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When Darkness Descends

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It was one of those days. Though really it was more like one of those weeks, and felt like it had been going on for months. There was a strange detachment that she was feeling. Sometimes after a tough mission, this feeling settled over her, and it usually took a few days to get out of that mindset.

This time though, it felt like she was struggling to shrug off that feeling. It felt almost like there was a perpetual grip on her chest, slowly squeezing tighter each day.

She sighed as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Tony was throwing a party to celebrate... something or other. She couldn't even remember what they were celebrating this time. She'd gotten dressed reluctantly and wasn't in any kind of mood to socialise. But as a member of the team, it was expected of her.

She walked over to the door, and was about to open it when she stopped, slowly leaning her forehead against the door and took a few deep breaths. She hoped the night would go smoothly and hopefully everyone would leave her more or less alone.

She sank to her knees, still in front of the door. Taking deep breaths, she wanted nothing more than to just sit there for the rest of the night alone, but knowing her team, they'd be banging down her door anytime soon. Maybe if she made a quiet entrance, she could find a cosy corner where she'd be disturbed the least, and spend enough time at the party for her to have made an effort. Then she could make an equally quiet exit, and get back to her apartment.

She knew Steve and Bucky suspected something was wrong - they'd been overly attentive to her and had been trying to find out what was going on. She just hadn't been in the mood to talk. And they'd mostly just kept her company after realising she wasn't going to say anything.

She'd already had a bottle of wine while getting ready, but somehow it wasn't helping her feel any better.

Bringing herself up to her feet she opened the door and stepped towards the noise of the party. She'd waited long enough so there was enough of a crowd for her to blend into. She headed straight for the bar - her game plan tonight was to grab a whiskey from the bar when she got there and just nurse as many as she could.

Drink in hand, she looked around the room and spotted a few of the Avengers around the room, happily chatting to people. She made her way to a quiet corner and people watched.

She was almost done with her drink when Bucky stood next to her, nudging her with his shoulder and asked, 'How you doing, babe?'

She gave him a wry smile, and said, 'I'm still alive'. She touched his metal arm putting her hand on his shoulder, and slowly stroked it all the way down to his finger tip. Bucky looked at her curiously. They'd been together for a while now, and she'd always been affectionate but there was something in the way she was doing it that seemed different.

She glanced at him, a sad smile on her face, then wordlessly downed the rest of her drink and moved off towards the bar before Bucky could say anything. He looked up and noticed Steve watching them - he'd seen what had happened and they exchanged a look of concern. Steve gave him a small nod, and made a note to keep an eye on her for the rest of the night.

About half an hour later, he glanced over at her, as she was sat on the couch listening to something Thor was saying. She had a strange detached look on her face, like she was trying to make it seem like she was paying attention when really she wasn't. There was a small, vacant smile on her face, and he felt like it was there as a mask to make it seem like anyone would think she was enjoying herself.

He turned back to his conversation with Sam, and they spoke for a few minutes. When he had looked back to where she was, he realised she was gone. He peered around but couldn't see her anywhere throughout the party.

Excusing himself, he started making his way through the people, searching for her. The party was packed, as Tony Stark's parties tend to be, and it took him a while to weave through the crowd. Eventually he thought to look out on the balcony, thinking to himself that maybe she'd wanted some fresh air away from the throng of people.

She was standing looking out over the panoramic view, hands gripping the balcony while the wind was whipping her hair around her face, her dress floating in the wind.

He heard her murmuring something over and over again under her breath. Normally he'd have been able to hear it but the noise of the party drowned her voice out so he could only see her lips moving.

It wasn't until he'd stepped closer that he could make out what she was saying.

She took a few shuddering breaths.

'Fuck. Fuck!'.

He quickly made his way to her, and put his hand on her back. 'Hey, hey, hey, what's wrong, doll? Did something happen?' He tried to pull her to him to envelop her in a hug but she kept pulling away, resisting his efforts, falling into a crouch as she did, her eyes squeezed shut.

'Please. Let me go, Steve. Let me go. Steve, let me go. Just let me go.' There was no emotion behind her voice, she wasn't pleading with him. It was almost like she was trying to order him to obey.

He kneeled down beside her, 'Doll, hon, something's bothering you. It's just... It's just that something isn't right. This isn't the you I know. And I don't think things have been right for a while. Let me help you. I'm here for you.'

She paused, and looked at him. He was startled at how empty her eyes seemed. Like she was looking at him but not seeing anything.

' I'm sorry, Steve. I'm so sorry. Let me go, please.'

'What have you got to be sorry for, hon? You don't have to apologise for anything.'

