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All the Stars are There Before Us

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September is the beginning of a slow, gentle descent into absolute boredom for Wanda Maximoff. It’s like this every year- the weather cools even further, brighter days where fog burns off the bay quickly becoming rarer, and suddenly not that many people are looking for something cold to eat. Though she and Pietro had known this three years ago, when they were first starting The Silver Spoon out of the perpetually empty storefront next to Tony’s coffee shop, they hadn’t anticipated just how dull an afternoon without children screaming about sprinkles could be. There were regulars who would come by, enough to keep the store well into the black on their accounting books, but aside from that, once summer ended, there was one bright spot in Wanda’s afternoon shifts. The after-school rush.

Part of the whole reason why she and Pietro had chosen frozen yogurt, of all things, a dessert that definitely hadn’t been a traditional food around their home back in Sokovia, was because it was, inevitably, the high point of people’s days. Grumpy customers were always overshadowed by the infectious joy of whole sleepovers worth of elementary schoolers dumping gummy worms on their strawberry sorbet. And she loved kids- loved being someone around the neighborhood they associated with the simple happiness of frozen yogurt. She loved being in the farmer’s market and having toddlers yell, “Gummy bears!” and point at her from their strollers. Pietro, likewise, loved the positive reputation- though Wanda was altogether certain that had more to do with the shockingly high number of attractive young parents in their area, and how many bad froyo related pickup lines he and their other employee Thor had managed to come up with. This divide in interests between the siblings made their division of labor even easier, with Wanda in charge of the noon to five pm shift, and Pietro heading the five to ten pm shift. In simple terms, life around The Silver Spoon was really rather perfect.

And of course, because Wanda had seen fit to voice that thought to the universe, the universe decided to drop a little complication directly into her lap. Or, well. Into her idyllic little frozen yogurt shop.

It’s a Tuesday, the first Tuesday in September, and Wanda is well aware that it’s the first day of school for all the public schools around. They’re fully stocked in strawberries and frozen toppings, the machines are all up to the brim with yogurt, and Pietro and Thor had swept the store sparkling the night before in preparation for the madhouse it was sure to be. But schools around here don’t get out until two in the afternoon, so it’s a surprise to her when, at about 12:15, the bell on the door rings and a little boy with a shockingly bright yellow backpack comes barrelling in. He’s about three feet tall, dressed in probably the most adorable pair of tiny khaki cargo shorts and a little blue shirt with a big picture of Cookie Monster on it. His tiny red converse are bouncing all over the tile, hands up in the air, and he has to shake his brown hair out of his eyes vigorously in order to peer up at her where she sits behind the counter.

“Can I- I need, please, some cups to try yogurt?” he says, his voice excited and trembly and squeakily high pitched. Wanda promptly melts. “It’s my first day of school and Papa said I could have a treat and Steve said I have to have fruit on top but I think maybe I can get some candy, and-”

“Sasha!” the doorbell rings again, this time as two- oh, wow, Wanda thinks. Two extremely large guys, maybe rivalling Thor’s insane amount of muscles, that wedge their way through the door at once.

“You can’t just run off like that!” the slightly taller one says, brow furrowed with worry. His gold hair is brushed up in a faux-hawk that manages to still be attractive, somehow, and it’s slightly comical to see this giant of a man bending down to brush the hair from a kindergartener’s forehead so gently. These two, Wanda decides, are the type of men that might make a moderate sized sedan seem like a clown car with their sheer force of presence. The other one bends down too, his face far more relaxed than the blonde, his own hair brushed back into a messy man-bun.

“You scared Stevie,” he says, one massive hand coming up to tug the little boy in by the small of his back, hugging him softly and then letting him go. “Next time just tell us you want to race and we’ll know you’re gonna go zooming off like that, okay zayka? It’s not a fair race if only one of us knows it’s starting.” At this point, Wanda may as well be a puddle on the other side of the counter. She can vaguely recall seeing these three around the neighborhood, now that she’s getting a closer look at them.

The tall blonde definitely runs at the park where she goes to do yoga sometimes on clearer mornings. He’s very attractive, in a way that suggests he might not actually know it, classical jaw and nose and exceedingly bright blue eyes. The other one, though, is the one that Wanda can’t really take her eyes off. He’s got grey-blue eyes like the fog over the bay in December, the faintest of laughter lines beside them. A few strands of brown hair fall over his forehead as he kisses the little boy on the cheek with a loud smack, a proud grin tugging at the edge of his altogether unreasonably rosy lips when the boy (Sasha?) giggles. His stubble is of the unholy-thought-provoking variety, and when he stands and straightens she can see through the huge arm-holes of his black tank top that he has more muscular definition than any man should rightfully have. One arm is a little stiffer than the other- it’s more noticeable as he turns, helping the little boy take off his tiny neon backpack and set it on one of the tables. There’s scar tissue down the side of it, gnarled and twisting like the roots of a great sequoia, and a bright red star tattoo branded right on the ball of the shoulder. Wanda kind of wants to touch it (she’s rather fond of red.)

It’s only when the blonde approaches her at the counter that she realizes she’s been staring indiscriminately.

“Hi,” he says, a warm smile on his face, one hand coming up to cup the back of his neck. “Could we get a few of the sample cups, please?” It takes just a few seconds longer than it should to remember how to speak, but eventually, she manages.

“Of course,” Wanda says, grabbing under the counter for the box full of little cups, handing about ten of them over. In general, the rule is two per customer. For extremely attractive men with adorable children, Wanda will make an exception. She feels she does a reasonable imitation of someone who is NOT creepily staring at her customers while they taste the yogurts and get some cups full of them, managing to focus on her sketchbook and the portrait of Jane she’s sketching out for Thor until they get right up to the toppings bar next to the register.

“I thought you said three toppings,” Sasha says as the blonde man tries to stop him from getting any more candy, his little blue eyes narrowed up at Steve, his hand gripping the spoon for the chocolate chips.

“I said three toppings included a cherry,” Steve says, narrowing his eyes right back, a wry grin lingering on his face. The boy’s face falls, but he lets the spoon go, setting his cup up on the counter with the smallest hint of a pout.

“I’m going to count better next time,” he mutters, crossing his tiny arms. The other man, the brunette, fakes a yawn, grabbing the spoon for the chocolate chips and going to pour them on his own yogurt- but at the last second, to the utter surprise of the boy in front of her, “spills” them into Sasha’s cup. Steve looks both extremely exasperated and extremely fond as Sasha crows with delight, raising both of his hands in victory.

“Gosh,” the other man says, setting the spoon back down. “I can’t believe I was so clumsy, Sasha, I hope it’s ok that I spilled all those chocolate chips into your yogurt. You’ll just have to eat them now, we can’t put them back.”

“You can’t do this every time, Bucky,” Steve grumbles out of the side of his mouth, but he puts all three of the cups onto the scale with a fond smile growing on his face.

“It’s his first day of school, Steve,” Bucky says, grinning at him and then turning the grin on her. It is, to be honest, somewhat blinding. “Hi, hello- I think I’ve seen you around here, you know Tony, right?” Her brain is lagging, but Wanda’s pretty proud of how she actually manages to, you know, say something to that.

“I certainly do,” she says, somewhat stiltedly, watching the register weigh all three cups. “I- yes. We must have bumped into each other at the Green Bean some time, maybe a trivia night? I’ve known Tony for years, now.”

“Passing ships in the night,” Bucky says, his hand casually reaching into Steve’s pocket to grab a wallet, the blonde’s protests falling on deaf ears. “I feel like I would have remembered meeting you.”

“Well, if Tony introduced us, you probably would have,” she grimaces, taking his offered ten dollar bill and popping open the register. “He’s, uh. Rather fond of me and my brother.” Bucky’s eyes light up at that, a dorky finger gun shooting her way.

“You must be Wanda! His wunderkind!” he says, teeth glinting like some sort of cartoon character. It feels like she’s putting blue spoons in their cups in a daze, Steve shaking his head off in the distance and leading Sasha to a table in the corner. “He talks about you guys all the time, how you showed up at the Bean and hacked his servers for wifi to finish a history project or some shit?”

“Art, actually,” she says, cheeks flushing. It’s just like Tony, to never give up on telling that story. She just needed some wifi, the library’s was down, and it’s not like his servers are that hard to hack. Or, they weren’t, before Wanda and Darcy came along.

“Legendary,” Bucky says. There’s a long pause, his blue eyes fixated on her, and then he visibly shakes himself, seems to remember where he is. “Oh god, I’m sorry, I didn’t even- I’m James. Bucky. Whichever. Barnes. That’s- my last name. And that’s Sasha, my son, and Steve, my housemate.”

“Best friend!” Steve hollers, his voice echoing through the empty store. She laughs, unable to help it; it’s like watching a puppy stumble over new legs, springing confidence in the pit of her stomach. This man, this absolutely insanely gorgeous man, tripping over his words, staring at her. Bucky- James, she thinks, that’s the one she likes better- grabs his yogurt off the scale, finally, starting to melt around the edges.

“I’m sure we’ll see you around,” he says, shooting her another incredibly dweeby finger gun and loping off to squeeze himself into the corner next to Sasha, planting a kiss on the top of the little boy’s head.

God , Wanda thought, turning and practically sprinting to the back in order to hide her growing flush. She really hoped so.

--

And she does- oh, does she. Now that she’s met them, it’s like she can’t stop seeing this guy and his adorable kid and his ridiculously good looking band of friends. It seems like they really have been ships passing in the night, because it turns out they know all the same people around the neighborhood. Steve is running buddies with Sam, the guy who heads the veteran-run sandwich shop, Sammich, next door. Bucky somehow knows Natasha and Clint, because the next time Wanda sees Sasha is when the two scarily competent agents of some-shadowy-organization bring him by when they arrive home for a six month period of leave. (Sasha, of course, lets on that he knows her and already likes her. Natasha and Clint just smile knowingly and tilt their heads in that super eerie way they have.) Bruce mentions Steve doing a mural for the inside of the Green Bean the next time she and Pietro come over to have dinner. Pepper says that she’d briefly been in a women-in-investing club with Bucky’s mom called Pengekluben. Darcy and Jane apparently helped Steve put up a detailed and very accurate celestial map of constellations on Sasha’s bedroom ceiling. Thor laughs mightily upon hearing of their meeting and proclaims that it was only a matter of time. It’s a wonder they hadn’t known each other before.

So she runs into them at the farmer’s market, picking out fruit for Sasha’s lunches while she’s bulk buying strawberries for the shop. She runs into them at the park, while she’s trying to sketch some quick figure line drawings early on a Sunday morning. Sasha calls out to her at the local library; Steve says hi in the grocery store.

Wanda can’t seem to escape their little family, and she’s not sure that she wants to.

It’s just a few weeks before it seems like they’re everywhere around her, so it’s no surprise when she shows up for the Green Bean trivia night on Saturday, three weeks into September, to find Bucky and Steve set up at a table with Sam and Darcy, already waving her over.

“It’s art history tonight and Darcy informs me we can stack the deck with two ringers if we pick you for our team too,” Sam says in greeting, happily wedged between Steve’s ridiculously triangular torso and Darcy’s truly awe inspiring curves. Bucky pats the vinyl of the booth next to him, grin on its way past sober and hair artfully mussed. It’s down, tonight, which is more distracting than Wanda would like to admit.

“I do have a minor in art,” she says, settling her bag down at her feet and attempting to slide casually into the booth. It doesn’t quite work, but it’s a damn sight better than the time she accidentally tripped on the table leg and faceplanted into Pepper’s boobs. “I can probably help you all out.”

“I think we’re going to make a great team,” Steve smiles, his words loose and happy, half of a pint of beer sitting in front of him. She’s kind of glad Pietro isn’t here, working instead with Thor next door to finish out the night shift- he’s willfully oblivious except when she really wants him to be, like when she’s stuck in a booth full of hot people and she’s trying to keep a holy eight inches at LEAST between her and the massive amount of muscles sitting next to her. Clearing her throat, trying her hardest to make casual conversation, she turns to the man in question, the man who smells unfortunately strongly of some spicy cologne that she sort of wants to bathe in right now.

“So, where’s Sasha? You didn’t bring him along for his knowledge of impressionist finger paintings?” Bucky smiles widely, leaning a little closer, his breath smelling pleasantly of ginger beer and spiced rum.

“Between you and me, he can’t tell a Monet from a Manet,” Bucky confides, like it’s a real secret that his five year old doesn’t know anything about art history. She laughs, helplessly, enamored like she hasn’t been in years. It’s like something bubbling up in her stomach, like champagne, light as the sunshine and filling up the empty spaces inside.

“You’ve got to teach the child, Steve,” she says, turning back towards the blonde, whose loose grin is vacillating fondly between the two of them.

“I suppose I’m lagging on parenting Bucky’s child, it’s true,” Steve says, leaning his arm back over the seat and playfully narrowing his eyes at his friend. “But there’s this guy, always getting in the way, talking about things like learning to read and write and do math, and shit like that.”

“Useless,” she sniffs, gesturing towards the bar, where Bruce gives her a brief nod and roots around for her usual bottle of apple cider. “And where will those skills get him in the real world?”

“Hopefully, to a job,” Bucky says wryly, taking another swig of his drink. “He’s surrounded by all these artsy fucks already.”

“Yourself included, Mr. Polyglot,” Sam snorts, leaning forward onto the table. “This asshole over here tried to insist on raising the kid in a quadrilingual household.”

“Really?” And that truly surprises her- she knows a lot of bilingual people, has connected with the small Sokovian contingency in the city, but it’s usually out of necessity, not preference. English is the common ground for her and all the other children of mother lands, finding themselves together here in the mixing pot of the Bay. “Which ones?”

“English, Russian, Spanish, and Mandarin,” Bucky lists off, ticking them off on his fingers. She tries valiantly to not get sidetracked by how attractive those fingers are.

“You know all of those?” And Russian, well; things Wanda had learned in a country that the East had encroached upon for too long. She can speak to elderly Mrs. Ivanova down the block just fine using bits of Sokovian and Russian and English to patch the pieces together. “Privet, ser.” Sam groans theatrically, throwing his hands up in the air, flopping back against Steve. Darcy, fiddling with her polaroid camera, simply laughs at his distress.

“I can’t believe it, Steven,” he moans, “there are two of them.”

Even as Tony’s calling the night to order, setting up the stand for him to emcee the night of trivia, it suffuses a warmth all through her. The idea of that- the two of them. The surprised look on his face when she spoke to him. The way that, halfway through the night, they’re speaking half in Russian and half in English and Steve and Darcy are laughing merrily and Sam looks like he both wants to strangle himself for inviting her over and wants to congratulate himself.

They win, of course.

And Wanda, well. Wanda has a huge, terrible, slowly growing crush taking root in the pit of her stomach and threatening to never, ever let her go.

--

It’s only the next morning, when Steve sets his cup of coffee down in front of him after he’s gotten home from his jog and gives him an infuriatingly knowing look, that Bucky realizes just how bad he’s got it. He groans preemptively as Steve sits down across the table from him and sets his chin on his fist, all candy and sweetness and smug-ass shiny teeth.

“So,” Steve says, batting his stupid long eyelashes, completely ignoring that Bucky’s child is half asleep in a bowl of oatmeal next to them. “Last night was interesting.”

“Of course it was, Steven,” Bucky says, doing his absolute best not to be anything other than level and nonchalant. He may or may not fail miserably, judging by the glint in Steve’s eyes. “Trivia nights are full of interesting facts.”

“I meant more interesting as in I’m pretty sure you did more flirting with Wanda than answering questions about Dali’s ‘Hitler Jerking It’ painting,” the other man continues, with a short glance to the side to make sure that Sasha is still mostly incoherent. “Which is, as you know, relevant to my interests as your best friend and the platonic love of your life.”

“I didn't know you were such a Dali fan,” Bucky says, willfully obtuse as he gets up to ladle out his own bowl of oatmeal from the still steamy pot on the stove. “Maybe I’ll get you a print for your birthday.”

“Come on , Buck,” Steve groans, standing and following him, practically cornering him up against the fruit bowl. “It's been years. I get it, I really do. You have Sasha- we both do. That makes dating difficult. But you don't even give it a go, let alone spend all night talkin’ someone up. Last night…” He pauses, doing that thing he knows Bucky can't resist, the soulful eyes thing where he blinks slowly and widens his eyes and puts one warm hand on Bucky’s arm. “It was like being twenty again, watching you be smooth with some girl you really liked. I haven't seen you make moon eyes at someone like that since- before.” He sighs, leaning in so Bucky has no choice but to give in to the deeply ingrained reflex to open his arms and enfold Steve in them, even now, even when he’s an inch taller and a vast amount of muscle heavier. They stand like that for a few moments, long and syrupy calm in the morning light from the kitchen window. “I just want you to be happy,” Steve mumbles, warm in the crook of his neck.

“Hey,” comes a small, grumpy, sleep smudged voice from behind them. “How come I don't get a hug?” Steve bursts into a fit of giggles, shaking against Bucky’s stomach, and then he can't help but laugh too, opening his arms once more.

“C’mere, zayka,” he says, and Sasha squirms his way between the two of them until Steve can pick him up, sandwiched there and tiredly wrapping his arms around their necks.

“Morning isn't time for grown up talks,” he says, disgruntled, leaning in imperiously for first Steve, and then Bucky to kiss his cheek. Steve laughs again, kissing him with an exaggerated smack, making him giggle a little reluctantly.

“It was more of a high school talk,” he says, leaning his head gently against the side of Sasha’s. “Papa’s got a cruuuush-”

How Bucky manages to smack him and have the three of them remain standing is, and will forever be, a mystery.

--

When she and Pietro had first touched down at SFO International Airport, Wanda had known. She could feel it in some chill in the air, on their way down to the taxi row, where they caught a cab to their new dormitory. She could feel it in the exuberance of the teachers who welcomed them, excited for them to spend their senior year of highschool on exchange. The city had reached out for her, and Wanda had reached back.

It’s only in the past few years, soaking in the sheer joy of being a part of a family, that she finally understands why she had held her arms wide open to the city and let it embrace her.

It’s only in the past few years that Wanda has really known what it was to be truly, regularly happy.

--

Before she even realizes so much time has passed, the little seedling of her connection to the Barnes-Rogers household is growing into something decidedly leafy and robust. It’s somehow suddenly October thirtieth, and Sasha is knocking on the door of the Silver Spoon at exactly twelve noon. She has to contain her laughter at the ridiculous sight of him pressed against the glass, eyes wide and distinctly sugar-high already. He’s dressed in what may be Wanda’s favorite costume of all time, now- a shimmery shirt with fluttery scales of metallic fabrics in gold and burnt orange, bright peach pants, yellow rain boots, and orange scales painted across his face in a scattered pattern.

“I'm a goldfish,” he says proudly when she unlocks the door and props it open with the little wedge of wood beside the trash can. “My code name is Bubbles.”

“That's wonderful, Sasha,” Wanda says, leaning down at his beckoning so he can kiss her cheek hello and strut into the room, sneaking a sample cup from where she hides them and contemplating the flavors of the day very seriously. About twenty seconds later, Sasha’s ever-present shadows appear in the doorway, looking both delighted and a little sheepish about their matching attire. Steve is in all green, a leaf or two painted on his face and a fake plant’s worth of plastic greenery on it headband in his hair. Bucky, though- has two pink spirals painted on his cheeks, some sort of terrifying eye stalks on his headband, and a subtle mix of blue and gray colored clothing layered up.

“What on earth-” she says, this time letting her laughter go and practically cackling at the long suffering look Bucky gives her from beneath his googly eyed headwear.

“I'm the water plant in Sasha’s tank,” Steve says brightly, shouldering the tiny neon yellow backpack Wanda has come to recognize without even thinking about it.

“And what are you?” She asks Bucky, who just groans a little and grabs his own cup, following his son over to the yogurt machines.

“He’s the snail in the tank,” Steve says gleefully, grinning madly and leaning in. “He looks so grumpy about it, talking about his street cred, and oh no what if the Howlies saw me, but he secretly loves it, he was up til midnight making sure the eyes were glued on right.”  A worryingly strong warmth blooms in her chest at that, imagining Bucky with a hot glue gun laboring away at his crafts to make sure Sasha was happy.

