Author Topic: Going Home  (Read 1435 times)

Steve Rogers

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Going Home
« on: March 23, 2020, 03:27:17 PM »
There was something oddly calming about watching Alyona work. The Sokovian telepath seemed very good at wrapping calm around herself, and that had definitely transmitted itself to little Lara, who seemed quite content to sit on Alyona's lap. Both of them had their eyes closed, Alyona's hand gently curled to the toddler's head, absolutely silent but for their breathing. Nat watched from the other side of the common room, sipping her coffee. "This is so weird."

"Yeah," Steve agreed, watching Alyona and Lara with interest, one hand curled around a cup of coffee that he'd yet to take a sip from. "But we've seen weird before," he added, as if that might help. It was weird enough to know their alter egos had made a child together; even weirder that they were taking said child home with them.

Nat snorted softly, glancing over at him. "Yeah, this isn't half as weird as it could be," she agreed, yawning faintly. "I think you got lucky last night - she's a wriggler."

"I definitely did not get lucky," Steve said, taking her literally, a small smirk on his face. Even though he'd been up all night, it hardly showed. It would take more than a single all-nighter to wear him out. "What do you think the kids will say?" he asked, taking a sip of his coffee at last. He was more worried about them than about Lucy, but the kids always seemed more resilient than anyone gave them credit for.

"Honestly?" She lowered her cup, holding his gaze. "I think they're gonna be excited to have someone else in the family. Your kids are amazing, Steve."

Steve smiled, knowing she was probably right. "Yeah, they are pretty amazing, aren't they? So is Lucy. I mean, I can't think of many women who'd be willing to put up with the weirdness that's part of our lives."

"You, me, and Johnny all got lucky there," Nat mused. "The people willing to marry us have the patience of saints."

She chuckled faintly, though it was tinged with a note of worry. Colin would be an amazing father to Lara, she knew, but there was that slight touch of concern over how he would handle everything involved in taking her on as their own.

Almost on cue, he mirrored her frown as he looked back at the little girl with Alyona.

"You know, I almost wish I could be her dad, but it's better this way."

For Lara and for everyone. He and Lucy already had enough kids of their own, and he'd decided Lara should be with her mother - or the closest thing she had to a mother.

"You'll always be family," Nat murmured softly, following his gaze to the pair on the floor. Lara was grinning, even with her eyes closed; Alyona seemed to be holding back a smile of her own. That had to be a good sign. "You're my brother, Steve. Blood isn't always what defines a family."

His brows rose, looking a little surprised by her blunt declaration of familial affection. It had always sort of gone without saying how they felt about each other. Not only were they close friends, but almost like family. All the Avengers were, but the bond he felt with Nat was a special one. He thought of her like the sister he'd never had, but to hear her return those feelings so openly surprised him. "You're right. We are family, and we always will be."

She caught the expression on his face, shifting like a grumpy child for a moment. "All right, don't make a big fuss about it," she muttered, almost embarrassed to have said it aloud at all.

He couldn't help but smile, amused by her embarrassment. Without another word, he simply slung an arm around her shoulders and gave her a one-armed hug. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone," he promised, though Jarvis was their witness.

"I maintain I am the oldest," Nat responded, though the gentle lean of her body into his hug was enough to assure him that his sibling affection was appreciated and reciprocated, even if she wasn't much of one for displays like that.

Steve chuckled. "Aren't you the old who's always calling me old man?" he asked, blue eyes bright with amusement. Technically speaking, he was over one hundred years old, after all.

She raised a brow above her faint smirk. "It's all in the attitude," she told him. "Besides, I've been protecting your ass against the bullies you don't put down for years." She stuck her tongue out at him cheerfully.

"Oh, yeah?" he said, smirking at her cheekiness. "Are you getting protective of me, Nat? That's sweet, but I can take care of myself, you know," he said, giving her a mild hip bump.

"Uh-huh," she drawled in amusement. "That's why you married the only woman who can force you to take a break, rest up, and let her X-ray you."

"Well, she is a doctor," Steve said in Lucy's defense. "What's your excuse?" he asked, that smirk still on his face, which made him look almost boyish.

"I'm a control freak," she countered without any sign of shame in that assessment. It was better than the truth, which would only bring the mood down just as it had started to rise again.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," he said, removing his arm from her shoulder before she did it for him and turning back to watch Alyona and Lara. "She doesn't look too upset by what Aly is doing," he observed. In fact, just the opposite.

Sipping her coffee once again, Nat considered the pair not so far away. "I wouldn't have thought it, but she's good at this," she admitted. "Adjusting a kid's memories has to be harder than clearing out junk from Nikolai's head."

"Well, I've got a feeling she had mostly good memories. I mean, she had you and me for parents, right?" he said, assuming their alter egos had been good parents. He had no reason to think they hadn't. "It seems that version of you was able to have kids, too."

"Yeah," she said thoughtfully. "Looks like that serum theory was the right one, after all."

As they spoke, Alyona opened her eyes, gently taking her hand from Lara's temple. The little girl giggled, no doubt at something inside her own head, blinking her eyes open.

"On at least two Earths anyway," he remarked, unsure about other universes they didn't know about. "She's adorable, by the way. Looks just like her mother," he said, with an affectionate smile.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2020, 03:27:35 PM »
"She's got her father's eyes," Nat murmured, setting her coffee cup aside just in time.

Lara scrambled up out of Alyona's lap and threw herself into Nat's for a hug before crawling over and into Steve's lap. "We gon' go home, Unca Steve?"

