A glass of something deep, deep red is placed in front of him. The glass fits perfectly in hand when he picks it up; he twists it back and forth, eyes so clouded with thought that he doesn’t even appreciate how it glints golden in the low, evening light. His nose twitches as he brings it up towards his mouth – O+, with something deeper. Dry, rounded, oak-like. Chateau Margaux.
“Are you trying to butter me up?” Steve asks, only slightly amused as he takes the first sip. He’s had many types of blood, many types of wine. He’d lived in Italy for a few centuries, lived in France for many more. Wine was on the brink of losing its novelty. “I’m getting sick of wine. Might move onto whiskey.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t have a whiskey phase a few years back.” Anthony Stark – Tony, rather, as the vampire is adamant on being called – reclines in the booth opposite Steve with a smirk on his face, nursing his own glass of something-or-other. Some nights it was human blood, some nights it was Fae. If he was feeling particularly reckless he’d have some witches blood simmering in his glass, though tonight it seems that he’s satisfied with an AB+. “And don’t say that! I broke open a Margaux for you.”
Steve hums, lets his eyes drift over the interior of Tony’s pride and joy: The Tower. Settled in the alleyways of Brooklyn, thrumming with dark magic and jazz and life. Faeries and werepeople and banshees and everyone, just coexisting under the same lights. Times like this – with the low crooning of blues drifting through the air, the red velvet booths, the dazzling, shimmering jewelry of every woman that passed – he felt like he was back in the 20s. He spent that era flitting between Chicago and New York – doesn’t know how he remembers most of it, if he’s being honest, because he was high off his head most of the time. How simple things had been.
As if sensing where Steve’s head had gone off to, Tony’s eyes soften just a fraction. “We’re worried about you. Bucky says–”
“Bucky says a lot of things,” Steve interrupts. The drink takes on a more bitter note. “Since when are you two on good terms, anyway?”
Tony waves a hand. “You know how it is, Steve. I held my grudge for one hundred years; I’m over it now.” More silence. Tony clears his throat then, and after a large gulp of his drink he speaks. “You work too much, y’know that?”
“Do I, now?” How many times has he had this conversation? You work too much, Steve. You should take a break, Steve. You’ve still got so much of the world to see, Steve. It was all the same babble from all the same people.
And he understands it, don’t get him wrong. His clan – his family – they care about him. That’s what a few hundred years together will do to you, but he knows himself better than they do. He’s seen all there is to be seen. He’s done all there needs to be done. Work is all he has left. Everything else has lost its appeal; the wine, the dancing, the sex. Life goes on, and on, and on, and it doesn’t stop.
“I know we’ve had this conversation a lot–”
“We have. So you know I won’t change my mind.”
“Someone needs to keep things in order,” Steve says firmly. “Peace with the witches is hanging by a thread. Pierce’s vampires are in the north. The south is wolf territory. That’s the way it needs to stay.”
“And it will,” Tony says. “Just – look, a break won’t do you any harm. You have a right-hand for a reason. You’ve got a family for a reason.”
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. A break. A break to do what? The world was boring, repetitive, the same game of push and pull. Wars rise and rise and rise and reach their crescendos before toppling and crashing to the ground, revealing a period of peace in the smoke. And then from that peace grows war, and from that war peace is born, and the cycle happens again and again and again.
Boring. Repetitive. At this point, Steve was simply going through the motions. The idea of a break maked his stomach turn. What would he do? He had no passion for anything anymore. He had no desire to see anymore of the world.
“Just think about it, okay?” Tony asks. The dark-haired man fixes the collar of his suit, before standing. “I’m gonna make the rounds. Stay as long as you want, friend.”
Steve exhales, nods begrudgingly – and as soon as Tony’s disappears into the crowd, he downs the rest of his drink and folds his suit jacket over the crook of his elbow. The night is young but it is dull, he thinks; he abandons his booth and slips through the crowds, only halting momentarily to acknowledge the familiar faces that vye for his attention. Everyone wants to be noticed by Steve Rogers.
He reaches the familiar corridors behind the bar. If he inhales deep enough he can still smell the sweet, chemical scent of cocaine – the 70s were a wild time. This establishment has seen the rise and fall of so many trends, so many decades, that it feels as if the wallpaper itself tells stories. In the late 1700s the back rooms housed American rebels. Early 1900s, suffragettes. Then – in the 20s through to the 40s – the Italian mafia. Of course, back then, Tony was in the business. He’d become a sort of pacifist in recent years – due to his marriage, Steve had no doubt. In the 50s even up to the 90s the Black Panthers held meetings back here.
Now, they’re filled with waiters, servers. Couples looking for a quiet place to fuck. A couple of pixies trading bottles of luminescent pink between themselves, mischief alight on their faces. A vampire pressing a human girl against a wall, mouth poised over her jugular, and from the dazed look in her eyes Steve knows she won’t last much longer. But that’s neither his business nor his problem.
He sighs. The night is cold and frigid when he opens the door; his breath clouds in the air. If he was a gentler breed – softer, weaker – he’d bundle himself up. But his skin is tough, and the cold is welcome. And he needs a cigarette.
(Or two. Or a pack.)
Like muscle memory, he takes a Sobranie cigarette from his pocket. A box of matches follow – not a lighter, he’d never quite taken to them – and as he lights one up he closes his eyes. He used to do this when he was just a changeling; close his eyes and let his senses do the work for him. Take pride and pleasure in his newfound abilities. Now, he’s just not bothered to look upon his dreery surroundings. Trash bags piled high against the wall, grimy walls, ground covered in wet paper and garbage.
Sirens. A woman moaning – a man panting with her. A chorus of squeals and laughters, a pop of a bottle of – he listens closer, tilting his head – champagne. The group of pixies behind the door whispering and giggling. Alcohol, sour and acrid, from the empty bottle in the dumpster a few metres away. Rotting food, mould and the smoke from his cigarette and–
Steve freezes. His ears twitch, and his eyes snap open. The alleyway is empty. Completely and utterly empty, almost unnerving in its stillness. Like a breath held. And yet…
He inhales again, drops his unfinished cigarette to the ground and crushes it underneath the expensive leather of his shoes. And he stares at the wall opposite him, motionless.
Something sweeter. Almost unnaturally sweet, filling his nose with a perfume so alluring that his mouth almost starts watering. Like mangos and pineapple and passionfruit, cavity-inducing.
In a show of unalloyed and thorough instinct – animal-like and impulsive – he surges forward, one great hand finding a grip on an invisible neck–
There’s a yelp, and the person caged against the wall suddenly trickles into existence again. Skin and hair and eyes and lips are revealed in seconds, and soon Steve is pinning a young woman down. Draped in a thick, dark jacket – but underneath, a pair of light jeans and a sweater tell of your youth. What was a woman like you doing trying to sneak up on Steve Rogers?
A witch, rather, snarling and defensive, digging your fingers into his arms as if it’ll do anything to harm him.
“I should rip your throat out right now,” Steve growls lowly, hand tightening. “Witches aren’t meant to be this side of the river.”
“I’d have you hexed before you could bare your teeth, leech,” the witch hisses in response. “Now get your hands off me. Or else.”
“Or else?” His answering laugh is cold and humorless. He supposes – pushing aside the disbelief at your fearlessness – that this is a glad reprieve from what was sure to be a boring night. “Do you know how old I am, sweetheart? Your silly little curses won’t have any effect on me.”
You steel your gaze, tilt your head upright. “Don’t act stupid. Every witch with half a brain cell knows who you are, Rogers, and I know exactly what spells would work on you. So unless you’re interested in having your bones turn to ash or your blood boil in your veins, I suggest you get off me.”
And he doesn’t care, really. If anything, he’s curious to see just how powerful you are – with your eyes glinting purple just at the mention of magic and your blood vibrating with it beneath your skin – but the mystery of why you’re here in the first place wins in the end. He releases his grip, watching you topple unceremoniously to the floor. A hand cradles the bruising skin of your neck.
“Why should I let you leave this alleyway alive, huh?” He asks. Another cigarette is lit – one that would not be snuffed before completion, this time. “You come to this side of the river and try and sneak up on me and you expect to just walk away?”
You glare at him, picking yourself up with a stubborn wince. He’d be impressed by the sheer force of your gaze if his wasn’t just as acidic. “A midnight walk.”
“You know I can hear your heartbeat when you lie. Don’t act cute.”
