Author Topic: Worries and Secrets  (Read 1348 times)

Steve Rogers

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Worries and Secrets
« on: May 20, 2019, 06:58:31 PM »
Visits from Tony Stark were rare. Visits from Tony Stark and Pepper Potts were even rarer. Partly because they had to travel through the Nexus to visit and partly because it wasn't really like Tony to drop in uninvited, especially not where Rhy'Din was concerned. Steve had a feeling something was up, but he wasn't sure what. He just hoped it had nothing to do with Hydra again. So, while Lucy and Pepper were next door visiting the Storm twins, Steve and Tony were left behind to talk shop - or whatever it was Tony apparently wanted to discuss. Steve handed Tony a beer, which had a label claiming it was made by orcs, and cracked one open for himself.

"So, what's the occasion? And please don't tell me it's about the twins, because we both know it's not."

"Hey now, I am getting better at the uncle thing, right? I even remembered to bring Aunt Pepper this time." As defences go, it definitely wasn't one of Tony's best, but neither was it so suspicious that it confirmed Steve's concerns. "Can't a man not long for his bachelorhood come and observe the intricacies of married life among friends and sisters once in a while?"

"Sure he can, but we both know that's not what this is about," Steve said, taking a lean against the counter. It was just a feeling, but Steve was sensing some tension in the other man that he knew had nothing to do with his impending wedding. "Do you wanna sit down?" he asked, gesturing toward the table and chairs, or there was always the living room.

"Mmm?" Tony raised his eyes from his contemplation of the label on his beer, content to stay where he was for now. "I look better in this suit standing up," he offered with a half-shrug. "Point-break checked in. Seems as though those long, brotherly chats in deepest darkest Asgard are finally turning up more than daddy issues."

Steve arched a brow at that. Tony had come straight to the point, no beating around the bush this time, it seemed. Whatever he had come here to tell him, it had something to do with Loki. "Okay, so, what kind of issues, and do we need to worry about them?"

"Intergalactic conquest issues." Tony rubbed his forehead. The information Thor had given him was a little beyond comprehension, even for him, but it had to be shared. "The big bad that empowered Loki calls himself Thanos, and he's collecting something called Infinity Stones. Guess what happens when he catches them all?"

Infinity Stones? Why couldn't bad guys just do ordinary things like rob banks? Steve had run into his fair share of megalomaniacs, starting with Johann Schmidt. "Uh, my guess would be intergalactic conquest," he said, seeing how Tony had inadvertently already given him the answer.

"Blah, blah, power to control the universe, yadda, yadda, yadda." Tony waved a hand, shaking his head. "Turns out we've got one. He'll be coming back for it sometime."

Wasn't that what Red Skull had wanted, too? What was it with these guys? They'd defeated Hydra, at least for the foreseeable future, and now there was another threat? There was no rest for the weary, so it seemed.

"We've got one?" Steve echoed, brows furrowed in contemplation. His thoughts went first to the Tesseract, but as far as he knew, that had been left in the safekeeping of the Asgardians. But something else had, too. He frowned worriedly as he realized what Tony had to be referring to. "Loki's scepter."

Tony nodded. "Our friendly neighborhood god broke it open to check, only I'm not allowed to touch it or study it because apparently I can't be trusted to restrain my curiosity." He pulled a small box from his pocket, setting it on the counter. "Oh, and it'll kill humans who touch it, too."

Steve arched a single blond brow, as he glanced to the box that presumably held the stone. "Okay, so, what am I supposed to do with it?" he asked. He might be enhanced, but he was still human. Then again, he had no desire to touch the thing, much less possess it. The scepter had presumably been put in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s vault for safekeeping - or research - but now that S.H.I.E.L.D. had disbanded, it seemed to have fallen on A.E.G.I.S. to do something with the thing to keep it out of the hands or those who might abuse its power.

"Keep it here," Tony told him. "Point-break's pretty sure the big bad doesn't know Rhy'Din exists, and even if he did, he couldn't find it. Nexus point of multiple universes and all seems to screw on his space mojo."

"Translation?" Steve said, slightly annoyed with Tony's meandering way of explaining things. He'd really wish the guy would just speak plainly. It would make things a lot easier.

"Rhy'Din's shielded somehow," Tony said with a sigh. "Thor can't find it, and he knows what he's looking for. If he can't find it, this Thanos can't either. Clear enough?"

"Who knows you're here? Who knows you brought it here?" Steve asked, amending his question to be more specific. As far as anyone knew, the scepter's last known location had been with S.H.I.E.L.D., but now that Fury was dead and S.H.I.E.L.D. had been disbanded, he wasn't sure what people thought. He knew there were probably people who wanted it - people besides Thanos. They had to be sure no one knew where to find it.

"Thor." That was it; somehow Tony had managed to keep this a secret from everyone in the Avengers facility and mansion, as well as A.E.G.I.S. headquarters. He hadn't even told Pepper about it, which was pretty huge for him. Usually when he had something big and worrying on his mind, he spread the worry around. "Actually, no. The big guy doesn't know I brought it, he just suggested I should."

"What about Loki?" Steve asked, knowing how Thor and his brother had this on-again/off-again love/hate relationship. The last person he wanted to know about the stone's location was Loki and by extension, Thanos. "Who is this Thanos, anyway?"

"The Mad Titan, says the man with the hammer." Tony gestured, still at a loss. "Big, purple, homicidal, totally insane. You know how this goes."

"Yeah, I guess I do," Steve said, frowning with worry. "You're sure it's safe here? That this Thanos won't be able to find it?" he asked, apparently needing some reassurance that safeguarding the stone wouldn't put his family in danger. That was more important to him than anything else, including threats of intergalactic conquest.

"Thor's sure." Tony straightened, one hand out toward Steve. "Look, I wouldn't have brought it to you if I didn't trust the big guy. I'm kind of attached to your family too, you know? But Thor's the one who knows about the greater universe, and I don't want to be attracting intergalactic warlords to Earth when there's no guarantee we could beat them. Or even see them coming. Loki told his boss that the scepter was destroyed. As far as Thanos knows, this stone right here? No longer exists."

"Right," Steve said, with a nod of his head. That much made sense. If no one knew it was here but the three of them and Thanos believed it destroyed, it just might work - so long as no one used it, and Steve had no intentions of doing that. "What about the rest of the stones?" he asked, wondering what would happen if this Thanos were to get his hands on the rest of them. Would he then be able to locate this one?

"Point-break's working on it," Tony told him. "Something about breaking the Green Gonad out of prison and hiding any other stone they find?"

"Since when does he trust Loki?" Steve asked, unsure if breaking that particular god out of his prison cell was a good idea. "We can't let what happened in New York happen again, Tony," he added, voicing one of his biggest worries. Yes, they had won, but there had been too much destruction, too many lives lost.

Tony's expression turned dark for a long moment, remembering that battle and how it had ended. It was a very dark memory for him, in particular. "It won't," he said firmly. "I'm working on a few things that'll give us warning at the very least."

"Like what?" Steve said, taking a swig of his beer. Sometimes he wondered if there was any point when he could drink a dozen of the things and never feel a thing, but he still like the taste of beer and it did quench his thirst anyway.

"Too early to say. Safety nets, you know?" Tony took a gulp from his own bottle, raising his brows, impressed by the flavor. "Not slumming it out here at all, are you? How many of the menagerie are coming to the wedding, by the way?"

"You don't need much money to survive here," Steve said with a shrug. It didn't hurt that they'd been adopted by the Grangers and made their home at Maple Grove. He'd been called on a few times to consult on matters of security, but it wasn't what he did for a living really. "The menagerie?" he echoed, assuming Tony was referring to the menagerie of children he and Lucy were raising. "All of them, I guess, unless it's adults only."

Tony nodded to the window, through which was a perfect straight line of sight into the Storms' kitchen, where Pepper has one of the new twins against her shoulder, and Alexei close beside her, as animated with the children as she ever was with adults. "Does that look like a woman who would insist on adults only to you?"

Steve smiled at the view of Pepper with one of the twins propped against her shoulder, practically surrounded by children and enjoying every second of it. "It would be a crime not to give that woman children, you know," he said, unsure how Tony felt about having children of his own.

For the first time since Steve had known him, Tony actually looked shifty, glancing away as he ran a finger around the inside of his shirt collar. "We're, uh ... Yes, about that," he said, clearing his throat. "Things are ... progressing."

Steve blinked, letting that bit of information sink in a moment, before chuckling. "Congratulations, I think?" he said, assuming things had progressed far enough that Pepper was pregnant.

"My youthful good looks are going to be sucked away by a small parasite who looks just like the woman of my dreams," Tony predicted, half-mournful and half genuinely excited about the prospect of being a father. He hadn't realized that was what he wanted until he had settled into his role as a brother to twin sisters, and found a genuine joy in interacting with their families. Pepper had been shocked enough when he'd proposed; when he hadn't freaked out on her news last week, she'd almost fainted.

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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2019, 06:59:22 PM »
Steve chuckled at Tony's reaction. "First of all, it's Pepper who's carrying the ... parasite ... and there's a fifty-fifty chance he or she might look like you," he pointed out. He reached out to give Tony's shoulder a squeeze. "You're good with kids. You'll be fine."

Tony scoffed. "Tell that to the baby Avengers." Of course, that might have been part of the problem he was having with the recruited enhanced on Earth - they might all have been under 25, but consistently referring to them as the children was definitely annoying the group.

"They're not kids, Tony. Heck, I'm old enough to be your Grandpa," Steve reminded him with a smirk. "You have to show them the way without treating them like children."

"They're kids!" Tony protested. "A couple of them are still in high school, for Christ's sake!" And then he realised what he'd just let slip to Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man who had views about letting people that young on the front lines.

"High school?" Steve echoed slowly, brows furrowing, all amusement going out of his face. "Just who are we talking about here?" he asked, wondering if these so-called "Baby Avengers" included his niece and her friends. But then Fliss wasn't in high school anymore.

"Oh, didn't you get the dossiers?" Tony rubbed his neck as he paced for a moment. "There's three, I think - one's close to graduating. One energy absorber, one astral projector, one that turns stuff to diamond."

"You have names?" Steve asked, crossing his arms and eyeing Tony suspiciously, even with the beer still in his hand. He obviously hadn't gotten the dossiers, as very little escaped Steve's attention.

"Andrews, Sharpe, Brooks." At least Tony had remembered the pertinent names. "Don't look at me like that, they haven't been out on the front. Training and backtalking are their twin passions. Besides, Tinkerbell and her bodyguard have them wrapped around their pinkies."

Steve relaxed a little as he realized Tony wasn't referring to Johnny's daughter and her friends. "You know what we need?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. "We need a school for ..." he trailed off, unsure how to refer to those who possessed special abilities.

"... gifted children?" Tony finished, raising his brow. "You know one exists, right? Oh, wait, no, you probably don't. Lord High English Brain didn't want anyone to know he has a mansion full of what he's calling "mutants" in Westchester. Not too far from the facility, actually."

"Lord ... who?" Steve asked. Despite being a former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, there was still a lot he apparently had either not been told or had been too busy to find out. "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

Tony sigh, rolling his eyes, though it was obvious his attitude was not aimed at Steve. It had everything to do with the man he was about to tell Steve about. "Professor Charles Xavier, best known telepath in the world, possibly runs his own superhero team, but finding out about them is all but impossible because of the aforesaid telepathy."

"And that's why I've never heard about him until now?" Steve asked. It bothered him when things were going on around him that he didn't know about, especially when Tony knew about them before he did. Then again, he couldn't keep on top of everything from Rhy'Din.

"Totally independent of all government or global oversight," Tony told him, his tone dripping with frustration. "Met the guy once or twice - he's infuriating. I have no idea if he ever told me anything about anything he does at that school, because I don't remember what we talked about. I never forget conversations like that."

