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That Which You Seek

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That Which You Seek
Part One

 

The man in the booth before Darcy stares down at his pancakes with suspicion. He fingers his fork with his right hand, his left held stiffly between his legs beneath the table. Beyond the brim of his baseball cap, she sees his eyes dart from his fork to his spoon to the cup of water beside him. He clenches his jaw and draws in a stilted breath, but the breath does nothing to ease the tension within him. He releases the fork only to grasp it again; his eyes resume their revolution around the table: napkin to plate to glass to fork and then, suddenly, to her. Darcy is too shocked at the sudden eye contact to look away or even to feel the shame for gawking at this guy as he tries to eat breakfast for dinner, the holiest of all meals. Instead, she gapes right back.

He gives her the same look as he gave the pancakes. She understands his need to glare. He must get a lot of stares, his hair long and tangled beneath his hat, an unkempt beard darkening his face. The unfortunate state of his follicles is not enough though to mar the bright blue of his eyes or the straight line of his jaw. Beneath the hobo lies a hottie; either would be enough to draw people’s attention. Darcy is just about to send him an apologetic grin when his right hand shifts, from his fork to his knife. Something in the shift, in the way that his fingers hover over the blade, raises the hair on the back of her neck. She tenses and he does too. His eyes bore into her, and she feels her breath catch in her chest. She has her taser in her bag and her knife before her, but the man has at least fifty pounds on her, likely all muscle given the hang of his jacket on his shoulders. Seconds slip by. They continue to stare, and she is just about to scramble from the booth for the door and her rental car outside when the man shudders and closes his eyes. He drops his head and shoves his right hand beneath the table beside his left, and he sits like that, shaking, trying his best to breathe.

Darcy glances at the other patrons in the diner, an old man over at the counter, a mom and two kids behind her, a group of construction workers two tables over. She eyes the waitress behind the counter and then the cashier flipping through a magazine by the register. None of them seem to have seen what just occurred. Would it matter if they had? The construction workers could have done something. Maybe. Or maybe the man would have just killed them too after he’d killed her. Her heart pounding in her chest, Darcy turns again to the man. He still hasn’t moved. She eyes her plate. Half her French toast still awaits her consumption; she hasn’t even touched her scrambled eggs. But she doesn’t intend to now. Sliding her napkin from her lap, Darcy grabs the strap of her bag and begins to ease from the booth. She takes another peek at the man to check that he remains in place. He stares out the window now, his jaw again clenched. Darcy sees the sheen of tears in his eyes, and there’s something about him, about the set of his shoulders and the look in his eyes, that makes her stop.

She sits, half in and half out of the booth, her hands clenched around the strap of her bag. She should go. She knows she should go. The switch could turn back to homicidal any second, especially as Darcy is even less subtle with her rubbernecking now. But she can’t, a shade of a memory fixing her in place. She stares at the man, studying his jacket, his hat, both a non-descript black. Did she know him in high school? The thought of one of her fellow deviants in academia being a serial killer didn’t surprise her. The line of his jaw captures her attention again, and the shadow shifts, slightly. Then he does too, the man turning to her once more, and when he does, the shadow lifts entirely and she finds herself staring at the face of a dead man that had stared at her from every history textbook she’d ever studied in her academic career.

Bucky Barnes.

“Holy shit.”

His eyes narrow, but he makes no move for his knife this time. Licking her lips, Darcy tries to process this reality before her. It’s surprisingly easy. She blames Thor for that. When your reality expands to include god-kings from alien worlds and evil world-ending smoke, the miraculous and seemingly murderous resurrection of a genuine war hero, the best pal of Captain America at that, does not seem so farfetched. Darcy dredges up distant memories of her history books, of her many trips to the Smithsonian when she was in school, of when she was thirteen and she and her friends had each chosen their own Commando to moon over and dream about. Darcy had, as improbable as it seems now, chosen him. Most of her other friends had fought over the Captain, but she had immediately liked the rakish smirk that had greeted her in Bucky’s pictures. The man before her now is him. She knows that it is. She feels it in her gut. His hair is longer and the scruff is there and most of the pictures that she’d obsessed over had been in black and white, obscuring the blue of his eyes, but it’s him, Bucky Barnes, nearly seventy years after his death, apparently a creepy, pancake-hating serial killer.

“Holy shit,” she says again.

He is quiet a moment and then he says, his voice too soft for the hard set of his jaw, “You know me.”

Darcy hesitates. She probably shouldn’t engage creepy, pancake-hating war hero/serial killers in conversation, but when the hell has she ever done the smart thing? Never, according to her father, and rarely, according to Jane. She couldn’t let either of them down now, so, still half in and out of the booth, she nods.

“As who?”

The question makes her frown. She eyes Bucky, trying to determine if he’s joking or even more insane that she originally thought. She decides neither. Sincerity stares back at her, with a healthy dose of confusion heaped on top. Confusion and desperation. Breathing in, she relaxes her grip on her bag a fraction of an inch and says, “Bucky Barnes.”

He looks away at the name. Darcy watches as he shifts, as his gaze darts once more from fork to knife to plate to cup. He stares at them as though they are unfamiliar; he sits as though his body is too. A memory worms its way into her brain, of Erik in the institution. The way he’d looked at her when he first saw her, unable to remember who she was, too high on meds and too broken from Loki, reminds her of this man. Of Bucky. He blinks and swallows, but neither action does anything to dull the gleam of tears in his eyes, and the sight plucks at something inside her, the same place reserved for Selvig and for Jane before Thor returned, the place for her mother and for lost dogs on the sides of the roads.

She eases back into the booth. “You don’t remember.”

His eyes snap up to her face.

She arches a brow. “Do you?”

He stares at her, his gaze as intent as before, but she sees no murderous intentions in his eyes now. Just the same confusion and desperation that pulls at her. His chest shudders as he breathes in again. She waits, patient in a way few thought she could be when she was young. But she’s had practice, the end of the world working to pull her out of herself and into something more.

After another moment, Bucky shakes his head, the movement stiff.

Darcy gives a slow nod, more for her benefit than his. She reaches for her dripping glass of water, swallowing a mouthful in an effort to figure out what to do. She’d been on her way to D.C. to interview with Coulson, finally succumbing to the numerous emails he’d sent to her after the shenanigans in London. She’d resisted his wooing, still envisioning him as the nefarious iPod thief, but Thor had given Coulson his stamp of approval. S.H.I.E.L.D. had returned Jane’s stuff after all and had helped keep her safe when the world almost ended in New York. And Thor had said they’d helped there too, trying to stop Loki and his rage-fueled invasion. The thought of helping in a capacity larger than unpaid intern had appealed to Darcy so she came, but then S.H.I.E.L.D. had arrested Captain America and ships had fallen from the sky and Darcy had stopped fifty miles from the city, calling Jane, who had asked Thor, who had spoken to Tony, who only knew that Coulson was clean, the Captain was alive, S.H.I.E.L.D. was dead, and shit had just gotten real.

Darcy looks at Bucky. Yes. Yes, it definitely had.

She wonders if he had been involved in the action in D.C. Or if he was going there now, drawn by the Captain’s obvious presence. Being here, so close to D.C. so soon after everything that happened, with no memory of himself and an inclination for murder, was too strange to just be a coincidence. She breathes in again and takes another drink of water. She should call Coulson. Or Jane again. Jane could get Thor to get Tony who had the best shot of reaching the Captain. He was the most qualified to deal with this, with Bucky, being all super-powered and able to handle attacks from dull knives. Yet as she watches Bucky inch his right hand out from under the table to grasp his fork with shaking fingers, she finds herself reaching not for her phone but for her plate to move from her booth to his.

“Can I sit?” she asks, sending him a soft smile.

Which goes unnoticed as Bucky stares down at his food. She feels the tension emanate from him, the man a high wire, a clock string wound too tight. “You shouldn’t.”

“Probably not. Especially since you wanted to stab me a few minutes ago. Don’t think I didn’t notice that, by the way.” Bucky peers at her from the corners of his eyes, but she plows on, not waiting for him to confirm or deny. “However, you need help. That much is obvious. And that’s kind of what I do now.”

Her heart clenches at the worried tilt of his brows. Shifting her plate from her right hand to her left, Darcy grabs her bag and jiggles it at him. “I’ve also got a taser in my bag and I know how to use it, so in the event that you do try to stab me, I’ll tase you until you fall face first into your pancakes. Also, I know Thor.”

Bucky tilts his head toward her, frowning now. “Thor?”

For a moment, she can’t respond, this development too much for her (who doesn’t know Thor? everyone knows Thor), but before she can even try to process, Bucky’s eyes widen and a knife appears in his hand, one jagged and sharp and much more sinister than the dull diner blade on the table. He lunges toward her and tackles her around the waist. As they fall to the ground, Darcy thinks that she’s going to die and how stupid she’d been to try to help, she’s not in S.H.I.E.L.D., she’s not an Avenger, she’s just a dumb intern, but then she hears the sound of gunfire ripping through the diner and she realizes that she still might die, but not from Bucky.

From whoever’s trying to kill him.

Bucky pushes Darcy to the ground and springs up off her before she can even catch the breath she lost. Her plate shatters on the floor beside her, splashing her with egg and French toast. Twisting around, she sees the four construction workers converge on Bucky. She can barely follow their fight, the five a blur of movement. One of the workers fires a gun at Bucky. Darcy flinches, her heart in her throat, but Bucky raises his left arm and the man with the gun falls to the ground dead. A second goon moves in before Darcy can figure out what happened to the first, how Bucky still has an arm, much less a heartbeat. She hears the crackle of electricity, sees a prod of sorts in the new goon’s hand. Bucky slashes down with his knife and catches the goon across the forearm. A bright arc of blood gushes into the air. Darcy turns away cringing, and it is only because she turns that she sees the waitress lift a gun and shoot the old man at the counter in the head.

“Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.”

Darcy scrambles beneath the table, knocking against a large black duffel bag. Her hands dart into her bag for her phone and her taser. She hears the sound of gunfire, then breaking wood and shattering glass. She hears groans of pain and screams so high she knows they belong to a child. Shaking, she clicks on Contacts and then on Jane. Holding the taser before her, Darcy waits. The phone rings, a chair flies by, there is another yell, from a man this time, and then Jane answers the phone.

“Darcy, I’m sorry, but I can’t—”

Gunfire erupts again, this time directed at the booth in which Darcy hides. The bullets smash the plates and glasses, they slam down onto the table, but they don’t plow through. Pressing herself between the wall and bag, Darcy tries to focus and stay calm.

Jane gasps at the sounds of the battle. “Darcy, what—”

“I found him.”

“What?”

“I found Bucky. Tell—”

She doesn’t get the opportunity to finish for the woman with the gun pops into view. Darcy drops the phone and fires her taser. The electric nodes strike the woman in the face. As she recoils, Darcy darts out from under the table. Two of the four men fighting Bucky lie on the ground dead. The other two hold him, one from behind, one arm around Bucky’s neck, the other pressing the electric prod into his side. The other man is before him, fighting for the knife in his hands. Darcy runs for the door. She hears something crack, followed by a bellow of pain. She doesn’t know if the man in pain is Bucky. She doesn’t turn to look. She grabs her keys from her bag instead. The cashier lay crumpled by the register, a phone in his hands and a bullet in his head. She sees the family in the last booth slumped over, blood pooling onto the floor beneath them. And then she’s falling, the woman tackling her from behind.

Darcy slams into the ground, her breath leaving her again as the woman falls on top of her. She tries to twist around, to face the woman, to remember what she learned in her self-defense class in college, how she should go for the eyes or throat, but she remembers nothing, she only moves, lashing out with the keys in her hand and gouging the woman in the face. She hisses in pain and wrenches Darcy’s wrist down to the floor. She holds the gun in her other hand. Darcy looks at the barrel, she stares death in the face, but then a hand clamps down onto the woman’s shoulder and she goes flying back across the diner. Darcy watches as she slams into the far wall. Bucky stands between them, his hat gone, his back to Darcy, a gun in his hand now. She watches as he lifts it, as he aims at the woman who struggles to get to her feet.

Darcy closes her eyes and twists away as he fires.

Seconds pass, yet no further violence erupts. Easing around, Darcy opens her eyes. She finds Bucky by the people—the bodies—stripping the men of their weapons. He moves with precision, with the bearing of a soldier. Standing, he sheds his jacket, revealing a torn and bloodied plaid shirt beneath, but it’s not the shirt that draws her attention. It’s his left arm, visible through the shredded sleeve, gleaming silver and bright. She’d read about advances in prosthetics, knew that Stark Industries was at the forefront of innovation in that field, but this is like nothing she’s ever seen, that hand and arm as functional as his right. Bucky returns to his booth, reaches beneath, and pulls out the black duffel bag. She watches as he unzips it, as he unearths a black leather jacket. He strips off the torn plaid shirt, then the bloodied t-shirt beneath, and she can’t help but gape at the scars that crisscross his chest, at those that encircle his left shoulder in jagged thick lines, at the wound leaking blood on his left side.

The blood restores her voice. “Are you—”

“I’m not compromised.”

Darcy frowns, but doesn’t continue her question. Bucky zips into the jacket, half a jacket really, and more armor than jacket. She’s reminded of the jacket he wore as a Commando, the elegance of the lines are the same, both so different from the usual military garb. Bucky removes a harness from the bag, puts it on, and then begins to secure the guns from the dead men. He attaches his knife as well, the edges dark with blood. He stores the other weapons in his bag before moving toward the woman, seizing both her gun and Darcy’s discarded taser.

A tinny screaming draws her attention and his too. Through the blood on his face, she sees him frown. He crouches again beside his booth and peers into the depths a moment before reaching in for her phone. Darcy eases to her feet as he stares down at her phone, Jane audible across the distance, still screaming for her. Bucky clenches his jaw. He glances at her. She can’t read the look in his eyes. She waits for him to crush her phone, to proceed to kill her as he originally intended, but instead he lifts the phone to his ear and says, his voice still too soft for the blood that he wears and the guns that he carries and the death that he deals with ease, “She’s alive.”

The shouting stops, but Bucky doesn’t continue the conversation. He ends the call by turning off the phone and then starts toward Darcy. She pushes her hair from her face with a shaking hand. He stops before her, but she doesn’t speak, she doesn’t even think to quip, not with the scent of blood clogging the air around her and making her gag. Bucky regards her a moment more then extends his hand, offering Darcy her phone. She hesitates too, though she doubts that this is a trick designed to distract her, to give him the opportunity to kill her without a fight. If he wanted her dead, he would have let the woman with the gun shoot her. But he didn’t. Swallowing hard, Darcy claims her phone and then the taser he holds out to her a second later.

“More are outside,” he says, looking toward the frosted-glass windows. “Five is not enough. If you stay here, you will die.”

Darcy eyes the door. Five is not enough. Of course it isn’t. Not with how fast he moves and how strong he is. He isn’t as fast or as strong as Thor, but Bucky is more than human, more like the Captain when she watched him spar with Thor during his visit in February.

“I…”

Darcy looks back at Bucky. He stares at the floor, his jaw tight, his brows again at the anxious tilt that clamps down on her throat and tugs at her gut.

Feeling her gaze upon him, he tries again. “I don’t…”

She stares at him a few seconds before comprehension clicks. “You don’t know.”

He gives a small nod.

“Do you want to know?”

Bucky meets her eyes, his look an affirmation, a supplication. Darcy glances again at the door. She could wait, she could call the cops or call Jane again and hunker down until the former come or Thor arrives, or maybe Tony, closer in New York and friendly with Jane and Thor. But she sees movement beyond the frosted glass, and she knows that Bucky is right. If she stays here, she will die.

If she goes with him, she might live.

“Okay,” she says, facing him again. “I’ll go with you. I’ll help you. Or I’ll try to. But you have to get me out of here alive. And,” she continues, dropping her gaze to his knife, “you can’t try to stab me again.”

“I didn’t try.”

Darcy gives him a look. “You wanted to. Same diff.”

At that, Bucky frowns. “You were staring at me.”

For the second time that evening, Darcy gapes at him, unable to process. As if that made sense, stabbing the people who stared at you. Or maybe it did, Darcy takes in the bloodshed around them. This seemed to be normal for him, given the ease with which he fought. She ignores that thought, what it means for her and her near future. Instead, she draws upon all of the patience that her mother and now Erik has given to her and says, “Of course I was staring at you. People stare. That’s what they do. You can’t kill everyone who stares at you.”

Bucky nods. The nod, the solemnity of it, the need for guidance fueling it, so desperate that he seeks it now from her, disquiets Darcy. She looks away, overwhelmed by him and the hints she has of his life after the war. She has no clue how she is going to help him, or even if she could, scientists sans pants about all she could successfully handle. She looks at Bucky as he moves to the door. This—amnesiac, pancake hating robo-killers—was far beyond her skill set.

“Can you shoot?” he asks, tilting his head toward her.

“No.”

Bucky kneels down and paws through the bag. He takes out the electric prod and hands it to her. “This is like your taser,” he says as he pulls out two large guns, the kind she’s only seen in movies. “If anyone gets close to you, press the button, touch them, and they’ll go down.”

“You didn’t.”

Bucky stands, armed and bloodied. Clear eyes look at her, no arrogance there to blind him, no fear present to cloud him. Just the clarity, nothing beneath. She shivers at the sight and again when he says, “They’re not me.”

Looking away, she bypasses that obvious truth for the other. “Why would they get close enough for me to use this? Wouldn’t they just shoot me?”

Bucky doesn’t respond. Darcy looks back at him, sees a smudge of discomfort streaking the clarity now. He forces himself to meet her gaze. “They’ll want you alive,” he says. “They’ll want…”

“What?”

He swallows and drops his gaze. “To know why I talked to you.”

Darcy stares at him a moment before shaking her head. “No. You mean why you didn’t kill me.”

Bucky shrugs but still doesn’t look at her. “Same diff.”

Her jaw drops, but he pays no attention to her shock. Instead, he moves to the inner door and drops into a crouch. Darcy follows and they ease out into the foyer. There, through the blinds, she sees three Hummers arrayed before the diner and men with guns hiding behind. She glances at Bucky, at the two guns in his hands and the five strapped to his chest. She hopes they are enough.

“Wait here until I tell you to move. When I do, get to your car, start it up. When I join you, drive north.”

Darcy nods. She feels her heart stutter in her chest, fear beginning to take hold. “What if…” She stops, unable to voice the thought. But her hesitation draws his attention. Licking her lips, she tries again. “What if you die?”

“I won’t,” he says as he stands. The clarity is back, Bucky the hurricane and the calm center of the storm. As he reaches for the door, he looks back at her and says, “They didn’t bring enough.”

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Two

 

They—the men that encircle the diner—have three Hummers gleaming black and evil in the setting sun. They have eighteen goons of varying heights and weights, from the decently muscled to those that Darcy could call Thor Jr. if any of them were blond and preferred Sweet Tarts to mass slaughter. They have combat boots and body armor, protective goggles and face masks. And they have guns, dozens of them, two or three per goon, small grey ones strapped to their thighs and sides, slender rifles with scopes that she knows are alive like Hal from 2001, and guns so large that a quip about compensation forces its way into her brain.

And what does Bucky have?

He has seven guns and one knife, a cattle prod and a spent taser, one rental car (a Prius because the agency offered Darcy a discount for caring about the environment) complete with a half-eaten bag of Doritos inside, and one scared former intern who’s in over her head and about two seconds away from peeing her pants. Yet, despite this disparity, Bucky strides from the diner with no hesitation, his guns in hand and his face set, the man an unholy mix of Paul Newman and the Terminator.

If Darcy weren’t so terrified about her imminent death, she would stand up and cheer the remarkable confidence. As it is, she cowers by the door, the cattle prod clutched tight in her hands and her bag slung over her shoulder. She expects for the fight to begin immediately, for bullets to fly and blood to spill, but nothing happens as Bucky makes his way into the parking lot. This unsettles her more than anything else that evening. Birds chirp in the trees and a red convertible whizzes by, oblivious to the carnage about to unfurl. Darcy watches as Bucky stops dead center between her and the Hummers. As he does, a man with close-cropped grey hair and a red star sewn onto his armor raises a megaphone. Static crackles and then he speaks, his voice tinged with a faint German accent.

“Soldier, you are ordered to stand down and return for debrief. Director’s orders.”

Bucky tilts his head to the side and peers at the man, but he makes no move to cease and desist.

The man speaks again, in Russian this time rather than English. Darcy thinks that he says the same thing, this sentence as short as the last. To this command, Bucky clenches his jaw. At the sight, the men by the Hummers tense. They shift positions, lifting their guns higher into the air. Darcy feels sweat slide down her brow as her eyes dart from one group to the next, checking to see if any have noticed her, if any now aim at her, but all eyes and guns remain on Bucky, so she returns her gaze to him too.

The leader activates the megaphone again and says something else, also in Russian.

Bucky eases his weight to his left and narrows his eyes.

The man barks out another order, in German this time, the shout as grating as glass on concrete. Whatever he says makes Bucky stiffen. His lip curls and he says something in return, something Darcy cannot hear, the breeze carrying the words away from her to the darkness beyond, and then, with no other warning, he raises the gun in his right hand and fires.

Something bigger than a bullet flies from the barrel. It strikes the ground beside the man with megaphone and explodes. The man vanishes into a billowing cloud of flames, one that engulfs a second goon and half the Hummer too. The rest of the goons scatter, seeking protection from the heat and from Bucky too, who charges toward the Hummer. He leaps onto the hood and smashes the windshield with his left arm. Shoving the barrel of the gun into the hole, he fires again, flipping up and off as the grenade explodes, consuming the interior of the car and a third goon in a swath of orange and red.

Bucky lands between the burning Hummer and the one closest to her car. He kicks one man back into the fire, turns, and shoots at a second. Bullets fly at him from the repositioned enemy, but none of them find purchase. He moves too quickly, spinning, sliding, and darting away. As he moves, he fires, and the goons drop like flies, a third and a fourth and then a fifth, eight in total since the fight began, their armor useless and their guns pointless against Bucky. One darts forward to engage in hand-to-hand, but Bucky slams the butt of the grenade gun into his face before shoving the barrel of the other rifle up under his vest and firing.

Darcy gasps and turns away at the gush of blood that spurts into the air. At her gasp, the two goons closest to her car turn and sprint toward her. With shaking hands, Darcy stands and lifts the prod. She hopes that Bucky was right, that they charge toward her now to capture, not to kill. She fumbles for the activation switch, wishes she had a third hand to push her hair from her eyes.

Bucky turns at their approach. Darcy sees his mouth flatten into a thin line and then he takes two steps, vaults through the air, and springboards off the roof of the Hummer to land between her and them. But as he does, enemy fire finally hits its mark, bullets slamming into his chest and back. She sees no blood, though, and hears no scream. Bucky just lashes out, kicking the first of the men so hard that he soars up and out of the parking lot, landing with a crunch on the other side of the two-lane highway. Darcy expects the second one to run, for any of them to run, but none of them do. The second one drops his gun and moves in, a knife in his hands. Yet this new weapon proves as useless as the others. Bucky slides his guns toward her rental car and then retrieves his own knife, not to fight, but to throw. The knife finds the hollow of the second man’s throat, sliding in as smooth and slick as its proverbial brother through butter. As the man crumples to the ground, Bucky snatches the knife from his dying hands, turns to her, and bellows, “Go!”

She does, sprinting for her car. Darcy fishes her keys out of her pocket, but then the remaining goons by the final Hummer open fire. The bullets slam into the ground before her, halting her progress. She cries out, sliding to a stop, nearly falling as a bullet slams inches from her feet, sending a spray of concrete towards her face. Bucky lunges for his guns by her car, rolls over and up with one clutched in his hands. He fires three rounds in quick succession at the men by the Hummer. Darcy feels the explosions in her chest; the hem of her shirt quivers from the vibrations that cascade through the air. The shooting stops and Darcy resumes her run. She shoves the cattle prod into her bag and clicks the remote lock, reaching the car as Bucky does. He stays outside as she scrambles inside, continuing to shoot into the flames. When her key hits the ignition he slides inside, and they peel out of the parking lot, heading north.

“Are you injured?” he asks as they race down the road.

Darcy shakes her head, then realizes he can’t see her, Bucky turned to face the rear, to gaze back at the diner. “No. Are you?”

“Drive as fast as you can.”

Darcy frowns at the response. She glances at him, her mouth open to clarify, but in her glance, she sights one of the Hummers, the one closest to her car, the only one not in flames, careen out of the parking lot after them. It smashes into a brown Taurus that attempts to pull into the diner for dinner, rights itself, and zooms forward.

“No. No no no no no.”

“Drive straight,” Bucky says. He checks the two guns in his hands, sliding out parts and peering into dark caverns. Discarding the grenade gun, he continues, his voice low and steady, “They’ll catch us. When they do, keep driving. I’ll stop them.”

“You’ll stop them? You’ll stop them?” Darcy winces at the shrill edge in her voice, but she can’t stop herself from speaking, driven now by panic. “How? How exactly will you stop them? You’re in a car. And not a fancy James Bond car either with missiles in the brake lights. You’re in a Prius, which is about as deadly as my eighty-five year old grandmother, who couldn’t even kill a fly if you gave her a goddamn bazooka to shoot it with.”

Bucky just stares at her, nonplussed at her distress. Darcy would probably stare at herself too, if she could, her facial expressions likely as deranged as her voice. She tries to breathe in, to ease the death clench she has on the steering wheel, but her efforts are for naught for, a second later, Bucky answers her question by lifting his hand and beginning to lower the passenger window.

“Oh. Of course. Of course. You’re going outside to stop them. How stupid of me. We’re only going sixty down this godforsaken death road.”

Bucky twists around until he completely faces the backseat. “I’ve done faster.”

The claim renders her silent. Of course he has. Of course. He’s probably done this in twelve inches of snow before, driving uphill both ways. Shaking her head, Darcy focuses on the road ahead of them, clear for the moment, but with a curve soon and then a few stoplights. She tries not to think about what might happen if the light is red, if she has to stop, if the Hummer catches up with them and there are other people at the light or none at all.

In the rearview, the Hummer closes in. Darcy reaches for her seatbelt, and as if that were the cue, Bucky thrusts himself out of the window. He shoves one boot on the dash and the other on the seat to brace himself and a second later she hears him fire. Glancing back, she sees a sunroof open on the Hummer. One of the goons pops up, a gun in hand, but he only remains in place a moment, Bucky firing again and hitting him. Killing him. The Hummer, though, doesn’t stop. It gains as Bucky said it would, and they belt down the road toward the curve ahead.

“I have to slow down!” she yells out the window. “There’s a curve.”

Bucky shoves a hand back through the window and gives her a complicated gesture, which she interprets as okay. But he doesn’t climb back inside. Instead, he slings the rifle down onto the floor, grabs the roof with his left hand, and hauls himself all the way out of the car. Darcy hits the brake, trying to keep the Prius smooth and steady. And the Hummer slows too, but not for the curve, for Bucky, who runs over the roof and onto the trunk before launching himself into the air and landing on his feet on the hood of the SUV.

The last thing Darcy sees before she careens around the curve is Bucky hauling the dead man out of the sunroof and tossing him onto the ground.

As she takes the curve, she skids into the left lane, but it’s blessedly empty. She sees cars at the distant light though prepared to advance, and she shivers at the thought of them getting caught in the crossfire. Darcy only focuses on them a moment though, a booming screech of metal behind her drawing her attention. Glancing in the rearview, she sees the Hummer, flipped now onto its side, plow through the curve, off the road, and into the bank of trees lining the highway. Darcy slams on the brakes as it slams into a tree; she hears the snap of a trunk and a second later a slim pine wobbles and falls back onto the Hummer, landing with piercing scrape of wood on metal.

“Jesus Christ.”

Fumbling for the gearshift, Darcy yanks the car into reverse and fishtails back toward the wreck. She sees no movement, the Hummer covered by the pine. No gunshots or howls of pain reach her either; she hears only the rush of the wind through the open window. Forty feet from the wreck, she stops the car, but she can’t bring herself to get out, the diner flashing into her mind. Instead, she unbuckles her seatbelt to twist around in her seat and wait.

Seconds pass. Darcy licks her lips and tries to breathe, but panic seizes her lungs and they refuse to function. She wipes her hands on her jeans again and replays Bucky’s leap from the Prius to the Hummer. If he did that, he could survive this. In the diner, he was stabbed. In the parking lot, he was shot. If he survived those, a pine tree would be nothing. A car crash would be nothing. Large men with even larger guns would be nothing.

He’s okay. He’s okay.

She didn’t just kill Captain America’s BFF with her desire to stay alive.

Headlights approach from the cars at the stoplight. In the illumination, she sees the pine tree rustle, then a figure in black emerges from the wreck. Darcy claws for her bag and grasps the cattle prod, waiting, waiting, sweat sliding down her face again, and then she sees the shine of Bucky’s arm in the light as he climbs out of the Hummer. Hot tears prick her eyes at the sight. Darcy tries not to cry, but the tears fall regardless of her will. She gives them a moment, laying her forehead against the headrest, she gives herself a moment, this day not at all how she thought it would be. She tries to swallow, but her mouth is dry and her throat is tight, clogged with the sticky residue of easing anxiety. Breathing in, she discards the cattle prod into the passenger seat and then turns around, reaching for the gearshift to shift into reverse.

Darcy reaches Bucky as he emerges from the trees, blood drenching his face from a cut on his forehead, his right arm cradled around his body. Otherwise he seems fine, listing a bit to the side, but no obvious limp or hindrance to his approach. As she steps from the Prius, the first car from the stoplight passes by. Bucky stops as the car slows down. He tracks its approach, his left arm easing behind his body, no doubt for a gun. Darcy glances behind her to see a white mini-van inch past, a tiny face pressed up against the passenger window. Gasping, she whirls back around, but Bucky has not moved. He watches the mini-van, his chest heaving, but the van passes without incident and Darcy releases a long breath.

“Are you all right?” she asks, moving toward him.

His eyes shift to her, but he doesn’t respond to her question. He just stares at her as he stared at the van, as he stared at the pancakes before. Shit. Shit. Holding up her hands, she says, “It’s me. Darcy. From the diner, remember?”

A second car approaches. Bucky turns toward it. As he does, she sees his hand as she thought, wrapped around a gun. Darcy casts a quick glance at this car, making sure it’s not another evil gleaming death machine. At the sight of the green hatchback, Darcy eases over until she’s once more in Bucky’s line of sight. When he meets her eyes a second time, she says to him, “You’re Bucky Barnes. You asked me to help you. Remember? In the diner, by the door, you said you didn’t know and I—”

His gaze darts from her to the car and back again.

