Bucky Barnes always thought he’d celebrated his last Christmas with his family decades ago, before he’d ever fallen from the train in Austria or pulled Steve from the frigid waters of the Potomac in Spring. But now, the cheerful atmosphere, the festive aroma of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and sweet molasses wafting from the array of ginger-bread cookies on the table brought him to the home of his childhood, Natasha’s bright red figure cast in the shadows of his own mother as she watched her children open their presents-- Clint on the floor a little less nostalgic.
Bucky reached over to where Steve sat beside him on Stark’s ridiculously fancy sofa, and tangles their fingers together, metal joints peeking through Steve’s flesh digits and reflecting the brilliant lights of the Christmas tree, and says, “Wanna sneak away with me?” his heart tapping out a nervous beat against the small box that sat heavy in his breast pocket, even as he marvelled at how, even in a room filled with almost all of the Avengers and their loved ones, not a single person blinked at a couple of guys holding hands in plain view.
Steve smiled sappily. “No, I don’t want to miss any of this.”
Bucky thought of his younger sister, Rebecca, who, now older than him in appearance, had spent her entire life with the man she loved. Bucky wanted the same.
They’d gone to visit Becca in the hospital a month ago, after dithering about on the subject for weeks, but when she was admitted to the hospital for what they’d thought was a fatal bout of pneumonia for a woman of her age, the decision was made for them.
Of course, when they’d arrived, she’d already been feeling much better, and was much more lucid than they’d anticipated, especially since, upon first seeing them, she’d blinked slowly and smiled, completely unsurprised, and said, “Well, looks like you made it back just in time, Buck,” as though he’d just stepped out for a few hours, instead of the better part of a century.
Bucky was suddenly pulled out of his memories by somebody yelling—Wanda.
Steve’s head was spinning like it was the last time he got pneumonia and tried to get out of bed too soon, the world a disconcerting blur around him, the air whooshing through his ears, and Bucky--always Bucky, since his mother died--looming over him, eyes bright with concern. It takes a second before Steve comes to the terrifying realization that, this time, Bucky’s eyes aren’t open, and that there is a thin line of crimson blood snaking its way from his temple down his jawline.
He jumped, and was immediately overwhelmed by a familiar nausea coiling his gut, forcing him to his knees. He crawled to Bucky, and the world slowly came into focus. He realized, as he began to hear the whispers of people around them pierce the high squealing in his ears, that he had temporarily lost his hearing during…whatever it was that had happened.
He didn’t notice the rough pavement gouging at his knees as he took Bucky’s face in his hands, running his thumb gently over the line of blood and watching it pool against the digit in mute horror.
“Buck?” he whispered, leaning over him.
Bucky groaned, and his eyes began to flutter behind their lids. He opened them slowly, as Steve continued stroking his cheek, and poked his tongue out to wet his lips.
“Steve?” he rasped. “What the fuck happened?”
Letting loose a choked laugh before stumbling clumsily to his feet, Steve froze at the scene before him.
Thor, nearest them, was slowly pushing himself to his feet, looking as clumsy as Steve felt. Sam was sprawled next to him, unconscious and terrifyingly still, but for the slight rise and fall of his chest. Tony and Pepper, tangled together, were in a similar position. A little further off, Steve saw two other figures, and his heart dropped. Natasha and Clint were clutching their two small children to their chests.
Bucky, already on his feet and looking steadier then he was even a moment ago, blanched and threw himself towards them in a silent panic.
“Natalia!” he shook her shoulder gently, checked the children and Clint for heartbeats, before Nat, too, grumbled.
Her eyes were only wide and confused for a millisecond before they settled into their characteristic slits, glancing around, arms tightening around her son, and tucking her face into his neck.
“Where’s Wanda?” she rasped.
Clint, who had woken up in the meantime, groped behind his back.
“She’s here!” he rolled slightly to get a look at her, and said, “she doesn’t look so hot, guys!”
Steve, who had stopped to quickly check on Sam, Tony, and Pepper, who were themselves waking up, dodged quickly over at Clint’s exclamation.
“Hey, Wanda? Can you hear me?” he checked her pulse—it was thready and weak—and looked her over for injuries. Other than a bit of blood in her ears, and dripping from her nose, he couldn’t find any sign of injury. Prying open her eyelids, her pupils didn’t even contract at the bright sunlight above them, pouring through the small crowd of people gathered around them, gawking.
Steve’s sense of righteous anger jumped to the forefront, and he opened his mouth, about to yell at these people help, goddamnit, or call an ambulance, but sirens sounded in the distance, quickly approaching.
Sam looked puzzled from where he’d come to help Steve with Wanda, but Steve couldn’t figure out why.
Something flickered at the edge of his vision, but he ignore it and it was gone.
The police cars skidded to a staggering halt across the road, and the officers who hopped out, men in blue uniforms and tall angular caps, waved the crowd away.
“But they just appeared out of nowhere!” somebody cried.
“It was like a bomb went off!” cried someone else.
The office paused, reconsidering the situation, while looking them over with a raised brow, noticing their, as Steve finally did, strange clothing. He asked his partner to begin taking statements from the witnesses.
“So,” he said, addressing Tony, “what are you folk doin’ out in the middle of the street like this? Where’d you come from?”
Tony gaped, his eyes bugging right out of his skull. “Um”
The officer’s partner, luckily, interrupted at that point. “Decker, we’ve got to call this one in.”
Decker sighed, pulling his cap off and scrubbing a hand over his balding skull, then glared at the group, still mostly prostrate on the ground. He warned them not to even think about moving until he got back, climbed back into the vehicle, and spent some time speaking through the radio.
“Tell me we didn’t wake up in some sort of vintage parallel universe of something,” Sam whispered fiercely. “I did not sign up for this shit. Aliens I expect, yeah, but not this—“
“Sam!” Nat said. “Shut up!”
“Should we make a run for it?” Clint asked quietly, stroking his daughter’s blonde hair.
“No,” Bucky replied in kind. “They don’t seem to know who we are. Something weird’s going on—just play along.”
At his glare, they huddled together hesitantly, the children whimpering softly. Bucky bit his lip guiltily—he would rather run away himself, but something odd was happening.
A few moments later, another couple of cars pulled up. A truck and another car. A man with fair hair and a tan suit hopped out of the car, and made his way over with a mildly obnoxious swagger to his gait. Bucky wanted to crush his throat with his metal arm rather than let him near his family, but he’d been warned that violence was not on the table around the children. On pain of death by Black Widow. Which. Not fun.
