“Jesus. How long was I gone?” Bucky looked out the window of the quinjet as it descended towards the landing pad. The new compound – rising out of the literal ashes of the old one – was still a work in progress, but even from the air he could see that a lot had changed.
In the pilot’s seat, Sam laughed. “They can do a lot in three months, man. Especially with Pepper signing the checks.”
Bucky had never gotten the chance to make any kind of amends to Stark, and he didn’t quite know how to face the man’s widow. He was surprised that she’d still wanted anything to do with what was left of the Avengers, but maybe she felt like it was something she needed to do for Stark’s memory. Just like I gotta still be here for Steve’s sake, even though the punk’s off in another dimension with his grandkids now. Thank god he handed the shield to Wilson instead of me.
The gentle thud of the landing gear hitting the pad knocked him back out of his own head. “Thanks for the lift,” he remembered to say. It had been a solo mission – helping the Wakandans follow up on some stolen vibranium in Belarus, his first time running an op entirely on his own since getting out from under Hydra’s thumb – and he was still remembering how to make conversation outside of tactical necessities. But Wilson was easy, as easy as anybody was going to be these days. “Is that a garden?” he added, glimpsing a flash of colour out of the corner of his eye as they exited the jet.
“Yeah.” Sam walked a little closer to the edge of the roof, pointing in that direction. It was a fair-sized chunk of land on the west side of the building that had just been dirt and weeds when Bucky had left. “It was Wanda’s idea, but a bunch of people got in on it. Gardening’s not totally my thing, but if nothing else, it’s turned into a nice spot for some fresh air. You should check it out.”
Bucky made a non-committal noise. “Right now I need to debrief and then check out a shower. And bed.”
“It’s not even eight p.m.!” Wilson called, as they parted ways inside the building. “You need some life in your damn life, Barnes!”
It was quarter to ten by the time he’d debriefed, showered, and found something in his kitchen that was still edible after several weeks away. Late enough that he felt justified slinging himself into bed, though he lay awake a while, thinking about Wilson’s parting words. It was a continuing theme – had been, ever since the dust had settled after Stark’s death and Steve’s departure. Start living. As if just existing and trying to get some of the red off my ledger isn’t enough goddamn work. A night in his own bed – maybe free of dreams, if he was lucky – sounded like enough ‘life’ for the moment.
There wasn’t another mission on the docket. ‘Take a few days off… as long as the world doesn’t blow up,’ he’d been told at his debriefing. It was supposed to be good news, but it was hard to know what to do without a set of mission parameters. Working out and going to the gun range took up the morning; at noon he was due to meet Wilson. It wasn’t exactly therapy, but it wasn’t exactly not therapy, either. At least, Sam always seemed to find a way into the cracks of Bucky’s head. Generally by being a pain in the ass.
Sam caught up to him on his way back from the range. “Figured I’d find you here. Wanna stop by the canteen and grab a bite before we head up?”
Bucky blinked. “We have a canteen?”
“Like I said, they can build a lot of shit in three months, man. And given that I bet you’ve got nothing in your place but maybe some crackers and spoiled milk right now…”
“Hey. I’ll have you know I also have mustard.”
Sam laughed, looking like he was about to slap Bucky on the back before thinking better of it, retracting his hand. Bucky simultaneously appreciated and hated the gesture – appreciated Sam’s respect of the fact that he still struggled with touch, and hating the fact that it was an issue, that anybody felt like they needed to kid-glove him. “I’d say you should send in a biohazard team after being away so long, but I know for a fact you probably never had any fresh stuff in there to begin with. Anyhow, I’m starving. We can eat in there or take it up to my place if you want.”
Bucky followed him into a wing that had been a construction zone the last he saw it; now a hallway opened onto a bright airy cafeteria, the windows overlooking part of the garden they’d glimpsed from the landing pad the night before. It wasn’t busy, but he couldn’t help noticing the looks when they walked in the door.
“Forget about it, man,” Sam muttered under his breath as they walked up to the counter. “The staffers do that any time any of us come in here… me, Banner, Wanda, whoever. It’s like kids in kindergarten; they think the teachers don’t eat.”
“Whatever.” Bucky pretended to be very interested in the menu instead, and thankfully by the time they got their food, everyone else had turned their attention back to their own lunch.
Everyone except one woman – a petite brunette - who came in the door, looked around as if she was in a panic, and made a beeline for Wilson. “Sam. Ohmygod. Have you seen Darcy? Have you seen anybody? I don’t know where Darcy is and there is SO much data to go through…”
“Whoa, whoa.” Sam set his tray on the nearest table and held both hands up as if she might explode. “Didn’t you say you were giving Darcy a couple of days off? That she was going to see her parents or something?”
The woman fisted both hands in her long hair – which looked as if it had already been subjected to a great deal of the same treatment – and made a frustrated noise. “Shit. Shitshitshit. You’re right. I did. She’s back tonight.”
“Wait,” Sam called after her retreating back. “So she’s been gone a couple days and you only noticed now?”
Already heading out the door, the woman just waved a hand vaguely without looking back.
“Who’s the tiny terror?” Bucky asked, joining Sam as he sat down.
“Aw, look at you making a joke. This is progress, Barnes. She your type?”
Jesus, don’t open this up again. “I don’t have a type. Just wondering who the hell she is. She certainly seems to know you.”
“Jane Foster,” Sam replied. “Doctor Jane Foster. Astrophysicist. Showed up about a month after you left, said she wanted to work with Banner. Contribute her skills.”
“But…” Bucky finished his bite of burger before continuing. “This is the Avengers compound. Since when can somebody just walk in and say they want to work here?”
Wilson raised an eyebrow. “She can. Thought Banner was gonna do backflips when he heard. She’s… I gather she’s up there on the Banner, Stark, Shuri kind of level for what she does.”
“Nobody’s on Shuri’s level. Trust me.”
“Okay, well. I’m not rubbin’ shoulders with royalty like you. But Foster is serious business. Despite what you just saw. Or maybe because of it.”
Bucky took a long swig of his Coke while he thought about that. “Still. They just said ‘hey, come on in’? No security screening?”
“Dude. They had a file a mile thick on her already. Remember Thor? They used to be a thing.”
“The thunder and lightning guy. Who, as far as everybody tells me, is a god from space or something.”
“And that little tiny dame?”
Wilson just shrugged. “Love is strange, my friend. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Bucky didn’t let his thoughts go too far down that path. “And who’s this… Darcy that she was looking for – another scientist?”
“Started out as Foster’s assistant, I guess. They came as a package deal. Next thing anybody knows, Darcy’s managing the whole science wing. Give her another six months and she’ll probably be running the whole show at this rate. You’ll meet her soon enough – she’s one of those people who makes it her business to know everybody in the place.”
Bucky just raised an eyebrow and went back to his burger. He seriously doubted that Darcy the science lab manager was going to want to know him.
It took three days before curiosity – and sheer lack of other things to do – prompted Bucky to go and take a look at the garden. It was down two flights and out a back exit, not a way he usually travelled. Have there always been this many people living here, he wondered, noting how many other apartment doors he passed along the hallway. It wasn’t that he was unaware of how many scientists, analysts and other support staff kept the operation running, but he’d never really stopped to consider how many of them lived onsite.
Stepping out of the climate-controlled building was a bit like walking into a wall, the mid-September heatwave at odds with the couple of trees starting to turn colour in the middle distance. He liked it, though. If he closed his eyes and tuned out the faint hum of the rooftop HVAC units he could almost pretend he was back in Wakanda. Almost. The scents were different, though, and he kept his eyes closed a little longer, instinct prompting him to test himself, see how many he could catalog. Wood, cut grass, soil baking in the sun, lavender, and… laundry soap?
Though he opened his eyes to figure out that last mystery, for a moment he found himself jolted back nearly a century. His mother’s voice: Stop teasing your sister and pull that washing in off the line for me. Just as suddenly, he was back in the moment, needing to draw in a ragged breath and put a hand back against the wall to ground himself. He’d put most of the pieces of his mind back together since getting away from Hydra, but every once in a while, a memory could still come shooting back out of nowhere. Mostly innocent ones these days, thank god.
But the smell of the soap wasn’t a figment of his imagination. Heading off the patio and following a path of sorts between planting beds, he came around some kind of tall flowering shrub and blinked at the sight of an honest-to-god clothesline at the garden’s edge. Unlike the lines of whites that he remembered flapping between Brooklyn apartments in his childhood, though, this one was a paintbox of colours – blue jeans and an assortment of t-shirts, some with mottos or cartoon characters. A pair of bare legs and bare feet were visible behind the wash line, and it only took a few seconds before they side-stepped to an empty spot and Bucky saw a young woman, dark hair piled up in a messy topknot, glasses slightly askew on her face, and a fair bit of cleavage on show as she bent down to retrieve something else from the tote bin at her feet.
He cleared his throat, wanting to alert her to his presence before she put on more of a show than she probably meant to. She startled at the sound, but when she stood up and took a look at him, she didn’t get that deer-in-headlights look that he was accustomed to. “Hey,” she said, giving him a half-wave before pulling out another shirt and clipping it to the line. “Sorry about the laundry. But at least all the bras and underwear are safely on the drying rack inside my place, so we can both walk away with our dignity intact. You’re Sergeant Barnes, right?”
Bucky blinked. “Um, yeah.” He nearly added how did you know, but it wasn’t like he was incognito. His hand wasn’t even covered. Belatedly, he realized that he should introduce himself properly, but by then she was speaking again.
“Yeah. I saw you on the news when they had those hearings about your immunity and everything. You had more beard then. I like this look, though,” she added, gesturing toward him. “The bit-of-scruff thing. Jesus.” Smacking the heel of her hand into her forehead, she laughed. “Sorry, don’t mind me, I have absolutely no filter. I’m Darcy, by the way. Darcy Lewis.”
“The lab manager,” he replied, trying to make this new information add up. From the way Sam had described her, he’d expected someone more like Pepper Potts: serious, businesslike, not a hair out of place. Not someone who would lead with a comment about underwear while hanging up a shirt that said ‘THE WORST’ in acid-green lettering.
“Ah, my reputation precedes me. I’m honoured. Though I prefer to think of myself as ‘scientist wrangler’, personally. A shocking amount of my day involves making sure Jane doesn’t actually forget to do things like eat and sleep and remember her own name. Dr. Banner has his shit, like, way more together but even he needs to be prodded to interact with the real world and the other, non-sciencey humans from time to time.”
Trying to keep up with her felt a little bit like being on the Cyclone at Coney Island: fast and mildly vertiginous. But not the worst ride he’d been on recently. “What are you doing hanging your stuff on a clothesline – how come you don’t just use the dryer?”
“It’s going to sound stupid. But… I’ve spent so much of my life living in shitty little apartments. I never had a backyard, except for when I’d go stay with my grandmother in the summertime, sometimes. I always said that if I ever had a yard, I’d put up a clothesline like she had. I loved that ‘outside’ smell. And… well, I can’t exactly say this is my backyard, but when I asked around they had this put up. I think they figured it’s an eco-conscious thing, but that’s not really why I do it. I know some people think it’s an eyesore to hang stuff outside.”
“Doesn’t bother me,” he replied. “Reminds me of my mom.”
“You’re welcome, I guess?” After attaching one final item to the line, Darcy picked up her basket and turned to the door. “Catch you later, Sarge.”
“Bucky,” he corrected. “Call me Bucky.”
The next time he saw Darcy Lewis, he was in the canteen line with Sam when a loud voice erupted from somewhere near the doorway. “ENCHILADAS? HELL YES!” A moment later, Darcy appeared at the counter, frantically typing something into her phone as she approached. “Oh hey!” she added, only noticing him when she almost collided with his left elbow. “I came expecting pizza and they have enchiladas today? Officially the best day ever.”
Sam leaned over from Bucky’s other side. “You don’t even know if they’re good enchiladas.”
Darcy shook her head. “Dude. No such thing as a bad enchilada. Not possible. Besides, everything else I’ve had from here has been pretty good for cafeteria stuff.”
“I… don’t know what enchiladas are,” Bucky confessed, testing out the unfamiliar word.
“Seriously, man?” Sam asked.
Darcy looked horrified. “Dude. DUDE. I mean, I knew life had dealt you some rough hands, but no enchiladas?” She met Bucky’s eyes and gave him a half-smile that wasn’t quite as flippant as her words, and somehow her fleeting acknowledgement of some of the shit he’d been through sat better with him than any of the people who’d tried to be delicate and sympathetic about it – though in truth those people had mostly just been Steve and Sam. “This ends now. Chicken, beef or veg?”
Bucky stared at her for a second. “Sorry?”
“I’m contributing to your cultural education. What kind of enchiladas do you want?”
“Am I getting enchiladas out of this deal?” Sam asked.
Darcy waved a hand. “You already know what they are. You can get your own.”
The server was waiting for their orders. “Um, whatever kind you recommend,” Bucky told her.
“Chicken, then. One beef enchiladas and three chicken, please,” Darcy said, turning to the server. “I’m taking lunch back to the lab for Bruce and Janey,” she added by way of explanation. “I’m not eating three orders by myself.”
Once the transaction was complete, she handed one container to Bucky and set the other three down on the nearest table. “Give me your phone for a sec.”
The request took him so much by surprise that he unlocked his phone and handed it over before he could think to ask why. It only took her a second to type something in and hand it back. “My number,” she explained. “I’ve got to run, but I expect you to text me and let me know what you think. Of the enchiladas. Not, like, every thought that crosses your mind or anything. I mean, you can if you want. But yeah, mainly the enchiladas.” A metallic ping noise sounded from somewhere in the vicinity of her jeans, then repeated itself. “Shit, I’d really better go. Science waits for no one!” Collecting her takeout containers, she hustled out of the canteen, ignoring her still-beeping phone.
He stared after her for a few seconds before collecting his food and following Sam over to one of the quieter tables in a corner. “What the hell just happened?”
Sam laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t know, man, but seems to me like you just got a free lunch and a phone number, so I’d say you’re having a better day than me so far.”
“It’s not like that. She just wants to know what I think of the food.”
Bucky bristled a little at the implication. “You saw her, taking lunch to Foster and Banner. She looks after people. It’s probably just a habit; she’s just a nice girl.” And when was the last time a dame went out of her way to be nice to you? He ignored the little whisper in his mind and opened the container to find three narrow rolls in a red sauce with a liberal helping of melted cheese on top. It reminded him of something he’d had before the war. “This looks like – what the hell’s it called – cannelloni. The Italian joints in Brooklyn used to have it.”
“Not the same; this is Mexican. Try it,” Sam prompted.
“Eat your own damn food, then. I don’t need an audience like it’s feeding time at the zoo.” Picking up his knife and fork, he cut into one of the rolls and took a bite. Wilson was right; it wasn’t cannelloni. The spices were different, hotter, and it wasn’t noodles under the sauce, but it was tasty. “It’s good.”
“Well then,” Sam replied, looking like the cat that swallowed the damn canary. “I think you owe a lady a text.”
He waited till later, till he was sitting by himself in his apartment. Bucky had no problem texting – apparently he’d taken to it far more quickly than Steve had – but it was mostly Sam he texted with. Shuri touched base with him now and then, and sometimes Rhodes or Fury would text out dates and times for team meetings. Thinking of his interaction with Darcy Lewis in the canteen, and their previous meeting outside with the laundry, he typed and erased a couple of messages before deciding to keep it simple.
Hey, it’s Bucky. I realized I never thanked you for the enchiladas. You were right, they were delicious.
His phone beeped moments later. Of course they were. I do not mess around when it comes to semi-junk-food delicacies. Don’t get me started on pizza toppings.
Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who put pineapple on it.
She was typing back before he could even put his phone down, a flurry of rapid-fire responses:
What kind of lunatic do you take me for?
Mushroom and peppers.
Spicy sausage if I feel like having meat.
Did you know that in Norway they put bananas on pizza?
Bucky waited a few seconds to make sure she wasn’t going to add anything else. I know I hadn’t heard of enchiladas before today but you’re not going to make me believe that.
A minute later, a photo popped into the conversation. It was unmistakably a pizza with banana slices on it. Jane and I were working way up in the north of Norway for a while and there weren’t a lot of restaurant options. We saw this on the menu a bunch of times before we got up the nerve to try it.
Not AS bad as you’d think but… not GOOD. Definitely not proper pizza.
He didn’t want to think too hard about bananas, but the talk about pizza was bringing back memories – good ones, clearer in his mind than the half-remembered cannelloni. You want proper pizza, you gotta go to Brooklyn. Totonno’s.
Oh yeah? I think I saw that place on TV.
Used to go there before the war, he replied. It’s still there, looks the same.
Still taste the same? The conversation was bouncing back and forth almost as fast as if they were speaking.
He hesitated over this one, though, before settling on Don’t know, not yet. Truth was, he hadn’t spent any real time in the city since getting his life back. You should try it sometime, though.
Maybe you should come with me.
He just stared at that last line, unable to formulate a response. It almost sounded like she was trying to hint at a date, but that made no sense. She was probably joking around, and he was reading the wrong things into an innocent conversation with a nice girl just because he was too out of touch to keep up with her. He didn’t know how to keep up with her. Annoyed with himself suddenly, he tossed his phone onto the table and walked away without composing a reply.
He felt like a heel, just dropping their conversation like that, but the longer he left it, the harder it got to think of how to pick it back up again. The next morning he was still chewing it over in the back of his head, mentally trying and rejecting possible ways that he could have replied to her last text, but soon enough real life took over: a knock on his door from Sam, calling him out to a meeting in Banner’s lab.
Bucky and Sam found Banner, Rhodes, and Wanda gathered round a table, and Shuri’s image looking on from a display on the wall. “Ah, there you are, Sergeant,” Shuri said, raising an eyebrow so high it almost merged with her hairline. “You cut your hair. If you can call that a haircut.”
He tucked a loose strand behind one ear, frowning. She was more accurate than she probably realized; the length of his hair had been starting to drive him nuts, but the thought of sitting in a chair and letting a stranger take scissors to him was still too much; he had chopped some of the length off himself, to the best of his ability. He’d had to do it before, back in the days when he was hiding out in Bucharest. It wasn’t terrible, but what he really wanted was to cut it short, the way he used to wear it. Maybe then he’d feel a bit more like his old self. Not with this thing hanging off me, part of his brain reminded him, as he flexed his metal hand.
Shaking the thoughts out of his head, he turned his attention to the unfamiliar object on the table, presumably the reason for their meeting. It was smooth and dark green, nearly black, with an almost imperceptible pattern to it. It was jagged along one edge but looked as though it had once been a rectangular slab; what remained of it was a couple inches thick and would maybe fit in a grocery bag. When the others stopped talking, he noticed a faint sound coming from the object. “What the hell’s this, and why’s it humming?” he asked.
From the looks they gave him, it was pretty clear no one else could pick up the sound. “It’s resonating at 15Hz,” Bruce said, tilting his massive green head to look at Bucky. “Normally only a mole could hear that, or maybe an elephant or a whale.” Ignoring Wilson’s quickly-suppressed chuckle at that, Banner carried on. “As far as we’ve been able to tell so far, it’s alien tech.”
“Isn’t this more like your area, or Doctor Foster’s?” Bucky asked.
“It is,” came a voice from behind him. “Sorry I’m late,” Dr. Foster added, stepping up to the table. “We’re still running data to see if we can get a fix on how it got here, and from where, but it doesn’t match any of the other alien technology we’ve encountered so far. And it’s definitely not Asgardian.” She mumbled the last bit. “It’s loaded with data, but none we can understand so far.”
“But the reason they’ve called the rest of us in on this one is that it’s got signs of human tampering as well,” Rhodes said, looking around the room to briefly meet each person’s gaze. “Or, tampering’s maybe not the exact word, but we’ve pulled human fingerprints off it, and it’s got marks of damage that post-date its arrival on Earth – the most obvious one being this.” He nodded to Banner, who turned the object over, revealing a familiar design that looked like it had been etched in with a knife – crudely done, but recognizable.
“Hydra,” Bucky said, taking a deep breath. “What do we know?”
Rhodes shook his head. “Not much, not yet. We’re going to let Bruce and Jane continue working on decoding the alien side of things, with Princess Shuri’s assistance…”
“We’re going to science the shit out of it,” Shuri interrupted, making Jane stifle a laugh behind her hand. Bucky was used to Shuri’s attitude, but allowed himself half a second to smile at the comment before turning his attention back to Rhodes.
“As I was saying,” Rhodes continued. “They’re going to keep on with the science end. Fury’s got Barton in the field, running down some leads, but depending what he finds we may need the two of you on that team, if you’re up for it.” He nodded towards Bucky and Wanda. “Seeing as you’ve got the most… direct experience. We’ll have another briefing day after tomorrow, unless something comes up sooner. Barnes, walk with me a sec.”
Everyone else but Banner dispersed in various directions; Bucky hung back to match Rhodes’ pace down the hall. “I don’t want Maximoff in the thick of things, and neither does Fury. If this op goes ahead, she’s there purely for telekinesis and telepathy. Are you good to deal with Hydra agents if you come face to face?”
Bucky nodded. “Even if they’ve still got the triggers, they pulled all that out of my head in Wakanda. I’m good.”