“I said I would,” she says, easing toward him. “I said I’d help you if…”

Bucky peers at her. He presses his mouth into a tight line and draws in a shuddering breath.

Darcy hears the squeak of brakes as the car slows. “If what?” she prompts, trying to keep calm, to keep him calm, to keep the bloodshed limited to those in the diner and not to the road beyond.

Bucky stares at her, again the taut wire from the diner, plucked now and vibrating from the strain of battle. Another second passes and then another and then he releases a shuddering breath. She watches as he closes his eyes, as he twists his head away from her, but she doesn’t relax until he loosens his hold on the gun behind him and lowers his arm.

“If I didn’t try to stab you.”

Relief rushes through Darcy at his quiet admission. She nods and eases closer to him, stopping about a foot away. “Right. If you didn’t try to stab me. Let’s go ahead and add shooting to that list, okay?”

Bucky opens his eyes and gives a small nod. Her breath catches in her chest at the sight. She had expected a small smile or an exasperated look from him, something normal, something human in response to her request, not this, not him broken and compliant, so far from the man who won their escape in fire and blood. Darcy reaches out, but she hesitates at laying her hand on his arm. He doesn’t seem to notice either her arm or her hesitation, so she turns the reach into a point toward the Prius. “Let’s get out of here.”

Bucky nods again and turns toward her rental car. As she turns with him, she sees the hatchback stopped. An older man has stepped out, his face creased in concern as he takes in the broken trees, the overturned Hummer, and Bucky covered in blood.

“Are you guys okay?”

Darcy nods. She eyes the woman in the passenger seat, who gapes at Bucky’s metal arm.

“Are you sure? I—”

“We’re fine.”

The man’s eyes widen at her sharp tone.

Darcy summons a smile and tries to release some of the tension still tightening her throat. “Just some cuts and scrapes, thanks. We’ll be fine.”

The man nods. He makes no move to approach, but he doesn’t return to his car either, his gaze instead shifting to the crashed SUV. Darcy searches his face, she tries to detect any hidden evil within him, the waitress in the diner seeming normal at first, but she can’t, a sound by the Prius tugging her attention away. She finds Bucky by the backseat door, fumbling with the handle, his right hand slick with blood. Darcy leans over to help him, but he tenses at her approach so she stops. Then the man speaks again.

“Is there anyone else in the car?”

Darcy freezes at the question. Bucky does too. He tilts his head to the side and looks at her. The blue of his eyes shines bright through the blood, the contrast as sharp and unsettling as that which exists between his arms. Darcy struggles to reconcile the two sides, the silent shadow before her now, the man who shook as he tried to eat his pancakes for dinner, and the fierce fighter of the past half-hour, the man who took on twenty-four armed men and killed them all. She finds that she can’t, her brain overwhelmed by the events of the evening, by her recollections of the diner and the smell of blood thick in the air.

Whatever Bucky sees in her face makes him look away. He glances at his hand, at the blood on the door. He moves, perhaps to wipe it off on his pants, but he stops before doing so. Drawing in a breath, he turns to the man. A beat passes in which he stares and then he says, his voice quiet in the imminent night, “Not anymore.”

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Three

 

They leave the old man and his gaping wife and drive north. Darcy resists the urge to floor the accelerator, to put as many miles as she can between her and the carnage they flee, also wishing to avoid the attention of the police. That would be a nightmare, cops generally wary of bloody, amnesiac gun-toting cyborg-men.

At the thought of Bucky, Darcy peeks at him in the rearview. He slumps against the backseat, his right arm still cradled around his body, his hand in a tight fist above his navel. He stares out the window, but she doubts he sees anything, no focus to his gaze now, not as before when he fought the men. No trace of that prior intensity remains, Bucky used up and hollowed out. The change in him unsettles her. What had happened to him to make him this way, the lion one moment and the lamb the next? The thoughts that come, the possible answers, turn her stomach. No one would flinch the way he had when she tried to help him open the door that hadn’t endured abuse of some kind, possibly torture. She knew little about abuse, even less about torture, having taken only one Psych class at Culver and then having focused more on the cute T.A. than on the class itself. Erik only required regular reminders to take his meds. He had an actual shrink for the hard stuff, for the nightmares about Loki. But Darcy has to do something. Bucky upheld his end of the deal, getting both him and her out of the diner alive. She now has to uphold hers.

Breathing in, she sits up a little straighter and tries to bring some sort of shape to her wind-blown and traumatized hair. The sticky residue she encounters, the remains of her French toast and eggs, makes her wince. Leaning over, Darcy digs into her bag and removes her pack of lavender face wipes. She pulls one out for herself then holds up the pack for Bucky. “Here. For your face.”

Bucky turns from the window to peer at the pack, but he makes no move to take it.

Undaunted, Darcy places the pack on her lap and lifts the wipe that she freed. “Like this.” She smoothes the cloth over her cheeks and forehead and, for good measure, down her throat too. The lavender banishes the lingering smell of the blood and she holds the wipe to her nose for a moment, soaking in the scent, before tossing it into the cup holder. “You don’t have to,” she says, offering the pack again to Bucky, “but you’re kind of… bloody, and the Prius lacks tinted windows. It might be for the best.”

Bucky stares at the pack. Darcy doesn’t think that he’ll take it, but then he reaches for it with his left arm. He winces as he does, freezing in place with his arm outstretched.

“Are you okay?”

His teeth clenched, Bucky eases back, the wipes in hand. “I’m not—”

“I didn’t ask if you were compromised. I asked if you were okay.”

He doesn’t respond. The silence stretches on for so long that Darcy chances another glance in the rearview mirror. Bucky stares down at the pack in his lap, the fingers of his metal hand playing with the edge. His brow creases and he swallows hard. He works his jaw for a moment and then says, his voice soft, “Are…”

“What?”

“Are you?”

The question catches Darcy off guard. She feels Bucky watching her, the intensity returning to him and fixed now on her. Keeping her eyes focused on the road, she shifts in her seat and shrugs. “I wasn’t the one who was stabbed. I’m—”

“Crying.”

Her hands tighten on the steering wheel. She hadn’t thought that he’d noticed, either here or by the side of the road, too wrapped up in his own bloody trauma to see anything else. But he sees now. Breathing in, Darcy tries to figure out if she’s okay. Her thoughts twist and writhe, evading her grasp, and she abandons the pursuit for clarity, giving in to the scattered nature of her brain. “I’m… I don’t know. Okay? Maybe. I almost saw the end of the world last year, but that was a cakewalk compared to this. So I’m dealing, I guess. I don’t know. Mostly I’m just worried you’re going to bleed to death in the backseat.”

“I won’t die.”

“Oh really? And you know this how?”

“I’ve been stabbed before.”

For the third time that evening, Bucky renders her completely silent. Darcy knows better than to ask if he’s joking because she knows that he isn’t, she knows that he can’t, or that he won’t let himself. Instead, she pulls in a deep breath and says as calmly as she can, “You weren’t just stabbed. You were shot at and beaten up—”

“They didn’t beat me up.”

Darcy grits her teeth. “Then the pine tree did. Or the Hummer. Your cut’s still bleeding and you can’t even lean forward without wincing. You need to a go to a hospital.”

“No.”

Darcy slows for the approaching stoplight. She peers at Bucky again in the mirror, finds his face set and his hands clenched, but the worried slant of his brows softens the stubborn glare.

“Bucky…”

She hears a sharp intake of breath. His eyes widen. “Stop.”

“I’m sorry—”

“No. Stop.”

Darcy slams on the brakes. The Prius skids to a halt inches from a red convertible. She thinks it’s the same one that blew past the diner before their fight and flight began. The driver, a young blonde woman, glares at Darcy in the rearview. She holds up an apologetic hand then twists in her seat to face Bucky. He’s used half the wipes to clean his face and beard, or at least to dull the shock of red. It’s enough for her to see how sallow his skin is, his wan complexion made more distinct by the thin line that he’s pressed his mouth into. Narrowing her eyes, Darcy pulls herself up to her full height and says, her tone offering no room for argument, “You are going to a hospital.”

“No.”

“But—”

No.”

Darcy throws up her hands. “Fine. Fine. Bleed to death in the backseat. See if I care.”

She twists back around and slumps in her seat to dodge his gaze in the mirror. She can’t avoid the woman in the convertible though, who still glares at her. Shooting back up, Darcy gives the woman the finger. The woman scowls at her and returns the gesture then the light turns green and she shoots away. Darcy follows at a saner pace, both to avoid succumbing to her homicidal road rage and trigger-happy cops as well.

“I thought you said not to kill everyone who stared at you.”

Darcy clenches the steering wheel and tries not to scream. “I wasn’t going to kill her,” she says, carefully enunciating each word.

“But you wanted to.”

“Yes. Yes. Okay? Yes, I wanted to. I wanted to shove that little glow stick you gave me against her badly dyed head and press the trigger until she collapsed in a twitching, drooling mess at my feet. Then I wanted to point and laugh and dance a happy jig of joy. That’s what driving does to people. It makes them crazy, so unless you want me to do the same to you, you’ll stop with the commentary and just sit there quietly bleeding to death in the backseat.”

Bucky opens his mouth, but Darcy holds up a hand and cuts off whatever contradiction he dared voice. “Unless the next words out of your mouth are ‘Why, yes, Darcy, I would like to go to the hospital so I don’t die,’ I would seriously suggest shutting the hell up.”

He does, miraculously, leaning back against the seat with a scowl on his face. Whatever. Let him pout. She doesn’t care. She said she’d help him remember, not be his guide to the frustrating minutiae of 21st century life. Let him fumble through that with Steve or Thor, with someone actually qualified to deal with the blood and the bullets and the blank, hollow stares. That person wasn’t her. She was an intern, a current college dropout. She wasn’t a savior, she wasn’t a hero, and the thought of her trying to be either is so ludicrous at the moment that all Darcy can do is laugh.

She laughs until tears form in her eyes, until snot drips from her nose, until she can’t tell anymore if she’s laughing or crying. She knows that Bucky watches her, she feels the frown he sends her way, but rather than engage him in conversation, she lowers the driver’s side window and breathes in the cool night air. The breeze soothes her frazzled nerves. After half a mile, she can ease her grip on the steering wheel. After another half, the tears start to slow and her breathing stabilizes. Darcy grabs the sleeve of her sweater to wipe the tears from her face when Bucky finally speaks.

“Here.”

He holds up the package of face wipes. “You’re kind of…” He pauses, searching for the right word. A faint frown pulls at his mouth as he stares at her.

“Deranged? Insane?”

“Wet,” he settles for instead.

Darcy huffs out another laugh. “You’re not wrong about that.” She takes the package from him and retrieves another wipe. The wind intensifies the sensation, helping to bring clarity to her muddled mind. Bucky studies her as she revives, probably waiting to see if she’ll freak out on him again, yell at him about tears and snot in addition to bleeding and windows. Letting out a slow breath, Darcy tosses this wipe into the cup holder alongside the first and prepares for Take 2.

“Thanks,” she says, catching his eye in the mirror. “And sorry. I didn’t mean to freak out at you. Again. It’s been kind of a stressful day.”

“At least you weren’t stabbed.”

She laughs, though she knows he didn’t say it to be funny, humor still in the deadpan delivery, but then she sees it, a glimmer of something in his eyes. The glimpse makes her gasp. Her gasp makes him frown and the something, the flash of the man behind the machine, disappears, but it was there, it was there, she knows it was there.

“Are you… freaking again?”

Darcy shakes her head, not trusting her ability to speak. She bites down on her lip to tamp down on the crazy smile that wants to form, on the hope that flares within her that maybe she really can help him after all. Turning back to the road, she lifts a hand and powers up the Prius’ navigation system. “Okay, so north’s kind of vague as far as directions go. Did you have any specific place in mind, or—”

“Brooklyn.”

It takes all of Darcy’s willpower to remain calm, to simply nod and input the destination. She can ask him about it later, whether he goes to Brooklyn because he remembers it or if he just read about the city and its importance in his life somewhere else. Peeking at him again in the mirror, she finds that he stares out the window again, but this time she knows that he looks, she knows that he sees, that he watches and observes and takes everything in. Darcy eases down on the gas, pushing the limit of how fast she dares to go, spurred on by the thought that now they’re running toward something even more than they’re running from.

*

Forty minutes pass before she finally remembers Jane. “Shit.”

“What?”

Shit.”

What?

Darcy leans over and grabs her bag. “Jane.”

“Who?”

“Jane,” Darcy says again, searching for her phone. “You know, the screaming girl you hung up on in the diner. I need to call her back.”

“No.”

Darcy stops her search and slowly raises her eyes to the mirror. “Excuse me?”

Bucky doesn’t flinch from her glare, as nonplussed by her rage as he was by her insanity. “It’s not safe,” he says and she thinks he’s striving for the same sort of patience that she previously used with him. She doesn’t know whether she should be proud at his progress or offended at its direction at her.

“I know it’s not safe,” she says, reflecting his tone right back at him. “It’ll get even less safe the longer I wait to call. Because Jane? She dates Thor. And I know we didn’t get to the Thor part of the evening on account of the shootings and the stabbings and what not, so let me fill you in. Thor? He’s a god. Like, a legit god. He’s about a zillion years old and he has a magic hammer and, as badass as you are, he could crush your head in one hand.”

Bucky scowls at that.

“He could,” she says, resuming her search. “And he will. Because Jane will ask him too, and she’ll do it because she probably thinks you’ve kidnapped me and that’ll make her mad because I’m her best friend. And Thor will say yes because he’s Jane’s boyfriend and he’s been really mopey the last six months about having nothing worthy to fight. So unless you want your head smashed in by a giant, Pop-Tart loving god, you’ll let me call.”

Bucky sits, mulish and glaring, but he voices no further objections. Finally finding her phone, Darcy turns it on. She cringes at the six missed calls and thirteen text messages that greet her, nearly all from Jane. A few are from Tony and one from a number she doesn’t recognize, but she bypasses them all to go straight to Contacts. If she delayed any longer, Jane was going to be madder at her for forgetting to call than worried about her possibly being kidnapped or dead. Licking her lips, Darcy clicks on Jane’s name and tries to steel herself for tiny brunette rage, as scary in its own way as the big bundle of brunet rage in the backset.

Jane answers, of course, on the first ring. “Darcy?”

“Hi.”

The gasping sob of a sigh that reaches her over the phone tugs at Darcy. Her throat constricts and she bites down on her lip to keep the tears from forming in her eyes again. “It’s okay,” she says. “I’m okay. I mean, I’ve got French toast in my hair, but otherwise I’m good.”

At that, Jane gives a weak laugh. “I tried calling you again, but no one answered and I—”

“I know. I’m sorry. I turned off my phone.”

Silence greets her admission. Shit. Shit. Darcy can practically feel Jane narrow her eyes, all parts of her enormous brain activated and set now to suspicious. “Why did you do that?”

Darcy hesitates. In her hesitation, Jane pounces, releasing the floodgates she’s probably barely kept at bay the last hour. “Darcy, what happened? Who was the man on the phone? We know you never made it to D.C., so where are you? Are you coming home? Are you sure you’re okay? What—”

“I…”

“Darcy.”

Darcy glances in the mirror. Bucky looks out the window, but she knows that he focuses on her, his mouth a tight line. He can probably hear Jane, his hearing likely as souped up as the rest of him. His claim about safety spins through her brain as she turns back to the road. Darcy knows she has nothing to fear from Jane or Thor, but Bucky doesn’t, he doesn’t know them, he barely even knows her, much less himself. Of course he doesn’t think it’s safe. He probably only considers her to be safe since she’s so obviously not a spy. She doubts the Black Widow freaks out as much during gun battles as she has today.

Drawing in another breath, Darcy prepares again for Jane’s rage. “I can’t tell you.”

What?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. I just called to say that I’m okay, that I haven’t been shot or kidnapped or anything like that, so you don’t need to send you-know-who thundering after me.”

“Too late.”

Darcy shifts the phone to her left ear and tries not to sigh. “Can’t you call him back, send up a Thor-shaped bat signal or something?”

“He’s not—” Jane pauses and pulls in a quick breath, her anxiety about Darcy giving way now to her normal exasperation. “We’re at the airport. Tony helped us book a plane.”

“Isn’t that a little excessive? I mean, I know I forgot to call—”

“Forgot to call? Darcy, do you have any idea who you came across tonight?”

Darcy bristles at the reproach. “Uh, yeah, I do. Because I actually studied history, unlike some people.”

“I don’t mean who he was, Darcy. I mean who he is.”

She doesn’t look in the mirror, though she wants to, though every fiber of her being compels her to look, to see if the drop of dread sliding down her spine is justified. Instead, she keeps her eyes fixed on the road, on the approaching town, on the fellow cars on the road and the lights in the distance.

“Uh, no. That I don’t happen to know.”

Silence so taut that Darcy thinks she’ll snap it if she exhales follows her confession. Then Jane hisses into the phone, “Oh my god. Are you with him right now?”

“Jane—”

“Get out. Now. Tase him or something. He’s dangerous.”

“I know—”

“Darcy, he’s a Hydra assassin. He killed the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. And he tried to kill Steve. Steve’s still in the hospital. This guy—”

“—is sitting right behind me.”

“Oh my god.”

Darcy can’t help it. She looks in the mirror. She would never survive long in a scary movie, always needing to look, always needing to know. She’d walk down into that basement or out into that darkness at the first sign of a weird noise. So she looks in the mirror. At first, she sees nothing, night having fallen as they’ve driven north, but then they pass beneath a streetlamp and the light illuminates Bucky in the rearview. He stares at her as he stared at the pancakes, as he stared after he crawled from the wreck of the Hummer, but now he stares at her in the back of her rental car with a gun by his hand, and, at the sight, Darcy sees red.

“Oh hell no.”

For the second time that hour, she slams on the brakes. The Prius screeches to a stop in the middle of the road. Unprepared for the sudden change, Bucky slides forward and nearly topples of the seat. His gun falls to the floor with a dull thud and his hand shoots out to brace himself against the window, but Darcy revs the engine and sends him crashing back into the seat again as the Prius shoots forward. “Uh huh. No way. You are going to snap out of zombie killer mode right now because you and I are going to have a conversation.”

“Darcy? What—”

“Sorry, Jane. Not you and I. He and I. You I’ll have to call back.”

Switching off her phone, Darcy jerks the car into a parking lot for a Wal-mart. Bucky slams into the door and gives a hiss of pain as she careens around the store to the back of the lot. The part of her brain not currently in the midst of a stress-induced breakdown feels a twinge of pity for him and the additional battery that she subjects him to, but she ignores the twinge, stomps down on the brakes again, and finally sends Bucky to the floor as they skid to a stop in the back of the lot.

Darcy’s unbuckled her seatbelt and shot out of the car before Bucky has even clawed his way back to the seat. She wrenches open the back door, her mouth open and primed for an epic rant about violations of trust and vows not to shoot her, when the sight of the blood pooled in the seat and smeared onto the window freeze her in place.

“Jesus Christ. I asked you if you were okay.”

Bucky inches into the seat, his teeth clenched. “I—”

“Never mind. Just… sit here, okay? Sit and don’t die.”

Darcy shuts the door, careful now not to slam it so as not to jostle him further. Then she darts back into the car through her open door and reaches for her bag. “I’m going to get bandages and stuff. Food. I don’t know. Just—”

“Don’t die?”

She nods and starts to ease out of the car. As she does, she glances at him again and her stomach plummets at how pale he is, at the knuckles that stand stark and white on his clenched hand. He leans his head against the backseat and peers at her through narrowed eyes. They stare at each other a moment. He looks down and then back at her and his brows pull together in a frown, but he says nothing. The silence sends another drop of dread down her spine.

“I’ll be ten minutes,” she says, stepping into the lot. “Fifteen at the most. Well, maybe twenty. Wal-marts are really big. But then we’ll find someplace to stop, okay?”

Bucky gives her the same small nod from before. Her throat constricts at the sight and she tries her best to breathe as she turns around and runs for the store.

*

In the store she continues to run, hitting medical supplies first, grabbing bandages and aspirin, cotton balls and Neosporin. She darts back for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide then heads to clothes, where she tosses in a basic pack of t-shirts followed by sweatpants and a hoodie, all in large and all in his current color scheme of black and white. She leaves clothes for food, where she dithers, a hitch in her chest from all the running. What do former war heroes and current Hydra assassins eat? Darcy thinks, but no answers come. She can’t conceive of Bucky eating, though she met him in a diner, though she saw him with food. He never actually ate the food, so maybe he doesn’t eat. Maybe Hydra just fed him intravenously, or he absorbed nutrients from the souls of all those that he slaughtered.

At the thought, Darcy closes her eyes. She leans her head against the shelf of bread as the pieces stitch together in her mind, the life of Bucky Barnes post-WWII, taken by Hydra after his fall and seemingly made to forget his life before, made into some twisted version of super soldier Steve, star and all. How was she supposed to help him remember his life before the war given what she knows about it now? She knows that he knows in some capacity. He recognized his name, he wanted to go to Brooklyn after all, but he doesn’t know, not really. He doesn’t remember. How would he react when he did? How would he deal with being coerced into a weapon, one sent to kill his former friend? Erik suffered a nervous breakdown from what he did when Loki took over his mind, from those that died when the Chitauri came through the portal he built, no matter the fact that he helped stop Loki in the end. How would Bucky react, his time with Hydra and his likely list of sins so much longer?

The possibilities unnerve Darcy. She tries to swallow past the lump in her throat, to still the shaking in her hands and the trembling in her legs. She would think of that later. Bucky needed to live in order to remember, and he needed food in order to live and the supplies in her cart and Darcy too, Steve out of commission and no one else crazy enough to take him on, so she pushes off the shelf and continues, pulling items down at random, nothing that required cooking or refrigeration. Some crackers and peanut butter. Some apples and Cliff bars. A few bottles of water and a package of chocolate chip cookies because the day had sucked and the night likely would too and she needed the comfort of chewy baked goods.

The cashier eyes her as she removes the items from her cart, as she requests two hundred dollars in cash back. She knows that she looks deranged, blood on her clothes and syrup in her hair, but thankfully, he says nothing, probably used to the deranged working retail. As she leaves, she checks the time, eighteen minutes in and out, hopefully quick enough.

Darcy rounds the store for the back of the lot, half expecting to see Hummers surrounding her car again, Bucky up and active and fighting to the death, but all is quiet. The quiet flusters her rather than calms. She drives the cart across the lot, clenching her teeth against the dismay rattling her bones alongside the push of the wheels over gravel. When she reaches the car, she peers in through the back windshield; Bucky sprawls across the backseat, his eyes closed. He doesn’t stir as she shoves the bags of supplies inside the trunk, as she slams the lid shut and climbs back into the car. With shaking hands, she grabs her phone and searches for nearby motels, locating one suitably small and out of the way after a few minutes.

She glances into the mirror as she fastens her seatbelt. The cliché applies, Bucky looking softer, younger, more like him, passed out now than when he was awake. But then she sees it, a wipe in his hand and fresh blood on the cloth. Twisting, she finds that he tried to clean the blood from the seat and from the window too. She gapes at the sight, at the implications they convey, that he thought she didn’t care about him bleeding to death in the backset, just that the blood wasn’t seen, no tint to the windows and the danger of discovery dangling over them at every moment. Darcy bites her lip, but she can’t stop the tears from coming, not at this. She turns back around and pulls her legs to her chest, giving in, sobs wrenching from her chest at the tragedy of his life, at his desperation for aid and his dependence on her, at her inability to help and her delusion that she could, that she could save him as he had saved her, that thought a fantasy, nothing more than a futile hope from a woman too blind to see.

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Four

 

As she stares down at Bucky, still passed out in the backseat, Darcy is reminded of the old saying: let sleeping dogs lie. She wants nothing more than to let this sleeping dog lie, both for the pain that he’s endured and also for the fact that she was unable to divest him of his knife and one of his guns. Given his previous reactions to other surprising things- pancakes, mini-vans, lavender face wipes- scaring him awake would likely lead to bloodshed and likely hers. But he hasn’t responded to her calling his name and she couldn’t very well leave him lying in the parking lot of this crap motel. Even the people here would be alarmed at the sight of a metal-armed assassin passed out in a pool of his own blood in the backset of a Prius, so drawing in a deep breath, Darcy prepares to wake Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Ninja.

The electric prod slides in her sweaty hands. It wasn’t much, but hopefully it would be enough to snap Bucky out of his stupor and also out of zombie killer mode if that was how he awoke. She pulls in another breath and does a few preparatory stretches. She considers reciting a prayer or two to bolster her chances, but her grip on faith is as tenuous as her grip on sanity at the moment, so God would probably smite her down for her blasphemy should she make the attempt. Besides, Thor was already on his way. Darcy only needed to last the night until he arrived. What else could go wrong between now and then?

She looks at Bucky.

Better not to answer that question.

Easing behind the open back door, Darcy raises the prod high into the air. She takes a moment to make sure that her fingers are off the trigger and then she brings it down hard onto the roof of the car.

“Wake up!”

He does, in an instant, his knife in his hand. Yelping, Darcy drops behind the door. She fumbles for the trigger, praying now, only to Bucky rather than God. “It’s me. It’s Darcy. It’s me. Don’t stab. It’s—”

“Darcy?”

She peers around the door, the prod clenched in her hands. Bucky sits, his knife at the ready, but she sees no murder in his eyes. Just confusion. At the sight of her, he lowers the knife. At the sight of that, Darcy shucks out a soft sigh and lays the prod on the ground. The universe had granted her a reprieve.

Finally.

“I rented a room,” she says as she stands. “Bought some supplies. I thought—”

Bucky nods before she finishes. He starts to slide from the car, but stops and glances down at the floorboard. When she sees his brow crease, she steps forward to clarify.

“I already took our stuff to the room. Your guns too.”

She points to the door of their room, to the faint light visible at the edge of the curtains. Bucky nods again and finishes his slide from the car. He sways a bit as he stands. Darcy reaches out, but she stops herself from touching him. This time he notices. He stiffens and starts to move away, but she darts forward, into his path.

“I… Do you need help? Because—”

Bucky shakes his head, avoiding her gaze. He eases to the left and shuffles past her, listing a bit to the right but steady on his feet. Darcy rubs a hand across her face as he walks away. He was like a goddamned alley cat, desperate and deadly and impossible to predict. Would he warm to her touch and settle down, finally feeling safe, or would he use his knife to slice off her encroaching hand, sending her a hiss and a scowl for her efforts? Her answer varied from moment to moment, changing so fast sometimes she got whiplash.

The scrape of boots on gravel stops. Looking up, Darcy finds Bucky halfway to the room, his gun in his hand and his head tilted in her direction. She knows that he waits for her, though he doesn’t look at her. Grabbing the prod, Darcy shuts and locks the door and then follows him to the room. Bucky lets her unlock the door, but he enters first, his gun raised. She considers telling him again that she’s already been inside, that she’s made multiple trips to and from the car without encountering any death or murder, but the ghosts of the night stalk him, not her, so she lets him look, fastening the door behind them instead.

The room is standard, lit by a small lamp between two double beds. A table and lone chair sit before the window, a small dresser and an ancient television line the left wall, and an open sink juxtaposes a small bathroom in the rear of the room. Darcy tosses the prod onto her bed, the one closest to the window. Her body calls for sleep, but she trudges on, making her way to the back. Bucky enters the small bathroom. As Darcy stops by the sink, he peers behind the curtain then, finally, lowers his gun. She starts to take the medical supplies from the bag, arranging them in a neat row on the counter, stalling for time, though she knows that she shouldn’t, Bucky likely still bleeding and in need of aid. She feels him watch her, but when she finally brings herself to turn, to face the cat in question, he peers at the shower, the gun still gripped in his hand.

“Do you—”

“No.”

Darcy grits her teeth but forces herself to relax. “You don’t even know what I was going to ask.”

“I can bandage myself. I know how.”

“Good. Because open wounds make me gag. I was going to ask if you wanted to shower first.”

Bucky tenses at the question. His eyes flit to the wall, past the wall to the door, beyond the door to the world outside where nameless enemies lurked, ready to pounce. Pity darts through her at the sight, Bucky dirty and bloodied, backed into a corner with his hackles raised. Darcy eases over the threshold, stopping when his eyes snap to her. This time, though, she doesn’t raise her hands in surrender. Instead, she says, “I know it’s not safe. Believe me. But I paid for the motel in cash and I tried to pick one that wouldn’t have online records. I even used a fake name. And I seriously doubt that the people who are after you have already regrouped enough to try again. Not after the diner.”

She waits, but Bucky gives no response. Taking his silence as encouragement enough, Darcy slides all the way into the bathroom. “Besides,” she says, wrinkling her nose at the blood in his beard and the lank state of his hair, “you kind of need a shower, dude. Like, a lot.”

That draws his attention back toward her. He takes in her sticky clothes and tangled hair, dotted by bits of egg and French toast, and slowly raises a brow.

Darcy narrows her eyes. “Okay. Yes, I need one too, but blood trumps egg, so in you go.”

She waves him toward the shower with one hand while holding out the other for his gun. Bucky glances at the hand and then at her, his expression the same, surly and skeptical. Trying not to sigh, Darcy looks at the gun and says, “You can’t take it with you, much as you might want to.”

Bucky makes no move to give her the gun. Instead, he looks back over his shoulder at the shower. As he stares, an uncomfortable thought takes hold in Darcy’s mind. She shifts, unable to let it go. Opening her mouth, she reconsiders, closes it, then opens it again, finally plowing on because that’s what she does: she says the things that probably shouldn’t be said, especially to people who occasionally want to kill you.

“Do you know how—”

“I know how to shower,” he says, sounding so offended as he turns back around that she throws up her hands.

“Well, how was I supposed to know? You didn’t seem to know how to pancake earlier, so your skill set is kind of murky at the moment.”

A beat passes and then Bucky raises his other brow. “How to pancake?”

Darcy throws her head back and gives in to her sigh. “Dude—”

“Here. Don’t freak out again.”

Darcy lowers her head to find Bucky with his arm outstretched, his gun laid flat on the palm of his hand. She starts to reach for it then what he says processes and her jaw drops. “Excuse me? I was totally justified in my last freak out. You were going to shoot me—”

Bucky clenches his jaw.

“—after you said that you wouldn’t, so—”

“You know him.”

“I— What? Who?”

