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Ice and Fire: 90 Days to a Whole New World

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“Seriously, guys, I need a shower.” Darcy leaned in to press a kiss each to Steve and Bucky’s cheeks.  “A long, steamy one.  You two can keep each other company.”

“Still offering to scrub your back,” Bucky said, his pale blue eyes telling the story of their emotional day.

“I’ll wash my hair and you can brush it afterward,” she promised him.

“Okay, Princess.  I’ll be waiting.” He took her hand and kissed the back of it.

She didn’t miss the way Steve had his hands shoved in his pockets.  Sure that he needed a little extra reassurance, Darcy worked her way into his arms for one of those long hugs that he was so good at giving.

“You okay, doll?” he murmured in her ear.

“Weirded out now that I’ve joined Club Super Serum, but hey, I’m all for trying out new things. I’m a Stark. Goes with the territory.”

Steve rubbed his chin over her head for an extra cuddle, but didn’t keep her there for long. “Don’t use all the hot water,” he chided.

Since they were Stark Tower and the hot water tanks were fueled by the arc reactor, that quip earned him a snicker and an elbow to his ribs that he easily dodged.

She wasn’t kidding about the shower, but it was impossible to hide from her spouses that she needed a little privacy.  They understood, but maybe not for the reasons they thought. They weren't convinced yet that she didn't hold them responsible, not when Bucky had saved her life with an emergency blood transfusion, and no one at all had suspected sex would have anything to do with transmitting the serum.  Blood plus semen was apparently the magical combination.  That was her speculation, and Tony backed it up.  Bruce would figure it all out when he got back with the team from Sokovia.

Needing time alone really had nothing at all to do with her husbands.

Darcy needed to see. After a short shower, she dried off and dropped the towel to stand naked in front of the long mirror.  She’d changed.  Every nick and scar she’d earned from years of lab work had whitened into nearly invisible marks in the serum-induced fever this morning.  The long slash on her leg had thinned to a pink line.  The ache from the torn muscles had vanished overnight.  Her stomach grumbled with hunger in spite of the fact she’d eaten just an hour ago.  She could feel the twisting ache that would change to nausea soon enough.

She wouldn’t dare admit to being terrified.  

Dismissing the view, she dressed in the fresh clothes she’d laid on the counter.  “JARVIS?” she called out—then remembered that JARVIS was Vision, and it was Jason in their apartment now.  Friday held down the Tower and Tony’s lab; Jason managed Darcy’s affairs.  Steve still startled every time Friday said something in his mother’s native Irish accent.  Jason, on the other hand, had a British voice pitched somewhat higher than Vision’s.

“Ms. Stark, how may I be of assistance?” Jason asked.

“Never mind, I was just missing my brother.”

“I can bring him online for you,” the AI offered.  

That was the compromise Vision and Darcy had worked out.  Vision needed his own space to rediscover the world he occupied from a different perspective.  Darcy was pretty sure she felt the same as anyone whose twin had moved out of the house for good. (Verdict so far:  awkward.) “No.  It’s not necessary.”

“Of course.”

She should have known Steve and Bucky would overhear the exchange. With their enhanced hearing, it was impossible for them to ignore, and she didn’t even try to duck them when she found them on the other side of the bathroom door.  Bucky waited with a glass of juice for her, while Steve leaned against the door frame with worry in his eyes.

She gave them a wide, bright smile, making sure it went all the way to her eyes.  “Is that for me?” she asked, pointing at the juice. 

Her good humor disarmed them. Steve’s relief was apparent, and Bucky passed over the cup with a kiss to her cheek.  Still, Bucky had a silence about him that meant he was upset in all the wrong ways.  (She’d assured him a dozen times today that she’d take the serum over dead any day of the week. He still blamed himself.)

When they huddled up on the couch for a movie, Darcy got the middle.  Steve trailed his fingers along her forearm. It was everything she could do not to flinch and set Bucky off again, but her newly-sensitive skin felt sunburned.

She shifted, rearranging herself so that she could tuck her arms and hands into her shirt sleeves. Pressure didn't seem to bother her nearly as much as the light touch. In any case, she leaned against Steve so he wouldn’t notice and wiggled her toes under Bucky’s thigh.  Bucky settled his hand over her ankle, but he only held on, and Darcy relaxed under the touch of his metal fingers as they warmed.    

She could do this.  She would get used to this. Her husbands had done it.  She just needed a little time.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As Darcy fastened her bra, her breasts hung loose in the cups, and she had to tighten the band to the last set of hooks. Even then, it didn’t fit quite right, and she felt as awkward as she did at thirteen when her boobs first appeared. She fiddled and adjusted, but nothing seemed to work.  

In frustration, she yanked off the bra and swapped it out for one that didn’t have an underwire, the kind she wore around the house at night. She had to tighten the straps more than usual so the girls wouldn’t wander off of their own accord.

Her sweat pants settled low on her hips, and when the t-shirt she tried on hung awkwardly off her shoulders, she rummaged through the closet for something different. She came up with Steve’s Mets jersey. It was comforting, even if it didn’t fit the same as it did before.

Now that she’d managed to get dressed this morning, she finished her routine with mascara and lip gloss, then automatically fumbled in her bathroom drawer for the birth control pills she stashed there.

Fuck.   

She huffed in annoyance. Sex hadn’t exactly been on her agenda this week. She’d been more than happy to play voyeur to her husbands, but even then, she had an annoying tendency to fall asleep the moment she got horizontal.  

Pink package in hand, she wandered through the apartment until she found Bucky and Steve in the kitchen making lunch.  She held up the little package.  “Hey guys, what are the chances these are useless?”

Bucky and Steve exchanged looks of dismay.

Darcy shrugged as she reached for a sandwich. “Good thing we keep condoms and lube handy. Just--” she waggled a finger at them, “no excuses for not using them. We are not getting pregnant right now.” (She didn’t add that she didn’t need any more complications to her health. Then again, by the distraught look on both men, she didn’t have to say anything at all.)

She devoured the PB&J as she tossed the useless pills on the counter, annoyed by the discovery of yet another aspect of her life upended by the serum.

Maybe he noticed her irritation, because Bucky offered slyly, “I’d be more than happy to demonstrate my technique.” Steve coughed to cover a laugh, his eyes dancing with humor.

She ignored Bucky at first, as she downed a glass of lemonade.  But then she rolled her eyes at his teasing, letting him see her smile.  Darcy licked her lips and slid a look in Steve’s direction to see if he was game.

Considering the way he snatched her up and carried her right back to the bedroom, there wasn’t any question. “Just to be clear, Darce, I’ve missed my girl.”

“It’s been a weird couple of weeks,” she complained, though she liked having an excuse to run her fingers through Steve’s short blond hair.  It was spiky with gel, but soft enough she could still play with it.

Bucky laughed as he tugged off his shirt and sweats, proving that he’d gone commando.  

Darcy whistled under her breath as he leaned over to dig through one of the nightstands for a strip of condoms.  “Holy hell, James, that butt should be illegal.”

Deadpan, Steve countered, “It was.”  

Darcy ran her nails along the back of Steve’s neck, right where he was the most ticklish.  “Oh yeah, back in the olden days when everything was in black and white.”

Steve flinched and dropped her lightly on the bed in retaliation. Bucky pulled her to him and rolled so that he could nibble on her lips. She loved the weight of him and wiggled her fingers against his shoulders so that he’d come closer.  “Ignore him.  I’ve missed you,” he told her as he nuzzled along her neck.  “Gonna show you, too.”  

She bit her lip, embarrassed by the way she’d neglected her loves.  She was married now, wasn’t she? And supposed to think of stuff like that?

Steve saw it first and knelt on the bed beside them to press a kiss to her forehead.  “Hey, don’t do that,” he told her. “We get it. It’s not all about sex all the time.”

“I don’t,” Bucky complained good-naturedly as he worked his way down Darcy’s body, pressing kisses in a straight line toward his goal.  “Got stuck with my punk-ass husband all week.  You smell better.”  He shoved her shirt up partway and nuzzled her belly. “Much better.”  

Since he’d worked his fingers underneath the lace of her panties and found her much-neglected clit, she forgot whatever she might have said in reply.  When Steve shed his clothes, pushed her (his!) shirt up and tongued her equally bereft nipples though the silk of her bra, she forgot to think at all.  

The shock of twin touches on the newly sensitive skin resulted in a fast orgasm that screamed through her body and left her flinching in its wake.  It was Bucky who called it first, as he pressed a warm hand to Darcy’s vulva, soothing her after. “Too much?”

Steve pushed up on his elbow, checking her over, but Darcy shook her head, tugging Bucky back down for a long, sweet kiss.  “I’ve missed this too,” she told them.  Flicking a look at Steve, she needled, “But you have too many clothes on for me to prove it.  Guess James will have to go first.”

There was nothing like a little friendly competition to get Steve’s beautiful ass in gear. He shed his clothes and tore open a condom, stretching out on his back to roll it in place.  Bucky was the one who slicked him up with lube in between kisses, and balanced Darcy as she settled between the two men to sink onto Steve’s cock.

It wasn’t like the first time where she didn’t know quite what to do with his size, but with the way her skin absorbed new sensations, it was too much. She squeaked, and Steve stilled instantly, his hands holding hard to her hips to keep her from moving. Bucky’s metal arm went around her waist as he pressed against her back.  

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she chanted.  “I promise.” She bit her lip against the micro-movements of her vagina rubbing up against Steve’s penis.  It wouldn’t take much for her to come like this, with every nerve-ending ready to go up in flames.

“Darcy.”

Whoops. When Steve brought out his Cap voice with her, he didn’t want any excuses.  He was always careful with her.  Always.  

“The serum,” she confessed as she rocked, making the smallest of motions that sent shockwaves through her whole body. “I can feel you.  Every little thing.”  

The stern look transformed into a cautious smile.  “Really?”  He drew his hand along her leg.

She slapped her hand over his to keep it still.  “Steven Rogers, I can’t concentrate as it is.”

He grinned, and Darcy retaliated with setting a slow pace with the smallest of movements.  Steve sucked in his breath, flexing upward in countertime.  From the way he flushed a dark red, she realized he was as turned on as she was, maybe more so.  

“You can feel that,” she accused.

“Sure.”

“You’ve always been able to feel that.” She did a Kegel around his cock just to make sure he was paying attention.

“Well, yeah.”  Then he swore in frustration. “Fuck, Darce, either on or off ‘cause I’m gonna come.”

Bucky’s husky laugh sent shivers up her spine, more so when he kissed along her neck. “You’re takin’ him to the moon, Princess.  Let him come.”  Bucky’s fingers brushed over her clit, and she gasped as she shivered through her instantaneous orgasm.

Steve clutched her hips, pumping just twice, and he came too.  

Without giving her a chance to catch her breath, Bucky nudged Darcy until she raised up and scooted forward to hold on to the headboard.  He slid straight into her wet heat, taking advantage of the tremors still rippling within her. She cried out as pain/pleasure spiked, but he held her tight, utterly still.  “I’ve got you,” he promised.  

A chuckle from between her legs drew her attention to where Steve had situated himself just close enough to rain kisses over her thighs and clit if he wanted. “Guess we’ll need a little practice to see what you like best now.” He sucked just inside her leg, and Darcy jerked into Bucky’s arms.

“Let her cool down, Steven,” he insisted.  “I want more than the thirty seconds you took.”

“It wasn’t that fast,” Steve grumbled. But he merely pressed a firm kiss to the other thigh, and waited for Darcy to catch her breath.  When she did, Bucky set up a steady tempo as he fucked her from behind.  Steve licked up into her, circling her knot.  From Bucky’s occasional groan, Steve must have been flicking his tongue against the base of Bucky’s dick.

She loved this. Loved being held by both of them, even if her flesh stung from the way they stroked over her skin.

Each time the sensation proved too much for her (A-plus for excellent use of fingertip sensors!), Bucky slowed, letting her catch up again.  Steve echoed whatever Bucky did, until Darcy demanded more, damn it, and faster.  She hit the flash point, contracting around Bucky.  He followed with a groan, while Steve made happy noises at the pair of them, his face and throat wet with her juices.

Reason number one Darcy wasn’t a fan of condoms: she loved the afterglow of being held while they slowly came down from the intense lovemaking. Having Bucky slide abruptly out of her to dispose of the sheath annoyed her, though Steve cuddled with her all the same.  

But Bucky was quick, and he ducked under the quilt to hold her while Steve took his turn cleaning up, and soon, she was sandwiched between them.  The last thing she remembered was Steve kissing her hair while Bucky rested his fingers on her back.  Safe, warm, and oh-so-loved, she dozed.

 

****

 

Steve left his loves napping in their bed.  Darcy, because the serum was taking a hell of a toll on her body, and Bucky, because he was still recovering from giving Darcy more blood than he could really spare.

Buck had peeled his eyes open just long enough to ascertain where Steve was headed, and then closed them again after making sure Darcy hadn’t moved too far away. In truth, she hadn’t moved at all, and it wouldn’t surprise Steve if Darcy crashed for a couple of hours.

He took a long look at them cuddled up under the blankets, left Jason to monitor them, and took the stairs two at a time down to Tony’s lab.

“How is she?” Stark asked without preamble. He fiddled on his holoscreen with what Steve could see were Darcy’s latest blood test results. Sam had taken samples daily, a procedure that brought back too many old memories of Steve’s own adaptation to the serum--and threw Bucky’s psyche a hard curveball every single time.  

“Still losing weight,” Steve answered. “She needs Banner. No one else knows the serum like he does.”

Tony pressed a combination of keys on his laptop, and the blood test results vanished into thin air. “Well, then it’s a good thing he’s on his way. Since the team is still wrapping up in Sokovia, I went ahead and uploaded everything we know to him,” he said. “He changed his mind about staying the extra week when he got the data.”

“Good. Did he offer any ideas?”

“You know how Banner is. He’s not going to speculate if he can wait a day and give you something solid.”

Steve sighed. Tony was right, but that didn’t do anything to help him stop worrying.  He pulled up a stool and threw a leg over it.  “You might mention to him that Darcy quit taking her birth control pills today. It’s a safe bet that even if they might work, she’s going to need a different dosage.”

Pursing his lips thoughtfully, Tony nodded.  “Not a bad idea.  Her biochemistry is pretty far out of whack as it is.”

“How?”

“Friday, bring up the Darcy’s data.”   A series of charts popped up.  Tony tapped on one of them.  “Her hormones are all over the place.  Her estrogen and progesterone levels don’t make any sense at all.  Her adrenal glands have spiked with something different every day.  Honestly, it looks a lot like what Pepper went through with the Extremis, but, well, more extreme.” Tony shrugged. “I’d be throwing temper tantrums by now.”

“At least Darcy isn’t glowing from her version of the serum,” Steve mused.  “And no, no tantrums.”

“Not yet, anyway.” Tony paced around the data screens, studying them.  “I wish she would, though.”  

“She’s trying to keep Bucky from feeling worse than he already does,” Steve offered.  

Tony squinted him. “At the risk of having you punch me through the window, I might ask if that’s a real concern.”

“I’m not going to punch you, Stark.  And no, it’s not a real concern.  Bucky’s not happy about it, but he’s a big boy and can deal.  She doesn’t quite believe that.”

“It’s early,” her dad acknowledged.  “It’s big, it’s scary, and if she looks too close, she’s going to panic. So you don’t look too close and you stay focused on the next dot in front of you.  Eventually, you connect them all and then you aren’t scared anymore.”

Steve raised his eyebrows.  “That’s an awfully good analogy.”

Tony grinned. “I can be good at that.”  He tapped on his keyboard, though from this side of the table,  Steve couldn’t figure out what he was working on.  Then Tony leaned down under his bench, and came up with a couple of cold soft drinks--presumably from an ice box he had stashed under there. He slid one in Steve’s direction. “If Darcy’s not on the pill, you and your Brooklyn boyfriend had better be damned careful not to knock her up.”

Steve countered dryly, “Pretty sure I’ve figured out my way around a French letter or two.” Unaccountably, he flushed at having this conversation with Darcy’s father. “And you know, Stark, I really kind of hate you right now.”

“So things are back to normal between us. That’s good, right?” Tony smirked at his son-in-law’s embarrassment.

Polishing off the soft drink, Steve crushed it one hand and tossed it into the recycling bin.  Rising to leave, he insisted, “Let me know when Banner gets here.”

With a quick glance at the clock, Stark assured him, “Two hours, tops. Now get out and take care of my baby girl.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

*****

 

Stretched out on an exam bed, Darcy was undergoing a brain scan while Bucky failed miserably at staying out of the Asset (--His brain on the monitor, flashing where the electrical nodes connected, scorching out his memories--).

He was making it worse for her. She worried for him when, at the moment, he didn’t give a fuck about himself and only wanted to see his girl get better.  But he shifted into assessing, analyzing everything in the room with a critical eye for defenses.  He sized Banner up in a way that clearly made the scientist uncomfortable.

(Pain, the sharp blade of surgical steel) Steve’s arms came around him, one hand firmly clutching Bucky’s left wrist.  Steve. Talking to him.  “Come on, Buck, don’t do this.  Darcy’s in good hands. I can’t have you checking out.  Not right now.  She needs you.” Steve pulled Bucky close and rested his chin on Bucky’s metal shoulder.  (Assessing.)

Darcy stared at the ceiling, biting her lip. Trying not to cry. Failing.

Swearing under his breath, Steve said, “I’m calling Vision.  You’re not ready to go without a handler, love.” Steve called out, “Friday, we need Vision here.”

“Of course, Captain Rogers.”

In only took a moment for Vision to phase through the ceiling, dropping lightly to his feet in front of Bucky.  “Walk with me, Sergeant Barnes.” Bucky didn’t want to leave Darcy here (Protect Stark).

Unable to do anything but comply, he followed Vision into the hallway. He stopped when Vision stopped and waited for instructions. “Barnes, stand down. I’ve scanned the area and there are no threats.  Lewis is almost finished with the testing.  Banner will analyze the results and have them tomorrow. Focus on your surroundings. What can you physically sense?” Vision tilted his head slightly, smiling at Bucky.

“Clothing.  Floor.  Knife in m’ boot.  Ruger at my back. Cold air from vent.”  

“Excellent,” Vision assured him. “You’ve calmed, and your biometrics are returning to baseline. I think, perhaps, you aren’t quite ready to accompany Lewis for her exams. It brings up too many negative associations.”

Ashamed, he stared at his boots. “She needs me.”

“At the moment, Captain Rogers is with her.  There are others who can serve in that capacity, including myself.  I would encourage you to speak to Sergeant Wilson if this is something you desire to change.”

Rage flared, and Bucky had a need to go hit something very, very hard. He curled his hands into fists.  

Vision noted the movement and offered a distraction. “Shall we prepare dinner? I have the new list of nutritional requirement Banner has suggested.  I believe you are familiar with most of the recipes, and I would appreciate the opportunity to understand more about the preparation process.”

Dinner.  He could do that.  He nodded, turning toward the elevator.  

As they rode upward, Vision made a second offer.  “With your permission, Sergeant Barnes, Jason can continue to monitor you via the contact, and I will give him a subroutine that will automatically bring me online whenever you show signs of distress.”

Though he nodded his agreement, they made it to the kitchen before Bucky could vocalize again.  As he pulled out pasta for macaroni and cheese, he said quietly, “Fuckin’ hate HYDRA.”

Vision looked up from the pot where the butter was melting.  “I believe there are multiple persons in this family who share your sentiment. Now, explain to me why this dish currently has nine hundred forty-seven thousand variations, a number which increases on a daily basis?”  

That prompted an honest smile from Bucky.  “It’s called comfort food.  It’s all about taste.” (For a moment, he could see his Ma in the kitchen. The lump in his throat made it hard to breathe. He missed her something awful.)

A hand went on his shoulder.  Bucky stilled, but didn’t move to knock it off.

“JARVIS often wished he could give his sister a hug,” Vision told him.  “I can do that for her now.  And it appears that you need one too, Barnes.”

Bucky gratefully clasped his hand over Vision’s wrist, taking comfort in the connection. “James. Call me James.” At his brother-in-law’s quizzical look, Bucky added, “Everyone else in your family does.”

“Of course, James.”  

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Blowing a stray lock of hair out of her face, Darcy concentrated on coaxing the graphene to bond to the plastic just so. The little robot’s repulsors needed the extra lubrication to make them work more smoothly in an underwater environment.

Vibranium would have been a perfect structure for this robot, but the metal was too rare for large-scale manufacturing. Darcy’s little minions would be deployed into lakes for clean-up work, hovering above the muddy floors and plucking up all sorts of trash to insert into the collector that floated along about four feet off the lake bed. Other robots would float at surface level, sifting through debris to sort the lake’s natural debris and leaves from the water bottles and cigarette butts.

The initial testing had shown promise. The human portion of the team manned the boats as they gathered up the full collectors and kept track of the minions. Areas that had been cleaned were noted on a map. The robots also recorded currents and underwater formations, giving clear pictures of the current lake floors. But the tiny repulsors needed a little more lubrication to keep them from gumming up amid the mud that churned up in little puffs as the minions removed trash.  The muck swirled upward until it reached the little engines more than two feet above the lake bed, eventually overheating them.

This system would use fisherman in their off-seasons. They had the boats, knew the estuaries and rivers better than anyone, and had a vested interest in keeping them clean. Not only that, the supplemental income would be a boon for them. Darcy had funded up the initial grant monies but she also had a team working on permanent funding with charitable and government organizations if the project proved a success.  It would take time and research to ensure the little robots wouldn’t compromise the very environment they were trying to save, but it was a start, and the lake they were using for experiments had been fouled beyond use.

She handed the robot to Vision, happy with the results.

Her brother placed it in the dirty water tank they’d set up in her lab.  He swirled his hand in the water, stirring up the mud and trash.  “Lewis, this body is terribly distracting,” he complained as he shook the water off his arm, and then sponged it dry with the towel he had handy. 

“It happens.” Darcy made sure not to laugh, but in the past few days, Vision had been rather vocal about his reactions to the physical world.  In an interesting turn of events, Bucky had become Vision’s shepherd as they explored taste and texture this week, and then Vision promptly dissected his observations to his sister.  She still wasn’t quite used to hearing him whine, but found it amusing.

Darcy found it interesting, too, that, he preferred to do the physical portion of her experiments, even going so far as to deconstruct and rebuild some of her robots.  He liked seeing what he could do with his hands.  One discovery they had made--and forwarded the results to Dr. Cho--was that Vision didn’t seem to be able to add to his existing muscle tone.  So while Vision could process information faster than Darcy, her keyboarding skills outstripped his. Of course, Vision could code without the use of a keyboard, via his built-in internet connection that no one could quite figure out.  (Darcy and Thor speculated it was a factor of the mind gem.  Vision could think his way through a program and have it appear on-screen; Darcy was freakin’ jealous.)  It was still something weird/cool to discover there was a physical limit to what her brother could do.

Vision had kept Darcy company in her lab today, and she was grateful. Steve was huddled up with Hill, Coulson, and the information gleaned from Sokovia’s wreckage.  If she was to lay bets, it would be that her husband wouldn’t be home for long, and she really didn’t want to think about that right now.  

Bucky had gone back to work this week too.  In the Ultron mess, the Sierra, Tango, and Kilo team leads had stepped up to run SI’s security division.  Barnes’ emergency plans had worked remarkably well, and Darcy was convinced that her mother was a genius for hiring him.

Darcy’s friends were coming home by one’s and two’s.  Thor flew in yesterday to see Jane before reporting back to Asgard.  Nat and Clint had flown the Maximoff kids to New York.  The boy, Pietro, was going to need physical therapy and time to recover from his injuries.  His twin sister, Wanda, refused to leave his side.  

Tony had offered the Twins a place in the Tower, but they had reacted rather violently over coming anywhere near Stark Industries.  It was probably best that the Twins didn’t know that Tony had paid Pietro’s medical bills and hired the therapist. He’d also bought an apartment building in Bed-Stuy and stuck Clint’s name on the deed, giving the archer a perfect excuse for housing the newest Avengers.

Clint had been a little wild-eyed at the idea of owning an apartment building until Darcy put him in touch with a good management company and encouraged him to meet the tenants. In the process of getting the Twins settled, Clint did just that.  The tenants were wary of a new owner, but the overall impression was that he couldn’t be worse than the last one. Clint put the Twins in charge of making a list of repairs. Darcy opened a checking account for Clint, dumped enough cash into it that he wouldn’t have to worry about funding that either, and considered it part of what was owed to the Twins. She enlisted Jason to remind her to keep an eye on the place and to make sure Clint had whatever he needed.

“Ms. Stark, do you have a preference for lunch today?” Jason inquired, interrupting her musings.

Vision dropped the towel he’d used on Darcy’s workbench as she darted a glare at the protein shake she’d just finished.  Banner had her on a strict nutritional plan, and Jason was in charge of reminders to follow it. She wasn’t losing weight anymore, but she hadn’t gained any of it back yet either.

“What’s next on your list of things to try?” she asked her brother.

“James recommended a Philly cheesesteak sandwich from the cafeteria.”

Darcy suppressed her annoyance, knowing that choice had everything to do with calorie count. Still, it was better than what she’d been drinking.  “Alright, Jason, place an order for both of us. And see if Betty or Jane are free, too.”  

“Dr. Foster has taken the day off, but Dr. Ross is available.” 

“Perfect.  Add her order to ours, and we’ll meet her downstairs in twenty minutes.”

“Of course, Ms. Stark.”  

Darcy and Vision left the little robot siphoning trash in the water tank and headed to the food court.

“Lewis,” Vision started, “It occurs to me that you do not use your title with Jason or your associates. I do not understand, as your doctorate is equally valid.”

“Dad’s opinion notwithstanding?” she teased.

Vision drily countered, “Sir’s opinion on your degree has been duly noted.”

Darcy snickered as she answered, “Ha. Look, I’m not trying to impress anyone in my field of work. I chose my course of study for the job I knew I would have one day. I’m not like Jane or Betty--or even Bruce, for that matter. Even though Stark Industries is funding their research now, they are still publishing and staying active in the academic fields, so their titles are important for their credibility.  For me, the Stark name will give me more leverage than my degree. Starks don’t publish papers. We patent the shit out of our discoveries and let everyone else wonder what we’re up to. I will point out, though, that I’ve waved my PhD around on Capitol Hill. Dr. Lewis gets more respect than Miss Lewis in those halls.”

“Shall I extrapolate that you wouldn’t be adverse to highlighting your academic successes in appropriate instances?”

Darcy laughed. “Always hold your best weapons in reserve, Vision.” Leaning a little, she bumped her brother’s arm with her shoulder. “Thanks for hanging out with me this morning. It was nice.”

“I always enjoy our time together,” he agreed.

As the elevator door opened, Darcy took his hand to tug him across the food court.  “Now, ask Betty about effectively using a doctoral title in academia.  She’s an expert.”

 

******

 

Bucky felt a little guilty at cutting out of the office mid-afternoon. He liked putting in a solid day’s work for the money Pepper paid him. The day was quiet enough he wouldn't necessarily be missed, so he’d conferenced with Hill this morning and left the Kilo team in charge.  In any case, Pepper had made it clear that any sort of therapy sessions took priority over work, so here he was. 

“You can tap out at any time,” Sam reminded Bucky. The hallway outside the room Stark had set up was deserted, for everyone’s safety. Vision floated nearby. 

“I need to do this,” Bucky insisted. (Protect Stark)

“Why?”

“You know why. Steve’s leaving in a few days, and Darcy’s already a mess. I can’t keep checking out.”

“You’re better than you were,” Sam countered.

Bucky swore. “How in the hell am I supposed to protect m’ girl if I can’t stand the sight of medical equipment?”

“You think your mission objective is stronger than your mental defenses?”

Bucky narrowed his eyes. “I think I love my wife and won’t have her going through all this shit by herself.”

At that, Sam nodded with a small smile. “That’s a hell of a good reason. Okay. Here we go. You will look through the doorway for a count of fifteen seconds, while you stay in the hall. Then the door will close. Stark’s inside to keep you visually grounded because he’s part of your mission objective. Vision will stay behind you to give you orders if you need them. Ready?”

At Bucky’s nod, the door slid open. Sam began counting backward from fifteen. Inside was an exam table with Tony Stark sitting on it, reading something on his tablet.  (Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.) Bucky shifted promptly into the Asset.

Tony glanced up, gave Bucky a nod, and went back to reading his tablet. On the count of zero, the door slid closed again. The headache bloomed as the memories poured in, just as they did each time Bucky had to face his fears.

Vision laid a hand on his shoulder. “You’re safe, James.”  

Sam tilted his head. “Grey eyes. You shifted.”  

Bucky clamped a hand to Vision’s wrist, grounding himself to his handler and concentrating on the weight of that solid form under his fingers. He breathed out, experiencing, and glanced back at Sam.

The counselor nodded. “Blue eyes.  Back with me?”

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed. “Let’s do it again.”

 

*****

 

Still working? Steve texted Darcy.

Running experiments.  Need another hour or so.  ‘Sup?

Finished with Coulson.  Heading to range.  Barton’s making noises that I can’t shoot a gun anymore. Have to prove him wrong.

Have fun with that.  James going with you?

Isn’t he still at therapy?

Whoops, I forgot.  She sent a little emoticon with hands turned up and shrugging shoulders.  

Steve debated his next question, finally settling on, Have you seen Banner today?

Vision went with me this morning.  He and James made a grocery list for your next trip.

How did I get stuck with buying groceries?

You actually like shopping for groceries.

I’ll buy the produce.  Jason can ship the rest here.  Even I can’t carry THAT much food.  Does Vision eat for energy, by the way? Or is just for fun?  

The synthetic portion of his body that Dr. Cho created needs ordinary nutrition, so yes.  So far, James’ mac n cheese is his fav.

Good to know.  I’m guessing we don’t have any leftovers.

Did we HAVE leftovers?  

Steve chuckled, because she was right, the dish had been practically licked clean that night.

On that note, I'm going to go work up an appetite. See you tonight.

Darcy blew him a kiss via emoticon, and he sent one right back.

Over the past three years, he’d learned to read into Darcy's texts to figure out her good days from her bad ones.  Flirting was definitely a good sign.  She'd slept through the night, and the discreet calorie counts Jason sent him indicated she was keeping up Banner's nutrition plan. Darcy knew he was getting them, had wrinkled her nose, and stuck out her tongue when he’d made the request.  But she didn't countermand it. They both knew she would do better if he kept her honest.

In times like this, Darcy was every bit Tony's daughter. Nothing got her back up more than telling her she had to follow explicit instructions. Father and daughter tended only to mind those they loved and trusted--which made for very short lists.  Jason wasn't on that list, so Darcy would likely have ignored his reminders.  

He worried about her--probably in the same way Bucky used to worry about him. And now Steve had a fair idea of what Bucky had been up against with Steve’s mule-headedness.  Love alone had been the reasons for Steve’s occasional compliance--and Darcy was no different.

Steve pressed his hand to the range door sensor.  He found Barton inside, holding up a wall and well out of the way of the occupant at the far end.  

With a thumb in that direction, the archer advised, "Your boy spent  twenty minutes making an outline of Hydra's stupid symbol with his weapon in his left hand, and another twenty completely obliterating it with the Ruger in his right."

"I’d guess he had a bad therapy session. I didn’t think he was done yet.” Steve shrugged. “I'll take the slot next to him. Nothing pulls him out of his head faster than me fucking up something."

"Oh good," Barton snorted. "You'll only need one magazine for that."

Steve "lost" his balance, shoving his teammate hard against the wall. "Oh man, I'm sorry about that," he apologized insincerely.

"Asshole." That was accompanied by a fast poke right between Steve’s ribs.  

"Can't argue with that." Steve grinned as he danced out of Barton’s range.  He plucked a pair of safety goggles and ear protection out of his locker, along with his preferred Glocks. He didn't carry them often, but he knew what he liked when he wanted them in hand.

All it took was three shots, loosely grouped on the paper target, for Bucky to come storming over. "What the fuck, Rogers? I told you to forget that shit you learned in basic."

"I'm out of practice. Want to show me how to stand?" Steve flirted just enough to pull Bucky up short.

It worked, and his husband paused his ranting long enough for a ghost of a smile to hover on his lips.  "Asshole."  

"You know, you aren't even the first to call me that in the last twenty minutes," Steve retorted.

Bucky glanced at the target. "You did that on purpose."

In response, Steve turned and fired three more times. The first bullet made a hole. The second and the third zipped through the empty space it made.

The smile fell away, and Bucky hunched his shoulder. "Am I that predictable?" he asked, and Steve could hear the thread of fear.  

Steve shut his mouth on the obvious retort.  “Only to me,” he said instead.  “And you know me just as well.  Barton wouldn't even step past the entryway."

There was no missing the clenched jaw or the faded blue eyes as Bucky complained, "I'm tired of being Hydra's dancing puppet."

“You’re safe and you’re pissed.  Want comfort or an ass-kicking to make you feel better?” Steve offered bluntly.  He could read Buck pretty damned well, but his husband needed to make a call or two right now to take control back.  

“I’m feeling sorry for myself, so maybe the ass-kicking?”  

“All right.  You feel like Hydra’s pulling strings?  We all do. You're not the only one getting pissy every time they pop up again.  They are fucking with my family," Steve told him, venting some of his own anger. "I'm leaving in three days for what might be the whole damned summer. I need to be here. For you, for Darcy.  We both know she's gonna shut down as soon as I step on the plane and you're gonna be the one to deal with it. I don't want to go.  But I have to do my job, and I'm going to go make sure they can't do this shit to someone else."  

Bucky stilled. "The whole summer? But Darcy wants to make her announcement in a few weeks."

That was news. "Now?"

"She told me before all this Ultron stuff went down that she wanted to do it before your birthday.  Now, she thinks it will distract from Sokovia fallout and put a little separation between the Avengers and Stark Industries.”

“With Tony one side and Darcy squarely on the other. That’s a hell of a plan,” Steve mused.  “She told you all this?”

Bucky shot him a dirty look.  “I’m not breaking any confidences, punk.  You’ve been busy with the team coming back.  We had breakfast and talked about it.” He shrugged, adding, “Think she wants to get out of the Tower too.”

“She didn’t want to move here in the first place.”  Steve shook his head. “I don’t like the idea of leaving.  We’re safe here.”

“I know,” Bucky agreed. “Okay, now I am walking the fine line of confidences here.  Thor and I had lunch today.  We were shooting the breeze and an interesting proposition popped up.  It might solve that problem, but I’m not gonna say anything more on it.”  

Intrigued, Steve filed that information away for now.  He set his sidearm on the table and rested his hands on his hips.  “See what I mean?  All this is important. It’s our family, Buck. I’m not going to quit my job, but I sure as hell can be pissed when Hydra interferes with what we need.”

“You make me feel like I should be fighting next to you,” Bucky complained.  

“Now I really am going to kick you in the ass.  We both know you didn’t want to go to war in the first place.  You did it because it was the best damned paycheck available. You kept the heat on, and bought my medicines, and--” Steve looked away.  

“Shut up.”

Steve glared at Bucky.  “You kept me safe.  Now I’m going to do the same for you and Darce.”

“How did we get from me feeling shitty to you saving the world?”  

“Still feel sorry for yourself?”

Bucky was the one who broke away this time.  “I don’t know how to get Darcy to trust me.  You’re right, she’s already trying to lock this shit down and she’s hurting.  I don’t know how to get her to understand that I’m here even if I’m fucked up.”

Now that Steve knew Bucky had a finger on the problem, Steve relaxed.  “You figured out how to deal with me.  Pretty certain she can’t be that stubborn,” he advised.

“Punk, there’s a reason you like the Princess, and it ain’t because she’s a pushover.”

Unable to stop the blooming grin, Steve shrugged.  “Just pointing out, you married both of us.  And good luck with that.”

“Get your ass back in there and prove to Barton that I taught you to shoot,” Bucky ordered.

Steve snapped a salute and held it. “Yes, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Asshole.” But Bucky had color on his cheeks, and his eyes turned a gorgeous shade of sky blue as he skimmed his gaze over Steve’s long body.  “Nice form. Did I teach you that?”

“Nope.  That was the USO chorus line.” Steve winked, settling his eye and ear protection in place. With a real smile this time, Bucky set up beside him again, and Barton joined the fun.  The three of them bitched companionably to each other and shredded targets for the rest of the afternoon.

 

 

Chapter Text

With an aching head from this morning’s therapy session, Bucky looked forward to the hot shower in his own bathroom.  Steve and Darcy were still out in the city, doing the piddly errands they enjoyed.  Bucky had taken advantage of the time and commandeered Sam and Stark for another round of desensitisation. It was working, and Bucky found he could tolerate the room they’d set up.  Stark had added several medical tools today for a new challenge.  It had taken time, but Bucky worked through his own defenses.

He took two steps inside his apartment and halted.  He stilled, paying attention to his senses.  A familiar scent wafted his way.  “Natasha.”  

She rose from a chair on the far side of the flat, waiting for him to come to her.  “Very good. Thank you for not making me break in. I don’t like to abuse my friends’ trust that way.”

He’d arranged for her to have access when they’d first moved in. “It wouldn’t keep you out.  Though I am surprised Friday or Jason didn’t let me know you were here.”  He kissed her on both cheeks, and then on her forehead.

“I asked them not to.  Apparently, I’m not a threat,” she said drily.

He chuckled, relaxing into the chair opposite the one she’d occupied. “What brings you to my doorstep, milaya?”

Nat dropped back into her chair, curling up in it.  “I wanted to know what was important enough that Banner would drop everything and come home. So I hacked his computer.”  She narrowed her eyes at Bucky.  “Darcy has the serum.”  

“Yes.”  Rather than make her ask, Bucky spelled out how he’d accidentally transmitted the serum to Darcy, and then how Steve had compounded the effects.  “Banner’s traced most of her version of the serum to me, but seven or eight percent came from Steve.  Apparently, I had enough of his proteins still in my blood that the serum activated that way too.”

Natasha slowly nodded.  “I knew they had given me your blood. All of us had your blood.” She stilled, though Bucky could see the way she suppressed a shiver.  “But I was the only one who had acquired the serum. You were gone by the time I figured out I had it.  I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell any of them.”

“S.H.I.E.L.D. knew?”

“Fury guessed.  I don’t exactly look my age. When I came in, that was part of our agreement--to keep it out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s records.” Nat stared at her knees. “There was a medical tech picked by Fury who got pretty good at patching me up. She made a lot of educated guesses, and Fury kept the relevant medical records offline.”

“Is the tech still around?” Bucky asked hopefully.

“No.  She went down with the Triskelion. I liked her, so I checked. But I did get my file from Fury’s office. I gave parts of it to Sam last year to see if it could help you.  I gave the medical records to Banner this morning. Maybe it will help Darcy.”  

“Thank you.” Bucky hung his head. “I’m sorry, you know I never meant--.”

“I’m not,” Natasha interrupted as she rose to her feet. “If the serum had worked like they wanted, there would be a dozen others like me.” She set her fingers on his shoulder. “I don’t have any use for sentiment. But … it helped to think it was from you. It’s good to know I was right.”

Bucky came out of his chair to hug her close. He pressed another kiss into her hair. “Then you’re welcome.” He didn’t hold her long, but Natasha settled her hands on his back for a moment before pulling away.

“Tell Darcy that it’s okay for her to ask,” she said.

“You don’t have to do that,” he admonished lightly.

With a whimsical smile and half-shrug that was reminiscent of the girl he’d known decades ago, Natasha countered, “My ledger’s not quite clear.” She slipped out of the room without another word.

 

*****

 

For the fifth or sixth time that day, Darcy had to consciously unclench her fingers--even though she knew Steve had zero issues with the way she clutched at his hand under the table. And Steve sucked at pretending he didn’t notice. 

After breakfast, they’d walked all over Midtown, stopping by Steve and Bucky’s favorite art shop and checking out the new bookstore three doors down from it.  The conversation had been easy. Steve kept her in stitches with his dry humor, and she flirted. For a couple of hours, she’d managed to forget about--well, everything.  

Now they had holed up in their favorite coffee shop. Darcy had a loaded latte, half a sandwich, and Steve had purchased a couple of the giant cookies. He nudged one in her direction. She picked at it, not really wanting to eat anything else. 

He studied her for a second, got up, and returned with a package of trail mix. “Put it in your pocket for later.  It’s probably better than all the sugar in the cookie anyway.”

Steven’s sweet understanding shattered her self-control, and she bolted for the restroom. It was probably a good thing it was the kind with only one stall, because her husband picked the lock less than a minute later to lean against the wall, hands on hips while she paced in circles. (She.would.not.fucking.cry.)

“You’ve never reacted this badly to my leaving for a mission. I know you’re scared, but we’ve had runs like this before,” he offered.

“That was when you had S.H.I.E.L.D. to back you up,” she snapped. “Now, it’s just the team and Coulson’s crew, if he’s handy.”

“So it’s got nothing to do with your health, the medical tests, and Bucky’s reactions to all of that. Or Vision, or the fact you’re still pissed at your dad for the whole Ultron program.”

“Don’t,” she warned, throwing her hands up to ward off all those worries slamming into her again. But it was too late. Steve had pulled them to the surface, and Darcy drowned in all of it. “I can’t--I can’t--” she got out, breathing harshly. “It’s too much.  You--I need you.”

Instantly, Steve was there, pressing his body to hers. “You’ve always got me.”

He smelled like oceans, and her fingers twisted into his shirt as she caught her breath, forcing herself to calm the fuck down.

“We can do this, doll,” he murmured. “I’m yours. Always yours. Always gonna come home. I promised you.”  Steve rubbed his hand from her hip to spine and back again, soothing her with his warm caresses.  One hand landed on the back of her neck, anchoring her to him. “Text me, talk to me, send me a damned email, doll. We’ll do this. We’ll make it work.”  

Holy shitballs, he was good at this. Darcy’s brain just sort of … settled. Whether it was pheromones, touch, the words, or the absolute calm and confidence Steve exuded, it didn’t matter.  It was this that made him Captain America, though she would never say that to him. 

She tipped her head back to look at him. The hand on the back of her neck curled into her hair, one thumb drifting through the strands.  “Pretty sure I’m done with my freak out,” she told him.

Earnest blue eyes studied her as those gorgeous pink lips turned up.  “You’re entitled to another two minutes, at least,” Steve replied. Then he echoed her words, “Pretty sure your dad accounts for a full five minutes all by himself.”

Damn but he could get her to laugh every stupid time. She chuckled weakly, and Steve’s hands came up to frame her face for a soft kiss. He rubbed his lips against hers, sucking lightly at her bottom lip before tugging her in for another hug.

“I love you,” she whispered into his shoulder.

“Good. ‘Cause I love you back and it would suck if you didn’t.”

Darcy giggled.  “Captain America said ‘suck’.” She eased out of his embrace, hanging onto his hand.

Steve pushed open the bathroom door.  “Your bad habits are rubbing off on me,” he retorted.

“Not me. Thought all those came from James.”  

“Pretend all you want, doll,” he drawled.  When the manager of the coffee shop saw the pair of them exiting the bathroom, the man’s eyes widened.  Steve huffed.  “See? Now that guy thinks Cap had sex in the bathroom. You’re a terrible influence,” he told Darcy.

She gathered her nuts and the cookie off the table, while Steve picked up the bag of books and art supplies they’d left behind.  She winked. “I know for a fact you had bathroom sex long before I was born.”  

He grinned and followed her out the door. “Yes, but he didn’t know that.”

On the way home, Darcy told Steve about wanting to go public with her identity.  He settled an arm on her shoulders as they walked.  “If this is your call, you know I’ll back you up.” He squinted, thinking.  “Can you give me three weeks?  I think I can get clear so the team can be back in New York. I won’t have long, maybe a day or two at most,” he warned, “but we’ll make it happen.”

“I can work with that.” 

Darcy clutched his hand all the way home, only realizing how tightly she’d been holding on when her fingers went numb.

 

*****

 

Hot water rained down from the shower head. Two hands, one metal, one flesh, clamped down on Steve’s biceps, holding him in place as Bucky kissed the back of his neck, his cock buried into Steve’s ass. Small fingers dug into Steve’s thighs as Darcy sucked him down, her tongue warming the underside of his dick. 