The man stopped and looked them all over, his eyes roving indiscreetly over Pepper’s form, ignoring Tony’s glare.
“I’m Agent Thompson with the S.S.R.. I need you all to come with me.”
Steve met Bucky’s eyes with sudden understanding, while Tony scoffed. “Buddy, I don’t know what you’ve been into lately, but the S.S.R.’s been defunct since—“ he was cut off abruptly by Pepper’s hand over his mouth. Bucky could tell he was barely restraining himself from licking her palm, even under the circumstances.
Agent Thompson raised an eyebrow. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he asked, his eyes landing on Bucky, and then Steve’s golden hair caught his attention. Bucky knew the moment he figured it out, because his brows nearly flew off his forehead as he swore a blue streak, skin paling to ash. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at them, his portly partner doing the same.
“Get in the truck,” he ordered.
Peggy Carter removed the final bobby pin from her hair, not taking a second to laugh at the outrageous style her pin curls had fallen in to before snatching her brush off the dresser and tugging them into shape. Stepping out the door, she said good morning to Angie, following her down the stairs to the dining area with the other women, before realizing she hadn’t even glanced at the small framed photograph that had sat perched on her vanity for the past year—ever since she had moved to New York city.
“What’s-a matter, English? I haven’t seen you so droopy in weeks!”
Peggy really shouldn’t have been jolted out of her thoughts like she was (it was unprofessional of an S.S.R. agent to be so inattentive to her surroundings), but Peggy didn’t have to worry, not here. She’d vetted every last inhabitant of the building herself.
She sat straighter and drank tea from her cup primly. “I’m fine. I didn’t sleep well, Angie.”
Angie scoffed playfully. “It’s that guy, right? At the telephone company?”
Peggy narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know who you’re referring to.”
“Oh, come on!” The handsome on you’re always complaining is giving you trouble!” Her red lips parted to reveal pearly whites.
Peggy’s mind flashed to similar dark hair, and a shy, awkward smile…
“What was his name?” Angie asked, snapping her fingers and exclaiming, “Right! Thompson!”
The soft image in Peggy’s mind was immediately wiped away by a sense of annoyance.
“I’m not thinking of anyone, Angie. Especially not Thompson, so you might as well stop with your silly, unfounded implications.”
“I don’t know,” she injected slyly, “you’re awfully…passionate about him…”
“Passionate about shooting him in the face,” Peggy muttered.
“Really?” Angie asked mournfully. “There’s nobody? You’ve got to give a girl some dirt, Pegs. Every good actress needs inspiration.”
“Well, then. I hope that the sight of me dramatically leaving my soon-to-be-former-friend-if-she-asks-any-more-on-the-topic for work is enough inspiration for today.” With that, she stood up and cleared away her plate, walking to the door to the song of Angie whining, “Aw, Peggy! I was only joking around!”
Other than a residual niggling feeling at the base of her skull, Peggy’s morning went just the same as usual. Derogatory comment, check. Sexist demands for coffee, double-check. Thompson leering at her, and then complaining about her presence in the office to Chief Dooley…unchecked?
Thompson was sat at his desk, tapping his fingers nearly to the bone, and, quite distinctly, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone in the room.
She continued watching him for a dozen minutes, suspicion settling in before Dooley popped his head out of his office to beckon Thompson over.
Thompson appeared to gather himself before unfolding himself from his desk and walking over to where he was bid with his usual over-confident stride. He shut the door behind himself, and Dooley motioned for him to close the blinds.
Peggy got to her feet and quickly grabbed a couple of mugs of coffee, putting them on a tray with cream and sugar and carrying over to Dooley’s office door, before Sousa stepped in front of her.
“Why? They’re up to something!”
“Yes, but…” Sousa sighed. “Maybe this time you oughtta leave it alone.”
“What makes this time any different, Daniel?
“Because this time you’re gonna get hurt. Trust me on this.”
Peggy scowled. “I’m just as, if not more, qualified that every agent in this rom. I refuse to allow any of you to treat me like some delicate china doll just for having been born a woman!”
Her voice had begun to rise by the end of her rant, and Sousa’s eyes flicked nervously to the chief’s door. “Fine, geez.”
He turned and walked into the hall, Peggy following closely on his heels.
“Well?” she asked, tapping her heeled foot, one they were out of earshot of the other agents.
“Thompson and Krzeminski brought in a group of suspicious people yesterday, on a tip from the police department. Apparently they quite literally appeared out of thin air.”
Peggy was confused, and a little intrigued despite herself. “And?”
“Well, one of them—an impostor, obviously—looked just like Steve Rogers.” He paused and said, even though she, of course, knew, just as everyone seemed to, “Captain America.”
There was a tense silence.
“Where is he?” she demanded.
“I can’t tell you that! You’re gonna go barging in there, and he’s going to move them. Then he’s finally going to come up with some reason to fire you!”
“That’s ridiculous! I know Steve Rogers better than anyone else here!”
Peggy fumed, crossing her arms.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between two calloused fingers as Peggy glared at him.
“Better than the men he fought with for months in Europe during the war?” he finally said, raising a dark eyebrow.
“The Commandos?” Peggy squinted, becoming even more incensed, but still a little thrill of excitement ran through her at the idea of once again meeting her old friends.
“Look, Peggy, I know you’re the most qualified. Trust me, there is no doubt in my mind that you don’t deserved the baloney that the guys put you through every day, but you have to think this through.”
She was quiet, but relaxed her arms slightly into his hands, which had risen from his sides, crutches leaning against the wall, to cup her elbows.
“Dooley’s a jerk, he’s not going to listen you, you know it as well as I do. He thinks you’re emotionally compromised. Wait until he’s listened to the Commandos.”
“We had better get back to work,” Peggy stated blankly.
Sousa dropped his hands from her elbows, leaving them feeling cold in the absence, and raised them, palms out, before once again picking up his crutches and hobbling away.
“Hey!” Clint banged on the door of the locked interrogation room. “Can we get a doctor in here?!”
“Clint, they’re fine,” Natasha said of their children. She smiled down at three-year-old Nina in her lap, and pet the hair of two-year-old Nicholas sitting on the floor, criss-cross-apple-sauce, on her left. “Aren’t you?” she asked, addressing them.