“Right.” Rhodes gave him a slap on the shoulder and Bucky tried not to twitch at it. “I’ll let you know if Barton digs up any intel.”
Turning to head back in the direction he’d come, Bucky made it about twenty feet before he ran into Darcy. If it weren’t for his enhanced reflexes, he probably would have literally collided with her, given how suddenly she burst out of one of the doors to the lab wing. “Bucky. Just the person I was hoping to see. Full disclosure, I was totally waiting to try and catch you when that meeting ended, because I’m just that awkward.” She was talking even faster than she’d done on their previous meetings; she hadn’t seemed the least bit nervous of him before, but something had her wound up now. “Look, I… I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing when we were texting yesterday. With the pizza comment or whatever. I didn’t mean to come across all ‘you owe me dinner because I got you enchiladas’ or… well, you know. I mean, if you ever wanted to hang out, I would, but…”
Bucky felt a stab of guilt: not only had he acted like a jackass, somehow Darcy was blaming herself for it, and he would have stopped her sooner if he wasn’t so distracted by her rapid-fire speech and her nervously waving hands. And maybe a little bit by the way the flush on her cheeks set off her big blue eyes, he realized with a jolt of surprise. “No, no. Darcy. I should be apologizing to you, doll.” The old slang just slipped out, but it seemed to fit her. “I’m still… figuring all this stuff out. How to talk to people. Do things besides missions. And sometimes there’s still memories that come outta nowhere, even good ones… I remembered Totonno’s right as I said it to you, and it was…”
“Overwhelming?” she finished for him. “I get it. I mean, I don’t. I can’t. You’ve been through shit that… it’d be insulting for me to say I know how you feel. I had a hard enough time getting past the whole ‘vaporize and suddenly it’s five years later and everything’s different’ thing. But just… you don’t have to apologize either. Especially not for mental health shit. But if you need anybody else to practice that stuff on – you know, talking or hanging out or whatever – let me know. I mean, I know I’m just…”
This time he was quicker, managing to cut her off before she could say something bad about herself. “I’m not very good at this, but yeah. I’d like that.”
She beamed at him. “Awesome. I’ve got to run, but… I’ll text you later?”
Darcy popped back into the lab, leaving him standing in the hallway trying to catch up to what had just happened. Not much surprised him any more – including Hydra still active and trying to screw around with alien technology – but a little motor-mouth brunette who gave him a pass on how fucked up he still was, and apparently wanted to be his friend? Just about the last thing he could have expected. He had a feeling Darcy Lewis was going to be full of surprises.
Did you know they just delivered a pool table to the third floor lounge?
Bucky blinked at his phone, then smiled at the way Darcy just dove right in without preamble. No, he replied, I heard some commotion when I was leaving for the gym earlier but didn’t know that’s what it was. If he was being honest, he had barely registered that there was a ‘lounge’ of any kind on the residential floor where he and most of the team lived. The last he’d noticed it, it had only had a couple of couches and looked more like a dentist’s waiting room than anything. I haven’t been by there in a while was what he settled on.
Do you want to play? She followed up seconds later with If you’re free now, there’s nobody here.
He wondered if it was that obvious that he preferred his rooms quiet and empty. Glancing at the clock told him why the room was unoccupied. You always hang around there at quarter to midnight on a Tuesday?
Darcy hit him with a series of rapid-fire responses: Janey was on a science bender and I had waaaaay too much coffee while we were running all the date.
I won’t sleep for hours.
Come and have a game, I’m terrible.
Only if you want. I am NOT trying to be pushy. If you were about to go to bed or just don’t want company or whatever, you can totally tell me to fuck off.
I’d never tell you that, he replied. One game, he added, then stuffed his phone in his back pocket and went out the door before he could freeze up or change his mind. He didn’t bother putting his shoes back on, since it was just a short walk down the carpeted hall, although going barefoot outside his own quarters felt a little strange.
As promised, he found the lounge dim except for the lights over the new pool table, and empty except for Darcy Lewis. The room had changed a great deal since he’d last seen it, the addition of more furnishings, a set of bookshelves, a TV and a bar with a small fridge taking away the waiting-room feel and giving it more the ambiance of a fairly luxurious living room. “Yay!” she exclaimed, as he let the door shut behind him. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. I came up here thinking I’d watch a movie or something but I’m too caffeinated.”
He stopped a few feet away from the pool table, perching against the back of a couch. “How long was the science bender?”
Darcy scrunched up her face and looked at the ceiling for a moment. “Well… I knocked off for a couple hours nap sometime around two AM last night, but mostly we’ve been going since yesterday morning. I was on coffee number two when I ran into you in the hall yesterday. Lost count of how many it’s been at this point.”
“Doll, you should be home in bed,” he told her, shaking his head.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again, though a hint of mischief danced in her eyes. “I could say something, but I’m not gonna,” she replied, almost giggling. “Really, I know I desperately need some shut-eye, and I will, but I need a bit longer to get the caffeine out of my system. I’ve got a pot of chamomile tea at the bar there. I guess this isn’t a problem for you, with the whole super-soldier thing and all.” Before he could respond to any of that, she gestured to the cues on the wall, the balls already set. “Do you want to break or shall I?”
“Ladies first.” He gestured to the table and raised an eyebrow.
Darcy took a cue, made a show of chalking it and lining up her shot, and managed to sink the eleven on a fairly haphazard break. “Ooh, I’m stripes. I love stripes. Look out now, buddy.” Taking another shot, she hit the thirteen but didn’t get it anywhere near a pocket. “Over to you.”
Bucky took a walk around the whole table, the calculations of distance and angles an automatic thing. “Three, in the side pocket.”
“I’m not committing to calling shots, but you go ahead,” Darcy said, watching as the orange ball went exactly where he’d predicted. “Showoff.”
“I’m not trying to show off. It’s just not that different from shooting a weapon. Five in the far corner,” he added. After making that, he debated whether he should throw his next shot to give Darcy a turn, but she just waved him on.
“Go ahead, then, clear the table before I even get to go again,” she told him, laughing, then watched intently as he did just that. “I mean, I should have known better than to play pool with the Avengers’ best sniper, but that was pretty fricking amazing. Could you teach me?”
He’d only promised one game, but that had hardly been a game. “I could give you a few pointers, but probably better when you’re not so wired. A lot of it’s just practice, though. Let’s play again and I won’t take a second shot if I sink one; that’ll make it a little more fair.”
“Ooh, such a gentleman. Okay, rack ‘em up.”
The next game went at a slower pace, and Darcy managed to sink three before it was time for Bucky to take a shot at the eight ball. “God, you’re so focused,” she said, almost a whisper. “It’s intense.”
“Sorry,” he replied, standing up without taking the shot. He hoped he hadn’t slipped too far into what Sam described as ‘Winter Soldier face’; he didn’t want to scare the girl.
But Darcy shook her head, waving a hand at him. “Oh no, do not apologize. It’s pretty hot. Sorry, here I go with the ‘no filter’ thing again.”
Bucky just stared at her for a moment, wondering if he’d heard her correctly, but before he could respond, the wall of windows lit up in a blinding flash as a crack of thunder sounded and the building plunged into darkness. Darcy shrieked and flung herself at him, her face against his chest and her arms clinging to his back like a lifeline. He sucked in a gasp of breath, nearly as shocked by the contact as by the lightning strike.
A second later, the power kicked back in and that seemed to snap both of them out of it. “Oh god, I’m sorry,” Darcy stammered, her voice quivering a little. “I know you don’t like… I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that, I’m sorry. Sam told me you don’t like people touching you. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he replied. Before he could say anything else, an alarm tone sounded on his phone: perimeter breach. “Fuck. Somebody’s inside the compound. Go back to your place, lock the doors and stay there.”
To his surprise, the stunned look on her face changed to a smile. “Wait! I know who this is.”
“What?” He was busy looking at his phone for the location of the breach – on the roof, too close to their current position for his liking – and took a second to register what she’d said.
“It’s Thor! It must be. I’m coming with you.”
“No you’re fucking well not. It could be anybody up there. Stay here and lock the door if you won’t go back to your own room, but I’ve gotta go.” Opening the door, he nearly collided with Wilson before following him down the corridor.
“Where’s your boots, man?” Sam muttered, tightening the straps on his wings as they went.
“No time.” He hadn’t brought a gun with him either, but it wouldn’t be the first threat he’d had to face hand-to-hand. Taking the steps two-by-two, they dashed up the stairwell to the roof, neither of them realizing they were being followed till Bucky recognized the tall blond man on the roof and heard a squeal from behind his shoulder.
“Thor!” Darcy yelled, pushing past the both of them.
Bucky had only seen Thor twice in battle and once at Stark’s funeral; he’d certainly never seen him smiling like he was now. “Can it be? Darcy Lewis?” A second later, Darcy was wrapped up in a bear hug by the new arrival.
“Where the fuck did she come from?” Sam hissed.
Bucky threw up his hands in the universal gesture of ‘I don’t know’. “I told her to stay put. She was convinced it was him.”
“Well, shit, thank god she’s right or this’d be three times the paperwork,” Sam muttered back. Before he could say anything else, the Asgardian had turned his attention their way.
“Where is the data blade? Greenish-black, the size of a large Midgardian book?”
“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Sam replied. “You don’t call, you don’t write…”
Thor managed to look slightly contrite. “I am sorry to descend on you so suddenly, but there are people – for lack of a better word – out there who are very, very interested to retrieve that piece of technology and who won’t bother to be polite about it. It must be destroyed, immediately.”
“It’s in Banner’s lab. This way,” Bucky said, gesturing back towards the stairwell. This time, he checked behind him before they turned towards the lab wing. “Go home, doll,” he told Darcy in an undertone. “Yes, you were right,” he added, when she looked about to protest, “and you can catch up with him later, but we don’t know what else is about to go down and I don’t need you in the middle of it. Is Dr. Foster still in the labs?” he added, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Thor’s head whipped round at the mention of the name.
Darcy shook her head. “She’s home. We share a place.”
“Good. Go there and do not open the door for anybody but one of us unless I give you the all clear. Please.”
She nodded. “Okay. Be safe.”
I will not *always* be able to post two chapters a day, but here, enjoy the final day of my weekend!
The alien tech was on the workbench in Banner’s lab, pretty much exactly where Bucky had seen it last. “So, do we just smash it or what?” Bucky asked.
Thor raised an eyebrow. “You might find that more difficult than you think, friend. Before you try,” he added, seeing Bucky reaching for it with his metal hand, “we should take it outdoors, away from the building. When we destroyed the other piece, it let off enough energy to nearly blast a hole in Quill’s ship. You might want to stay inside.”
Bucky eyed Sam, who had the shield strapped to his back. Steve’s shield: Sam’s now. Both of them followed Thor out to the grounds, into the open field beyond the furthest end of the running track, a good two or three hundred yards away from the buildings. “Lemme at least take a shot at it,” Bucky said.
“Suit yourself.” Thor passed it over and Bucky handled the device for the first time, feeling the vibration that went along with the low hum it was still emitting. It was heavier than it looked, and though he managed to bend it out of shape with his vibranium hand, Thor was right: he couldn’t shatter it.
“What did you have planned?” Bucky asked, handing it back.
Thor just let it fall on the ground at his feet and held one hand out as if he was waiting for something. Bucky had seen enough of the man in battle to know that he could summon his weapons that way, and sure enough, a second later there was a whistling noise and a rush of wind as Thor’s massive battleaxe flew in from out of nowhere.
“That’s a nice trick, man,” Sam muttered, backing away in one direction while Bucky backed off in the other. When they’d managed to put twenty or so feet between them and the device, Thor brought the axe down in what looked like a profoundly satisfying swing; the alien tech blasted apart like a grenade, sending out a shockwave that sent Bucky staggering backwards and made his metal arm dead weight for an alarming four or five seconds before he regained normal movement.
Thor checked the area briefly before declaring himself satisfied. “That was the last one. How long was it here?”
“At the compound? Couple days,” Sam replied.
“Good.” Thor nodded. “They shouldn’t care to come after it now that it’s gone.”
“And if they do?”
“Nothing that should give you any trouble. It was the prospect of the data getting into the wrong hands that was the real danger.”
“Banner and…” Bucky began, then wondered if it was a good or bad idea to mention Jane Foster. “Banner was studying it. I don’t know if he copied the data somewhere or if they were just using it straight from this thing.”
“If he did, he can delete it,” Sam replied. “I’ll go get his ass out of bed and find out.”
After Sam loped off, Thor put out a hand to stop Bucky following him. “Jane Foster is here, isn’t she? Working with Banner?”
Bucky nodded. “She and Darcy got here a couple months ago,” he replied, trying to read the expression on the other man’s face.
“I… I have to see her. I don’t know if she even wants to speak to me, but…”
“Look, it’s the middle of the night. Let’s go in and see what’s up with Banner, and then we gotta debrief about this – I guarantee everybody else is losing their shit right now about your grand entrance – and I’m pretty sure Darcy’s going to tell Jane about it the first chance she gets. If Dr. Foster wants to get out of bed right away and find you, you’re not hard to find. Otherwise, maybe let her sleep and talk to her in the morning?”
Thor gave him a great wallop that was probably meant to be a friendly pat on the back. “Good advice. Thank you. It’s James, isn’t it?”
“Call me Bucky,” he replied, surprised the Asgardian knew his name in any form. “C’mon, let’s get this wrapped up.”
It was only when he was heading back to his place to turn in that Bucky remembered his promise to send Darcy an all-clear. It was a few minutes past two in the morning, but he sent the text anyway. Everything’s under control. I hope you’re sleeping right now, but wanted to let you know.
As he unlocked his door, his phone beeped three times in rapid succession.
I wish I was sleeping.
Jane is freaking out and can’t decide whether she needs me as moral support to go chase Thor down RIGHT NOW or if she should play it cool. What do you think?
What kind of night was this, that suddenly everyone was coming to him for advice? I think you should GET SOME SLEEP and probably she should too, but I’m not the boss of either of you. He wants to see her, so pretty sure you can get some rest and he’ll come find her first thing in the morning.
Goob plan, Darcy replied, quickly following up with a correction.
This is how tired I am.
I’m gonna crawl into bed and hope for the best.
Likewise, he sent back. Goodnight, doll.
“So, what the hell were you doing barefoot in the common room with Darcy after midnight last night, anyhow?”
It was one of those questions that Wilson asked, with that way he had of threading a needle between acting like a therapist and acting like a nosy old lady. But they were in his office, which made it feel more like ‘therapy’. Which meant it was a question that Bucky couldn’t entirely ignore, but he took a drink of his coffee as a way of stalling – and then realized that by itself was probably going to make Sam read into things. “Playing pool,” he answered eventually. “She said she’d had too much coffee to sleep and she was excited there’s a pool table in there. Said that it was a good time to try it out since there was nobody around.”
Sam made an interested sort of noise. “And you just went? All the times I try and get you to do anything that ain’t work, and…?”
Bucky shrugged. “She thought about the fact that I don’t like crowds and said it was a good time to check it out. Like I said, she’s a nice girl.”
“And then Thor busted in and interrupted your good time.”
“For Christ’s sake,” Bucky replied. “I have a couple of conversations with a woman and you’ve gotta make something out of it.”
Sam sat back in his chair. “Hey, it’s up to you, man. But you’re right: she is a nice person. And she seems to be willing to hang out with your grouchy old ass, so…”
“It’s not like that.” Bucky took a measured inhale through his nose, determined not to say anything else unless he could keep his voice level.
“You’ve said that before. And if Darcy’s not your type or whatever, that’s one thing, but I feel like that’s not really what you’re saying. Is it…?”
“It’s not – I can’t. Alright? That’s not for me.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “You can’t…”
Suddenly feeling like a caged animal, Bucky stood up and paced across the small room and back. “Fucking Hydra, alright? Is that what you want to know?” he said, biting off each word, aware that he was louder than he wanted to be. “Do you think they wanted their weapon distracted? They probably would’ve castrated me if they didn’t think it’d weaken me. But they had other ways.”
“You’ve been away from them a few years now. That changed any?” One thing about Wilson: he could be a pain in the ass, but he had a way of taking everything in stride.
“I still like women. Know a pretty girl when I see one. Just… feels more theoretical now, like seeing a sunset or something. The thought of touching somebody, having them touch me… I just…” His throat was starting to close up just trying to answer Sam’s question.
Sam let the silence open up for a while before responding. “I guess the thing is – if you want to get that part of your life back, and you don’t have to want that – but if you want to, the thing to remember is that getting past trauma is a baby-steps thing. Keep on putting the work in and who knows. And I’m talking general terms here, not saying it’s gotta be anything to do with Darcy like that, I promise. But the fact that you like her company enough to hang out… it’s a good thing. You seem lighter the last little while. Maybe just… run with it.”
Run with it. As he walked away from Sam’s office, he thought of that split-second where Darcy had flung her arms around him. He’d frozen up, but he hadn’t panicked, hadn’t flashed back or blacked out or anything. Granted, it might have only been because he’d immediately gone into mission mode, but still… maybe Wilson was right. Maybe he could run with it.
It had been a packed twenty-four hours and Bucky had too many thoughts scrambling around in his head to stay indoors, even in the gym. After a quick stop to switch from boots to running shoes, he headed outside, hoping a mile or ten would help straighten his head out.
The heat from the week before had vanished without a trace, and the day felt later in the year than late September: grey, chilly, and a bit of mist in the air, not enough to call rain but enough to go through you. Bypassing the running track in favour of the longer trail around the perimeter of the compound, he settled in. Each lap was about three miles – a more reasonable length for him than the four-hundred-meter track – and even on a nicer day he could usually count on having it more or less to himself. With only the occasional bird call to interrupt the repetitive thud of his feet on the rubberized surface, he started to untangle his head, starting with the loudest thoughts: the ones linking Darcy to what he’d been talking about with Sam. He liked her. True, she was easy on the eyes – he knew that his pre-war self would have been driven to distraction by her curves and her pretty face – but that didn’t really enter into it. More importantly, she was smart, funny, and cared like hell about the people around her. Including one messed-up hundred-year-old man who most people were still scared shitless of.
Was he interested in her, in the way that Wilson kept hinting at? That was a tougher question. He was fucked up. Yeah, he’d come a long way since Hydra, since Bucharest, even since turning to dust in Wakanda and coming back to find five years gone. He could have a conversation with Darcy, play pool with her and try her food; just being able to do those things felt like a victory. But what else could he give her – if she even wanted it from him? Hydra had done their best to neuter him: they hadn’t cut anything off, granted, and his memories of their methods were thankfully limited, but the fact remained that even these vague theoretical questions about physical contact – about sex – were sending up adrenaline flares that hinted at panic. He had to kick up his pace, tax his body a little, in order to keep a level head.
The hardest question of all was the one that Sam had left him with, even if he hadn’t quite asked it outright: did Bucky want to get that back? To try pushing back on yet another set of barriers they’d put inside his head? It had never even occurred to him as a question worth asking.
The trail rounded a corner and followed alongside the river, and he was surprised to see a figure ahead. Whoever it was, they were moving slowly, and without the efficient form of someone who trained regularly. It didn’t take long to close the distance and realize that it was Darcy, of all people. Speak of the devil and he will appear, his mom used to say. He slowed his pace as he approached, and coughed so as not to startle her. “Did Jane let you get some sleep?” he asked.
Darcy still jumped just about out of her skin; it wasn’t till she took something out of her ears that he realized she’d had headphones on. “Oh god,” she said, coming to a halt with one hand over her heart. “I thought I’d jog outside to spare myself embarrassment in the gym, but I should have known your disgustingly fit self would be out here. Please, avert your eyes from this mess,” she added, gesturing at herself.
“You’re fine, doll,” he replied. She was rosy-cheeked and a little sweaty, clad in a shapeless oversized sweatshirt over a pair of tights, and her hair looked like she’d rolled out of bed and pulled it back without running a brush through it, but none of it looked bad on her. “You want company, or did you want to go back to your music?”
“I…” She looked as if she was about to say something, but just stopped and looked at him for a second. “How many miles have you run already? Give it to me straight.”
He laughed. “It’ll be one lap when we get over there,” he told her, pointing to the point up ahead where the trail passed close by the front entrance. “So not quite three miles so far.”
“Oh god,” she repeated. “I’ve gone, like, three hundred yards and I’m already sweating like a pig, and you’ve gone three miles – probably at Olympic pace, I bet – and you look like you just stepped off a magazine cover.”
Bucky looked down at his grey sweatpants. “Did you sleep at all, Darcy? Because I think you’re delirious. Come on,” he added. “You set the pace. We can walk if you want.”
“My run is probably your walk anyhow,” she grumbled, but she started moving again. “I hate running.”
“So why are you out here?”
She gave a huff of breath that might have been a laugh. “First, look at where I’m living these days. I’m never going to be able to keep up with you super-people, but I figured I might as well try not to completely succumb to Flat Chair Ass from working in the lab all the time. This is where you’re supposed to lie and tell me my ass looks fine, by the way.”
The big shirt completely hid her ass, but he’d seen her in shorts the day they’d met in the garden – and he might be living the life of a monk, but he wasn’t blind. “I could say that, but it wouldn’t be a lie.”