Steve couldn't help but smile down at this adorable little girl that was a mini-Natasha. Even if he couldn't be her father, she already had a place in his heart, and he'd make sure she had a place in his life. "Soon as your mother is ready, sweetheart," he assured her.

Lara's hopeful face turned toward Nat, who chuckled.

"Just give me a second, kiddo," she told the little girl. "I just gotta have a quick chat with Aly."

Lara sighed exaggeratedly, turning her attention back to Steve. "Can I have a sweetie?"

"A sweetie?" Steve echoed, a mild look of panic on his face to be left alone with the girl. "I, uh ... Jarvis, can you tell me where we can find some sweets?" he asked the ever-present A.I. who was always listening.

"I believe Agent Wilson keeps a selection of candies in the coffee jar on his personal shelf in the kitchen, Captain Rogers," JARVIS offered helpfully. "I surmise he would not notice one going missing."

"Thanks, Jarvis," Steve told the disembodied voice that was the A.I. before placing Lara on her feet and offering his hand. "Shall we go steal some of Uncle Sam's sweets?" he asked as he, too, moved to his feet, towering over the small girl.

Lara giggled, her little hand easily sliding into Steve's larger palm as she bounced on her toes. "Unca Sam is a birdie," she informed him cheerfully, apparently with no qualms about stealing said birdie's treats.

"Well, he does have wings," Steve confirmed, reminding himself that this sweet little girl was only three years old. He wasn't entirely sure what Alyona put in her head, but he hoped he'd be able to handle any questions she might ask.

It seemed as though Lara at least knew her way around the Avenger's Mansion, almost leading the way out of the common room and into the kitchen without needing to be told where to turn. In there, they found Tony sat at the counter, steaming coffee in one hand, complex blueprints in the other.

Lara abandoned Steve to go and hug Iron Man's leg. "'Lo, Unca Tony!"

Tony blinked, looking down at the munchkin on his leg, and looked up at Steve. "Did I miss something?"

"She's been with Alyona," Steve explained, hoping Tony would put two and two together. "We're taking her home in a bit, but someone was hoping for a sweet, so we thought we'd come raid Sam's candy jar."

"Unca Steve gonna be a ninja like Mama," Lara agreed solemnly, smiling up at Tony as he snorted with laughter.

"Now this, I have to see," Tony said, bending to lift the little girl up to sit on the counter. "Go to it, Ninja Steve."

Steve laughed. "I don't think Uncle Sam will mind if we steal a few pieces of his candy, do you?" he asked, wondering where Sam had gone, but all of them had homes and loved ones elsewhere, after all.

"You think he knows how many he's got in there?" Tony pointed out. He seemed far less stressed today than he had done yesterday; apparently handing off the problem to Steve and Natasha had let him sleep. "So long as you leave him a handful, he'll never remember. Or he'll blame it on Tinkerbell."

That was more than Steve had done, anyway. "Well, if Sam is so worried about his candy, he shouldn't leave it where other people can pilfer it," Steve reasoned, as he reached for the coffee jar to open it and peruse the contents. Maybe it was Sam's personal shelf, but he didn't think the man would mind, considering he was pilfering for a three-year-old.

"Tinkerbell?" Lara asked hopefully, but that was Tony's mess to fix.

"Not the real thing, munchkin," he told her, tapping the end of her nose. "I call Aly Tinkerbell, 'cos she's a fairy in disguise."

Lara's big blue eyes went wide with amazed delight.

Steve smirked, as Tony somehow managed to get himself in deeper, wondering how he was going to explain that remark. "You like Tootsie Rolls?" he asked, holding one and rolling of the little wrapped chocolate flavored chewy candies between two fingers.

Distracted by candy, Lara's head snapped around to look at Steve. "Yes pwease, Unca Steve," she said, proving that manners had certainly been drilled into her, no matter her background.

"How about you, Uncle Tony?" Steve asked, hoping Sam wouldn't miss three pieces of candy. He carefully unwrapped one of the candies before handing it to Lara. "We'll bring some for Uncle Sam next time we visit," he promised.

"Yes pwease, Unca Steve," Tony parroted Lara, grinning as the toddler erupted into cackling giggles. He watched her take the candy, putting a finger over her mouth before she could devour it. "What do you say?" he asked. Apparently Pepper had been working on this with him.

Lara rolled her eyes as only very young children can, and sighed. "Thank you, Unca Steve. Can I have now?"

"Yes, you can have now," Steve said, smiling back at her. He wouldn't have cared if she'd thanked him, but apparently, Tony was taking manners seriously for a change. He held out another candy for Tony, waiting for him to say the appropriate words, as well.

"Thank you, Uncle Steve." Tony held out his hand, just like a small child, the look on his face betraying just how much he was enjoying teasing Steve so innocently for once. Having a child of his own was just going to make this a more recurrent event, clearly. Lara giggled through her mouthful of candy, clapping her hands together at the silly display.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2020, 03:27:54 PM »
"You're both welcome," Steve replied before unwrapping and popping a Tootsie Roll into his own mouth. "What are you working on?" he asked, with a curious glance to the papers on the table in front of his brother-in-law.

Tony glanced down at the blueprints. "I asked that Aleks engineer to go over the plans for the AU generator and see if she could work out why it never worked for me," he admitted quietly. "She hasn't got back to me yet. She did laugh a lot when I gave it to her, though."

"I'm still not so sure you should be tinkering with that," Steve remarked, with a worried frown. He wasn't sure he wanted to discuss this in front of a three year old though, who was bound to ask questions.

"I just need to know why it doesn't work," Tony told him. "I'm not planning on doing anything stupid, Steve. I'm just ... I hate not knowing, you know?"

