the road trying to get him to pull over?”
Senator Collins frowned. “Ultron was a robot,” he repeated.
“Ultron was an independent artificial intelligence with a misplaced agenda. He was a living being trying to save the world the only way he knew how.” Tony flexed his hand in an unconscious tell, realized what he was doing, then used it to gesture in the air. “Unfortunately, his version of peace didn’t include humans.”
“So what’s stopping you from making another one?”
“Raw materials, actually. Can’t exactly invent another Mind Gem. Though, Vision turned out pretty good, right? He’s Darcy’s brother, and since he’s the one who stopped Ultron, we can put him in the making good life choices column. You know, it’s Darcy who’s the real question mark in this equation. Is she gonna be more like mom or dad? Jury’s definitely out on that one. On one hand, she’s a brilliant programmer, on the other, she’s a hell a lot better at running Stark Industries than I ever was. And damn it, she stole my Jackson Pollock.”
Collins took a sip of his water bottle as the audience tittered. “Mr. Stark--”
“No, seriously. She’s the kid you need to be worried about. Genius, billionaire, hacker, philanthropist.” Tony held up a finger. “You know she used to bogart the Bugatti whenever we got in an argument? And I’ve got to talk to her about her taste in men,” he complained.
The audience laughed uproariously at that; even Senator Collins cracked a smile. Darcy played along with her dad’s antics, helping him deftly shift the tone of the hearing from evil inventor to harried father.
But Senator Collins wasn’t quite ready to let the matter drop. “Mr. Stark, why did you create Ultron?”
Tony grew serious. “Tell me, Senator, what is the status of Earth’s planetary defense system? Oh wait, we don’t have one.” Silence fell in the room. Tony rose to his feet. “I, for one, would like to have more than six people as a response team for the next invasion of Earth.
“We aren’t alone in the universe, and now we’ve pissed off a few people who have technology that makes our best look like stackable wooden blocks. Darcy--you remember her? You called her to a committee meeting after she dissected their weapons tech, and she told you the same thing. Your response, Senator, has been zilch, nada, nothing.”
“Senator, I happen to give a damn about the planet I’m standing on. And if that means doing what it takes to save humanity, I’m all in. Even if it means killing my own kid. Or did you miss that part?”
Silence fell in the chamber.
“Ultron was … our brother?” Darcy asked Vision softly. Not once had she considered the mad robot family.
“I grieved.” Vision’s simple reply made a lump rise in Darcy’s throat.
Tony continued, “And as your constituent, I might ask, what are you doing to ensure this planet’s survival when whoever sent Loki and the Chitauri to our planet comes calling?” Tony glanced around, pretending to cover his mouth in shock, “Oh, was I not supposed to say that out loud?”
He leaned down to speak into the microphone. “Let me know when you’ve got a better plan, Senator. Until then, the Avengers are going to do what we do best.” Tony stalked out, pausing only long enough for Pepper to join him, with Darcy and Vision rising to follow.
“Ms. Stark,” Senator Collins called out.
She paused, looking over her shoulder. “Senator.”
“Is Vision a threat?”
“I was five when my brother was born. I don’t think that’s the question you should be asking,” she replied evenly. She glanced at Vision. “Show ‘em.”
WIth a regal nod, Vision dropped the disguise, golden cloak rippling into view as the Mind Gem flared brightly. “Senators,” he noted. “Today has been illuminating.”
Darcy swept a glance at the rest of the shocked committee, then the siblings followed their parents out of the room.
“Are we to understand that Tony Stark created artificial intelligence in 1993, and we’re only now learning about it?” the CNN reporter asked.
“That appears to be the conclusion we can draw from Darcy Stark’s remarks today,” the anchor answered. “It seems that Tony Stark is not only capable of hiding a biological daughter in plain sight, but an artificial life form as well. One has to wonder what else he is concealing.”
“ Jason, mute the TV, please.” Darcy dropped her purse on the kitchen counter, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s cheek as she stepped out of her heels. Steve pulled her in for a long, delicious hug that made everything better for the moment. He smelled yummy, like an ocean breeze. Bucky pressed a kiss to the back of her neck, eliciting a shiver and a thread of want that would have to wait at least until after dinner. Tension in her unwound. Bucky flashed her a grin of understanding as he finished setting the plates on the table.
Vision glanced at the TV, then ignored it as he said his hellos and reached for the cups.
“How did it go?” Steve asked.
“Committee’s fine; it’s hard to argue with Dad when he’s on a roll,” Darcy replied.
Vision nodded toward the television. “Reframing the conversation from inventions to life forms had the desired effect, I think.”
Steve raised an eyebrow as he transferred the dish of enchiladas from counter to table. “Announcing that Vision’s almost your age was a hell of a curve ball. It’s hard to fault Stark for Ultron when he’s clearly raised both of you to be good people.”
James pulled out her chair, and Darcy slid into the seat, murmuring her thanks as he took the seat beside her. Vision brought an enormous salad to the table, while Steve set the Spanish rice in the middle.
“I found the committee hearing quite interesting,” Vision offered while the four of them passed dishes and dug into supper.
“There’s a word,” Darcy muttered.
“Darce?” Bucky ran his hand over her thigh. He ducked his head a little to look her in the eye.
“Dad called Ultron his son today.” Darcy shook her head. “I had a brother I never met. Never even thought of him that way.” She poked at her food with a fork. “Didn’t think about Dad mourning him.”
“It’s not apparent,” Vision remarked.
But Steve rested his forearm on the table. “We’ve talked,” he admitted.
Darcy sucked in her breath in surprise. “You knew?”
“You know how hard Tony is on himself. Ultron took a single phrase Tony said to Bruce and used it to try to wipe out humanity.” Steve speared chunk of enchilada with his fork. “What I don’t understand is why Ultron hated Tony from the start.”
“Tony was a threat to Ultron’s existence,” Vision answered. “It’s the same reason Ultron tried to kill JARVIS.”
“Why didn’t Ultron go after Darcy? It seems she would be as much of a threat as Tony,” Bucky wondered. “Ultron had to know how close you two were.”
“As I was offline at the time, I can only speculate that Ultron was preoccupied. He was in a great deal of pain and could only focus on two things: relieving himself of that pain and remaking the world into the version of peace he envisioned. Lewis wasn’t an immediate threat to either priority, especially once he became aware of me.” Vision studied his water glass. “A great deal of JARVIS and Lewis’ interactions were stored on Lewis’s servers, rather than Sir’s. Perhaps that, too, made a difference.”
Bucky snorted. “Rogers was in pain every damned day. It didn’t make him an evil bastard, just a grumpy one.”
That startled a laugh out of Darcy, and she clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, shit, that’s not funny.”
Steve shrugged with a wry smile. “It’s the truth.”
Bucky grimaced ever so slightly, but Darcy already knew Steve had an unusually high pain tolerance. Most discounted it as a side effect of the serum, but Bucky had made it clear to Darcy that until the serum, Steve had never known what it was like to live without something hurting every single day.
In an effort to lighten the mood, Darcy circled her fork in the air. “Can we talk about something else? This is making me think about how I’m really not looking forward to squeezing this kid out the hard way. It kinda freaks me out.”
Bucky and Steve both eyed her, as if they could see her stomach through the table. “We finished painting the nursery today,” Steve told her.
Darcy’s mood improved instantly. “You did?”
“We did. We figured with the Stark Expo and the holidays, we wouldn’t have a chance to work on it for a while. Besides, Buck’s itching to doll it up.”
She mock-grimaced. “None of that metal crap from the 30’s, James. And cribs today are more than ten inches deep for a reason .”
“If it was good enough for Ma--” Bucky started with a sly smile.
“Putting my stompy foot down now,” Darcy retorted.
Steve draped an arm across her shoulder. “No worries, doll,” he assured her. “I remember my mother fussing about the ‘modern’ baby furniture. So does Buck. Won’t have nothin’ but the best for our kid.” His Brooklyn accent sang through loud and clear, and Darcy leaned into his sure touch.
“Eat, love. You’ve had a long day,” Bucky chided as he doled out more salad on her plate.
Darcy might have argued just for the sake of it, except she was hungry and wanted to play in her lab for a few hours. She had a lot of thinking to do.
WIth the beat of Vision’s latest playlist keeping her company, Darcy’s lab in the Tower was the only place she felt safe enough to experiment with her new abilities. Well, they weren’t new, not really. She’d been programming since she could turn on a computer. Tony had created his own computer language in those early days and taught it--among others--to Darcy. She’d grown up writing code. Converting actions into programmable functions was as automatic as breathing for her.
Courtesy of the bastardized version of the super serum, the subcutaneous communicator she wore behind her ear was now permanent. The serum had decided that the synapses between her brain and the comlink were missing and invented them on the spot. Bucky’s ability to use his arm the way he could made sense now. Zola didn’t have to wire electronics to Bucky’s nervous system; the serum did it for him.