“Uh-huh,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Anyhow. Second of all. I’m out here right now in a desperate attempt to escape my apartment before I’m scarred for life. It’s a little… awkward at the moment,” she added.
They ran on in silence for a few paces before Bucky clued in. “Oh. Thor?”
“Indeed. He and Jane are… making up for lost time.”
“He thought she was gonna be mad at him.”
Darcy huffed another breathless laugh. “She was. Slapped him in the face. That lasted about, oh, fifteen seconds before they were joined at the mouth. By the time I managed to get dressed and get out of there, it definitely sounded like they were joined at other parts.”
He couldn’t help a snort at her blunt description, but it took him a minute to think of any response. “What are you gonna do, just stay out here till they’re…”
“Done?” Darcy finished for him. “Ugh. That might be the end of me. Sooner or later I’ll have to find some noise-cancelling headphones, avert my eyes and take my chances. If nothing else, I need to get my wallet so I can go get some breakfast at the canteen.”
“I’ll get you breakfast if it comes to that, doll.”
“You are the sweetest. Ugh, I really do have to walk if we’re gonna keep talking,” she panted, shifting from a slow jog to a brisk walk. “Are you sure I’m not cramping your style?”
“I’ve got no plans. I never really know what to do when I’m not working or training, so walking and talking sounds good to me. As long as I’m not cramping your style here.”
Darcy gave an honest-to-god belly laugh at that, though he wasn’t quite sure why. “Dude, that’s literally impossible. I’m just a lab rat and you’re all… Avenger-y and shit. Honestly,” she added, her tone shifting into something less flippant, “I know – or at least, I know your reputation – that you don’t usually hang out with people much, except maybe the Falcon. And despite appearances, I do actually understand that some people need more alone time than others. So I don’t want to, like, outstay my welcome with you.”
“Literally impossible.” It was a deliberate echo of her words, a little attempt at teasing her, but he realized as the words came out of his mouth that they were probably true. “I’m trying to change that reputation, a bit, but some people are easier than others. Something about you – I don’t even notice I’m pushing way outside my comfort zone till I’ve already gone and done it.”
“And that’s good?”
“It’s very good.”
“Still,” she ventured, turning a little to look at him. “I’m sorry about the other night. You know – basically jumping on you when all that thunder and lightning blasted in out of nowhere.”
Bucky shook his head. “You already tried to apologize for that, and I already told you not to. Look, I… I’m not good at that kind of thing, it’s true. Shuri got the worst of the programming out of my head in Wakanda – the words that’d turn me into the Winter Soldier – but I’ve still got a lot of baggage up here.” He tapped his skull with his index finger. “I don’t know if I’m ever totally gonna get past it all, but I won’t know if I don’t try. Last night – I know I froze up, but… it wasn’t… Does it sound terrible if I say that for me, just freezing up and not getting triggered or something, that was pretty damn good, actually?” He took a deep breath, not quite ready to look at Darcy for her reaction. “I haven’t… had a lot of practice lately.”
“Oh god. Please tell me that wasn’t the first time anyone’s given you a hug since the nineteen-forties. I mean, I know it wasn’t exactly a hug, more me clinging to you like I’d just had a jump-scare in a haunted house, but…”
“Not the first time,” he replied, thinking of Steve for a moment. “The third, maybe?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was gaping at him. “That’s… oh my god. I mean, I get the baggage thing. But… can I tell you something?”
“I… You know I told you I saw the news footage of your hearings, right? When they put you through that whole song and dance in DC as if it wasn’t completely fucking obvious that of course you deserved immunity for… Okay, I could get on a soapbox about that, as Jane can attest, but not the point right now. Well, apart from my flailing fists of rage at the screen any time the suits were talking about you, the thing that I couldn’t get out of my head was how much you looked like you needed a hug. I know that sounds kind of silly – I didn’t even know you, at that point I never knew that Jane and I would wind up here, you were just a stranger on the news and who the hell am I, right? But just… I don’t know. I mean, consent: it’s a thing. I feel terrible about blindsiding you last night. But, if you ever want to, like, practice getting used to hugs or being around people or whatever… Fuck. I’m making this sound creepy. But you deserve hugs, if you want them. You deserve all the hugs, dude.”
He had no idea how to really begin to respond to that, other than a murmur of thanks, so they walked along in companionable silence for a while. A light fog was starting to blow in off the river and he’d dressed for running, not a stroll, but it was worth a little discomfort to have her company. And though his skin was starting to feel the chill, Darcy’s rant had set off a warm little spark somewhere in the vicinity of his chest. Whether it was for her indignation on his behalf, her apparent understanding of his shifting boundaries, or her offer of ‘all the hugs’, he didn’t know, but he wasn’t quite sure what stroke of luck had dropped this generous human being into his life.
When he found his voice again, he shifted the conversation, wanting to know more about her. All it took was a question here and there and she took over, spinning a random series of anecdotes that helped fill in some gaps for him. By the time she got around to regaling him with the details of the first time she and Jane had met Thor, they had made their way almost twice around the trail. “How did a taser take him out, though?” Bucky found himself asking, through laughter at the mental image. Somehow, the idea that Darcy Lewis would have defaulted to tasing the God of Thunder struck him as entirely in character.
“He didn’t have his powers at the time. Because he made some bad life choices and Odin is an asshole or whatever,” she added, waving a hand as if this was a completely mundane observation. “And, I mean, Jane had also hit him with the van. He loves this story, by the way, and tells it all the time, so please don’t think I’m being super callous about abusing the poor guy.”
“You’re a lot of things, doll, but callous isn’t one of them,” he replied. “Look, would you let me get you some breakfast? It must be a couple of hours we’ve been out here, and I know you said you didn’t eat.”
“Has it been that long? Holy shit,” she mused, stopping and looking back along the trail as though it would show a clock or a measure of how far they’d walked. “You must be good company, if you made me forget I was exercising. Goddamn. And now you want to get me breakfast?”
Bucky couldn’t help a laugh. “Don’t want you to fade away, do I?”
“You are seriously the best,” she said, beaming at him. “Can I…”
“What?” he asked, after she trailed off.
“Never mind. It’s super pushy and kind of selfish, given everything we’ve been talking about. I was gonna ask if I could give you a hug and immediately realized what was about to come out of my mouth. Would a high five be okay?”
“I’ll take a hug.”
His heartrate was kicking up and his stomach was starting to twist a little, but she’d put her arms around him once before and it had been okay. Maybe he should build on that. “Yeah. Come on, before I lose my nerve here,” he added.
“Okay. Just say the word if you need to bail.” She smiled at him, looking a little jittery herself all of a sudden, then stepped closer and slid her arms round his waist, leaning her cheek against his shoulder and giving him a gentle, barely-there squeeze. He wanted to reciprocate, to remember how to return the gesture, but had only managed to kind of raise his arms halfway before she let him go and stepped back.
“Was that okay?” she asked, clearly trying to gauge his reaction.
He let out a breath. “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”
Her smile almost made him forget that the sun wasn’t out. “Good.”
Darcy built on that initial success by offering Bucky hugs any time she managed to catch him without an audience. Each time, she asked, moved in slowly, and checked in with him, and each time he found himself tensing up less. After a week and a half, he realized he was actually looking forward to the contact – which, of course, meant that that was when he got the news he was headed back out into the field.
The orders came from Nick Fury this time; apparently Thor’s appearance had been of sufficient interest to draw Fury out of DC in person instead of just relaying info through Rhodes. “Intel’s got a terrorist cell in Lima that may or may not be a rogue Hydra offshoot,” Fury had told them. “Barnes, Barton – and Thor, if you’re actually here to help and not just to distract Dr. Foster – wheels up at eighteen hundred. Get packed.”
After the briefing, Bucky pulled out his phone and texted Darcy. Got a minute?
Actually am at your door but you’re obviously not home, she replied.
Is that weird? Did I just make it weird?
Bucky chuckled at the screen as he typed one-handed. Not weird. On my way. It wasn’t weird in the way he thought Darcy was implying – he didn’t find it invasive – but it was true that she hadn’t come and knocked on his door before. His curiosity deepened when he turned into the residential wing and saw her standing near his door with a large bundle of fabric in her arms. “You bringing me laundry?”
“See? I knew it was weird,” she replied. “It’s for you. It’s a blanket. It’s… oh wait, you have your hands full.”
He could have just tucked the briefing documents under his arm, but he decided to unlock his door instead. “Um… do you want to come in?”
Darcy wasn’t the first person besides him who’d stepped inside his front door – Sam had been in, once or twice – but it was the first time Bucky had really looked at the space through someone else’s eyes. As far as he knew, the basic layout of the apartments was pretty standard, and it wasn’t like his place was a mess. But he also hadn’t changed it or added anything to the basic furnishings it had come with – unless you counted a neat line of weapon cases on the floor and a couple of boxes of cookies on the counter as personalization. “Okay, now I can see you double extra need this,” she declared, opening up the bundle of cloth to reveal that it was indeed a blanket. It was a wine colour with a subtle stripe pattern, and it definitely looked softer than anything else in his place, including his own bedspread or anything in his wardrobe.
He was surprised enough by the gesture to almost forget that he’d sought her out to tell her about the mission. “You worried I’m gonna get cold?”
“Hey, I am all about making sure you stay warm,” she joked. “But honestly, I thought this might be a good thing. Here, feel it. It’s a weighted blanket. I know you said that sometimes you don’t sleep that well, and… they’re for, like, anxiety and restlessness and stuff. They’re the best.”
He took it from her as she held it out. It was exactly as soft as it looked, but even with her description its weight surprised him. “This has got to be twenty pounds.”
“Exactly. I mean, they’re not for everybody, so if you don’t like it, just pass it on, I guess? But the weight’s just kind of soothing. It’s a lifesaver when I can’t stop my mind running and get some sleep.”
“Wait, Darcy,” he said. He was getting a little quicker at keeping up with Darcy Lewis, but it still took a second sometimes. “You can’t go giving me your blanket. What are you going to use?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not mine. I mean, it was. I got it for myself but then I’d been talking so much about wanting one, so Jane also got me one for my birthday and I don’t need two and the one Jane got me has an awesome cat pattern, so obviously I have to keep that one. Like I said, just try it. If you hate it, give it to somebody else who wants one or whatever.”
It didn’t matter that she hadn’t bought it for him; the fact that she cared enough to bring him something soft and warm that was supposed to help him sleep was enough to render him speechless. At least until he saw the look on her face change from pleased to worried, as if she thought she’d overstepped. Before she could do something like apologize for her own damn kindness, he found his voice. “Thank you, doll. This has gotta be the nicest thing anyone’s done for me in about eighty years.”
Darcy blinked several extra times and her voice wavered just the tiniest bit on her reply. “I don’t know. I’d say Princess Shuri getting those trigger words out of your head kind of outweighs this. Ha. Outweighs. See what I did there?”
He laughed. “I don’t know. That benefited a lot of other people, too – not that I’m not grateful for it – but this is just you being a sweetheart because that’s who you are. Thank you,” he repeated. Setting the blanket down on the back of the couch, he took a step closer to Darcy. “I think it’s my turn to give you a hug. If that’s okay with you.”
The look she gave him could have lit up the room. “Hell yes, that is all kinds of okay with me. Bring it in, big guy.”
With his heart thumping hard, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close for a moment, breathing in her scent – something a little bit smoky and a little bit sweet – before letting her go. “You’re getting pretty good at this,” Darcy said, leaning back against the back of the couch and grinning at him. “I should bring you stuff all the time.”
Taking a breath, he glanced over at the briefing packet he’d set on the counter. “I was… kind of planning on doing that even before the blanket. I’ve got to go back in the field for a while.”
She gave him a rueful smile. “I guess duty calls. I know you can’t tell me anything real, but… do you know how long you’ll be gone?”
“If all goes well? A week, maybe. If it goes south… harder to say. Heading out in a few hours.”
“I hope it goes extremely well, then. Like, super extra well. I guess I can’t text you while you’re gone?”
“You can, but I probably can’t answer. Sometimes I can check in a little for personal stuff during an op, but usually not till it’s done. I wish I could,” he added. “Sometimes it’s boring as hell out there.”
Darcy smiled at him. “Well then, I will definitely pelt you with texts you can’t answer, at least so it’s some entertainment for you if you get to check in. Aw, shit – I guess you won’t get to try the blanket till you get back.”
“Yeah, sorry. Gotta pack pretty light. But I’m going to try it as soon as I get back, guaranteed.”
“Good. That means… you’ve got to come back.” Darcy paused, and he could have sworn he saw her lower lip quivering just a little.
Without thinking, almost as a reflex, he found himself pulling her in for another embrace. This time, he let it linger a bit longer, hyper-aware of her warmth, the gentle pressure of her hands against his back, the grounded feeling it gave him now to feel her leaning into him. The absolute trust in the way she closed her eyes, a little smile visible on her face as he tilted his chin down to look at her. You’ve got to come back. For the first time in a long time, he had an inkling of how it felt to have somebody to come back to.
It's all fun and games until...
(Also: Darcy wasn't kidding when she said she'd send Bucky lots of texts.)
“Fucksakes.” Barton was fiddling with a piece of tech and turning the air blue. “Thor, could you just… I don’t know, stand on the other side of the room or some shit? I think you’re putting out electrical interference to this fucking piece of shit again.”
The Asgardian heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes, but crossed the room and sat down heavily in a chair without comment. All three of them were frustrated and short-tempered. The lead in Lima had turned up more or less a dead end, and they’d been tracking the supposed Hydra cell through half of goddamn South America for twelve days so far. Now they were cooped up in a shitty, run-down room in Porto Alegre, and the feed from the place they’d bugged had turned out to be some garden-variety thugs, not Hydra or anything else of interest. The only bright spot was that they’d reached one of their predetermined check-in times, which meant that Barton briefly set up a coded comms channel, through which they could also check in on personal messages.
Which was why Clint was getting so hot under the collar over the tech not working for him. He’d been bitching for forty-eight hours about the fact that the mission was probably going to drag on long enough to make him miss his wife’s birthday. Thor had stayed relatively chipper for the first week, but was wearing down around the edges. Bucky, for his part, was just keeping his head down and trying to get on with shit. It was a mission. This was how they went sometimes.
Whenever they had a minute to rest, though, he’d been thinking about Darcy. Not trying to dwell on missing her – because he did, and was that ever unfamiliar – but trying to hang on to that bit of normality she’d helped him re-find, trying to learn how to balance that, keep it burning in the background instead of disappearing into the work. At their last check-in, he’d found a couple dozen messages from her, most of them random and funny. He’d only had time to send back a quick hi, knowing that what he was really telling her was that he was still alive. He was looking forward to seeing what she had to say this time – if they could ever get the connection working.
“Fucking finally,” Barton declared at last, typing quickly as he dealt with the required mission details first. “Connect if you want, guys, we’ve probably only got a couple minutes before this garbage craps out again on us.”
Bucky turned on his phone: 27 messages over the past several days, all of them from Darcy.
You missed enchiladas today. Sadface.
Although, I don’t know, maybe you’re somewhere that has real ones?
I’m just goofing around, I know you can’t tell me where you are. But I wonder about it a lot.
Can you tell me after it’s done?
It’s been a week now, which I guess means that it’s not going as well as you hoped. That fucking sucks. I hope it turns around ASAP.
For the record, I am sending you virtual hugs. That sounds super cheesy & cringey but it’s true.
Serious time now. Bucky, it’s 3:07am and I can’t sleep and I’m imagining every awful war/spy movie cliché and hoping none of it is happening to you. Ugh. I’m texting you as if you’re my diary, sorry.
Sorry about the last extra gloomy text, I tried to delete it but I guess the internet is forever. Feeling better this morning but I still hope things don’t suck too much where you are.
It snowed! I mean, like five flurries that lasted 1.2 seconds, but still.
Convinced Wanda to play pool with me today and she CHEATS. Never play against someone who can move shit with their mind, I tell you.
10 days till Halloween. AKA the best holiday of the year. Costumes & candy & no family obligations. I hope you’re back in time for it.
Oh man, now I’m imagining what you would dress as.
I guess I’d better figure out what I’m going to be. I’m thinking now you’re probably not so much of a costume guy. I believe I can win you over, though.
And no, Strong Silent Sexass Spy does not count as a costume when that’s actually your job.
I mean, not that being sexass is party of your job.
*Part. Part of your job.
I can’t believe I just sent you two texts with the word sexass.
Three texts. Make that three.
It’s not part of your job. It’s just who you are.
Are you technically a spy? Does Avenger outrank Spy?
PLEASE EXCUSE ALL OF THOSE TEXTS. Jane was feeling super moody last night and so we may have gotten into a TINY bit of Thor’s crazy space booze. Maybe don’t mention that to Thor.
Now I have a crazy space hangover.
And obviously will be hoping the ground swallows me up before you read all that mess.
(I did warn you about the Darcy Has No Filter thing, though.)
I hope you’re okay out there. Feels like a long time since I last heard from you. I mean, not to give you a guilt trip, I know this is how it works. Just… be safe. Getting kind of attached to your whole ‘I give really awesome hugs for someone who’s out of practice’ thing, you know.
Fuck, I just heard something landing outside and was hoping it would be you guys, but I guess if you were on your way home you probably would have said something. If it really is you, text and let me know, k?
Um, I don’t know WHAT it was that I heard landing but there are alarms and shit going off so I don’t know what the fresh hell this is…
After smiling through most of her messages, he furrowed his brow at the last one, especially after noticing that it had only been sent a half-hour earlier. “Hey, Barton,” he began. “You get through to the compound yet?”
Barton was already slamming the laptop shut. “We’ve got to get back. Now.” He filled them in – as much as he could – once the quinjet was in the air. An unidentified ship had touched down inside the compound and hostiles had breached the building. Sam, Bruce and Wanda were doing their best to control the situation and keep them away from the civilians; Rhodes was off-site but heading back, Pepper was unreachable, Fury and Hill were enroute from DC.
Thor barked out the question before Bucky could ask it. Right. His girl is there too. Fuck, what am I thinking – Darcy’s not my girl. But thinking of her back at the compound while who knew what the fuck was going on - Darcy, the girl who’d run after him to the roof when Thor had landed in a blast of thunder and lightning and who heard the hostiles landing and thought it might be him, for fuck’s sakes, and he hoped to hell she was safely in lockdown and not running around somewhere – his gut sure as hell felt like she was his something.
All of this flashed through his head in a split-second before Clint replied. “I’m gonna punch it, but even if we can pull Mach-8 most of the way it’ll still be close to an hour.”
Max speed in the quinjet was not a pleasant sensation even if they hadn’t already been tense; they spent the ride mostly in silence, apart from some brief speculation over whether their dead-end mission had been a coincidence or a red herring meant to lure them away from home base. As they got closer to the upstate compound, Thor got out of his seat and stalked to the back of the craft. “Open the hatch.”
“Dude, I’m not opening –“ Clint began, but was cut off.
“Open the hatch, Barton, or I punch a hole in this plane.” The moment the hatch was open, Thor was gone in a crack of thunder.
“Motherfucker,” Barton muttered.
Bucky shook his head. “We’d both do it too if we could.” He’d wondered how far away that power worked; right now, it would probably buy Thor ten minutes ahead of them, and maybe it would count. As it was, he leapt from the hatch himself nine minutes later, hitting the ground in a hard roll and pulling out a gun as Barton was still landing the craft.
Rooftop was secure. He kicked open the stairwell door and made his way down, knowing by the time he hit the third floor that Barton was watching his six. As the sounds of struggle erupted further down the hall, they hastened that way, arriving in time to find Wilson and Rhodes locking down a couple of silver-skinned, lizard-looking beings about five feet tall. The corpse of another one lay behind Rhodes, and as Bucky came level with them, the two lizards looked at each other, grimaced, then dropped dead.
“Dammit. Poison,” Sam muttered.
“Status?” Bucky ground out.
“Think we’re about mopped up here,” Rhodes replied, retracting the face guard of the War Machine suit. “Thor busted in out of the sky and took out the other five that Wanda was trying to keep away from the building. Wanted to keep some of them alive to figure out who the hell they are, but looks like these two have gone the cyanide route, or whatever their version is.”
“Looks like this was that search party Thor had in mind,” Sam added. “After that data thing he destroyed. Weren’t too pleased with us.”
“And the civilians?”
Sam nodded. “They should all be in lockdown. Haven’t seen anybody in harm’s way, but we’re just gonna start verifying that. Why don’t you take the lab wing, Barnes?” he added, shooting Bucky a look before turning to point Barton somewhere else.
Bucky headed across the building to where the labs were congregated, keeping his gun in hand; it seemed like the situation was under control, but he’d been in enough missions – for both sides – where the enemy had been miscounted. All was still quiet by the time he reached the main doorway to the lab wing: no signs of fighting or forced entry. The first two labs were Banner’s on the right and Foster’s on the left, and there was no question which one Bucky was checking first. Trying the door handle on the left, he found it locked; opening the panel beside the door with an easy swipe of his metal hand, he punched in an override code. The handle turned, but the door wouldn’t budge. “Darcy?” he shouted, thumping on the door. “Dr. Foster? Anybody in there?”