Bucky lowers his arm. His whole body is tense, vibrating from whatever he struggles to reveal or conceal. She’s not sure which. He fixates on a spot about half a foot above her head, opens his mouth, breathes in, snaps his mouth shut and swallows, then he steels himself as she had before, not to say something stupid though, to say something odd, something foreign and puzzling, a relic from a time long past.

“Steve.”

It takes a moment for understanding to hit her, for her brain to dredge up what he undoubtedly heard from Jane over the phone, her claim about how he had tried to kill Steve. Not Captain America. Steve. A first name for the friendship that all of them share. And how had Darcy responded to that revelation? She had used the car to disarm him, to weaken him further. No wonder he didn’t want to relinquish his gun. Bucky thought she had wanted to hurt him, or to get Thor here to hurt him. The thought causes bile to rise in her throat. She had thought that he wanted to kill her. He had thought that she was going to kill him. And there were actually people out there who wanted to kill the both of them.

The thoughts make her shake her head. She didn’t know how the Avengers dealt with this, constantly having people who wanted to kill you and, also, sometimes wanting to kill each other. Darcy closes her eyes and rubs a hand again over her brow. Whatever Coulson had thought he’d seen in her in London had clearly been a delusion because all she feels is exhaustion at the prospect of untangling this messy knot of misconceptions.

Opening her eyes, she finds Bucky peering at her, his body tilted away. Yet he doesn’t grip his gun; he just holds it between loose fingers. Grabbing hold of this hope, Darcy says to him, her voice low and her hands in plain sight, “I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t care what you’ve done. To Steve or to anyone else. You’re not… you right now. Not until you remember. And even then I doubt you’re going to be able to say that you wanted to do what you’ve done. So you have nothing to fear from me.” She pauses then and sends him a small smile. “Except maybe some more freak outs. But I’ll try to keep those to a minimum.”

Bucky regards her quietly. He swallows again and the worried tilt returns to his brows. “Your friend—”

“Who? Jane?”

He nods.

“Okay. Yes, Jane can get a little aggressive. But she’s also easily distracted. Just mention wormhole to her and she’ll soften right up. And Thor, he could squash your head with one hand, but he won’t. He and Steve are total bros, and despite whatever happened between you and Steve, the last thing he’d want is you dead, so the only thing you’ll have to watch out for from Thor is excessive hugs.”

The suspicion remains, despite her claims, underlined now by what she missed in the car, the sharp edge of fear. Darcy lets Bucky look his fill. She tries not to squirm beneath the intensity of his gaze, tries to remain open and forthright and possessed only of the desire to help. Seconds pass. The drop of dread collects again at the base of her spine. She feels the need to flee as she did in the wake of their first standoff, but then Bucky releases a slow breath and the tension finally leaves his body. He closes his eyes, and she wonders for a moment if he’s going to cry, but all he does is swallow again and draw in a gasp of air.

Darcy takes a moment to do the same. “Are we… okay?”

Bucky nods. He opens his eyes and does something to the gun before holding it out to her again. She takes it from him, a question in her eyes, and he clarifies. “Turned the safety off.”

Darcy quirks a brow at his attempt to lure her into combat with a dud gun, but Bucky just shrugs. “You had the shock prod.”

She can’t help but laugh at that. “So I did. Why don’t we both swear again not to kill each other? And mean it this time.”

He nods. In his eyes, she sees the same spark of life that she’d seen in the car, the gleam that had greeted her from many a history book. Darcy waits for it to fade, to die as embers in a long cold fire, but the gleam holds and so does her hope. She moves to the sink, hearing, as she does, Bucky unzip his armor. Grabbing the few toiletries that she pulled from her bag, she turns back toward him, intending to give them to him, to escape then to the outer room, to lie down and close her eyes and not think for a few minutes, wanting nothing more than to clear her mind of blood and guns and fire and grenades. But as she turns back toward Bucky, the sight of the bruises blooming across his chest and back, six in all, the size of baseballs and punctuated by the tacky scab of his stab wound, stops her in her tracks. Beneath the bruises and blood, other scars stand stark against his skin. She’d seen them in the diner, at a distance. Now, closer to Bucky than before, they horrify and all she can do is gape.

Bucky drapes his armor over the towel rod. He reaches for the bottles in her hands, seemingly oblivious to her shock. She watches as he sets the bottles by the tub, as he perches on the toilet to unlace his boots. The sight of a fresh trickle of blood from his stab wound returns to Darcy her voice.

“Does it… Don’t they hurt?”

“Yes.”

She blinks at the soft admission. “Then why—”

Bucky starts on the right boot, his movements swift and precise. “Pain distracts.”

“What—”

“The mission matters.”

The mission matters. The mission matters. The mission matters, so fight one against twenty. The mission matters, so jump from a car driving sixty miles per hour down a dark road. The mission matters, so just sit quietly in the backseat of a rental car and allow yourself to bleed to death.

Darcy clenches her jaw. She tries to stay calm, to not freak out, to not freak him out, but she hears her rage in her voice when she speaks again.

“Not anymore.”

At that, Bucky stills. He sits hunched over the toilet, his gaze fixed on the cracked tile floor and that goddamned look in his eyes that makes Darcy want to scream and cry, to wrap him in a blanket and run away screaming, to find the people who did this to him and shock them with the cattle prod until their eyes rolled back into their heads, until they foamed at the mouth, until they dropped twitching and screaming at her feet only for her to press down harder with the prod until their flesh burned and she whispered to them, “Sorry, dude. The mission matters.”

She kneels down before Bucky, forces him to meet her eyes. “I don’t care what those assholes told you before. You’re a person. Your name is Bucky Barnes, and you matter more than any goddamned mission. So the next time someone tells you to suck it up and to do something you don’t want to do, you just look them right in the eye and say, ‘Fuck you.’”

Silence follows, in her opinion, her rather rousing speech. Bucky stares at her and she wonders if she’ll have to explain the concept of cursing to him too, if he forgot everything due to Hydra, but then his mouth twitches and she nearly gasps as a crooked smile appears on his face.

“пошел на хуй.”

“What?”

“It’s Russian.” His eyes shine as he explains, as he surprises her once more. “Fuck you.”

Darcy leans back on her heels. She studies him a moment and then the pieces slide together. “That’s what you said in the parking lot. To the Hans Gruber with the megaphone.”

Bucky nods.

Darcy should have known, though she couldn’t hear him then, his subsequent actions declaration enough: Bucky lifting his gun and blowing the shit out of megaphone man. She feels a slow smile spread across her face as she looks at him. “You’re the mission. Remembering who you are.”

Bucky nods again.

They stare at each other in the quiet of the bathroom. Darcy feels relief wash over her, bright and fizzy, like carbonation, like a sparkler on a hot summer night. She bites down on her lip, but she can’t stop the goofy grin from coming, the hope that bubbles within. She shakes her head and turns away, preparing to rise, to let him shower and finally to let herself flop face-first onto the bed, but then he touches her, his fingertips light on her shoulder, and she freezes, her heart in her throat.

“And you,” he says. “You matter.”

Darcy looks back at him. Bucky drops his hand as he drops his gaze. She watches as his brow creases, as he tenses and swallows again. After a moment, he looks back at her, and this time he holds the stare. Blood still stains his cheeks and gums him beard, but his eyes gleam in the stark light, reflecting to her not her own emotions as before, but his own. She recalls the diner, the goons rushing toward her, Bucky launching himself over the Hummer to land between her and them. He was shot then, because of her. He bears the bruises from those bullets on his chest, the consequences of her hysterical demand for him to save her life. Her mouth flattening into a thin line, Darcy pushes herself to her feet. “Not anymore. You don’t— You got me out of that diner and I’m grateful, but that’s not why I’m here. So no more bullets for Darcy, okay?”

Bucky stares at the wall, his jaw tight. She opens her mouth to try to explain, how this is about him, not her, how she’s already seen such sacrifice with Thor in the desert, dying from the Destroyer, with him striding into the evil death cloud to stop Malekith, and how she doesn’t want to see it again, but she stops before she starts, Bucky slowly rising from the toilet. He looms before her, nearly blocking out the bare bulb above. The look in his eyes makes her tense, anger hardening his gaze. Anger at her.

“Bucky…”

His name dies on her lips as he leans in close, as he looks her dead in the eye and says, his voice soft above the pounding of her heart, “Fuck you.”

Her face flushes and her hands clench, but before Darcy can respond, Bucky turns from her to rip the shower curtain aside. At the dismissal, she spins on her heel and stomps from the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. “Same to you, pal!” she shouts back through the door. Something cracks in response, and Darcy considers storming back into the bathroom to yell at him about how she’s going to have to pay for his little temper tantrum, but they had just reached a détente and she seriously doesn’t want him reconsidering his renewed stance on not shooting and/or stabbing her, so she continues on, choosing to kick at her overnight bag instead.

The pipes squeal as Bucky turns on the shower. Darcy flops down onto her bed and tries not to scream. She needed a drink. She needed seven drinks. She needed to sleep for a week and take an hour-long shower and find somebody else to take her place as babysitter for Bucky Barnes. The longer they stayed together, the likelier it would be that one of them would kill the other, and she doesn’t want that, no matter how many expletives they hurled in rage. Why couldn’t he understand? Darcy doesn’t want to die. But she doesn’t want Bucky to die either, especially not for her. What positive would be in that? That she’d get to live with the same sort of guilt that plagues Steve and Thor? That she’d go mad like Erik? No, thank you. Not for her. Of course, Bucky probably doesn’t want that either, having her die in the attempt to help him, so why wouldn’t he be pissed at her for essentially ordering him to let her die if that push came to shove?

That thought, this night, the entirety of her life right now, all of it makes her groan. Darcy closes her eyes and focuses on the rush of the water in the bathroom. She tries to let it wash over her and soothe her frazzled nerves as the cool wind had before, but her nerves remain frazzled and her body on edge. She gets up and paces, sits down and stares out the window, pulls out her iPad, puts it away again, then returns to the bed, kicking the cattle prod to the floor as she does. At least they should be safe from outside harm for a few hours, long enough, hopefully, for reinforcements to arrive. She needed them, her own attempts to talk to Bucky failing at every turn. Maybe she could convince him to see Steve in the hospital. Or to talk to Thor. Everyone liked talking to Thor. He—

Darcy tenses as the shower stops. She had anticipated more time, at least a few more minutes to regroup and fortify herself for Take 3, but why would Bucky take a long shower? She doubts that Hydra allowed him such a luxury. The army probably hadn’t either, even if Bucky had run with Captain America and likely had more in the way of supplies than most. Sitting, she tries to think, to come up with a plan, to gauge the anger within her and decide whether she wants to continue the fight or to flee to the bathroom as soon as he stepped forth. His tension by the car flashes into her mind, and her lingering anger fades. The last thing either of them needed was for Bucky to think she was afraid of him, that she was avoiding him. Darcy stands, the shower curtain scrapes again across the rod, then her eyes fall onto the bags of food that she’d purchased from Wal-mart. Darting over, she grabs the package of cookies and peels open the lid. No better olive branch than food, especially food of the baked good variety. She extracts a cookie for herself and makes her way to the bathroom just as the door opens and Bucky walks out.

Naked.

“Holy shit.”

Bucky ignores both her and the open package of cookies. He stops before the sink, his jaw clenched tight, and starts to paw through the medical supplies. Darcy blinks once and averts her gaze. She shoves half of the cookie into her mouth, thinks about turning around, but remains rooted in place. If the man before her were Bucky, one hundred percent, she’d look and gawk and ogle to her heart’s content. Hell, if what she’d studied about Bucky was true, he’d want her to look, he’d probably put on a show and double dog dare her. But he wasn’t Bucky, not yet, so Darcy tries not to look. She keeps her eyes fixed squarely on the juncture where wall meets ceiling as he opens packages, as he turns on the sink and hisses in pain. Darcy hears the fizzy sound of peroxide. She eats the rest of the cookie, shuffles in place, and waits to see if he has any intention of putting on pants. When he shows no inclination, she holds out the package of cookies and says, “Do you want one?”

“No.”

‘Of course not’ is on the tip of her tongue, but Darcy squashes it, trying to reconcile rather than divide. “You should. It’s kind of my way of apologizing. Lewis women know no other.”

Bucky says nothing in response. Darcy hears nothing too, no further sounds from the sink, only the crinkle of plastic in her hand and the soft hum of the ancient air conditioner. The silence persists and still she tries to resist, to do the right thing, what Steve would do or Thor, but she’s not Steve and she’s not Thor and her curiosity consumes her after a few more seconds.

Perhaps she, rather than Bucky, is the cat.

Turning toward him, Darcy finds Bucky leaning into the sink. His hands grip the edge of the counter. She thinks she hears the fake wood creak beneath his metal hand as she moves closer. She sets the package of cookies in the corner past the cotton balls and tries to catch his eye in the mirror, but Bucky doesn’t look at her. He keeps his head ducked, and she’s reminded of a dog, one fearing the swat of a newspaper or perhaps something worse. At the sight, another piece of the Bucky puzzle slides into place. How else could Hydra keep someone like him in line, as strong as he is and as deadly? How else could they control him if they didn’t squash any disobedience swiftly and violently?

The thought makes her nauseous. Her hands itch for the cattle prod again. Breathing in, she grabs the roll of gauze, fiddling with the edge, trying to burn away her anger at him and at Hydra and at herself too, for all of them and their various attempts to burn the bridge that she keeps trying to build. Licking her lips, she places the gauze back on the counter and then says, abruptly, “I don’t really do this well. This whole talking thing. Or I do. I mean, Jane says sometimes that that’s the only thing I do well. But usually when I talk, it’s just sass and random references, but neither of those works here. So… I fail. Epically. And, no offense, dude, but you’re not exactly a shining star with communication either.”

She thinks she sees a brow twitch in the mirror.

“Also, both of us seem to be a bit on the stubborn side. I say don’t die, you say no. You say don’t die, I say no. Then you say fuck you and I say fuck you too.”

She glances at him. She sees his grip ease on the counter.

“Excellent use of fuck you, by the way. I would take credit for it, but you were in the army. You probably know how to curse in a dozen languages and a variety of hand gestures.”

His eyes find hers in the mirror.

Darcy latches onto the look and plows forward. “Why don’t we try again? Neither one of us wants to kill the other one, and neither one of us wants the other person to die, either for that person in particular or in general. We’re both here to help you remember and, also, possibly, the more I keep hearing about Hydra, to wreak vengeance against those who made you forget.”

Bucky blinks at that.

Darcy just shrugs, trying to play it cool. No need to telegraph her intense need to commit murder at what he had endured. “Driving’s not the only thing that wakes the dragon.”

Bucky frowns at the reference, as she figured he would. But baby steps. Waving a hand, she says to him, “I’ll explain later. For now, why don’t we shake on it?”

Twisting towards him, she holds out her hand. Bucky looks at it a long moment, so long that she wonders if he understands the gesture, probably not a whole lot of a need for shaking hands as an assassin, but she won’t ask, his anger at her shower faux pas still fresh in her mind. Instead, Darcy lowers her hand and turns for the cookies, about to offer him one to him again when he finally speaks.

“Okay.”

She smirks at the soft assent. “And here I was starting to think that the only word you knew was ‘no.’”

“No.”

Grin widening, Darcy turns back to Bucky. He holds out his hand to her, his real one. Water drips from his hair and beard, clumps his eyelashes together into sharp, dark points. Beyond the points, eyes bright with amusement wait for her. Darcy swallows at the sight. Her thirteen-year-old self stirs at the glimpse of the man behind the terse curtain; she squashes it down, recalling the mission. He cocks a brow at her hesitation, but not in confusion this time. To double dog dare her. Her adolescent self rises again. Darcy kicks her aside, straightening her shoulders. She extends her hand once more to Bucky, steeling herself against herself. And against him. A beat passes and then his palm touches hers. Darcy expects it to be cool, but it’s not, he’s warm, his skin roughened by calluses. Bucky closes his fingers around hers. His grip is light, far from the sure hold he uses for weapons. She knows it’s deliberate, his eyes fast on her face to observe any sign of pain. She looks away at the thought, overcome, but she looks down, right at Bucky, Jr. Darcy starts and jerks her eyes back up to the ceiling. She feels a flush start to spread through her body, and she extricates her hand from his, needing to go walk away and die.

“I, uh, I bought you pants,” she says, easing back. “Sweatpants. Nothing fancy. And some shirts. And a jacket. A hoodie. With a hood.” Kicking herself again, Darcy collects her bag; she looks anywhere in the room but at him. “They’re in the bag. Over, um, there.” She points, but Bucky doesn’t look. He watches her, his gaze, as always, focused and intent upon her. “So, you know, when you’re done, you can, um, put them on. That would be—” Good? Bad? Nice? Lame? “Swell.” Darcy bumps against the bathroom door. Shifting to the left, she eases back over the threshold, pausing a moment before she shuts the door. She needs to say something, something profound and meaningful to mark this official beginning to their sure to be epic partnership, but she catches sight of him again before she can. He leans against the sink, his arms folded over his chest, his head tilted to the side as he looks at her, and Darcy can’t tell if his brows are raised in pity at her fumbling or in amusement. Her brain blanks at either possibility, so all she can summon by way of a conclusion is, “So, uh. Bye.”

She ducks back into the bathroom then and shuts the door, and beyond the beige varnish and thin plywood, she swears that she hears him laugh.

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Five

 

Darcy stays in the shower so long that Bucky knocks on the door to ask if she’s died. She bellows back, “Yes,” and continues on, determined to remain until the hot water fades, until the steam leeches the tension from her body, until she knows for sure that she can face the possibility of Bucky Jr. again while still retaining power over her brain. She needed this because she figured he’d make another appearance, Bucky alarmingly casual about clothing. Darcy even thinks that she could do the same, just stroll from the bathroom buck-ass nude, without him batting an eye. She doesn’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, though she’s inclined to say bad, the Bucky of old notorious as a ladies man.

The thought makes her close her eyes, another reminder of the damage done to him by Hydra and the long road he had before him. She knows he won’t have to walk it alone. Someone, eventually, if Tony or Thor hadn’t done so already, will tell Steve. And Darcy hadn’t been lying before about Thor and his hugs. The big guy had so many issues about the death of Loki that Darcy can see him dedicating himself to Steve, to help him help Bucky, to try to save this wayward brother when he had been powerless to save his own. And with Thor came Jane. Tony had been unleashing the full-court press upon Jane to get her to move back to the States, to funnel her research through Stark Industries. He’d likely turn the wooing up to eleven with the death of S.H.I.E.L.D. And if Jane came, would she follow? Darcy had followed her to England, had tried to build a life there. Or had she? Her life was Jane’s, just an offshoot, really. Normally, she didn’t mind, Jane doing important work. Or maybe she did. She had come to interview with S.H.I.E.L.D. after all.

At that, Darcy opens her eyes. Thoughts of later could wait. She needed food now and sleep, she needed not to tempt fate and Bucky by remaining any longer in the shower. He had already done enough damage snapping the soap dish off the wall in his rage at her. She didn’t need him bursting in, guns blazing, to slay the water demons that held her captive.

Turning off the shower, Darcy steps from the tub to towel off. Her eyes fall again to the neat pile of clothes in the corner of the room, Bucky having lined his boots up against the wall and placed his folded pants on top. The creases are perfect, and she wonders if it’s a remnant from the army or a requirement from Hydra. Her gaze drifts to her overnight bag, to the random clothes that she’d stuffed inside, no regard for wrinkles or order. Digging in now, she pulls out leggings and a giant sweater, what she intended to wear on the plane ride home. Though she figures they’re safe for the night, best not to risk running for her life in polka dot pajamas. Hydra didn’t need any extra help in their targeting. She looks at Bucky’s armor as she pulls on her clothes. They shot just fine.

At the door, Darcy pauses. She hears nothing beyond, but then she’s been in the bathroom at least a half an hour. Bucky likely finished his ministrations long ago. Hopefully he tended to his nudity as well. Cracking open the door, Darcy peeks out. He’s not by the sink so she leans out further to peer around the corner into the rest of the room. She finds him in the chair by the window, his weapons arrayed on the table before him. He wears the sweatpants but nothing else. Darcy will take the small victory. At least she won’t have to spend the rest of the night with her head craned up toward the ceiling.

“You broke the shock prod,” he says by way of greeting as she finally leaves the bathroom.

Darcy shrugs as she wrings water from her hair. “Hydra can bill me.”

She hears a sigh. The sound is so familiar that Darcy actually checks to make sure Jane isn’t sitting in the corner of the room, frowning in exasperation with her. “You need a weapon,” he says, drawing his attention back toward him. “Your taser’s not enough.”

“Let’s be realistic, dude. The only person I was going to shock with that thing was me. Or you.” She kneels down to gather the bags of food. “Besides, I like the taser. It’s long distance.”

“So’s a gun.”

Darcy gives him a look. Bucky returns the look. A small part of her crows in triumph at the increasing glimpses of self from him. The other, larger, part of her narrows her eyes. “Not going to happen.”

His nostrils flare in frustration. “You need—”

“—to eat,” she says as she stands. “And so do you. None of those are going to be any help if we pass out from starvation before we can even lift them.”

Bucky scowls but relents, gathering the guns as she moves to the table. Darcy plops the bags down and only thinks now about plates and cutlery. How the hell were they going to eat the peanut butter without a knife to scoop it out? Shaking her head, she bypasses the jar to pull out the other items. She arranges them on the table between them, an apple and bottle of water each, the Cliff bars piled in the center alongside the crackers and her opened bag of Doritos. Bucky props the broken prod and his guns on the air conditioner by the window, leaving one behind on the table. To that, Darcy just shrugs. Small victories. At least she knows now it’s not for her.

Turning, she makes her way back to the sink to grab some tissues and the package of cookies. As she returns, she sees Bucky peering down into the bag of Doritos, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Hey! No judging until you’ve tried. And even then no judging. Doritos are the food of the gods.”

Bucky arches a brow.

“Okay, so technically meat, beer, and processed baked goods are the food of the gods. But still, respect the Dorito. They’re what got me through my first semester at college.”

The suspicion fades. Somewhat. Darcy places the cookies by the crackers and pulls out a few tissues. She watches Bucky reach into the bag. He pulls out a chip and, at the sight of it, frowns again.

She bites down on the smile that wants to form. “What?”

“Is it…”

“What?”

“…supposed to be this color?”

Darcy snorts. “Yeah, it is. Welcome to the twenty-first century, dude. We’ve got all the fake food you could want in every color of the rainbow and then some.”

Bucky stares at the chip another moment before taking a tentative bite. She can’t decipher his expression as he chews, but she understands the meaning of his hand closing around the bag and drawing it toward him as he sits down.

“Ha! Told you. Respect the Dorito.”

His mouth twitches. Darcy sits on the bed perpendicular to Bucky. She hands him a few of the tissues and then reopens the package of cookies. They eat quietly, Bucky from the Doritos, Darcy from the cookies. Steve will probably give her the patented Captain glare at so quickly corrupting the taste buds of his BFF, but Darcy doesn’t care. Bucky needed something nice, something normal, particularly something good to eat, Darcy unable to let go of the idea that Hydra fed him intravenously or by osmosis or something.

She looks at him as he pulls another chip from the bag. He had pushed his hair back behind his ears, likely to treat the cut on his forehead. Darcy eyes the small pink line. It no longer bled. She wants to ask him if he disinfected it, if he put the Neosporin on, but she holds her tongue. He said that he knew how to bandage himself. She has to trust him, his body proof enough of his prior need for bandaging. Her eyes drift down to his chest, to the bandage over his stab wound and the gauze wrapped tight around his body.

“It’s healing.”

Darcy jerks her eyes up to his, but Bucky doesn’t look at her. He stares out the window, through the crack between the curtains. She wonders briefly how he knew that she was looking, but she doesn’t ask, chalking it up to super spy DNA. Instead, she says, “Can I ask you something?”

Bucky tilts his head toward her, his eyes still fixed on the window. She interprets the gesture as yes.

“In the car, you said you were stabbed before. Does that mean you remember? Not everything, but, you know, some stuff.”

Bucky tenses, his hand poised over the chip bag. She watches as he lowers the bag, slowly. His brows draw together, his eyes again clouding. Darcy wants to kick herself for pushing, for not leaving well enough alone. Laying the cookies on the table, she leans toward him and says, “I’m sorry. We don’t have to… I just thought, you know, talking might help. Might spark your memory or something.”

Bucky stares at the bag.

“No worries.” She reaches for her water, forces herself to sound breezy and bright. “We’ll just eat and—”

“Pancakes.”

“We don’t have any.”

“No—” His mouth flattens into a thin line as he turns toward her. “I remember them. I think… someone made them for me.”

“Oh. Oh.” Another puzzle piece slots into place. “That’s why you were at the diner.”

Bucky nods.

Darcy gives a slow nod of her own. “We could go tomorrow, if you want.” At the tilt of his head, she clarifies. “Obviously not there, but that diner’s not the only place that sells pancakes. We can go and eat.” Her eyes flit down to his chest. “You’d have to put a shirt on though.”

Bucky leans back in his chair, his eyes bright. “I can’t.”

It takes every ounce of strength within Darcy to restrain the impulse to ogle, to keep her eyes locked on his. She shifts on the bed. She twists the water bottle in her hands. And then she asks, proud at how sensible she sounds, “Why is that?”

Bucky reaches up with his real hand to scratch the back of his neck. She wonders if he’s doing it on purpose, to distract her, his chest moving in interesting ways as he shifts. Before she can decide though, he drops his hand only to lift it again and point. “They don’t fit.”

Turning, Darcy finds two of the shirts she bought folded neatly by the television. The third lies draped over the other two.

“It tore. When I was trying to get it off.”

Darcy blinks. And blinks again. She stares at the shirts, trying not to laugh or drool at his clothing woes because he sounded genuinely remorseful. And confused. Which made sense as she doubts that he’s worn much other than his armor or some other variation thereof for the past seventy years. Cheap cotton wouldn’t stand a chance against him.

“Is it… okay?”

“It’s okay,” she says, turning back toward him. She flashes him a small smile. “We can get more. Something in your size. And I can keep these. Or give them to Steve. He seems to like his shirts insanely tight.”

Bucky stiffens at the mention of Steve.

“Oh, shit. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

He shrugs, but he also turns away again, back to the window. Darcy unscrews her water and takes a drink, searching for something to say to smooth over her latest gaffe. The cookies catch her eye, but she dismisses the notion. Bucky didn’t need her shoving food at him every time they found themselves in an emotional crisis. Her eyes drift back toward him, no idea spontaneously generating to save her. His right hand lay on the table in a tight fist. A drop of water slid down his back from the hair curling at the nape of his neck. As she stares, curiosity seizes hold of her. Darcy resists, determined not to be the stupid cat. She reaches for another cookie to prevent her mouth from acting independent of her will, but the idea winds its way from her brain despite her efforts and bursts forth with all the grace of a dancing sloth: “Do you, uh, if you want, you know, maybe, to talk about, in some way, perhaps, do you, um, possibly, remember him? Remember Steve, I mean.”

The verbal diarrhea elicits a frown from Bucky equal parts pity and what-the-fuck. Darcy feels her face heat as he looks at her. Trying not to scowl, she places the bottle on the table and snatches the Doritos bag from him. “I told you,” she says, shoving a hand inside. “I suck at this.”

To her surprise, Bucky shakes his head. Darcy stares at him, her eyes wide and chip frozen halfway to her mouth. When he speaks, the words unspool in a slow, careful line, his ease with them equal to hers with guns. “You asked why I talked to you. Why I didn’t… hurt you. In the diner. You were… nice to me. You are. You…” He drops his gaze to the table and expels a short breath. His eyes fix upon the apple. The focus calms him and he continues, his voice soft, “You talk to me. You let me talk.”

Darcy lowers the chip. She should say something, she knows she should say something, again she should say something, this more than he’s ever said to her at one time, perhaps more than he’s said to anybody, for years or for decades, but all she can do is stare. In the silence, Bucky shifts. His body tenses. He tilts his head and peers at her from the corners of his eyes, and it’s the look more than anything, Bucky hunched and hesitant, that shoves her from her stupor.

“I… Sorry. I just…” She shakes her head, a wry smile tugging at her lips. “You should record this. For posterity. You’ve just done what no other person has been able to do. Like, ever.”

“What?”

“Shut me up.”

Bucky straightens, a frown again creasing his brow. “I didn’t—”

Darcy leans forward, reaching out with her hand to ease his concern. “I know you didn’t. I know. Believe me, it’s not a bad thing. In fact…”

“What?”

She shrugs and looks away, down at the chips, at the rest of the food assembled before them. A paltry meal, barely sufficient for one let alone two and let alone one of the two being a genuine super soldier. But Bucky didn’t complain. He ate the chips and tried on the shirts, and, when they were too small, he didn’t criticize her for messing up by buying the wrong size. Her throat clamps down at the thought, but Darcy pushes past it, drawing in a deep breath, needing to return to him the same honesty that he showed to her.

“I’m not smart. I mean, I am. But not like Jane or Erik. Have I mentioned him? He’s kind of like Jane’s mentor. And the two of them, they saved the world last year. With science. And Thor… Well, he’s Thor. But I’m just… I’m just me. An intern. I mean, I haven’t even finished college yet. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me because they need me. Jane can get so caught up in theory sometimes that she forgets the real world exists. And Thor’s not from here, so he needs someone to explain how things work on Earth. Like how to drive a car and where to get bags for the vacuum cleaner. But sometimes…” She shakes her head again and looks away. “I don’t know. I guess I didn’t realize how nice it would be to hear that I haven’t fucked everything up.”

“You haven’t.”

Her body warms at the sincerity in his voice. Darcy bites down on her bottom lip but can’t stop the smile from coming. She glances at Bucky, finds him facing her, focused entirely on her. The intensity is not unwelcome. “Thanks.”

Bucky shrugs, but Darcy sees contentment in the way he relaxes back against the chair, his body a loose curve from head to toe. The diner flashes into her mind then, his stiff, straight posture in the booth, and she realizes in that moment that she has helped him, somehow, despite her panic and her fumbling, despite her wretched attempts to help him remember. His eyes still flit to the window and the gun still rests by his left hand, but a person sits before her now, not a blank cipher of violence. At the thought, her grin widens. She plucks the chip from atop the bag and munches on the end, nearly humming in happiness. Bucky glances at her. His mouth twitches again, nearly unfurling into a smile as she nudges the bag back toward him.