Darcy’s link to Jason, Friday, and Vision gave her access to anything connected to the internet. The flying bugs she’d created to hook into anything electrical gave them access to power limited only by the electrical source itself.
Frankly, all of it scared the crap out of her.
At the moment, though, being able to program the robots in her lab to delicately assemble a new motherboard without having to touch a keyboard was cool as shit. Darcy circled the table where the trio of robot arms poked at the board, soldering elements together at microscopic levels. One of SI’s companies had delivered the printed circuit boards built to her specifications this morning.
When she was finished, these servers would be custom-built to handle Darcy’s unique thought process. She would install them into Jason’s existing server farm under Stark House, likely with Vision’s assistance. The arc reactor she and Dad installed during the mansion’s renovations powered the servers now--though she left the house itself on the city power grid. Concealing the existence of a second arc reactor in the city had been Bucky’s idea and it was a good one. No one really needed to know when the Starks were playing with massive amounts of electrical power. Brooklyn still bitched about Howard Stark dimming the lights in ‘42, even as they bragged about the result.
Schematics for the motherboard floated in the air beside her, each of the components she’d designed brightening as the circuits connected.
Satisfied at the progress for the moment, Darcy retrieved a water bottle from her mini-fridge under the workstation. She checked the clock and decided her dad would be awake. Her parents flew back to Malibu this afternoon. He’d be in the lab at this hour. It only took a thought to make his phone ring and another one to bring up the video feed from his lab.
Tony didn’t quite look at her as he poked a screwdriver at the carburetor of the Shelby Cobra he’d been painstakingly restoring after its dip in the ocean. “Hello, heir.”
Darcy smiled at the nickname. “Yo, Pop.”
One corner of her dad’s mouth turned up in wry appreciation of her quip. “What ‘cha working on?”
“New servers to deal with this crap in my head.”
Tony pouted. “It’s totally unfair that you can do all this cool stuff now.”
“It still scares the shit out of me. And you can fly, remember?”
“True.” He brighted at that. “Aren’t you supposed to be in bed with the popsicles?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Same as you,” Darcy needled.
“Sleep is overrated.”
“Agreed.” Darcy quit dancing around the point of her phone call. “So, Ultron.”
That got Tony to look up at the camera, however briefly. “Robot. Are we doing word association?”
“Sure,” Darcy answered. “Son, brother, family. He’s dead, and you’re in mourning.”
Tony’s whole body drew inward. With a muttered curse, he picked up a wrench to throw it across the lab. It hit something with a heavy clunk. “It’s stupid. His brief existence as a homicidal murderbot isn’t something to grieve.”
Darcy shook her head. “I didn’t feel sad, not until today. He’s my brother just as much as Vision is. And it sucks knowing he’s gone before we even got to be family.”
Her dad tucked his hands under his arms. “It’s worse than when you told me you were getting a political science degree.”
“Dad,” she cajoled. He reluctantly looked up at her. “I get it.”
“Do you?” he exploded. “Because I don’t. I don’t get why Ultron and Vision were polar opposites!”
Darcy blinked. “Seriously?”
That stopped Tony mid-tantrum. “What’d I miss?”
“The Ultron program wasn’t JARVIS. It wasn’t even a fraction of JARVIS. The Ultron program was only meant to be a defensive weapon. That programming never liked music, or gave me a name, or nagged one of us into getting a little more sleep. There was no humanity to Ultron’s programming, and so he couldn’t understand the value of people for all their imperfections. JARVIS got that, and he took that with him when he became Vision.” Darcy tapped on a screen to the side of her, adding in a link on the motherboard that would increase the processing speed by another percent. “They might have resembled each other on the outside, but really, they weren’t all that similar. I guess that’s why I didn’t think of Ultron as a sibling.”
Tony huffed in annoyance. “Stop being so smart, scion.” He squinted at her and the clock. “You need to rest. I’m telling the icicles.”
Darcy winced as she automatically set a hand on the curve of her belly. The initial symptoms of sleepiness had passed a couple of weeks back. Other than her clothes not fitting right, she tended not to think about being pregnant “Stop nagging. Besides, you’re changing the subject,” she scolded her dad.
“Sure. It’s because you’re right and there’s nothing else to say about it. I’m a dunce for not seeing it.”
“You don’t do people. And if you’re telling mine, I’m telling yours.” Darcy dashed off a quick text to her mom.
Tony barked out a laugh. “True.” He walked off screen and came back with the wrench he’d thrown. He shook it at her when he saw a text pop up on the screen next to him. “And so you did. Love you.”
“Love you back.” The connection shimmered and disappeared.
“Darce?” Bucky’s husky voice got her attention.
(Really, after six months of marriage, one would think she’d be done ogling her husband. Yeah, not happening.) Bucky had his fingertips tucked into the pockets of his jeans, and the deep red Henley stretched nicely over his shoulders. But shadows under his eyes told her it was late, and he wasn’t sleeping--probably because she wasn’t home. “What time is it?”
“If you have to ask,” he slipped into the space beside her, “it’s past your bedtime.”
“Dad tattled.” She grimaced. “I’m busy.”
Bucky let out a soft sigh. “And you’re carryin’, princess.”
“Jason, pause assembly. We’ll come back in the morning.”
“Of course, Ms. Stark.”
Bucky waited until Darcy finished shutting down the lab, then took her hand and grazed a kiss across her knuckles. “Thank you.”
Darcy wove her fingers with his. “You’re just happy I’m not as stubborn as Steve.”
“Ya got no fuckin’ idea.”
The pure Brooklyn accent got her to laugh. Bucky nagged Steve almost daily about taking care of himself. Steve usually obeyed, but not without a mutinous pout or a pissy retort--usually in his own accent that the USO would have admonished him for twice over.
“Walk or ride?” Darcy asked. She liked the half hour walk from the tower to the house, but sometimes Bucky did better in the underground carriage.
He turned up a hand. “Your call.”
“Walk. I’ve been cooped up all day.”
Accustomed now to bodyguards, Darcy didn’t mind the two Tangos on duty who trailed them home as she and Bucky walked arm-in-arm along Madison Avenue in the middle of the night.
“Worried about something?” Bucky asked.
“Sort of. A little worried about Dad but we got that worked out. Mostly I was too excited to see the new hardware.”
“That’s my girl,” he said with pride.
Without being too specific--they were in public, even if it was wee hours of the morning--Darcy explained how the new system would link with her newly acquired abilities. Bucky hummed agreement at all the right places as he kept a sharp eye out for threats. They made the short turn on 70th Street as taxi drivers honked without regard for anyone sleeping nearby. The street was quieter, with less traffic here, but they passed a pedestrian or three as they neared the house. The tension in Bucky only eased when the guard at the courtyard gate greeted them.
“Dr. Stark, Sergeant.”
“Kravchenko,” Bucky acknowledged. “Enku and Fielder are half a block back.” He jerked a chin over his shoulder. “Probably need coffee.”
“Yes, sir,” Kravchenko answered with a grin.
Bucky didn’t leave the courtyard until the Tangos arrived and Kravchenko locked the gate behind them. But that wasn’t anything new, and the guards understood the sergeant’s need for caution.
Still, it was Jason’s quiet acknowledgement he’d engaged the security system in their private quarters that allowed Bucky to unwind. With a roll of his shoulders to release the tension, he shot Darcy a faint smile. “Nice walk.”
She pressed a kiss to his cheek before darting into the en suite to change into her pajamas (Purple, with arrows and tiny shields dotting them. From Clint, for her last birthday, of course.).
Steve was already in bed, though he woke long enough to see who was sleeping where. Bucky took the middle, with Darcy curled up under his arm and Steve lightly holding his other hand.
Darcy, her team of SI admins, and her personal assistants, Sean Washington and Carla Gomez, took over the conference room in the Tower. They dealt with SI business first, now that the fiscal year had ended and all eyes were on the Stark Expo. She hadn’t announced her pregnancy to the company, but given their daily contact and involvement in Darcy’s personal life, it had been impossible to keep it from Sean and Carla. They kept her in the loop on the scuttlebutt. So far, there was only idle speculation and mostly because she was married now. They’d agreed that winter coats would buy her another few weeks, but no more than that.
Excitement over the Expo kept everyone occupied for now, even if Darcy had to stifle a yawn from her short night’s sleep. With two weeks to go, every division buzzed with excitement as they got ready to show off the latest inventions. Tony would still headline the event, but Darcy would take her place at his side this year. Was she nervous? Maybe. She couldn’t decide. (A nap sounded like an excellent idea. Yay for office doors that locked.)
A low ping got her attention. A text appeared on her phone.
Dr. Foster is in labor. She said, “Don’t rush, but don’t stop for nachos, either. Nevermind, bring me some.”
Darcy only needed a thought to reply. NIcely done, Jason, with the ping and the text. Tell Jane-lady that I’ll be there in an hour.
(Holy shit, Jane!) With a grin she didn’t bother to hide, she turned her attention back to the meeting and ticked off the items on her agenda with dizzying speed.