No response. But there wasn’t supposed to be: lockdown protocol meant that nobody was supposed to respond to door knocks till the all-clear sounded. He could be anybody. After a quick check to ensure the area was still secure, he holstered his gun and got his phone out. You in the lab or somewhere else?
The response was almost immediate. Tell me something so I know it’s you.
“Good girl,” he muttered under his breath, relieved to know that she actually followed rules when there was a real threat. You hang your laundry outside because it reminds you of your grandma. You and Jane had banana pizza in Norway. You gave me a blanket because your other one has cats on it. Good enough?
Fucking amazing. Was that you banging on the door? I barricaded it with filing cabinets but I don’t know if I can move them back out again, they push okay but pull is harder.
OK. Stand back away from the door, I’m coming in. Moving his phone to a back pocket where it was less likely to get smashed, he backed up across the hall and took a run at the door, impacting it with his metal shoulder at full force and feeling the weight behind the door shift back a bit. Once he knew he had it moving, it wasn’t too hard to force the door the rest of the way open, at least far enough to squeeze through and shove the two cabinets out of the way. “Darcy?”
He registered a flurry of movement as she crawled out from underneath a desk and launched herself in his direction. “I’m gonna hug you now,” she said, as her arms were already going around him.
Fine by him: he pulled her in even tighter, feeling some of the adrenaline of the past couple of hours – and the past couple of weeks – starting to ebb away. “You alright, doll? Nobody got in here?”
“Not until a super-cool soldier busted in the door,” she replied, her voice muffled against his shirt. “Fuck, am I ever glad to see you.”
“Likewise,” he replied. “Were you in here alone? Where’s Jane?”
Darcy loosened her grip a little, but when he didn’t let go, she just shifted so she could look up at him. “She got a migraine this morning, so I told her to go home and go to bed and I’d keep running the data. If she took the good painkillers she may have even slept through it. Is Thor back with you? He must have been losing his shit when he found out about this.”
“He wasn’t the only one,” Bucky murmured back, barely audible even to himself. For a long moment, they just looked at each other. Some little inner voice, one Bucky hadn’t heard in decades, whispered that this was maybe the right time to think about kissing the beautiful woman in his arms, the one who smelled like sugar and cinnamon, the one who called him super-cool and looked at him like she actually saw him, all of him. He wanted to listen to that voice, but seventy years of trauma still had a hand on the wheel: he could feel his head getting light, his throat starting to close, and everything in his stomach turning to battery acid. Letting her go, he took a step back, fighting to suck in a decent breath. “I’ve gotta check the rest of the labs before they can give the all-clear. Can you wait here for a few more minutes, and lock the door again?”
“You got it. Do what you need to do. And Bucky?”
Seventy years of conditioning wanted him to already be halfway down the hall and blocking out her voice, but even if he couldn’t yank that whole mess out of his head at once, he could at least keep cutting it off at the roots. Instead of running he turned, about to go out the door. “Yeah?”
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“Me too, sweetheart. Me too.”
This is a fairly short chapter, but I may be able to get the next one up later tonight or tomorrow morning as well.
Also, in case anyone's noticed a few non-specific references to Darcy's perfume, I don't have a particular scent in mind, but my headcanon is that she would be a BPAL customer...
It took a while – going over the compound with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there were no more five-foot lizards, and that they hadn’t left any sabotage behind – but eventually the all-clear sounded. He walked Darcy back to her apartment door all the same.
“Thanks for the escort,” she said, hesitating at her front door. “Do you want to come in? I know you probably haven’t eaten – I could make sandwiches or something…”
She was right; he couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d last had a bite to eat and a sandwich sounded fantastic, but wanting to stay had more to do with who was offering than the food. Duty called, though. “I’d love to, doll, but I’ve got to go deal with the fallout of all this. And debrief about the last couple weeks. And have a shower,” he added, realizing that he was still coated in about three days’ worth of stale sweat and grime. “Sorry about that.”
He shrugged. “Shouldn’t have been putting my arms around you earlier, while I’m still filthy like this. I was just happy to see you in one piece; I didn’t think…”
Darcy shot him an incredulous look. “Um, I seem to recall I was the one hugging you, and after worrying about you for days and then having you bust in the door like my fucking knight in shining armour when the place is overrun by space iguanas, you could have been covered in slime like Venkman in Ghostbusters and I still would have hugged the stuffing out of you.”
“You’re gonna have to explain some of those references to me another time, but thanks.” He could feel a big stupid grin spreading across his face, and some back corner of his mind was glad Wilson wasn’t there to see him, because he’d never hear the end of it.
“Besides, this whole ‘roughed up and scruffy around the edges because you’ve been out saving the world’ thing?” Darcy added, waving her hand up and down to suggest all of him. “It’s kinda working for you. Just for the record. But I guess it’ll be pretty late when you’re done and you’ve got to be exhausted. Do you want to get breakfast tomorrow? I mean… if you’re not…”
“I’d love that.” He could feel his phone buzzing from the back pocket where he’d stashed it. “I’ve got to run before they send out a search party. Text me tomorrow?”
“Definitely. And I need to give you one more hug before you go finish up your hero stuff.”
He looked down at himself. “You sure?”
This time he felt a bit self-conscious, aware that he had to be smelling pretty ripe and was probably getting dirt on her clothes, but she didn’t seem to care, just squeezed him round the middle before telling him goodnight and slipping inside her door. It was only as he was walking away down the hall that it struck him that the only things he’d felt were that embarrassment at the state of himself, and the pure selfish pleasure of having a woman in his arms for a moment. No panic response. No fear. No discomfort crawling under his skin, no clocking the surroundings for escape routes. And wasn’t that a hell of a thing?
It was after midnight by the time he was done, and clean, and ready to throw himself into bed. At the last moment he remembered Darcy’s gift, the weighted blanket. It was still draped over the back of the couch where he’d left it before the mission; he collected it and took it to bed. A little piece of his brain worried that the weight would feel like restraints, but it was so soft – almost fluffy – that there was no way even his fucked-up asshole mind could equate it with anything Hydra had forced on him. It felt good, he realized, as he stretched out under it. There was a memory dancing around just out of reach, something that told him that maybe as a small child he’d felt like this, tucked in under woolen blankets in the winter.
The blanket smelled good, too, but with his brain already descending towards sleep it took a fuzzy minute or two to realize it smelled like Darcy. She always smelled a little different each time he saw her – she clearly had a few different perfumes or something she used – but there was some common undercurrent that he didn’t realize he’d already identified as just her. And suddenly he didn’t feel so much like a five-year-old in a Brooklyn apartment anymore. Now his imagination, loose and unguarded with that nearness of sleep, was wondering how it would feel to have her there beside him. Not the way he once would have dreamed of a dame in his bed – even thinking of kissing her earlier in the day had taken him by surprise – but just the idea of what it might feel like to drift off with another warm body wrapped round his.
That thought took him into sleep with a smile on his face, and he hardly stirred till morning.
You probably woke up hours ago and already did 18 things today, but do you still want breakfast? In about half an hour?
Bucky sat up, the weighted blanket still pooled around his waist, and read Darcy’s text again before glancing at the clock and realizing he’d slept for nearly ten hours. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept – real sleep, not cryo stasis or medically sedated or something – for anything like that long. It had been the notification tone on his phone that had roused him. Have done zero things so far. Count me in for breakfast. Canteen?
Actually it’s really nice out, I thought we could sit outside in the garden? I promise good food and no laundry this time. See you at the picnic table in 30.
Twenty-five minutes later, he emerged into one of those perfect, golden fall mornings that felt like it might be the last really warm day before winter. The garden was mostly done for the year, leaves yellowing and a few things already reduced to bare sticks and branches, but some chrysanthemums and asters still showed flashes of colour here and there, and he could spot scarlet and orange leaves dancing in the wind down where the forest met the fence line. Darcy came hustling up a minute or two later, a couple of colourful tote bags hanging off her arm and a thermos flask in each hand. “Look at you, all punctual.” There was a hint of laughter in her voice. “And here I thought I’d have time to get everything set up. Give me thirty seconds.”
She seemed to have a lot of stuff with her. “Doll, you should have had me meet you at the canteen; I could have helped you bring this stuff down.”
“Not the canteen,” she corrected. “I went into town.” For the first time, he took stock of her appearance: the loose scarf and cute knitted beanie, and the flush in her cheeks suggesting she’d been out in the cool morning air longer than the couple of dozen yards from the door to the table. “Because while the breakfast foods here may be perfectly fine for most days, they are not quite ‘saving the day’ level.”
Bucky watched her as she set the flasks down and started to pull wrapped packages out of the bags. “I didn’t save a damn thing. The past two weeks were a complete bust and by the time Barton and I touched down last night the rest of the team had wrapped up everything here. You shouldn’t have…”
Darcy held up a hand. “Ah. But you saved me from being trapped in the lab forever, because I don’t know how I got those cabinets moved in the first place and there is no way I would have gotten them back away from the door. That deserves breakfast.” Coming to the end of her little rant, she gave him a real smile. “And besides… there was one night when you were gone that I got myself totally freaked out about what you were doing, whether you were okay, et cetera et cetera, and I may or may not have made a bit of a bargain with the universe or whatever, that if you got back in one piece I was going to treat you to an awesome whatever-the-next-meal-was. Which in this case means the bakery and a couple of other little places down the road, instead of the Saturday Morning Cafeteria Special. Borrowed Janey’s car,” she added, clearly seeing that he was about to ask. Grabbing the final item out of the second bag – a large bottle of what looked like fresh orange juice – she waved a hand over what was now quite a spread on the table. “Et voila.”
Besides the juice and the two flasks, which he presumed held coffee, there was a sizeable bakery box, a container of sliced pineapple, a small basket of yellow-green plums, and three foil-wrapped packages, two of them cylindrical and one flat. From the smell in the air, there was definitely bacon involved. “Darcy, you shouldn’t have done all this,” he said, though the loud rumbling of his stomach did kind of undercut his words.
She sat down on the bench and opened one thermos. “Well, I am going to eat some of it too. And I figured: a, you might not have ever gotten around to getting anything to eat last night, and b, you’ve got the superhero metabolism and probably need to eat like, eight meals a day just to keep going. I mean, I have hung around Thor often enough over the years and seen how he eats. So, I hope you like all this stuff, or some of it at least. I had to make some educated guesses,” she concluded, pushing the other thermos in his direction.
“Honestly, I’m happy with whatever,” he replied, completely honest – though as he unscrewed the lid and caught the deep, rich smell of the coffee he might have gone a little weak in the knees. More so when he took a sip and realized she’d fixed it just how he liked: no milk, just a little sugar. “Okay, now I know you didn’t guess this, unless you’ve got some powers that didn’t make it onto your file,” he joked.
“Hmmm, wouldn’t you like to know. Nah, actually, I overheard Sam’s coffee order one day and then saw him hand the spare one to you, and just hoped I’d remembered it right. But the bacon and the breakfast burritos and the rest of it… I just bought a bunch of my faves and hoped some of them would be a hit.”
She passed him one of the foil cylinders. “Tortilla with scrambled eggs and a bunch of other good stuff. Like a breakfast sandwich but better. I had them do bacon on the side just in case, but I figure mostly everybody likes bacon. And then fruit and stuff because you’re obviously a healthy dude who values…um, your health. I know, I’m smooth in the morning, right? And some treats because you deserve it and because I am not driving into town without getting danishes and croissants from Castor’s.”
As he listened to her accelerating monologue, he realized that she was a little nervous, and the thought that she was stumbling over herself about having done something so sweet for him just about melted him on the spot. “This is amazing. Thank you. And I hope you don’t mind sticking around for a while, because it’s going to take us a while to get through all of this.”
Darcy had some of everything, but prodded him to take the lion’s share, especially after he admitted that he hadn’t eaten since Porto Alegre nearly twenty-four hours before. It was all delicious, even if he was initially a little suspicious of the green stuff in the burrito. “It’s guacamole,” Darcy explained. “People go apeshit about the stuff. I promise you, it’s awesome.”
He wasn’t sure if he was awestruck by it, but she was right: it was good. The bacon was even better. By the time he was polishing off the orange juice and debating which of the bakery treats to try, he had told her as much about the mission as she had clearance to know – which was most of it, since they hadn’t found much of interest – and gotten her account of the lizard incursion, as well as the more mundane things he’d missed. Darcy was most excited to talk about Halloween, which was less than a week away, and the fact that she’d somehow finagled her way into throwing a huge party for the whole compound.
“So, I was just going to kind of do a regular party, at our place, and then Jane offhand said something about how some of the lab techs have kids and, like, they live offsite but most of them are outside of town where the kids can’t really go trick-or-treating, and so we thought it’d be fun to have them come and trick-or-treat at the compound. Like whoever wants to could hand out candy at their apartments and maybe even have pumpkins in the hallway and dim the lights or whatever. And so then it got into a bigger party thing and I sent an email to Pepper to just kind of make sure if she was cool if we used the lounge or something, and also whether she might want to bring Morgan for the trick or treats, and then Pepper got on board with the whole thing and kind of gave me carte blanche to put a really big shindig together for everybody.” She stopped to take a breath, her excitement obvious. “So, there’s going to be trick or treat earlier in the evening and the party will kind of start out as a family friendly thing but then later on be more of a party party. I’m going to do another supply run into town later in the week, so if you want I can pick up some candy for you, if you wanted to shell out for the kids. And…”
“And?” he prompted, though from remembering her texts he had an idea of what was probably coming next.
“And… you’ll need… a costume?” She made a question of it, looking like she was fully expecting him to shut the whole idea down – whether out of an aversion to a great big party, or out of opposition to dressing up.
It was true that he pretty sure he wasn’t up to an all-night massive party, but he could deal with giving some candy out to some little kids. And maybe at least put in an appearance, since Darcy was so into the whole thing. The last thing he wanted to do was let her down. “I’ll do a costume. Within reason,” he added hastily, seeing a wild light in her eyes. “Nothing that’s gonna scare the little ones.”
“Can do. I have some ideas. Do you want something classic, or something that’s going to shock the shit out of Sam and Clint and the other guys?”
He had a feeling they’d be surprised just seeing him show up. “Well, maybe send me some of these ideas and we’ll see. Here, let me help you clean this up,” he said, as Darcy started gathering empty containers and tidying them away into the bags she’d brought.
“No, it’s fine, you just – owwww.” Midway through reaching across the table, Darcy withdraw her arm, making a face and shifting her shoulder in the joint.
“What is it?” While he waited for her answer, he gathered up the rest of the breakfast stuff for her.
She took a long breath in through her nose as she dropped one shoulder and tilted her head in the opposite direction. “Ugh. I think I messed up something when I was pushing those file cabinets yesterday. It’s mostly fine but when I reach my arm too far my neck and shoulder on that side just kind of go… skkkrrrrr.” She finished the sentence by making a crunching noise as she gathered her hand into a fist.
“Do you… want some help with that?” The words were out of his mouth before he thought about what he was offering: the analytical side of his brain, the one that knew all too well how the anatomy around the shoulder operated, had recognized that she probably had some knots in the muscles there that would be easy enough to work out.
Darcy’s mouth fell open for a second. “You mean, like, a backrub? I am… wow. Yes. That would be amazing – but only if you feel okay with it.”
Was he okay with it? It was her neck and shoulders, which wasn’t so different from putting his arms around her. He wanted to do it. He just hoped his mind would let him enjoy something for a change. “Yeah. Least I can do, seeing as you just brought me this breakfast. And I had probably the best sleep of my life with that blanket last night.”
She beamed at him. “I wanted to ask, but then I didn’t want to ask in case you hated it, or if you forgot or whatever. But I’m so glad it worked. So, um… should I stand up? Sit?”
“Here…. uh, maybe sit sideways on the bench?” He came around to her side and straddled the bench a little bit behind her. And then realized his error in judgement. It was her left shoulder that was hurting her. Looking down at his left hand, he couldn’t picture putting that on her, so close to her throat. Maybe he should have her stand up and face him instead, or maybe he could reach across with his right and just manage the awkward angle…
“If this isn’t cool, it’s okay,” Darcy said, when he had paused for a long time. “I don’t want to make things weird. Oh. Or… is this about your arm?” She glanced over her right shoulder at him; it wasn’t quite enough to look him in the eye, but he could see her profile, see her blue eyes trying to catch him. “If you’re not comfortable, don’t let me push you. But for the record, I’m not scared of either of your hands. I trust you.”
As if to illustrate the point, she pulled off her hat, reached behind and wound her hair up, pulling a band off her wrist and securing it all loosely on top of her head, then slipped her scarf off, leaving the elegant arc of her neck exposed to him. He’d see her in less clothing before, had her hug him while she was wearing less, but this felt different, the way she was deliberately baring that bit of skin. It set a flight of butterflies loose in his gut, but in a way that felt good. He raised his hands slowly to touch her, and though he had to focus his gaze on his right hand, the sensors in the left registered the pressure, the slight give of her flesh, almost as well. It wasn’t hard to find the big knot that was responsible for most of her trouble.
“This okay?” he asked quietly, as he pressed into the spot with his thumb in a small circular motion.
“That’s it,” she sighed. “You can press harder, it’s…” And then as he did so, she arched her back a little and gave a noise in between a sigh and a groan. And holy fuck, that did something to him that threw him for a loop. It was low, and distant, like a memory of a memory, but her little noises as he unwound her pain were sending up a faint stirring of something primal, something like want and need and all those kinds of things that any normal guy – one who liked women, anyhow – should have been overwhelmed by with a beautiful dame this close, letting him touch her like this.
The shock of it was enough - just - to chase down the panic, the wrongness he still felt when he really looked at the dark metal against her pale skin. Briefly, he wondered if she was being so vocal, so obvious, to help him feel more comfortable, but he had a feeling this was just her. How the hell does she not have men lined up ten deep for a chance with her? What is she doing here with me?
After a couple of minutes, he could feel that the knots were gone, and didn’t want to outstay his welcome. “How’s that, doll?” he asked, sliding back on the bench and standing up out of her way.
Darcy stretched, circling her neck and reaching in a couple of directions with her left arm. “So much better. Thank you.” Standing up as well, she hugged him, and somehow he kind of liked the fact that she didn’t feel the need to ask first this time. “You are the fucking best.”
Exhaling heavily at the unfamiliar but not-at-all-unpleasant feeling still echoing down the back of his spine, he leaned down and brushed his cheek against the mess of hair still piled on top of her head. “I don’t know, sweetheart. I think that might be you.”
For the next couple of days, Darcy sent him a steady stream of texts, many with pictures, suggesting things he could dress as for her Halloween party and promising to help track down anything he needed if he was actually willing to dress up. Some were pop culture references that sent him looking things up to keep up with her, although a few were old enough that he got them from memory. Her comment of Inappropriate? alongside a grainy still of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz had made him bust out laughing in the middle of a briefing – and then he’d laughed more when everyone except Thor had looked at him as if he’d grown two heads.
That one just made me cause a scene, he replied to her once the meeting was done. For that I think you owe me a clue about your costume.
Hmm. She’s a character from a 1970s movie.
A little before your time, he replied. Darcy had mentioned at some point that she’d been born in 1986 – not that he wanted to think too hard about that.
So are you, and I like you just fine. The movie is a cult classic and they still sometimes show it in theatres, but that is ALL you’re going to get from me.
He laughed to himself, leaning up against the hallway wall as he typed his answer. That’s not nearly enough of a clue.
Are you kidding? I’ve already said too much. You’ll find out in three days. And you’ve really gotta make up your mind.
He thought back one more time to one of the dozens of ideas she’d bounced off him, one that had caught his interest enough to go look up more information and other photos. And if Darcy’s outfit was going to be something from the 1970s, well… that kind of clinched it. If you’re going to keep your costume a secret, so am I. Might need you to come over and see if I’ve got it right, if you’ve got time before the party, though.
I LOVE SURPRISES, she replied, followed immediately by You got it. OMG, already dying to see what this is going to be.
“Alright, I have GOT to know what had the damn Winter Soldier cracking up in the middle of a meeting.”
Bucky looked up to see Clint leaning against the opposite wall. He’d been so engrossed in texting that he hadn’t even noticed the guy. “Just somebody’s suggestion of what I should be dressing as for the Halloween party,” he replied.
Barton raised an eyebrow, looking like he was surprised to get an actual answer. “And…?”
“Oh man. Somebody is a braver person than me, man. Tell me you’re gonna do it, just to fuck with them.”
Bucky snorted. “No, I’ve got something else planned.” Then it occurred to him that if he was going to surprise Darcy, that meant that he had to actually get his hands on a couple of things. “Hey, um… where would you go to get face paint for a costume?”
“Any drugstore should have that stuff. You want a lift to town? I promised Laura I’d pick up some stuff the kids need for their costumes anyhow.”
“What about you?”
Barton smirked at him. “Oh, I got mine figured out already. C’mon, let’s go.”
By the time they got to the chain drugstore on the edge of town, Bucky was feeling antsy about the whole thing. Given Darcy’s blindingly obvious love of Halloween and everything involved in it, he had a feeling that surprising her with this costume was probably a great idea, but it didn’t make it any more comfortable to walk through the automatic doors and try to figure out what the hell he needed to buy. Most of his day-to-day needs were either supplied at the compound, or things he could order online; it had been a while since he’d ventured into a store and he’d certainly never gone into one looking for makeup.