"They take after their mom, of course they're fine," said Bucky.
"...that sounds almost vain, considering..."
Natasha smacked him. "I'm amazing in my own right."
Clint paled. "I'm not getting out of this hole, am I?"
Steve snickered softly from where he was sat next to Bucky, an oddly impersonal distance away, limbs carefully folded over his abdomen, neck locked vertical, as though to prevent it sagging onto Bucky’s shoulder, and it was the first sound they'd heard from him since they'd all been locked in the room.
Suddenly, he jumped to his feet. “There’s somebody outside the door!” he hissed through his teeth.
Clint was immediately at the ready, “that’s it. We’re getting out of here!” he said, rushing quietly and crouching next to the frame, the others disapproving but unable to stop him in time. Sam mirrored him on the other side and meeting his eyes steadily, understanding his motivation, at the ready.
They hold their collective breaths as the handle rattles and the door glides open a scant centimetre, before Clint yanks it wide open, forcing the person on the other side to stumble. All he saw was a flash of chestnut hair and a kitten-heeled shoe sweeping towards his head. He grabbed it and swung her smoothly the rest of the way around before it could connect, and cupped one hand around her throat, the other arm pinning her arms to her side.
She jerked, as if to fight free, but quickly aborted the movement, freezing in place. Clint was almost worried he’d killed her accidentally, but then he saw Steve and Bucky’s identical faces, their eyes almost comically wide.
“Steven? It’s really you?” she gasped around his grip on her throat.
Cap’s eyes did a funny thing, something between crying and laughter, and he rasped, “Yes. Clint, let her go,” before gathering her in his arms, her small body curling forwards into his, familiar.
Clint’s jaw dropped, and looked at Bucky in shocked confusion. Rather than socking Steve one in the jaw, however, Bucky only dropped his gaze to the floor and huddled his knees closer to his chest, the picture of defeat. Oh, come on, he thought, looking instead to Nat, who seemed to at least have developed and inkling as to what was going on. She shook her head in warning.
Clint was smart—he knew when to obey.
The woman pulled back first, and they finally saw her face.
“Oh, fu—fudge,” he exclaimed. “We really did go back in time.”
Tony rolled his eyes, ready to start on a rant, finally distracted from the besotted eyes he’s been sending Peggy Carter. The Peggy Carter. Clint giggled, and Nina and Nico giggled at him. He was too distracted to care about being immature in front of his children when he stuck his tongue out at them in retribution, making them giggle all the harder, and Nat’s glare translate into a more intentful look of murder.
The Peggy Carter...
She cleared her throat, smoothing her dress. “You must pardon me that…rude introduction. I’m Agent Peggy Carter. Steven…?”
He stammered, “Oh, um, this is my team:” he pointed at them each in turn, “Thor, Bruce, Sam, Natasha, Clint, their children—who aren’t part of it, of course—Tony—“
“Is it possible we’ve met before, Tony?” she cocked her head to the side, eyes examining him shrewdly.
For perhaps the first time in his life, Tony was tongue-tied. “Um. No?”
“Well, I do believe your friend said something about time travel a moment ago, and while it sounds ludicrous, I must admit that after recent events, it seems fairly plausible. Now, have we met?”
“Um. Yes, ma’am?”
“I see. We’re not related, are we?”
Steve snorted. “No.”
“Peggy,” Bucky interrupted her thinking. “There was a girl with us. Do you know if she’s alright?”
“I don’t know. The S.S.R. has been hiding your appearance from me, I was informed by a colleague. Was she hurt?”
“Yes,” he replied worriedly.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find her, and a way to get you all out of here.”
After one last longing look at Steve, she storms out of the room.
The next morning, Dooley called a meeting with Sousa, Thompson, Krzeminski, and a few other agents. Peggy watched them all file into the office from her desk, tapping her pen against a neatly piled stack of paperwork. Once the door swung shut, Peggy picked up her telephone receiver and dialled a familiar set of numbers.
After a series of rings, a man with a crisp British voice answered. “Hello?”
“Yes, hello, Mr. Jarvis?”
“Ah, Agent Carter. I am pleased to hear your voice. How may I be of assistance?” he asked, in his disarming way.
“Do you think that Howard would be willing to host a few old friends from the S.S.R. for a few days?”
He was silent for a moment, ruminating. “I do believe that Mr. Stark would do anything for you, Agent Carter, and there are always room available in the mansion. I shall give Mr. Stark notice right away. When should I expect to welcome them?”
“Today, Mr. Jarvis,” she said bluntly.
“Pardon me, did you say “today”?”
“Yes, Mr. Jarvis.”
“I’m afraid that’s simply not possible, Agent Carter!” he said, voice climbing in pitch.
“Unfortunately, it must be,” she replied firmly.
“But…how will I ever get the rooms freshened on time? And dinner! It will take days to prepare a proper feast—and…how many people did you say, exactly?”
“Twelve, two children,” she said, a little more hesitantly. “Mr. Jarvis, I am aware that this is an incredible imposition, but it is of extreme importance that these people be removed from the custody of the S.S.R.”
Jarvis sighed. “Of course, Agent Carter. Anything for you.”
“Thank you,” she said, and placed the receiver back into its cradle.
“Carter, what in God’s name are you doing?” Dooley asked as she barged into the meeting room.
Thompson laughed, “We don’t need any coffee, Marge, you can get back to your paperwork.”
She ignored him, walking straight to the table. “Gentlemen, I am aware that there is a bit of confusion as to what should be done with our…guests…downstairs. I have found the solution.”
Chief Dooley’s face was turning more and more puce with every word she spoke. “Carter, you’re not privy to the details of that case! Get out!”
“Chief, if you had wanted to keep the reappearance of a dear old friend secret, you would have been more careful. This is an intelligence agency, after all.”
“Carter, you’re trying my patience! Get out!”
Sousa pushed himself out of his seat. “Peggy, you really should—“
“Howard Stark has graciously offered to host our friends until such time as an explanation for their appearance is evident. We wouldn’t want to upset Captain America.”
“Carter, he’s an imposter! Captain America died in the war!” Thompson groaned.
“It would seem that he did not, Agent Thompson. I know Steve Rogers better than just about anyone alive, certainly better than anyone in this room, and that is him, of that I have no doubt.”
“This is ridiculous, you don’t have the authority to be making these decisions!”