"We should talk to him, Tony. There's no point in opening a school for gifted youngsters, if one already exists," Steve reasoned, though he wasn't sure if there was enough room at this school for additional children.

"I got nothing. I know I've met the man; did we talk about the school? Who knows? He did his mind mojo on me, I'm pretty sure. To me, that makes him a not my friend. Playing with my brain is a big no-no." Tony was vehement as he said this; this Professor Xavier had not made a friend of Tony Stark.

Steve frowned, thinking. He knew Tony could be a bit much to take, until you got to know him. There had been a time when he and Tony hadn't gotten along very well. Even now, Tony rubbed him the wrong way from time to time, but he'd grown on him. "Maybe we should have someone else doing the talking," he suggested.

"I'm open to suggestions." Tony didn't think straight when he was riled up, and given that he was also getting married in less than a month, his brain wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders right now.

"Not me. He'll feel like I'm pulling rank, if it's me," Steve thought aloud. Who then? Not Nat, either - not with her reputation. It had to be someone who could reason with the man, make him understand that they both had the same goals - that of teaching young people how to use and control their powers. It was something they were working on right here in Rhy'Din, but he couldn't risk letting too many people know about this place, whether they were allies or not. "Who among us is so nice that no one can tell her no?"

Tony snorted with laughter. "Your scary wife's little sister," he pointed out. "Not sure how I feel about sending the good one into a school full of people with powers, though."

"You said he's telepathic? Maybe we could send Alexei with her," Steve suggested, though he wasn't sure he liked the idea of either of them going to New York unaccompanied. "Maybe a trip to see Johnny's family. That wouldn't look too suspicious."

"Fliss would be preferable," Tony pointed out. "She's got her own skills, and she's trained. She'd defend her mom to the death if necessary." And there was that slightly envious tone once again, that wish for a family bond just as strong for his own.

"Johnny would never let them go alone," Steve pointed out, just as he would never let Lucy go alone. "I don't suppose he'd be willing to meet at a neutral location," he said.

"Hate to say it, but Liv would have the best chance of getting a meeting like that," Tony muttered through his teeth. "I don't like it, but I get it. Maybe she should Facetime him."

"I'm sorry ... Facetime?" Steve echoed, unsure what that meant. He did his best to keep up, but every now and then, he stumbled on something he'd missed. "Do you mean meet him in person or ..." he trailed off, uncertainly.

"It's like Skype. Video calls. C'mon, old man, wake it up!" Tony snapped his fingers at Steve, smirking at the other man cheerfully. "Give me a few years, I could make a hologram of her and she could send that in. There's no rush, right?"

Steve scowled at Tony, a sign of his annoyance, mostly at the finger snapping. "How many kids have we recruited, so far?" he asked, ignoring the other man's jibe. He wasn't sure they had a few years to wait.

"There's just the three of them still in high school," the other man told him, aware that Steve might just scold him if he kept this up. "And Brooks'll be graduating in just a couple of months. We're not deliberately pulling kids out of school, Steve."

"No, I know that. I'm just thinking maybe they'd be better off with this Professor. Either that, or we need to come up with some kind of training program," Steve reasoned. "Let me ask you something ... Are these kids born this way?"

Tony frowned back at him. "From what JARVIS can tell, yes," he said eventually. "It's a genetic mutation that manifests at puberty for pretty much all of them. If you don't have it, then you only get powers through outside means, and then you end up with, well, you. And Alyona's massive headaches. And Nic's whole arm situation."

"And you," Steve countered, including Tony into the equation, though some might argue that his only real superpower was his suit. "So, they're like Fliss and Lucas and Matt," he said, considering again. "What if we referred kids to this school and when they graduated, they could decide if they want to join A.E.G.I.S.?"

"That ... that's a good idea." Tony looked totally nonplussed by the fact that he hadn't thought of this.

"What's a good idea?" Fliss' voice entered the equation as she let herself in through the back door. "Uncle Steve, do you know where the twin bouncy chair thing is? People are gonna start fighting over who gets to hold them pretty soon."

"Uh," Steve said, distracted by Fliss as she let herself in. "I think your mom left it in the living room. You wanna go check?" he asked, letting the first question go, but answering the latter.

"Cool. Thanks!" The young woman waved a hand absently as she passed the door on her way to the living room.

Tony blinked, and looked over at Steve, slightly offended. "What am I, chopped liver?"

Steve smiled and shrugged. "Sorry, it's my house," he said, assuming that was why Fliss had asked him and not "Uncle Tony". "Don't worry so much. She likes you," Steve said, lowering his voice so that Fliss didn't overhear him. It was always a competition with Tony, even though Steve was clearly not trying to compete.

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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2019, 06:59:59 PM »
Tony grimaced, but shut his mouth. He was slowly learning not to take it personally when he was overlooked, especially among the family, but it was still a struggle. A moment later, Fliss came back into sight, holding the twin bouncer.

"So what is it you're talking about?" she asked, unashamed to be nosy as she grinned at the pair of them. "Did you tell him you're gonna be a daddy, Uncle Tony?"

"He did, and it's none of your business," Steve replied with a smirk, but then he thought better of it. "Actually, we could use your opinion. What do you think, Tony?" he asked. Fliss hadn't graduated that long ago. What would she think of their idea?

"Oh, no, I'm not going through that again," Tony said defensively. "Last time we talked to the fireball first, Liv cried on me. I wear Armani, it was not made to be washed in the tears of earnest women who apparently like me."

Steve furrowed his brows, confused. "Why would Liv cry on you? I was talking about the school idea," he clarified. Not the talking to Xavier idea. All he wanted was Fliss' opinion on a school. Why would Liv cry about that?

Fliss snorted with laughter. "He's talking about my brief stint as a hero," she clarified for Steve, setting the bouncer down on the table and taking up a lean beside Tony to hip check him. "You two planning on opening a school together?"

"Have you added telepathy to your talents or have you been eavesdropping?" Steve teased, turning serious as he addressed her mother's concerns. "She just worries about you. One hero is enough for any family, and your family has a few."

Fliss chuckled, absently leaning into Tony's side. He hesitated for a moment, then wrapped an arm about her shoulders, his expression a mix of wonder and pride. And this was what he was like with his sisters' children. He was going to be adorable with his own.

"Yeah, I figured that," Fliss agreed. "So what do you need?"

"Just an opinion. How do you think the kids are doing with Zack?" Steve asked, first off. He wanted an opinion from someone who could judge how things were going objectively and without bias.

"Honestly? I think they're doing better with Zack than they are in school," was Fliss' honest answer. "Zack builds everything around them; their school isn't built to accommodate them and their abilities."

"But Zack isn't teaching them reading and math and science. Just how to use their abilities," Steve pointed out, though that was what Zack was supposed to be doing. "What if there was a school where they could learn all of that in once place?" There was, of course, Bristle Crios and Harker's, but neither seemed quite right for their purposes.

"That would be amazing for them," Fliss agreed, without needing to think about it. "But it would have to be a small school, to give the kids the attention they need to learn and grow."

Tony looked at her, impressed. "Look at you, little miss grown up," he said admiringly. "Your earth-shaper friend introduced you to his schoolmarm wife, didn't he?"

"We could do that," Steve said, looking hopeful, excited even. "I think we could do that." Heck, he could even do some of the teaching. He was doing some tutoring already, and he loved kids. "You sure I can't talk you into switching careers?" he asked, tossing Fliss a wink.

"Hey, two more years, and I'm gonna be fully qualified to deal with your traumatized students," Fliss pointed out with a laughter.

"Geez, I forgot you were going for the shrink diploma," Tony said. "Are you going to analyze us for your homework, fireball?"

Fliss snorted, rolling her eyes. "If I do, I won't tell you in advance."

Steve was frowning. The only students they had so far were their own kids, and he was hoping they weren't so traumatized that they'd need psychiatric care. He couldn't predict the future though. "There's a school in New York for gifted teens - teens like you. We're wondering if it's a good idea to do the same here, but maybe not wait until they're teenagers." He didn't bother to mention that they'd be given the opportunity to join A.E.G.I.S. That would be their own choice.

Fliss glanced between the two men. "I think that's something you guys need to talk to the other proper adults about, don't you?" she suggested with a smile, picking up the little box that was lying on the counter. "What's this? Did you forget Aunt Lucy's birthday again?"

She made to open the box, but Tony was quicker, taking the box out of her hand before she could get the lid open.

"Nosy fireworks get no presents."

A look of alarm crossed Steve's face briefly, but thankfully, Tony grabbed the box away from Fliss before she could get it open. "That is definitely none of your business," he scolded her, trying not to sound too harsh.

"Whoa, okay, grabby hands." Fliss smirked, picking up the bouncer. "I'll just tell Mom you're cooking up manly secrets in Aunt Lucy's kitchen, then." She knew enough not to press if both Steve and Tony were wary of sharing.

"Fair enough," Steve said. He was sure he and Tony could come up with something to cover their tracks. He didn't like the idea of not telling Lucy the truth, but he wasn't sure he had a choice about the stone. The fewer people who knew of its whereabouts the better. That wasn't because he didn't trust her, but because he wanted to protect her. "We'll be there in a bit. Just have a little more business to discuss."

"You'd better be there in a bit, because Mom is this close to convincing Pepper to stay for dinner," Fliss warned with a grin as she left the kitchen. "And Colin said Nat might make an appearance with Alia, too."

Tony's eyes widened as he looked over at Steve. He hadn't met the Black Widow's daughter yet, not entirely sure he believed she existed.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Steve said, smiling again. They were all family, after all - the Storms and the Rogers and the Starks and the Prescotts, even if Tony was in denial of it. "What's the matter, Tony? Afraid Nat might force you into changing a diaper?"

"Just ... working through the fact that ... baby spider exists," Tony said thoughtfully, waving a hand near his own head. He shook himself out of it. "I don't do diapers. That's what I have DUM1 for."

Steve opened his mouth to say something and then closed it. "I'm not even gonna ask," he murmured, assuming Tony had created some robot or other to change diapers for him. He'd learn soon enough that babies preferred their parents. "We, uh, we think it was the Nexus. It ... cured her somehow," he said, for lack of a scientific explanation. He'd leave that to Lucy.

"I thought it was a joke," Tony admitted. "Some kind of excuse so she could retire like a normal person after getting married - which I'm still working through as well, by the way. How does an assassin go from Avenger to house wife and stay-at-home mom in less than a year? There was magic involved. Must have been."

"She fell in love," Steve said simply, with a shrug of his shoulders. "She's had a rough life. She deserves to be happy. The least we can do is be happy for her," he said, holding out his hand for the box. "Don't worry. I'll make sure no one finds it."

Tony visibly relaxed, some previously unnoticed tension in his back and shoulders easing away as Steve took charge of the little box. "If you gotta tell someone, make it Romanoff," he suggested. "She knows how to keep a secret better than any of us."

Steve nodded, though he wasn't sure he was going to tell anyone - not even Lucy. The fewer who knew the better. Then again, someone had to know, in case anything happened to him - someone besides Tony. "I'll think about it," he said, making no promises. One thing he didn't have to promise was that he wouldn't be tempted to use it. Maybe that was why Tony had decided to give it to him.

Tony nodded, more than happy to trust Steve with that decision as well. "You're the man with the plan," he said, by way of agreement. "Oh good god, she does have a baby!"

This was mentioned in response to seeing a familiar redhead walking toward the house from the hedge along the back of Steve's back garden, her two month old daughter resting on her shoulder.

Steve slipped the box into a pocket of jeans to keep it safe and out of sight for now. "It's the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan," he corrected, grinning. "What did you think, we were lying?" he added, chuckling at Tony's remark. "Not afraid, are you?" he asked, unable to resist teasing him a little.

"Afraid? Me?" Tony scoffed, and added immediately, "Of course I'm afraid. The scariest woman I know just got scarier - she became a mother!"

