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Chapter One: Overdue


It really was only a matter of time, when a person thought about it calmly and logistically.  It had been over five years of closely working with, fixing, cursing at, and just that one time drunkenly cuddling a machine or a piece of a machine that could technically bend the fabric of space.  Hopefully not time.  Darcy didn't want to think about Jane's machines being able to punch holes right on through to the other side of the universe AND send her back in time.


Although the past would have certainly had its merits.  For one, she would have been willing to go back to the 1940's and met Bucky Barnes before Hydra got their hands on him.  He'd always told her during late night showings of Darcy's supposedly vital and necessary viewings of certain critical sitcoms, that back in the day he had been a charmer.  


She'd always replied back that he didn't do so poorly for himself nowadays.  Natasha certainly had no complaints.  Bucky would smirk, and it was like being transported back to the 1940's, because he certainly looked like a smug and happy charmer in those moments.


Darcy also might have liked to go back and see Steve Rogers before Howard Stark stuck him in the hottie soldier microwave.   Ding ding, beefcake is done , indeed.  Current Steve certainly was fun to look at, but Bucky, who had latched on to Darcy during his recovery from his voluntary freezing in Wakanda, was always telling Darcy that she would have LOVED little Steve.  


It almost felt like he was trying to sweet talk her into a double date with his oldest and best friend.  


Even Natasha knew better than to try that anymore.


But Bucky, who had requested constant supervision after the triggers were removed and the new vibranium arm was attached, had no such reservations.  He'd followed Steve like a duckling as he gave him the tour of the new Secret Avengers facility, right into the common room kitchen area, where a short little curvy thing with wild brown curls and mischievous blue eyes was carefully measuring out flour before dumping it into a stand mixer.  


Steve had backpedaled away from the clearly harmless woman, muttering introductions between Bucky and Darcy and then wanting to continue with the tour, as if he spent one more moment in Darcy's presence he would spontaneously combust.  Bucky was having none of that though.  He smelled sweet things baking.  And he had one hell of a wicked sweet tooth.

Steve had hung around that first meeting, far removed from the kitchen, keeping a watchful eye over Bucky from the couch further in the common room.  Darcy didn't even seem to notice the creeper version of Captain America, chatting with Bucky as she assembled treat after treat, and then let him eat damn near most of them.  Except for the Salam de Biscuiti, that was entirely reserved for Natasha apparently, much to Bucky's disappointment.  


Bucky had latched onto Darcy pretty easily, and he told her openly it was because she reminded him of his sister, in both looks and sassy temperament.    And Darcy had no problem with the latching, as she had long since outgrown her usefulness in teaching Thor about modern Midgard and the other soldier from another time had blatantly refused any and all offers of help from Darcy.


"He hates me," Darcy had sighed that very morning, when Steve and Bucky had come into the kitchens.  Bucky had made a beeline for his pseudo-sister and began eating thick slices of french toast that she had just pulled off the griddle.


Steve had grabbed a banana and then run away.


"He doesn't hate you," Bucky insisted with irritation around his mouth full of piping hot french toast.  He had the burden of knowing exactly why Steve was so averse to spending time with Darcy.  It was a heavy burden, and the only reason he managed it was because it was Steve, and he owed him so much.  But Bucky refused to let Darcy think that Steve hated her and would contradict her every time.


"Alright, he does a great impersonation of a person who hates me," Darcy narrowed her eyes at Bucky, then put a hand on his chin to close his food filled gaping maw.  For two men born in a time that was supposed to be more genteel than their current time, the pair of super soldiers were very rude.  She kept her hand on Bucky's chin while he chewed and swallowed and finally let go when he gave her an exasperated look.


"He doesn't hate you," Bucky reiterated.  They had this conversation a lot in the past six months.  


"Could have fooled me," Darcy popped four new pieces of egg soaked challah bread onto the butter coated griddle.  


"Natalia explains this better," Bucky sighed, his mouth watering at the sizzling sounds in front of him.  "And I asked her nicely to explain it to you last week, when the punk ran away from the gym."