"Maybe it isn't supposed to work," Steve suggested, though Lara was proof that on another Earth somewhere, it or something like it had worked. Steve furrowed his brows in thought for a moment, but said nothing about what he'd been thinking.

"If there's even a chance ..." Tony trailed off before he could voice that thought, glancing at the little girl, who was still happily chewing on her treat and kicking her feet. "I just have to know."

Steve's gaze darted to Lara a moment before looking back at Tony. Was he worried what had happened to that other Earth might happen here? "You know what we need? We need to make sure what happened in New York never happens again. And that's more about closing portals than opening them."

"To do that, I need to know how and why, and it's stumping me," Tony said, grating his teeth around the declaration that he couldn't quite work it out. "Once I know the how, I can work up a shield."

Steve looked thoughtful again, unsure if he should suggest what he was thinking. Afterall, he wasn't scientifically-minded. He was just a soldier. He understood strategy and tactics, but he wasn't a genius inventor, like Tony or his father before him. "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but what if the Nexus is the key?"

Tony blinked, tilting his head in surprise. "I never thought of that," he admitted. "JARVIS, add the data we've collected on the Nexus to the AU package."

"As you wish, Mr. Stark."

Steve wasn't sure if his suggestion would help, but he didn't think it could hurt. "How are you doing? How's Pepper?" he asked, on a more personal note. Tony might be a pain in his rear at times, but they were still friends - brothers even.

"Pepper's good," Tony answered, and his entire face relaxed as he said it, one hand absently fiddling with the wedding band on his finger. "I'll be better when there's a person to look after and not just a bump. It's hard connecting to just a part of her anatomy."

Steve smiled, glad to see Tony relaxing a little. "Enjoy the quiet while you have it," he said with a chuckle. Once the baby was born, Tony would learn what it was to be on call 24-7, but he understood what the other man meant. After all, Steve and Lucy had four of their own and another two they'd adopted.

Tony was quiet for a moment, half-watching Lara inspect the last of her Tootsie Roll in sticky fingers. "It's a girl," he said finally, looking back to Steve. "I'm terrified. My dad wasn't a great role model, even you have to admit that. And I'm a mess."

"Yeah, look at you, with a little girl on your lap, perfectly content," Steve pointed out with a smile. "You're gonna be fine, Tony. You're a great uncle, and you're gonna be an awesome father. You'll see."

Tony snorted, but his smile was grateful. "I've got Pepper to keep me from screwing up too badly," he agreed, reaching out to ruffle Lara's red curls. "So you three are back to Rhy'Din, huh?"

"Yeah, I promised I'd be home for dinner," Steve replied, darting another glance at Lara and smirking a little at the knowledge that she was going to leave Tony a bit sticky. "You know you're welcome to visit anytime. Pepper, too. The kids miss you."

"You guys are having dinner at midday now?" Tony asked with a teasing lilt to his voice, grinning as he rose to his feet to swing Lara up into the air and set her down on her own little toes. "We're due a visit, sure. I'll take it up with the nice twin."

Steve smirked. "Okay, lunch." He chuckled at Tony's remark regarding his sisters, knowing he was referring to Liv. "She's not so bad, you know," he said in Lucy's defense. "She grows on you."

"I am not willing to go on the record and admit that," his brother-in-law said with a bit of a smirk. He looked down at Lara. "You ready to go find your mom, munchkin?"

The little girl nodded, inserting her sticky hand into Steve's.

Okay, so maybe it was Steve who was going to get sticky, but he didn't seem to mind much - or maybe he'd just become used to it. "You have a hug for your Unca Tony?" he asked, assuming Alyona had put that memory into her young mind.

Lara nodded, abandoning his hand to throw her arms around Tony's leg. "See ya, Unca Tony," she said cheerfully, beaming up at him as he stroked her hair.

"See you soon, munchkin," he answered. "Have fun, okay? And you try not to freak out all over the place," he added to Steve.

"Who me? Freak out? Never!" Steve replied, hoping he was right about that. "Let me know how the, uh, experiment goes," he added, regarding Tony's tinkering with his AU device. "Give Pepper a kiss for me!"

"You know I will," was Tony's answer, even as he untangled Lara from his leg. He looked relieved as Nat came into view from the common room. "Look, there's your mom!"

"Mama!" Lara swiftly abandoned both men to throw herself at Nat, who laughed as she hoisted the little girl up onto her hip.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2020, 03:28:12 PM »
"Look at you, all sticky," she declared. "Which uncle am I gonna spank?"

"Guilty as charged," Steve said, raising a hand, though he doubted Nat would dare spank him. He had been the one to give her the candy. "She wanted some sweets, and I'm a pushover," he said in his own defense.

"You're such a soft touch," she accused affectionately, hugging the toddler on her hip. "Everything under control here now?" She glanced between the two men, a part of her trying to put off taking Lara home and introducing the little girl to her new father and sister.

"Yeah," Steve replied, debating whether he should mention Tony's blueprints and deciding against it for now. "Just saying our goodbyes." It was probably obvious he was holding something back. If Steve Rogers was anything it was honest; he was a terrible liar.

"Uh-huh." The look on Nat's face assured him she knew she wasn't being told the whole truth, but she let it pass. "Thanks for getting on this so fast, Tony," she added. "Appreciate it."

Tony nodded to her. "She's cute," was all he said, but the nod was enough.

"Ready, kiddo?" Steve asked, with a glance at Lara. He had mixed feelings about going home. While he missed his wife and family, it was going to take a little while for him to get used to the fact that someone else was raising his daughter. He had complete faith in Nat though, and knew this was for the best.

