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.