You say nothing, and he feels his patience draw to a close. “I don’t have a problem with tearing out your trachea–”
There’s a soft cry from the edge of the alleyway. The girl’s eyes widen in panic, poised to reach forward and grasp Steve’s sleeve but he’s already pacing towards it. Another cigarette gone to waste, thrown distractedly to the ground as he approaches a box – basket? – filled with blankets and you’ve just yelled don’t touch him! when–
A deep, rolling growl fills his chest.
“Now what are you doing with a changeling, sweetheart?”
It takes every bone in his body to not lunge back at her. A rosy-cheeked baby – at least 9 months – stares back up at him, wide-eyed and sucking on his thumb. Little black curls atop his head and tanned skin with the slightest grey tinge – as changelings tended to have, and there’s no doubt in Steve’s mind that if he pulled his lips up, he’d find two tiny little fangs peeking out of his gums. He looks unharmed, bundled up in fleece blankets, and a bodysuit printed with cartoon animals, but witches are tricky creatures.
Who knows what you did to him? What magic you could’ve done with the blood of a changeling? And who knows what you did to his parents?
“What are you doing with a changeling?”
Loud, booming, like thunder. But you don’t cower. You straighten your back and storm towards him, angry. “I found him.”
“You found him,” Steve echoes, barely restrained fury in his voice. No vampire in their right mind would abandon their baby. It just didn’t happen. “Funny, really. Answer my question before I really get mad.”
“I’m answering your question, you stupid fossil!” You cry, jabbing a finger to his chest. Seems your anger has severed the line to your brain that accounted for self-preservation. “I found him. In a dumpster like that one, across the river.”
“I find it hard to believe a witch would cross the river to return a baby.”
“Oh, of course you don’t,” you scoff. “Because we’re all evil hags, right? Cooking babies and shoving children in ovens? Fuck off. I brought him here because I need help – though I wasn’t exactly hoping that of all the vampires this side of the river I’d find you–”
“Well, tough luck. I’m taking him.”
“No, you’re not–!”
You’re nose to nose. If Steve wasn’t quite so angry he would’ve taken more notice of how truly sweet you smelled. Unfortunately his mind was doing backflips trying to understand how someone was being so blatantly disrespectful to him – a witch, of all people–
“And you know why?” Your smile is almost smug. “Because he’s got magic.”
Steve freezes, aghast. “What?”
You tilt your head, and, oh yes, definitely smug. “You heard me. That baby boy – that changeling – is half witch. You can smell it on him, can’t you?“
And he does. Beneath the smell of smoke and ash there’s an underlying sweetness. Half witch, half vampire. What the fuck – who the fuck–
“Make no mistake, that baby’s mine now,” you continue, folding your arms and slipping past his shocked form to stand in front of the box. “I came here because I don’t know what the fuck baby leeches eat. Or how they act, for that matter. But if you’re not gonna help me, I’ll be on my way.”
You scoop the box up, cooing under your breath as the baby fusses, and you’ve just turned on your heel when–
“You’re just gonna leave?” He asks, half unimpressed and half confused because what the fuck is he doing. He should’ve just let you continue on – actually, no. He should’ve just ripped your head from your shoulders when he first discovered you. But like he said – peace with the witches was hanging by a thread. At least, that’s the excuse he tells himself. “So what’re you gonna give him, huh? Human baby food? He won’t last another week.”
You shrug nonchalantly, but you’re maybe just a little bit pleased that he seems to be interested. “Animal blood? Raw meat? I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a book somewhere–”
“Yeah, a book written by witches,” Steve interrupts, folding his arms. “If that kid’s gonna have a fighting chance he’ll need someone like me.”
“And if he doesn’t want to accidentally explode himself as his powers develop, he’ll need me,” you say pointedly, arching a brow.
Steve inhales, clenching his jaw. You had a point. But he couldn’t just let you walk away – he feels like he’s got some sort of responsibility for that little kid, his kin. If he turns away now, who knows what’d become of him?
But was he prepared to to do this? Was he about to suggest to this? Was he about to agree to – to – co-parent? And with a witch?
“Well?” You say, foot tapping. “The kid’s only half vamp. He’ll get a cold if he’s out for much longer.”
Steve sighs – wrinkles his nose when he gets a direct, concentrated inhalation of your scent. He rubs the bridge of his nose. “I… know a place.”
Yes. Yes, he is about to agree to it.
The world is turning upside down. The world is burning to the ground. The world is–
This ‘place’ that Steven knows of is a dingy diner even further into vamp territory. Fading wallpaper and cracked vinyl seats and a jukebox that literally looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 50s.
You shift uncomfortably in your seat at the back, though you suppose this is better than some high-end restaurant that would have you sussed out in seconds. Vampires like those kinds of places. Here, though, nobody seems to have noticed that you and the man accompanying you should really not be together by any means. Or that the baby in your arms is a complete and utter contradiction of everything the underworld stands for today.
A human diner, then.
For a long, awkward while, it’s silent. The sound of the radio in the background and the clinking of cutlery against plates permeates the air while you and the vampire size each other up. Neither of you bother hiding it.
He’s… broad. Broad and tall, with a strong jaw and hard eyes and the type of confidence that only comes from hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of years roaming this godforsaken earth. He’d be frightening if he was only human, so one can guess that you’re not exactly comfortable sitting opposite vampire him.
Vampires have always terrified you, and not because of their dietary restrictions – you understood the need to eat and be sustained. But this rift between races had existed for thousands of years before you and would continue to exist years after. Revenge killings on both sides and harmful stereotypes had damaged what little semblance of a relationship had existed once before. You feel like he could lunge for you at any second – just reach across and snap your neck and catch the baby boy before he could fall to the floor. You’re not sure whether it’s his appearance that puts that image in your head or the stereotype of him that does it.
Because vampires are monsters, it’s said, plain and simple as the night is black and the day is bright. Cold and unfeeling, ruthless and barbaric. Willing to commit any act of terror for that rush of red in your veins.
And witches are hags – creepy, dirty hags with hunched backs and large, beaked noses and green skin, greasy hair and long, crooked fingers. They lure children and men to their houses and cook them into pies.
The only pie you’re interested in walks past you on a plate carried by a pretty blonde, and you restrain a gulp as the golden pastry drifts further and further away from you. Instead, you look back to Steve.
You peer over the table, hopefully inconspicuous. After a few seconds of squinting, his aura becomes visible; floating and writhing around that dress shirt of his, travelling over the quiff of his blonde hair. Grey and indigo, flashing black at times. And, even deeper, something more. Blue, sad and dejected. Your brow furrows. How interesting.
In fact, the whole ordeal is interesting. You still can’t quite believe that you’re just sitting across from the leader of one of the biggest vampire clans in America. A part of you – the smart part that doesn’t want to end up in a dumpster somewhere with your throat ripped out – doesn’t want to believe.
You decide, as you lift the little baby from his basket, that you don’t trust Steve Rogers as far as you can throw him – but he hasn’t killed you yet, so that stands for something.
The baby fusses as you scoop him up, and you find that you’re already cooing gently before you even realise, grinning at his dolly cheeks and wide eyes. Such a sweet baby. Who could leave him alone, all in the cold, at the mercy of the elements and of Lady Luck herself? You’re still furious at the thought, but you imagine that something awful must’ve pushed the parents to abandon him. A witch-vampire couple could see themselves killed if they weren’t careful – a lot of hateful people in New York.
Besides, it wasn’t as if they left the baby in some desolate building – they made sure that someone would find him. They made sure that you would find him. You tap at his itty-bitty nose and pout your lips and make kissy sounds and for a second you forget that a few-thousand-years-old vampire is studying you from across the table. Well, if you’re going to die, may as well spend your last moments baby talking to a little cherub.
The vampire opposite you watches with close, careful eyes, clearly confused as to why you haven’t slaughtered the baby and boiled him into a soup or something. You ignore him and hope that he’ll speak first. You know what they think about your kind this side of the river. Being too forward and aggressive won’t endear you to him in any way, shape or form. And right now, you need to be on his good side. If not for your sake, then the baby’s.
"What are you expecting?"
Your head shoots up, but he’s not looking at you. His fingers are pinching the bridge of his nose and his chin is bent low to his chest. It’s the first time you’ve seen a vampire look so… tired.
"What are you expecting, witch?”
You don’t quite appreciate being referred to as witch as if you don’t have a name, but you have also called him a stupid fossil and a leech within the last hour.
“Honestly? No clue.” You shrug.
He glares. “Really?"