"I thought Lucy was the scariest woman you knew," Steve reminded him. He really couldn't help teasing Tony when he had the chance, which was rare. "Too bad you didn't bring your DUM1 with you," he said, unable to hide the smirk from his face.

"Only when she's pregnant," was Tony's addendum to his comment in answer to Steve's reminder. He managed a slightly wild-eyed smile and a wave as Nat stopped by the window, raising her brow at him. "And Prescott's still got his head, right?" he asked, barely moving his lips.

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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2019, 07:00:31 PM »
"Why wouldn't he?" Steve asked, furrowing his brows at Tony. He didn't always follow the man's circular way of talking. "Why don't you go say hello and I'll, um, put you-know-what away in a safe place?"

"Doesn't the Black Widow eat the male when she mates?" Tony failed to keep his voice down for that one, and it was pretty obvious that Nat heard every word. "Why don't you put your big boy pants on and find out, Stark?"

"It's just an alias, Tony. She's no more spider than you are made of iron," Steve pointed out, laughing. Of course, Tony knew this already, but sometimes talking to Tony was like talking to a child. "Don't worry," he said, slapping a hand against Tony's back. "You're not her type."

"Deadly, that's what she is," Tony pointed out, but he brightened as a thought occurred to him. "Maybe she'd let me hold the spiderling? Pepper keeps talking about turning me into a safe pair of hands - like I'd drop a kid of ours on purpose!"

"You shouldn't really drop anyone's kid, Tony," Steve reminded him, a little too seriously. It was hard to tell when Tony was kidding and when he was serious sometimes.

"You know what I mean, man, c'mon." Tony flashed him his patented confident smile. "Fine, I'll go play nice. You get sneaky and rescue me from the women in short order, right?"

Steve furrowed his brows, unsure if he wanted to do that, or even how he'd go about doing that. "How am I going to do that?" he asked. Steve was truthful almost to a fault, though sometimes he had no choice but to lie. He wasn't about to lie for Tony though.

Tony snorted. "Just don't let me drown in frilly conversation," he clarified. "Come to the other house. Join in the throng. Protect me from Romanoff."

"You know I can hear you, right?" Nat asked from outside the window, gently jostling her daughter on her shoulder.

"Why don't you just come in and join us?" Steve asked, unable to resist teasing Tony again. "Tony can't wait to get his hands on the sprog," he said, borrowing his wife's slang word for offspring.

The smile on Nat's face was downright evil as she looked at Tony, knowing perfectly well that he would panic as calmly as was humanly possible the moment she put Alia into his arms. "All right." She disappeared from view, walking to the door, and Tony shot Steve a dirty look.

"Are you preparing my eulogy or something?"

"You're the one that was wondering if she'd let her hold the spiderling. Your words not mine," Steve reminded him with a shrug and a smirk. "Stop worrying, Tony. It's just a baby. Not a bomb." Unless the baby left a bomb in its diaper.

"Since when does anyone listen to me?" The panic was right there in Tony's voice as Nat stepped into the kitchen, providing Steve the unforgettable sight of Tony Stark backing away from a baby.

Nat snorted with laughter, rolling her eyes. "Coward."

"I think he's more frightened of you than the baby," Steve said, chuckling. Or more accurately, of what Nat might do to Tony if he so much as looked at her daughter the wrong way.

"Okay, you're having way too much fun with this," Tony accused Steve, still physically leaning away from Natasha while still focusing in on the baby in her arms. "What's the spiderling's name?"

Nat gave him a look that suggested he should never call her daughter that again. "Alia."

"Alia Lucia," Steve corrected with a grin. No, he wasn't the proud Papa; he was just the proud uncle, albeit not by blood. "She's a cutie, isn't she?" he asked, reaching over to tickle the little one's cheek with a large but gentle finger. He sighed a little. The twins were two years old now, and he wasn't sure if they were going to have any more kids.

Alia was a sunny-faced little girl, possessed of big blue eyes and a very cheeky smile, waving her arm up and down with more enthusiasm than accuracy as Steve tickled her cheek.

Tony's expression softened as he watched. "She's cute," he offered.

Nat grinned over at him. "She is," she agreed. "You passed the first test, well done."

"She's adorable," Steve said, though he'd only just pronounced her cute. He was obviously fond of children and was starting to get the itch for another, though they'd decided to wait a while. "If you don't want to hold her, I will!" Steve said, reaching to snatch little Alia out of Nat's arms if Tony didn't do it first.

Nat smacked Steve's hand laughingly, fending him off with her free hand as she backed around the kitchen. Tony, to his utter amazement, found himself holding the baby, who looked at him with bright eyes and let out an infectious cackle of laughter as she leaned against this new person her mother clearly trusted, turning her head to watch Nat and Steve essentially playing.

"Did you just hit me?" Steve asked, an amused look on his face. "She's not a football, yanno!" he said, chuckling as Nat handed the baby off to Tony who looked as surprised as the baby. He didn't really mind that Nat had handed the baby to Tony, since it was Tony who hadn't met her yet.

"I disciplined you," Nat corrected Steve with a smirk. "You're old enough to know better than to snatch."

Meanwhile, Tony was looking down at the baby girl in his arms, visibly charmed by the sunny smile and humbled that Natasha Romanoff would trust him to hold the most precious person in her life. "She's beautiful," he murmured.

Nat met Steve's eyes with a wider smirk, inordinately proud of her baby girl for striking Tony Stark deep in the heart.

"You did good, Nat," Steve said with a soft smile, not because she'd handed the baby to Tony, but because she'd done well in having such a beautiful child. Even Tony thought so. Steve was happy for her, happy she'd been able to find some happiness in her life at long last.

"I'll fully agree with you when she decides it isn't the funniest thing ever to wake up at 5 in the morning and laugh directly into the baby monitor," Nat said, but her smile was warm. "First time she did that, we freaked."

"Come on. She can't know you're watching her. She's only, what, three months old?" Steve asked, doubtfully, eyeing the small bundle in Tony's arms. "See, Tony? She likes you!" he declared. "Either that or she just made a tootie."

"Two months," Nat corrected him. "It's not the waking up that's the problem. It's that laugh - that laugh!" She pointed at the baby as Alia let out a surprisingly low, husky giggle, making a grab for Tony's keys, which he was dangling in front of her. "Imagine hearing that out of nowhere waking you up."

"Yeah, but think of the alternative. Would you rather she was screaming?" Steve asked. "Consider yourself lucky," he added, having survived three newborns himself in the last few years. "She's a good baby, Nat."

"I know I'm lucky," she said quietly. "Hey, Stark, why don't you take Alia over to the Storms' and show her father you can be trusted with babies?"

Tony blinked as he looked up, mouth half-open as though to make sure she was certain about that. But he never asked questions like that, so ... "Sounds like you and me have a date, butterfly. Let's get going."

"We'll be there in a bit!" Steve called as Tony took Alia next door. "You think that's safe with Colin there?" he asked, lowering his voice once Tony had departed and was out of hearing range. He wasn't worried about Tony, but about what Colin might do when he saw Tony with Alia.

"He knows how paranoid I am," Nat assured Steve. "The only way Tony could get hold of Alia is if I gave her to him, and Tony's so charmed right now he'll tell Col where I am straight away." She smirked. "That man is completely weak for helpless babies."

"Who is? Tony?" Steve asked, unsure if she was referring to Tony or Colin. He was completely weak for helpless babies, too, to be honest, but he wouldn't admit it. Steve shoved a hand in his pants pocket, almost as if to make sure the box with the stone in it was still there. He frowned a little, obviously distracted by something.

"Yes, Stark." But Nat was already turning to look pointedly at Steve. "I saw the box," she told him simply. "Pretty sure Tony's not proposing to you, so what's going on here?"

"I'm not supposed to tell you, but ..." Steve trailed off, the frown deepening. He wasn't supposed to tell anyone, but what if something happened to him? Should he and Tony be the only ones to know that Steve was hiding an infinity stone somewhere in Rhy'Din? "Nat, if I tell you, you can't tell anyone. And I mean anyone. Not even Colin. I can't even tell Lucy."

His redheaded friend, to her credit, wasn't offended by his insistence. She knew she was better than all of them at keeping secrets, at manipulating people into thinking she had nothing to hide, though she tried not to do it to her friends and family. "You want me to swear it?"

"No, I trust you. It's just ..." He sighed, glancing to the window to make sure no one else was just strolling by. "Come here," he said, turning and leading the way to the basement, where Lucy kept her lab.

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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2019, 07:01:12 PM »
Nat didn't question his desire to take the conversation elsewhere, smiling faintly as she followed him down into Lucy's lab, which was the most secure place in the house. "You need help with something, Steve?"

"I need to figure out where to hide this," he explained. "Some place where no one will find it, whether they're looking for it or not." The logical thing to do was to lock it up in a safe, but what if Lucy stumbled on it by accident, while looking for something else?

"Huh." Nat considered the box, not even asking what was in it. She figured Steve would tell her eventually, and right now what was important was hiding it. "Change the combination on one of the safes, put it in there. Give me two days, and we'll have a more secure location to conceal it in."

"Where?" he asked, as he came to a halt near the safes and turned to face her, the fingers of one large hand closed around the box. If she had a better hiding place than he did, he was all ears.

"Are you ever going to need to get it out again?" she asked, still thinking it through. Rhy'Din had possibilities beyond Earth that she had barely scratched the surface of, after all.

"I don't know," he replied, as honestly as he could. He hoped he'd never have to look at the thing again for the rest of his days, but he wasn't so sure. "No one can knows it's here, and we can't let anyone else have it. It's that important, Nat."

"All right." She nodded. "Keep it in a safe with a combination only you know for now. Give me two days, and I'll have a stronger safe with an unbreakable lock, and somewhere we can put that safe so it won't provoke interest from anyone else."

"Here's the thing ... We thought the Tesseract was gone forever, right? At the bottom of the ocean somewhere, but it wasn't. This is that kind of thing, Nat." he explained further. "I-I don't even want to touch it."

"Then you won't have to," she promised him. "There are ways to shield things - that's why I need a couple of days. But I'm guessing this isn't in immediate danger of being discovered, right?"

"No, I don't think so. Just you, me, Tony, and maybe Thor," Steve told her. "That's too many as it is," he added with a worried frown. He just hoped Thor wouldn't let Loki trick him into telling him what had been given to Steve for safekeeping. "There are ... beings ... who would stop at nothing to have this," he said, opening his and then very carefully opening the box to let her see what it was that was hidden inside.

Nat raised a brow as she looked into the box. "And here I was, hoping I'd never have to see that again," she sighed, gesturing for him to close the box again. "So I guess we know what it is now, huh?"

"Sort of," Steve replied, happy to close the box. "According to Thor, there are more of these and there's some guy called Thanos who's trying to collect them all so he can rule the universe. I know it sounds crazy, but we've both seen some pretty crazy stuff in our lives."

She nodded thoughtfully. "So there might come a time when we need to get it out again." Nat rubbed her neck, dislodging the braid that held her hair most of the time these days. A couple of curls sprang free to bounce against her cheek. "All right. I ... may have a secret vault that I had built while Colin was back on Earth organising his full discharge from the British services a while back. Like I said, give me a couple of days to get a multi-layered lock on that thing, and we're good."

"I don't think we'll ever want to take it out again. As far as the rest of the world - the rest of the multiverse - is concerned, it's lost and we don't know where it is. And Nat, if Thor knows about this, Loki does, too. He may not know we have it - he may not even know where we are - but we have to be very careful no one knows where it is but you and me. Not Tony, not even Thor. Loki is our number one threat right now," Steve explained before moving over to one of the safes he and Lucy had installed in the lab. "We need to make sure it's somewhere safe, where no one will find it. Ever."