“Are you coming to the Green Bean tonight?” Wanda asks, switching topics as Bucky makes his way back up to the register, herding a protesting Sasha away from his devious plot to put an entire half a cup of candy corn on his yogurt.

“I won't be,” Steve replies, “but Bucky will. We’re trading off, I'm gonna introduce Sasha to the tradition of the Nightmare Before Christmas tonight, and Buck’s gonna take him trick or treating with Nat and Clint tomorrow so I can go out with Sam.”

“Yeah,” Bucky chimes in, wiggling his eyebrows, which in turn makes his eye stalks sway dorkily. “He’s going out with Sam.” Steve’s blush is like pomegranate juice suffusing through his cheeks, it's so strong.

“We're meeting his buddies from the VA for dinner,” he protests, but the words are a little weak. She lets it go in favor of giving Sasha one of the fun pumpkin orange spoons she and Pietro ordered for October.

“It matches your scales, Bubbles,” she says, leaning over the register to stick it in his cup. He beams up at her, clearly pleased that she’d remembered his ‘code name’, and she beams right back. It's a habit by now, smiling at Sasha. He's just too cute, too sweet and charming to resist. Last week, he’d shown up on Friday with a solemn face and handed her a poem he’d written about the death of his class hamster.

“Chubbles,” it read, in shaky misspelled crayon, “We love you. I will Not forgot how You kissd my cheek soemtime. Sleep tight Buddy.”

The week before that, he’d arrived on Steve’s shoulders, and demanded he be let down to hug her so he could show off his ‘new muscles’ he’d gotten from doing ‘six pushups’ that morning with Bucky.

She’d seen them at the park on the way to school on Wednesday morning the week prior to that and ended up walking with the three of them down to Sasha’s kindergarten to drop him off, tugged along by a tiny hand into the schoolyard so he could introduce her as “the coolest grownup” he knows.

It's been a never-ending stream of adorable from this kid, and she’s becoming so fond of him she wonders if she’ll ever be able to let go. Not that she wants to, really. It must be obvious in her smile, how much she enjoys this little family, because when she looks back up at Bucky and Steve to ask them to put their yogurts on the scale too, Bucky’s looking at her with the strangest expression on his face.

“What?” She asks, out of reflex, and he starts a little.

“Nothing,” he says quickly, setting his yogurt down and rummaging in his pocket for cash. “It's just, I've never seen someone that I- that Sasha liked so quickly. He really adores you, talks about you all the time, and I just- you know. I'm glad. That you also like us. Him.” And, is that- a blush, faint across his cheekbones. It’s a sunburn, Wanda tells herself. A sunburn you didn’t notice until now. Yeah, that’s plausible.

“Well,” she starts, then stops, caught up a little watching him fumbling through his wallet. She seems to be caught up in watching him rather a lot these days. “Well,” Wanda says, starting again. “I happen to be rather fond of you- r family. Your little family. They’re. You’re all just so sweet.” The sunburn (don’t question her) grows a little redder as Bucky hands her the money and she dispenses the change.

“I’ll, uh, see you later? At the party?” Bucky says, picking up the yogurt and taking a step back from the register, and oh my. It feels a lot like being back in college, nervous students in the libraries asking each other about the lacrosse team exchange happening on Friday.

“Yes,” she says, perhaps more emphatically than she meant to. “Yes, I’ll be there, you probably won’t be able to miss the ridiculous costume Pietro’s gotten for me.”

“It can’t look that ridiculous,” Bucky turns, walking towards where Steve and Sasha are hotly debating whether or not a giant goldfish would be a good pet. “Not on you.”

Which, fine. Wanda supposes he’s gotten the last word, then. Fine. It’s fine. She doesn’t turn as red as the dyed tips of her hair, and she’ll erase any security camera footage that says otherwise.

--

It turns that that it’s exceedly easy to find Wanda when Bucky arrives at the Green Bean’s annual Hallow’s Eve Extravaganza, featuring a souped up fog machine, a literal shit-ton of candy, and Thor’s hardcore exchange student friends manning the bar. The first thing that Bucky gets handed upon entry is a worryingly dark, smoking cocktail that Sif won’t divulge the ingredients of. She only laughs, claps his shoulder, and tells him to let loose, for once .

“Sasha is not here,” Volstagg says from beside her, his massive beard strung through with fake roses and daisies. “You do not have to be a father tonight, Barnes.” Bucky supposes they’re right, it’s one of his few nights a month where Sasha is with someone he doesn’t worry about and there’s alcohol being freely poured around him. So he takes the drink, sips its curiously licorice-like taste, and scans the crowd for people he knows. Most of the (larger than usual) crowd is there, a lot of regulars who just come in for coffee in the mornings before they start serving alcohol around 4 pm, and a lot of people he recognizes from trivia nights or the monthly coding parties Darcy holds.

That’s when he sees her, across the room, sitting on a table and swaying a little to the music with Jane and Darcy. Her hair is no longer red and brown, but a bright, brilliant sprayed on blue, curled and stiff up in two buns on either side of her head. She’s got a crimson long sleeved dress on with a tight, fitted bodice and a flowing skirt that just brushes the tops of her knees. He’s briefly hit by the thought that he’d like to see it up around her waist, honestly, because her legs look miles long swinging from her perch on top of the table, and the little red and white Adidas high tops she’s wearing somehow turn him on more than five inch heels could. Embarrassingly enough, he thinks, she could probably be here with a trash bag for her costume and he’d still want to kiss her. On the front of her dress is a big white applique, Thing Two glued on it in black felt letters, like the back of a letterman or something.

It’s absolutely, devastatingly adorable.

It’s completely, destructively hot.

Bucky is totally, one hundred percent fucked.

He should really go over there and talk to her, say flirty things that make her blush and laugh, rile her up about the legitimacy of abstract art as a movement to hear her accent thicken so Bucky can drink in the sweet syrup of her rolling voice. Do the kind of things that people in their twenties do when they’ve got a huge crush on someone. He should really go over there and take her hand and ask her to please, please dance with him, because he wants to feel her body against his and he wants to kiss her and in the morning he wants her to tell him all about how she’s learning to play that guitar he saw her with in the park a few weeks ago. He wants to know everything about her. But he’s kind of scared shitless because she’s throwing her head back and laughing and her chalk-blue curls are bouncing merrily as Darcy smirks while she toasts to something probably obscene.

It’s what Steve would call Fate and what Natasha would call the Universe giving him a kick in the ass that when she un-crinkles her eyes from their laughing state, he makes direct eye contact with her across the foggy bar. She’s waving at him immediately, beckoning him over with the hand that’s not holding a bottle of cider, grinning with red lips and blue-lined eyes. It would be rude to refuse her invitation, Bucky thinks, steeling himself to stand up and walk over to her. It would be rude, and also nothing like what he wants to do, no matter how terrifying it seems.

“James!” she exclaims happily when he gets close enough to hear her over the din of celebration around them. “I thought perhaps we’d never see you, that maybe Sasha had fallen ill from all the candy corn he ate earlier.” Fuck, he thinks, one hand coming up to rest shyly on the back of his neck. Fuck, her accent gets thicker when she’s drinking too, and he’s never heard a more alluring voice in all his years of translating.

“Yeah,” he says uselessly, trying his hardest not to stare at the, from this vantage point, scandalously low v-neck of her dress. “Well, I’m here.” Darcy stifles a laugh in her beer, which Bucky Does Not Appreciate. He swears to any god there is, if this makes reading Sasha The Cat in the Hat harder (no pun intended,) Pietro will be feeling his wrath. “You, uh, don’t look ridiculous,” he continues, wincing a little at the awkwardness. Wanda just laughs though, reaching a hand out to grasp the edge of his varsity jacket. It’s actually Steve’s from back in highschool when he played football after that therapeutic steroid trial left him built like a brick house, so it’s a little loose. But Bucky couldn’t stand the idea of having snail eyes bobbing above his head all day, so he went for douchey all American bro as a low effort costume tonight.

“You don’t look ridiculous either,” she says, tugging him a little bit towards her. Clearly she means to urge him to sit down in the booth with them, but he entertains the thought briefly of following her pull. Of placing a hand on each of her knees and pressing between them. Of getting that red lipstick all over his mouth.

He sits down, instead.

“You’ll be wearing the snail costume tomorrow night, I assume,” Wanda says, leaning to the side so she can face him from her perch. She smells like gardenias, he realizes with a jolt, and her thigh is warm where it rests against his arm on the table.

“Of course,” he says, finally taking a deep breath and settling himself. “Sasha wouldn’t have it any other way.” He can do this, he can flirt with this girl. She’s three years younger than him and she’s beautiful and she’s kind, impressive, brilliant- but the Howlies didn’t make his call-sign Casanova for nothing. It’s just been, oh, four whole years since he’s put effort into this sort of thing. Four years since he’s tried to do something other than fuck a pretty person into the mattress (or wall or shower or kitchen table) and then leave them with a wink and a smile in order to be home before Sasha wakes up. “Tonight, though, I wanted to look my best so that when Volstagg gives me those Swedish cocktails that makes me hallucinate some kind soul will want to take pity on me and not just think I’m a crazy old man dressed as a snail.”

“Well, you do,” Wanda says, her cheeks pinking a little. “Look your best, I mean.”

Oh yeah, he can do this.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he demurs, turning his hand so that his palm rests hot against the outside of her thigh, leaning in a little bit. “But you certainly do. I never thought Dr. Seuss could look so beautiful.” Her blush doesn’t beat around the bush this time- it’s hot, and fast, and furious in her cheeks, right down to the tip of her nose. Darcy hops out of the booth with her empty glass, muttering something about the rudeness of people who don’t provide popcorn when they’re going to put on a show. They don’t say anything for a moment, caught in that golden type of way Bucky remembers, back when youthful infatuations came more easily to him. But then Tony’s voice comes over the loudspeaker, amped up and excited, and he announces that the “chill” music is over.

“Dance?” Wanda asks, setting her cider down as Bucky looks up at her and runs his hand through his hair, grinning rakish and carefree.

“I think so,” he says, standing and offering one of  his hands, pushed up close to her by the crowd so that he can rest the other palm on her hip and help her jump down from the table. It’s intoxicating, the idea that he could just- not let go, just reach down and kiss her cheek and then maybe, perhaps-

The momentum is lost when a huge hand claps down on his shoulder and a flash of red and blue sidles up to Wanda. Thor and Pietro, here to crash the moment and maybe stop Bucky from having the most public boner he’s had since high school. It’s for the best, letting him have a moment to catch his bearings as Pietro informs Wanda that at midnight he’s taking off with Thor, Jane, and Darcy for some other party, and Thor asks him how his night has been so far.

“Really good,” he answers, internally cursing at the perfect (horrible) timing the taller man had. “Was just about to go dance.”

“Ah!” Thor booms, laughing merrily. “Wanda is an excellent dancer! She will show you many things!”

Yeah, Bucky thinks. That’s the idea, big guy.

--

She’s going to perish, right here and now, right on this makeshift dance floor Bruce made six hours ago, because this is the kind of crazy lust that makes YA novel girls swoon. This is the kind of attraction that ruins people. Maybe it’s the cider (ok, only partially the cider) but with his hair slicked back and up and his varsity jacket loose and open to reveal an unfairly tight shirt- with his little smile lines, those grey-blue eyes- she’s finding it exceedingly hard not to just hand him a key to her apartment and tell him to carry her back up to it. Wanda had previously assumed that part of what made him so hot was the way he was with other people, comfortable and funny, smart and quick. What she hadn’t thought about was the way he was with her, partially because they hadn’t really been together, just the two of them, before.

Fuck , she thinks, brain split between reassuring Pietro that she’d get home safe and text him when she did, and pulling its favorite trick of overanalyzing someone else’s actions. Because as much as she loves watching Bucky work a crowd of people, it turns out that she loves it twice as much when all that charm is directed straight at her. Pietro kisses her on the temple and leaves, quick as he came, with Thor trailing after him fist bumping everyone in his path. It’s like dragging a stone from water, looking back up at Bucky, but the stone grows infinitely lighter as she realizes that he’s staring right back at her. That emboldening rush of confidence, the blown out pupils of his eyes looking like she’d kissed the stars and brought them down to him; she grabs his hand and squeezes it once.

“How about that dance?” Wanda says, swept up once more in the beat that bellows around them. Bucky grins, that sweet smile, all cocksure high school quarterback.

“If I don’t get it,” he says, walking backwards, leading her into the swirling mass of people. “I’ll surely- well. Something dramatic, for missing out on getting to dance with a doll like you.”

She might as well have painted her whole face red, between the cider and the James Buchanan Barnes holding both her hands and drawing her in with a practiced twirl. This isn’t swing dancing music, but there’s still a bygone grace to the way they come together, holding closely and swaying to the beats of music young and free. Wanda loved dancing, loved the push and pull of a room when everyone was caught up on the high of the drums. She and Darcy and the other women would go out sometimes, watch Natasha draw some poor fool in and give him the high point of his life right there on the dance floor. Jump around, jump through, letting themselves go. But this was different, by inches and miles. This was broad hands on her hips and the soft fabric of his jacket hanging around her shoulders as she pressed her back to his chest. This was a thumbs up from Natasha out of the corner of her eye, lips pressed to her ear and asking if this was too fast.

“You match the rhythm of the music just fine, James,” she says, dragging his head down so she can speak directly into his ear. She can feel his smile against her neck for a brief moment. She wants to feel it everywhere, for more than a brief moment.

This, Wanda realizes some time later, is how people can dance a night away. In the arms of a beautiful man, with their skirts swinging and the bass pounding through their bones.

--

By the time Tony and Bruce turn the lights back on and the fog machines off, it feels like her heartbeat is a metronome, ticking away in her ears. There are no mistaken identity horror stories, nor the kind of internet gossip about people looking better with the lights off, when she turns around. He’s still just as gorgeous if not a little sweatier than when she sees him smiling on the other side of the glass storefront of the Silver Spoon. They’ve been close for so long that it feels wrong to take a step back, so she sways into him as he leans down to ask her if he can walk her home.

“I live next door,” she laughs, her hand pressed to his distractingly firm chest. He just shrugs and smiles softly, tucking a tendril of chalky blue hair back up over her ear.

“So I’ll walk you next door,” he says, the corner of his mouth quirking up. And he does, hands in his pockets, shoulder bumping into her, the cold night air briefly shocking them before she unlocks the side entrance to the Silver Spoon and they can trip up the stairs to her front door. There’s a click, a thunk, and it swings open, revealing an empty apartment with a single light on in the living room. Pietro isn’t home yet, unsurprising considering who he’s out with. She’ll be lucky if the Swedes bring him home before noon tomorrow.

“Well,” she murmurs, back against the doorframe, the buzz of alcohol long gone and now replaced with the sweet fizz of adrenaline. “Looks like this is my stop. I should text Pietro that I got home safe.”

“Looks like it,” he returns, leaning forward a bit, rocking on his heels. His eyes are so dark in the stairwell that she swears they’re black. “You should text me to tell me you got home safe too, maybe.” He grins, that shit-eating smug grin she’s grown to like so much.

“Well, I would if I had your number,” she says, feeling light, feeling free. Feeling like a silly high school girl flirting with her date on the porch, waiting for her mother to flick the light on and scare him away. He reaches out slowly, as if waiting for her to stop him, to grab her phone from her dress pocket. The light is too bright, but he manages to open it up with her help and set himself as a contact, their heads bent close together.

“I suppose you’ll just have to let me know how safe you are, then,” Bucky murmurs, all gravel and husk, and she does her level best not to shiver at it reverberating through her.

“I’m feeling pretty safe right now,” she says softly, but he steps back, straightening up and taking a deep breath.

“I guess I’ll just have to text you when I get home instead, then, doll,” he rubs the back of his neck, something awfully tender in his expression.

“See that you do, Mr. Barnes,” she says, and he laughs, leaning across to kiss her cheek and descending gracefully down the stairs towards the door to the street. She closes her apartment door, locking the deadbolt with an audible click, and slumps against it. Like some silly movie, sighing over the way his warm lips felt pressed to her cheekbone, the faintest hint of stubble on sensitive skin. There’s still an aching burn in her lower stomach, that YA novel lust hitting her hard again in the quiet dim of the living room. With another sigh, she heaves herself up, slipping off the tennis shoes and losing articles of clothing on the way through her bedroom to her ensuite.

This is a problem that only some lavender incense and her detachable shower head can solve.

--

The walk home, just two blocks, might as well have been a jaunt on top of the clouds because Bucky feels like he’s floating. He’s humming when he reaches the front door, unlocking it carefully and quietly so that no one wakes up, but it turns out that’s a moot point. Steve is waiting for him at the kitchen table, hunched over a draft of some building his boss had sent him to look over. The remains of macaroni and cheese are in a pot on the stove, and two cups of tea sit cooling on the counter.

“How was it?” Steve asks, without looking up, blue pencil and pen marks all up and down his arm. “Did Thor’s friends make it over?”

“They ran the bar,” he answers, grabbing the tea and sitting down across the table, sliding one cup towards Steve and drinking a good third of the other in one swallow. “It was real good, lots of fun. Thanks for taking Sasha, it was... nice. To be out, without having to worry.” Steve levels him with a look at that, sitting back in his chair and taking a swig of his chamomile.

“You’re welcome,” he says, tone so dry it could be the Mojave desert. “I mean, it was such a hardship, watching a good movie with a wonderful child who I have all but raised with you, James. Gee, I’m so glad you trust me.” Bucky groans, kicking him under the table and rolling his eyes.

“You know what I mean, punk. I worry about him, because he’s my son, and lord knows he might as well be yours too, but that don’t mean I don’t worry about him, and you know it. But I had a good time, tonight, and I’m glad you did too.” Steve manages to hold his deadpan look for a few more seconds before laughing, kicking him back and reaching across the table to hold his outstretched hand.

“I do know what you mean, Dad of the Year.” He gets a mischievous twinkle in his eye, wiggles his brows, and uses the grip on Bucky’s hand to hold him still when the other man recognizes what’s about to happen and tries to get away. “And did you dance with any pretty girls, Buck? Perhaps ones who own frozen yogurt shops?”

“That’s such a specific type,” Bucky says, glaring at Steve’s smug smile. “How ever did you come up with a query like that, Steven Grant?”

“Probably I came up with that question because if you had a diary it would say “Mr. James Buchanan Maximoff” on it in little hearts,  jerk.”

“Oh my god,” Bucky groans. “I am not that bad, I was not that bad-”

“So you did dance with Wanda!” Steve says triumphantly, letting go of his hand to point at him. “I knew it! I knew it would happen! That’s why Darcy was tweeting about eyefucking!” Bucky splutters, halfway through a sip of tea.

“About what ?”

“She tweeted about two people eyefucking on the table in front of her and I had the sneaking suspicion it was you two, because it was right after she posted a selfie with Wanda! And yes, before you ask, I was totally living vicariously through her twitter after Sasha went to sleep.”

“We were not,” Bucky says indignantly. “We were making polite conversation.”

“Uh huh,” Steve rolls his eyes, tone dubious. “Sure, of course. But you danced with her, how was it?”

“It was dancing,” Bucky says, crossing his arms and looking away from Steve’s beseeching puppy eyes, looking for all the gossip they can get. “Dancing is good. Dancing with pretty girls is even better.”

“You want to daaaate her,” he sings, quiet enough not to wake Sasha down the hall. “Look at you, turning red. You want to go out with her and dance with her every night, I just know it.”

“I have no idea what you’re speaking of,” Bucky says haughtily, turning up his nose and fiddling with his phone as it pings with a text notification. Of course, it’s from Wanda, and his cheeks go even pinker. Steve crows in his little victory.

Did you make it home safe? The text reads, and he tries (and fails) to hide a grin.

As safe as I can be when I live with Steve , he returns.

Don’t get in any fights before tomorrow, she texts back. I’m expecting to see my favorite goldfish and his snail at the storefront trick or treating event.

Bubbles and Hermit will be there , he texts.