He wanted to touch but had to brace himself against the wall to keep from tumbling over Darcy from the way Bucky worked him over. He groaned at the dual onslaught to his senses. Bucky’s fingers tightened to hold him in place. Steve would have bruises from that. Maybe if he was lucky, the one on his left shoulder would last until morning as a promise. As it was, his ass ached some from Bucky's determination to possess him--though at the moment, the burn had been forgotten in favor of the agonizingly slow pace Buck had set.

In. Hold. Out. Hold. In. All while Darcy licked and sucked. She caressed the base of his cock with one hand and teased his slit with her tongue before engulfing him in her mouth once more.

Out. In. Out. Steve began to shake with the need to come.

In. Darcy’s tongue danced along his frenulum. Delicate nails scraped his balls.

Out. He lost his breath, jerking backward to chase Bucky and losing Darcy in the process. She laughed, ratcheting up the intensity to the next level.

“Hands on the wall, punk.”

He braced himself while Darcy sucked him down. Bucky exploded within him, filling him, making stuttering motions that pressed right up on Steve’s prostate. His world went dark with need and blinding pleasure as he shouted.

Darcy’s laughter and Bucky’s husky chuckle brought him around again as somebody turned off the water. He opened his eyes in time to see them fist bump. He was on Bucky’s lap and they were on the shower bench--where they’d either collapsed or Bucky had pulled him down to keep them from falling over.  “I’m right here,” he complained.

“Yeah, and we both owe our girl one for that,” Bucky insisted as he reached around Steve to give Darcy a hand up on off the floor.

Steve’s mouth watered at the idea of getting his mouth on Darcy.  He scooped her up to carry her to the bedroom, ignoring the water dripping from both of them. His brain was still a little fuzzy.

“Towel, Steve, towel!” Darcy insisted. “We’re soaked!”  Her wiggling did absolutely nothing to help his thinking.

From behind him, Bucky snarked, “Pavlov’s dog had nothing on the punk when it comes to tasting our girl.”  He actually caught Steve around the waist again, holding him back long enough to hand Darcy a towel.

Steve blinked in confusion.

Bucky howled with laughter. “Christ, love, haven’t seen you this balled up since I first laid one on you.” 

Darcy made grabby hands at Bucky, but Steve just cuddled her a little closer. He licked his lips, thinking about getting his mouth on his wife.

With a shrug, Bucky dried himself off and climbed on the bed to sit against the headboard. “Come on, punk. Set her down.”

He did, loving the way Darcy pressed her mouth to his as he lowered her to the bed. “Cat got your tongue, Steven?” she teased.

He swept a hand from her throat to her hip, then nudged her backward so that Bucky could hold her. Steve sat back on his heels, feeling the rush of affection and sheer need as he took in his loves. “You’re both perfect. Beautiful,” he blurted. “Darce, let Buck hold you for me. I want to see you together.”

Darcy’s lips widened into a sexy smile as she reached over her head to lace her fingers around Bucky’s neck.  Bucky’s hands came up to cup her breasts, and Darcy arched upward into them. With a wicked smile, Bucky nudged one leg between Darcy’s. She got the hint, settling her feet on the outside of his knees and leaving herself open to Steve.  

He touched, sliding his forefinger through her folds and finding her still damp.  Her musky scent intoxicated him as he leaned in to lick along the same path. She made a happy sigh and closed her eyes as Bucky rubbed a finger over her nipple.  

Steve couldn’t tear his eyes away from them as he got down to business. He licked a circle around her clit, enjoying the way she twitched as he did, and took care to lave her folds until he tasted the juices that came as her arousal climbed. Bucky followed his lead, keeping his movements just as light and delicate. 

“Come on, guys, I know you can do more than that,” she goaded.

But Steve was patient, flicking his tongue around her clit until she squirmed. “Steve--”

He poked his tongue into her hot passage, making her jerk upward--though Bucky had a firm grip and didn’t let her move much.  With two fingers replacing his tongue, he went back to sucking on her clit until his hand and mouth were soaked, and Darcy was chanting his name under her breath.  He could stop now, having taken her right up to the edge, but that wasn’t what he wanted to do.  He kept up the steady pace until she arched her back, yelling as she came. 

He licked her right through it, trusting Bucky to keep her steady.

“Oh fuck, Steve--” was all she got out. Steve exchanged grins with Bucky, all the while sliding his fingers into Darcy again and again.  He nuzzled her clit with his nose, breathing her in as he slid his fingers out, then turned his hand over and pressed one wet finger against her hole.  He went back to licking her clit as he slid a thumb into her vagina too. 

She gasped and her eyes popped open, but he didn’t stop, and Darcy flooded his hand again with her next orgasm. Steve backed off, though he kept his fingers moving.

Darcy groaned. “One more, Steven, and then I’m out.”

He got close enough to let his breath caress her mons. “Oh, I think we can do better than that.”  

Bucky’s snicker goaded Steve on. “Doll, you should know better than that.” 

Darcy just giggled. “I’m counting on it.”

Bucky kissed his way along Darcy’s neck, leaving a faint red patch on her shoulder. Steve’s own cock begin to fill again.  Curious, he reached under Darcy to find Bucky already half-hard. 

Bucky pulled his hand away from Darcy’s breast long enough to adjust himself so his dick popped up between Darcy’s legs.

Eyeballing the new development, Steve decided, “I can work with that.” Bucky snorted, though he kept his attention on their girl.

Steve found a stray condom package on the bed, ripped it open with his teeth, and rolled it in place before Darcy could get nervous about the contact.  Steve licked his hand and slid wet fingers along Bucky’s length, loving the groan that his husband let out.  

“Fuck, punk.”

Steve rubbed his cheek against Bucky’s cock, nudging it aside so that he had room to taste Darcy some more.  The smell of both of them, together, tripped something primal in Steve, and he dove in with abandon, tasting, licking, nipping the both of them. 

He sent Darcy over the edge again and again, as Bucky’s dick jerked in response.  Steve just had to wrap a hand around the base of it, stroking as he teased Darcy with the tip of his tongue.

Maybe it was the way Bucky pinned Darcy’s body open with his thighs and arms, maybe it was the way her body flexed and rubbed against his, but with Darcy’s full-body contraction from a hard orgasm, Bucky spilled over too, and Steve smiled at their dual shouts.

He lowered his mouth to lip Darcy’s clit again, prompting her to cry out, “I can’t--Steve--charcoal--”

That was their safe word.

Even Steve was startled by how fast Bucky moved, rolling so that Darcy could curl up on her side and bracketing her body with his.  He kissed the back of her neck, praising, “That’s m’ girl.  Don’t want to hurt you, Princess.”  

There was no mistaking that Darcy was still shaking from the intensity of her powerful climax, and Bucky mouthed kisses and murmured soft words against her shoulder as he held her.  

It wasn’t long before she wiggled out of Bucky’s embrace, coming up with a smile and a kiss for Steve.  “I’m good.  Just, wow.  Dibs on doing that when you get back.” To Steve’s surprise, Darcy rolled over onto her stomach, shooting him an encouraging look over her shoulder.  “Find a condom, gorgeous. We’re not done yet.”

The honest smile that broke out on Bucky’s face was worth any price, as he realized they hadn’t broken their girl.  

Damn, but how he loved her. “Look like a pin-up there. Want to draw you like that,” he murmured.  Bucky stretched out beside her, sated now, and content to run his fingers through her hair as he kept his blue eyes on Steve.  

Steve rolled the condom in place and knelt over Darcy.   “You sure?”

“Yup.”  She kept her legs together when he pressed his cock to her velvet heat, pressing, letting her body take him in at her pace.  She let out a low groan, turning her head to Bucky.  She set her hand in his, clutching down as Steve made his first slow stroke.  He couldn’t go in too deep this way, but Darcy liked this angle.  

Bucky kissed her fingertips, and the shiver that ran through Darcy zipped right through Steve.  He didn’t take long, knowing how sensitive his girl was, and hell--he could still taste her in his mouth.  

“Now, Steve,” she insisted.

That was all he needed.  Two quick strokes and at the first ripple of his release, Darcy’s vaginal walls clamped down on his cock, holding tight as her body coaxed him into giving up every last drop.

He wanted to stay buried right there, with Darcy’s soft skin pressed against his chest, and his thighs nudged up to her hips.  It was perfect.  

Fucking condoms.

All three of them ended up in the bathroom to clean up.  Darcy was nervous enough about getting pregnant that Steve and Bucky had agreed to take whatever protective measures made her feel better.  If that meant a quick shower after sex, then that’s what they did.  And if it gave them another excuse to touch, it was all for the better.

The three of them soaked up the last hours of the evening ignoring a baseball game on the TV.  Steve brushed Darcy’s damp hair while Bucky made dinner.

She had her tablet out, looking through ideas for finishing the Stark Mansion renovations.  Bucky gave Steve a hard look, wordlessly telling him to shut up about his safety concerns and to play along.  

Trusting that Buck knew something he didn’t, he kept right on brushing Darcy’s hair as the three of them debated what they wanted in their new home.  

“You know, I’ve only ever lived in apartments.  Little ones,” Steve commented. “Except for this one now.”  

Darcy wiggled in his lap, and he dropped a hand to her waist so she wouldn’t tumble off.  “That’s why Dad likes having people at the tower,” she said, not looking up from her tablet.  “When you have a big place, you can invite people to stay.  All your friends know they have a place to crash in New York.  We’ll have a staff for the house so we can handle guests. Kind of like a hotel.  And with the Avengers facility opening up, not everyone will keep their apartment in the Tower, so we’ll want to make sure everyone feels at home.”

It was times like this that Steve really got the difference in the way they grew up.  Bucky’s parents had offered Steve a place to stay after his mom had died, but both boys--at eighteen and nineteen--had known the offer was only temporary. They’d been expected to make their own way.  As it was, Bucky had been paying rent to his parents for months, and Steve offered up his own share until they got their own place.

“Is it strange to admit that sometimes I miss that crappy flat we shared, Buck?” he reminisced.  “You could put ten of them in here.  Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, laundry drying everywhere. But it was ours.”  Steve went back to brushing Darcy’s hair.  “I know you felt that way about your carriage house, doll.”  

“Did you?” Bucky remarked to Darcy, as he set bowls on the table.  He’d made tacos--with as many as they could put away, it was easier to put the ingredients on the table and let everyone assemble their own.  “I didn’t realize that was your first place,” he finished.  

Darcy moved to her own chair and sorted out the plates and napkins Bucky had put on one side.  “I lived in dorms--sort of like your little apartment but without the kitchen--while I was MIT.  At Culver, I surfed apartments with whoever had an extra room or couch that term.”  She reached for the taco shells and fell silent.

Steve  knew Darcy was at Culver when her dad was kidnapped, but from the faint frown on Bucky’s face, it was clear that he didn’t.  

“It seems to me,”Steve said idly, “that this will be a good chance for you find out a little more about each other.  It’s not really fair that I’ve had all this time to get to know each of you.  The three of us work just fine--let’s be clear about that--but you two kind of skipped that part.”  

“We were busy,” Darcy quipped.  “And it’s not like you haven’t been on missions before.  We’ll be fine.”

Bucky sat down with them, carrying the bowl of cheese.  “I’m always up for spending time with my girl,” he said quietly.  “Now, you mentioned a garage on this house of yours?  I was thinkin’ about getting a car.”

There was no mistaking the glow in Darcy while she extolled the virtues of the mansion.  As Bucky’s natural charm surfaced, Darcy responded like a sunflower to the morning light.  Steve ate his tacos, content to watch his loves as the tension of the last month faded away.

It was a perfect kind of evening.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve’s cell phone jingled, both waking him and announcing it was time to leave. He was tucked neatly between his spouses, Bucky curled into one side, and Darcy sprawled out on the other.

He didn’t want to go.

He would, though. That was the price of the body he’d been given.

Darcy rolled over after silencing the alarm. Her dark hair trailed over a bare shoulder as she pressed a kiss to his lips. Steve licked them afterward, chasing the last bit of her flavor. He cupped her face, well aware of the cheekbones that stood out a little too prominently--just like the bump of her hip that jutting into his hand. The serum wasn’t quite the gift to Darcy that it was to Steve. He held her close, wishing he could stay.

From behind, Bucky slid a hand under Steve’s bicep and warm lips hovered over the back of his neck. “Time to go?” There was an uncertainty in that husky voice, a wariness that had returned in the wake of JARVIS’ evolution to Vision. Steve rolled to his back, pulling Bucky down for a long kiss too, memorizing the stubble scraping his chin.

Steve needed to be here, but he had to trust that his loves could manage without him.

They followed him out of bed, giving him quiet support as he made his final preparations. He would be gone a while and his duffle bag reflected that, even as he pulled on his uniform.

Darcy warmed breakfast sandwiches, and Bucky had the coffee made by the time Steve dropped his bag and shield by the front door.

This would be his longest mission since meeting Darcy. Vision had been able to retrieve the data Baron von Strucker had deep-sixed, uncovering several more HYDRA bases in the process. Steve had planned a series of fast, hard attacks on the bases, with few breaks to stop and regroup. Coulson would keep an eye out for any game they flushed out of the bushes, but the Avengers were taking point to shut the enemy down. Vision would take Stark’s place on the team, and Banner needed to not be involved until public sentiment against him died down again.

In the kitchen, Darcy pressed against him, thoroughly distracting him from his thoughts. “Text me when you can, okay?”

“I will,” he promised. “You do the same. You know I like opening my phone and getting a running commentary from you. I’ll check in every few days, that I can promise.”

Bucky sipped his coffee. His eyes had faded to the palest of blues. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“How can I? I’m leaving all the stupid with you.” Steve countered with a smile. The words had taken on new meaning over the years. A sign and countersign. A promise that they would always come home. “Take care of our girl.”

“Roger that, Captain Rogers,” Bucky retorted.

“Shut up, Sergeant.” Steve held Darcy with one arm and reeled Bucky in with the other. He kissed them both, thoroughly, memorizing touch for the long nights ahead.

He let them go, picking up his duffle bag and shield on the way out.

 

*****

 

Bucky watched Darcy as he sipped his coffee. She cleaned up the kitchen and straightened up the living room from the night before. There was no mistaking the nervous energy spilling over, and it wasn’t long before she dressed in jeans, boots, and a t-shirt, then headed out with a quick peck on Bucky’s cheek.

As he contemplated the empty room, he realized that for the first time since he’d met Darcy--more than a year ago--he felt terribly alone.

Yesterday had been wonderful. Today, he debated if she’d been pretending the whole time.

He spent the morning putting his senior guards on the mats.

 

*****

 

Darcy found her mom doing her usual half hour on her exercise bike before breakfast.

Pepper didn’t mince words. “What’s going on?”

Taking a deep breath, Darcy said, “I think it’s time I quit hiding.”

Shrewdly, Pepper eyed her daughter, not breaking stride. “Is this a distraction for Steve being gone?”

“Nope. I’ve got something else for that.”

“All right.” Her mother nodded with the sure confidence of the CEO of Stark Industries. “Send me your plans this morning and I’ll take a look. Friday?” she called out. “What’s my schedule look like today?”

“You have a half-hour available today at three-thirty.”

“Am I still having lunch with Tony?”

“Yes, ma’am. He is en route from Malibu.”

Pepper wiped her face on the towel as she slowed her pedaling to give Darcy a calm smile. “Have lunch with us,  bring James, and we’ll hash it out. We’ll set up something with the PR team when we have a timeline.”

“No arguments?” Darcy had been half-expecting to give an impromptu presentation of pros and cons.

“No. I expect you’ve already done the dirty work. If you say it’s time to make it happen, then it is.”

The vote of confidence shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Darcy hadn’t expected it and flushed with relief.  “Thanks, Mom.” She leaned in to kiss her mother’s cheek.



As Darcy took the back stairs into her lab, she couldn’t decide if she was scared or happy. Both, probably.  She rubbed the back of her head, hoping the headache would go away soon.  (Not enough sleep/too much thinking.) “Jason, will you see if James is free for lunch and let him know Mom and Dad will be there?”

“Of course, Ms. Stark.” Jason paused for only a moment. “He has indicated he is available at your convenience.”

“Perfect. Let him know where Mom wants to meet and remind me so that I have enough time to clean up before then. We’ve got dirty work to do.”

“Acknowledged. Might I ask what is on your agenda today?”

“First, give me the status of server clean up?”

Darcy and Tony had brought all of JARVIS’ defunct servers to the Tower. They’d hooked them up and put Jason in charge of running ‘bots to clean up the pieces of Ultron scattered through JARVIS’ old code. Friday was responsible for looking over the cleaned up programming, and either Tony or Darcy would make final approvals to have the code merged with either Tony or Darcy’s servers for Jason, Friday, or both. 

With Vision’s help, Tony had tracked down the errant coding that allowed Ultron to come into being and deep-sixed the whole thing. Neither Darcy’s father nor her brother would allow her to see it, knowing fully well that with one glance she’d be able to recreate it. Vision had made it clear that he’d set protocols in place to prevent such a thing from happening again, and that was one of them.

“Sixty-two percent of the reintegration has been completed. Estimated completion is in four days, pending approvals.”

“Perfect. We’re going to need it all.”

Darcy stood in the center of her lab. Last night, while sandwiched between two of the most gorgeous guys in existence and unwilling to sleep away her last moments in Steve’s arms, she’d occupied herself with doing a thorough review of her current projects and the fallout of JARVIS becoming Vision.

For years, she and JARVIS had worked this way. She could visualize her workspace and, via the contact under the skin behind her ear, subvocalize whole discussions with JARVIS, all from the comfort of her bed.

Last night was the first time she’d done it since acquiring the serum. It was easier than she remembered, and by the time Steve’s alarm sounded this morning, she’d laid the groundwork for the summer.

It was time to clear the deck start on something big. She pulled out her cell phone to call one of her two personal assistants.

Sean Washington answered. “Good morning, Ms. Lewis. Before you ask, I’m in the office, I’ve got my coffee, and I’m ready to roll.  Go.”

“Perfect. I’m seriously jazzed this morning. Make a note that James and I are having lunch with the ‘rents.”

“Noted.” Sean’s voice was impossibly cheerful and always made Darcy feel better about the crapload of, well, crap, that she dumped on him most every day. He had job security, in any case.  “Gimme the list,” he prompted.

“I need the moving team in my lab. I’m ready to shift the robotics project down to R&D. They can take it from here. Same thing with the graphene project.” Darcy could hear keys clicking as Sean made notes.

“The moving team says they can be there in a half-hour. Cara Webb’s team is arriving on site, and she’s pretty much bouncing off the walls judging by the squeeing I just received on my messaging. Do you want the graphene to go to Haoa Palakiko?”

“Yup. He’s earned it, and it’s totally why I brought him in. Make sure his new interns have been vetted by Director Barnes.”  

“Of course. What else?”

“Operation Hello World is launching. I’ll have more information for you later today. Tell Carla, but you guys keep it to yourself.  Send me any updates you and Carla have for me on that before I have lunch with Pepper to start hashing it out.”

“Yes, ma’am.” There was no missing the excitement in Sean’s voice, and Darcy grinned even though he couldn’t see it. “So, you’re clearing the lab to focus on that?”

“Partially. But I’ve got a new idea I need to kick around. I’ll need you to sign for a bunch of shipments this afternoon. Jason will send you the list so you’ll know what’s authorized for my lab. Got anything else for me?”

“Carla has the analysis on the apartment building Barton owns from the management company.  He signed off on it yesterday, but asked if you would look it over and maybe drop by in a couple of days to check on the progress.”

“I can do that. Remind me this afternoon to get with Wanda and Pietro to see when they are free. That’s a priority, by the way.”

“Will do. Anything else?”

“Figure I’ll be in the lab all week, so sing out if anybody is looking for the VP of R&D.”

“Carla’s got that covered. Tax season is over, so she’s getting a kick out of reading lab reports.”

“Glad somebody is having fun. Okay, I’m out. Find me if you need me.” Darcy disconnected and set the phone on her workbench. Jason would monitor it for calls and messages.

“Okay, Jason, let’s clear this stuff out. We’ve got work to do. Give me some beats.”

“Vision left a new playlist for you. Shall I load it up?”

Darcy’s heart melted at her brother’s gesture. “Lay it on me, Jay.”

The song was fast, hard, and the lead singer had cool-as-shit vocals about fast boys, fast cars, and girls with attitudes. Just Darcy’s style. She bebopped around the lab, pulling cables and cords, and then winding them up for moving.

Stark Industries had a vetted team responsible for hauling furniture, equipment, or large packages all over the Tower. In a building this size, there was usually something for them to do, though they were allowed to use any down time in the employee fitness center. An off-duty firefighter had joined the team about eight years ago and found it a perfect fit.  Since then, the word had quietly gone out to the other stations. Now, most of the team was made up of firefighters wanting extra cash. The shifts were short, flexible, came with full benefits, and there was a waiting list twenty deep for the next slot available.

By the time they arrived, Darcy had most of the hardware packed up and ready to move. There were admiring glances at her new lab, compliments on the music, and then Darcy signed off on the tablet when the tanks and little lake-cleaning robots were loaded up.

Her minions, the clutter of robots who functioned as her lab helpers and cleaning crew, waved sadly at the boxes, making the moving team laugh as they wheeled the loaded carts into the elevator. After that, the minions scattered, vacuuming and mopping the lab to get every last speck of debris cleared out. Darcy calculated they would need a  couple of hours to get it up to her standards. “All right, Jason, bring up, well, everything.”

The long list of experiments and projects she’d left unfinished over the past couple of months popped up on individual holographic screens all over the room. She walked through them, assigning them where she wanted. “These three go to Webb.” She flicked them to the side and they disappeared (they would appear on Cara’s workstation, five floors down).  “These five go to Palakiko (Seventy-seventh floor), send those two to Carla, and that one to Sean,” she indicated as she walked. Darcy sent six others to various R&D teams with notes to look into her ideas to see if anything was viable, and a few random scribbles that Jane had left lying around a while back.

Darcy pushed the holograms with the data from the Chitauri weapons analysis and on Bucky’s arm to one side.  “Keep those on my workstation.” Those screens folded in half and disappeared, only to pop up on her laptop as icons.  That left Darcy’s lab clear. “Excellent.” She tapped her fingers together like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons, giggling at her own joke.

She raised an eyebrow at the minions. They squeaked and scrubbed a little faster, making Darcy laugh outright.  “Yeah, yeah, I’m changing all of your names to Cinderella. And then Prince Thor will hijack all of you, take you back to Asgard, and set you free.”

“I have completed the data transfers, Ms. Stark. What sort of project do you have in mind?” Jason asked.

“I want everything related to the Hydra incident from the spring.  We’re going to to set up the same scenario with the sensors and an electrical grid in the lab. I want to see if you and I can reproduce it.”

“Very good, Ms. Stark. I take it you will need to components on the list you started last night?”

“Let’s make a holographic model first and make sure I didn’t leave anything out. I want you to recreate the food court downstairs and make it small enough to fit in my lab. Highlight anything that runs on electricity.”

A four-foot tall model of the SI food court appeared in the center of the room, with glowing yellow marks and lines.  Darcy smiled in satisfaction and began to work.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bucky figured he was being generous, giving Darcy more than a couple of days to lose herself in her work. Not that he expected her to dance attendance on him, but if he had to count, they’d had maybe five whole waking hours together since Steve left. Most of that involved Bucky bringing her lunch or dinner and camping out on the couch in her lab while she built some kind of cage with every kind of sensor device available. He’d offered to help, but she relegated him to holding things while she wired them in.

She wasn’t particularly avoiding him, that much he knew. But between the upcoming announcement and her current project, Darcy had all but disappeared into her work. She’d wait until she was bleary-eyed from exhaustion before crawling under the covers with him at night.

He’d laid in bed this morning after she’d done her vanishing act, irritated that she was shutting him out yet again. In spite of Steve’s firmly held beliefs, Bucky wasn’t a fan of nagging. But he wasn’t going to let his girl or his guy walk off the cliffs either.

He would, if pressed, admit to using work as his own distraction. He’d had a good day with his security guards, working with the newer ones on how to do quick, non-lethal takedowns. Only the senior Sierra, Tango, and Kilo teams were armed, and only with Stark’s version of an ICER. The rest of the Stark Industries security guards had to have excellent negotiating tactics and hand-to-hand skills.

However, at half-past three in the afternoon, Bucky figured it was time to roust his girl from the lab. She’d promised to have dinner with him, and they needed to look in on Clint’s new charges beforehand.

Mustering up patience, he tucked his fingertips into the pockets of his jeans and sauntered into the lab. He found Darcy sitting on the floor, sucking a sore thumb between annoyed curses, as she poked at the grid of IR sensors she’d installed.

“What ‘cha doin’, Princess?”

“Besides stabbing myself with electrical wire?” She held up her hand in annoyance. Bucky detoured for an adhesive bandage, plucked one out of the appropriate tool box, and wrapped her index finger when she held it aloft. He pressed a kiss to the tip as Darcy leaned back in confusion. “Oh shit, I did it again,” she grumbled to herself. “What time is it?”

Bucky squatted down in front of her, noting the shadows under her eyes. “Almost four. How much you got left?”

Darcy nodded at the box of infrared sensors on the floor beside the inevitable protein shake. “Just these, but they can wait,” she sighed. “The twins are more important than this.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Nothing. I need my jacket and purse from home. And uh, Sam and Maria want to go with us. I guess she met them while Pietro was getting patched up in Sokovia. It will be easier for her to make introductions.”

Bucky shrugged. “Works for me. But I’m still taking you to dinner.”

“Just us?”

He shook his head. Nope, he wasn’t anywhere near ready for that. If Sam and Maria didn’t come, he’d have a squad of Tangos following along. “They can come if they want.”

The relief in her expression was unmistakeable, and he wondered if she was fretting about something else. But she didn’t say anything as she found her purse in the apartment. Bucky helped her with her jacket, wondering what in hell was going on with his girl. His wife.

Darcy took his elbow, as she always did, but he could feel her skittering pulse through the metal.

“Nervous?” he finally asked.

“Some. I don’t want to scare them off. Steve said Wanda has some serious powers.” Darcy grimaced. “I don’t like the idea of her walking through my head. I’ve got enough trouble sleeping at night,” she added unhappily.

That made sense. Too much sense. Hill had updated the original dossiers she’d passed on to Barnes, and it had taken a while for him to figure out how to defend himself--and Darcy--if push came to shove. It took a hard conversation with Wilson, with lots of starts and stops, to work it out. But he had a plan now, it was ugly, and the kids wouldn’t be the only ones affected if he had to execute it.

“It’ll be alright, Princess. I’ve got your back,” he assured her.

Darcy clutched his elbow, and by the time they met Sam and Maria at the car, she’d pasted a smile on her face that might have fooled him, if it wasn’t for the jumpy heartbeat under his fingers.

 

 

Since Maria drove, Sam took shotgun while Darcy and Bucky got the backseat. To Bucky’s intense relief, Darcy scooted close enough to rest her head on his shoulder. He held her hand on the drive, and Sam grinned at both of them when he twisted around so he could talk.

“You guys are ridiculously cute.”

“Shut up,” Darcy admonished.

“No, really. It’s like a couple of cats curled up together,” he teased.

Maria flashed them a smile in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, they kind of are,” she agreed. “What are we doing anyway?”

Wrinkling her nose at Sam, Darcy answered, “Checking on the building to make sure the repairs are being made, introducing ourselves to the twins and seeing if they need anything. They’re expecting us. If Pietro’s up for it, we can go out for pizza or burgers, but I’m not really counting on that.”

“Don’t. The only reason he’s home is because his sister is with him,” Maria commented. “He’s on bedrest for another week, at least. And that’s if Wanda can sit on him that long.”

“What’s the plan for them?” Darcy asked.

“That’s up to them. So far, they want to be part of the team. Debriefing them wasn’t fun, and Romanoff gave them the real story on Hydra. They’re disillusioned, to say the least.”

Sam interjected, “It’s a wonder they want to be part of any team at all.”

“It’s more about Rogers, Barton, and Fury,” Maria noted. To Darcy, she asked, “Are you going to tell them your real name?”

“Considering how badly they reacted to Dad’s invitation to stay in the Tower? Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Bucky agreed, squeezing Darcy in a hug to let her know. She gave him a grateful smile as a thank you.

Maria drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “I think it would be a good idea to introduce yourself as Captain Rogers’ wife, Darcy. It’ll ease the pain later when they figure out you’re Stark’s daughter.”

Darcy frowned at that, and Bucky pressed a kiss on her head instinctively. “How much do they know about the three of us?” she asked.

“I don’t think anyone’s said anything at all,” Maria told her. “Unless Clint volunteered the information.”

“You know he wouldn’t do that,” Darcy declared.

Not interested in fielding personal questions from a couple of teen-agers, Bucky said quietly, “So, you’re Steve’s wife. Leave it at that.” He pulled the wedding ring off his hand and worked it onto the chain with Steve’s dog tags that he wore around his neck, tucking the whole thing back under his shirt.

Darcy looked away, but not before he saw her grimace. “I don’t want to do that.”

Maria spoke up, “I agree with Barnes. Darcy, you don’t have to lie about your relationship, just don’t volunteer it.”

Bucky kissed her hand. “Can’t change the truth any more than being illegal changed the way I felt about Steven,” he said in a voice low enough for only Darcy to hear. He touched his wrist so that the golden Asgardian marriage bracelet appeared.

With a brush of her fingers to her own wrist, Darcy made hers light up too.

“That’s just cool as shit, man,” Sam noted. “Don’t know how to explain it, but every time you guys spark those things up, I believe that Asgard and your marriage is as real as it gets. Maybe even more real than whatever we do on this rock.”

Maria pulled up to a stop light and turned around to see. “Huh. Magic?”

Bucky was relieved to see Darcy brighten. “‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Arthur C. Clark.” She pursed her lips as she winked at Bucky. “You should probably read that one too.”

“Have you?” he wondered.

“Yes, of course.”

“You really are a nerd, aren’t you,” Maria commented.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “My brother is an artificially-created, computer-enhanced, sentient being who wears one of the core powers of the universe for jewelry. I don’t know, what do you think?”

Sam cracked up. “Well, when you put it like that …”

“Jealous, doll?” Bucky asked.

“You have no idea.”

He snapped his mouth shut at the intensity of Darcy’s reply. Sam heard it, too, and raised a concerned eyebrow.

 

 

By the time they arrived at the somewhat run-down apartment building on the outskirts of Bed-Stuy, Bucky could feel the Asset at the edge of his psyche. He kept it at bay by checking in with the Sierra team he’d sent out that morning to sweep the building. The texted “All-Clear” and the accompanying confirmation code helped him stay grounded, though he nudged Sam to give him the signal that he was having trouble verbalizing again.

He had no idea if the Twins had been told about the Winter Soldier, and if they had, would they even recognize him. He hoped not.

There were construction crews all over the building. Some worked on a new roof, judging by the smell of tar wafting down. Others hauled out water-damaged boards and carried in fresh trim, while a paint crew set up a staging area just outside the front steps.

Darcy wandered around the place with her tablet and checklist, making notes as she murmured instructions to Jason. An older tenant parked his chair in his apartment doorway to watch the comings and goings. Darcy stopped to chat with him. He complained about the noise, the mess, and the new kids on the top floor, but agreed it would be nice to have a window that actually closed in the winter and hoped the super would turn on the heat before it snowed.

The last made Bucky snort. He and Steve had made the same damned complaints to their landlord. Some things just don’t change.

When Darcy finished her inspection, she knocked on the Maximoff twins’ apartment door on the top floor. “Wanda? Pietro? My name is Darcy. I’m Steve’s wife,” she called out.

The door cracked open, and a young woman with dark, reddish-brown hair warily looked out. “I don’t remember Steve mentioning a wife, but Clint says you are a friend.” She opened the door a few more inches. She nodded at Maria. “You came to the hospital. ”

Maria held out her hand, “I did. Maria Hill, in case you don’t remember.” She thumbed over her shoulder. “My boyfriend, Sam Wilson. He flies.”

Darcy wiggled her fingers toward Bucky. “Bucky Barnes. We’re all friends of Clint and Steve. Clint asked me to look over the building too. Will you look at the notes I’ve made and see if there’s anything you want to add?”

Bucky felt something. Pressure. An exploration. But was a surface kind of feeling, not a probe into his brain. Still, it was enough that the Asset settled into place, and Bucky did a swift mental check of the weapons he carried.

Wanda stared at him for a moment, speaking in Romanian to her brother. I do not like this. But I do not know why. Stay alert.

A deeper voice countered, “What do their minds say?”

“Friendship, but I will not look too hard right now. They are waiting for me to do just that.”

Bucky understood every word, further cementing the Asset in place.

But the girl opened the door fully. “I am Wanda Maximoff. My brother, Pietro, is on the couch.”

Maria nodded. “How is he doing?”

Pietro was just as guarded as his sister, though he answered, “Well enough, for someone with a half-dozen holes that are still healing up.” He had a controller in his lap, having paused a soccer game when they came in.

Sam brightened. “FIFA? You any good?”

“No, I’m terrible at this,” Pietro said slyly, and Sam laughed outright as he took the extra controller the teen held out.

Bucky perched on the arm of the couch while the two men played, keeping an eye on both kids. He wasn’t the only one. Pietro kept checking on his sister, and Wanda did the same with her brother.

When Sam finished the game, losing spectacularly, he inserted himself neatly into the conversation Maria and Wanda were having about Sokovia’s recovery. “Rogers wants you on the Avengers, you both know that, right?”

“Barton mentioned it,” Pietro agreed.

Sam nodded. “There’s a new Avengers facility being built north of here. When you feel up to it, Pietro, I’ll take you guys up there. In the meantime, you’re always welcome to come hang out with us if you want company. Or we can show you the City.”

The twins shook their heads, and Wanda countered, “I have been in Stark’s building. Once was enough. We do not trust him. But company would be nice.”

“Will do,” Sam agreed with a smile. “And hey, I’m a paramedic, so if anything comes up while you’re recovering, you can give me a call.” He set a card on the table with his phone number.

Wanda picked it up with her fingernails. “Thank you.”

Darcy kept the visit to just under an hour--enough to be friendly, but not enough to make the kids too uncomfortable. She invited them to dinner, but they declined. Given the pain that Pietro was trying to conceal, Bucky guessed he had skipped whatever medication he was taking in order to stay alert.

The wariness the Twins indicated told Bucky too much about their background. Trust would never be simple, a sentiment Bucky--and Natasha--understood far too well. But that was for later.

As they turned to leave, Wanda put a hand on Bucky’s right arm, stopping him. “Do I know you?”

Putting as much mental space between himself and the Asset as he could muster, Bucky gave her a lazy smile and a wink. “I’ve been known to turn up in a history book or two.” Wanda’s eyes widened, and she pinked as she held that same hand up to wave good-bye. “Say ‘hi’ to Vision the next time he drops by,” he added.

Now she really did blush, and Bucky pulled the front door closed behind him.

Sam slapped him on the back as they took the stairs. “Steve swore you had game.”

Bucky laced fingers with Darcy, bringing her hand up to kiss the back of it. “Vision’s got his eye on her. Good to know she’s looking back.”

“Aw hell, Barnes. Not only do you have game, you’re playing wingman to your brother-in-law. That’s sweet.”

A flicker of something flashed over Darcy’s face, but she hid it with a giggle and a kiss on Bucky’s cheek. At dinner, Bucky made a point of holding her hand with his left, so that he could feel her heartbeat.

Darcy held court over chips and salsa, telling wickedly funny stories about growing up with her dad. Their relationship was more or less an endless contest of wills. Darcy had been a formidable opponent, forcing Tony become ever more creative in his parenting--though it was clear Darcy adored her father, and Bucky knew first hand that Tony would drop everything to be by his daughter’s side.

Listening, Bucky felt a hard pang in his heart for his own family. His parents had been the gentle sort, firm when it counted, but kind. Bucky knew he got his patience from his mother. Lord knows he tested hers a time or twenty--until he’d met a tiny Irish firecracker with fierce fists and nose for injustice that led him to use those fists every damned time Bucky turned around.

Over their second round of drinks, Maria recounted a harrowing story involving Romanoff, Rogers, and a scenario that only the pair of them could have managed to come out from intact. “Now that the whole op is on the Internet, it only serves to make their legends that much more impressive,” she insisted.

Darcy’s pulse skittered toward the end of the story, and when enchiladas were served, Bucky offered to tell the story of how he met Steve. Sam and Maria were delighted. Darcy’s heartbeat slowed somewhat.

“We were in junior high school then, I was in eighth grade, Steve in seventh, and we more or less walked home the same direction--he had farther to go and since we were in different grades, it wasn’t a thing to hang out. School was small enough that we sort of knew each other, but we were in separate grades, right? And besides, he’s shy, so he didn’t talk much,” he said between bites.

Darcy propped her hand on her chin and smiled at Bucky. Yeah, she’d figured that out.

But Maria and Sam both shook their heads. “I don’t see it,” Maria decided. “Shy and Captain Rogers don’t belong in the same sentence.”

With a laugh, Darcy offered, “He is shy. Took Steve a full two minutes to work up the courage to ask if I wanted a ride on his bike the first time we met.” Bucky didn’t miss the subtle emphasis she put on their husband’s name. He picked up her hand again to kiss the back of it.

Sam swept a look over Darcy. “Any dude would be a little freaked askin’ you out. You’ve got some serious game.”

“Most ‘dudes’ forgot to look me in the eye,” she shot back. “Steve didn’t.” Looking over at Bucky, she encouraged, “Steve told me his version of how you two met. I want to hear yours.”

Bucky finished his bite of enchilada. “So there's a couple of asshole eighth-graders harrassing him most days. He mostly kept his head down, and after a while they got bored and left him alone. But then a couple of Puerto Ricans moved in, a boy and a girl. They barely spoke English and those assholes just couldn’t leave those kids alone.”

Darcy, Maria, and Sam groaned, thinking they knew what was coming. Bucky grinned. “Never said Steve was stupid. Took a fist to the nose, but he fought dirty--stomped on feet, kicked shins, and punched one of them in the balls. That last one did it, and they took off. I had to respect the kid for standin’ up to them.”

“You didn’t have to rescue him?” Maria gave him disbelieving look.

“Not that time. But I walked him home and helped him clean up before his ma got home. Walked him home most days after that just ‘cause I liked him.”

****

“You don’t want to be friends with me, James,” Steve told him as he held a rag to his nose. He panted a little, trying to breathe in spite of the clogged nose.

“Why not?”

“‘Cause I’m short and sick ... all the time. People ... are ... afraid it’ll ... rub off, I guess. … Couple of people … willin’ to be my friends ... got tired of bein’ picked on .... for it. Don’t want that ... to happen to you. … You seem ... nice enough.”

Bucky took the dirty rag, washed it out in the sink, and brought it back to wipe up Steve’s face again. The cold water helped the bleeding to stop, but Steve still panted. “Why are you breathing funny?”

“Asthma. When… when I run… “ the blond boy smiled, “or fight … lungs seize up.”

“And you still fight?”

Steve shrugged. “Sometimes you got to.”

Huffing a little, Bucky rolled his eyes. “You are stupid. Anybody picks on you, now they’ll have to deal with me too.”

****

“Hell,” Bucky shook his head after recounting the memory. “The way he smiled at me, like I was a fuckin’ angel, so much hope shinin’ in those damned blue eyes. I was a goner. And yeah, I figured out who was givin’ him the most hell and gave them what for. Got a rep, and most folk left us alone at school.”

“What about afterward?” Sam asked. Nobody ever said Wilson was an idiot. This was his chance to learn a little more about one of his charges, and he sure as hell was going to take advantage of the moment. 

Bucky flicked a look at Darcy, as he acknowledged softly, “It was hard when Mrs. Rogers died. He was angry. And scared. He went looking for fights. He wasn’t a bully, but they were easy to find those days, and he sure didn’t mind tryin’ to set them straight. For a while there, I was pretty sure he got beat up in every damned alley in Brooklyn.”

He toyed with his enchiladas, scooping up a forkful and staring at it. “We fought about it. Probably the closest thing to breaking us when I told him he was makin’ a date with the devil, and I wasn’t having it anymore. He got better after that. We stuck close when we could, and the punk didn’t go looking for trouble--though when trouble popped up, he wasn’t afraid of it. And I’d back him. Always did. By the time he caught up with me in Europe, he had the body to match his will, and havin’ his back was second nature.”

Maria shared a look with Sam, and then flicked an apologetic glance at Darcy. “Rogers had a rep at S.H.I.E.L.D. for throwing himself at the problem, even when he didn’t have to. Drove the handlers nuts because he wouldn’t wait for backup, wouldn’t take a parachute … he wouldn’t do anything that would give him a second chance if he screwed up. Pretty sure Fury has a permanent tick under his eyepatch over the crazy stunts he pulled.” She drummed her fingers on the table. “He’s different now. Sensible. Waits for his team when he can, mostly stays put when we tell him to, and actually reports to medical now and again.”

Though Darcy laughed it off, comparing Steve to Tony as she deftly changed the subject, Bucky knew she was a stressed out mess. Sam didn’t notice. Neither did Maria. And Bucky was fucking convinced that if he hadn’t felt her pulse spike and dance during the conversation and afterward, he wouldn’t have known either.

Even on the way home, Darcy cuddled up to him and passed on inane Tower gossip to while away the time.

Bucky pressed his lips to her hair, wondering how his girl got so good at hiding her feelings.

 

*****

 

We talked about parachutes, punk. Pretty sure you and I had a firmly worded discussion in Italy about going into battle with more than just a shield, no matter how well you throw it. Hill shared a little story about an op in Bogota that we’re going to discuss when you get back.

The low groan Steve uttered as he saw the text from Bucky got Nat’s attention. She raised an eyebrow and worked her way across the Quinjet to sit next to him. “I’m bored. Share.”

“Hill spilled the beans about Bogota.”

Natasha smirked. “Sitwell was too scared of chewing out Captain America and Iron Man to do it properly.”

“Fury did it just fine,” Steve countered dryly. He tapped out a reply to Bucky. “Can we chalk it up to stupidity and dumb luck?”

We’ll start there and work our way up.

“Am I allowed to distract you?”

Isn’t me you have to distract .

“Darcy?”

It’s been fifteen minutes since we got home. Didn’t know she could curse like a sailor.

“Her dad is Tony Stark. That will cause the nicest person to invent a whole new vocabulary.”

“No shit,” Natasha muttered. She leaned against Steve’s arm to see Bucky’s reply. He didn’t mind. They were en route to their next mission. Any distraction was welcome, and nobody had secrets from Nat anyway.

I’ll save that one. Whoops, she’s winding down. Later, love.

Steve sent him an emoticon with two fingers to the lips and blowing a kiss.

“Awww, that’s sweet,” Natasha said in sugary tones as she kicked back on the seat.

“You know, Romanoff?” He shook his cell phone at her.

“Threats from Captain America? Try another one,” she teased. “Does Darcy usually get upset at these kinds of things? I would think she would be used it by now.”

Steve shook his head. “Not usually.” He gave Natasha a considering look. “It’s been a challenging month for all of us.”

“You think, Rogers?” she retorted. “And Darcy more than most. I know level six S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who would crack under that kind of pressure.”

“Bucky’s there. Darcy has her parents. She’ll be okay.” He said it as much to himself as he did to Natasha, and as usual, she called him on it.

“Keep telling yourself that. And text her. She needs you.”

“I know.”

Natasha patted him on the shoulder and wandered off in the direction of the cockpit, presumably to annoy Clint.

Steve stared at his phone, scrolling through Darcy’s last several messages. Nat wasn’t wrong. He could see it in Darcy’s texts.

“I love you,” he sent to her phone.

Several minutes passed before he got a reply. I love you back. Is everything okay?

“Just missing you, doll.”

Oh good. Then you can play Words with Friends with me for a while.

They did, and over the course of the silly game, she filled him in on the visit with the Twins. Toward the end, she mentioned Bucky’s outrageous flirting with Wanda and the way he played wingman for Vision.

“Damn.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. There it was in black and white. Darcy wasn’t usually the jealous type. As she put it, landing Captain America put a check box in her Awesome Column.

But Darcy was off-balance. On the best of days she had a hot and cold relationship with her body. She’d detested her gorgeous curves because most people skipped right over her brain to focus on the physical. Steve understood that far too well. But he adored her, loved to sketch her, and Darcy had come around--even more so when Bucky treated her with the same care.