“Nobody else seems to be making any decisions!” she countered, sensing that she was gaining ground.
Dooley groaned, and rubbed a knuckle to his forehead. “You are on thin ice, Carter,” he hissed. “I don’t want them leaving Stark’s property. I don’t want them leaving the building. There will be agents stationed outside at all times, and you will not interfere anymore.”
Carter nodded, holding back a triumphant smile. Thompson looked ready for murder.
“The Howling Commandos will be here tomorrow, and I want them to interview our guests.”
“But sir, I—“
“No. I don’t want to take any chances that there’s a Captain America imposter in our basement! Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered, as prompted, and snuck a glance at the rest of the agents in the room. They were all astounded and slightly peeved-looking. Only Sousa was biting back a smirk, appearing faintly proud to her eye.
“Dismissed,” barked Chief Dooley.
Not twenty minutes later, Sousa hurried back into the bullpen and called her over, a harried look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“That girl they had with them? In the infirmary? She seems to be waking up.”
Peggy gasped. “I need to speak with her,” she said, darting down the hall, Sousa swearing behind her, trying to keep up.
“Could you maybe slow down a smidge? She’s not going anywhere,” he gasped.
“I don’t want to risk her falling back into unconsciousness.”
“Of course…” he muttered.
In the infirmary, a young—younger than Peggy could have ever expected—dark-haired girl with sharp feature occupied one of the beds. Her head jerked minutely every few seconds, her eyes fluttering behind their lids.
When they opened, they were scarlet red, and Peggy nearly jumped back from where she’d been standing a foot from the bed, but held her ground.
“Can you tell me your name?” she asked, but the girl only mumbled something in Russian, her eyes drifting closed once more.
Peggy shook her should gently. “Your name,” she demanded.
The girl grudgingly forced open her lids to glare at Peggy. “Wanda,” she said, her accent evident even in two short syllables.
“Wanda,” Peggy repeated, relieved. “Your friends are safe, and you will be returned to them promptly. Can you remember what happened to you?”
“No…?” Wanda was visibly confused, her eyelids heavy. “Please let me sleep.”
Peggy debated shoving her out of bed, to shock her into wakefulness, but decided against it, as she knew that somehow, eventually, Steve AND Sousa would team up to give her grief for it.
Bucky was surprised when, the morning after their odd reunion, Peggy returned with a plan to get them out of the room.
“It’s not perfect,” she said, “but it will give you all some freedom of movement, at the very least.”
“No, Peggy, that’s fantastic,” Steve gushed, and Bucky rolled his eyes. “I don’t know how you managed to come up with a solution so quickly!”
“It wasn’t a problem. Also,” she turned to Bucky, “your young friend—Wanda—is in good condition. I spoke with her briefly a few minutes ago, although she is quite tired, still.”
“Thank fuck,” Bucky sighed, and the red-head in the corner through her shoe at his head.
“Language!” she hissed.
“And you think throwing shoes at me sets a better example?!”
“Now, if you’ll stop fighting, it’s time to leave,” interrupted Peggy.
“So, we all get to stay here?” Bruce asked sceptically, staring up at the ornately decorated mansion as he stepped out of the S.S.R. issued armoured van.
“It is a most beautiful dwelling,” Thor said to Jarvis, who’d walked out to the drive to meet them. “Even my own father would be honoured to call a palace such as this home.”
Jarvis froze, and cocked his head to the side. “Ah,” he said hesitantly, glancing at Agent Carter in confusion, “I’m glad you find it to your liking. Do let me know if there is anything wanting.”
“Many thanks!” Thor boomed, clapping him solidly on the shoulder. “Edwin, was it?”
“Mr. Jarvis,” he corrected, the breath knocked out of him, unaware of the glances the others shared at that statement, and Tony’s reddening face.
“My apologies, friend,” replied Thor diplomatically.
One of the agents who’d accompanied them to Stark’s mansion, assigned to guard duty, interrupted. “The terms of their stay were explained to you, sir?”
“Yes, of course, agent. Do let me know if anything’s changed, though I’m sure that Agent Carter will be staying nearby.”
The agent tipped his hat and walked back to the van, which was driven away as soon as he’d finished speaking with the driver.
“Won’t you all accompany me inside? I have prepared a light dinner, though you’ll have to excuse the lack of…quality. I was not given very much warning.”
“I’m sure we’ll be happy with anything, Mr. Jarvis,” said Steve, smiling charmingly.
Bucky snickered quietly. Sometimes it still astounded him how suave Steve could be when he didn’t think somebody was ready to tease him for his size, or take advantage of him for his fame.
“All the same, please do be sure to let me know if it’s not to your liking.”
They all filed calmly behind Jarvis as he began leading them into the house, listening to his as he explained its particular appeal to Mr. Stark, and the particular amenities they could enjoy. Clint whooped when the pool was mentioned, Nicholas and Nina demanding to go play in it right now, while Tony sulked, uncharacteristically quiet.
Bucky couldn’t wait for him to blow up.
He and Steve both noticed that Agent Carter hadn’t followed them into the house, and they turned in unison, Steve’s expression one of concern.
“You’re not going to stay for a little while?” he asked, something complicated tugging at his voice. Bucky touched his arm briefly, platonically, but it wasn’t the comfort he wished he could offer.
Peggy shook her head. “No, there’s something I have to do first. But don’t worry,” she said, a little mischievously, “I’ll be back soon.”
Steve and Bucky glanced at each other nervously—Peggy had never quite been one for the dramatics.
“We should probably go catch up with the rest of them, then,” says Bucky, in something of a farewell.
“That might be wise, gentlemen,” and with that, she turned on her heel and left, head held as high as always.
Back inside the mansion, the rest of the group had already moved beyond the foyer, and they were finally left some privacy. Bucky grabbed Steve’s arm again, in a mirror of his gesture earlier, but this time he could finally continue the aborted movement and pull him into a tight hug, one hand curled around the nape of his neck, and the left arm pulling him tightly against himself, solid.
Steve huffed against his neck. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, the emotion from the day finally hitting him.
“I know, pal,” Bucky replied, pressing a kiss to his temple, downy blond hair tickling his lips.
Exhaling roughly, Steve stepped back and pinched the bridge of his nose. He smiled shakily, “We should go.”
“Okay,” Bucky said, stealing another soft kiss. “It’ll be alright.”
