"Jane!" Maggie exclaimed as the doors to the lecture hall finally opened to reveal Jane Foster, wearing a nice peacoat and glasses, closely followed by a grinning Darcy Lewis holding a messenger bag.
Jane smiled as Maggie darted forward and scooped her into a hug. "It's so good to see you!" Maggie burst out. "The lecture was brilliant, I'd never even considered that closed timelike curve theory about Einstein-Rosen Bridges-"
"Yes yes, she's very clever, where's my hug?" Darcy demanded, opening her arms.
Maggie grinned as she let go of Jane and picked Darcy up in a hug, lifting her off her feet.
"My god, that's hot," Darcy laughed into Maggie's shoulder.
"It's so good to see both of you," she said. "So, still happy to come to stay at the facility?" she asked as she set Darcy down.
"As long as you promise nothing will blow up," Darcy said with raised eyebrows.
"I've specifically requested that the facility remain explosion-free for the week while you're here," Maggie grinned as she started leading them to her car. "Besides, we're legit these days. We've got staff, and interns, and everything. Though I can't exactly promise there'll be no explosions."
"Erik told me about that biochemical attack last month," Jane frowned. "Are you okay?"
"Erik shouldn't be violating his NDAs like that," Maggie shot back, though she'd more or less expected that Erik would share things with Jane. "But yes, all completely fine. Barely a scratch."
Jane and Darcy shared a doubtful look.
"I can't wait for you both to meet everyone," Maggie deflected. "I called as soon as I heard you'd both be in town. How are the applications going, Darcy?"
Darcy rambled about her astrophysics postgrad applications as they walked, and Jane made faces at the names of the colleges Darcy reeled off. But she seemed pleased that her former intern had been absorbed into the realm of astrophysics.
"I'll be sad to leave this one," Darcy finished with a head jerk at Jane. "But she'll be around Culver more often than not - that's assuming I get into Culver."
Jane rolled her eyes. "I'll be just fine. And Culver would be crazy not to accept you."
"By the way," Maggie said as they approached her dark sedan. "I don't want to sour the mood, but I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about you and Thor. I care a lot about the both of you, and I just… wanted to check in."
Jane's brow furrowed. "I'm sorry too, but… I couldn't keep waiting."
Maggie nodded. "I get it. Stupid aliens."
Darcy wrapped an arm around Jane's shoulders and squeezed. "She's been kicking ass, though. Definitely winning this breakup."
Maggie smiled, and hit her car keys. Three of the doors opened automatically, and Darcy let out a low whistle.
Jane and Darcy stared at the Avengers Facility as they entered, but their awe quickly dissolved when they saw Erik waiting for them in front of the main building. They greeted him with a lot of enthusiasm and high-pitched voices (mostly on Darcy's part), and then all bundled inside. Erik pointed out the different areas of the building as they walked through it, and introduced Jane and Darcy to Maria Hill and Doctor Cho when they walked past. Darcy cracked jokes about the facility looking like a spaceship, and Jane asked about their space imaging capabilities.
As they strode across the grounds toward the private Avengers wing, Maggie cleared her throat. "So, um… on the topic of NDAs."
Darcy paused mid-complaint about the heat and turned back to frown at Maggie. Jane pressed her lips together.
Maggie smiled. "You're going to have to sign another one."
When Maggie brought her visitors into the common room, Bucky, Vision, Wanda, and Steve were already in there, watching a re-run of Jeopardy. F.R.I.D.A.Y. paused the show as Maggie walked in.
"Look who I dragged out of a lecture hall!" she said, gesturing to Jane and Darcy with a flourish. Erik smiled from behind them.
Vision and Steve both stood, Steve out of politeness and Vision with a hand extended.
"It is wonderful to finally meet you, Doctor Foster," he said smoothly. "I have been a keen reader of your astrophysics theories, and have many questions about the Foster Theory, if you are willing to discuss them." His eyes flicked to Maggie, and she gave him an encouraging nod.
Jane and Darcy both took a second to stare at Vision - he was trying out regular clothes today, a dark henley shirt and slacks.
Jane recovered first. She reached out and shook his hand. "It's lovely to meet you too."
Darcy leaned in to Maggie and whispered: "Is it just me, or is the android hot."
"Darcy," Maggie snorted, bowing over to conceal her laugh. Darcy did not bother to hide her laugh, but Vision was already absorbed in conversation with Jane. From the couch, Bucky stared at them.
"Hang on," Darcy said just as Steve opened his mouth to greet them. She pointed across the room at Bucky. "Isn't that guy meant to be dead?"
Bucky shrank as everyone turned to look at him.
"Ah," Maggie said. "Right. So… about that NDA."