Clint had disappeared down another aisle saying something about candy, when Bucky heard a woman’s voice beside him. “Is there something I can help you find?”
He looked over to see one of the store staff, a woman in glasses with grey streaked through her hair. If she recognized him from anywhere, she didn’t show it. Keeping his left hand firmly in his pocket, he pulled up the image he’d saved on his phone. “I, uh… was going to do this for a party, but I’m not sure what I should be buying.”
The woman definitely recognized the man in the picture, though; her face lit up and she started pulling products off the shelf, some from the Halloween display and some from the regular makeup. “Great choice,” she said, passing over a handful of things as he hastily stowed his phone away. “That’s going to look awesome on you. There’s tutorials online on how to do it.”
He managed to mumble a thank you before he headed to the counter to cash out. Barton was already waiting outside, leaning against the door of the car; he raised an eyebrow at Bucky’s small bag. “That everything you need?”
Bucky shrugged. “Think so. Just going to wear some of my regular clothes for the rest.”
On the way back, Barton kept up a steady stream of predictions about what costumes the rest of the team might wear, though it seemed like everybody was playing their cards very close to the vest. “The one I really want to see is Banner,” he concluded, as they paused for him to place his hand out the window onto the scanner at the gate of the compound. “I mean, what can he be? My money’s on the Jolly Green Giant.”
“I don’t know. Hey…” Bucky debated whether to ask or not. “What would you say are the cult classic movies from the ‘70s?”
Clint screwed up his face in thought. “I don’t know. You mean like Star Wars, or like B-movies?”
“I don’t know. Just a clue somebody expected me to pick up.”
“Hm. Guess we’ll see on Thursday night.”
When Bucky got back to his apartment, he laid out the makeup items on his counter and eyed them with trepidation, wondering if he should look up the videos the woman in the store had mentioned, and maybe practice ahead of time. He’d have to shave first, though. Instead, he considered Barton’s comment about the movies. Star Wars was one he’d actually seen; Shuri had made him watch it in Wakanda, after he’d seen her wearing a shirt from one of the movies and asked what it was. Maybe that was what Darcy had referred to? On a whim, he pulled his phone out. Princess Leia?
Oh, nice try but no. I did that one in college, though, the gold bikini one. I was a bit skinnier then.
He blinked at her answer. I only saw the first one of those movies and I don’t remember seeing that kind of a costume, but I’m pretty sure you’d look like a knockout in it right now. You’re nuts if you think you should be any skinnier.
It showed her typing on and off for a while, as if she was writing and erasing a possible answer, before her reply popped up. Oooh, Sergeant Barnes, flattery will get you almost everywhere. Except the answer to what my costume is. You’ll find out in 72 hours.
Any guesses who either of them are going to dress as...?
In which we find out Bucky and Darcy's costumes, and the extremely slow burn starts to warm up just a tiny bit more...
Although he saw Darcy several times in the intervening days, he was still none the wiser about her costume by the time the 31st rolled around. He was, however, mostly up to speed with just about every other detail about the festivities she’d planned. The trick-or-treating was happening first, with food and festivities in the lounge afterwards so that people with kids could get them home to bed. “After that, all bets are off,” Darcy had said, and Bucky was aware that just about anyone who didn’t have to be on the roster was planning to take the next day off. He’d told Fury to leave him on, since if anything came up he was one person who didn’t have to worry about a hangover.
But he’d kept the afternoon of Halloween open, first to carve a face in the pumpkin that Darcy had left on his doorstep, but mostly to get himself ready, starting with a clean shave and one more watch of the instructional video he’d found for how best to do the makeup. The picture Darcy had sent him at first had had a completely preposterous outfit – she’d almost certainly expected that he would reject it out of hand – but the face had looked interesting enough. When Bucky had looked up the person, he’d found that he was a well-known performer who’d worn everything from spandex to tailored suits onstage, so he figured he could get away with the pair of skinny black pants and black dress shirt that had been hanging unworn in the back of his closet since Wilson had told him he should get some ‘nice clothes’ a few months before.
And since the man was a singer, Bucky had been listening to his music the last few days, to make sure he wouldn’t look like an out-of-touch old fool at the party; he cued up the playlist again, lined up all the products he’d bought at the drugstore, pulled up a reference picture on his phone and set that on the bathroom counter where he could see it. “Alright, David Bowie, it’s you and me.”
There was a brief moment at first where the act of putting on makeup gave him pause, dredged up vague, unwanted memories of smearing on eyeblack as the Winter Soldier. But he took a deep breath, focused on the music and on how surprised Darcy was going to be if he could pull this off, and forged ahead with a layer of pale foundation and powder on most of his face before starting to outline the lightning bolt and fill it in with red, with a thin blue line down one edge. Though he’d never tried anything like this before – and didn’t especially foresee doing it again – one advantage to all his weapons training was that his hand was steady and his eye for detail precise; it took a while, but he managed to recreate the look to satisfy his own exacting standards.
It was a quarter to six by the time he was done, and Darcy had said she’d come over and help him hand out candy – though he was sure it was mostly to make sure he’d actually managed to put a costume together and wasn’t going to renege on going to the party. Sweeping all the makeup into a mostly-empty bathroom drawer, he took one more look at himself in the mirror, imagined what Steve would say if he could see this, and went out to dump some candy bars into a bowl and set them just inside his front door.
Maybe a minute later, a knock sounded. “Trick or treat!” It sounded like she was trying to do some kind of fake voice, but it was unmistakably Darcy. He opened the door to find her dressed in sequins from head to toe – or from head to the bottom of a pair of very short shorts, at least. She wore a sparkly gold top hat and tails jacket with a big red bow tie over a low-cut strapless top, the aforementioned shorts, some fishnet tights, pale blue socks and what looked like tap shoes. Her hair was slicked back from her face into a low bun, her lips were perfect cherry red, and she had a lot more eye makeup on than usual. Bucky didn’t have the first clue who the hell she was dressed as, but she definitely looked pretty, as outlandish as the outfit was.
The most noticeable thing, though, was the look of complete and utter shock on her face. “Oh. My. God.” She dragged the last word out for a long time. “Bucky, you look… oh my god. Oh my god.”
He was beginning to worry that he’d fucked this up somehow. “Is it… alright?”
“Alright?” she echoed. “I… oh my god. I know I sent you a photo of Bowie in all those texts but I never thought in a million years you’d actually do it, much less pull it off. This is amazing. Did anyone help you with this?”
Bucky shook his head. “I mean, Barton gave me a lift to the drugstore and there was a nice lady there who helped me figure out what I needed to buy, but then I just looked it up online. Are the clothes okay?”
“Yes. Very very okay. Jesus fuck. I’ve gotta pull myself together before the little kidlets come knocking on the door here. Is it okay if I grab a glass of water?”
“Who are you, anyhow?” he asked, as she crossed the room and rummaged in his cabinets for a glass.
“Hang on a sec.” She filled the glass at the tap, drank half of it in what looked like one gulp, then pulled out her phone from who knew where; there must have been a hidden pocket in the flashy gold jacket because she wasn’t carrying a purse and there certainly wasn’t room to hide a thing in the rest of her getup. Pulling up something, she turned and showed him an image of a group of people, one of whom was clearly the person she’d dressed as; she had it just about note-perfect, other than the fact that the girl in the picture had short red hair. “It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Cult classic, like I said. I’m Columbia.”
Taking the phone from her, he recognized another character, one whose picture had been among the many Darcy had sent him. “Oh, and you wanted me to dress as this guy in the makeup and lingerie?”
She laughed. “Well, I knew for a fact that you wouldn’t go for that, but I had fun picturing it. And it would have made for a really epic group costume, since I talked Thor and Jane into being Brad and Janet,” she added, pointing out the only two normally-dressed people in the photo. “But I didn’t think you’d take me up on this, either, so who knows, maybe another year?”
There was a knock on the door then, with a couple of small voices calling out for trick-or-treat; Darcy was muttering something under her breath, but all Bucky caught was the word ‘hot’ before she opened the door to reveal two tiny kids who couldn’t be more than four, dressed as a lion and a Dalmatian. “Oh, look how cute you are!” Darcy exclaimed.
The Dalmatian looked shy, but the little lion stood up to her full height and declared “I’m not cute, I’m a scary lion!”
“You are a scary lion,” Bucky told her. “Please take a candy bar so you don’t eat me.”
“Thank you, lightning man,” the little girl said, with the utmost gravity, before the pair of them shuffled off down the hall towards Sam’s door.
“Oh, lightning man, who know you were so smooth with the little ones?” Darcy said, fluttering a hand theatrically over her chest as he closed the door. “Between that and this excellent Bowie playlist and you looking like that right now… be still my heart.”
Can we talk a bit about how you look tonight? He didn’t voice the thought aloud, but as they took turns answering his door to a succession of costumed children, he found himself not knowing where to look: her legs in the fishnets bringing back images of old-time pinups, the shorts barely covering the curve of her ass, her chest on generous display any time she bent down to hand treats to the kids. She was his friend and he knew he shouldn’t be looking at any of that, but he found himself unable to land his eyes anywhere else. That whisper of desire he’d felt outside on the picnic bench a few days before was a little bit louder in his veins now, thrumming down his spine and thinking about waking up parts of him that he’d believed to be permanently dormant.
By six-thirty, though, Darcy said she had to go and make sure everything was ready for the rest of the party. “I know you probably won’t want to be in the middle of the festivities all night, but promise me you’ll come for a while,” she said, leaning back against the inside of his door like she didn’t want to leave.
“I might sit in a corner,” he admitted, “but I’ll stay for as much of it as I can. If nothing else, I’ve gotta see what everybody else is dressing as.” Truth be told, he was determined now to stick it out, if for no other reason than he didn’t want anybody else but him walking Darcy back to her door at the end of the night. “I’ll see you soon, doll.”
Bucky handed out candy to a few more kids, but by seven-fifteen the knocks had long since petered out and he could hear a low thump of bass coming from the common room when he opened his door to blow out the candle in his pumpkin. Time to go join the party, then. He stalled for a little while, getting a drink of water, eating a couple of the leftover candies, and checking his face one more time in the bathroom mirror.
He hesitated there a minute, thinking about Darcy’s reaction, all those oh-my-gods when she’d walked in his door. Almost as if there was something there beyond just surprise, beyond just the fact that he’d done a decent job of the makeup. As if it was something about him. It wasn’t the first time, but she was hard to keep up with; her brain went the speed of lightning and her mouth just about as fast, and it was tough to read how much of what she said might be just how she treated her friends. He hadn’t seen her interact with other people all that much. No time like the present. Turning away from his reflection, he pushed off the counter and headed out.
The door of the lounge was propped open and even from down the hall he could tell things were already hopping. People were wandering in and out, mostly in costume, some with drinks in hand, some with kids in tow still clutching their little plastic pumpkins or goody bags. Music was playing and although he recognized the tune, the singing sounded a bit off. He figured out why when he looked through the door: it was actually Sam singing, a microphone in hand and the big TV screen lit up with the words of the song. He was doing a half-decent job, even if he couldn’t quite live up to the original, but he looked a bit ridiculous in a set of tan coveralls with some kind of big boxy equipment strapped on his back. Bucky filed that away as something to ask about later; he was pretty sure that there were going to be a lot of references he was going to miss.
Bucky wasn’t great at pop culture, but he was good at slipping into a room quietly. He’d managed to edge along the wall almost to one of the chairs in the corner, but then Wilson spotted him and let loose a loud “Holy shit, Barnes!” right into the microphone, right in the middle of some lyric about hearing it through the grapevine.
It felt like about fifty heads swiveled in his direction, and while he’d hoped to surprise some folks with his getup, he hadn’t thought it would be all at the same damn time, the second he came in the door. His heartrate and breathing jacked up several notches and he was just about to start questioning whether this had all been a terrible idea when a little hand tugged on his. “Don’t be scared, lightning man.” It was the kid in the lion costume. He had no idea whose child this was, whether the parents were about to lose their shit over their kid sidling up to the Winter Soldier, or how the hell the kid had read his mind, when she followed up with, “I’m not really a lion. See?” She pushed her hood back as if it was a big reveal, and he realized it was the daughter of one of the agents on the strike team. “I’m just a kid.”
She was looking up at him for a reaction and he eventually found his voice. “Oh, good. I was getting a little worried.”
The kid toddled off and found her mom, who was looking very non-strike-team-like in some kind of unicorn onesie, and when Bucky turned around he found Darcy standing on his other side. “The lion really took a shine to you. Maybe you should have been the Tin Man after all,” she joked.
“Maybe.” Feeling a little calmer now that most of the attention was back on Wilson and the end of his song, Bucky took a better look around the room. “You’re going to have to give me a crash course on who half these people are supposed to be. And how come he’s up there singing, anyhow?”
Darcy grinned. “I was going to try and explain karaoke to you, but I figured it’d make more sense just to see it. Don’t worry, it’s very much not required to participate, and we’ll switch to regular music later. But it’s fun. Oh, which reminds me – hang on a sec, I need to talk to Pepper about something for one minute.”
At least Pepper Potts had a costume Bucky could recognize, though she looked a lot flashier than any of the real ‘flappers’ that he vaguely remembered seeing in his childhood; Morgan was maybe a fairy, unless it was some modern character he wouldn’t know. He was content to stay in his corner while Darcy threaded her way through people to talk to them, their heads bent together as Darcy gestured about something and one of the maintenance staff in a cowboy costume got up to – enthusiastically and badly – sing a showtune.
Rather than stand there like an idiot watching them, he looked around for somebody else he could maybe talk to. Sam had disappeared after his performance, but he spotted Clint not too far away. Barton was wearing a triangular green hat and a matching tunic, and Bucky felt a sense of victory – and a good deal of amusement – at recognizing another costume. “Isn’t Robin Hood just a little too obvious for you?” he asked.
“Goddammit, I keep telling everyone, I’m not Robin Hood, I’m…” Turning around, Barton looked at Bucky properly and his jaw dropped; he must not have been in the room for Wilson’s outburst. “Nice costume, Barnes. Do you even know who you’re dressed as?”
Bucky raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, it seems you like don’t know you’re Robin Hood.”
“Oh. Ha ha. I think I might have liked you better when you just scowled all the time and made all the strike team piss themselves. Want a beer, man?”
It wasn’t going to affect him, but a drink sounded good. “Sure.”
Clint leaned over to a cooler stashed behind a couch and handed a bottle to Bucky. “Darcy thought of everything. Including the fact that it’d get too crowded in here for everybody to get to the bar. Holy SHIT, look at Banner!”
Bucky turned. “Either you were wrong about his costume, or the Jolly Green Giant has changed a lot since I was a kid.” Banner was shirtless, barefoot and wearing what looked for all the world like an oversized trash can around his waist.
Whatever it was, Barton clearly recognized it. “Oscar the Grouch!” he wheezed, close to tears from laughing so hard. “Oscar the… oh fuck, you wouldn’t know who that is. I’ve gotta go see if Laura’s seen this yet.”
On his own again, Bucky tried looking around for Darcy and spotted her fiddling with a laptop that was set up near where people were singing. A second later, she was standing in front of the crowd, the microphone in her hand, what looked like a nervous smile on her face. “Um, hey, Happy Halloween everybody. Now that we’re mostly all here, and before all the kids start heading home to bed, I thought this was a song that needs to be part of this party. This one’s for Tony Stark.”
He would have expected a slow song, maybe something sentimental, and was thrown off guard when a brief drumbeat was blasted apart by a harsh electric guitar riff. Everyone else in the room seemed to know it, though, and when Darcy launched in with the words “Back in black…” there were cheers, and heads bobbing, some voices singing along to the chorus, and a few people dabbing at their eyes through the rest of the abrasive tune. It must have been one of Stark’s favourites, he had to guess; it felt like it fit with his brief experience of the man. He had no idea what the real singer was supposed to sound like or whether Darcy was doing an accurate job, but she threw herself into it, belting out the lyrics and pumping one fist to the beat like she’d been born on a stage. Between that and her ridiculous-yet-oddly-sexy outfit, it was all just so Darcy that he could feel a grin sneaking across his face at the sight of it.
The room went up in applause at the end of the song, and Pepper stepped up to give Darcy a hug before taking Morgan by the hand to go, and Bucky noticed some other parents heading out with the handful of kids still remaining. Somebody else got up to sing a tune, and he could see Darcy winding her way through the crowd. Every couple of feet someone would grab her to talk, and though she had a moment for everybody, Bucky realized that she kept looking over to him, kept making progress in his direction. The knowledge that he was her destination suddenly made that jam-packed space feel a lot better. At last she got across the room and looked up at him. “I have something I need to ask you, and I don’t know whether I should ask now, before I have too much to drink, or if I need another drink or two to work up the nerve. I…”
Before she could say another word, Clint barged up beside her. “Okay, Lewis, spill. How the hell did you convince this guy to turn into Ziggy Stardust?”
Though he was disappointed at the interruption, Bucky did take a certain amount of satisfaction in being able to correct Barton. “This is Aladdin Sane, technically.”
“Oh. He thinks I’m Robin Hood, and yet he knows the finer points of all Bowie’s personas,” Clint groused. “What the fuck.”
Darcy rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind him,” she told Bucky, and he loved that she tilted her head towards his shoulder a bit as she said it, as if they were co-conspirators. “He’s just pissed off that so far I’m the only person who knows that he’s actually dressed as Link.” Standing up on tiptoes to stage-whisper in his ear, she added, “It’s a video game. I can show you later.”
With her standing a little off-balance like that, it felt like the most natural thing in the world – maybe some kind of muscle memory buried since before the war – to put his right arm loosely around her waist. And just about the most gratifying thing, when she smiled and leaned in a little as if this was exactly what she’d been hoping he’d do. “How are you doing so far?” she asked, once Barton cleared off to talk to someone else.
Since she didn’t seem to mind his arm being there, he dared to just lightly curve his fingers around her hip. “Better now.” It sounded like a textbook line, but it was the truth. “As long as I just kind of stay out of the way, it’s actually not bad. You did a great job putting this together, doll.”
He was about to ask what it was she’d wanted to say to him, when they were interrupted again, this time by Sam. Clearly the middle of the party was not the time for a private conversation, but he hoped she’d come out with it before the end of the night or his brain was going to start twisting it on him. Meanwhile, Sam was looking him up and down. “You are a dark horse, man. I wouldn’t have called this, not in a million years. Since when are you a Bowie fan?”
Bucky shrugged. “Figured maybe enchiladas weren’t the only thing I missed over the years.”
“Oh, sure. You just wanted something to look slick for the ladies,” Wilson replied, though from the way his eyes darted briefly towards Darcy, Bucky knew he meant lady, singular, and it wasn’t like he was wrong. “Meanwhile I thought this’d be a great idea since I’m used to having gear on my back, but let me tell you, this cheap-ass proton pack is not winning any awards for aerodynamics. If I bump into one more thing, either it’s going to fall apart or someone’s going to clock me.” Standing at close range, Bucky noticed the little ghost patch and the name tag that said Venkman on Sam’s costume, and mentally filed away ‘Ghostbusters’ as something else to ask Darcy more about, some other time.
The rest of the evening passed in a similar vein: some golden moments where he had Darcy to himself for a while, a bunch of discussions about his costume and how the hell he’d come up with the idea, and a lot of trying to figure out who other people were. He recognized Thor and Jane’s costumes from the photo Darcy had shown him – though it was flat-out hilarious to see Thor’s huge frame in ill-fitting pants, a cheap beige windbreaker, and a big pair of coke-bottle glasses. If he hadn’t that the reference, he wouldn’t have thought Dr. Foster was in a costume at all, since she was just wearing a pink dress and a cardigan. There was lots of food and lots to drink and for a while it almost got too rowdy for him, but as the hour got later the crowd started to thin out. By about twelve-thirty he could feel himself starting to unwind, as much as he was ever going to, with the party down to about a dozen or so people, most of whom he knew in at least some degree. The music had been turned down some, and the doors out to the hallway closed in deference to those who’d gone off to bed. Those who remained were mostly lounging around on the couches and barstools, though Clint had convinced Bucky to play a game of pool.
Watching Darcy swaying to a song as she poured somebody a drink, Bucky had an idea. “That song machine,” he said quietly, so that only Barton would hear it. “Do you know how to start it up again?”
“I don’t know,” Clint replied, out of the corner of his mouth, as he lined up a shot. “But if it means you’re actually going to take a swing at it, I will figure it out, because this I’ve gotta see.”
They finished up their game, Bucky muttered a song title, and Barton did a pretty good cloak-and-dagger job of it. Nobody seemed to notice anything was up until Bucky stood up by the screen, microphone in hand, and then Jane’s jaw dropped and she silently hustled over and started smacking Darcy in the arm to get her attention. Everybody else played it reasonably cool, probably because most of them were at least half in the bag and most of them had already sung a song or two, and some of them had been goddamn awful. It was that as much as anything else that had given Bucky the final push to give this a whirl. Thankful that he’d been doing his homework the last couple of days, he lifted the microphone, keeping his eyes fixed on the screen though he already knew most of the words. “Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low/ I leaned back on my radio…”
By the time he got to the chorus, he found the nerve to glance around the room again. Some faces definitely looked surprised now – maybe they’d expected him to sing Tommy Dorsey or something – and some folks were singing along to the refrain. But Darcy, Darcy looked like somebody had just dropped a million dollars and a pony into her lap and she wasn’t sure how to believe it. The fact that she was looking like that at him just about made him lose his place in the song. She’s just surprised, he told himself. Surprised and pleased that you took her costume idea and happy you’ve joined the party and maybe she’s a little drunk. Don’t get the wrong idea, pal.