"Well, honestly, I don't blame him on that one.  The gym is his domain.  I was just searching for Barton to staple the chore list he keeps trying to pawn off on his kids to his ass instead," Darcy shrugged.  "I invaded his personal space with my awfulness."


"Kid, stop it," Bucky rolled his eyes.  He went into his automatic explanation that was Steve Rogers approved, which was a lie and he hated it, but he did it anyway to see if he could possibly make Darcy feel better,  "Here's the problem, Steve doesn't know how to act around a pretty girl."


"Lies," Darcy scoffed as she flipped the french toast.


"And you can be confident enough to stare down the Black Widow about the last strip of bacon, and lock Nick Fury in a closet when he tried to give me orders," Bucky recalled with excessive fondness.  It had been quite the sight and the surveillance tape of the incident was something everyone had watched on more than one occasion when they needed a pick me up.  "But put you in front of Steve Rogers and boom, you're a shrinking violet with the self esteem of a puddle."


"Rude," Darcy huffed.  "I was gonna add extra cinnamon to the rest of the french toast batter, but now you can suck an egg."


"There's my girl," Bucky grinned down at her, grabbing one of the slices of french toast right off the griddle with his left hand, just as Darcy was going to transfer it off.  He shoved half of it into his mouth and talked with his mouth full again.  "You want me to talk to him, kid?"


"No, God no," Darcy said quickly, which was always her answer whenever anyone, Bucky, Natasha, Clint, Laura Barton, Nick Fury, etc., offered to talk to Steve on her behalf to get him to treat her like a normal human being and not the walking embodiment of the plague.  She forced a cheery smile on her face and looked up at Bucky as he stuffed the other half of the slice of French toast into his mouth.  "And if you steal another piece of this, you should know, that they were meant for Janie."


Bucky wrinkled his nose.  No one got between Jane Foster and her breakfast foods.  Not on experiment days at least.



Back to the matter at hand, it really was only a matter of time before something like this befell Darcy.  She'd avoided such a fate for far too long.  Jane had been fine tuning the machines that could act as miniature portals to other sides of the galaxy.  Machines that she had been working on for the tenure of Darcy's friendship and assisting of the astrophysicist.  And yet, in all of the years, Darcy had never accidentally been portaled anywhere.


So she was overdue, definitely.


Darcy blamed Tony.  Because when in doubt, blame Tony.  He'd done ONE interview where he'd been asked about what Doctor Jane Foster's Nobel Prize winning research meant for the world of superheroes.  He'd looked directly into the camera, the smirk on his face eerily reminiscent of smirks from years prior when he'd taunted Jane about her lack of progress back in Stark Towers.  


' If Jane Foster ever wants to actually make a move on her work and have some sort of lasting impact, she should probably come out of hiding with fugitives and come back to Stark Industries, where we know how to properly take care of scientists. '


It had been a double blow, and Tony knew it, the little shit. He insulted Jane's progress and he insulted Darcy's ability to take care of her astrophysicist.   His intention had probably been to cause Jane or Darcy to call him up and bitch him out.  Because if they called him, he would be assured of their safety, instead of just worrying about it constantly.  He had hoped they'd landed with Steve after the dustups with the Sokovia Accords, which Jane was expected to follow as well if she wanted to continue to work on physics bending experimental science.  


He could have just called Steve or Natasha or even Nick Fury and ASKED, but he didn't really want to do that just yet.  


So instead, he was an asshole in a nationally televised interview, mocking Jane and Darcy.  And the ladies did not call him as he had wished.  He hadn't even gotten a box full of rocks in the mail.  Definitely hadn't received a bag full of flaming poop on his doorstep either.  


No, because instead of taking their frustration out on the man, they decided it was imperative to show him up.


So Jane went into overdrive at work and Darcy went into overdrive keeping the woman thriving.  Jane had strict sleep schedules now to optimize brain activity.  She ate when Darcy told her and she ate what Darcy told her.  


And it was really working.  Up until the point that Jane took a chance during the first live test.  A huge chance, replacing transistor A with transistor B in order to get the flux to reverse at exactly the right moment.