Steve was certain that on any other day, Bucky innocently charming a dame wouldn’t bother Darcy two bits worth. But she didn’t feel right in her own skin, not to mention her moods were like quicksand--though she buttoned up anger right quick. Darcy was damned good at deflecting until her fears and anger came back to haunt her in her sleep.

After he ended his conversation with her with a sly suggestion, Steve flipped over to the messaging app and texted Bucky, “Fix this, jerk, or she’s going to have nightmares tonight.”

What did I do?

Seriously? This is exactly what Sam had warned him about. It wasn’t necessarily Steve’s role to intervene between his spouses, and yet, he could see how Darcy’s insecurities had run smack up against Bucky’s innate swagger.

“Captain? We’re thirty minutes out,” Clint announced on the intercom.

“Figure it out. I’m up,” he texted. He turned off the cellphone and threw it in his locker.

 

 *****

 

Darcy wasn’t blind to the fact that her rant over Steve’s recklessness had little to do with why she was furious. He’d outright apologized to her months ago when he’d realized what he’d been doing, but she had to vent over something, and the real reasons ranged from stupid to mortified--none of which she wanted to share with Bucky.

The day had sucked. Spending her coffee-time peeing on a stick and waiting for Bruce to assure her again she wasn't pregnant even though she was a good two weeks late, had been a crappy start to the day. There were noises about serums and cycle resets and hormones--most of which Darcy had tuned out the moment she was in the clear. He’d drawn blood for confirmation and more tests, and Darcy’s arm was developing a bruise from all the needles. Wasn’t she supposed to instantly heal or something now?

Bucky had left her alone. He wasn’t stupid, generally giving Irritable Darcy her space, but really, the catalyst for tonight had been the way Bucky had charmed Wanda. The innocent flirtation had effectively diverted the girl’s attention, and then Bucky had deftly shifted Wanda’s focus to Vision. Yes, it worked. Perfectly.

Darcy stormed into the apartment, pissed--not at her husband--but at EVERYTHING. The list was getting ridiculously long and, fuck, if she could catch her breath long enough to deal with one or two things she could get a hold of herself. (Flirt with me!) All she wanted was a fucking date with her husband and look how the LAST two had gone. (HYDRA: 1; Ultron: 1, Successful Dates with Bucky: ZERO). And now they were pretending to NOT be married? What. the. fuck? (Okay, maybe she was a tiny bit irritated with James for that one.)

And maybe she was a little ticked at Dad right now, oh because, you know, the Starks used to make all their money in the weapons industry, and yeah, the Maximoffs had pretty much nothing courtesy of the Stark family. Sure, Dad had made sure they had a place to stay, people to look after them and all that. And yeah, SI was decidedly NOT building weapons anymore … but Dad still built stuff for the Avengers and maybe that was or was not a good thing. (What the hell was he thinking with Ultron? Major fail, Dad.)

Yay, cool for having a physical sibling these days, but she missed him in her ear something awful, and what was one more person to worry about on the battlefield? She didn’t need sleep anyway. Hearing Maria complain about the risks Dad and Steve took would be the subject of a nightmare or two in the near future.

Mom had been awesome through all this, as usual, but hey, wasn’t Darcy married now and supposed to be a big girl and deal? Not to mention that Pepper had her own issues with Extremis and didn’t particularly like to talk about them. Her parents had stayed tight-lipped over the whole thing, making it clear the details were off-limits to Darcy. So Darcy didn’t say much about the serum to Mom. It was way more fun to focus on the upcoming press conference anyway.

When the tantrum sapped her energy, Darcy hit the shower and changed into her Hulk pajamas without saying much at all to Bucky. (Steve had created a chart for her moods and corresponding pajamas. It was funny until it wasn’t. But it stayed on the fridge.) She automatically reached in the drawer for her glasses, then remembered she didn’t need them anymore. (Hands to eyes, do NOT cry, Darcy. Breathe it out. You’re a big girl. Yeah, screw that.)

She didn’t have to go far to find her husband. He was on their bed, and Darcy decided Bucky had the sexy nerd thing down pat. Wearing only boxer shorts, he relaxed against the headboard while reading one of the sci-fi paperbacks he preferred.

Darcy squinted in the lamp light. “You’re not pale anymore,” she realized. That had been one of the side-effects of Bucky giving Darcy so much blood.

“No. Haven’t been dizzy in a few days, either,” he acknowledged as he set the book down. Patting the bed, he coaxed, “Come on.”

She crawled next to him, and Bucky nudged her so that she settled her head on his lap. His body heat soaked right through the silk of his boxers to warm her face. He stroked her jawline with his thumb. It was hard to believe that it had been only a year and change since Bucky had come home. She’d slept so many nights with her face squashed into his thigh while he sat up in bed, before he’d relearned how to sleep lying down.

When he moved his hand so that he could play with her hair, the tension melted away--enough that she couldn’t remember why the smaller things had irritated her.

“Want to tell me why you’re so jumpy tonight? We can go to the terrace,” he offered.

She shook her head, knowing damned well that if she opened her mouth, the truth would spill out everywhere and make a horrible mess.

“Okay. Gonna let me hold you?”

Darcy nodded, and they shuffled around until she rested on her side with her forehead against Bucky’s chest. He drew little figures on the base of her neck, his arm anchoring her in place. “I know you’re missin’ your brother and Steven somethin’ awful, Darce. I miss them too. But, doll, I’m right here when you’re ready.”

She pressed her hand flat against Bucky’s heart, the steady thump-thump drawing her focus. As her scattered mind calmed, she became aware of the heat he gave off and the subtle shifting of his body against hers. If Steve was tenacious, Bucky could only be called resolute--the subtle difference characteristically profound. In this moment, she didn’t know which she needed more. Maybe it didn’t matter.

“Love you,” she whispered.

“Love you, too.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Darcy absolutely would not admit to hiding in the bathroom just outside Bruce’s and Jane’s labs.  For once, she was grateful Jane wasn’t on site yet, because her best friend was nosy enough to come after her.

JARVIS would have called her on it too. As it was, Vision was busy helping Steve storm a HYDRA base somewhere in Eastern Europe. She could get in touch with her brother if necessary, but she wouldn’t bother him on a mission any more than she would Steve. They didn’t need distractions.

Though Darcy had sent Steve a steady stream of texts--either with inane gossip or outright flirting--she hadn’t heard from him in days. (He’d sworn last week that the team would be home for her announcement. She was counting on it.) She fiddled with her nails, and even Jason noted her odd behavior.

“Shall I tell Dr. Banner and Sergeant Wilson that you will be momentarily delayed, Ms. Stark?” he asked aloud.

She pressed her face in her hands. (I am Darcy Stark. I can do this. Damn it. I hate sharp, pointy things unless I’m holding them.)

Darcy stamped her foot in frustration and stalked out of the bathroom, annoyed with herself for stalling. “No, I’m on my way,” she told Jason.  



Bruce still didn’t have answers she wanted, and now he wasn’t happy about the bruising developing from the repeated blood draws. The marks were dark enough that he’d deferred to someone with more expertise, so it was Sam who held the needle and cotton to her arm.  

“I’d rather put in a port,” Bruce admitted.  “I thought the serum would heal you a little faster.”

Darcy shook her head.  “Not happening. It’s one thing for James to be in the same room with all this stuff.  It’s another for me to bring it home.” She’d already dug out her long-sleeved winter pajamas, citing sleeping cold now that Steve was gone as a reason.  Without the serum, it wouldn’t have been a lie, but now--

“We might not have a choice, Darcy,” Sam interrupted her thoughts.  “Barnes is making progress.”

Bruce took her temperature, sliding a thermometer in her ear.  “Still warm?”  

She shrugged.  “Sometimes. Comes and goes.”

“Do I need to do another pregnancy test?”

“Sex would have to be on the menu for that to happen,” she said a little too acidly.  

“You guys aren’t--” Sam started. Then he shut up, eyeing her arms. “You’re afraid to let him see the bruises. Look, Barnes isn’t that fragile. He can deal.”

Darcy didn’t say anything.  She didn’t agree, but wasn’t going to get in a fight with Bucky’s therapist over it.  Instead, she kicked off her shoes and got on the scale.  This, at least, made Bruce happy.  

“That’s your fifth day straight of holding steady or gaining. Good job.”

But she didn’t smile, and Bruce gave her those puppy-dog eyes.  “I need another week or so of testing your hormone levels, and then Betty and I will start working on better birth control for you.”  

She nodded, thanked him, and walked out.  

Sam followed.  “Darcy.” He touched her lightly on the shoulder.  “Can we talk?”  

“I can’t.  Not yet.”  

“Just when I think no one can out-stubborn Rogers, I realize I’ve already met his match.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

“I don’t want anyone digging in my head right now,” she snapped.  “I’ve got too much to do.”  Then she realized how harsh she sounded.  “I’m sorry, Sam.  I know you’re trying to help.  But I’ve got to meet with Pepper and the PR team, and after lunch, I’ve got an experiment in my lab.”

“What about tonight?” he prodded.  

She shook her head.  “We’re having dinner with Steve.”  

“Video call?”

“Yeah.”

Just like that, they shifted from counselor/patient to friends. “Tell him I said, ‘Hello.’”  Sam tilted his head. “And that I’ll see him in a couple of days.”

“Got a mission?”

“Hell, yes.”  The glow in his face was unmistakable.

Darcy dug up a smile for him.  “Have fun.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“We’ll talk when you get back.”

With all the warmth and conviction of a true friend, Sam insisted, “I’m gonna hold you to that.”

 

*****

 

A dozen weapons of varying models hung suspended from the model of the food court Darcy had built. Bucky followed the detailed explanation she gave as she reconfigured the sensors and electronics to create an EMP well enough to know that what she was doing was at the very edge of “possible.”

And yet, she’d done it, and Tony had duplicated her results months ago.  Since this was the first time she’d try it with Jason, her dad insisted on being on hand.  

Jane was there out of professional curiosity.  She leaned against a worktable, staying well out of the way.  

“What’s in this for you?” Bucky asked.

“I want to know if any of this could be applied to the portal I’m building for the BiFrost.  I’ve got too many variable wavelengths. Darcy thinks it might take something with Jason’s computing power to create it.  We’re almost ready to bring the arc reactor online, but I’ve got to have better control of the beam to make it happen.” Jane lifted a shoulder.  “Plus, I rarely get to see Darcy in her natural habitat and that’s sort of fun. We had lunch yesterday.  She’s excited, and it’s been a tough few weeks.”

“Tell me about it,” he growled in annoyance, as he hung his weapon just off-center of the model.

Jane slanted an opaque look in his direction. “She’s my friend.  Consider me your backup. God knows, I owe her.”

“Who heals the healer?” he murmured under his breath.  

“Is that how you see her?” Jane asked.

“She’s a Stark. She fixes things,” is all he replied. He waited to see how Jane would respond, but Darcy called for their attention as she and Jason began the test.

They ran through the exact programming and sequence of events that JARVIS and Darcy had used to confirm that they could produce the same results.  They did, and the HYDRA weapons heated up accordingly, while Bucky’s stayed cool as ever.

Neither Tony nor Darcy seemed surprised by the results, though they studied the holoscreens without making much comment.

Bucky shot a look to Jane, who shrugged. “That’s the test stage to make sure Jason can duplicate JARVIS’ portion of the event. The ‘control’ experiment, if you will,” she offered.

Gotcha.  That made sense.  “What’s next?”

“Now things get interesting,” Jane quipped.

“Jason, reset to the original state. Clear your memory of the test scenario,” Darcy ordered.  She blew Bucky a kiss.  “We’ll see what Jason comes up with on his own--without JARVIS’ cheat sheets--when I give him the same set of orders.”  

“How are you going to duplicate the biometrics?” Jane asked.  

With a cheeky smile, Darcy wiggled her fingers toward the middle of the room. “Jason,bring up the food court schematics and the holographic representation of me in the security center from that day along with biometric information from the event.”

A projection of Darcy appeared just outside the miniature food court, seated at a workstation.

Bucky leaned on the table next to Jane. From here, he could see both the real Darcy and the hologram.  

Tony joined them as he commented, “Now we’ll see if Jason interprets Darcy’s instructions and biometrics the same way JARVIS did.  This will give us an idea of how closely Jason’s programming matches JARVIS with the changes we’ve made to eliminate any trace of Ultron’s code.”

Bucky started to reply, but Darcy gave Jason the order to start the simulation. She ran it three times, all with minor variations.  Bucky tried to concentrate on the outcomes, but he could only focus on the holo-Darcy.  It was all too easy to see the fear and dogged determination on her face.  No wonder she’d read him the riot act that night.  

When Darcy and Tony pulled apart the programming to find out what caused the changes, Jane clamped her hand on Bucky’s wrist and dragged him out of the lab, calling, “James and I are getting snacks. Back in twenty.”  

She let go of his arm in the elevator.  “Oh god, I’m so sorry.  Seriously, I have like zero appreciation for personal space.”

Her honesty made him laugh aloud.  “Doll, you’re gonna have to do a whole lot more than that to get in my personal space.”

Jane pinked.  “Yeah, okay.  You do know I’m dating a god, right?”

He laughed again.  “He’s pretty good at kicking my ass on the mats too.”

“Oh good.” She outright blushed.  “Oh god. I said that. I’m a terrible, terrible person. See? I just wanted to get you out of there because you had sad-James face on, and if Darcy had noticed, it would make her cranky again, and it’s her birthday, and she’s not supposed to be cranky on her birthday, but I mean, really, who can keep up a happy face when you can see how messed up she was when HYDRA tried to mess with you?” Jane chattered as the elevator ascended to the Commons level.

It was a short trip, and Jane kept talking as they gathered up nuts (Darcy), blueberries (Tony), yogurt (Jane), and a couple of protein bars (Bucky). “I mean, I know you’re married and all, but you know she’s totally gone on you, right? She only goes full-Stark when it’s somebody she loves. Everything else just rolls right off with Pepper-levels of chill.”

He did a double-take.  “I missed that.”

Jane shook her head.  “Seriously? And I’m supposed to be the one with my head in the stars.” She plucked out napkins and a spoon while Bucky filled up water bottles.

“Then why--” he said out of frustration, but stopped, because he didn’t want Jane to break any confidences.

“Why is she acting so weird?” Jane filled in.

That was one way to put it.  He nodded.  

Jane shrugged as they returned to the elevator.  “You’re on your own.  Girl-code applies unless you’re really screwing things up. You aren’t.”

“She knows I’ll help, right?”

Jane wrinkled  her nose at him.  “Darcy doesn’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s worse not knowing what I’m up against,” he insisted.  

“That’s the problem.” Jane shrugged rather matter-of-factly.  “Darcy doesn’t know either.”  

Oh.  

 

*****

 

Coulson had given Steve the coordinates of a new safe-house in Moldova.  It wasn’t very big, but the sightlines were excellent, the hot water heater was reasonable, and there was a little market just a block away.  Vision and Nat took the first shift in the single bedroom to sleep, while Clint sat in the living room and downed a bowl of the hearty stew he’d let simmer most of the day. He kept watch, his bow within easy reach.

Steve took a bowl of it into the corner of the kitchen and sat down at the table in front of the tablet he’d propped up in front of him.   It was midnight here, dark outside, and the light from the tablet illuminated the whole room.  

He clicked a couple of buttons, and his loves appeared on-screen, smiling and waving.  The connection wasn’t the clearest, but just seeing Darcy and Bucky filled him with joy.

“Hi, Steve,” they chorused.  It was easy to see both of them blinking back tears when they caught sight of him over the bad connection.

He fiddled with the settings.  “Hi, yourself.”  Steve squinted as the static cleared up.  “Happy Birthday, Darcy. How is your day?”

“It’s always better when I see you,” she smiled.

“Charmer.”

“Learned it from this guy I know,” she flashed a smile at Bucky.  

Steve peered at the screen.  “Is that a new outfit?”

Darcy backed away from the webcam and twirled for him.   “Like it?”

“I do.”  It wasn’t her usual style, long sleeves and a scoop neck, but with her hair scooped back in a knot, it showed off the line of her neck and damned if he didn’t want to draw that now.

Bucky shifted the webcam a little as Darcy sat back down at the table, and Steve could see that they’d set the table for dinner.  It felt almost real as Darcy and Bucky filled him in on Tower gossip.  They knew he couldn’t talk much about about where he was or what he was doing, so they volleyed the conversation back and forth.

“Oh,” Darcy remembered.  “Thor has a proposition for us.”

Steve vaguely remembered Bucky mentioning something a while back. “What’s that?”

“Okay, I know you aren’t thrilled about moving into the mansion because, you know, security and all that.  And James kind of agrees with you.”

“Kind of?” He could see how nervous she was, and how badly she wanted this.

She pursed her lips at him.  “Okay, agrees a lot with you.  But what if we had a bunch of Asgardians living on the other side of the mansion?”

“For security?” he asked.

“Sort of.  Thor approached us--it was formal and he wore the whole uniform and everything--he wants to set up an Asgardian Embassy in the house.  He and Jane would live there, and there would be a security detail, staff, and official ambassadors.”

“Thor wants to move in?”

“Jane’s pregnant.” Darcy dropped that bombshell and waited for Steve--and Bucky, he noticed--to close their mouths before she continued with a brilliant smile. “In Thor’s opinion, the Tower is too high risk of a target and it’s not a good place to raise kids.  No place for them to run around outside.”

Steve began to understand where Darcy was going with this. “I can’t disagree on that one.  Would Jane move her lab?” he wondered.

“Nope.”

“Then wouldn’t commuting from the Mansion to the Tower every day be an even more high-risk proposition?”

Darcy turned her hand up, shrugging sheepishly. “I might have forgotten to mention that the Tower and Mansion are connected by an ultra secret underground corridor that Howard built with the house and everyone’s forgotten about it ‘cause he kept it off the books, and we have a really cool carriage that connects the two? Dad retrofitted it with repulsors a few years back.”  

Steve gave her a mock glare, rolling his eyes at her. “That’s kind of an important detail, Darce.” He waved toward the screen.  “Buck? You’re the security expert.”

The little smile that made Bucky’s lips curve up was genuine, and Steve couldn’t miss the hopeful look his husband darted at their wife. “I like it.  Odin’s Einherjar will be responsible for securing Thor’s child. I can’t think of a safer place for us to be. We’ll have our own place for family or company if we want it. Jane can set up a nursery, and maybe that benefits us, too, one day.”  

Darcy flushed a little at that, but didn’t look away from Steve as she waited for his opinion. “Can’t think of a better compromise. I know you want to go home, Darcy.   Are you okay with other people living in your house?”

“It’s a big house.”  At the way her face lit up, he realized how much he’d missed her real smile.  Steve could see how Bucky couldn’t tear his eyes off her as she started rattling a list about needing a major domo and tax implications and renovations that would be needed.  Bucky leaned in to kiss her cheek. She was so startled that she stopped mid-sentence, her eyes wide. “Are we really doing this? You two won’t change your mind?”

“Just promise you won’t make me pick out paint colors,” Steve insisted.  He still had trouble coordinating palettes after so many years of being color-blind. Art was one thing, he loved playing with the different shades, but fashion was an entirely different beast.

Bucky snorted inelegantly.  “Oh, hell, no.”

Steve kept his chuckle quiet, so as not to wake up his teammates, but it felt good to laugh as Darcy fervently promised.

After dinner, Bucky brought out a little cake with a dancing candle flame so that they could sing to Darcy.  She blew it out with a wink to Steve, and scooped up a little frosting to suck off her fingertip before Bucky set her gifts in front of her to open.

Bucky gave her a diamond pendant necklace. As he fastened the latch, he drew a kiss along Darcy’s neck, keeping his eyes on Steve as he did.  There was no missing the heat in Darcy’s eyes as she opened them, and Steve pressed one hand to his cock--which had suddenly decided to get in the game.

With a wicked grin, Bucky eased back into his chair to hand Darcy the gift Steve had left for her--a warm leather motorcycle jacket and a half-dozen pairs of fuzzy socks to match her pajamas.  She promptly tried the jacket on, and Steve’s cock gave another hard twitch at the kiss she blew at him over her shoulder.  

The last box was from both of them.  Steve had drawn and inked her parents dancing in Club Stark.  Bucky had shaded it with watercolors of red and gold and framed it for her.  Both of their signatures graced the corner.

When Darcy saw it, she clutched it to her, alternating hugging it to her and staring at it as her eyes glossed over.  “Not fair, guys.  I can’t possibly do anything like this for you. This is perfect.”

“Don’t need to, Princess,” Bucky told her.  “You do it every day.”

With a deep breath, Darcy blinked her eyes dry and leaned over to kiss Bucky on the lips.  Then she turned and blew Steve another kiss.  “I love both of you. Thank you.” She set the picture on the table, scooped up another finger of frosting and sucked it off while giving Bucky a look.  

Bucky shrugged, giving Steve a sly wink.  “Our girl has one more request for her birthday.  You got a little privacy?”

Steve fumbled for the headset, angling himself to make sure no one could see the screen.

Thirty minutes later, he didn’t care who was in the bathroom as he turned the shower on.  The water barely touched his skin before he spilled over his own hand, with nothing more than the vision of Darcy and Bucky in his head.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

With a physical jolt that had Bucky automatically tightening his arm around her body, Darcy woke. She shivered as the memory of the Convergence dissipated, though it didn’t take the itchy feeling with it.

The sensation only grew worse when she tried to ignore it. And when Bucky tried to soothe her with a soft caress, she about came out of her skin. She bolted for the shower, slapping the controls until the water was hot enough to sting. Bucky followed, rubbing his eyes as he leaned against the counter. His messy hair had grown again, and he scraped it back with one hand, though it didn’t stay in place at all.

Darcy tried to keep her arms out of sight, but Bucky spied them through the glass soon enough, frowning at the bruises. Damn. She’d been so good at keeping them covered .

She turned her face to the water, letting it sluice over her body until she didn’t itch so much. When it was obvious that Bucky wasn’t going anywhere until Darcy came out, she shut off the shower and took the warm towel her husband held out.

Her husband. She didn’t feel much like a wife right now.

Last month, they had been inseparable in the Ultron crisis. Now, Darcy felt like she was in an ocean, treading water with no idea which direction shore lay. She could still feel the chafing under her skin--and had no idea if it was psychosomatic from the nightmare or it was a real thing, perhaps caused by the serum. The scream of frustration welled up. She squashed it down, shaking as she did.

There was no mistaking Bucky’s struggle to be patient with her. “What can I do, Darcy?”

Closing her eyes, it was everything she could do not to yell I don’t know at the top of her lungs.

He reached out. (Itching, hot, too much, it’s too much.) She flinched in anticipation. The hurt was unmistakable when Bucky held up his hands, backing away until he left her alone in the bathroom.

She grabbed the first clothes she could find, picked up her phone on the way out the door, and bolted for her lab, throwing herself on the sofa there.

What was she doing?

She wanted to cry. She wanted to call Steve. But the tears wouldn’t come, and her phone stayed on the cushion beside her.


When sunrise flooded her windows an hour later, she made coffee. Bucky sent her a text letting her know he was going to the gym. Steve posted a triple word score on Words with Friends, so that Darcy lost spectacularly. She congratulated him and started a new game. Then she sent Bucky a simple acknowledgement. She was going to have to apologize later. It seemed like that was all she’d been doing lately.

Coffee in hand, she padded barefoot across the recycled black glass floors of her lab. She wanted to try something new with Jason and didn’t particularly want witnesses, so the quiet Saturday morning worked in her favor.

“Okay, Jays, when JARVIS and I set off the EMP in the food court, we fried the electrical grid.  But when we’ve reproduced that EMP in the lab, we didn’t overload the circuit. Why?”

Jason answered, “The smaller model didn’t need as much power, so the sensors in the model are oversized with regard to the actual space in which you produced the EMP--which you already knew.” 

“Yes, yes, I did.” Darcy smiled. “So let’s scrap the food court model. I want to set off an EMP somewhere using only existing technology in the room. Where’s a safe place for that? I don’t want to fry the building.”

“Sir’s Hulk-proof room on the 79th floor comes to mind.”

“Done. I’ll meet you there.” She took a cart full of HYDRA weapons with her and scattered them around the empty space, then sat cross-legged outside the room with her laptop in front of her. This room wasn’t equipped with holotech, so all of the diagrams would be on her computer--just as it had been in the security center.

She brought up the electrical schematics for this room, studying them for a minute. “Okay, here’s what I want to do.” She could envision how to design the electro-magnetic pulse and let her fingers dance over the keys as she began setting up patterns and wavelengths. Some might call this hacking the electrical grid. For Darcy, it was just another day at the office.

In any case, this time she was aware of the calculations she was doing in her head, and that she and Jason were duplicating some of the work. But that was okay. It meant they were on the same track. 

“Okay, Jason, I’ve got the pattern and the wave set up. I want you to sync it to the HYDRA weapons. Let me know when the sensors are maxed out. I want to stay just under that.”

“Done.”

“Push it through.”

She could see the wave ripple across her diagram. In the Hulk-out room, the HYDRA weapons heated up. The lights stayed on and the sensors remained on-line.

Darcy whistled as she took it down again with a smile. “That’s more like it. Let’s do it again.”

After the fourth successful trial, she saved the results and debated her next move.

Jason seemed apologetic as he advised, “Ms. Stark, there are a variety of media outlets reporting on Sir and Ms. Potts at the moment.”

“Aren’t they still in Malibu?” Her parents had spent the latter part of the week meeting with contractors to finalize the last stages of the reconstruction of their home.

“Yes, ma’am. They were seen having breakfast this morning. However, they are scheduled to return this afternoon.”

Darcy steeled herself for the worst. “What’s the report?”

“It appears they are engaged, Ms. Stark, as Ms. Potts is wearing a ring on her left hand that Sir commissioned five months ago.”

What the hell.  She snatched up her phone and texted her dad. “Jason tells me you’re engaged now. Did I miss something?”

“Whoops. Should I have told you first? My bad.”

Darcy swore out loud as her heart ached. “That was kind of important, Dad. Way to remember to tell your daughter the big things,” she grumbled aloud.

“Pepper’s sending you a pic of the ring. And she’s annoyed with me now for not saying anything to you first.”

Not wanting to take away from their joy, Darcy carefully composed her next text. “Still my favorite parents.  Congrats to both of you.” 

“Thank you, honey. See you tonight?”

“I’ll bring the champagne,” she finished.

A headache flared as Darcy swallowed down her disappointment at being left out of the loop. She didn’t have a right to be upset. Not really. This was between her parents. And Darcy was married. Didn’t her parents have the right to the same?  

She pressed her cheek into her knees, not seeing the ripple of electricity rolling across the ceiling. She itched and eyed the keys hanging on her wall.

 

*****

 

Steve collapsed on the floor of the Quinjet as Hawkeye got them the hell out of Romania. He was pretty sure he had a couple of broken ribs from that little skirmish. Nat was nursing a sprained wrist.

“You should have kept Falcon around,” Nat grumbled. “We could have used a little more aerial coverage on that one.”

“He’s checking on the Twins. Pietro’s on his feet now and giving the physical therapist a hard time.”

“Ah, the beauty of being young,” Hawkeye interjected.

“That and Cho’s machine works miracles,” Steve commented.  “She’s installed one at the new Avengers facility. Pietro nagged her into trying it on him. The Twins want to come on our next mission.”

“You going to let them?” Nat asked.

“If Wilson clears them, yes.”  Steve wasn’t particularly happy with the idea, but the kids were old enough to make their own choices.  

“Hope they stay on our side,” she quipped.  “If they get pissed at Stark, it’s going to be ugly.”

“Wilson swears he’s working on that. They’re coming around.”

Nat held out her hand to Vision. “Will you do my wrist?”

“Of course,” he answered.  He sat beside her and studied the swollen area before he began applying an ice pack to it first. He didn’t seem to mind the cold, but occasionally examined his fingertips as he held it in place.

Steve considered her wrist as Vision passed him another ice pack for his ribs.  He did his best to ignore the cold.  “How long?” he asked Natasha.

Widow was usually pretty cagey about her abilities, but she didn’t prevaricate this time. “For this? Couple of days to heal.  A bad one? Maybe two weeks. If you heal at four times the normal rate, I heal about two.”

“Bucky’s about three,” Steve commented absently. Natasha raised an eyebrow in query, and he shook his head.  “It’s too soon to tell.” He closed his eyes against the pain, waiting for his body to work its healing miracle.

Natasha grumbled, “We’re going to need back up if we’re going to do another op like that one.”

“Last one’s a milk run. Coulson’s got intel and we need to be in place on Thursday.  Should go down Friday or Saturday, then we’ll head home for a couple of days. After that, we’ll meet up with Coulson and set up the next run of ops. Should give us ten days or so to heal up and rest before the next one goes down,” Steve agreed.

“You’re going to owe me a vacation in Fiji, Rogers, when this is done.”

He didn’t open his eyes as he smirked, “I’ll even send you flowers.”

 

*****

 

The Avengers gym was thankfully empty this morning. Bucky pushed himself into a hard workout, taking out his anger on weights, punching bags, and a stupidly long run on the treadmill. The way Darcy had flinched away from his touch was stuck on repeat.

It took a good hour before he stopped being pissed. Somewhere in the second hour, he remembered Darcy mentioning weeks ago that the serum made her skin ridiculously sensitive. It took the third hour before it dawned on him that she’d been perfectly happy snuggled up next to him until the nightmare had forced her awake.  

Which meant her reflex had nothing to do with him. But his reaction had caused her to flee their apartment.  Jason had assured him that she’d gone no farther than her lab, and she’d stayed there the whole morning.

“Sergeant Barnes, the time is eleven-twenty. Ms. Stark’s appointment with the stylist is at thirteen hundred hours.”

“Thank you, Jason.” Bucky wiped down the treadmill and stuffed the towel into the laundry bin. He used the gym’s shower to clean up and change into dark pants, a white t-shirt, and his Stark Industries jacket. He’d met the stylist before, but she’d be bringing assistants today. Which meant Bucky was armed, and they weren’t meeting anywhere near the residential floors or the labs. (Protect Stark.)

Knives went into his boots, along with a small handgun. He tucked his Ruger into a concealed holster at his waist, where the cut of the anti-ballistic polymer lined jacket had been perfected to cover the slight bump. The sleeves held additional sheaths for slim knives. With the right movement at the wrist, the catch released and the blades dropped into his hands.

Stark and Bucky had worked together to create a costume that looked casual and unthreatening, but contained a whole arsenal if Bucky needed it. He had an identical jacket made of leather hanging in the closet upstairs.

He tapped his phone for Darcy’s cell. When she picked up with a tentative hello, he kept his voice even. “Hey, doll, I’m downstairs.  Are we still on for lunch in the food court?”

After a pause, she offered, “Yes. I could eat. James--I’m sorry.” Her last words were rushed, as if she was afraid he would disconnect the call. “I--I promise it’s not you. I’m not scared of you.”

“I know,” he assured her. “Love,” he put a slight emphasis on the endearment, “You’ve got to talk to me.” As he took the stairs to the food court, he subvocalized to Jason to have soup and sandwiches packed up at the deli, but kept Darcy on the line. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Stay with me,” she blurted. “This afternoon. Please.”

He frowned a little, knowing he’d told her he would just yesterday. Did she think he would change his mind over this morning? “Of course, doll. I can be your date for the show and tell,” he offered lightly.

“Okay.”

“See you downstairs.”

They’d planned today’s lunch in the Tower food court. Someone was sure to take photos of them for the gossip rags. It was part of Darcy’s lead up to her announcement next week. Bucky didn’t have to do anything more than be seen having a nice time with his girl, so it didn’t bother him much. He checked in with the security teams, found everything in order, and headed to the counter to pick up their lunch. He shifted into the Asset, scanning the room to ensure full situational awareness. (Protect Stark.)

 

By the time Bucky had their lunch in hand, he’d been photographed at least once, and he’d noted another four ladies fumbling for their cameras while he navigated through the crowd to the mezzanine reserved for senior SI employees. It was definitely a perk, and one Darcy didn’t often use, but it gave photographers a clear view of them and still gave them a little space.

She was already seated. When he brushed her shoulder with his fingertips, she tilted her head back so that he could land a kiss on her lips. She licked them afterward, as if trying to capture his taste one more time.

He could see the faint dismay and sought to ease her worry. “Do that again, and I’ll be begging you to miss your appointment,” he teased.

In the blink of an eye, Darcy shifted into the consummate professional, smiling at his joke.

“You don’t have to pretend with me,” he said softly.

“We’re in public,” she countered with a flirty shrug of the shoulders and a wink. “A dozen cameras are pointed this way to get a shot of Cap’s boyfriend and girlfriend. We kissed in public. That’s going to be prime fodder. Smile, James.”

She was right. He sorted through their lunch, setting it out on the table. It was hard to smile when he was paying attention to the floor below, but he did it anyway.

“It’s good practice for next week,” Darcy added. “We won’t have any privacy outside our hotel rooms and the jet. Will you be ready?”

He tried to answer, settled for a nod, and focused on tasting his food until he was grounded once more. “How many appearances?”

“We’re up to eight confirmed. We’ve got three more holding out until the actual announcement, but those will be a shoo-in once they know what we have to say and who the guest will be. The rumor mills are starting up now that the media knows something is going on at Stark Industries.”

“Really?”  

Darcy shrugged. “Since we’ve made it clear this is a Stark announcement, it’s mostly speculation Tony and Pepper are engaged.”

“Will that ever happen?” he wondered.

“Already did.” She gave him a bright smile. “This morning.”

Though there was genuine happiness there, Bucky took her hand--yes, she was a jittery mess underneath the veneer of calm. “Did Tony tell you?”

Her pulse spiked. “My assistant informed me this morning.  I called Tony. He confirmed.”

From the way Darcy carefully used her parents’ names and didn’t use Jason’s, Bucky’s estimation of her rose another notch. She was expecting to be overheard, even if only by the security teams monitoring the area, and wasn’t taking any chances.  

“Stark has a knack for the unexpected. Sure didn’t mention it to his teammates.”

She shook her head. “It’s a private thing, I suppose. I did send them my congratulations.”

Darcy was happy for her parents, that was easy to see, but she was her father’s daughter and just a little crushed to be left out of the loop.

Bucky changed the subject, and they talked about the movies showing this week until it was time for Darcy to meet with the stylist for her final fittings.

The stylist had been set up in an empty office suite on the eleventh floor. She brought a variety of clothing and accessories that Darcy would need for the media circus that would follow her announcement.

Racks of outfits were arranged neatly on one side of the room, with tables of shoes, purses, and jewelry laid out on the other.  A platform with a three-sided mirror graced the center of the space.  Two helpers made small adjustments here and there.

Sean was there, supervising the set up. Bucky liked Sean. He was a little older than Darcy and had, as Darcy put it, Pepper-levels of efficiency. Darcy’s other PA, Carla, tended to handle more of the SI duties and Darcy’s extensive finances.  Sean did everything else so that Darcy had time in her lab. Darcy still triaged her own inbox and headed up her own projects, but she was learning to push some of the detail work off to her PAs.  

Pepper had told Bucky that she’d had a similar learning curve when she’d transitioned from Stark’s PA to SI’s CEO. Was it ironic that Natasha had helped her adjust? No wonder the two were still friends.

Sean had a perpetually cheerful demeanor and a fine sense of style. He’d handled most of the details with the stylist for Darcy, leaving her only to make final selections today. She wasn’t the perfectionist about fashion that Tony was, but Pepper had taught her the importance of selling herself to the public, and Sean had a flawless eye.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Lewis,” the stylist greeted Darcy. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“Linda,” Darcy acknowledged. “I don’t think you’ve met James yet.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure.” Linda shook his hand as he made his own introduction.

“James Barnes.”

“Linda Prior.”  

If the stylist wasn’t an idiot, she wouldn’t need any further explanation. She gave Bucky a respectful nod.

Sean had a tablet with a list of events, redacted for secrecy even here, but thorough in terms of the kind of interview and the audience who would be reached.

They started with trendy, casual outfits and worked their way through skirt suits that flattered Darcy in every way.  Linda wasn’t afraid of a little throwback to the 40’s either, and one particular dress had a familiar flair that made Bucky grin.

“Oh, Darcy, that is all you,” Sean caroled.

Bucky shook his head. “She needs lower heels,” he commented to Sean and Linda, “If you’re going for authenticity. The green ones, I think.”

Linda considered Darcy with a tap on her cheek. “Let’s try it.”

Bucky liked it.  Darcy twirled in front of the mirror. “How do lower heels make my legs look longer?” she asked in wonder.

“Hemlines,” Bucky and Linda chorused.

Darcy rolled her eyes at them. “You really are a fashionista, James. And Sean, don’t even get me started on you.”

“Somebody has to do it,” Bucky snorted.  “You would still be wearing yellow knit hats, and Steven wouldn’t have anything but plaid in his closet.”

“I like those shirts,” she retorted.

“They look better on you than him,” he countered.

“What knit hats?” Sean demanded. “What do you know that I don’t know?” he asked Bucky. “That girl should never cover up her gorgeous hair.”

“Agreed.”

When Darcy undressed, one of the assistants bagged the outfit with the matching accessories, while Sean noted which event it was for.  He would accompany them on the media tour, precisely to handle these kinds of details.

Security was all on Bucky, and he was spending the better part of his days looking over schematics and setting up schedules for the bodyguards who would accompany them. Darcy was about to become a high-profile target, as if she wasn’t already.

Near mid-afternoon, Sean excused himself to retrieve a snack for Darcy.  Bucky’s estimation of the man ratcheted up a couple of notches. Darcy went down the hall to the restroom, leaving Bucky alone in the room with Linda and the two assistants. He wasn’t particularly trying to hide, but perhaps the shadow created by the light streaming from the window concealed him.

If she’d seen him, Bucky was sure the younger of the two assistants would have never said what she did. It was thoughtless, cruel, and only highlighted her youthful ignorance. 

“I want to know how I can sleep with an Avenger and get a whole new wardrobe. I mean, she’s got a decent rack, but she’s not all that pretty. Guess she’s that good in the sack.”

The other assistant shushed the idiot. Linda slammed a hanger on the table and barked, “Sandra!”

Bucky, though furious, stayed where he was. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw Darcy pause on the threshold of the doorway, having heard every word. Her lips firmed in a hard line, and he waited to see what she would do. A flicker in the light made him glance up. Did he see that? Or was that a shadow from a cloud passing overhead? He didn’t know.

Darcy approached the girl, who rapidly paled. “For the record,” she said softly, though with steel in her voice, “the wardrobe is for my job, which is secondary only to Ms. Potts. I’ve earned it. ‘Pretty’ isn’t a requirement, though I do wish to present myself well, which is your boss’ job. In any case, one of my Avengers calls me ‘gorgeous’ and ‘beautiful.’ He’s an artist, so I’ll trust his opinion, not yours. My other Avenger is the head of security here at Stark Industries. He’s the one leaning against the wall behind you. He calls me ‘love,’ so I think you’ll understand why you’re about to be escorted out of the Tower and will be forbidden to return even for a cup of coffee.”

Bucky stepped up to the assistant, whose jaw had dropped. Linda tapped the girl on the shoulder. “Wait in the van. You and I are going to have words.”

With Linda already apologizing to Darcy, Bucky escorted the likely-former-assistant to the guard station, where he handed her over to Vasquez, the guard on duty for the floor.  “I have a code seventy-one,” he told her.

Vasquez glared at the young woman. Code 71 meant the person in question would be scanned for biometrics, then escorted out the front door and left there. Access to the Tower--or any SI facilities-- would be strictly prohibited unless Darcy herself changed the order.

“Yes, Sir,” Vasquez said with a curt nod.

That taken care of, Bucky returned to find the stylist still groveling to Darcy, who was more than gracious in accepting the woman’s apologies, in his opinion.

In any case, Darcy’s good mood had been squashed. The moment Sean returned, she took the protein shake and instructed him, “Let me know if there is anything Ms. Prior needs. I’ve got a couple of emails I need to handle before the day is out.” WIth a curt nod to the stylist, Darcy took Bucky’s elbow and headed for the elevators.

Once the doors closed, Darcy let her face fall. “I hate dealing with that.  I know it’s jealousy. I know it’s not really directed at me because she doesn’t know me, and it’s going to be the least of what I hear in the coming few weeks, but I still hate it.”

He didn’t really know what to say, other than to step close and let her wrap her arms around his neck. Shifting his stance, he held her tight, determined to stay there as long as she needed. From her grateful smile when the doors opened again, maybe he did the right thing.

And their day wasn’t quite over.

They joined Pepper and Tony for a champagne toast in the Stark Penthouse. Rhodey was there. So was Happy. Darcy kissed her parents, and Bucky studied his wife as she flawlessly conveyed nothing but happiness for them.

By the time he slid under the covers with her that night, he was half-convinced she wasn’t as bothered by the events of the day as he thought--until she curled her hand around his wrist and fell asleep with an iron-grip on it.  If she’d been holding his right hand, she would have left bruises.

Christ. Now he knew exactly why and how Darcy had learned to hide her emotions. Like most things in life, it started at home.


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“You know, I pretty much screw up every relationship I have.  I’m clueless when it comes to adulting.  But this, I know,” Tony offered as he crouched down to where Darcy was hiding under his workbench.

She hid her face in her knees, horribly ashamed and so, so terrified.  

Tony crawled under the bench and tipped her over so that she fell into his arms.  “It’s okay, honey.  We’ll figure it out.”  

 

*****

 

As dawn broke, Bucky knocked on Wilson’s door.  

Sam scrubbed his head as he answered, blinking against the bright light of the hallway. “Barnes?”

Bucky thrust out the coffee he’d carried from his apartment.  Wilson took it with a muttered “thanks” and stepped backward so Bucky could come in.  With a jerk of his head towards Wilson’s office, Sam got the message. They still had daily sessions whenever Wilson wasn’t looking after the new Avengers facility.  Wilson was attempting the break through HYDRA’s stupid rules and Bucky’s need for a handler.  Progress was sketchy at times.  

“You’re quiet,” Wilson commented.

Bucky hated it when his mind slammed shut and prevented him from speaking. He understood it was a defense mechanism he’d honed to perfection while under HYDRA’s control, but right now it just pissed him off. He turned his hands up to indicate he was having trouble verbalizing.

“All right, buddy.” Sam took a seat on one of the squishy leather chairs in his office. Bucky paused at the doorway, tried to pick the other chair or the couch, but ended up sitting on the floor. (Rule Three: Assets belong to the handler.)

Sam shifted forward on his chair, resting his forearms on his knees. “Oh ho, okay. If you’re wanting me to sit in a power position above you, my guess is one of the rules has been triggered. Is that why you wanted to meet with me?”

They’d worked out a system. Looking right was always the first choice or “yes”, looking left was the second choice or “no.” If he could lift his fingers, they used a “one” or a “two” to mean the same thing.

Bucky glanced right. (Yes)

Sam looked at him thoughtfully. “The only one that’s still giving you real trouble is a need to complete the mission. Which means protecting Darcy.”

(Rule four: Assets do not fail to complete the mission. Perfection is the only acceptable level of performance.) It took everything Bucky had not to go to his knees at the confirmation. His fingers twitched though. He reached into his boot, pulled out the knife, and slid it hilt-first on the floor to Wilson.

“Does that make you feel better?” Sam asked.

(No.)

Wilson nudged the blade with his toe so that it was back in front of Bucky. “Then you keep it. You’re not going to be punished.”

Bucky didn’t touch it. Didn’t even acknowledge the weapon was there.

“Okay, you know I don’t usually do this unless I’m confident I can get right to the problem. So I’m going to lay out what I think it is, and I need you to tell me if I’m on the right track.”

(Yes.)

“Now, given that I just got home from an op with Rogers, and I know damned well you and Darcy haven’t told him that the serum’s giving her hell, I’m guessing you’ve got a mile-long guilt trip since he’s going to be home in a few days and he’s going to figure out real quick that things aren’t all sunshine and roses.”

It took Bucky almost five full minutes to be able to answer both yes and no .

“So I’m half-right.” Wilson considered for moment.  “My next guess is that since you’re here at the ass-crack of dawn, she’s having nightmares again.”

(Fuck this shit.) Bucky tried to answer. Fought the silence. He resorted to holding up a finger. (Yes, Goddamnit.)

“Did she have a bad one last night?”

(Fuck, Yes.)

“Were you able to pull her out of it?”

Bucky indicated, “No,” as he resisted the urge to get on his knees. (Mission: Protect Stark. Mission: Failed.) He hovered on blankness, gave up fighting the conditioning, and knelt in front of Wilson.