Lara nodded, still hugging Nat about the neck. She might not know what was waiting for her at home, but she had her Mama and her Uncle Steve, and they would keep her safe. Alyona's gentle readjustment of her memories had worked perfectly.

"You have everything?" Steve asked Nat. They hadn't really brought much with them but the clothes on their backs, seeing as how they had extra clothes at the mansion.

"Everything we came for, yeah," she assured him. "Gonna need to borrow a few things from you and Luce for a couple of days until we get set up, but we're good to go."

"No problem," he assured her, tossing Tony a wave before turning to lead the way toward the exit, back the way they'd come the day before. "We're happy to help. You're not in this alone, Nat. And don't forget about our extended family. I'm sure Humphrey would love another grand-daughter."

"Let's start small?" she suggested, grinning as Lara waved to Tony over her shoulder. "We've got a little settling in to get over before we start expanding the circle again."

Steve smiled, both at Nat's suggestion and Lara's wave. "Yeah, okay. Just ... We're family, you know?" he said, needing her to know and understand that. It was hard for him to say sometimes, to get sentimental, but he hoped she knew how much she meant to him. Like she'd said, family wasn't always measured in blood.

"I know," she promised. "I might not be good at saying it, but I do feel it, Steve. Like I said, you're my brother. Blood's got nothing to do with it."

"Where we goin'?" Lara asked suddenly, looking around the garden.

"We're going home," Steve told her, though that wasn't much of an explanation. "It's kind of like magic, but you have to close your eyes first," he said, as they made their way into the garden, well away from the mansion.

"You know how you got here yesterday, sweetie?" Nat explained. "We're going to do something like that. Home is on the other side." Lara nodded, her eyes wide, holding on just a little tighter. Even having her memories slightly tinkered with hadn't erased the fear of what had happened to bring her here.

"Will you feel better if we all hold hands?" Steve asked. It hardly mattered whether she thought of him as her uncle or not. It didn't even matter much if he was her birth father or not. From the look on his face, it was obvious that he cared.

The nod this time was more vehement, one hand untangling from Nat's neck to reach out to Steve.

"It's okay," Nat murmured to her as they approached the designated area in the gardens. "You're safe."

"We won't let anything happen to you," Steve promised, along with Nat. He moved closer and gave her hand a gentle reassuring squeeze. "Ready?" he asked, a warm smile on his face, as if they weren't about to travel through what amounted to a wormhole in reality.

"You comin' wiv me, yeah?" a tiny voice asked, small hands clinging to both of them in defiance of any attempt to let go.

Nat rubbed her cheek against the red curls, meeting Steve's eyes but letting him answer.

"Yes, ma'am," Steve replied, his smile widening. "That's why we're holding hands." He reached over to brush a finger against her cheek, his fingers straying to brush against her eyelids. "Now, close your eyes and together, we'll count to five. Ready?" he asked, waiting for her to do as he asked before activating the device.

Still looking worried and holding on tightly. Lara squeezed her eyes shut obediently. Nat winced as the grip on her neck turned into a tight fistful of her hair, but let it go for now. This had to be scary for the little girl.

"Okay, sweetie," she said. "One, two ..."

"Three, four, five ..." Steve counted, just before he activated the device, opening the portal that would take them to Rhy'Din. He gave Nat a nod to indicate he was ready, and together the three of them stepped through.

The sucking, fast-motion-no-movement sensation of the portal was somehow heightened while holding a frightened little girl, but it was over in less than three seconds, the three of them stood beneath the trees in Maple Grove, a layer of snow on the ground and the sound of children playing in the not too far distance.

Nat smiled, kissing Lara's hair. "We made it, kiddo."

Steve drew a deep breath - something he always did after traveling that way. He might not admit it out loud, but he wasn't overly fond of portal hopping. He looked around at their surroundings, smiling with relief to know they were home.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2020, 03:28:27 PM »
"You can open your eyes now," he told Lara, still holding her hand. What would she think of her new home? In some ways, it was very different from Earth, yet there were similarities, too.

The big blue eyes opened warily, looking around with shy concern that slowly melted into genuine curiosity. "Smells green," she said, looking at Steve.

Steve chuckled. "Well, it will be when the snow melts." He heard the sound of children playing not too far away, but he thought Nat might want to take her home so that Colin could meet her first. "This is home. What do you think?"

"S'pretty," Lara offered, wriggling as Nat opened up her jacket to wrap the little girl up inside it. After all, it was much colder here on Rhy'Din than in New York right now.

"Shall we go home and find your dad and your little sister?" Nat suggested.

Lara blinked, looking at her with wide eyes. "They here?"

"Along with a bunch of cousins and other people who are eager to meet you," Steve replied, doing a good job of playing the part of uncle and not letting Nat or Lara see how he really felt about all this. At least, he had that connection.

Granted, Nat knew him, and she knew how much it cost to give up that parental connection for a more distant one. She would have done it for him if their positions had been reversed, but it was a difficult decision for anyone to make. "But first we're gonna go home and get you warmed up," she added to the little girl.

"Hot cocoa and some cookies," Steve said, that smile on his face again. He leaned over to touch a kiss to Lara's cheek and tap a finger against her nose. "You be good for your mama, munchkin. I'll see you soon, and then you can meet your Aunt Lucy and all your cousins, okay?"

Lara nodded obediently. "Yes, Unca Steve," she said, smiling at him.

"I'll let you know the plan as soon as we have one," Nat added as they walked toward the trio of houses.