“Now that you’ve replaced me,” Steve says, sweeping his drafts up into a neat roll and putting them back in their case, startling him from his dopey staring match with the typing bubble on his screen, “I’m just going to go weep myself to sleep.”

“You know I’m with you til the end of the line,” Bucky returns automatically, tilting his head up so Steve can kiss his forehead goodnight on his way down the hall.

“I love you too, you sappy fuck,” he sings, shutting his bedroom door and leaving Bucky all alone with the typing bubble and his thoughts.

Thing Two will be happy to see them , she finally texts. Goodnight, James.

Goodnight, Wanda , he replies, his heart in his throat. It’s almost painful to swallow, his breath caught up, and he leans his head back against the chair, staring at the ceiling for a full minute.

He feels like a little boy back in Basic with a crush on his commanding officer, watching Natasha strangle people with her thighs. He feels like he’s in middle school and he’s trying to win Dottie a plush bear from the school carnival. He feels- surprisingly young, and wonderfully light.

--

In the dream, the sun is shining amber on them, like a late summer afternoon. Everything is pleasantly sleep hazy, the breeze warm, the shade dappled over her creamy skin where her skirt has ridden up to expose her thighs. He blinks once, twice, and then there she is, her smiling face right above his, her fingers pressing a piece of strawberry to his lips.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, or at least he thinks he does. It’s hard to tell. The clouds are like cotton above them, and her hands are like silk on his skin. It’s so peaceful, here, warm and content with her soft weight on him. He doesn’t know how come she’s lying on top of him, or how she got there, but she’s there and she’s feeding him sweet tart strawberries and he can feel her giggling against his ribcage.

She kisses him, lip gloss sticky, grass beneath his head. And suddenly the day isn’t so peaceful, the breeze not so balmy. It’s hot, her thighs splitting around his, her hands in his hair and her teeth on his bottom lip. The crimson tips of her hair brush around his neck, an insistent tickle. From zero to a hundred, from strawberries to his hands up her skirt, his hands are up her skirt- the dream-world spins around him, dizzying itself with that information, with the just out of reach texture of her underwear’s lace trim.

“Wanda,” he breathes, speaking through the thick air of the dream. “Wanda, please-”

“Please?” she asks, leaning back, her fingernails digging into his suddenly bare chest, her legs so warm over his, her ass rocking slightly on his dick which is insisting that this is both real and important. “Please what, James?”

“Kiss me,” he chokes out, groans when she does, groans when the leaves fall on them and the strawberries disappear, leaving nothing but the lush field beneath their bodies.

“Of course,” she murmurs, her thumb gently stroking his jaw, her nose touching his, those brilliant eyes so close, so mesmerizing. “Of course I will.”

He reaches out, desperate to pull her even closer, and-

Wakes up, grasping his pillow, with a hardon the likes of which might break granite and an embarrassed arousal welling up in the pit of his stomach. Oh god, oh fuck, he’s had a fucking wet dream about a girl he danced with once, a girl he has a huge fucking crush on, a girl he walked home and wanted to follow in. Half of his brain says- normal, Bucky, you haven’t gotten laid in eight months. The other half of his brain says- creepy, Bucky, what the hell are you going to say to her when you see her tomorrow?

All of him says- oh shit, man. Steve was fucking right.

With a massive groan, he flops onto his back, grumpily shoving his boxers off. There’s only one way to take care of this, because cold showers can fuck right off. And so, Bucky decides, can Steven Grant Rogers.

--

If there’s one thing Wanda can appreciate, it’s a man who knows how to make a good grilled cheese. This is why she trusts Sam Wilson, to be perfectly honest. Because he does things like this, showing up at one pm on a bleak early November afternoon with a grilled cheese and a steaming cup of tomato bisque. Nobody’s come into the store yet, and it’s likely they won’t get a rush even when school ends, the way the wind is blowing outside.

“For my favorite young entrepreneur,” he says, handing the food across the counter before going to grab a chair from the table so he can sit behind it with her. “Hey, word on the street is that you’ve been macking on an older man, these days.” Wanda groans theatrically, sipping her tomato bisque and pointedly narrowing her eyes at him.

“I don’t think you have much room to talk, sir.” She reaches out to punch his shoulder companionably, unable to keep her disgruntled expression when he just laughs and leans his arm on the counter.

“Well, yeah,” he says smugly, “but in my situation I am the older man, so.” Wanda stifles a snort in her grilled cheese, savoring the hot, salty mixture of Sam’s ‘secret blend’ of cheeses and the sundried tomato pesto he’d put on there, the pieces of crispy pancetta interspersed. And all put together with crusty, butter sourdough.

“What you are, Sam, is a grilled cheese god,” she says. “This is incredible.”

“Thanks,” he reaches a hand out to pat her shoulder gently. “But that doesn’t get you out of explaining why it’s the talk of the Bean that you and the Buckster were making eyes all night at the Halloween party, and sources close to me say you’ve been cosying up to his kid as well.”

“Christ,” Wanda grumbles, taking another bite of her sandwich to stave off speaking for a moment. “One would think you were a therapist, Samuel. Or a gossipy old babushka.”

“Joke’s on you, Da,” Sam says merrily, grabbing a nutter butter from the toppings bar around her other side with one of his freakishly long, built arms. “I’m both. Now spill, what’s the deal with you and the Barnes boys?” She scowls briefly before sighing, setting her food down on the counter.

“James is a kind man,” she says slowly, fiddling with her bracelets. “Funny, as well.”

“And hot as sin, yeah, I know, I’ve been Steve’s workout buddy forever,” Sam waves his hand dismissively, mouth full of cookie. “Tell me something I don’t know- are you guys gonna, you know, go for it?”

“I hardly really know him,” she says. “I mean, I know him, but I don’t know that much.”

“That’s the entire point of dating,” Sam leans in, older brother voice in full force. “To get to know someone, Da.” She laughs in his face a little at the seriousness of his tone, pushing at his shoulder.

“He’s got Sasha,” she says, a weak excuse when it’s so obvious to everyone in a twenty mile radius that she absolutely adores the boy. Sam snorts.

“Oh no,” he says in a gently mocking falsetto. “He’s got a cute-ass kid who thinks I’m amazing, oh no, he’s a hot successful guy who walked me home, oooh, I’m Wanda and what shall I ever do-”

“Oh dear,” she lowers her voice right back, “I’m Samuel Wilson and I’m afraid of how many muscles Steve Rogers has, oh nooo, I’m thirty and I don’t know how to ask someone on a date, I’ve got a popular sandwich shop but I can’t even kiss a cute guy-” Sam cracks up in the middle of his impression, nearly choking on air.

“Fine, fine,” he says. “Hell, you got me right back. I get it, I get it, it’s your business and his business whether y’all ever make good on the promises all that eyefucking’s been making. And don’t tell me you weren’t, Darcy tweeted about it.” He stands up, pushing the chair back as he sees Finn exit Sammich next door and beckon him back with a harried look on his face. “Well, for what it’s worth, I think that whether you go slow or fast about it, you could be good for each other.”

“Sam,” she calls, as he pushes the door open. “Maybe next time, you should skip the run and just keep Steve in bed, hmm?”

“You little shit-” he says, backing out the door with a grin on his face, pointing one finger at her before he turns around to go help Finn with the sudden rush of lunch customers.

That’s a good idea , he texts her ten minutes later.

Same phone, who dis? She texts back, cackling a little and turning the ringer off when the bedraggled few Friday after school kids chatter their way into the store.

See if I put in a good word for you any time soon, Maximoff. His reply is waiting for her when the group of children have left. Watching the familiar neon yellow backpack make its way down the block towards her, Bucky following sedately behind as Sasha waves at her excitedly, she feels the familiar butterflies starting.

I don’t think I’m going to need it , she types, adding on a little winking emoji.

Atta girl.

--

“I hope you realize,” Tony says, swinging his feet like a child from where he sits on the kitchen counter of Pietro and Wanda’s apartment, “now that you all know each other, there’s nothing stopping me from instigating Green Bean Family Gatherings. All caps, Wanda.”

“I’m not sure why you think they haven’t been happening already, Tony,” Wanda says, stirring the stew on the stove, her dangly bracelets clinking together gently. “What else would you call the Trivia nights?”

“Good marketing,” he hops off the counter, leaning in close to smell the pot and then skirting around her towards the fridge. “We’ve had a huge increase in repeat customers since we started running those every Saturday night. But I’m talking, like- like Thanksgiving, you know? Family gatherings where we all bring some kind of food and pretend that Natasha isn’t going to get us all drunk on imported vodka. Bruce falling asleep on the couch, Pietro and Thor fighting over Mario Kart, Darcy and I hacking the DOD, that kind of thing. I mean, we’re going to have to have Thanksgiving together, it’s basically required at this point.”

“I suppose,” she says, after a moment, turning the heat on low and facing him. “I do like them- I love Sasha. It’s been... a while, since I was around many children. And he’s very smart.” Tony looks smug, pointing at her with one victorious finger as he swallows half of a Vitamin Water in one go.

“You think he’s cute.”

“Of course I do,” Wanda rolls her eyes, crossing her arms and watching Tony’s insufferable eyebrow wiggles. This is a terrible repeat of her conversation with Sam the other day. “He’s a five year old, he’s very very sweet, and he thinks I’m pretty.”

“No, you like the older one too. You like Barnes. Oh my god, Bruce,” he calls to the living room, where Pietro and Bruce are discussing some physics article they found online this morning. “Wanda has a crush on Barnes! She likes him! She wants him to come to family game night! She wants to scrabble his board, if you know what I mea-”

“Shut up,” Wanda hisses, threatening the older man with her wooden spoon, a blush threatening to overtake her cheeks. “I can make friends,” she whispers, her accent thickening as she herds him even farther away from the doorway to the living room. “We’re just friends- You and Sam are both such meddlers, I cannot believe-

“Chill, kiddo,” Tony says quietly (as quietly as a man like him can), amused as all get out, his hand resting on hers over the wooden spoon. “I’m just happy, is all. I know you have friends. Just like I know it’s been a very long time since Vis, and just like I know you deserve to be happy.”

“Don’t get all soft on me now,” she leans into his touch for a brief moment before pulling back to stir the stew again, setting a timer for twenty minutes. “I’ll start to think you care for me, or something, Anthony.” He laughs, pressing a beard-scratchy kiss to her cheek on his way out to join Bruce and Pietro in their discussion.

“What gave you that idea, Wanda? Was it the green card, or the start-up capital?”

--

The thing about swings is that they’re undeniably light, something carefree- the blissful remnants of childhood. A pump of the legs, and you’re off, soaring, weightless. There’s a comfort in being held by something you know, for certain, won’t drop you. The swings at the park by the shop are perfect examples, a little bit tarnished but well loved, the seats worn in just right. Wanda never seems to go there during the day. There are always too many children, and it seems wrong to take their space. At night, though, when good little children are asleep in their beds, Wanda can creep out to the playground and watch the fog pass overhead, stars peeking through like holes in a blanket.

Swings are the best place to think about things, she knows. Held above the ground, enough power to nearly fly, sitting in the puddles of amber light from streetlamps humming stolidly above. So when it comes chilly November, when the winds blow wild outside the shop windows, and Sasha brings her a hand-turkey cut out at kindergarten, she bundles herself up in scarves and heads for the park. The leaves don’t change color quite as dramatically as they did in Sokovia, but she loves their colors all the same. They crunch underneath her boots with a similar satisfying snap, anyway. Thanksgiving was never a thing, not in Sokovia. It’s an American holiday, Wanda knows, and though she feels little nostalgia for it, something about it has grown on her the past seven years. She can recall the first Thanksgiving, being the only two students staying in the dorms at the private highschool they’d exchanged with for the year.

“Won’t your parents miss you?” one of their classmates had asked, and Pietro had laughed in that brash and bitter way of his.

“What parents?” he’d said. She had dragged him away before he could keep talking, back to her dorm where they ate the last of the marzipan candies she’d bought from the import store and she let him lay his head in her lap so she could drag her fingers through his soft, bleached hair. The second Thanksgiving was marginally better, because now she was at college here, and Tony had offered to sponsor them after being impressed by their skills at an early Green Bean coding night. Bruce had insisted they come to the Green Bean Thanksgiving, a little gathering of those without family, making family for themselves.

Every year, she’d done it, ignoring the gnawing feeling in her stomach, the soft sense of wrongness. And this year, she would do it again. She was bringing three pies, and they were holding it at the Rogers-Barnes household, and everyone would be there. Sasha would be there. Tony and Bruce. Steve’s mom. Natasha was even bringing her mysterious girlfriend. It would be, most likely, the best Thanksgiving Wanda had ever had. But that didn’t stop the momentary melancholy, the time she needed to get out of the apartment and away from Pietro’s Mario Kart marathon with Thor. The time she needed to sit on the swings and sway in the cold breeze, watching the stars and wondering if, perhaps, they were watching her back. If, maybe, her parents were watching her back. She thinks they would have liked Thanksgiving, were they given the chance. Well, she and Pietro will have to like it enough for the both of them, now.

Wanda is halfway through the sweet memory of her father throwing Pietro up in the air, catching him, feeding him part of a rhubarb tart and smiling wild and free, when she hears the crunching of the gravel path and starts minutely, looking around. There’s a man running up the path, muscular under his dark clothing, and she can tell he’s pacing himself. That he could go faster. He looks- dangerous.

But she is dangerous too.

That’s the thing about growing up in cities where people prowl like wolves- that’s the thing about having a mother who was raised by a soldier and an army nurse. She learned when she was small and young that there are many ways to be more dangerous than you first appear.

“You have to be brave, Vandachka,” her mother Marya would say, grey eyes stern as the sea and mouth set in a horizon line. “You have to be brave, my baby, because one day you won’t be my baby any longer.”

When the man gets closer, though, swimming through her foggy reminiscence, she recognizes him- it’s Bucky, his hood up to hide his distinctive hair and his chin down, earbuds in and feet pounding away at the pavement. He looks up just as she’s on the upswing, her feet flying through the air, and the surprise on his face is evident even in the dim light of the streetlamps.

“Wanda?” he calls through the fog, slowing as he nears her, thumbing his earphones out of his ears and crunching across the tan bark towards her swing. “What are you doing out so late?”

Oh, these men, thinking her so fragile. As though ten pm is late- Pietro won’t be home from closing for another half hour, and even then he’ll probably go out with Thor for some sort of underground scandinavian wrestling tournament. On a good night she’ll maybe go to bed at midnight, but hell, she’s twenty five. Ten pm, late, oh god. This is what having a child must do to you , she thinks.

“Oh, you know,” she hedges, slowing her swinging to a gentle rocking as he comes up before her, shoving his hood back from his head. A single lock of hair, the ever stubborn one that always escapes his messy bun, is slicked against the side of his face with sweat. “Just thinking about things. The internet. Space. Whether Pietro will learn to use a dishwasher correctly.” He laughs, a little rough on the edge of what must be a dry throat from running in this cold. His cheeks are fetchingly pink, eyes bright, glinting with what she might call starlight, but is probably just the reflected lavender of the city’s brilliant glow.

“‘S dangerous out here in the dark,” he says softly, pulling his hands from his hoodie pocket to reach out and grab the chain of one of the other swings. With a practiced move he bends over to briefly stretch out his calf muscles before gingerly sitting down on the swing beside her, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. “I mean, creepy dudes are out here jogging all the time. Take me, for example,” he tilts a lazy grin at her.

“You know, oddly enough,” she says, laughter skirting around her tone, “I’m not all that scared of a man I recently saw wearing a paper pilgrim hat down a city street.”

“Don’t let yourself be deceived,” he murmurs, his voice oddly solemn, hand clenching around clinking swingset chain. She wants to laugh at him for real, then, leaning her swing towards him so she can bump his leg with hers.

“I can take care of myself, James ,” she says, matching his grave expression, raising her eyebrows at him and bumping into his knee again. “I promise.”

“Why, did you take a self defence course in college?” he asks, half joking, half serious. She huffs, the bitter tang of being underestimated sickly on her tongue.

James ,” she says, reaching out to sock him companionably in the shoulder, her hand hitting solid muscle under sweatshirt. “I took more than a self defence course. I know Krav Maga,” she tilts her head in that way that Tony always claims is eerie and very children of the corn. “And I will end you.”

“Christ,” he laughs, his own eyebrows raised, a smirk tugging at his sinfully red mouth. “I believe you, wow. That’s- truly frightening, lisichka. Jeez, I guess I don’t have to worry about you walking Sasha home from school any time soon, do I?”

“Please,” she scoffs, feeling the weight in her chest lighten a little bit at the way he calls her such endearments so easily. Lisichka, little fox, sitting out here under the moon waiting for Red Riding Hoodie to come jogging down the path. She has to stifle an unflattering chuckle. “Sasha would take them out with the sheer force of his charm, first.” He hums, leaning back and pushing off the ground gently, letting his weight carry him back and forth for a moment.

“So how did you learn krav maga, then,” he asks, after a few minutes of comfortable silence, slanting his gaze towards where she’s drawing patterns in the tan bark with the toe of her boot.

“A paranoid mother,” she says, breath crystallizing like the fog in the crisp air. “A dangerous country.” He hums again, kicking at the bark beneath them.

“I learned it because Steve always gets in fights,” he says, scraping his heel against the ground to stop the swing, turning in it slightly to face her. “You know he got me suspended from school three times in one semester just because he couldn’t stop picking fights with the football team?”

“No,” she laughs, a mix between appalled and confused. “Steve? But- he’s so- he always tells Sasha no fighting, no hitting, no violence.” Bucky snorts heavily, reaching out a hand and laying it over hers on the chain of her swing. It makes everything seem closer around them, like they’re commiserating about something, like it’s just the two of them in a frosted globe of fog, the stars shining brightly down when the clouds pick up speed above them.

“Let me tell you something, Red,” he huffs, leaning in like it’s a secret. “Steven Grant Rogers is the biggest pacifist hypocrite this side of the Rocky Mountains, because I got my face punched in for that punk more times than I have fingers and toes to count. It’s a wonder they ever let me into the service ‘cause I must have gotten more marks on my permanent record from that boy alone than the entire rest of my squadron had, ever.”

“I’m shocked that they ever let a miscreant like you in,” she says dryly, unconsciously leaning back towards him. “I mean, with all those languages you speak and your excellent SAT scores. It’s a wonder.” She’s not cold, per se, but Bucky’s presence burns bright like a fire beside her, and it’s hard not to gravitate towards it. He laughs back at her, a brilliant bell ringing through the quiet field.

By the time he’s uncramping his legs and standing up, it’s almost midnight, and they’ve been out talking for two hours. Pietro hasn’t texted her yet, which she takes to mean that he did join Thor for the Swedish equivalent of Fight Club, or whatever they call it. Fight Kluben. There’s a knot twisting in her stomach, churning it up a little, when he reaches his hand out to help her up from the creaking seat. Because Wanda doesn’t really want to go home- to part ways, to stop talking. To not hear the end of the story of how Bucky once dyed his sister Becky’s hair purple, how he regretted not saying sorry for it when he’d gotten the call. To hear the story of how it felt to hold Sasha for the first time in the hospital beside his weeping mother, almost a year after the boy had been born, because he’d been deployed the whole time translating in some redacted country.

The way Steve picked Bucky up from the airport, with blue drafting ink still on his hands, a baby car seat already in the back seat of his ridiculous old man Prius.

She wants to hear it all, the same way he asked her question after question of how she ended up here, how she hacked Tony’s server, how he sat her down and offered her a chance at a new life far away from all the shadows of her and Pietro’s past.

But she takes his hand instead, lets him pull her up and, for a brief and precious moment, into the warm bulk of his frame. They hang, suspended, for the smallest of seconds, eyes locking and breath fogging between their mouths, before he’s clearing his throat and stepping back, winding up his earphones into his pocket and offering to walk her home. It’s just like the night of the Halloween party, tension strung between them like the honeyed strain of a cello’s bow.

