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Ice and Fire: Strands of Yggdrasil

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Ice and Fire: Strands of Yggdrasil

Prologue

 

September 1940

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 Text

Chapter 2/Moving On

 

Shoulder-to-shoulder in the newly upgraded security room of Stark Mansion, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes watched the feeds, both visual and electronic, as Clint and Natasha attempted to crack the Mansion’s security.

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 she was sunning in a Bermuda beach. Then she refastened her hair into a ponytail while she monitored Nat’s attempt to circumvent the security system.

Bucky swore softly as Clint disappeared from the cameras, and Steve neatly labeled the map on the work table with 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 shoving outward with his fingers. 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. Can I get a satellite visual?” he asked Jason.

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 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. Then 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 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, too, and laid 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 smirked, though Steve’s attention was pulled to Bucky as he drifted into the room after her. His eyes still hadn’t shifted away from the grey of the Asset, so Steve 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 him 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.

 

*****

 

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. 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.”

“Sergeant.”

“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.”

“You too.”

If Garcia suspected there was a secret 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 biometric sensors and links to the house AI.

Bucky slipped into the sturdy elevator, and Jason directed the car down four full levels below the house. When he 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, and Bucky approved.

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 Bucky 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 and deliberately focusing 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 for the short walk home.

The AI unlocked the 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.”

“I won’t.”

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 Text

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 at their feet 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 man at his feet.

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, in his opinion. 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, and 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, she 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 offered 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.”

“Captain.”

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,  stripped 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 everytime 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 Dary’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 Text

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.

“Steve?”

“Yeah, Buck.”

“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?”

“New Mexico.”

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.