Again, Nat raised her brow, smirking up at her best friend. "Steve ... remember how I was the only one who figured out that Loki was up to something and got it out of him?" she pointed out, not without a certain amount of deserved pride. "He's not getting past me. Ever."

"No? We have kids now, Nat. That makes us vulnerable," he reasoned. Though so few of them knew of the stone's existence, it was unlikely anyone would talk, he needed to be sure. This was a secret that was likely to be passed on to the next generation and the generation after that and so on. Either that or they had to bury the thing so deep, no one would ever find it.

"I think having kids makes us more dangerous, Steve," she responded. "Hiding that thing protects our kids. So we hide it, and the secret of where dies with us. But even if we give up where it is, whoever finds it will never be able to get into the container. That's what I need the time for, Steve. I can't make this happen in a few minutes."

"What kind of container?" he asked, curiously. It had to be something no one would be able to penetrate - not even a so-called god. He could imagine a few places they could take the thing where it might be safe, but even at the bottom of the ocean, the Tesseract hadn't been lost forever.

"I don't know yet," she said honestly. "Oh, and we are not hiding it on the Grove. It is not going to be anywhere near our families. Agreed?"

"Okay, so where are we hiding it then?" he asked, wondering what she had in mind. She seemed to have some sort of plan in mind, and though she had asked him to give her a few days, he was curious what she was considering. The thing had been put in his hands for safekeeping after all. It was a heavy burden, but one he didn't have to shoulder alone.

"What about those mountains?" she suggested, jerking her head in the vague direction of Mount Yasuo. "You know, the ones where advanced technology and magic don't function. At all. Heavy duty whatever to hold it in, complex mechanical lock, drop it into a ravine or whatever."

"Drop it into a volcano," Steve muttered, though he wasn't even sure if that would work. "Okay, what if we had some sort of surveillance system. Like an alarm or something that would go off if anyone gets close," he suggested, though he wasn't sure if even that would be enough. "You know, I think I know what it felt like to be Frodo now."

"Hmm ..." She frowned thoughtfully. "That might take a bit more effort. First things first, we have to get that thing shielded, locked away, and into those mountains. Even if this guy is an actual god, he'll have to use his physicality to get to it and into it if we put it up there. No cheats."

"Right," Steve agreed. "This is gonna take time," he said, echoing her own sentiments. But in order for the stone to be really secure, they had to make sure they did it right. "We're the only ones who can know."

"Then we're the only ones who will," she promised him. "But for now ..." She turned, scouring the walls of the lab for the safe she knew was never used. "Ah-ha!" She lifted the little safe from the wall, and deciphered the combination in seconds, opening it up and holding it out to Steve. "Let's change the combination on this, and drop it in my hidey-hole for the time being."

"Agreed," he said, pulling the box from his pocket once again and putting it into the safe. There was no reason to think anyone would look for it, much less find it, here, but it worried him just the same. "The sooner we find a safe place for this thing, the better."

It was the work of less than a minute to change the combination and lock up the little safe once again. Natasha put it into Steve's arms. "Right. We're going to go to long way around so no one looking out of the Storms' house sees where we're going, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," Steve said, deferring to her and easily hefting the safe in his arms. "Let's put a towel or something over the top, just in case someone sees us," he suggested. The thing was heavy, but it was nothing compared to his shield.

"I'll grab something out of the laundry room when we get up there," she assured him, turning to lead the way up and out of Lucy's lab, secure in the knowledge that Dr. Storm would never mention the fact that her smallest and most useless safe had disappeared.

And if she did, Steve would simply explain that he'd needed it for something and leave it at that. He doubted Lucy would question it further. "Thanks, Nat," Steve said abruptly. There was no one he trusted more than her - except maybe for Lucy, but Lucy didn't have the same resources that Nat had, nor did he want her involved in something this dangerous.

She shrugged, grabbing up a towel from the laundry basket on their way past to drape it surreptitiously over the safe in his grasp. "I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a little bit fun," she admitted. "Don't get me wrong, being retired is great. But I'm not used to a life without danger. I'll never be completely relaxed."

"It's the way you and I were made. We'll never be completely happy sitting on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons for the rest of our lives, but we deserve a little happiness, Nat. This is about making the multiverse safe for our kids and our kids' kids. If we can't do that, then what's the point of all the rest?" he said, always a little too serious for his own good.

"See, now you're making me feel bad for enjoying this," she complained teasingly, leading the way out of his front door and across the drive to the little path that would lead to her own driveway out of sight of the Storm house.

"And that's exactly why we make such a good team," Steve pointed out, smiling. A team of two who balanced each other's strengths and weaknesses. He generally played the role of the moral compass, while she was more willing to take chances.

"Need me to hold your walking stick again, old man?" she countered, but her smile was decidedly freer than it had ever been on Earth. Rhy'Din - and Colin - had done wonders for the Black Widow.

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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2019, 07:01:31 PM »
"Maybe when I'm one hundred and ninety," he told her, with a grin. Going by calendar years, he was nearly one hundred and one, though he hardly looked a day over thirty.

"You're such an adorable fuddy-duddy." This side of Nat was reserved only for Colin and Steve, and probably Alia too; a less haunted, more carefree version of the woman they all knew. "Okay, see that darker green part of the hedge? We're going through there."

"What's there?" Steve asked, unable to restrain is curiosity. She'd said they were going to put the safe in her "hidey-hole", but he wasn't quite sure what she meant by that. He ignored her teasing for now, his mind too focused on securing the safe.

"Remember the part where I said it was a secret vault?" she asked innocently, parting the thicker, darker foliage to reveal a narrow passage within the hedge itself. "Not even Col knows about this."

"How did it get here?" he asked, arching a brow as she revealed the passage within the hedge. Even he hadn't noticed anyone digging or building anything nearby, but then maybe he hadn't been paying attention.

"I am a very sneaky woman," she informed him, ushering him into the passage ahead of her so she could close it behind them. "Just follow it along - it's about six feet and then a sharp turn to the left and a dead end."

"Aren't you coming with me?" he asked, not wanting to delay any longer. He didn't want anyone to see them or to wonder what they were doing, especially not any of their family members, who they were trying to keep safe.

"I'm right behind you, but it's too narrow for me to take the lead and close up behind us," she told him. "You won't be in the open at all from here on in."

"Okay," he replied, moving forward down the short passage until he reached the end and made a sharp left, just as she'd instructed. It was to his credit and his trust of her that he hadn't questioned her further on the passage's creation.

The dead end she'd warned about was a little abrupt, but it did widen out to the point where Nat could slide past him with a wink and a grin. She dropped to one knee, drawing a knife from her boot, and carefully cut open the turf, peeling it back to reveal a lock of some sort on what appeared to be a metallic door. With barely a flinch, she pricked her thumb with the knife and pressed her blood into the indent of the lock. The mechanism reacted, opening up to reveal a small space beneath. Nat grinned at Steve. "In it goes."

"You're the only one who can open this?" he asked, assuming that was the case, since it had taken a drop of her blood. Of course, all someone else had to do was know that and obtain such from her, but he didn't think that was very likely. First of all, they'd have to know this space existed and then they'd have to know how to find it and open it.

"Yeah," she assured him. "I made certain of that - just me. Not even Alia's blood will open this. I don't even know why I had it done, I just ... I felt like it was necessary, you know? Like I needed a few secrets just to keep being me."

"I'm glad you did," Steve told her, as he carefully lowered the safe into the space, seemingly with little or no effort. Even when they thought they were no longer needed, it seemed their work was never done.

Her smile was a little regretful, a little apologetic. "I'm never going to stop looking over my shoulder," she said softly, closing the little vault and sealing it shut with her blood once again. "Still not sure how I feel about that." Carefully, she rolled the turf back into place, smoothing it down until the cut was invisible. "That should buy us a little time."

"Neither of us can afford to become complacent, Nat," Steve said, in complete agreement. "This isn't about Hydra anymore. It's about an even bigger threat. One that not only threatens Earth, but the entire universe. Maybe the entire multiverse. Let's just hope this Thanos has never heard of Rhy'Din."

Sucking the little cut on her thumb clean, Nat nodded, rising to her feet. She sheathed the knife in her boot, and once again it was invisible to anyone who didn't know it was there. "We've got this," she said with easy confidence. "We kicked Hydra's ass, we can hide a bomb the size of your thumb for all eternity."

"We kicked Hydra's ass, but only after they infiltrated and destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D.," he reminded her grimly. "We can't afford for that to happen this time. I don't think we should tell anyone where the stone is. Not even Tony or Thor."

"We already agreed to that, Steve," she reminded him gently. "You need to stop going in circles, or you're going to drive yourself mad." She eased past him, and parted the foliage at his back, revealing her own back garden as she skipped out of the secret way concealed within the side hedgerow. "Out you come."

He'd left the towel in the hidey-hole, just so that he didn't have to carry it out and risk being seen with it. Lucy might miss it, but that was better than someone asking what he was doing walking around with a towel when it wasn't warm enough for swimming yet. "I know," he said, frowning. "It just worries me. That's all."

"You wouldn't be you if you didn't worry," she reassured him, carefully replacing the living wall of privet and hawthorn, disguising the entrance seamlessly. "So ... now we can go and tease Stark about having to take off his chastity belt."

Steve chuckled. "I don't think he's ever worn one, figuratively or otherwise," he said. He seemed to relax a little now that the thing was safely hidden away, at least for now.

Nat snorted with laughter. "He's probably got the suit programmed to uncover the necessary parts just in case Pepper has a fantasy."

Steve scowled. "If that's the case, I feel sorry for Pepper," he said. Tony's suit didn't seem very suitable for snuggling.

"Oh, c'mon ... you and Lucy never had fun with the suit?" she asked playfully, pushing open the gate between her backyard and his so they could make their way over to the Storms. Coco came lurching down off the Rogers' back porch to greet them, having apparently been looking for her other favorite female.

"Yeah, well, my suit isn't cold and made of metal," Steve pointed out, not quite confirming or denying whether or not he and Lucy had played out any personal fantasies involving Steve's suit - or more accurately, suits, since there was more than one. "Well, hello, there, little lady," Steve said, reaching down to ruffle the cocker's spaniel's fur.

Friendly as she was, Coco danced her paws on Steve's leg as he ruffled her fur, turning to Nat to bounce around her human's mate excitedly. Nat laughed. "I know, I know, I let the weird one hold the puppy," she assured the dog. "Believe it or not, he wouldn't hurt a hair on her head."

Steve chuckled again at Nat's description of Tony. "Don't let him hear you say that," he warned, blue eyes bright with amusement.

"It's about time you guys got here!" a familiar voice said as the door to the house opened and a man who looked like he could be Steve's twin stepped outside, a small wrapped bundle cradled in one arm.

"What, I'm not allowed to monopolize my brother from another mother from time to time?" Nat asked innocently. "Which one is this?" She sidled up to Johnny, peeking at the little face on his shoulder. "Hey, cutie pie." She tapped the tiny nose affectionately. "And other cutie pie," she added, tweaking Johnny's nose just because she could.

Johnny grinned at Nat's teasing. "This is Izzy. Can't you tell?" he asked. They'd been hard to tell apart at first, but he and Liv knew their twins well enough to identify small, subtle differences. If he suspected anything about what his friends had been doing, he didn't say so.

"You know what? I'm not gonna answer that." Nat stuck her tongue out at him, insinuating herself close enough to steal Izzy from her father's arms. Whoever had thought that the Black Widow couldn't be wowed by children was proving to be most definitely wrong.

"Wow, Red! You do have one of your own, you know!" Johnny teased.

Where Alia was at that moment was uncertain, but she was probably either with her father or making the rounds of the extended family of superheroes. All of a sudden, the door opened again and a stream of children from ages four on up came rushing out the door and past the trio of adults on their way to the treehouse.

