Bucky is there when Steve wakes up, sitting in an uncomfortable hospital visitor's chair with his arms crossed and an unamused line for a mouth.
"So," Bucky says, "are you just trying to become a hospital connoisseur at this point? An ongoing tour of America's ICUs? Is that what's going on?"
Steve starts to sit up and immediately finds out that that's a terrible idea, and instead lays himself back down, biting his tongue to keep from groaning. He knows what that look on Bucky's face means. Hell, he knows what all of that body language means – it means that Steve is in for another lecture about taking care of himself, probably accompanied by a heaping helping of sarcasm, which has already made its first appearance.
"Good morning, Buck," Steve says, but even as he says it he knows Bucky will pick up on the taut edge to his voice. Steve can't quite remember what happened this time – he has the edges of it, an alien spaceship and some kind of goo monsters, maybe? – and if it was really bad Bucky will take pity on him. If it wasn't –
"Night is more like it," Bucky says. "Or maybe it is morning. Is three a.m. considered morning these days? Because it sure feels like night, since I've been sitting in this chair since ten o'clock yesterday morning when you rode an alien spaceship into a tree."
"Oh," Steve says.
"Yes, oh," Bucky mimics. "The doctors say you're going to be fine, by the way, although I asked and they can't do anything about your little problem with being goddamn stupid."
"Did the aliens at least – "
"Yes, Steve, your pals the Avengers took care of the rest of the aliens, and all of the doctors were ever-so-impressed by your magical healing abilities, as usual, but this is, what, the fifth time in a month? I let you out of my sight for two minutes and – "
"If I can help, I have an obligation to – "
"To what, get yourself killed?" Bucky shakes his head, looking away from Steve. "I swear to God, sometimes I think that serum didn't do anything but make you big enough and strong enough to survive all the dumb stunts you pull."
Steve sighs. "If I can survive more than most people, then that's how much harder I have to push myself to do what's necessary, because it has to get done and at least I stand a chance of surviving it. You get that, right?"
Steve catches the glance that Bucky casts at his own left arm. "Doesn't mean I have to like it," Bucky says.
"How'd you get in here, anyway?" Steve says. "Three in the morning doesn't sound like typical visiting hours."
"Their security is crap, but the nurses are nice," Bucky says. "I charmed 'em."
Steve's mother was a nurse, which means that he is well aware of the wrath of nurses who find meddling visitors in their way. "You hide in the bathroom every time they come by, don't you."
"What can I say? I'm a survivor."
They discharge Steve the next morning (or rather, when it's actually morning, and early enough that Bucky's eyes look just as dead and hooded as they did when Steve first met him as the Winter Soldier, this time without even the application of anti-glare makeup), but because he's within forty-eight hours of a head trauma they won't let him go without someone taking responsibility for him. Bucky signs him out and then spends the entire cab ride from Westchester back to Avengers Tower setting what he calls "the ground rules for me owning your ass until the doctors declare you concussion-free."
"They did not say bedrest," Steve interrupts, just as they're finally crossing into the city.
"How would you know? You've got head trauma. Maybe it's messing with your memory."
Steve makes a face. "Is that really funny?"
"I'm allowed to joke about it," Bucky says. "And I'm the one who signed you out, which means I'm responsible for you, God help us all. That means what I say, goes."
"Bucky," Steve says.
"Steve," Bucky shoots back in exactly the same note of exasperation.
Neither of them, though, are expecting the floor that they share in Avengers Tower to already be occupied when they get there.
"Oh, hey, guys," says the brunette, who seems vaguely familiar in a way that Steve can't quite place. She's sitting at the kitchen island in one of the bar stools, her eyes glued to her phone and her feet pushing against the legs to sway the rest of her back and forth on the rotating stool seat. "Tony hired me to babysit for a while. What up."
"I – what?" Steve says, putting a hand on Bucky's right arm; after a moment, it relaxes, and Bucky's hand moves away from the sidearm strapped to his leg.