Sam got down in front of him so they were eye to eye. “You’re not going to be punished, Bucky Barnes. You did nothing wrong. Last night sucked. But you’re here today, so there isn’t anything we can’t work through.” When Bucky couldn’t respond at all, the counselor retrieved a heavy blanket that he draped across Bucky’s shoulders.

The lack of punishment, the familiar weight, and Sam’s steady patience was enough to break the conditioning’s hold after a while. He eased off his knees and sat on the floor, though he tugged the blanket around him a little more.

This time, his mouth unlocked, too. “She had … a nightmare. A night terror,” he confessed. “Couldn’t help. Was the Asset. Couldn’t do anything but listen to her scream. Jason called Stark. I drew a knife on him.”

“Is he okay?”

“Man’s got good reflexes.” Bucky had pulled the instinctive strike, but if Tony hadn’t ducked, things would have been a lot uglier.

“What happened next?”

“Darcy heard her dad’s voice and woke up. When she started talking to me, I came out of it.” The words came easier now, and Bucky flushed dark with shame.

“And?”

“Nothing. Tony made sure both of us were okay and left.” He ducked his head. “Been expecting him to give me hell today. Even called him to apologize.”

“What did Tony do?”

“Nothing. Told me not to worry about it, he’d done worse, and if I wanted details, to ask Pepper.”

“So you were expecting to be punished by Tony, even if it was just an ass-chewing, didn’t get it, so you’ve been fighting Rules Three and Four as a result,” Sam mused.

When it was laid out in black and white, it all made sense. “Sounds about right.”

“Still needing to be punished?”

He took an internal inventory. “No. Probably owe Stark a drink.”

“And he probably needs it,” Sam agreed. “What about Darcy?”

Bucky could feel the Asset trying to shut him down again. He fought it.  “Saw.. I saw..lightning.”

“It didn’t storm last night. Something sparked in your apartment?”

“Electricity … on ceiling.” Bucky stilled. (Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.)

“Real? Or do you think you imagined it?”

“Stark … saw it. Stopped it.”

Wilson nodded.  “The electrical current made you afraid of being wiped again. No wonder you reacted. What does Stark say about it?”  

Bucky shook his head.  “He’s with Darcy. His lab. She’s scared.”

“I’ll bet.  Was it a tower malfunction?”  

“Darcy.”  

Wilson blinked. “Darcy caused it?”

Bucky nodded. “Not first time.”

With a whistle, Wilson nodded.  “Yeah, I can see why you haven’t told Rogers yet.”  

The acknowledgment unhooked Bucky from the Asset, and he was able to speak, though his words were slow. “He’d fret, and he doesn’t need the distraction. But hell, I was pissed when I found out what the punk had done with the serum. I wished I would have known.” He shook his head, frustrated at being caught between his spouses.

“Are you going to tell him when he comes home for Darcy’s announcement?”

Bucky ran his fingers through his hair. “Hell, she won’t even talk to me about it.”

“Maybe that’s where you start.”  

 

*****

 

Steve frowned at his blank cell phone.  In all the missions he’d had before, Darcy had never failed to send him two or three texts a day, even if it was just a smiley face emoticon.  The last note he'd received from her was about Tony and Pepper’s engagement and a picture of the ring.

He send both of his loves an identical text. “Everything okay?”

Bucky immediately replied, “Miss you.  So does the Princess.”

“Bad night?”

A sad face emoticon came back.  

Somewhat relieved, Steve sighed.  Nightmares.  That he could understand, and it explained Darcy’s silence. “We’re almost done.  Got some clean up and then  we’ll come home.”

“Looking forward to it, punk."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

With a glance at the clock, which read half-past too-fuckin’-early in the morning, Bucky rubbed his eyes as he leaned up on an elbow. His wife hadn’t slept in the same bed with him since the other night, and given that this was the first time he’d been alone in a real bed in seventy years, Bucky sure as hell wasn’t sleeping either. His patience with his girl’s stubborness was runnin’ thin.

If she could put up with fucked-up, brain-fried assassin with a metal arm for a husband, he could deal with a little lightning on the side. Wouldn’t be the first time the love of his life caught a few extra abilities along the way.  “Jason, is Darcy awake?” he growled.

“Yes, Sergeant. She is in her lab.”

Darcy’d damned near hidden away in her lab since Steven had left a fuckin’ month ago.  Sure, she was preppin’ for tomorrow’s press conference, but that didn’t mean she was spendin’ her downtime with Bucky.

He’d tried to give her space, but hell if that was workin’ to fix anything. Steve was goin’ to have a conniption when he got home. The punk had been countin’ on Bucky to keep things on the level and he’d fucked that up nine ways to Sunday.

“Sergeant, Ms. Potts is also awake. She has asked if you will see her when you have a moment. It can wait until later in the morning, she insists.”

Anything was better than lazing in bed fretting about his girl.  And hell, he could use a little advice. (He missed his ma. And pa. His heart ached over the loss.)  He rolled to his feet, lifting a shirt off the hanger and sliding into a pair of jeans that he’d dropped on a chair the night before.  “Where does she want to meet?”

“She has suggested the Commons terrace.”

“Works for me.  Give me ten so I can get a cup of coffee.”

 

Warm mug in hand, Bucky made his way to the terrace where Pepper had curled up in one of the lounge chairs.  This high up, even though it was almost summer, the air was cool and she’d tucked a blanket around her legs.

There was a smile for him, and a pat on the blanket. “Hello, James.  Come and sit with me.”

Feeling a little like he was about to be scolded, he perched on the chair beside hers, pulling it up close so he could rest his feet on the edge of her chaise. He still wasn’t quite used to this kind of intimacy with his mother-in-law, but it would be the kind of thing he might have done with his own ma, or even Rebecca.  Pepper flashed him a grateful smile as she sipped from her cup.  Tea, he thought, from the flowery scent wafting upward.  “Can’t sleep?” he queried.

“It’s a common problem, I think. Usually, I find Bruce out here.” With another quick drink from her cup, Pepper seemed to need a moment to gather up her courage--which was odd enough.

“I swore I would stay out of your marriage,” she started, “and here I haven’t even made it three whole months.”

Instead of being offended, he couldn’t deny the relief washing through him. “I don’t mind.”

Pepper leaned forward to rest her cup on her knees.  “You get Steve down to your bones, don’t you?” she asked.  

“If this was Steve, I’ve got a pretty good bead on how to bring him around,” he agreed.  “Don’t want to misstep with Darce. Don’t want to pressure her ‘cause she’s dealin’ with a lot right now.”

Shrewdly, Pepper noted, “You and Darcy didn’t build a relationship the usual way. She’s different from before, and without Steve to help you see, you don’t know how much of this is the real Darcy or how much she’s struggling.”

Put like that, he could only nod in agreement.

“What would you do if this was Steve?” Pepper asked.  

Bucky snorted. “Tell ‘im to his face he was being stupid. Used to follow him around or sit on his bed while his temper settled, then he would vent some and get it out.”

Pepper smiled a little. “And here I thought I was going to have to teach you a lesson about dealing with Starks.”  Bucky frowned, sure he’d misheard, but Pepper continued, “What the three of you do isn’t anyone’s business but yours. If I’m overstepping, please understand it comes from being a mom and wanting all three of you to be happy.”

At that, he could see the weariness and the worry. For the first time, Bucky realized how young Pepper was, mid-forties at best, the same as Stark. His own mother would have been nearly a decade her senior. “Yes, ma’am.”

Flashing a smile at his manners, Pepper said, “Steve accepts Darcy for everything that she is. He understood the Stark family, and she grew up knowing about Steve’s past.  There is a fundamental truth to their relationship that’s unshakable. The two of them get to be the people they always wanted to be.”

That made a hell of a lot of sense. Anyone could see how the pair relaxed when they were together.  Bucky smiled, thinking of the way they teased each other--much like he and Steve used to do when they were kids, before the world turned grey.

Pepper darted a look at Bucky. “With you, James--I don’t know how else to explain--with you, she can be Tony’s daughter.”

He drank his coffee, trying to understand.  He remembered Steve being angry with himself for not seeing Darcy as a true Stark--and all the business sense and weirdness that entailed--until they’d moved to the Tower.  Bucky, on the other hand, though he’d underestimated her a time or two, didn’t have that problem.  

“Because that’s who I need her to be,” he said in surprise.

“Exactly.” Pepper smiled a little at his understanding.  “Tony’s daughter is just as reckless, brilliant, charming, and driven as her father. Steve doesn’t always see that. Doesn’t really know what to do with it other than give her space to do her thing, just like he did with Howard.”  

“She does need space,” he agreed, thinking of all the times Darcy retreated to her lab.

“Does she?”

The blunt question startled him.  Had he misunderstood his girl that badly? He scratched the shadow of a beard, stopping when he realized what Pepper was getting at.  “She always had JARVIS with her.” He swore under his breath.  “Why do I get the feeling JARVIS was as much a handler for her as he was for me?”

Pepper disagreed. “No. JARVIS didn’t put limits on Darcy’s behavior.”

Now Bucky was the one who countered, “Sure he did.  Darcy’s told me JARVIS would call her on it when she was ducking responsibility--exactly like m’ sister used to do with me.”

“But he wouldn’t stop her.”

“Not anymore than m’ sister would stop me.  Sometimes you’ve got to stand by your family when they’re being stupid, just because you love them.” Bucky stared down into his half-empty cup.  “I miss her.  Guess Darcy’s feelin’ that.  Kind of like her brother’s moved out of the house and now she’s lonely.”  

“It’s a good analogy.”

WIth the metal chilling in the night air, the heater in Bucky’s arm kicked on to prevent his collarbone from getting too cold and causing him headaches.  That Darcy had done this for no other reason than to keep him from pain was just one more reason why he loved her. “Steve thinks I’m going to fix whatever is wrong with our girl.  Like I have all the answers,” he complained. “I can’t fix her. I don’t want to fix her.  I just need her to talk to me. She’s hurting, and I don’t know how to make it stop,” he said.    

Pepper gave Bucky a sly look.  “When Peggy hired me, I thought my job was to keep Tony from breaking anything important.”

Since that was still a popular theory around the Tower, Bucky frowned.  “It wasn’t?”

“No.  My job was to make sure the world didn’t destroy Tony before he saved it.”

Well, hell.  “Only you would you believe a brainwashed assassin could do the same for Darcy,” he countered.  

“I believe in James Buchanan Barnes. I’m never wrong about people.” Pepper reached out to lay a hand on his wrist. “And as brilliant as Starks are, sometimes you have to get out the big chalkboard.”

The laugh that bubbled up was unexpected.

He got it.  Oh, how he got it.  He lifted Pepper’s hand from his arm and expertly grazed a kiss over the knuckles. When he stood, he saluted her with his coffee mug.  “Thank you, Mother.”

Even in the soft lights of the terrace, he could see the way she flushed pink with happiness.  “Call me that in front of Tony, and I’ll give you the name of a guy with a beat-up GTO for you to restore.”

How the hell did she do that? He’d just started looking--never mind.  Friday or Jason probably tattled. Siblings. Younger ones, at that. “Consider it done,” he promised.  “Speaking of--is Tony in his lab? I’ve got an idea.”

 

*****

 

Darcy played with the contact, turning it off with a touch of her finger and turning it on with no more than a thought.  The minions stopped and started as they circled the lab in increasingly complex patterns. She sat at her workbench and had her cell phone in her other hand, one thumb stroking across Steve’s text from earlier.  

Ready to wash the dirt from my boots and sleep next to someone who doesn’t play with darts when bored.   A heart emoticon followed the text.

Counting the words,  Darcy calculated Steve was still twenty hours out--he must be adding in time to debrief.  As long as the Avengers had been gone, that would take a while.  Any other day, a text like that would send her straight to bed, knowing he was safe and coming home.  

The sofa in her lab was perfectly comfy, but distinctly lacking in supersoldiers. She rested her elbows on the table and her face in her hands, heart still aching over the stupid fight she and Bucky’d had yesterday over coming home. Scared silly she would trigger him again, she refused to stay in the apartment until she got control over--whatever the hell she was doing.   (So tired, want to sleep, can’t sleep ‘til I fix this.  How do I fix this? Don’tknowdon’t knowdon’tknow.) Avoiding him was too much work and she hated every second of it.  She wanted to go home. Watch a stupid movie and snuggle up into his lap. Plus Steve was going to freak when he figured out how badly she’d screwed things up.

She fumbled for her empty coffee cup and stumbled to the coffee pot for a refill.  The coffee was old and bitter, but she choked it down anyway as she returned to her workstation.

Dad and Bruce had scanned her head and decided they couldn’t take the contact out without more research. Nerves from her brain now extended out and around the contact, and Jason had confirmed he was receiving additional electrical data from Darcy. (Serum, so scared, don’t want to hurt Bucky, not his fault, so tired.)

So far, she hadn’t been about to reproduce the trick with the lighting. Like turning the contact on, it seemed to be instinctive. But with Steve’s text, she knew the Avengers were coming home, leaving her free to ask the one person she thought might help. Turning the contact on again, she pushed a single thought out.

"Lewis?” Darcy’s brother came online via the contact.  Her eyes clouded over with unshed tears as she heard his voice, the quiet British tones in her skull.

“Are you somewhere you can talk? I need your help,” she asked.

“Of course. And considering that you are thinking in binary at me, I rather think I understand why.”  

“I’m programming?”

“I am receiving information from you on multiple levels. It’s quite fascinating.  Are you doing it on purpose?”

“No.”

“Speak aloud for me.”

She did. “I need you to break this down for me, V, ‘cause I’m scared shitless.  Things got pretty ugly during one of my nightmares. Ask Jason.  I don’t want to talk about it.”

He, too, switched to speaking aloud, rather than through the contact. “Remarkable, Lewis.  I’m receiving your biometric information through your contact.  I am detecting elevated heart rates, as well as heightened temperature and respiration.  In addition,  I am receiving an electrical signal in binary through the contact. When you spoke aloud, I received both an audio and an electronic version of your words.”

Vision’s calm insight steadied Darcy.  (Hell, she was exhausted and knew it.  Sure wasn’t thinking straight.)

“Your thinking is quite linear and logical. Yes, from your biometrics, I would agree that you are quite tired.”

“You heard that? I didn’t even subvocalize any of that to you.”

“Congratulations. It appears you have learned to translate abstract thought into electrical form. Jason is doing the translating, of course, but it is quite a lovely thing.”

“Holy shit. I guess that explains why I seem to be able to tap into pretty much any electrical conduit and use it.” She shook at the confirmation.

“You’re frightened.”

“Terrified. I keep trying to turn the contact off, but a stray thought in that direction turns it on again. I can’t seem to put in an override. I can’t sleep until I’m sure I won’t have a nightmare again and--” Panic crawled up her throat.

Vision interrupted her before she could spiral down that hole again.  “Try putting the override in while I’m watching.”

With his gentle suggestion, she steadied and went through the tedious task of typing the code into Jason’s programming, explicitly giving him a command not to process any information coming through the contact.

When she attempted to activate it, Vision hummed.  “I see the difficulty.”  

“What’s that?”

“You are typing one thing, but your brain is thinking about all the ways you can crack the programming, so you are reprogramming Jason’s code even as you type.  Lewis, this is remarkable.”

She shoved the laptop away, scared and frustrated.  “I want to go to sleep,” she wailed.  “I don’t want this.  I want to go home.  I want-- James. Steve. I need James to be safe.”

Answering her unspoken cry, Vision assured her, “I know.  I think I have a solution.  I would speak with Sir for a moment.”

Her head hurt.  Her heart hurt.  Her eyes were scratchy and swollen, itchy with exhaustion. She didn’t know how she was going to explain this all to Steve. She wanted James to hold her close. She was tired, so tired of keeping a lid on her emotions, but she couldn’t slip, had to learn control, needed--she laid her head on her desk as the burst of energy drained out.

Seconds, or maybe an hour later, she heard the snick of the lab’s back door opening--the one leading up to Tony’s lab. In the miasma of sleep and waking, she slipped off her stool. Adrenaline shot through her and the whole room lit up as electricity flared through the lab--setting off lights and holograms.  A sensor from somewhere blew in a flash of sparks.  Her minions woke up in a cacophony of shrieks and whistles.

Hard arms came around her, scooping her up from the chair so she didn’t fall on her ass.  James.  

“Jason, I’m gonna need a Code Downtime, Authorization: Charlie-Fox-Baker-zero-seven-nine,” he ordered.   

“Authorization code and voice print confirmed, Sergeant Barnes. Code Downtime engaged until further notice.” The minions froze in place as the lights dimmed.  

“What did you do?” Darcy panted, fear still making her shake.

Bucky held her close and pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Your dad, Vision, and I figured out a way to block the contact for now.  Let’s go home, love.”  

He looked so damned beautiful. She was so fucking tired, and curled into him, wrapping an arm around his neck while he carried her through the Tower.  “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she babbled.

“Hush, Princess. I’ve got you.” His tone was firm, all Sergeant Barnes, and Darcy yielded to him--too tired of fighting to care why.

He carried her to the bedroom, set her down and toed off his boots as he shed his shirt and jeans.  He helped her strip out of her clothes and nudged her so that her face was pressed against the hard wall of his chest.

She breathed in.  Oranges and his dark scent that meant all things James. The scattering of wiry hair on his chest tickled familiarly on her nose.  She vaguely knew one hand was in her hair and one was on her waist as she slid into sleep at last.  

 

 

“Time to wake up.” Bucky’s husky voice only encouraged her to burrow closer to him, so that she could hum happy kisses into his skin.  He chuckled when she dug her fingers into his hip, a thumb skimming along the dip there. “If that will wake you up, I’m game, doll.”

Curious, she let her fingers wander across his bare skin, and yup, there was definitely a firm cock pointed in her direction.  She hummed a little louder as she curled fingers around Bucky’s shaft and ran a thumb over the smooth head.  He was damp there, and Bucky let out his own rumble of need.

At that, she opened her eyes to find him smiling at her.  “Kiss me,” she demanded, running her tongue around her mouth to moisten it.  

He leaned in, and she went with the movement, taking him with her so that Bucky trapped her between him and the bed as his mouth landed on hers.  He laughed against her lips as she hummed in contentment.  “Stop stealing my tricks, Darcy.”

She grinned.  “They work.”  Bucky’s humming made her think of a cat’s purr every damned time he did it.  She scratched the back of his neck as she kissed him again, darting her tongue out touch to his.  

He retaliated by thumbing across her nipple so that she arched right up into him.  He shifted so that he could lick and nibble the tip of her breast until she writhed under him.  Then he sucked the whole of it into his mouth, gradually increasing the suction until an orgasm rose and broke through her.  

(Some part of her brain tapped politely on her shoulder as a reminder, and yes, thank god, Bucky already had a condom in hand. Her Lady Parts didn’t particularly give a shit about that sort of thing at the moment. DarcyBrain disagreed. Firmly.)  

Bucky leaned up, running one hand along her thigh until he braced it against his shoulder. His cock was hot and sweetly heavy where it pressed against her folds.  Slick with need, she pulled on his arms.  “James--”

He didn’t play, not today. Today, he sank into her until her clit was pressed right into his skin. When he was buried deep, she twisted her hips, chasing that peak of pleasure once more.  

“Darce--” he muttered, closing his eyes--whether to concentrate or keep from coming, she didn’t know.

She leaned up on an elbow to kiss the soft skin right up under Bucky’s ear.  He turned into that kiss, and it changed from something teasing to something hot and needy as he withdrew and pressed into her heat again.  And again.  

The weight of his body, the incessant pressure against her clit, the slick drag of his cock inside her, the taste of him--Darcy writhed underneath him, urging him on with words and body.  And though she was a mass of sensation, she was still aware that Bucky’s cock was growing yet harder until--yes! He flashed over, groaning her name as the first hot pulse pushed her into pure bliss.  His orgasm become hers and ricocheted right back into him as her body clutched him, dragging out the sensation far longer than ever before.  

“Bucky--”she started when she could breathe again.

With a low chuckle, he shifted his weight to his knees, running a hand down Darcy’s body as he pulled out of her.  “Must be good if you forget my name, Darcy-love.”

She grabbed a pillow and hit him with it. “Jerk.”

He caught it one-handed, laughing as he rolled off the bed to strip the condom off in the bathroom.  “Want a shower?” he called out.  

Hot husband shower? Hell, yes.  She scrambled out of bed after him.  

 

Considering she got another good orgasm out of it, she figured she at least owed Bucky-- James --breakfast.  (Yeah, no.  She still thought Bucky in her head and said James out loud.) And considering the way the two of them plowed through a full dozen eggs, several slices of toast and bacon, along with a good pot of coffee, maybe they’d needed to recharge on all fronts.

“You look like you feel better,” Bucky offered.

“I do actually. So do you.” He still had shadows under his eyes, though not as pronounced as yesterday. Remembering the day, she glanced up. “Jason? Do I have an appointment later?”

“Yes, Ms. Stark.  You have a two o’clock appointment with Ms. Potts at the Tower salon for a haircut and manicure. It is twelve fifty-two now.”  

“Holy shitballs, we slept until noon.” Darcy snatched her phone off the counter. She hadn’t received any more texts from Steve.  “Steve’s still coming in late tonight.”

Bucky nodded. “Late enough for you to take a nap after eating dinner.”

She rolled her eyes. “Are we back to tracking what I eat and how much I sleep?” she complained.

“Only when you’re so distracted you won’t do it yourself.” Bucky was firm about that, reminding her of the way she cajoled Jane into taking care of herself.  

She started to argue, then gave up. “Shit. I really am turning into Jane.”  Darcy wrinkled her nose at her husband and rose to gather the dirty plates.  She washed. He dried.  When they were done, Bucky poured both of them another cup of coffee.

Then, with gentle hands, he inspected her arms where the bruising from the needles was still evident.  

“Bruce switched to pricking my fingers yesterday,” she offered.  “He’s just looking for hormone levels at this point.” She glanced down, noting the black had faded to purple and yellow on one arm.  The other was even better, as it was mostly green today.

Bucky peered at the tips of her fingers too.  “Your fingers are more sensitive now, can you handle it?”

Darcy nodded. “Dad gave me a numbing cream he keeps around. It worked pretty well yesterday.”  

“Good. Gonna tell Steve about all this?” he asked as he pulled out Darcy’s chair.  

She eyeballed it and sat down. (Uh oh. Family meeting.  Yup, she’d fucked up yesterday.)  “If it’s my only my call, then no.  I’ll tell him when we know what we’re dealing with.  Until then, it’s all speculation.  He’s got a job to do and doesn’t need to be fretting about the two of us.”

Bucky took his own chair and held his mug between his hands, clearly not liking her answer.  His eyes faded to icy blue as his jaw firmed up in annoyance.  To her surprise though, he conceded.  “I don’t like it, Darcy.  Feels wrong. But I made the same choice when I got the serum. Figured I would tell Steve when the war was over.”  Bucky shrugged. “He figured it out though. Punk’s not stupid. And I won’t lie for you,” he told her.

“No. Just--let me tell him, okay? Maybe before he goes back out.”  

“That I can do,” he assured her. Then Bucky looked her straight in the eye.  “Darcy, let’s clear up an assumption you’re making about me.”

She bit her lip.  “What’s that?”

He reached for her fingers and, without censure, said, You can’t break me. I’ve been broken. You," he emphasized, “don’t come close.” His blunt words cut through the wall of fears that had build up, though her fingers convulsively jerked as he continued, “No more running away. It’s time for you to trust me. I get that you had JARVIS, but Vision’s not always here now. I am.”

Darcy laced fingers with Bucky. “I do trust you.”

“As far as you think I can handle it,” he gently reminded her.  “I’m getting better.  I can do more than you think.”

“I triggered you.”

“And I trigger me at least once a day,” he retorted.  “Doesn’t mean we quit, right? Even your dad’s not mad at me.  Hell of a thing.” Bucky ducked his head with embarrassment.  “I was compromised, Darcy, but I pulled my strike. Tony dodged the rest, and I sure as hell didn’t go after him. It wasn’t pretty on any front, but no one got hurt.”

Darcy shivered, pulling her hands away to wrap her arms around herself.  “But I--”

“No harm, no foul.  I did buy your dad a beer, though. Owed him that.”

She shoved away from the table, all of her anxiety rising again.  

Bucky was right behind her. “No more running,” he emphasized as he put a hand to her waist. With the lightest of pressure, he nudged her into his embrace.  “I asked Tony what we could do to block the contact.  Guess you’ve been talking to Vision. As your brother puts it, you and JARVIS used to do a lot of work together while you were lucid dreaming.  Jason’s not smart enough to separate good ideas from bad ones while you’re in that state--or even when you’re awake. And he’s not programmed to stop you from making mistakes.”

Darcy nodded.  “JARVIS would have called me on it, though.”

“Maybe not.  Your dad admitted he’s had his own nightmares, even called up one of his suits in the middle of the night.  The suit got powered up and all the way into your parents’ bedroom.  So maybe even JARVIS couldn’t prevent that sort of thing. Vision says Tony overrode preventive programming because he knew all the keys, even in his sleep.”

She calmed as Bucky talked her through it.  He made a lot of sense.  “So it’s impossible for me to block the contact because I built and programmed the contact. Plus, Jason is almost entirely built on my protocols, not Dad’s.”

“Exactly.  So Vision hacked into Jason, Tony wrote an airtight code that blocks Jason from acting on input from the contact, and they gave me the key.” Bucky called out, “Jason, give me a status check on Darcy’s contact?”

“Yes, Sergeant. I am receiving, but I am merely recording. The data is available to Ms Stark for reference.  I am unable to take action on any of the instructions I am receiving as long as Code Downtime is activated.”

Bucky slid one hand across Darcy’s shoulder, along her neck, and tilted her chin up so he could brush a kiss on her lips.  “Vision, Tony, or I can stop the subroutine.  Once you get control of what you can do, we’ll get rid of it, if you want. But this way, you can sleep and figure out how it works on your own time.”

As a temporary solution, it was a good one, and she leaned into Bucky’s hold. “Why didn’t I think of this?” she complained.

“Because you’re exhausted, darling.  Exhausted, missing Steve, sore from the medical tests, nervous about the announcement, and still a little pissed at your dad.” Bucky held her close. “I messed up, thinking you needed space. Didn't realize how lonely you've been without your brother.”

“I'm getting used to it,” she said, sadly.

“Christ, love, do I have to have this conversation with you, too?”

Started, she looked up. “What's that?”

“I know you can do this on your own.” Bucky caressed her cheek with his thumb. “You don't have to. You can’t break me, Darcy Stark,” he told her again. “And I’m not going to let you down.”

Darcy dropped her head against Bucky’s chest, revelling in the solid muscle she found there. “I don’t--I don’t know who I am anymore. Everything’s changing,” she said with blunt honesty.

“I know. Got a little experience with that.” She looked up to see Bucky’s gentle, confident smirk. “Gotta trust me, Princess.”

For the first time, she felt his strength all the way into her gut.  Sliding her hand along his metal shoulder, she leaned up and kissed that determined mouth. “I do.”

Bucky’s eyes brightened to the purest of blues as he held her, not letting go.

 

******

 

Ecstatic at coming home, even for only the two days he’d allotted for Darcy’s announcement, Steve pressed his palm to the reader at his door. He had forty-eight precious hours with his spouses before he had to leave again.  

Darcy and Bucky waited with bright smiles, in spite of the ridiculously late hour.  Well-familiar with the homecoming drill, Darcy pounced on Steve, helping him strip while Bucky merely looked on with a grin. He waved magnanimously at Darcy.  “Ladies first.”

She had on a thin black silk robe that grazed her hips.  Steve only had to drag a finger through the knot to have it fall open.  

“I missed you, I missed you, I missed you,” Darcy chanted between kisses.  The sofa was handy enough, and she shoved Steve backward, condom in one hand, lube in the other. She had him wrapped up, slicked up, and encased in her heat before he knew which way was up. “Oh holy shitballs, Steven Grant, that’s perfect.”

His hands fisted into the silk as he held her steady, groaning at the pace she set.  Fast, hard.  And yes, perfect.  

Then Bucky leaned over the pair of them and kissed Steve with wanton thoroughness.  If Steve had a plan of any kind, it vanished into thin air.  Darcy rode him, chasing her pleasure, until he had enough sense to clutch her hips and help her get there with solid thrusts and the right angle so that her clit bumped the base of his cock.  Darcy reached back, holding on to Bucky as she peaked. And Steve had two sets of blue eyes filled with heat locked onto him.  His cock throbbed in time with Darcy’s orgasm, and she rocked with him until he was spent--

--though, judging by Bucky’s feline smirk, he had his own plans for Steve.  Bucky gracefully assisted Darcy upward, giving Steve a chance to deal with the condom.  As soon as he exited the bathroom, Bucky shoved him toward the bed, face down, and got busy working him open.  

It was fast, with a sting of pain/pleasure, and then Steve was full, full, aching and wanting as Bucky pressed in.  

“Christ, love, I missed you.  You’re ours. Mine. Darcy’s.  You’re our home, Steven Grant,” Bucky muttered.

Darcy sprawled out next to them, black silk framing her gorgeous tits, letting Steve suck on her fingers while Buck found just the right angle to make Steve hiss with pleasure. And then Bucky groaned, coming hard. Darcy pulled her hand away and tightened her fingers around Steve’s cock until he, too, growled their names as he came for the second time.

Satiated in body and heart, Steve could hardly keep his eyes open while Darcy wiped him down with a warm wash cloth.  When Bucky stretched on his right side, and Darcy on his left, lacing their fingers together across his chest, Steve smiled.  Yes, he was home.

Chapter Text

As Darcy finished packing her tote bag, Steve held up a door frame, waiting for the right moment to surprise her with his change in plans.  It wasn’t much, only for the day, but it would be more time together than they’d had in a month.  

Since the announcement Tuesday morning, they’d been caught up in a whirlwind with the media circus and the private party that Stark threw.  Tony, Pepper, and Darcy had divvied up the television, phone, and print interviews yesterday and today--they’d focused on the business side of things, and as far as Steve knew, after the initial shock, Stark Industries stock was expected to jump on the opening bell of Wall Street tomorrow (and he was proud of himself for knowing that little tidbit).

Darcy had to be in LA in a few hours for one of the morning shows, and Bucky was already in her new Quinjet going through the pre-flight checklist.  Sean had headed out earlier today with most of Darcy’s luggage, leaving Carla--Darcy’s other PA--to manage the two phone interviews Darcy’d had earlier this evening.  It was already midnight now, but Darcy’s time was scheduled to the minute for the entire week, and Steve would take what he could get.

“What time are you heading out?” Darcy asked, as she stuffed makeup into her cosmetics bag.  

Rather smugly, he drawled, “The Avengers are leaving in an hour.  But seeing as we’re heading in the same direction, I thought I’d hitch a ride with you. Coulson’s still rounding up his team. He wants all hands on deck by twenty-one hundred hours for check in. So you have me until then, wherever I’ll fit in your schedule.”  Steve had quietly checked with Sean and Bucky about coming along, not wanting to upset the plans in place, but Sean had been more than happy to nudge a few things around.

The squeak of happiness he expected.  The little hop and run as Darcy bounced into his arms for a hard hug wasn’t, but he caught her anyway.  He rubbed his nose on the curve of her neck, inhaling sunshine and spring when he did.  

“We haven’t had five minutes together that wasn’t face down on a bed,” she exclaimed. “Oh, I can introduce you to Catalina and Oscar now!” Darcy had been terribly disappointed  at the tight schedule the Avengers had.  While in LA, she planned to ask the former housekeeper to be Stark Mansion’s new majordomo when it reopened later this year. “Oh, holy shit, James is going to be thrilled.”

“He is.”  Bucky had been relieved, admitting he would likely have trouble speaking anything other than orders. While that didn’t present a problem on the media tour, it would be uncomfortable around Darcy’s old friends. With Steve along on his six, Bucky was much more likely to be his usual charming self.

This felt right, and Steve was elated to have a little more time with his loves without compromising his duty.   “Dinner, right?” he asked.

Darcy nodded. “An early one. I’ve got interviews right through lunch, but the afternoon is free.  We can visit with Catalina and Oscar, drop you at Coulson’s afterward, and then James and I will have plenty of time to get to the studio.”

“Handy having a Quinjet of your own.” Steve quipped. “But Coulson can pick me up at the studio. It will be more discreet since there’s a private entrance.”

Darcy hummed. “Good idea.”

“Tony tipped me off,” Steve admitted.  

"I won’t say a word. No need to stroke his ego.” Darcy mock-shuddered as she slid down Steve’s body and landed on her feet.  “Can you imagine having to land at LAX and drive everywhere? We would be hours.  Dad living in Malibu is one of the reasons the Quinjet was invented in the first place.” She gave Steve a shy smile.  “James really likes to fly.”

Remembering Bucky’s face when Tony had landed the brand new aircraft on the heli-pad yesterday at the beginning of the party, Steve couldn’t decide who was more excited: Darcy, over the gleaming white aircraft with the Stark Industries logo done up in hot pink and electric blue, or Bucky, as he ran his hands over the cockpit and controls.  

“He does. ‘Course Barton’s going to be all over him to have a shot at flying it.”

Brightening as she handed her packed carry-all to Steve and jammed her feet into her shoes, Darcy winked. “I think we can let James handle that one.” The constant competition between the two snipers over everything from target shooting to making cookies kept everyone in the Tower in stitches.

She gathered up her laptop bag and purse, and as they walked down to the landing pad, she offered, “It’s weird. I know James likes messing around in the lab, but I didn’t realize he has such a flair for mechanics.  He and Dad have been spending a lot of time together lately.”

Steve smiled a little at that.  He’d hoped his girl and his guy would have a chance to get to know each other while he was gone, without a crisis in the works to muck things up.  “Bucky’s always been handy with tools.  Kept a lot of cars running for the neighbors and our apartment in one piece.”

Shaking her head, Darcy said, “See? I didn’t know that.  Has he told you about the GTO he’s looking at restoring?”

Steve chuckled.  “He closed the deal on it as you were going downstairs. It’s being shipped from Idaho.  Should be here about the time you two get back.”

Darcy just laughed and breezed through her new aircraft to drop her laptop on her chair.  Her Quinjet was as beautiful as the Avenger’s Quinjet was functional.  Decked out in white leather, with electric blue trim and hot pink lights, the aircraft was barely recognizable as a warbird from the inside. The medical bay was replaced with a tiny kitchen, the jump seats replaced by cozy captain’s chairs with pull-down desks. One area had a couch that Tony swore turned into a bed big enough for the three of them.  

It wasn’t quite the indulgent piece that Stark’s plane was, but it was the epitome of security stuffed with whatever luxurious tricks Tony could wedge into it. The aircraft would accommodate a pilot, co-pilot, Darcy, her staff and security team at full complement. Today though, it was just the three of them. Four, Steve mentally corrected. Jason was the co-pilot.

“Stark outdid himself on this one,” Bucky remarked, as he eased out of the cockpit to give Darcy a kiss on the lips. “Sure as hell doesn’t look like any plane I’ve seen.”

Steve jammed his hands in his pockets.  “Do I get one of those?” The familiar smirk that appeared on Bucky’s mouth did all sorts of things to Steve’s cock, though he firmly told it to mind its own business.  

“You want a kiss, too, sweetheart?”

“I’d love one,” Steve answered solemnly.   

Darcy snickered from somewhere off to the left as Bucky drew Steve in for the kind of hot, wet kiss that made Steve wish they weren’t about to make a midnight flight across the country.  He touched that stubbled jaw, then tucked his fingers into the dark locks at Bucky’s nape, pulling his husband closer.  

With a reluctant groan, Bucky broke the kiss.  “Asshole. Now I have to fly with a stiff prick.”

“I was sharing the love. You know, all for one, one for all.”

“That was the Three Musketeers, punk, not two guys and a gorgeous dame.”

Darcy settled back on her chair and kicked off her shoes.  “Either you two need to get each other off, or we need to get this bird in the air. I’ve got places to be.”  

Bucky brushed a light kiss over Steve’s lips before snapping off a sharp salute to Darcy and ducking back into the cockpit. “Strap in, loves,” he called out. “We’re going to see what this sweet dame can do.” As Bucky got the Quinjet in the air, he ventured to Darcy, “Maybe Steve can paint you on the nose.”

She sighed. “Oh, that would solidify credibility in the business world.”

“No, but it would solidify you as a Stark who doesn’t give a damn what the world thinks of her,” he challenged.  

Steve didn’t know what to make of Bucky’s suggestion. Darcy was right, but then again, Starks were known for blazing their own trails. Buck seemed to be urging her to do just that, and Steve wondered why.  Then again, Bucky liked to needle Darcy to get a rise out of her.  (Come to think of it, Steve hadn’t seen a lot of that these past two days and wondered why not.)

Twice, Darcy seemed to want to argue with Bucky and stopped.  Then her eyes lit with unholy glee.  “Done. But Steve’s doing it off the portrait he drew in ‘41. And you have to help.”

Now Steve had to bite his lip, for she referred to the drawing he’d done the day Pearl Harbor had been bombed--only to discover most of century later that the girl in it was real and standing in front of him.  It was that day, he supposed, that set the events set in motion that brought all of them here.  And that’s what convinced him Bucky--and Darcy--were right.

“I’ll do it,” Steve told them as he mentally started planning out the artwork. “Sure won’t be able to hide this jet though.”  

“Not like you can hide a Quinjet anyway,” Darcy countered.

Bucky announced from the cockpit, “Cloaking tech. We’ll be fine.”

The impish smile playing on Darcy’s mouth was one Steve hadn’t seen in months.  She leaned back into her chair, relaxing as Bucky angled them out of NYC airspace.  Steve couldn’t decide if the tension she’d carried the past two days was purely nerves from the announcement, or if something else was going on.  He liked to think he was good at reading his girl, but she could be cagey from time to time.

When the plane leveled out, Darcy hopped out of her seat and started messing with the couch controls until the whole thing unfolded.  It really did turn into a bed big enough for the three of them.  All Steve had to do was pull the pillows and blankets out of the cubby tucked into the wall.  

The two of them crawled into the center, and Darcy suggested, “Jason, let’s watch a movie.”

“Of course, Ms Stark.” A thin screen dropped out of the ceiling.

“Hey,” Bucky protested from the cockpit. “I need ten minutes before Jason takes the wheel.  I want to watch something too.”  

“Ten minutes?” Darcy teased Steve, giving him flirty look.  “Let’s see what kind of trouble we can get into.”

Kissing Darcy was never a chore, but Steve wondered if she was dodging talking to him.  Then again, he wasn’t going to see her for another month--with that in mind, he fastened his mouth to hers and savored for while.  

When they came up for air, Darcy just rolled over and tucked herself into Steve’s side, humming happily as she snuggled in.  “I’ve slept better these past two nights than I have all month.”  

Steve pressed a kiss to her forehead, feeling guilty about leaving his family and knowing he wouldn’t change a thing.  

She realized what she said, popping up with an apologetic look. “I didn’t mean it like that.  I mean, yes, it sucks when you’re gone. Yes, I’ve had nightmares. But it wasn’t all about that, and Bucky figured out how to help me sleep a few days ago, and now you’ve been home--” Darcy sighed, her blue eyes growing sad. “I’m mucking this up.”

Bucky came up behind her to lean on the bed. “Yeah, you kind of are, love.”

“Is that even a sentence?” she grumbled.

“Maybe not for a knickerbocker, but it works just fine in Brooklyn,” he teased.

“There’s a reason you’re called ‘dodgers,’” Darcy complained.  

She was rewarded with a sound kiss. “Now you’re gettin’ it, doll.”

These past couple of days, it was impossible for Steve to miss the the subtle change in the relationship between his loves.  Bucky held himself with confidence now, the feral air he’d carried before almost gone--leaving the seasoned sergeant in place. And Darcy was aware of Bucky in a way she hadn’t been before.  A dozen times in these past two days, Steve had witnessed Darcy studying a tablet or speaking to an employee--seemingly oblivious to her surroundings--and absently reaching out to capture Bucky’s hand as he approached, no matter how silent he was.

Thinking of the last time he’d seen her do that, Steve wondered aloud, “What frightened you while I was gone?”

Darcy’s mouth dropped open in shock.  She shot Bucky a look as she slowly sat up on the bed. Bucky sprawled out on an elbow so the three of them made a little circle and shrugged. “Told you he would figure it out.”  

That hurt.  Steve did his best to keep his voice mild, but he couldn’t hide his anger. “Are we keeping secrets from each other already?”

“I’m not going to dump a bunch of speculation on you in the middle of an op, Rogers,” Darcy snapped back. She turned to thump Bucky on the shoulder.  “Seriously?  That didn’t help.  I had every intention of filling Steve in tonight as soon as he said he was coming along.”

“Sorry, doll.” Bucky was sincere. “You’re right.”

“Say that in my good ear,” Darcy muttered.  She was irritated now, blue eyes sparking, and instead of annoying Steve, it eased his anger.  Irritated Darcy usually had a handle on things. She tugged off the jacket she wore, dropping it on the bed.  She held out her arms, turning them up to show the fading bruises.

Well, he had been getting less annoyed.  He pressed his mouth in a hard line. “You did a damned good job of keeping them covered. I hadn’t noticed.”

“To be fair, we’ve been busy, and you weren’t looking,” she retorted.  “A week ago, my arms looked like I’d been bouncing balls on them.  Banner’s switched to pin pricks for blood tests, but he’s still checking hormone levels because I’m fucking tired of condoms and know if we slip even once, I’m getting knocked up.”

Though the idea of having kids didn’t bother Steve in the slightest, his loves weren’t ready for that.  He and Bucky had exchanged more than a few texts wishing Banner would find the magic formula so that stress would be gone from the bedroom. And it wasn’t just Darcy--Bucky worried nearly as much as she did and was quickest on the draw with a condom.  

But this wasn’t about Steve or Bucky, this was about Darcy, so he kept his mouth shut and took her hand. Bucky followed his lead, lifting Darcy’s other hand to his lips before lacing his fingers with hers.

She softened, sending both of them a grateful, weary smile. “The serum is different for everyone, right?” At Steve’s nod, Darcy continued, “I have the contact to JAR--Jason.  The serum seemed to think that it was just another part of my nervous system and set about ‘fixing’ the nonexistent synapses between the contact and my brain.”  She sagged.  “It's a part of me now.”

Careful not to show the unease her words caused, he prompted, “In what way?”

Darcy hunched her shoulders a little. “ I can’t turn it off, for one.  For two, with Jason’s help, I can access electrical circuits with my mind.” She looked away.  “Vision tells me I’m programming, just by thinking about it.”

The enormity of what Darcy might be able to do began to set in, and Steve automatically began to think of scenarios.  “What kind of range do you have?”

Darcy shook her head.  “I don’t know.  The room I’m in?  I don’t--” She crumpled inward. “I can’t control it. It’s too much.” She broke off. Bucky looked heartbroken and pressed a kiss to her shoulder.  

Steve gently tugged her into his lap to hold her close.

She didn’t cry, but she shuddered with fear as Bucky picked up the thread of the story. “Darcy doesn’t have any control, and she can’t make Jason ignore the contact because of the way they are linked. Vision can tell you why and how.  For now, Tony, Vision, and I figured how to block Jason with a subroutine.  Means she can sleep and not set off lightning in our apartment during a nightmare.”

At Darcy’s flinch, Steve glared in frustration at Bucky.  “Did that happen?”

“Few days back.”  Bucky’s bleak look warned him not to dig.  

Steve wanted to be angry at not being told right away.  But with his spouses clearly upset, he swallowed his ire to focus on the present. “How long will the subroutine work?”

“Until Darce wants me to take it down or thinks her way around it,” Bucky told him.  

Darcy shook her head, her hair tickling Steve’s chin as she insisted, “No. Not now.  Not this week.  Not until I feel normal again.  Maybe not ever.”

Considering the past few weeks, he had to agree.  The serum didn’t seem to be doing Darcy any particular favors, and he was damned grateful she didn’t seem to resent either of her husbands for having it.  Steve ran his hand over Darcy’s spine, soothing the tension that had gathered there.  She relaxed as he stroked, until he finally asked, “Anything else I missed?”

Darcy chuckled weakly. “That’s kind of the big one.”

“Good enough.”

Bucky poked Steve in the shoulder.  “Movie, then.  Scoot over.”