Jane turned to follow Darcy's pointing finger. "Is that a metal arm?" Her eyes widened in recognition and the color left her face. "Oh my god, that's-"
"Don't freak out!" Maggie exclaimed, raising a hand and stepping forward. "Maybe I should have prepared you guys a bit more. But… everything is fine. This is Bucky."
"Bucky Barnes," Darcy said stubbornly, her eyes wide behind her glasses. "Who is very much supposed to be dead."
"Well, so am I," Steve said mildly, taking a step forward so he stood beside Bucky. "Doctor Foster, Ms Lewis, this is my friend Bucky. He's staying with us, and it's important that he stays a secret. We all agreed that you were trustworthy, so I'll thank you for helping us keep this secret." His expression became the Captain America I'm very disappointed in you face, and even Maggie felt bad.
Jane and Darcy shared a glance. Bucky's flesh fingers were white on his knee, and his expression guarded.
Jane was the first to nod. "Of… of course. We understand. It's… nice to meet you," she finished faintly, her eyes on Bucky.
"I have so many questions," Darcy said. "But yeah, sure, more secrets. I'm good with that."
Bucky un-shrank, and his fingers loosened. "Nice to meet you," he murmured.
Maggie let out a breath. "Come one." She put her hand on Darcy's elbow. "Let's all sit down."
She didn't see it, but Bucky's eyes zeroed in on her hand.
They all took their seats around the assorted couches and armchairs in the common room - "This place looks like a serial killer's living room," Darcy announced, squinting around at the grey walls and industrial metal railings by the stairs.
"It's a work in progress," Maggie admitted. They'd put in an order for some indoor plants last week.
Steve got everyone drinks from the kitchen, and eventually Natasha and Sam came down to meet the visitors as well. Jane was already absorbed in Vision and his brain, but Darcy had won everyone else over in the space of a minute. They settled in, trading stories and memories. Jane and Darcy had met Steve and Natasha briefly in New York after the Incident, and were eager to talk through everything they had missed since then. Wanda was shy with the strangers, but seemed determined to put up a friendly front.
Maggie half expected Bucky to flee in the face of new people, but he stayed. He listened to Jane and Vision talk, and kept an eye on the conversation flowing around the room, though he didn't say much. Darcy had asked him a lot of very pointed questions straight up (Why aren't you dead?) but seemed to get the message to leave him be.
It felt strange to have Maggie's worlds colliding together once more. Vision discussed Jane's work and her plans for while she was here, and Darcy and Wanda gossipped about Modern Family as Steve listened with a furrow in his brow. Erik murmured quietly to Bucky.
Bizarre as it was, though, it felt nice. Like Maggie had a normal kind of life, where you introduced your friends to each other.
Bucky had been nervous about the visitors, especially the idea that they would be trusted with knowing about him, but they seemed alright. Doctor Foster was like a cyclone inside a small body, so consumed by ideas and theories that she barely seemed to notice what was right in front of her. Her 'ex intern' Darcy was the opposite, so focused on the present that it was almost a little frightening. She missed nothing about her surroundings and never failed to poke fun at it, grinning under her beanie and glasses.
They settled in well over the next couple of days, not that Bucky saw much of either of them. Doctor Foster and Darcy spent most of their time in the labs with Doctor Selvig, or exploring the facility, and Bucky kept to the areas he knew he'd be left alone - his suite, and Meg's workshop. Meg was busy with her guests most of the time.
But yesterday Tony had arrived at the facility to talk shop with Jane, and some bright spark had come up with the idea to have a gathering tonight in the common room. And Steve had forced Bucky to come.
The common room was more full than he had ever seen it: Steve, Tony, Pepper, Natasha, Sam, Colonel Rhodes, Wanda, Vision, Maria Hill, Doctor Selvig, Doctor Cho, Doctor Foster, and Darcy. F.R.I.D.A.Y. played music, and the common room was loud with voices and laughter.
Bucky kept to the edges of the room, nursing a cold beer, hesitant to talk to anyone. Sam did hover by him for a few minutes, joking about how underqualified he felt in the room full of doctors and geniuses. Meg glanced over at the two of them with an amused look.
He watched Meg go about the room, talking to people and fetching drinks and managing her brother and telling jokes and keeping her guests happy. She and Darcy made cocktails at the bar, flinging olives at each other.
He glanced away and spotted Doctor Foster sitting alone on one of the mustard yellow couches, gripping her beer bottle in two hands. Her eyes roved around the room and her knee bounced. She'd just been talking to Vision, but he appeared to have moved away to help Wanda pull a few more chairs over.
Foster flinched when Bucky sat down beside her.
"Sorry," he murmured. He hadn't meant to sneak up on her.
"Oh, you're okay," she smiled nervously, with another glance around. She appeared to have realized she was at a party, and had no idea how to act in that situation. Well, that makes two of us.
"How is your work going?" Bucky asked.