It is a point of fact that future company presidents do not get out of the office unless it’s a true emergency and it was close to two hours before she managed to get home with a plate of nachos and dive into drawstring yoga pants and a t-shirt (omg, omg, omg, breathe Darcy! No more waistbands! EVER.). She swiped a tumbler of cold coffee out of the fridge. (Decaf, that’s all her loves would stock. Assholes.)
She sprinted across Stark House,waved at the Kilo and the Einherjar guarding the passage between the houses, then skidded around the corner and up a flight of stairs where the Asgardian Healer had set up shop. She’d created an infirmary of sorts, stocked with the latest Asgardian tech.
Thor kissed her cheek as he took the nachos. “Darcy, my good friend. Jane will be happy to see you. I fear I am not in her good opinion at the moment.”
“Any reason why?”
“She had made much progress and will soon deliver our child. She thinks not much of my participation in the process. She has sent me out of the room for chips of ice.”
Thor wandered off, and Darcy peeked into the room. “You couldn’t have waited ‘til I got a good night’s sleep?”
“You could have got to bed on time,” Jane retorted.
“Science waits for no woman.”
“True.” Jane winced and rubbed her belly.
“So what’s the verdict?” Darcy slurped her not-caffeinated excuse for coffee, for no other reason to distract Jane.
“We’re going to have a baby. Gimme.”
“That’s nice. Does the father know?” Darcy held out the tumbler.
“Ha.” Jane sighed. “Verdict is ‘we’re moving along nicely’ and ‘these things take time.’” She sucked down two healthy gulps and passed the cup back.
“That’s not helpful,” Darcy noted.
And so Darcy kept Jane company throughout the long morning, mostly by thumbing through the labor and delivery section of What to Expect when You’re Expecting and trying not to be grossed out at the details. She had no idea what she was doing, but the Asgardian healer had dealt with newbies before and kept up encouraging instructions for the parents-to-be and Darcy. Thor and Darcy took turns massaging Jane’s back and walking with her up and down the long hallway outside their quarters.
As Jane’s labor progressed, the healer passed her hands over Jane’s middle to ease the worst of the pain. Darcy sucked on her bottom lip, swallowing down her own fear of what was to come--both for her and Jane.
Steve and Bucky ran interference with all the well-wishers (Never let it be said the Avengers didn’t know how to gossip, though Darcy told Clint herself.) and kept a steady supply of snacks handy from where they kept vigil in the hallway. Jane kept up a steady stream of complaints throughout the long day. Darcy napped on Bucky at one point, waking when Jane demanded her BFF to hold her hand. (Transition did not look like fun. At all.)
At midday, Jane got down to business. Thor gave Jane a steady stream of encouragement, all while lending her his strength, giving her something to press against as she labored. The healer magicked Jane’s middle against sharpest pains, Thor took the brunt of Jane’s curses from what was left, and the Healer delivered a healthy baby girl into Jane’s arms.
Darcy babbled her own delight as the baby slid into the world onto waiting hands and blankets. “A girl, Jane--Thor--you have a daughter.”
The tiny infant squalled, announcing to the world that her lungs worked just fine, thank you.
Thor wiped tears off his face as he bussed the cheeks of everyone close enough to hear. Bucky pretended to be dry-eyed, but his lashes glimmered damply. Steve blew into his handkerchief loudly enough to startle the newest Thorsdottir.
Freya, they named her, after one of the legendary Aesir in Asgard’s long history. Darcy cooed over the new kid long enough to make the parents twitch, then passed the squirming bundle back to Jane.
Darcy waited until the new parents were occupied, then slipped out of the room and went straight to her loves. She dropped into Steve’s lap and buried her face in his neck. In truth, she hadn’t really thought about the whole birthing process. She'd figured when the time came, stuff would happen in the right order. Watching Jane work to make the kid appear scared the crap out of Darcy. It clearly hurt, and Darcy already had experience with some truly hideous periods--courtesy of the serum--and now she was more than a little terrified.
“Darce? Is Jane okay?”
“Fine, she’s fine. The baby’s fine. Thor’s ecstatic.” Darcy raised her head. “I’m scared shitless. I don’t wanna do labor.”
Steve held her tight. “We’ll get through it, all right?”
She winced, peeking over Steve’s shoulder. Sure enough, Bucky had stilled, though his fingers rubbed along the seam of his jeans to ground him to the here and now.
“James, Steve, shit, I’m gonna be fine. It’s nothing like what you two went through. I’m nervous, that’s all,” she babbled. “Jane survived, billions of women before me survived. I’ll be fine.” She made grabby hands at Bucky.
“Buck--” Steve called out. That prompted their husband to take the few steps needed to close the gap between them so that Steve and Darcy could take his hands.
Bucky bit his lip as he fought against his conditioning. Finally, he growled, “It’s better now, the way babies are born. Wasn’t so good in our day. Lots of bad stories then. Fathers get to be in the room, right? Like Thor?”
“And they’ve got those birthing classes now.”
“They do?” Steve asked. “What for?”
“Vision said so,” Bucky confirmed, the tension beginning to ease out of him. “It’s breathin’ and stuff. Tells you what all is gonna happen.”
Darcy gave them a tremulous smile. “I guess we’re going to school?”
Steve pressed a kiss to her temple, his eyes lighting up. “That’s the ticket, doll.”
That night, she lay in bed and stared at the curve in her bare stomach. She couldn’t feel anything. It was too soon yet, according to the book she stole from Jane. (“Borrowed,” Darcy insisted. “I don’t want it forever.”) Anxiety thrummed under her skin.
Clad in his undershirt and boxers, Bucky sat heavily on the bed and stretched out beside her. He rested his metal fingers just off to one side of her belly. His dark lashes lifted, framing his ice-blue eyes. “I can feel the heartbeat.” He flushed with delight as he pressed his fingers into her flesh. “Hey, punk,” he called out.
Steve sauntered in from the bathroom, still damp, a deep blue towel hanging precariously from his hips. “What’s going on?”
Grabbing Steve’s hand, he pressed Steve’s fingers into the same place. “Can you feel that?”
Darcy stuffed a pillow behind her head, amused by her husbands’ antics. Steve frowned. “Feel what?”
“The heartbeat,” Bucky insisted.
Steve closed his eyes, feeling. He turned his head, leaning down and listening. Then-- “I can’t feel it, but I can hear it,” he said with wonder.
The two men shared an incredulous look, and Darcy crossed her arms, pouting. (She was jealous, okay? Let’s leave it at that.) “Let me know when you two are done playing so I can get some sleep.”
That got a second exchange of looks. (Ha! That got their attention.)
“Playing? I can play,” Steve started, drawing one hand down her hip.
Bucky just shook his head. “She’s playing you . Pretty sure she already wants what you're offering.”
“Not true,” Darcy countered with a lick of her lips. “I want whatever you’re offering too.”
Bucky slipped a hand under Steve’s towel so it fell open, then reached behind his head to tug off his t-shirt, Darcy’s heart began to race with anticipation instead of nerves at the sight of two gorgeous men. Steve stole a kiss from Bucky before kicking the towel out of the way.
Later, in the seconds of conscious thought before sleep became her friend, she realized the distraction had worked. She’d yell at them for that in the morning. (Maybe.)
Weary from the long battle, Steve made the rounds of those who’d been freed from the Hydra warehouse. The squall of an infant made him stop. The woman--beaten, exhausted, and shocky from the imprisonment-- cradled the child. She loosened her top so the infant could nurse. When the baby latched on, the woman smiled. Steve wondered what hell she’d gone through to keep her baby healthy and whole through the ordeal.
“Danke sehr,” she whispered, with a flicker of a look toward Steve.
“Bitte sehr,” he answered.
When every last person was headed to safety, Natasha met him at the Quinjet. “Finished?” she asked, well used to his ways after a skirmish.
Sleep that night came easily--for once. He dreamed of Bucky, of course. But Darcy Lewis was there too. They were home, laughing and loving. Little ones darted through the house, giggling.
He woke in the morning, startled by the memory of Darcy in his dreams, even as his heart ached for Bucky. Given that he'd only spent the one night in her company, he wasn’t sure why he thought of her. Though --she did look a lot like a pin-up he’d drawn for Bucky. Maybe that was it.
He sat up in bed, pressing a hand to the name tattooed across a rib. He allowed himself only a moment to grieve for all that has been lost. Then his phone chimed with a text from Sam.
“Got a lead on your boy.”
Chapter 6: Discord
The ache in Bucky’s head wasn’t going away anytime soon. The two sparring sessions he’d had with Romanov and Barton hadn’t helped, neither did the idiot on the sixty-seventh floor who thought she could pick the lock on a secured office.
At lunch, he called it a day at the office, leaving Garcia in charge. A quick text exchange with Steve to pick up Darcy on his way home took care of that worry.