As much as he lectured himself, though, he couldn’t help reacting when she wrapped her arms around him almost the second the song was over; not caring who was watching, he squeezed her right back. “Did I do okay?”
“Perfect. Talk about a big finish to the evening.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is this the finish?”
She cast an eye around the room. “Maybe not for everybody, but I am ready to go out on a high note here. Pun intended. Any chance you want to walk me home?”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
From the lounge to Darcy’s apartment was down two flights of stairs and along maybe thirty yards of hallway: hardly a walk, and Bucky found himself wishing he could stall, drag it out. “You said there was something you wanted to ask me,” he prompted. “But you weren’t sure if you should have more drinks first. How many did you have?”
She laughed. “A few, but I switched to ginger ale a couple of hours ago. Do you… It’s not really that late. Do you want to go sit outside for a bit, or go for a walk or something? I was ready to get out of there, but I’m not really ready for tonight to be over yet.”
With that knack of hers for seeming like she could read his mind, she’d managed to sum up exactly what he’d wanted to say. “You need to get a real coat, then, doll. Can’t have you freezing out there.”
“One sec.” She unlocked her door, leaving it ajar as she slipped inside. He’d never been inside her apartment, and she hadn’t invited him in now, so he stayed where he was. Maybe thirty seconds later, she was back, having ditched the top hat and traded the costume jacket for a red wool coat. “How about you?”
He didn’t know how to begin to explain his relationship to the cold after so much time in cryo; he hated the cold, sometimes felt like he could never really get warm, but at the same time he’d been exposed to it so much that he could tolerate extremes when the situation called for it. Darcy Lewis wanting him to go for a moonlight stroll because she didn’t want their night to be done? Definitely a situation that called for it. “I’ll be fine, doll,” was what he settled for.
It was actually a pitch-black night, not a sliver of moon to be seen, but the stars were bright overhead as they walked out through the garden and away from the building. “That’s the one thing I sometimes miss about Norway,” she said, gesturing at the sky. “The stars were incredible. They’re pretty good here – you can definitely see more than in the city – but up there, wow. Have you ever seen the Northern Lights?”
“I feel like I must have, at some point. They kept me in Siberia for a long time – but it wasn’t like I got to see much of it.” He regretted the words the instant they left his mouth. Nice going, jerk. A beautiful night with a beautiful dame and you’ve gotta bring that up.
“Fuck those assholes, honestly. I’m adding ‘see the Northern Lights properly, from somewhere nice’ to your list,” Darcy declared.
“My mental list of all the things that Bucky Barnes deserves to have. Hugs. Breakfasts. A good night’s sleep. The Northern Lights. And, you know, other stuff. Anything you want.”
“Anything I want?” he echoed. “That’s quite a list.”
“Yeah, I…” Darcy stopped walking and turned to face him, taking a deep breath rather than picking up her trailing sentence. “I wasn’t kidding earlier; there is something I need to ask you, but I’ve been making myself crazy trying to figure out how to say it, or even if I should.”
A million possibilities flashed through his mind. Something she wasn’t sure if and how to ask: was there something about his past? Something she couldn’t come to terms with? Part of him had been waiting for the other shoe to drop since the moment she’d first spoken to him, and it kind of felt like that moment was almost upon him. “What is it?”
“I… This. Us.” She gestured back and forth in the couple of feet that separated them. “Are we… God, if I’ve got this wrong, if I’m misreading this, but… lately… I just have to know…”
Please just spit it out, doll, he thought. Drop the sword. But he stayed silent and let her continue.
“Are we… I mean, I know we’re friends, I know that, or at least I hope we are, but…” She moved just a fraction closer to him. “And I know you’ve got a ton on your shoulders, but… Is that the only thing we are? Because I kind of feel like somewhere this has turned into kind of like a… little bit of a boyfriend-girlfriend situation. Like a very slow-paced, super quiet one, but… is this just my brain making stuff up?”
If she’d had a feather, she could have knocked him over with it. “Darcy, are you… are you saying that’s something you’d want?”
“Are you saying you’re offering?”
“God, I… I don’t know what I’ve got to offer you,” he replied. “I don’t know what jackpot I hit that you even want to be friends with somebody like me. By rights the guys ought to be lined up from here to Manhattan for a chance with you, and I’m a broken old relic who’s still learning how to not have a panic attack when I get a hug, let alone…” He bit his lip, not wanting to say too much when he still couldn’t believe what he thought she was getting at. “Do you really want to be my girl?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
She stepped closer and slid her arms around his waist, and it was that now-familiar move, that feeling of groundedness she gave him, that convinced him that this was really happening. Pulling her closer, he rested his cheek against the top of her head and closed his eyes for a moment. “Feels like this is the point where I should be asking you for a kiss, but I’m kinda terrified,” he confessed, his voice pitched low though there was no one else around.
“Don’t be.” She was rubbing one hand slowly against his lower back, her head still leaning on his shoulder; he thought he could feel her breath against his neck as she spoke. “There’s no rush. Although, for the record, you’ve gotten really good at this hugging thing. Like really, really good. A plus. Eleven out of ten.”
“I’ve got a good teacher.”
“Mmmm.” It was almost a purr, the kind of noise that reminded him of what it was like to want things. “That’s kinda hot, when you put it like that,” she added, loosening her hold a little so she could look up at him. “Whenever you’re ready to relearn anything else, I am all about helping you practice.”
His heart was already just about hammering its way out of his chest, and the way she was looking at him – her eyes wide, lips just slightly parted – made it ratchet up another few beats per minute. Knowing he was about five seconds away from the fight-or-flight response kicking in, he swallowed hard and managed to make the words leave his mouth. “Can I kiss you?”
“You know you can.”
She came up on tiptoes, closing most of the remaining distance so that he barely had to tilt his head down. Every detail registered, as if the world had slowed down: her closed eyes, the curve of her lashes dark against her skin, the barely-there brush of her nose against his, and then the real point of contact where his lips touched hers. It was warm and soft and only lasted a moment, but he still felt as if the world was tilting on its axis and threatening to throw him off. Darcy repeated the kiss, not pushing it any further than he had, and then settled her cheek on his shoulder again – his left shoulder this time – and pressed her hands against his back as if she knew he needed steadying. “You okay?” she murmured.
He wondered if she could feel how fast his heart was beating, whether it reverberated through the metal. “Yeah. Better than okay.”
Content warning: This chapter begins with a brief description of a panic attack.
He’d kissed her once more, just another soft brush of lips as he’d left her at her front door. Then he’d managed to get himself home, change into sweats, and scrub all the Halloween makeup off his face before he fell apart. Some distant corner of his mind said that he should’ve been expecting this, after a night full of crowds and social contact and noise and people staring at him and holy fuck, he really just kissed a woman for the first time since the war. It was too much adrenaline, that far-off sensible piece of brain pointed out, even though the night had been almost entirely pleasant; it was all bound to be triggering, and good on him for making it all the way through the night and not losing his shit till he was alone. But that voice was vanishing fast, as a pain that made no sense spiked into the middle of one thigh, a glare danced around the edges of his vision and his breath got harder and harder to find.
Panic attack, he told himself sternly, but all the while the rushing of blood in his ears and the erratic skip of his heart said things like you’re dying and what the hell gives you the right to put your hands on a woman like her and echoes of other voices, worse ones, mostly in Russian. He sat down hard on the floor, not bothering to take the three steps to the couch, pulled his knees up to his chest and put his head down on them, his focus shrinking down to just about nothing.
When the knock at his door came he barely heard it, but it was repeated, louder. “Open up, Barnes. I know you ain’t gone to bed yet.”
Bucky debated ignoring Wilson, but he knew he wouldn’t go away. “Open,” he said in a weak voice, letting the AI unlock the door.
“Aw, shit,” Sam said in a quieter voice, closing the door behind himself and not bothering to turn on any other lights besides the one that was left on in the bathroom. “I had a feeling, man.”
Bucky didn’t look up, but was aware of the other man sitting down on the floor as well. “Yep. Still broken.”
“If you were broken, you’d never have made it this far and you know it, Barnes,” Sam replied. “Come on, you know the drill. Five things you can see, four things you can hear, three you can touch, you know how it goes.”
He did know the drill. It had sounded trite the first time Wilson told it to him, but it had helped him more than once. Lifting his head, he silently started cataloguing. He could see the slice of light around the bathroom door, his boots where he’d kicked them off, the back of the couch, the gun cases just beyond it, and Wilson sitting across from him in the darkened room. It was quiet this late at night but he could hear the heating cycling on, the hum of his fridge, the wind outside the windows, his own heartbeat. Touch meant the carpet under his right hand, the edge of the kitchen tile under his left, the soft fabric of the shirt against his chest. Smell: the soap he’d washed his face with and the faintest trace of Darcy’s perfume, still clinging on to him somehow. Taste was mint from his toothpaste and by then, he was able to suck in something closer to a real breath, though he could feel the shakes starting to set in.
“When I said I had a feeling, it was because you pushed a lot of boundaries tonight,” Sam continued, once Bucky met his eye. “The costume thing, dealing with a bunch of kids banging on your door, a big party, getting up and singing in front of people – and not terribly, I might add – and then I don’t know what you were up to considering you left the party half an hour ago and I just heard you come in your door now. And before you say it, I’m not asking about the last thing. That’s your business. But all of that: it’s a lot, man. Even when it’s good. Anybody who’s even a garden-variety introvert is gonna crash after that, maybe get their brain starting to try and pick holes in everything. Figured you might need a friend to come and shake you up, snap you out of it.”
“Anybody ever tell you you’re a pain in the ass, Wilson?”
Sam chuckled. “There he is. Bucky ‘grumpy old man’ Barnes is back.”
“Hey, least I can do. You want me to stick around?”
Sitting up straighter, Bucky shook his head. “Nah. I’m alright.”
“Alright. You know where to find me.”
By the time the door locked behind Sam, Bucky was starting to fall into the black hole of exhaustion that usually followed a bad attack. Not bothering to make his way to bed, he pulled a pillow off the couch and stretched out where he was for a fitful sleep.
When his phone woke him up, it took him several seconds to remember where he was and what was going on. Daylight was filtering in and according to the phone it was eight thirty-two in the morning. “Yeah?” he answered, rasping the word out of his dry throat.
“Barnes.” It was Fury. “Good, you’re up. We need you with Thor for a problem in Norway. Briefing at nine-fifteen, aiming for wheels up by eleven at the latest.”
Fury made a vague noise. “Should be days, not weeks, but no promises. Pack for cold.”
Standing up, Bucky cracked his back and stretched out his shoulders; he’d slept in far worse conditions but it didn’t mean the floor was comfortable, and he could have used more rest after the ups and downs of the previous night. After a glass of water and a quick change into tactical gear and boots, he brushed his teeth and added a couple of items to his bag, then pulled out his phone. It was still only ten to nine and everyone had had a late night; he doubted Darcy would be up and about yet. Not wanting to wake her, he settled for a quick text. Just got called up for a mission, sounds like a few days. Will check in when I can, doll. xo
He looked at the last two letters for a few seconds before deciding to leave them in and hitting send. Disappearing with just a text was bad enough; he wanted to at least include something to acknowledge the way the previous night had wound up, even if he was still in a state of disbelief about it himself. To his surprise, he got a reply almost immediately. WHAT? Right this minute? Are you already gone?
Packing now, he replied. Briefing is in 25 minutes and then we’ve got to go.
I WILL BE THERE IN 5. DON’T LEAVE YET.
It was actually more like three minutes; he heard the sound of running feet in the corridor and opened his door to find Darcy with her hand poised to knock. She was wearing a black hoodie over what looked like pajamas, her feet were bare, her cheeks were flushed and he could still see traces of the previous night’s makeup smudged around her eyes behind her glasses; she’d clearly tumbled straight out of bed and it hit him that this was what she’d look like if they’d woken up together, and that made his stomach flip over and back in an oddly pleasant way. “I didn’t mean to wake you, doll,” he told her, as she slipped inside and shut the door.
“For the record: please, always wake me up if you’re whisking off to fight bad guys. Do you have a minute? Can we sit down? Am I getting in the way of you getting ready?”
“You’re not in the way,” he replied, following her to the couch. She sat down like she owned the place, patting the cushion beside her when he hesitated. “I don’t know… how to do this,” he added, not sure whether he just meant letting her know about missions or the whole situation between them. Probably both. Part of him was thinking about how out of depth he was with this dame and how little he deserved her, part of him was retreating into the relative safety of thinking ahead to what the mission might entail, and though he wasn’t proud of it, there was a part wondering whether she had anything on underneath her plaid pajama bottoms.
Uncertainly flickered in her eyes. “Do you still… want this?” she asked, pointing between them like she had the night before. “I didn’t mean to push…”
“Yes. Yes, I want this.” Without thinking, he reached his flesh hand up to her cheek; her expression relaxed a little as she leaned into his touch. “I just… this stuff…” He gestured down at what he was wearing, and towards the bag and weapons case by the door. “This part, I don’t think it’d be easy even if I wasn’t already such a mess.”
“Stop it.” It was a tone that reminded him that she’d basically started running the science labs and everyone in them within weeks of arriving at the compound, a tone that allowed no room for argument. “See, this is what I was afraid of, that you’d get called away for who-knows-how-long and you’d start talking yourself out of all this. There’s a bunch of stuff that I should have said last night, if I hadn’t been so blown away by the fact that your gorgeous Avenger-ass self might actually want to be my boyfriend.” Before he could start to formulate any kind of response to that, she barged ahead. “I know none of this is going to be simple. I know you’re going to sometimes get called away with no notice and I’ll be here worried sick about you; that’s part of the life and in case you hadn’t noticed, that was already gonna be the case as soon as we got to be friends, whether or not we got closer. And I know your history; I’ve read your file. All of it. I know your trauma means some things have got to go slow, and I promise you that I do not, for one second, think that that makes you weak or less of a man or any other bullshit like that. I’m not in this because I feel sorry for you, or because I’ve got some complex about wanting to fix you.” She smiled and shook her head a little. “See? I’m on my soapbox again, but it’s just because I was lying awake last night thinking about all the things I wanted to make sure you knew, things I should’ve said last night. And since you’re leaving in a couple of minutes I want to make extra sure, in case you’re stuck somewhere incommunicado and start getting all up in your own head about it.”
“I think I was already starting to,” he confessed. “I’m glad you were awake, sweetheart.”
“Like I said, always wake me up. Text me, call me, bang on my door if you have to. It doesn’t even have to be because you’re hopping on a quinjet. Even if you just want to talk or whatever. Especially ‘or whatever’,” she added, the corners of her mouth quirking up as her eyes shifted from serious to mischievous.
He let his hand drop from her face to take her hand instead. “You say that like you’ve got plans in mind, doll,” he told her, running his thumb over her palm.
“Oh, I’ve got big plans for you, Bucky Barnes. No schedule, no timeline – I’ll leave the ‘when’ completely in your court – but yeah, I’ve got plans.”
Something in her tone, in the spark in her eyes when she looked at him, gave him an idea of exactly what kind of plans Darcy had in store for him. “Yeah? What’s first on that list?”
“You sure there’s nothing else you have to do before you leave?”
“Nothing. Pick up my bags and hit the briefing.”
“Good.” Darcy shifted around so that she was sitting sideways on the couch, draped her legs across his, and nestled in against his left side. “This okay?” she added, as he draped his metal arm around her shoulders.
“Very okay.” It was almost like she was sitting on his lap, and though he would have hated having anyone else all over him like that, with Darcy it felt comforting. Maybe not just comforting, he realized, as he looked down at her and noticed that somewhere in rearranging herself she’d also unzipped her hoodie; he might have expected a t-shirt or an old-fashioned pajama top underneath, but instead she was wearing a little grey camisole that clung to her curves and gave him a very generous view right down her cleavage. He realized he was staring and then looked away far too suddenly, which of course completely tipped his hand as to where his eyes had been.
But Darcy just laughed, as he felt the flush spreading over his face. “Sorry, the girls can be a little distracting. I can cover back up if it’s too much right now. But for the record: you’re allowed to look. You’re definitely the only one who’s allowed to stare.”
The way she said it – like she’d be happy to sit there and let him ogle her for the next five minutes or so till he had to leave, if that’s what he wanted – made him wonder what it would be like to see all of her, and whether he’d be able to get over enough of his own bullshit in time to do that one day before she got tired of him. “It’s hard not to stare sometimes. And not because of what you’ve got on right now. I’d be staring if that sweater was still zipped up, too. I wonder sometimes if you have any idea how gorgeous you are, doll.”
She lifted her right hand to his jaw, running her thumb across his lower lip. “Likewise. Fuck, I so hate it that you have to leave.”
Sadness crept into her voice on the last few words, and he tried to think of something to chase it away; the seconds were ticking down and though he knew neither of them was going to be happy when he walked out the door, he didn’t want to leave it on that note any more than he had to. “And when my teacher just promoted me, too,” he joked. “What if I forget last night’s lesson and have to go back to hugging practice?”
It worked: she leaned into his chest to stifle a giggle before looking up at him, trying and utterly failing to hold a straight face. “Mmm. Just because you passed the first level with flying colours doesn’t mean you get to stop practicing those skills, Sergeant. This is a both-and, not an either-or. But you raise a good point. Feel like a last-minute review of yesterday’s class before you go?”
“I think we’d better. This isn’t the kind of thing you can give me homework on, after all.”
She laughed again. “God, you are the fucking best, Bucky. People who don’t know you are missing out.”
Dipping his head, he breathed in her scent, feeling like he wanted to memorize everything about her before he left. “I’m only like this with you, sweetheart. Kiss me before I have to go?”
Burying her fingers in his hair near the back of his neck, she pulled him down to her, and this time he let her lead. She let the kiss linger a little longer than last night: one heartbeat, two, three, and then her lips parted and he felt just the tiniest flick of her tongue, not at the seam of his mouth but at the edge, where his lower lip met his chin. It was unexpected and sensitive and good, and for the second time in as many days he felt a low, warm buzz of arousal that suggested that maybe all his parts were still functioning. “Fuck,” he breathed, leaning his forehead against hers. “You gonna test me on that when I get back?”
“You know it.” With a sigh, she climbed off him and got to her feet, holding a hand out to pull him up and pull him into an embrace as soon as they were both standing. “Be safe. I’m gonna send you a million texts again, even though I know you can’t answer.”
“Good. I like reading them. Not used to anybody caring that I’m gone,” he admitted.
Darcy tilted her head up and planted a soft kiss on the side of his neck, near his pulse – and who knew that was something he was going to like so much? She probably knew; she seemed to know everything he needed, somehow. “Get used to it.”
Are you with Thor in New Asgard?
Thor told Jane there was something going on there that he had to deal with and you and/or Bruce were the only ones he trusted for help.
Darcy had sent him a dozen or so texts by the time he was able to set up a secure channel and check in, but those two stood out. Thor telling Jane where they were going, not to mention any other details, would officially be a security breach in a lot of other situations, but technically this was Asgardian business and not an Avengers mission. Yeah, but best if that info doesn’t leave your apartment. I guess if Thor’s telling Jane it’s ok for me to tell you.
Hey you, she texted back moments later.
This is a nice surprise, thought it would be longer before I’d hear from you.
He laid back on the narrow bunk, up in the attic of what seemed to be Thor’s house. There hadn’t been a lot of time to figure out the finer details, given that they’d spent the past two days on the trail of whoever or whatever had killed three of the Asgardian refugees – not to mention trying to keep up with a whole lot of things that seemed to be lifted straight out of the book of Viking stories Bucky used to check out of the Brooklyn Public Library in grade school. So far so good. Freezing though.
Almost could be, he replied. Wind goes right through the walls. Got a wool blanket but could use a couple more.
Need me to warm you up?
He smiled at the mental image, thinking of sitting on his couch with her draped all over him like she’d been before he left. I know you could if you were here.
Maybe I can still warm you up a little from a distance.
Several seconds later, a photo of Darcy popped up and his pulse skipped a beat. Taken with the camera looking down at her, it was a perfect image of her face – and also of her fingers lingering on the second button of her blouse. Nothing was revealed, but it looked as if he’d just walked in on her as she was undressing, and as if she didn’t mind one bit. After a solid minute or two of staring at the photo, he realized he’d better say something or she was going to think he didn’t like it, that she’d pushed too far. You take that just now?
Obviously, she replied. Not planning on taking flirty selfies for anybody but you tonight.
Good. Beautiful picture like that could give a guy ideas.
Giving you ideas?
He gave a rueful chuckle, quiet against the howling of the wind outside. It was giving him ideas for sure, but how could he explain that half of him was terrified to think too hard on any of them? Don’t know where to start, doll. It was vague, but honest.