Steve worked his way a few inches backward. “What are we watching?”

“The Martian,” Darcy insisted as she propped her head on Steve’s bicep, using it as a pillow.  Bucky worked his metal arm under his head to do the same.    

In the wake of the long day,  she fell asleep ten minutes into the film.  Bucky nudged Steve to move to the cockpit with him so they could talk without bothering her.  While Bucky took his seat, Steve covered their wife with a blanket and asked Jason to dim the lights and turn off the movie.

“How is she in the air?” Steve asked as he settled into the co-pilot’s chair, referring to the plane.  

Bucky flipped switches and studied the flight path on the heads-up display. “Easy on the stick and all the grace of a high-class dame,” he drawled with a touch of Brooklyn in his voice.  

“You like to fly.”

Bucky nodded.  “I do.”

Steve didn’t. He still had too many horrible associations with a particular landing, but he’d learned to tolerate being in the air. He could play pilot in a pinch, though he’d rather not. “You were always handy with a wrench. Think you surprised Darcy on that one,” he said instead.

“I’d forgotten, I think. Not much around here needs fixing, right? Lookin’ forward to getting my hands on that GTO.”

“You know Tony and Darcy are going to ‘help,’ right?”

“Countin’ on it. Heard Coulson’s got a flyin’ car. I want one.”

Steve chuckled, remembering Bucky’s fascination with Howard’s creation at the ‘43 Stark Expo.  “Guess Stark didn’t exactly deliver on that promise.”

“He’s going to.” Bucky flashed Steve devilish smirk.  

Once again, Steve was get-down-on-the-knees grateful that he and Bucky were here.  That smirk was a cornerstone of their existence, and Steve had been more than a little lost without it.  “What are we going to do when we get to LA?” he wondered, changing the subject.

“We’ll park at Stark’s place until it’s time to take Darcy to the studio.  Should give us a few hours to catch some shut-eye and grub.”

“Sounds like a plan.”  Steve leaned back in the chair. The night sky was beautifully dark, with a full moon making the nose of the plane glimmer.  They flew in companionable silence until Steve dug around in his go bag for a spare pad and pencil, and then the quiet was broken only by the scratching of the graphite as Steve drew.  He worked on the scene in front of him--controls, windows, and night sky--until he got bored, flipped the page over, and started sketching out Darcy’s pin-up on the nose of the plane.

It took a while to dig up the nerve to ask about the changed relationship between his spouses. He worried.  Fretted some. Wondered how letting the truth out would change things.  As if with idle curiosity, Steve asked, “What else is going on, Buck? You’re hovering, and she’s avoiding. It’s a pretty dance, but I’m not that green.”

Bucky let out an exasperated huff of amusement.  “When did you get to be an expert on the ladies, Rogers?”

“I’m terrible at it.  But I know you and Darcy.  Or at least I thought I did. What else is going on?”

“We’re okay. Just been gettin’ to know each other in a different way. Serum’s thrown us for a loop, and Darcy’s still scared of setting me off. But we’re figurin’ it out.”

“You’d tell me if it wasn’t working?” Steve asked quietly, putting his biggest fear out in the open.  

But Bucky merely sent him a blue-eyed wink.  “Don’t trust my charm, Rogers?”

“Darcy’s a tough nut to crack.”

“You didn’t have any problem,” Bucky retorted.  

“We started in a different place.”

“I guess you did.  Look, I’ve got this, punk.” With a pat on Steve’s hand, Bucky assured him, “It’s going to take a little time. Darcy’s gettin’ used to being a whole different kind of person. Gonna take her a while to figure out how to be a Stark and Darcy and our girl at the same time. We’ve gotta be patient for a bit.”

Taking heart in his husband’s confidence, Steve only grumbled, “Patience is your virtue, not mine.”

“And that’s why you’re out hitting things, and I’m stayin’ home watchin’ the paint peel. Works for both of us. Just don’t do anything that’s gonna make me come after your ass, punk. Gonna piss me off, and it’ll worry our girl.”

The familiar nagging settled Steve down, and he went back to sketching.  The night was quiet. Bucky handled the plane with a deft touch.   

Perhaps an hour later, Darcy shuffled into the cockpit, handed Bucky a Thermos of coffee with a kiss to his head, and then crawled into Steve’s lap to rest her head on his shoulder.  He set the tablet and pencil aside so that he could hold her with both arms.  

“Thank you, love,” Bucky told Darcy.

“You’re welcome.”

They must have dozed off, for when the Quinjet landed a couple of hours later, Bucky woke them with a loving smile. “Come to bed.  Jason’s got the watch.  It’ll be our last chance to be alone for a while.”

Darcy came out of Steve’s lap to slide into Bucky’s embrace.  The thought of making love to them crossed Steve’s mind, but in all honesty, he just wanted to hold onto both of them for a while, to know they were safe and happy.

Steve took the middle, rolling so that they could spoon up with Darce to his front and Bucky at his back.  Bucky tweaked the covers.  Darcy scooted just so she could hold Steve’s hand just under her breasts.  Bucky’s hand landed on his hip. “What time do we have to be at the studio?” Steve asked drowsily.  

“Oh-four-hundred,” Bucky answered, his words already slurring.

“Wake us in two hours, Jason,” Steve ordered.  

“Of course, Captain.”

 

*****

 

Bucky’s inner alarm clock went off a few minutes before Jason could wake them.  Just enough time to ensure his cock was firmly nudging Steve’s ass.  The prudent thing to do would be to roll away and get moving for the long day.  But faced with another month without the punk, it was far too tempting to fasten his mouth to the curve of Steve’s shoulder.  

Darcy laughed when Steve let out a moan that was too loud for the small space.  “Serves you right,” she told him with a breathy accusation.

Bucky went up on an elbow to peer over Steve’s shoulder, only to find Steve’s middle two fingers plunging inside Darcy, his thumb curving over her clit.  “Gettin’ started without me?” he accused.  

“She smelled good,” Steve said, with the faintest whine that reminded Bucky of sweaty summer nights and cheap Brooklyn housing.

“Somebody tell me we have condoms and lube stashed nearby,” Bucky said.  

“Pardon me, Sergeant, but you will find what you need in the drawer to your right,” Jason offered.  

“Thanks, Jay,” he muttered.  “Privacy protocols unless asked, all right?”

“Of course, Sergeant. Engaged.”

“It really is like having younger siblings,” Bucky complained as he rooted around in the drawer and came up with two condoms and a tube of lube.

“Only they won’t make fun of you later,” Steve muttered.  

With one hand and his teeth, Bucky tore open the first condom and rolled it over Steve’s hard cock.  “Be still, punk.  Can’t do this with you jerking all over the place.”

“Fuck you, jerk. Got ya prick bumpin m’ ass, ya hand on m’ cock, and Darce is right here with her pretty tits and a pot full o’ the sweetest honey known t’ man.”

The moment Steve was sheathed, he pulled his fingers out of Darcy and licked them, rolling so that he could dive into her heat.  But Bucky slid his left arm under Steve, holding him back.

The punk shot him a dirty look over his shoulder. “James Buchanan Barnes, give me one good reason not to punch you into next week,” Steve growled.

With another quick movement, Bucky opened the second condom, rolled it on himself, and then reached under Steve to touch Darcy. He couldn’t see her from here, but her folds clung to his fingers as he slid them inside.  “Christ, doll, but you’re wet.”  

“Steve’s been busy.” She raised her hips to match his movement.  He, too, stroked over her clit with his thumb, while Steve could only watch their girl.  

“Seems so.”  

When Bucky’s hand was coated with Darcy’s juices, he slicked up his own cock and pressed the head against Steve’s puckered rim.  He shifted, leaning up so that his metal hand rested on Steve’s hip. “Come on, punk. Take it at Darcy’s speed.”

Steve let out a low moan as he set himself inside their girl.  Darcy arched upward to get the right angle, and Bucky pressed into Steve as she did.  Without prep, the punk was tighter than a miser with a gold coin, but Steve’s hole fluttered open and closed, trying to take Bucky in.  

There was nothing better than getting fucked and fucking at the same time.  Bucky wanted it for Steve, to send the punk off with a memory to bring him home.  Darcy was game, coaxing Bucky and loving the way Steve reacted as Bucky breached that sphincter ring to begin the slide home.  

“Let him in Steve,” she ordered. “I want to feel you inside me when he hits your sweet spot. You know I love it when he makes you fall part.”  

Steve groaned at her words.  Bucky pressed in, just as Steve slid into Darcy, and the dual sensation made Steve cry out when Bucky’s cock grazed Steve’s prostate.  “Can’t move, can you, punk.”  

Darcy’s breathing changed to panting as Steve managed to stroke inside her a couple of times, impaling himself on Bucky’s cock as he did. “I can,” Steve complained. But Bucky didn’t pull out, just let Steve push him deeper inside, until his balls grazed Steve’s ass. “Buck, you gotta move.  I need--you gotta move.”

They’d perfected this rhythm, Steve sliding out of Darce, Bucky easing up out of Steve, and fucking back hard into him, so that Steve stroked hard into Darcy.  However it worked, Darcy let out a happy shriek.  “Do it again.”

Problem was, when they did it just right, nobody lasted very long.  Darcy was twice as sensitive to touch, Steve had been on a hair trigger since the serum anyway, and Bucky--well, he just wasn’t going to deny himself a moment of sweet pleasure.

But he could angle his cock just right so that he pressed against Steve’s sweet spot.  

Steve lost it, alternately clenching his ass around Bucky’s cock and trying to bury himself into Darcy.  Darcy started chanting Steve’s name as she hitched a leg higher on Steve’s hip--close enough for Bucky to grasp her calf to help.  Her chants spiraled into a cry as she came, and Bucky let go, pumping into Steve with convulsive jerks of his hips that ended only when he’d emptied himself and the sweet fire was a memory humming under his skin.  

Bucky hummed in happiness as he pulled out of his lover and collapsed on the bed, rolling to his back as he did.  Steve sat on his heels, scraping a hand through his damp hair, and Darcy’s cheeks were pink with sweaty exertion.    Darcy pounced on Bucky, kissing him with nips and swipes of the tongue that made his cock twitch with interest.  Steve was all smiles as he watched them.  

“Got one more in you, Princess?” Bucky asked.  

“Maybe.”  Her eyes glinted.  

“Maybe I can tease one out of you.”

“Do your best,” she challenged.  

He nudged her into straddling his head.  There was a convenient handle for a cabinet above the headboard.  Darcy grabbed onto it for balance.  Bucky licked along her folds, then groaned as Steve drew the condom off his dick and wiped him down with a warm cloth.  Yeah, that got the blood flowing downward again.  

Darcy tasted like spring to him.  That oversweet scent of a thousand flowers blooming all at once. The damp forest on a rainy day. Life, love, and exquisite joy coursed through him as her flavor surrounded his senses.  She was his, but he was hers, and he was forever caught up in the magic of Darcy and Steve. He’d wished for this--ages ago--but the reality outstripped anything he’d conjured in his imagination.  

He tasted, and then cried out as Steve closed his mouth over Bucky’s reawakening cock.  This, too, had been a fantasy.  Steve--healthy, whole--able to give his whole body over to lovemaking. Bucky echoed the way that warm tongue slid over his foreskin, and Darcy hissed when Bucky sucked lightly on her clit.  

This time, the fires grew from a single candle flame, to a comfortable fire, to a roaring blaze.  Bucky licked Darcy’s clit until she screamed, coating his face with her juices as she came again and again.  Steve doubled-down on his sucking, swallowing around Bucky until he came with a shout of his own.  

Bucky was grateful for his strength when he could gently lower Darcy to the bed. She quivered, still coming down from the intense orgasm.  He panted with her, reaching out for Steve, who grinned like a cat with a canary.  

Darcy winked at Bucky, and with a flick of her eyes toward Steve, they moved in tandem to tackle him.  Bucky went high, fastening his mouth to Steve’s, saturated as it was with Darcy’s flavor, one hand flicking at a flat nipple as he did.  Darcy went low, licking her way down Steve’s cock and balls. Together, they took their husband apart and put him back together again until Steve was a quivering mess, babbling their names and messing them up as he did.  

Satiated, covered in a sheet of sweat, the trio breathed in tandem in the wake of their lovemaking.  

All too soon, the reality of where they were set in. Bucky could see the faint worry in Steve’s eyes, and the echoing fear in Darcy’s, as they gathered themselves for the trip to the studio.  The flight was a short hop, and it was Darcy who fought for the professionalism she needed to get through the day.  She succeeded, flashing weary smiles at the station manager and her PA as she was whisked to the dressing rooms to prepare for the show.

Bucky’s estimation of Sean rose a dozen notches as the assistant deftly herded Darcy into makeup and wardrobe, handed her a latte and granola-laden yogurt, then indicated the breakfast he had ordered and laid out for Bucky and Steve just inside the dressing room door.  With coffee in hand, Bucky could easily keep her secure and in line of sight.  

The two Kilo bodyguards who had arrived yesterday with Sean had done a sweep of the areas Darcy would be in this morning and were stationed outside the door.  Bucky would do his own recon moments before Darcy would walk from wardrobe to green room to stage. It was a scenario he and the two guards had repeated three times since Darcy's announcement, and they would hone it to perfection by the time the media tour ended in five days.

Fortunately, Stark’s man, Hogan, was familiar with all of the venues and gave Barnes a clear run through of each one, with floor plans and personnel, making Barnes’ job that much easier.

As Darcy was transformed from the sleepy intern into scientist extraordinaire, complete with boots and lush red lips, Sean handed her, in turn,  a sausage roll, a breakfast burrito, juice, and finally a water bottle. It appeared that the PA had taken Banner’s nutritional plan for Darcy to heart and wasn’t going to let her run herself into the ground.  Sean didn’t particularly know about the serum, only that Darcy needed a highly specialized diet.  But the PA was smart, understood how to feed the supersoldiers, and likely drew his own conclusion or two.

When Darcy slipped into the grey blouse, dark jeans, and black jacket, she looked like … herself. Polished.  Confident.  As if she could stand up to anyone, including Tony Stark.

Bucky and Steve both rose to their feet automatically as she crossed the room to them, and it was equally automatic that Bucky lifted her hand and dropped a kiss across her knuckles. “Gorgeous, love.”

Steve just shook his head.  “They won’t know what’s coming,” he assured her.

Darcy didn’t say a word, just leaned in and kissed both of them on the cheek.  

And then it was Bucky’s turn for a security sweep as she walked from dressing room to the green room to wait her turn in the studio.   She was only there for twenty minutes, until an assistant led them to the stage where four ladies were seated around a table, and Darcy’s name was announced to the wild applause of the studio audience.

Bucky watched from the wings, one shoulder hardly brushing Steve’s.  The questions were the same as they had been since the announcement, just variations on a theme.  Sean made it clear that certain topics were absolutely off the table: Tony’s kidnapping, most anything related to Bucky, and speculations about S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra.

 

What was it like growing up with Tony Stark as a dad?

Awesome.  Terrifying. But mostly awesome.  Dad would help me clean grease out of my fingernails and then paint them with glitter nail polish. That kind of thing.

Do you ever talk to your mother?  

Most every day. Pepper and I run the company together and have for the past few years.

I mean, your birth mother?  

No. There hasn’t been any need for it.  

Aren’t you curious about her?

Not really.  I mean, I know who she is, but there’s never been a need for a relationship there.  Pepper’s a pretty awesome mom.  

Where did you go to school?

Dad home schooled me at first. (Laughter from the audience)  Seriously, he’s a really great teacher.  But I went to the Hartford Academy right here in the LA area starting when I was eight.  Dad still taught me the hard sciences at home, I promise. When I was fifteen, I enrolled at MIT.

Tony calls himself a mechanic.  What do you consider yourself?

If he’s a mechanic, I’m a  hacker. (More laughter from the audience)  My expertise is in robotics and artificial intelligence. Dad’s all about clean energy and propulsion systems. I have little robots who follow me around my lab. My minions.  It’s fun.  They clean.  They do stuff. I adapted their design to work in dirty waterways, and they are currently being tested in the Chesapeake Bay to clean the microbeads and trash out of the oyster estuaries.  The first test is going well, and--hey, look, we have pictures--yeah, that’s the trash barge.  One of Stark Industries’ biggest areas of research is to find a safe way to dispose of plastics without sticking them into a landfill.  It’s a major problem and the number one source of pollution in our world today.

So, curious now, with all of  Stark Industries’ history of weapons manufacturing, have you ever shot anything?

I tased Thor.  (Audience laughs.)

That’s right.  You were part of the first contact team with Thor.  

I did an internship with Jane Foster.  And by internship, I mean driving her rickety RV all over New Mexico and staying up way too late while Jane stared through telescopes.  Dr. Foster’s my best friend and has been since those days.

Is that why she works at Stark Industries?

That and she gets paid a lot of money.

Stark Industries changed  directions in 2008, when Tony Stark stopped making weapons.  What is your vision for the company?

To continue what Dad started and Mom’s perfected: exploring better ways to produce clean energy, as well as to clean up the areas we--as a human society--have polluted.  That includes weapons disposal, by the way. Capitol Hill knows that whenever the subject comes up in committee, I’m going to be there to make sure we’re doing the right thing.  

So you work with Congress?

Frequently. I’ve served as Pepper’s assistant since I turned eighteen, and for the past two years, I’ve been the Stark Industries liaison regarding clean energy and weapons disposal.

You’ve mentioned that you run Stark Industries with Pepper Potts.  How does that work?

We tag team.  We practically share an office and computer.  Depending on who is in the office, we triage the work and figure out who’s going to get what done. Pepper takes point, but I’m comfortable with the day-to-day operations of the company.  I do split time between the company and my lab.  I’m a Stark, so I get itchy if I don’t get to build stuff.

Is it hard working with your mother?

Not at all.  It’s no secret that Howard and Tony had a contentious relationship.  My parents have made sure that doesn’t happen to us.

Okay, so we’ve talked about the company and your parents.  During your press conference, you mentioned that your relationship with Steve Rogers and James Barnes has been formalized.  On Asgard?

We married three months ago.  (Darcy touches her wrist, making the wedding bracelet appear.)

What’s it like being married to two men?

Awesome.  Steve and James are ridiculously adorable together. It’s like they turn into teenagers from the thirties--slang and all, by the way--and then they turn around and complain about the cost of gas and groceries like the ninety-year-olds they are.  It’s hysterical.  

Do you ever feel left out?  They do go back a ways.

Only when I’m too exhausted to keep up--oh, wait, you weren’t talking about sex, were you? (roar of laughter from the studio)  And no.  We have our thing, by two and by three. It’s a lot of work, a lot of honesty, and a lot of trust.  But hey, you do know I’m married to Captain America, so the last two are a given, and I’ve never seen two men less afraid of a little hard work as the ones I’m married to.  

What’s it like to be the daughter and the wife of the Avengers?  

No different than any kid or spouse of a soldier, I think.  You have to trust the team and respect what they do.    All of the Avengers are my friends.  We take care of each other.

 

When Darcy finished her segment, she waved to the crowd as she strolled off the stage. She made it look easy, expertly feeding the public information, making them laugh, and dodging any real issues.  She was building her image as a softer, less erratic version of Stark, coached by Pepper, and unafraid of the world.  Judging by the write ups, it was working.  

Bucky kissed her cheek as he and Steve escorted her to the dressing room for a change of clothes and a short car trip to her next interview. In moments like these, Darcy had every ounce of professionalism that Peggy Carter had exhibited.  Confident, unafraid, and just a little scary.  She was perfect.  

 

*****

 

That evening, stuffed with Catalina and Oscar’s cooking, the trio returned to the studio for Darcy’s appearance on one of the popular late night shows.  

Steve had a quarter hour before Coulson’s driver would pick him up in the back lot, and Darcy needed these last few minutes with him.  Bucky leaned against the door to keep anyone from accidentally coming in.

She’d asked before; she would ask again. “How long will you be gone?”

Again, Steve assured her, “Four or five weeks, if our timeline holds.”

Darcy firmly stepped on her emotions. Steve didn’t need her falling apart right now.  He had a job to do, and didn’t need to feel guilty about doing it. So she leaned in to kiss him thoroughly, with a little nip to the bottom of his lip. There was a ritual to these good-byes.  Signs and countersigns that would reassure them in the weeks to come.

But for just a moment, Darcy clutched Steve’s shoulder with one hand and the back of his neck with the other, soaking up Steve’s scent of clean, cool oceans as he held her tight.  For that moment, she took what she needed, holding on, leaning on his unwavering determination and love.  With a deep breath, she stepped back.  “I love you.” (sign)

“I love you back, Darce.” (countersign)

Soothed in spite of herself, Darcy chided, “Go save the world.”

“It’s what I do,” he agreed.

“Somebody’s got to,” she teased.  

Bucky intervened, firmly kissing Steve square on the lips too.  “Don’t be stupid, punk.” (sign)

“Can’t,” Steve hummed happily.  “I’m leaving all the stupid with you, jerk.” (countersign) Rituals concluded, Steve picked up his duffel bag and shield.  “Keep the bed warm,” he ordered.   

“Always,” Darcy murmured.  She touched her fingers to her lips and blew him a kiss.

Steve walked out, leaving her with Bucky.  She closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry.  Metal fingertips slid under hers, lightly touching, to remind her she wasn’t alone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Clad in a white suit with navy trim and a pair of Jimmy Choos that were comfortable enough to wear for a full day, Darcy stepped onto SI’s newly remodeled executive level that now accommodated Darcy, her team, and the new conference room with full holographic tech.

The floor housed Pepper and Darcy’s personal staff, a receptionist, and a shared pool of general assistants. While Darcy and Pepper’s offices and the conference room were private spaces, the rest had been laid out in a kitschy, tech-happy open environment that encouraged collaboration, with tables grouped here and there for projects and quiet rooms for whenever privacy was needed.

Darcy took her seat in the conference room next to Pepper. Carla sat in to take notes. One end of the conference table lit up with holograms of the Stark Industries Board of Directors. Darcy referred to them as the Elders in private, and as the six older men popped up on-screen, Carla had to conceal a smile. But most of them were nice enough, had suffered through Tony’s era, and had been properly grateful (eventually) of Pepper’s management of the company.

This would be Darcy’s first official board meeting since she’d gone public, though they’d had an informal one that same day. She hoped the Elders were over the shock of Tony actually producing a kid who had demonstrated an interest in Stark Industries.

At the very last moment, Tony breezed in and promptly poured himself a scotch from the decanter on the table. As Chairman of the Board, he (in theory because Pepper wrote up the agendas) ran these meetings and kept them as short as possible (mostly true). A thrum of anticipation filled Darcy as she sat next to her parents. Introductions weren’t needed, and the board was long used to Tony’s method of doing business. Or not doing business.

Tony rattled off, “Hi, we’re here. Excellent. Meeting called to order and all that. We lose anybody this year? No? Good. I don’t have the patience to break in anybody new. Anybody want to retire and sell me all their stock? No? Offer’s open.” He paused only long enough to take a breath. “Old business.” Tony indicated Darcy. “You’ve already met the Heir, which resolves the major discussion point of the last five years. Here’s the succession plan.” He waved in Darcy’s direction.  “Enough of that. New business?”

Tony glanced at the agenda before continuing, “Said Heir has already sent you a breakdown of our current financial status, our budget, the state of the Union, and all that. Please note the inclusion of a diversity analysis for all departments, as well as plans to recruit more women to the Vice-President and Director levels. Darcy’s getting tired of explaining that boobs don’t cause brains to evaporate.”

Darcy groaned under her breath as Tony went on, “You have any questions or complaints, shoot them to her, not Pepper, definitely not me. Warning: she’s a millennial, not a baby boomer or Gen Xer. Study up on the differences.” He slapped his hands on the table. “We good here?”

The six Elders snorted in varying degrees of amusement. “Gonna drop any more surprises on us, Stark?” one of them asked.

Tony grinned. “Jury’s out, but I don’t have any more progeny, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Works for me,” the oldest one agreed. “Ms. Stark, your analysis and plans for diversity are clear enough. Can you tell us what this will bring to the table?”

Darcy didn’t look at her parents for permission. Instead, she laid out concise reasons for why diversity was necessary in the workplace, starting with competitive advantages and ending with ethics. “With a company as influential as Stark Industries, we can be a leader. I’m confident that we will only improve our portfolio and employee base, as well as attract a new generation of businesses who wish to work with Stark Industries.”

She touched her tablet and cast her graph to become a hologram at the center of the table. “Take a look at the number of our clients who have cited ‘gender of the CEO’ as a reason for doing business with SI and compare it with those clients we’ve lost for the same reason. The inflow has more than offset the outflow. The client base is younger, hungry for solutions, and often partners with SI for technological development, rather than merely purchasing our wares. We’re getting the best of both worlds that way.”

The Elders nodded, and the one who’d been asking the questions gave Darcy a small gesture of acknowledgement. “Agreed.”

“Anything else?” Tony asked.

Another Elder raised a finger. “Your reports didn’t mention Ms. Stark changing positions in the company. Care to comment?”

Pepper fielded that one. “Our employees and our clients need time to adjust before we make any significant changes, although Darcy and I have been running the company together for a couple of years now. With that being said, I plan to relinquish the title of President to Darcy and retain the title of Chief Executive Officer. When that happens, Darcy will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, and I will retain responsibility for the long-term strategies. I’m quite certain we will continue to work together in both roles.”

“Do you have a time frame on this?” the Elder asked.

“Anything less than two years is rushing, more than five is dragging our feet,” Pepper replied. “Darcy is only twenty-seven, which buys us transition time. We all know how jittery our stock price was last week, in spite of our reassurances that I wasn’t planning to abdicate the throne, as it were,” she said with a smile. “It’s smoothing out as the media calms down.”

“Thank you, Pepper,” Tony murmured with pride. “Anything else?”

Headshakes all around, and Darcy felt the tension unwind as the meeting was dismissed and the holograms flickered off.

Tony squeezed Darcy’s shoulder. “You did good, kid.” Then he leaned down to kiss Pepper right on the lips. “I was smart for hiring you in the first place.”

“You didn’t hire me, Peggy Carter did,” Pepper called out as Tony scampered out of the room, already shedding his jacket as he went.

He paused at the doorway, not bothering to hide his grin. “Okay. I hired, like, twelve percent of you.”

Pepper laughed aloud as he left, but refused to explain it to Darcy. “Come on. Let’s get to work,” she said.

Darcy converted the conference room into a work room with Friday’s help. Virtual screens appeared with emails, projects, and reports. Pepper kicked off her shoes and brought her own screens online. This kind of collaboration wasn’t new to them, but with the holographic technology Tony had created, they could prioritize and assign tasks with incredible efficiency, track progress on various projects, and zip through dozens of questions and requests with ease. Data and email were flicked off to the appropriate assistant or vice-president’s office, with Friday handling all the data streams.

Pepper had a special project for them after they’d sorted through the day’s work. With Darcy’s announcement, Stark Industries was undergoing a shakeup, as several senior VPs had discovered their dreams of heading up SI had vanished. Two had already bailed, and Darcy laid bets on three more--maybe four --in the coming quarter.  It wasn’t uncommon for each departing executive to take along an assistant or other favored employee, though HR attempted to keep that to a minimum.

Darcy didn’t fault any of them. All of the departing VPs were talented and had their eyes set on becoming a Fortune 500 company president. Since that was no longer an option here, they either had to settle for second fiddle to a Stark or take a lead role at another company. There were times that no benefit package in the world could match the title of President or CEO.  

All this meant moving personnel at the highest levels, which would have a ripple effect throughout the company. As speculation about possible resignations intensified, every employee seemed to be showing up early, staying late, and turning in reports on time as they jockeyed for promotions. Donuts and muffins appeared daily.

“Friday,” Pepper called out, “Give us the organizational chart of Stark Industries; highlight the vacancies.”

When it appeared, Darcy touched several more positions. “Put these in a different color. I think these are the ones who will leave soon.”  Hill was on the list, but Bucky would take her spot.  Since he couldn’t travel to SI’s other facilities without Darcy or Steve, he’d tapped his Sierra lead to do the legwork. Garcia had made a round trip of the other SI facilities to conduct a full security assessment. Tony, of all people, had accompanied him and returned with a vote of confidence for the man.

Pepper drummed her fingers on the table. “What are your thoughts on bringing in an outside VP for one of these slots?”

“Nope,” Darcy countered. “It’s too big of a risk for infiltration. HYDRA, AIM, Ten Rings—Barnes and Hill just cleaned house. This one’s got to come from within.”

“I agree.” Pepper began flagging names for possible promotions. Candidates would have to be interviewed and efficiencies assessed.

When they finished, Darcy joined Pepper in her office where lunch had been delivered. As they ate, Darcy received a subtle mom-interrogation, asking about Steve (still on a mission, no ETA yet), Bucky (stable, missed Steve), and Darcy herself (glad to be home, missed Steve, eager to start work on the mansion).

Pepper lit up at the last part.  “When are Catalina and Oscar coming?”

“They’ll be here in about a month.  Which is good. James and I are meeting with the designer later this week to look over some ideas. I don’t think there’s a curtain or seat cushion that’s less than thirty years old. Dad wasn’t exactly into decorating. Not only that, Thor’s got a list of what he’ll need for the embassy. Jane’s already picked their suite, and then we have to powwow over what we want to do in the nursery. I don’t want to throw everything, but Jane has some ideas.”

“Is she going to use it right away?”

“No. The baby will have a room in their suite, but it will made sense when Jane goes back to work to have a nanny and a separate space for the kids to be during the day.”

“Are you going to take point on making all that happen?”

Darcy shook her head. “No, I think James has a better eye for it, and he’s got the time.  Now that he’s got the security department running the way he wants, he’s been sparring with his guards to fill the day. Or he had.  I think the garage is covered in car parts now.” She smiled as she remembered having to coax Bucky home last night. He’d been covered in old grease, nicks and scrapes on his hand from tearing the engine down, and had the biggest smile when Darcy stopped in to admire his work.

Pepper nodded. “He does have a good eye.” She waggled fingers at Darcy. “Sweetie, don’t you dare feel guilty about turning over the decorating of Stark Mansion to somebody else. That place is a monstrosity and a full-time job for two dozen people.”

Sighing, Darcy agreed, “I know. I do feel guilty because it belongs to my family.”

“Do you really think Howard designed it himself? No. He hired an architect to dream up a bunch of ideas and picked what he liked. Your dad did the same thing in Malibu.”

“Point made.”

A soft chime sounded, and both Pepper and Darcy paused for Friday’s announcement. “Ms Stark, I’m to remind you of your appointment with Dr. Banner in fifteen minutes.”

“Whoops,” Darcy said, setting her lunch on the tray nearby to gather up her tablet and tea. She kissed her mom on the cheek. “I’ll be in my lab this afternoon.  I’m going to rewire Jason today.”

“Good luck.”  

Darcy zipped down to Bruce’s lab, waving at Jane as she passed by.  

Bruce greeted her with a soft smile” “Hello, Darcy. You want some good news?”

(Holy shitballs, yes.) “Astound me.”

“Your hormones are stabilizing. I’m guessing your cycle will start in the next few days. Once that happens, I can work on synthesizing a new birth control pill for you, though I’ll probably start with shots to get the dosage right.”

Darcy winced. She was developing a real phobia about needles.

“Maybe I can do a patch instead?” he asked, noting her reaction.

“Please.”

“Then let’s see how you do with these.” He held up a packet.

“What’s that for?”

“Steve mentioned that you get cramps.  He wanted to make sure you had some kind of decent muscle relaxer that would work with the serum.” Bruce passed over a small packet of sealed patches, along with a couple of prepped needles.

“More pointy things?” she asked warily.

“Local version, just in case the patches aren’t strong enough. Turn around.” She put her back to him and Bruce lightly pressed on two points on her lower back. “The injections go here and here. If you can’t do it, Bucky can. He asked after Steve brought it up.” Bruce was a little apologetic as he added, “Females have a higher pain tolerance than males, in general, so I’m guessing to a certain extent. Don’t be afraid to take what you need and let me know what does and doesn’t work.”

“Will do. Should I be embarrassed that my husbands had to be the ones to ask?” Darcy said as she held her hand out for Bruce to take that day’s sample.  Her tone was sharp.

Perhaps too sharp, because Bruce countered mildly, “You’ve had a busy summer,” as he pricked her finger.

Darcy slumped in the chair. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t snap at you.”

He huffed a little and relaxed again. “I’d say you’ve earned the right. Adapting to the serum isn’t easy for anyone. Okay, why don’t you step on the scale for me?”

“How about we agree I haven’t gained any more weight?”

“Nope. No excuses,” Bruce chided.

She kicked off her shoes and got on the little portable scale. “See? I told you so. I can’t choke down any more of those stupid protein shakes.”

“And your appetite has nothing to do with stress and lack of sleep. Are you having nightmares again?”

Darcy stuffed her feet back in her shoes, giving him a shrug.  

“You need a break.” Bruce gave her a sly smile. “A vacation will help your stress levels come down.  You’ll stabilize that much faster.” He shrugged. “Doctor’s orders.”

The idea of a weekend somewhere pretty had its appeal.  “In spite of your fantastic work with the serum, you still aren’t a medical doctor,” Darcy said lightly.

Bruce gave her a little smile at the old joke between them. “Tell that to everyone in the Tower, will you?” he asked.

“I’ll send out the memo again,” she promised.

“Print it for your dad and stick it on his door.”  

“Done.”

 

*****

 

Bucky strolled in from work, shed his Stark Industries jacket, and dropped the Stark/Rogers/Barnes mail on the kitchen table. Darcy was making dinner. From the looks of it, a simple stir-fry chicken and veggie concoction in sesame oil with a teriyaki seasoning that smelled great.

“How was your day?” he asked. Darcy leaned into the kiss he pressed against her cheek, and he set one arm around her waist while he pulled out cups and plates from the cabinet for two.  

“Disturbingly not-weird,” she quipped.  

He chuckled. “For a Stark, that’s something to be worried about.”

“You?”

Thinking through his day, he recited with military efficiency, “Three small lab accidents, including one caused by an intern who wired a half-dozen capacitors backwards.  The bang scared the hell out of a whole floor, but that’s all.”

Darcy grinned as she turned the heat down and began dishing up the stir-fry. “Been there, done that. I think Dad made me a t-shirt with diagrams and all for reference.”

“I can see him doing that.  Want wine?” Bucky asked as he took his plate.  

“I’d love some.”

Over dinner, they exchanged stories about their day, and afterward, Darcy curled up against Bucky on the sofa.  He read with his book propped up on his knee and idly rubbed circles on her shoulder with his thumb. She read her tablet and caressed his ankle with her bare toe.

An hour later, Darcy pulled him up and ran a bath for both of them.  With bubbles.  While they played, they sent snarky texts to Steve until he replied, and then they sent him pictures of bubble-encrusted body parts until he pleaded with them to stop.  

When Bucky curled up around Darcy that night, he was convinced that the day had been leaning on perfect.  All he needed was his punk of a husband to come home to get there.  

*****

 

Steve chuckled when the pictures stopped.  It was clear his husband and wife were having fun--and fun wasn’t something Bucky’d had in a very long time. Come to think of it, Darcy was pretty much responsible for most of Steve’s fun too.  He stifled his sigh, and tried not to wish like hell these ops were over. He rocked his head back against the wall next to his bed.

Wilson had the bottom bunk across from Steve’s.  “Gotta be hell to leave your bride and groom at home.  Ink’s hardly dry on your marriage certificate.”

“We’ve had practice,” Steve muttered.  

“Still sucks. How’s Darcy holding up?” Sam asked.

“Better, I think. You hungry?” he asked, both to change the subject and because his stomach was growling. Sam probably knew more about Darcy’s state of mind than Steve--assuming she was still going to therapy. But Steve wasn’t supposed to ask in order to keep the boundaries clear for Wilson.

“Sure.”

Steve made up sandwiches for anyone who wandered into the kitchen.  Barton shuffled in, fumbling for the coffee in the corner with one hand as he snagged a turkey sub with the other.  Vision was next, and the Twins followed the rising sound of conversation. Pietro snatched up two sandwiches with muffled thanks, and Wanda chose another as Natasha joined them.  

Pulling out his phone, Steve flicked through the pictures and found the one of Darcy up close with a pile of bubbles stacked on her head.  He handed the phone to Vision.  “Your sister,” he explained.  “She said you have yet to experience a bubble bath, so put that on your list.”

Vision smiled.  “Tell Lewis I believe I shall.”

The Twins exchanged glances, and Wanda’s face clouded over.  “Lewis?” she demanded of Vision.  “Darcy Lewis? The one who is married to the Captain?”

Damn.  Steve had managed to dodge the topic so far with Wanda and Pietro, and in one stupid move, dragged it right out into the open.

Sam had brought the pair in to help with this run of ops. Since Thor, Banner, and Stark were only on call these days, the weight of the missions had fallen to Steve, Nat, and Clint, with the occasional assist from Wilson.  Rhodes was still wrangling out the details with the Air Force so he could be a permanent part of the Avengers.  The suit belonged to the government, but even they weren’t stupid enough to miss that having Rhodes as part of the Avengers was a tactical advantage.

Coulson’s team filled in the gaps from time to time, but Steve was determined to keep the Avengers an independent entity, not one that existed for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s convenience.

With the twins eager to assist with HYDRA’s takedown and Pietro back on his feet, the Twins had nagged until Steve agreed to bring them in on one of the less dangerous ops.  Not that any of the missions were safe, but some required more teamwork than others.  Wilson had discovered the Twins were fairly well-versed in hand-to-hand combat and strategy, and were very good with their talents.  HYDRA had trained them well.

Wilson had told Steve privately that if they didn’t take the Twins on soon, they were likely to go after the bad guys by themselves.  Integrating them into the team on the fly wasn’t something Steve wanted to do, but Sam had a valid point.

Nevertheless, they really didn’t need anything upsetting the team at this moment.  

Steve aimed for nonchalance.  “Darcy Lewis is the name my wife went by until she was ready to reveal that Tony Stark is her dad. That only happened a couple of weeks ago.”

Wanda and Pietro exchanged dark looks that only grew colder as Steve explained, with a touch to his wrist to light up the wedding bracelet, about Darcy and Bucky.

Pietro spat out, “Does Stark have his fingers in everything?” It wasn’t news that Wanda and Pietro barely tolerated Stark. Post Sokovia, though Stark had funneled millions into rebuilding the city, the Twins avoided the man at all cost.  

Wanda frowned at Vision, her disappointment clear.  “You have a sister and did not think to tell me?” None of the Avengers had missed the growing fascination between the pair, and it was clear Wanda thought this nothing more than a betrayal. “Stark touches everything,” she sneered.  Leaving her half-eaten sandwich on the table, she stalked away.  Pietro followed, and the door to the room Nat shared with Wanda slammed shut.  

The senior agent rolled her eyes at the emotional outburst. “Seriously, Rogers?  We’re bringing that along?”

“Got any better ideas?” he retorted.  Sometimes Steve wondered if he and Bucky were ever that young. Then again, he remembered a stupid eighteen year old declaring he could live just fine on his own.  Bucky had tolerated Steve’s stubbornness for months, then dragged him to the Barnes’ home in the dead of winter so Steve wouldn’t freeze to death.  Emotions back then had been black and white.  The grey had come later.  

Vision was apologetic. “I am quite distressed to have caused disharmony on the team.”  

Clint snorted.  “You didn’t cause yourself to be Darcy’s brother. Wanda just doesn’t like the reminder that Tony’s your dad in a weird way.”

“It’s more than that,” Natasha countered. “They don’t have parents anymore. The idea that Stark has kids probably isn’t sitting too well.”

As a group, they all turned to Sam, who held his hands up.  “I am not the Avenger’s babysitter.”  

Clint snickered. “Make a list, in order, of the most well-adjusted people in this group and see who’s name is on top.”

“Fuck you, Barton.”

“Gladly. But Nat’s going to want to watch. And if Nat watches, Maria’s going to want in, and then it will be the girls and we’ll be too distracted to put on a sho--”

Natasha stuffed a sandwich in Clint’s mouth. “Are you bored, honey?” she said in a silken tone.  

He shook his head violently, but waved his sandwich toward Sam after he took a bite. “He started it. I think.”

Sam rolled his eyes at both of them. “Not getting in the middle of that.” He raised an eyebrow at Steve. “You’re the Captain. It’s your crew.”

Steve fisted his hands on his waist, wondering how to keep his fledgling team from imploding.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Darcy finished her share of the household chores after peeing on a stick to make sure she still wasn't pregnant (Nope. Yay.). She didn’t mind them so much when she could crank up the tunes to something fast and loud. She was on her second latte and had energy to spare. Jason piped up with a reminder just before noon that she’d promised to bring Bucky lunch. She dove in the shower for a fast wash and still had plenty of time to pick up burgers and fries from Charlie’s.

Now Bucky, on the other hand, had damned near pulled an all-nighter stripping down his new hunk of junk. He’d crashed for maybe four hours--and even though he’d showered, the faint scent of grease had clung to his hands when she’d tucked one under her cheek. When he’d rolled out the door at six a.m. with a bounce in his step, Darcy hadn’t been coherent enough to do anything but give a half-hearted wave at his ass. (Seriously, Barnes? Since when did you become morning person?)

Lunch in hand, Darcy strolled into her dad’s garage and was greeted with Bucky’s curses bouncing off the walls.

“Fucking useless hunk of scrap. I swear I will fucking tow you to the goddamned junkyard and sell you for a sinker and a pack of ciggys!” He was red-faced, his right arm flexing with the strain of whatever he was doing with that hand deep inside the car.

The twelve percent of Darcy’s functioning brain decided he was probably breaking a rusted bolt. The other eighty-eight percent focused on the absolutely delicious sight of Bucky in a tank top that showed off a pair of shiny arms--one metal, one slicked with sweat--and well-worn jeans that were surely an homage to Bucky’s gorgeous ass. The shirt rode up just enough for Darcy to admire the muscles flexing along his back.

Pissed at whatever he’d struggled with, Bucky straightened up long enough to suck on the cigarette he’d left sitting on the edge of the engine compartment. He blew out a stream of smoke, set it down on the car frame, and reached under the panel again.

Okay, she deserved a medal for not laughing at him. “Try using your left hand,” she called out.

He glared at her, and then annoyance turned to sheepishness as he switched the wrench to his metal hand. “Well, fuck a duck. I forgot,” he admitted. He reached inside the car and broke the bolt in one swift jerk. The quarter-panel he’d been working on came free, and he caught it with his thigh, holding it in place until he could shift around and grab it with both hands and set it on the floor with the other panels.

(Lady parts elbowed DarcyBrain aside. There was absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating Mother Nature’s work, right?) Darcy licked her lips and sauntered toward her husband (holy shit, yes, minemineminemine, go me!).

Bucky’s eyes, blue as the daytime sky, flickered down, taking in her t-shirt, shorts, and workboots (okay, Doc Martens, but they were HER workboots, okay?) He whistled, low and long. “What the hell is a beautiful dame like you doing slumming with me?”

That insolent stare made her insides ooze a little, and fuck if Darcy didn’t fall for his charm hook, line, and sinker. “Still calling it a metal and ass kink.”

At the way Bucky’s face broke out in an honest grin, Darcy wished she had a camera, or better yet, Steve with his sketchbook. There were so few moments where the shadows fell away, leaving nothing but a sunny James Barnes. No wonder Steve had loved him for so long.

“Punk wasn’t kidding when he said you lost your tongue around both,” he said with a snicker.

Rolling her eyes at his quip, Darcy set the burgers on a clean workbench and rummaged around the fridge for soft drinks. She came up with two and lobbed one at Bucky.

He caught it, but glanced at his grease and dirt streaked hands. (Lady Parts hummed. Darcy agreed. Yup, she was sooo tapping that before the night was out.) Darcy pulled her brain online long enough to get close enough to steal a kiss. She stole his cigarette instead.

Bucky’s mouth opened to say something, then stayed that way when she took a quick drag off it. She blew the smoke to the side as the rush of nicotine hit her system. Not wanting to tempt fate and addiction, she crushed out the remains of the cigarette as she offered, “Never said I hadn’t tried it. Just don’t like the smell.”

“Fuck,” he breathed, not taking his eyes off her. “You surprise me. Every day. No wonder I’m dizzy for you, Princess.”