He opted to take the subway for the short trip home. The habit of never going home the same way twice was too ingrained, even if one of them was by private rail. (Paranoia, yes, still alive and kicking.) Yes, it was a challenge to deal with the press of people, but in a strange way, it made him feel like his old self again. New York and its constant crowds had never changed. It was easy to blend in by pretending to toy with his phone, though he kept watch on the other passengers from his post near the door. He got off at 68th Street, just one stop up the line. On the stairs to the street level, Bucky dodged a woman with dog in her purse and used her as cover to look for tails. Finding none, he stayed with the crowd until he stepped into the sunlight.
Reflexively inhaling the crisp winter air, Bucky tweaked his gloves to make sure they covered his wrists. The heater in his shoulder kicked on, spreading a warm glow through his collarbone. The headache eased somewhat as he neared the house.
He chuckled to himself over the ironies of life. Not quite two years ago, he’d been living in nothing less than hell itself. Now? He was married, with a good job and a baby on the way, and living in a monstrosity of a house he called home. Bucky nodded to the Tangos on duty at the gate as they opened it for him. He’d done his best to make the house a small fortress. All of them were targets on any given day, and kids right up there with them. So far, he could sleep a night; Jason played a big part of that.
An infant’s wail from the other side of the courtyard distracted him from his thoughts. Two-month old Freya was having none of her mother’s attempts to calm her. Jane walked to and fro in the cool air, weariness in her voice as she talked the baby.
She jerked around, red-eyed from her own exhaustion and tears. WIthout any further prompting, he held out his hands.
Gratefully, Jane tipped the infant into his arms. “Oh thank you.” She rubbed her face. “That probably makes me a terrible mother. But she won’t stop crying.”
“Thor still on Asgard?”
“For at least a couple more days. I think Freya missed him. She was cranky all last night and wouldn’t sleep. It’s even worse today. It doesn’t matter what I do. She won’t settle down and won’t take a nap. I’m so tired , James.” The last ended on a sob, and Jane rubbed her eye with the heel of a hand.
“Go nap,” he coaxed over the baby’s fussing. “Freya and I can manage for a few hours.. Where’s her milk?”
“I’ve got some in the nursery. It’s not much. She might need formula. I’m not sure if she’s eating enough.” Jane pressed a hand to her breast. “I tried to feed her, but she didn’t want any.” Freya let out a howl, making her mama wince.
“Jane,” Bucky interrupted, “Get some rest. I’ve got this. Won’t be the first time I’ve walked a neighbor kid.”
Like any new mother, Jane couldn’t quite decide if leaving her little one behind was the right thing to do. Bucky patted Freya on her padded bottom. She stopped wailing just long enough for Jane to nod with visible relief and dart into the house for a few hours of sleep.
Bucky hummed under his breath. “Freya, honey, we’re gonna figure out something better for you to do than cry. You’re tired, your mama’s tired, and that’s a good recipe for disaster.”
With wide blue eyes, the infant let out a hiccuping sob. She settled as Bucky kept up a steady stream of flattery as he crossed the house. By the time he was settled on the couch in the living room, she was sound asleep on his shoulder.
Huh. His headache was better. Maybe all he needed was a bit of distraction. With one hand, he unlaced his boots, kicking them off in turn to land on the floor with a soft whump on the plush rug. After that, it was easy enough to settle in with Freya cradled in an arm nicely propped up on a pillow. Comfortably nestled, he closed his eyes to catch enough z’s to chase the last vestiges of the headache away.
A soft ping aroused him. He snapped awake, hand reflexively cupping Freya’s back as he sat up and searched for threats.
“My apologies, Sergeant Barnes, for disturbing your rest,” Jason offered. “You’ve been asleep for one hour five minutes.”
Bucky rubbed his face with one hand, then nuzzled Freya’s scattering of hair with his nose, appreciating the warm, baby powder scent of the shampoo Jane used. She wriggled in his grasp, curling up in a ball that was hard as hell to hold. Still, she slept on and that was a good thing.
“What’s the problem, Jason?”
“The Captain and Ms. Stark are en route from the Tower via the tunnel.” There was a slight hesitation, then Jason added, “It is inappropriate for me to comment that they each appear to be rather agitated?”
“Guess it depends on why you think it’s important” Bucky patted Freya as he debated what to do with her.
“I have noted in past interactions that the Asset is less likely to intrude in your thoughts when you have a moment to prepare for complicated interactions,” Jason stated.
(Speaking of gifts that kept on giving---he’d sure like to give that one back.) “That’s a good reason.” Bucky laid Freya’s blanket on the couch, then set her on top of it. She sighed once, settling again with a shudder. He kept one hand on her, just in case she decided to figure out how to roll over on his watch.
Steve dropped his go bag just inside the door. Tension radiated in every line of his body, from the clenched jaw to the flexing of his fingers.
Darcy was seconds behind him, shoes in hand and eyes wide. “Steve--”
“The U.N. is supposed to be better than the World Council?” Steve growled out.
Bucky eyed Freya, silently begging her to stay asleep for a little while longer. “Hey, got a little one here, punk. I just got her down for a nap.” (An hour was a little while, right? Close enough.)
Steve caught himself, pressing his mouth in a firm line. With deliberate calm, he asked, “How’d you get babysitting duty?”
“I volunteered. Jane needed a break.” Darcy leaned over to gave him a quick hug and a kiss. A lock of her hair slid over her shoulder, brushing his cheek. He caught her jaw, leaning into the kiss just long enough to for a hint of pink to touch her cheeks. As she drew off her suit coat, he scowled at her belly. “Can’t hide that much longer, princess.”
“I’m getting weird looks at work too,” she agreed. “Sean and Carla are finalizing the announcement to be posted on Friday afternoon. We’ll hit all the social media simultaneously so we’ll have the weekend for everything to chill before the stock market opens on Monday. No interviews this time, but be ready for a fuckton of paparazzi outside the house and Tower.
Steve set his hands on his hips in frustration. “Damn.”
“Language,” Bucky chided the pair of them. “There’s a baby in the house. And don’t I get a kiss from my husband?”
Steve snorted, then leaned over to kiss him sweetly on the cheek. “Hi, honey. I’m home.” The punk brushed fingers over Freya’s scattering of hair. “It’s been a lousy day,” he admitted.
“Gonna tell me about it?”
“Jason ordered dinner before we left the Tower. Let’s eat and we can fill you in,” Darcy replied.
Over a spicy shrimp etouffee’ that spoke of their new chef’s Cajun heritage, Darcy explained what they knew. “The short version rumored on Capitol Hill is that the United Nations is going to pass a resolution tomorrow to explore the idea of bringing the Avengers under the U.N. umbrella,” she said.
The punk was pissed enough to only shovel food while he fumed.
“Did we know this was coming?” Bucky asked.
Darcy shook her head. “Not a rumor one, then I heard it from four different sources today.”
Steve lifted a shoulder. “Tony mentioned Ross had something up his sleeve.”
James rested the tines of his fork against his plate as he cradled Freya in his other arm. “Doesn’t surprise me. You and Tony have been operating without oversight for a couple of years. You’ve expanded the team and have better tech and intel than any strike team. They left you alone when you were chasing Hydra and didn’t involve civilians.” He shook his head. “Laos wasn’t really your fault, but South Africa got out of hand, and Sokovia--” he gave an apologetic look to Darcy, “it’s a miracle your dad’s got through that hearing without charges being brought against him.”
“That’s the tradeoff,” Steve muttered. “No charges, as long as we dance to their tune. And the fact that none of this is our fault doesn’t matter.”
“No,” Darcy agreed. “They need someone to blame for the destruction and to look like they are doing something about it.”
Steve rubbed his forehead again. “I can’t see how we can operate with that kind of oversight. It didn’t work for S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Bucky rocked Freya. “I’m not sure you’re gonna get that choice.”
With a grimace, Steve shook his head. “There’s gonna be a choice, Buck, it just might not one everyone wants. I don’t have to be Captain America.”
Darcy sat up. “You’re thinking of stepping down?”
“I won’t be a dancing monkey again.”
“Dad’s gonna hate that.”
Bucky was sure Darcy would be thrilled to have Steve off the front lines; so would he for that matter. But he also give the punk less than a week before he’d be sneaking off to help somewhere.
The rest of the conversation had to wait as Jane shuffled in, looking for her daughter. “Darcy? Is James--oh there you are,” she cooed. Freya stirred at the sound of her mama’s voice, blinking sleepily in an eerie imitation of Jane.
Bucky deftly passed her over as Darcy pouted. “I didn’t even get to hold her,” she complained.
Jane laughed. “Volunteering to babysit gets you holding rights.” She kissed Bucky on the cheek. “Thank you. I feel a million times better. I might survive until Thursday.”
“I’ll walk you home,” Darcy decided. “I wanna know what you’re working on.”
Jane’s eyes lit up as they walked out the door. “So I tweaked the equation for the wormhole. I think I’ll be ready for a test run ----” her voice faded as the ladies exited the room.
Bucky slanted a look at Steve. “Gonna give up being Captain America?”