“I know, pal” Steve parroted, facetiously.
“We’ve been spending waaaay too much time together,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Why? Are you starting to rub off on me?” Steve smirked.
Bucky gagged. “That’s disgusting--sounds nothing like me--get away,” he pushed Steve down the hall, towards the voices that they could hear echoing distantly down the hallway.
Mr. Jarvis wearily informed them, after disappearing for a few minutes into a small room just off the dining room, that he’d gotten a phone call from Agent Carter asking if dinner could be delayed for an hour or so.
“Look, we’ve been locked in a tiny room since yesterday—we’re starving,” complained Tony. “Give us a break!’
“Tony!” scolded Pepper, before apologizing on his behalf. “I do understand, though. Is it possible that we help put together some canapés, maybe just some bread and cheese, to keep us going until dinnertime?”
“Yes, of course!” Jarvis agreed, clearly yet another one fallen under Pepper’s particular charm.
Twenty minutes later, they’re all in the kitchen-- Jarvis nearly apoplectic at having so many people in his kitchen, especially guests of Mr. Stark’s, while Nat and Bucky show the kids the most effective way to hold a knife for cutting cheese and bread. Clint was a foot away from them, completely still and silent, but wide, terrified eyes glued to their every movement—when the doorbell rings.
“I shall return in a moment!” Jarvis informed them.
Steve, expecting Peggy’s return, followed him, but, upon Jarvis opening the door, he saw that while Peggy was there, she wasn’t alone.
“Is that really little Stevie Rogers?!” a small, dark-haired woman cried wetly after gasps of shock.
She tackled him with a hug, nearly bowling him over despite their huge difference in size, latching on like a limpet and sobbing into his chest.
“Ma!” a younger woman cried—was that really Rebecca, grown so much since he’d left for war?—before crowding in and hugging him, too. Steve staggered a bit under the onslaught, before she stepped back again, hand clutching his bicep. “Steve!” she said, still groping, in shocked wonder.
Steve turned bright red, and George Barnes, who’d been standing silently behind them, rumbled a deep laugh, so much like Bucky’s that it made Steve smile.
“And James?” Winifred asked, still holding him close.
“Come along,” said Peggy. “We’ll go see him now.”
As soon as Winifred Barnes stepped into Howard Stark’s kitchen, Bucky’s eyes snapped to her form, freezing suddenly, and his mouth dropped open into a silent “Ma?”
Though it felt as though all sound in the room should have stopped when their eyes met, it really didn’t until Winifred suddenly let loose a bloodcurdling scream and then ran to wrap her arms around her long lost only son, George and Rebecca frozen in the doorway, and everybody else who’d been oblivious to the drama unfolding looking on in confusion.
Winifred ran her hands over his face, kissing his cheeks over and over again, and shaking him slightly, as though to assure herself that he was real. Bucky, eyes shining, let her manipulate him however she wanted.
She screeched as soon as her hand wandered a little further down in order to gather him into another tight hug. “Your arm!” she said, tugging it away from his side. “What is this?”
George and Rebecca were finally broken out of their stupor, George meeting Bucky’s gaze in morbid understanding. “I’m sorry,” he said, thinking back to all the men in the war he’d fought who had also lost parts of themselves, and his own son, suffering the same fate. George scrubbed a hand over his face, unattended beard rasping faintly over the lines on his palms, and tears were leaking from his eyes.
Winifred hiccupped at the sight.
“Aw, Dad,” sniffled Bucky, and grabbed him with his metal arm, his mother still held in the other, and George clung to them both, in a show of emotion that Rebecca would later tell them he hadn’t shown since they’d gotten that first letter telling of his son’s death.
Rebecca hung back, fidgeting, but Steve crowded behind her and pushed her over until she had no choice but to wrap herself around her complete family.
“You’re alive!” she warbled.
“Surprise?” said Bucky. “Looks like you’re not an only child after all. Sorry.”
Becca slapped him.
“I just love family reunions,” snarked Tony.
“Shut up, Tony,” said most of the Avengers automatically.
The Barneses looked on in confusion, but Bucky snorted, a little meanly. “You forgetting where we are, Stark?”
Tony huffed, and stormed out, Pepper following anxiously on his heels. This prompted the rest of the spectators to pretend like they weren’t gawking at the display, and get back to eating their snacks.
Steve didn’t miss how Natasha kept sneaking glances, despite how covert she liked to think she always was.
“Stark?” asked Jarvis.
“Nevermind,” said Steve.
“The agent who brought us here said that you’d somehow travelled in time! But how did you survive?” asked Becca. “They’d said you’d fallen off a moving train!”
“I…didn’t, exactly,” said Bucky, haltingly.
“Meaning what, exactly?” demanded Winifred, regaining some of her composure.
“I was taken and held captive by a Nazi faction, and given the same serum that made Steve the way he is now.”
“Why would they bother giving an enemy soldier something like that?” asked George, suspecting something was amiss, but dreading the answer all the same. He didn’t want to admit that he had an idea what men like that could think of.
“I dunno,” lied Bucky, hoping his dad would recognize the way he was begging with his eyes to drop the subject. “Are you finished school yet, Bec?” he asked, turning away.
“No,” she scowled, and stared as a little girl toddled up to her brother.
Bucky didn’t even think about picking up Nina when she tugged on his shirt, much less how it might look to his family. “How old are you now?” he asked, curious, and pressed a kiss to Nina’s nose when she tried to bump his cheek with it playfully.
“Seven…teen…?” she was staring, Bucky realized. So were his parents. “Who is that?” demanded Becca.
“Is that my first grandchild?” cried Winifred., already holding her arms out to hold her, but Nina tucked her face into Bucky’s neck.
George spotted Nicholas sitting next to Natasha, noticing how she’d been staring. “Your wife?” he asked.
Bucky, and Natasha, who had overheard, made a disgusted face, and Steve snorted.
“James,” scolded George. “I don’t care what the future’s like, you better not have gotten that poor girl into trouble without marrying her first!”
Bucky turned positively green.
“My wife,” interrupted Clint.
The Barneses looked between Nat, Bucky, and Clint in confusion.
“Shit,” muttered Bucky. “C’mere, Nat.”
She glared at him, and cursed in Russian. “I’m not a dog.”
Nina and Nicholas giggled.
“No, you’re a spider. I don’t care. Come here.”