"Do you think I planned this?” You say, unimpressed. “I’ve got a changeling baby with magic in my arms. I need help. I… had a friend, once, who went to that club often. She said the owner was kind. I thought I’d try and find him, ask for help. But I found you instead. I’m trying to make sense of this too, okay?"
Steve groans deeply again. Your lips purse.
“We need to lay down some rules.”
“Rules for what?” You say, blinking over at him. “I’m asking you for help. If you want to be an asshole–”
“Stop getting so defensive,” he snaps – and you narrow your eyes, but you recoil. He sighs then, rubbing at his eyes, and lifts a hand to signal a waitress for a cup of coffee.
“Didn’t even know you could drink that stuff,” you observe once the waitress has left. He’s lifted the cup of – probably terrible – coffee to his lips, and his eyes fix on you over the rim. You clear your throat, looking back down at the baby.
“You really don’t know anything about us, do you?” He asks, slightly amused.
“Oh, you’re one to speak,” you scoff – but it’s softer, not quite so venomous as it had been earlier. This atmosphere of amiability is unsettling. Unsettling, but… nice. “What was your first thought when you saw him, huh? That I killed his parents? Kidnapped him? Took him for my ‘magic spells’?”
Steve keeps quiet. Yes, that was exactly what he’d thought. You sigh, shaking your head, and simply continue to rock the baby gently.
“When did you find him?” He asks quietly, like raising his voice will warrant a screaming session from the sleepy-looking babe. “How long ago? And where?”
You hold the baby closer to your chest, shrugging. “A week, by now. There’s a – um, there’s a school across the river. Well, not a school, it’s a community centre, but we teach there. Little witches and warlocks and whatnot. They do evening classes for, uhm, older magic-users. Late bloomers, y’know? People who never knew they had it, or people who never wanted it until now.”
Steve doesn’t know, but he nods anyway.
“I volunteer there sometimes. I was taking the trash out after the night had ended – and, well, I heard him crying. I knew there was something strange about him… His aura was so weird, but I could tell he had magic.”
“And you just took him in?” He doesn’t mean to sound so incredulous, but…
“It was raining!” You say, defensive. “And I wasn’t just gonna leave a baby in a dumpster, rain or shine. God, you really must think witches are terrible, huh?”
He doesn’t bother with the obligatory oh, no, that’s not what I meant because – yeah. He wasn’t so naive to believe every rumour he happened upon – hundreds of years of living will do that to you – but he’d fallen easily into the age-old rift. Vampires on one side, witches on the other. Don’t mix. Don’t speak. Don’t agree to co-parent a fucking child–
“I’ve had him since,” you say then. “It’s been a bit of a, uh, struggle. I’ve had to hide him from everyone. He’s been drinking formula but he’s constantly hungry, too. I think he needs blood or something – he’s got a thing for biting, too–”
The vampire opposite you genuinely crooks a grin–
“And he’s been messing up my apartment with his magic. Which is normal, of course, but…” You chew the inside of your cheek, suddenly perking up. “Uh, do you want to… hold him…?”
Steve freezes. The baby gurgles, chewing leisurely on the cotton of your jumper, large brown eyes staring back at Steve like he’d sensed he was being talked about. The vampire swallows, mind racing between thoughts he definitely shouldn’t be having– he thinks about his younger years, when he was still bright-eyed about the world and all of his newfound possibilities. He’d wanted kids of his own – God, how he’d wanted them. Little babies, with gummy smiles and bright eyes. There’d been romances in those years, though they were short-lived and painful. He’d stopped pursuing it quickly after, and all dreams of changelings and babbling babes were abandoned, gone with the wind.
And now you’re staring at him over this dingy table, his shitty coffee half-empty and lukewarm in his periphery, this fucking adorable baby cradled in your arms and for a moment – a moment that comes out of nowhere, a moment swathed in a softness he hasn’t felt in years – he imagines that that little boy is his.
Steve bristles at that intrusive thought.
“No. No, that’s fine.” He lifts his coffee up again. “…He got a name?”
“Uh, no. I haven’t really gotten around to it. I’ve just been referring to him as sugar, so…”
(And that thought is totally unwelcome in his brain, too.)
“I’ve always liked Lorenzo,” you offer helpfully, as if he has any say in the matter.
“I knew a man called Lorenzo once.” There’s a wistfulness in his voice – he’s shocked himself to hear it. He hasn’t been so… happily nostalgic in quite some time. He’s simply been drifting about, working day in and day out, no time for yearning for years long gone. And not once had he ever thought in confiding in someone – nevermind a witch he’d met an hour before. Maybe this was some magic he’d never heard about. “An… artist. In Florence, back in the 1300s.”
You simply stare at him for a second, quiet, but eyes wide with a childlike sort of wonder that’s quite endearing. “I forgot that you were that old. I mean, I didn’t forget, but–”
“Mm. You had a whole plethora of spells ready to unleash on me, yeah?”
“A girl’s gotta be prepared, okay?”
And you’re laughing quietly and joking and shit, it’s almost like you’re something more than natural enemies. Steve knows that if he thinks on it too long every flaw in this shoddily-made plan he’ll begin to retract back into the version of himself his been for too long – that draining, pessimistic, dragging version of himself – so he simply Does Not.
“So, how’s this gonna work?” You ask suddenly. “Do I – do I call you when I need help? Do you want to see him regularly or something? Because now that I think about it, this is gonna be hard. I live across the river – a vampire of your standing being seen outside with me is gonna get me in hot water. And it’s not exactly safe for the both of us to travel across, either. I suppose you have spotters and whatnot?“
Steve scratches at his jaw. He hadn’t quite thought that far, which is worrying in itself. After all, he doesn’t really know you, does he? For all he knows, you could corner him in some alleyway and have his skin turned to soot and his bones turned to shattered glass – but he looks over at you, pulling your jumper out of the baby’s mouth and scolding him gently, and he really doesn’t think you have it in you. And your heartbeat’s been steady, truthful.
“I’ll give you my number,” Steve decides. “You give me yours, too. You call when you need help, I’ll call when I have help to give. There's… cafés, restaurants, parks we can meet at this side of the river. I won’t ask you to travel too deep in this side, and I won’t ask you to travel at night, either.”
“Okay,” you say quietly, like the idea is only sinking in right now. You stop bouncing the baby for a moment, watching him uncertainly, before you start again. Yeah, okay.“
He opens his mouth to speak again – hesitates, which is a shock in of itself, because once you’ve lived for as long as he has you stop caring about what others think. "And… the kid’s parents?"
"What about them?"
He shakes his head, confused. "You’re not gonna try and find them?"
"They abandoned him in a dumpster,” you say, swallowing. “I think that sends a pretty clear message.”
He nods, frowning.
“But if – if you could ask around,” you begin. “I’ll try and find out about it, too. Vampire-witch couples can’t be too popular, right? We should at least know what happened to them."
Another 30 minutes of clearing up misconceptions and smoothing out the details and exchanging phone numbers and you all step out into the cold again. You’ve foregone putting the baby in the basket this time – you hold him underneath your jumper with his little head peeking out of your neckline, and almost instinctively Steve takes up the basket in his hand, pushing open the door to the diner like it’s any other regular night.
He nods at a passing old lady, amiable, and not for the first time tonight he wonders just what image he’s broadcasting to the world. A happy little family, a loving couple with their own tiny baby?
Steve clears his throat and shakes his head to himself.
As you begin to walk towards your bus stop he glances over at you. You’re focused on the path ahead of you, hand pressing the baby’s head to your shoulder – and the little tyke is already staring at him, wide eyed and wondrous. A complete and utter anomaly, an aberration that’s gurgling and chewing on your shoulder.
He wants to hold him. He really, really does. But he’s not his kid and he didn’t exactly offer his services as a dad, did he? He’s your consultant, not your… your…
"Are you gonna be okay?” He asks. “On the bus back.”
“Hm? Oh, yeah,” you reply. “No vamps will try anything in public. It’s mostly just dirty looks and the odd comment – but if they do, well, they’ll get the shock of a lifetime.”
He wonders again just how powerful you are. He knows the weakest of witches wouldn’t be able to predict whether it’s going to rain or not – and the most powerful? Well, let’s just say that Steve is grateful that the majority kept to themselves.
You get on the bus ten minutes later, skin bright and glowing from the cold in a way that his simply can’t anymore. Steve stands outside as you get yourself seated, placing the basket at your feet. You lift the baby up and wave his little hands back and forth – and distantly, through layers of metal and glass and seating, he hears your voice:
“Say goodbye, Enzo! Bye-bye! Say goodbye to Stevie!”