They spend the next ten minutes eating in companionable silence, moving from chips to the apples to a Cliff bar each. Darcy even gets Bucky to try a cookie. His eyes brighten at the first taste, and she watches, her amusement tinged by awe and a touch of horror, as he plows through an entire row in three minutes. She understands now his love for pancakes, the man possessing an undeniable sweet tooth. That thought prompts another. Darcy twists the water bottle in her hands again as she contemplates the advantage of posing this question, of opening up another potential can of worms, but this is what she said she would do, she’d help him remember, so she does.

“Can I ask you something?”

She sees a smile tug again at his mouth. “You ask a lot of questions.”

“True. But this is me being restrained. Normally, I’m a hell of a lot nosier.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed.”

For that, Darcy gives him a look. At the look, his smirk becomes a grin, and with the grin, the present becomes the past, the man before her melding into the pictures that she studied and the recordings that she watched and the movie of his life that swept the Oscars fifteen years past. Darcy feels her jaw drop at the sight of undiluted Bucky Barnes. She snaps it shut, leaning forward for another Cliff bar to try to conceal her reaction, the flash of heat across her face and the catch of breath in her lungs.

“Keep it up, Sergeant Sass, and I’ll eat the rest of your cookies.”

She opens the bar, takes a quick bite. Bucky says nothing in response. Darcy uses the silence to collect herself, to let her body cool and her thoughts still. She chews and swallows and only turns back to Bucky when she’s certain that she can look at him, not gawk at him. When she does, she finds that he stares at her, his grin gone and his eyes wide.

“Bucky?”

He tenses.

Darcy lowers the bar, a frown pulling at her mouth. “Are you okay?”

Bucky looks away. His gaze flits from the cookies to the chips to the Cliff bars to her, and the diner flashes into her mind, her first sight of him sizing up the domestic array on the table before him. She reaches for a tissue and wipes the sticky residue off her fingers, trying to adjust to this hairpin turn, to determine what induced the regression. Before she can, he speaks.

“We should leave.”

Her eyes snap to his face. “What?”

Bucky straightens. His left hand inches toward his gun.

“Bucky—”

His jaw clenches and he closes his eyes.

An idea stumbles into view. “Is it the name?” she asks. “Because I can call you something else. Whatever makes you comfortable.”

She receives no response.

Darcy looks away. She pokes at the half-eaten bar, unsure how to proceed, whether to encourage him to talk or to respect his desire for silence. Concern winds through her stomach, twisting her guts. She peers at Bucky again from the corners of her eyes. He sits still as stone, his hands fisted before him. Her eyes drift from the gun to the food to glimmer of light beyond the window, attempting again to understand the source of his discomfort. Comprehension fails to dawn, but inspiration strikes as she glances at him again. Darcy reaches for her water bottle. She takes a quick sip, steeling for potential disaster, but also, she hopes, for success.

“Okay, so you know how I said we were kind of disasters with the talking? No gold stars for us. But then you said you liked it when I talked to you and especially how I let you talk. Which isn’t exactly true. I don’t let you talk. I talk to you and you talk back because that’s how conversations go. Even really awkward ones. Like this one. Anyway, what I’m saying is, I’d like for you to talk to me. I mean, if you want to. I’m not ordering you to. Like, at all. I’m asking you to. Because we were bonding and snarking, and I thought everything was going dandy, but then you stop and clam up and I don’t know why. And I want to know why. If you want me to know. Because, you know, again, I want to help, if I can. So… talking?”

She looks at him, expectant, before looking away, expectance pressure and Darcy not wanting to pressure him, but then she looks back, needing to know. Bucky stares at the table. His hands unfurl, slowly, opened through sheer force of will. He inhales, prepping himself, as though for a fight, and she realizes that it is, for him it is, a fight against himself and the blankness that resides inside him, a fight against Hydra and the abuse they subjected him to for dozens of years. She may struggle to find words sometimes, but she’s never in her life questioned her ability or her right to speak. For a second, the enormity of his struggle again overwhelms her, but she finds herself mirroring him, forcing breath into her lungs, forcing her body to relax.

Bucky closes his eyes. He grimaces, opens his eyes, bares his teeth, then mutters something in Russian before shoving the words out in an awkward, stilted lump. “I don’t— I don’t know why. I was… afraid. I thought… I think— When I remembered before… I think they… hurt me. So I would stop.”

He looks at Darcy then, his look the look of the diner, a supplication for guidance, for assurance. Darcy swallows down her bile and tries to shove her rage down with it, but it remains, hot beneath her skin. “It makes sense,” she says, pushing at her damp hair. “How else were they going to get you to do what they wanted?”

He nods, but the acceptance of his explanation does little to dull the pain that flashes across his face. Bucky ducks his head; he stares again at the table. Darcy lets him process, reaching for her bottle of water. As she takes a drink, she sees him lift the apple. He sets it back down again then grasps his bottle of water. But he doesn’t open it. He just stares at the label, at the water inside. Darcy is about to ask, absurdly, if he needs help opening it, when he speaks again.

“What was your question?”

“Oh. I, uh, I just wanted to know why Brooklyn. If you remembered something about it.”

He shakes his head. “Read about it in the museum.”

Darcy nods, aware of the revival exhibit at the Smithsonian. She had wanted to swing by after her interview with S.H.I.E.L.D., take a few selfies with Exhibit Steve to send to the real deal, but the chaos in D.C. had put the shish to that kebob. Not that she minds, the other real deal sitting right before her. She had hoped he had remembered something about Brooklyn though. If he had, they would have some plan in place other than just casually strolling into the borough all Butch Bucky and the Lewis Kid. A plan significantly limited the possibilities for chaos and destruction.

“Can I ask a question?”

Her eyes snap toward him, his question about questions jerking her from her contemplations. Bucky peers at her sidelong, his brow creased. Darcy summons a smile, nods her permission. He swallows. His hand tightens on the bottle, but he expels a slow breath and relaxes his grip. Darcy waits, again trying not to stare but also not to not stare.

“You know him.”

The intonation recalls for Darcy the bathroom, Bucky’s statement then about Steve. He must refer to him here too. “Kind of,” she says with a shrug. “He visited Thor for, like, a week back in February.”

Bucky says nothing. His thumb worries the edge of the label on the bottle. Questions bubble and press against Darcy’s brain, dozens of them, but she squashes them down, waiting for him to speak. His eyes flit to her and then away. He shifts in place, clears his throat and then continues on.

“Tell me. About him.”

“Like what? History stuff?”

He shakes his head. “I know history. It’s not… him.”

She understands his frustration, the essence of a person hard to capture in an exhibit, even one as grand as those at the Smithsonian. She doubts Hydra told Bucky more than the Captain basics, about his strength and speed and fighting skills, but little about the person, about the man behind the shield. Licking her lips, Darcy recalls his visit to London, the time that he spent with her and Thor, Erik, and Jane. She sifts through the moments, the dinners and sightseeing, the sparring and the hushed conversation about grief that Darcy had accidentally walked in on between him and Thor. As she places her water back upon the table, a picture begins to emerge.

“He’s funnier than I thought he would be. Which is weird because that’s what people have said about him, you know, in interviews and stuff. Those that knew him. The Commandos. Agent Carter. But most of the time he’s portrayed as this no-nonsense dude. A real stick-in-the-mud. But he isn’t.” She pauses, her face creasing into a soft smile. “He cares, too. And not in the fake way that most people care about other people’s problems. He was only there for a week, but he listened to each of us. I mean, even to me, and all I was dealing with was my asshole boyfriend breaking up with me. Not anything close to Erik or Thor and their angst about Loki.”

“Loki?”

“Thor’s brother. He tried to take over the world a couple years back. He kind of drove Erik crazy in the process.” Darcy pauses again. She glances at Bucky. He watches her, withdrawn into himself and peering out, once more wary, but not of her, she thinks. Of her truth. Darcy reaches for her water and takes a drink. She contemplates stopping then, but decides to continue on, to again say the thing she probably shouldn’t say. But he’d wanted to know.

“Loki died last year. Thor… He didn’t deal with it very well. He’d asked Loki to come with him, to help him with his mission to save the world. Loki died right in front of him.” She pauses and meets his eyes. “Steve sympathized.”

At that, Bucky looks away. His hand tightens around the water bottle. Darcy waits, trying again to let him process the revelations, the shading to the outline that he’d already acquired. He sits still as stone, but she sees thoughts swirling in the slow slide of his eyes from the bottle to the gun. He stares at it a moment before dropping his gaze.

“I shot him.”

Darcy freezes, caught off guard by the revelation and the speed with which he delivered it.

“Three times.”

He shifts in the chair. His eyes dart to her. Darcy nods, the right words to say dangling beyond her reach. Whatever Bucky sees in her face though must be okay for he continues on. Darcy listens, frozen, to the quiet revelation. “He saved me. He was my mission, but he saved me. After I shot him.” Bucky leans toward her now, anguish clear in his eyes. “Why?”

She flounders for a moment, thrown by the intensity of his need. Then the right response surfaces and she says to him, “Because you’re his friend.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t know him.”

“But he knows you.”

He shakes his head again, presses his mouth into a thin line.

“What?”

“I don’t— I’m not…”

“Bucky—”

“Him.” He swallows and looks her right in the eye. “I’m not him.”

Darcy eyes him, waiting for the punch line, but one doesn’t come. She plucks another chip from the bag, needing fortification to wade into this minefield. After the first bite, she dives in. “Why not?”

Bucky eyes her now, and she thinks that he, as she had moments before, waits for the punch line. When it doesn’t come, though, he doesn’t restrain himself in the graceful way that she had. Instead Bucky sighs, loudly, conveying in crystal-clear tones his frustration with her. Darcy just arches a brow at him and takes another bite from the chip. At her look, he deflates, contrition flashing in his eyes. He lifts his right hand and rubs at the back of his neck as he says, his voice soft, “You said that I wasn’t.”

Darcy frowns at that. “What? No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. In the bathroom.”

“What? No— Oh.” She looks at him, remembering her comment. The urge to sigh wells within her now, but she restrains it by the slimmest of margins. “It was hyperbole, dude. Exaggeration, like eighty-five percent of what comes out of my mouth. It wasn’t meant to be an absolute declaration of self.”

Bucky shakes his head. At Darcy’s surprised blink, he lifts his chin, steeling himself for the rest of her reaction, but holding firm. The thought, his instinctive reaction to contradiction, makes her want to cry. Keeping her reaction as muted as possible, she reaches for another chip and takes a bite. “Why not?”

“Memory’s important.”

“It is. But it’s not everything.”

“Yes, it is.”

The quiet contradiction distresses her. To him, of course memory would be everything, Bucky remembering nothing, likely feeling like nothing, an empty cup washed clean of all that it held. Darcy wants to shove cookies at him and blankets too, to give him a hug and a puppy to hold, but she does neither. Instead, she shakes her head, this line of thought slippery, too dangerous to let him pursue.

“It isn’t,” she says. “It can’t be. You’re here. You’re sitting right in front of me, and you’re not… you’re not nothing. You’re someone. You’re you.”

“But not him.”

“So who are you then if you’re not Bucky?”

Some of the irritation fades from his face. Bucky shrugs and looks away, and Darcy waits, but he gives no other response. Leaning forward, she catches his eye again and says, her tone light and gentle, “If you don’t know who you are, how can you say you’re not Bucky?”

Bucky glares at her for that, for pushing where he does not want to be pushed, but Darcy holds firm. Eventually, he relents. “They said… The museum—” He huffs out a sigh, frustrated with himself, with her too, she knows, but as Darcy straightens, he persists, and his persistence seals her belief in him being one of the bravest people she’s ever known. “They said he was… a hero. That he died a hero.”

“Yeah. And?”

He gives her another look. “I’m not.”

“How do you know? You just said you don’t know who you are.”

Bucky grits his teeth. “I heard your friend. She said I was dangerous. She told you to get away from me. I’m not… I’m not— I read about Hydra. At the museum. I know who they were.”

“So? You’re not them.”

“I am. They—”

She shakes her head.

Bucky looks at her, his mouth a flat line. “How do you know? You don’t know me.”

“And you don’t know me. Yet when I walked up to you in that diner, you know what you didn’t do? You didn’t stab me. Or shoot me. You talked to me. And we know that’s not what Hydra would have done because we know what Hydra would have done because they did it. They stabbed you and they shot at me and they killed every single person in that diner. So you might feel like you’re Hydra because they’ve probably done their best to make you feel like you are, but you’re not. You’re not. You don’t have to be Bucky if you don’t want to be. But don’t you think for a goddamned second that you’re one of them.”

Bucky closes his eyes. He tilts his head away from her. Darcy sees his chest hitch. He tries to breathe, but the sob seizes hold of him, the dam finally bursting. She reaches out then, lays her hand on his wrist, strokes her thumb against the taut line of muscles and tendons in his arm. A lump forms in her throat, but she swallows it down. She can’t break, not when he needs to, and he needs to so he can try to start, somehow, to deal with all that has happened to him. Her eyes drift across his chest again, from the bruises to the bandage to scars surrounding his metal arm. A shadow to those he bears inside, but as with the physical, they too would heal. With time. And with help. And she will help him.

“How long has it been since you’ve slept?” she asks softly.

Bucky shudders, his body still held by his grief. Ducking his head, he glances past her to the digital clock. “Twenty-nine hours.”

“Jesus Christ. You need to sleep. Now.”

He pulls away from her, shaking his head.

“Why not?”

His eyes dart to the window and his reason clarifies.

“I know it’s not safe,” she says. “But you lost a lot of blood and you’ve had a shit day and you need to rest. I can watch for a while. Trust me. There are few things I do better than sit on my ass and watch things.”

Bucky relaxes a fraction. He swipes his right hand across his cheeks, smearing the tears down into his beard. Then he tenses again as his eyes fall onto the bed. “I don’t… sleep well.”

Of course he wouldn’t. Why would he? Darcy tries to banish the thought, what his brain must dredge up for his nightmares, the tortures from Hydra, his life as an assassin. Shunting aside her need to rage, she gives a careless shrug and says, “If you don’t, you don’t. Then you can watch and I’ll sleep or we’ll both watch or we can do what all people with functioning internet do when they can’t sleep. Fall into the black hole that is cute puppy videos on Youtube.”

Bucky watches the bed a moment longer and then gives a stiff nod. He shoves his gun to the edge of the table. Darcy moves to stand, scooting to the end of the bed. Bucky rises from the chair and takes her place. As she eases around the table and claims his chair, he lays down backwards, his feet on the pillows. She opens her mouth to explain before understanding clicks, his gun within reach in this position.

“Do you want a blanket?” she asks as she pushes his water bottle close to his gun.

Bucky shakes his head. He lies flat on his back, his arms straight out by his sides. But he doesn’t close his eyes. He just stares at the ceiling, his jaw clenched so hard she’s afraid he’ll crack a tooth if he continues.

“Do you want me to turn off the light?”

Again, he shakes his head.

Darcy watches him from the corners of her eyes. A minute passes and then another, but he doesn’t move, his body remains tense, his arms straight, his eyes open. Darcy reaches out, nearly clasping his hand with her own, but she reconsiders the gesture, not wanting to push the contact between them. She drops her hand to the bed and checks the parking lot instead, seeing nothing as she contemplates what to say and what to do. Whatever disturbed her sleep in the past paled in comparison to the nightmare that had befallen him. She doesn’t think that counting backwards from 300 by 3s or reciting Anchorman lines in his head would work to distract him. Darcy considers downloading a white noise app to her iPad to give him something to focus on, something innocuous, when she feels his fingers brush against her hand. They both freeze, even Bucky, though he initiated the contact. The desire for contact is likely as surprising for him as it is for her. Swallowing down her shock, Darcy twists her arm, opening her hand to his. She keeps her eyes glued to the window. After a moment, Bucky clasps her hand in the same light grip that he used for their handshake. Darcy sits still and tries to breathe, she tries to look normal, to be normal, though her head spins. She contemplates looking at him, but she continues to resist, for her more than him, too many thoughts racing through her brain about the significance of the gesture and her feelings concerning it and her thoughts concerning him and their journey the next day and when it would end and where it would end and how it would end.

The night passes slow beneath a hazy yellow light when she finally turns to find Bucky with his eyes closed, his body again loose, and his gun gripped in his left hand.

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Six

Darcy anticipated thrashing and screaming and possibly unintended bodily harm when Bucky woke from his nightmare, but when he wakes fifty-six minutes after he fell asleep, he wakes pale and shaking but with the rest of his trauma contained within. His metal hand tightens on his gun, but he doesn’t raise it or shoot it. He just stares at the ceiling, his face ashen. His other hand trembles in hers. Darcy gives it a gentle squeeze, trying to comfort him, but at the touch, wide eyes dart to her. For a moment, she wonders if he’s forgotten who she is again, but a spark of recognition appears and Bucky releases a slow breath.

“Are you okay?” she asks, twisting around in the chair toward him.

Bucky pulls his hand from hers and wipes his palm against his forehead, dotted now with sweat. Swallowing, he shakes his head.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Rather than answer, he turns and rolls off the bed. Darcy watches as he heads to the bathroom. His step is steady, but she sees agitation in the way that the plates shift on his metal arm, in the ripple of muscles across his back, in the hard hold he has on his gun. The door to the bathroom closes behind him with a soft click. Darcy closes her eyes at the sound, trying not to interpret it as symbolic, but her heart drops two minutes later when the door opens again and Bucky walks out, his gun still in his hand and his armor now on.

“I’ll take watch,” he says, avoiding her gaze.

Darcy nods, abandoning any notion of conversation. What could she say? Nothing, if his actions were any indication. Perhaps she could try later, after he had time to unwind, after the dream had faded and his security returned. She eases from the chair, sliding onto the bed as Bucky rounds the table. He places his gun beside the cookies as he sits and then he leans over and lifts one of the rifles. Darcy tries not to stare as he dismantles it, as he peers inside and presumably checks for functionality, but she does, the urge to talk still pushing at her brain. Bucky endures her gaze for a minute before his hands still and he says, again without looking at her, “You should sleep.”

The declaration sounds like the click of the bathroom door, like the shower curtain ripped across the metal rod, like the dismissal that it is. Darcy considers fighting it, considers forcing him to talk. She knows Steve would, Thor probably would too, those two boundless fonts of patience, but exhaustion pulls hard at her and Darcy gives in. Besides, after everything they endured today, the death and the tears and the shared revelations, his rejection stings.

Twisting around, Darcy crawls up the bed to the pillows and then down beneath the blankets. As she settles under the stiff cotton, her eyes fall onto the lit lamp. Her hand is halfway to the switch before she remembers Bucky’s request for it to stay on. She glances back at him, finds him still focused on the weaponry arrayed on the table. “Do you want the light on?”

“No.”

The curt response makes her sigh. Darcy switches off the lamp and lays her head onto the pillow. She stares at the lamp and tries to sleep. When that fails, she stares at the generic landscape on the wall to the bathroom and then at the ancient television and then at sink and the mirror beyond it that reflects the soft light peeking in from the parking lot. She slows her breathing and tries to relax because she needed sleep, Bucky wasn’t wrong about that though she knows his suggestion derived less from concern about her and more from evading any concern she had about him. But relaxation doesn’t come, Darcy too aware of the man behind her, though he barely makes a sound. She shifts in bed, closes her eyes, opens them again, then huffs out another soft sigh. The memory of his hand in hers flashes into her mind. Darcy tenses against it, irritation at him and his rejection flaring within her again, followed quickly by guilt because Bucky didn’t have to talk to her if he didn’t want to, she’d been the one to tell him that earlier that evening after all, and besides she probably didn’t want to hear what he had to say, the dreams of a former sniper-turned-brainwashed assassin unlikely to be pleasant. But the hurt persists, an unintended echo of a familiar refrain. Darcy the bothersome. Darcy the useless.

She sits, so suddenly that she makes Bucky start. Pushing off the blankets, she stands and walks across to the room to her bag, where she digs for her iPod. Darcy unwinds the headphones, puts them in, and turns on the Pod, aware, again, of Bucky and his gaze upon her. She squints at the glow of the screen and scrolls through her playlists as she makes her way back to the bed. His head turns as he tracks her progress. She considers ignoring him as he rebuffed her, but then she remembers that she’s supposed to be the emotionally mature one of the two, the helper of remembrance and the unintended teacher of healthy communication. Glancing at him, she lifts her iPod and says, “Can’t sleep. Music helps.”

It didn’t have to be extensive communication.

Bucky nods, but she sees the furrow between his brows. Darcy ignores it. Let him figure out whatever puzzled him, whether it was the simple concept of letting music lull one to sleep or the more complicated notion of Darcy having her own demons that prevented her from resting. Climbing into bed, she settles on a playlist. The soft sounds of Ocean Songs begin to wash over her as she closes her eyes. She focuses on the music, on the languid ting of the cymbals and the slow rumble of the bass and not on the man behind her or the feel of his eyes upon her or the touch of his hand on hers or on the strange day already behind them or the long day stretching before. Darcy focuses on the music, and, within fifteen minutes, she’s asleep.

*

Within three hours, she’s awake, thrashing as Bucky hadn’t thrashed, her fingers tangling in her headphones as she claws at the hands that no longer squeeze her throat. The cords tighten around her neck as she moves. Darcy pulls at them, only to tighten their grip. She gasps, choking, still caught in the dream, and then she’s free, the pressure loosening and air rushing into her lungs.

In the diner, the woman hadn’t choked her. She’d just tackled Darcy and shoved her gun in her face. Leave it to her subconscious to add a delightful new wrinkle to an already delightful memory. Shivering, Darcy opens her eyes. Bucky crouches above her, his knife in his hand. A sliver of fear darts through her before the pieces come together, her headphones around her neck and the sudden freedom. Lifting up her hand, she sees the severed ends of the white cords, the other ends held loosely between Bucky’s fingers.

“Thanks,” she says, the word a croaking groan.

Bucky nods. He eases off the bed until he’s standing by her feet. Darcy sits as he sheathes his knife. She reaches for her water bottle and downs the lot, her breath coming in staggered gasps between each swallow, in time to the ragged beat of her heart. She waits for Bucky to return to the chair, to resume his watch, but he doesn’t, hovering instead by the bed, his brow again furrowed. Or maybe it never un-furrowed. Maybe his face, as her grandfather always said could happen, really did get stuck that way after being left too long in brood mode. His concern bites at her though, reigniting her irritation at his prior dismissal.

“I’m fine,” she says, rubbing a hand across her throat. “Just a nightmare.”

Bucky nods again but he doesn’t say anything. Darcy places the empty bottle on the table beside the bed then she collects her useless iPod and places it by the bottle too. She avoids his gaze and crawls once more beneath the blankets. They remain in place, Darcy flat on her back and her eyes on the ceiling, Bucky by the bed and his eyes on her, for nearly a minute before she hears him sigh. He shifts in place. He lifts his hand and actually pinches the bridge of his nose. She nearly cracks then, preparing to lift her head to say something, but then he lowers his arm and stutters out his own stilted brand of word vomit.

“Do you— If you… We could… talk.”

Darcy pushes to her elbows and quirks a brow at him. “Now you want to talk? When it’s my brain trauma under discussion?”

He shrugs. “I don’t. You might.”

The explanation renders her silent, the gesture, and the concern beneath it, unexpected. Though perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Her eyes flit to the bathroom, to his prior declaration of her mattering. She’d thought that he said it because she was helping him, because she was a part of the mission too. But maybe not. Maybe it’s just her. Maybe she matters. To him. The thought makes her flush. Darcy’s glad for the darkness, though if Bucky sees as well as he hears he can probably see her reaction. She bites her lip and looks away, then realizes she’s been silent for too long and says, trying not to stammer, “Thanks. I would. Normally. But not… Not now. I just— I want to forget.”

He nods again, as though he understands, and she knows that he does, given his difficult return to consciousness. Silence descends then. Neither of them moves. Darcy barely breathes. She peers at Bucky from the corners of her eyes. He stares down at the floor, his jaw tight. She tilts her head a little more toward him. The movement catches his eye and he turns abruptly for the chair. Darcy sits and reaches out for him. “Wait!”

He does, Bucky a dark shadow at the end of the bed. She finds her eyes drawn to his metal arm, to the gleam of light high on his shoulder by the star. Licking her lips, the irony of her request not lost upon her, she says, “Do you want to watch YouTube videos with me? Something nice. Like puppies. Or birds. Something to distract.”

He looks at the window.

Darcy lowers her arm. “Sorry. I know it’s not—”

“Okay.”

Her eyes dart to his. “Really?”

He nods.

Darcy doesn’t bother to hide the smile that blooms across her face. “Awesome.” Leaning over, she turns on the light before kicking off the blankets to slide out of bed. She grabs the pillows from the other bed, tosses them onto hers, his, theirs, she supposes, then she makes her way back to her bag to unearth her tablet. This would be hell on her data plan, but better hell on her data plan than hell in her brain. She needed the distraction and he likely did too, or if not distraction then at least something nice, something more than violence and pain.

Flipping open the cover, she turns the tablet on. Bucky still stands by the end of the bed, watching her, one corner of his mouth twitching in amusement. It may or may not be fond. She returns to the bed, pointing with her chin at the right side. “Take a pillow, Mr. Barnes, and let me lead you down the rabbit hole.”

*

Side by side, they watch puppy videos and then kitten videos. Bucky endures those, his expression mild, more interested, she thinks, in her reaction to the videos than the videos themselves. She sees his eyes stray to the window, to the guns laid out on the table and the chair pulled close, but then she clicks on one of her favorites, a BBC video about birds of paradise, and this finally captures his attention. She watches him watch the birds trill and caw and puff out their tiny chests in their bizarre attempts to win a mate. He tilts his head as one of the birds straightens his bower, he smiles at the little dancing bird shaped like a bell, and then he actually laughs when the Superb bird of paradise spins around before the female, an inky black oval dotted with two sky blue eyes and a cummerbund strip of the same color. It’s a reaction she wants to see again.

Closing down YouTube, Darcy opens Netflix and pulls up the BBC documentary The Life of Birds. They settle in to watch, or she settles in, slouching down into the pillows, propping the tablet on her bent legs. Bucky sits as straight as he did in the chair, his legs extended before him, his hands by his sides, but as one episode passes to the next, his posture softens, he turns less and less to the window, and the smile, so hesitant at first and stiff with disuse, appears more and more often. The sight makes her want to laugh and cry and hide out here for a month, avoiding the world outside and just letting the past be the past and the future be the future and for the two of them to exist, here, now, in the present.

She falls asleep again sometime between the third and fourth episode. Sunlight illuminates the room when she wakes, her neck stiff and her face planted against Bucky’s chest. She feels a modicum of embarrassment at having so thoroughly invaded his personal space, embarrassment that grows when, upon easing back, she discovers that she also drooled on his armor. Grimacing, she lifts a hand and pats at the spot with the sleeve of her sweater. This draws his attention from the window, and he peers down at her with a raised brow.

“Sorry for the drool, dude.”

Bucky shrugs as she eases back. “I bled in your backseat.”

“True. I guess that makes us friends now, mutually exchanging fluids and all.”

Bucky blinks at that, thrown by her suggestion of friendship. He looks away, over to the tablet, then back to her, his mouth open. Darcy swallows and gives her face the same treatment as his armor. She turns too and contemplates her options, whether she should shift the conversation to the day ahead and just ignore the idea that so thoroughly confounded him, or if she should summon some sass and try to restore his equilibrium with a joke about birds or drool or something innocuous. He spares her the choice by speaking first.

“I don’t… I’m not…”

Darcy glances back at him, finds him frowning at her, anger in his eyes again. Anger at her. She bristles at the sight. “What?”

He bristles at her bristling. “A friend.”

“Uh, yeah, you are. We crossed that line in hour two of our epic bird watching marathon.”

Bucky shakes his head, his face set and his jaw tilted straight to stubborn. Darcy restrains her sigh, fully aware of the irony of them arguing with each other about being friends. She shifts on the bed until she faces him and then says, “Why not? I would make the best friend. Okay, yes, there’s some drool involved and there may also be some personal space issues, but—”

“That’s not—” Bucky stops and closes his eyes. He draws in a frustrated breath and tries again. “Your nightmare. It was because of me. The diner. I—” He opens his eyes and looks at her. Guilt shines clear in the blue. “You’re here because of—”

Darcy holds up a hand and cuts him off. “No. Let’s just stop the guilt train right here. I’m here because of me. I talked to you in the diner. I drove back for you. Those were my choices. No one is making me doing any of this, least of all you. I’m helping you because I want to.”

Bucky stares at her a long moment. His eyes slide past her to the shirts, to the food, to the tablet by his guns on the chair. He frowns again, but not in anger this time. In contemplation. “Because we’re friends.”

She nods, some of her irritation diminishing.

Bucky peers at his hand, prone on the bed beside her leg. Some emotion passes across his face that she can’t determine and then he says, so quiet she almost can’t hear, “To the end of the line.”

“Yes.”

His eyes fly up to hers, perhaps at her agreement, or maybe at her lack of hesitation, but she already knew it last night when he broke down and reached for her hand. She understands New Mexico a little better now, the bond that had formed between Jane and Thor. This feels like what Thor described when he told them of the battle in New York too and the trust that had so quickly developed between him and the team. Bucky looks away, but she sees the gleam of tears in his eyes. He blinks twice, works his jaw around, and pulls in another breath.

“Okay,” he says, looking back at her.

Her brows draw together. “Okay what?”

“Friends,” he clarifies. “We can be that.”

Darcy grins. “Sweet.” She leans forward and punches him lightly on the shoulder, the universal gesture of bro solidarity. Bucky endures the gesture as he endured the puppy videos. “You won’t regret it.” She pauses then as her eyes drop to the drying drool stain. “Well, maybe—”

“I won’t.”

The avowal makes her blush. She thinks about telling Bucky to record this too, blushing like silence for her, an unaccustomed event, particularly with men. But not, it seems, with Bucky. He speaks without pretense, as does she, but he speaks with a sincerity that slips past her quips and sass and evokes genuine emotion. Darcy squirms in place, her grin slipping to something smaller, something softer. She peers at Bucky from the corners of her eyes and finds him looking at her for the first time as a man, not as a weapon or a blank slate seeking comfort or a light in the darkness. Her flush intensifies and she inches off the bed, trying not to stumble.

“Good,” she says. “Good. That’s good. That’s— Pancakes? How about pancakes?”

His eyes turn sly. “We don’t have any.”