The confession made heat curl up through her insides. She ran a finger along his bare neck, catching the chain that rested there. Bucky still wore Steve’s dog tags every single day, though at the moment, his wedding ring rested beside them. She leaned in for a kiss, tasting smoke and citrus. A hard arm came around her waist. A hand slid up her spine to cup the back of her neck.

Her stomach grumbled, and Bucky’s lips, still pressed against hers, curved up into a smile. “Hungry, love?”

“Damn it,” she complained. While Bucky washed up, she retrieved the bag from Charlie’s. (Lady parts threw a small tantrum. Darcy promised french fries. They sulked, but compromised. Food now; Sexytimes soon.)

Bucky opened one door of the garage so they could enjoy the breeze. Tucked under the Tower as they were, they didn’t get direct sun, but the air was nice. The bright light from the edges of the Tower reminded her it was Saturday. Darcy tried not to miss Steve and their weekend errands too much.

It was easier with Bucky distracting her. They sat on the polished concrete, and Bucky had one boot propped up on the other as he leaned against the garage door frame. Curious, Darcy asked, while licking ketchup off her thumb, “How often do you forget that your left hand is stronger than your right these days?”

A shadow crossed Bucky’s face. “I don’t. Always been aware of it ‘til today.”

“That’s good, right? You wouldn’t do that if you had any negative feedback from your arm.”

With a flex of his fingers and a quick diagnostic check of the whole prosthetic, Bucky shook his head. “Feels … normal, I guess.”

Darcy pursed her lips. “That’s not a bad thing at all. Funny though. I’m so telling Steve.”

“You would.”

“Duh.” She finished her burger and plowed through her french fries fast enough that she even stole a couple from Bucky.

He didn’t mind, though he did say, “Strawberry shake would do nicely about now.”

“I’ll help you finish whatever you’re working on,” she offered. “And we can walk down to the Shake Shack in Grand Central Station later.”

“Done.” Bucky sucked the ketchup off his metal fingertip. (Darcy’s Lady Parts nearly had a full scale revolt. But she firmly admonished them and kept her seat.) “Heard you rebuilt the punk’s bike last year.”

“Gave me something to do while he was looking for you,” she retorted.

“Didn’t know that part. You did a hell of a job.”

Darcy shot a look at the remains of the GTO. “I heard you want to make it fly.”

“Lola flies.”

“When did you hear about Lola?”

“Barton ran his mouth. And your grandad promised flying cars.”

Darcy smirked. “Who do you think did Coulson’s car?”

Bucky’s eyes widened. “You touched Lola?”

“It was New Mexico. I was bored. But only after I got my iPod back.”

“What is it with you and that iPod?”

Invoking the intern she’d played at the time, Darcy sulked. “JARVIS made me a brand new playlist and dumped, like, thirty songs on it. I was so not happy.”

“So what kind of favor did Coulson owe you for Lola?”

Darcy wiggled her fingers. “Ask him. And I didn’t tell him what I did to his car. He pushed the button somewhere in Arizona and figured it out the hard way. It’s a funny story.”

With a fond smile for her, Bucky promised, “I will.”

 

****

 

Steve was in the middle of a debrief with the Avengers when he got a text from Bucky. He glanced at it out of habit and did a lousy job of concealing his mirth. The fact that Coulson and his team were crowded around the room made it even funnier.

Darcy said to ask Coulson about Lola.

Good thing they were wrapping up anyway. The director shut down the holograms as Nat propped her chin on her fist. “Gonna share with the class, Rogers?”

With a sly look at the director, Steve nodded. “Sure. Bucky’s got this rust bucket of a GTO he’s restoring. Made noises about flying cars not too long ago, and Darcy told him to ask Coulson about Lola.”

Coulson’s happy grin shocked his team, and Daisy--who’d stood up to leave--promptly dropped in her chair and pulled Simmons down with her. The others followed suit, and even Barton propped his feet up on the conference table.

Daisy gaped. “Wait a minute. Oh my god, I’m a dunce. Darcy Lewis--Stark--is your wife. She hacked my computer back when she was trying to fix Barnes.”

“I didn’t … I didn’t think anyone could get … get into your computer,” Fitz said, still stammering some from this brain injury.

“Yeah, well, we went head-to-head,” Daisy told him. “I thought it was Stark at first, but AC called Lewis to ask her what was up. She gave him a list of what she wanted, and AC made me give her access. Not that she really needed it, she was all but in.”

“It was a courtesy call,” Coulson agreed, dryly. “We have an understanding.”

Wanda and Pietro shifted in their seats, clearly uncomfortable as the Stark name came up. But they stayed quiet, and Steve ignored them, wanting to hear this story.

Hunter, with a glance at Barton, also propped his boots on the table. “So what’s with Lewis and Lola?” Bobbi shoved his feet back off, and Hunter pouted. “He did it first,” he thumbed at Clint.

“He’s Natasha’s problem now, and you’re not putting boots on the table,” Bobbi insisted. “Lewis is a Stark, and Lola’s a car that flies. Got the picture?”

Understanding the connection, FitzSimmons chorused, “Darcy made Lola fly.”

Coulson confirmed, “Barton and I were in New Mexico for the Incident. Lewis was assisting Foster with her research. S.H.I.E.L.D. stayed for the cleanup. Apparently, Lewis got bored.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a bored Stark.”

“Agreed,” Coulson said. “Of course I noticed a new control button attached to my dash when I got in to drive it home, but I was thirty minutes out of Puente Antiguo when I got the nerve to push it.” The director’s lips twitched. “When I landed again, I did a full inspection and found instructions with an unsigned thank you note in the trunk. Darcy had figured out that I knew she was Stark’s kid.”

“How?” Daisy asked with suspicion.

“I was privileged to be part of Director Carter’s last mission.”

“To make sure Stark didn’t blow up the world?”

“Something like that,” Coulson replied. “In any case, I imagine Sergeant Barnes is eager to have his hands on a similarly-equipped vehicle.”

“Buck’s wanted a flying car since Howard demonstrated a prototype at the ‘43 Stark Expo,” Steve agreed.

Daisy marveled at him. “That’s just … so weird.”

Pietro and Wanda exchanged sour looks and quit the room without a word, chairs scraping on the concrete floors.

Rolling her eyes, Daisy slumped in her seat. “Okay, those two seriously need to get over their shit about Tony. He quit building weapons for all the reasons they’re pissed.”

She wasn’t wrong, but Steve wasn’t sure how to cross that bridge quite yet.

 

*****

 

The physical labor involved with tearing down the car relaxed Bucky in a way nothing else had since he’d lived in Brooklyn. Darcy had set up a water tub with detergent just out of the way, and she either soaked or scrubbed engine parts while Bucky wrestled the other body panels off the frame. Honestly, the car was a rusted mess and probably not worth the price he’d paid for it, but he needed something to do with his hands. It was honest work, like his job at Stark Industries, but this didn’t have anything to do with the skills he’d learned as a soldier and an assassin.

Darcy scrubbed car parts one by one, and as she pulled out clean pieces, she and Jason tested the integrity of the metal to decide which ones could be saved. The damp made her dark hair curl into loops that stuck to her neck and her t-shirt clung to every curve.

Bucky discreetly shifted his cock and put his mind back on the task of working the roof away from the frame.

“I can fabricate anything we need,” she told him as she inspected the newly-cleaned carburetor. “Just depends on if you’re interested in a restoration or in customization.”

“Both? Save what we can, trick out the rest?” Bucky suggested.

Darcy grinned. “We can do that.” She dropped the carburetor back into her bucket to soak and sat back on her heels to stretch her arms over her head.

Yeah, he looked. His girl still had the prettiest tits, and fuck if he wasn’t going to admire them from time to time. He’d been smart enough to marry her, right? And she was lookin’ right back, her eyes darting to his shoulders.

“Metal and ass kink?” he teased, holding up both hands.

Darcy rose to her feet with enough grace to put any dame in heels and a skirt to shame, swaying toward him like she owned the dance floor. She slicked up her lips with the tip of her tongue and trailed a single finger from his wrist to his shoulder, expertly dodging the ripples as the metal shifted with her touch.

“Barnes, you’re in a tank top and ass-tight jeans, all slicked up with grease and sweat,” she said as she nipped along his jaw. “Sloe-eyed, gorgeous, and wearing that smirk I want to bite right off you.”

Bucky shut his eyes and gave himself four seconds to get his shit together and act like something other than the fucking mook he was. He slid one hand along the small of her back while she crowded into him with both hands on his shoulders. Darcy fastened her mouth to his, all heat and suction.

She tasted like the chocolate shake he’d bought her an hour ago, and damned if that didn’t make his heart skip a beat. He wasn’t quite sure when or where the buttons had gone on his jeans, but Darcy had them loose and shoved them down enough that he could kick them free. And then she was on her knees, warming up his dick with her mouth, licking him until he was hard and aching.

“Darce--” He tried to remember that he had grease on his hands.

She sucked the tip of his cock, working the foreskin just the way he liked it, and popping off just long enough to say, “Hush, I’m busy.”

Yes, but he needed his hands on her. “Darce--”

That earned him a rake of the nails across his ass, and a warning, “If you can talk, I’m not doing it right.”

Hell. His cock protested miserably when he yanked her upward and pulled at her jeans until the button popped off and he could slide a hand insi-- “Fucking hell, Darcy,” he sighed as he pulled back. She’d gone commando and his fingers had touched slick, hot skin. She laughed, the bright sound warming his brain. He plopped her on the nearest surface, which happened to be her dad’s Ferrari.

Together, they made short work of their clothes, and Darcy giggled at the grease marks Bucky left on her skin. “Wipes, behind you on the workbench.”

Bucky dug one out of the canister and got the worst of the mess of his hands while Darcy went back to nipping at his bottom lip. He aimed for the trash bin and didn’t miss, even when Darcy ran a finger into his ear.

Then she groaned. “Please tell me you have a condom?”

“Nope.”

She slumped against the car. “Shit.”

But Bucky only sucked a line of kisses into her neck as he cupped one perfect breast. “Oh, doll, I know how to work around that.”

Darcy’s tongue flicked out, and she looked more than a little worried. “You sure?”

“Didn’t always have ten cents to spare, and I sure as hell wasn’t up for any shotgun weddings,” he murmured, letting his breath caress the skin under her ear.

His lovely wife leaned back on the Ferrari, all creamy skin and dark hair against the red paint. Christ, how the hell did he get so lucky. “Show me,” she challenged.

He did.

He got her off twice just by playin’ with her tits, then made her lie on her stomach so that he could tease her pretty hole open with his tongue. He loved doing this to her. Loved the squeaks and curses that came out of Darcy’s mouth. Adored how wet she got and the way he swiped his fingers through her juices and how he could fit two fingers in her ass long enough to stretch it enough for his cock to settle there.

Bucky loved the way Darcy pressed against his whole body as she worked to take him in. It was a fucking privilege to be right here, and he did his damnedest to take it at her pace. It was always better that way, letting her body pull and tug and shift and squeeze at his cock until he was blurry with the need to come.

“James,” she breathed, her voice breaking on the ‘s.’ “I need you now.”

At her words, his cock jerked. Bucky clutched Darcy’s hips and held her steady as he plunged inside that perfect heat. He called her name when he let go--and it was perfect when she came apart with him. The two of them in tandem, fucking, coming, riding the crest of the wave for as long as he could keep it going.

But even he had his limits. He held her with one arm and kept himself propped up with the other, staying deep within her as she came back to herself, the clutching heat finally letting go of his cock so that he could ease out without hurting her.

Still, she hissed with disappointment. “If I could patent that, the world would go to shit because no one would do anything else.” Darcy pressed her heated forehead to the car as Bucky ran a hand along her ass. Then she raised up and started looking over the Ferrari’s paint job for damage.

Finding none, she rolled over, and Bucky scooped her off the car to set her on her feet. “Can’t remember the last time I was worried about the upholstery,” he told her.

Darcy snickered as she plucked out a couple of wipes and cleaned up enough to pull her jeans back on. “We’re fine. Besides, Happy can fix anything. He’s dealt with my dad all these years. Hey, I’m hungry. Want pizza?”

They worked until the delivery guy met them in the lobby of Stark Tower--Bucky was sure the boy’s eyes nearly fell out when he figured out who his customers were. Darcy signed her first initial and last name to the ticket with a decent tip and winked. “Thank for the pie,” she told him.

The boy flushed bright red and stuffed the ticket in his pocket.

Bucky and Darcy ate standing up in their kitchen--just long enough to stave off hunger, and then they hit the shower. There was a mutual exchange of orgasms that involved taunting on Darcy’s part, and hell, Bucky had to rise to the occasion just to prove a point. She giggled with a sly twinkle in her eyes as they dried off. They ate the rest of the pizza as the Mets tied up the game at the seventh inning stretch. Bucky texted Steve the stats while Darcy played Words with Friends with him.

She won, the Mets lost, and Steve grumbled privately to Bucky about the Maximoffs’ resentment of anything Stark. Darcy fell asleep as the second game of the double-header came on. Bucky pressed a kiss to her forehead, leaving her long enough to retrieve a beer. When he returned, she nestled into his side, and damned if he didn’t adore her doing that too. He snapped a picture and sent it to Steve.

Gorgeous. I'm gonna draw that, Steve texted back.

Good. It’ll give you something to do while you whine about a couple of teen-agers.

More like bang my head against the wall.

Give ‘em time. They showed up. That’s more than most bother to do.

Yeah, they did. Good point. Hitting the hay now. Love you.

Love you back.

Bucky smiled at the kissy face icon Steve texted. He sent a grinning face back as he pressed his own lips to Darcy’s forehead. She sighed, wrapping her arm around his middle and tucking her thumb in the waistband of his jeans.

“Steve go to bed?” she murmured, not bothering to open her eyes.

“Yes,” Bucky assured her. “Stay where you are. I like it.” She hummed a little and smiled as she went back to drowsing against his chest.

He set his phone on the sofa and reached for his beer. It wasn’t very cold, but it was wet, and he finished it off in one good swig.

*ping * A soft chirp through the contact got his attention.

“Hey, Vision. Everything okay?” Bucky asked, sotto voice, so as not to bother Darcy.

“The team is quite well. Resting at the moment.” Vision spoke via the contact, so their conversation stayed private.

Curious, Bucky asked, “How much rest do you need?”

“I find I require six point three five hours of sleep every twenty-four hours for optimal operating efficiency. In that regard, having a physical structure to maintain is quite inefficient.”

“Food, sleep, needing to take a piss, yeah, it’s a bitch.” Bucky, oddly enough, could relate. Though it came easier now, he’d had to relearn how to listen to his body. He still missed on occasion, often enough to irritate the shit out of him. Then again, Vision knew all this and felt comfortable complaining about his own issues to Bucky. “So what’s on your mind? New form bothering you that much?”

“At times. It is quite distracting. But I must ask your advice on another concern.”

Bemused that anyone would want the advice of a brainwashed assassin, Bucky said only, “Sure. Shoot.”

“You are aware that I find Miss Maximoff quite fascinating, yes?”

“I do. How’s that going?” Bucky bit down on his lip, trying not to smile.

“I believe I have made a grave error, and yet, I have little idea of how to rectify the situation.”

“Well,” Bucky started, “It’s good to know that you’re getting the full experience of humanity. Warts and all. Let me guess. You said something, and it pissed her off, and you don’t know how to fix it because you don’t really know what you did wrong.”

“Precisely.” Vision sounded morose.

With a soft chuckle of understanding, Bucky cupped Darcy’s shoulder, stroking lightly on the soft skin under the edge of her tank top. Okay, yeah, he could handle this. “Tell her just what you told me. Be sincere and listen to whatever she has to say. If she’s as fascinated with you as you are her, she’ll bend enough for you to figure it out together.”

“She is most unhappy with the reminder that Sir is my creator, and thus, Lewis is my sister and also Stark’s daughter.”

“Ah, the family part of the relationship equation. Always good for entertainment. V, seriously, the Stark family is an awfully big pill for anyone to swallow. She’s gonna need some time.” An idea popped into his head. “Can’t hurt to explain that you and Darcy are as close as Wanda is to Pietro. And make nice to Pietro. They’re protective of each other.”

“That they are. I will endeavor to find a private moment with Miss Maximoff and Mister Maximoff. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me ‘till it works.”

There was a pause, then, “Ms Potts is quite good at human relationships, is she not?”

“She’s a genius. You’re lucky to have her as your mom.”

“Is she my mother?”

“Have you asked her? Because she’s adopted me and the punk without a by-your-leave. Can’t imagine she doesn’t feel the same with you.”

“I feel the same for her as I do for Sir, so perhaps she is.”

“Call her ‘mom.’ You’ll make her day.”

“I will--” Vision broke off at the same time Bucky noted the shift in Darcy’s breathing. It sped up--almost panting--different from her usual nightmares. Bucky slid a hand from where it had been comfortably resting on her elbow to make a soothing pass along her spine. He pressed lightly between her shoulder blades, cuddling her close as he called her name.

“James?” Vision prompted.

“Hang on, pal.”

Darcy peeled her eyes open and reached an arm back to press against her lower back. “Ow.”

Bucky reached down to dig his own fingers into the muscles there and found them taut and slightly warm. Darcy buried her face into the dip between Bucky’s shoulder and chest for a moment, then winced as she sat up.

“Cramps?” he asked, half hopeful for her sake and half in worry because he didn’t like to see her uncomfortable.

She nodded. “Bruce said I was due any day. He wasn’t kidding. Gonna try one of those patches. Maybe take a shower.”

“Well, you know you aren’t pregnant,” he gently teased.

Darcy rolled her eyes as she got up and gingerly walked to the bathroom with both sets of knuckles pressed to the curve of her back.

Bucky stood up to clear the remains of drinks and snacks off the coffee table. He’d give his wife a few minutes before checking on her. “I didn’t think you were still monitoring Darcy.”

“She’s my sister,” Vision stated . “Just because Jason can’t respond to the input from the contact doesn’t mean I am restricted as well.”

Bucky heard the water from the shower. Having a younger sister meant he’d grown up with a fair understanding of womanly matters, and yet, living with Darcy had been educational. She had no reservations about sharing her personal issues. Right now, Bucky was grateful for her transparency, because every instinct he had told him something was terribly wrong, if only from her silence.

“James--” Vision began softly, concern clear in his voice.

“Shit,” he said aloud. “I’m on it.” He bolted for the back of the house, only to find Darcy kneeling in the shower, dry heaving and shaking violently. The water around her was tinged with a dark red before it spiraled down the drain.

“Jason, turn the water off,” he ordered as he yanked a towel off the rack. “Darcy?”

Bucky recognized the tremors wracking her shoulders, the unfocused eyes, the way her hand convulsed against the wall. (Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.) He wouldn’t dare leave her to suffer alone. “Christ, love. You’re hurting.” As gently as he could, he wrapped the towel around Darcy and slid an arm under her for support. Her eyes widened as she tried to focus on him. “I guess this one’s a little stronger than usual?”

Vision interjected aloud, so Darcy could hear him as well, “James, you will find two needles of a much stronger medicine in the container on the counter.”

Darcy tried to talk, but she was shaking too badly to get any words out. She lifted her fingers, trying to indicate.

(Fist to the ribs, which were already broken, another to the kidney, sending the Asset to his knees, retching blood. Nothing but fog and a body so wracked with pain that words failed him. He would not speak for days.)

With the water off, the metallic tag on blood filled the air, and Bucky had to fight to get his own words out (Rule one), “Banner?”

She could barely nod, and Bucky swiftly injected the medication near the patches she’d already applied.

“James, Dr. Banner and Dr. Ross are out of the Tower this weekend. However, Dr. Nguyen’s PA is on call. Shall I contact her? She has treated both the Captain and Ms Romanoff.”

Bucky understood what Vision was asking. None of the medical personnel had been told about Darcy’s situation. It meant extending the small circle of those in the know to one more. But a real medical professional was needed now. Stark considered Alyssa Dernier trustworthy, and god knows, her granddad had covered Bucky’s ass a time or twenty.

He nodded, knowing Vision was monitoring him as well and would note the movement.

“Of course. I shall inform her of the current situation. She tells me she will be here in seven minutes. I will unlock the door for her, with your permission.”

Again Bucky nodded, grateful that Vision could be his voice in this instance. As for Darcy, the dry heaves had stopped, but she still shook violently as Bucky tried to get her to her feet. There was no doubt Darcy’s period had come on with a vengeance. He sponged her down and wrapped her in a clean, warm towel to carry her to their bedroom.

He got her settled as Alyssa came into the bedroom with a soft knock on the door. She waited for Bucky’s acknowledgment before coming around to take Darcy’s vitals.

Alyssa promised him, “I won’t do anything without your permission, Sergeant Barnes.”

Fuck. He needed to be able to talk in this moment and damned if he could get the words to come out. But he waved a hand insistently toward Darcy.

You’re safe, James, Vision whispered through the contact.

“Yes, sir,” Alyssa replied. She turned to her patient. “Ms Stark, I’m going to take your temperature and your blood pressure. Vision has disclosed the issues you are having with the serum. I’m going to focus on getting you some relief, and then we’ll figure out what’s going on, okay?”

Darcy managed a nod.

“When did your period start?” the PA asked her.

At the woman’s cool efficiency and promise of help, Bucky got out, “Thirty minutes,” he answered, when Darcy couldn’t through the trembling.

“Just this past half-hour?” Alyssa confirmed, eyebrows raised.

He nodded as he fumbled for Darcy’s hand. She clutched him as she mouthed, “Still hurts.”

Without looking away, Bucky demanded, “How long … medicine … work?”

Alyssa shook her head. “Vision? Can you ask Dr. Banner?”

“Of course. Ah, Dr. Banner says the results should have been immediate,” Vision relayed aloud.

The PA dug in her bag. She swiftly set up an IV in Darcy’s left wrist and held up a small vial. “This is what I use on the Captain.” Darcy starfished her hand open, but Alyssa waited for Bucky to confirm.

“Yes,” he told her, though it wasn’t as if he would deny his wife what she needed.

This time, the medicine worked. The shaking stopped, and Darcy blinked drowsily. “Thanks,” she whispered to Alyssa. She was asleep in seconds.

The PA watched her for a few minutes, checking her temperature and blood pressure again. “Sergeant, I need to get a couple of things from the clinic, and then we’ll get her settled for the night. I’d like to stay close, here in your apartment if you’re okay with that, or I’ll be in the Commons if you aren’t.”

“Here.” He shrugged. “Won’t sleep.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in twenty.”

When he and Darcy were alone again, Vision pinged him again. “James, you are safe. You’ve kept Darcy safe.”

Bucky took three deep breaths, letting the air out slowly each time, until he felt grounded again. He rubbed his fingers against Darcy’s lax ones.

“Shall I inform the Captain?”

“No. I’ll tell him. Get some rest, Vision. I’ve got it from here. But keep an ear out for us, okay?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you. I mean it, pal.”

“You are quite welcome. Jason is letting in Ms. Dernier now.”

Alyssa returned with a pile of blue plastic sheets and a couple of spare blankets. “Can you help me get Ms Stark situated?”

As Bucky lifted Darcy, Alyssa spread the sheets out under her to protect the bedding. “Set her down, and I’ll cover her with one of these blankets. Nobody cares if they get a little blood on them.”

When Darcy was tucked in again, Alyssa pointed to the stack of blue sheets she put on the dresser. “We’ll change those out every couple of hours. I can estimate how much blood she’s losing, and we’ll see if my guess is right.”

“What guess?”

“The serum speeds up healing, right?”

Bucky nodded.

“So, Darcy is going to have a shortened period as her body sheds the lining of her uterus and heals over at a much faster rate. I don’t think she’ll bleed any more than she does normally, she’s just going to do it in two or three days instead of a full week.”

The simple explanation made sense. “Which is why it hurts so much. She’s cramping from all that.”

“Exactly.”

“So this might be the way things are from now on?” he asked, dread curling in his stomach.

“Let’s hope not. The body is amazing at adapting to new circumstances. But we’ll be faster on the draw with medicine next time so she doesn’t hurt like this.” Alyssa packed up her kit and moved to the living room, where she settled in with a book for the night.

Doubly-grateful for Dernier’s experience in treating those with the serum, Bucky found himself comforted that she was willing to stay close.  He wouldn’t be able to sleep with her in the apartment, but that wasn’t important.  Darcy would have whatever she needed.

Bucky swapped his jeans for a pair of sweats and climbed on the bed to sit against the headboard. He turned out the lights, checked to make sure his knife was handy and his Ruger within easy reach. He kept watch through the night.  (Protect Stark.)



Chapter Text

 

******

 

She dozed, inhaling her husband’s musk and citrus scent, drifting on a cloud of warmth/comfort/ love/devotion. Only to wake at the first twinge in her lower back, announcing the arrival of her period. Okay, twinge wasn’t the right word. Sharp stab of an ice pick was more like it. Or maybe she took a Taser to her uterus.

She fumbled her way to the bathroom, found the pain-killing patches Bruce made for her, and sealed them in place. By the time she got under the hot spray of the shower, she was chanting at the patches, telling them to hurry up and work, as the pain ratcheted upward several notches. To distract herself, she made a list of super serum pros and cons--or at least her half-assed version of super serum. Normal vision (yay), better hearing (jury was out), healed faster (awesome around her soldering iron and paper cuts), and faster metabolism (jury was out on that too). Cons definitely included no Pill and periods from hell. Right now, that pretty much outstripped everything else.

The pain climbed, and Darcy went to her knees, leaning over so the hot spray could pound against her lower back. She shivered in agony.

And then Bucky was there, turning off the water, pressing the needle into her back before wrapping her in thick, warm towels and carrying her to the bed.  It was Bucky who brought in Alyssa; Bucky who held her hand as the PA inserted the IV.

The lack of pain was so sharp, the blackness took over.

 

Darcy fumbled for the glasses on her nightstand before remembering she didn’t need them anymore.  She blinked the grit out of her eyes and scrubbed at her face while she tried to assess what had happened. Oh.  The period from hell.  She had hazy memories of Bucky and Alyssa explaining something about short periods and rapid healing. She seemed to remember her mom and dad at one point, but that was all.

A glance at her cell phone proved that she’d lost a couple of days, too. She had a variety of missed calls and texts. She clicked on the one from Jane and one-thumbed a reply that she was still alive.  To Steve, she sent a half-assed smile. Vision didn’t leave a message, but she thought a happy face to him and wondered if he’d get it.

That done, she set the phone aside and surveyed the room.  The bed was a mess of hospital blankets, plastic sheets, and padding. Sweat and the rusty taint of blood in the air made her wince. She needed a shower. A toothbrush. Her hair itched.

She must have been a mess because she wasn’t wearing a stitch, and holy shitballs, did she remember Bucky sponging her clean? She was already flushing from embarrassment when Bucky appeared in the doorway, with that soft smile that melted Darcy’s insides.  

“Well now, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” he offered as he brought her a glass of cold water. “How are you feeling?”

Darcy sat up, holding the sheet to her breasts to take the cup. She gulped most of it down while taking stock of her husband and the dark circles under his eyes. “Okay, I think. Thanks for the water.”

“You’re welcome. Are you hungry?”

On cue, her stomach grumbled.. “Starving. Do I remember chicken broth?”

Pressing a kiss to her hair, Bucky assured her, “You do.  Want more?”

“Ugh. Nope. I need sustenance.  I can start with a sandwich and work my way up.”

“Good plan.”

She tweaked the covers to pull them back, then remembered how messy the bed was underneath them and kept them firmly in place. “I need a shower first.”

“Want help?” Bucky held out his hand.

Darcy wasn’t quite sure if he was teasing or offering. His tone was off just enough to have her wary. In any case, she was mortified by the state of the sheets and shooed him away.  “I’ve got this.”

Bucky snorted. “Don’t be shy, love. Who do you think took care of you?”

“I know, I know.” Her cheeks grew hotter, and she huddled under the blankets, refusing to move--and knowing damned well that Bucky had too many issues with physical boundaries to press.

Clearly disappointed, Bucky ducked his head in acknowledgment and left the room.

Shitballs. Nothing like pissing the spouse off right out of the gate. Darcy eased out of bed--two days of being there had left her stiff and achy.  She wadded up the plastic sheets and padding and stuffed them into the trash can. The rest, she decided, could wait long enough for her to take a shower.  

It took three shampooings, a razor, and a good scrub with her loofah before she felt clean again.  Darcy tucked a pad in her underwear, dressed in her most comfy denim shorts, bra and t-shirt, skipped makeup, and made do with with a moisturizer and lip gloss.  She pulled her damp hair into a pony tail and called it good.

Bucky double-knocked on the door. When she opened it, he whistled long and low as he checked her out on the way to the bathtub to dump a pile of laundry in it. “Now do you feel better?”

“I do.” She frowned in confusion as he dug around in the cabinet where they kept their first-aid stash, coming up with the big bottle of hydrogen peroxide.  “I’ll even kiss you now, but what are you doing?”

Bucky touched his lips to hers as he passed by, then sat on the edge of the tub to pour the liquid over the blood-streaked sheets.  “Cleaning up.”

Mortified, she tried to stop him with a hand to his shoulder.  “Don’t. Please.  I’ll do that, if I can figure out whatever the hell you’re doing. Um, we can just buy new ones.”

“Darcy, it’s just sheets.” Bucky prodded at the fabric, pulling it straight so that he could pour more peroxide over the stains.  “See? The blood comes right out.”

“I’ll do it.  You don’t have to clean up after me,” she pleaded.  

Bucky gave her a sharp, annoyed look and handed her the bottle.  He stormed out, his eyes paling. Darcy knelt down to finish the job he’d started.  As she rinsed out the sheets, she couldn’t stop the tear that ran down her cheek. Bucky hadn’t been anything but perfect, and she hadn’t even thanked him for his help.  

When the sheets were clean, she went to find him to do just that.  She goggled at the freshly-made bed and the spare quilt laid out neatly across the foot. When she passed the laundry room, she could hear the washing machine sloshing away.  

Bucky stared out the living room windows, hands tucked in pockets.  

For all that they’d lived together for more than a year, Darcy still knew not to touch him without warning when he was upset. It didn’t happen often at home these days, but she could see the tension in his frame, the way he was poised to react with blinding speed to any threat.  

“Thank you,” she offered. “For everything.”

Instead of turning and taking her into his arms as he usually did, Bucky stiffened further, keeping his back to her. “You don’t have to thank me, Darcy.”

Utterly confused, Darcy took the chair nearest to him. “What do you want me to do?”

Bucky frowned as he turned to look at her. “I’m your husband. Who else is supposed to take care of you?”

She honestly didn’t quite know how to answer him.  “We have medical staff.”

“Are you joking?” The shock on his face was more than apparent.  

Darcy turned a hand up. “Steve told me that you always took good care of him.  You don’t have to do that with me, James. It’s not like we can’t afford a doctor these days.”

Bucky’s jaw tensed. “Which part of marriage did you miss, Darcy Maria?” he snapped.  “I didn’t sign up only for the fun parts.”

“What does this have to do with being married, James ?” she protested.  “I don’t expect you to clean up after me.”

“It’s just sheets, and if you tell me Steve never stayed with you when you were ill, I’m going to kick his ass when he gets home.”

“I don’t get sick much.  Haven’t really since we started dating.”

“Not even a cold?”

The line of questioning made Darcy uncomfortable, as if she was missing something really important. “When I was at school, I went to the health center. Now, I go to the Tower clinic.” She sucked at her bottom lip. “Steve and I had a long-distance dating thing until you came home.”

“Who looked in on you?” Bucky asked curiously.

She shrugged. “JARVIS, mostly, once I started wearing the contact.”

“And before that? Are you telling me that your parents never stayed with you?”

“Maybe Dad did when I was little.” Darcy had vague memories of Tony holding her when she had a fever.  “I went to college at fifteen, James.  Mom and Dad were in Malibu. Dad went a little crazy when I left.  Mom had her hands full,” she blurted.  “I’d get a cold and get over it. No big deal.”

Bucky framed her face with his hands, with eyes the palest of blues.  “Did you know you held my hand the whole time? If I stepped away, you would fret until I came back.”

Darcy glanced away, mortified by her apparent neediness.

But Bucky just pressed a warm kiss to her lips. “If I have anything to say about it, you will never be alone when you’re sick or hurting. If I can’t do anything but hold your hand, I’ll still be with you.  I know we didn’t say those particular vows, love, but the part about ‘in sickness or in health’ still counts. Been takin’ care of the punk my whole life.  Wouldn’t do less for you.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Yeah, I do, Darcy. You tellin’ me you’d hand me over to a clinic if I snapped an ankle or something and leave me there?”

“God, no,” she retorted. “I don’t trust them to take care of you properly. Not to mention that you’d probably walk out the first chance you got.”

Bucky just waited, the tiniest of smiles on his lips.

“Oh,” she said sheepishly.  “Okay.” Darcy wrinkled her nose.  “But do you really have to wash the sheets?”

With a chuckle, Bucky tugged her up off the chair to hold her lightly around the waist.  “Why does that bother you? I had a sister and a Ma, you know, and my share of the laundry. I’m a fair hand at gettin’ stains out.  Steve’s even better than me,” he said proudly.  “‘Course, he learned ‘cause he couldn’t keep his damned nose outta anybody else’s business and Mrs. Rogers had fits every time he ruined a shirt, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“Just Mrs. Rogers?”

“I mighta said somethin’ a time or ten,” Bucky agreed with a smirk, prompting a laugh from Darcy.  “Now, how are you feeling, and don’t bullshit me, love.”

Under Bucky’s scrutiny, Darcy began to understand why Steve caved to their husband’s gentle admonishments. “I’m a little sore all over, and I’m starving.  I feel like I could go back to sleep without really trying, but I’m worried about you because I can see you’re exhausted,” she promptly answered.  

“How sore?”

“More stiff than sore,” she assured him.

“Alright.” Bucky indicated the kitchen, though she’d only pulled the bread out when there was a knock at the door.  Still wary from earlier, Bucky stilled at the sound, one hand dropping to where he kept a knife concealed.

Without prompting, Jason offered, “Sergeant Barnes, Ms Stark, Prince Thor and Dr Foster wish to check in on the pair of you. It appears they have brought lunch, as well.”  

Darcy peered at Bucky a little more closely, noting his eyes had faded to grey again. “You’re exhausted.”

He glanced to the right, wordlessly agreeing, and she leaned in to kiss his cheek.  “We need to eat, and then bed, all right?”

When he nodded, Darcy headed for the door. Thor held up a tote bag with a loaf of crusty French bread hanging out, and Jane shifted from foot to foot with nervous tension.  “We just got back,” she blurted as she darted inside to give Darcy hard hug. “You scared us.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Darcy answered as Thor gently hugged her too.

Jane ordered, “Lunch, then explanations. And don’t give me bullshit about shitty periods. I know you, and you don’t get laid up for two days straight on Shark Week.”

Darcy’s mouth dropped open. “Who told you?” she asked as they reached the kitchen.  Bucky had already laid out flatware and plates.  He and Thor clasped wrists, then Bucky pressed a kiss on Jane’s hand with all the grace Thor had ever demonstrated.  

Pinking, Jane shrugged at Darcy. “Heimdall.  And  your dad babbled at me when we arrived. He was working on your plane.” She pulled out two full dishes of manicotti from the bag.   

“Might kiss both … you.” Bucky teased weakly as he waved a hand toward the dishes. “Food … not … a priority.”

Thor gave him an understanding grin. “Then we must remedy your hunger immediately.”

Eyeballing the spread, Darcy decided it might be enough to feed a god, a super soldier, a serumed-up Darcy, and a scientist who only ate every fourth meal, but did it with gusto.  Then Darcy glared at Thor. “Heimdall?”

Thor lifted a shoulder. “Your well-being is of great interest to Jane. I, too, would have assurances my friends are hale.”

Bucky took the loaf of bread and set it on a cutting board, neatly slicing it into even sections. He had a faint smirk, and his eyes were fully blue again.  “Thor, would you allow Jane to remain with your healers without your company?”

“Circumstances would be grave indeed to warrant my attentions away from my love if she were ill enough to require the services of a healer,” Thor assured Bucky as he picked up the serving spoon from the counter and began dishing up heaping portions for everyone.

“Oh my god,” Jane said.  “Darcy? Are you giving Bucky that crap about being fine on your own?” Darcy wrinkled her nose as she ate.  Jane continued, speaking to Bucky and Thor, “I’ve never seen anyone more stubborn about being sick.  She had the flu once and didn’t tell anyone. I only figured it out when she came back from the clinic and fell asleep on the couch in my lab about three days in.” With a jab of her fork at Darcy, she finished, “Made you stay there too so I could keep an eye on you.”

Bucky got the most disgusted look on his face. “How’d I end up with two of ‘em?”

Thor grinned. “Aye. You have. The Captain is not one to share his ills.”

Darcy stuffed another forkful of pasta in her mouth rather than smarting off. It’s not like she was avoiding doctors, but she didn’t really have the energy to argue the point.  Instead, she focused on the kindness of their friends, and the way Bucky had been able to shake off his conditioning with their easy banter.

She kept herself upright, and the rest of lunch was nice as Jane talked about their trip to Asgard. By the end of it, though, she was ready to curl up on the sofa and sleep off the residual energy drain.

When Jane elbowed Thor, he patted her hand and asked, “James, would you trust us to care for Darcy this afternoon? Jane has a great need to be with her friend, and we wish to take her to our place.”

Jane nodded. “We can pop in a movie and you can fall asleep whenever,” she offered to Darcy.

Darcy darted a look at Bucky. The faint relief in her husband was unmistakable, and she babbled out an agreement before she could change her mind.  

Thor cleaned up the kitchen, and Darcy barely got a kiss in to Bucky before Jane scooted her toward the door.

“It is time for you to rest, good friend,” Thor said from behind them.

“How did you know that I can’t sleep?” Bucky asked in a low voice that had Darcy not had newly-enhanced hearing, she would have missed.  

She glanced back long enough to see Thor clasp wrists with Bucky. “You are a warrior with a long history of war behind you.  I would not expect one such as you to rest easily when your loved ones are imperiled, nor when your quarters are compromised. As warriors, we protect what we love. In this, I may offer assistance while you slumber.”

“Thank you.”  

“You are welcome, James.  Sleep well.”

Darcy goggled at the easy way Thor settled her husband with his sure, calm words.  Then again, it probably wasn’t Thor’s first time around this particular block. The Asgardian was correct; until Darcy fully recovered--and maybe not until Steve came home--there was no way Bucky would sleep with anyone in the apartment. But there was no doubt in her mind that Thor could adequately “Protect Stark” well enough--from a mere one floor down--to satisfy Bucky’s mission for an afternoon so he could rest.

She kicked herself for not seeing it.  “I didn’t think anything could be worse than London,” she told Jane.

Her friend led her into the expansive quarters she shared with Thor. “Spill,” Jane ordered.

Darcy told her everything about the serum, the effects, and the way it affected her relationship with her husbands. Jane listened in that quiet, non-judgmental way she had, absorbing the details. Then, “Starks never do anything half-assed, do they?”

In spite of herself, Darcy laughed. “No. We don’t.”

Jane patted Darcy on the shoulder.  “Get some rest. We’ll figure it out.  Between us, I’m sure we can invent a solution. Either that, or we’ll steal one from Asgard.”

Darcy took the blanket Jane offered, while her friend put in the promised movie on the TV and stayed until Darcy began to doze.  She woke just long enough to text Bucky a string of X’s and O’s and a selfie of her tucked into bed.

Bucky sent one back of his blanket and pillow where he’d ensconced himself on the long sofa in the living room.  She kept her hand on the phone while she slept.

An hour later, Jane woke her long enough for Alyssa and Bruce to look her over and hand her a protein shake.  Fifteen minutes after that, she was sound asleep again.

 

*****

 

“Get cleaned up and back here for debrief,” Steve snapped at the team when they reached the Coulson’s LA headquarters. The Avengers had taken on what should have been a straight-forward mission requiring their particular talents while Coulson’s team tackled their own set of operations.  It hadn’t been pretty. “Hawkeye, Vision, get Wilson to Simmons for treatment.  Quicksilver, take his wings to Fitz and see if he can do anything with them. I want everyone back here in thirty minutes.”

He pinned the Maximoffs and Vision with particularly sharp looks. Vision ducked his head, remorse clear in his eyes.  Wanda and Pietro still had mutinous pouts about the mouth, but they fussed over Wilson as they helped bring him off the Quinjet on a stretcher.

Nat grumbled, “About time,” as she swept out the door, presumably to wash the dirt and blood off her uniform.

The mission had been a clusterfuck from start to finish.  In spite of the thorough debrief prior to the op, the Twins had skipped off merrily to pursue their own vengeance, leaving Wilson short-handed on the aerial coverage and Natasha without the backup she needed.

But it was Vision who’d been so distracted during the op that he’d allowed Wilson to get taken out by a hand-thrown grenade that shouldn’t have come anywhere near the flyer.  It was only the fact that Steve, Nat, and Clint operated seamlessly from long experience as a team, and pure dumb luck on the part of the Twins, that they managed to accomplish their mission.  Steve didn’t harbor any illusions that they could pull that off again.

Absolutely taking advantage of the small, private quarters he’d claimed, when the rest of the team had to bunk up in twos, Steve cleaned up in record time and headed to the conference room.

VIsion was the first to return, wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans.  “Captain, I must offer my most abject apologies.”

Steve shook his head. “The team will be here shortly. You can tell them; I’m not interested in hearing it.  You get to figure out how to make it up to Wilson when he wakes up,” he spat out. He stalked to the far side of the conference room, needing the time to cool down. Hell, Bucky would be proud of him for thinkin’ that. He knew exactly why Vision had been distracted.  Bucky had given him a sitrep just hours before the mission.  

The others filtered in, with Barton herding the Twins in at the last.  Steve waited for the others to sit before returning to the head of the table.  He opened up a hologram of the HYDRA base they’d attacked, with the infrared images that had been recorded from a S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite.  “We’re going to break down this op as a team.  And when we’re done, you’re going to know exactly who saved your ass so you didn’t come home in a box.”

Step-by-step, the team walked through the mission.  As each person recounted their efforts,  Barton confirmed or corrected their story.  With his nest up high on this op, he’d been in a perfect position to see the coming disaster.  The hologram played through the op again and again until the Twins and Vision understood how abysmally they’d failed the team.  

Steve set his hands on his hips, still vibrating with anger.  “So who do you have to thank?”

Wanda and Pietro gave each other miserable looks.  “Romanoff,” they chorused.  

“Vision?”

“Barton.”

“Correct.” Steve leaned forward to put his hands on the table. “Now, let’s talk about why this happened.” He held up his hand to keep Pietro from trying to justify his actions. “When you are on a mission, the only people who matter are your teammates.  We do this together or not at all.  Yes,” he nodded to Vision, “It’s hard. Whatever is going on in your personal life must be set aside, and that includes personal grudges and whatever might be happening with your family here or back home.”

WIth a glance at Nat and Clint, Steve focused on the Twins.  “Wanda, Pietro, you aren’t the first Avengers to fight alongside a loved one. I did it in the forties; Nat and Clint do it now.  It’s in your best interest to talk to one or all of us to get some perspective on that.”

Then he turned to Vision. “When we’re on an op, your full attention is here . If you’re compromised, you let the team know, and we’ll make a judgment call as to whether we run the mission as planned.”

“Yes, Captain,” Vision agreed.

Steve rapped on the table. “We’re done. Stand down for twenty-four hours.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be in Coulson’s office.”



In the past year, Steve and Phil had embarked on a tentative friendship, now that Phil was past his “fanboy” tendencies, as Natasha called them.  (It helped that Steve had signed every last piece of Coulson’s collection in a long afternoon before the first mission.  Phil still beamed when he talked about his finds, but the blatant adoration was gone, to Steve’s relief.)

Phil set a bottle of beer in front of him. “Local. It’s not too bad,” the director told him.  “I know what it’s like to have a young team.  FitzSimmons hadn’t been out of the lab since ever. Daisy had street sense, but not an ounce of tactical training.  They’ve come a long way.”

Steve fiddled with the bottle before taking a long pull from it.  “We need time to train,” he agreed.  “I’ve got one more base I need to hit before the intel’s no good. But it’s not going to be a walk in the park.  And I don’t know if we can pull it off without Wilson.”

“How is he?”

“We’re transporting him home. Between the broken leg and the concussion, he’s going to be out for a few weeks. Thank god for Barton and his impeccable aim.”