“I know you could end me,” he says, smiling at her with all the warmth of a Southern California sun. “Lord knows what that means- I don’t want to find out, thanks- but would you mind if I walk you to the shop? I mean, it’s the most direct path back to the house for me anyway.” She pretends to think of it for a second, like she isn’t totally enamored of this strange, funny, precious man that’s somehow landed right here with her, when the swings of life stopped their swinging for just a moment. Like she hadn’t let him walk her home from the party a few weeks ago. Like she wouldn’t let him do nearly anything he wanted.

“Sure,” she says, shrugging her jacket all the way on and shoving her hands into her pockets before she does something stupid, like reach out for one of his. “I mean, someone must protect you from the dangerous streets.”

His laughter echoes through her dreams all night, and, though she’d previously thought of the swings as her place, and her place alone, she finds herself wondering whether they might, perhaps, benefit from finally not being so alone anymore.

Chapter Text

Thanksgiving comes before she’s ready, the days after the swingset speeding past her in a blur of making pie doughs, shopping for canned pumpkin, and snatching up the last of the lemons from the organic grocer the Tuesday before. There are pine nuts to roast, and honey from the farmer’s market to boil (because sure, Sasha isn’t a baby, but Wanda isn’t taking any risks.) Before she knows it, it’s Wednesday and Tony’s rapping excitedly on the glass as she sets up the cold toppings in the store.

“Are you ready for it?” he asks as she lets him in, pulling her into a rough hug before sliding in past her and turning in an energetic little circle. “I’m ready, I’m amped up, let’s go, our first big family Thanksgiving with the smallest bean.” Wanda rolls her eyes, but she can’t help smiling- she’s just excited to see Sasha as the rest of them. And, well. His father, too.

“It will be nice to have a larger Thanksgiving this year,” she turns the sign from closed to open, flicking on the agitator switches of the yogurt machines one by one. “And it will be especially nice to have someone other than Pietro cook the turkey, because I believe the fire department appreciates the day off.” Tony snorts, hopping up onto the counter (he’s always doing that, hopping up on things or leaning in ridiculous ways.

“Pepper certainly seems confident she’ll be able to do a better job than the char master,” he kicks one foot out, fiddling with the spoons in their dispenser racks. “And I assume you talked to her about who’s bringing what?”

“Pietro and I will bring three pies, you and Pepper are bringing the turkey, Bruce has the green bean casserole, Sam is on mashed potato duty, Darcy on sweet potato duty, Jane and Thor will bring appetizers, Natasha will bring something that is not pizza as well as her not so secret girlfriend, Steve and his mother are going to make the stuffing, and Bucky and his mother are going to make sauce and salad,” Wanda lists off dutifully. Tony nods, beaming, clapping his hands together like the child he really is.

“Perfect, exactly, you read Pepper’s email, which is more than I can say for certain Air Force colonels who don’t respond to texts, no shade, of course,” he rambles, hopping down from the counter and flicking her a sloppy salute. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the Rogers-Barnes residence at three pm sharp, kiddo. Steve is instituting a no technology at the table rule, so prepare to have to actually speak to people.”

“I speak to people,” she says mildly, shooing him out the door. “I’m not the problem child, Anthony.”

“You know, you say that,” he shoots over his shoulder as he walks towards his own shop. “But I don’t think you believe it.”

--

So maybe she is the problem child, because Wednesday evening finds her eating a bowl of french onion soup that Sam pressed into her hands on her way up the stairs back to the apartment, and unsuccessfully attempting to figure out the best way to bring it up to Bucky that she would like to, probably, kiss him. More than probably. There’s a 99% chance that she would kiss him, the 1% margin being the unreliability and inconstancy of the universe. She should be rolling out pie crusts and blind baking them for her pies, but she’s not. She’s staring out the window like the heroine in a victorian novel, pining after her lover away to war, and imagining a world in which she’s brave enough to just march into the house and sit directly on James Buchanan Barnes’ lap.

He’d told her a story, out on the swings, that had stuck with her. Of the fourth time she’d seen Sasha, when she’d used her paltry knowledge of party tricks to pull of quarter out of his ear, and make him smile.

“He came home with Steve from the shop,” Bucky had said, swinging gently back and forth and staring up at the blinking stars. “And he was enamored. Just absolutely starstruck. He said to me, did you know Wanda from the yogurt place is a witch?” He’d laughed, looking at her with a fond, faraway grin on his face. “He was really quick to clarify that you’re a good witch, like Glinda, or Hermione. And he said, do you think that’s why she’s so pretty and her yogurt is so good? I was amazed, you know, because he’s not exactly a shy kid but he’s never latched on to someone so fast.”

“If he thinks that’s magic,” Wanda had said, because she didn’t know what else to say, “wait until he sees the trick where I make a gummy worm disappear.”

“He knew, right away,” Bucky said, eyes serious and grey. “That you were good. And I’m really glad that we finally met, because it makes him so happy that you listen to him, that you have that silly hand-turkey and his drawings on the board, that you’ll stop and walk with us to school. You don’t have to, but you do, and I just...” He’d sighed, bowing his head, a small smile soft on his lips.

“I want to,” Wanda had murmured. “It’s been a long time since someone has looked at me and just- taken to me, right then and there. Maybe Tony was the last person to do it, really. And the first. Sasha is a special child.”

“He is,” Bucky’s proud expression made her chest clench a little. “ But you’re special too, and not just because you’re the only good witch I know who runs a frozen yogurt shop.”

Wanda sits at her kitchen table, peeling strings of gruyere from her spoon and eating them, and wondering if, perhaps, she has the guts to be what Sasha thinks she is. A good witch, the kind whose magic might give her the bravery to reach a hand out and try for something happy, for once. For something more than just the gratefulness of existing, here, with her friends and her found family. It’s been two long years since Vis had gone, a cold and clinical closure to their relationship leaving her shivering. Two long years of casual kisses among friends at the coding parties, or drunken nights when Thor takes over the big exchange house and throws a truly epic rager.

In the same way that she had decided, the night of the swing sets, that it might be time to be something other than alone, she decides- it’s time be something more than a girl behind a glass storefront wall, coding and running her business, laughing with her friends, never reaching for more. It’s time to be brave, because this man, this man and his beautiful child, are worth reaching for.

Wanda gets out the rolling pin, and she bakes.

--

Bucky’s nervous- there’s no other word for it. He’s had three Thanksgivings with Sasha now, and this is the fourth. It’s the largest. It’s so many people, including his mother, and while Bucky doesn’t worry that Sasha will be overwhelmed, he does worry that he might be. The gravy has to be perfect, the cranberry sauce isn’t congealing right and it’s giving him heartburn, and his mother is hovering over his shoulder three hours before she said she’d arrive.

“I want to see my grandbaby,” Winifred had said when she’d arrived on the stoop at noon, dressed sharply in her pressed khakis and flats, her lilac blouse and immaculate matching cardigan, big pearls hanging from her neck. “Happy Thanksgiving, Steven,” she’s said like a passing afterthought as she swept through the door and directly on towards Sasha’s room. Now, though, Sasha is decorating the dining room with a handmade paper chain and all the fall leaves he’s been cutting out with Steve from their stash of construction paper, so Winifred is free to backseat-cook the way she always used to when Bucky was learning at her knee.

Sarah is sitting at the dining table with Steve, drinking tea and keeping an eye on the little one- Winifred is doing the equivalent of that in the kitchen, tutting at the approximate level of Bucky’s collarbone over the lack of pectin in their cranberry sauce and the lack of romance in Bucky’s life.

“I just don’t understand,” she says, stirring the bubbling crimson berries. Bucky groans internally, whisking furiously at his gravy to make sure there are no cornstarch lumps.

“Well,” he clears his throat, shoulder joint creaking a little with the effort. “When you don’t have something to gel the sauce, it won’t thicken-”

“James Buchanan,” she says, elbowing him directly in the hip. Lord, his mother’s far shorter than him, but she throws her weight around very effectively. “I mean I just don’t understand why you haven’t found somebody nice to keep around for more than a night.” He practically chokes on air at that, his own mother suggesting anything related to one night stands more than his lungs can apparently take.

“I’ve got plenty of love in my life, just not anyone I’m dating,” he says, after he manages to regain normal breathing functions. “I don’t need romance to be happy, Mama.” She frowns at him, patting his shoulder gently and turning off the heat on the burner.

“I know when my baby looks lonely,” Winifred hugs him from the side, her surprisingly strong arms crushing his rib cage a little bit. “And I would think that by now you’d understand what it’s like to have a son who you just want to be taken care of and loved.”

“Don’t worry, Winnie,” Steve says from behind them, carrying two empty tea cups back into the kitchen and setting them gently in the sink. “I’ve got my eye on someone for Buck, we’ll set him up.” Winifred beams, reaching across the island towards the blonde, who obligingly leans down so she can pat his cheek happily.

“See, this is why Steven is good for you,” she tells Bucky, who rolls his eyes behind her back the way he used to when they were thirteen and Winifred was telling him this after Steve had gotten him in some fight or another but still somehow managed to be the angel of the situation.

“Now that we’ve established that I won’t die a lonely spinster,” he says, pushing the cranberry sauce to the back burner and turning on the pot to melt the butter Steve needs for stuffing, “we can focus on something far more important- everyone is showing up in forty minutes, so we need your motherly organizational skills to help us rearrange our fridge. There are so many chocolate milk cartons in there that I’m not sure all the food will fit when everyone gets here.” Winifred rolls up her cardigan sleeves with a gleeful grin on her face, the smile he remembers from when she’d declare it a Becky and Bucky room cleaning day. Their younger sisters, May and Tamar, who shared a room that was mysteriously far less cluttered than either of the two older siblings’ rooms, would look on with a vicious sort of schadenfreude.

It’s bittersweet, that neither May nor Tamar can make it out from college this Thanksgiving, but they’ll be home for Hannukah and Christmas, so he supposes there are worse days to miss. It’s mostly just that Bucky’s a little antsy, because he wants everything to be perfect, and when he thinks of something perfect he imagines everyone he loves will be there. He’s lucky that Natasha and Clint are on a sixth month period of mandatory leave, because the Howlies can’t come around either, out on mission in some mysterious location. He just needs things like this to be solid, stable, warm.

He needs things to be the kind of all enveloping loving upbringing Rebecca and David would have wanted for Sasha. So, yeah, he’s a little nervous, and it’s not just because his gravy is looking a tad bit lumpy and his cranberry sauce is more of a syrup than a spoonable jam. It’s not because he doesn’t have a girlfriend (although there’s certainly a girl that he’d like to kiss underneath the Thanksgiving garland, not that he’d mention that to his mother.) It’s because there’s a little boy chattering away to Sarah Rogers in the dining room, taping jagged construction paper leaves to the walls, and for four years now, all Bucky has wanted is to give him the world.

--

“Now, Steven,” Wanda can hear someone saying inside as she pauses on the doorstep, pie in hand. Pietro had already come over, fifteen minutes ahead of her, so it’s just her, bundled up in a red peacoat and huddling with the pie for warmth. “I love you, dear, I really do, but you do beat around the bush, and, well, James tells me there’s this boy, and I know he’s coming to Thanksgiving, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you I can see right through you. You were always like this in school-” and the door swings open, a highly amused Natasha standing behind it stifling a laugh in her fist and gesturing Wanda inside silently.

“Just ask the boy out, Steven,” the voice continues, growing louder and more fondly exasperated. Wanda steps inside quietly, peering around the corner of the hallway to see a steadily blushing Steve sitting on the couch, trapped by a small woman with greying hair wearing a lovely lilac sweater. “You’re a handsome, smart, strong boy with a good career, what kind of man wouldn’t say yes to this?” The woman leans over, kissing Steve on the cheek and patting the mauve lipstick stain off as she steps back.

“She’s been going around to everyone asking after their love lives, and I think I’m the only one who’s passed the test so far,” Natasha says lowly in Wanda’s ear, leaning in from behind her. “That’s Bucky’s mom, Winnie- one time when we were out on deployment she called my personal phone, lord knows how she got the number, to ask me if I was feeding Bucky right. In the middle of ass-fucking-nowhere wheat fields in the Ukraine.”  Wanda has to stifle her own laugh, but she doesn’t do it well enough apparently because before Steve can even respond to Winifred’s tangent, the woman is whirling around with a look of glee on her face and Natasha, the absolute traitor, is suddenly gone, like a gust of wind.

“And who is this, Steven?” She asks, her arms flung wide open, pearls clinking a little and a warm smile overtaking her still perfectly lipsticked mouth.

“This is Wanda, Winnie,” Steve says, looking absurdly grateful that she’s here to deflect the attention. “Wanda, this is Bucky’s mom, Winifred.” Winifred’s eyes light up even further, her eyebrows raising so high Wanda isn’t entirely sure they won’t be lost to her hairline, and she bustles forward with sudden intent, enveloping Wanda in an enormous hug for someone so small.

“Wanda!” she says, practically shouts, stepping back and holding Wanda’s arms in her surprisingly strong hands. “This is Wanda? You didn’t tell me she was so beautiful! And lovely!” Wanda blushes immediately, turning about as red as her peacoat- she can see why Steve was brick-colored when she arrived, because the amount of intense attention Winifred puts out is overwhelming.

“I did too,” Steve says, laughing, making a face at Wanda over Winifred’s head. The older woman looks her up and down appraisingly before letting go of one of her arms, all but dragging her kindly behind as she makes her way down the hall towards the kitchen. Steve snatches the pie from Wanda’s hand before it can be lost to the patented Winifred Barnes hustle, and follows behind.

“Wanda’s here,” Winifred says loudly as she enters the kitchen, staring pointedly at her son, who flinches almost imperceptibly and promptly drops the container of margarine on the floor. “Why don’t our sons ever share these delightful young women with us, Sarah?” She says, turning to Steve’s mother who’s sitting with a cup of tea at the kitchen table, folding napkins. “It’s always such a boy’s club over here, I swear, and you have all these wonderful women you’re always hiding away from us, it’s like you want Sasha to grow up in a pile of army men.”

“Mother,” Bucky says, his tone pained, “My friends have very busy lives, and Sasha gets plenty of female interaction.” He turns around, flinching yet again as he realizes that the tub of margarine has cracked, and offers a wry wave to Wanda. “Hey, Red,” he says. “Sorry about my mother, she’s just high on maternal fumes from spending all afternoon playing with Sasha.”

“Don’t apologize for her,” Wanda says, setting her hand carefully on Winifred’s miniscule shoulder. “She’s wonderful, very welcoming. And she smells better than you sweaty lot of boys, to boot.” Winifred practically crows with victory, beaming up at Wanda and then hustling away again when she hears the doorbell ring. It must be Sam, and Wanda is certain that he’s the fine young man Winifred was speaking to Steve about earlier. She takes off her peacoat, left reeling a little in the aftermath of Hurricane Winifred, and sets it down on the back of a kitchen chair, leaning across the table to kiss Sarah on the cheek. Bucky throws a single green pea at her, bouncing it off her shoulder.

“Don’t encourage her,” he says, pointing a stern finger at her across the kitchen counter. “She’s been menacing everyone about their lives all afternoon. Earlier she declared Natasha her favorite, just because she and Sharon are in a stable relationship.”

“Natasha is everyone’s favorite,” Wanda says innocently, picking up the pea and throwing it back, nailing Bucky directly in the chest. He rolls his eyes at her, swiping it off the counter before it can roll off and popping it in his mouth.

“Just wait until you get the ‘where’s your life partner’ talk, Maximoff,” he says, stirring the pot on the stove briefly before turning to the fridge. “Then you’ll be singing a different, much less adoring tune.” Wanda opens her mouth to respond, but the thundering of tiny feet and a growing screech interrupts her.

“Waaaaaaaaanda!” Sasha yells, skidding through the doorway with Pietro and Thor hot on his heels, his arms raised in an adorable parallel of his grandmother earlier. “You’re here! You came! Pietro said you would but I was worried you might forget!” He slides across the wood floor on tiny red and blue socks, slipping directly into her lap and hugging her ferociously. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he says, muffled in the fabric of her blouse, his little arms tight around her. Wanda’s chest does a twisty little clench, like the squeeze of a fist around her lungs, and she bends down to kiss Sasha’s forehead once, twice, three times.

“How could I forget Thanksgiving dinner with my favorite boy?” she says, a funny choking noise coming from across the kitchen followed by the clatter of the margarine tub crashing down yet again. Sasha hums happily, letting her go and clambering up on the chair next to her.

“You could not,” he says smugly, reaching across to hold her hand. “Have you seen my grandma? Not Nan, my other one, my bubbe- she’s fun, I love her, she’s beautiful just like you-” Across the table, Sarah laughs into her cup of tea, setting it down with a gentle clink.

“Let Wanda breathe, my love Alexander,” she says, her faintly lilting hint of an accent peeking through. “She’s just met your bubbe, she’s hardly been here a moment before you came crashing in.”

“Nan,” Sasha says, exasperation in his high pitched voice. “Wanda can breathe just fine when I’m talking, it’s me who can’t breathe.”

“It’s Buck who can’t breathe,” Sam’s teasing voice comes from the kitchen door, accompanied by a quick and quelling glare from Bucky where he’s mopping up the last shards of plastic and melted margarine. Sam holds his hands up in mock innocence, undoing his scarf and setting it across Wanda’s coat. “Because you’ve got so much on your hands, I mean, of course.”

“Of course,” Bucky says murderously, shaking a wooden spoon menacingly when Sam tries to snag a bite of the stuffing from across the counter, coming further into the room. “Why don’t you help me with all this stuff I have on my hands, then, Samuel? We need to move dishes onto the table so Pepper and Tony have room for the turkey when they get here.”

“You’re worse than my mama,” Sam grumbles good naturedly, but he takes the stacks of dishes off the sideboard and starts ferrying them into the dining room.

Sasha has been learning about Thanksgiving from school (and from Darcy, who gave him the less than appropriate for a five year old ‘woke Thanksgiving’ talk, which Bucky promptly had to censor for extreme violence), so he makes all of them hold hands when they finally get the whole group set up around the table with all of the food.

“Now we each say something we love, and then we can eat pie,” Sasha says, very solemnly, and Bucky struggles to stifle his laugh when Wanda catches his eye with her face schooled as serious as it will go, wiggling her eyebrows at him dramatically.

“I’ll start,” Thor booms, letting go of Jane’s hand to raise his glass of mysteriously dark ale. “I am grateful for this family, though they are not mine by blood, for giving me a home and bringing me to my lovely Jane.”

It only gets more sentimental from there- and if Tony wipes a few tears away from his eyes by the time Pepper is speaking on how much she’s loved getting to bring each and every one of them into the “Green Bean family”, Wanda won’t mention it.

--

Bucky’s going to die- he’s going to perish right here, right now, sinking through the floor and into oblivion. The gods can’t seem to give him half a break today, because ever since his mother’s arrived it’s been love this and love that and Wanda darling. Steve has been fanning the fire, Sam has been mocking him subtly, Natasha and Sharon just look smug, Sarah is calm but knowing, and Winifred- well. Anyways. Tony and Pepper are gleeful, Bruce is firmly staying out of the conflict, and Wanda is just. Sitting on the sofa with Sasha, listening to him babble on and on about the floats in the Macy’s parade on television. Or at least she was, and that meant he was safely ensconced in the kitchen, away from his massive looming crush and all of the people who wouldn’t hesitate to blow his cover. But then there’s soft footsteps and she’s coming around the corner, and. Fuck.

“I thought I’d whip up the cream for the pies,” she says, smiling at him a little wine tipsy with those beautiful rosy apple cheeks. “Tony and Pepper have to head home soon, they’re going to call her parents on Skype.”

“Of course,” he says, sounding a million miles away from inside his own head. Don’t watch her every move like a creep, Barnes , he reminds himself, turning back to the row of Sarah’s tupperware he’s using to portion out leftovers for everyone.

“I loved the cranberry sauce,” she says softly from far closer to him than he had anticipated, reaching past him to grab a whisk. He freezes for a second, her warmth all along the side of him, a wistful domestic ache taking up space in his chest. She’s got the cream in a bowl, whisking it vigorously with seemingly no effort, concentrating on not spilling any and glancing up to smile at him as he turns to look at her. Fuck, he thinks, taking in the way the tip of her tongue just peeks out of her mouth, concentration screwing up the lines of her face.