She scowled, but walked over anyways, tugging Clint behind her, with the most terrified expression Steve had ever seen on her face. Of course, if you hadn’t known her for years, you couldn’t have possibly recognized the expression.
Up close, though, the resemblance between them all was quite striking, barring Natasha’s bright red hair.
Bucky placed a gentle hand on her shoulder blades, while she continued glaring murderously at him, and said, “This is my daughter, Natasha.”
“Um,” said Becca hesitantly. “Isn’t she a little old to be your daughter?”
“I’m older than I look,” said Bucky, “and so is she.”
“Really?” Clint was shocked. “How old are you?”
Before Dooley arrived, remaining Howling Commandos in tow, the Barneses, Clint, Natasha, Steve and Peggy were sitting around the breakfast table enjoying a hearty preparation of eggs, fluffy white toasted bread, every flavour of jam imaginable, and thick rashers of bacon. Tony and Pepper, and Thor, hadn’t left their room yet, and Wanda was still sleeping with Sam watching over her, and, in an effort to avoid Mrs. Barnes’ eye, Natasha had been sitting next to Steve, at just the right angle that his bulk was blocking her from view. Bucky smirking from Steve’s other side as he and Natasha unwittingly dropped a spoonful of jam into their tea in unison.
Natasha stuck her socked foot over Steve’s leg under the table, and jabbed Bucky’s ribs. Hard.
He grabbed her ankle with his metal hand and clamped it in a vice, in what became a subtle game of tug-of-war, while the others continued chatting obliviously.
Clint caught on to the game the second time the table shook slightly, and his knife, balanced precariously on the edge of his plate, wiggled off onto the table cloth. He snickered at them.
Nicholas and Nina laughed in response, and Mr. Barnes looked on questioningly. Natasha looked over at the noise and graced them with a rare, soft smile. Bucky took advantage of her distraction, and gave a quick, sharp tug that sent her falling off the edge of her chair and onto Steve’s lap. Steve caught her from hitting her head on the floor with a hand under her back, and pulled her up to sit fully on his lap.
Bucky broke into uproarious laughter.
“Goodness!” said Winifred. “What is going on over there?!”
“Nothin’!” Steve and Bucky said quickly, putting on innocent expressions in what seemed to be lifelong habit, while Natasha glared at the table, the pink tips of her ears hidden by a curtain of red hair.
“Boys, remember your age…” Winifred sighed,
“I’d rather not!” cried Bucky.
“Fifty?” asked Becca, narrowing her eyes in a way highly reminiscent of Natasha. “You don’t look as though you could possibly be any older, even with a quasi-magical serum to slow your aging…”
At this point, even Peggy’s interest was piqued. “Doctor Erskine certainly did amazing work,” she said, a little sadly.
“He certainly did,” Bucky glanced at Steve for a brief moment, a weight to his words that Peggy didn’t understand.
Before she could ask, however, and crowd of footsteps could be heard nearing the room, and Chief Dooley stepped in.
“Carter!” he shouted, and swept his arm to gesture at the people sitting at the table. “What is this?”
“Breakfast?” she said, a little snarkily.
“You did not have the authority to bring the Barnes family into the loop!”
George stood up. “Now hang on! You weren’t going to tell us our only son is still alive?” he gaped, hands fisting in the table cloth.
Dooley turned to face him, impatience written all over his face. “We hadn’t yet identified these people as the real Captain America and Bucky Barnes! Considering the circumstances of their deaths, there is every chance that they are imposters!”
“Then why not have the people best equipped to identify them as such present?” Peggy asked.
“Carter,” he grit his teeth, “I know you were aware that we were bringing the Commandos in to do just that.”
“Yes, but what is a few years of friendship compared to two decades of family?”
“Are you really so cruel that you would deprive a family of the comfort of knowing they’re alive?” interjected George.
Dooley didn’t respond, except to say, “Carter, you’re suspended,” jabbing a thick finger at her chest.
Clint got up and carried the kids out of the room with a worried glance at Natasha, still on Steve’s lap, when Nina started to make quiet whimpering noises.
Somebody cleared their throat under the door frame, and all eyes fell on Dum-Dum Dugan.
“You know, sir, I think I’m going to go with “impostor” on this one,” he smirked at Steve, “because there is no way that Steve Rogers would ever have a girl sit on his lap like that.” The emphasis on “girl” was so slight that only those who would know of its meaning heard it.
“I’m leaving. I expect a report tomorrow morning, Dugan,” ordered Chief Dooley, before leaving.
Steve tried to glare, but he had trouble forcing down an ecstatic smile. “Dum-Dum!”
“Hey, Rogers,” he replied as the other Commandos filed in behind him, and Steve’s smile grew even bigger.
“Whoa, what’s going on here?” Morita was shocked, staring at Steve, and more pointedly at Natasha on his lap.
Natasha’s mouth curled into a devious smile and she snuck an arm around Steve’s broad shoulder, tucking her nose against his neck, and Winifred gasped.
Natasha tried to plant a kiss on Steve’s cheek, and he ducked and attempted to shake her off, but Natasha hung on like a limpet, and they devolved into playful wrestling once more.
“It’s best to just ignore them,” said Bucky.
“It never ends, does it?” asked Becca, unaware that Bucky had been the cause of the whole tussle in the first place.
Steve finally got away from Natasha, and went to greet his old unit.
“I’ll say it, I’m honestly not surprised that the two of you are still alive,” said Dugan. “I’ve never met any two people more stubborn than the both of you. No way one’s dyin’ without the other right there with ‘im!”
Everybody at the table laughed while Steve and Bucky exchanged guilty glances.
A few minutes later, Clint returned, babies toddling ahead to cluster around their mother.
The Commandos all swung their eyes around to Steve.
“No,” he said firmly.
Bucky drew Dum-Dum aside, just far enough that the others couldn’t hear without paying obvious attention.
“What’s the deal with Red and Rogers? I’ve never seen him so relaxed around a woman, not even Peg,” asked Dum-Dum.
“Well…they’re family.” He paused. “Or going to be, anyway. His daughter-in-law, specifically” Bucky said, and pulled the ring that was still sitting heavy in his breast pocket out discreetly. “If he accepts.”
Dum-Dum was bowled over. “Of course he’ll accept!” he whispered excitably. “That’s going to be legal in the future?”
“Looks almost like all this happened for a reason, don’t it?”