Steve nodded to Nat, not really needing to say anything more. He wasn't sure there was much of a plan really, other than what they'd already decided. "Okay, I'll leave you to it. Say hi to Colin for me," he said, touching a kiss to Nat's cheek before turning to head toward the house he shared with Lucy and the kids.

Nat watched him go for a moment, a little worried about her best friend in the wake of everything that had happened. But she had a little person to deal with right now. She was just going to have to let Lucy handle Steve.

"Okay, kiddo, let's go find your dad," she announced to Lara, turning to duck through the hedge and advance on her own back porch.

"Is dis home?" Lara asked, looking up at the house with wide eyes.

"Sure is, sweet stuff," Nat assured her, mounting the steps.

Little did Lara know, the man who matched her birth father's DNA had just walked away, and the man who was going to raise her had just come to the door, another little girl in his arms who looked about a year old and bore a strange resemblance to Lara - but then, they were sisters.

"Well, hello," Colin said, a warm smile on his face as he greeted his wife and new daughter. "Welcome home."

"Hi, baby." Nat could feel herself relaxing as she saw Colin and Alia, with Coco bouncing around his feet. "It's good to be home."

Lara stared at Alia, shyly raising her hand to wave to the other little girl.

Colin leaned in to touch a brief kiss to Nat's lips before turning to Lara. "And you must be Lara," Colin said, with a warm easy-going smile for the girl. "This is Alia. Alia, this is your big sister, Lara. Can you say hello?"

Unlike her sister, Alia was either too young to be shy or too used to being around other children, mirroring her wave by opening and closing the chubby fingers of one hand.

"She pretty," Lara whispered loudly, still hugging Nat's neck as she stared at Alia.

"She's your little sister, munchkin," Nat told her affectionately. "And this is your dad."

Tearing her gaze from Alia, Lara looked at Colin, her shy smile returning. "Hullo, Papa."

"Hello, Lara," Colin replied, that smile still on his face, before a bark from below reminded them they weren't alone. "Right, and this is Coco. Say hi to Lara, Coco!" Coco barked again, her tail wagging happily. Colin chuckled before stepping back to let Nat and Lara inside.

Lara giggled as she looked down at the excited Coco, apparently less disturbed by meeting her new father and sister than Nat had worried she might be. As they stepped inside, the door closing behind them, Nat hugged her just a little closer. "Welcome home, munchkin. You're gonna be safe here."

"It might take us a few days to get everything settled, but we've been busy while you were gone," Colin explained as he led the way further inside the house. "I have to hand it to Olivia. I don't know how she did it, but somehow she managed to get another bed and clothes and other things Lara might need. That woman is amazing!" Of course, it probably didn't hurt that all she had to do was ask for help from the Grangers and it would be granted.

Nat laughed, gently adjusting Lara on her hip. "I don't know why she keeps trying to insist she's completely normal," she agreed. "She fits right in with her family. Sorry I left you with all the arrangements. It wasn't really the plan."

"Well, it's not perfect, but Lara will have a bed of her own to sleep in tonight," Colin explained, as he led the way into the kitchen. "What do you say we have some hot cocoa and cookies?" he asked. "You like hot cocoa, Lara?"

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2020, 03:29:01 PM »
The little girl nodded happily, giggling as Coco's wet nose brushed her leg. "Does Papa make good cocoa?" she asked Nat, who grinned.

"I think he does," she told Lara fondly. "Better than me, right, Ali?"

"Co-co!" Ali exclaimed, lunging toward her sister and her mother so that Colin had to hold tight to keep her from falling out of his arms. It was hard to tell whether the toddler was excited about the dog or about having hot chocolate though.

Colin chuckled again, lowering Alia to her feet. "Why don't you girls play with Coco a bit while your mother and I get the drinks ready?" he suggested.

Lara looked uncertain as Nat lowered her down. "It's okay, munchkin," Nat promised her. "We're home, and if you need us, all you gotta do is yell. Besides, Alia really wants to show you the playroom, I'll bet."

The toddler's eyes widened; a whole room for playing in was worth a bit of an adventure. She shyly took Alia's hand, the two girls toddling off as Nat straightened up.

Colin watched quietly to see how the two girls would react to each other, but he had no doubt they'd be best friends in no time and was relieved to see them happily toddle off together. He wasn't fooling himself though; he knew it was going to take Lara a little time to get adjusted to her new life here.

"If she were younger, she could almost pass for Alia's twin," he remarked, as Coco hurried after the two girls, tail wagging.

"Mmm." Nat turned to him, her expression concerned. "You don't have to pretend you're okay with this right from the start," she told him quietly. "I know it's a lot. But I don't know what else we could have done."

"Who says I'm pretending?" Colin said, darting a glance in the direction the girls had gone to ensure they wouldn't overhear their parents' conversation. "I get it, Nat. And you know what?" he said, reaching to draw her into his arms. "You wouldn't be you if you didn't want to help," he said, touching a kiss to her nose.

She smiled, going into his arms without a moment's hesitation. "I love you," she murmured. "What did I do to deserve a husband who gets me so easily, huh?"

He shrugged, his smile widening. "You met me?" he asked, as though that in itself was enough. "Seriously, Nat. She's just a little girl. What kind of person would I be if I turned my back on her? Besides, she's your daughter, whether you birthed her or not. She belongs with you."

"She's our daughter," she corrected him gently. "Steve might struggle with it a bit, but she knows him as her uncle now, not her dad. You're her dad, Col, and she's been really looking forward to meeting you."