“I’m glad,” he says, belatedly. “It, uh, it didn’t gel quite right, but I think it tasted okay.”

“It tasted wonderful,” she says, her voice lilting a little on the edge of a soft grunt as she huffs down at the whipped cream slowly forming soft peaks in the bowl. The light of the kitchen is warm where it slants down, a hazy halo around her. Bucky might be getting tunnel vision from staring at her, but hell, at least she’s still in focus.

“James?” he shakes his head, coming back a little from his dazed out haze of ‘oh god this pretty girl is right here in front of me.’ “James, are you okay?”

“I’m good,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, leaning against the counter and watching her partition sugar carefully into the nearly-whipped cream. “Just a little tired. Been up too long cooking, you know?”

“It was perfect,” Wanda says, looking up at him with those exceedingly sharp eyes, sharper than they ought to be for the amount of wine she’d drunk.

“Well, the cranberry sauce-” Wanda huffs, setting the bowl down with a final stir of the whisk and rounding the counter to rest her hand on his shoulder, stopping him mid sentence.

“You know full well no one is talking about the cranberry sauce- I am not talking about the cranberry sauce ,” she gazes up at him, that wavy hair falling so gently around her face, looking right through his tired shell. “Sasha is happy,” she says quietly, her fingers curling around the edge of his arm. “Everyone is happy, and that is because you helped us have a family Thanksgiving together in your lovely home. Let yourself have that small joy, James.” He sighs, bowing his head a little, a grin tugging at the edge of his mouth.

“I’m beginning to think Sasha is right,” Bucky says, letting his hand fall on the counter behind her. “And you are a witch. Because you always seem to read my mind, Red.”

“I guess you’re lucky I only use my powers for good, then,” She smiles at him, her warmth-pink nose scrunching up a little, and he just-

Cups his hand around her jaw and leans in, presses the tip of his nose against hers and slides them, his lips brushing hers so carefully, so gently. She lets out a small breath, presses into him, her fingers grasping his sweater tighter. It’s the easiest thing in the world to step forward, to press her against the counter and open his mouth against hers, kiss her deeper. It’s the easiest thing in the world to close his eyes and sink against this woman, with her warm hands and her vanilla-cinnamon perfume and the memory of the way she says his name so softly, like she’s giving him a place to land.

They press their foreheads together, breathing slightly heavier and looking at each other in the warm light of the kitchen, limbs overlapping, and she giggles- honest to god giggles, her chest shaking against his.

“You have a little-” she reaches up, wipes her thumb across his lower lip, coming away with a faint smudge of her scarlet lipstick. “There, all better.”

“I’m kind of hoping to get more of that on there, actually,” he says, his voice gone all gravelly and content, and they’re both grinning as he swoops in to kiss her once, twice, a few more times. It’s a minute, or five- god, who even cares anymore- before they part again, and Wanda wiggles her way out from between him and the counter to grab the whipped cream.

“Someone’s going to get an eyeful,” she says, her cheeks noticeably redder than just wine would make them, and he groans a little childishly. She just laughs back at him over her shoulder, picking up the bowl and carrying it out to the dining room table. He’s studiously wiping lipstick off his mouth with a wet paper towel when he catches a glimpse of something red in the kitchen window behind him and whirls around, only to find Natasha standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and the smuggest smirk known to woman on her face.

“Oh, someone got an eyeful,” she says, matching Wanda’s swinging accent perfectly. “Don’t you know better than to keep secrets from spies, Yasha?”

“Don’t you dare, Romanova-” he says in Russian, pointing a menacing finger at her, his stomach fluttering a little bit. The way Natasha has always made it, because he trusts her, he does, but she’s dangerous when she wants to be and he can never quite tell what she wants. She plays rooms like a marionette master, slipping hints into conversations and if she thought everyone should know about what he’s just done with Wanda (he doesn’t even know what he’s just done with Wanda, really) then they would, and soon.

“Breathe, medvezhonok,” she says, waving a hand airily and stepping into the kitchen, matching him in her native tongue. “I’m not going to tell anyone. I’m happy for you, Yasha. She’s the most trustworthy, the most worthy in general, of any of the women you’ve consorted with since I’ve known you.”

“I consorted with you , Nataschenka,” he says dryly, rolling his shoulders back and relaxing a little. Because she sells lies, does it for a living, but she made it a policy long ago that she would never lie to him in his home, and he knows she’ll keep it.

“Exactly,” she laughs, waving that hand again. “But her- she’s good for you. Keep her around. Don’t mess this one up, Yasha.”

“I don’t even know what there is to mess up,” he says honestly, leaning forward a little on the counter.

“Then you know where to begin, do you not?”

And then she leaves, since that’s what Natasha is most talented at, out of all her incredible skills: blowing Bucky’s mind and then disappearing into the shadows. He hears Sharon laughing in the hallway, knows Natasha must have known her girlfriend was coming and surprised her with a smiling mouth and secrets spilling through her veins. She won’t tell anyone, or they would all already know his little secret. But now he’s got more to think about, feet firmly back on the ground. He can hear Wanda as well, laughing with Sasha about something in the dining room. Pietro and Thor are bickering about something on the video game system, while Steve and Sam throw in a comment here or there. Darcy, Jane, Pepper, Tony, and Bruce have surrounded the two grandmothers at the fireplace, and their low murmur is a comforting tide in the background.

A good three quarters of his family, his people, are here with him, and Natasha’s words are ringing in his head, louder and louder with each repetition.

You know where to begin, do you not?

He hasn’t dated anyone seriously since Sasha. It hasn’t really been an option, because every ounce of his being was focused on making sure Sasha never wanted for anything, at any time. Steve hasn’t either, though Bucky is pretty sure he’ll soon take the plunge with Sam, given the way the two of them are circling around each other. He knows his mother worries, he knows his friends worry, he knows that even, sometimes, Sasha worries. Telling Steve that he hopes Papa will find someone to love, the way his mother loved his father, the way Sarah loved Joseph, the way Winifred loved George- the way, funnily enough, Sasha said the Beast loved Belle.

And now it’s been almost five years since he’s done more than flirt with a girl he knows he’ll never see again, a boy he knows he’ll never text again, and, well, Bucky doesn’t think he knows how to go about these things properly anymore. Natasha has a lot of confidence in a broken man surviving in a shell of responsibility, pulled to a life raft by friendships but clueless in the face of romantic possibility. He still screams at night sometimes, waking up with Steve holding him tight. He still jumps at firecrackers on the Fourth and on New Years. He still hates the way the ocean looks from the Golden Gate bridge, an unfathomable depth beneath him, like he’s falling all over again. Bucky’s spent the entire time thinking that if he could just make sure that Sasha grew up loved, if he could just make sure that he didn’t let Rebecca down, then maybe the nightmares would go away and he could find someone who wouldn’t mind a few cracks and bumps and replaced parts from the original model.

Maybe that’s what Natasha means- he doesn’t have to duct tape over the things that make him cringe in the mirror. He’s spent a lot of time thinking he was waiting for it to get better, but maybe he doesn’t need to keep waiting- maybe it only gets better if he faces the waves and jumps. Or maybe he doesn’t have to jump at all, because it seems like it’s just pure, incredible luck that he’s met a girl with a magic broomstick, a witch who’s found him up on his cliff and seems content to stay there with him.

He knows where to begin- he knows who to begin with.

Bucky’s just not quite sure he’s brave enough to.

--

Wanda will, most probably, not eat another bite of food for a week after this. She’s absolutely, entirely stuffed to the brim- and she blames the very small boy curled up on the couch between her and Steve, and the very smug woman who’d kissed her cheek on the way out the door and winked somewhat confusingly at her. She’s usually so aware of what she’s eating, but tonight with Sasha talking excitedly at her she hadn’t even noticed that Winnie was piling more food on her plate every time she looked away. She and Steve are basking in the warmth of the fire while Sasha slumbers on the couch, worn out from the excitement of the day. Sam and Bucky are in the kitchen packing away the last of the dishes and helping Sarah with her coat so she can go up to the little apartment unit they’ve divided the upper half of the house into for her. Everyone else had left earlier, including Pietro, who’d swooped in to hug her around the shoulders and let her know he was sleeping over at Thor and Jane’s. Sasha mumbles in his sleep, stretching out to grasp the edge of Steve’s sweater in one miniscule fist. Steve sighs, rubbing the boy’s back gently in absent little circles.

“Too much fire in the hearth burns the logs before the night is over,” Wanda says, something her mother used to tut at them when Pietro would run like the wind and then abruptly crash asleep on the living room rug. Steve laughs, blinking a tad sleepily. “Such a sweet boy,” she murmurs, without a thought, her own hand smoothing briefly over the hair on his warm little forehead.

“It hasn’t been very easy for him,” Steve says softly after a moment, one hand on the back of his neck and the other resting carefully on Sasha’s back, rising slowly with the breaths of deep sleep. “He was only a year old when Becky and David got in the crash. And our moms, they try so hard, but they’re both getting older. But Sasha is resilient. He’s strong. And Bucky does his absolute best to make sure he always knows we love him very much.” Wanda swallows the lump in her throat, her eyes fogging briefly with times past- with holding Pietro and telling him, over and over again, how much she loved him. With the first time Tony hugged them, told them to hand the fruit basket off to Bruce, told them to sit down in his favorite armchair and talk to him about what they wanted to do with their lives. Remembers how it felt to finally, after all these years, feel like she had a home again.

“You all love him so much,” she says, with more feeling than she’d intended, her hand coming up to join Steve’s over Sasha’s tiny ribcage. “That’s all he needs to know his home is with you.”

This is, of course, when Sam chooses to come in, stumbling over Sasha’s stuffed elephant in the doorway and promptly stepping directly on a lego. Between pained hisses and the stifled giggles of both her and Steve, he manages to glare at them with the practiced virulence of a long suffering responsible older sibling.

“Do you need a ride home, Wanda?” he grits out, holding his foot with one hand and turning his glare on Steve. “Because Steven here would love to drive you home, really. Just love it.”

“I’ll walk her,” Bucky says, sticking his head through the doorway, shaking his hair out of his eyes. “It’s only two blocks, and I gotta burn off some of that pie before I explode.” She tries her best not to laugh at the way he’s blinking hair out of his tired eyes. Sam rolls his eyes at the both of them, kicking a lego victoriously out of the way and flopping down in the armchair across from Steve.

“Fine, go stumble around in the fog for all I care,” he grumbles. Wanda bends down to drop a kiss on the crown of his head as she passes him on her way towards the hallway, grabbing her coat off the pile of outerwear that had moved from the dining room to the shoe bench by the front door. She laughs outright when, just before Bucky closes the door behind them, Sam whisper-shouts, “Be safe!” from inside.

“Nothing is safer for a witch and a spy than the darkness of midnight,” she says melodramatically, buttoning up the last buttons of her coat and tightening the belt to keep out the chill wind. “At least, for them. Perhaps not for the other people on the street.”

“Yeah, we’re real dangerous,” Bucky laughs, the planes of his face illuminated starkly in the fluorescent buzz of the streetlamps. “Trouble walks the mean streets of San Francisco tonight, Maximoff.” She hums in agreement, spinning around to walk backwards down a straight stretch of pavement, looking up at him with those dark, sharp eyes.

You are trouble, Barnes,” she says, half seriousness and half fondness, the wind blowing her hair out behind her. “Look at those eyes,” she teases, poking at his shoulder. “Sam was right, you are hot as sin. I’m sure you could convince anyone to tell you anything. That’s why Natasha hired you, isn’t it?”

“You been talking about me with Sam, Red?” he asks, getting right to the offhand phrase, the thing she’d let slip out that she now regrets, just a little bit.

He kissed you in his kitchen, Maximoff , she tells herself, clenching her hands a little in her pockets. He won’t care that you’ve been staring at his ass.

“Maybe,” she says lightly, trapping the butterflies firmly in her throat, never letting them. “Perhaps we’ve been gossiping about this man who’s been hanging around my shop, looks like an old railroad rider with his long hair, always tailing after this exceedingly good looking blonde and an adorable little child-”

“I don’t look like a hobo,” he says, mock affront in his tone, his hand reaching out to poke her shoulder back. “And I wouldn’t call Steve exceedingly good looking, maybe handsome in the right light-”

“Don’t go telling lies that would sour in the mouths of demons, James,” she laughs, leaning into him, spinning around to walk side by side again. “Steve is practically a model and those of us with eyes all know it.”

“Why didn’t you kiss him , then?” he asks, blurting it out before he can stop himself, a little vine of insecurity writhing in his ribcage. An unfamiliar root of jealousy, digging through his lungs. She gives him the most disbelieving look she can muster, furrowing her brows and reaching out to trail her finger along the edge of his jaw as they pause, waiting for a street light to change.

“I’m certain I kissed the right man,” she murmurs, letting her hand fall to take his. “Witches have perfect aim, James.” Seemingly mollified, he lets her lead him across the street, the two of them falling into step again as they reach her block and she rifles through her purse for her keys. He follows her up the stairs again, just like he did last time- just like he does every time he walks her home, from the park or from the Green Bean. “Would you like a cup of coffee before you have to brave the cold again?” she turns to him, the door halfway open in invitation as she steps over the threshold. He glances down at his phone- one new text from Sam.

I’m not saying don’t come home, it says, with a winking emoji in the middle. But you might want to walk a little slower.

There’s another one from Steve- this is your sock on the door, pal.

“Yeah, you know what? I would,” he says, following her in and locking the door behind them. Pietro and Wanda’s apartment is more spacious than it looks on the outside (more magic, he’s certain- Bucky’s seen the Goblet of Fire, he knows how this works.) You can tell very clearly which pieces of decor Pietro has brought home, and which ones are all Wanda. Everything Wanda brings home is warm colored, homey, often some shade of red or cream. Everything Pietro has fished out of a second hand shop is hideously chrome or an electric shade of blue. For the sake of every visitor’s eyes, it’s for the best that Wanda was the one to pick out the extremely comfortable couch he sits down on.

She’s pretty sure that their coffee maker has never taken longer to percolate a pot than right now, when she can see him lounging with his eyes half closed on their couch, sprawled out in his nice holiday sweater and dark wash jeans.

“Do you take sugar or cream?” she calls through the open counter archway. He waves his hand lazily, smiling at her in the candy-sweet easy way of his.

“I’ll take as much sugar as you can dissolve in there,” he drawls out, sliding a little further onto their couch. It really is the most comfortable thing she’s ever owned.

Oh, I’ll give you some sugar, she thinks to herself, laughing a little punch drunk and high on the butterflies racing through her. But what she really brings him is his syrupy coffee, and she sets hers down on the coffee table beside it, curling up in the corner of the couch opposite him and resting her head against the back. It’s so easy to be here, in the dim of her living room, with a full stomach and sleepiness threatening the edges of her train of thought, his blue-grey-fog eyes blinking slowly at her just a few feet away.

“Sam and Steve are fucking,” he says, apropos of nothing, and she shoves her cheek against the couch harder and snorts, rubbing her hand over her hair before grabbing her cup of coffee.

“He finally got around to it, hmm?” she stretches out her leg a little, poking him in the thigh and giggling when he bats at her gently, catching her socked foot in his warm grasp. “I thought Sam would never put Steve out of his pining misery.”

“I thought Steve was gonna be a virgin forever,” Bucky rubs his thumb firmly over the arch of her foot, mocking drama in his tone, “wasting away after his prince in our rickety old tower.” She snorts again, setting her coffee down and scooting closer to him, shoving both feet in his lap so he can rest his hands on them and run gentle fingers over the soles.

“Have the two of you been spinning gold out of hair in your castle?” she murmurs, resting her head back against the throw pillows, his hands warm where they encircle her delicate ankles. “Waiting for your prince to come?”

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,” he extends one arm, letting go of her ankle to tug a loose strand of her hair. Without thinking, she reaches up, grabbing his hand before he can pull it back, holding it there in her lap between them. They just stare at each other, for a moment, the sleepiness set adrift in the zinging tension between them, the silence of the room with only a howling  wind outside and the beeping of the coffee maker turning off.

Wanda doesn’t recall who makes the first move- not that it matters, because the outcome is mutually beneficial and unanimously agreed on. In a matter of seconds, she’s flat on her back on the couch, the throw pillow unceremoniously shoved onto the floor, with her hands in the hair she’d just been mocking and his mouth on hers.

“What are we doing,” she gasps, her hips hitching up against his as he bites her bottom lip gently, sucking on it until it feels swollen and hot.

“I’m pretty sure,” he says, breathing heavily against her neck, leaving a trail of stinging nips and red marks behind that make her feel like she’s going to writhe out of her jeans, “that this is what- the kids call- making out-” She smacks his shoulder lightly, tugging on his hair and flushing deep red when that makes him moan helplessly against her sternum, his shoulders hunched and his arms bracketing her on the couch cushion.

“Don’t be a smart ass,” she says, all bark and no bite, especially when he gets his own hands in her hair and uses it to hold her still so he can suck what’s going to be an epic hickey into the delicate skin of her throat. Thank god it’s scarf weather, because there are teeth and tongue and he’s sucking it dark plum purple while she makes uncontrollable little whimpering noises and clutches at his sweater.

“You like my smart ass,” he says, hot against her chin as he makes his way back up to kiss her again. Upon further investigation, some of which involves shoving her hands down the back of his pants, Wanda can confirm that she does indeed like his smart ass. She was cold when they got in the apartment but now she’s hot, sweating through her clothes hot, with his rough voice rumbling low through her and his hips slotted perfectly against her. It’s been awhile since she’s just sunk into the simple happiness of something like this, with no expectations, and it feels good. That she trusts him, to have her like this. That he trusts her, with his body and his family and with those hopeful bay-blue eyes focused on her flushed face.

“You’re so beautiful,” he breathes out, enamored expression blocking out the rest of the room. She laughs a little uncomfortably under the force of his attention, because the sincerity of the statement is reverberating through her head like church bells echoing down her childhood streets.

“It’s those magical witch spells,” she says, trying for levity, but he just shakes his head and bends down to kiss her, deep and slow, pressing every inch of his body to hers. Her fingers tangle in his hair even further, grasping him to her, the languid pleasure of the moment trapping them in a syrupy, amber bubble.

“It’s not a spell,” he murmurs between kisses, in the breaks where he’s pulling back to breathe. “It’s just you, Wanda.” He slides his nose along hers, rubbing the tips with a ridiculous, happy look on his face and then pressing their foreheads together again, just breathing her in. “You’re so beautiful,” he repeats, like a man shocked, a record skipping.

“Did you know,” Wanda whispers, carding her hands through his hair and closing her eyes for a brief moment, taking a deep breath. “Did you know that you are too?”

“Careful,” he whispers back, sliding his hands underneath her hips to roll them over carefully so she’s sprawled out on top of him, her hands still in his hair. “Or my head will be too big to fit back out your front door, Red.” She has to laugh at that, fitting her face to the crook of his neck and just laying there for a long, sweet moment. He smells good, like the food he spent all day cooking and his spicy cologne and a little bit like cold winter sweat.

“I guess you’ll just have to stay with me, then,” she mumbles into his hot skin. He sighs heavily, hands clutching at her tighter, strong arms holding her firmly to him.

“I don’t think that would be so bad,” he says.

From her position, curled up on top of him, she can’t see how his eyes are begging, wanting, craving it. Don’t let me go - he breathes, closing his eyes. For a while, everything is right.

--

At two in the morning, when they are half asleep and dozy, still curled up on the couch, The Cat appears from wherever she’d been hiding and hops up to prick barely-sheathed claws along their legs.

“I should go home,” Bucky says, a little dazed out, shifting beneath her. She wants to protest, to say no- stay here. But Sasha had fallen asleep with his Papa in the house, and so she knows Bucky will want to be there when he wakes up too. “Sam and Steve have probably quieted down by now.”

“I hope this was more than just an escape from them,” she says baldly, a moment of late night truth. The vulnerability of the situation rests like a fragile birdling in the hollow of her throat, some delicate beating thing shivering in winds of uncertainty. Bucky shifts again beneath her, one large calloused hand coming up to cup the back of her neck and rub a rough thumb along the dip behind her ear.