The humor grounds her. She gives him a look for it. Bucky meets the look with a smirk, giving her another glimpse of undiluted Bucky Barnes. Before she can retort, though, he’s up and off the bed in a move so fast and sleek that her brain can barely process. But she does. Because she has to, Bucky on her side of the bed and standing so close that he must have taken her quip about personal space to be a literal requirement of their friendship. “I know,” he says, staring down at her, the smirk still in place and his eyes bright in the sunlight. “Keep with the sass, and you’ll eat all my cookies.”

Darcy licks her lips and tries to stay sane. “Damn skippy.”

Grinning now, he moves past her for the bathroom. “Be ready in ten,” he says and there’s no symbolism in the click of the lock as he closes the bathroom door this time around. Alone, Darcy closes her eyes and tugs on her sweater, seeking oxygen, seeking sanity still, the last look on his face burned into her brain.

*

She half expects chaos to greet them as they leave the motel, huge fireballs of the Michael Bay variety and more bad B-movie villains. Bucky inches out of the room, a gun in his right hand and his left held out toward her, keeping her back, keeping her safe. She makes no complaint, as much a realist as a feminist. Best to let the super assassin soldier with the body armor, guns, and mad fighting skills get the lay of the land first.

They find nothing but silence and sunshine outside the room though. Darcy drapes two towels over the bloodstains in the backseat. Bucky joins her in the front, placing the guns not already strapped to his body on the floor by his feet. They say nothing as the pull out of the parking lot, nothing as they drive north, nothing as Darcy stops for gas and Bucky finally concedes to the need for camouflage and dons the hoodie over his armor. He focuses on the world beyond the cabin of the car, his eyes on an endless loop from side mirror to windshield to rearview mirror to side mirror, slipping seamlessly from Bucky to soldier. She can barely keep her focus on the road though, strung out from too little sleep and too many feelings, ninety percent concerning the man beside her.

“Are you okay?”

Darcy starts at his quiet question. She sees him from the corners of her eyes, his head tilted toward her. “What?” she asks, wincing at the elevated pitch. “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m—”

“Tapping.”

Darcy glances at her hands; her thumbs currently tap a random melody of confusion and stress on the steering wheel. Abruptly, she stops, gripping the wheel tight. “Sorry. I, uh, usually drive with music.”

“Play some.”

Darcy finally looks at him. His gaze is clear, not the blank clarity of the diner, the soldier without substance, but of a man momentarily free from the torments that haunt him. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I don’t remember the last time I heard it.” He drifts off for a moment before his lips twist into a wry grin. “At least not in a cat video.”

“Well, okay then.”

Releasing one hand from the steering wheel, Darcy digs into her bag for her iPod. Bucky helps her plug it into the dash of the Prius. She searches through her playlists, settling, after a moment, on her mellow mix. The last thing Bucky needed was Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell wailing in his ears about heart-shaped boxes and black hole suns, though she thinks in the future he’d appreciate grunge, his old-timey roots notwithstanding. Instead, a Dusty Springfield song drifts over the speakers. They listen in silence, Bucky as intent upon the song as he had been on the mirrors. The music relaxes Darcy, though the lyrics don’t, Dusty imploring her man to give her some of his lovin’. They don’t seem to faze Bucky, for which she is eternally grateful. Damien Rice follows Dusty and then Billie Holiday follows Damien, and it’s with Billie that Bucky finally speaks.

“Who… is this?”

The hitch in his voice makes her tense. Glancing over, Darcy sees his hands fisted in his lap and his eyes closed tight. If she weren’t driving, she’d smack herself on the head for playing a song he might know, something that might trigger memories, possibly bad as well as good. Leaning over, Darcy is about to switch tracks to something else when a flash in the rearview captures her attention. Looking up, Darcy finds an SUV approaching fast. She gasps at the sight. Bucky moves beside her, but not to spring into action. Instead, he folds in upon himself further, shaking now. Cursing softly, Darcy yanks the iPod from the stereo console and presses down on the accelerator, but at the increase of speed, lights flash behind her. Frowning, she peeks again at the rearview mirror. Despite her speed, the SUV has drawn closer, and she now sees a shock of blond and silver, Thor in the passenger seat, hanging half out the window and waving at her.

Relief rushes through her, bringing a smile to her face. She eases her foot down onto the brake and signals her intent to pull off the road. As the SUV mirrors her actions, she says to Bucky, “Company’s here.”

The change in momentum more than her comment pulls Bucky from himself. He looks up at her, tears in his eyes and a question on his lips, but before he can speak, the shock of gravel beneath the tires as she directs the car off the road yanks him straight. His gaze darts to the rearview mirror. He tenses at the sight of the SUV and mutters something in Russian.

“No,” she says, pressing harder on the brake to bring the car to a stop.

Bucky twists in his seat, his back to her, his eyes on the side mirror. He sheds his hoodie and then reaches for a gun.

“No,” she says again, reaching for him.

At the touch of her hand on his metal arm, Bucky moves. He shoves her back so hard that her head slams against the window. Pain bursts bright in her head and her shoulder, her collarbone breaking beneath the force of his arm. Through her tears, she sees Bucky lift the gun. He brings it around, and for half a heartbeat, she thinks that she’s dead, Bucky gone, again the shell from the diner, his face wet from tears but his eyes empty. Then the gun moves past her, it aims at the rear windshield, at the SUV beyond. She cries out at the increased pressure on her shoulder, Bucky trying to push her down. He pauses at the cry, and his eyes shift to her. Darcy sees something in them, she sees him, but then the passenger door is wrenched from the car followed a second later by Bucky, who’s pulled off her and thrown back into the trees by Thor.

“No,” she says again, the word a strangled mess of pain and panic.

Either Thor ignores her or he doesn’t hear for he turns from the car to walk into the trees. As he does, Darcy spots Mew-Mew in his hand. She fumbles for her seatbelt with one hand and for the door with the other. The world spins slowly around her, her head aching. She calls again for Thor, but he continues on. She finally pops open the door, but the seatbelt stays, Darcy’s hand slipping over the smooth metal. She thinks she hears her name, but she ignores it and peers down at the seatbelt, trying to focus. Another flare of pain surges through her as she finally shoves the belt open with her right hand and scrambles from the car.

As she rounds the front, she hears her name again, Jane calling for her from near the SUV. Darcy ignores her, stumbling down the hill after Thor. She can’t find the passenger door, but her breath catches again as she sees Bucky crouched before a broken tree, a gun in his hand and pointed at Thor. She lifts her right arm, reaching out for them as she tries to call out, but the word dies in her throat as pain explodes again from her shoulder. She falters and drops to a knee and this finally gains their attention.

“Darcy,” Thor says, his eyes still on Bucky. “Return to the road. Jane—”

“No.”

She eases to her feet then, clenching her jaw. Bucky looks at her as she moves forward. His eyes widen as she steps between them.

Jane gasps too at her placement. “Darcy, no—”

Darcy ignores her and turns to face Thor. He wears his chest armor and boots with blue jeans, his hair restrained by two thin braids curving back over his ears. Beyond him, Darcy sees Jane by the SUV, her hands clutched in a tight knot before her. Tony stands beside her, his face pale and his left hand encased in the glove from his suit, the weapon primed and directed at Bucky.

Thor lowers Mew-Mew a fraction as he takes her in. “Darcy, you must—”

“No,” she says, looking back at him. “You must. You’re making it worse.”

Thor frowns at her. “He injured you. He—”

“—was trying to help. He thought you were Hydra.” Darcy looks past him to Tony. A wave of nausea roils through her, but she bites it back. “Nice car, by the way. Very evil.”

Tony grimaces, but he doesn’t lower the glove. “So says the intern protecting the Winter Soldier.”

“Bucky’s not evil.”

This pauses Tony. “He might not be evil, but he’s not stable, kid.”

“So says the PTSD crayon breaker, but you don’t see me shoving a gun in your face.”

Tony glares at her for that, but Darcy refuses to relent. She turns again to Thor and wills herself to focus. As she does, she discerns hesitation in his eyes and pounces. “I told him that you and Steve were friends and that you would help him, like you helped Erik. Because that’s what we do. We help people. Are you going to make me a liar?”

Thor hesitates. He looks past her to Bucky. He stares so long that Darcy feels she’ll need to try again, to invoke the ghost of Loki, but whatever Thor sees causes him finally to ease down, to move Mew-Mew behind him and drop from attack stance. Darcy feels her body sway, but she digs in and turns her gaze back to Tony. He doesn’t ease down. He stares at Bucky, his face twisted now and ugly with hate. The palm of his glove glows. Darcy shifts to the left, places herself more firmly between him and Bucky.

“Move,” Tony says.

Darcy shakes her head.

“You don’t know—”

“Neither did he. Whatever he did, he didn’t know and it wasn’t his choice. It was Hydra’s. They’re the ones to hate. Not Bucky.”

Doubt creeps into the certainty within Tony’s eyes, but he doesn’t drop his weapon. As the standoff persists, spots flash before Darcy, a coterie of stars that momentarily blind her. But she holds her ground. Or she tries to. She feels herself start to fall but she stops before she hits the ground, Bucky beside her, on her left, his real arm wrapped around her waist. His other hand holds his gun, still raised and pointed now at Tony. The two stare at each other a long moment before Tony shakes his head and finally lowers his hand. Darcy watches him fish a cell phone from his pocket and then she turns to Thor. “Give us a minute. Please.”

He nods and moves away, but not without a last measured look at Bucky. Bucky holds his gaze, his face glazed with tears but his stance unyielding.

“I need to sit,” Darcy says as Thor makes his way up the embankment.

Bucky helps her down to the ground, his hand on her waist to guide and steady her. He crouches before her, facing her but keeping Thor and Tony in view. Darcy takes a moment to breathe in, closing her eyes as the world spins again around her. She likely has a concussion in addition to the broken collarbone. The thought of a cast or a sling makes her tense. As she does, Bucky’s hand tightens on her waist.

“I hurt you.”

Darcy opens her eyes, finds Bucky staring at her, his brows drawn together in concern. “A little,” she admits. “Not all of us are super dudes.”

“I didn’t— I wanted—” He drops his gaze. His chest shudders in the effort to breathe.

Darcy reaches out, places her left hand his knee. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking at her.

Her throat closes at the anguish twisting his face. “I’m not.”

Bucky turns away. He pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and bites down so hard she’s afraid he’ll draw blood, but then the breath leaves his body in a ragged rush and his hand relaxes on her side. “Because it was your choice,” he says, meeting her gaze once more.

Darcy nods. In the distance, she sees Jane and Thor, she sees Tony by the back of the SUV still on his phone. All of them watch her and Bucky. She rubs her thumb against his knee, recalling the night before and her desire for reinforcements, her belief that they would help him, better than she could and had. She doubts the latter now, but the former still survives, each of them with something they can give to Bucky, something she doesn’t have, something that can help him. She just hopes it’s not too late.

“And now you have one too.”

Bucky tenses as she looks past him at Jane, Thor, and Tony. “I think they can help,” she begins, her voice soft. “Even Tony. He’s got access to resources that I don’t. And his dad helped make Captain America. Tony might be able to figure out what Hydra has done to you. Maybe even help you remember.”

Bucky peers over his shoulder at the others. His gaze lingers on Tony, Bucky looking at him as he looked at the pancakes in what seemed like a lifetime ago to her now. Darcy would laugh, the reaction, she thinks, how most people react to Tony the first time they meet him. But too much rides on the moment, so she says instead, “Steve trusts him. They’ve fought together before.”

Bucky turns back to her. “Do you?”

“Yes.”

Despite her endorsement, he hesitates. Darcy leans forward and gives his shoulder another fist bump of bro solidarity. “You trusted me,” she says, sending him a crooked grin, “and look at how well that’s turned out so far. You’ve been shot at and stabbed, yelled at and drooled on. You’ve eaten weird food and watched an ungodly amount of cat videos, and now you’ve been tossed from a Toyota Prius by an actual alien god. And today is only day two.”

He matches her crooked grin with one of his own.

“All it has to be is a car ride,” Darcy says. “We need a ride. Thor kind of totaled the Prius. But if you don’t want to stay after that, we don’t have to. We can call Steve then, if you want, or we can go to Brooklyn on our own.”

The expression on his face breaks her heart, both the astonishment and the relief at her stated intent to stay. His hand tightens around her waist again. His palm is warm and steady in a way that surprises her, but she finds herself leaning into the hold, the presence reassuring. Another second passes in which he contemplates then he sucks in a preparatory breath and holsters his gun.

“Okay.”

Darcy releases a gasping bubble of a laugh. She sags against his leg and presses her forehead to his knee, her head suddenly too heavy to hold up on her own. “That’s good,” she says, half hysterical and dazed with pain. “That’s great. I’m going to pass out now.”

Darcy expects a laugh, but instead, in another move too fast and sleek for her to follow, Bucky swoops in and lifts her up, his right arm around her back and his left beneath her legs. He’s careful to avoid jostling her too much. Darcy settles into him, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I’ll try not to drool on you this time,” she mumbles into his chest.

Now the laugh comes, a short bark that sends a frisson of pleasure through her. They make their way up the embankment, and Darcy starts to laugh as she catches sight of the expressions that greet them, Tony with his eyes wide and his brows lifted so high they nearly disappear into his hairline, Jane gaping at them like a deranged fish, and Thor smiling as bright and as wide as the summer sun.

To Bucky, she says, “Mr. Barnes, I present you with Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man, he of the extremely tall towers and obscene piles of money. Next to him is my BFF, Jane Foster, astrophysicist by day and tiny ball of brunette rage by night. And the big guy, of course, is Thor. Though he has a last name, he doesn’t get a last name in constant punishment for him forgetting mine.”

Jane huffs out a sigh. “It was one time, Darcy.”

“The first time and thus the most significant.” She winks at Thor, drawing from him an amused snort. “And this,” she says, glancing up at Bucky, meeting his eyes as he stares down at her, the blue again bright in the early morning sun, “is James Buchanan Barnes. Otherwise known as Bucky.

“My friend.”

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Seven

They leave the wreck of the Prius, Darcy in the backseat of the SUV between Jane, Bucky, and his guns. Thor sits in the front with Tony, who drives. Despite her stellar introductions, the atmosphere amid the group fails to defrost, Tony still silent and surly and casting glares at Bucky every minute or so in the rearview, his displeasure equally matched by Jane, who both scowls at Bucky and fusses over Darcy. For his part, Bucky eyes Tony with the same suspicion as before, he ignores Jane, and he peers at Thor as he did the Doritos, both intrigued and uncertain of the strange god. Only Thor exudes any sort of serenity so it’s to him that Darcy speaks in an attempt to break the silence.

“How’d you get Mew-Mew on the plane?”

“Private plane,” Tony says for Thor. “Faster than commercial.” He meets her gaze in the mirror. “And more expensive.”

Darcy rolls her eyes. “Please, Scrooge McStark. Inform me again of your crushing poverty.” She leans back against the seat, pulling on the hoodie that Bucky had arranged into a makeshift sling for her.

“That’s not—”

“What he means,” Jane says, casting Tony a quelling look, “is that we were concerned.”

“I told you on the phone that I was okay.”

Her comment ruffles Jane the wrong way and she unleashes. “The phone? You told me on the phone? You mean the phone that you kept switching off in the middle of life or death situations? That phone? Because the last thing you said to me on that phone was how you needed to snap him—” here she pauses to thrust a shaking finger at Bucky— “out of zombie killer mode. You were going to snap a Hydra assassin out of zombie killer mode with conversation.”

“And I did,” Darcy says, trying but failing to keep the pout out of her voice. “Isn’t that the point we should be focusing on?”

Both Jane and Tony answer her. “No.”

Thor turns around in his seat to glance back at Jane. “Perhaps we should. The danger we feared did not come to pass.”

Jane rounds on him. “It didn’t? What do you call the diner then?”

“An optimal outcome.”

The air in the car contracts at Bucky’s quiet comment. Both Thor and Jane turn to Bucky, but while Thor tilts his head in quiet appraisal, Jane just stares, shaking with rage. Darcy feels Bucky tense beside her at the twin perusals. Her mouth goes dry and a wedge of panic lodges in her gut at the possible outcomes for this standoff. Before any of them can speak, she lifts her left hand and says, “Okay, okay. Why don’t we hit the pause button on this and wait until after we’ve exited the moving vehicle before continuing?”

Jane ignores her. She leans forward to get a better vantage point on Bucky, looks him square in the eyes, and says, “I thought she was dead.”

“I’m not,” Darcy begins, indignant at being spoken about like she wasn’t there, but then her jaw drops as she sees tears in Jane’s eyes. In all the years that Darcy has known her, she can count on exactly zero hands the number of times Jane has cried.

“I thought you killed her,” Jane continues, “slamming her back into the door like that.”

Darcy glances at Bucky then. He stares at her bum shoulder, guilt again clouding his eyes. At that, the panic vanishes within her. Turning back to Jane, she says, “He was trying—”

“I know what he was trying to do,” Jane snaps, looking at her. “That doesn’t make it easy. It’s still—” She stops suddenly, compressing her lips. Her eyes drop to the hoodie sling. Jane peers at it a moment before shaking her head and turning away.

Darcy gapes at her. She looks in the rearview mirror, but Tony has his eyes fixed on the road, deliberately, she thinks, to avoid her gaze. She turns to Thor, who sends her a soft smile, warm but also worn, the past day exhausting even him with its twists and turns. Darcy closes her mouth and leans back against the seat, unable to formulate a response to Jane.

Bucky, though, does.

“She matters to you.”

Darcy turns to Bucky, her eyes wide. He peers past her, though, to Jane. Twisting around, Darcy finds Jane staring at him in return. She opens her mouth, but hesitates to respond. Her gaze shifts to Darcy then, and her stony expression wavers. Darcy watches, fascinated, as Jane swallows down the emotion. Looking again at Bucky, she says, her voice quiet, “Yes, she does.”

“And not just to Jane,” Tony adds from the front.

Darcy glances at Bucky. He gazes now at Tony, assessing him, his face impassive. Half a minute passes and then his eyes shift to Thor. The same evaluation occurs, quicker than the previous and ending with Bucky easing back onto the seat beside Darcy, finally relaxing. At this, Darcy feels her jaw drop. She follows the same revolution around the car, Jane to Tony to Thor, before again looking at Bucky. He stares out the window, at the trees, his hands off his guns and seemingly at ease, and she bursts out laughing at this new twist. She’d come to D.C. to interview with Coulson, to be something more than just an intern who had yet to graduate college, to be someone, perhaps, who mattered, someone who helped, and here she is in the midst of super-brainy and awesomely powered heroes, people who had saved the world, some multiple times and two multiple worlds, and all had just proclaimed, loudly in word and expensive, car-crushing deed, how she mattered to them.

Darcy needed to cross paths with amnesiac assassins from World War II more often.

“On second thought…” Tony murmurs as Darcy starts to alternate between laughter and tears, each wave of laughter sending a jolt of pain through her head and right shoulder, which elicits the tears, which causes her, absurdly, to laugh harder.

She snorts at the comment then moans at the fresh wave of pain that courses through her. “Oh god. Everything hurts.”

Everyone moves at that, Tony for the glove box, Thor for the cup holders, and Jane for her sweater. In a second, Darcy has a pain pill that she should probably only take with a prescription, a bottle of water, and a fresh sweater pillow for her busted arm. Only Bucky stays still. Turning to him as she swallows the pill, Darcy finds him again peering at her shoulder.

“Dude, you are relentless. Like a Chihuahua with a bone. I’m going to be fine.”

Tony looks at her in the mirror. “Not if you keep calling the Winter Soldier a Chihuahua.”

Darcy narrows her eyes at him. “Okay, one, it’s Bucky. Or James. Or Barnes. Don’t make me break out the Anthony. Because I will. Either that or the Edward.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would and you know it. And you,” she says, turning back to Bucky, “beating each other up is kind of a prerequisite for friendship here. Not that you beat me up, but you know what I mean.”

Bucky clenches his jaw.

Darcy does too, digging in just as much as he is. Tilting her head toward Thor, she says, “The first time I met him I tased him so much that I put him in the hospital. And Jane hit him with her car. Twice.”

Jane sucks in a quick breath. “I don’t think—”

“I do,” she says, focusing still on Bucky. “Tony and Thor beat the shit out of each other the first time they met. Like, legitimately. They flattened an entire forest in the French countryside. Thor did a reenactment once. It was intense. And this isn’t even considering what Barton did—”

“Okay, kid, I think he gets it.”

“Do you?” she asks, rounding on Tony.

His hands tighten on the steering wheel at her question, but like with Bucky, she does not back down. Jane and Thor watch them, but it’s Bucky’s stare that Darcy feels the most, his look sharp and penetrating, searching for the subtext. She gazes still at Tony, waiting, he the key. Thor’s already on board. Steve, too, of course, on board before there was even a train to board. She thinks Bruce will be too. He knew the kind of damage that could be done when you weren’t in control of yourself. And what ground did Barton or the Black Widow have to stand on, given their current jobs and respective histories? But Tony… He wasn’t perfect, Darcy had read enough tabloids in her life to be able to rattle off a litany of his sins, but he could still protest Bucky’s presence in a way that the others couldn’t or wouldn’t. And he would, the anger in his eyes as he stared Bucky down fresh in her mind. That wasn’t generalized hatred. That was personal.

“Tony—”

He holds up a hand. Darcy snaps her mouth shut. She waits for him to speak. She sees his gaze find Bucky again in the mirror. He stares for half a heartbeat before turning away, letting loose a soft sigh. “We’re square, Lilo, so you can ease down.” He lowers his hand and continues, stifling further comment. “Now, does anyone else know about Stitch here?”

Darcy raises a brow. “You’ve watched Lilo and Stitch?”

“I contain multitudes, Lewis. Now focus. Did you tell anyone else?”

Darcy shakes her head.

“Not even Steve?”

Bucky doesn’t tense, but his breath stills and every cell in his body seemingly focuses on Tony.

Darcy shakes her head again. “Last we heard he was still in the hospital.”

“He is,” Thor says after a brief pause. “Yet he is conscious. And he is most desirous to leave.” ‘Because of Bucky’ remains unsaid, though Thor glances at him in the rearview.

Darcy looks at him too. They had spoken of Steve last night, she’d mentioned calling him just thirty minutes ago, but she didn’t actually know if Bucky wanted to speak to Steve. Maybe he asked out of simple curiosity. Or maybe he was just trying to remember. She can understand his hesitation to initiate contact. Their history ran deep, both to the good and the bad. If he resisted being friends with her because he thought he was a bad person, he might too with Steve.

“Do you want to talk to him?” she asks quietly.

Bucky regards her, again the alley cat. His prior ease dissipates as his gaze darts from Tony to Jane to Thor. Perhaps if it were just the two of them, Darcy could discuss it with him more, could convince Bucky that he should renew contact with Steve. The thought appeals, yet she shoves it aside. Alone, they were more vulnerable to Hydra, and the last thing she wants is for them to get their hands on Bucky again.

“Think about it,” she says, sending him a small smile. “You don’t have to decide now.”

Relief flits across his face, stamped quickly down by a blank mask. The wariness within him makes her gut clench. Laying her hand on his forearm, Darcy turns to Thor and says, “Hey, Big Guy. Why don’t you tell Bucky how you and Steve first met?” Looking back at Bucky, she lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Steve clocked him in the head with his shield. On purpose.”

The revelation elicits the desired reaction. The wall shifts as Bucky peers at Thor from the corners of his eyes. “Why?”

There is a second of silence. Darcy glances again at Thor and finds his eyes lowered and his brow creased, and she would kick herself if she could for telling that tale requires him to speak of Loki. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I forgot—”

Thor shakes his head. “I am not offended. Or distressed.”

Jane arches a brow.

“Beyond the usual,” he concedes. “I would be happy to share the tale.”

He begins, and Tony assists, the two describing their initial fight, Steve their peacemaker, albeit a violent one. The tale transitions to the battle of New York, and Darcy listens, fascinated, to the first-hand account. She feels Bucky relax again as stories of Steve continue, beyond the battle, to his time in New York with Tony and his visit in London in February.

She drifts off in the midst of Thor telling of how Steve attempted to show him where he’d been in London during World War II, the two becoming so lost that it took Darcy and Jane four hours to track them down. She wakes in New York, her head plastered again across Bucky’s chest but her drool thankfully soaked up by the arms of the hoodie. Bucky rests his right arm against the back of the seat; his metal hand curls in a fist on his leg. Easing up, Darcy finds him staring out the window at New York, his eyes wide. She takes a moment to take in the swirl of emotions on his face, equal parts wonder and fear and a smidgen, perhaps, of fondness, and then she says softly, “Welcome home, Sergeant Barnes.”

*

The fuzzy feelings of homecoming last just the night.

From her spot on the bed the next evening, Darcy watches Bucky prowl the perimeter of the room, a hospital suite in the newly christened Avengers Tower that takes her breath away with its opulence. She’d spent most of the past day eating and sleeping, her right arm gathered in an actual sling now and her body chock full of pain pills. Bucky had remained with her, either outright ignoring Jane or Tony when they suggested he move to his own room down the hall or glaring at them so steadily that they just shook their heads and walked away. At least he’d changed out of his armor, wearing his combat pants and boots now with a new tee that actually fit and the recently washed hoodie, and he had relinquished most of his guns, a small grey one still strapped to his leg alongside his knife. But Darcy doubts that he’s slept, despite the bed being big enough for four and the presence of a couch in the room, and she knows that he hasn’t eaten much, the food brought for him remaining untouched until Darcy woke and prodded him into taking a few bites.

Bucky pivots in the corner and continues his prowl. Her eyes find her tablet on the bedside table, by the chair pulled close, facing both her and the door. She’s been too dazed to use it, so he must have and she doubts he did to find more cat videos. Something there must have spooked him. Reaching over, Darcy grabs the tablet and switches it on. Bucky makes no move to stop her, no move to signify him being aware of her at all, too wrapped up in himself and whatever thoughts the tablet spurred on. Clicking on the Internet icon, she searches through the history and finds entries about Tony and Jane, two magazine articles about their contributions to biomechanics and astrophysics. There’s also a mythological account of Thor and Loki, a blurb about the renaming of Stark to Avengers Tower, and some news reports about D.C., most about the revelations concerning Hydra.

Darcy switches from the browser to YouTube. No cat videos appear before her this time. Instead she spots in the list of recently watched video the fights in New York and London, ancient news reels of the Commandos, and a blurry cell phone clip of Steve and Bucky fighting on the streets of D.C. Muting the audio, Darcy clicks on this and watches as Steve dodges a knife attack from Bucky, their blows swift and brutal. The video ends with Bucky grabbing Steve by the throat with his left arm and hurling him over a parked car.

Switching off the tablet, she looks up at Bucky, who stands before the floor-to-ceiling windows gazing out over the city. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“What about food? We could—”

“No.”

Darcy presses her lips together to bite back her sigh. She’s finding it easier and easier to do, her interactions with Bucky and Jane giving her a lot of practice. Despite this, irritation burns within her and she kicks the blankets off her legs.

The movement reaches Bucky. He turns to her, frowning as she eases from the bed. “You’re supposed to rest.”

Ignoring him, she starts for the door. Quicker than she can move, even without the pain pills, he’s before her, glaring down at her attempt to free herself of both bed and brooding. Narrowing her eyes, she says to him, “You’re seriously going all mama bear on me now? After completely shutting me down. Twice.”

His glare flickers.

Darcy wishes she could cross her arms over her chest, increase her intimidation factor somehow, the impression currently lessened by her messy hair and polka dot pajamas, by the likely glazed look to her eyes from the medication. She straightens as much as she can and plops her left hand on her hip. “I want food. Now, you can move and let me get it, you can come with me and help me get it, or we can stay here and you can tell me what’s bugging you. And if none of those appeal, I’ll get Jarvis to call Thor.”

His frown reasserts itself.

Darcy holds his glare. “I told you about Thor and his hugging, right? He’ll do it. He’ll give you his big, sad Asgardian eyes, and you might try to resist, you’ll frown at him and say no like you just did with me, but you’ll give in and you’ll spill all your brooding secrets and I’ll watch you both blubber with man pain while sitting in that freakishly huge bed eating ice cream. All I have to do is call.”

Bucky narrows his eyes.

Darcy tilts her face toward the ceiling, never breaking their gaze. “Jarvis, where is—”

“Fine,” Bucky snaps before Jarvis can respond. “We’ll go get food.”

Darcy clenches her jaw, unsure whether this is a win. “Nix the request, Jarvis.”

“Yes, Ms. Lewis.”

They leave the room, Bucky first, even here. She follows him, shuffling as quickly as she dared, her anger at him fading in the wake of his galled silence. She pushed too far, she always pushes, but the thought of him retreating like a porcupine into his barbed cone of silence feels worse to her than pushing.

In the kitchen, Bucky prowls again, though the room contains no other exit and this part of the floor contains no other people. As he passes beyond the kitchen to the small eating area, visible through an archway above the stove, Darcy peeks into the fridge. By the time he’s made his way back around to her, she’s pulled open the freezer and the pantry behind her too and now spins in a slow circle, peering into all, trying to decide. There’s a box of Bisquick and some syrup, but she hesitates to make pancakes, the sling across her body proof of the risk of triggering sense memory. She bypasses anything too complicated or stuff that requires actual cooking, which eliminated seventy percent of what Stark put into the kitchen. Frowning, Darcy makes another revolution. As she closes the loop, she catches Bucky’s eye. He leans against the archway by the fridge, his arms crossed over his chest, and the sight would be intimidating, what she wished she could achieve before in her room, except for the slight curve at the corners of his mouth.

Darcy narrows hers, but the glare lacks the heat of before, that rushing straight to her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping me?” she asks, twisting toward the fridge to hide her flush.

He doesn’t respond. Darcy stares at the food on the shelves without seeing anything, willing the cool air to douse her blush, but the universe doesn’t comply for, at that moment, Bucky moves, easing around the door of the fridge until he stands behind her. She tries to keep her breathing even, to actually focus on the food before them. Glancing down, she sees the toes of his boots nearly touching her bare heels. Darcy closes her eyes at the sight. She’s been closer to Bucky before, when he carried her to the car, when she made him her personal pillow, twice, but those were extraordinary moments in extraordinary circumstances. This is ordinary, domestic, peering into a refrigerator, and—

“Is that… cheese?”

Darcy starts. “What? Huh? Cheese?” Furrowing her brow, she forces herself to focus and spots the cheese on the second shelf. “Yeah, it’s—” She stops, the reverential tone to his prior question finally seeping in. Twisting her head, Darcy finds Bucky staring at the cheese, naked lust in his eyes and his teeth biting down on his bottom lip. She can’t help the smile that forms, his face momentarily free from its burdens. “How about I make us grilled cheese?”

