“Hey, Steve; how’s it hangin’?”
Darcy grinned as she watched tough-guy Steve Rogers stammer and try to come up with a good response to her question. It was just the reaction she was going for. She was on a mission. She didn’t recognize the dark-haired guy standing next to him, but he had his back turned, so she didn’t worry about it.
She hopped one of her knees up onto the countertop, and then scrambled the rest of the way up like a little kid, standing to reach the very top cupboard above the row of appliances. Sure enough, there was a fresh, newly-replenished supply of Pop Tarts up there, and she began to load up her backpack with as many boxes as she could cram in, favoring the frosted varieties over the boring plain ones. Once the bag was stuffed to capacity, she zipped it up, hopped back down, and was ready to go. The whole operation had taken less than twenty seconds.
She spun back around to say goodbye and get out of there.
“So I’ll see ya later; I gotta— whoa. Who’s the hot hobo?”
Bucky choked a little on the granola bar he’d been eating as he looked up, and came face-to-face with the most gorgeous girl he’d seen in over seventy years, and suddenly wished he’d made better choices with his appearance that day. His hair was a mess, his beard was in dire need of trimming, and he was wearing a worn black T-shirt that said, ‘Shit for Brains’ on it.
To be fair, it was his all-time favorite T-shirt— someone had left it hanging on his locker some time ago, obviously meant as an insult, but he’d loved it so much it’d quickly become one of his go-to wardrobe items. Right now, though, he was regretting it. He felt like a dumbass. He could see the girl’s eyes dropping down to read the words.
“Darcy, this is my friend. Bucky. Bucky Barnes.”
“What, for real?” she said, and Bucky could see the surprise on her face as she looked at him again. “Holy shit, dude, I didn’t even recognize you under all that… stuff you got goin’ on.” Her eyes moved to his prosthesis then, and she sort of rolled her eyes in a self-deprecating expression.
“I guess the arm would’ve been a pretty good clue too, but… I never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the room. So, you still know how to dance? Because I remember reading somewhere that you used to be killer at it.”
“That’s a yes or no question, Sarge. Wait, can I call you Sarge? I know Steve hates being called Cap.”
“You can call me Bucky,” he said, and then for some reason, he blushed, and felt like an even bigger idiot, and he wondered if he had granola crumbs in his beard.
“So what’s it’s gonna be, Bucky? You gonna take me dancing?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, not wanting to say ‘no’ to anything this girl had to say.
“Great,” she said, “Because nobody else around here can dance for shit.”
She gave him a sassy smile that he felt run straight down his spine and into his dick, and he actually felt himself getting hard. From a smile. Fuck, this girl had super powers.
“Well, I gotta get back. See you guys around…”
“See ya Darcy,” said Steve, but Bucky was silent, even after she’d gone, still not quite knowing what’d hit him, until Steve finally gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
“Hey asshole,” he said, “I think you left your jaw on the floor.”
“What just happened?” said Bucky.
“I think you just made a date to take a girl dancing.” Steve snickered a little. “You better start practicing. You ain’t danced in seventy years.”
Normally Bucky would’ve told Steve to go fuck himself, but all he said was, “What’s her name again?”
“That’s Darcy,” said Steve.
“Uh huh. How come I ain’t ever seen her before? I woulda remembered it.”
“She works down in the labs, with Foster. Not supposed to be up on this floor.”
“That right? She some kind of scientist?”
Steve screwed the lid back on the jelly jar and walked it back over to the fridge. “She ain’t a scientist. More like… a personal assistant. Do not call her a secretary, unless you wanna get tased in the balls,” he said, looking back at Bucky with raised eyebrows.
“Oh yeah? Keep talkin’… she’s gettin’ better ’n better…”
“She comes up here to steal the Pop Tarts when they run out down in their break room,” he said. “Thinks she bein’ sneaky. It’s… a thing we do. She pretends I don’t see what she’s doin’, and I pretend I don’t see her seein’ me. Or somethin’ like that.”
“Oh yeah?” said Bucky again. “You sweet on her?” There was a little edge to his voice when he asked it, and Steve just smiled, chuckling a little.
“Naw, she ain’t my type.”
“I hate to break it to you, Stevie, but you got shit taste in women.”
“Maybe I do,” he said, raising his eyebrows again, but this time it was more rueful. “Maybe I do.”
He’d started taking better care of himself— combing his hair, trimming his beard— but he didn’t run into her again for two weeks, and this time nobody was cracking jokes.
“Darcy? You in there? Darcy Lewis!”