'Please. I need to go.' She pulled out of his reach and onto her feet, stumbling slightly. Steve reached out to try and steady her but she took a few steps back away from him, scrambling to get away from him. She seemed frantic to be anywhere but there at that point in time.

He looked at her figure retreating away from her, confused. Unsure what he'd done to make her feel this way, or what had happened. He was Captain America, the star spangled man with a plan. But right now he was drawing a blank. He didn't know what to do, as he watched her turn on her heels and make her way back into the party.

She pushed her way through the crowd, trying not to draw any more attention to herself. Grabbing another whiskey from the bar, she made her way up to her apartment. She knew there was a good chance either Steve or Bucky were going to come shortly after. Hesitating in front of her door, she decided to head up to the roof instead.

When she got to the top floor, she stopped before the door to the roof, and looked at the ceiling.

‘F.R.I.D.A.Y, I’d appreciate if you didn’t disclose my location to anyone. Particularly Capt Rogers and Sgt Barnes.’
‘Understood, miss. I’ll be sure to keep your location secure from them, and anyone else.’
‘Thank you, F.R.I.D.A.Y. Please lock the roof top door once I’m outside. I’ll let you know again when I want to come back in, okay?’
There was a pause from the A.I., before she answered ‘That isn’t advisable, miss. The door is always kept unlocked in cases of emergencies.’
‘I know, F.R.I.D.A.Y, but just this once, for me, please? Don’t unlock it for anyone, unless I say so.’
The A.I. answered, in what seemed like a softer voice, ‘Understood, miss.’

She opened the rooftop door and stepped over the threshold. The wind was much stronger up here, and whipped her hair all around her. Closing the door behind her, she waited to hear the locks turn. When it didn’t, she said, ‘F.R.I.D.A.Y, the locks please.’ A split second later she heard the door lock behind her.

Taking a gulp from her whiskey, she walked to the edge of the roof and looked out. Moving towards a ledge, she sat and leaned against it. Her thoughts swirling in her head as much as the wind blowing up on the roof top.

After Steve had tried looking for her at the party, and checking with Bucky if he’d seen her, he decided he needed to find her. If anything it was to reassure himself that she was fine.

He searched some of the meeting rooms to see if she’d ducked into one of them, and even checked the gym. When they both turned up empty, he wandered up to her floor but got no response.

‘F.R.I.D.A.Y, is she in her apartment?’
‘No, she is not, Captain.’
‘Can you tell me where she is?’
‘Captain, I am unable to. She requested for her location not to be disclosed, especially to you or Sgt Barnes.’
Steve sighed, as the A.I. piped up again, ‘Captain, I can tell you that she is safe. Although her body temperature is starting to drop from the wind chill.’

Steve paused, and headed for the roof.
Finding the door locked, he looked at the ceiling, ‘F.R.I.D.A.Y?’
‘Captain, I am not allowed to unlock the door for you, sir… but perhaps you might want to check the vents on the north side while you’re up here?’
Steve smirked as he said ‘Thank you, F.R.I.D.A.Y. I might just do that.’

She heard footsteps crunching on the roof top, and wasn’t surprised when Steve came up behind her.

Before he could say anything, she told him, ‘I don’t want to talk, Steve. There’s nothing to say. Please, just go.’
‘Doll, I’m worried about you, and I’m worried because I care about you. A lot, in fact.’
‘I know. I’ve never doubted that, but I just don’t want to talk. About this, or about anything.’
‘Let me at least just keep you company. We can just sit and watch a movie or something. Or we can just sit together, if you want.’
‘Steve. Why? Why can’t you just leave me alone?’
‘Because doll, it hurts me to see you this way, and I just want to make sure you’re okay.’

She sighed, closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, and Steve took it as a sign that he could stay. Settling down beside her, he sat quietly, studying her face.

On any other day, he’d have been blown away by her beauty, but the closed-off look on her face, the complete lack of emotion on it scared him.

‘It’s been a long time since we just sat up here. I always forget how breathtaking this view is. If it wasn’t so windy, this would be a great place for a picnic,’ he said. There was no response from her, and he moved tentatively towards her, putting his arm around her back. She stiffened slightly, but eventually tucked herself into his shoulder. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and just held her.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he took it out to read the message that Bucky had sent.

Did you find her yet?
He tapped out a reply that he had and that they were on the roof.

Want me to come up?
'No, not now. I'm going to try and get her back downstairs to her apartment. I'll let you know.'

Steve pocketed his phone and held her tighter. 'It's getting cold up here, hon, and you feel like you're freezing. Let's head back down to your apartment ok?'