His eyes slide over to her, bright with anticipation.

“Get the bread from the pantry,” she says, turning back for the cheese. “You can add stuff too, like tomatoes or bacon, but mostly it’s—”

“Gross and obscene,” Tony says as he saunters into the kitchen.

Darcy lifts her head, cheese in hand. Bucky stands by the pantry, the lightness gone, his mouth compressed as he tracks Tony across the kitchen. Darcy does too. Tony wears the same clothes as the day before, just a layer of scruff to his face and dark circles ringing his eyes. She watches as he plops down onto one of the stools lining the bar on the opposite side of the archway from the stove.

“Seriously, Lewis,” he says as he turns to her, “an entire fridge full of food and that’s what you go for? Diner chic?”

She takes in the wrinkles on his shirt, the slump to his shoulders. “I’ll make one for you too.”

He grins at her. “You are gorgeous and I love you. I take back, like, eighty percent of what I’ve said about you in the past.”

Darcy rolls her eyes. She places the cheese on the counter, reaches back in for the butter. As she does, she hears the scrape of wood on tile and Tony say to Bucky, “Take a seat.”

He doesn’t. Clasping the butter, Darcy closes the fridge and freezer doors. She glances back at Bucky, finds him glaring at Tony, his jaw clenched. Turning to Tony, Darcy expects contrition or fear from him, some sort of sane response to the rage directed his way, but Tony greets the rage with his best shit-eating grin instead.

“Relax, Tin Man. Pep’s got the shards of my mangled heart. Kid here is just kid. Like the one I never had. Thankfully.”

Tony glances at her and wags his brows. Darcy is about to add her glare to the one that Bucky sends him when his statement processes and she stills. Tony watches her carefully, assessing her reaction to the implication that Bucky cares for her. On instinct, she turns, wanting to deny him the satisfaction of his needling, but turning means facing Bucky and facing the thought that, while he might not for her, she is starting to for him. As she turns, Bucky shifts his gaze to her. They stare at each other, and the hardness fades from his face and the heat returns to hers. Darcy licks her lips to try to stay calm, and when she does, his eyes drop to her mouth. Breathless, she watches his brow crease. He stares at her mouth only for a moment before lifting his eyes once more to hers. The intensity in them sets something loose within her, something hot and keen that slinks slow and light, and she turns, hands fumbling for the cabinets, muttering mindlessly about pans.

“Aw, look,” Tony says. “You made Lewis blush.”

She hears Bucky move then, away from her, the plates shifting in his arm.

“Okay. Okay, Barnes. Christ, what is it with you golden age geriatrics? No sense of humor.”

Darcy peeks over her shoulder. Bucky stands before Tony. No, he looms, his chest heaving. On his part, Tony neither cowers in fear nor runs screaming from the room. He just sits on the stool, wary, waiting for Bucky to yield.

“I was just trying to lighten the mood,” Tony says. There’s no sass or mockery to his voice now. Only Tony, stripped of all pretense. “We’ve got shit to discuss, and it’s not pretty, so I—” He stops, lets out a quick sigh. “Will you sit? I promise to behave.”

Bucky continues to scowl, but he reaches out and pulls a stool toward him. Darcy turns around as he sits to search through the cabinets for a pan.

“Okay,” Tony begins. “Jarvis has analyzed the files that Romanov dumped onto the net and what I stole from S.H.I.E.L.D. And, yes before you say anything, Lewis, I should have noticed, but, you know, I was too busy PTSD crayon breaking.”

Darcy straightens, gripping a frying pan. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Tony blinks then flashes her the shit-eating grin again. “Never mind. So,” he says, turning back to Bucky, “the point is, I’ve got an idea about how to help you remember. But I’m going to tell you about it first, one crayon breaker to the next, because you’re not going to like it.”

The pan on the stove, Darcy stills in her reach for the knob. She risks a glance at Bucky, but he doesn’t look at her or at Tony either. Instead, he stares down at his left hand. The dread in his eyes chills her. Lowering her arm, she turns to Tony, seeking reassurance but finding none.

“What is it?” she asks him.

Bucky answers. “The chair.”

Two simple words, but the fear imbued in them unsettles her. Her eyes dart from Bucky to Tony. The pity she sees on Tony’s face as he looks at Bucky ratchets up the panic inside of her. “What is that?”

Bucky swallows and opens his mouth, but no sound comes forth. A tremor runs through him as he tries to breathe. Darcy stares at him, frozen, unsure what to do, then she starts as he jerks back off the stool so fast that it clatters to the ground. Tony closes his eyes as Bucky circles around him. He strides from the kitchen without looking at Darcy, his steps swift and silent. A few seconds pass and then both she and Tony jump as a door slams shut, so hard that the walls echo with reverberations.

Darcy swallows in the silence. She eyes the pan on the stove, the butter and the cheese on the counter, the brief respite that she shared with Bucky from the pain of his past. They waver before her now, tears in her eyes. Drawing in a slow breath, she blinks them away then shoves her hand back through her hair to collect herself. She hears Tony expel a ragged sigh. Looking at him, she finds him with his eyes still closed and one hand rubbing at his forehead.

“What’s the chair?” she asks, surprised at her level tone.

Tony drops his hand. He regards her a long moment before responding, his tone bland despite the revelation contained within. “It’s what Hydra used to make him forget.”

Her eyes slide to the door, as though Bucky still stood there, as though he could confirm or deny this claim. But then she realizes he already had. Turning back to Tony, she says, “He said they hurt him to make him forget.”

Tony says nothing, but Darcy sees the truth in his eyes and the hard press of his lips.

She tries not to yell in response.

She fails.

This is your plan? Doing what those monsters have done to him for seventy years?”

Tony matches her anger. “Do you have a better one? Because I’m all ears, Lewis. I can get the files I have on him, let you figure something out, let you look at what they did. Would you like that—”

“No—”

“Because it wasn’t just the chair—”

“No. No, okay? I already know what they did. I’ve seen it.”

Tony deflates at her revelation. Darcy looks away, down to the stove, and tries to steady her breathing, to not cry at the remembrance of the scars covering Bucky’s chest and back. He healed like Steve. He had to, to recover so quickly from his stab wound. He wouldn’t scar then, not like that, not unless someone hurt him enough to force a scar. And to force so many—

Darcy shakes her head, tries to clear the thoughts away before they weigh her down, clog and catch in her throat. She reaches for the knob to switch on the burner before turning to grab the bread from the pantry. In the silence, she hears Tony sigh, and the exhaustion is so clear that she finally looks up at him.

“It’s not what I want to do,” he says when she does, the shadows heavy on his face, “but it’s our best option. The chair itself isn’t hard to make. I can recalibrate it to help him remember instead of forget. Bruce is making a serum to help stimulate memory, stem cells, neurotransmitters, and so on and so forth.”

“Do you think it will work?”

“I wouldn’t have told him about it if I didn’t.”

Darcy arches a brow. “But?”

“But,” Tony says, easing off his stool, “it’s going to hurt like hell.” He steps around the corner, stops beside her by the stove. “And it’ll likely bring everything back, not just Cap and Bucky in the wilds of Brooklyn. Everything.”

He doesn’t need to clarify everything. Darcy had seen everything, in the diner with her own eyes, in his face when Bucky woke from his nightmare, in the video of him and Steve fighting in D.C. just a week ago.

“That might not be stuff he wants to remember,” Tony says softly.

Darcy lifts her chin. “Is it stuff you want him to remember?”

Tony gives her a long look. A muscle twitches in his cheek as he tries to contain some emotion, perhaps anger at her for recalling his hate toward Bucky, toward Hydra, or maybe it was the hate itself. A few more seconds slip and then he shakes his head. “It’s not up to me though, is it?” The look persists another moment before Tony steps away. “Tell him what I said and let me know what he decides. In the morning.” He pauses and shoots her a wry grin. “I’m actually going to try to sleep now.”

He moves toward the door. She finds the words easier to say with his back turned.

“Thank you.”

Tony stills, one foot over the threshold.

“For helping him,” she continues, the words coming in a rush, sass, not sincerity, their shared language.

Tony lowers his head. He huffs out a soft sigh and closes his eyes a moment, and Darcy thinks she’s going to cry at the look on his face when he peers back at her. “Well, it’s what we do, isn’t it? We help people. I seem to remember a particularly persistent little bird telling me that.”

Darcy nods, her throat too tight to speak. He regards her a moment longer, and then she watches him leave, his plan and its pitfalls swirling through her mind.

*

An hour later, she’s made five sandwiches, eaten two, taken another pain pill, cleaned the kitchen, and paced the perimeter of the room a few times, trying to give Bucky time to process and to ease down. When she feels the pull of medically induced drowsiness set in, though, she sets the three remaining sandwiches on a plate with a row of cookies she unearthed from the pantry and shuffles back down the hall to their room.

She finds him crouched in the dark before the window, staring out at the city and the lights from the buildings that brighten the room. He doesn’t turn as she enters or as she places the plate on a table by the chair that he’s claimed since their arrival. Darcy hovers by the chair, watching him. He’s a hunched shadow, a pale face with a set jaw, a gleam of silver from his hand fisted on his bent knee.

“I brought you food,” she says, wincing at how loud her voice sounds in the hush of the room.

Bucky says nothing. She thinks he might blink, he might even breathe, but she can’t tell for sure, not from this angle. He still wears the hoodie, though he could be wearing it over his armor and not the tee. He could have his gun clasped in his right hand, hidden by his body, or it could still be strapped to his leg beside his knife. At least he’s here in the room and in the Tower. Darcy figures he could escape easily enough, even with Jarvis watching, if he wanted. But he hadn’t so she crosses the room to the windows and eases down to the floor about a foot away.

From here, she sees the collar of his tee peeking out from the top of the zipped hoodie, she sees his empty right hand resting on the floor by his boot, but she also sees the dark swaths beneath his eyes, his bottom lip bitten ragged, and the line between his brows that rends her heart. She doesn’t pester him to talk about it. She doesn’t know what she would say. She can’t fathom how he must feel, the pain that he’s forgotten he’s endured but that his body remembers. And though he asked her to help him, and though she said that she would, which means that she should know what to say, that she should talk him into Tony’s plan, despite the pain involved and despite his fear, because they both made it their mission to help him remember, Darcy finds that she can’t, and it’s not just because of that cost, the physical and mental distress he’d endure in the effort. It’s because in the hour that she’d passed in the kitchen, the plan and its pitfalls swirling through her brain, a thought clawed its way from the depths of her mind, one that pushes her to argue against the plan, to claim that maybe he could remember on his own, with therapy and with time, especially with time, a thought that pushes her to want to reach out, to grasp his hand, to ask him to leave with her, to Brooklyn like they planned or somewhere else, anywhere else, just somewhere away.

Together.

Darcy leans her head against the window and takes him in, in a way that she’s tried to avoid since the moment he shook her hand, his eyes bright and his brow cocked and water pooling beneath his feet from the shower, when he stood close to her and sassed her about the cookies, when he stared at her in the kitchen and set her body ablaze with the thought that, maybe, too, when he looked at her, he saw what she saw, a friend but maybe more, maybe everything if they let it, if they could, if they had time, if nothing changed, if he stayed him, the one who saved her in the diner, who asked her to accompany him, who worried about her safety and glared at the thought of someone separating them.

Would he remain or would the chair change him?

Darcy closes her eyes. Bile rises in her throat at the blatant selfishness of the fear, of not wanting him to change, of not wanting to lose this, whatever it is they’ve stumbled upon. He didn’t need that. He needed her help. She swallows and breathes in, pressing her head against the cool glass to steady herself, but when she opens her eyes, she sees Bucky looking at her, his body still but his gaze sliding over to meet hers, as heady as always, and it sends her heart skittering in her chest.

Pulling in another breath, she tries to gather her scattered thoughts and answer the question in his eyes.

“I know I said I’d help you, but I don’t— I don’t know if I can. I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“Because you want to remember.”

His brow creases at that, and he tilts his head toward her.

Darcy looks away, out the window. She can’t see his face, not for this. “Tony said it would hurt. And that it would make you remember everything. Even stuff you might not want to.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move. She hears the wind moan beyond the window.

“But that’s not,” she says and stops, starts, “it’s not,” stops again. Darcy bites down on her lips to still the tremor and then she plows forward, saying the things she probably shouldn’t say, but since when the hell has she ever done the smart thing?

“It’s like I said. You’re you. You’re someone. But what if… what if this…”

“Changes me?”

Two words scraped raw from the night. Darcy nods.

“It will,” he says. “I want it to.”

She closes her eyes again, a lump in her throat.

Seconds pass. She wishes she had just gone to bed, had saved this talk for the morning, for when she was sharper, less flustered the pain pill and by him, by Tony’s plan and her own thoughts. But then his fingertips touch her broken collarbone and Darcy opens her eyes. Bucky stares again at her shoulder, and she sees the familiar sheen of guilt in them, but it’s girded this time by the determination steeling his jaw.

“I won’t hurt you anymore,” he says quietly. “Or Steve. Or anyone. I’ll be stable.” He lifts his eyes to hers. His hand shifts, and she shivers as the cool metal brushes the side of her neck. “I want to be.”

Her brain blanks for a moment, caught in the feel of his hand and the look in his eyes. Then it lurches into action. “You don’t—”

Bucky lowers his hand, his body going rigid like his jaw. “I do. I shot him and he still helped me. He almost died because he did. And Stark… I did something to him, I know it, and he’s still—” He jerks in a short breath, fists his hands by his sides. “And you… You came back for me after the diner. And by the road, after I—” His gaze drops once more to her shoulder. “You didn’t even know me. You don’t know me. I don’t know me. But you still did it. You still helped me.” He looks at her again. “So I can do this. I have to do this. Because I want— I want…”

She watches as Bucky flounders. He shakes his head and turns away, glaring out at the cityscape or perhaps at his reflection in the window. Darcy licks her lips. She feels faint and heavy, static and spinning, her heart beating too fast and her brain moving too slow. Bucky bites down on his lip again, hard. Without thinking, Darcy reaches for him. She grasps his left hand with hers. She doesn’t know what to say, not until he turns, not until he looks at her, not until she sees eyes that stared up at her from every history textbook she ever studied, from newsreels shown in class, from the cracked booth of an old diner and the backseat of her Prius and a chair by a bed in a dingy Maryland motel.

“And you said you weren’t Bucky Barnes.”

His eyes widen. His hand goes slack in hers, but Darcy holds on, leaning toward him. “I’ll help you. Or I’ll try to.” She pauses then, her chest tight, and shoots him a crooked smile. “Or Tony will, and I’ll sit there and watch.”

For a second, Bucky stares at her, dumbfounded, and Darcy thinks she’s going to cry at the look on his face, but then his hand tightens around hers and one corner of his mouth twitches into a small and shaky grin. “There are few things you do better.”

The joke catches her by surprise, and laughter bubbles out of her, rich and loud and woven through with relief. A second later, Bucky joins her, his softer but no less present. Lines crinkle the corners of his eyes. Darcy wants to lean in and lope her arm around his neck, draw him in for a hug, who knows when he had one last, but she contents herself with clasping his hand, for once not wanting to push, the day being pushed enough.

As their laughter fades, a yawn grips her, so loud that it echoes around the room. Bucky frowns at the sound. “You should be resting.”

“You should be,” she counters as he slides his hand from hers, up to her elbow to ease her to her feet. “And eating. You didn’t eat. Why don’t you eat? You need to eat.”

A faint smile appears on his face. He raises a brow as he stares down at her, a challenge in his eyes. “I’ll eat if you rest.”

Darcy narrows her eyes at him, but, as in the kitchen, the gesture lacks heat. She resists only a moment longer, the pain pill and the rollercoaster of the past few hours, the past few days, taking their toll. Turning, she shuffles toward the bed, unable to resist rolling her eyes as Bucky follows, hovering half a foot behind. “God, you really are a mama bear, aren’t you? A Bucky bear,” she crows half a second later, twisting back around to look at him, giddy and hysterical at her joke, at this latest reprieve they’ve been given.

He stops at the name and sends her a look so long-suffering and aggrieved that she bursts out laughing again.

“Sorry,” she mutters, but the fresh wave of giggles that come at the unimpressed arch of his brow completely undercuts the apology. “Sorry. I just— I’m just—”

“Deranged?” he asks. “Insane?”

Her jaw drops, and now Bucky’s the one smirking at her. “You know what,” she says, but she doesn’t get anywhere as he starts walking forward, herding Darcy back toward the bed like a recalcitrant cat. She plops down onto the mattress with a huff. Bucky waits until she crawls beneath the blankets before turning and settling down into the chair. Darcy narrows her eyes at him until he lifts the plate from the table.

As she settles back, she watches as he quirks a brow at the sight of the sandwiches and the row of cookies ringing them. She doubts that he’d sleep tonight, not with the prospect of the chair looming before him, but at least he’ll have eaten and at least he knows that, when he settles into that other chair, he won’t be alone. Tomorrow, perhaps, she can convince him to call Steve, because he’d want to be here for Bucky, for what he’s decided to do, for him and for her and for Steve too, but for tonight, she leans her head against the pillow and watches him eat, content, at least, with this small victory.

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Eight

 

A day and a half later, Darcy opens the door to the room that she shares with Bucky and walks straight into a wall of muscle.

“Holy nutballs,” she yelps as she actually bounces back like a human pinball. She winces a bit as a twinge of pain radiates from her shoulder. Then her eyes catch up to her mouth and she finds herself looking into the hesitant gaze of Captain America.

“How—” she asks, only to stop as Bucky speaks from behind her.

“What is it?”

Both Darcy and Steve tense at his question. Steve’s eyes slide from her to the glimpse of the room beyond the door. His face wavers and Darcy feels panic seize her at the thought that he might breakdown here and now, but then he squares his jaw, draws himself up, and prepares to speak. At that, the panic intensifies within her, and Darcy slaps her left hand over his mouth before he can.

“It’s Thor,” she says when she hears Bucky begin to rise from the couch. She had finally just convinced him to stay, to let her go to the kitchen alone to make them breakfast, saying that she would be fine alone and he would be too, that they were in the most secure building in the city, likely the entire state, probably the whole country, watched by a primly omniscient computerized butler, and that their presence in the Tower was known only to four people in the world, and now all of that was about to be shot to shit by Steve Rogers and his yearning puppy dog eyes.

Pushing at Steve, Darcy says to Bucky, “Jane’s, uh, scowling. Angry about my life choices.” She nudges Steve back, and he complies, the panic in her eyes or his own hesitation compelling him. She certainly couldn’t move him otherwise, especially sans taser and a functional right arm. “I need to, uh, soothe the science beast. Be back in a few.”

Dropping her hand, Darcy reaches blindly for the knob behind her before yanking the door closed. Then she hisses to Steve, “Kitchen,” and takes off down the hall without another word, hoping like hell he’d follow.

He does.

In the kitchen, Darcy bypasses the food and the barstools and goes straight for the small table in the eating area. She pushes her hand back through her hair as she waits for Steve to catch up to her, her brain working overtime to simultaneously question, freak out, and succumb to confusion because the tension within Bucky had risen steadily over the past thirty-six hours, ever since he had given Tony the go ahead to build the chair. Tony claimed he only needed two days to do it, so today would be the day, hence the extra protective Bucky bear this morning, and the nightmare that woke him after two hours of sleep six hours ago with a hoarse scream that sent chills down her spine, and the extra efforts from Darcy and Thor the day before to keep Bucky distracted and calm, Darcy forcing him to watch the rest of The Life of Birds and to start Planet Earth and Thor patiently explaining all of the misconceptions in Midgardian mythology about him and his world.

Hence Darcy not even bringing up the possibility of Bucky calling Steve after her last attempt the morning before ended with Bucky perimeter prowling for nearly an hour until Thor showed up to save them both.

And now Steve was here.

Unannounced and so very clearly wanting to cry and talk and bond.

Shit.

“Why?” she asks as he slides into the chair opposite her. “No. I know why. How? When? Who?”

Steve blinks at her. “What?”

Darcy closes her eyes and sighs.

“You asked four questions, Darcy. Four words, really. How am I—”

“He’s slept, like, three hours in the past four days,” she says, the words bursting from her in a muted rush. “He has nightmares. Bad ones. Yesterday was the first day he ate more than one meal. He’s finally taken off his armor, but I haven’t been able to convince him to take another shower, and he won’t give up his last gun.” She stops as suddenly as she started, trying to breathe in deeply and not actually hyperventilate. Steve lets her breathe, he doesn’t ask her any questions, and after half a minute, Darcy can open her eyes.

Steve stares at her, his face sober and intent. A few stitches hold a cut closed by the left corner of his mouth and another below his right eye. The last time that she saw him, the same sense of calm radiated from him as from Thor, but now tension tightens his shoulders and he sits in the chair unnaturally straight, his hands clasped tightly on the pale wood.

Darcy rubs her hand against her forehead and decides on brutal honesty. Lies would help no one. “I don’t know if you being here is a good thing or a bad thing.”

She expects him to protest, to reference the eternal rights of the BFF, to invoke the hallowed myth of Rogers and Barnes, two kids from the wilds of Brooklyn, as Tony had said, but instead Steve says, “I don’t know either. But I couldn’t let him do this without me.”

Darcy doesn’t need clarification for this. The chair. The desperate attempt to help Bucky remember. “Who told you?” she asks, leaning back and trying to relax.

Steve hesitates a moment before responding. “Tony.”

Darcy nods, resigned, then stops, confused, then straightens, suspicious. She eyes Steve a few seconds before speaking. “You’re the one he was talking to when they found us.”

“Yes.”

Her eyes narrow. “How long have you known?”

Steve looks at her, his gaze level. “Since about twenty minutes after you found him.”

Her jaw drops.

He continues. “You called Jane. Jane called Tony. She mentioned the name Bucky.” He pauses and a rueful grin appears. “There aren’t a whole lot of Buckys out there in the world, so Tony called me.”

Shock freezes Darcy half a heartbeat longer before it’s supplanted by a rage so hot that it sends her surging forward into the table. “Twenty minutes? And you’re just getting here now?” Steve’s mouth flattens, but Darcy plows ahead, too tired and stressed and perhaps too stupid to stop. “That was five days ago. What the hell is wrong with you? He’s your best friend. Jesus Christ, he was stabbed and shot. He had an entire Hummer fall on him. Thor threw him into a goddamned tree, and you were, what? Eagle watching?”

Anger hardens his face. “Recovering from surgery actually. Doctors tend to frown on releasing you when you’ve been shot three times, fell a couple hundred feet, and nearly drowned.”

Darcy deflates. Pain pierces her shoulder as she eases back from the table. She shouldn’t have lunged. She shouldn’t have snapped. Sighing, she flashes Steve a contrite look and says, “I’m sorry. I knew that. I just— It’s been a long few days.”

Steve glares another moment before he, too, stands down. “So I’ve heard. And, for the record, I did try to call.”

She winces now, but not from pain. “You did?”

“Yeah. A few times.”

Darcy closes her eyes and tries not to groan. “Sorry. Wait.” She opens her eyes and frowns at Steve. “I never saw your number.”

“I had to change it,” Steve says, fishing in his pocket and pulling out a phone. He lays it on the table between them. “My old one was compromised.” At her look, he clarifies. “Natasha dumped S.H.I.E.L.D.’s entire database onto the Internet. Personnel files included. Tony was supposed to tell you.”

The groan comes now with a hearty flush of embarrassment. He was the unknown number amid the early calls and texts from Tony and Jane. If she thought she could slink down into her chair and slide beneath the table without causing further injury to her arm, Darcy would probably do it. “He probably did,” she admits. “In a message I didn’t listen to. I—” Darcy sighs and shakes her head. “God, I’m messing everything up.”

“That’s not how it sounds from Thor and Tony.”

Darcy looks at him and arches a brow. “They’re not the most reliable sources of information, you know. One of them’s really nice and the other one is really nuts.”

Steve sends her a small smile. “Oh, I don’t know. Bucky hasn’t shot you, so you must be doing something right.”

Darcy snorts. “Believe me, he wanted to a couple times. Or a couple dozen. I think only pity for my freak outs stopped him.” She shakes her head at that, remembering the shaky, early moments four days ago and how much things had changed. Now Darcy faced off with Bucky against gods and superheroes and Bucky hovered beside her until she got enough rest, and they each called the other a friend. She starts to smile but catches herself, biting down on her lips as her eyes dart to Steve. He peers at her, curious, assessing. Darcy feels her face heat. Shifting in her chair, she says, “I, uh, assume you want to talk to him.”

Face sobering, Steve nods. He opens his mouth for a reply, but his eyes dart to the door of the kitchen.

Darcy looks too but sees nothing. “What is it?”

His eyes cut to her and she sees a brief flare of panic within them. Then he says, his voice too smooth for the look on his face, “I do. But only if he wants to.”

Darcy stares at him, Steve tense again. She glances back at the doorway, her face twisted in confusion, and then his behavior clicks. What would make Steve Rogers nervous? She could likely count the answers on just one hand, with the first three responses being Bucky Barnes. Who apparently stood in the hallway just beyond the door eavesdropping on their conversation. Darcy’s not surprised, not really, only that it took him this long to follow her. Or maybe it hadn’t. Maybe now is just when Steve heard him, Bucky reacting in some way to the idea of him and Steve talking.

Briefly, the thought of her marching into the hall and dragging him into the kitchen flits through her mind, but if Bucky wanted to talk to Steve, he would have come in. Instead, something holds him back. Maybe her presence here, maybe hesitation about Steve, maybe the same unease that has compelled him to prowl the perimeters of the rooms, to glare at Tony and snap at her and sit, silent, staring out the window.

If he didn’t want to talk to her or to Steve about it, then they could still talk to him and still try to help.

“I think he does,” she says, looking back at Steve. “I mean, we haven’t really talked about it, I just mentioned it a few times, but he did ask about you in the motel.”

Hope dawns, hesitant yet clear, in Steve’s eyes. “He did?”

Darcy nods. She hesitates a moment, wondering if this is betrayal, but she plows forward anyway. Let him be angry with her if it made him reconnect with Steve. “I think he feels guilty for what happened between you, and that’s why he, you know, hasn’t decided.”

Steve clenches his hand over his phone. “There’s nothing for him to feel guilty about.”

“You think I haven’t told him that?” she asks, pointing to her bum shoulder. “I have. Repeatedly. He can frustratingly stubborn sometimes.”

Steve softens. A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “He always was.”

“And that’s why I hope he talks to you,” she says, leaning forward, the words again coming in a rush. “Because he’s stubborn. And normally I’d be all about that. Because I am too. But he’s not just stubborn. He’s intent. Like, laser focus intent. Like, ‘I have a mission and I’m going to fulfill it no matter what’ intent. And, again, good, except his mission now is remembering, and the answer to that seems to be the chair. And that’s huge and it’s scary and it’s here in this new place with these new people, and it’s— He’s feeling it, but he’s not talking about it, at least not to me, not anymore, and I don’t know if it’s because he can’t, like, at all, like it’s too much for him, or if it’s— if it’s me. If he just doesn’t want to talk to me. Because I did… I told him—” She stops and breathes in, shifting in her chair beneath Steve’s attentive gaze and the thick silence in the hall. “I told him not to do it at first. But he said he wanted to. So maybe he thinks I’ll argue against it again, though I wouldn’t, because he made his decision and I can respect that, I can, I just— I don’t know. He’s pacing and hovering and I called him a bear, and I don’t know what to do.”

Steve stares at her, overwhelmed, perhaps, by her verbal onslaught. Darcy slumps back against the chair and resists the urge to bang her head against the wall. Another second passes and then Steve blinks and says, “You called him a bear?”

Darcy squirms. “Kind of.”

Steve raises a brow. She thinks he’s also squashing a smile. “Kind of?”

“Okay, I may or may not have called him a mama bear, but is this really the most important part to take from everything I just said?”

Now Steve does smile. His gaze slides back over to the doorway, where it lingers. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

Steve doesn’t respond. He just stares at the door. No, toward the door, his gaze hazy, unfocused. Darcy frowns as his smile widens a fraction. It looks like Steve’s going to laugh, but instead he shakes his head. “I used to hate it when he did it to me.” He lets himself linger in his memories a moment longer before turning to Darcy. He assesses her, his smile fading but his face not turning unkind. Another beat passes and then he says quietly, “Why do you think he’ll talk to me if he won’t to you?”

“Because you’re Captain America.”

Steve raises his brows. “I’m pretty sure that’s why he shot me, Darcy.”

“I meant,” she says, sending Steve a look, “that you’re a good person. A known good person. There are entire textbooks and museum exhibits devoted to how good you are. And he knows this. He might not remember it, but he knows it, so he would know that whatever you said to him about the chair and the Tower and everything would be to help him.”

Steve frowns at her. “And it wouldn’t be from you?”

She can’t help the glance at the door. “It would. It is. But it’s… complicated.”

The frown intensifies. “Complicated.”

Darcy nods, a blush starting to creep up her neck.

“How— Oh.” His eyes widen and his frown vanishes. Steve looks at Darcy and then at the door and then at Darcy again, and she flushes harder at his awed scrutiny. “Wow. I— Really?”

“I am so not having this discussion with you,” she mutters as she turns from him. “He can talk to you about it,” she continues, raising her voice to just below a bellow, “if he stopped being a scowly ninja lurker and actually came into the kitchen.”

There’s a moment of stunned silence in which Steve gapes at her. Darcy thinks she hears a sigh out in the hall and then Bucky shifts into view, the expected scowl on his face. She sends him a bright smile, trying her best to mask her jittery nerves, both at the final turns of the conversation with Steve and the potential ones around the bend. Because this could go really well or really shitty, and she hopes well because today would be shitty enough as it is.

She lifts her hand and gives Bucky a cheery wave. “Hi.”

Bucky just stares at her, not even sparing a glance for Steve. “How?” he asks by way of greeting.

Darcy points at Steve. “He looked at the door.” As Steve lifts his brows in surprise, Darcy draws hers together and mimics Bucky’s low tone. “How?”

The unimpressed look he sends her nearly makes her break, but Darcy holds on until he points a finger at her and says, “You closed the door.”

Darcy nods. Of course. Why would she have closed the door for Thor? He would have greeted Bucky, perhaps stayed with him while Darcy spoke with Jane. She shrugs off the failure, Darcy never good at lying anyway. She preferred direct communication and hoped they did too since it seemed she was the only one capable of actual communication at the moment.

“So?” she says, arching a brow at Bucky. “What do you say?”

