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think of it as personality dialysis

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"Okay, there are basically two ways we can go here," Darcy says, putting her hands on her hips (well, one hand and the back of one wrist, but that hand's holding her Cinnabon) and surveying her two obstacles for the day: the mall and James Buchanan Barnes. "We can balls-to-the-wall embrace the Hot Topic or detox entirely."

Barnes gives her a flat glare that could just as easily be boredom or contemplating lots and lots of murder. "Which one gets me out of here faster?"

"Nuh-uh, nope, none of that," Darcy says, and takes another bite of her Cinnabon. A few granules of sugar fall from her mouth as she mumbles around it, "Think of this as a chance to really express yourself."

"I usually express myself by killing people."

Darcy swallows. "I meant through clothes."

"I strangled someone with a shoelace once," Barnes says. "Does that count as expressing myself through clothes?"

"Uh, no." Darcy pats him on the shoulder, and even through the material of his hoodie, her ring thunks a little against the metal. "You know what, let's try not Hot Topic first. Just to see what happens."

Darcy drags him to a department store first because she figures it'll have a wide selection, and also because Tony Stark is paying, god bless him forever and ever amen. Barnes hesitates in between the racks, looking for all the world like a lost little boy in a valley of clothes.

"Go on," says Darcy, and makes a little shooing motion with the hand not occupied by the rest of her Cinnabon. "Just grab things. We can sort later."

So Barnes starts grabbing things, and it takes Darcy about half a second to realize why this is a bad idea. He tosses black shirts, gray shirts, brown shirts, and basically a wide palette of dark and earth tones over his arm. Everything has a hood or is clearly a size or two too big until Darcy stops him.

"Okay, you know the saying 'the clothes make the man'?"

"No, but I know the saying 'a bird in hand is worth two double-tapped and buried in a shallow grave,'" says Barnes.

"Stop trying to creep me out, it's not gonna work. My brother went through a sociopath phase when he was like twelve and it was more menacing than you. Especially with that haircut."

Barnes frowns. "What's wrong with my haircut?"

Darcy demonstrates by reaching forward and floofing his bangs with one hand. "It's adorable! You're like a puppy with your fur all growing into your face like you're not big enough for it yet. It's fine, my dog went through that phase, too."

Barnes rolls his eyes. "So what's wrong with my clothes?"

"These?" says Darcy, pointing. "These are assassin clothes. They're inconspicuous for, like, ducking out through the kitchen exit of a restaurant once somebody starts choking."

"So? Maybe I don't want people to notice me."

"Yeah, but there's not noticing you because you're dressed like a normal person and not noticing you because every article of clothing you're wearing says you don't want to exist," Darcy says. "So if this is what you like, fine, but for everything like this you get, you gotta pick out, like, a primary color something or a pair of skinny jeans. Even if it sits in the back of your closet for the rest of forever. Everybody needs that stuff that stays in the closet but at least it's there if you want to try it on and check yourself out in the mirror and remind yourself that your ass is totally hot. Even Jane's got a little black dress, y'know?"

"Who's Jane?" Barnes says.

"Not the point. You need a little black dress. Metaphorically. In your case, it's more like...color."

Barnes maintains eye contact with Darcy as he carefully lifts a hanger off the rack. The t-shirt hanging from it is a bright, kindergarten-painted-blocks blue.

"Very good!" Darcy says. "You're making so much progress. I'm awesome at this."

"Sure, Becca," Barnes says.

"What?"

Barnes gives her a weird look. "What?"

"My name's 'Darcy,' dude."

"I know that."

"Then why'd you call me 'Becca'? Who's Becca, anyway?"

Barnes's throat jumps as he swallows heavily, staring at her. After a long moment he says, "My younger sister. You're almost as annoying as her. Almost."

Darcy does what she does best: forges ahead. She links her arm in his, the one that isn't weighed down by a wardrobe of killing-people-clothes, and says, "You're nowhere near as annoying as my brother, so you're gonna have to try harder. Ooh, do you need pajamas? Let's get you pajamas. Or better yet, one of those really old-fashioned dressing gowns or whatever. Tony's paying, anyway."

They stay in the department store for three more hours, and Barnes's irritation is gradually crowded out by the exhausted resignation that Darcy usually sees on her mom after a trip to IKEA. Luckily, his assassin-clothes are also slowly but surely replaced by what Darcy's starting to realize is actually what Barnes prefers. The hoodies stay, but the muddy, dulled green is replaced by soft heather grays with wide, casual stripes. He picks out a good mix of t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts, with deliberately ragged and worn-in hemlines and loose sleeves. There are gentle blue-grays and more saturated olive tones, and even a few plain white t-shirts that Darcy is so, so proud of.

She even talks him into a pair of skinny jeans. When he walks out of the changing room to let her check to see if they fit (he was in cryogenic stasis for seventy years when he wasn't killing people in Kevlar, like she's gonna let him decide on his own if his skinny jeans fit), she knows it deep in her heart. This is her crowning accomplishment. This is her gift to humanity. She should get a goddamn award for this.

"Yeah, okay," she says, and twirls a finger around. "Lemme just see all the way - okay, yeah, this is gonna work."

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Barnes asks.

"Your tush is adorable," Darcy says. "You're welcome."

Evil cult brainwashing: also apparently very good for definition. Darcy makes a mental note.

"They're really...snug," Barnes says, glancing at himself in the mirror.

"Yup," says Darcy.

"That's the point?"

"Yup."

"And people just...wear it?"

"Uh-huh."

Barnes shrugs. "Okay."

His metal elbow leaves a hole in the side of his dressing room when he tips over trying to get them off. Ninja assassin skills, zero; True Religion, one.

"Those were stupid dressing rooms, anyway," Darcy says, rushing Barnes back to the salesfloor before anybody notices.

They find a pair of pajama pants with a print that just repeats "YOLO" across them over and over again. Barnes insists on buying extra pairs for Steve and Nick Fury.

"Has Stark ever been declared legally dead?" Barnes wonders, holding up a pair. "Or Natasha? Or anyone else we know?"

"I like the way you think," says Darcy, and adds a pair of pajama pants printed with mugs of coffee to the pile, then two more for Jane (one for her to actually sleep in, one for her to inevitably spill her coffee on).

They get him a suit, too, because why not?

"Did the world completely change how ties work in the past seventy years?" Barnes grumbles, coming out of the dressing room (a different dressing room, Darcy knows better than to return to the scene of the crime).

"Uh, yes, and don't you dare," says Darcy, running forward to snatch the tie from his hand. The top button of his shirt is undone, and the clean white of the shirt against the slick gray of the suit jacket against, quite frankly, the delightful plane of his abs is just - "You need to get this for the sake of humanity."

Barnes gives her a look. "Did Steve send you with me to be my cheerleader?"

"No, he sent me because for some reason you don't think I can hurt you," Darcy says.

"'For some reason?'" Barnes repeats.

"I have a taser," Darcy says, and Barnes laughs so hard he leans over and ruins the lines of the suit. "What? I tased Thor, once. For science."

Barnes laughs even harder.

"You're just jealous," Darcy mumbles.

It's totally worth it, though. The next time she comes to the Tower, Barnes is sprawled out on the couch with Captain America, wearing that bright blue t-shirt (which now that Darcy thinks about it is exactly the blue of Cap's costume, huh) and those skinny jeans and the stripey hoodie with the sleeves casually rucked up to his elbows and she's so distracted by how comfortable he looks she almost doesn't notice the strip of skin showing on his torso where his shirt's ridden up.

Almost.

And hey, she bought herself a Blu-Ray player with Tony Stark's credit card (for science), so really it's a win-win.