"You have plenty -" Nat began, but was cut off by the giggling stream of children rushing past, complete with at least two dogs and a cat.

"No getting rowdy!" was called from inside the house - probably Liv, but it could have been Lucy. At times, those two could be indistinguishable from one another.

"Hey, I don't mind sharing!" Johnny said, looking not nearly as bleary-eyed as he had a few months ago, now that the twins were sleeping through the night.

Steve remained quietly watching while the other pair chatted back and forth, his gaze following the stream of kids and pets before turning back to look almost longingly at the infant now perched on Nat's shoulder.

Nat caught that look, but didn't get the chance to say anything as Lucy came out onto the porch.

"Ah, so this is where you two are hiding," she said cheerfully, looping an arm about Steve's waist. "Finished with your private sibling time already?"

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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2019, 07:01:56 PM »
"For now," Steve replied, drawing Lucy in for a kiss, just because he felt the need for one right now. He wasn't sure how he was going to explain the need for a trip to Mount Yasuo yet, but he'd worry about that when the time came.

Johnny grinned at the pair and tossed Nat a wink, but said nothing about the public display of affection between his in-laws.

"Oooh, planning a sleepover, are we?" Lucy teased, smiling tenderly into the kiss as she leaned into her husband.

Beside them, Nat caught Johnny's eye and jerked her head toward the house with a wink of her own, the unspoken suggestion to leave the couple to it plain to see.

"Something like that," Steve replied, smiling back at his wife.

Johnny furrowed his brows, unsure why Nat was silently indicating that they should leave the couple alone, but he didn't bother arguing. He knew well enough by now not to argue with the womenfolk around here. "Come on, Red. I'll get you a beer ... or something," he said as he turned to open the door for her and step back inside.

"Oh, beer sounds amazing right now. You might even convince me to swap the baby for one." Nat's voice faded as the door closed behind them, leaving the married couple alone on the porch. The silence lingered around them for a long moment before Lucy broke it.

"So ... remember that talk we had?" she asked quietly. "About waiting a little before we have any more children?"

"Yeah, you said you wanted to wait until Jamie was in school and the twins were out of diapers," Steve replied, which seemed logical enough. If given the choice, he'd have had half a dozen kids by now, but in truth, they were only lagging behind the Storms by one. He knew they had to stop sometime, but it was hard deciding when.

"Yeeeeah." The word was drawled out with a certain amount of exasperated amusement. "How do you feel about a Christmas baby, instead?"

"A Christmas baby?" Steve echoed, brows arching upwards in surprise. Had he heard her right? "Are you ...?" he asked, pulling far enough away that he could shift his gaze downward to her still flat belly.

Lucy nodded, on the verge of laughing. "I was already pregnant when we had that conversation," she pointed out, and now the giggle made itself known. "I should know better than to try and put a timeline on anything!"

"Really?" Steve asked, a boyishly hopeful look on his face. His gaze darted between her belly and her face, as if debating whether this was really happening. It wasn't really all that surprising considering the fact that Steve's DNA had been enhanced.

"Really. I got the readout from the blood test this morning." She smiled up at him. No matter how she personally felt about another unexpected pregnancy, she loved that look on Steve's face.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked, his first concerns for her well-being. He touched his fingers to her belly, though there was no movement there yet. "Is the baby okay?" Or babies. God, for the sake of them both, he was hoping it was a baby, singular this time. As much as he loved children, one newborn at a time was plenty.

"I feel fine, love," she promised him, content to let him fuss as much as he wanted to. "I'm about eight weeks along, no scan yet, but we can arrange a scan easily enough for twelve weeks. I've got a Doppler - we could see if we can find the heartbeat."

"Can we?" he asked, sounding as excited as a kid on Christmas morning, just barely holding himself back from jumping up and down. His gaze darted toward the door. "Does anyone else know yet?"

She laughed fondly at his excitement, hugging him as he glanced toward the house. "No, just you and me," she assured him. "Like I'd tell anyone before you, sweetheart."

"Are you sure?" he asked, brows furrowing. Nat seemed to have known what was going on, but maybe it was only female intuition.

Lucy gave him a confused look. "I'm fairly sure I'd know if I had told anyone else, love," she pointed out. Perhaps Nat had seen the readout when they had been down in the lab just a little while earlier.

"I believe you!" Steve assured her. Maybe Nat just had a sixth sense when it came to these things. "I love you, baby," he told her, strong arms going around her again to wrap her in his embrace, as he pressed his lips to hers. There might have been some giggles from the treehouse, but Steve didn't pay them any heed.

"Love you more," she murmured as his lips found hers, ignoring the pint-sized peanut gallery in the treehouse. She couldn't, however, ignore the window next to them opening, and her own sister prodding her in the backside.

"Am I ordering dinner for you two as well, or are you eating each other tonight?"

Steve couldn't help but chuckle at Liv's question, even blushing a little at her suggestion. "Up to you," he told her. He didn't mind either way. It was no secret he enjoyed being surrounded by their extended family, but there was something to be said for alone time, too.

Laughing, Lucy winked at her husband as she twisted to look at her twin. "How do you feel about hosting a sleepover tonight?" she suggested sweetly.

Liv rolled her eyes and grinned back. "All right, that's a no, then," she confirmed. "Just remember to shut your windows or keep the noise down - I'm not explaining to your children why their mum and dad are making those noises again!"

"You're going to let her have all the kids?" Steve asked, eyes widening. Between the two families, that was eleven kids, though Fliss probably didn't count as she wasn't living at home anymore. "That's almost a whole classroom!"

Liv chuckled at Steve's concern. "I'll probably send some with Fliss," she assured him. "I'm not that eager to be surrounded by toddling insanity all evening!"

"Wait, what?" This came from behind her, and definitely from Fliss.

Liv rolled her eyes. "I'll work something out. Everyone needs private snoodling time. You owe me."

Lucy grinned. "We do."

"Thanks, Liv," Steve said, smiling at his wife's twin. "If it gets too crazy, we're right next door!" he reminded her, though she hardly needed reminding. "Shall we, Mrs. Rogers?" he asked, blue eyes shining with happiness that wasn't just about getting her all to himself for one night.

"Go, have fun!" Liv told them, ducking back into the house and closing the window in her wake. Lucy slid her hand into Steve's fingers tangling affectionately as a gale of adult laughter sounded from behind them. "I think we shall, Captain Rogers."

Just because they didn't have to make a baby anymore didn't mean they weren't going to have fun practicing. "Would you mind if we listened to the baby's heartbeat?" he asked, as if he needed to do that before he could really relax, especially given what he and Nat had dealt with a little while ago.

Lucy laughed softly. "I thought you might," she assured him, leading the way down the steps and across the lawn they shared with her sister's family toward their own back porch. "I got the Doppler out when I was sure." Across the way, a loud squeal of laughter went up from the treehouse, where Lir was peering in through one of the wide windows to see the children at play.

Steve glanced over at the treehouse and chuckled. "You ever feel like you're living inside a Disney movie?" he asked. The one he had in mind at the moment would probably be Pete's Dragon. The kids had helped him catch up on Disney films, and each of them had their favorites, but it never ceased to amaze him how life in Rhy'Din mirrored some of those movies.

"On occasion," Lucy agreed, smiling at the sight of the still small dragon - in comparison with adults of his species - poking one claw in and out of the treehouse just to make the children giggle some more. "Although I don't think Disney ever gets as R-rated as we do at times."

"Probably not," Steve agreed, though he considered their love life to be pretty wholesome. He was an old-fashioned kind of guy, after all, but Lucy had taught him a few tricks. "Who else do we know who has a dragon for a pet?" he asked, smirking.

"Oh, I think we can say Alex is unique at this point," Lucy chuckled cheerfully, pausing at the top of the porch steps to look Steve in the eye on the level, as it were. "Think we're brewing a boy in here? Jamie will love you forever if we are."

Steve halted on the stairs, hands coming to rest against Lucy's hips, a smile on his face at the thought of another son - at the thought another child, no matter the gender. "I think we have a 50/50 chance at it being a boy," he said, stating the obvious. At present, they had two sons and three daughters. Another boy would even things up.

She curled her hands to his jaw, leaning in to kiss the tip of his nose tenderly. "I love you so much," she murmured. "I will never stop being grateful that I almost drove you off the road at random one dark night."

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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2019, 07:06:02 PM »
"And I will never stop being grateful that you decided to give me a lift," he said, leaning in to brush a tender kiss against her lips. "Love you, Lucy," he told her quietly, his eyes bright with happiness - or was it happy tears?

"Always," she promised in a low breath, smoothing her arms about his neck as she leaned into him. There was no rush; they had time to enjoy each other as well as discover  the heartbeat hidden in her womb in a little while. "I am going to have to come up with a stronger birth control, though," Lucy added as she drew back. "Your swimmers aren't so much powerful as stubbornly insistent."

He shrugged, a boyishly playful look on his face. "They're enhanced, too, I guess," he said, as if it couldn't be helped. He hadn't been thinking about that when he'd agreed to the super soldier serum; he hadn't been thinking about much except being healthy enough to fight for his country. "I suppose I could have an operation," he remarked, though he wasn't sure how he felt about that, or if it would even work.

She laughed, pulling him with her as she backed toward the door. "I would never ask you to do that," she told him. "If it comes to it, I will have the operation. If it comes to it."

"Well, if we don't do something, we could end up with twenty kids," Steve said as she tugged him toward the door. As much as he loved kids and wanted a big family, that was a little too big, even for him.

"Yes, I think half a dozen is probably our limit," Lucy agreed with a grin. She turned to open the door, pulling off her cardigan as they walked into the house, toward the living room, where she had left the Doppler that morning. "Do you remember how it works?"

Which meant that this was the last one, whether there was only one in there or not. "I think so," he said, though there was little question of that. Though the tech he was most familiar with was that of the past, he had made it a point to catch up with that of the modern world.

Picking up the little machine, Lucy handed it to him, settling herself in a comfortable sprawl on one of the couches. She undid her jeans and lifted her top, gesturing to her now bared abdomen. "Have it at, poppa."

This wasn't the first time he'd done this anyway, so it was just a matter of getting reacquainted with the device. "Okay, this is gonna be a little cold," he warned, as he picked up the tube of gel and squeezed a small blob onto the lower part of her belly.

"Excellent bedside manner," she complimented him, only flinching a little when the gel made contact. She would have offered to find the heartbeat herself, but Lucy knew how much the little moments of contact with his unborn children meant to Steve.

"Thank you, Doctor," Steve replied, with a grin. She was the doctor, after all, not him, but he wasn't stupid. "Okay, let's see what we can find," he said, placing the probe in the gel and flicking the On switch. Very slowly, he started to glide the probe around her abdomen, both of them listening for any trace of a heartbeat.

It took quite a bit of finding, but there was no mistaking the delicate pitter-patter of a tiny heart beating when he found it. Lucy's face broke into a beaming smile as she looked up at Steve, utterly entranced just by the sound.

Steve glanced at the display to see that they had indeed picked up a heart beating at about 120 beats per minute, a sure sign of a healthy heartbeat. "There he is," he said, though the baby could just as easily have been a girl. "I'm only hearing one. What about you?"

"He took some finding," she pointed out in amusement. "I think he's on his own in there." It was going to be weird if they found out this was going to be another girl, but for now, it felt right to call the unborn baby "he".

In a few weeks, they'd be able to have an ultrasound and know for sure, but for now, they both seemed content to refer to the little one as a "he". "That's a relief," Steve admitted, smiling in relief at both hearing a strong, healthy heartbeat and the fact that it seemed to be singular. As much as he loved children, one at a time was enough.

"We won't be quite as overwhelmed this time," Lucy predicted, although with two toddlers running around, it was still going to be exhausting. She reached up, gently stroking Steve's cheek. "He sounds so strong."