He says nothing, which she expected. But he considers it. She waits for him and Steve does too, the silence in the kitchen broken by the hum of the fridge. Bucky clenches his jaw. A faint line appears between his brows. He breathes in, straightens his shoulders, and then, finally, looks at Steve.

Darcy does too. Steve stares at Bucky, and Darcy can tell that he’s biting the inside of his cheek, trying his best to stay calm. Slowly, he pushes to his feet. Darcy glances back at Bucky. He tenses, but his hand doesn’t move toward his gun. At that, Steve smiles, a small one, but one clear and warm. “Hey, Buck.”

Bucky stands tense in the doorway, recalling for Darcy those early moments of Bucky the taut wire, the thoughts within him pushing him to the limit. But then, as now, he pushes out a breath and tries to relax as he gives Steve a curt nod, enough of a greeting to broaden the smile on Steve’s face.

Taking that as her cue, Darcy stands. She gives Steve a sloppy salute by way of farewell, which earns her a fond shake of his head, then she crosses the room to the door. Bucky doesn’t move at her approach. He still looms in the frame even as she stops before him. He stares down at her, but she can’t read him, determine whether he’s angry with her for saying what she said to Steve now that he knows that she knew he was standing there. Various quips surface, but Darcy lets them lie for, at that moment, Bucky reaches for his gun.

“Here.”

He slides the gun from the holster and holds it out to her.

“I don’t need it.”

Darcy stares at the gun, her heart in her throat. “No, you don’t,” she murmurs as she reaches out.

Bucky passes her the gun. His thumb brushes against the back of her hand as he pulls away, and she bites down hard on her lip to keep from shivering at the touch. “Will you be…?”

Glancing up at him, Darcy nods.

Bucky nods too then finally shifts to the side to allow her to pass. She does, the gun heavy in her hand and her head light and buzzing. Bucky steps into the room as she eases by. Darcy hovers in the hall, likely in the same spot from which Bucky listened to them, waiting. The silence in the room lengthens. The urge to go in there, to spout off a joke or twelve and smile and smooth things over rises within Darcy, but she stays where she stands, waiting, hoping. Twenty seconds pass before there’s a rasp of breath and the first tendrils of communication.

“Do you want coffee? Darcy taught me how to make it yesterday.”

“Yeah. Yes,” Steve says, and Darcy can hear the smile in his voice, the warmth and the hope that allows her to finally turn away. “I’d love some.”

*

An hour later, Darcy lounges on the couch, flat on the cushions with her legs propped up against the back and her tablet in hand in an attempt to distract herself. She hated waiting, hated the raw buzz of anticipation, swarming in her gut like caffeine-deprived bees, yet she promised Bucky that she’d be in the room when he was finished with Steve, so she lounges and she waits, starting up the next game of Word Scramble.

Ten minutes later, she’s contemplating streaming the latest episode of Orphan Black though she knows she’d only half focus on the clone drama, her own super soldier catastrophe potentially brewing down the hall, when the door opens. Looking up, she sees Bucky enter, and some of the tension within her abates at the lack of visible blood and bruises.

“How’d it go?”

He doesn’t say anything as he approaches, just cocks a brow at her sprawl, the smallest of smiles tugging at his mouth.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it,” she says, switching off her tablet. “It’s surprisingly comfortable.”

Bucky says nothing again, his smile inching wider as she struggles to sit. Leaning over, he grabs her tablet with one hand and props the other behind her back, helping her upright. She takes him in as he does. He focuses on her and not the exit points, and though exhaustion still darkens his face, his eyes shine. She recalls his loose lounge as they ate in the motel. This is the most relaxed she’s seen him since then, and a spark of hope ignites within her that maybe everything will be okay.

“Well?” she asks.

Bucky shrugs as he hands her the tablet. “Better than the last time.”

Darcy stares at him, waiting for the follow up. It never comes. “Seriously? That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“For now.” He tilts his head back toward the door, the smile still hovering at the edges of his mouth. “Come on.”

Darcy narrows her eyes at him. “Why?”

All traces of the Winter Soldier vanish. Bucky Barnes leans down toward her, his hands in the pockets of his pants, mischief in his eyes and a cocky little smirk on his face that sets her heart racing in her chest. “Anybody ever tell you you ask a lot of questions?”

Her brain whites out for exactly three seconds before her body seizes control, prompting her to stand and invade his space. Bucky straightens, but he doesn’t step back, so they stand close in the hospital room atop the fairy tale tower in New York City, Bucky smiling at her and Darcy doing her best to breathe. “Once,” she says, arching a brow. “A scowly ninja who didn’t know how to pancake.”

The grin comes in full. “Sounds like a swell guy. Now come on.”

Bucky turns and heads for the door, and Darcy follows, the anticipation within her less like twitchy bees now and more like a puppy on the first day of spring. Bucky exits the room first but walks down the hall by her side, and Darcy can’t help but look at him, drink in the lightness in his step and the way he bites down on his bottom lip in anticipation too as they traverse the hall. It’s a testament to how flustered he makes her that it’s not until they’re actually standing in the door to the kitchen that Darcy realizes that this is where he’s leading her and that she finally understands why.

She smells them first, the familiar scent tinged with a bitter burnt aroma. As they pass by the kitchen, she sees the frying pan on the stove and dishes in the sink, and the sensory information processes and doesn’t at the same time, Darcy trailing after Bucky with her mouth open and her chest tight. Steve no longer sits in the eating area. Instead, the table is set with silverware and mugs of coffee, butter, syrup, and three plates, two empty and waiting for food and the third in the middle stacked high with half-burnt and crumbling pancakes.

Darcy stares at the scene before her, her jaw still hanging open. Easing forward, she reaches out and touches the table with her left hand, seeking confirmation of the reality before her. She feels the smooth wood beneath her fingertips, hears the rasp of air in her lungs as she inhales. Blinking once, she turns to Bucky and says, “You made pancakes?”

He nods, not looking at her, his hands still shoved in the pockets of his pants and his shoulders hunched. “Steve showed me. I— We— I wanted to thank you.”

Darcy looks again at the table. “You didn’t have to.”

Bucky shrugs, but she sees the stiffness in his spine from the corners of her eyes, the artifice in the indifference of the gesture. “I did,” he says, then he glances at her and a hint of the grin returns. “I needed to expand my skill set.”

The smile that comes to her face then can only be described as giddy, erasing any iota of cool that she’d managed to acquire in her twenty-four years of life. As soon as it does, Bucky relaxes, the grin blooming again. “How to pancake is the most important of skills,” she says as she pulls out a seat at the table. Bucky sits as she does, but he doesn’t move. He waits for her before he starts to eat, but all she can do is gape again at the array before her. “This is… awesome. Thank you.”

He brushes off her thanks with a shrug, but Darcy sees the gleam of pleasure in his eyes. They sit for a moment more, grinning at each other, before reaching for the pancakes. Up close, Darcy sees that, in addition to the burnt ones, some are also undercooked, but she lumps them all into a wobbly pile and douses them with syrup. Bucky follows her lead, and they eat in companionable silence, glancing at each other in between bites. She thinks maybe Bucky will tell her about his talk with Steve, but he stays silent so she does too. She can always pester Steve later. Preserving this, a rare moment of tranquility, matters more.

Halfway through the food, Bucky’s bites slow and he stares at Darcy for so long and hard that she thinks she either must have pancake slathered on her face or that he’s reconsidered his stance on stabbing her with dull dining knives. She picks up her napkin and wipes at her mouth, but his stare persists, accompanied now by a slight crease of his brow. Darcy glances down, yet he holds his cutlery in a loose grip, nothing like those first few moments of potential homicide in the diner.

“Are you—”

“Why didn’t you finish school?”

Darcy blinks, thrown by the question. “What?”

“You said you didn’t. In the motel.”

She had, after he’d rendered her silent with his explanation for why he hadn’t harmed her in the diner, that she was nice to him, that she let him talk. Lowering her fork and knife, Darcy grabs her coffee and takes a quick sip before responding. “I went to London with Jane.” She gives him the quick version of their history, her initial intent to earn college credit without actually having to be in college, and then the shenanigans with Thor in New Mexico that had rocked her world and put all thought of completing her degree out of her head.

The intensity of his stare doesn’t subside. “Why were you in D.C.? If you live in London.”

Darcy hesitates, not wanting to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. or the destruction he engendered into the conversation. She tries to cover by taking another bite of her pancakes. “Job interview,” she says upon swallowing. “It didn’t pan out.”

Bucky gives a slow nod. He finally drops his eyes, down to his plate. Darcy watches as he spears a piece of pancake, but he doesn’t eat it. He just twirls the fork in his hand. She’s about to ask him again if he’s all right when he says, “Are you going back?”

“To London?”

Bucky nods.

Darcy hesitates again, that question the question of the hour, of the week, one that had been made more muddled by their paths crossing and the days that followed. He lifts his eyes to hers as her silence extends, and the tension in them compels her to speak. “I don’t know. Not until after… you know.” The radiance of the last thirty minutes dims at the reference to the chair. Sucking in a quick breath, Darcy continues, trying to push past the specter of pain looming before him. “Tony’s been trying to get Jane to work here. She’s supposed to take a tour of R&D tomorrow.”

Bucky nods again. There’s a moment of silence and then he says, “Would you? If she did?”

“I don’t know. She wouldn’t really need me here. There’s, like, a gazillion grunts here who can actually help her, since, you know, they’re legit scientists and all.”

“And you’re not?”

Darcy laughs, the idea absurd, only to tamp it down a moment later as Bucky just blinks at her. Clearing her throat, she says, “I was a poli-sci major.”

Bucky frowns at that.

“Political science.”

The frown persists.

“Politics and government.”

The frown twists into a grimace.

Laughing again, Darcy says, “Yeah, that’s the reaction most people have. I don’t even know why I chose it. I just— I don’t know. I didn’t even really like it. I guess that’s why I never bothered going back.” She shrugs, discomfited by her academic failure. Lifting another piece of pancake, Darcy shoves it into her mouth and says, “Why do you ask?”

Bucky looks away. Darcy thinks she sees an honest-to-god blush color his neck.

“Bucky?”

“You know me,” he blurts out, looking back at her. “Or about me.”

A second passes in which she blankly stares, but then she starts to smile. “And you want to know about me?”

Bucky doesn’t lower his eyes. His blush fades. His stare is clear and direct, and the simple word he says in response sends electricity skittering along her nerves, far more than any other man interested in her in the past.

“Yes.”

Darcy leans back in her chair, grinning and again giddy. “Well, look at that,” she says, watching as he starts to smile, “you do know something other than the word no.”

Bucky eases back then, lounging, loose in long sprawl that pushes his legs forward until they tangle with hers. Darcy grows breathless at the touch, at the lick of heat up her spine at the cocky little smirk that reappears on his face as he says to her, “Maybe.”

They stare at each other. Bright eyes meet her own. His metal hand skims the edge of the table. Bucky opens his mouth to say something, perhaps to ask her another question, to get to know her as he said he desired, but then time slips.

And stops.

“Ms. Lewis?”

No.

Darcy closes her eyes. Her mouth goes dry.

Not yet.

Bucky pulls his legs back and the scrape of his chair on the floor makes her flinch.

“Yeah, Jarvis?”

She doesn’t recognize her voice, choked off and twisted with fear.

As Jarvis responds, Darcy opens her eyes and finds the smile gone from Bucky’s face and his hands in fists on the table.

“Mr. Stark says he is ready.”

*

The chair resembles one found in a dentist’s office if that office were designed by Tim Burton and placed in the ninth circle of Dante’s version of hell. Darcy stares at it through the window separating the inner and outer rooms of this portion of the R&D floor. Bucky does too, rigid between her and Steve. He’d been quiet since Jarvis summoned them, but determined, his steps sure and his shoulders straight. Until, that is, he’d seen the chair. Tony and Jane stand beside it, arguing about something as Tony tinkers with a panel on one of the sinister looking spider arms. Thor hovers by the door connecting the two rooms. Darcy glances at Bucky. He breathes hard, his eyes closed and face turned away from the chair. She wants to reach for his hand, not to comfort or to reassure, but to drag him from the room. She thinks Steve does too, doubt clear in his eyes as he, too, regards the chair.

“You don’t have to do this,” he says quietly, tilting his head toward Bucky.

Bucky shakes his head. He presses his lips together and opens his eyes, he forces them open, forces himself to look at the chair. He stares at it a long moment before he says, “Yes, I do. I want what they took.”

He walks toward the inner room without another word. Steve clenches his jaw as he does, and Darcy knows without a doubt that he protested the use of the chair, if not to Bucky himself, then to Tony. Neither, it seemed, listened. Reaching out, she lays a hand on his arm and gives it a squeeze. Steve sends her a small smile, and Darcy tries to draw comfort from his gesture as he does from hers, but neither works. She sees the worry in his eyes as he pulls away, feels it swirling in her gut as she follows him to the door.

In the inner room, she hears Jane say, “I’m not the best qualified—”

“Three degrees,” Tony says as first Steve and then Darcy enter the room. Thor gives them each a nod as they pass him by. Bucky only looks at the chair.

“None of which relate even remotely to this,” Jane argues.

Tony plucks a tool from a small metal table by the chair. “You also don’t turn into a raging green giant, so yes, you are the best qualified. Now, hold here.”

The room smells like antiseptic and motor oil. Darcy shivers, the room and the chair and the look in Bucky’s eyes sure to make an appearance in her dreams tonight. Thor eases closer to her. The solid warmth of him soothes her nerves. She watched him save the world multiple times. He was the first to listen to her about Bucky and the only one, aside from her and Steve, to sit and talk with him. Whatever happened, he would help. He would make it okay.

“Check it now,” Tony says, dropping the tools back onto the table.

Jane circles the chair and heads for the door. She hesitates as she passes by Bucky. The pause is enough to draw Bucky’s attention away from the chair, and he eyes Jane as she eases back a few steps. They stare at each other a moment before Jane sucks in a quick breath and says, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

Silent, Bucky stares at her. Then his gaze flickers over to Darcy. “I would have, too.”

Surprise flits across Jane’s face. She gives Bucky a slow nod and then continues her path to the door, glancing once at Darcy as she goes. Thor follows. In the outer room, they stop before the bank of computers lining the window. Jane works for a moment then looks up at Tony, who lifts a tool and presses it to a panel. A light at the end of the tool turns green. Giving Jane a thumbs up, Tony tosses the tool back onto the table and finally turns to Bucky, Darcy, and Steve

“All systems are a go,” he says. “Any second thoughts?”

Bucky shakes his head. Darcy bites the inside of her cheek. Steve fists his hands.

Tony looks at them all. He lingers on Steve, expecting him, perhaps, to argue. When he doesn’t, Tony quirks a brow and beckons Bucky to the chair. “Same set-up as the other one,” he begins. “I left the restraints for your safety so you don’t fall off halfway through. They’ll retract when everything’s done. Now, you’ll be in here alone—”

“Tony.”

A muscle twitches in Tony’s cheek. “Cap.”

The progression from silent standoff to full-fledged argument takes approximately one and a half seconds.

“I told you—”

“And I told you—”

Steve squares his shoulder. “I don’t care—”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Of course you don’t—”

“I won’t—”

“You’re in no shape—”

“He won’t—”

“He might,” Tony says, so loud he cuts off the protest Steve prepares to launch. “I don’t know what will come back first. You don’t know, either. And he sure as shit doesn’t. Until we do, all of us are in that room behind the nice reinforced glass, okay?”

Steve draws in a deep breath to continue to argue.

“Steve.”

Steve freezes at Bucky’s quiet call.

“I asked for this. To be here alone.”

For a moment, Darcy thinks Steve will continue to fight, against the idea that Bucky needs to protect them from himself as much as against the entire procedure itself, but he presses his lips together and stays quiet. He still glares at Tony though, and though she’d never been the type to laugh at funerals, Darcy wants to laugh now, the tension too much, everything too much, the pain in her shoulder and the fairy tale Tower and the nightmare diner and Darcy yelling at Captain America and trading Lilo and Stitch references with Iron Man and Bucky glaring at her and grinning too. She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek, and the pain there punctures the hysteria bubbling within her.

“Like I was saying,” Tony mutters, as mulish in his parting glare at Steve as Steve is in his own, “you’ll be in here alone. Just in case.” He flashes a tight smile at Bucky and then gestures to the chair. “Have a seat.”

Three feet separate Bucky from the chair. Three seconds needed then for him to cross the space and sit down, but three seconds come and go, followed by ten, fifteen, then thirty, yet the only movement that comes from Bucky is the rapid rise and fall of his chest. So Darcy moves. She crosses over to the chair and plops down before she can consider the sensibility of her action. A second passes in which she tries to smile at Bucky and reassure him, but the nascent gesture dissolves into a grimace and a corresponding groan of pain.

“It’s a little… hard,” she mutters, shifting a bit to the side to ease the ache in her ass.

“It should be,” Tony says from beside her. “I modeled it after your head.”

Darcy scrambles for a retort, but she abandons the attempt as Bucky eases forward and sits down beside her. Or as much as he can, the seat built for one. Both of them hang half off the chair, one leg on the floor, the other laid flat on the leg rest, pressed up against the other. Darcy bumps her knee against Bucky’s. He tilts his head toward her and catches her eye. The fear in his remains but mingled now with gratitude. Darcy flashes him a crooked smile then does the same to Steve as he approaches, bracketing Bucky on his other side.

Tony grabs a syringe from the small table by the chair and holds it up before Bucky. “This is the brain mix. It will hurt, so don’t punch me.”

He rounds the chair and stops beside Steve. Together they guide Bucky through the process of finding a vein in his arm and plunging the needle in. Bucky winces as the liquid dispenses into his body, but he makes no move to punch Tony or any other sign of distress at the injection. Still, Darcy reaches across herself to lay her hand on his left arm. Through the fabric of his hoodie, she feels the crevices between the plates, how they slide and shift as Bucky moves, as he peers down at Tony, who attaches a heart monitor to the forefinger of his right hand.

“Okay, kid. Time to go.”

Her breathing stops at the instruction, but Darcy slides from the chair without a word. She made her protest and Steve had too. The least she can do is lessen the stress for Bucky as much as she can. Bucky fills in the gap as she stands. Darcy looks at him upon straightening, but he stares at Tony, who holds a small black object out to him.

“The files said you’d need this.”

Darcy glances down. Tony holds a mouth guard for Bucky. Rather than reach for it, though, Bucky peers at it as Darcy would a gun, as they both had the chair. The pity returns to Tony’s eyes then, just a flash of it, but enough for Bucky to set his shoulders and reach for the guard. No one comments on his shaking hand.

Steve leans toward him, draws his attention away from Tony and the guard. “There’s a comm, so we’ll be able to hear you in there. So if … if you need anything, just say the word, okay?”

Bucky nods.

Steve tenses, as if to say more, but he only gives Bucky a stiff nod before turning away. Tony moves to follow, his tools in hand. Darcy does too, her gaze lingering on Bucky. Sweat dots his face now and his eyes look black, all pupil, despite the fluorescent lights hanging above. He closes them, swallowing hard, and she nearly returns to him but Tony places a hand on her shoulder and says softly, “Serum’s starting to work. We have to do this now.”

Darcy nods and lets Tony guide her through the door. In the outer room, he presses a button on a panel by the door and it slides shut and seals with a click. Darcy tries not to hear finality in the sound. She thought she heard it before when Bucky woke in the motel, when it seemed like he had regressed and retreated to his armor and silence, away from her. That hadn’t been the case then. Perhaps it wouldn’t now. She could hope.

Tony crosses to the bank of computers arrayed before the window. Dumping his tools on another metal tray, he starts pressing keys and buttons, directing Jane to do the same, and the two of them activate the machines. Darcy moves closer to Steve and Thor, standing between them as they peer through the window. In the chair, Bucky stares at the mouth guard, breathing hard. Grimacing, he turns away, but as he does, he looks at the window, at Steve and then at Darcy. She tenses at the glimpse of tears in his eyes, and Steve does too, but before either of them can move or protest, Bucky sets his shoulders again and shoves the guard into his mouth. He lays back in the chair, his movements smooth. Practiced. Darcy grows sick at the realization.

The sound of the heart monitor fills the room, the pulse already rapid. Bucky looks at them a final time and then closes his eyes. Darcy smothers her gasp and tries to believe. Tony said it would work. Bucky believes it will. She can too. And if it didn’t, if he changed, if he forgot, if he remembered, she’d help. She could help him. She wanted to help. She remembers the feel of his hand in hers as they crouched before the window, the heat of him as he stood behind her in the kitchen. If that vanished, if it burned away in the chair—

“Hold on to your butts,” Tony says, reaching for a slick black switch.

At his flick, the chair animates, claiming Bucky, restraints clamping down onto him as the arms move, swirl through the air, and swoop down towards his head. The beep of the heart monitor turns shrill and rapid, too fast, too fast. Steve flinches at the sound. Darcy feels a warm weight across her shoulders, Thor embracing her, his hand clasping Steve as well. Light gleams in the headpieces, electricity arcing, licking out into the air, seeking Bucky. They hover, as the air does in her lungs, they shift, she feels Steve reach for her hand, then the headpieces set a vice around Bucky, buzzing as they alight. He goes rigid in the chair as electricity courses through him. Darcy seizes Steve’s hand, gripping tight, and she tries to watch, but then a scream rips from Bucky, muffled by the mouth guard but loud enough, strong enough, broken enough to rise above the din, and she closes her eyes, knowing this will haunt her far longer than the decimation in the diner.

Quicker than she expects but slower than she wishes, the procedure ends and the sounds cease, all save the beep of the heart monitor and the grate of air sliding into and out of Bucky’s lungs. Darcy opens her eyes. Bucky slumps in the chair, no longer bound, the arms upright and the restraints retracted. But he doesn’t move and he doesn’t open his eyes. They wait, Darcy between Steve and Thor, all of them tense, Tony and Jane by the computers, Jane with her eyes wide and Tony’s mouth in a flat, white line. He glances between Bucky and the monitors.

“Vitals are elevated,” he says, “but not—”

The monitors squeal as Bucky screams again. His eyes fly open and he jerks in the chair, folding over the right arm. He grasps his head in his hand. Darcy flinches as he falls to the ground. The heart monitor rips off his finger, and the screech dies in the outer room. Before any of them can react, Steve is by the door and pressing the controls. The door slides open with a hiss. On his knees by the chair with his back to them, to Steve, Bucky trembles. The mouth guard drops as Steve rushes toward him. Darcy eases forward, her breath in her throat.

Steve lays a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and then all hell breaks loose.

Bucky lashes out, shoving Steve back with his right arm. He spins up and around before Steve can recover and kicks him hard in the gut. Thor moves as Steve flies back into the wall. Darcy winces at the impact. Chest heaving, eyes dark and wild, Bucky turns to the door. Thor enters the inner room, his hands up and his movements slow. Bucky twists around and grabs the arm of the chair with his metal hand. Wrenching, he rips the arm free and hurls it at Thor, who dodges, and when he does, Bucky darts and rolls past him, swooping up behind Thor and striking him hard with his left arm. At the blow, Thor stumbles forward, away from the door, and Bucky slips through. He slams his hand onto the controls. They hiss and spark and the door seals shut, locking Steve and Thor in the inner room.

“Oh shit,” Tony mutters as Bucky turns toward him.

He shoves at Jane, pushing her toward Darcy. Darcy grabs Jane’s arm and hauls her back toward the door. As Bucky advances, Tony darts down, grabbing something— a shock prod— from beside the computers. At the sight of the weapon, Bucky kicks at the metal table, sending it and the tools flying at Tony. He ducks but drops the prod. There’s a booming shake, Thor trying but failing to break through the window. Darcy watches as both Tony and Bucky dive for the shock prod. She shoves at Jane, pushing her toward the door, through the door, knowing the outcome. A crackle of electricity sounds from behind her and another booming shake echoes through the walls, and as Darcy slams on the controls to close the door, she hears a dull thud and knows that Tony has fallen.

“Jarvis,” she cries, the word a prayer, “Tony’s down. Lock the lab.”

The door seals shut on Jane reaching for her.

Calm settles momentarily upon the lab, but not in Darcy. Her heart pounds in her chest and her breath comes in ragged pants. Pushing her hair from her face, she peers over her shoulder. Tony lays on the floor by the bank of computers. Bucky stands beside him, the prod in his hand, his finger on the trigger and his eyes on her. Behind him, through the glass, she sees Thor. He raises his hand, to call Mew-Mew she knows, but she shakes her head. Thor frowns at her and Bucky does too.

“Ms. Lewis, Dr. Banner is on his way.”

“No!”

Bucky starts at her yell. Thor lowers his hand.

Easing off on the volume, Darcy says, “Give me a chance first.”

She says it to Jarvis, but she looks at Bucky, imploring both. Breathing hard, the prod raised and brandished at her, Bucky eases away from Tony. As Darcy looks at him, she sees none of the man who had made her breakfast that morning. An empty shell regards her instead, slinking around the perimeter of the room, his hackles raised.

Still, she asks. “Do you know who I am?”

Bucky stares at her. He shifts the prod to his left hand, glances behind her at the door. “Move.”

Darcy shakes her head.

Bucky stops opposite her, eight feet away. Sweat slides down his face. His right hand trembles beside him.

Breathing in, Darcy tries to steady herself, to slow the hammering of her heart. Neither occur, yet she presses on. “My name is Darcy. We met a week ago in a diner. You were having pancakes and I had French toast, and I recognized you. You saved my life.”

Bucky stiffens. There’s movement by the window then and Darcy doesn’t even have to look to know. She can read Steve’s presence on Bucky’s face, on the wide-eyed stare of disbelief.

“He’s your friend,” she says. “Your best friend. His name is Steve. You made coffee for him this morning and he helped you make breakfast, and we ate it together.”

Bucky looks at her, his face twisted in pain.

“The other guy is Thor. The one on the ground is Tony. We were trying to help you. All of us. That’s why you’re here. We came to New York to help you remember.”

Bucky closes his eyes. He backs away until he bumps against the wall.

Hating herself for pushing but pushing anyway, Darcy moves forward, closer to Bucky. “Do you remember anything? Anything at all?”

He trembles, his breath shuddering in his chest. A few seconds pass and then he says, his voice a low rasp, “Pain.”

Darcy nearly crumbles beneath the weight of the word. Tears fill her eyes, but she bites down on her bottom lip to keep the breakdown at bay. “No one is going to hurt you,” she says. “Nobody wants to. You’re our friend.”

Bucky opens his eyes. His gaze slides over to Steve, his hand pressed to the window and devastation in his eyes, and then back at her, and, as he does, tears slip down his face.

“Do you remember who you are?” Darcy asks, four feet from him but no longer afraid.

“I don’t—” He stops, closing his eyes. He raises a hand to his head, presses his palm into his forehead. “I don’t—” He stops again, sliding down the wall to the floor, his strength giving way. The prod slips from his fingers, but Bucky doesn’t even flinch as it clatters to the ground, lost in himself. He draws his knees up, wraps his arms around his head, trembling, and then the first sob wrenches at his chest.

“Yes.”

Darcy moves toward him. The shaking intensifies.

“Yes.”

She eases down to the ground, careful not to touch him, not until she knows. “Bucky?”

“Oh god.”

The room echoes with the cry. Her throat tight, Darcy lays a hand on his back. Bucky flinches from her touch only to turn into it a second later, collapsing into her, almost knocking her flat. She wraps her left arm around his shoulders. His right hand clutches at her back, fingers gripping her shirt and tugging with each swell of grief that crashes through him. Tears soak her front, both hers and his, and make the cotton stick hot to her stomach.

“What have I done?”

Looking up, Darcy locks eyes with Steve and finds her own grief and impotence reflected back at her.

“What have I done?”

*

Chapter Text

That Which You Seek
Part Nine

 

“What the hell were you thinking?”

On the couch in her room Darcy sighs, too exhausted to do more. She knew this would come, the look on Jane’s face as Darcy opened the door to the lab a promise of future haranguing. At least Jane had waited this long, until after Bruce had sedated a hyperventilating Bucky and Thor had carried him to his room down the hall. Steve sits with him now, though Bruce had predicted that Bucky wouldn’t wake for hours, despite his enhancements. Darcy thinks that she could sit, too, but she can’t, not yet, the events of the morning too much to process.

The door to her room closes. Darcy hears Jane approach, swift in her rage. She pulls her blanket tighter around her, keeps her gaze fixed on the sunlit city beyond the windows. A second later Jane steps into view, her hands in fists and her breath coming fast.

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

The response takes Jane aback, but only for a moment. “And?”

“And nothing,” Darcy mutters.

“Not ‘and nothing.’ We’re going to talk about this.”

Darcy sighs again and gives in to the inevitable. “I didn’t think, okay? I never do.”

“You’re sure as hell right about that. Locking yourself in that room with him is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen anybody do.”

Anger sparks within Darcy at that, forcing her upright. “So says the woman who drove straight into a tornado before.”

Jane’s nostrils flare. “That wasn’t—”

And,” Darcy says, pushing the blanket from her, “the woman who broke into a secret military base with a strange homeless dude from another planet.”

“That—”

Darcy stands. “And the woman who touched the creepy, world ending smoke, letting it infect and almost kill her.”

“Darcy—”

She steps closer to Jane, resisting the urge to poke her in the chest. “And the woman who slapped the shit out of the god-dude who tried to take over the planet and killed thousands of people in the process. You are the queen of stupid ass decisions, yet you have the nerve to yell at me about mine?”

Jane presses her lips together. She inhales a quick breath, in prep, Darcy thinks, for a second wave of rage, but Jane releases it in a slow, shaky stream and says instead, “Okay. You’re right. But—”

“‘But he’s dangerous, Darcy. But what are you doing, Darcy? But I’m the scientist, Darcy, you’re just the dumb intern, Darcy, so go get me a coffee, Darcy, and let me do the thinking, Darcy, because you can’t.’”

Jane blinks at her, again taken aback. “I don’t—”

Darcy shakes her head. “You do. I didn’t ask you to come here. I told you I was fine, but you assumed I couldn’t handle it and came anyway.”

“Of course I came. You know what he did to Steve. He killed people, Darcy—”

“You think I don’t know that?” she says, yelling now, unable to stop. “I was there, Jane. I was in that diner. You weren’t. I saw those people die. I saw Bucky fight and I saw him kill people, and I still decided to go with him. And I told you this. I told you I knew he was dangerous, but that I was fine. But you didn’t listen to me. You never do.”