Steve crooks a grin. Stevie. You’d definitely underestimated just how far his hearing stretched. He’s known you for two hours and he already knows that you’d rather die than call him Stevie to his face – nevertheless, he waves back, smile maybe a bit more bashful than usual. And he stays there until the bus turns the corner, and maybe a few minutes after, just in case.
And then his brows furrow in amusement. What a strange night.
Your call comes the next day – and he has to admit, he hadn’t expected you so soon.
Steve’s in his office as he often finds himself, sifting through records that go all the way back to the 1700s. Usually he’d be focused, resolute in his goal, but today he finds his mind slipping. Slipping to a pair of chubby cheeks and wide eyes, slipping to a sweet scent and spitfire personality and a tantalising, mouthwatering tease magic.
He should be taken aback, in all honesty, because for years and years his work has been his one joy in life. When the art no longer held meaning, when the books became repetitive, his work had remained. But now…
He picks up his phone on the first ring. Makes sure no-one is around to listen in on what has to be an extremely secretive call. “Hello?"
"Steve? Hi.” You’re breathless. He can imagine you now, one hand pressing your phone to your ear and the other on your forehead, exasperation written all over your face. The thought makes him smile. (What the fuck.) “Is this a bad time? I’m sorry for calling so soon, I’m sure a man like you is very busy…”
“No, no, it’s fine,” he says, pushing himself away from his desk. “You call when you need help, that was the deal. Everything okay?"
On your end, there’s a piercing, loud wail. And then another. And another, and another.
"Um, yeah. I mean–"
A thud. And then a groan. "Okay, there goes my bookshelf. Whatever, I’ll fix it later. Uhm, I gave him a bottle and burped him but he’s going crazy. I checked his nappy, tried to get him to sleep, bounced him around a bit, but–"
Steve hums. "Sounds like he needs actual food.”
Steve smirks. At this point, he’s willing to say anything to annoy you. It’s amusing to witness you actively try and stay calm. It helps that you seem to find everything he says particularly irritating.
"Blood,” Steve says. “Human blood. I mean, you could feed him your own, or animal blood, but human is best. It’s very neutral, you know–"
You mutter something that sounds suspiciously like I don’t know at all before speaking again. "And where am I supposed to get human blood?"
Steve shrugs. "Magic it up?"
"Ha, ha, ha. Very funny. There are rules here, y'know.”
That makes him perk up, almost intrigued. “Really?"
"Obviously,” you scoff. “There’d be chaos if we just did what we wanted when we wanted and to who we wanted. I can’t magic something up unless it already exists and it’s illegal to perform magic on humans without their consent. And trust me, the type of humans that are willing to partake in a magic spell are not the type of humans who have neutral blood.”
Steve leans back in his chair, pushing his tongue leisurely against the side of his cheek. And before he can change his mind–
“I’ll get you the blood.” And then he hangs up, leaving him with more questions than he started with – like where the fuck do you live, actually, or how did you react to his quick departure? A begrudging smile, a grunt of annoyance? Both?
He doesn’t care, of course, what you look like when you’re smiling like that. He is Steve Rogers, notorious leader on Avengers New York, and he does not care. Not at all. Not at all.
Steve slinks from his office with all the secrecy of a shadow-man. He nods to those he passes in the hallways but doesn’t stop for conversation, strides towards the kitchen with the determination of a man on a mission. A mission for… baby food.
His kitchen is empty when he reaches it, not a soul in sight. It’s fully stocked; meat and vegetables and grains and dairy for his living workers, and for those moods when he actually felt like eating and not drinking his food. A separate fridge was filled with blood bags for the times he had no interest in going out and hunting for a warm body.
Do babies have a preference? Steve stares into the open fridge. He preferred O-, but he was impartial to a good AB+.
Oh, who cares. Babies are babies. Steve scoops up an armful of bags – maybe too much, but Lorenzo’s a growing boy – and turns to leave.
“You gonna drink all those?” A voice jests suddenly. “Goin’ on a bit of a spree, Rogers?"
Samuel Wilson is leaning over the back of a chair at the table in the dining room, barely visible from the kitchen. Steve hadn’t seen him, but that wasn’t surprising. For all his joking and smiles, Sam is one of his strongest and sneakiest soldiers. His left hand, so to speak.
"Maybe,” Steve replies, shrugging. He tilts his head, smiling slyly. “You don’t look like you’re working, Sammy boy.”
“Pierce doesn’t get here until 11 tonight. I’ve got all the time in the world, baby.”
Shit. He’d forgotten. When was the last time he’d actually forgotten something?
Sam catches his eye. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”
“Course I didn’t.” Oh yeah, he definitely did. Steve begins to back away, turning on his heel. “I’ll be back soon. You can fill me in on the details before the meeting.”
“Back from where–?"
But the kitchen door is slammed shut before Sam gets his answer, and Steve sets out on his first mission of the day:
Tracking you down. By smell. In New York.
"How do you know where I live?” You demand, pulling open your door. The hulking figure that stands behind it is hefting along what seems like a hundred bags of blood – and really you should be more worried that Steve Rogers of all people knows where you live but it’s a little comical to see his eyes peeking over the mountain he carries. “God, come in. Come in. I’m not the only witch in this building, you know. And I thought we agreed to meet in public?"
"You tellin’ me nobody would notice if you walked through the streets carryin’ this many bags of blood?"
You guide him through your apartment – it’s quaint. Cosy. Everything that his looming brownstone isn’t; where he has mahogany you have oak, where he has magnificent gilded candelabras you have tiny little tealights, all different colours. The air smells like sugar and cinnamon. He’s never noticed how his own house smelled but he supposes that in comparison it simply smells cold, if cold had a scent.
"It’s New York,” you say flatly, watching as the blood bags go collapsing onto the table. “I’ve seen a man pull a live fish from his backpack on the subway.”
“That's… a valid point, yes.”
For a moment you both stand in your kitchen awkwardly, simply looking at each other. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he threatened to kill you? You stifle an awkward smile. Time flies, eh?
“Uhm, would you like anything to drink?” You say, perking up. You wave a hand behind you and a pot of coffee shoots up from its place on the counter behind you, floating mid-air as if it’s waiting to be called forward. Steve almost starts – not that he’d forgotten that you’re a witch, but… “I made coffee a while ago–"
The pot suddenly clatters to the counter again – but roughly this time, sending coffee all over the floor. You sigh, shutting your eyes, and it’s like your exhaustion is tangible. "That’ll be the baby.”
You scoop up a blood bag and slip past him. He follows without a word, taking in the details that he’d missed – like the pram by the front door, or the pacifiers on the coffee table, the teething rings thrown to the floor by the baby laying in the middle of a playmat.
“You’ve got a lot of baby stuff,” Steve mentions, raising a brow as he almost steps on a bright red firetruck.
“Yeah, well, simple transfiguration spell, actually. I had a lot of old stuff lying around – thought they’d be put to better use."
"I see.” Using magic to make baby toys? He looks at you and he’s not exactly surprised that that’s what you’d use your magic for.
“Hey little guy,” you suddenly murmur, sugar sweet, reaching down to tickle the baby’s tummy. “I’ve got something for you.”
As if suddenly realising what was in your hand, you look back over at Steve. He looks jocularly uncomfortable in your small living room, hands shoved into the depths of his expensive jacket.
“Um, how do I…?"
"Here, I’ll do it.”
Before he knows what’s happening he has the baby cradled in his arms, little hands gripping the sides of the bag and the only sounds escaping him satisfied grunts. You sit with your legs crossed in front of him, watching with interest as he feeds little Lorenzo, and as Steve realises just how domestic and… intimate is scenario is, he’s also made aware of just how much trouble he might be getting himself into.
Alexander Pierce is the kind of vampire you’d tell horror stories about. Pale, grey-toned skin, beady eyes, gaunt cheeks. He wields his vampirism like a weapon, fills the entire room with anxiety and lead-like intimidation. Steve’s past the point of being scared of him – he wishes he could say the same for his men.
“This deal still benefits you more than me,” Steve notes, raising a brow. The maps and sheets in front of him detail Pierce’s plan – the sixth or seventh draft, at this point, because Steve was adamant that the deal was fair. Pierce had taken each of his criticisms with a twitch of his eye and a cutting smile.