Live tests at the facility had to be monitored by outside, superhero like forces.  They had a cushy little observational deck and everything.  Darcy hadn't known who had drawn the short straw on the first day of live testing until the machine had begun sparking with liquid light.  It looked almost like wisps of lava coming from metal and high density plastic.


It was beautiful.  But Darcy was pragmatic enough to realize she should keep away from the pretty shining lights.


"What is it?" Cooper Barton wondered.


Darcy's eyes went wide as saucers as she saw Cooper on the stairs leading to the observation room.  She hadn't been expecting the pre-teen to be in the observation room.  Mostly on account of the fact that the minute he landed at the facility with his mother, he had decided that Steve Rogers needed a Cooper Barton sized shadow following him around everywhere.  


To his credit, Steve let the boy follow him around and amiably answered all the questions aimed at him eight to ten hours a day.  


But if Cooper was here, that meant Steve was too.


"Shut it down, Foster!  That's not in your experiment parameters!" Steve shouted as he followed Cooper down the steps.  


"I'm TRYING," Jane promised.  She was a foolishly brave scientist to be sure, but no one ignored Steve's Captain America command voice.  No one.


"Cool!" Cooper grinned as a wisp of the ambiguous yellow and orange energy matter began to grow and build, looking like a waving tendril that was increasing in size at a rapid rate.


And moving towards Cooper alarmingly fast.


"Shit," Darcy breathed before making a run for the oldest Barton child, intent on pushing him out of the way.


She had KNOWN this day was going to come, but she had thought she'd be pushing herself into danger for Jane, not some snot nosed fruit of Barton's loins twelve year old with an unhealthy fascination for Steve Rogers. And yet, there she was, moving the six feet quickly and popping up three steps as Steve thundered down them from the opposite end.  


She reached out for Cooper and pushed him down the three steps she had just climbed, feeling a little bad that he landed face first on unforgiving concrete, but then  the tendril of the seemingly sentient energy glowed a shimmering golden, right before wrapping around her left wrist.


"The alarm is going off!" Bucky yelled as he barrelled into the room.  His eyes went impossibly wide as he saw Darcy held in place by something definitely sinister, with Steve standing on the step above her, staring at her wrist, obviously trying to figure out how to get her out of the ambiguous energy's grip.  Bucky growled out, "Foster!  Shut it down!"


"I'm TRYING!" Jane shouted as she stopped hitting buttons on her machine and looked to the screen at the informational output.  She put her shaking hand over her mouth and her eyes swam with tears.  Bucky came to stand next to her and made a valiant show of trying to understand the letters and digits.  Jane sighed and cursed,   "Shit, shit, shit, SHIT.  It's going to take her."


"What?" Darcy blinked.


"I can't stop it, Oh God, Darce," Jane slapped her monitor and then turned to her long time assistant.  Her best friend really.  "Darce, I promise, I'm going to find you.  I'm so sorry!"


"Oh," was all the answer Darcy could make.  She looked over at Bucky, her blue green eyes swimming with tears.  She couldn't make any sound but her mouth opened and she silently formed 'Bye' with her lips.


"No," Steve whispered.


Darcy turned to him and blinked, the tears falling down her cheeks.


"No," Steve repeated, shaking his head once and then swallowing, looking fierce and settled with a decision he had just made.


"Stevie---" Bucky called out, recognizing the look in Steve's eye.  It looked...determined.  Like Steve had looked before finally giving into Bucky's goading and getting on the Cyclone all those decades ago.  "Don't---"


Much like all the warnings Bucky had ever given Steve in their long lives, this too went ignored.  Steve reached out and grabbed Darcy's hand, pulling her up the remaining step and against his body in a fierce embrace.  The energy glowed even brighter and split near the coil around Darcy's wrist, a new tendril growing and forming around Steve's left arm as he clung to Darcy with quite a bit of his considerable strength.  


"I'm scared," Darcy whispered into his ear.

"I've got you," Steve whispered back.  "I've got you, Dar---"