"He does," Steve said, smiling softly and leaning close to press a tender kiss to her lips, the Doppler still resting against her belly, the heartbeat loud and clear. "You realize it could be a she," he teased as their lips parted.

She giggled into the kiss. "I'm going to hope on Jamie's behalf that it's a boy," she told him. "I think we should hold off on telling them about it until after the scan. Until we're in the middle trimester. What do you think?"

"At least he has Martin," Steve reasoned, though he knew his younger son well enough to know he felt fairly outnumbered by girls, both siblings and cousins. "I think that's a good idea. Not until we're sure," he said, though it was going to be hard keeping it a secret if Lucy started getting morning sickness. The twins might not notice, but the older ones certainly would.

Lucy smiled up at him, her hand covering his on the little probe that rested at her belly, soothed by the sound of the pattering heartbeat. "Just as well I never applied for that consultancy, isn't it?" she said in a laughing tone.

"The timing could be better," he agreed, smiling back at her. This was just what he needed after the responsibility Tony had laid on him - a reminder of all he held dear and worked to protect. "You think it's only one then?" he asked, unable to make out a second heartbeat.

"Well, unless there's one hiding behind that one, hearts beating perfectly in time with one another, I think we have exhausted the possibilities, love." She chuckled, stretching out for a tissue to wipe her skin clean of the gel.

"I've got it," he said, easily reaching for a couple of tissues to wipe her belly free of the gel. "Have you made an appointment with the midwife yet?" he asked, assuming she hadn't, if she'd only just found out.

She relaxed back, letting him clean her up, watching her husband with a soft look of tender adoration in her eyes. "No, not yet," she assured him. "I didn't want to make any appointments without you."

"You should do that, and schedule an ultrasound, too," he said, though it kind of went without saying. He wanted to make sure this baby was healthy as soon as they were able, though there was no reason to believe he or she wasn't.

"There's generally no ultrasound until twelve weeks, so we have around another month before that happens," Lucy reminded him. "But I'll call Libby and see if she fancies taking on yet another Rogers' birth."

"I don't see why she wouldn't," he said, grabbing a few more tissues so that he could wipe the Doppler off, as well. "At least, we can promise this one won't be twins," he said, with a grin.

"Oh, I think she can cope with pretty much anything by this point," Lucy pointed out, buttoning her jeans once again as she sat up properly. "She handled Nat's adrenaline-fueled fight or flight reaction to being in a hospital with her newborn baby, after all."

"True, but thankfully you aren't Nat," he said, tossing the tissues into a trash can and setting the Doppler down so that he could focus on his wife. "So, how do you honestly feel about having another baby?" he asked, though as far as he was concerned, it was too late to do anything about it now.

In that, they were agreed. But Lucy wouldn't do him the disservice of not being truthful. "Honestly? The timing could have been better," she said quietly. "Jamie will be at school by the time this one is born, and that's fine, but the twins are going to be a handful with a newborn in the house. I know we'll work it out, and it'll be fine, but right now I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed."

"I'll help with whatever you need," he promised, looking a little worried, but appreciating her honesty. "We'll take it as it comes," he said, leaning in to brush a kiss to her brow. "We can always hire a nanny if we have to," he suggested further, though he was hoping that wouldn't be necessary.

Relieved that he wasn't too worried by her honest answer to his question, Lucy's smile relaxed. "I know we'll work out something," she assured him confidently. "But maybe we need to look into some kind of daycare for the twins. A few hours in the afternoon or the morning, just a little time where we're only going to have to worry about one child."

"Maybe I'll talk to Dani," Steve suggested. "She's practically running a daycare as it is." So, long as she didn't take on too many children; otherwise, she'd have to hire some help. With the growing number of kids at the Grove, opening a daycare center right there at the Grove wasn't a bad idea.

"Well, she is saving up to put herself through the degree programme to be a teacher," Lucy mused, leaning comfortably against his side as they talked. "Maybe running a little daycare for the Grove for a couple of years would be a good idea for her."

"Can't hurt to ask," Steve agreed. "So, what now?" he asked, smiling down at her, knowing she was probably considering two things - food and sex. "Should I feed you?"

"Hmm ..." She raised her eyes to his, her smile many varying shades of both cheeky and inviting. "How do you feel about working up an appetite first?"

"What kind of appetite are we talking about?" he asked, eyes mirroring her playfulness. He knew his wife well enough to know what she wanted, though there were numerous ways of giving it to her.

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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2019, 07:06:20 PM »
"A little aerobic exercise, get the blood pumping a little?" she suggested impishly. "You could do pushups and I could do bridges ..."

"Hm, are you sure you wouldn't prefer hip thrusts to push ups?" he teased back, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.

"I really think it depends what position we decide on," she murmured thoughtfully, her smile just as mischievous as his was teasing. "After all, are we lying back and thinking of England here, or actively involved in the union of states?"

"Why don't we wait and see what pops up?" he asked, purposely making a pun that a few years ago would have had him blushing profusely. Even now, he rarely teased her like this, unless they were alone.

"Mmm, I do rather like seeing you standing to attention," she agreed, flashing him a truly wicked grin. "How thorough would you like this examination to be, captain?"

"Oh, very thorough, doctor," he replied, grinning back at her. "We do need to make sure everything is working right, you know, for the baby's sake," he said, though her state of pregnancy really had nothing to do with it. "Shall we?" he asked, linking his fingers with hers so he could lead her in the direction of the stairs and the bedroom. He was a little conventional where that was concerned, preferring the privacy and comfort of their bedroom, if possible.

Lucy had never minded that conventional, conservative way of approaching their sex life, seeing as it tended just toward the location. It was rather amazing, some of the things she had induced Steve Rogers to do in the privacy of their bedroom. "I am entirely at your mercy, darling."

He couldn't help but smirk at her reply. "You may regret saying that," he teased, as he led the way to the bedroom. He had come a long way since they'd first met, proving an eager student in the bedroom and a quick learner, albeit a little shy in the beginning. These days, she could be sure he'd do his utmost to make sure all her desires were met.

"Since when have I ever regretted letting you off the leash, as it were?" she countered laughingly, following him up the stairs to their bedroom with undisguised eagerness. She saw no point in playing hard to get when the Adonis in her bedroom was just as eager as she was.

"If you have, you've never said so," he admitted, leading the way to the bedroom. There had been a time not so long ago - at least, to him - when he hadn't even known how to kiss a woman, but all that had changed when he'd met Lucy. She had rescued him, in a way, from a life of loneliness and regret, and he loved her all the more for it. Though he was still a little shy in the bedroom and awkward trying new things, he had come a long way since then.

You know you've found The One when she risks life and limb in the aftermath of a hurricane to find you, after all. Lucy had never regretted letting Johnny talk her into going to find Steve, and certainly never regretted becoming a part of Steve's life. Their sex life was just the icing on the cake, and wow, that icing definitely got made with spice at times.

Steve had never questioned the way he felt about Lucy. He'd known she was "The One" after that first kiss. Maybe if things had been different, he'd have wound up with Peggy. Was it any wonder he had wound up with her feisty grand-niece? When it came to lovemaking, Steve could run the equivalent of a marathon and then some. It was times like those when Lucy benefited from the serum that had enhanced Steve's abilities, and today was no exception. The first time was quick, just to take the edge off, but the second time around, he was taking his time.

The only time Lucy was ever a little frustrated with Steve in bed was when he was all give and wouldn't take; wouldn't even let her give a little in return until he was finished, by which time she was usually a sweaty, boneless lump barely able to remember her own name. It wasn't a terrible complaint to have about your husband, really. But this time she was determined there would be give and take, so Steve found himself having to wrestle with his wife over who got to taste and touch next.

It had been a hard lesson for him to learn, but he was better at it these days, and had realized Lucy actually enjoyed tending to his needs as much as he enjoyed doing the same for her. So, this time around, he let her win that wrestling match, maybe in part because he didn't want to risk hurting the baby, or maybe he was just too happy to argue.

"Why do I get the feeling you're spoiling me?" she murmured wickedly when she was done, nose to nose with him while her hands skimmed over every curve and plane of his glorious form.

He sighed deeply, unable to answer her question just yet. She was perhaps the only person alive able to render him completely helpless, at least, until he recovered. "Damned if I do and damned if I don't," he murmured, pressing a lingering kiss to her lips.

"Mmmm ..." She grinned as the kiss drew softer, teasing her fingers through his hair. "If this is what eternal torment is like, I'm not sure I want to go to heaven."

"I'm pretty sure you don't want to go to hell either," he said, though these days, he wasn't even sure there was such a place anymore. "Just stay here with me forever," he told her, pulling her close so that he could just hold her in his arms awhile.

"Wherever we go, we go together," she promised, easing into his arms as she stretched out beside him, nuzzling close all the while. "This is nice. Just you and me for once. No kids. No cat trying to eat my toes."

"We should do this more often," he agreed, turning to brush another kiss against her hair. "Love you, Luce," he told her in a quiet, almost too serious voice. "No regrets?" he asked, feeling a little guilty for making her pregnant yet again, though in truth, he couldn't be happier. They'd find a way to make it work - they always did.

She tilted her head, a curious frown topping her smile as she met his eyes. "No regrets," she promised. "I'm not the sort to regret anything, love, especially not with you. I love you."

"Six and we're done," he told her, with a slightly guilty smile. "I swear. I'll have a vasectomy if I have to," he promised, unsure if that would even work. "I love our family, but this is nice, too."

Lucy chuckled. "Sweetheart, if you are certain that six is where we are stopping, I'll arrange to have my tubes tied after the birth this time," she told him. "It's a reversible option that gives us the best bet of putting a lid on our fertility."

"We don't have to decide today," he admitted, mentally reminding himself that it would be at least seven months before they had to make that decision. "I know you didn't want another one yet, but I can't say I'm not happy about it."

"The operative word was "yet", I never said no to more," Lucy assured him, hitching up onto her elbow to look down into his eyes. "We have plenty of time to decide, right up to the birth itself. It's a relatively simple procedure that can be arranged within hours. But we do have plenty of time to make that decision. And I'm not unhappy about it. I do love our family, every last one."

He raised a hand to brush some hair away from her face, just because. "It is nice to spend some time alone sometimes though," he said, smiling at her reassurance. Alone together, he meant. "Maybe we should take those dance lessons we keep talking about."

"We really should," she laughed, dipping her head to touch her nose to his. "Maybe we should see about enrolling Lianne in a dance class if she's interested. I'm not sure about Martin and Jamie yet."

"Martin and Lianne seem to like STARS, but I think Jamie's a little too young yet. Maybe we should ask what they're interested in," he suggested. Was it any wonder a couple hours of wild sex was followed by talk about the kids?

"Nat said something about maybe starting to teach ballet or martial arts or both," Lucy mused, settling at his side once again. "I'm fairly sure they would all be interested in learning something from Auntie Nat."

"I'm pretty sure it's not ballet," Steve remarked. Though he couldn't speak for Lianne, he was pretty sure neither Martin or Jamie would be interested in dancing. Martial arts, though, was another story.

"Really? Have you seen her dance?" Lucy grinned at her husband fondly. "She approaches it like fighting, it's astonishing to watch. A little aggressive for the style, I suppose."

"You've got me there. I've seen her fight though. Does that count?" he asked, with a little smirk. No, he hadn't had the pleasure of seeing Nat dance. Not yet. Even if he'd had the opportunity, it had always felt a little too voyeuristic to watch.

"You know, it just might." She laughed, stretching luxuriantly beside him. Her hand fell unconsciously to cover her womb, the flat expanse of her belly just a little curved with her lying on her back.

Steve turned quiet a moment, recalling the secret he and Nat shared - one he didn't dare share with Lucy. He'd never kept a secret from her before, but this wasn't the usual secret. This secret could get her killed or worse. "Hungry?" he asked, needing to fill in the silence with something or she'd want to know what was bothering him.