"Oh, so well," she gushed, finally releasing her deathgrip on her bottle. "Vision is just brilliant, and the technology here is just what I needed to test some of my hypotheses about…" she trailed off, and her brow furrowed. "But Darcy said I'm not allowed to talk about work tonight." She shot him a wry smile. "Sorry, I'm supposed to practice 'real person conversation'."
"Me too," Bucky admitted. He floundered for another topic to talk about, looking around the room. "So, how did you meet Me - Maggie?" All Meg had said about her visitors was that they were old friends.
With a grateful smile Jane burst into the tale, telling him about how she and Meg had connected online as young academics, and exchanged emails until they eventually met in person at one of her lectures.
"She went AWOL for a while," Jane continued, gesturing with her beer bottle. "Which I now realize was her becoming the Wyvern. But we stayed in touch, and when I discovered some astronomical anomalies in the desert in New Mexico, I invited her and Selvig to take a look. Selvig came first, and he was with me when Thor first came to Earth." A wistful look crossed her face. "Anyway, she showed up a couple days after he had to leave. And I mean showed up - I walked into my base of operations to find her on the couch with Darcy, drinking beers at midday and looking thick as thieves." She rolled her eyes. "They've been hard to separate since then."
Oh. Bucky swallowed, then glanced over to where Darcy and Meg were clinking cocktail glasses together. "So, they're…?"
Jane laughed. "Don't ask me, I've got no idea!" She sipped her drink. "I think they're good for eachother, though. They laugh more together."
"Right," he said, and then completely failed to think of anything else to say. He opened his mouth to ask about Thor, but then remembered that Meg had said they'd broken up.
Jane saved him. "So, how is it living here at the Facility?"
Bucky watched Darcy and Meg carefully the rest of the night, and he saw what he had noticed from the first day: the casual touches, the private laughter, the in-jokes. A couple of times Darcy glanced over and caught him looking. He held her gaze evenly until she looked away.
He took it upon himself to clear up at the end of the night, since he was sober and it was something to concentrate on. The others were heading back to their rooms in twos and threes - Natasha and Erik supporting a yawning and too-tipsy Jane to the guest quarters, Steve and Vision walking out discussing an upcoming mission, Pepper and Meg convincing Tony not to install a hot tub in the facility roof. Sam helped Bucky tidy until Bucky told him to get lost. Wanda had fallen asleep on one of the couches.
Bucky was standing in the softly-lit kitchen, his metal fingers clinking against glasses as he washed them, when he heard someone step into the kitchen behind him.
"Okay, I know you're not a homophobic bigot."
Bucky looked over his shoulder to see Darcy in the doorway, with one hand on her hip. He stared at her, and her eyes glinted.
She rolled her eyes. "The stink-eye and the huffing whenever you see me putting the moves on Maggie. I read like a zillion books about you - I did my undergrad in political science, don't ask - and you are not a homophobe."
He hunched his shoulders as he turned back to keep washing the glasses. "Okay." But then he glanced back. "I'm not," he added. "To be… to be clear."
Darcy grinned. "I know. You're just jealous."
He whirled, soap suds spraying from his metal hand, but Darcy had already danced out of the room.
Bucky made certain to keep himself scarce after that. It wasn't unusual for him, so no one questioned it. He saw glimpses of Jane and Darcy - Steve taking them on a walk along the river and through the forest, Meg walking with them down facility corridors in animated conversation.
On the day before they were supposed to leave, Bucky overheard a conversation.
He hadn't meant to. He'd been headed for the kitchen for a drink, because despite the air conditioning in the facility the hot sun streaming through the windows made him thirsty. But when he reached the open doorway to the kitchen, he heard low voices and stopped. And then… didn't leave.
He realized almost instantly it was Meg and Darcy - he heard Meg's laugh, followed by Darcy's teasing, low voice. She was flirting again, and he scowled and turned to leave. But then:
"Listen, Darcy, I've been looking for a good moment to say this, so…" a breath. "I'm sorry, but I'm not able to keep up our physical relationship any longer. I'd still like to be your friend, but without…"
There was a long pause.
"Without the benefits." There was a hint of a smile in Darcy's voice. "It's completely okay, Maggie. We've always been friends, this won't change anything. I kind of figured something was up. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," Meg said with some relief. "I've just been doing a lot of… reflecting, and I don't think I'm able to do things so casually anymore. Thank you for understanding."
"Not at all, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable-"
"I'm not uncomfortable, I just didn't want there to be any misunderstandings."
Bucky sighed, and immediately scowled at himself for it.
"Well. Gal pals for life?" Darcy said, a definite teasing note in her voice now. A moment later, there was a clap sound as if they'd high-fived. Bucky frowned. There were a few moments of clattering, as if they'd gone back to making food. And then:
"So, how's the dating scene going for you then?" Darcy asked.