"Yeah, apparently he's not super happy about the way you keep getting yourself hurt," the girl says, finally looking up from her phone. "So I'm just gonna, you know, hang around and make sure you don't mess anything up for a while. Apparently following Jane around for the past couple years and making sure she eats and doesn't walk into tables and waits for the Pop Tarts to cool so she doesn't burn the roof of her mouth makes me qualified to babysit Captain America. Also, I got a CPR certification for PE credit a few years ago and it hasn't expired yet."
Steve glances over at Bucky and immediately regrets it; he hasn't seen Bucky look so – so delighted since the time he actually saw Steve in his original stage costume in 1943. (One of the USO girls stayed in London after the show ended and there was a guy who was giving her trouble, but one look at Captain America, tights and all, and he stopped.)
"I don't think this is really – " Steve begins.
"Oh, it's necessary," Bucky says immediately. "Absolutely, entirely necessary. This is the best thing that's ever happened. What did you say your name was again, new best friend?"
She smiles widely. "Darcy," she says, "and I accept gratitude and thanks in the form of chocolate chip cookies and college credit."
Having Darcy around actually isn't that bad. Mainly she just sits around the apartment, hands glued to her phone, and when Thor stops by to see how Steve's doing he gives her a big hug, which probably means that she's good people.
"Stark said that he had enlisted your help for Captain America," Thor says, clapping a hand on Darcy's shoulder and looking up at Steve. "You are in good hands, then! Darcy is a most helpful and capable intern."
It's a little bit more disconcerting when Steve comes out for breakfast the next morning and Thor and Darcy are sitting at the kitchen island discussing relationships.
"I understand full well how difficult long-distance relationships can be, Darcy," Thor is saying, gravely but gently, "but if Ian has as much sense as he must to be of assistance to you and Jane, then he must surely know that he must value you and cherish you as deeply as if you were not separated."
Darcy sighs. "I know, but, like, we didn't really have that much in common anyway? And maybe I just wanted him for the kissing? But I did really like the kissing, and he totally saved my life that one time, but is that the basis for, like, a long-term relationship?"
"Any answer I could give you would only lead you astray; these are questions only you can truly answer."
Darcy lets out a noise that's halfway between a sigh and a groan, letting her head fall back. "Yeah, but it's so annoying to have to figure this stuff out myself. It feels like I'm just pulling it out of my - Cap!" She whips her head back up and turns in her seat. "You're awake!"
Thor turns too. "Ah, Captain! We are breaking fast with pancakes, which Darcy has assured me is the breakfast of true champions."
Darcy makes a face. "Uh, that's not actually what I - you know what, whatever."
Steve steps forward hesitantly. "I don't mean to interrupt…"
"Nah, there's no interrupting in breakfast, come on in," Darcy says, swinging an arm in an exaggerated beckoning motion.
"So when you said that you'd be around, you didn't just mean the Tower?" Steve asks, wandering closer to the island.
Darcy lifts her chin with a satisfied smile. "I'll have you know, I've already begun my duties." She points over to the living room, and Steve looks. The edges of the coffee table, the end table next to the couch, and the TV stand have all been covered with some kind of padding, even down to the edges on the legs. "I was about to start babyproofing the kitchen but Thor wanted to come say hi and I wanted pancakes."
"'Babyproofing'?" Steve repeats, trying not to stare.
"You know, when you get a baby but you don't want them to crack their skulls open or something? I figured it's probably okay for you to get into the cabinets so I skipped the cabinet locks, but I put the stoppers in the outlets just in case."
Steve looks closer at the power outlets. They have indeed all been covered.
"Okay, I don't know what Tony told you, but this really isn't - "
"Morning," Bucky says, strolling in from the elevator. He's wearing a sleeveless shirt and has a towel draped around the back of his neck (which Steve knows has nothing to do with sweat and everything to do with how attractive Bucky thinks it looks, because he flat-out said as much when he was working in that mechanic's shop in 1939), but he's covered with a thin sheen of sweat that indicates that he was down in the gym reserved for the Avengers. He stops dead once he sees the coffee table. "Uh, what happened to the living room?"
"Babyproofing," Darcy says immediately. "You know, for - " and then she doesn't even say Steve's name, just jerks her thumb and whistles to indicate him.
Bucky looks from Steve to Darcy and back again. "Chocolate chips and college credit, right?"
Steve points at him. "Don't even start."