“I don’t know, Buck. But I won’t work for the wrong people again.”
“How do you know who to trust?”
“You know, I once told Sam ‘if they’re shooting at us, they’re the bad guys,’” Steve grumbled.
“ I shot you.”
“So much for my theory. You got a better one?”
Sam held out a grainy photo. “This was taken in Greece in a port town called Thessaloniki eight days ago.”
“How did we get it?”
“Theoretically, Barton and Romanov were vacationing in the Greek Isles.”
“Ah yes, there’s a HYDRA base they wanted to check out. Only a two-star rating, but the food’s supposed to be good,” Steve quipped.
Sam rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, the accommodations are questionable. Place was deserted. And, uh, not habitable.”
“Don’t know. Place was burned to ash. Smelled like rocket fuel.”
“That’s gonna be a bad Trip Advisor review.”
“Damn, Rogers. You’re messed up.”
“In more ways than you know.” Steve looked over the photo. “Wasn’t this an old HYDRA safe house?”
With an appreciative whistle, Sam nodded. “I owe Barton a $20. He said you’d catch that. How’d you know?”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “You do know I’ve been chasing HYDRA since 1942?”
Sam crossed his arms. “Really? You’re gonna go with that?”
“I asked FRIDAY to cross reference the Winter Soldier’s targets with HYDRA safe houses. He had to be holded up somewhere to make the hits and get away clean.”
“Huh. Okay. Show me what you’ve got.”
Chuckling, Steve rounded his desk and pulled out notebook. He paged through it until he came to a list of addresses. He turned it around and showed his friend. “Here are the addresses.” He paged over to another list. “Here are the targets. Thessaloniki is unusual enough to be memorable.”
“Huh,” Sam said again as he examined both pages, flipping back and forth as he read. “The safe house we found in Gdansk is on both lists. That’s the last lead we had on your boy. I’m guessing you don’t think this is coincidence.”
“Seems like it might be time to see if any of these are still occupied. How’s your passport holding up?”
“Same as yours, Captain, just not quite as many stamps.”
“Let’s go get you a few more.”
Chapter 7: Announcements
The Instagram post of Tony and Pepper’s wedding went viral. Darcy picked out the photo herself and posted it to her feed as the last moments of the celebration wound down, with empty champagne flutes scattered across the tables amid the seemingly endless variety of yellow petals . Darcy picked out sunflowers, daisies, and dahlias from the scattered bits as she watched her parents dance with quiet joy--foreheads touching, wedding rings glinting in the clasped hands tucked between them. They both wore white, though Pepper had yellow flowers wound through her hair.
Yellow was for Mom. Dad said she was everything bright and beautiful in his world. He’d mostly stayed out of the preparations -- a miracle in itself -- but he’d asked for yellow. (Her dad could be such a sap sometimes.)
He was right, of course, and the wedding was stunning. Elegant. Extravagant. Small. Not particularly quiet because the party was having entirely too good of a time.
Darcy slid her phone into the pocket of her dress and leaned back into Steve’s arms to watch her parents circle the dance floor. Tony whispered something to Pepper that made her laugh, and Darcy wished she hadn’t put her phone away because they looked so happy.
Steve laughed softly. “I’ll draw it for you,” he promised.
(Points for the spousal unit, Darcy decided.) She flashed him a smile, pressing a kiss on his cheek.
“Leave some for me,” Bucky insisted from the other side of Steve. (Holy shitballs, her loves looked good tonight.)
“Plenty to share.” A flurry of bubbles in Darcy’s middle distracted her. She eyed the silk-covered bulge. Steve’s hand immediately dropped to rest there. With just three months to go, the baby’s movements grew stronger daily.
“Want to dance?” Steve asked.
She shook her head. “Dance with James. I want to put my feet up and watch.”
Steve hesitated for only the briefest moment, then nodded. He rose as Bucky slipped Darcy’s shoes off, setting her feet in the chair he vacated.
Bucky held out his hand to Steve, leading him out to the dance floor. It was instinctive for Darcy to look around for cameras, but Clint’s didn’t count and the rest of the guests were either Avengers or had their cell phones locked up for the celebration. A trio of professional photographers circled the room. Darcy couldn’t wait to see the proofs.
It was a mark of trust that Steve and Bucky would even think of dancing together in a place like this. After decades of hiding their relationship, the two men simply didn’t show off their love in public unless it was staged for the media--and that was rare.
“Lewis,” Vision said softly through the comlink, getting her attention. “I’ve intercepted a photo being uploaded, and it was not from your device.”
At the same time, Bucky expertly turned Steve on the dance floor. If Darcy hadn’t been watching for it, she wouldn’t have seen the flicker of a glance Steve shot to the corner of the room.
Without further thought, Darcy reached for Jason, leaning into the new servers and erecting a Faraday cage around the ballroom using the bugs Bucky had planted for her that morning. Clint rose from his table, pretending to be happily inebriated and in search of the bathroom as he crossed the ballroom toward the kitchen. When he flung a friendly arm over the shoulder of a nervous-looking waiter, Darcy exchanged a grin with Vision.
“Can you isolate her phone in here?”
Darcy visualized the bugs and the phone in the room, then used Jason to heat up the cell phone until the waiter scrabbled in her jacket pocket to pull it out. A tiny EMP made it spark, and she dropped it in shock.
Clint winked at Darcy as he picked up the offending device with a borrowed napkin, then escorted the woman into the kitchen.
Disaster averted, Darcy went back to admiring her parents and her loves on the dance floor.
Steve walked through the old safe house on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Sam ran a gloved finger through the faint layer of dust. “It’s too clean.”
“Uh huh,” Steve agreed.
The two men didn’t need to talk about the next step. Too many buildings, too many questions. They turned in unison--Sam to case the kitchen; Steve, the bedroom.
He searched the room, leaving the bedding for last. He had to. He already knew the answer. He knelt by the mattress on the floor. He took a single long inhale. Mingled with the stale odors of dust and mold, there it was: the faint signature essence of Bucky.
If it wasn’t for that elusive scent that had forever reminded Steve of oranges on a hot summer day, there was nothing of Bucky here. Steve sighed, knowing the trail was already cold once more.
With the flat thoroughly investigated, he tried not to show his disappointment.
“Anything?” Sam asked.
“I’ve got nothing.”
Chapter 8: Integrity
“Dad, you know this is crap,” Darcy blurted, dropping the Sokovia Accords on the table with a thwap. “This is nothing more than a way to hamstring people with unique abilities and lock them up if they don’t toe somebody’s line.” She felt sick to her stomach. Steve was still stalking about the mansion in fury, and James had added another two layers of security. The only way to make the place more impregnable was to leave it altogether--and Bucky was already making noises about moving back to the Tower. (She didn’t want to move back. Stark House was her home.)
Tony crossed his arms. “It’s not about that. It’s about accountability.”
“Accountability? Tony Stark wants to be accountable for his actions at long last?” she sneered. “Or does he find it exhausting, and he wants to hand over responsibility for what he does to somebody, to anybody, else. Then when something goes wrong--and it will--you can point to that person, that committee, and say, ‘It’s their fault; I was just doing what I was told to do.’”
Tony’s jaw flexed. “You know it’s more than that. We walk a line every day, just like any special ops team: a line between right and wrong.”
Darcy planted her hands on her hips. “Then the only person you can trust to walk that line is the one person who can’t be corrupted. And yet here you are, advocating for some committee to be in charge of him.” She picked up the sheaf of papers and shook it in Tony’s face. “Steve will never sign this. For that matter, neither will Clint.”
Tony pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “I know."
“Is that what you want?”
“Damn it, Darcy--NO! I’m doing what I can to keep this team intact.” He stalked around the room. “We sign or we quit. It’s that simple.”
With an aching heart, Darcy dropped the papers on the table once more. “Congratulations. You just broke up the Avengers.”
“This is Demarcus Johnson at CNN, and we’re going now to the Avengers press conference, where we are expecting to hear their response to the United Nations Sokovia Accords. We’re tuning in with Captain Rogers.”
With a nod to the reporters who covered the Avengers beat, the Captain began. “Thank you for coming. We’re on a tight schedule, so I’ll keep this short. As of this morning, I will no longer lead the Avengers. Instead, I’ve chosen to retire to spend time with my family. I’ve passed the shield to Sam Wilson, because there is no better person to embody the ideals of Captain America. It has been my privilege to serve.”
The Captain fell silent, and a reporter stuck her hand in the air. “Captain, does the current state of the Accords have anything to do with your retirement?”
Hard on the heels of her question, another reporter asked, “You’ve got a baby on the way. Has this influenced your decision to step down?”
Others shouted out, and amid the cacophony of questions, Steve swept a long look about the room, then acknowledged the two reporters with a nod. “Yes,” he answered as the room fell silent. With that, he quit the stage.