The upstate region had been struck by a small earthquake— a 4.9, the biggest since 2002. It wasn’t enough to cause major damage, but there’d been some shaking, and the entire facility had been evac’d. There’d been a head-count, and seven people had been unaccounted for, including Darcy Lewis.
Dr. Foster was beside herself: “I sent her to the records room,” she said. “I needed her to pull one of the old files on—”
“It’s okay,” Steve had told the frantic woman. “Bucky ’n I are gonna go in, sweep the facility, see if we can track down whoever’s still missing.”
Technically, they weren’t supposed to go back in until the system diagnostic finished running, but he figured not much could damage either of them, unless a ceiling collapsed, and that seemed unlikely.
“We’ll find her,” he said, and he’d nodded to Bucky, and off they’d gone…
Now Bucky was making his way through the science level, calling out her name, his chest pounding. He didn’t even know this girl— not really— but he felt sick anyway, worried something bad had happened… maybe something’d fallen, hit her on the head…
Finally, after a good five minutes of searching and calling out her name, he heard a reply— a weak, female voice, saying, “I’m here— I’m here…”
It only took him another ten seconds to find her, following the sound of her voice, calling out to reassure her…
She was lying on the floor of a small room filled with filing cabinets, her face smeared with dirty tears, and she smiled bravely when she saw him. There was a large metal filing cabinet lying on top of her feet, trapping her. She was probably in shock.
“It’s you,” she said. “You found me.”
“You all right sweetheart? Head hurt anywhere? Can you breathe okay?” He crouched down on one knee, smoothing her hair back so he could get a look at her eyes. Her pupils were okay, but she looked scared. “Neck all right? Can you move your head?”
She nodded, showing him, and he ripped off his T-shirt, feeling bad that it was sweaty, and made it into a little pillow for her head, lifting it gently so he could slide it underneath. It wasn’t much, but it was better than the hard floor.
“It’s just my feet,” she said, and then her lip wobbled and some tears leaked out of her eyes. “Can't get out. It hurts so much…”
“Hang on, Sweetheart. You're gonna be okay.” He had a walkie-talkie on his hip, and he clicked it on, radioed to Steve.
“Hey,” he said. “I found her. Found Darcy. She’s gonna need the EMTs. Crush damage, lower extremities.”
She could hear the crackling sound of Steve’s reply: “Aw, hell. She okay?”
“Should be,” said Bucky, though he knew no such thing. “But get ‘em here, fast as you can.”
“Roger that,” said Steve, and Bucky clipped the unit back onto his hip.
“Kay, doll,” he said. “I’m gonna take a look and see if it's safe to get this offa you...”
“I don't care,” she said. “Just do it. Get it off.”
The cabinet was huge— the type with long drawers, rather than cubes— and was probably pushing nine hundred pounds. Some of the drawers had fallen out partway when it’d tipped over, and file folders full of paper were spilling all over the floor. As he bent down close to the floor, where it was crushing her feet, he could see that it'd partially severed them from her body at the ankle, or slightly above. There was a lot of blood, and he knew she was in danger of bleeding out, even before the EMTs could get there. Glancing around, he could see a pile of ballpoint pens that had fallen off a supply table, exploding out of their box. He grabbed a couple and moved back up to her head.
"Sorry, doll; I'm gonna need that shirt back. Gonna tie off your legs, stop that bleeding."
He took the extra second to gently kiss her forehead, after he got the T-shirt out from under her head. "It's gonna be okay," he said.
He worked quickly then, tearing the shirt into two pieces— one for each leg— and, using the ballpoint pens as a windlass, created a makeshift tourniquet just above each of her knee joints.
She whimpered as he tightened each of them. He knew the pain had to be excruciating, but there was no helping it, if he was going to save her life.
"Can— can you take it off me now?" she said, when she was able to speak again. "I want it off."
"Don't know if that's a good idea," he said, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his flesh hand. "Might make it worse."
"Please," she said. "I don't wanna die with that thing on me. Just get it off." She was crying again, the tears running freely down the sides of her face.
"Okay, sweetheart," he said, his heart going out to her. "It's okay. I'll get it off."
He took a minute to assess the angles, figuring out the best way to go about it so that he could lift it straight off and away.
"You ready?" he said, checking her face. "S'gonna hurt."
"Don't know how it could hurt any worse," she said. "Just do it."
“Kay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Here we go.”
If she hadn’t been screaming while he lifted it off, she would have appreciated the glorious view of shirtless Bucky Barnes hefting a nine-hundred-pound metal cabinet and then tossing it to the side as though it were no heavier than a large suitcase, but she was in too much pain to enjoy anything. Anything other than knowing she wasn’t going to die there alone.