Darcy was clearly typing and pausing for a while before her next text popped up. You know, if I can be semi-serious for a sec, I just thought of something. I know you said I couldn’t give you homework for any of the stuff we’ve been doing, but in a way maybe I can? I know the whole touching thing is a work in progress but maybe you need to kind of process it in your head too. I’m giving a shit explanation of this, it makes sense in my head, but – I guess I’m saying if that picture really does give you any ideas, maybe actually let yourself spend some time thinking about them? Let yourself find a place to start.
There was a pause before she followed up the long text with a few short ones:
You need to get comfortable with your own body too.
In other words, if you feel moved to touch yourself…
Just saying. You will NOT go blind.
Oh god, I sound like a perv.
He could hear her voice in his head, even as he felt a blush staining his face. His girl was forward – and the moment that thought flickered across his brain he had to take a minute to really let that sink in, that Darcy actually was his girl. This woman who could have a casual text conversation about something that no girl would have acknowledged the existence of back before the war. And who at the same time was patiently trying to help him through all his baggage… or maybe slightly less than patiently, because in defiance of all logic she wanted him. If he wanted to keep trying to keep up with her, he couldn’t let a little reference to jacking off scare him. Honesty seemed like the best option: Haven’t done that in a long time either.
Doesn’t have to be tonight.
Just saying… I am totally onboard with you having impure thoughts about me.
It might even the score a bit.
Because I have lots. About you.
And I can send more pics any time you like.
This picture is perfect, sweetheart.
I want you in the room with me the first time I see anything ‘better’.
Damn, gotta go, he added, hearing shouts and banging at the door downstairs.
You too doll. xo
It wound up being nearly twenty-four hours – including several miles on foot over rough terrain, an ambush by a handful of what Thor called Frost Giants, and the deployment of a shit-ton of explosives plus Thor’s lightning to blow up what was hopefully the only portal the giants could access Earth through – before Bucky had a chance to get back to his attic bunk. Though his body was screaming for rest by that point, his brain kept replaying the text conversation. He didn’t need to open his phone again to remember what she’d said – what she’d suggested. And maybe it was because he was so goddamn exhausted, but it didn’t sound as crazy, or as scary, as he’d first thought.
In that hazy space between wakefulness and sleep, he imagined it: picking up where her photo had left off, watching her undo those buttons, revealing herself to him. He had enough sense of the geography of her body to picture her in general terms: the generous curves of her breasts, the softness of her waist, the slope of her hips. For the details, he really only had half-remembered girlie pictures, the kinds of pinups that soldiers would circulate. He wasn’t a virgin, but his own experiences – the scattered fragments he could recall - had been more of the hasty, all-the-lights-off variety. He already knew that Darcy would be nothing like that, if he could ever work up the nerve to get that far.
Slipping closer to sleep, his brain blurred together his imagined vision of her bare skin with his memories of kissing her, conjuring up a pleasant, lazy sort of warmth in his gut that gradually concentrated itself and moved south, stirring his cock to attention for the first real time in decades. It might have shocked him – might have even triggered him – if he hadn’t been inches from unconsciousness. As it was, he only had time to think Jesus Christ, it still works, before he drifted off into oblivion.
It took another day and a half of scouting before they felt satisfied that they’d eliminated the Frost Giant threat, and then Thor insisted that they stay one more evening in New Asgard before returning. Bucky could hardly begrudge him a chance to see his people – and an interesting bunch of people they were, including a large blue guy made of rocks and his smaller friend who looked like a cockroach with swords for hands. When the Asgardian booze started getting passed around, though, Bucky escaped for a while, slipping outside and wandering down to the edge of the water where it was dark and mercifully quiet.
Looking overhead, he remembered Darcy’s comment about the stars and how many more had been visible when she’d been in Norway. He had to assume the sky she’d seen had been much like the one overhead now. It was only about a quarter past ten but due to the latitude it had already been dark for hours, and the stars seemed almost too dazzling to be real. She was right; there weren’t nearly this many visible from the upstate compound, and he had certainly never dreamed of anything like this view as a kid in Brooklyn. There had been plenty of stars in Wakanda, but something about the cold air here made them seem sharper somehow.
There was a stack of crates by the dock, and he sat down on one, feeling the starlight and the quiet lap of water and even the still, cold air soothing him like none of Sam’s meditation exercises ever had. The only thing better than this was the feeling of Darcy’s arms around him, and he wished that she was there, that they could sit quietly together on this little wharf on the Norwegian shore. Maybe with some kissing. Yeah, definitely kissing. And maybe she’d sit beside him with her head on his shoulder and he’d feel her warm breath against his neck; thinking of it sent a shiver down his spine that was not at all unpleasant.
And then there was a strange, faint glow, that seemed to burst out of the horizon in the distance. Explosion, his brain told him, and all his senses came to full alertness, wheels turning to try to triangulate distance and picture the map to try and figure what would be that far out to sea and…
The glow expanded, brightened, and lifted higher into the air and there was still no tell-tale noise of a blast, even for his enhanced hearing. It was only as the glow started to shimmer and twist across the sky, shifting to a vivid apple green colour, that he realized what he was seeing. What his girl had put on a list for him just days before as a wonder he deserved to experience. The Northern Lights. Flares of red began to appear and disappear along the upper margin of the light show, sometimes almost shading into pink or purple and sometimes vanishing to just leave that unearthly green. The edges moved back and forth like it was a living thing, or like the skirts of a woman dancing, or maybe a whole dancefloor full.
It was as the light was starting to ebb from the sky that Bucky felt the crate shift beside him. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Thor mused. “The people here once thought it meant that the Valkyries were taking the valorous dead to Valhalla, but it’s a natural phenomenon. They remind me of the Bifrost bridge, though. In the real Asgard.”
Bucky let that sink in for a moment, really considering for the first time what it meant that Thor had lost his entire world. We maybe aren’t so different. “I guess seeing this probably isn’t so easy for you, then.”
Thor shrugged. “There are a lot of things that I wish I could forget, but Asgard? I hope I can be reminded of it every day. I’m glad that Jane was able to see it.”
“She was there?”
“It’s a long story,” Thor replied, leaning back on his elbows and looking up at the sky. “Darcy can tell you some of it, the parts that happened on Earth. Neither of them would ever claim it, but those two played a big role in saving this planet.”
“Is it true Darcy knocked you on your ass with a taser?” Bucky asked.
Thor threw back his head and laughed. “Very much so. I would be tempted to give you some kind of speech implying physical harm if you hurt the woman I consider to be practically my sister, except that I suspect she could take care of that herself.”
Bucky sighed. “She sure could.” Whether or not a taser would have much effect on him, he already knew that if he lost her, it would cut him to the bone. “She wanted me to see this,” he added, gesturing to the final flickers of green light across the sky. “Said I deserved it. Not sure I believe that, but she might convince me yet.”
“We’re fortunate men, in spite of everything.” Sitting up suddenly, Thor slapped him on the back. “Come on. Let’s get the jet and go home.”
Bucky had already texted Darcy earlier to say that they’d be returning the next morning; by the time it occurred to him to let her know plans had changed, they were already in the air. When they touched down – the night dark at the compound as well, though time zones meant it was only early evening – he had a different idea. What are you doing now, he texted to her.
Sitting in the garden, freezing my ass off and looking at the moon. Can you see the moon where you are?
Not really. It was the technical truth; he was walking down the hall linking the tactical areas of the building to the residential wing and there were no windows in sight.
Wish you were here.
I’ll be there soon, doll. xo
Sticking his phone back in his pocket, he picked up his pace. They were supposed to go straight to debrief, but he suspected Thor was going to make a longer detour than he was, and he doubted anyone would dare write up an official Norse deity on a technicality. Once he was downstairs, he slipped out the door and crept forward without a sound, oddly satisfied as he considered what a fuck-you-to-Hydra it was that he was using their assassin training to sneak up on his girl and maybe steal a kiss.
Darcy was sitting on top of the picnic table – the same one where she’d served him breakfast – with her back to him, and it was easy to get to within almost arm’s reach of her without attracting notice. He didn’t actually want to startle her out of her skin, though; it wasn’t fair to do that to a woman alone at night, even in the relative safety of the compound. After taking half a second to breathe in the scent of her, he broke the silence. “I saw the Northern Lights.”
“Bucky?” The way she gasped his name as she turned around was a sound he wanted to commit to memory. Then she was scrambling over the table to get to him, catching her foot on the bench and nearly going head-over-heels before he got a hand out to steady her. “You sneaky bastard.” She was laughing, slightly out of breath, as she wrapped her arms around him. “I thought you were still in Norway!”
“I mean, I can go, if you want,” he joked, acting like he was going to step away.
“Shut up and kiss me.”
He had worried he’d be back to square one after nearly a week away, but it was as if some muscle memory from years past had seeped back in; spreading out his left hand against her back, snaking his right hand into her hair to cradle the back of her head, and leaning down to kiss her felt as natural as breathing. Maybe he’d just missed her that much. Hell, maybe she was magic, he didn’t much care. All his focus came down to the point of contact: their lips brushing together once, twice, and when Darcy opened her mouth just a little he took the lead, tentatively deepening the kiss, her little sigh telling him he was doing it right.
Darcy’s body softened, almost melting into him, and the sound she made when he tried sucking on her lower lip was impossible to ignore. He was already half-hard and the way she broke off the kiss to trail her mouth down the side of his throat was doing nothing to cool that situation down. And then she ran her tongue over his pulse point and for a second he thought his knees were going to give out under him. “Doll…”
“Too much?” She shifted, loosening her hold on him a little.
He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “No… god, I…” Taking a breath, he started again. “You’re not doing anything I don’t like. Some of it’s just taking me by surprise.”
Darcy rested her cheek against his shoulder, letting things calm down a little. “You’re a little overwhelming yourself, soldier,” she said, tugging gently at one of the shoulder straps on his tactical gear. “In the best possible way. Did you literally just get off the plane?”
“Yeah. Came straight down here. I should probably go and debrief before Fury or Rhodes puts out an all-points bulletin.”
“Do you want some company when you’re done?”
He looked down at her. “It might be a while. You sure it’s not going to be too late for you, if you’ve got work in the morning?”
Darcy shook her head. “No such thing as too late. Besides, I want to hear about the Northern Lights.”
Debrief felt like forever. He’d gotten about halfway through his report when Thor finally trailed in and they had to more or less start over. Fury had tried to dress them down for taking their time to check back in, not to mention staying out in Norway several extra hours for ‘socializing’ after the work had been done, but Bucky had only had half his attention on the proceedings. The rest of his head – along with a fair bit of his body – was running straight back to the garden, to Darcy, and wondering how soon they could pick up where they’d left off. When they were finally dismissed, he texted her straight away, checking whether it was too late – it wasn’t – and saying that he needed fifteen minutes to shower first.
See you in 20, then, Darcy replied.
It always felt good to strip out of dirty tac gear and step into a hot shower: one of those simple pleasures he had been denied for so long, and one he’d never take for granted. This time, though, he was thinking of other pleasures, ones he’d gone without even longer. He was thinking of the sounds Darcy had made against his mouth, the feel of her tongue on his neck, and it wasn’t so much a conscious decision for his right hand to wrap round his cock, it was more of a long-forgotten reflex. Leaning back on the tile wall, he imagined it was Darcy’s fingers instead of his, imagined the feel of her wet skin against his body as his hand moved faster. It felt so right – until suddenly it felt wrong, the Hydra-conditioned fear crashing in and colliding with a milder but older level of guilt, the one that said he’d burn in hell for jerking off, for thinking of a nice girl this way. And where a moment before he’d probably been a minute away from coming, now he found himself struggling not to pass out, the ache in his head competing with the ache in his groin as he forced himself to go through the panic-attack routine.
By the time he felt well enough to finish his shower the water had gone cold and he knew he was probably way past the twenty-minute mark. Shutting off the water, he toweled himself mostly dry, threw on clean clothes and checked his front door: sure enough, Darcy was waiting there, playing a game on her phone. “Fuck. I’m sorry. I…” He was trying to figure out whether he should apologize and send her home; he was trembling, far too cold, and felt like it was all he could do to stay upright. But she just breezed into the room, tossed her phone on his table and settled herself on the couch, patting a cushion beside her.
“It’s okay. You’re allowed to take a long shower if you want. I was only waiting a minute or two.” When he didn’t immediately move to join her, though, she took a sharper look at him. “You okay? You can come sit – we don’t have to do anything crazy.”
He definitely had to sit, so he allowed himself to sink down beside her. It was hard to say whether he wanted to leave a safe distance or lie down with his head in her lap. “Started a panic attack in the shower. Always leaves me messed up for a while.”
“Just now? Was there some shit from the mission?” And then her brow furrowed. “Or… before, in the garden? Was it too much? I can go, if you want…”
“No. I mean, don’t go.” The vehemence of his own words surprised him a bit. He never wanted company after an attack, but it seemed like she was the exception to everything. “Can we just…”
“Back it up a little?” she suggested. “Snuggle with a blanket and watch a movie or something?”
Once again, she’d taken the heat off him. “Maybe just for now?”
“You got it.” She climbed over the back of the couch rather than walk around it, and headed to his bedroom as if she’d always had the run of the place, coming back a moment later with the weighted blanket. Picking up his remote, she called up a documentary about the ocean with the volume set low, tucked the blanket over both their laps, and leaned in against his shoulder, moving in a little more when he lifted his arm to drape it round her. “You’re shaking,” she commented, making it sound like a matter-of-fact observation rather than a judgement.
“It happens, after. I might… I might fall asleep on you,” he admitted. “I usually get really tired after an attack.”
“Was this a bad one?”
He shrugged. “Sam taught me some tricks to try and stop them; I remembered them early enough that it didn’t get terrible, but I’m not great company tonight. Sorry.”
“Can I?” she asked, shifting her weight a little and motioning to her legs; when he nodded, she draped her legs across him, like she had the morning he’d left for Norway. It felt good: not the kind of good he’d been thinking about in the shower before everything crashed in on him, but he felt warmer, grounded. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want,” she added. “But do you get these often?”
“Not so much, compared to before. When I first got away from Hydra, it used to be every day, sometimes more. Now, maybe once or twice a month I’ll get a bad one, maybe less. These days it’s… missions by themselves don’t usually do it, but I think sometimes if I’m tired, run down, and then I push too hard…”
He left it there, but Darcy still looked worried. “I’m sorry if I got carried away. Or pushed you too hard with talking about plans and telling you that you should…”
Bucky crunched his eyes shut, though it brought back an echo of the ebbing headache. “Please, don’t apologize, doll. I swear, if you ever try something I’m not up for, I will tell you. I want all of it. Not your fault if sometimes my brain glitches out over it later. This wasn’t you, this was me. Thinking too much about picking up where we left off and got carried away.”
Darcy wore her thoughts on her face, and he could see when she put two and two together. “Don’t answer if you don’t want, but was that the first time lately you’ve tried… looking after yourself?”
“First time since nineteen forty-four.”
It was barely loud enough to hear over the TV show, but he knew Darcy caught it. “I’d like to find every person who did this to you, and…” She shook her head, not detailing what exactly she would have done to them. Instead, she moved in just a little closer and laid one hand on his chest. “You deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin.”
She said it with such conviction that some of it might have rubbed off on him. Or at least, between her words and her presence and the calming voice on the TV and the heavy warmth of the blanket, he felt his eyelids drifting closed. Not the black-hole crash that usually followed an attack, but something more like the way going to sleep was supposed to feel and almost never did for him. He wanted to stay awake with her, wanted to draw the evening out even if not to the end he’d briefly imagined, but it was a losing battle. His last conscious thought before slipping under was I think I might love this girl.
I promise, things are going to get better for Bucky VERY soon...
Is everyone ready for this slow burn to finally heat up...?
All he could hear were screams.
They were Darcy’s.
The corridor was dark and damp and smelled like blood the closer he got to the door. Every fiber of him was begging him to turn back, to run away, but he knew she was behind the door. He kicked it in.
He was too late. Darcy’s body lay on the floor, soaked in blood, twisted in ways it shouldn’t go.
Bucky fell to his knees, his own voice the one screaming now.
And Darcy’s lifeless body opened its eyes and spoke to him. “Bucky… Bucky…”
“Bucky, wake up!”
A thump startled him awake and he realized he was in his own apartment, on the floor, tangled in the weighted blanket and drenched in sweat, with Darcy crouched beside him. “You were having a nightmare,” she said, her voice hushed. “I wasn’t sure if I should touch you to wake you up, but you fell off the couch before I could decide what to do.”
The confusion of the dream still clung to him. “You’re alright?”
“I’m fine. See?” She picked up his right hand and put it to her chest; he could feel her pulse, feel that she was breathing. “I’m good. You should be in bed, though. This couch isn’t big enough for you to get a real sleep. C’mon.”
Still only half-awake, he stumbled to the bedroom and shucked off his t-shirt and sweatpants before pulling back the covers and crashing into the bed. It was only when he felt the mattress dip beside him that he remembered that Darcy was in the room. “What…?”
“No funny business,” she yawned, lying down with a foot of space between them. “I promise. But it’s two in the morning, we’re both exhausted, and maybe you could use some company after the way your night’s gone?” She reached down and pulled the weighted blanket partway over him, on top of the bedspread.
She was on her side, facing him, and her hand lay halfway between their bodies. Bucky picked it up and kissed it. “Thank you, doll.”
He thought he had only blinked, but when he opened his eyes next the early morning light was at the window and he was warmer than he’d been in days. In the half-second it took to come to full consciousness he realized that somewhere in his sleep, he’d wrapped himself around Darcy like an octopus, spooned in behind her with their limbs tangled together. He also realized that her ass was pressed up against his groin and he was hard as a rock, and that he’d somehow managed to snake his right arm up under her top while he slept. His fingers were splayed on her ribcage and he was sure that the slightest twitch would have his fingertips brushing the bottom of her bra – except then she moved and he realized she wasn’t wearing one. As she wriggled a little in his arms, it took everything he had not to buck his hips against her, while at the same time frantically trying to figure out how to retreat to a safe distance without waking her up.
But a low, pleased, “mmm” sound let him know that it was too late. “Good morning, gorgeous,” Darcy sighed. “You’re handsy when you sleep. I like it.”
“I mean it. No apologies.” She twisted around to face him, and though he could tell she wasn’t going out of her way to brush against his cock, it seemed like she wasn’t completely going out of her way to not do it either, given her smile when they were finally face-to-face. “Best way I’ve woken up in a long time.”
He could smell toothpaste. Had she woken up, gotten out of the bed and freshened up, and then slipped back into his embrace? Had she actually been laying there awake with his hands wandering and his hard-on pressed into her? As he was considering this with equal parts mortification and arousal, Darcy moved her hands up, running them through his hair to massage his scalp. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Doll, I think you’ve got some idea,” he blurted out, feeling his cheeks burning.
By way of reply, she kissed him, keeping it soft and sweet until he couldn’t help groaning and opening his mouth to her. “Tell me to stop,” she whispered, pulling back just enough to speak before kissing him again.
“Why would I?” he breathed back.
“If it’s too much,” she replied, moving her mouth along his jaw. “I want to touch you. Can I touch you?”
And then her lips hit his neck and he knew that she knew how sensitive that was and it was all he could do to say, “Please.”
He’d stripped down to his briefs the night before without thinking, and somewhere in the night Darcy must have slipped out of everything but her t-shirt and panties; there was already so much of her skin against him that he felt a little delirious, and then her hands were exploring his bare chest and that was heaven. And then her fingers trailed down his stomach and faster than he could process what was about to happen she was pushing his waistband down and wrapping her little hand around his cock. “Oh, fuck. Darcy…”
“You don’t have to do this, doll.”
“Say stop if you want me to stop,” she told him, taking her mouth off his throat so she could look him in the eye.
“Don’t want you to stop,” he gasped. “But…”
Slowly, gently, she gave him a stroke. It was the best goddamn thing he’d ever felt, he was pretty sure. “Say the word and I’ll stop,” she repeated. And then she stroked him again, a little firmer, making him buck his hips against her hand. “You don’t have to do anything right now but enjoy this, and tell me if it stops feeling good. Is this good?”
“So good. Fuck, I…” And then she went a little faster and he would have been ashamed of the whimpering noise he made if his senses hadn’t been so overwhelmed by it all.
“I don’t think you got to come last night, in your shower,” she told him, her voice a purr. “I think you need to come. Need to show all the parts of your brain that it’s good. Need to show all those parts who’s in charge of this gorgeous cock of yours.”
“No, I meant you,” she said, husky laughter in her voice as she moved her head to kiss him again. “You deserve to feel good. For this body to feel good, all of it. With your own hands… my hands…” He could feel his thighs starting to shake, the tension coiling up in his balls, and he hoped to god he could see it all through. As if she knew – of course she knew – how badly he needed to finish, she ran her mouth down to that spot on his jugular vein again, still talking against his skin. “My hands… my mouth… you inside me…”
And then she sucked hard on his neck at the same time she switched up the rhythm of her hand and he was gone, gone. It ripped through him as if he’d been perched on the edge of release for years, and for a second he wondered if it was ever going to stop.