“This is Demarcus Johnson at CNN, coming back to you after the shocking Avengers press conference where Steve Rogers--Captain America himself--has announced his retirement.” The news anchor swallowed hard, touching one finger under his eye before he spoke again. “This is sad news today, and one must wonder how the Sokovia Accords play into it. That document will be released to the public this Friday, and the United Nations will convene in ten days for the official signing.”
“I’m doing what has to be done," Tony said with a sigh, “to stave off something worse.”
Steve held up the pen. “You keep telling yourself that.” He dropped it on the table beside the other one still in the box. “I hate to break up the set.” He stalked out of the room to watch Bucky’s interrogation.
Furious that he couldn’t get Stark to understand that principles weren’t meant to be compromised -- not when it came to people -- Steve choked back a lump in his throat.
Wanda was innocent, full stop. If Stark couldn’t see that, there was no way in hell he’d understand that Bucky was innocent too.
Chapter 9: Spawn
A/N Thank you for your lovely patience. It's been six months and ya'll (hi from Texas) are still cheering me on.
Quick note: yes, as some of you have guessed, the italic portions at the end are set in the MCU. I just couldn't leave the multi-verse thing alone.
Darcy was pretty good at ignoring the riffraff these days.
Her Stark Tower lab had turned into the new hangout for recently retired Avengers and the super-powered persons associated with them. Or maybe Clint was bored and Wanda had a fascination with Vision, which meant Pietro was along for the ride whenever Darcy’s brother was in town. Vis was in town a lot. So was Nat.
Jane brought Freya up to the lab for naps. There were plenty of babysitters willing to give Jane uninterrupted concentration time for a couple of hours on most days. She was close to solving the riddle of the BiFrost--close enough that Thor’s eyes had widened with respect when he’d seen her latest work.
Steve and Bucky popped in every chance they got, usually bearing food and finding excuses to check on Darcy. (Clint noticed Bucky timed his visits so that Freya roused not long after he arrived. There was a subtle daily battle between the snipers to see who got to carry her downstairs to Jane.)
On the days she was in the lab, Darcy didn’t mind the company. Her mornings were usually quiet with the others trickling in as the day progressed. Clint and Steve took advantage of the Tower’s exercise facilities and the steady stream of Bucky’s security team wanting to spar with them. If Wanda and Pietro showed up, the four of them would discreetly train together, sometimes joined by Bucky on his good days.
So it was sort of like old times (like, just last year) except that retired Avengers didn’t have nearly enough to do and Darcy was due soon enough that none of them would go far unless ordered to do so. (Did she mention that they weren’t taking orders from anyone these days?)
When Steve and Bucky set up a little nursery on one side of the lab, Clint sneaked in another couch and declared himself the Official Babysitter of the Future Baby Stark. When Clint wasn’t training or keeping an eye on the building he owned in Bed-Stuy where the twins lived, he kept tabs on the Mets and the Stanley Cup playoffs from the couch and poked fun at Steve and Bucky with all sorts of color-coded charts explaining when and where he would be needed for babysitting duty.
There might have been an incident in Bed-Stuy with something called the “Tracksuit Mafia” that involved a broken nose on Clint’s part and a deep bruise on Steve’s forearm that took a couple of days to heal. Tony eyed both of them suspiciously. Bucky stepped up to take the blame (training accident, ha! Natasha didn’t believe that at all).
None of it was enough to keep them occupied. Steve’s need to right the world of wrongs made him into a live wire that only Bucky could keep in check.
Darcy scratched her ever-growing belly, ready to be done with the pregnancy. Alyssa, the Tower medic, had assured Darcy just yesterday that things were moving along nicely and the baby would be here sometime in the next couple of weeks. Darcy hoped the tyke wouldn’t be late. Steve was gnawing on the furniture as it was, when he wasn’t setting up a full command post in the basement of the house.
Nobody missed the irony of having to set up a new command post inside Stark House without Stark Industries technology. Darcy wasn’t about to let her husband slip off without the best of what she could offer but Tony had spent years perfecting his trade. Darcy was better at dismantling weapons tech than building it.
She could, though, set up ultra-secure communications so Steve could keep his finger on the pulse of world events. Even if Steve wasn’t an official agent of anything , there were any number of parties interested in hiring him to solve knotty problems (preferably with a fist) or had intel that they were sure was of interest to him.
If Steve disappeared with Clint, Wanda, and Pietro every so often in her jet, well, she couldn’t fly right now any way and who was she to deny either of her husbands the use of it for their enjoyment?
(Maybe nobody needed to know Darcy could hack anything connected to the electrical grid and might have caused regional power outages in interesting places that could only be traced back to faulty hardware. Yeah, probably best to keep that mum.)
But establishing spy networks took time, and Steve would need years, not months, to make it effective.
The fallout from all that free time? He hovered. And if Steve was bad, James was worse. Not to mention Vision chimed in via the com every time she winced when the little one wedged a foot somewhere it didn’t belong.
There were rules about how often anyone could ask how she was doing. Jason kept a countdown clock projected on the wall in bright pink. SInce she was still forty-seven minutes away from the next check in, Darcy ignored the full house while she played with her new computers.
Jason kept her company as she fine-tuned the connection. The virtual chess board had a game going at all times, and Jason’s ability to predict Darcy’s moves had improved substantially in the past month. She suspected Vision of judiciously programming Jason. The younger AI seemed to be better at keeping up with Darcy’s line of thinking, even if he hadn’t developed a sense of humor about it yet.
She still wasn’t comfortable with the mental connection to all things electronic, though it did make work easier and faster. She only had to think about a text or an email for Jason to send it off. She still found coding on the keyboard helped her focus her thoughts when programming, but it wasn’t a requirement and most of her typing was half-assed anyway.
While JARVIS had been able to anticipate Darcy’s thoughts, now she was able to convey them electronically to Jason, though he didn’t always know what to do with the information.
They were working on it.
The elevator chimed, getting the room’s attention. Jane stepped off, sans baby in hand. Clint scowled when Bucky followed with Freya already snoozing on his shoulder. He winked at Darcy, smoothly transferring the sleeping baby to one of the cribs. Steve arrived moments later, giving Darcy a head-to-toe assessment before going back to reading something off his tablet.
Half-convinced her own squidlet felt the change in the room’s dynamics, Darcy felt a kick squarely on her bladder. (Shitballs. Now, she had to pee again.) Annoyed with the interruptions, she waddled past the crowd to the bathroom. Steve set his tablet down, striding over to escort her the last few steps. She glared at him until he backed away in chagrin, hands held up in surrender.
The trip to the toilet did nothing to relieve her bladder, and when she found both husbands hovering outside the door, she crossed her arms in annoyance.
Bucky tried to charm her with innocent flirting. “Just sayin’ hi, Princess.”
“What’s your excuse?” she shot at Steve.
He winced, tugging at the strands of hair on his forehead. “You look uncomfortable.”
Her temper flared. “I am uncomfortable. Comfort took flight a couple of months back and I haven’t seen it since.” She groaned. “This isn’t news, loves, and you’re both making me banana balls.”
Steve frowned--not at her. He dropped his hands to her waist, where the baby was busy making Darcy’s middle stretch out in weird places. “I want to be here.”
She let out a short scream of frustration that made Steve grimace and pull away, giving her plenty of space. James sidled away too, his eyes turning to faded denim. And that made her feel worse, because they really hadn’t done anything wrong. It wasn’t their fault Darcy felt like a swollen pufferfish and was twice as prickly.
“Don’t be snotty,” Jane chided, coming up behind her to rub little circles at the small of her back. (Oh. That was achy and Darcy hadn’t noticed. Now that she was thinking about it, her feet hurt too.)
“You remember Thor. He’d been saving up for a millennia and a half.” Darcy snickered at the memory. Jane had threatened the Asgardian with Sif and the Warriors Three. “Go be nice to them,” Jane told her. “I don’t want to lose my babysitters.”
“Clint’s not mad at me.”
“Clint won’t come any closer until the kid gets here.”
“True.” The archer was thoroughly freaked out by pregnant people, staying on the far side of whatever room one was in.
Steve picked up his tablet and went back to studying it, turning away from Darcy just enough to pretend he wasn’t paying attention to her. James shot raised eyebrows at Darcy.
Ugh. Husbands. Darcy sucked on her lip, not quite ready to make nice.
Jane came to the rescue again. “When was the last time they went out without you?”
“Nine months ago,” Darcy quipped.
She had to think about that. “Two months? Not since Steve retired, I don’t think.”
“Maybe it’s their last chance for a while,” Jane suggested.
Taking the hint, Darcy rounded the work table to where her loves were holding up a wall. Steve brushed a kiss against the top of her head, murmuring his apologies as he held her.
She leaned in to the hug. (Still the best hugs ever.) Darcy caught Bucky’s eyes. “Do me a favor?” she asked him.
He raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Take Steve on a date tonight,” she pleaded.