It’s an ambitious plan, though simple on paper. Unite the two vampire clans of New York. Rule more than half of the city together. But Pierce was a slimy, untrustworthy snake, and Steve had good reason to guess that his first step after their unification would be driving the witches out of their territory in Manhattan. The second step would be slowly pushing Steve out of the picture, until Pierce himself held everything in the palms of his greedy hands.
So why, one might ask, is Steve even entertaining the idea of business with a man who would seize every chance to run a stake through his heart?
Hm. He doesn’t know either. Maybe because Pierce is persistent and powerful and his seniority demands respect… Maybe because Steve isn’t bothered to deal with the political mess that would follow Pierce’s bloody death at his hand.
“How so?” Pierce is almost lazy; sipping Steve’s expensive whiskey, reclining back on the velvet armchair on the other side of Steve’s desk. His irritation still shines through, though, in a tight smile sent over the rim of his glass. “I assure you, I split our duties and properties as justifiably as I could.”
“Let’s see…” Steve ignores him, eyes scanning the pages again. “You get control of the docks, control of transport routes… Your men oversee transport… and I get… negotiation rights?"
"Arguably the most important responsibility to be had,” Alexander replies smoothly. “You’d hold the future of our clans in your hands. Your word would ensure whether we fail or rise.”
Oh, yes. Steve’s word. Steve’s word with Pierce’s claws in his throat, influencing every sentence he let out. And then Pierce would control everything, and New York would fall to chaos, and Steve would be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Steve doesn’t tell Pierce this. Instead, he smiles – albeit, bitterly. He gathers the papers in his hands and holds them over his shoulder for James – his right hand – to take. He doesn’t need to risk a glance behind him to know that James and Sam are just as unhappy with the blatant disrespect shown by Pierce as he is.
“I’ll detail my requirements and have them sent to you. Again.” says Steve, sitting back. “And you can rewrite the agreement. Again.”
Pierce’s face contorts in an image of cold fury for a second. The wrinkles on his skin deepen and his eyed appear to be pitch black but Steve doesn’t budge – and then he covers his hatred with a thin veil of respect, smiling amiably. He sets his glass down before standing, doing up the buttons on his suit jacket.
“Of course, Rogers. We’re in this together, eh?"
They shake hands over Steve’s desk. The room feels as if it could buckle from the tension.
"Do you happen to know at how many months the supernatural strength kicks in?” Your voice sounds strained.
“Depends on the child,” Steve says, eyeing his open door. “Some get it as late as 12 years, some as early as–"
"9 months,” you gasp out. “O-okay, any idea of how to – I don’t know – turn it off?”
“Sorry to tell you, sweetheart, but it doesn’t.”
“Do you need me to come over–?"
"Yes. Yes, please.”
Steve winces. “…I’ll be right there.”
“Who’s the baby?” Wanda asks, a month or so after that fateful night. She grins down at him, voice high-pitched and lilting, and your stomach turns.
Fuck. When you walked past the bakery this morning you’d been hoping that she was off duty – you haven’t seen her since finding Enzo, and for good reason. You couldn’t go out without him because you couldn’t find a babysitter – a human, and you’d run the risk of traumatising them by exposing them to magic. A witch, and they’d realise all too soon what was different about him. A vampire was completely out of the question, as was a pixie, who’d probably hang him upside down by his little toes for fun – and you could hardly bring him around Wanda.
Wanda Maximoff. One of the most talented witches you know. A witch who, after setting aside how positively adorable your baby is, will immediately figure out his little quirk. And although you know Wanda is as kindhearted as they come, you couldn’t risk it.
“Nephew,” you say shortly. “Um, I have to go – I’m kinda in a hurry–”
“Is he sick?” Wanda interjects, leaning forward. Her brow furrows, sending her wide eyes narrowing. “Because he – I mean… There’s something strange… _____–?"
"For God’s sake, Wanda,” you groan, snagging her by the wrist and tugging her away from the shop front. “Okay, okay. I’ll tell you, okay? But you can’t tell anyone. Not a soul. I mean it."
"I – I swear, of course, I won’t tell anyone, just – where did you–?"
"Out back at the community centre,” you say, quietly, shortly. “It was raining, Wanda, I couldn’t just leave him out like that – oh, you silly head!"
So quickly you transition from cynicism to affection. Enzo’s dropped his pacifier into his lap, and you’re quick to pop it back into his mouth, brushing his curls from his forehead.
"Sorry – where was I?"
"Behind the community centre."
"Right. I couldn’t leave him there, Wanda. Somebody just – just abandoned him.”
“No, I… I understand.”
“… He's… Half vamp.”
Wanda’s eyes go as wide as two coins. You glance around anxiously, half expecting someone to jump out at you from the crowds that stroll past.
“What? But who would… Who would…” She shakes her head, frowning. “The poor baby.”
“Poor? There’s nothing poor about it. Being half vamp isn’t a bad thing.” You don’t mean to sound so defensive – you’ve never exactly been on the vampires’ side, but… maybe they’re not so bad! It’s not that bizarre a thought!
“O-of course, I just…"
"I’m sorry,” you say, wiping down your face tiredly. “He’s just had me up all night. Teething, you know?"
"How are you gonna do this, _____?"
"When’s your break?"
When Steve knocks on your door it opens by itself. He enters cautiously. There’s no doubt that you’re home – he can hear Enzo’s baby talk and you’ve got some music playing and you’re muttering to yourself, too, quick and quiet – but your text had been short and vague.
Come over. I need help, please.
"Hello?” He calls. He emerges from the hallway and into your living and dining room. “_____?"
"Oh, thank God,” you breathe, suddenly appearing from the kitchen with a squirming child in your arms. A squirming child covered head to toe in blood.
“Is he okay?” Steve’s alarm is almost physically tangible. He strides to you, making a grab for the child that he doesn’t even notice. Surprisingly, you let it happen, surrendering the kid to his arms. “What happened?"
"Oh, he’s not hurt. He burst a blood bag all over himself,” you say casually, wiping at your forehead with the back of your hand. “But I do need help. I’m brewing a potion in there and it’s meticulous and time consuming. I won’t have time to take care of him and he needs a bath.”
“You called me over here for that? I thought someone was dying.”
“Well we might be if I don’t get back in the kitchen,” you say, shrugging. “This particular brew becomes highly explosive when prepared incorrectly.”
“You can’t do stuff like that around the baby!” Steve argues, completely aghast. You’ve already turned back into the kitchen. “And – and I’m not a babysitter!"
"You are now, fierce and mighty ancient one!” You call back.
Steve narrows his eyes at the closed door. The audacity. Wriggling captures his attention – he turns his gaze to the blood-covered babe in his arms, smiling gummily as if he hadn’t caused a mess with his food.
Steve sighs. “Let’s get you cleaned up, then."
If only it was that easy. After finding your bathroom and filling the baby bath inside your actual bath halfway with lukewarm water and bubble bath he spent 35 minutes actually trying to get the baby in. Enzo likes to make things float when he’s displeased, it seems, and he’s not a fan of bath time.
"That’s it,” Steve grunts, pulling the baby up from the surface of the water for the nth time. He pulls his sternest face. “It’s bath time. Bath. Time. You’re getting washed. That’s final, you hear me?"
Enzo’s little bottom lip trembles. Steve’s heart lurches, his eyes widening. "Hey, hey, no–"
But it’s too late. Bell-like wails echo like sirens through the tiled bathroom. Enzo’s face scrunches up like he’s eaten something sour. Steve curses to himself, shifting so that he lays down in the crook of his elbow. How was he supposed to know the kid would start bawling? He didn’t think he’d understand him!
He rocks him uncertainly, fumbling around for something – anything – to distract him. God, who knew baby cries were so ear-piercing? Steve’s hands close around a little yellow duck and begin waving it around.
"Hey, look! A duck! A little duck for a little changeling, would ya look at that.”
(He’s reminded that he’s a few thousand year old being, baby talking a tiny child on a witch’s bathroom floor.
…He’s gonna have a headache later.)
Like magic – pun unintended – Enzo begins to calm. Curiosity takes the place of upset on his little face, and his hands begin to reach for the piece of plastic.
Steve exhales, relieved. A small smile tugs at his lips as he thumbs away the shine on his chubby cheeks. “Okay, now we can wash you, hm?"
"And here I thought I was supposed to be the one calling.” Your voice is so amused that for a second Steve considers hanging up. “Something wrong?"