“Wait,” he said. “Daughter-in-law?”
“There is no way in Hell that that dame is your daughter!”
“I’m older that I look, remember?”
“Yeah, but…geez. She’s a doll—sure don’t take after you in the looks department.”
Bucky punched him.
“Ow! What’re you packing in that glove, steel?” he gasped, rubbing at his bruising bicep.
Bucky pulled off the leather glove. “Yeah.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Dum-Dum, staring. “Forget being surprised about marriage in the future, this is the real deal.”
Sam dashes into the room, headed straight for Steve. “Wanda’s awake! She wants to talk to you.”
Steve jumped up, and followed Sam down the opulent halls of Howard’s manor to Wanda’s guest room, where she was sitting propped up on a few pillows.
Steve fell to his knees beside the bed and took her hands in his, gently.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Still a little sleepy,” she said.
“Can I get you anything to eat? Some water?”
Sam smacked his forehead. “Stop mother-henning her, Steve! This is important!”
Wanda laughed and patted his hand, “You always do, Steve.”
He grumbled and changed the subject. “What was it you wanted to tell me, Wanda?”
Her face grew sombre, and she drew her hands into her lap to clench at the sheets, long brown hair falling into her face. “It’s my fault we’re here,” she said.
Steve froze, then cocked his head, concern written broadly on his features. “What do you mean?”
“When we were all in the tower, celebrating the holidays, I felt a presence in the room, but I nobody else noticed it... They were using some sort of camouflaging technology, and moving towards Stark’s computer terminal.”
“Do you know what they were doing?”
“No, but I could tell they were terrified…and hateful—whatever they were going to do with that computer would have been extremely destructive to us all,” she said.
“But why did you send us back in time? And how?” Sam blurted.
Wanda reddened. “I don’t know. I saw you, Steve, and James on the sofa, so happy, and thought of how, in your time, this never could have happened. Then suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my head, and woke here,” she mumbled.
“And time travel seemed like the obvious solution?!” exclaimed Sam.
“You saved us again,” said Steve softly, ignoring Sam.
Her face slipped into a grimace. “They’re still out there. Hiding, in this time with us.”
“Do you have any idea where they are?”
“Not exactly. I’m having trouble focussing on anything right now, but I can still feel them.” She gestured to her temple.
“I’ll try harder,” she promised.
“That’s okay,” Steve said. “We’re all stuck here. They’re not going anywhere while you regain your strength.”
“And besides,” interjected Sam, “you said it yourself: they can’t do any real damage in this time.”
“I can’t let anything happen to any of you!” she said, her voice wobbling.
“It won’t be your fault if something goes wrong, you know. The other things weren’t your fault, just circumstance.” Sam seemed to know just what the problem was, while Steve was a little confused by the outburst.
Winifred bustled into the room after knocking quietly, carrying a plate of fruit and breads, cut into small, bite-sized pieces.
“Hello,” said Wanda, looking at Steve questioningly.
“Hello, darling,” Winifred sat on the edge of the bed, subtly scooting Steve off the side. “Agent Carter caught me up a little on what’s happened to you.”
“Steve’s old flame, the spy lady from the pictures at the Smithsonian?” answered Sam.
“I know who Agent Carter is. Your girlfriend. Was she the one who brought us here, then?”
“Yes,” affirmed Steve.
She smirked. “Steeeve.”
“What?” he stuttered, turning puce.
“She’s as pretty as Bucky--you definitely have a type!” she exclaimed, wriggling her eyebrows suggestively.
“”Type”?” What does that mean?” Winifred asked, eyes wide.
Wanda froze. “Um. I’m sorry!”
“Shit,” mumbled Steve.
When Winifred didn’t scold him, the shock was as telling as Wanda’s accidental outing.
Wanda scooted over in her bed to make room, allowing Sam to help her to sit on the bed more fully as she gaped at Steve, staring at his shoes and freckles standing starkly against pallid skin, in silence.
“Steven…did she mean that you and my son are...involved?” she demanded, almost sombrely, a little shakily.
Steve took a deep breath and peeled his eyes from the floor, meeting hers with all of the determination of the small, stubborn man he had been before the serum, feeling somehow just as powerless as he had been then. “Yes.”
He gulped. “Since we were kids…years before the war.”
“Oh,” she sat back more heavily, leaning into Wanda, eyes shining as they darted around the room, avoiding Steve.
“Winifred,” he pleaded, trying to appeal to the part of her that had been like family to him after his own mother died, “we wanted to tell you, we even tried to a couple of times, but...”
She burst into tears.
“I’m sorry,” Steve gasped, and left the room.
He didn’t even notice that Sam hadn’t followed him out of the room.
“Steve?” Bucky noticed something was wrong when Steve came back from visiting Wanda. “Is she okay?”
Steve looked at Bucky mournfully, “She was crying.”
“What?! What happened?”
“She found out about us, Bucky…and she cried.”
Bucky froze, heart sinking. “So we’re not talking about Wanda, are we?”
“What?” he glared. “No.”
“She took it that badly?”
“Yeah. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t say anything before the war.”
“It’s really not funny. She was devastated!”
Bucky looked at the others, still chattering happily, only Peggy beginning to send them concerned glances, and pulled him from the room.
Bucky gathered him into his arms. “Don’t worry. We’re still okay, right?”
“She’ll come around. She knows we won’t be here forever,” he smiled sadly, rubbing his hands down Steve’s back, catching in the fabric of his shirt.
“I do,” Winifred sniffled, standing a few feet away from them.
They jumped apart, startled.
“No,” she said. “It’s fine. James is right.”
“How did you sneak up on us?”
“Superpowers aren’t everything. I’m sorry,” she said, turning to Steve, “that reaction wasn’t fair of me. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t surprised by your relationship so much as by the fact you’d hidden it!” she sniffled again, and then dragged Steve into a bone-crushing hug. “You poor boy! You were always family to us, but I’m so sorry we didn’t realize just how important you were to James.”
Steve tried to hide a sniffle of his own, but failed miserably, and squeezed her all the tighter.
Bucky snuck his arms around the both of them, too.
“Okay, okay. I’m going to go see your father,” she said, glancing deliberately at Steve.
He teared up again.
“Wait, do you have to?” asked Bucky. “He’s been stressed enough with our being here.”
“What happened to “don’t worry about it”?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“James!” Winifred sighed disapprovingly.