She didn't answer, and for a split second Steve thought she might have fallen asleep. Then she brought the tumbler of whiskey to her lips and downed the last of it, before getting to her feet and shuffling towards the door. Steve quickly caught up to her, and followed her through the door.

The ride down was silent, and he kept looking over at her. She had refused to look him in the eye since they were on the roof, and right now her eyes were downcast, just looking at the floor.

When they reached her floor, she opened the door, walked over to the sofa and curled up in a corner, her head on the armrest. Eyes still downcast. Steve took out his phone and tapped a message out to Bucky to let him know that they weren't on the roof anymore. Then he walked over to sit next to her, gently rubbing circles on her back.

'C'mere doll, come lean against me,' he said to her softly. She sat up with a sigh and flopped on to him. He tucked her in close to him, just as they heard a knock on the door.

'It's probably Bucky. He was worried about you too. Can I let him in?' Steve asked.
Nodding her head, he called out to Bucky to come in. He settled himself next to Steve and looked at her, then up at Steve.

'She doesn't want to talk about it, so let's just sit here with her for a while, ok Buck?'
'Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Hey babe, gimme your feet, I'll give you a foot rub while we're here.' He pulled her feet over Steve's lap and started rubbing them.

'It's been a while since we all spent some time together, huh?' Bucky remarked as he worked on her feet. 'Between all the missions and everything else we have to do, it sometimes feels like we don't have enough time for the three of us.'

Steve hummed in agreement, 'Yeah, it has been pretty crazy hasn't it. I think maybe it's time we all took a little time off. Go somewhere nice and chill out for a bit. Whaddya say, doll?'

Silence met his question, and the two men looked at each other again. They sat for a few moments when she started speaking. Her voice so soft it was barely louder than a whisper, even in the quiet of the room.

'It's not that I don't appreciate what the two of you do for me. I do. I'm grateful I have you both. It’s just… I’m a blank. It feels like there’s nothing there. I’m not sad, or angry, I’m just… empty. It’s like something has turned off all the lights in my world, and the anxiety grips me in a stranglehold while I lie in the dark. And that’s what it feels like right now.’

Steve was about to reply when he heard her speak again.

'But what right have I got to feel this way? There are so many more people out there who face problems and situations so much bigger than this.'

She paused, her voice getting softer. 'I can't even pull myself together over... nothing. I don't even feel like crying. I just want to... sink into the dark because it feels like that's the only thing there.'

'Doll, the thing is... You look after us. All of us, really. You're always the one who notices what we need, who anticipates everything we need even before we know it and you're constantly looking out for everyone else and looking after them. So much so that sometimes you forget to look after your own self. You give so much to everyone. I'm not surprised it feels like you have nothing left for yourself.'

He took in a breath. 'I'm sorry that I didn't stop it from happening. I should have been there for you earlier. We'd noticed the change a few weeks ago, but I didn't have the chance to do anything about it. I'm sorry.'

Bucky chimed in, 'Babe, you know that no matter what it is, we're always here for you. It doesn't matter what's happening. You're important to me, to us, and I'm sure I speak for Steve on this, but we're here for you till the end of the line. There's no one else I'd rather have in my corner than you. And Steve.'

The men both looked at her, although she still hadn't looked at either of them yet.

'I don't deserve the two of you,' she murmured, moving her legs from Bucky to tuck under herself, while putting her head in Steve's lap.

'Hon, on most days, I can't even believe I have someone as amazing as you in my life. If anything, I don't deserve you. And the love you've given to the both of us. You love so fiercely, with all your heart and more. And you give that to everyone in your life. That's just, truly remarkable.' Steve looked at her softly.

Bucky moved to the floor, putting his head in Steve's lap so he was facing her. Looking her in the eyes he proclaimed, 'I love you. We love you. And we're here for you. I don't think you have any idea how much you mean to me. Especially after everything that's happened, I never thought I'd ever be lucky enough to find someone who loved me so selflessly.'

She hummed in acknowledgement but didn't say anything else, looking away from Bucky.

Bucky looked up at Steve, exchanging a look between the two.

'C'mon doll, let's get you to bed, ok? We'll be here with you tonight.'

Bucky stood up and lifted her out of Steve's lap, carrying her over to the bed. He put her down, and then laid behind her, enveloping her in his arms. She felt Steve lie on her other side, his hand on her head while he rested his chin on the top of her head. Both men were soothingly stroking her - Steve running his hand through her hair, while Bucky ran his hands over her arms.

She sleepily murmured a thank you to the two, hoping that with them holding her tight, maybe, just maybe, they could hold her together enough for her. Until she was able to do it again for herself.