Phil held up his beer in a kind of salute. “I’ll second that. Now, you want to tell me what’s really bugging you?”

With a faint grimace, Steve shook his head. “You’re worse than Natasha.”

“I have a vested interest in the well-being of the Avengers. Want to tell me how Vision wasn’t the only one compromised on this op?”

Annoyed at Phil’s insight, Steve countered, “I’m always compromised, Coulson. The difference is, I can still do my  job.”

“True.  But there’s more, I think.” Phil made circles on his desk with the bottom of the beer bottle, waiting for Steve to ‘fess up.

But Steve wasn’t falling for the not-so-subtle interrogation. Hell, he’d fought next to kith and kin since Azzano. Like Bucky back then--who’d threatened to send his ass home if he didn’t keep his head on straight--Steve wasn’t going to tolerate distraction from his teammates either, no matter how closely they might be related. It was the only way all of them got to go home. He’d learned that the hard way.

He walked to the screen in Coulson’s office and brought up the maps for the upcoming mission.  “Do you see any way I can pull off this next one without Vision, Wilson, and the Maximoffs?

Phil raised his eyebrows. “You, Romanoff, and Barton? No. But if you pull in Stark and Thor for aerial coverage, I can loan you Daisy, Mack, and May to give you ground forces.“

“I’d better make some calls then. Stark shouldn’t be a problem. Thor’s the one who’s a little dicey. Now that the scepter’s been recovered, he doesn’t have a vested interest in taking out Hydra.” Steve scratched at his five-o’clock shadow and shot a smirk at Phil.  “Then again, If he’s bored, he might just come along for the fun of it.”

WIth a grin, Phil said, “I’ll let my team know.”

Steve finished his beer and set the bottle on Phil’s desk.  “Thanks for the drink.”

“You’re welcome. Say hello to Darcy for me.”  

“Will do.” Steve made his way to the medical unit, wondering if Coulson had guessed about Darcy.  The director was fishing, for certain, but Steve was too well-versed at keeping his love life under wraps to let anything slip.

Vision hovered, in the most literal sense, in the hallway outside the room where Sam was being treated.   He didn’t say anything as Steve strolled in and settled into the chair next to his friend. A glance at the chart proved Sam was being pumped full of meds to keep the swelling down on his brain. The concussion had been a nasty one.  So was the double-break in the leg.  But Simmons assured Steve that Wilson would recover from both in time.

And now that he’d done his duty, Steve could find out what the hell had kept Darcy silent for two days, shaking Vision so badly he’d bungled the mission, and Bucky had been reduced to a handful of texts.

A sleepy Darcy answered his call, but her voice was steady as she told him about the last couple of days, assuring him she was on the mend.  “James is asleep, so don’t call him until tonight,” she cautioned.   “I’m at Jane’s, and Thor’s on guard dog duty so he can get some rest.”

“That bad, huh?”

“You know how he gets.”

Steve could hear the rustle of sheets as Darcy turned over in the bed.  Her easy manner did more the relieve him of his worry than anything she might say. “I do.”

“Sorry about Vision.  He told me what happened. Is Sam going to be okay?”

“Yeah, he’ll be fine.  They’re keeping him under for the next day or so to make sure his concussion doesn’t get worse. Once the swelling’s down, he’ll go home.”

“Hmmm. We’ll take care of him for you,” she murmured. “I didn’t know Vision could get distracted. I figured his brain could handle that kind of thing.”

Steve sighed. “He’s JARVIS, and he isn’t. Even he doesn’t really know what he can do these days.”

“It’s a common theme around the Stark household.”

He let out a soft chuckle. “That it is.” His breath hitched as he asked, “Darcy? You sure you’re okay, doll?”

“I am now. Don’t make me think about next month, but Bruce and Betty are on it.  They swear they’ll have something better by then. Think Bruce is going to start me on birth control tomorrow. He and Alyssa both think that will help.”

“Alyssa knows?” Steve didn’t particularly want anyone else in on Darcy’s secret. The last thing he wanted was for Darcy to end up on Coulson’s Index. Natasha had already promised that her loyalty was to the Steve and the Avengers, not S.H.I.E.L.D. and was content to keep the information to herself.

“James brought her in. It’s a good thing. She’s treated Natasha, so it’s not like she didn’t know something about it, and her predictions were on the nose. She’s working with Betty and Bruce on this. I think Bruce is happy having a real medical practitioner on the team.”

“I’ll bet.” Darcy yawned, prompting a chuckle out of Steve. “Go back to sleep.  We can Skype tonight.  We’re down for the next day or two.”

“Deal.  Love you.”

“I love you back.”

 

*****

 

Bucky plucked a bottle of tomato juice out of the fridge and downed the whole quart in one go.  When he’d sent a short text to Darcy to let her know he was awake, Darcy texted back an invitation to dinner in Jane’s and Thor’s apartment.  

He’d called Steve and done his best to reassure the punk that Darcy was well, but he heard the fear in his husband’s voice. He understood it far too well. Thank god for Alyssa’s cool competence throughout the ordeal. Unafraid of Bucky, she’d lent him assurances and suggestions for Darcy’s comfort that had proven successful.  Her last visit had been early this morning, and Darcy hadn’t needed pain meds in twelve full hours. Alyssa promised Bucky that Darcy would awaken when she was ready, and the PA hadn’t been wrong.

Relieved, Steve had told him about Wilson’s injuries, though nothing about how they’d been obtained, and asked Bucky to keep an eye on their friend when he was well enough to be transported home.

After that, Bucky had found the energy for some serious flirtation, and if they’d indulged in a mutual jerking off, well, that was one of the perks of cell phones and private quarters these days, right?

With an afternoon’s worth of sleep, a long hot shower, and knowing Darcy was feeling better by miles, the Asset had retreated, leaving Bucky clear-headed once again.  It was a sad case though that he was so hungry he needed a boost just to get downstairs.

Stomach assuaged, Bucky grabbed his boots out of his closet, sitting on the bed to lace them up.  

Vision pinged him via the contact.  “James? Might I have a moment of your time?”

It didn’t surprise Bucky that Vision reached out to him now. His brother-in-law had been keeping a close eye out these past few days. They’d talked briefly this morning when Bucky had assured him that his sister was recovering nicely, but even then he’d heard the uncertainty in Vision’s voice. “Sure. What’s on your mind?”

“I have erred. The captain is quite upset with me. I have apologized, but I know not how to make amends.”

It wasn’t hard for Bucky to draw certain conclusions. “Does this have anything to do with Wilson?”

“He would not have been injured had I not been distracted.”

Bucky leaned back on the bed, thinking back. “When was this?”

“Late last night.”

“So you tried to monitor Darcy, me, and participate in the op.  Which was a mistake, Vision. Your team depends on you to be fully engaged,” he admonished.

“The captain said much the same thing.  But I am your handler. And Darcy is my sister.”

Bucky sighed. “Look, I know what it’s like to want to keep an eye on your loved ones.  Hell, I was always worrying about the punk when we ran missions together. But there comes a point where you have to choose. Plenty of times I had to let Steve run off and do the big hero thing. But he trusted me to have his back. The way things are now, we can stop the handler thing so you won’t be compromised, but that won’t stop you from worrying about your sister. Or,” Bucky offered, “You have to respect your team to understand if you have to stand down, or you have to trust Darcy and me to take care of each other.”

“I have no desire to abandon my duties to either family or my team.”

“You can’t do both,” Bucky countered. “Someone will lose their life over it, and that’s not something you want on your conscience. If you think about it, that’s what the Asset’s all about, blocking out everything but the mission. It’s a job requirement. A shitty one, but a necessary one.”

“Might I think on this and consult with you further?” Vision seemed disappointed that Bucky hadn’t had any better answers. But it was a hard truth, and Vision had better learn it sooner rather than later.  

Steve’d had to do the same thing back in the day, and Bucky hadn’t liked that conversation any better than this one. “Sure thing. I’ll even buy you a beer when you get back.”

“Thank you, James, for the advice.”

“You’re welcome. And if you think this is bad, wait until you get a lover on the team. Then your priorities get fucked nine ways to Sunday.”

“You do not fill me with confidence,” Vision drawled.

“Nope. Now go sit with Wilson and give the punk a break.  If he won’t leave, tell ‘em he’ll answer to me when he gets home.”

“That is a valid threat, and I shall do just that. Good day.”

“Later.”

Bucky whistled as he strolled down to Thor and Jane’s place. His brother had learned a shitty lesson, but better now than when someone couldn’t be patched together. He had no doubt the lesson would stick.  



Chapter Text

 

The wheels of Sam’s stretcher squeaked in a counterpoint to Steve’s steps as he escorted his friend to the small aircraft that would take him home. Stark had commissioned a medical jet on account of the flyer’s concussion, after Steve had made the call asking for Iron Man’s help on the next mission.  It was typical for Tony, and Sam had lit up like a Christmas tree when the medical team transferred him from the S.H.I.E.L.D. car to the stretcher on the tarmac of an out-of-the-way airport on the edge of Los Angeles.

“Damn. I’m going home first class.” Sam whistled long and low. “Got my own bed and everything.” He patted the narrow mattress.

“That you do,” Steve agreed. “The Quinjet wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable.”

“All I know is that you need to sleep somewhere other than a chair, and if shipping me off to the City will get you a few night’s sleep, I’m game,” Sam quipped.

Steve chuckled.  “Well, you know I can’t pass up the chance to stare at you while you’re sleeping. You do this little twitch thing. It’s cute.” He idly scratched his ear.  “Maria knows, right?”

“You’re still an asshole, Rogers.”

“It’s one of my better qualities,” he retorted.

Sam rolled his eyes. “So, you’re done after the next one?”

Tension raked through Steve, though he did his best not to show it as he assured Sam, “We all are. We need time to train up this team properly, and Stark says the new facility is about done. I want you to look in on it as soon as you’re up and about.”

“Will do,” Sam promised.  

“All right, get out of here,” Steve ordered.

The medical team double-checked the straps on Sam before rolling the stretcher up the short ramp and into the jet. One of the paramedics locked it in place, giving Steve a respectful nod as he did. “We’ll take care of him,” the man promised.  Sam already looked better, but full recovery would require time and physical therapy.  

“Thank you. He means a lot to me.” With a pat on Wilson’s shoulder, Steve warned his friend, “Bucky hovers, and Darcy’s going to track your every last move unless you strike a deal with Jason and Friday.”

“How do I do that?” Sam asked, eyebrows raised.

“Bucky figures they’re like toddlers who mind really, really well. They’re curious, and the sass hasn’t quite set in.”

“Huh. I have a niece about that age.”

“You’ll be fine.” Steve quirked a smile.  Sam gave him a proper salute, which he returned.  “Take care, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

The drive back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters was longer than Steve liked, with traffic and all.  Idly, he wondered what the public would think of Captain America navigating the 405 like everyone else.  He’d ducked the paparazzi in LA so far, but he was due to make an appearance somewhere soon, if only to keep the spotlight off the other Avengers. Tony still did the bulk of the PR work, something the others appreciated, even if they didn’t always tell Stark those kinds of things.

His phone pinged with a text, and Steve touched the contact Darcy had made for him to turn it on.  “Jason? What was that last text?”

“It is from Ms Stark.  Shall I read it to you?”

“Sure.”

“‘Meetings are boring. What are you doing?’” recited the AI.  

“Text her back, Jason.  Tell her I’m driving.  She can call if she wants.”

Seconds later, his phone rang, and Jason announced, “That is Ms Stark. Transferring the call to your contact, Captain.”

“How’s my girl?”

“Short, stacked, and one hundred percent Stark.”

WIth a grin, Steve replied, “Sounds perfect. How may I alleviate your boredom today?”

Darcy snickered.  “Already done. We met with Thor and Jane and the designer for the mansion.  James has a good eye for it. He and the designer speak the same language, I think. The rest of us sat around and nodded heads a lot.”

“Glad I wasn’t there.” Art was one thing. Steve could wander for hours through the Met.  Picking out fabric? Best leave that to his loves.

“Pretty sure Jane was thinking the same thing.  All she really cares about is a bed, a crib, and a really comfy sofa.”

“How’s it coming along?”

“Mostly it’s rearranging furniture--there’s a lot in storage--and upgrading the technology. New linens, mattresses, and pillows, ‘cause some of it is pretty old.  New entertainment systems, that kind of thing. Yay for wireless tech because I do not want to dig into the walls for that. Plus, the basement kitchen needs upgrading to handle whatever events Thor throws at Catalina. She’s here, by the way.  They’re leasing out their house in California. Oscar sold his practice last week, but he’s staying until the movers get there in a few days.”

“Catalina wasn’t at the meeting?”

“No. She’s getting her office organized and the books the way she wants them.  James and the designer will get with her in a couple of days to iron out all the details and figure out what we’ve missed.  I think James has some artboards for our apartment.  You don’t have to pick everything, just look at the boards and tell him what strikes your fancy.”

“Whatever he picks is fine. He knows me.”

Steve was caught completely off-guard when Darcy snapped, “Don’t assume. It makes him nervous.”  Then he heard her inhale swiftly. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair.”

Infusing as much care as he could into his voice, Steve asked, “Darce--talk to me, doll.”

“Blame it on a lack of sleep.”

“I could, but that’s not it. Or all of it.”

“I miss you. I don’t want you to be gone anymore,” she blurted. “I know it’s not fair for me to say that to you, but I had you home for months, and I loved it.”

His heart ached at the desolation in Darcy’s voice. “I did too.  We’re almost done, love.  Everyone’s tired and making mistakes. It’s time for all of us to stand down.”

“As long as you come home,” she said quietly.  Then she let out a sound of frustration.   “I’m sorry.  That’s not fair at all.  I know what I signed up for, and I love you for who you are and what you do.”

Steve clutched the steering wheel hard enough to leave a mark in the plastic.  “I promised you I would always come home. I love you.”

“Pretty sure the whole damned world knows how much I love you, Steven Rogers. Shit.  Sean’s just sent me another reminder I’ve got places to be.  But I wanted to hear your voice. Go. Do good. Call me when you can.”

“I will,” he promised.

“You’re perfect. Text me later.”

He made a noise of assent, and the line clicked off as Steve pulled into the hidden tunnel that led to the S.H.I.E.L.D. garage.  Resolved to do this last one right, he parked and texted his team. “Conference room, fifteen hundred, mission planning.” He wiped his face dry as he slammed the car door shut.  

 

*****

 

Bucky’s phone pinged with an email.  He thumbed it open to find a terse note from Pepper on the care and feeding of a Stark, as well as a reminder that Darcy was her father’s daughter, not an hour after Steve had texted asking if Darcy was really okay.   

It pissed him off enough that he detoured for Stark’s terrace instead of going home. He dug around the wet bar for the pack of smokes he kept stashed inside. He tapped one out, not bothering to light it. Just holding it gave him something to do while he leaned on the railing to look out over the city.

He thought Darcy was doing better.  He was wrong. With his fucked up brain, he couldn’t see what was right in front of him. (Mission: Protect Stark.) He’d forgotten that Darcy could be damned good at pretending she had everything under control. (Had seen it.  She’d fooled Steve for months until she’d cracked, running off to London when it all became too much.)  

Darcy had kept herself busy in the office, stepping up her visibility with Stark Industries. With all that and the renovations of Stark Mansion, Darcy hadn’t been in her lab for a solid month.  As Pepper pointedly reminded him, that was never a good thing for a Stark.

Bucky had zero doubts that Darcy was avoiding her lab to dodge dealing with her new abilities. Jane had offered to help a time or two,, but Darcy just gave her friend’s middle a pointed look. (He didn’t fault his girl for that one. She didn’t have any control yet.)

Tony Stark was famous for his science benders. So famous that Pepper, Darcy, and the entire Alpha team had a protocol for dealing with them. Darcy was as cagey as her dad was obvious, scattering her efforts among multiple avenues so that it was less apparent that she never really quit working, that she never stopped worrying, that she didn’t quite trust herself to let go.  

Bucky  fiddled with his ciggy, flicking it as he debated whether he wanted to light it.  

Darcy stayed too busy making sure one husband came home in one piece and the other held on to his sanity to demand what she needed, all while distracting herself from her worries.

It was time to remind his wife that marriage was a two-way street, and in their case, a fucking roundabout. The short conversation about marriage only highlighted the misconceptions Darcy had about their relationship, and damned if he wasn’t going to change all that.  

Bucky slid the cigarette back into the pack, tucked it away again in its hiding place, and then took the stairs two at a time to get home.

He found Darcy chewing on her bottom lip as she sat on the sofa making notes on her tablet.  Sample boards for the Stark Mansion remodel where scattered everywhere.  She wore Steve’s Mets jersey again, a sure sign she missed their husband, and the leather cuff around the wrist that belonged to Bucky--her talisman against nightmares.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asked, absently waving toward the stack of menus on the coffee table.

This was a perfect example of how far off course he and his girl had drifted. Darcy tilted her head back for a perfunctory kiss, though her lips parted when Bucky slid his tongue along the seam of her lips. He didn’t press, and Darcy didn’t linger.  

“What did you do when the punk was on a mission?” he asked.

“Stayed in my lab,” she replied easily. “Couldn’t sleep when he was gone. Easier to keep myself distracted. Sometimes I checked on Jane or ran SI errands for Pepper.” A faint grimace flickered across her face, and confirmed something Bucky had idly speculated about.  For someone who hadn’t wanted to move into the Tower in the first place, she was doing a good job of hiding in it. She went back to studying artboards.

He tapped her tablet to catch her attention.

Darcy looked up, more surprised than annoyed. “Is everything okay?” she asked, setting it on top of a couple of samples on the couch.

He moved it all to the coffee table and held out his hand. “I’d like to take you on a date.”

Nope. There wasn’t any mistaking the flash of fear just then.  Bucky sat next to her and slid an arm around her waist. Darcy reluctantly went to him. But once she was there, once he held her past the usual short hug she’d been giving him, she practically melted. She tucked her hands inside his tee-shirt, sliding them up his back as she held on.

Fuck it all, she felt good as her curves pressed into him. “Why did we stop doing this, Princess?” he murmured. “I feel a hell of a lot better after I’ve held my girl for a while.” Under his metal fingertips, he could feel her heartbeat speed up again. “Shh. I’ve got you,” he soothed.

The minutes ticked by as he held her, soaking up her heat as he rubbed little circles on her spine to get her to unwind.  Eventually, she tipped her face up for a sweet, not-so-chaste kiss that had him chasing her mouth when she pulled back.

She smiled, a real one this time. “Thanks. I think I needed that.”

“You okay, doll?”

Darcy ignored the question. “Where are we going?”

For now, he let her get away with the deflection. She was too skittish for real conversation. “Pizza,” he decided.

“We could order in,” she offered.

(Hell, no.  Not hiding, doll.) “Nope. Takin’ you to the slice counter down the block.”

Darcy was taken aback, clearly not expecting that answer. She puckered her lips, affecting his nasal Brooklyn accent as she teased, “Ya take me to the fanciest places, James Barnes.”

He smirked, adoring her cheeky humor and brushing another kiss on her lips. “Yeah, and I’m hungry. Let me change clothes. Stark doesn’t need any free advertising,” he told her, referring to the logo on the back of his shirt. As he rose, pulling her up with him, he kissed the tips of her fingers. Pink touched her cheeks.

Damn, it felt good to flirt.

“Okay.” Darcy tugged off Steve’s jersey and laid it on the bed for later, trading it for a t-shirt, shorts, and her blue Doc Martens. She was far too quiet, but he could change that. God knows he had practice with the punk.

Feeling rather smug at the way he’d disarmed his wife’s first line of defenses, Bucky texted the Tango team lead to let her know they were headed out of the Tower and their destination. Islet dispatched Darcy’s bodyguards to meet them at one of the side exits. Two of them would provide an escort; the other two would case the area beforehand. All of them were damned good at blending in, and Darcy had grown used to having them along on the media tour.  

Bucky laced fingers with his wife as they exited the building to navigate the mid-week crowd to the little pizza place Barton shown him after one of their trips to the range.  As they walked, Darcy described one of the beach houses her Dad owned--this one in Bermuda. When they got to the joint, the lines were long enough to guarantee a fresh slice.  Darcy managed to score ten inches of counter space so they could work their way through the stack she’d ordered for them.

He congratulated himself on staying out of the Asset, and it felt great to take his girl about in the city.

As Darcy finished her slice, he pointedly glared at the others on the plate between them.  She rolled her eyes, picking up a second piece. “I swear I’m eating,” she retorted.

“I know, doll,” he said after he swallowed his bite.  “I just can’t get my head around how you’re not starving all the time. If I think about it, I’m always hungry.”

“I get busy,” she confessed.  “By the time I realize I should eat, I feel nauseated, and then I can’t stand the sight of food. It’s a catch-22.” She gave him a slightly cross look.  “I can’t give Jane a hard time any more about staying fed and watered. She’s eating for two and gets cranky when she misses a meal now.”

Filing away that information for later use, Bucky teased, “Do I need to hire an intern to follow you around with Pop-Tarts?” It was a well-known fact that Jane had practically existed on cereal and granola bars when she was in full-science mode.

Darcy wrinkled her nose. “Those are gross. And no, I’ve got you for that. Every time I turn around, you hand me something.”

“You eat it.  And we’re still going for shakes after this,” he told her as she finished her last bite.

“Why do I feel like you’re babysitting me?”

“I want to make sure you have energy for later,” he said with a sly wink. That prompted a smile, and Bucky ran his thumb along his own bottom lip before sucking the pizza grease off it.

Darcy kissed his cheek as she wiped her hands on a napkin. “Tasty,” she offered. “And you’ve got the charm dialed up to ten.”

Pleased with himself, he ran his fingers from her shoulder to her fingertips, and dropped a kiss on the inside of her wrist. His nose brushed against the paper crumpled in her hand. “Is it working?”

She huffed in pretend annoyance. “Yes.”

Bucky snickered and devoured his last slice.

A tray clattered to the floor behind them.

Darcy jolted, dropping the napkin to clap hands over her ears. Bucky pulled her close (Protect Stark). With Darcy wedged between his body and the wall, one hand stayed on her back, the other went to the weapon under his shirt. He stilled, assessing. The Tango guard to his right made a similar movement.  

Darcy didn’t see any of that, pressed against him with her face buried in his shoulder.

The cashier bent down to pick up the tray. She wiped it down and dropped it on the stack by the front door.

With wary eyes, Bucky pressed a kiss to Darcy’s temple, using the scent of her hair to shift from soldier to sergeant. “Noises still bothering you?” he asked as he deliberately ran his hand over the back of her neck, holding her in a way he knew she found comforting. She nodded, staying right there in his arms.

Damn. Now he had to start all over because she had gone wire-taut with the commotion. He led her out of the restaurant and down a city block with mostly residential housing instead of businesses, mentally rerouting the way to the ice cream shop and the Tower. The Tango guards bracketed them until the crowds thinned out to just a few people here and there. At Bucky’s nod, the guards moved back just enough to give them privacy. (Good job. He’d reward them later.)

He tucked Darcy’s hand into his metal elbow, absolutely taking advantage of the way he could feel her heartbeat against the vibranium.  She calmed as they strolled along the sidewalk.  (He missed her smile.)

Four blocks later, even at this close range, he almost missed the hushed question.

“How did you get used to it?”

Bucky raked his free hand through his hair, satisfaction coursing through him. This was the first time Darcy had gotten up the nerve to ask. He counted it as a sweet victory.  “Time,” he answered.  “Your senses are in overdrive right now. Eventually, you’ll be able to tune it out until you want to take advantage of it. Being hungry was the worst part for me,” he admitted.  

Darcy pursed her lips, not quite pouting, but not far from it either. Bucky adored that look. “Steve never said anything,” she complained.

“Steve had a body that barely functioned before the serum. His view of discomfort is a little different from most people’s,” Bucky told her.

Her blue-green eyes widened as she dropped her hand from his elbow. “I forgot.” From the way her face crumpled, it was clear she was pissed at herself for the lapse.

“Hey, stop that,” he chided.  “I’ll always see him from before.  You only saw him after.  He needs both, I think. We both love him for who he is, in any case. And don’t get side-tracked, Stark, we were talking about you, not him.” He took her fingers and patted them in place over his arm so they could walk properly again.  “What still bothers you?”

Darcy settled down into an easy walking pace again, though her heartbeat still spiked now and again. “It’s not so bad now. Loud noises still freak me out. I mostly remember I don’t need glasses anymore. That’s kind of cool.” Her cheeks pinked a little as she sucked on her lip, giving Bucky a—an embarrassed look?

“And?” he prompted.

She skimmed a finger down his forearm. “Touch—“ She flushed for real this time.

“You’re still sensitive.” Curious if he was reading her right, Bucky turned her hand over and pressed a kiss into the palm of her hand, lingering so that his breath tickled her skin.

Darcy yanked her hand away and stuffed it in her pocket. “Yes. That. Exactly.” She moved a little ways from him, though she still kept pace as they walked. She caught his delighted expression and pursed her lips again. “It’s not like you have any problems getting me to fuck you in the first place, James Barnes.”

“Then what?” he wondered. Darcy kept right on walking, fingertips in pockets. He stalled behind her, muttering in frustration, “No dame has ever reeled me along the way you do.”

She pivoted, walking backwards in that way only a New Yorker can, dodging trees and garbage cans without looking. “This discussion is tabled until we get home,” she said.

He was pretty damned sure his jaw dropped as he followed her around the corner.  “Seriously?”

“Hey, look, shakes,” she said brightly, practically skipping into the ice cream shop with a wink and a smile at the bodyguards.

Since a Tango was already at the door, and two others were enjoying their cones right inside the store, Bucky halted in the doorway to rein in his temper, while debating which one of his spouses was more stubborn.  He reminded himself of all the sacrifices Darcy had made last year, dug up a little more patience, and followed her inside.  “So, what are we getting?” he asked lightly.

Darcy shot him a grateful smile over her shoulder, her eyes glossy with unshed tears.  

Utterly confused by the sudden turn in her emotions, Bucky stepped up behind her and slid an arm around her waist, whispering, “I’ve got you, love. It’s my turn now.”

She pressed back, leaning, holding onto his arm with both hands.  “Okay.”

 

*****

 

Darcy picked chocolate cherry because it was first flavor on the menu. She glanced at Bucky to see what he wanted, but he ordered his own banana split and a couple of waters for them with sure confidence. She glanced around the shop to see if anyone was paying attention to them. It was New York. She knew better. Still--

Bucky laid his other hand on her shoulder, stroking lightly. “You’re safe,” he murmured into her hair.

God. How many times had she told him the same thing? Hundreds, easily. And how messed up was she, really, if Bucky could see her struggling.  

She wanted Steve, a fast car, and few good days in her lab with JARVIS.  But the last two weren’t options anymore, and Steve wouldn’t be home for another couple of weeks at best.

Darcy was out of coping mechanisms.  Bucky wanted to help, had helped, but it had to be on his terms, not hers. And she didn’t know how to ask without putting him in a place where he couldn’t say ‘no.’

At the moment, he offered his body, a physical wall to hold her up. And she took it. Leaned against him. Closed her eyes and tried to breathe. She only realized how hard she was holding onto Bucky’s left arm when she heard the soft whirring as it adjusted under his sleeve.

She let go as Bucky paid the cashier, but he stayed close, not letting Darcy more than an inch or so away from him.  As they shuffled along with the line, the way he hovered was subtle. A light touch on her hip.  A flick of his fingers on her wrist. A reassuring glance. And yet, he didn’t box her in.  As she moved, without looking, he rocked backward to give her room.

Perfect situational awareness, she decided. She wondered if it was from protecting Steve or a talent developed as the Asset.  Probably both.

Bucky passed her the shake she’d ordered when the young man behind the counter held it up. Darcy took it, not missing the way Bucky deliberately brushed his fingers with hers.  That and his soft smile tore apart the defenses she’d had in place long before she’d fallen for Steve. (Fuck that. She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat.)

One of the Tangos finished his cone and conveniently left a table just as they made their way to the back of the shop.  The table had clean sightlines, and Bucky nudged her into the corner so he could sit beside her, pressing knees and thighs together.  

Rather than asking for an explanation of her rollercoaster emotions, Bucky told her about the first time he and Steve had ventured out alone for ice cream, each with a nickel in hand to pay for a cone of their own.  The way he described it, the Howling Commandos hadn’t faced as many enemy forces as a couple of pre-teens in Brooklyn dodging coppers and mafia enforcers with equal aplomb. His native accent only enhanced the tale, and wow, she could hear the love in his voice—for Steven, for the home he’d had back then.  

She sipped her shake as Bucky scooped up the last of his banana split.  He set his spoon on the dish and plucked out the lone cherry resting on the bottom, placing it against her lips.  She bit into the candied fruit, closing her eyes to appreciate the sweet flavor.  

When she opened them again, he smiled lazily, the full, sexy force of it directed straight at her.  “Let’s go home,” he told her, his voice low and husky.

Darcy was sure she had a puddle in her panties from that alone.  Sex definitely scored high on her means for distraction, and she’d won the lottery twice when it came to creative lovers.  Still, she was careful not to take more than Bucky could give. Sexytimes with Bucky didn’t happen quite as often as when the three of them were together, but Darcy blamed that on the fact that none of them could idly watch as the other two got it on.  But when she was alone with Bucky, she took extra care to make sure he wasn’t just giving into her desires.

Never mind the way he drew her out of the booth with a steady hand and warm lips pressed against her knuckles.  She wanted to lose herself in him, to forget about the outside world.  

Maybe he had the same idea, because Bucky told another story as they walked home. As he did, he rested his fingertips at the small of her back.  Not guiding or pushing, but she was achingly aware of his hand and the little circles he made with his thumb.  From the cadence of the tale, Darcy decided he’d told it a dozen times before, to a different kind of audience.  She glanced at him, and he bit his bottom lip as his eyes swept from her head to her toes and back again.

“Did that work with all the girls?” she teased.  

He lifted a shoulder. “Is it working with you?”

Darcy copied his shrug.  “I’m your wife. I’m kind of a sure thing.”

When they reached the Tower, Bucky dismissed the Tango team as the two of them headed for the elevator. Once inside, Bucky cupped her face with both hands.  “Yes, I’m seducing you.  I used to know how to do this, doll. To show a lady a good time. And you’re my wife.  You’re never a sure thing.”

“James, I seriously do not have any complaints about our sex life,” Darcy promised.  

Bucky gathered her hand in his, turned it over, and warmed her palm with his lips.  She shivered from the jolt that ran through her.  “I spent a lot of Saturday nights learning how to make a dame feel cherished,” he said. “It’d be a damned shame if I didn’t do the same for the lady I love.” His fingers trailed up her middle to rest over her heart.  

He kissed her then, slow and sweet, holding her lightly.  Darcy went up on her toes to get a better angle.  As the elevator opened on their floor, Bucky scooped her up, never breaking their kiss.  It was clichéd and romantic, and Darcy couldn’t choose between just going with it, cracking a joke over it, or—

She cried.

If she was an ocean of swirling tension and worries and fears, Bucky was the solid earth.  Everything she’d been holding inside broke in a massive wave as Bucky held her tight, telling her he loved her again and again. There was nothing delicate about her gasping sobs or the way her nose started running.   It was stupid really.  One second, she was ready to strip her shirt off, and the next, she had her face buried in Bucky’s neck.  

He carried her into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed with her in his lap.  “Christ, love, it’s about time.  You’ve been holdin’ this in too long, trying to hang on until Steve gets back.” She clutched at his shoulders, and his arms tightened, lending her the strength she craved. “Been waitin’ two fucking months for you to do something other than shove all this shit down and sit on it. I don’t know who is more stubborn: the princess or the punk,” he grouched lovingly.

When she pulled back to wipe away the tears, she bit her lip hard enough that he brushed his thumb across her mouth to get her to stop. “James—I’m s-“

Don’t ,” he interrupted, “apologize.  Just let me in.” He dug in his back pocket and came out with a handkerchief.  He pressed it into her hand.  

The silk fabric explained how he got it to fit in such a narrow space.  She straightened up to wipe her face and nose. “I’ll wash it,” she promised.

He shrugged it off and waited, still holding her.  

“Don’t make me do this, James,” she said wearily.

Irritation flashed in his eyes--pale blue rimmed with cobalt this time. “Will you pretend I’m the fully functioning spouse and tell me anyway?”

Darcy flinched, and Bucky’s hands tightened on her back to keep her in place.  “I don’t know how to do this,” she confessed.  “Yeah, if it was big, I’d talk to Steve about it. But this day-to-day stuff, it was mostly JARVIS. You know how close we were.” She looked away, embarrassed. “I don’t--I don’t really know how to be without him, but I’m learning.”

She captured Bucky’s metal hand in hers.  “You’re here . It’s tempting to use you the same way.” She blew out her breath, digging up the courage to be brutally honest.  “JARVIS had to be with me; that was a core part of his programming.  It’s why Vision was so distracted, because he’s never been faced with a situation where he had to choose.” Darcy touched Bucky’s face, scraping her thumb across the faint stubble on his jaw.  “James, you have to be given a choice. What I had with JARVIS wasn’t … typical.  Dad knew it. Steve knew it. I don’t want to lean on you the way I did JARVIS.”

Bucky freed his hand to cup her face.  “First, I don’t entirely agree with Steve and Tony, and that’s coming from someone who had JARVIS as a full-time minder. Your brother is damned clever at chivvying his charges wherever they need to go .  He wasn’t holding you together. He just nudged you in the right direction.”  He waited for her reluctant agreement before continuing.  “Second, let me decide if I feel like you’re using me, doll.  I  promise I’ll sing out if there’s a problem. Now, without filters, what’s in your head?”

Holy shitballs, he was good, and her brother wasn’t the only one who could coax her into doing the right thing.

So she gave Bucky the list. “You’re not sleeping much because of my nightmares, and you’re still triggered over my shitty period, not to mention you’re carrying around a Steve-sized sack of guilt about me having the serum anyway. Every one of my senses is so bright it’s everything I can do to stay focused sometimes. I’m freaked over those who know about the serum watching me like I’m a bug about to fly off the windshield. Banner’s got me on a shot version of the pill, which means needles again, and I still can’t tell when I’m me and when it’s my hormones wrecking my concentration.  And I’m scared silly by what I can do now. What if I hurt you--what if I hurt Jane--” She ran out of breath and stared at the ceiling to keep any more tears from falling. “And I really want to just fuck you silly so I can not think about anything at all.”

Bucky nodded once, as if he’d expected everything she’d said. “I’m getting more sleep than you think I am, for one, ask Jason if you don’t believe me. Yes, I worry about my girl when she’s feeling poorly, not so much when I figure I just got another fifty or sixty years with her.  And you aren’t a damned bug. You’ve got a lot of people worried for you and wanting to make you feel better.  You’re still you and haven’t taken my head off yet. As far as your electrical problem? We don’t know what you can do until we practice.  Jane isn’t coming anywhere near the lab until we figure that out.”

“We?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Seriously, doll? We gotta have this conversation again? Thought you were a little brighter than the punk.”

Frustrated, Darcy looked away.  “Look, I’ll admit I like having you around with … all this. Just having you in the same room helps.”  

Letting out a comical groan, Bucky teased, “Gee whiz, Darce, ask for something hard. I don’t even have to mess with my programming for that one. I can work from your space as well as mine.”

“That’s just it,” she protested.  “I don’t want to take advantage of it. Of you.”

“Giving you a helping hand is not a fucking chore,” he shot back. “I sure as hell don’t have the same mission obligation with Steven, and I’d do the same damned thing for him.” Bucky let go of her to lean back on his elbows, leaving Darcy sitting on his legs. “I love you. Which means it fucking hurts when you shut me out.”

Oh. “Okay.” Darcy wiped her face again with the cloth she’d dropped in her lap and chucked the handkerchief on the nightstand.  

Then she stood up and stripped off her boots, socks, and shorts so that she could straddle Bucky on the bed.  

“Sex isn’t gonna fix this,” he insisted, though his fingers trailed down her bare thighs.  

“No.” Darcy laid her fingers on his collarbone. The sensation prickled her fingertips as she stroked along the ridge.  “I’m so used to touching everything.”

“Doesn’t sound like a problem,” he mused, letting his thumbs trace curves on her skin.

“When I’m with you, I can stop thinking,” she admitted. “Sensory overload, I guess.”

Dawning understanding curved Bucky’s lips in a wide smile. “You don’t want to use me,” he repeated. “Christ, love, please let me be the judge of that,” he chuckled as he sat up and pulled his shirt over his head.  “Come here.” He patted the center of the bed and wedged himself behind her, drawing her hair from her neck.  “Let me try.”

Her husband ran two fingers delicately along the curve of her shoulder.  Darcy shivered as desire raked through her. Then Bucky fastened his lips to the same place and sucked—hard.

“Oh, holy shitballs, James Barnes, do that again.” He kept his touch firm, dragging his fingers down her back.  He nibbled along her neck, sucking, even biting.  Darcy liked it all.

“Explains why you’ve been a fan of hard and fast lately,” he mused as he unfastened her bra and tossed it somewhere on the other side of the bed.  He cupped her breasts and rolled deep under her nipples so that she leaned into him.  

“I didn’t … I want … James!” Need stabbed right into her middle.  “Okay, pause.  Stop.  Give me a chance to get out of my clothes.” She rolled off the bed and shed every stitch.  So did Bucky.  The hardened muscles flexed under his skin.  He wasn’t rail thin anymore, but daily workouts with his team showed in the honed lines of his body.  “You’re beautiful,” she blurted.  

“So are you,” he replied. There was no wink or smirk with his compliment, just a lusty gaze that made her smile.

Darcy dug through the nightstand and threw a couple of condoms in his direction.  The lube landed next to the little packets.  “You get the condom. I’ll slick you up.”

“Pretty damned sure you’re wet enough for both of us,” he teased.

“Nuh uh,” Darcy insisted.  “I know it goes against your entire gender to read directions, but if Trojan says to use lube, we’re using lube. Alyssa wants me on the shots for a whole month before we go without.”

Bucky rolled on the condom as Darcy squirted the lube in her palm. She made a circle of her fingers and ran it all the way down his cock.  “Are we done with the sex ed lecture?” he groaned. He was definitely a little throaty on that one, and Darcy just licked her lips.

“Uh huh.”

He went to his back, pulling her on top to straddle him. As she sank down (yep, definitely enough slick to make that happen), his hands went everywhere. Shoulders, arms, belly, thighs.  He sucked on her fingers. She lost her rhythm.  He helped her pick it up again with hands on her hips.

And when she fractured, hissing his name, Bucky stayed with her, one arm curving around her waist to give him leverage.  His shoulder was slick where she had her forehead pressed to it, her whole body contracting around him.

“That’s my girl,” he whispered.

The moment she caught her breath, Bucky laid her on the bed--leaving just long enough to dispose of the condom.  When he came back, he crawled between her legs and nibbled along her thighs until he licked her clit.  

She laughed when he winked. “You didn’t think we were done yet, did you?” he asked.

“Mmmm, I’d hoped not.” She tried for sultry; she might have squeaked when he swirled his tongue across the sensitive knot of nerves.

“You’re still thinkin’, love.  I must not be doing it right.”  

He slid a pair of metal fingers inside her. And then she couldn’t think at all.  







Chapter Text

 

“Again,” Bucky told Darcy.

“No,” she protested. “I’m done.” From the wrinkle in her forehead, he’d bet she had the beginnings of a headache.

“Backrub and a couple of orgasms,” he wheedled. That drew a smile.

“You know I can hear you guys, right?” Jane reminded them through the headsets they all wore.

Darcy huffed as she reset the electrical grid from her place on the tarmac of the Avengers facility. “Seriously? I had to listen to you and Thor in London. I think my ears are still ringing.”

Bucky kept his snort of laughter inside, while Jane snickered over the coms.  Darcy had made enormous progress with her new abilities these past few days. It hadn’t been easy, and more than once, Darcy had lost her temper, tripping newly-installed breakers all over the lab. Tony had helped the first two days until he and Thor took off to rejoin Steve’s team. Once Darcy demonstrated she had a fair handle on her abilities while they experimented, Jane stepped in to give her friend support in the lab.

Darcy's control improved rapidly, and she'd gone all day yesterday without the block and without causing a single extra spark--even when Sean and Carla cornered her with papers to sign and a stack of emails to answer. Still, she’d had Bucky put the block in place at the end of the day, and they’d slept better without that worry.

When Maria and Sam mentioned they were headed to the new Avengers facility to meet with the general contractor about the final punch list, Darcy asked to come along. She told them she wanted to test a variant power source somewhere outside Stark Tower. It wasn’t quite a lie, ringing just true enough that neither Maria nor Sam called her on it.  And so, they’d moved the experiments to the new Avengers facility this morning. It was mostly unoccupied, and the concrete runway offered a wide open space for Darcy to attempt something bigger and much more powerful.

Jane was safe in the air traffic control tower, but was close enough to monitor Darcy’s power usage. Darcy and Bucky had ringed the tarmac with a variant on the power poles Jane had built and used during the Convergence.  Under Darcy’s command, Jason controlled the energy waves created by the poles. For the purposes of this test, Darcy had to give Jason explicit commands, beginning with programming the poles themselves to link to Jason in the first place. Throughout the day, they’d increased the complexity of the experiments.

Even so, Bucky wanted to push Darcy a little further. She was capable of more, he was sure of it.

“All right, Jason, let’s do this,” Darcy said as she wiped the sweat off her forehead. She retied her hair into a ponytail and settled her sunglasses and ballcap back in place. She sat on the concrete itself, under a sunshade, with a miniaturized holotable that projected a keyboard and a 3-D image of the energies and the ring of poles.

Bucky scattered eight small drones inside the ring of poles. Darcy had managed to control five last time. This would be a good step up from that. But he also knew she couldn’t do this for much longer without ending up with more than an achy head.

“James, seriously?”

“You can do it,” he assured her. When Darcy hesitated, he prompted Jane, “What’s Darcy’s power usage?”

Jane hummed as she checked. “Last time was only seven percent more than the previous trial, but Darcy, you managed two extra ‘bots. I agree with James. This is definitely in your wheelhouse.”

Darcy tapped the keys and brought the grid online. Bucky was fascinated by the way she alternated between manually controlling certain aspects of the experiment and ordering Jason to handle them. There didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to her choices.  He’d ask about it later. Whatever she did worked, and he didn’t want to distract her with questions now.

The poles hummed as they powered up, and Darcy’s fingers flickered over the keyboard, almost as if she were playing a piano.

Bucky backed away, standing to her left and just out of her line of vision. The drones lifted off. He grinned as she made them dip and turn in an airborne line dance.

“Energy levels increased eleven percent. Holding,” Jane reported. “How are you feeling?”

“Still weird,” Darcy told him.

When she was fully distracted, Bucky drew his Ruger and fired at one of the drones, which shattered into sparks and bits of metal.

Darcy jerked around, giving him an incredulous look. “Are you shitting me?” In spite of the distraction, she didn’t let go of her drones. They were still hovering in place.

Bucky lifted the sidearm to aim again. He fired once, and Darcy did -- something . The bullet bounced off a field of energy before it could reach the drones.  Shocked, she let go of the whole grid, and the seven remaining drones fell to the ground.

“Beautiful, doll.” He grinned with pride.

“What was that?” Jane wondered aloud.

“I have no idea,” Darcy babbled. “Jason? Break it down for me?”

“You ionized a portion of the test area to create a plasma field and reinforced it with an electromagnetic pulse. The latter deflected the bullet; the former cushioned any shockwaves from the impact to protect the drones.”

Judging by the way Darcy bit her lip, Bucky figured Darcy was less thrilled by the results and more scared about what she did. But he was so damned proud of her when she told Jason to set it all up again. They ran through the experiment four more times, with similar results, until Darcy really did have that headache.

The sun began to dip in the sky, and Darcy called it. “James, will you put the block in place?” she asked, exhaustion in the lines on her face.  

He didn’t hesitate. “Jason, engage Downtime, Charlie Fox Baker, zero-seven-nine.”

“Engaged, Sergeant.”

Darcy sagged where she sat, rubbing her temples.

“How bad?”

“It’s okay. Tired.”

Jane piped up. “Maria said there’s sandwich stuff in her breakroom. Nothing fancy, but it will get us home.”

“I’m not hungry,” Darcy said. “But I guess not eating isn’t an option.”