Bucky's frown deepened.
Meg was clearly smiling when she said: "I'm not going to talk about my dating life with you just after I told you I won't be dating you, Darcy. We'll work up to it."
"Honestly, you're such a fun spoiler."
Bucky had been planning to leave, really. But he still wanted a drink, and he figured Meg and Darcy would go out the other door, in the direction of the R&D wing.
But then he'd heard what he thought was both of them leaving, and he walked into the kitchen… only to find Darcy standing there with her hands on her hips. Her eyebrow rose.
"Didn't they teach kids not to eavesdrop during the Civil War?" she asked.
"I'm not that old."
Her expression shifted, and he realized that she was staring at him, eyes raking him from head to toe. He glanced away, uncomfortable.
She sighed. "You are gorgeous."
"I don't want to date you either," he said gruffly.
"Oh, I know."
He looked up again to find her grinning at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Darcy shrugged. "Just saying, Maggie's clearly very open about what she does and doesn't want. Just… keep that in mind."
He scowled, and she laughed at his expression and walked out.
Jane and Darcy left the next day, with a lot of hugging and talking and bother. Bucky avoided it all, but he did see them walk past when he was in the common room. Both women waved, Jane with a genuine smile and Darcy with a shit-eating one. He settled for raising one hand in farewell.
Darcy blew him a kiss, and his brow dropped into a frown.
Meg, following a few steps behind, stared between them.
Late July, 2015
Once a month, Maggie, Steve, Tony, and Pepper met at the facility to discuss Stark Industries' collaboration with the Avengers - which usually involved Pepper brainstorming the best way to separate Stark Industries from the Avengers' see-sawing reputation.
On this particular meeting in one of the facility's shiny new conference rooms, the door opened just as they were getting into the details of a technology transfer. They all looked over to see a kid step in: she couldn't have been older than sixteen, with a mop of shaggy black hair, round, thick glasses, and a jut to her chin that suggested she would be scowling, if she weren't nervously scanning their faces. The kid wore stiff business clothes that looked a size too large for them.
She cleared her throat. "May I take your coffee order?"
Tony blinked. "What, has child labor been legalized?"
Pepper sighed. "Rebecca is a part of our SI Youth Internship program," she explained, and Maggie realized why the kid looked familiar. "And interns shouldn't be taking the coffee order. Rebecca, my assistant can handle that, you head back to the others and I'll speak to your supervisor."
The kid, Rebecca, nodded tightly, trying to hide an expression of annoyance - more at the situation than at Pepper, Maggie guessed.
"Welcome aboard," Maggie said with a nod to the kid. She got another tight nod in return, and then the kid was gone.
"Children," Tony said. "Terrifying." And then Pepper brought them back to business.
August 1, 2015
Scott Lang stood on the roof of the Avengers Facility in the Ant-Man suit, squinting at a stern-faced Sam Wilson.
"Hi, I'm Scott."
Ten minutes later, a breathless Sam whirled on the lawn, searching for the speck-sized intruder. But the guy had completely taken out his HUD. He lifted his commset to his mouth.
"It's really important to me that Cap never finds out about this."
August 9, 2015
The Avengers stood fully-uniformed in the facility med wing, watching Doctor Cho stitching sutures along a scarlet laceration along Wanda's palm. Rhodey sat on the bed next to Wanda's, clutching an icepack against his head and another to his knee. Cho had already set him up with a saline drip. The air stunk of the smoke and oil that the team had trekked into the med wing.
"Colonel Rhodes, what year is it?" Cho asked as she finished another stitch. Wanda winced, but then waved Vision off when he stepped forward worriedly. She'd already been anaesthetized.
"2015," Rhodey said boredly. "Ellis is the president, my middle name is Rupert" - Maggie snorted - "and I had eggs for breakfast. I'm not concussed."
"Just had your brains scrambled a bit," Sam said, clapping Rhodey on the shoulder. Rhodey winced.
"Thank you for your expert diagnosis, Sergeant Wilson," Cho said drily. She glanced up at Wanda's face. "One more stitch."
Steve strode back into the medbay with Bucky at his side, carrying two waterbottles. He had oil and soot smudged on his face, and a contact burn on his fingers, but he seemed to be in good spirits. He placed each water bottle at the bedside of the invalids, then took a step back, his hands on his hips.
"We worked well together, today," he said, a note of pride in his voice.
Maggie had to agree. They'd had word of some kind of robot causing havoc in Eastern Europe, and taken the Quinjet out to find a twenty-foot-tall robot built out of parts of Ultron drones. They'd eventually figured out it was being remotely operated, and split up to take down the various elements: Sam, Nat, and Maggie had gone after the robot operators, Vision had taken out the video feed, and Rhodey, and Wanda had worked together to destroy the robot. Steve had been very impressed, despite the couple of injuries sustained.