“Fuck,” he said, breathing it out, when he finally saw the damage.
“Is it bad?” she said. “I can’t... can’t move my feet…”
No wonder. Her feet were completely crushed. Pulped. Nothing left but bloody wrecks of smashed bone and mangled tendons and red, raw meat. Her legs had been almost completely severed, just above her ankles, by the edge of the metal cabinet.
“Sweetheart,” he said, his chest filling with emotion. He didn’t know what to say. She was trying to sit up, to see, and he put a hand out to stop her… said, “Shhh… just stay down. Don’t try to sit up. Don’t look at it. Won’t help.”
“Is it bad?” she asked again.
She wasn’t bleeding out, at least— the field tourniquets doing their job.
He wanted to put something over it, to protect her, and also so she wouldn’t see. But there was nothing in the room he could use— just scattered pieces of paper, file folders, office supplies. Instead he just kneeled down again, scooted over so that he was up by her head, and took her hand. He still couldn’t answer her question. Couldn’t bear to tell her that her feet were gone.
She must’ve guessed at how bad it was, though, because she said, “I guess we’re not gonna get to go dancing after all,” and it killed him, how she was trying to make jokes, stay upbeat, even as she lay there with her feet practically cut off. She sounded sleepy, starting to drift, and he squeezed her hand, trying to keep her awake.
“I’ll still take you dancin’,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that.”
She squeezed him back, weakly, and she was sniffling. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me here alone.”
“I ain’t goin’ anywhere,” he said.
She wound up being airlifted to the big hospital in Albany, which was a two-hour drive from the compound, but he still visited her at least three times a week, and sent flowers and cards and other little presents, when he couldn’t.
Jane looked around the hospital room, taking in all the bouquets and balloons and stuffed animals and then looked back to Darcy, who was unwrapping the latest gift, a little box of artisanal chocolates.
“I think he likes you,” said Jane.
“Holy shit,” said Darcy, as she got the wrapping all the way off. “These are those super fancy ones— you know, from that French place in the little village near the compound? The hand-made ones.” She popped one into her mouth and groaned. “Oh my God,” she said, around a mouthful of chocolate.
She’d had seven operations so far. Her feet were gone— there’d been no question of trying to save them— but she’d needed extensive work to deal with the damage done to the healthy, remaining parts of her legs below the knee. The good news was that her Stark-Industries medical insurance was going to get her some high-quality prostheses. She just had to wait until her stumps healed up enough to properly fit them. She’d be in a wheelchair for a few months, at least.
“How’s the pain today?” asked Jane.
“Not as bad. The nerve blocker seems to be working better. Stump A is itching like a motherfucker, though.”
She’d taken to calling her legs ‘Stump A’ and ‘Stump B’, and referring to herself as ‘Stumpy’ instead of ‘Darcy’, which made everyone really uncomfortable— except for Bucky, who totally got it.
The first time he’d seen her legs with the wraps off— seen the ugly, misshapen knobs where they’d sewn the ends of her muscle and skin in flaps over the ends, halfway down her calves— he hadn’t even flinched. He was the only one she’d let see, up close and personal, other than the doctors and nurses. Everyone else got the sanitized version, with the little wrappings in place— for their comfort, not hers. Nobody wanted to see that.
When Bucky’d come in to visit, in the early days, he hadn’t averted his eyes or schooled his features in that telltale way everyone else did— he’d just smiled, like he was happy to see her. And, unlike Jane, who always used the term ‘residual limb’, he wasn’t offended or disturbed by her casual, almost cheerful use of the word ‘stump’ when describing her body.
That wasn’t to say she hadn’t had her bad days— she’d had plenty of those— but he’d only witnessed one of the rock bottom moments, a couple weeks in, when she was feeling really low and ugly, which anyone would be feeling after two weeks of sponge baths and peeing in a metal pan, even if you weren’t facing a lifetime of being a double amputee.
“Nobody’s gonna want me like this,” she’d said, sobbing, completely contrary to the evidence around her— that somebody already wanted her, and that that somebody was right there in the room, sitting at her bedside, holding her hand.
“I’d tell you you’re crazy,” he said, “only I won’t insult you by sayin’ what you’re feelin’ is wrong.” He sighed and turned his head to the side. “Had plenty of low days myself.”
She snorted. “S’not the same,” she said. She’d stopped crying, but now her face was just blank… numb. He knew the feeling well.
“How so,” he said, wanting to keep her talking. Keep her from just hiding the feelings away in her head, like he knew she must want to. Like he did.