Jane glares at her. Anger flushes her face, stains her cheeks crimson, the color stark against the otherwise pale skin. Crossing her arms over her chest, she scowls at Darcy a moment longer before muttering, mutinous, “Excuse me for caring about you.”

Darcy snorts out a humorless laugh. “You mean, excuse you for ignoring me.”

Jane narrows her eyes at that. She unfolds her arms and lifts a hand to point a finger at Darcy, her mouth open to continue the argument, the flush of anger extending down her neck to her chest, but she stops before she starts, distracted by something behind her. Darcy turns to find Thor in the doorway, his expression grim.

“Your disagreement is audible throughout the hall.”

A sliver of shame pricks at Darcy. The last thing Bucky and Steve needed was for them to be shouting at each other. “Sorry,” she says, trying to swallow down her anger.

Thor comes into the room. “I require no apology.” At her look, he tilts his head toward Jane.

Darcy’s jaw drops. “What?! She came here—”

“Because she cares for you,” Thor says as he moves toward them. “And her concern has not been misplaced. James Barnes may not be a danger, but he is not the only piece in play, as you well know.”

Thor stops beside them. Darcy tries not to squirm beneath his gaze, simultaneously stern school principal and caring bro. “Hydra found your temporary residence and were near to finding you when we came upon you,” he continues. “Jane is to be thanked for alerting Anthony as quickly as she did. Otherwise, a far worse fate may have befallen you.”

“Thank you,” Jane says, turning to Darcy, satisfied in her vindication.

Thor looks at her, frowning now. “This does not mean you lack fault.”

Darcy grins at the look of astonishment that appears on Jane’s. She wishes she had some popcorn so she could plop down on the couch and watch Thor school Jane, which never happened.

“Concern may have driven you here,” he says to Jane, “but you allowed anger to take the fore, and this Darcy does not deserve. You may view her actions in the lab as rash, but she does not and neither do I. Barring Steve, she has had the most interaction with James Barnes, so we must trust her and her opinions in this matter.”

“Thank you,” Darcy says, turning the same smug look that Jane gave back upon her.

At that, Thor sighs. He looks from Jane to Darcy, expectant, waiting, waiting for them to show the same care and maturity for each other that he himself shows. Instead, Jane stands with her arms crossed again over her chest, anger still hot and bright on her face. Darcy presses her lips together and keeps her eyes fixed on a far distant corner. Neither move nor speak. Seconds pass and then Thor sighs again as he nudges them closer together, trying to force them to look at one another.

The ploy fails, the silence persists, then Jane squeaks and grimaces and bats at something by her side. Glancing down, Darcy sees Thor retract his hand from where he poked Jane in the side.

“I don’t think you’re just a dumb intern,” Jane says, finally looking at her.

Darcy blinks and meets her gaze. “You don’t?”

Jane shakes her head. She opens her mouth only to grimace again. Darcy knows that Jane would rather bash her head against the wall than talk about her feelings, yet she pushes the words out through gritted teeth. “You’re my friend. My… best friend.”

Darcy bites back her smile. “Yes, I can really feel the love shining through.”

Jane sighs and closes her eyes. “Darcy—”

“Relax, boss lady. We’re good.”

Jane opens her eyes. “We are?”

Darcy nods.

“Excellent,” Thor says, a bright smile on his face. He reaches out and yanks both of them into a hug. Laughing, they move to complete the embrace, Darcy leaning closer to Jane and Jane gently wrapping her left arm around Darcy’s bum shoulder. The contact soothes her nettled nerves, Thor warm and sure, Jane fierce and strong, the two of them, along with Erik, closer to her now than her own family. Darcy revels in the comfort surrounding her, leaning her head against Thor’s chest and knocking her knee against Jane’s. She feels Jane’s grip tighten on her shirt, feels her chest shudder as she draws in a shaking breath.

“Hey,” she says, retracting her arm from around Thor to complete the hug with Jane. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Jane nods, but she doesn’t let go; she loops her other arm around Darcy too and holds on. “I know,” she says. “I know. It’s just… Three times in a week. Thinking you’re dead. It’s…”

“Too many,” Thor finishes. He rubs slow circles on both Darcy’s back and Jane’s too.

Darcy snorts out half a laugh. “Tell me about it. I think I’ve met my quota of defying death for, like, the next fifty years.”

Jane holds on another moment before leaning back. She takes a long look at Darcy, and Darcy tries not to squirm beneath her gaze, but she does, the clumped lashes and red eyes from tears as disconcerting as Jane’s penetrating stare.

“Are you okay?” Jane asks. “And I don’t mean physically.”

Darcy eases out of the hug. She tries to shrug and she tries to smile, and she fails at both. “I’m okay. Ish. Tired. Worried more than anything.”

Thor places a hand on her shoulder. “You have done a good thing helping this man. A noble thing.”

“I guess,” Darcy says, turning away.

She collects the blanket from the floor, intending to fold it into some sort of shape. Thor and Jane say nothing, but Darcy can practically feel the look they exchange, can hear the silent couple conversation to determine which one should approach their wayward charge.

Jane wins, or loses, depending on the perspective. “You guess?”

Darcy resists the urge to sigh. “Can we not?”

“I think we should.”

“As do I,” Thor adds.

Shaking her head, Darcy tosses the blanket onto the couch. She considers making a run for the bathroom to escape the discussion. If she were alone with Jane, she could probably make it, but Thor would take two giant steps and block her path before Darcy could even turn. She supposes their insistence served her right. She’d lost count of how many times she pushed Bucky to use his words when he’d rather avoid and scowl. At the thought of him and their talks, her stomach swoops with dread. Giving in to her sigh, she flops down onto the crumpled blanket. Jane and Thor follow a second later, bracketing her in, her own focused breathing buttresses.

“You saw him,” she says after a moment. “He was gone and then he wasn’t. He was… broken. I mean, why wouldn’t he be? Bucky Barnes was a good man. And what they made him do… It— It…”

“Wasn’t,” Jane says.

Darcy nods. “So how can someone like Bucky deal with that? How can anyone—” She stops, unable to voice the thought that no one could, that the man she had come to know and started to care for, the one who had begun to care for her too, she read the signs that morning, that this man had been shattered by his drive to know, perhaps never to recover. Her breath hitches in her chest and she fists her hand to try to tamp down on the rush of emotion inside her.

Thor places his hand over hers. “No one is beyond reach,” he says, giving her a comforting squeeze. “Not if those who care for him make the effort.”

Darcy looks at him. She knows he speaks with Loki in mind, of how, despite their conflict, Loki had helped him at the end, had sacrificed his life to save both Thor and Jane. The circumstances were different, Loki choosing his path and Bucky being forced upon his, but she still appreciates the sentiment, and the support.

“Thanks, Big Guy. I hope you’re right.” Blowing out a breath, she eases off the couch and to her feet. “I think I’ll shower now, clear my head a bit. Maybe I can try to be capable of actual effort when Bucky wakes up.”

Thor nods. He helps Jane to stand, and Darcy hugs each of them in turn. She lingers with Jane to whisper an apology in her ear. Jane says the same, and both of them roll their eyes at Thor, who nearly bounces with glee at their reconciliation. If only seeing Bucky again went as smoothly, but since when did anything in Darcy’s life ever go smooth?

*

Rarely, as an hour later, she emerges from her bathroom to find Tony flopped across her couch, a bottle of whisky in his hands. She’s about to frown and to sass, but then she spots the carton of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream on the table by the couch.

“Fuck yes.”

Tony chuckles as she makes straight for the carton. Darcy had never heard of the brand, likely because it cost a zillion dollars a spoonful, but she digs in without hesitation, moaning at the first rich taste.

“Don’t let Barnes hear you make that sound.”

Tony cracks open an eye to see her reaction, smirking at the glare she casts him.

“And here I was going to share with you,” Darcy says, pulling the carton closer.

“No, you weren’t. But you don’t need to. There are four more in the kitchen. Besides, I’ve got my panacea right here.” He lifts the bottle and swirls the liquid inside.

Darcy eyes it.

Tony catches her stare and shakes his head. “I’m not sharing. The last thing I need is everyone kicking my ass for letting you get drunk while on pain meds.”

Darcy pouts, but Tony ignores her. He closes his eyes and takes another drink, releasing a short breath upon swallowing. She sees a red welt on the palm of his right hand, likely from where he had grabbed the shock prod only for Bucky to shock him. Dark shadows ring his eyes, and the beginnings of a bruise shade the right side of his face from where he had face planted onto the floor. As Darcy shoves another bite of ice cream into her mouth, Tony drinks again from the bottle. She debates the merits of asking for about four seconds. If he hadn’t wanted to talk, he wouldn’t be here. He’d be holed up in his lab or halfway to Miami, anywhere other than in her room. But he was here, so she asks.

“You gonna make it, dude?”

Tony says nothing. Darcy takes another bite of the ice cream and waits, but Tony continues to say nothing. She wonders if he’s fallen asleep, but then a muscle in his cheek twitches and he sighs and opens his eyes. Meeting her gaze, he gives her a rueful smile, but it’s another minute before he speaks.

“I got clean. Pulled the shards from my heart. Literally, surgery and everything. I blew up my suits, went straight with Pep. I stopped. Or I thought I had.” He quiets, and Darcy sees the same ugly look of hate on his face as when he had stared down Bucky on the side of the road. He lifts the bottle, but doesn’t drink. Instead he shakes his head. “But I can’t…” The smile returns as he meets her eyes again, harder this time and sharper. “I guess I really am an Avenger.”

Darcy quirks a brow at him.

Tony takes the drink before clarifying. “Parents died when I was 17. A car accident. Except it wasn’t. I know that now.”

He doesn’t look at her. The implication still sinks in.

Hydra.

Hydra and Bucky.

Stomach churning, Darcy sets the ice cream on the table. Bucky had known Tony’s father. They had worked together during the war. Reports varied, but some say that Howard Stark was key to Steve rescuing Bucky and his unit from captivity. Did Hydra know this when they sent him after the Starks? She can’t deny the possibility, Bucky famous even then, a Commando and the best friend of Captain America.

The need to thrust a shock prod at the closest Hydra goon surges within Darcy. Her hand tightens on the spoon, her knuckles going white. She feels Tony watching her and says carefully, trying to kill the urge to kill within her, “Being an Avenger… There are worse things to be.”

“You think?”

Darcy nods. She lays the spoon on top of the ice cream and works on steady breathing. “I might not be the best person to ask. I’ve kind of been fantasizing about shoving an electric prod up the ass of the closest Hydra member so I can pull the trigger until his brain leaks out of his ears. I might not be entirely stable.”

“Then you’ll fit right in.”

Darcy frowns at him. “What?”

There’s half a smile on Tony’s face, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. Those are thoughtful, they are focused and sharp, as they regard her, as they rock her world when he asks, “Want to be an Avenger, kid?”

She stares at Tony, her mouth open, her brain frozen. Approximately two seconds pass and then she says eloquently, “What?”

Tony sits up and gestures toward her with the bottle. “You. Avenger. Want?”

Darcy looks around the room, at a loss. She finds no help in the corners, the room empty save for her, Tony, and his insanity. She turns back to Tony and finds one of his brows cocked in expectation of her answer.

“I’ve been in, like, two fights my entire life.”

Tony shrugs. “So?”

So? Avengers fight. A lot. My entire fighting prowess consists of hair pulling and firing my taser. Usually while running away.”

Tony grins at her. “You’d be surprised at how effective those can be. Beside, you wouldn’t be fighting. You’d be assisting.”

“Assisting?”

“Yep.”

“Who? How?”

“Me. By not being me.”

Darcy narrows her eyes.

“I’m serious,” Tony says, setting the bottle beside the ice cream. “S.H.I.E.L.D. got us together the last time, but S.H.I.E.L.D.’s gone. Or it’s gone enough. I’ve got the resources. And the drive. Again. But, as I’ve been told many, many, times, I don’t always play well with others.”

“No. You? Really?”

She expects a look and some sass at her deadpan response. Instead, Tony points at her and says, “Reason number one you should say yes. You play well with me.”

Darcy grimaces. “Can we switch to a new phrase? This one’s skating too close to icky for my tastes.”

Tony ignores her request because of course he does. “And not just me. Thor loves you. You got Foster back on track when nobody, including yours truly, thought that could happen. And do I need to mention this past week?”

Darcy looks away. She reaches for the ice cream, needing fortification against the insanity. But she stops, inches away, when Tony lays a hand on her arm.

“If you can tame the Winter Soldier,” he says softly, “you can handle this life.”

Darcy pulls her arm away. “I didn’t tame him. He’s not an animal.”

“No. He’s the deadliest assassin in the world and a brainwashed wreck to boot, and you’ve stood him down, what? Two times? Three?” He continues before she can respond. “There are only three other people in the world who have done that and lived, and all of them are on this team. Or they will be,” he concedes, leaning back again, “once I bribe Wilson to join.”

“Is that what this is?” Darcy asks, pointing to the ice cream. “My bribe?”

“No, Lewis. That’s ice cream.” He pauses, and her body buzzes with dread and anticipation at the slow smile that spreads across his face. “Did I mention you’d get an amazing salary and benefits package if you say yes?”

Her heart stutters in her chest at the revelation. “S-Salary?”

Tony nods. “Plus guaranteed time to finish your degree. You’ll actually get to use it if you say yes.” At her look, he clarifies. “I’ve already had calls from three senators about where the team stands now that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s gone.” He tilts his head toward her. Darcy thinks he’s trying not to smile. “How do you feel about meeting the President?”

“Jesus Christ.” She twists away, lowering her head until she can rest it in her hand.

“Not him,” Tony says. “Despite what the tabloids say, I have yet to actually invent time travel.”

A weak laugh escapes her at the quip.

“But seriously,” he says, standing now. “You should say yes.” He grabs the whisky bottle from the table, but doesn’t move away. Instead, he bends down until he can meet her eyes and says, “Did I mention you could also live rent free in New York in your own apartment in Avengers Tower?”

Darcy straightens, her mouth again falling open. She gapes at Tony a moment and then says, wonder in her voice, “Does anybody say no to you? Ever?”

Tony rights himself. “A surprising amount of people, actually. They’re all on the team, by the way. Another reason you should say yes.”

Darcy arches a brow. “I should say yes because I can say no to you?”

“Exactly. Think it over,” he says, turning away now. “Talk to Foster if you need to. But the offer still stands if she says no.”

“Okay.”

Tony stops and glances back over his shoulder at her. “Okay?”

“Okay, I’ll think about it.”

He nods, but he doesn’t resume his trek to the door. Instead, he stares at her a long moment. His hand tightens on the neck of his bottle as he says, “He’s staying here, you know. It’s the best place. The safest, with Hydra still out there. Cap’s got a floor, so he’ll be bunking in.”

Darcy tenses at his keen assessment. “So?”

“So, Lewis,” he says, grinning at her as he turns to leave, this grin as sharp and hard as the one before, “that is your bribe.”

*

The offer bounds and rebounds in Darcy’s head as evening falls. She wants to say yes, she will say yes, eventually, she knows that she will, despite her claim about avoiding more death defying activities, she has no reason to say no, nothing waiting for her in London, even if Jane and Thor return, the work there belonging to Jane, not to her. But when she leaves her room, she doesn’t head for the elevator to track down Tony to say yes. She turns instead in the direction of the kitchen, towards the room in which Bucky stays.

Heart pounding in her chest, she walks down the hall, her step slow and steady, though who lay behind that door still eluded her knowledge. No one was beyond reach, Thor had said, and she could reach now, if she stayed.

If he wanted her to reach.

She has to know if he still wanted.

But Darcy hesitates outside his door, raised voices beyond the wood stilling her hand. Or voice, Bucky the only one audible, though she can’t discern what he says. She should go, return later, after dinner, or tomorrow morning, but she doesn’t, curiosity overpowering the inkling of shame wiggling within her, the latter only strong enough to prevent her from plastering her ear to the door to hear better.

After a few minutes, the voice subsides. Darcy eases closer, tilting her head toward the smooth wood. She hears muffled sounds, but no more talking, and she’s just about to raise her hand once more to knock when the door opens and a wall of muscle nearly plows into her.

Steve slaps a hand over her mouth to muffle her yelp and eases Darcy back, shutting the door behind him. He glances back at the door, head cocked to listen. As he does, Darcy sticks her tongue out against his palm, smiling at the exasperated look Steve sends her a second later. But he releases her, turning the tables upon her as he wipes his palm against the sleeve of her shirt. He grins at her grimace then jerks his head toward the kitchen.

“You’re lucky I didn’t bite it,” she says as they enter.

“I didn’t bite you,” Steve counters, claiming the same seat at the table where they talked just that morning.

“Yeah, but you’re Captain America, all moral and responsible. I’m a taser happy college dropout.”

“Who likes biting people?” Steve asks as she sits across from him.

“I did mainline an entire season of Hannibal before I flew to D.C. It must have rubbed off.”

This earns her part of a smile, but only part. She watches Steve lean back in his chair and rub both hands across his face, scratchy now with stubble. He bears no other signs of the exhaustion that she and the others wear, at least none that she can see, though her eyes dart down to where Bucky had kicked him, likely where he had been shot.

Steve catches her looking and shrugs. “It’s fine. Just a little tender now.”

“No, uh, extra damage since the A.M.?

His smile turns wry. “No. Not physically anyway. But I guess you heard that.”

Darcy shakes her head.

He cocks a brow at her, the smile still on his face. “So you weren’t eavesdropping?”

Darcy scrunches up her face, the inkling of shame within her bringing heat to her cheeks. “Is it really eavesdropping if you can’t hear the eaves being dropped?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then I was. But I didn’t plan on it,” she says quickly, squirming beneath the Captain gaze. “I came to see how Bucky was doing and there was yelling and I just… didn’t walk away.”

He shakes his head at her, simultaneously amused and exasperated. “Well, all you didn’t hear was Bucky yelling at me.”

Darcy expects his smile to fade, but it doesn’t. If anything, it grows. “And that’s a good thing?” she asks.

“It’s… a Bucky thing,” he says, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table. “He didn’t like that I opened the door to the lab. Said it was ‘a dumbass move that put everyone in danger.’”

Now Darcy starts to smile. “It was.”

Steve arches a brow. “And blocking the exit to the lab wasn’t a dumbass move?”

“Oh no. That was too. I already got yelled for that by Jane.”

His smile settles into an amused smirk. “Yeah, I heard. Did you get everything ironed out?”

Darcy nods. “Thor played mediator. Do you need one? Because I can do it. I feel like I’ve really mastered the art of calming down pissed off superheroes.”

Steve laughs. “Maybe. We’ll see how the half-hour goes.” He explains at the arch of her brow. “Bucky asked for some time alone. It’s why I’m here.”

“And me.”

“And you,” he concedes. He looks like he wants to say something more, glancing at her, even drawing in a breath as the humor fades from his face, but instead of talking, he shuts his mouth and looks away.

“What is it?” she asks.

Steve stares at her a long moment. Darcy preps herself for rejection, for a polite thanks and a quick dismissal of the topic, maybe with an accompanying smile. She’s so focused on generating a list of reasons why he should talk anyway that she’s surprised when he does.

“I just don’t know if alone is the best thing for him right now.”

“Maybe,” she says. “Depends on why he’s doing it.”

Steve rubs a hand over his face again. He pulls in another deep breath, stares past her for half a minute, seeing beyond the wall, back into the room and whatever he endured beyond Bucky yelling at him since he woke from the tranquilizers. His voice is quiet when he finally speaks. “I know he’s overwhelmed. Understandably so. When I woke— and I know it’s different, I can’t compare— but I… I just needed space. To process everything.”

Darcy leans forward, lays her hand on the one left on the table. “But…?”

“But does he really need space…”

She arches a brow. “Or is this the next phase of the Bucky Barnes guiltapalooza where he locks himself in a small, dark room to protect everyone from his wicked ways.”

This earns her another half a smile. “Or that.”

They stare at each other a moment, Bucky between them, in the clasp of their hands and the worry in their eyes, then Darcy pushes back from the table. “I’m going to talk to him.”

Steve frowns at her and tries to reach for her hand. “But—”

“But he said he wanted to be alone,” she says, evading his grasp. “I know. But he said it to you, not to me. So I’ve probably got, what, ten minutes, fifteen, where he feels obligated to talk to me. Maybe more because I can do innocently oblivious very well. And then, by that time…”

She trails off and gives him a significant look, grinning at the awareness that grows upon his face. “By that time, I can come back and—”

“Tag team, dude. With our powers combined—”

“There’s only a fifty percent chance we’ll both end up sitting on the couch getting yelled at by Bucky.”

“Exactly.”

Still grinning, Darcy holds up her hand for a fist bump. Steve indulges her, smiling despite himself, she thinks. She hopes like hell Tony has paranoid security cameras recording everything because she’s not sure she can arrange that awesomeness again.

“Food first?” Steve asks as she starts for the door.

“Of course.” Darcy glances back over her shoulder when she reaches the threshold. “Maybe you can scrounge up some cards or something in case he doesn’t want to watch TV after.”

Steve nods. She gives a jaunty salute in return, earning her another exasperated smile, then she turns to leave, a plan in hand.

*

The room resembles hers, a bed suite in the front half, though this one is a regular bed, not a medical one. A sitting area occupies the back half of the room. A couch divides the space in two, facing the long wall of windows through which evening light filters, illuminating the room along with a small lamp by the bed. Darcy spots Bucky on the couch. Her heart pounds as she closes the door behind her, not in fear of him, despite what occurred that morning, but of who he’ll be, of how much of the man from the motel will remain and if he’ll know her. But Bucky’s proof of knowing without really knowing, so maybe that’s what she’ll become, a fact from before, the time between soldier and man, just a swift, strange dream.

“You’re early,” he says without turning, his voice tight.

“Sweet. I’m usually late.”

As his head whips around, she congratulates herself on the steadiness of her voice. Then the light from the lamp catches his face, and the world tilts beneath her feet at the sight of him crying, his eyes red, brightening the blue. Darcy forces herself to breathe in slowly. Bucky stares at her, saying nothing, and she shifts in the silence. The thought that he doesn’t remember her takes firmer hold, though Steve hadn’t mentioned any amnesia and he would have, Steve a good guy, he wouldn’t have let her walk in her blind. But still Bucky continues to stare, so she raises a hand in a stilted wave and says, “It’s, uh, Darcy.”

Bucky blinks, and in the span of the blink, his face slides from blank to exasperated, and the look is so him, his head tilted to the side and his mouth pressed flat, that she nearly goes weak in the knees.

“Well, how was I supposed to know?” she asks, unable to stop the damned goofy grin as she starts across the room.

His exasperation softens at the reference. Darcy circles the couch and sits down facing him, careful not to bump her right arm against the cushions. Up close, his face dulls the sharp edge of her joy, his lips bitten raw and beard sticky with tears. She wants to reach out and clasp his hand, but she refrains, still hesitant despite his clear remembrance of her.

“How are you?” she asks instead.

Bucky shrugs. “I don’t know.” His voice is hoarse, from crying, from screaming perhaps, at Steve or maybe from a nightmare. He shrugs again and says, “It’s all… there. It’s…” Bucky pauses a long time, searching for the right world. “A lot,” he settles on eventually, blowing out the words with a sigh. “It’s a lot.”

Darcy nods, unsure of what to say. His eyes flit to her and then away, over to the window, where he stares, eyes unseeing. He swallows and then tenses, trying hard not to shake as he draws in a breath, and his posture recalls for her the diner, Bucky there a stiff, dark shadow, the clock string wound too tight.

She breaks when he tilts his head completely to the side to try to hide his tears.

“I’m going to hug you now, okay?” She leans forward and clasps his hand without waiting for his response. “I need to. And you— you need one. You need, like, a thousand. So can—”

He’s turning toward her before she finishes. Darcy releases his hand to sling her left arm over his shoulder and draw him in close, as close as she can with her sling in the way. Bucky buries his face in the crook of her neck, he circles his right arm around her and holds on tight. His left hand seizes the loose bit of her sweater by her waist, pulling the fabric taut as he breaks down. His grief comes in waves, buffeting her, and Darcy tries to bear down, to remain strong, but she breaks along with him, hot tears slipping down her nose to soak his shirt. She thought no sound would haunt her more than him screaming in the chair, but the harsh wrench of his sobs echoing in the room harrow her now. Releasing her grip, Darcy runs her hand up and down his back, trying to soothe the tension from muscles that tremble beneath her touch.

The rip of her sweater makes Bucky jerk back. Darcy lurches forward, her arm still around him, wincing at the stab of pain in her shoulder at the sudden movement. Glancing down, she finds three fingers of his left hand caught in the fabric.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Bucky tries to yank free, but everything tangles further, bits of thread snagging in the shifting plates. His face twists in anger, and he tenses again to rip clear. Darcy reaches up before he does, cups the side of his face, and forces him to look at her.

“It’s okay. It’s just a shirt.”

Bucky stares down at her, breathing hard. He doesn’t jerk his hand free, but he does set his jaw, lifting it a bit as he says, “A shirt. A collarbone.”

“Bucky—”

“Broken wings and a slug to the stomach. And I— I killed them. I—”

He stops, twisting out of her grip as he tries to move up and off the couch, but his hand’s still caught in her sweater. The fabric twists taut around her body, keeping him in place long enough for Darcy to reach up and grab him by the shirt. She tugs down but Bucky resists, so she uses her grip to leverage herself up instead. He straightens as she does and tenses to move away, but she gives his shirt another sharp tug and says, “Just… stand still a moment.”

He does, though he keeps his head tilted stubbornly away. Darcy presses her lips together to squash her sigh then she sets to work, releasing his shirt to start easing the threads of her sweater from his hand. The room is too dim for Darcy to see, so she works by touch, easing her fingers over the ridges and planes as she searches for the snarls. They stand in silence for half a minute. Darcy uses the time to gather herself, to even her breathing, broken by crying. She doesn’t think Bucky takes a breath until his chest suddenly inflates and he tilts his head toward her to say, “I thought I would be better.”

Darcy stills at the quiet admission. “You didn’t need to be better.”

“Not better,” Bucky says, his frustration clear. Darcy peeks up at him, finds him staring off into the distance, his brow creased as he searches for the right word. Resuming her work, she waits. Nearly a minute passes before he says quietly, “More. Whole. There was… nothing before. I was nothing. They took it all. Or they tried to. Sometimes… sometimes there’d be something. Like an echo. Like— like chalk, you know, on a board.” His right hand clenches into a fist. His left twitches but remains still. “I knew it was something,” he continues, “but I didn’t know what, and I couldn’t—” Bucky stops again. His voice is bitter when he says, “They took that too.”

Darcy looks up at him now. “That’s never going to happen again.”

Bucky peers down at her, his eyes shadowed in the dim light. “No?”

Heart pounding in her chest, Darcy lifts her chin, tries to lay steel in her spine. “No.”

He says nothing, he peers at her instead, his gaze gliding across her face, eyes to cheeks to lips to nose before circling back again. For a moment, Darcy stops breathing as his metal hand shifts, brushing against hers, then he shakes his head softly and looks away. “You and Steve… Jesus Christ.”

Darcy frowns at him. “Me and Steve what?”

He meets her eyes again. “Working so hard to make me a person.”

Words fail her for exactly seven seconds before the frown deepens on her face and she says to him, “You are a person.”

“Maybe.”

Darcy raises both brows. “Maybe?”

Bucky sighs at her question. “Yes, maybe. But not in the way you’re getting ready to fuss at me for.”

She flushes, her mouth open for her to do just that. Ducking her head, she snaps it shut and starts to work again at untangling him. “I wasn’t,” she mutters a moment later.

“Yes, you were.” But his voice is fond as he says it.

She ducks her head further and tries to hide her smile. “So what way is it?”

Bucky pulls in a long breath, prepping for conversation, for revelation. Darcy pulls her sweater free from his knuckles, sliding it off his hand as he says, “There’s not one in here. One person. I remember Brooklyn, being that kid. And the soldier. And the lab rat and the sniper and the dead man and the asset, and it— It’s—” His voice hitches and he turns his head aside as he closes his eyes. “It’s a lot.”

It is. She knows that it is. But she knew it when she entered the room and when she stood by him on the side of the road and when she held his hand as he tried to sleep and when she followed him from the diner and when she looked up, found him hunched and shaking as he tried to eat, and she turned toward him, walking to his table rather than walking away.

“Then it’s a good thing we’ve got a lot of time.”

His eyes snap back to her face. “We?”

Darcy nods. “I’m staying in New York.” She takes a step back then, holds out her hand for him to shake. “Darcy Lewis, official Avenger. Mostly.”

He blinks at the last. “Mostly?”

“Technically assisting, which I think means that I just keep other people from wanting to murder Tony. Not in a bodyguard way,” she says at his frown. “In the way where he sucks with words so I have to use mine.”

Bucky stares at her, still frowning. Her hand remains outstretched between them, but he makes no move to take it. Darcy considers lowering it, but instead she very deliberately looks down at it then up at Bucky and cocks a brow. As she does, one corner of his mouth curves up into a smile. He lifts his arm, slowly, deliberately too, mischief in his eyes as he inches his hand toward hers.

“Bucky Barnes,” he says as they finally shake. “Official person. Mostly.”

Darcy laughs. His smile widens, and the shadows in his eyes begin to abate. She can help him, she knows that she can, can help nudge the mostly to completion, can help make him a person, actual and whole, and he can help her, show her how to throw a punch, to do more than just fire a taser while running away. But not now. Now she releases his left hand only to grab his right, giving it a tug as she says, “Come on. Let’s eat some food.”

Bucky doesn’t move, but his face is warm as he looks at her, the hard edges temporarily at bay. “Always trying to feed me,” he says. “Now who’s the mama bear?”

She grins at him. “Steve. He’s the one cooking. And he was supposed to find some cards. You can watch me kick his ass at rummy.”

“Is that right?” he asks, cocking a brow.

“Yep.”

“And what about my ass?”

Her nerves fizzle and pop at the look in his eyes. The motel flashes into her mind then, the exact shape and tone of his ass as he walked nude from the bathroom, seen despite her best efforts not to see. Trying not to flush, Darcy leans in and says, “Yours especially. Now come on.”

He relents at last, eyes shining, grinning again as he follows. She leads him around the couch and out of the room. Bucky stops outside the door, breathing in, and they both take a moment to blink in the brightness of the hall. They were battered and bruised but not yet broken, and they wouldn’t be, they would heal, in time they would heal because they had time now, here they had time, they had friends and a future and a place that they found in themselves and each other, a place that they found together.

*