“I don’t know what this is,” he is as honest as he can be, though his heart beats shakily and there’s a vicious little voice in the back of his head telling him no, no, no, you’ve ruined it all now, Barnes.

“It doesn’t have to be anything other than easy,” she takes a deep breath, raising her head to look at him, kissing the divot of his chin quickly. That’s the simple way, the cop out, to ask him for something with no lines and no risk. That’s less than she wants but enough for now, while they’re both trembling on the edge of insecurities unknown.

“You know what always surprises me?” he says, leaning his head up too to kiss her softly. “Everything about being around you is easy already.”

--

Breakfast back at the house is a buzzing detente, with Sam smiling smugly at Bucky over his cup of coffee and Sasha exclaiming how lucky it is that Sam slept over and Bucky saying yes, well, Sam is very lucky Steve let him sleep over, but he’d better be careful.

“You won’t hurt him,” Bucky says quietly when Steve makes Sasha help him take the plates to the sink. Sam shakes his head, reaching out a hand to press his fingers to Bucky’s briefly.

“You know I don’t have a death wish, Barnes.” He smiles again, and lets Sasha climb up in his lap, listens to the boy practice reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

“Yeah, you did okay,” Bucky says, shoving Steve’s shoulder companionably as he sets his own coffee cup in the sink. Steve agrees, with a giggling and elbow-filled noogie that ruins Bucky’s carefully (read: extremely haphazardly) pulled back hairstyle.

There is a warmth in his chest, a lightness, that he does not recognize- but he does not question it either. Steve looks at him questioningly when he ducks his head, washing dishes with a goofy grin on his face that he can’t seem to shake. But he doesn’t really ask, and Bucky doesn’t really answer, and that’s fine. Sometimes it’s nice to have something precious to hold, just for himself.

--

“It’s about time,” Pietro wakes Wanda with a cup of tea and two danishes from The Green Bean, setting them on her nightstand and then flopping all over her, startling her from a gray dream of the streets they used to walk. “I thought you would never stop mooning over the man.”

“What are you talking about?” she says, still half-asleep, reaching out to smack him in the leg and shove him off of her so she can sit up. She knows full well what he’s talking about, but it’s just so amusing to see him narrow his eyebrows at her and huff like that. It is, after all, her sworn job as his sister to push his buttons.

“Sam, right? Didn’t you- you both stayed so late after the rest of us-” Wanda bursts out laughing, both amused and relieved that both she and Pietro had gotten it so wrong.

“He’s definitely into someone a lot blonder with a lot more muscles than I,” she says, relaxing against the headboard and grabbing the cup of tea. Her hair is covering the darkest of the bruises Bucky left on her last night, luckily.

“He’s always visiting and bringing you food,” Pietro says suspiciously, staring up at her with those eyes that are a mirror of her own. But he’s always been the less perceptive of the two about people, something she can use to her advantage here, to protect this little flame she’s so uncertain of. It’s warm, and bright, but Wanda is afraid of the winds of scrutiny while she rests on shaky ground, where the borders are undefined.

“We are friends,” she says patiently, reaching out to pat her brother’s head. The Cat saunters into the room, eager to join the party in her own put upon, aloof way. She purrs, curling into Pietro’s hip, and Pietro groans, shoving his hand over his face.

“I shouldn’t have had Thor threaten him,” he says to the ceiling, and Wanda snorts indelicately into her tea imagining Sam’s face when Thor and Pietro had cornered him, wherever they’d done it.

“I love you,” she bends over to press her forehead to his shoulder for a moment, the two of them resting together as they so often had. “And thank you, for looking after me like always.”

“I am your older brother,” he grumbles, swatting at her head affectionately and stealing a bite of her danish.

--

“I feel like we’re fifteen years old,” Bucky says, laughing against Wanda’s shoulder, half muffled by her thick winter coat. “Freezing my ass off to kiss a girl in the park after dark.”

“This is a luxurious location, Barnes,” Wanda says, amusement coloring her tone as she smooths the hair back from Bucky’s forehead and settles further against him. They’re sitting together on a bench hidden behind the tall trees of the park, her legs slung sideways across his lap and his arms warm around her. He nudges the tip of his cold nose against her jaw, trailing kisses up the side of it, thumb rubbing circles on the tip of her hip bone through layers of clothing.

“Five out of five stars,” he kisses her, and the fog doesn’t matter so much anymore.

--

“You look suspiciously happy,” Darcy says, peering at her from across the table at the monthly Green Bean Coding night, the first Monday of December. “Did someone slip something into that Moscow Mule?”

“Who are you calling a Moscow Mule?” Natasha asks, sliding into the booth beside Wanda, double fisting tall glasses of straight vodka. “That’s not very nice, Lewis.”

“Oh, no-” Darcy points at Natasha accusingly. “Don’t try that on me. You can’t distract me with your scary hotness, Romanoff. I’m onto your tricks.”

“I just did,” Natasha purrs, leaning across the table and relishing in the way Darcy’s neck slowly but steadily flushes. Wanda clears her throat, trying not to laugh.

“Anyways,” she says, flipping open her laptop. “Didn’t we have some government firewalls to hack?”

--

“I have strawberries to cut,” Wanda says breathlessly against his mouth, pressed up against the inside of the stairwell door, her hands betraying her, entangled in his hair.

“It’s raining outside,” Bucky mumbles, his finger slipping beneath the edge of her jeans, tugging her impossibly closer. He’d just meant to drop off a cup of coffee for her, but then she was standing there in her big fuzzy maroon sweater with her adorable cat-print scarf and he just couldn’t help it- he had to kiss her. “No one will come in for ages.”

“There is a schedule , Barnes-”

The strawberries don’t get cut until well after opening time.

--

“Someone’s going to catch us one of these days,” Wanda says breathlessly, her fingers tangled in Bucky’s hair, his mouth searching for hers in the dark of the Green Bean supply closet. It smells overwhelmingly like coffee and sugar in here, and he swears- if he starts getting hard when Steve turns on the coffee pot in the morning, they’re never doing this again.

But then Wanda’s leg slides around his hips and oh, oh my god, yes, they’re doing this again no matter what the hell kind of coffee kink Bucky has to deal with.

“I mean,” he pants, his fingers gripping her ass so hard he’s afraid he’ll leave bruises on the pale skin, “it’s likely. More than likely. Tony probably has a specific dice set that’ll calculate it-”

“Never mention him while your hands are in my pants again,” Wanda says, before she shuts him up with her mouth. They don’t speak for several minutes, teeth biting and hands searching beneath clothing, gasping for air. She can feel his mouth sucking a plum-dark bruise on her neck that she’ll have to cover with her scarf, but she doesn’t care.

--

“I swear to god,” Wanda grumbles, her accent thick with sleep as Bucky clumsily tries to unroll the two of them from the blanket nest they’d fallen asleep in earlier. “If you wake Sasha, I will-”

“That’s my line,” he interrupts her softly, grinning blearily down at her and finally finding the blanket that connects them both.

--

“Look, I’m not saying-”

“I know exactly what you’re saying-”

“Would you just-”

“Do you ever stop talking-”

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky gasped, his neck arching and his head smacking against the back of the couch, hands trembling slightly as he gripped her waist tightly. “Okay, yes, okay, we can talk about this later-”

“You’re still talking,” Wanda said dryly, sliding her hands up his arms to shove him by the shoulders back into the cushions. “About your child, while I am on top of you. It’s almost like you don’t-” she ground down against him, drawing another gasp from his bitten-red lips, “want to get laid, Barnes.”

“How did this even start,” he groaned, closing his eyes and rolling up against her. “Never mind, I don’t care, I care how we finish it-”

“Oh, I’m going to finish it,” Wanda murmurs, and then there’s no more talking for quite some time.

--

“Don’t you dare, punk-” Bucky warns, his hair up in a messy bun and his arms full of pillows. Steve is smirking, that familiar trouble making shit eating grin of his spread wide across his face. Bucky’s so focused on the way Steve is threatening him with a huge pillow that he doesn’t account for Sam sneaking up behind him, whacking him over the head with the little beaded pillow his mother had brought over from the secondhand shop. “Christ!” he yells, toppling forward, off balance with all the pillows he’s holding. “I can’t believe you’ve all ganged up on me-” A pillow wacks into his knees, all it takes to knock him over entirely, slamming him into the living room couch. He groans, blinking up at the gleeful face of his son, approximately three inches away from him.

“I got you, Papa,” Sasha says proudly, swelling some huge, overwhelming feeling in Bucky’s throat.

“You sure did, you turncoat,” he reaches out, pulling him in for a loud, smacking kiss on Sasha’s cheek that the five year old wipes away disgustedly.

“There are no kisses during pillow fights,” he informs his father seriously, and Sam bursts out laughing somewhere behind the couch.

“Not for several years, at least,” he quips, leaning over to drop the pillow directly on Bucky’s face. The phone rings, in the background, and Steve’s footsteps depart down the hallway to get it, leaving Bucky lying under a pile of pillows with Sasha giggling and attempting to climb up atop him while Sam roots around in search of more ammunition. When Steve returns, his face is white as a sheet, and he’s trembling a little, his hands shaking as he raises them up to grasp at his face.

“The library-” he says, a little choked, leaning against the doorframe. “My mom, they said- she just collapsed while she was volunteering, she’s at UCSF, they think it’s her lungs again-”

“I’m driving,” Sam says immediately, kicking into high gear, grabbing his coat from the rack and shoving his arms into it, rifling through the others to find Steve’s.

“I’m coming with you,” Bucky says, but then- “Hell, Sasha’s too young for that, we can’t-”

“Call Wanda,” Sam says, his keys already jingling in his hands.

“I can’t just-”

“Call. Wanda.” He repeats, and Bucky gently sets Sasha down on the other side of the couch, pressing a hand to his forehead.

“It’ll be okay, buddy,” he says, because Sasha is starting to look worried, and Sam’s handing him the house phone already. “I promise, Nan just needs some help at the doctor’s, is all.” Sam has put the number in, all Bucky has to do is press the green button and watch Sam help Sasha put his rain boots on, the little yellow coat, while Steve moves in a daze through the motions of gathering his own things. The phone rings a few times, and clicks, Wanda’s voice coming through crackly and heavily accented- she’s probably been talking to Pietro, he thinks, unfocused.

“James?” she asks down the line. “Hello?”

“Hi,” he says in a rush, kicking into gear and shoving pillows out of the way of his shoes. “It’s just- I wouldn’t, if it wasn’t an emergency, but it is, it’s Steve’s mom, and I didn’t know what to do, and Sam said-”

“Spit it out, James” she says calmly, “if it’s an emergency then you need to tell me what is happening.”

“Can you watch Sasha?” he says, looking frantically around for the little backpack of extra things they keep, for when Sasha goes over to Winifred’s, or Natasha’s.

“Of course,” Wanda says, her voice as smooth as can be, without hesitation. “I’m at home, I’m off shift for the day, bring him over. Or I can come get him-”

“No, no, Sam is driving, he’ll bring us over, don’t- thank you so much-”

“It’s fine, I promise,” she says, a little bit of a kind laugh behind her words. “I’ll wait outside for you.”

True to her words, of course, of course of course of course , he thinks to himself, she’s standing in the puddle of street lamp light outside the Silver Spoon, Pietro waiting beside her as well, with Thor waving cheerily from the register inside.

“And I’ll take this monkey,” Pietro says, sweeping Sasha neatly up into his arms with a laugh as he and Bucky get out of the car. The little boy is cackling madly, arms around Pietro’s head, as the platinum blonde stumbles exaggeratedly into the store, Thor’s uproarious laughter leaking from the open door. Wanda steps forward, her hand resting on his arm, face tilted up towards him, and he wants to kiss her so bad, to thank her, something-anything-everything, but Sam and Steve are right there watching in the car.

“Text me, let me know how Sarah is doing,” she says, leaning up a little to tuck a stray hair back behind his ear. “I promise Sasha will be fine, take all the time you need.”

“I can’t even-” he starts, stepping forward a little into her and then rocking back on his heels.

“You don’t have to.” Wanda kisses the corner of his jaw under the guise of a hug and then pushes him back gently, shooing him towards the car. “Now go, please, make sure she’s okay.” She waves to Steve and Sam in the car, blows them a kiss as they drive away, and he’s shock still in the back seat of Sam’s car all the way to the hospital.

The stark white halls are terrifyingly familiar, walking down them with Steve and Sam just like the day he’d first held Sasha in his arms. He half expects to see his mother weeping at the end of the hallway, his red-eyed sisters crowded around her. Bucky can recall the same numbness in his chest, when Tamar had crashed into him with a helpless wail and Winifred had crumpled into the uncomfortable hallway chair and said, “James, James, my baby, James, they’re gone.”

He can remember exactly how it felt to stand there in the pediatrics ward and hold Sasha, a little bruise on his forehead and a peaceful tiredness on his face, and know- Rebecca and David had told him at their wedding, had written it in their will. If anything happens, god forbid (but god didn’t forbid, did he?), Bucky was next in line. He had called Natasha, standing over Sasha’s crib and watching the nurse gently swaddle him up again, and he hadn’t even had to say a word before she said, “Yasha, I know- you’re not coming back. Stay there, hold him, hold them tightly. I’ve got something that can take care of you both, don’t worry- I’ll call you in a week.”

“Buck?” Sam asks, pulling him out of his shallow-breathed memories, and Bucky shakes his head vigorously, leaning forward into Sam’s comforting bulk. “Steve’s going to go in and talk to the nurse and then we can join them, okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, a little distantly. Because he wants to join them, but he also doesn’t. Doesn’t want to be here at all. His phone chimes softly with a text alert from Wanda.

Sasha and I are making latkes and applesauce , the caption says, with a photo attached. Sasha has an apron that is clearly Pietro’s on, a crumpled blue one far too big for his small frame with ‘Get out of the kitchen if you can’t handle the heat!’ on it, under a big red lipstick print. He’s focused on stirring the grated potatoes, his tongue sticking out comically and his brow furrow and he grasps the huge wooden spoon in two tiny hands. Sitting there staring at the photograph, he can breathe a little easier.

“It’s pneumonia,” Steve says, poking his head out the doorway, a sickeningly relieved look on his face. “The nurse says it’s probably been brewing for a while, just caught up with her all at once. She’s going- it’s. She’ll be fine.” Sam heaves out a breath, standing up and clapping his hands together.

“Then the cheer up crew is next,” he says, tugging Bucky out of his seat. “Because lord knows you ain’t got a funny bone in your body, Rogers. Not that he gets that from you, Sarah, you’re a delight,” he breezes into the room, smiling hugely when Sarah wheezes out a crackly laugh. “It must just skip a generation.”

“Hey, now,” Steve moves up next to him by the bed, bumping Sam with his hip in mock offense. “I’ll thank you kindly to not slander me in front of my mother.”

“Is the truth slander?” Bucky finally joins them, a little rusty as he slings his arms around their shoulders, smiling down at Sarah. Steve groans, throws his hands up, sitting down in one of the grey chairs.

“Can’t believe I thought these jerks would be a help,” he tells his mother, who simply reaches a hand out to grasp his weakly on top of the minty green hospital bedspread.

“You’d be lost without them, my love,” she manages, laying her greying blonde head back down against the pillows. “And I’d be lost without you, so I suppose they’ll have to do.”

“We love you too, Sarah,” Bucky says drily, and then the nurse pops her head in to reprimand them for making the older woman laugh too hard.

--

Sasha had been dropped off at about seven pm, but it’s nearly one in the morning before Bucky returns to pick him up. Sam and Steve are bunking up at the hospital- Steve refuses to leave his mother’s side, though the nurses had all assured him that it wasn’t uncommon for pneumonia to take a long time to heal in senior citizens, and that it wasn’t more severe for the prolonged lack of symptoms. Sam had stubbornly then refused to leave Steve, so Bucky snagged his keys and made his tired way back down to Wanda’s apartment.

She’s sitting in the living room when he arrives, let in by Pietro, who hugs him briefly and then returns to his room where the faint sounds of a Mario Kart tournament are raging on. There are approximately twenty pillows of varying sizes stacked up in the middle of the room, two kitchen chairs holding elephant-patterned sheets up over a towering pillow fort. He can see one tiny foot poking out of it in a green ninja turtle sock, and hear the smallest snore imaginable escaping the structure.

“He tired himself out about two hours ago,” Wanda says, standing from the couch and setting her book back on the side table. “I didn’t have the heart to move him, he was so happy to build the fort.” It’s the work of just a few steps to stride towards her, to sweep her into his arms and bury his face in her shoulder. He has to hunch over pretty far to do it, but she’s warm and solid in his grasp and she embraces him back, one hand on the back of his head.

“Thank you,” he says, suddenly devastatingly weary from the day, shot down by the sight of his child sleeping so peacefully and drained from the fear that this would be the illness that finally took Sarah away from them. Wanda hums, rocking them back and forth a little bit and coaxing him towards the couch without really letting go. He sits down and she sits right on him (her favorite place to be, he’s noticed), pulling him back to her shoulder and letting him just hold her.

“I love Sasha,” she says, kissing the top of his head and running her hand gently through his hair. “And you’re alright, I guess, you know.” He huffs out a laugh, bringing his head up to softly brush the tips of their noses, blinking tired eyes at her.

“I’ll take it,” he decides, and leans forward to kiss her, the way he’d wanted to earlier, deep and true and affirmingly solid. When they break apart, he lays his head back on her shoulder, and she lets him keep her close a while longer before tugging him back a little to look him in the eye.

“Let’s move Sasha into the bedroom,” she says, her thumb rubbing along the stubble on his chin. “And we can have a sleepover. I don’t think it’ll feel very nice to sleep in an empty home, tonight.” Oh, god, he thinks, struck dumb by the softness of her voice, the swelling ache in his throat at the idea of holding both of them closely and knowing, warm and safe, that they are still here. Oh god, he breathes. I really l- really like her, I really do.

“That would be- yes,” he manages. Her smile is blinding in the dimness of the room, with the lights down low to let Sasha slumber peacefully.

In the morning, when he wakes, she is curled around Sasha with the little boy resting his head on her stomach, clutching at her soft sleep sweatshirt, the furrows on his brow smoothed out in deep sleep. Her hand is in Sasha’s hair, as though she’d fallen asleep stroking it soothingly, and he aches aches aches for this like he hasn’t ached for anything in so long. His phone is buzzing faintly in the other room, the ringtone chiming distantly, and he knows he should check the texts from Sam and Steve but he can’t bring himself to move.  

He remembers standing beside Rebecca at her wedding, listening to her speak her vows, and how she’d looked David in the eye and quoted, “In love, one and one are one.” He will deny the single tear in his eye for the rest of his life, but laying here looking at Wanda and Sasha sleeping in a mess of tangled blankets, he thinks he understands the great swelling feeling of that quote. There is nothing outside this bed, for the briefest, sweetest of minutes. There is only this woman who he is undeniably falling for, and this child who he has sworn to love more than life itself, and the impossible privilege of getting to hold them both so close to him.

The universe has not always been kind to Bucky Barnes, but for that precious, fragile moment, he believes that the universe has the ability to be good.

Chapter Text

Sarah gets better at a pace so slow as to be torturous, her lungs wheezing and groaning like an old steam engine. Sasha spends as much time as he’s allowed sitting on the chair at the end of her bed, charming the nurse Steve hired to watch after Sarah. December drags on inexorably towards the winter holidays, while Wanda makes little paper snowflakes to hang in the windows of the yogurt shop and Winifred tries her best to feed Sarah as much matzoh ball soup as she can. There are little bags of gelt in the kitchen at the Barnes-Rogers house, and a tree that Steve somehow managed to crowbar through their miniscule entryway to the living room. Winifred brings the menorah over to Bucky and ends up leaving it there, pretending like she’d always meant to take it back but had decided spontaneously that Sasha might enjoy it more than Tamar and May when they returned home for winter break.