It's too late. Steve thought that he was done with nefarious, manipulative shadow conspiracies after HYDRA, but it turns out that Darcy and Bucky are - well, not worse, not by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely more annoying.
Steve makes himself a sandwich for lunch, and Bucky plucks the knife out of his hand when he goes to cut it and says, "No, no, no, Steve, we wouldn't want you to hurt yourself," and not only cuts it in half, which Steve was perfectly willing to do himself, but also carefully cuts off the crusts and sweeps them onto his own plate. "There you go, pal."
Bucky knows full damn well that the crusts are Steve's favorite part.
By the end of the day, all of the scissors in the apartment have been replaced by safety scissors. Steve hadn't even known that safety scissors existed until he went to cut a stray thread out of the hem of his shirt before it snagged, only to discover that someone had replaced the actual useful scissors with some plastic mockery with a zig-zagging blade.
"Well, you do art stuff, right?" Darcy says. "I thought you'd appreciate it, since it's more, like, visually interesting. It cuts edges into a zig-zag instead of a line, and hey, you don't have to worry about cutting yourself!"
Steve stares at her, and then says, in a very calm voice, "I think I would really rather have normal scissors, Darcy."
Darcy shakes her head and says, with an entirely too cheerful bounce in her voice, "Sorry, Cap. This is my job. Kind of. Well, I'm getting college credit."
"How are you getting college credit for babysitting?" Steve demands.
"Stark worked it out with Empire State University - something about human development credit, I kind of tuned him out at that point."
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose with the hand not holding the scissors. "Darcy. I appreciate your diligence, but I actually do have to cut this thread and these scissors won't cut anything."
Darcy gives him a long look, squinting slightly behind her glasses - and Steve doesn't know who she thinks she's fooling, anyone can see that the lenses are flat and she doesn't actually need them - and then relents. "Okay, come here, but don't tell Stark I did this."
Steve comes closer, keeping the hem of his shirt flipped outward to bare the wayward thread, and Darcy pulls a bright pink Swiss army knife out of her pocket and quickly snips the thread away with the built-in scissors.
"Technically I'm not supposed to have this," Darcy confides, putting the knife away again, "but Barnes told me about your asthma and your allergies and I figure I should probably have it in case your throat starts closing up and we need to cut a hole in your neck."
"Excuse me," Steve says, "I have to go have a word with Bucky."
"Hey, she's a sensible dame, and you never know when you might come across some cat hair or some of that mold from that one apartment," Bucky says, with an unapologetic shrug. "It seemed like a good idea."
"She replaced all of the scissors with ones that zig-zag," Steve says. "And they won't even cut anything! What's the point of scissors that don't cut?"
"Eh, so she's a postmodernist," Bucky says.
The only reprieve Steve gets from Darcy's ever-watching eyes is when he's sparring in the gym, whether with Bucky, Natasha, Sam, Clint, or sometimes even Stark (who admittedly prefers to watch from the sidelines and heckle, and claims that his nose is insured for millions of dollars every time Steve lands a hit). Apparently even Darcy sometimes needs a break, and Steve is frankly grateful.
He is less grateful the first time he comes out of the showers and finds Darcy sitting on one of the couches in the receiving area of the locker room (because Stark does absolutely nothing by halves) with her face buried in a magazine.
"Uh," Steve says, "Darcy?"
"Yeah?" comes Darcy's voice from behind the magazine, which is held up far enough to block her entire face.
"Is this really necessary?" Steve asks, not bothering to try to hide his exasperation. He's only wearing a towel slung around his hips, and while part of him is horrified that he's nearly nude in the presence of a dame, a much larger part of him spent enough time trying to bathe on battlefields and sleeping in trenches, halfhearted campsites, truckbeds on the road, and, one memorable time, the roof of an Italian abbey crammed in with all the other Commandos. His idea of personal space kind of disappeared after that, and he's irritated enough with Darcy and the liberties she's taking to not worry too much about protecting his modesty - or hers.
"I just wanted to make sure you didn't slip in the shower or something!" says Darcy, still behind the magazine. Steve can't help but notice that it's pitched significantly higher than usual.