And then he was laying on his back, boneless and trembling, and he could feel Darcy’s hand stroking his face. “You okay there, big guy?”
“Fuck,” he repeated, his voice rasping in his throat as if he’d been yelling. Had he shouted out when she took him over the edge? “That was… fuck. Did I black out?”
“Maybe just for half a second. How are you feeling?”
He felt like he’d been hit by a Mack truck, and he was sure that if he tried to get up right that second his knees would buckle under him. He was sweaty and his mouth was dry, his breath had to be awful – how on earth had Darcy wanted to kiss him? And he was a hell of a mess, his stomach and chest sticky with come and it was probably all over the sheets and all over Darcy as well. And he couldn’t remember ever feeling so good in his life. “Good. So good, sweetheart, I can’t even tell you. Any better and you might have killed this old man.”
“Mmm, lucky for me then that you’re pretty tough.” Laughing, she snuggled up beside him, not seeming to care that she was resting her head on his metal shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, not quite drifting back to sleep but warm and drowsy and not quite a hundred per cent awake, till finally the sun was up for real and he could just about hear real life calling.
“You have to be at work today?” he asked her.
Darcy sighed. “Yeah. I can be a little late – I’m probably already late by the time I get cleaned up and dressed – but I’ve got to get over there at some point. I’d rather stay here, though. You?”
Reluctantly, he turned his head to look at the clock. “Supposed to help Sam train some of the new strike team in about… an hour. Guess I’d better get up.”
She sat up on the bed and looked down at him with a smile. “You gonna be okay?”
“Better than okay.” He knew what she was really asking: was he going to have another attack when she walked out the door? It was a fair question, but for once he wasn’t worried. Raising his right hand, he smoothed down an unruly bit of her hair. “I think you were right, doll. I think you proved something to me. Can I make you dinner tonight? Take another try at having an actual evening together?”
Her tongue darted out to moisten her lower lip. “That depends,” she said, mischief written across her beautiful face. “All those things you just said – are those sentiments related?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, feeling more like Bucky Barnes and less like the Winter Soldier than he had in forever. “Guess you’ll have to come for dinner and find out.”
We're on the home stretch!
Bucky went through the business of his day and tried to think as little as possible about how the morning had started out. Not because he didn’t want to think about it, but if he let himself start he was never going to get anything done. Instead, he did what he was good at: focusing on the task at hand. Drill the new recruits, review some transcripts from some wiretaps to see if anything looked like Hydra, practice on the gun range, take advantage of Thor’s continuing presence for some hand-to-hand sparring in the gym.
Last thing on the schedule, though, was his not-exactly-therapy-but-what-else-are-you-gonna-call-it with Wilson, and of course Sam knew something was up, and called him out on it before they parted ways. “You got anything else you want to tell me about?”
“What do you mean.” Bucky kept his tone flat, but his traitorous mouth quirked up at the corners and ruined his poker face.
Sam shook his head. “Come on, man. You’re a helium balloon today. Light. Floating. Compared to your usual standards, anyhow.”
“Alright. Me and Darcy… you called it.”
There was an eyebrow raise and a grin, but Sam didn’t tease him. “That’s great, man. How’s that going with the whole touch thing? I mean in general. I don’t need gory details.”
Bucky snorted. “I’m not giving you details. But it’s… it’s good. She makes it easy. Still can’t quite believe someone like her wants to spend her time with a mess like me.”
“Do you think she sees a mess when she looks at you?”
“No.” It was surprising, how easy that was to say. “It’s like she sees all the messed-up parts and knows they’re there, but she sees a whole bunch more.”
“She’s a smart girl,” Sam replied.
“And yet she wants to be with me.”
“Those ain’t contradictory, you know.”
Sam left him with those words – and a few tips on how to put together a half-decent dinner with his limited cooking skills. It turned out there were video tutorials out there for just about everything, including how to make fettucine alfredo. There were no tutorials on how to dress for a date these days, whether dinner at home constituted a proper date, or what the hell the etiquette was for having your first real date after you’d already spent a night with your girl and gotten real personal in the morning.
Of course, if there really were any rules for such a situation, Darcy would probably feel free to thumb her nose at them. She arrived at his door precisely on time and held up two very small containers of what looked like ice cream. “If you’ve already got some kind of dessert plans, we can save these for another time, but if not…?”
The old Bucky Barnes probably would have had a quick comeback about planning to have her for dessert, but twenty-first century Bucky wasn’t quite there yet. Having something to do - even something as simple as putting the ice cream in his nearly-empty freezer - took the edge off his nerves, though. Then he got a good look at her and his heartbeat ticked up a notch. Yeah, this is a date, all right. She’d dressed up for him, in a black and red polka-dot dress that made her look more like a pin-up than ever. “Jesus, doll. Look at you. I should have changed.” He was still in the jeans and black sweater he’d been wearing all day.
Darcy shook her head and snaked both her hands behind his neck and up into his hair like she had that morning. “No way. You look seriously hot in black. C’mere.”
Tugging him to lean down, she met his mouth with hers and for a second he was tempted to forget about dinner altogether. But no: he wanted to do this right. And by the way Darcy peeked over his arm towards the kitchen, it seemed like cooking for her was a smart move. “No way,” she repeated, stepping around him and peeking in the pan with a grin. “Did you make fettucine alfredo?”
Bucky shrugged. “I’m not much of a cook, but I figured I couldn’t screw this up too much. I’m sorry it’s not something fancier.”
“Are you kidding? It’s one of my favourites, and I’m starving. Is it ready? Where are we going to eat?”
He didn’t have a proper table to eat at; it wasn’t like he usually went around entertaining guests, and when he did eat at home it was usually a quick sandwich on the run. “Is the couch okay?”
“Couch is great. Should I get drinks?” Without waiting for an answer, she looked in his fridge and pulled out the bottle of white wine he’d grabbed from the communal bar in the lounge. He’d borrowed two wineglasses to go with it so that he didn’t look like too much of a sad loner, although from the hint of a smile on Darcy’s face when she saw them, he had a feeling she could guess where they’d come from. “I’ve got the cutlery, too,” she added, reaching around him into the drawer.
It wasn’t quite how he’d imagined things: this felt more like a cozy couple who had shared a space for a long time, instead of a first date, but maybe this was better. Maybe it was her way of taking the edge off, and he found himself grateful for it. Still, he didn’t want her to think he didn’t care. “I wish I could have taken you out somewhere nice tonight. Somewhere nicer than this,” he added, setting the two plates of pasta down on the coffee table and joining her on the couch.
“Are you kidding?” she replied. “Go to some restaurant – and trust me, the options around here are nothing to write home about – and have to deal with noise and people and crappy music, or be here where it’s just you and me? Come on. I’m comfy on a couch, you’ve made my favourite food – and it’s delicious, by the way,” she added, around a first small bite of the fettucine. “And there’s nobody here to stare or listen in, and there is a bed just yards away. You know, depending how the night goes. Perfect date.”
He had taken a bite of the food while she talked, and she was right; it had turned out pretty good. “I don’t think perfect and me have ever been in the same sentence, sweetheart. And shouldn’t you wait to judge the date till the end?”
“Mmm, I’m a good judge. And given that you’ve already pretty much ruined me for all other men just based on a bit of fooling around… I’m liking my odds.”
She took another bite, and he found himself staring at the movement of her lips as she captured a bit of noodle that threatened to unwind off her fork. Thinking of the way her lips felt on his, or on that pulse point on his neck… or what she’d hinted at that morning with her hand wrapped round him, about other places she might put that mouth. In his distraction, it took a little while to parse what she’d just said, but eventually it percolated through. “Wait… only ‘pretty much’?”
Darcy leaned in closer to him, laughing. “Trust me, I am open to ongoing reassessment. And if I’m being totally honest, you already had me most of the way ruined as soon as we started the whole hugging thing, even though I never thought I actually had a chance with you. But you can feel free to finish the job any time you want.”
“Oh yeah?” How about now was almost what slipped out of his mouth, and he had a feeling she wouldn’t have said no, but he had things he wanted to say to her first, things he didn’t want to say in the heat of the moment.
“Yeah. Eat your dinner,” she added, winking at him. “You might need your strength.”
There was a lot of talking and a bit of kissing and touching and it took a while to finish the pasta, but as soon as they did, Darcy hopped off the couch and came back with the two little ice cream cartons and two spoons. “I do have bowls, doll,” he protested.
She shrugged. “These are small. We’ll probably finish them, unless you have terrible taste in ice cream flavours. Or… do you like ice cream? I didn’t even ask.”
“Who doesn’t like ice cream?” he replied. “What flavours are they?”
“I want you to taste them first. Tell me what you think.” Lifting the lid off one, she dipped the spoon in and held it out to him.
Rather than take it from her, he laid his hand over hers to guide the spoon to his mouth. From the colour his nearest guess was some kind of butterscotch, but the way Darcy was watching his mouth on the spoon, he almost forgot to process what it actually tasted like. It was rich and smooth and not quite caramel – and was it a little smoky? Then it hit him, a wash of memory from childhood, lighting fires at the beach with Steve. “Tastes like a toasted marshmallow.”
“Bingo.” She turned the first carton around to show him a hand-written label saying ‘Burnt Marshmallow’. “It’s a place in town that makes their own ice cream. Now try this one.”
The ice cream on the second spoon was a deep brown. “Easy. That’s chocolate,” he said, before she could hold it out for him to try. He wasn’t totally wrong, but it wasn’t like any chocolate ice cream he’d ever tried. It was dark and velvety and what the hell? “Jesus. It’s spicy!”
“There’s a little hot chili in it. Do you like it?”
“Not sure. Gimme a little more.” He did like it, he decided after the second bite, but what he was liking even more was having Darcy lean in close to hold the spoon out for him. But fair was fair: he scooped up some of the marshmallow with the first spoon and offered it to her. “You should have some too, doll.”
It didn’t take long to finish off the ice cream, which was a damn good thing because Darcy’s happy little noises every time she tasted it were doing deliciously unholy things to Bucky’s imagination. By the last couple of spoonfuls, she slid over to straddle his lap, almost making him forget that he had something he needed to get off his chest.
“You were right, sweetheart. This is a perfect date.”
Darcy raised an eyebrow. “Thought we weren’t supposed to judge till the end?”
He laughed, hands on her hips to hold her still so he could think for a second. “Educated guess.” Then he took a deep breath. “This is already better than any dates I remember from back then, because it’s you. No, let me finish,” he said, when she looked like she was about to open her mouth, “before I lose the nerve to say what I want to say. You’re the best goddamn thing that’s ever happened to me, doll. You make me feel like a human instead of a mess of problems, and you’ve given me back so much that I never, never thought I was going to have again in this life.” He could feel a lump swelling up in his throat, but for once it was emotion and not panic. “And I’ll do whatever I can, to try and even halfway deserve you, for as long as you’ll have me. I love you, Darcy.”
“Oh thank god,” she breathed. “Because I am stupid in love with you, Bucky Barnes.”
Bucky wasn’t even sure which of them had leaned in first, but if their mouths hadn’t collided right then he might have actually started laughing, or maybe crying, he wasn’t sure. His gut had known it – that he loved her - before his brain had, and then once his brain caught up he still hadn’t known how to say it but he knew he had to. He hadn’t even really allowed himself to think about Darcy saying it back. “Say that again,” he breathed, after kissing his way across her jaw to her ear.
“I love you,” she told him. “Fuck, you scared me at first with that ‘let me finish before I lose my nerve’ bit, you know,” she added, laughing. “Before you launched into the most romantic speech I’ve ever heard in my life.”
He moved his hands a little, up from her hips to spread out over her lower back. “Didn’t mean to scare you, sweetheart. What can I do to make it up to you?”
Licking her lips, Darcy rocked her hips against him. “Take me to bed.”
Feeling like he was walking through a dream – except that his dreams were never this good – Bucky followed Darcy into the bedroom. When they got there, she was reaching for the zip on the back of her dress, but he moved her hands away. “Let me?”
Stepping closer, she came up on her tiptoes to kiss him, and with his right hand only slightly trembling he pulled the zipper down her back, feeling the fabric loosen so that it only took a little tug off her shoulders to send the dress into a puddle on the floor around her feet. “Don’t you want to look?” she breathed against his mouth.
“Yeah. Yeah, I wanna look.” He took a step back, at first watching the motion as she kicked the dress away. But then his eyes travelled up and didn’t know where to land, there were so many places they wanted to go first: the sheer black stockings making her legs look a mile long, stopping at her thighs with no garters to hold them up; her breasts pushed up and almost spilling out of a black lace bra; and oh god, just the hint of dark hair visible through the matching lace panties. “God. Let me just remember how to breathe here.” He’d been hard since she’d climbed onto his lap in the other room; his cock was positively aching now. But he wanted to make her feel good first – if she’d let him, if he remembered how.
“Yes. Yes.” The second time came out as more of a growl, but it looked as if she liked that. He backed her up a step or two, and guided her to sit down on the edge of his bed. “I’m not letting my brain fuck this up, sweetheart. I might need to go slow, but Christ, I want this. Want you.” Hooking his right index finger under the band of one of the stockings, he began to pull it down. “These are pretty, but I want to feel your skin.”
She gave a little shiver under his fingertip as he pulled the stocking down over her knee, and again when he pulled it off and gave the arch of her foot a little stroke. Sensitive, he noted, wanting to learn everything that made her tick. When he reached across to her other thigh, though, she stopped him.
“You can use your left hand too,” she said, her voice low. “You can use both. Anywhere you want to touch me. It’s part of you.” She reached as if she was going to guide his metal hand, but stopped short.
Bucky needed a second, but then he flexed the vibranium hand and tucked the index finger under her other stocking and slowly stripped it off her. Then, with both hands, he traced over the straps of her bra, finding the place in the back where it fastened. Before he could ask, Darcy nodded, and he held his breath as he unhooked the clasps and pulled it away from her. And then she wriggled out of the panties herself, tossing them aside.
When she looked at him expectantly, he realized that he was still standing there in a sweater and jeans; he pulled the sweater off so fast he was pretty sure he heard it tear, loosened his belt and kicked the jeans off, letting his underwear go with them. Only then did he really let himself take in the sight that met his eyes: this unbelievably beautiful girl, his girl, naked and waiting for him to get into bed with her and staring at him like he was a long drink of water on a hot day. “If I’m dreaming, I don’t want to wake up.”
“Come here and let me pinch you, then,” she teased, reaching out a hand to him. “Show you that this is real.”
He took her hand, and sank down to his knees on the carpet in front of her, and just paused there for one breath, two, and then he had his arms around her and they were kissing like their lives depended on it, her breasts crushed up against his chest and his cock brushing her thigh, so close. “I want to touch you,” he gasped, only realizing as he said it that he was echoing her words from early that morning.
“You can touch me.” She leaned back a little, giving him room to cup her breasts in his hands. The metal hand registered warmth and weight and texture almost as well as his skin, as he cautiously ran his thumbs round her nipples, loving the way her breath sped up, the way her eyes drifted closed and her teeth dug into her bottom lip. And then she took his right hand in hers and pulled it down, guiding his fingers between her thighs, showing him how to touch her, what she liked.
“Want to make you feel good,” he said, his mouth brushing hers as she took her hand away, letting him explore. “Fuck, you’re so beautiful.” He dared to slide a finger, then two, inside her, finding a spot that made her arch her back and whimper. He wished he had about four more hands so he could touch her everywhere at once. “Tell me how to make you feel good.”
“God, Bucky.” He thought he could almost come on the spot, hearing her say his name like that. “So good. Give me…”
“Give you what, sweetheart? Tell me.”
“Your… oh fuck… your tongue.”
“You… you want me to taste you?” And holy fuck, there was a thing no girl had ever let him try, and there was nothing he wanted to do more. Guiding her to lay back on the bed, he kissed his way down her neck, across her breasts, and along the soft skin of her stomach. His head was starting to spin a little as her scent took over his senses, and dear god he hoped she didn’t change her mind, that he didn’t get it wrong.
“Yes… please, Bucky.” And he could hear it in her voice, how much she wanted this, how much she liked everything he was doing so far. Settling himself between her thighs, he gave her his mouth, trying to do the same things with his tongue that she’d shown him to do with his fingers. Every time he drew a moan or a whine or a curse from her, he learned a little more about what felt good, what would take her apart. Darcy was so open, so responsive to him, that for once in his life there was no question he was doing the right thing, and fuck, he wanted to do this every night and twice on Sundays, his whole focus shrinking down to the feel and sound and taste of her. Her thighs were shaking and her voice was getting less coherent with each pass of his tongue, and when he tried sliding two fingers back inside while he worked her over with his mouth she cried out his name, repeating it over and over as he felt the spasms rock through her.
Slowly, slowly, he gave her a final few strokes with his fingers and tongue before retreating a little, placing a kiss on her inner thigh and then sucking his fingers clean. “Alright, sweetheart?”
With a laugh that sounded just slightly delirious, she tugged at his shoulder. “God, get up here. I need you inside me now.”
“Are you sure, doll?” He stroked her face, wanting to memorize her blissed-out expression. Every part of him was screaming at him to do what she asked, but even with everything they’d done to each other, it still felt like a big step, one he wanted her to be certain of. “Do we need…?”
She blinked. “No. I’m on birth control and I’m clean… and you obviously are. It’s okay.” Then she turned her head slightly and kissed his palm. “Are you sure?”
“Oh god, sweetheart. Yes. I might not last more than a minute because it’s been so long and you’ve got me so worked up here,” he added. “And I’m not saying I’m not a little nervous, but I have never wanted anything more in my damn life.”
Pulling him down with a hand on the back of his neck, she kissed him, slow and thorough, not seeming to care that she had to be tasting herself on his tongue, and shifted her hips a little so that he was lined up, exactly where he needed to be. Taking a deep breath – and closing his eyes tight without really meaning to – he pushed slowly inside her. She was so wet that he slid almost all the way home on the first thrust, and for a second he thought his heart was going to explode from the rush of sensation. It was perfect, and when she wrapped her legs round his waist it got even better if that was possible.
“Bucky, look at me,” she breathed. When he opened his eyes, he saw her staring back, her pupils blown wide and a dazed sort of smile on her face. “You still with me?”
He nodded, trying to find words. “Just… need a second.”
“Mmm, me too. You’re… not exactly small. Feels so fucking good,” she added, before he could start to worry about hurting her. “Feel like I could almost come again, just like this.”
His laugh came out as a gasp. “Me too. Don’t want this to be over too soon.”
“If it is, it’s okay. We’ve got all night… tomorrow… next week, next month… any time you want.”
“Always. Always gonna want this.” Pulling his hips back, he felt every delicious split-second of friction till he was almost out, then all the way back in till he was buried, wrapped up in her to the hilt, his chest against hers, practically every inch of their skin touching, just holding his weight on his forearms so he didn’t crush her. “Love you, Darcy. Love you so much.”
“Oh god, Bucky. I love you.” She pushed a sweat-soaked lock of hair back off his face and kissed him half-senseless while he found a rhythm. He hadn’t been drunk in decades but he felt like it now, drunk on her, her words and her embrace and her kiss and that slick, tight heat of her all welcoming him home. He didn’t know how long he’d be able to hold out, but he wanted to take her with him, take her over the edge again; sliding a hand between their bodies, he rocked the pad of his thumb against her clit. “Fuck,” she hissed. “Just like that. Bucky…”
And then she arched her back and groaned, and he felt it, felt her convulsing round his cock, and he could only manage one more long drag in and out before he was there with her, seeing stars, repeating her name with every breath he took. At first he collapsed on top of her, but as the aftershocks subsided he managed to pull out – feeling the loss immediately – and roll over onto his back, pulling her halfway along with him so that she was nestled against his shoulder, with one arm and one leg draped over his body as though she was staking a claim. Not that she needed to. He was already hers, body and soul.
“How’re you feeling?” she asked, her voice lazy and sleepy.
He ran a hand over her hair. “Like a very, very lucky man.”
Darcy laughed. “Well, you can get lucky anytime.”
“Didn’t just mean that,” he replied. “Was it okay for you?”
“James. Buchanan. Barnes.” Lifting her head, she fixed him with a look that was probably meant to be stern, except for the grin on her face. “You just made me come twice, in pretty rapid succession, when in my past experience even once is a hit-and-miss thing. And that’s with being about eighty years out of practice.”
“And I’d never done that first thing before,” he admitted. “With my mouth.”
“Oh my god.” Darcy buried her face in his shoulder for a moment. “Seriously? Never? Clearly you’ve secretly been some kind of naturally-gifted sex genius this whole time.”
Laughing, he pulled her closer. He could feel his body already starting to warm up for a second round, if she wanted one. “Only for you, doll. You might regret encouraging me.”
Darcy was laughing too, as she crawled over on top of him and kissed that spot on his throat. “Never.”
And so we have reached the end of this fic... but not the end of Bucky and Darcy's story. I have some followup plans, but they will likely take the form of a series of one-shots or shorter fics. (Although honestly, I thought THIS was going to be a longish one-shot when I first got the idea, so who knows?) I have started the first follow-up and it will switch things up and move to Darcy's POV. Stay tuned, and thank you so much for reading!