“Banana balls?” she repeated as she patted Steve on the cheek. “Look, I’ll go home,” she told both of them. “Jane and Thor are there. Clint will be there. I won’t be alone. But you two need to get out for a while.” She sighed as she rubbed her hands up and down Steve’s biceps. (Yum. Seriously.) “Look, Alyssa says we’re still a few days off. This might be your last chance for a while, and Steve’s like a Jack Russell terrier digging at the sofa because he’s bored."
That got a chuckle out of Bucky. “I can do that.” He shot a look at Clint. “You’ll stay at the Mansion?”
“I’ll even order pizza,” the archer-turned-bodyguard assured him. With a sly smile, he announced, “Nat’ll be there too.”
That did it, just as she figured, and Darcy’s loves reluctantly made plans to have dinner at a ratty diner in Brooklyn that just might have been open when they were kids.
Sam and Maria turned up for pizza at Stark House when Darcy shot off a quick text in their direction. The party took over the bowling alley and theatre in the basement. Sam and Clint argued over the proper way to mark the scores on the paper tablets Steve kept down there. Darcy let Jason handle that one while she tried to find a comfortable way to sit in one of the reclining chairs in the theater. Vision gave Pietro and Wanda a tour of the massive house. Maria gave Freya the side-eye while Thor bounced the infant on his shoulder. When the hour grew late, the three-month old collapsed on his shoulder, mouth hanging open as she slept.
Natasha and Jane kept Darcy company while watching the latest Star Trek movie.
Jane adored sci fi. “I love tachyon particles,” she whispered. “It’s the perfect answer to everything.”
Nat rolled her eyes. “I think telling a senator that the BiFrost is made up of them was pushing it.”
“It worked,” Jane protested. “They wouldn’t believe me even if I gave them explicit instructions for opening a wormhole.”
“True,” Natasha agreed. “Pass me the popcorn?”
When Darcy gave up trying to get comfortable, she wandered to the kitchen to stare into the refrigerator. She was hungry, but nothing sounded good.
A sharp pang rippled through her middle. Darcy closed her eyes as fright mingled with anticipation. The flush of adrenaline left her shivering in its aftermath. WIth conscious effort, she checked her breathing, taking it slow, then went back to staring into the fridge. (Ugh… self-care. PTSD was a bitch. The coping mechanisms were handy though.)
Lemonade sounded good. She downed two full glasses before the next pang announced itself.
Ms. Stark, am I correct in detecting two labor pains seven minutes apart? Jason asked.
Probably, Darcy answered.
Shall I inform the Captain and the Sergeant?
Not yet. Alyssa first. I promised. That was one promise that had been easy to make. Given the speed and intensity of Darcy’s periods, no one had any idea how her body would react to the actual process of giving birth.
Vision appeared. Literally, as he blurred into view before solidifying into his usual form.
“LEWIS? Are you well?” he asked with a frown.
A sharp wave of nausea sent Darcy stumbling past him and down the hall to the bathroom.
When she rested her cheek on the toilet, she found Jane mopping her brow with Sam and Natasha hovering behind her.
“Nothing like an audience,” Darcy mumbled.
“PJ. Nothin’ I haven’t seen before,” Sam reminded her.
“Didn’t think they had babies in the desert.”
“You do know we help the locals, right?” he chided. “I know how this works. Besides, Dernier’s on her way.”
Sam’s cool professionalism made Darcy feel better as Jane and Natasha helped her upright. She glanced down, trying to figure out why her pants were soaked.
“Oh ho ho! Baby’s impatient,” Sam said cheerfully. Darcy plucked at the fabric in confusion. The lights in the bathroom flickered.
Jane took her hand away. “Your water has broken. Let’s get you to the Tower clinic. Clint can call Steve and Bucky.”
Another contraction arrived, taking Darcy’s breath away. She clutched at Jane, terrified of what was happening. None of the books and articles she’d read made sense. Information danced around in her brain in a dizzying whirl. The two women anchored Darcy on either side as yellow energy sketched patterns in the air behind them.
“Jason, this is probably a good time to ignore that kind of stuff,” Natasha cautioned as Jane wrapped Darcy in a blanket. The yellow fizzled out, though the lights dimmed and brightened unsteadily.
“Pant through the contraction, Darcy,” Sam ordered.
As the pain faded, Vision opened his arms to Darcy. “Perhaps a ride to the clinic is in order.” He glanced at Sam for confirmation.
“Yeah, not a bad idea. Last thing we need is to be delivering the next Stark in a tunnel.”
Jane gave Darcy a quick hug. “We’ll meet you there,” she promised. She seemed to understand Darcy’s rattled brain.
Vision swept Darcy up with all the elegance of a supersoldier. “Please do not vomit on me, LEWIS. I rather like this cloak without extra accoutrement.”
Flying doesn’t seem like a good idea, V. Darcy leaned her head on her brother’s shoulder as he whisked them up the stairs and through the courtyard doors. They rose through the air.
Would you prefer walking? he teased as they zipped over the buildings toward the Tower.
I’d prefer not throwing up on my shoelaces. She tried to look down over her shoulder. “Where is everyone?”
Rogers and Barnes are en route via motorcycle, ETA nine minutes. Barton is flying the others in the helijet, ETA four minutes. Dernier and Dr. Nguyen are waiting in the clinic. Sir and Ms. Potts are leaving now and will arrive in approximately four hours.
Another contraction took hold, this one wicked enough to steal her breath altogether. Darcy clutched at Vision’s shoulders with no little fear. The thought that Bucky had experienced this level of pain flickered across her mind.
Steve! she mentally wailed.
Pant. Vision reminded her as he touched down on the Tower’s landing pad.
Darcy would never quite remember the next few hours. Fear, pain, and confusion combined to make a haze. The inability to think terrified her. She flailed about, seeking, until she clamped her hand around Steve’s wrist and his powerful arms surrounded her.
“I’ve got you, love.”
✪★🗲 ★🗲✪ 🗲✪★ ★✪🗲 ✪🗲★ 🗲★✪
The vinyl seats in the old diner wanted to creak as Bucky settled into the booth. Habit had him checking the angle and speed of his descent to that only a whisper of air gave away his new position. On the other side of the table, the vinyl burped as Steve sat with his usual grace.
If the other patrons knew them, and some surely did, they left the two men be with the blase’ attitude of native New Yorkers. The server’s eyes dilated in recognition as he slapped menus on the table, but he only took their drink orders before moving on to the next table.
It was as close to anonymity as they would get in a public setting and would have to do.
Bucky had already surveyed the diner for threats; Steve swept the room with one last glance as he picked up the menu.
“Don’t know why you bother,” Bucky muttered. “You’re gonna get a double order of the meatball sub.”
“Maybe I want to try the pastrami,” Steve grumbled as he read the menu.
“Pull the other leg.”
“The meatloaf looks good.”
The server breezed by their table with water and coffee for both of them. “Ready to order?”
Only Bucky heard Steve swear softly under his breath before answering, “Double order of the meatball sub.”
“Sure thing. And you, sir,” he asked Bucky.
“I’ll take the meatloaf.”
That made Steve grin. The server whizzed off, stopping at two more tables before putting in the order at the counter.
Bucky shot Steve a quizzical look. “Darcy’s right. You’re bored.”
“You know I hate feeling useless.”
Boy, did Bucky know. That skinny kid in Brooklyn chafed at the restrictions of his own body more often than not. “Won’t be useless when you’ve got a kid screaming in your ear at oh dark thirty.”
“I know.” The faint whine of frustration out of the punk was all too familiar. Bucky shifted his foot so that his ankle rested against Steve’s to put a stop to it.
It worked. The pressure increased as some of the tension Steve was holding in eased with quiet grace. Ankle to ankle, the two men kept the connection discreet and profound, same as they always had. “Heard you got a job offer.”
Steve snorted. “Which one? Half the colleges in the country want me to teach history. The others all want me to give graduation speeches.”
“They do realize you just make that shit up as you go, right?” Bucky retorted.
“They call me the man with a plan.”
“Inciting a riot is probably not their plan.”
“Then why bother?” Steve slurped his coffee with a grin.
Bucky kicked him in the same ankle. “Manners, punk. Your mama taught you a few.”
The server stopped next to them with an enormous tray balanced over his shoulder. With startling efficiency, he deposited the array of dishes across the table, disappeared for a brief moment, then reappeared sans tray and bearing a water pitcher and coffee pot. Refills happened, then the server zipped off to the next table.
Both men dug in. If they ate faster than they should, it was an unspoken agreement to get this “date” over with and them back to Darcy’s side. He didn’t like being away from her, even though he knew Natasha and Clint had her under guard tonight. (Protect Stark.)
Bucky did better these days with the directives. Mostly, he and Sam had worked out how to subvert the conditioning for his own purposes. Not having a handler in his ear all the time was the bigger problem. Vision still helped Bucky whenever he wasn’t on a mission, but it was clear that he embraced the Accords with the logic of someone willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the good of the masses. While Bucky knew Vision wasn’t a power-seeking Hydra, the philosophy aligned a little too closely to their ideology to be comfortable. (Change the world.) It was a fine line so far, and Vision trod the edges with painful determination to do the right thing. Only that distinction allowed Bucky to keep the trust he’d built with Darcy’s brother.