"Are you hiding a camera or something back there?" Steve asks, shifting his grip on the towel around his waist, ready to pull it up just in case. It wouldn't be the first time - if Steve had a nickel for every time Clint appeared somewhere with a camera and screeched at him to 'do it for the vine!', he - well, he still wouldn't be able to buy himself a cup of coffee, but that's entirely the fault of the modern world. He would still have a lot of nickels.
"No," Darcy says. "No, I just - you're - well, you know, you're smokin' hot and I'm on-duty and it would be inappropriate for me to, you know. Objectify you. While I'm on the job, anyway."
Steve blinks. "So...you're protecting my modesty?"
Darcy tilts her head back and drapes the magazine over it, letting out a sigh that rustles the pages. "Hey, even I'm aware of the power differential, here. I'm responsible for you. It wouldn't be right." She adds, with a mournful note to her voice, "No matter whether you could grate cheese on your abs or have the muscle definition of a work of art."
"You could just leave," Steve says.
"What if you tripped and hit your head?" Darcy says. "No, working security for Captain America is probably the closest I'll get to doing anything actually related to political science on this internship, and I'm not gonna blow it. Besides, if Tony Stark, the dude who privatized national security, writes me a letter of recommendation, I could basically write my own ticket."
Steve doesn't consider himself incorruptible, but he saw exactly where bribery and corruption leads back before the war. Still… "What about a letter of recommendation from Captain America? Would that at least get you to wait out in the hall?"
Darcy snatches the magazine off her face, gets a glimpse of Steve's - well, of Steve - and yelps and holds the magazine back up again. "Promise to yell if you need help?"
"Absolutely," Steve says.
Captain America may be a paragon of virtue, but Steve Rogers certainly isn't, and he's okay with that.
One morning he wakes up to find that every article of clothing he owns has had a note reading "PLEASE RETURN TO AVENGERS TOWER" safety-pinned to the inside. Including his underwear.
"Okay, enough is enough," Steve says, holding up a pair of inside-out jeans towards Darcy. "This is completely unnecessary and, frankly, insulting."
"Wow, you're absolutely right," Darcy says, squinting at the note. "I mean, you're Captain America! Everyone knows who you are and that you should be returned to the Tower."
"Not my point, Darcy," Steve says, using his best Captain America Wants You To Think Very Seriously About This Solemn Matter And Also Buy War Bonds voice.
Darcy leans away from Steve, holding her hands up. "Not my handiwork, Cap. That's not even my handwriting, and who uses safety pins anymore anyway? Except for, like, bridesmaids. I'd just wait until you were asleep and tag you with an RFID tracker, like how my friend got her dog microchipped."
Steve stares at her. "Remind me never to take a nap around you again," he says.
"Look, dude, I'm telling you - that's not me."
Steve takes a closer look, examining the handwriting, and then closes his eyes. "You're absolutely right," he says grimly. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go have a talk with Bucky. Again."
The whole team goes out for gyros after successfully surviving their run-in with Kang the Conqueror, and between the fighting and the eating Steve opts for a nap right afterwards. He really should've known better, although in his defense, he didn't think Darcy was serious about the microchip thing, and it ended up not being Darcy anyway.
Instead, he wakes up strapped into a fuzzy, animal-shaped backpack attached to a leash, which is looped through the couch leg.
And the worst part is he can't figure out how to get the damn thing off.
He wakes up at two o'clock in the morning three days later to see Darcy standing over him with some kind of injection gun.
"Um," Darcy says.
Steve lets out a groan of frustration, pulling a pillow over his head, and says, "I will gladly take off all my clothes and let you look as long as you want if you just leave afterwards and take that microchip with you."
"Now you're selling your body? Man, clearly I've failed as a role model."
Steve pulls the pillow off his face. "Is there anything," he says, "anything I can do to make you stop?"
Darcy looks down at the injection gun and pulls her mouth to one side thoughtfully, her lips crinkling. "Well…" she says, in the wheedling tone of someone who wants to be convinced.
"Anything," Steve repeats.
"Sign an action figure for my nephew?" Darcy says.
Steve signs the action figure, and sleeps easy that night.
But he never finds out how Bucky snuck the "Property of Darcy Lewis" t-shirt into his dresser.