He meets Darcy again in the last place he expects, rushing down the sidewalk juggling several files, a cardboard tray of her boss' fine, fine coffee, a handbag, and a paper bag that looks clunky when it bashes an innocent pedestrian across the knees as she weaves through the crowd. She stops, stammers apologies as she makes sure the guy's all right. Her long hair is straight and sleek, a marked difference from the bouncy curls she'd sported last time Bucky had seen her, back at the cafe. She's wearing a pants suit that hugs her hips and makes her legs go for miles, plain white shirt that on her somehow looks a hundred times sexier than the skimpiest camisole.
As he blinks, wondering whether to stop to say hi considering her load, he spots one of the folders under her arm making a bid for escape, heading straight for a left-over puddle from the heavy rainfall that battered the city last night. She notices, whimpers faintly and clearly panics when she realises she'll never manage to catch it in time.
He jogs up to her, bracing the file just as it slips. "Here, let me help you with those," he offers, the back of his hand brushing against her full breast as he pushes the file back under her arm. His skin feels like he just upended a scalding cup of coffee over it; he hadn't meant to, he's not that kind of guy, but he feels a shudder all the way down his spine regardless.
"Agent Barnes," she says when she gets a good look at him; he senses a hint of relief, and wonders darkly how many creeps have used this method to try and pick her up in the past. "I'm all right, I got this--"
"Come on, Darcy, I'm not in a rush. Let me take something, the coffee if not the folders. And it's Bucky, remember?"
She smiles at him, pouty lips parting to flash a hint of teeth. "All right. Thanks. It's not far, just two blocks West, but I was running late and I couldn't find a taxi..."
He lets her talk if that's what helps her feel in control, and follows her lead down the sidewalk carrying the coffee and folders, leaving her to heft the shopping bag she'd refused to surrender.
"How've you been?" she asks at last, after she runs out of steam. "I haven't seen you or Agent Rogers in a while."
He notes the careful way she uses Steve's title and surname, not his first name; he recognises detachment tactics when he hears them, he's used enough of those in his time. "No, we've been on a case across the country. Took longer than we expected."
"Oh," she says, smiling a touch broader than necessary. Relief. He wonders if she thought they were avoiding her for some reason. He surprises himself with how much he doesn't want her to think that, ever.
"What about you? New job?"
She looks confused, then smiles when he lifts the files in question. "Oh, no, they're--I'm a Political Science major, they're for my internship. It's my third week, I'm still adjusting."
She stops before a tall building with a glass front -- just like most other buildings on the block, nothing much to distinguish it. She pulls her belongings out of his hands, ignoring his protests. "Thanks, Bucky, that was really kind of you," she says distractedly. She no longer smiles in flirtation, or invites him closer with her eyes, like she used to when she was behind the counter at Barton's place. He most definitely doesn't like this distance she's put between them, but he's not an asshole who'll press in uninvited.
"Hey, Darcy," he calls out before she gets a chance to disappear through the revolving doors. "You busy tonight?"
She looks surprised, then thoughtful. "Not really, no. Why, you got something in mind?"
"Would you like to go dancing?" he blurts out, all his smoothness lost somewhere between the sidewalk two blocks away and the intrigued look in her eyes.
"Dancing?" she repeats, smiling properly at last, wide, friendly, a hint of challenge. "No one has taken me dancing for years."
'Years', she says, like she isn't in her mid-twenties. He despairs of the male portion of the human race. "Well, I will, if you let me."
She hesitates, but not for long. "Sure, I'd love to. Where shall I meet you?"
No 'pick me up at seven,' he notes. He wonders who did a number on her in the time he and Steve have been away. "There's a club in Adams Morgan, Habana Village? Say, eight o'clock?"
He watches her smile grow, her eyes dance. It's much closer to the girl who flirted with him so shamelessly just over a month ago; he grins back, satisfied warmth curling inside his chest to have put that look back on her face.
"Great choice," she drawls. "I'll see you there, Bucky. Bring your dancing shoes."
And with a flick of her hair she's gone, lithe frame slipping past the glass and darting inside.
Bucky turns and walks back the way he came. Much as he tries, though, he can't quite pull his thoughts away from Darcy Lewis. He recalls every look she'd given him in the space of their five-minute walk, every hint of body language, goes over them once again in the privacy of his mind. She hadn't shied away from his touch, so what bothered her likely wasn't physical. No eye contact avoidance, so she wasn't running scared. Just cautious.