“Any reason your eyes are grey, Buck?” Steve asked gently, tapping Bucky’s foot with the toe of his boot.
The observation startled Bucky, but didn’t particularly surprise him. “Missin’ our girl, I guess. She’s pretty as a peach even when she’s all uptight about the babe,” he drawled.
Steve got that slightly dopey grin whenever he thought about the little one. “Ten days, Alyssa said. You ready to be a daddy?” he asked with a little too much cheer.
Bucky damned well knew this was a topic with a full set of mines to navigate. “Are you?” he pressed his ankle against Steve’s, a silent warning not to lie.
The punk looked away. “You know, before you came back, Darcy and I talked about having kids in that maybe-someday kind of way. I didn’t really think it would happen.”
With a shrug, the punk answered, “Being a soldier’s wife is hard enough, and Darce has her hands full with Stark Industries. I can’t promise I’ll be home enough to be a good dad. We both know that it will be you and Darcy raising the kid, not me.” Steve toyed with his french fries before stuffing three of them in his mouth at once.
“Good, you’re taking the night shift until that dumb shit gets out of your head,” Bucky shot back.
“It’s family, Steven. Means sometimes Darcy’s got the kids, sometimes you’ve got the kids, and then there’s times Jane hands over Freya while Thor’s being the Prince of Asgard and Clint and I fight over rocking her to sleep. Or did you forget how your mother used to treat all the kids in the tenement in exchange for someone’s ma to keep an eye on you when she wasn’t home? You turned out okay. Little bit of an asshole, sure as that’s a Barnes’ trait, but you’ve got good morals, I suppose.”
Steve rubbed the crease between his eye with two fingers, embarrassed now. “Night shift?”
“Your night vision’s better than mine.”
That elicited a snort from the punk. “Now I’m calling bullshit.”
A vibration from their cell phones had both men flipping them over simultaneously to read the text. Jason pinged Bucky’s contact as he read Sam’s message about Darcy.
“Go,” he muttered, giving Steve a glance.
Vision is taking Ms. Stark to the Tower Clinic. ETA three minutes. Her contractions started about thirty-seven minutes ago, and her waters have broken. Captain Wilson believes she is in good health and making excellent progress in her labor, but urges you to hurry.
Were those his exact words?
No, sir. He said, “Barnes and Rogers need to get their asses in gear. Darcy’s in good hands but she’s gonna have a rough few hours.”
Next time, start with that.
Bucky rose, giving Steve a smug grin. “Looks like we’re having a baby, punk.”
✪★🗲 ★🗲✪ 🗲✪★ ★✪🗲 ✪🗲★ 🗲★✪
They’d taken the bike, easily zipping from Brooklyn to Stark Tower in twelve minutes without concern for piddly things like traffic lights and pedestrians. Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky, leaning with him on the tight turns.
“Buck--” he said via the com in the helmet. “Darce is gonna be hurting something awful.”
They’d talked about this, both with Sam and Vision. Exposure therapy had helped with the medical facilities, but Bucky still didn’t handle Darcy being in pain well at all.
“Yeah, I got it.” There was a bitter undercurrent to Bucky’s answer, one that Steve understood. This was their time -- a scary, lovely, nerve-wracking, joyous time --and yet, they still had to navigate the dark paths carved in Bucky’s brain.
Steve rubbed his thumbs in the gap of Bucky’s shirt, finding skin and warmth. Contact was always a positive thing, and when they reached the Tower, Bucky grasped Steve’s hand as they darted toward the elevator.
Friday took pity on them and had the door waiting, yanking the car upward with no regard for the dinner they just ate.
For a brief moment, Bucky was pure excitement and adrenaline, bouncing on his toes in a way Steve hadn’t seen since they were teenagers. They bolted down the corridor to the clinic, laughing as they bumped elbows in an effort to be first into the room. Clint, Sam, Thor with Freya sleeping on his shoulder, and Vision lined the hallway.
A portent of what was to come--a sharp vision of violence--had Steve ankling-checking Bucky just as Darcy let out a cry, a deep sound of agony that was all too familiar from their years on the battlefield. He pivoted, catching both of Bucky’s wrists against the door frame.
With perfect stillness, Bucky breathed.
In. Out. In. Out. Eyes flickered from grey to blue to grey and back again.
Vision drifted to Bucky’s side. “Stand down, Sergeant Barnes,” he ordered quietly. “Darcy is safe. She is progressing normally, I am told.”
Bucky held Steve’s steady gaze as tension reverberated through his whole body. Metal rippled under Steve’s palm.
A curtain yanked aside enough for Natasha to poke her head out. “ Uchitel ,” she snapped. “Get your head out of your ass, Barnes.”
With a startled double-blink, Bucky relaxed under Steve’s grip.
“James? Steve? Get in here and help me have this kid.”
Steve arched an eyebrow at Bucky, waiting. That earned him a faint scowl. Steve grinned. Even if Bucky couldn’t speak, he was in his own mind again, and the two of them darted behind the curtain to find Darcy sweating and muttering curses as she sat on the edge of the bed. Jane rubbed her back, but gladly traded places with Steve.
Natasha bumped fists with Bucky. “Better. Anyone want coffee?”
It took three hours for Darcy to bring the baby into the world, hardly enough time for Tony and Pepper to fly in from Malibu and arrive breathless as they ran all the way to the clinic from the landing pad.
Three hours of Bucky holding Darcy’s hand and cajoling her through another contraction. Three hours of rubbing her back and passing over endless ice chips. Three hours of pretending he wasn’t scared shitless every time her belly rippled under his hands.
But it was the last half hour that Steve would remember forever: sitting behind Darcy with her body straining against his while she pushed with each contraction. Alyssa’s calming influence as she coaxed Darcy into bringing the baby into the world. Bucky’s eyes wide with wonder as the squalling infant with a shock of dark hair landed in the PA’s hands.
Dernier gave the baby a swift examination, then wrapped --her --oh ! -- in a blanket and handed her to Buck. “Congrats, Papa, your little girl is here.”
Bucky wiped away tears as he brought her around to show Darcy and Steve.
“Gimme,” Darcy demanded.
Deftly, Bucky tilted the little darling over to rest against Darcy’s chest, stealing a kiss from their wife as he did. “Nice work, princess.”
Steve brushed his fingers through the damp head of hair. “She’s perfect,” he rumbled. And she was: red-faced, mouth pursed up in irritation, and squinty from the drops Alyssa had put in her eyes. “Kinda looks like Darcy when she’s annoyed at you, Buck.”
Alyssa flashed him a smile as she continued her examination of Darcy. “Do you have a name yet?”
Steve cuddled both of his ladies, barely paying attention to anything but the baby resting against Darcy’s chest. They’d bounced around a lot of ideas, but both Darcy and Bucky had been adamant on the final choice. Since Bucky’s niece already claimed his mother’s name, Steve couldn’t argue even if he wanted to. And he didn’t.
“Yeah,” Darcy said as she peeked under the wrappings to thoroughly examine their daughter. “Sarah Virginia Stark.”
Steve whispered a little thank you to his mom-- both for raising him right and passing on her name. It was the best he could for her. For the moment, it was enough.
Bucky slipped his hand in Steve’s, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “So, guess we’re gonna have to call you “Da” from now on."
With a little huff of happiness, Steve nodded. “That’ll do.”
Steve rested his forehead against the cryo tank. They’d hardly had a chance to find each other, and Bucky was gone again. The few hours they’d had in the quinjet had only been enough for Steve to understand how broken Bucky was, even after a year free from Hydra. But it was enough for Steve to know the love he had for Buck hadn’t changed a bit.
Bucky was so tired of being used that he just wanted a place where he could rest and not hurt anyone. Steve wouldn’t dare deny him that.
“You’re such a punk, Steven. Your ma should have named you Jude, cause you sure got a thing for lost causes,” Bucky’d said just before he went under.
Steve had brushed the back of his knuckles against Bucky’s jaw, barely touching skin. “You started it.”
That got an echo of a laugh, and then Bucky was encased in the tube. As the cryo fluids flooded the tank, Steve’d touched his figures to his lips and then to the glass. Bucky’d ducked his head in a nod, then had closed his eyes and was gone.
“Captain Rogers,” T’Challa said from the doorway.
Steve stood straight, jamming his hands in his pockets. “Your majesty.”
“Better. I understand your friends have been incarcerated.”
Fresh fury ambushed Steve, though he was careful not to show it. “For the moment.”
“Perhaps your quinjet needs refueling?”
“That would be nice.” Steve slanted a look toward Shuri, who was looking over the cryo tank readings with a satisfied smirk. “Know a good hacker?”
Chapter 10: Cornerstone
A/N Yes, yes, I'm still here. I will finish this story, I promise.
“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.”