"No, no. I was just… wondering if the kid was doing good.” Is that too forward? Too desperate? God, he feels like a teenager from a shitty early 2000s movie. “Once they start crawling, the speed can kick in.”
“He’s crawling normally for now.”…“But he could use a few more blood bags?"
Steve doesn’t even say goodbye to anyone before leaving.
"I’ve asked around a bit,” you say one day. Your bowl of vegetable soup is completely cleared and your coffee is halfway to the same fate. Steve’s own food has been demolished – Enzo’s concoction of mashed banana and blood that you brought from home is more on the table than in his stomach. But the baby is happy, swinging his little fists around and smearing banana in his little brown curls. “About… you know.”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah.” Steve hadn’t asked around. It’s been a few months since everything had transpired – and, as much as he would refuse to admit it, he’d been preoccupied in this little bubble of normalcy. His work was kept completely and utterly separate – but when you crossed the river and Steve sneaked away from everything it was like he became a different person. He felt lighter, not so critical of everything. It was hard to be pessimistic when Enzo was burbling into his food and making baby noises and you were speaking to him so gently and kindly.
Maybe when Tony had suggested a break all those weeks ago, he was onto something. “Find out anything?"
You nod, unconsciously pulling out a tissue from your bag to wipe the baby’s mouth with. Sometimes he couldn’t believe that you’d really only found the baby such a short time ago. You settled so easily into the role of a mother. "Asked a friend of mine if she knew anyone who’d shacked up with a vamp. She said there was talk of some girl and a vampire up north–"
"That’s Pierce’s territory,” Steve interjects. “If they were found out… Well, Pierce isn’t exactly a fan of witches."
"They never are, are they?” You tease, but your smile is dim and void of amusement. You clear your throat, then, glancing back over at the baby. “He's… He’s gonna have a tough life.”
“You’ve got enough love in you to ease the pain, I think.”
He doesn’t mean for it to sound so romantic. He’s just telling the truth, speaking from the heart, yadda yadda yadda. He’s both surprised and – he won’t admit it – pleased to hear your heartbeat accelerate.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” you say softly, smiling bashfully, and Steve swears that if his heart still beat it’d do the same as yours. It’s a strange feeling – that is, feeling so much again. He hasn’t quite experienced positive emotions in a long time. He’s slightly unnerved that they should return now. “Um, I’m gonna go to the bathroom. Keep an eye on him, okay?"
The fact that you’re leaving him alone with the baby speaks volumes on how much you’ve come to trust him in the – he thinks back momentarily – four months you’ve known him. He almost lets his surprise show on his face, but he’s quick to mask it. He nods, scooting his chair closer to the babies high seat. "Yeah, of course.”
You’re only gone for a minute when the old lady comes hobbling by. Steve’s older than her by thousands of years and yet there’s this knowing in her eyes when she leans towards him that he just doesn’t have. He supposes there’s some wisdom unknown to him that comes with having such a short lifespan.
“Such a beautiful family you have,” she praises, beaming. “Absolutely gorgeous!"
And Steve smiles back.
“Where did that myth come from?” You ask, strolling along beside him in Central Park. He’s got the stroller this time, because apparently it’s unfair that you always have to push it. “You know, that you can’t walk in the sun?"
The sun is on the brink of setting, casting orange light over the canopy of leaves above your heads. You shine so golden that he thinks that if he looks at you too long he’ll have to squint – so he doesn’t. He spares you a glance, shrugging.
"Dracula was cursed by a witch to never be able to set foot in the sun again. And, well, you know humans. They just roll with what little they’re given – suddenly every vampire is allergic to light, garlic, fucking crosses–"
"So you can see yourself in mirrors,” you say, smirking. “Explains a lot. Nobody has such perfectly styled hair without at least 3.”
Steve rolls his eyes and keeps on walking.
“You’ve kept Enzo a good secret,” he remarks after a few minutes. He hopes he doesn’t sound as nosy as he does to his own ears. “Apart from that one witch. No nosy family keeping you on your toes?"
"Mm, no. Single mother, only child. She’s gone, now.”
“I'm… I’m sorry.”
Such a strange sentiment, isn’t it? I’m sorry. He’s seen hundreds and hundreds of deaths in his years and the consternation of it all has worn off. So what is he sorry for? Your mother dying? He didn’t know her. It sounds terrible, but he didn’t.
No. He’s sorry that loneliness is something you expect, that you feel such deep pain, that you clear your throat to dispel it of tears because you don’t want to get emotional in public. Or around him, maybe.
“No, no, it’s okay!” You say, smiling. “She – um, potion making accident. So she went doing what she loved, I guess. W-what I meant was, you know, I’ve got no-one checking in on me, so, you know. Easy to keep him secret.”
You wince, then. “That sounds a lot sadder than I planned."
"I understood,” he replies, not unkindly, though that’s all he can bring himself to say for a second. He’s confused, stealing looks at you from the corner of his eye – look at you! You're… beautiful, kind, smart, funny. A witch, yes – that he doesn’t care about anymore – a talented witch raising a babe she found as her own. How could there be no-one checking in on you? Were people in Manhattan completely blind? “Life can be lonely.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience,” you say quietly, carefully. You both come to a pause at the traffic lights just before your apartment complex, and Steve turns to face you.
“3088 years I’ve been alive. Nothing remains. People die, trends die. Life goes on.” He laughs then, though it’s lacking in humour. “That sounds a lot sadder than I planned."
(In the back of his mind he’s taken aback at how easy he bares his thoughts to you. One word from you and he’s already telling his story; you have that way about you.)
"But… your clan–?"
You both begin walking again.
"Family is very important to vampires. It’s one of the reasons I was skeptical about Enzo being abandoned.”…“I love my family very much. They’re the reason why I do what I do, but…”
You’ve reached your door on the first floor. “But?"
His face twists momentarily, troubled. "I don’t know.”
He should take his leave. But you look like a kicked puppy – for what reason, he isn’t sure –, and he finds himself reaching forward.
(What is he doing?)
He nudges the softness of your chin gently.
“Chin up,” he murmurs softly, lips tilted up in a smile that he hadn’t noticed growing. You swallow, breathing more breathy and shallow, heartbeat just the tiniest bit faster – and he takes some pride in the fact that he’s the one that caused it. “There’re things to be happy for.”
You chew the inside of your cheek thoughtfully, regarding him with what seem like all-seeing eyes. And you simply stare at him like that, looking for something that he’s not sure you’ll find, before speaking. “You’ve got something about you, you know – I noticed it the first day I met you.”
Steve raises a brow, intrigued. “Oh?"
You step closer – Steve restrains a shaky inhale this time – but you don’t seem to be looking at him anymore. You’re looking through him.
"Sadness, Steve,” you murmur. And your voice is so soft, so pity-filled, so empathic for him that for a second his mind blanks. “Painted all around you, in your aura. I… don’t know what you’ve done or what’s happened to you. But you don’t deserve it, that much I do know."
You lift a hand like you’re going to touch his face, and Steve’s mind blanks. You’re getting yourself into something – someone – you really, truly shouldn’t. Steve grasps your wrist mid-journey.
"I don’t think that’s something you’d like to learn about. My history is bloody. I didn’t get to where I am with kindness.”
“I think I can decide for myself,” you breathe, eyes so damned hopeful looking up at him.
Steve nods. He knows in truth that he can’t control your actions, but he can certainly control his own. Before his courage escapes him he kisses your forehead, and bends to do the same to the sleeping baby. Then, he leaves.
“You know, something’s changed in you.”
James Buchanan Barnes had been Steve’s friends since before everything. Before the end of the beginning – back when his skin wasn’t as tough as diamonds and his heart pushed blood through a network of arteries and veins and capillaries.
Vampirism suits him. He never bores of the lifestyle, never runs out of games to play. He keeps his stomach full and his desires satiated and he loves it. He is different to Steve in that way.
“Really?” Steve muses. “And here I thought I was still a sickly little boy.”
“Funny,” his companion deadpans. He grows more serious then, tilting his head to the side as he regards Steve. “I… don’t know what it is. You’ve been tired for a long time. Burnt out. Simply… existing. But you’re living now, Steve. I can see it. I can sense it. And I’m happy for you.”
Steve raises a brow. He’d known the extent of his own mental ailment – and, despite the numerous calls to vacation and begging to relax, he’d thought he’d hidden it quite well. But this was Bucky. He knew Steve almost as well as Steve did – he says almost because James Buchanan Barnes would not for one second think that Steve Rogers was helping a witch raise a baby in secret.