And then a deafeningly raucous chorus of carols begin outside his window early on the morning of December 12th, signaling something Bucky has been waiting all year for: the return of the Howlies for their month long leave. It is as warm as a December has ever been- perhaps not in weather, but certainly in spirit. There are excuses to hold Wanda’s hand, to wave at her through the window when Sasha is too cold for frozen yogurt and wants a hot chocolate from the Bean instead. There are grocery shopping trips that take a little too long because he sneaks into her apartment and leaves a flower on her pillow or catches her as she gets off shift to kiss her in the alleyway for ten minutes before he has to bring Steve the rest of the ingredients for dinner. Though he feels a little silly using the word, it is, to say the least, blissful.

This year, Tony decides the big friends and family holiday party at the Bean will be December 20th, which somehow, miraculously, they all manage to attend because Sasha can’t bear to leave Sarah’s side, and Winifred is bringing Tamar and May over to watch over the both of them. It works out, with Bucky showing up at her door under the guise of escorting her down to the coffee shop, and kissing her underneath the obnoxious mistletoe wreath that Pietro had hung. She has to reapply her cranberry lipstick twice. But they make it down to the party, which is what really matters in Natasha’s book, because as soon as they appear Bucky knows with deadly certainty that the redhead is looking to cause trouble. She’s been characteristically tightlipped about their covert affair, only winking at Wanda when Bucky had sat overly close to her at the December coding night at the Bean. Sharon seems to know something is up, though she’s probably not sure entirely what’s happening, but she’s the only one.

After tonight, Wanda knows more people will probably put it together- Sam and Sharon certainly will. Because Natasha is on the prowl , grinning smugly over her mug of extremely spiked eggnog and sitting on Dugan’s lap like the cat that caught the canary, enjoying dominion over her soldiers. Sharon sits next to them, her hand on Natasha’s thigh, sharp eyes wandering the room. They make quite the frightening pair, to be honest. And Dugan doesn’t even seem phased, letting Natasha use him like a throne as he tells partial tales of the Howlies’ latest classified adventures to Sam and Steve.

The party at the Bean is notorious for its version of spin the bottle. A candy sweet holiday cliche, an empty bottle of port with mistletoe stuffed inside spun around the circle when the party has died down from the madness of the white elephant. But the twist on it all is that whoever the bottle lands on gets to decide who goes into the closet for seven minutes of dubiously crafted heaven, up against bags of coffee beans and with everyone eavesdropping right outside. Tony thinks it’s brilliant- probably because it’s a version of the game that got him his first kiss with Pepper all those years ago. Rhodey, who finally deigned to come out of government mandated hiding on his latest mission, has already loudly refused to participate, before the party even actually began. Clint is just rubbing his hands gleefully, somehow having convinced Bruce that it’s okay for him to be the spinner, which makes no sense because he’s the sleight of hand master and Wanda is absolutely certain that he’s going to rig the game.

But there’s a magnetic irresistibility to bad ideas when you’ve had a few drinks and you’re warm and surrounded by your friends, so she doesn’t join the only two people sitting out of the game: Rhodey and Sharon, who are presiding over the bar with twin looks of tired amusement. Instead, Wanda sits in the big circle of chairs, between Thor and Tony’s college friend Jan Pym, directly across the circle from Bucky. He winks at her, and Natasha clears her throat, smirking and smirking with wolf teeth sharp beneath her holly red lipstick. Clint spins the bottle, the probable traitor, and Wanda knows it’s going to happen before it does. Call it premonition, or just a well developed knowledge of how meddling her friends can be, but she’s got the distinct feeling the bottle is about to land on Natasha.

Don’t do it, Natasha , she thinks, staring directly at the redhead. That look on Natasha’s face is never good, and especially not when it’s aimed at her personal favorite fire to poke, James Buchanan Barnes.

But then- of course, because nothing can stop a hurricane in its tracks- Natasha opens her mouth, and- she does it.

“Well,” she starts, mischievous smirk curling her bright red lips, “Looks like the fortune of the bottle has landed on me to pick our first lucky pair.” Bucky looks like he’s not really breathing at the moment, clutching at his beer and staring Natasha down like his eyes alone could shut her mouth. He knows, like she knows, that what Natasha wants, Natasha gets. “I’m thinking Wanda-”

“Christ,” Wanda mutters, downing someone’s rum and coke off the table behind her as quickly as possible, because, yes, Natasha Romanoff is determined to fuck with her in an ultimately harmless but intensely blood-pressure-raising way.

“And James.”

--

There is a disconcerting amount of cheering, when the door shuts behind them, and they are alone- in the dark, between bags of coffee and canisters of sugar. The door muffles it somewhat, enough that she jumps as he reaches out and curls his fingers around hers, tugging her close to him.

“She has always been a meddler,” he says, his breath ruffling the edge of her hair, his mouth pressing a gentle kiss to her cheek. Wanda just laughs, rum on her breath and an all too explicable warmth growing in her chest.

“At least we know that cranberry wine lipstick looks good on you already,” Wanda murmurs, letting the fingers of her free hand tangle in his hair. She kisses him, but not like earlier- calm and slow and nothing like the horrifying race of her heart at the idea that this party was going to be the one they got found out at.

It’s not that she doesn’t want people to know- much to the contrary. But there is something about holding this, precious and fragile, in the palm of her hand. About feeling his heart like a fluttering bird underneath her cheek when they lay on his bed at three in the morning while Steve is spending the night at Sam’s, and knowing that it’s just hers. It’s all hers. There’s something delicate about the absence of words between them, nothing defining the lines, nothing to hold them down. And she jealously wants to keep it for herself. The lack of words has become a curse as well, though, because she doesn’t know if he feels the same. She almost doesn’t want to know, for the moment. She just wants to kiss him for five more minutes and she wants to watch Natasha smile at her and she wants to know that in the morning she’s going to be able to see Sasha making latkes with Winifred and Tamar for Sunday brunch.

There’s something desperate to the way he clings to her hips for a brief moment when Natasha knocks on the door and sets them free- for just one more second, he can be connected to her. For just one more breath. When he lets her go and they emerge to the insufferable smugness of their friends, of their family, she locks eyes with Natasha, and she understands. The endgame, even through the haze of drink and kissing him, is clearer. Wanda wants the same thing as she’d gotten in the closet, she has for a while, but now she knows- she doesn’t want it solely in the closet, at the park, when the fog rolls in thick enough. Before she opens the shop, or before Sasha wakes up.

She wants it on the street corner, and she wants it in the booth at the Bean and she wants it waiting outside when she finishes her shift. She wants to kiss him and then turn and kiss Sasha’s head and then turn and kiss Winifred’s cheek.

Natasha mouths something at her before she sits down on Sharon’s lap and lets Clint spin the bottle again.

Wanda , she says, her lips like red coats taking no prisoners. Take the chance.

--

It’s safe to say that Tony has, and always will be, just a little bit behind Pepper’s grand plans. He’s a genius on the computer, a genius in the lab, but socially it’s always fallen to Pepper to seek out the little nuances that the two of them can tweak to set everything right with their mishmash family. When Pepper leans over to him at the Bean party and says, “I think we need to hold Christmas Eve at our house this year,” he doesn’t question her. He doesn’t say, “Don’t you think this is late notice?”

He watches her sharp eyes follow the players on the fields and he taps out a few orders on his phone, sends a group email, and he trusts her, like he always does, with their future.

--

That night after they go home (together, who are they fooling-) and fall asleep, Bucky wakes up like a horse out the gate, like someone had dumped cold water on him, like- someone’s fingers had let him go, and he was falling, falling again. There is nothing in the room, intruder nor demon. The water is in his head. The moon has silvered the edges of Wanda beside him, like it always does; he’s constantly amazed by how fragile she can seem, when he knows full well that she’s broken a thousand prisons before. And it is grounding, like watching an anchor drag behind his boat, like feeling himself hit land.

In his dream, he had been drowning; in his dreams, he always is. He falls, like he fell, like he was watching the red light of the train leave him behind again, and when he hits he doesn’t hit the snow. Instead, the snow takes him in, becomes an ocean, and he chokes on it. It is blood, iron and copper, bitter and metallic in his lungs. It is the scream of someone on a boat above him, and the tears of his mother when he woke up with her at his side in the hospital after they’d found him. It’s the burning release of screaming, when the brands hit his skin and the good doctor (do no harm, do no harm, do no-) had raised his scalpel to Bucky’s left shoulder. In his dreams, he had been helpless, watching the boat float farther and farther away.

In his dreams, the boat had rocked like a cradle, with a familiar cry inside it, and he had felt his heart stop cold when he recalled it, the first tears he’d ever seen Sasha shed. And his arms were empty as Bucky sank, deeper beneath, hopelessly clutching for him.

But here, in the quiet of the bedroom, his arms are full.

Here, in the softness of her, he can breathe.

He’s woken up like this a couple of times before, when they’ve spent the night at each other’s places. There will always be night terrors, he knows this. Sam has them, Natasha has them. There are times when he feels like they’re all he has. in between the worst of them, back when Sasha was just an infant, he’d go lay in the middle of the living room with Sasha on his chest, sleeping up against the metronome of Bucky’s faltering heart. The warmth of knowing that Sasha was still breathing, and that he was too, had gotten him to the dawn a few hundred times. And he hadn’t spent enough time sleeping beside lovers since then to have run into this problem.

There’s something different tonight, though, because when he can see past the red in his eyes and he can breathe past the iron in his lungs, he realizes that she’s already awake too. Her fingers are trembling, petals of chrysanthemums on the edge of his forehead, curling around his wrists, and-

In the dream, she had been buried in a concrete tomb. The bombs had fallen from sky like dirt from a shovel, and she had watched them come to suffocate her in dust and fire. In the dream, Pietro’s hand had left hers, and she had heard the sirens go off, and she had known that somewhere just out of reach he was suffocating too. She sees her mother with a cobalt death mask on, and her father with broken hands trying to pull Pietro from the rubble, and she sees herself surrounded by wolves in the suits of men. Worst of all, perhaps, is that she can hear the bells from the church tolling overhead and they tell her, over and over again, that if she had just been better she could have saved them all.

So she’d woken up, like a thousand times before, the startle of a flock of sparrows from a tree struck by lightning, and the ceiling had reminded her that there was no headstone waiting to be engraved with her name and the brevity of her life. He is nothing like a warhead beside her, shaking out of his skin, but she feels him jolt awake too, and without knowing she knows, she knows, she knows. That there are shadows leaking from their eyes tonight, demons stalking their paths and claws hooked in their lungs.

Here, in the quiet of the bedroom, her heart is safe.

Here, against the warmth of him, she can breathe.

“Do they ever blame you?” he asks her, rocky voice rumbling through his chest.

And the cries on the boat are ringing in his ears like the harshness of her breath, when her tears leak through his shirt and his roll like diamonds down the edge of her curled bed-hair. Because they blame her, they always do. Just like they blame him, they call him- deserter, traitor, a broken little toy the brass bought back at half price and then put on the suicide missions, hoping he wouldn’t drag himself back. But Natasha had stitched him together, and then Sasha had glued him the rest of the way. Pietro had held her above the waterline, and then Tony and Pepper had filled up the little hole in the back of her heart where she ached like bitter cocoa beans for a parent once more. There are tattoos on their skin in white ink, hiding in plain sight, the kind of stains that never go away. And sometimes they creep up in the middle of the night and they stick, they drip, they remind like cruel arrows from the notches of forgotten enemies.

“All the time,” she says, after a little while, the tears exhausted for the moment, her eyes closed against his neck. “They blame me all the time.”

“For the fault,” Bucky says, kissing her forehead and stroking some of her hair free from under her cheek. “They’re lying.”

“And they found you,” she breathes, and he chokes on his own platitudes. “They brought you home.”

He thinks about the weight of her in his arms. He thinks about the boy sleeping in the bedroom next to them. He thinks about the way his mother smiled last Sunday to see Wanda flipping latkes with Tamar and trading favorite nail polish names. He thinks about how she looks when she laughs at him in the dark amber of a winter afternoon, following Sasha to the swings at the park and putting trash bags down because it’s rained every day this week.

“Yeah,” he says, rolling them over so he can lean down and kiss her, so he can press down and remember that they’re alive. So he can look at her eyes and feel that swelling fire and know that when she says home, he hears her name. “I guess they did.”

--

After that, waking up the next day without her beside him feels- lonely, in a way that it never did before he knew the sweetness of her eyelashes fluttering awake. There is a stone growing in his stomach, some emotion fueled resolve. In the back of his head he wonders, while he’s going about his day.

What it would be like to be waiting with her outside Sasha’s classroom at the end of the day.

What it would be like holding her hand as they fell asleep after reading Sasha a bedtime story.

What it would be like to watch her laugh in the farmer’s market when he impulse buys her a bouquet of dahlias. He’ll give them to her later, but right now all he wants is that selfish immediate gratification of watching her eyes widen and her smile grow towards the sun like a reaching sprout.

What it would be like to turn to her and ask her to let him, please let him- be hers, and hers alone.

--

“Hey,” he finally says, three days after the fateful 7 minutes in the storage cupboard of the Bean, lying there beside her on the rug in the middle of his living room. It’s been a little over a month now that they’ve been making out in random closets, going on surreptitious outings but ending up in the back of Wanda’s car, and waiting until Sam and Steve take Sasha out. It’s been a month-

“Wanda is my favorite,” Sasha had said over waffles, his mouth dripping strawberry syrup macabrely. Bucky just rolled his eyes, and Steve choked on his chai. Sam had nodded and whacked his boyfriend on the back.

“Rightly so,” Sam had agreed-

Just one month, one month of Sam making grilled cheese at their griddle (they owned a griddle, now) while Wanda and Sasha look on eagerly. One month of waking up in his bed and wanting to watch her face meet the sunshine streaming through the bedroom window, wishing she wasn’t two blocks away. One month of watching Wanda sit Sasha in the cradle of her lap and listen to him read his newest reading level book aloud. One month of hickies he barely conceals and smirks across the table at Bean nights-

“What if we, uh- did this. For real.” He reaches out, tangles his fingers with hers beneath the canopy of blankets. Sasha is talking loudly on the phone in the kitchen, drawn away from their blanket fort by the promise of exciting stories from the Howlies, who are coming over for dinner soon. The fan is whirring a little above them, heater rumbling in the depths of the house. Wanda stirs beside him, leaning up on one elbow to look down at him, perfect dark eyebrows raised.

“Is something about this blanket fort not real?” she asks, squeezing his fingers in hers gently, warmly.

“I meant us,” Bucky says, drawing her a little closer. “What if we did us for real? Wanda, I-” he takes a deep breath, remembers all the ravines he’s stared down, the bullets he’s dodged, the yawning maw of the dark beneath him when he fell. “I want you in my life,” he finally manages. “As my girlfriend, as the girl who makes my son soup when he gets a cold, as the person who makes my mother smile, as the woman who’s- who’s stolen my heart.”

“Ah,” Wanda says, looking surprised and touched and just a little bit taken aback. “I-” She has to pause, to swallow, to let her heart beat loud in her ears for a few loud thumps. “James,” she says, pressing her palm to his chest and leaning in to kiss him softly. “Yes. Let us be- us. Together.” He smiles so wide she fears his face will break in two, and his hands clutch at her shoulders to bring her down, her cheek resting over his sternum.

“I guess it’s not true what they say about witches,” he murmurs after long minutes of contentment, buzzing silence humming around them in the brilliant newness of their revelation. “Falling in love doesn’t seem to have taken your powers, Red.” She snorts, smacking him in the side, and he laughs at her, joyous.

“What are you blathering on about,” she mumbles into his sweater, kicking one of the pillows out of her way so she can rest more comfortably. “Have you lost your sense as well as your heart, James?”

“You’re just... still so bewitching,” he says, the shit-eating grin so clearly audible in his voice, and she groans, rolling to the side.

“I take it back,” she says, “I need to- no. I cannot see you ever again. I am taking Sasha and Steve with me, and we are leaving.” Bucky cackles, then, grabbing her waist and rolling atop her, kissing her cheeks and her forehead with loud smacking sounds.

“I’m like a bad penny, doll,” he says grinning into her neck and settling himself into the dip of her hips. “You’ll never be rid of me now.”

And yes, well.

That’s rather the point, isn’t it?

The thing about all of this is- she doesn’t really ever want to be.

--

She tells Pietro on December 24th, the afternoon after they’d finally spoken, with words, the things between them. Pietro is doing bookkeeping in the back of the store before they go over for Christmas Eve to Tony and Pepper’s, so she comes and sits on the desk next to his big ledger and says, in the language they sometimes forget they’re even using-

“Brother,” she says, reaching out to press her hand against the back of his. “I think I’ve fallen in love.” Pietro looks back at her with summer in his eyes, his hand twisting to catch hers.

“I know,” he says, pressing a kiss to her knuckles and smiling, serious for once- like he had been when he’d given her the plane tickets here, like he had been when he’d signed her name on the visas in secret, like he had been when he’d hugged Tony for the first time. Serious, for once, like he had been when he’d wrapped her in his arms after the funeral and told her that she would be happy again, and so would he. “You’ve been humming in the kitchen, again.”

“It’s James,” Wanda grasps him tighter. Pietro swears, his smile growing bigger, tinging silvery at the edges.

“He was my second choice to threaten after Thanksgiving,” he shrugs wryly, but then he pulls her down until she can’t help but fall into him, and he holds her tightly. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you, like he’d follow you anywhere, and I figured it would be soon.”

“You figured nothing,” she says, muffled by his sweater, and he laughs. “Liar.”

“You’re not that good at keeping secrets, little witch,” he murmurs, but she feels like she’s floating, a balloon on the breeze, because he knows and he approves, and that’s like puzzle pieces slotting into place inside her chest.

--

He tells his mother on December 24th, while she’s fussing over his sweater and straightening their collar, before they go over to Tony and Pepper’s for Christmas Eve.

“Mama,” he says, his hands grasping her shoulders gently to still her for a second. It strikes him as odd, the disconnect- when did his hands get so big, and his mother so small? Years ago, perhaps, but in the light of the hallway lamp he can see the wrinkles on her face so clearly, and the weights under her eyes. “Mama, I think- that I’ve fallen in love.” And Winifred melts, clutches him tightly to her, the feeling of being too big for her hugs falling away as she clucks her tongue and smooths his hair on tiptoe.

“My baby, my love,” she says quietly, holding his cheeks in her small, warm hands, and shaking him a little. “I think you are the last one to figure that out.” She smiles like she did the day Rebecca told her that David had said yes (always doing things out of order, she was), and she presses a lilac lipstick kiss to his forehead, forcing him to bend down far enough for her to reach.

He feels like dandelions floating as he buckles Sasha into the car, listening to Sam and Steve bicker in the front seat, watching the girls and their mothers get in the car behind them with packages of presents stuffed in the trunk. He feels like balloons lifting off, high up in the stratosphere, filled to bursting with the pressure of his confessions and the giddiness of the knowledge that he’s hers, she’s his, he’s hers. Sasha reaches over and pinches his nose, giggling at him, when Rudolph comes on the radio, and Bucky can’t help but laugh and laugh and laugh because there’s something warm and right and good settling all around him and gilding everything he sees.

“My baby, my love,” he says to Sasha, an echo of his mother.

It feels like the sun shining through San Francisco fog after the longest, coldest winter of his life.

--

Halloween is fun, and witchy, and an excuse to be silly with the little children that come into her store, but Christmas is marzipan candies in her stockings and Pietro dashing about the house screeching with joy. It’s like cinnamon hearthfire in her throat, knocking on the door of Pepper and Tony’s kind of ridiculously opulent mansion and immediately being enveloped in a spiced cider and caramel hug from Pepper. She sweeps out of the door in bare feet, even though it’s frigidly bitingly cold, and wraps her arms around Wanda for almost long enough.

“Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,” Pepper says, backing up and going in for the required hug from Pietro as well. “The Howlies are already here so you might want to grab your eggnog before Dugan spikes it again like last year.” Everyone is surrounding a big table covered in poinsettia tablecloths, a menorah at one end and a truly stunning amount of big steamers on the other. Tony grins sheepishly, kissing her cheek with ticklish whiskers and wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

“I may have,” he starts, “made a small mistake. Miniscule, even. Ordered triple the amount of tamales Pepper asked me to. Perhaps a little bit of extra salsa. It’s cool, though, because they’re kosher and I love tamales. Sasha loves tamales. You love tamales, right, kid?” Wanda can’t help laughing, falling helplessly against his side.

“I do, Tony,” she squeezes him a bit, beaming. He beams right back.

Winifred arrives with May and Tamar in a whirl of silver-wrapped gifts and lilac lipstick, shuffling through the party like the world’s smallest commander. Each and every Howlie treats her with the fearful respect that one might think only someone as stern as Natasha would command, Morita even dipping down to kiss the back of her hand when she greets him. Between her and Pepper, the matriarchy reigns. Dernier is holding court over the old piano Tony’s mother used to play, tapping out soft carols in the corner of the grand living room. It is, for the briefest of moments, that kind of gilded high society christmas gathering Wanda used to see in old subtitled American movies, streamed via shitty internet connection on her father’s beat up laptop.

And then Sasha arrives simultaneously with Thor and the girls, and Sam and Steve are untangling scarves for Sarah in the entryway and it is, undeniably, better.

“Papa’s letting me use his stocking,” Sasha tells her, as he grips her leg tightly in a giddy, holiday-high hug. “He says Santa might not be able to fit enough chocolate in mine, now that I’m so big.” Thor laughs from where he has appeared beside them, reaching down to ruffle Sasha’s hair as he unloads the huge logs Darcy and Jane had gotten next to the fireplace.

“I think your papa is a bit of a soft touch,” Thor says, but his voice is just as fond as Bucky’s might be, so it holds little heat. Sasha just wrinkles his nose at Thor gleefully and hurries off to hug the rest of the Howlies. In her years of holiday celebrations with Tony and Pepper, a lot of things have changed about their gatherings, but some things remain stubbornly the same. Tony lights candles in the old silver candlesticks that Jarvis had insisted remain on the dining table long after anyone ever thought them fashionable. Pepper wears an old ruby necklace that looks like glimmering cranberries lacquered around her neck. There is always a big gold envelope for Wanda and a big silver envelope for Pietro waiting on the mantle, with their names in Pepper’s brilliantly swoopy calligraphy. Beside the old record player, which always spins Tchaikovsky Nutcracker soundtracks, lies a brass platter with elegantly molded marzipan fruit on it. There are always tamales (though not usually quite so many), and later, when they’ve eaten dinner and are wallowing gleefully in the overstuffed happiness of a holiday meal, Pepper will bring out a new pair of Christmas pajamas for each person.

These are the constants, the things which have gradually become as comfortable as the way their mother used to leave them oranges on Christmas morning, before the sky darkened for the final time. It’s homey, now, the way Thor booms out a christmas carol in Swedish to the giggling delight of the little boy now perched on his shoulders. Warm hands press into her shoulders, and the familiar scent of Bucky’s old spice bodywash hits her when he presses a gentle kiss to her cheekbone, reaching around her shoulder.

“Sasha insisted on carrying your christmas gift himself,” Bucky says, his voice rumbling through her ribs. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise but you may need to fake enthusiasm, because I saw what it was before he wrapped it and I’m not altogether certain what it even was.”

“I’m sure I’ll love it,” she turns to face him, his eyes crinkling a little at the corners, his face as open and happy as she’s seen it.

“See,” he says, fingers curling around her elbow to lead her over towards the dining table, where everyone is congregating once more, “the thing is, I know you will. And it baffles me, because I’m his dad and I love him but that- whatever it is, well. There’s a better way to wrap it and it might have been with a trash bag.”

“You don’t even believe that,” she laughs. “You’d cherish it if he gave it to you.”

“I would cherish the effort and love he put into it,” Bucky corrects.

“It’s Tamale time, you laggers,” Tony calls over to them, presiding smugly at the head of the table next to Pepper, who simply shakes her head fondly. Sasha is sitting primly next to Tony on several phone books in order to be tall enough. There are spots for them on either side of Winifred, sandwiched between Jones, and Natasha, and it’s just- right, to slide into them.

“Merry Christmas,” Winifred says grandly, when everyone is seated and waiting expectantly, and May just cracks up, a chain reaction spreading around the table.

“It’s not even your holiday,” Bucky snorts, and Winifred smiles serenely, pinching his arm as Tony gestures towards the huge heaps of tamales in the middle of the table, surrounded by sides and salsas.

“Regardless of whose holiday it is,” Tony says, “I ordered three hundred tamales and I want to know how many more of them Sasha can eat than Thor, so we’d best get started.”

After that, it’s game on.

--

It turns out that Sasha has fashioned her his interpretation of the Catsimoff, out of various pieces of pasta he’d painted with metallic tempera. And his interpretation is rather… abstract. But Wanda wasn’t kidding, when she said she’d love it, because she holds him tightly for a good full minute and has to wipe away a single little tear when she lets him go.

Pepper gets her a cashmere sweater in a brilliant vermillion color. Tony gets her an upgraded speaker. “Santa”, who is obviously the pseudonym of a certain ridiculously wealthy power couple, leaves her a beautifully illustrated watercolor card on the mantle with the information for a reservation made at a bed and breakfast for the first weekend of spring, and a truly ridiculous amount of cash.

“Santa” leaves Thor a huge copper hammer-shaped knife block; Sam, an unreleased experimental panini press; Steve, several huge blocks of Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper in the highest weight. For Darcy, a moleskine filled with delicately printed numbers, which make no sense to anyone else but make her smile smugly; for Jane, a set of access codes to the Hamilton observatory. Pietro gets tickets to Legoland; Bucky gets a pair of nice leather gloves and a huge text in an ancient foreign language bound in gilded, illustrated fabric. Tony smirks when Pepper opens her envelope from Santa, which contains two plane tickets to a private island written in a suspiciously familiar handwriting. Pepper smirks back when Tony opens his envelope from Santa and all it contains is a handwritten letter on heavy cream stationery that makes him stifle a few tears.

For Dugan, a huge box of Cuban cigars. For Dernier, a case of Laduree macarons straight from France, and a nice sketchbook. For Morita, a special set of chef’s knives and a scarf. For Natasha, a small box with a little ring in it made of heavy duty metal, and for Sharon, a matching watch. They have GPS coordinates on a little slip of paper in the box, they make a high pitched beep when the pair put them on, and Sharon kisses Pepper’s cheek gratefully. Winifred gets a gift certificate to a boutique Wanda has never heard of, and Tamar and May receive vouchers for a weekend at an exclusive spa near their college. Sarah receives an excellent set of quilting supplies in beautiful colors and the quality of the fabric nearly makes her speechless. 

Everyone, one by one, opens their gifts, until they finally reach Sasha, who had insisted on going last. For him, there is a whole stack of presents, a truly absurd tower that looms over the patient little boy. When Wanda was little, she always loved watching other people open presents. For the joy in their smiles, or the surprise on their faces. For the excellent moment of satisfaction when she’d been the one to pick out a gift, and gotten it just right. Watching Sasha open his gifts is an entirely different ballgame.

His eyes go maximum-wide every single time he opens a gift. He says thank you more than any other little child she’s ever met. And it’s palpable, the amount of gratuitous fondness seeping out of everyone in the room when he nearly starts to tear up with excitement upon opening the little robot Bruce and Darcy constructed, coded by Tony.

“I’m going to name it…. Ultron,” Sasha says. When he presses the button to turn it on, its little eyes light up red, and Wanda just knows it’s going to cause trouble. But it clearly makes Sasha incredibly happy, with its evil little laugh that Tony definitely put in there just to mess with Bucky and Steve.  He hugs its cackling little robot body to him for the rest of the night.

When everyone is getting ready to leave, warm and sleepy and happy, Bucky tucks Wanda’s scarf into the front of her coat very gently, and presses his kiss to her cheek for longer than strictly necessary.

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” he says, “In time for ebelskivers, because otherwise you know my mother will hunt us all down.”

“I’ll be there,” she says, “with bells on. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Sleep comes quick on the tails of a comfortable Christmas morning anticipation, the sweetness of a cup of chamomile tea as she slowly drifts off, alone in her bed. It’s not as lonely as it sometimes seems, because she can vividly recall the look on Sasha’s face when he opened his odd little robot. And she can also, nearly viscerally, feel the press of Bucky’s lips to her cheek and the way his hand held onto hers until the very last parting moment. There are reindeer hooves (or hail, perhaps, but she’s not discerning) on the rooftop. There is a warm knitted blanket from Winifred covering her in her sleep.

There is a sheltered little island of calm in her heart.

--

On New Year’s eve, everyone gathers at the Bean to watch the ball drop on the projector screen Bruce has rigged up. Sasha is sleeping on Dugan’s lap by the time the five minute countdown begins, so Bucky leaves his boy in Dum Dum’s capable hands and finds Wanda around the edges of the makeshift dance floor.

“Happy almost New Year’s,” she says to him, reaching up to brush a little hair off the side of his forehead, her smile just like coming to shore from the middle of a squall, just like finding the lighthouse after days at sea. He wants to lean down and kiss it, but-

“I think I’d like to kiss you at midnight,” Wanda murmurs, just barely audible over the din of the party going on around them. It startles a laugh out of him, a little uncontrollable joy spilling out of his mouth. Her grin gets inexpressibly wider.

“I think I’d like to kiss you all the time,” Bucky says, his hands wrapping around her impossibly strong little waist and pulling her close. She pokes at him, giggling despite herself. Across the room, Bucky can see Natasha looking at them over Sharon’s shoulder as the two of them spin slowly to the tune of a song only they can probably hear. Natasha smiles like a carmine cat who caught the willing little canary, and nods her head approvingly.

“Ten!” shouts Tony, from the swirling middle mass of the dance floor, just barely louder than the din. The countdown grows around them like a brimming roll of thunder, until Bucky is certain Sasha can’t possibly be sleeping through this even though Dugan had put his earmuffs on the little boy’s head when he’d finally nodded off.

At one, he locks eyes with Wanda, and he smiles, and he dips her like all those old movies she’d told him she used to watch with Pietro in their bedroom back in Sokovia. As the ball drops, so does he, kissing her for all he’s worth, holding her tightly in front of this odd little family that had adopted him before he really even knew it.

When they finally surface the ball has long ago hit the floor, and he likes to think the cheering around them is for more than just the start of a new year.

--

He wakes up next to her for the forty-second time, and he thinks- I love you.

She finds him waiting outside when she gets off shift for the sixteenth time, and she thinks- I love you.

He watches her paint Sasha’s face with cream stage makeup into the bright stripes of a tiger, and he thinks- we love you.

She watches him arm wrestle Pietro at the Bean, and lose with no small amount of pouting, and she thinks- we love you.

“Good morning,” she says, brushing the hair off his forehead and leaning up to kiss his cheek when he opens the door for her on Saturday morning, bright and early, so they can try making cartoon character pancakes with Sasha. “Guess what?”

“What?” he asks, kissing her back, wrapping his arm around her waist and goofily grinning as he spins her in a circle, into the hallway, slamming the door shut behind them.

“I love you,” she says. He laughs, just a shocked burst of joy, and kisses her again. She can hear Sasha’s footsteps running down the stairs, and Steve chasing after him, begging him not to sprint on the hardwood floors in slippery socks.

“You know what,” he murmurs, bending and pressing his forehead to hers. “Funny thing is, I love you too.”

--

“If you break her heart,” Tony begins, but then he starts laughing before he can even finish his sentence. “Oh, who am I kidding,” he wipes at the corners of his eyes, patting Bucky carefully on his good shoulder and handing him his cup of coffee on the crisp, clear morning of January second. “You’d be dead before you even got the chance.” Looking over at Pepper, who smiles serenely and yet somehow horrifyingly threateningly at him from the corner over the top of her laptop screen, Bucky privately has to agree.

--

“You’ll do him right,” Sam says, handing Wanda a grilled cheese and a mug of hot chocolate, leaning across the counter to ruffle her hair with a shit-eating grin on his face. “I know you will.”

--

“Thank you,” Steve tells her one morning, while they’re flipping fried eggs together, waiting for Bucky and Sam and Sasha to get up. He doesn’t bother to tell her what for- they both know Bucky has smiled more days in a row than he had in four years before.

“Thank you,” she says back, and doesn’t bother to clarify either. They both know Steve held Bucky together just long enough for Wanda to get to meet him, and that he’ll keep holding him together even now.

--

“She sings while she’s cooking, again,” Pietro tells Bucky, apropos of nothing, but it feels like approval, and when Thor claps his shoulder gently and smiles that soft giant smile of his, Bucky knows that’s exactly what it is.

--

Time has never felt so syrupy sweet and yet flown so quickly as it does now that they can hold hands in public, and kiss each other goodbye when they must part, for however little time it may be.

--

February fourteenth is rainy, and gloomy, and gray. It pours and pours, until the gutters are rattling and every bedraggled customer that trudges by the shop passes over her door as though it never existed at all. It’s not all bad, the lack of business- there’s something nice about putting the radio up high and dancing in the back kitchen for most of her shift, spinning her red skirt out in a twirl and laughing out loud in excitement about her date tonight. Bucky had insisted, determined to treat her right on Valentine’s day, and Winifred had offered to babysit nearly as soon as she and Bucky had become an official couple. Pietro pinches her cheek and shoves her out the door when the shift change comes, grumbling goodnaturedly about how she’s glowing up the place, and to get out of here and go do her dumb romance thing somewhere else.

She wears her favorite purple rain boots and her red trenchcoat, her umbrella twirling the whole walk down to the Barnes house. There are chocolates in her plastic bag, protected from the rain. There are roses in her eyes, and she knows full well Steve even made Bucky get romantic candles for the dinner. It’s been meticulously planned out to the last detail so, of course, when she arrives at the house and hears Sasha screeching inside, she knows that all those details are about to fall apart. Steve is the one who opens the door, his face pale and drawn, Sam right behind him in the hallway looking sick with concern.

“It’s Sasha,” Steve says, pained, ushering her in and shaking out her umbrella for her, putting it in the stand by the door. “He’s. Um. I think he’s having a bit of a tantrum.” Sam, normally calm in the face of crisis, looks just as pained as Steve does, so Wanda assumes the screeching’s been going on for a while now. It’s not that she’s never seen Sasha cry. It’s not that Sasha’s never even had a tantrum. She’s seen the little boy tired, and upset, and when he falls on the playground and skins his knee badly he always tears up. But it hurts, still, every time, to see the little face crumple up into a long, heartbreaking cry. She takes her trenchcoat off, her heart twisting in her chest to hear Sasha sobbing, and hangs it in the hallway. She takes her boots off, and leaves them by the door.

“You’ve got plans, right?” Wanda asks Sam, who nods, and Steve, who starts to protest.

“We can change them,” Steve says, wringing his hands like an old woman at a train station waiting for her son. Wanda shakes her head, wraps her arms around him and kisses his cheek, and then shoves him towards the door.

“You go,” she says, kissing Sam’s cheek too as she heads towards the living room. “It’s your night off, hmm?”

In the living room, Bucky is sitting on the floor, a red-faced and hysterical Sasha sitting in his lap, clinging to his neck with strong little arms and making a snotty mess of his nice red sweater. He’s past the point of even hiccuping words out, just exhausting himself with shuddery breaths, and Bucky looks like someone has smashed his entire world in front of him. She hops over the back of the couch, sliding down next to them, and reaches a hand out to brush the sweaty hair from Sasha’s flushed forehead. Bucky startles a little, turning towards her, but she shushes him gently and leans in towards Sasha’s screwed-up face.

“Little Sachka,” she says, a crumpling in her chest at his pathetic, sad hiccup. “Why are you so sad?” He uncurls his hands from around Bucky’s neck, stiff little fingers reaching out towards her, and she lets him crawl into her lap, Bucky looks almost shell-shocked by it, letting his arms fall to his sides and watching with widened eyes as Sasha wraps himself around Wanda, resting his wet little nose against her neck.

“You’re leaving,” he chokes out, after a few long moments of heaving breaths and upset small noises. Bucky makes a face like someone has stabbed him, hands reaching towards the two of them, but Wanda shushes him again.

“I am not going anywhere,” Wanda says, pressing kiss after kiss to his head. “What gave you that idea? That I would leave my favorite boy?”

“Because Stevie and Sam are going to get married and go away from here, and then you and Papa are going to get married and go away from here, and then I’ll have to live- to live-” He hiccups on his own fast speech, sounding muffled by his clogged up tear ducts. “I’ll have to live alone! With no one!” And it’s very hard, suddenly, not to laugh. Not to laugh at the way the logic stumbles over itself, morphing into a fear that’s sticking in Sasha’s little chest, dogging his steps while he waits for them to leave him alone.

“Sasha, my love,” she says, her gentle hands coaxing him away from her neck so she can look him in the eye. “Your Papa and I are never going to leave you alone, with no one. He loves you too much to ever let you be sad, and lonely, and I love you too much to ever want to be away from you.” Sasha frowns at her, wiping tears from his puffy eyes.

“Then why are you leaving me alone to go away tonight?” Bucky laughs, this time, finally leaning in and wrapping his broad arms around the both of them.

“It’s Valentine’s Day,” he says patiently, his own voice gruff and choked on emotion. “I wanted to take Wanda on a date.”

“Without me,” Sasha says grumpily, and Wanda kisses his forehead with a comical smacking sound, a smile twitching at the edge of his mouth when she grins at him.

“Sasha,” she says, smoothing his hair back and kissing his forehead again. “Will you be my Valentine?”

“You already have a Valentine,” Sasha sniffs, crossing his arms and sitting back. “You made your choice.”

“I can have more than one,” Wanda says, crossing her arms right back. He narrows his eyes- she narrows hers right back. He pouts his lip- she pouts hers right back. Behind him, Bucky is struggling not to laugh out loud.

“You gave out cards to your whole class,” Bucky points out, rubbing a big palm soothingly between Sasha’s shoulderblades. The boy looks reluctantly calmed by it, relaxing into his arm a little. “Does that mean you’re going to leave me and Wanda all alone and go live with your class?”

“I would never,” he says staunchly. Wanda just sighs fondly, wrapping her arms around him again.

“So how about it, my darling,” she murmurs. “Be my other Valentine?” Sasha sighs back, grudgingly wrapping his arms around her right back.

“I guess.” he mutters. “If I get candy out of it, maybe.”

Bucky leans across him to kiss her gently on the cheek, and then he wraps the both of them up in the biggest hug Wanda thinks anyone has ever managed.

“Thank you,” he whispers, and when she says, “Any time,” she means it one hundred percent.

--

For a first Valentine’s day as a couple, it might not be the media ideal. Sasha falls asleep between them after dinner on the couch, his current favorite National Geographic dinosaur documentary playing on the television. They ate dinner, the three of them, without any candles, and Bucky had to divide the chocolate lava cakes he’d bought into three equal pieces. Sasha didn’t want pesto gnocchi, so Wanda made a box of macaroni and cheese while Bucky heated up the pasta. They don’t make him eat his vegetables- just this one night, Bucky claims. She doesn’t get to open up her Valentine from Bucky- they’re too busy holding Sasha and exclaiming over velociraptor bones, reassuring him that they’re not going anywhere. Winifred texts them, halfway through the evening, to make sure everything’s okay, and when Bucky texts her back that it is, he’s surprised to find that he really means it.

It’s not the passionate aesthetic of a new romance, but rather the comfortable feeling of one that’s settling gently into their bones, a true and rightness to their puzzle pieces aligning on the squishy old couch. Outside, the rainstorm thunders on, never ceasing its squall. The fireplace glimmers with the embers of the log Sasha insisted they set, earlier on, glinting off toys strewn about the living room carpet. There’s a cardboard children’s book poking Bucky in the side when he shifts to grasp her hand gently in his, and Sasha’s miniscule breaths are a tidal metronome between them. It is nothing like either of them had planned, days, months, or years ago- but still, in that moment, everything that they’d dreamed.

It is, Wanda thought, as she took in the way the amber light softened the edges of her boys, true love.