“Because you’re fricking gorgeous,” she said. “Nobody cares that you’re missing an arm.”
“I care,” he said, softly, and that made her turn, finally, blinking.
“Sorry,” she said, and he just smiled at her, quietly, a small one to tell her it was okay, that he understood.
“You’re gonna be fine,” he said, and then he leaned in and kissed her forehead, apparently not caring that she had sweaty, greasy hair sticking to her face, and that she stank. “And in case you were wonderin’, you still got the the prettiest legs I ever seen.”
She had one week left in the hospital, and she was getting better at going from the bed to the wheelchair, which meant she could actually use the bathroom by herself finally, thank Thor, and she was thinking how unexcited she was about yet another hospital barf-plate for lunch, when Bucky appeared in her doorway with a big paper bag and a rolled blanket under his arm.
“Wanna have lunch with me?” he said. “They said it’s okay if I take you outside for a couple hours, s’long as we don’t leave the hospital grounds.”
“You kidding me?” she asked. “Just lemme throw a real shirt on.” She was allowed to wear real clothes again for part of the day, for her PT sessions, but when she was in bed they preferred her to be in the standard hospital gown atrocities.
He turned his back while she got the hospital gown off, quickly putting on a tank top and a big, baggy shirt, and then pulled a loose, knit skirt up over her hips.
“All clear,” she said, and he turned around again, watched her carefully transfer herself to the wheelchair waiting at her bedside. It took her a while, but he was patient, not offering to help, knowing she wanted to do it herself.
“Sorry,” she said, as she finally settled herself. “I’m still figuring this out.”
“You’ll get there,” he said.
“I gotta work out my arms,” she said. “I’m weak.”
“I can help you with that,” he said. “You know, when you come back.”
“Sign me up,” she said. “Especially if I get to watch you work out, while we’re at it.” She wagged her eyebrows at him, and he laughed— a genuine laugh. It felt good. She took the brake off the chair and started to wheel herself toward the door. “All right, handsome; lead the way.”
They had to stop at the front to sign her out for lunch, and she stayed off to the side, and couldn’t help noticing the two teenage boys snickering at her from the row of chairs in the main lobby.
She hadn’t felt self-conscious about her stumps before— only fear, and a sort of inner self-hatred— and this was her first experience having someone react negatively to her appearance. Cruelly.
It shouldn’t have felt so shitty. They were just a couple of stupid kids. Then one of them took a picture of her, and that was it.
“Hey asshole,” she called. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Bucky turned around, finished at the front desk, trying to figure out what was going on— who was bothering his girl.
The kids saw him coming over to stand by her, and they sized him up pretty quickly— the muscles, the metal arm— and one of them said, “Oh shit,” and they both got up and hightailed it out of there.
“Yeah, you better run,” she called after them, trying to sound tough, even as her eyes were stinging. “My boyfriend’s gonna stomp your thorax!”
Bucky looked furious. “They do somethin’ to you?”
“Nothing worth mentioning,” she muttered. “Just a couple of idiots.”
He could see that she was hurt, though, in spite of her tough talk, and he smoothed his hand on her shoulder and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Let’s go eat our lunch,” he said.
He walked by her side as she wheeled her way through the automatic doors, and then she said, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to, you know… say what I said.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. She seemed almost embarrassed, and he didn’t know why.
“When I called you… when I said you were my… you know.”
“Oh,” he said.
They headed down the sidewalk to the wheelchair ramp, and he said, “There’s a shady spot over by the duck pond, if you want.”
“Sounds nice,” she said, and he led the way.
After another couple of minutes of awkward silence, he finally said, “I liked it. I liked what you said.”
“Yeah?” She couldn’t even look at him. She didn’t know why she was feeling so shy about it. It was pretty obvious that he liked her, and she liked him. She felt like she was fifteen years old, crushing on a friend— not a grown woman pushing thirty.
“I mean if—” He seemed just as flustered as she was.
“Okay,” she said, and that seemed to settle it, for both of them.
There wasn’t any wheelchair access down to the pond, and he apologized, but she brushed it off. Wasn’t his fault.
“I could carry you,” he said. “I mean, I know you don’t like bein’ helped…”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I think I could stand being carried by you.” And then she grinned at him, a little shy, biting her lip.
She put the brake on her chair, and he set the bag of groceries down in her lap, along with the rolled blanket and said, “You got it?” and she nodded, grabbing onto the stuff. He leaned down and lifted her up, easily, effortlessly, like she was made of air, and walked down the grassy slope to a nice shady spot, under an enormous oak tree.