If he had told her he had a secret he couldn't share, Lucy would probably have been a little hurt until she reminded herself that her husband was more than just her husband. She was a practically minded woman, after all. She smiled, turning her head to look over at him. "You know, I think I might be. What shall we have?"

"What do you feel like?" he answered her question with a question. "I'll do the cooking," he added.

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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2019, 07:06:37 PM »
He could probably whip them up something faster than waiting for delivery.

"Wow, you really do want to spoil me today, don't you?" she teased affectionately. To be fair, cooking was an even split in their house. "I know it's terribly bad for us, but grilled cheese is calling to me."

Steve couldn't help but chuckle at her suggestion. She couldn't have picked an easier choice. "Grilled cheese, really? Is that what you're craving?" he asked, teasing her. "And why shouldn't I spoil you? You're my best girl," he said, smooching her cheek. "But if you want grilled cheese, I'm gonna have to get up."

She laughed, looping her arms around his neck as he kissed her cheek. "Well, I wasn't expecting you to whip out a skillet and set fire to the bed," she assured him, kissing his nose in return. "It's been a while since I wore my bathrobe, I wonder if it still smells like roses."

"Probably more like mothballs," he teased. "I think we already set fire to the bed," he added, with a boyishly playful grin. "Come on, Mama. Let me up so I can feed you," he told her, still wrapped in her embrace.

"All right, poppa," she countered, reluctantly letting him go to relax back for a few minutes longer and enjoy the delectable view he was about to present to her.

He'd been self-conscious about showing off America's ass butt-naked for a long time, but nowadays, so long as it was only Lucy he was showing off for, he didn't mind so much. Still as soon as he was out of bed, the first thing he did was snag a pair of sweatpants and pull them over his legs.

He didn't quite manage to cover up before she pinched him. Lucy laughed at her own daring, rolling out of bed on the other side and wandering across the room to investigate the closet for her bathrobe. Usually, she'd just throw one of his shirts on. She wasn't sure why she felt the need for the robe today.

He chuckled at the pinch and turned to gently bat her hand away. "Just can't help yourself, can you? Always gotta pinch the goods to make sure they're fresh," he teased as he pulled a t-shirt on over his head.

"We can't have America's ass going soft now, can we?" she countered, producing the bathrobe the children had got for her for Christmas from the depths of the closet. It was pale pink and fleecy, and enormous on her, but every now and then, it was just what she wanted to wear.

"Well, now it's sort of Rhy'Din's ass. Should I start calling myself Captain Rhy'Din?" he asked, though he was clearly only teasing. No matter where he lived or what he did, deep down, he'd always be an American. He turned to admire the view of his naked wife searching for a bathrobe and was glad he'd put a pair of pants on.

"Never," she told him, turning as she tied the robe in place to find him watching her. Her smile turned just a little wicked again. "Enjoying the view, were we?"

"At least, I didn't pinch," he retorted, with a wink and a smirk. "Come on, Mrs. Rogers. Let's get you your grilled cheese," he said, reaching for her hand.

"You love my grabby hands," Lucy challenged him, approaching with wriggling fingers only to slide her hand into his with a grin. "Besides, I don't pinch you half as much as Liv gropes Johnny."

"They're like teenagers sometimes," Steve pointed out, though he saw no harm in it. He and Lucy had always had a more mature relationship, but it had nothing to do with age so much as personality. "Johnny's just an overgrown teenager," he added, as they started toward the stairs, hand in hand.

"He's good for Liv," was Lucy's answer. "For a while there, I really thought she'd forgotten how to smile at all. Johnny brought a lot of sunshine into her heart. Who cares if they're a little immature at times?"

"They make each other happy. That's all that matters," he agreed. Steve and Lucy's relationship was just different from Johnny and Liv's, but then, they were different people. He wasn't all that aware of what Liv or Johnny had been like before they'd met each other, but it was obvious they were happy now.

"They do." She nodded, looking up at him. "And we make each other happy, don't we?"

He stopped to turn and face her before they got to the stairs. "You make me very happy, Luce," he assured her, tipping her head up to meet his gaze as he smiled down at her.

"I couldn't imagine my life without you, Steve," she murmured back to him, hugging her arms about his waist as she leaned into him. "Being a part of your life has made me so happy."

"I couldn't be happier, Luce," he assured her, wrapping his arms around her to hold her in his embrace. There had been a time when he'd loved someone else, when he couldn't have imagined himself with anyone but Peggy, but life had a strange way of surprising you when you least expected it. Lucy had been a complete surprise, but the fact that Peggy had been her great aunt told him that maybe - just maybe - there was a greater power at work in the world.

"So I'm forgiven for telling Jamie he can have a pet of his own, then?" she asked with impish good humor, batting her lashes at her husband as though that ever did her case any good at all.

"He's been asking for one for a while now, hasn't he?" he asked, smirking in amusement at the look she was giving him. "Don't tell me - he wants a puppy," Steve guessed, knowing his son pretty well. What little boy didn't want his own dog?

"He actually wanted a dragon," Lucy told him with a bright grin. "But I vetoed that. We made plans to go to the shelter and just see who caught his eye. They'll probably remember him from the Thor and Cherie trip."

Steve chuckled and rolled his eyes at the mention of a dragon. "Yeah, I think one is enough." The smile faded at the mention of Thor - the dog, not the Asgardian. Maybe they should have adopted a younger dog, but he was happy they'd been able to give the dog a few good years. "It's gonna be hard to say goodbye," he said, assuming she'd know what he was referring to.

"It is," she agreed softly. "Martin knows it's coming, and he'll come to the vet with us when Thor tells him the pain is too much. We can set aside time that's all about giving Thor the best last day we can."

"Martin's gonna be devastated," Steve said, frowning worriedly. They would all miss the dog when he was gone, but Martin would likely miss him the most, as the pair were often inseparable.

"Kiki will help him," Lucy said quietly. The little dog that had once been one of Bella's puppies had just as close a bond with Martin as Thor did. "He has to go through this, love. We all do."

"I know. We'll get through it," he said, sighing as he kissed the top of her head before pulling away to lead her downstairs to the kitchen. They'd get through it together, just as they'd gotten through the loss of Peggy.

Thumping down the stairs behind him, Lucy smiled as she glanced through the kitchen window to see Fliss shepherding Martin, Lianne, Alex, Maria, and Jamie over to her car. "Looks like Liv offloaded everyone who can talk back onto Fliss."

"They'll be fine. It's just one night. Fliss is good with them," Steve said, peeking over her shoulder a moment to see what she was looking at. "Are you worried?" he asked, wondering if she was having second thoughts about the sleepover.

She chuckled, shaking her head. "No," she assured him. "I'm fairly sure that Alex will have shared with them by now what's going on, and they'll be just as eager not to be here." It did mean Liv and Johnny were handling Bess and two sets of twins, but she had faith in her sister and brother-in-law.

"Shared with them?" Steve echoed, wondering just how much Alex knew about what was going on, not just with him and Lucy and the baby, but with the stone Tony had put into his safekeeping.

"You know what he's like," she reminded her husband. "If they're worrying at something, he'll tell them just enough to reassure them. Zach's done very well, teaching him that."

"How much do you think he knows?" Steve asked, hoping he didn't know anything about the Infinity Stone he and Nat were hiding in her hedge. It almost seemed silly, thinking of it like that, but it was only for a few days.

"As I understand it, Alex has to concentrate to find coherent thoughts in people's minds," Lucy mused, hopping up onto the counter to watch him cooking. "And he knows now not to share everything he learns. Johnny's worked hard with him on respecting other people's privacy."

Steve moved about the kitchen to fetch the items he'd need to make the sandwiches before returning to where Lucy was now perched upon the counter. "It's hard to keep a secret," Steve said. "Even harder when it's not your own."

"Knowing Liv, she's worked out a system for that," Lucy mused, tilting her head as she considered her husband curiously. "Are you worried about him finding something in your head and telling someone, love?"

"Worried about him finding something in my head that could put him in danger," Steve admitted, trusting that Lucy would understand that even she couldn't know that secret, and for the very same reason.

"I don't think he can pick it out of your head unless you are consciously thinking about it," she said thoughtfully. "But perhaps there's a way to protect certain thoughts, or remove them entirely? Zach might know of one."

"Maybe I'll ask him," Steve considered, though he couldn't risk Zach finding out either. "Tony and I have been talking about opening a school for gifted kids here on Rhy'Din," he told her as he buttered a couple slices of bread. That wasn't the thing he was keeping secret, but it was a safe topic of conversation.

"What age are you thinking about?" she asked, interested in the new topic easily. "It's a pretty big undertaking, to open a school. Not that I don't think you could do it - would it be for enhanced children from Earth, or from Rhy'Din alone?"

"I'm not sure, but we're thinking we'd keep it small. Zach is tutoring the kids already. It's just a matter of adding regular classes. Fliss thinks it's a good idea," he said, with a shrug. He knew they'd have to work it all out, but it was a good idea. "I mean, there are a few schools in Rhy'Din, but most of them focus on magic."

"True. And what our kids have is not magic," Lucy agreed, stealing a slice of bread and butter to munch on while she was waiting. "So you're thinking about setting something up on Rhy'Din like the Xavier School on Earth, then?"

He chuckled a little as she stole a slice of bread, even as he put the bread and cheese sandwich in a pan on the stove. "Yeah, you've heard of it?" he asked, though he wasn't too surprised.

"Yeah, I've done a couple of call ins there, when I was under S.H.I.E.L.D. Basic checkups, that sort of thing - some of the kids Charles finds are deeply traumatized by their own mutations, or have been victimised because of them." Lucy looked curious again. "I don't think he was exactly willing to have S.H.I.E.L.D. in his school, but he tolerated me."

"Like Fliss and Lucas," Steve said with a frown. Even here on Rhy'Din, Fliss had been victimized because of her abilities. "If he wasn't fond of S.H.I.E.L.D., he might not be too fond of A.E.G.I.S. either," he added, though that hardly mattered. "It would give his students somewhere to go after graduation though. At least, those who might be interested."

"What would?" Confusion flickered on his wife's face for a moment. "I thought you were talking about a school, not a college. Charles takes any age, but his teaching program is more suited to teenagers. He'd probably be interested in sharing his teaching techniques with you if you asked politely."

"I'm talking about two different things, I guess," Steve said, somewhat distractedly. It had been a busy day, after all. "Tony and I were talking about the possibility of offering Xavier's students a spot in A.E.G.I.S. upon graduation and that led to talk about opening a school here," he explained.

"Oh, I see." Lucy nodded. "Well, I would imagine the first step would be to make contact with Charles Xavier and discuss it with him?"

Steve used a spatula to flip the sandwich over, watching to make sure it didn't burn. "That would mean either going to New York or him coming here," he said, not really keen on either option. "Maybe Tony can talk to him. It's just an idea," he said with another shrug.

"Or maybe I could," she volunteered. "Seeing as I have actually met the man." She flashed Steve a grin. "Although I'm not sure I should really be thinking about another man when I'm practically naked and my gorgeous husband is cooking me an unfeasibly, gloriously unhealthy dinner snack."

"Again, that would mean going to New York," he said, though he supposed it wasn't a big deal now and then. After all, Johnny and Liv made regular trips there to visit Johnny's family all the time. He smiled a little at her teasing. "Should I be worried?"

"Oh, not at all," she promised, teasing her toes up and down his leg for a moment. "Englishmen just don't do it for me when I have America's ass all to myself." She winked at him cheekily.

"Haha," Steve said, smirking at remark, as well as the flirtation. "I wonder if we could arrange for some facetime," he said, just having learned the word's meaning a little earlier that day.