Maggie sneezed. Her face was caked in soot and smoke from when Wanda had exploded the robot.
"Was it HYDRA?" Bucky asked, his eyes on Wanda's wounded hand.
"Sort of," Maggie said as she helped Rhodey adjust the ice pack on his head. "Ex HYDRA agents, calling themselves HYDRA, but they couldn't even take out this tiny Ukrainian village by themselves."
"Did alright for themselves with the robot, though," Sam grumbled.
"And so did we," Steve said firmly. "We've got more work to do in training, but… good work, team."
Maggie smiled around at her team, then noticed Bucky considering them with a thoughtful look.
The next week, the Avengers gathered for their regular training session in the empty training hangar on the other side of the facility. They trained at least once a week, sometimes on their own and sometimes with the Avengers mission agents. The hangar was ideal for battle scenarios with its high ceilings, bullet proof glass walls, and the hangar doors that opened into the forest. Today, though, the hangar was empty save for Steve, and…
"Bucky?" Maggie instinctively glanced around as soon as she spotted him standing by the sparring mats, but she knew F.R.I.D.A.Y. would have cleared anyone not in the know about Bucky out of the immediate vicinity.
It was a warm day in August, and sun streamed through the hangar's large windows, warming Maggie's skin. She wore her usual underarmor training gear, and Bucky wore a sparring outfit of tracksuit pants and a dark shirt. Wanda, Vision, Nat, Sam, and Rhodey had already arrived, and most were busy stretching. Wanda was touching her toes.
"Bucky's going to help us out today," Steve explained, beaming at his friend. "We'll be running some hand-to-hand drills, anti-sniper drills, and a marksmanship session. Today's a tech-free day."
"Hill approved it," Nat added.
"If you're going to be fighting HYDRA," Bucky said grimly, "you may as well learn what they know."
They arranged themselves on several training mats on the ground, split into partners and arrayed in a semicircle around the biggest mat, where Steve and Bucky faced off.
Bucky did not waste time with talking. He taught them a series of techniques by demonstrating them on Steve: slow at first, and then very, very fast. Steve was a willing sparring partner, readily taking falls and letting Bucky throw him around to teach the others. Maggie very quickly got used to the sound of Steve hitting the ground. Bucky showed them how to use elbows, shoulders, even just their sturdy body mass to dismantle their opponent. His tone was serious, and his gaze heavy. He wasn't doing this for fun.
Even Nat watched closely, her eyes on Bucky's quick movements and devastating strikes. Beside her, Sam swallowed nervously.
They stood and watched as Bucky twisted Steve's arm around behind his back and then kicked him to the ground. Then he turned to face them. "Your turn."
Maggie was up against Wanda. She let Wanda practice the move on her first, letting the young Sokovian grip her wrist and twist.
"You need to be sharper in your movements," Bucky murmured as he passed them. "More decisive. You've got the technique right, now commit to it."
A second later Maggie smacked flat onto the ground. She turned over to grin up at Wanda, and they both looked to Bucky, who gave Wanda a single nod.
When he turned away, Wanda reached out to help Maggie up. "I can't believe I actually did it! It's a relief to know I don't always have to rely on my magic."
"The magic can't hurt though," Maggie laughed. She raised her fists. "Okay, Maximoff. Look out."
Then there were the knives. This was Bucky's area of expertise, no doubt about it. Steve and Nat had been trained in them, but they had been the Winter Soldier's weapon of choice, after a sniper rifle.
They each took a weighted plastic blade, and Bucky taught them how to kill.
The knife felt strange in Maggie's hand - she'd never really fought with knives before. There always seemed to be a better option. But in Bucky's hands, they all saw just how deadly the blades could be.
The knife flickered over Bucky's hand as he drove it through Steve's defenses on the training mat, talking about flow and the path of least resistance. Steve was good on the defense, but he started to sweat as he evaded Bucky's flickering, weaving knife. It looked almost like a dance, with the smooth steps and arcing swing of their arms, the clash and release. Bucky's eyes were hard and focused. He swung under Steve's darting hand and the plastic blade bent against Steve's stomach.
Sam whistled under his breath. Natasha was looking down at her own blade, twisting it around her hands.
Bucky turned, dark hair falling around his eyes. "Your turn. In an hour you'll go thirty seconds against me."
Maggie was up against Vision this time. She practiced the movements Bucky had showed them - a wrist flick known as an abanico, paired with a triangular pivoting piece of footwork, finishing with a series of strikes with the butt of the blade. Vision's reflexes were lighting fast so she couldn't get through his defenses, though he was kind enough to stay tangible for the whole fight. His limbs were as hard as stone when she hit them and she knew she'd have bruised wrists and knuckles by the end of the day.