He set her down carefully in the grass, and then spread out the blanket, and she scooted her way over to it, using her arms and her butt to move.
They didn’t dive into the food right away— just sat side by side for a while, looking at the pond… there was a family of mallard ducks swimming around, a male and a female and a long line of adorable, yellow-and-black little ducklings, and something about it made her tear up again.
“That kid took a picture of me with his phone,” she said.
“Probably gonna post it to some pervy site for guys who like to jack off to amputees…”
“Fuck,” he said, and he sounded equal parts livid and sorry. “You shoulda let me stomp him, like you said.” He picked up her hand, held it in his lap. “Coulda taken his phone, crushed it in my metal hand. Made him piss himself.”
“Mmm,” she said, closing her eyes. “That’s gonna be my new before-bed happy thought.”
He chuckled, looking at her face. She looked content, like the image really made her happy. He dropped the smile then, and it was almost like she could feel it, because she opened her eyes, looked at him.
He was gonna ask permission, but instead he just leaned in, his metal hand coming up to cradle her head as he brushed his lips against hers, asking, and her tongue darted out, ran along the edge of his upper lip, and it made him shiver, and he breathed out and closed his eyes and kissed her, and he felt her hand come up too, threading itself into his hair, holding him against her as she kissed him back, and when they broke apart to breathe they didn’t really separate, his lips pressed partly against her cheek, feeling the pound of his own heart…
The first time they made love, she didn’t even think about her legs. All she could feel were his lips on her, the scrape of his stubble against her face, his fingers moving through her folds, making her wet, the exquisite stretch as he pressed himself inside, both of them sighing as they rocked together.
“You make me feel good,” she whispered, as if it weren’t obvious….
“Likewise,” he said, kissing her deeply as he pulled out a little, and then slid back inside, and then he found a rhythm that soon had her gasping and curling her hands into the meat of his back, grinning and moaning and saying his name…
“Where’d you get that shirt made?” she asked him one day.
“The ‘Shit for Brains’ one. I wanna get one of my own.”
“You want a ‘Shit for Brains’ shirt?” he said, laughing.
“No,” she said. “I wanna get one that says ‘Stumpy’ on it.”
“Oh,” he said. “Uh, I didn’t get the shirt. Someone gave it to me.”
“Oh, like a gag?”
“More like an insult,” he said.
“Are they still breathing?” she said, laughing.
“Never found out who did it,” he said. “Don’t matter; I thought it was hilarious. S’my favorite shirt.”
“Maybe I can get one made up online,” she said, and wheeled over to her desk, where her laptop stood open.
“Get me a new ‘Shit for Brains’ one, while you’re at it,” he said. “Mine’s gettin’ worn out.”
“Wow, he’s really good,” said Jane, and she dabbed at the little tears that were sneaking out of her eyes.
“Yeah, he is,” said Steve. “Always was.” They were sitting alone at the table with their drinks, dateless. They’d agreed to go together, as friends, because they hadn’t wanted to miss this.
“Sorry I can’t ask you to dance,” he said. “Unlike Bucky, I ain’t got a single dancin’ bone in my body.”
“Me neither,” said Jane. “I’d rather just watch them, anyway.”
Bucky was twirling Darcy around the dance floor— she was barefoot, but the exposed-metal ankle rods of her prostheses made it clear that the dainty little feet she was stepping with were some type of cosmetic shell. She’d painted the toenails red.
Bucky did a move that spun her out, and she laughed, the raw joy on her face infectious to anyone watching, and then he reeled her back in and they just gazed at each other for a moment before he began to step again, moving her around the room, guiding her with hands and feet, his movements sure, practiced, almost elegant, in a way that people who knew him only as the Winter Soldier would never have believed possible.
Steve just smiled, because it was pure Bucky, but even better, because he was so obviously in love, and it was beautiful to see— beautiful on both of them. Darcy’s delighted laugh cut through the tinkle of the ballroom music again, and he could see Foster grinning ear-to-ear, watching her friend.
“Who are they?” Steve heard a woman ask, at the table next to them. “They must be famous… they look famous, don’t they?”
“Look at their shirts, though— ‘Shit for Brains’? ‘Stumpy’?”
“Must be an inside joke…”
Bucky spun her out again, and this time, when he reeled her back in, he dipped her, and then he couldn’t help it— he kissed her on the way back up, and then they just stood there, kissing, ignoring the wolf-whistles and one person’s humored, “Get a room!” as he got his fill, and when he finally broke away, she was just staring up him, her eyes bright…
“I love you, shit-head,” she said.
“Love you too, Stumpy.”