"I know," he said, his smile fading as he turned serious. "How's he handling it?" he asked, thinking how hard it must be for the man to let another man raise his daughter, though in truth, Lara belonged to a Steve and Nat from another universe. It was a lot to wrap their heads around, but what was most important to them all was Lara's well being.

She sighed. "He's putting on a good face, but I know it's got to be hard for him," she said in a low tone. "Hopefully he'll be able to talk it all out with Lucy, and find his calm again. He's angry and frustrated that we couldn't do anything to help her real parents."

"Do we know what happened to them?" he asked, pushing a stray lock of red hair away from her face if only as an excuse to touch her.

Nat drew in a shaken breath. "Seems as though, on their side of the portal, this Thanos guy was waging war on Earth, and winning," she said reluctantly. "Steve saw it through Alyona's memory of what she saw in Lara's memory. They were completely overwhelmed."

"Bloody hell," Colin murmured, his frown deepening. "I assume we've taken precautions against that happening on our Earth," he said. Though he didn't say it like a question, he was hoping for confirmation.

"We have," she assured him. "Tony's working on a secondary defense as well. We are not going to let that happen to us. Ever." From the playroom came the sound of two little girls giggling together, drawing a smile to her face. "At least we won't need to worry about those two getting along."

"No, I think that's the least of our worries," Colin replied. "I guess I better make good on my promise for hot cocoa though," he said, touching another kiss to her lips, this one lingering a little more than the last.

"Mmm, that was what you promised," she agreed, though she was in no hurry to let go. She truly had missed him, even during one night away. "I guess I should prep for bathing the girls this evening, too."

"That might be best, until Lara gets to know me better," Colin agreed. "All of this is going to be harder on her than on us. We need to do everything we can to make her feel comfortable ... and loved," he said, needing her to know that they were in this together.

"She's young enough that, in a few months, this will be her reality, and the old world just a bad dream," Nat murmured. "We just have to make it through the nightmares and the adjustments. And we can do that, together."

"It seems our little family just got bigger," Colin said, smiling again. "And you didn't even have to go through nine months of pregnancy to do it," he teased. It wasn't that he took any of this lightly, but he knew how important this was, not only to Nat, but to Lara, too.

She laughed softly, glad he was taking this so much better than she had thought he might. "It still could happen again," she warned. "But we just got a little more saving grace time before that decision gets made."

"Well, I wouldn't mind having a son someday, but I think two kids under three is enough for now," he told her, relieved to see her laugh. "It's gonna be okay, Nat. Promise," he assured her, sealing that promise with another kiss. "Now, if you don't mind, I promised two little redheads some hot cocoa."

"You did," she agreed, hugging him close for just a moment longer. "I'll go and get the basket ready to throw them in the bath later on." It was still only around lunchtime, but one thing Nat had learned about being a mom was making sure she was prepared ahead of time for almost anything.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2020, 03:29:29 PM »
"Have you had lunch?" he asked. "We've had ours, but I could put something together for you and Lara," he suggested.

"Actually, we didn't stop for lunch," she admitted with a guilty glance toward him. "She could probably do with a little something to keep her going for the afternoon, but we may be due a nap, too. A little peace to sort things out ourselves."

"Okay, what would you like?" he asked as he gently broke away from her so that he could put the kettle on and at least, get the hot cocoa going.

"Surprise me, you foxy Englishman," she suggested with a grin, finally moving to take off her jacket and settle into being back home again.

He chuckled at her remark, wondering if she'd find him so foxy if all he managed to through together was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Thankfully, between them, he was the better cook. "I'll try," he said, without making any promises.

"You'll succeed," was her prediction, offered as she slipped out of the kitchen to get the basket together for bathing the children later on that afternoon. It didn't take long, and when she returned to the kitchen, she had a daughter on each leg.

By the time she returned, he was just putting two grilled cheese sandwiches on plates and finishing up the hot cocoa. He chuckled at the sight of her, with two red-headed appendages. "What's that you have attached to your legs?" he asked, with an amused smirk. If he was upset about having another child unexpectedly cast upon him, he was doing a good job of not showing it.

"I think we might have rats in the house," Nat responded. "That, or monkeys. What do you think?" It said a fair bit about how well she was in shape that having two toddlers attached to her legs wasn't really giving her much trouble walking.

"A pair of red-haired monkeys from the looks of it," Colin remarked. "Do you think they might be interested in cheese toasties and hot cocoa?" he asked. Hopefully, no one had any lactose problems.

"Well, I don't know about them, but I am!" Nat declared, unsurprised when Alia detached herself and began to toddle over to the kitchen table. Lara was close behind her, though she didn't really know what the routine was. Nat grinned at Colin. "You and Ali sharing half a sandwich to keep us company?" she asked.

"Something like that," Colin replied, reaching to scoop Alia up first and settle her into her highchair. "Would you like to sit near your sister?" he asked of Lara as he got Alia settled in.

Clinging to a chair, Lara hesitated, looking around for Nat before nodding to Colin. "Yes please, Papa."

The word came so easily that they knew the trust would come quickly as well, but for today, at least, this little one was going to need a little extra reassurance.

"All right then, munchkin," he said, turning to Lara, once he had Alia settled. "Up we go." He scooped easily up into his arms before settling her upon a chair between Alia and Nat. In front of her, she'd find a cheese toastie cut into fourths and a sippy cup with hot cocoa that had cooled enough that it wouldn't burn her mouth.

Squeaking as she was scooped and sat down, Lara waited with surprising patience as Nat and Colin sat down at the table with the girls. "Eat up, sweet stuff," Nat told her. "We missed lunch, didn't we?"