“Is it a woman?” Bucky pries. His eyes light up happily. Almost a thousand years has passed since Steve’s last love affair – it had been messy and painful and Steve hadn’t found himself another beau since.
Seeing his brother so delighted for his happiness warms the empty cavity in the left side of his chest. A part of him wants to reveal the source of his revitalisation – the babbling baby who’d take to anything with two fangs bared, the exasperated witch who had the kindest heart. He wants to say that he doesn’t quite know where he is in everything or where he’s going but he’s happy, he’s happy, dammit, and he doesn’t know how exactly you’d both wormed your way into his chest, either.
“The weather is changing,” Steve says instead, excuse weak. “You know me and winter, we don’t get along.”
Both of them know it’s a lie. But Bucky is still smiling when he stands, clapping a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “May the good weather last long, then.”
Steve drinks down the last dregs of espresso in his cup and pretends that he hasn’t noticed such a great change in himself – but he has. He was lighter, in mind and spirit, no longer anchored down by the years he’d previously lived. He had things to look forward to – the child trying to pull your hair, your strangled yelp when he does it, the breathless way you laugh, like your entire body moves with it. The way you look beside him, like you were made to stand side by side, like that baby entered your lives for a reason, a purpose.
Steve catches sight of Pierce’s plan, hidden underneath even more paper, and he inhales deeply. There’s a hundred and one reasons why he shouldn’t pursue that feeling. More, maybe. Too many risks, too many watching eyes, too many whispering mouths.
James Buchanan Barnes knows Steve Rogers almost as well as himself – almost, because Bucky wouldn’t even entertain the idea of Steve maybe perhaps loving a hybrid of a baby. And the witch who cares for him, too.
Steve doesn’t call for a long time after that day in the park. A part of you is disappointed – a larger part of is disappointed in you for being disappointed.
You’re supposed to call first, after all. Whatever change you’d imagined had happened after that outing – after you stupidly opened yourself up to him – had obviously not. Though what were you expecting? An orphaned witch from across the East River stumbling through motherhood. What were you to a man like him, who’s seen everything there is to be seen?
No, that’s not relevant. Steve has never cared about that.
Still, your melancholy sigh doesn’t go unnoticed. Wanda looks up from where she’s kneading fresh pastry dough, rust-coloured hair piled into a dangerously leaning bun atop her head. Since the revelation of Enzo she’s been adamant in helping you, in being a shoulder to lean on, and you couldn’t be more grateful. She was a great friend, and, well, it seemed like you did actually have someone checking in on you now.
It’s a Sunday, so the bakery isn’t technically open, but Wanda lives in the apartment above it and she never actually seems to stop making sweets. So you sit at one of the tables while she bakes, Enzo hugging his stuffed bear in your lap.
“What’s wrong?” Wanda asks. A cloth laying on the counter beside her rises up to dab at her perspiring forehead, before flopping back down. “I don’t have to read your mind, do I?"
She would never, that much is obvious by the teasing quirk of her lips. Still, you speak. "I made a mistake that I shouldn’t have made.”
“Don’t make me go all Bob Ross on you, missy.” When you don’t laugh, she looks up from the dough. You hear the sound of running water, and then the towel being discarded again, and then Wanda is pulling out a chair opposite you. “Is this about… the guy?"
"What guy?” You know what guy she’s referencing.
“The vampire, _____. You know, the one you wouldn’t tell me anything about, the one who’s helping you raise Enzo–"
"Yeah, okay. I know who you’re talking about.” You swallow deeply before bowing your head low, burying your nose in Enzo’s soft curls. He smells like shampoo and baby powder and… well, baby. You calm almost instantly. “I feel stupid for thinking that maybe we could… I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You like him?"
You bite your lip, and she sighs pitifully.
"You love him.”
“I thought that we’d go against the odds,” you say, hating desperately how wistful you sound. “I don’t know. That we'd… be able to be more than this hatred taught to us. But now I’m realising more and more that that was stupid.”
“It’s not stupid for you to be in love,” Wanda says softly, hand closing over yours on the table. “And who’s to say he doesn’t love you back?"
The image of Steve’s face that day flashes in your mind once more – so uncharacteristically gentle with you, maybe even affectionate. Chin up. There’re things to be happy for.
"Whether he loves me or not isn’t the biggest problem,” you swallow. “I think he’s pushing me away. Or, at the very least, holding me at a distance. He told me I shouldn’t want to know about his history. I… he thinks that I’m too soft. Too clean, as if he’s dirty.”
“How dramatic,” Wanda scoffs. “I mean, vampires aren’t inherently criminal. I’m sure he hasn’t done too much bad, right?"
You genuinely can’t be sure. There had been some truth to his words: you don’t get to the place of power he holds with kindness.
"He – I don’t know! But he's… got a bit of a reputation. Kinda important.”
“Important? How important are we talking?"
”_____.“ Her attention’s been caught. ”_____, how important are we talking?“
”… Steve Rogers…"
“Fucking hell.” She shoots up from her seat like she’s been burnt. “No. No. No way. Absolutely not. There’s no way! There just isn’t."
"Trust me, I know it’s hard to wrap your head around.”
“Hard?! Hard?! Impossible, _____. Try impossible.” She runs a hand over her head, tugging her hair quickly out of its bun so she can pull at it. “Steve Rogers. We’re talking about the same man, right? Notoriously merciless and stern? That Steve Rogers gave Enzo a fucking bath?!"
"Well,” you mumble, shifting the baby on your lap, “when you put it like that…"
"This isn’t a joke!” Wanda exclaims, collapsing into her seat again. “Natasha may be lax about fraternisation with vampires but this is too far–”
“It’s not like I was trading state secrets,” you interrupt defensively. “He’s helping me.”
“Oh, out of the goodness of his heart–?"
"Don’t talk about him like that!"
The silence that follows seems to echo and ring. Even Enzo senses something is wrong – he whimpers, turning his head to rub his nose into your torso. Wanda holds your stare, before she deflates.
"Right. Sorry. I’m just… it’s hard to understand.”
“I know it is.” You find yourself staring out of the shop front, wondering if anyone had noticed your little spat. “Sometimes I still can’t believe it. But if you saw how he is with Enzo, Wanda. With me. He’s so gentle, and kind, and funny. And–”
You realise that you’ve been staring at the eyes of a man the whole time you’ve been talking. Your stomach turns at the piercing of his eyes, even through the glass. He’s frighteningly still in the ever-moving crowd surrounding him.
You glance back, but the man is gone. You force yourself to push the paranoia from your stomach
“You know, I’ve been patient,” Pierce says. His smile is void of amusement, completely cold. “I’ve tailored to each and every one of your pathetic needs. I’ve shouldered your disrespect and attempted to move forward, but I’m at my wits’ end.”
They’d chosen neutral ground to meet in. The Tower, per Pierce’s request, and now it was obvious why. Steve wouldn’t rip Pierce’s throat out here. It had made Pierce cocky – he showed up alone, staring down Steve, Bucky and Sam.
“I think you should watch your mouth,” James says lowly. “Before–"
Steve holds up a hand. Ever the image of amusement, he nods towards his elder. "You look like you still have something to say.”
Pierce huffs a laugh, but he doesn’t speak straight away. He peers down at the drink in his hand, tilting it this way and that, before looking up. “You know, a few months ago, there’d been an incident up at home. One of my guys had gone and… impregnated a witch.”
Steve’s blood runs cold. Pierce knows. His mind immediately goes to you. You have protective charms dotted around the apartment but that wouldn’t be enough to keep out Pierce’s men. He needs to see you. He needs to see his changeling.
“Completely unsatisfactory, of course. I mean, I couldn’t let that type of behaviour become accepted, could I? So, I did what anyone would do. I slit the mother’s throat, I pulled the father’s head from his shoulders. Couldn’t find the pesky baby, seemed they knew I was coming…"
Steve’s fists close around the leather of his armrests. The strength it’s taking him to not lunge from his seat and tear into Pierce is insurmountable.
"I’m not sure how many people in this room would follow in your footsteps,” Sam comments dryly.
“The point is,” Pierce says, grinning, “That I am a leader who enforces my power with brutality. And no amount of negotiations will stop me from killing that pretty witch you have hidden in Manhattan, Steve–"
Like a bullet Steve is up from his chair and Pierce’s neck is in his hand. Sam and Bucky go to stop him, to reel him back in, but Steve doesn’t relent. The bastard is laughing.