When they pulled apart, Maggie breathing hard, she realized Bucky had been watching. His brow was knotted and his eyes shadowed.
"What? No good?" she panted.
"I thought you were very good," Vision said. "Almost mirrorlike to the technique."
"Yes," Bucky murmured. Maggie could barely hear him over the sounds of the other sparring partners. "But you don't want to kill."
Maggie cleared her throat. "Well, no. I quite like Vision." Vision smiled at her.
Bucky strode onto the mat and wrapped his metal fingers around the back of her hand with the knife in it. She let him, curious. He pushed her hand toward Vision, who did not move, and then stopped the knife a few inches away from Vision's chest.
"You always slow your strikes here," he said, his tone hard. "In a real fight, you can't slow down. So you can't in practice either. You need to push through."
Maggie let him push her hand toward Vision's chest, and the plastic blade bent against his impenetrable uniform. Vision looked down at it mildly.
"I'm not new to this, you know," she said.
He nodded. "I know." He let go of her hand and strode over to where Rhodey was trying to stab Sam.
Maggie was practicing the knife flip Bucky had done a little earlier as Rhodey reached the end of his thirty second bout against Bucky. Bucky always tossed and caught the knife as if it was as easy as breathing, but she kept grabbing the blade end of it when she tried.
"We didn't learn this in the Air Force," Rhodey panted with his hands on his knees when Bucky called time. They were practicing defense now, going up unarmed against Bucky, who had the knife.
"They didn't exactly expect to send us up against super-assassins in the Air Force," Sam said. "More like angry paramilitary guys, or drunk idiots."
"Avenging is a little different," Wanda reflected. She was still bright red from her bout against Bucky. She'd managed to hit him in the chest with a fist, but he'd promptly 'stabbed' her in the throat.
"Alright. Your turn."
Maggie blinked when she realized that Bucky's words had been directed towards her. She looked up, the plastic blade of her knife gripped in her fist, and met his eyes. Thirty seconds. I can do this.
She handed her knife to Natasha, whose eyes glinted unreadably, and then stepped onto the mat. She'd never fought the Winter Soldier with a knife before. She steadied her feet, then lowered her stance like Bucky had said, her arms up and her breathing steady. He stood a few feet away. His chin was low, and she knew he was holding his knife, but it was hidden; he had it gripped in his fist with the blade tucked behind his arm. They stared at each other for what felt like an hour. Maggie let out a slightly shaky breath.
And then he struck. It was like she remembered from the rooftop in Peru: he wasn't playing now, or going easy. He was training her, and that meant he was striking to kill. This was the Winter Soldier.
Maggie deflected his initial strike with a painful clash of their forearms and the knife flashed, darting from one of his hands to the other. She ducked under his next swing, already knowing that was the wrong move; his fist came down and she caught it between her crossed wrists with an oof, her knee threatening to buckle under her. He dropped the knife and caught it in his other hand again, slashing at her stomach. She blocked his arm with hers and struck down, trying to bat the knife out of his hand. His eyes glinted in approval as he disengaged.
They backed apart for a second and Sam let out an encouraging whoop. Maggie blew out a breath, already drenched in sweat. Bucky darted forward again and the metal arm whirred as he swung.
It felt like a dance now; their arms hardly disengaged as they blocked, slid, struck. Maggie aimed to hit the weak points in whichever arm held the knife, which would probably work on just about any other man, but not him. Her breath started to burn in her throat.
This fighting style was so unlike her usual surging, retreating style of combat; she had to remain constantly engaged, hands and legs darting, and her brain ached with the concentration. Her whole focus was on swerving the blade away from her body, on finding the path of least resistance to deflect it.
She grabbed at Bucky's wrist and he shoved her shoulder, sending her stumbling back. She saw the shift in his eye before his next move, and her heart skipped - his metal arm cocked back and he threw. The knife shot forth like a missile.
Maggie fell backwards, going with the push, and kicked up as she fell - she felt her toe connect with the hilt of the blade as it hurtled toward her gut, and the knife went spiralling off to the edge of the warehouse. Maggie fell flat on her back and the breath left her chest.
She lay there, ready for Bucky to pin her and end the fight, but instead a metal hand appeared in her vision. She squinted up at him, wincing at the sting of sweat in her eyes.
"Well done," he said simply.
Maggie took his hand and let him pull her up.
"That was so cool," Wanda whispered.
They ran a few more drills for the rest of the day, and Bucky talked them through some old-school marksmanship (for if all that fancy targeting tech craps out).
By the end, when they were run ragged and drenched in sweat, Bucky looked grim and unhappy - though Maggie could see the slightest edge of satisfaction in the way he looked over them all. It made her straighten.
"Hey," she murmured. He glanced over at her as he passed Rhodey a water bottle. "I think I ought to teach you something in return."
His brow furrowed.
Maggie jerked her head at them all. "Come on."