Alia was almost drooping in her chair, but made a fair attempt at nibbling at her sandwich. It had been an exciting day so far, and it was well past her naptime. "How's your sandwich?" Colin asked his girls, including the newest addition to the family.

"S'yummy," Lara offered around a large mouthful. She was only a little more awake than Alia was, but seemed determined to at least eat everything on her plate before giving in.

Nat grinned, wiping cheese from the corner of her mouth before she, too, answered. "Very yummy, thank you."

"Well, I am famous for my cheese toasties, you know," Colin teased with a grin before taking a bite of his own, despite the fact that he'd already had lunch before they'd arrived. "After lunch, would you like to see your room?" he asked, his question obviously directed to Lara.

"Sounds like your dad was really busy getting everything ready for you," Nat added, sweeping curls out of Lara's face as the little girl chewed furiously. "Your own bed and everything."

The toddler swallowed hard, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "I got to be on my own?"

"Well, for now, you'll be sharing a room with Alia. Is that okay?" Colin asked, though he didn't have to. He could have just told her that was the way it was going to be, but he was too kind for that. Besides, he had a feeling neither girl would mind sharing a room very much, at least, for now.

Lara nodded urgently. "Don't want to be all 'lone," she said, worry touching her face as she looked back and forth between them.

"Munchkin, you're never going to be alone," Nat promised her. "All you ever need to do is yell, and one of us will come running."

"We will never leave you alone," Colin told her, reaching over to touch her cheek, a soft smile on his face, echoing what her mother had already said. It hardly mattered in that moment whether he was her birth father or not; the child needed a family, and he was happy to give her theirs.

The worry faded from the little face as she beamed in response, happily tipping her cheek into Colin's hand affectionately before ramming the last of her sandwich into her mouth.

Nat snorted with laughter. "I guess she was hungry."

"I guess so," Colin added with a chuckle. His cooking seemed to be at least passable. He smirked to see Alia struggling to keep her head upright. "Looks like someone needs a nap," he said, getting up to extract the toddler from her chair and settle her against his chest, her head coming to rest against his shoulder.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2020, 03:29:53 PM »
"I don't think she's the only one." Nat nodded to Lara, who had definitely slowed down in her chewing as she nodded in her own chair. "C'mere, you." Lifting the older toddler onto her own lap, she helped Lara drink from her cup before letting the little girl slump against her. "We can do this, right?"

"If Steve and Lucy can manage six, I think we can handle two," Colin assured her. It wasn't all that long ago that he'd have answered that question differently. He'd never expected to have met someone like her or to have fallen so hard and so fast, but sometimes life surprised you like that.

"Oh, I know you can," she said, rising to her feet with Lara clinging limply to her neck. "Not so sure about me, but I'm stubborn enough to fake it."

"You never give yourself enough credit," Colin said, moving to his feet with the toddler tucked against his shoulder. "Just look at yourself, Nat. You're a natural," he assured her.

"If I ever sound confident about anything but fighting, you'll know I'm not myself," she pointed out in amusement, gently rocking Lara as the little girl relaxed on her shoulder.

"We already have one child, Nat," Colin said, his voice warm and soft and reassuring. "What's one more?" he asked, moving closer to touch a kiss to her lips, the two sleepyheads the only thing coming between them. "What do you say we all take a well-deserved nap?"

"That sounds ... amazing," she agreed. "I missed you last night." Just a year ago, she would never have said that aloud. Colin's influence on his fierce little wife went a lot further than simply getting a ring on her finger.

"All right then," Colin said. "Our room or theirs?" he asked, unsure if she wanted to be alone with him or share their bed with the girls.

"Them in theirs, us in ours," she said. "Start as we mean to go on, right? They need to get used to each other, and she needs to realize sooner rather than later that we're always nearby, even if she can't see us."

"Good point. Shall we?" he asked, gesturing for her to lead the way, intending to be right behind her. He wasn't especially tired really, but he knew the same couldn't be said for her and the girls.

Chuckling at the gentlemanly way he allowed the ladies to go first, Nat lead the way up the stairs and to the girls' bedroom, pausing for just a few moments to appreciate how much had been done in less than 24 hours. Where there had been just one crib and a lot of floor space, now there was another bed and chest of drawers, filled and ready for use.

She glanced over her shoulder at Colin with a smile. "You have been busy."

"Well, I can't take all the credit. I had a lot of help," Colin said quietly, so as not to wake the girls. He had already given Liv credit for most of it, but even she'd had help. He'd just been there to supervise, so to speak.

"That doesn't mean you don't get some of the credit, baby," she pointed out warmly, making her way over to the bed to go down on one knee as she slipped Lara under the covers, little shoes tucked away as the toddler sighed in her sleep. She even automatically hugged her arms around the soft plushie polar bear set next to her pillow as she drifted off.

"I've heard about how efficient Liv can be, but I'd never seen her in action before," Colin said, once again giving Liv all the credit. It was just a bed and dresser and some clothes, but it had come together pretty quickly. He gently laid Alia in her crib, tucking her under a blanket, along with her own plushie in the form of a penguin.

"Sleep sweet, munchkin," Nat murmured to Lara, kissing her brow softly before standing up and moving to do the same for Alia. The girls would be up again in less than two hours, but that little bit of peace was looking like heaven right now.

Confident both girls were sleeping peacefully, he slid an arm around Nat and kissed her on the cheek. "You're a good mother, Nat. They're proof of that," he whispered.

"Never would have happened without you," she whispered back, wrapping her arms about his waist. And yes, she included Lara in that. She would never have taken the girl on if she had still been alone; that she had come to that decision almost without thinking about it said more about Colin than it did about her.