"You won’t do it,” he wheezes. “You can’t kill me. I’m too important.”
“Says who?” Steve mutters, voice dangerously low. “You came here alone to make an unfair deal, you threatened the woman I love. I say I have every right to break your neck."
"Steve.” Bucky’s voice is full of warning. Pierce is finally starting to realise that maybe, just maybe, Steve doesn’t give a fuck about how important he is. His smile has faded like an old painting left in the sun. “Think about this.”
“I am thinking. I’m thinkin’ that this piece of shit doesn’t deserve to see another day after killing my kid’s parents and threatening my girl’s life.”
“Steve, we don’t even know this chick! And a kid? What is going on?” Sam exclaims.
“I’ll tell you everything,” Steve promises. “But for now, I can’t let him leave here alive.”
“What?” Pierce reaches hysteria. The idea of not living to see another day has finally set in – his impending doom is closer than ever. “What? No, no, you can't–!”
“Do you support this or not?” Steve says through gritted teeth. Pierce’s squirming is making it harder to detain him.
His men are hesitant and silent behind him, before Sam speaks. “For all your stupidity, I trust you, Steve.”
Bucky sighs seconds later. “You better know what you’re doing, doofus.”
Steve hums, face suddenly alight with a terrifying smirk. “I’m glad I’ll be the last thing you see,” he says to Pierce, before squeezing so hard that his neck is simply crushed in his grasp. His body slumps to the ground just a second after, skin already an ash grey and black veins bulging around his eyes. Steve stares at him. It seems impossible for him to be dead, like he’ll just get up and be an insufferable pest again.
The silence is filled with the dull thumping of the music in the club just downstairs.
“A witch?” James demands. “A fucking witch, Steve? A-and a kid? And you never told us?"
Steve runs a hand over his face. "It’s not my kid. I mean, not technically. It’s not hers, either. She found him in a dumpster in Manhattan, I stumbled upon her, we decided to help each other out.”
“And what? You’re in love now?” Bucky continues, unimpressed. “With a witch?"
"Yeah, and what about it?” He snaps back. “You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing and you’re wondering why I never told you?"
James is stunned into silence. Sam, in a gentler but firmer tone, moves to amend.
"We would’ve tried to help you,” he reassures. “In a way that was smart, Steve. Smart for the clan and yourself. How long were you planning to hide her from us? You don’t think she deserves more?"
"Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“I’m not.” Sam sighs, then. “We’ll need to deal with Pierce’s territory. Call a meeting with the witches and the wolves.”
“And we will.” Steve nods. “But there’s someone I want you to meet first.”
By the time the three reach Manhattan, Steve is glad to be out of the car. Sam and Bucky are like children, and being stuck in a confined space with them for an hour is a special, personalised type of hell. Steve parks his car in the parking lot and then makes the way to your first floor apartment, only slightly nervous that his family is going to meet, well, his family. Only that you’re not aware that you’re his family, which is even worse. He really should get around to telling you how he feels–
The lights are on. The TV is, too. Steve listens carefully, and then:
“Enzo, don’t eat that!"
The answer is a series of delighted gurgles and an exasperated groan from you, and he sees Sam and Bucky exchange glances from the corner of his eye.
"Come on, then,” he murmurs, slipping his key into the door. (Given only after he almost broke down your door thinking you were in trouble. Turns out you were screaming because Enzo had transfigured your cushion into a snake and was attempting to wrestle it.)
“_____?” He calls out, hoping to not startle you too much.
“Steve?” Your head appears around the doorframe to the living room, and Enzo’s little face appears too. The baby’s face brightens, and he begins to lean forward towards him, but you’ve caught sight of the two beside him and you pull the baby closer. “W-who are they?"
"Friends, sweetheart. Something happened – cat’s out of the bag.”
“What do you mean?” Panicked, confused, but still, you press close to him, right arm against his left, angling the baby away from the newcomers. “You haven’t called in days.”
“You’re supposed to call first,” he jokes, but he quickly sobers up. “Pierce killed Enzo’s parents.”
“Jesus Christ. How do you–?”
“I’ve been negotiating a deal with Pierce for the past few months. To unite our clans, co-rule. But he’s always wanted too much, and I’ve been disagreeing. Turns out he was getting tired. He knew about you.”
“Me?” You hold the baby tighter to you, eyes wide and afraid and Steve hates it. Hates how Pierce has managed to extend his slimy claws all the way up to you, like a phantom. “A-and Enzo?"
“No. No, no, no. This – this can't–” Your eyes suddenly widen. “There… there was a man watching me at Wanda’s. He could've… He could've…"
You hold a hand over your mouth, looking as if you could get sick.
"He’s not gonna hurt you,” Steve promises fiercely, his hands suddenly on your waist. “He’s dead. I killed him. But he’ll have some loyal men prepared to avenge him and I need to keep you safe."
"You shouldn’t have done that,” you whisper. “Up north is gonna be madness."
Steve sends a look over his shoulder to Sam and Bucky. Immediately they understand, returning the nod and retreating back to the hallway outside. When he tilts his head back towards you, you’re already staring at him like you know what he’s going to say.
"I love you.”
Your eyes don’t go wide. Your mouth doesn’t gape in surprise. You just stare at him, sad, and Steve realises that you’ve probably known for a while. “Can you afford to? Right now?"
"No man in this world could make me take it back. I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know how. But I know that I’m standing here in front of you and I feel more alive than I have in centuries. I tried to push it away. No point in that now, huh?"
"I love you, you stupid vampire.” Your voice is tear-filled and soft, but his ears pick it up easily. Overwhelmed, you lean forward, pressing your cheek to his jaw. The baby ends up snuggly positioned between you, safe and warm. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
You sniffle once – gasp for air – before slinging one arm across the back of his neck and pulling him down to meet your lips.
And it’s a perfect kiss. Messy and noses knocking awkwardly and Enzo gurgling in your arms and it’s perfect because it’s you and him and that’s all he wants. You taste better than any wine, any whiskey, any strain of blood he’s ever tasted. Like magic, bubbling with life and laughter.
He doesn’t need air – he could kiss you forever and ever without fail if you’d allow him. Still, he’s gasping when he pulls away, and he’s surprised to see that the habit still lives in him. But you’ve done that to him, haven’t you? You’ve reached down inside him, into the insides he’d been sure were greying and crumbling, and you had tugged his humanity right back out. Breathed life back into his undead body.
“These past few years, I haven’t been living,” he admits, swallowing dryly. You see how hard it is to continue on his face. “I… feel like I’ve been wasting away, letting each day pass me by. But you–"
"You don’t have to say it,” you say quietly. “I know what you mean.”
“No, no. I – I need you to know. You’re all I’ve ever wanted,” he murmurs against your lips. “In all my years, I don’t think I’ve wanted someone more. You and the kid – that’s it for me.”
He hears your answering shuddering breath, the thudding of your heart increased at his words, and you open your mouth to respond when–
Enzo burbles loudly, swinging his fists back and forth and squealing so high-pitched that you both can’t help but wince, though you’re still smiling like fools.
“And you, of course, you little biter,” Steve chuckles, grinning as the baby is slipped into his awaiting arms. “I didn’t mean to exclude you. You’re the star of the show, aren’t you?"
Enzo beams, all gummy except for those two tiny little fangs, and Steve’s heart swells. With his best girl and baby in his arms, he feels unstoppable. Powerful. Alive. And as he presses another kiss to your forehead, as you rest your lips against the place where his pulse once lived, he swears to every god – old and new – that whoever threatens his peace will end up with their head on a spike.
("This feels weird,” you say to Steve, voice quiet, eyes watching carefully as Sam holds a giggling Enzo above his head. The (extremely fearsome) vampire is making airplane noises. “Being here. With them.”
“I know.” Steve smiles, though, lifting your hand to press his lips to your knuckles. “They like you, though. And they love him. Hey – careful with my kid, Sam–"
Your heartbeat races like a horse and Steve’s unsure whether it’s because he so openly called Enzo his child or the fact that Sam’s throwing him through the air like a tennis ball. Sam catches the chortling baby easily, though. "He likes it, man. Your baby’s an adrenaline junkie.”
“He gets that from his mother,” Steve jokes. He turns back to you seconds later, leaning close. “Pierce’s men will be dealt with, I promise. We’ll figure things out after that, okay?"
"Chin up, hm?"
You break into a smile at that.
"There are things to be happy for.”)