Steve laughed when he realized where Maggie had brought them all, and those new to the team looked on with curiosity.
Maggie kicked off her shoes as she gestured to the set of four Olympic-grade trampolines in the Avengers gym. "On you get!"
One by one, the Avengers stepped out onto the trampolines - wobbly and hesitant at first, but quickly finding their balance.
Sam was a natural in no time, pulling into tight flips and showing off as Rhodey rolled his eyes. Steve and Nat chose to watch, since they'd already been trained, and Vision hovered nearby as Wanda jumped surprisingly gracefully, using flares of her scarlet magic to stay aloft at the height of her jumps.
Bucky started hesitantly at first. He'd tied his hair back and was scowling at Sam as he made a joke from the other trampoline. He started jumping, looking suspiciously at the surface beneath him, and didn't jump more than a few feet high. But after a few minutes of the others relaxing into it, and watching Maggie's surging leaps, soon Bucky was bouncing as high as she was, weightless at the apex with his arms loose and his shirt fluttering slightly. Maggie caught his eye and did a spinning backflip, and he shook his head at her.
August 14, 2015
Undisclosed Base, Colombia
Brock Rumlow winced at the cold sharpness of the oxygen lancing into his nostrils through his nasal cannula as he flipped through the dossier he had made on the Avengers. His face spasmed and he winced again - the doctors had said that was a side effect of the burns, before he'd escaped from the hospital. Each time the muscles spasmed the harsh, ropey scars snaking over his skin pulled tight.
A TV screen on the wall played a reel of footage from the Avengers's latest mission in Ukraine - the news cameras hadn't caught much, just the Quinjet taking off and a few glimpses of the Vision and Wilson at the cordoned off perimeter. Smoke rose in the background behind them.
Rumlow looked back down at his dossier - news clippings and reports and photographs of the Avengers. Their precious new facility, their new members, the testimonies of those they'd saved. He flipped over a clipping of Steve Rogers's smarmy face, and scowled at the next page; that bitch Romanoff smirked up at him. He kept going: Colonel Rhodes, the Maximoff kid, and then a newspaper front page of Maggie Stark testifying about the Sokovia Incident with her brother. His hand spasmed this time, and the page crumpled under his fingers.
"Sir," came a low voice from behind him. Rumlow glared over, having to turn his head fully to see his lieutenant Herzov because his peripheral vision was so bad these days. Herzov's face was grim, but at least he didn't avoid looking at Rumlow's breathing apparatus like the other men. "I've run the intel, there's no way we can risk another attack on their Facility. It's far too well guarded, and the last attack didn't even work."
"I know that, you bastard," Rumlow spat. "But that doesn't mean we can't hit 'em where it hurts." He reached up and ran a hand over his face. It felt like running his fingers over raw meat. "We'll have to draw them out. And I ain't giving up. What was it that asshole always used to say?" He looked down at the photo of Rogers. "I could do this all day. We gotta work on something big." He cocked his head, thinking. "Any luck tracking down the Soldier?"
"He's vanished," Herzov said. "No sign of him at any of the old safehouses, or any tangible rumors of him being sighted anywhere."
"He's somewhere," Rumlow murmured. "And when I get to him, I'll use him to tear Rogers's precious world apart."
August 28, 2015
New Avengers Facility
Maggie glanced up from the circuit board she'd been wiring, and winced. Her neck was stiff and her eyes ached. She looked over to Bucky's corner of the workshop, where he sat with a cold mug of coffee on the workbench beside him, a ball of yarn in his lap and a pair of knitting needles in his hands. He'd finally started using the learn-to-knit kit she'd given him for his birthday, and though he complained about the yarn getting stuck in the metal plates of his hand, he'd stuck with this project a few days now. It was long, and army-green, and might be… a scarf?
The rhythmic clacking of his needles had become quite soothing over the last couple of hours. And it always amused her to glance over and see him glaring down at the project forming on his needles - she'd come to realize that a lot of Bucky's scowls and glares were just him thinking hard.
But now the knitting needles had stilled, and he was looking up at her. "I forgot to ask - I saw… apparently a biography of Howard got published the other day?" His tone was hesitant.
Maggie nodded in acknowledgement. "Yeah, yesterday; you will have seen the headlines. I read the book pre-release. It's the usual stuff, so Tony and I will give the usual response."
Bucky frowned. "What's the usual stuff? What's the usual response?"
Maggie ran a hand over her forehead and looked down at the circuit board. "It's not a biography of Howard, it's a biography of Howard Stark. The founder of Stark Industries, the man who made nuclear bombs and helped found SHIELD and sold weapons. It tells his story accurately, but it's not… it doesn't really get him, if that makes sense." She flexed her fingers and picked up her precision tool, thinking of how best to explain herself. She glanced over at Bucky. "You knew Howard. Was he just an inspirational weapons developer in your mind?"