Had he known how she felt, he might have disagreed, but it hardly mattered. The two little girls sleeping contently were proof enough that they both were good parents. Even if Lara had only just arrived, the fact that they cared about her well-being was enough to prove that point.

"Come along, love. Time to tuck you in next," he told her, his whisper of breath soft against her cheek.

"Only if you tuck you in with me," she murmured, only too happy to be drawn out of the room with him. Her sleep the night before had not been particularly restful with Lara in the bed with her. A nap would be very welcome at this point.

"That's the plan," he assured her, as he drew her toward the door, leaving it cracked open behind them so that they could hear if either child needed them. The dishes could wait until later. Nat seemed to need him and she was far more important than a clean kitchen.

As she slowly relaxed for the first time since Steve had told her Tony wanted to see them the day before, Nat began to shake, the shock and trauma of learning everything she had learned in the last 24 hours finally sinking in now she was safe and everything had been seen to. She didn't cry, or bemoan what had happened. She simply crawled into bed with Colin and held on tightly until her whirlwind of feelings died away once again.

Infinitely patient, Colin held her for as long as she needed, murmuring soothingly every now and then, as one might to someone who'd just woken from a nightmare - which was, in a way, just what she'd done. His fingers gently stroked her hair and her back, his body warm and comforting beside hers, his arms strong and capable.

"Sorry," she apologized eventually, relaxing her grip to look up at him, her cheek resting on the pillow. "It's been a hell of a day and night."

"No need to apologize," he reassured her. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, offering to listen to whatever she might want to tell him. He knew the events of the last day or so had been a shock for both of them, but more so for her than for him.

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Re: Going Home
« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2020, 03:30:10 PM »
"I don't know where to start," she admitted quietly. "It just seems unreal, you know? I couldn't imagine any situation where I would abandon my children to the hope of a better life in another universe, but that's exactly what the other version of me did."

"Kind of like Superman," Colin murmured, just for comparison. Of course, as far as he knew Superman was just a fictional character in a comic book, though who knew here on Rhy'Din.

"Who?" She frowned curiously; that wasn't a name she had ever come across before. "Is he a friend of yours or something?"

Colin chuckled softly. "No, he's a comic book character I used to read about when I was a boy." He supposed she'd never had much time for that sort of thing. "Long story short, his world was at war and was on the brink of destruction, so when he was a baby, his parents sent him to Earth in a spaceship to save him. The ship lands on a farm, and the people who find him adopt him and raise him as their own." Okay, so the story wasn't exactly like Lara's, but he hoped she'd understand the similarities.

She smiled faintly. "I get it," she murmured. "I guess it is kind of like that. At least Lara's young enough that in a few months all of this will be a bad dream."

"We'll give her good memories to replace the bad ones," Colin assured her. "And we'll make sure Steve is an important part of her life, too." That was the part of the equation that was worrying him the most really.

"He will be," Nat agreed quietly. "He's putting on a brave face, but it cost him a lot to make the decision and let Alyona adjust Lara's memories. No matter what is best for her, he's still going to feel a little as though he abandoned her for a while."

"Well, you know, there's nothing wrong with having two fathers. Lots of people do it," Colin pointed out. It wasn't him he was concerned about so much as it was Steve. Plenty of people had birth fathers and adoptive fathers and step fathers. "He should be part of her life, too, and I don't mind sharing."

"Part of it is not wanting to confuse things too much for the other kids," Nat pointed out. "But if you're okay with it, I think we should encourage her to have a close relationship with her Uncle Steve."

"Make him her godfather," Colin suggested. Though neither of them was particularly religious, the same could not be said of Steve. "And I don't mean like in the movie," he teased.

She laughed, nuzzling into his shoulder as his humor broke her rising tension once more. "That's a good idea," she agreed. "I just hope he's talking to Lucy about all this. Who knows how she's taking it herself."

"I'm sure he is," Colin said. "Besides, you didn't actually sleep with Steve. The other Nat did. They took a risk in sending Lara here, but it was a calculated risk. They had to have already known how you both would react, even if you weren't a couple."

"I know. It's a weird situation, that's all." She sighed softly, touching a gentle kiss to his jaw as she rested her head closer to his. "This is gonna take some time for all of us to come to terms with it, I think."

"It will be okay, Nat," he assured her, arms wrapped around her to hold her close. "We're safe here in Rhy'Din. Our children are safe. And we're going to make sure it stays that way."

"Damn straight, we are," she agreed firmly. "I will not let anything bad happen to any of you, I promise. Not on my watch, not ever."

He chuckled a little, knowing she'd kill for them if she had to. He had no illusions where that was concerned. "Said like a true badass," he teased her, blue eyes bright with amusement.

"I thought you liked my ass?" Her lips curved into a smile he likely felt against his neck. "I don't think you've ever called it bad before."

"Take it as a compliment, love," he told her. "Why don't you get some rest while you can? I'm not going anywhere," he assured her, knowing she probably needed it.

"Mmm, I think I will," she murmured, letting her eyes close. "Wake me if you need me, okay?" She trusted him with everything she had, but she knew Lara might be a little Mom-clingy for a few days.

"Will do," he promised her, pressing a protective kiss to her brow. "Love you, Nat. Don't worry now, and just get some rest," he whispered in that calming voice of his.

"Love you too, baby." She let out a long sigh, as though expelling the last of her worry, and fully relaxed against him, embracing the absolute safety of being in the arms of the man who loved her.

She could be sure he'd be right there when she woke, watching over her while she slept, the one constant in her life. Going forward, things might get a little hairy, but for now, at least, there was peace.