She sniffled again, and gave them one last brief hug before walking away.
Steve and Bucky looked at each other for a moment.
“Well,” said Bucky, “so much for being devastated.”
Lunch was an awkward affair, what with George and Becca sneaking odd glances at the two of them, then pretending otherwise when Bucky cocked his head at them in question. Add to that Peggy’s continuous knowing smirks thrown their way, and Steve was nearly vibrating out of his seat.
“You were right,” said Steve. “Think we can get Wanda to send us back in time again so we can stop your mom telling them?”
Bucky laughed at him.
They snuck away to the back garden afterwards, sitting beneath a tree and enjoying the Summer breeze that swept over their warm skin, so unlike the chilly Winter weather that they had been suffering in the future.
Neither of them had gotten to be comfortable with the cold again.
Natasha’s kids ran outside to play a little while later, breaking them out of their comfortable daze, and they chased them around the garden playing tag and hide-and-go-seek for hours, in a show of light-heartedness that was hard to find in their normal lives.
Evening was setting in when Winifred pulled Steve aside.
“I saw you all in the garden earlier. You and James have really made a life for yourselves, haven’t you? You’ve found yourselves a new family,” she said.
Steve hesitated, then nodded. “We did,” he said.
“I’m so happy for you both,” she said, cupping his cheeks. “And don’t you worry, I gave Rebecca and George a good talking to.”
“You didn’t have to!”
“No, no, can’t have them wasting any more time,” she sing-songed, and waved them over.
“Steven!” George said, and grabbed his hand to shake. “I always had a feeling you were queer.”
“But weren’t you in a relationship with that Agent Carter?” George continued.
“Not quite, it didn’t work out,” said Steve.
“How so? She seems to like you well enough.”
“I died, Mr. Barnes.”
“Ah,” he paused. “Right.”
“Right,” repeated Steve.
“I suppose I’ve gone and made a fool of myself already, haven’t I?”
“Yes, sir,” said Becca.
“Well, Steve,” said George, “if my son has to be a confirmed bachelor, I’m glad it’s with you.”
Steve wasn’t sure how to take that, but he said thank you anyway.
Bucky kept palming his breast pocket during dinner time, and Steve couldn’t figure out why. Nat had noticed, as always, and she had a devious gleam in her eyes.
“Steve,” he whispered, only slightly above the noise of the group, and pulled a ring out of that damned pocked, “wanna get hitched?”
Becca, seeing the ring, squealed, and they both swung their heads to look at her in shock.
“Don’t look at me! You’re ruining the moment!” she cried.
“We’re ruining the moment?” Bucky laughed.
Steve joined in, thinking of Bucky’s phrasing of the question. “It’s not as though this started out romantic!”
“That’s not true! This was very romantic! I waited till the perfect time!”
Bucky grabbed him by the shoulders and manhandled him into position before himself, before dropping down to his knee, Steve’s hands in his.
“Stevie,” he looked up into his eyes, and, despite the jovial tone, his face was perfectly serious, and everything suddenly seemed real to Steve. “Wanna get hitched?”
There were groans around the room from everyone who’s been attracted by the noise, but Steve, who was suddenly flooded with giddy warmth, said, “Yes,” and the room erupted into cheers.
Bucky pulled Steve into a kiss, breaking away after a few moments to look at him, lips curling into a warm smile.
Jarvis broke out a cake and some champagne soon after, and even though the alcohol didn’t really affect Steve, he was giddily happy all night.
First thing in the morning, Wanda woke in a start, gasping. “Shit.”
She pulled the sheets aside, and dragged herself out of the wide bed, muscles heavy and deadened with the fatigue of the past few days. Her trek through the house was tedious, but in her urgency, she made it to where she could hear familiar voices.
Clint spotted her first and ran over to wrap a supporting arm around her waist. “What are you doing up, kiddo?”
“I found them!” she exclaimed, wheezing
Clint blinked. “Hey, Steve! Carter! Get over here!” he shouted.
“What’s going on?” asked Steve, darting over, Peggy on his heels.
“The person who snuck into the tower. I’ve found them!”
“The Hydra agent?”
“We don’t know for sure that they were Hydra,” Steve said seriously.
“It doesn’t matter,” Peggy interrupted. “We need to find them. Can you give me a location?
“I’ll call my partner, wait here,” she ordered, and left.
Steve went to tell the rest of the group what was going on, leaving Clint to help Wanda back to bed.
“You sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, this isn’t the first time I’ve overused my powers,” she said quietly.
Clint grit his teeth, wishing he’d had the chance to hurt the people who’d experimented on Wanda and her brother a little more…decisively.
Agent Sousa arrived promptly in a standard issue S.S.R. van, supposedly there to pick up the Commandoes, who had yet to report back to Dooley.
The Commandoes headed out of the mansion, and distract the agents who’d been standing on guard while Clint, Natasha, Tony, Steve, and Bucky snuck into the back of the van. They were decked out in period appropriate clothing and hairstyles to blend in.
After the Commandos file in, Peggy hopped into the shotgun seat and looked back at them all, squished in like sardines, a tiny smirk gracing her bright red lips. “All set?” she asked.
“All stuck,” replied Tony.
“That’s good enough for me,” said Sousa, and pulled out of the drive.
The back of the van was extremely warm, even with the windows cracked all the way, and even on the short drive, they were drenched with sweat by the time they arrived and peeled themselves out of the seats. Steve pulled the sketch he and Wanda had managed to create of the agent who had attacked them in the tower out of his pocket to make sure it wasn’t ruined.
“Now, does everybody remember the face of our target?” There was a chorus of affirmatives. “Okay, let’s go.”
They left the van one at a time in order to blend in with the civilians on the sidewalk next to where they were parked, and spread out through the subway station, attempting to look harried and rushed like the commuting crowd around them.
It wasn’t long before a man with long blonde hair and a shabby, oversized suit was spotted about to board a train. Bucky, who was nearest, rushed up behind him and wrestled his wrists into an unbreakable grip.
“Shit!” the man yelped. “How did you find me?”
“Really? Did you forget who you were dealing with already?” Bucky asked, and spotted Steve and Dugan.
Dugan gave him a thumbs up and flashed an approving grin, but it quickly shrunk into confusion as both Steve and Bucky, and their captive, abruptly disappeared into thin air, as though they had never been.