Bucky put down his knitting needles. "I didn't know him that well, but… I guess not. He was… funny."
"Right. A man isn't just one thing," she said tiredly. "The world forgets that about dad. He… he was flawed, and funny, and loving, and strange. I don't know if anyone will ever get it right. I know I definitely couldn't. So whenever they trot out another biography or documentary about the man who forged the modern world… Tony and I say yes, dad was a great man, and it's an honor to have his work remembered, and we leave it at that. The world doesn't want to have Howard Stark complicated."
Bucky nodded slowly. "I guess I can understand that. I think Steve has the same struggle."
"I'm sure he does," she said as she turned on her precision tool and flipped down her magnified eyepiece. "Who gets the chance to read their own memorials, save for him and you?"
There was a long pause as she began soldering tiny wires into place on the circuit board.
Finally, Bucky asked: "Are you in the biography much?"
"There's a chapter about Tony and I at the end." She made a face. "Again, the usual stuff." She could feel him looking interestedly at her, so she continued. "We are extensions of the legacy: dad raised us to be geniuses, inventors, heroes. Like it was his plan for us to end up as Avengers."
"He'd think it was cool," Bucky said.
She laughed. "I think he wouldn't know what to make of Tony and I, as we are now. He was a futurist, he'd love the idea of the Avengers, but us? We aren't exactly what he pictured."
"Hm," was all he said in reply.
"One day there'll be biographies about Margaret Stark," she said, almost wistfully. "But they won't be about me."
A long silence followed those words. And eventually, the click clack of knitting needles drifted across the workshop toward her.
September faded into October with a lull between missions; the Avengers instead spent their time settling into the Facility and focusing on extracurriculars: Wanda decorated her room and started learning the guitar, Sam went home to visit family, Rhodey went on some high-flying Air Force press missions, Vision visited scientific conferences the world over, and Steve designed a whole new training program. Natasha spent a few weeks with Clint's family. Maggie worked on her various projects, and went to Costa Rica for a weekend with Tony and Pepper. She didn't mind being their third wheel, and indulged in too many cocktails and got her nose sunburnt.
In October Bucky had a few bad days: he retreated to his room, refused to speak to anyone, and F.R.I.D.A.Y. even had to use the Manacles to incapacitate him once, when he had such a bad nightmare that he was in danger of hurting himself. Maggie didn't find out what was wrong until she spoke to Dr Raynor, who'd been in and out.
"He's been pushing himself too hard looking into his past," Raynor said grimly. "He wants to figure out every person he's ever wronged, and uncover all those who wronged him." Maggie's mouth turned down as she recalled the hours of research he'd been doing lately. "It's bringing up too many old memories, too fast."
They spoke for a few more minutes, Maggie eager to find out what she could do to support Bucky's recovery. Raynor seemed taken aback by Maggie's proactivity, though she clearly tried to hide it.
Finally, Maggie had to address it: "Yeah, look, you met me at a… rough point, back when. I'm not always a raging asshole."
Raynor's mouth curled. "Well, that's good to know. You take care, Ms Stark."
When Bucky did finally emerge a day later, he appeared at the door of her workshop and looked at her through his messy hair with a haunted and guilty look. He couldn't quite meet her eye, as if afraid of what she would say.
Maggie put down her tools. "What can I do?"
He let out a breath, and jerked his head once in a negative. Maggie kept her eyes trained on his, and after a few moments he finally looked up and met her gaze. His eyes shifted, and after a few moments the tightness in his shoulders loosened. He took another breath, then padded into the workshop toward his seat. There was a giant crate of yarn by his chair now.
Maggie let him shroud himself in silence for the next hour, content that he was out of his room and expanding his safe spaces. When she stepped out to fetch fresh coffee she brought him a mug. He glanced at it when she placed it on the workbench by his chair, and said, gruffly:
After about an hour, the heaviness around him had lightened somewhat. Bucky looked over to find Maggie looking at him contemplatively.
He shrank. "What."
"Let's watch some music videos," she said. "I want to see what you think of Madonna."
Twenty minutes later Maggie grinned as she watched Bucky's facial expressions shift while he watched Madonna dance on a gondola as she sang Like a Virgin.
"Did they really go all the way to Venice to film this? Why - is that a lion?" He looked up to see her face and snorted, before rolling his eyes and looking back at the video F.R.I.D.A.Y. had projected on the wall.
And Maggie counted that as a win in her book.
Eennio: They've certainly come a long way!
Guest: more adorableness to come!
Morgzw: I'm definitely looking forward to sharing the Civil War storyline with you guys :)
Browneyes: So glad you're enjoying it!
shorttrooper: You are very very welcome! Hope you enjoyed this one too ;) Sadly less cacti in this one.