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Afterwards, none of them could agree on whose idea it was. Bucky claimed it was obviously Steve's, Steve said it had to be Natasha, and Natasha merely smiled serenely and asked if it really sounded like something she'd come up with.

The one thing they could agree on was that the idea came up during one of far too many nights in too-close quarters with too many people around. The new SHIELD headquarters was hours from the city and a decent drive from even the smaller towns in the area -- better for training (considering that "training" often involved a lot of collateral damage), but it meant everyone lived on base. A lot of money (Tony's money, mostly) had been thrown into building the place, but it still felt to Steve like base housing anywhere: nicer than during the War, of course, but it was still a strange bunk in a row of small rooms, and cafeteria food served in an open mess hall. Steve didn't really mind, but he suspected Natasha did and he knew Bucky did; Bucky, in fact, rarely spent the nights at the base at all, instead vanishing off to God knew where.

So the three of them bought a house in upstate New York.

It was about a 45-minute drive from the new base. It was an old farmhouse, a big rambling structure on ten wooded acres, the remains of an old farm that had been sold off in bits and pieces over the years. What remained now was the house and yard, a large garden, and nine and a half acres of overgrown fields and orchards.

To Steve, a city boy born and raised, it was like some sort of fantasy wonderland, the kind of place that had been distant as the moon to him as a child. He loved exploring the mysterious byways of the woods behind the house. On their brief, precious moments of downtime between missions, he worked on clearing poison ivy, trimming back overgrown brush, trying to get the orchards producing fruit again. In the meantime, he discovered old outbuildings covered with honeysuckle vines, abandoned farm equipment with blackberry brambles climbing on it, and families of deer wandering through the old fields. He bought a bird book to identify the various birds that came around, ignoring Natasha and Bucky's friendly mocking.

The house had been built in an era in which people had large families, so there was plenty of room for things like an indoor gym. They constructed a running track and a bunch of shooting and knife-throwing targets around the property. In the woods they practiced tracking and hiding. Bucky taught Steve how to install mine trip wires, while Natasha dangled upside-down from an apple tree, critiquing their technique.

"We could get some chickens," Steve remarked.

"What are you doing, going down some kind of farmer checklist or something?" Bucky wanted to know.

"Besides," Natasha put in, "they'll all die the next time someone gets kidnapped for three weeks by HYDRA."

"That was one time!"

For a long time, no one but the three of them knew about the place. Steve wasn't naive enough to think that SHIELD didn't know where they went at night, but at least it wasn't official, and Bucky and Natasha kept the place thoroughly swept for bugs and booby traps.Natasha bought it under a name not her own, and while they never took any particular pains to cover their tracks or hide their location -- well, Steve didn't, anyway -- there was a tacit understanding between the three of them that it was their place. Not a safehouse, not quite, but a place to go.

Their place.