Maks wanted to swim, but Meryl protested. 

“It’s cold,” she insisted, smacking Maks hand as he gently tugged on one of the thin straps on her bathing suit. Then she crossed her arms and pouted at him.

“Babe, it’s like eighty degrees out.”

Meryl shook her head. “The water, I mean. It’s too cold. I like the sun.” She fell back onto her towel, closing her eyes and stretching her arms above her head to take in the warm sun.

“You’re not winning this one, you know,” Jenna told Maks, lounging contentedly on her own towel and not even looking in his direction.

“Hmm.” Maks just watched Meryl for a moment, a smiling unwillingly crossing his lips. “Well, how about a compromise?”

Meryl held her hand up to block the sun and opened one eye, looking at him skeptically. “Go on.”

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"Where’re the bits?"

Twooie looks up from her phone, takes a long sip of her iced tea, then says the most frightening thing Bucky’s heard out of her mouth in a long, long time.

"I dunno."

They’re in Mall of America. They’ve been in Mall of America for the last four hours. Steve and Bucky want to leave Mall of America but they’ve only managed to track down half of their kids. Five and Six have been retrieved from the stationary shop a few corners down and Trip has been collected from Claires. One, Two, Four and the Bits were all supposed to be in the little indoor amusement park place, but here’s Two, saying she ‘dunno’ where the little ones are, and Bucky could just about pull out his hair.

"Are they with One?" Steve asks. "We’re leaving in ten minutes, we need to find them."

"I think they are," Twooie says. She takes a long, leisurely sip of her tea, coughs, then taps her fingers against the cup before setting it down. Trip immediately leaves Bucky’s side to sit next to her and pick at what Buck knows used to be Four’s food.

Bucky exchanges a glance with Steve. Yeah, no, this is bad. Neither Bucky nor Steve have so much as a basic understanding of Thing Speak, but they know it when they see it. For some reason, Twooie’s called the others to sit with her. Five and Six are picking seats now, Five taking out his new stationary paper once he’s good and settled, showing the purchase to Trip.

It’s really fucking worrying when Twooie does this shit. Twooie very rarely goes along with One and Four’s bratty little schemes and when she does, they’re always especially bratty. 

They are so not leaving this mall in the next ten minutes.

"You think," Steve repeats. His tone is even flatter than Two’s; he doesn’t want to put up with this. Steve hates malls, gets so very overstimulated in malls, and Steve is ready to leave. Bucky is also ready to leave, but his patience isn’t shot like his husband’s. He touches Steve’s arm. His patience isn’t shot yet, but the last thing he needs is Steve getting into an argument with a twelve-year-old girl who also happens to be a clone of himself. That’s gonna end with all three of them being cranky, and still four children short.

"Where’d you see ‘em last?" Bucky says.

Twooie must decide he deserves a break. “Ball pit.” 

Bucky and Steve both turn to look at the large, store-sized ball pit fenced off from the rest of the mall by a mesh barrier. There’s roughly twenty kids fucking around in there, half of which are blond and small enough to look skinny at a distance. He tries to find the short, fire-engine red hair that would be Four, but no dice. 

"I’ll get ‘em," Bucky says to Steve. "Take a load off, I’ll be right back."

"Good Luck, Sunshine," Six says. Which is in no way ominous.

Bucky scrunches his eyebrows together. “‘Good luck’? Sixish, wherefore ‘good luck’?”

Two and Trip are giving Six a Look, so Six just shrugs. Bucky makes an exaggerated whining noise.

"Good luck," Steve repeats. 

Bucky heads to the ball pit. Ten minutes later, he comes back for reinforcements, collecting Steve and shooting a wounded, ‘why are you doing this to me???’ look at Twooie, who shrugs it off before getting up to refill her tea. 

An hour later, they’re finally herding all eight children across the parking lot to the van. “You are never going in another ball pit for as long as you live,” Steve tells One.

"That’s a little harsh," One says. 

"Can I go in another ball pit?" asks Four.


"What about us?" asks Sev. 

"Yeah," says Eight, "we can, right?"

"No. No more ball pits. No more ball pits ever. Your collective ball pit privileges have been revoked."

"Jesus," One says, half to Twooie and half to everyone else, "someone is cranky.

Bucky rolls his eyes and finishes his text to Nat. ‘They’ve really taken your spy lessons to heart. Thanks loads. NOt.’

Her reply comes a few seconds later. ‘Omg what’d they do???

Ducked us for an hour using a ball pit as improvised cover


Bucky sighs and pockets his phone. “We aren’t talking to ‘Tasha,” he says.

"We hate Natasha," Steve agrees. 

"Natasha is awesome,” One says. 

"Get in the van," Bucky says. "No, nope, I get front. Go sit by your sister. And Steve’s picking the music."

Everyone groans. Good to know that’s still an effective punishment.