The thought slithers through his mind, insidious, troubling. Could she have thought he'd stood her up? They'd planned to meet up at the cafe again, after the first time Steve had taken him to Under the Big Top, but then Fury had given them the San Francisco case and they'd been away from DC ever since. What if she thought he was stringing her on?
He'd have to try harder, obviously.
The lights are dim, just bright enough to bathe the room in a warm glow. Darcy dances like she has nothing to lose, like the world might end in the next moment and all she's got is now. She shimmers, hair a fall of mahogany waves, a far cry from the rigid discipline of the morning. Bucky has to pick up his feet to keep up, happily reduced to the role of frame to her picture. She flashes him a smile as she twirls under the arch of his arm, laughs full-out when he throws her and catches her again, alive in a way Bucky rarely sees, certainly hasn't felt in a good long while. Here with her now, his heart beats in time with the music, his feet follow the rhythm like he was born to it (he wasn't), mesmerised by the flash in her eye, the curve of her full, red lips. The huge dance floor is packed with couples, but all Bucky can see is her.
She's wearing a simple black wrap-around dress, the dimpled skirt ballooning around her thighs when he spins her round; the brush of it against his pants is enough to send him in a frenzy of need. This isn't why he's here tonight, though; he's not here to pick her up. He's here to show a lady a good time. And okay, so his motivation might not be all that altruistic -- but the look she'd given him this morning had shaken him to his core, cold, lackluster. He doesn't want to see it again on her face, ever. She was not meant for fading into the background; she was made to be wined and dined and danced with for as long as she likes, have her every desire pandered to. She was made to laugh like the world belongs to her, like she's doing right now, the brightest thing in the room.
They fall out of the club, breathless, just as the clock turns to two a.m.
"Oh my god, this was amazing," Darcy crows, voice a little hoarse from excitement. "I haven't--I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. Thank you."
"My pleasure," Bucky says, grinning, too warm despite the night chill, feeling it cool his damp hair along the edges, clearing his head. "Jesus, where did you learn to dance like that?"
She waves a dismissive hand. "Dancing lessons since I was three. My mother was three-times ballroom dancing state champion. I've known how to cha-cha since I was two and a half. The more pertinent question here is, where did you learn to dance like that? Half the room couldn't keep their eyes off you."
Bucky grins, self-depreciating. "Three younger sisters, plus Steve's cousin from Ireland. She came to stay with them every summer, before Mrs Rogers passed."
Darcy's smile is kind. "That would explain it."
Bucky looks at her, flushed cheeks, make-up running a little, curls weighed down with moisture. He's never seen anything so gorgeous. "We should do this again," he blurts, but doesn't regret it. The high he's on right now is like nothing else, the zing of bullets flying past can't even compare.
Darcy beams up at him; Bucky blinks, nearly staggers back with the strength of it, the press of it almost tangible over his chest. "That would be awesome. We were the best dancers in there," she gloats. Bucky's sure he was far from the most proficient, but he's willing to give Darcy the pleasure of thinking so. It's true in her case, anyway.
She lets him drive her home this time; she wouldn't trust a relative stranger, but Bucky registers with a twist of his gut that she happily accepts it from a friend. She thanks him again when he pulls to a stop outside a small block of flats, leans over and pecks his cheek. Her breasts press against his arm; he tightens his grip on the steering wheel so he doesn't reach for her, enough to turn his knuckles white. Not the time for something like that yet, not nearly there. He smiles at her when she pulls back, easy, pleased, carefully undemanding. Her smile deepens, the slightest of flushes coloring her cheeks.
"Same time next week?" she offers, and Bucky lets himself feel just the tiniest bit of smugness when he nods.
"Sure. I'll pick you up at seven thirty?"
She agrees, eager, pleased. He feels like he just won everything he ever played for. "Night," she calls out, too soon, bounces happily out of the car and runs nimbly up the stairs leading to the front door. He waits, wanting to make sure she gets in safely; he's rewarded when she turns, sends him another of those breathtaking smiles before she closes the door.
Bucky eases off the clutch and steps on the gas pedal, feeling lighter than he has in years. He can feel it singing in his veins, a 4/4 time that makes his heart leap: the start of something beautiful.