Lucy just about managed to keep her smile under control. She found it absolutely adorable when Steve learned a little more about the technology they lived with, especially when he wasn't quite sure how to use the word or phrase yet. "I'm sure we could," she agreed. "Would you like me to contact him, love?"

"Sure, but not tonight. Tonight you're mine," he replied, with a cheeky grin of his own. Tomorrow maybe, but not tonight. He scooped up the sandwich and slid it onto a plate, before slicing it in half and handing it over. "One grilled cheese sandwich made with love."

"Mmmm, my hero," she murmured, picking up one half to immediately tuck in. The first bite had her groaning in utter delight - it was rare she allowed greasy food, but Lucy was just as much a sucker for grilled cheese as the rest of her family. "Good god, this is almost as good as sex."

Steve chuckled again. "I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult," he said. "What can I get you to drink?" he asked, unsure if she wanted a glass of milk or a cup of tea or something else.

"Wuff?" Mouth way too full to make sense of what she was saying, Lucy winked at him cheerfully. Apparently she had been very hungry. She swallowed, licking her fingertips. "Aren't you eating?"

"Wuff?" he echoed, arching his brows. "Does that mean you want water?" he guessed. Yes, he was eating, but apparently not until he'd taken care of her needs first.

She giggled, biting her lip. "That was supposed to be "what"," she assured him laughingly. "I can get my own drink, Steve, you should eat something."

"Not from the counter, you can't," he pointed out with a smirk, moving back to slather a couple more slices of bread with butter. He could probably eat about six of these, but he'd settle for two.

"Amazingly, I'm just pregnant, not maimed for life," she drawled, leaving the other half of her sandwich where it was to slide down onto her feet and investigate the kitchen for the iced tea.

He would have helped her off the counter if he hadn't been busy putting his own sandwich together, and he looked almost disappointed that he hadn't been fast enough to do it. "Not sick yet?" he asked, hopefully. He knew how sick she'd been with the twins.

"No, not at all," she said, a little surprised by this. "I mean, going by the track record, that should mean it's a wee man in there. Although I think I was sick with the girls because they had no regard for my stomach."

Steve Rogers

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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2019, 07:07:19 PM »
"Or because there were two of them," he said, though he wasn't too sure. "You think that means it's a boy?" he asked, shifting his attention between her and his sandwich.

"I ... I'd like it to be a boy," she admitted with a rueful smile, lifting the carton of juice out of the fridge and pouring a couple of glasses. "I still feel like I'm better at being a mum to boys than girls."

"Maybe you should ask Lianne what she thinks about that," Steve remarked with a smirk, though he knew she was serious. Tali and Sarah were still too little to ask and were decidedly "Daddy's Girls", but he knew they adored their mother, just as much as the boys did.

"It's all right, she has her Auntie Liv to be girly with, and her mum to defend her honor," Lucy said, hopping back up onto the counter to finish her sandwich with a smile. Her expression softened. "I know we're close. I just feel more at a loss with the girls than with the boys, that's all."

"Would it make you feel better if I said I'm the opposite?" he asked, confessing something he'd never told her before. He turned away a moment, a small frown on his face, as he flipped the sandwiches over.

"No," she murmured, reaching out to run her knuckles over his cheek fondly. "But it does mean we balance each other out, and that means we've got this. Between us, we can do it."

"I think it's because of my Dad," Steve confessed further, though it hardly mattered now. He'd been especially close to his mother and had had her a little longer than his father before she'd died.

"It makes sense, love," Lucy assured him. "But it doesn't mean the boys don't get the same amount of you as you give the girls. It just means that you feel they don't. Martin and Jamie adore their papa, and there's no one else in the world who can ease their worries like you can."

Steve smiled, reassured by her belief in him, even when he didn't believe in himself. It was a strange feeling for a man who had spent his life refusing to give up on anything or anyone. "Thanks, Luce. That means a lot," he told her, leaning close to brush a kiss to her lips before moving back to slide the sandwiches onto a plate.

She smiled into his kiss, glad she could reassure him. Her own lack of consistent parenting made her very uncertain when it came to any of their children, but Lucy had decided a long time ago that all she could do was her best. "If you had a choice," she asked curiously, "what would you rather have another of - son or daughter?"

He frowned a little again, feeling a little apprehensive about stating a preference, as if the child might hear and think they were not loved if he made the wrong choice. He shrugged. "It's not gonna change how much I love him or her," he pointed out.

"I know that. It won't change anything." She looked down at the last bites of her sandwich, leaving them on her plate as she frowned herself. "I was just curious. I suppose I'm a bad person to have a preference at all."

"Would it be horrible to say I'm hoping for another boy, too?" he asked. He wasn't just saying that to make her feel better. He was practically incapable of lying, after all, unless it was absolutely necessary.

"I don't think so," she assured him. But then, if she was a bad person for having a preference, then perhaps it was horrible. She shrugged, shaking her head. "Maybe we shouldn't talk about it."

"I think it's normal to have a preference," Steve pointed out. "I know people always say they just want a healthy baby, but I'm sure most people have a preference. I will admit I'm kind of glad it's not twins again! That was enough to exhaust even me," he said, smiling in hopes of cheering her up. "A boy would give us three of each," he added with a shrug as he took a bite of his sandwich.

"Oh god, I never want to have to deal with newborn twins ever again," Lucy agreed, laughing more easily. "I love our terrible twosome, but they were hard work!"

"So, let's just be happy there's only one in there," he said, nudging her knee with his hip, an easy-going smile on his face. "Maybe we should let this one be a surprise," he suggested, though he knew they both were a little too anxious to wait seven more months to find out what was brewing inside her.

"I'd like to, but we both know I don't have the patience to put up with not knowing," was Lucy's response. "And Jamie is definitely going to want to know as soon as possible so he can prepare himself."

"Why is he so dead set against another sister?" Steve asked, clearly confused by that. Yes, Martin and Jamie were slightly outnumbered, but that didn't mean they didn't receive their fair share of attention.

"Honestly? I have no idea," Lucy admitted. "But between them and their cousins, not to mention Nat and Colin's new girl, the boys are very outnumbered in their family."

"That's true. Maybe he's feeling a little overly-mothered," Steve said, which would have been kind of amusing if their son wasn't feeling so annoyed about it. "You know ..." he started, thoughtfully, "Maybe I should take them to a ball game sometime. Do some things I was never able to do with my Dad."

"Absolutely," Lucy agreed. "And we can find something for you to do with Lianne another time, so there's no hard feelings. I would suggest going to a ball game as a family, but I think the twins would be bored too quickly just yet."

"It's too bad the Dodgers aren't in Brooklyn anymore," Steve murmured in disappointment. Even baseball had changed since he'd disappeared into the Arctic. Of course, there was no reason he couldn't take them to L.A., but it wouldn't be the same.

"Darling, the teams have changed so much since you knew them," she pointed out. "Why not ask the boys which team they'd like to see and support? It isn't as though it's difficult to get pretty much anywhere on Earth from here."

"Do you think it would be safe to do that?" he asked. They'd moved to Rhy'Din for the very reason that they no longer felt Earth was a safe place for their children, but that had been before they'd defeated Hydra.

"A visit to watch a baseball game is hardly predictable," Lucy pointed out. "The only reason Hydra managed to target Liv was because she and I regularly visited Sue in the Baxter Tower. You have never taken the boys to a baseball game, so there is no way to predict that you will."

"Do you think I should ask Johnny or Tony to join us?" he asked, uncertainly, though he thought that sort of took away from the point of the trip, which was father-son bonding.

"No," she said firmly. "But if you are concerned, then you should let AJ and Meg know where you'll be and for how long. A.E.G.I.S. will keep an eye out for you."

"Should I be concerned?" Steve asked. He wasn't really worried about his own safety, so much as that of the boys. Lucy was right, though - going to a baseball game was unpredictable, and it was unlikely anyone would recognize him, not to mention the fact that the threat from Hydra had been eliminated, at least for now. The only reason they were still living on Rhy'Din was the fact that they were semi-retired and it had become home.

"No, I don't think there is, but this is our children," Lucy pointed out. "I think having A.E.G.I.S.'s backup would allow you to relax more and enjoy the day with the boys as well."

"Okay, that sounds fair." After all, he didn't really want to go to a baseball game with his shield strapped to his back. He smiled at the thought of doing something he'd always wished his father had done with him. "This might be fun." And just when was the last time Steve Rogers had had fun?

Lucy grinned at the look on his face. "I am absolutely certain it will be," she promised cheerfully. "I won't even insist on a proper meal that day."

Steve laughed. "Hotdogs and popcorn!" That was a proper meal for a day at the ball park. "I love you, Luce," he said, leaning over to smooch her, just because. Why hadn't he thought of that on his own? All he had to do to bond with his boys was do all the things he'd missed with his own Dad.

"I know, I'm just impossible not to love," she answered playfully, kissing him in return. "Love you back, always."

"Don't let it get around," he told her, tapping a finger against her nose. "So, what now, Mrs. Rogers? Do we go back to bed and leave the dishes for morning?"

"That's what we have a dishwasher for, darling," she teased him fondly, her nose scrunching under the affectionate tap. "I am very much on board with the concept of spending the next, oh, eighteen hours in bed."

"Eighteen?" he echoed, laughing. "I'll be lucky if I can sleep eight," he pointed out, though they admittedly didn't have to spend all that time sleeping.

"Who said anything about sleeping?" she countered, tucking her heels behind his thighs to pull him close. "I intend to tire you out so you sleep with me for once, and don't have to watch me snoring like a freight train for half the night."

He chuckled again as she tugged him closer, his hands coming to rest against the counter on both sides of her as he leaned close. "Are you planning on having me run a marathon?" he asked, blue eyes bright with amusement. A sex marathon maybe.

"No running required," she murmured against his lips, her fingers tickling their way up over his sides as she grinned into him. "I may even let you have it all your own way for the first round, captain. Hmm?"

"That sounds like a tempting offer, Doctor," he replied, his lips ghosting hers, as he felt her fingers touch his sides. He wasn't incapable of doing his own fair share of teasing, after all.

"Of course, if you're not interested, I could go and fetch the twins from Liv while you put your chastity belt back on, darling," she added impishly.

"Since when have I ever worn a chastity belt?" he teased, eyes sparkling. And why would he ever want to wear one? There didn't seem much point in it, unless you were interested in torture.

"You never know, we might discover more of your deeply hidden kinks if you accede to my suggestion," Lucy murmured wickedly. Discovering Steve's kinks was one of her favorite things to do, when they had the leisure to do so.

Steve laughed. "I don't think a chastity belt is one of them," he told her, very sure about that. Lucy had managed to corrupt him a little, but he had his limits.

"I still think you'd go a little gooey if I had a Captain America suit made for me," she told him, her voice filled with mischief. It was a long-standing tease that she was never likely to go through with.

"More like Captain England," Steve teased back, as Lucy was decidedly English, through and through. "Or maybe Captain Britain," he added, not knowing there had actually been one at one time in one reality or another.

"Mmm, now, which would you rather?" she asked, easing a little closer until she was perched right on the edge of the counter. "Red and white, or the full Union Jack?"

"Well, I don't have all fifty stars, just the one," he pointed out. His suit had been patterned after the American flag, but it wasn't an exact copy of it. "And just why are we having this conversation?" he asked, chuckling again.

"I have absolutely no idea," she admitted laughingly. "You should shut me up before I start spouting more nonsense again, or we could be here all night."

"Not if I can help it," he said and with that, he scooped her up into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. He held her there a moment, as if she weighed nothing, before turning to make his way back toward the stairs and their bedroom.

Worries and secrets and cares aside, this was the glue and the heart of their family. The love that bound husband and wife, and had made a home for their pint-sized half dozen. It didn't get better than this.

((No plans at this time to bring Thanos into the story, but we just couldn't resist doing something with at least one of the Stones. Who knows what might develop in the future? ;) ))