“Not really. I’m just being polite about it,” Jane retorted. “I’m eating for two, James is always hungry, and if you aren’t, you should be.”

“Did I mention I like your best friend?” Bucky told Darcy as they walked to the main building after stowing the equipment in Darcy’s Quinjet.

“Did I mention I don’t like double-teaming?”

“I thought that was only in the bedroom. With this crew? Backup is always a good idea.”

Darcy laughed. “Touche’.”



 

Sam was already in the break room outside Maria’s new office, parked on a chair with his leg propped up on a folded up sweatshirt. Maria patted her boyfriend on the shoulder. That was about as much PDA as anyone could expect out of her--or any of the Avengers--at work.

“Got your experiments done?” Sam asked Darcy.

“Got my answers, but now I have all new questions,” she said. But she didn’t seem upset, just tired.  

Maria passed out sandwiches, and Jane pulled drinks out of the break room refrigerator. As they dug into lunch, Bucky discovered he was far more relaxed than he should be for a military facility. He figured it was the company.

“I need a vacation before the team lands on me for training,” Maria insisted. “Somewhere with sand and an ocean breeze.”

Sam groaned. “Can we wait until I’m on two feet again? I can do PT on the beach just as well as the gym.”

Maria waved a chip in his direction. “I’ll give you three more weeks to recover, then we’re getting out of here even if you’re still wearing a cast.”

“You can get one of those 3-D printed ones like I had on my wrist. No itching,” Darcy told him.

“There’s an idea,” Sam agreed. “Where do you want to go?”

Maria winked at Darcy. “I’ll bet Stark has a beach house somewhere big enough for the whole team.”

Darcy hummed in agreement. “Even better, the one in Bermuda has a main house, three guest houses, and a private beach. Dad leases it out most of the year, but always keeps it available during the summer.” She nudged Bucky. “Catalena and Oscar take their kids there every June when school gets out. It’s nice.”

“That’s the one you were telling me about? With the pool and all?”

“Uh huh. Jason, pull up the photos from the magazine shoot.”

Sam whistled as Darcy passed around her tablet, and Bucky damned near swallowed his tongue at the luxurious view. “I’m in,” Sam announced.

Maria’s eyes widened. “I’m moving there.”

Darcy asked Jane, “You in?”

“I’m in. But no laughing at pregnant belly and bikinis.”

“You’ll look adorable, and if anyone says otherwise, I’m sure Thor will smite them with lightning.”

Jane grinned. “He might, at that.”

Maria’s cell phone rang. She glanced at it and left the room to take the call, but not before Bucky noticed her face going absolutely blank.

While Sam and Jane talked about her pregnancy, Bucky checked sight lines and weaponry. Under his breath, he asked Jason, “ Anything I need to know about?”

“Not at the moment, Sergeant. The Captain is well, and your area is still secure.”

Since Stark built this facility for the Avengers,  Jason and Friday had full access to it. There wouldn’t be any HYDRA infiltrations here, not on Friday’s watch. And not with Stark monitoring.

Sam noticed his reaction but only took another bite of his sandwich. Darcy laid her hand on Bucky’s thigh as she asked Jane about her last check up.

He breathed out, focusing on his senses to ground him. The salt of the chip on his lip. The cushion under his ass. His girl’s wedding ring where his thumb scraped across the center stone.

Sam’s faint smile meant that his therapist had noticed him--fuck--using his coping skills. He would always be a work-in-progress, but he was getting better. If he couldn’t relax yet, at least he could hold up his end of the conversation, and that was better than before.

 

*****

 

“I already have three of my team infiltrating the area, Hill. If I pull out now, we have to start over, and that could take a year or more,” Steve grumbled as he spoke to the assistant director via Stark’s version of Skype. “You can’t have Stark, I need the aerial coverage when this goes live--which could be any moment. What’s option number two?”

Hill gave him an apologetic shrug. “Then General Talbot contacts the head of R&D at Stark Industries,” she advised. “As far as I know, there’s only one other person who understands Stark weaponry and Chitauri tech. As it is, she probably knows it better than Tony.”

His first reaction-- hell, no-- was tempered by Hill’s calm demeanor. He shook his head instead. “So was this just a courtesy call?” he asked in frustration.

“No. If Stark was available, it would be your decision as to whether or not the Avengers back him up. It’s a hostage situation, and that’s one of our specialties,” she reassured him. “Talbot was right to call us first. Now Darcy has to decide if she’s willing to take this on. Talbot’s got a team ready to go, and quite frankly, Darcy’s got all the protection she needs if she goes in. Hate to say this, Captain, but further discussion is between you and your wife, not the Avengers and Stark Industries.”

“Let Talbot know that I’ll bring the team as soon as we’re available, but until then, I understand if he needs to pursue other options.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ve got a favor to ask then.”

“Cap wants a favor? This I've got to hear.”

“I’d feel better if you would coordinate this with Talbot.”

Maria softened just enough let him know she understood. “I was planning to offer, but it’s good to know we’re on the same page. I’ll keep you updated.”

“Thanks, Hill. I owe you one.” As soon as the line disconnected, Steve sent Darcy and Bucky a text. “Your call, not mine.”

Steve made his way to the gym, where Fitz had set up a punching bag sturdy enough to hold up to a super soldier. He stripped his shirt and shoes off, wrapped his knuckles, and began laying into the canvas. Compromised. The Twins had no idea.

 

****

 

Darcy wasn’t the only one confused by the text she received. Bucky raised an eyebrow, and it stayed there as Maria returned into the lunchroom.

“Ms. Stark, General Talbot is on the line for you. You can take it in my office.” With a glance at Bucky, Maria stated, “You’ll need to be in on this.”

Startled, Darcy dug in her bag for a mirror, brush, powder, and lipstick as she followed Maria. (Lessons from Peggy Carter tended to stick.) With a sleek ponytail, the shine gone, and color on her mouth, Darcy straightened her shoulders as she took the video call.

“General.”

“Ms. Lewis.”

“Ms. Stark,” she corrected. That was deliberate, to remind Talbot who he was dealing with.

“Of course.”

“What crisis may I help you with today, sir?” Maria’s mouth twitched as Darcy waited patiently, a la Coulson himself.

Not quite covering his annoyance at her flippant question, Talbot said, “We tracked an unusual weapons cache to Bulgaria under the control of a weapons dealer.”

“Who is it?”

“Yuri Shulyayev, a Ukrainian with a nose for the unusual,” Talbot said.

“Dad’s mentioned him. He likes to repurpose old Stark tech.  He’s got a lab on the north side of Minsk. What’s he peddling now?” Talbot couldn’t conceal his surprise that Darcy had any idea of what he was talking about.  (Don’t be smug, Darcy, it’s not nice.)

“We think he’s converted the Golden Eagle missiles to accommodate Chitauri tech.”

“All but twelve of the Golden Eagles were accounted for and destroyed,” Darcy recalled.  “Dad speculated those were part of those sold by Obi Stane to Somali rebels in the late 90’s. You think you found them?”

“We’ve had eyes on nine, at least.”

“That’s them. So where are we now?”

“The Bulgarian government has been cooperative and asked us to send in a strike team into Elena for retrieval. Unfortunately, the team was taken hostage. There’s an old tractor repair shop on the eastern edge of town.  The weapons are inside, and from what we can tell, armed.”

“Sounds like you need the Avengers.”

“I need someone who can disarm the weapons, preferably from a distance. I have response team ready, but I can’t send them in there.” Talbot looked embarrassed.  “My hackers can’t figure out the code.”

“Please hold, General.” Darcy muted the video and audio. She turned to Maria. “Holy fuckballs. Steve is shitting himself right now. I’m guessing he can’t send Dad out.”

Maria nodded. “Got it in one. Darcy, the General needs to know if you’ll do this, and no, there aren’t any other options for the Rangers being held hostage, other than storming the castle, and it’s doubtful anyone would survive.”

“That’s never a good thing. Means I have to fly there, right?”

“Yes.”

Even as she mentally made lists of tech she would want with her, Darcy turned to Bucky. “I have to do this.”

His eyes had cooled to the palest of blues. “I know.”

“Will you come with me?”

Bucky snorted. “Did you think you had a choice?”

She wiggled her fingers at him. “Not really, but it feels better to ask anyway.” Then she admitted to Maria, “I have no idea how to coordinate something like this.”

“Tell the General to have his people contact me in a half hour. That gives you time to round up whatever you need. You’ll need to be in the air ASAP.”

Darcy unmuted the video call. “General Talbot, Stark Industries will be glad to offer assistance to the U.S. Army and the Bulgarian government for the duration of this emergency. I need thirty minutes to gather my resources. Assistant Director Hill will function as our liaison during this operation. She’ll be expecting a call from your office.”

“Thank you, Ms. Stark,” the general replied. He hesitated, then offered, “Any security personnel you wish to bring along will be welcome.”

(Like there was a choice.) Darcy suppressed a roll of her eyes and simply nodded. “Noted, General. Thank you.”

“We will be in touch.” He disconnected the call.



While Bucky flew Darcy and Jane back to the Tower, Darcy sat at her fold-down desk and made lists. She sent a heads up to her PAs, Sean and Carla, while Jane and Bucky chatted about the mansion renovations. The juxtaposition of the seriousness of the situation they were going into with normal household conversation, oddly enough, gave Darcy the confidence to call Steve.

“Hi, honey.”

“Thought you didn’t want to be an Avenger?”

Yeah, there was an undercurrent of fear there, and Darcy hated that she was scaring Steve. “I’m officially weirded out. And no, I don’t want to be an Avenger, but this is Stark business, Steve. We manufactured weapons for the better part of a century. It’s only right that we help dismantle what we created. If there was anyone else I could send, I would. If it was purely old Stark tech, I’ve got two dozen people I could send. But it’s Chitauri tech, too. That changes the ballgame, and I hear you guys are kind of busy.”

“A little. Darcy, let Bucky keep you safe on this one. He knows what he’s doing.”

She could hear how upset he was, even if he was trying to be kind about it. “I will.” She didn’t mention it, but she knew that she wasn’t the only one thinking about her dad’s trip to Afghanistan nearly a decade ago. Reason number one she’d started having nightmares.

“If we get clear, we’ll lend support, but I can’t promise anything.”

“I get it. James already has half the Sierra team on their way to DC. Talbot’s getting them in place via Jeep.”

“Are you catching a ride with them?”

“Um, this is where I have to give away Stark secrets. You know that Friday and Jason have servers in the Quinjets, right? Heavy duty ones that are protected better than black boxes?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“You do now. That’s why Dad won’t let anyone but his handpicked crew work on the jets. We’ve got satellite links too, as backup, but it slows us down. Look, whenever you’re free, turn your contact on and, even if I can’t talk, you can listen in.”

“Darce, don’t go in there if it’s too dangerous. Even Howard knew to stay off the front lines.”

“And yet, he flew you into enemy territory,” Darcy said softly. “This is my job, Steve.”

“Stop using my arguments against me,” he retorted with weary resignation.

“Bucky and I will be home in a few days,” she insisted. “We’ll go pull up a beach somewhere and park it for a couple of weeks. Fifty bucks says we get there before you do.”

“I’ll take that bet.”

“Be safe, Steve. Listen in as much as you want. We’ll be underway in an hour or so.”

“Alright. I love you.”

“I love you back.”

When she disconnected the call, Darcy allowed herself sixty seconds to let her fears wash over her. After that, she got to work.



An hour after they landed at the Tower, Bucky had corralled four more of his security guards to accompany them, while Darcy and Jane packed up whatever tech they could cram in her Quinjet. Carla and Sean had arrived moments after Darcy did. Under Bucky’s instruction, Sean packed up clothes for them while Carla got a run down of Darcy’s next few days. There were emails to send and decisions that Darcy had to make on the fly. Some of them she deferred to her mother, who was in Malibu at the moment, but would return tomorrow.

Since the contact was still on lockdown, Darcy called Bucky on her cell. “Have you played with Clint’s low-impact cross-bow?” she asked, without preamble.

“Had your dad build me a rifle version of my own. Am I going to need it?”

“Maybe. I’m taking the sticky bugs with me. I might need them to increase the range of the electrical grid I can access.”

“I can place them by hand, if you need.”

“No,” she insisted. “Talbot needs our tech. If he needs bodies, there are plenty of soldiers at his fingertips. You’ve done your time.”

“We’ll see.”

Darcy stopped short in the middle of her packing as her heart rose into her throat. “Non-negotiable, James Barnes.” She didn’t mean to be so sharp on the phone, but he’d thrown her for a loop.

“I thought it was my choice?”

“And it’s my choice to sit on my ass and not go at all if you won’t agree that infiltration and extraction of the hostages is not your job. I sure as hell am not answering to Steven on that one.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, I’ll stay with you. But if you’re compromised in any way, Darcy, all bets are off.” His voice was as hard as hers.

Her chest loosened in relief. “I can live with that.”

“Sounds like you have a plan in mind,” he encouraged.

“Sort of. We’ll hash it out later. Just … pack anything that looks interesting.”

“I’ve got a lot of that.”

“I’ll bet you do,” she muttered. “See you at the jet in thirty.”

He chuckled softly. “Roger that.”



Jane returned from the bakery, an errand she’d taken at Darcy’s behest, with five white boxes. Darcy passed them off to one of the Tango guards and gave her friend a quick hug goodbye.

“Your timing sucks, Stark. I was looking forward to chick flicks and ice cream while our boys are busy,” Jane admonished. “Now I have to worry about you, too.”

“I’ll be okay. Start packing for the beach. I’ll bet you and your hitchhiker need a new swimsuit.”

Jane looked down and poked at the new curves of her belly. “Probably. Okay. I’ll do that.”

“Check in on Sam, will you? Maria’s busy, and he’ll get bored.”

“I will,” Jane promised. “Go kick some ass. It’s time to show them what a female Stark can do.”

Darcy brightened. “It’s on my agenda.”

As Jane left, Bucky ducked out of the cockpit, where he’d been doing a preflight check, and pulled Darcy around the corner to the terrace.  

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He’d changed into his tactical gear, something which never failed to scare her, just a little, more from where he’d come from than who he was now. He tipped her chin up with his fingers. “When we step on the jet, I won’t be your husband.  I’ll do my best to stay out of the Asset, but I doubt it’ll hold when things get dicey. I can keep you safe, love, if you let me.”

“I’m kind of terrified,” she admitted. “Last time a Stark went into that part of the world, it wasn’t pretty.”

“You should be. Hill’s going to give us a sitrep while we’re in the air. We’ll hammer out the details.”

Darcy nodded. “Good. You’re in charge. I’ll tell you what I need, but it’s up to you give me a place to do it.” Bucky’s mouth dropped open, and Darcy gave him a flirty smirk. “Didn’t expect that?” She rolled her eyes. “Same reason Dad wants Captain America in charge. Starks are known to get a little too distracted on occasion.” She closed his mouth with a fingertip and pressed a long kiss against those full lips. “Yummy.”

He slanted a look that was pure Bucky Barnes, tipping an imaginary hat to her. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, and I bet Steve fifty dollars we’d make it to the beach before he did.”

Bucky leaned in, rubbing his lips against hers until they parted. He swept a tongue in, teasing, tasting. He finished with a nibble on her lower lip that threatened to make her dizzy. “I’ll take that bet.”




Chapter Text

Barnes handed the cockpit controls to Jason not long after the Quinjet cleared American airspace. The AI had been happy to give him the full rundown of the surprises Stark had loaded into the aircraft, and Barnes spent a good twenty minutes memorizing the details (Protect Stark).

The flight to Bulgaria was planned for four hours. It wasn’t as fast as the Quinjet could fly, but Talbot needed time to debrief them and to get a Special Forces squad in place for recon and rescue.

Darcy told Barnes and Hill that the Stark Industries tactical ballistic missiles had been a key layer in the U.S. defense net, but Obadiah Stane had steadily siphoned off some of the weapons and sold them under the table. The Golden Eagles missiles could be launched either from a cannon mounted on a small vehicle or from a tripod--but they had the range, guidance system, and firepower of a much larger and drastically more expensive short-range ballistic missile. Only nuclear weapons were more powerful than these projectiles. No wonder the Eagles were still a viable commodity even a decade later.

SI had destroyed the unsold stock and repurchased as many as possible when Stark took the company out of the weapons business, but Darcy had said twelve Eagles were still unaccounted for. Alone, one was enough to level a good sized town. Combine that capability with the Chitauri tech, and Darcy had speculated that the damage potential could double or triple.

Talbot’s face appeared in a hologram above Darcy’s desk. Barnes and Hill flanked Darcy, while the four Tangos who’d accompanied them on the flight stayed in the background and made themselves comfortable on the sofa and chairs. Talbot laid out the situation.

A team of Army Rangers had stumbled across the missiles by accident on a mission somewhere classified. They’d patiently gathered intel, and set up an operation to capture the weapons as they were transported from seller to buyer.

When the smugglers had stopped for the night in the sleepy town in the middle of the Balkan mountains, the Rangers successfully disabled the two trucks carrying the missiles. However, in the ensuing firefight, seven of the twelve had been taken captive by the surprisingly well-equipped and well-coordinated smugglers. Two had been killed in the melee, and three others escaped into the forest. The rescuing Special Ops team had picked them up mid-day yesterday.

The Green Berets set up a temporary base at a farmhouse just on the other side of the mountain ridge from the warehouse where the soldier were being held. They, too, had a twelve-man team.

At the outset, this was clearly a military op, and Darcy’s role was limited to getting just close enough to the Golden Eagles to lock down the guidance system remotely, and if possible, disable the engines so they couldn’t be fired. After that, a Special Forces team would gain control of the warehouse and free the hostages.

Darcy played with a pen as she listened. “I should be able to ping the missiles at two hundred miles out, General. With luck, I’ll get them offline in a few minutes. I’m curious though, the fuze is pretty damned sophisticated. Do these people know the launch parameters?” Barnes hadn’t heard that term before and said as much. Darcy explained, “This kind of ordinance has a fuze that only arms under certain circumstances--particular speed, trajectory, altitude, time in the air, that kind of thing. That information has to be programmed into the launcher and is classified.”

Talbot grimaced. “The smugglers have that information, passed along by Stane himself.”

“Shit.” Darcy tapped her pen on the desk for emphasis.

“Well put,” Talbot agreed.

Barnes leaned in to ask, “What’s the plan if she can’t do it remotely?”

“We do it the hard way and go in afterward,” Talbot said. “The smugglers have two launch cannons, though, and with the way negotiations are headed, they aren’t afraid to use them. At that range, they could easily drop a missile as far out as Bucharest. We can’t let that happen.”

Darcy drummed her fingers. “Negotiations?”

“Without the trucks, they’re trapped, so they’re using the hostages as leverage for money and a ride to Serbia,” Talbot replied. A picture popped up on the hologram of an exhausted Ranger strapped to the back of one of the rocket launchers. If it was fired, the soldier would be incinerated.

(Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.) (Heat, burning flesh) Barnes looked away.

Darcy reached for his hand under the table, pressing her fingers against the metal sensors. She bit her lip at the image and quipped, “Non-extradition countries are a bitch.” At Talbot’s look of surprise, she rolled her eyes. “Seriously? Does anyone read the dossier you have on me? That’s Doctor Stark to you, and my PhD in Political Science wasn’t just to piss off my dad.”

Hill’s expression didn’t twitch one iota, but there was a faint sparkle of amusement in her eyes that Barnes had picked up on when he’d first started working under the woman. She picked up the thread of the conversation. “What’s their stance on the missiles?”

“Whoever is paying them isn’t paying them enough to hang onto them under these circumstances. These are mercenaries, and a pretty smart bunch of them. Right now, they want to get the hell out of town and let us have the hardware. But they aren’t afraid of threatening us with firing the weapons or killing hostages.”

“How much are they asking?” Darcy wondered. Barnes tapped twice on her wrist, and she let go with a worried glance.

“Doesn’t matter,” Talbot said. “The United States Army does not negotiate. Now, get some rest. We’ll reconvene at zero four hundred Bravo.” His hologram blinked out.

Hill and the Tangos took the couch and chairs for some shut-eye. Barnes wouldn’t need any sleep for another day or so; he’d rather see Darcy get a little rest. She curled up in the co-pilot’s seat with a blanket and pillow. Her dark lashes fanned down on her cheeks.

The hum of the jet kept him company. It was impossible not to think about all the scenarios they might encounter, and the fact that Darcy had no training for this kind of thing. He sent a text to Steve, but Jason informed him that Steve had switched the cell phone off--which he only did while he was on a mission.

Given Darcy’s faint staccato breaths that meant she was only dozing, Barnes guessed she’d received the same response. There would be little sleep for her until she heard otherwise.

It was odd. Steve got by on five hours or so a night, though he’d sleep seven when given an excuse. Barnes still needed a full eight and didn’t mind the occasional nap. (Banner pointed out that Barnes was still healing from years of brain damage and speculated that when Barnes quit needing so damned much sleep, he would be as physically recovered as he would get.) Darcy was the wild card. She rarely slept regular hours in any given week unless the three of them were together. He’d seen her go days on catnaps, even before the serum.

As if summoned by the thought, Darcy stretched her arms overhead and retied her hair in a ponytail as she peered out the windows. He had the urge to pull it out of the band again and let the wavy locks fall over his hands. He loved the way the strands lit up the sensors in the metal, like a soft rain pattering against a window.

“James,” she said softly, presumably so the others wouldn’t overhear. “There might be a problem.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, going cold inside. (Mission: Protect Stark) (Yes, thank you. I’m well aware of that directive. Don’t need the help.)

“Disabling the Stark tech is nothing.” She flickered her fingers in the air. “The Chitauri part … there’s a couple of obvious ways to merge the tech--at least to me. But Jason and I have been talking. I think there’s another way to do it. It’s stupid, not stable at all, and I might not be able to disable the programming remotely.”

“Not stable? How?”

“Chitauri technology relies on nine simultaneous electromagnetic waves to transmit energy-- ranging from high frequency microwaves to an extreme ultraviolet light. If they aren’t tuned exactly to the Stark tech, it’s like any software handshake--it gets glitchy and full of bugs.” She drummed her fingers on the instrument panel. “I’m thinking that’s why the missiles haven’t turned up before now. And maybe that’s why the smugglers are so willing to abandon them. They’re dangerous. And maybe they can’t be used.”

“So your friend Yuri found a patsy to unload them on?”

“Definitely not my friend. And why else would anyone transport them by land, James? The missiles aren’t that heavy. But if they’re throwing off energy signatures, which would indicate they’re unstable, they might interfere with flight controls.”

“Wouldn’t bouncing around in a truck set them off?”

“Missiles are built to handle being moved. That’s why the silly things have to be prepped before launch and the warheads don’t arm until after they are fired. But the electronics are another issue if they aren’t stable. One stray wavelength could send the wrong message to the guidance systems or pre-launch sequence. Biggest concern is the rockets firing prematurely.” Darcy picked at her blanket. “If I’m right, we’re going to hit a broad-spectrum jammer. That might explain why Talbot’s hackers couldn’t get at the missiles to get them offline.”

“What does that mean for you?”

“Plugging in my laptop via a USB port on each missile and reprogramming each one manually. I won’t be able to use Jason until I’m hard-wired in.”

(Mission: Protect Stark.) He swore under his breath. (What do you think I’m doing? Fuck off and let me think.)

Darcy’s face fell. “I know. It means the hostages have to be out of there before we do that,” she confirmed.

Goddamnit. It was just like planning ops with Steven in the 40’s--seeing the solution and knowing his love was perfectly capable of executing it. “Think you can repeat what you did with the EMP in Stark Tower?”

“I’ll need either the power poles or the sticky bugs.”

“I’d also need a control module on the main power line into the city,” Jason added.

Darcy blinked. “I didn’t think you were paying attention,” she told the AI. “But I can build one out of the stuff I brought.”

“The poles give you more power,” Jason said, and Darcy lit up at hearing the AI offering suggestions. It was a first for him.

“The bugs are more discreet,” she countered. “It’s not like the town is totally abandoned. We can’t be too obvious. I think we need to pull up the map and see what our options are. It all depends on how much of the electrical grid we can access. And how in the hell are we going to get them in place? Trying to do that might be worse than the SF team going in on their own.”

“I can--” Barnes started.

Darcy held her hand up. “Nope. There is no ending to that sentence that’s not going to end up with Steve yelling at both of us.”

(Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.) (Bull-fucking-shit. Rogers has been a pain in my ass since 1922.) “Let’s get Talbot on the line,” he said instead. “Hill?” he called out.

She popped her head in between the chairs, scrubbing her face as if she’d been sleeping. “What’s up?”

“Stark’s got a theory. Might want to be prepped if it pans out.”

Hill tilted her head. “I’m gonna need coffee for this, right? And this op just got a hell of a lot more complicated, didn’t it.”

Darcy shrugged. For a moment, Barnes could see the utter fear in her eyes. But with a quirk of her mouth, Darcy commented flippantly, “Starks don’t do easy.”

“Your dad’s going to kill me,” Hill muttered as she backed out of the cockpit. “Ten minutes.”

(Protect Stark) With a sigh at the directive, Barnes pulled his jacket off and handed it to his girl. “It’ll give you protection if you have to get off the plane for any reason. Caveat: don’t get off the fuckin’ plane until I tell you we’re clear.”

Darcy took it. “Ooh, are we going steady now?”

(He didn’t smirk. Assets don’t smirk. But sergeants sure as fuckin’ hell do.) He smirked. “Didn’t you try that one on Steven?”

She laughed. “Holy shitballs. I forgot. Yeah, we took a walk in Central Park. He drew me that day.” She shook out the heavy kevlar-lined jacket. “You gonna draw me too?”

“Might paint you.”

“If I may, Sergeant,” Jason interrupted. “Ms Stark, appropriate protective gear is stored in the third storage bin on the left of the main cabin. You’ll need to lay your hand on the front panel for it to open.”

Darcy ducked out, returning with a pile of black clothing and a pair of boots. She dropped it all on the co-pilot’s chair and stripped down to her bra and panties.

“Tony?” Barnes asked as Darcy stepped into the pants portion and began rolling it over her hips with a wiggle.

“Of course,” Jason agreed. “Ms Stark, you’ll find the material is thin enough to be worn under your street clothing and will provide protection against sharp-edged materials and mid-caliber projectiles. There is a hooded jacket that will offer additional protection as well.”

She zipped up the body suit, and Barnes let out a low whistle of approval. “Seriously?” she groaned. “It’s like wearing two layers of Spanx.”

“All the better to appreciate your curves, doll.”

“I’m going to bake in this outfit,” she complained as she drew her cargo pants and Stark Industries t-shirt back on. The boots for the uniform were sturdier than the Doc Martens she’d been wearing, and she giggled when she looked inside them. The lining was bright pink. When she picked up the jacket with the attached hoodie, she shook her head. “Dad,” she admonished. The inside lining was electric blue.  In the pocket of the jacket, she found a pair of fingerless gloves.

When she was fully dressed, clad in black from head to toe, Barnes studied her with satisfaction. “Your dad did good. Covers you without being obvious.” He fingered the edge of the jacket. “Looks like leather but it isn’t. Stylish, but doesn’t draw attention. Your dad has a good eye.”

Darcy wrinkled her nose. “Still not an Avenger.”

“Never said you were.” But he knelt down to run a thumb along the inside edge of her boots. Sure enough, Stark had fitted them with hidden sheaths. Barnes rummaged through his go bag and found two of his knives that would fit. He tucked her cargo pants inside the boots and set the knives in place. “Those aren’t for you, love. It’s my job to keep you safe. I will. Which means I’ll stash weapons wherever I can for backup.”

Then he strapped Steve’s spare Glock to her thigh, setting his hands on her hips when he was done. “I’ve seen you practice with this. That’s your weapon if you have to have one. But Princess,” he said quietly, looking up at her. “These people are trained. They spend every day getting better at what they do. Your job is to do what you do best; leave this part to me.”

“Okay.”

He stood, and as he did, he slid his fingers along Darcy’s hips and waist--something so forbidden on a mission that he hissed as he fought the compulsion to revert to the Asset. She was so damned warm and alive. (Rule Two: Assets do not have feelings.) She stepped in six inches to close the gap between them, closing her arms around him. (Yeah, kiss my ass on that one.)

Her lips did a damned fine job of chasing away any mission imperatives for the moment. He savored the sunshine flavor of her mouth.

She pulled back, inhaling sharply. He started to frown, then recognized the gleeful excitement she got when she was struck by something brilliant. “Jason, fly the plane for a while.” WIth a grin, she pulled Barnes into the main cabin. “Where did we put the sticky bugs?” she asked him.

“In the box to your left. Why?”

“I need to give them wings.”

“Wings?”

“A propulsion system. Jason and I can fly them in place.” She found the box and promptly dumped the little sensor buttons on the floor of the jet. Then she dug through a cabinet that held a full set of her favorite tools. She glanced at her phone before stashing it in the pocket of her hoodie. “Yeah, I’ve got time to do this and build the module.”

At Hill’s raised eyebrow, Barnes winked at the former security director. “Can you do that and talk to Talbot at the same time?” he asked his wife.

“Yup. Mind if I wake your team? I need extra hands.”

While Barnes and Hill filled in Talbot on Darcy’s theory, she passed out sticky bugs and showed the Tangos how to modify the casings. To Hill’s astonishment, Darcy even handed her a set of pliers and a small pile of bugs too. One Tango in particular, Nguyen, seemed to have a knack for attaching the tiny repulsors to the bugs.

Darcy sat with her laptop (the Tangos still didn’t know about Jason) to reprogram the sticky bugs. For the next hour, they worked on the little devices. One by one, the bugs took to the air.

“James?” Darcy asked via the contact. “I need to see if I can control these bugs on my own. But stay close. I don’t want to accidentally take over the plane.”

(Protect Stark) “Roger that, love. Jason, end Code Downtime, authorization Charlie-Fox-Bravo.”

“Code Downtime ended, Sergeant,” Jason confirmed to both of them.

As the bugs zipped through the plane under Darcy’s command, the Tangos ducked when she buzzed their heads. She flew the bugs into their box and deactivated them. Then she wiggled fingers at Hill and the Tangos, saying, “I can do the rest.” She smiled hopefully at Barnes. “But I could use a sandwich.”

He merely crossed his arms and scowled at his wife. (Sunshine. He loved. She was everything.)

Hill barked out a laugh. “I’ll get ‘em. Somebody’s got to fly the plane.”

Barnes laid a hand on his wife’s hair, enjoying the shimmer of energy against his fingers. Accompanied by her smile, he returned to the cockpit and occupied himself with flying the Quinjet.

 

*****

 

As for Darcy, once the Quinjet got within two hundred miles of Elena, she went to work. The Special Forces had dropped into the area a couple of hours ago and waited for Talbot to give them the go ahead for the rescue.

Muttering to herself, Darcy hacked her way through the jammed signals. She’d been sort-of right on all fronts, and Talbot was still holding out hope she would get the missiles entirely shut down yet. (Broad spectrum jamming signal? Check. Fucked up handshake between SI and Chitauri tech? Check. Inability to hack through former to get to latter? Jury’s out.)

She had the commands for the rockets from SI’s files. She’d tested them against each of the nine rockets, all while threading through the jamming signal. But the high spectrum Chitauri tech acted like a jammer of its own, shielding the SI technology from Darcy’s attempts to change the programming.

“Son of a bitch,” she hissed when a new set of signals popped up as they closed inside a hundred miles.

Maria had been quietly hovering--not supervising, but ready to jump into action when needed.  It helped that Maria knew all about Jason, so Darcy didn’t have to watch what she said aloud.

“No luck?” Maria asked.

“Worse. Two of the missiles have been prepped for launch. Shit. Let the general know.”

“Can you override?”

“I don’t think so--maybe?” Darcy typed rapidly on her computer as she tried to break into the programming. “The Chitauri signals are scrambling everything I do. I’m barely getting readings at all. Jason, doesn’t SI have a satellite somewhere close by? I need more intel.”

“Yes, in eleven minutes, twenty-seven seconds.”

“Give me every reading we can get. We’ve got to see what we’re dealing with.” She looked up, meeting Maria’s solemn brown eyes. “I can’t--” she faltered.

“Is it a distance problem?” Maria coaxed.

Darcy appreciated her friend’s steady, non-judgmental patience. “No, it’s a frequency problem. I think I’m going to have to disable each one on a direct connection. It’s the only way I know how to get inside the Chitauri signal.”

As if it wasn’t an concern at all, Maria only mentioned, “I’ll let the general know.” In moments, Talbot appeared on screen, and Hill explained the problem.

Embarrassed by her failure, Darcy rechecked every avenue, trying to wiggle her way through the scrambled mess. But she was no more successful this time than the last. Time for the back up plan. If she couldn’t eliminate the missiles as a threat, she could perhaps help the soldiers on the ground. “General Talbot,” she interrupted, “Do you remember the incident in Stark Tower where the Hydra weapons were heated up?”

“I do.”

“I can make that happen, but I need to do a flyby in the Quinjet so I can get all the sensor readings that I need. I also need to deploy several small drones around the warehouse.”

“How small and how many? I don’t want to give us away.”

Darcy held her finger and thumb an inch apart. “Forty, I think, give or take. I also need someone to attach a control module to the main electrical line into town.”

Talbot nodded. “Do your flyby and rendezvous with the ODA team on the ground. I’ll let him know you’re coming in. But Ms Stark,” he warned. “The commander of the 452 is in charge of the operation. You and Barnes coordinate with him.”

“Yes, general.”

Maria relayed all this to James, and the jet banked toward the town for a high flight overhead. They were cloaked, but nothing could cover the sound of the engines if they flew too low.

“I need a map of the town,” Darcy told Jason. “Give me infrared and electrical signatures. Show me what sort of weapons these assholes have. Just… scan everything.”

“Of course, Ms. Stark.”

They landed just on the other side of the ridge from the town in the well before dawn, local time, just over a mile away from the warehouse. James set the plane down at an abandoned farmhouse with flaky plaster and a few old chairs scattered about the yard. Cortena and Martinez, carrying the four white boxes, disembarked to check in with Kowalski and the rest of the Sierra team who’d arrived with the ODA 452. Nguyen and Williams stayed with the jet. As this wasn’t an official S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, Maria stayed on board too, and honestly, Darcy felt a whole lot better leaving Jason with Maria.

While she knew Jason had most of JARVIS’ capabilities, she wasn’t sure how he’d respond in a crisis yet. Trust, she understood, would take time. And they had plenty of that. (She missed her brother.)

Bucky stopped Darcy on the ramp to give her a quick once over. “Still dressed, Barnes,” she teased as she hefted her laptop bag over her shoulder. (And it was ‘Barnes,’ not Bucky, she decided.) He nodded, but didn’t speak. She touched his lips, letting his warm breath ghost over her fingertips. His pure grey eyes held her steady. There was no mistaking the presence of the Asset, nor the intensity of his mission directive. (Was it wrong to find him gorgeous knowing how he’d become this way? And yet, he was in control--using what he’d been forced to become for his own purposes. Yes, that was gorgeous by any measure.)

He brought his hands up, jerked them backward--as if involuntarily--then pulled the hoodie up to cover her head. His fingers unerringly found the two clips that would hold it in place and attached them to her hair.

“Guess I’m keeping the hood up for a while?” At his sharp nod of confirmation, she licked her lips, giving him a wide smile. “I love you, James Barnes,” she told him, with all the heat and surety she could summon. Then she flitted down the ramp, knowing he would stay by her side.

The commander of the ODA 452 waited for them on the ground, flanked by the Sierra team.

“Captain Yashin,” Darcy held her hand out as she and Bucky descended.

The officer took it with a firm handshake. “Stark. We appreciate the assistance, even if it galls us to need it.”

She chuckled. “I can relate.”

The commander studied her husband, but didn’t offer his hand. (Darcy had been firm on that. Hill had passed along the intel.) “Sergeant Major Barnes? The general told me you might come along. Glad to have you. Hell of an honor.”

Bucky gave a quick jerk of his head. “Sir.”

Yashin leveled a hard look at Bucky. “You don’t ‘sir’ me. You don’t ‘sir’ a damned soul ever again, Sergeant Major. You, of all of us, have earned the right.” The captain didn’t wait for any kind of acknowledgement from Barnes, pivoting instead and stalking to the farmhouse.

“Listen up, assholes,” the commander’s deep voice barked out as they stepped inside. Darcy winked at her husband as she picked up the white boxes Cortena had deposited in the kitchen just inside the door. She and Bucky halted in the doorway as Yashin continued to his men, “Change of plans. Our consultant’s here to lend us a hand with the weird shit on these rockets. I still ain’t interested in having you all turn into a bunch of sitting ducks like the last set of guys who went in. It looks bad. Besides, we can give the Rangers hell if we do it right. This mission, the personnel, and the technology you will encounter is classified Top Secret. Understood?” he snapped out.

“Yes, sir,” a chorus of male voices answered.

“The consultant’s a civilian. You will call her ‘ma’am.’ As you’ve figured out, she also comes with her own security detail. Be nice to them. Their job is to protect the consultant, not to participate on the op. The man in charge of that detail is retired Army. He does not have to salute, but you assholes will give him the respect due as the longest held prisoner of war in this country’s history, and he is ‘Sergeant Major’ to you. He will coordinate this operation with me. You do not give him or his team orders. Clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they answered again.

“Ms Stark? Sergeant Major Barnes? Come on in.”

With a rush of pure adrenaline, Darcy said via the contact to Bucky, “Hang on, love, it’s showtime.” Flanked by the Sierra team, she and Barnes headed for the center of the room. She noted the shocked recognition on most of the faces. The NCOs snapped salutes, while the Warrant Officer murmured, “Sergeant Major,” and nodded respectfully as they passed by.

Darcy dropped the four white boxes on the nearest table. “Donuts, anyone? They were fresh six hours ago.” A happy murmur ran through the room, and someone started passing around boxes. Darcy glanced around the living space that was obviously commandeered as HQ for this operation. “I need this area to work.”

Two of the sergeants jumped up and shoved the old furniture out of the way. When they were done, Darcy nodded in thanks. “Have a donut and stick around for the show.” With that invitation, the soldiers made themselves small in the corners and doorways. Even the captain leaned against the wall to watch.

Darcy licked her bright red lips, and yeah, Barnes managed to drop one eyelid in a slow wink as she did. “Let’s go to work.”

Cortena carried in the boxes from the jet at Barnes’ order and began unpacking them under Darcy’s direction. He’d spent ten years in the Navy fixing every part of a carrier ship. He was talented with a knife and a gun, and served as a handy assistant to Darcy whenever she needed an extra pair of hands in the lab. Martinez, on the other hand, took up her station at the front of the room, opposite Barnes, taking up guard duty. (Guards in a room full of Green Berets. Never let it be said that Barnes wasn’t paranoid. Or utterly confident in his team’s ability to hold their own against the best.)

Darcy noticed the two groups eyeballing each other, sizing up the competition, as it were, even if they were on the same side.

Cortena pulled a portable table out of the boxes, set it up, and leveled it. Then Darcy laid out thin panels that would project holograms above them. She linked them together and connected them to a small box that contained a tiny arc reactor, then idly scratched her nose, giving Barnes the signal for him to end Code Downtime.

Once she heard the soft confirmation beep in her ear, she said, “ Jason, give me a scan of the city.”

She impressed the hell out of the Green Berets when a detailed map appeared over the panels. Buildings were outlined in a soft blue. Bodies moving about the town were lit up in red. The electrical grid, such as this city had, was lit up in yellow. It wasn’t much, just a handful of wires running down from the mountains to branch across the handful of streets and fifty or so buildings.  

Darcy pulled another device out of the box and handed it to Cortena. “I need this to be attached to the main power line leading into the city,” she told Barnes. “Somewhere in here.” She highlighted the map with a fingertip and zoomed in with a pinch-out gesture of her fingertips. “We’ll need to take it with us when we leave. I can remote detonate it, but it will take the power line with it, and I’ll bet there’s a few farmers in the area who’d get touchy about that.”

Barnes swept a look across the Green Berets. “Need a volunteer who’s damned good at being quiet,” he said.

The captain huffed a laugh. “They’re Special Forces. They’re all good at being quiet. But you’ll want Cojec. He speaks the language like a native, if they have to talk their way out of anything.”

Barnes had a quick discussion with Cojec and Cortena. They decided an hour would be all that was needed for the small operation. The two men left, promptly appearing on the infrared map as they worked their way down to the town.

Darcy reduced that map with a gesture and set it to one side of the table. She glanced behind her and waved a sergeant closer. “Keep an eye on them. Cortena needs about fifteen minutes to wire that in place. Let Barnes know if you see anything weird.”

Jason would sing out long before the sergeant would notice anything, but the less the army knew about the real capabilities of the tech Darcy had with her, the better they would all be. Not only that, Barnes had a comlink to his entire team. But giving the Green Berets something to do would keep everyone happy.

Darcy tapped a panel and the holographic keyboard popped up. She duplicated the map and zoomed into the building where the hostages were being held. “Okay, let’s decide which of these pretty red dots are our guys and which are the ones I’m going to piss off.” She whistled as she tagged nine objects in the warehouse. “There’s our missing Eagles.” She squinted. “Oh damn.”

It was clear that not only were two of the missiles ready to launch, but four bodies were far too close to the launchers to be anything but hostages strapped awkwardly in place. Three more were surrounded by the remaining seven missiles. “Yeah, we’re gonna fix that,” she muttered. “Where the shit are the other three missiles?”

One of the men stepped up. “Destroyed during the experimental phase of merging the electronics with Chitauri tech, ma’am.”

Darcy squinted at him. “Who are you and how do you know?”

“Army Ranger, Staff Sergeant Miller, ma’am.”

“This your team?” She tapped on the map.

“Yes, ma’am. That’s how the RRD team who uncovered the intel found the missiles in the first place. They overheard a conversation about how they self-destructed--one in testing phase, one in the lab, and one when a plane crashed trying to haul it from Minsk. Pretty sure that one’s just a smudge on a field, ma’am. The intel was confirmed before we set up this op to retrieve the rest of the missiles.”

“Good to know, Miller. Look,” she assured him, “We’re going to get the rest of your team back alive. I’ve got a surprise for them that’s really going to mess up their day.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The young soldier gave her a sad, grateful smile and returned to holding up a wall on the far side of the room.

“Talbot said there are fourteen people on Team Stupid. Are we still sure of that?” Darcy asked the captain.

“Yes.”

Barnes leaned over the table and began tagging bad guys, purely by body language and location. A rumble of agreement ran through the room, and the Captain acknowledged, “Good job, Sergeant Major.”

He didn’t respond. Instead, he kept his eyes on Darcy. “Next?”

She winked. “Time to bug the shit out of these guys.”

Never let it be said that Darcy Stark couldn’t get Bucky Barnes to ease out of the Asset just long enough for his eyes to glint with amusement. “Point, Stark,” she told him via the contact.


While the sticky bugs to flew to Elena, Barnes and Yashin laid out the timing of the op. Once the captain understood that the smugglers would be disallowed the use of their weapons (though not the specifics of how ), deciding how the Green Berets would infiltrate and capture the enemy was relatively simple.

Darcy and Jason attached the bugs wherever they could. In a town of this age, wires crawled up the sides of every building, were strung along the ceilings, or draped in power poles overhead. It wasn’t hard for the bugs to wrap around the electrical wires and tap directly into the current, giving Jason full control over that line. The bugs themselves contained the sensors that Jason or Darcy could direct.

As they came on line, Barnes studied the infrared map. “I can do this,” he grouched.

“Don’t even think about it,” Darcy murmured absently as she typed instructions for placement to Jason via the keyboard interface. She didn’t really need to type the commands, but she found it helped her to focus on giving explicit instructions to Jason, rather than letting her thoughts dance around willy-nilly. It also helped that Jason was learning to ignore some instructions (anything involving cars, coffee, or reprogramming the TV remote), or at least table them for later (emails to write, reminders, brilliant flashes of insight, stupid ideas).

“How?” the Captain asked from behind Barnes, who turned as the officer repeated the question. “How would you gain control of the warehouse?”

Darcy could practically feel the antennas going up as every single soldier casually stepped closer to hear the answer.

Barnes noticed. Two of the sergeants eased back a notch at his glare. But he nodded toward the hologram of the warehouse. “I’d start here,” he said, pointing at a tree a good half mile from the warehouse. “Eliminate these two sentries. Move to here,” he pointed out a low building a few hundred feet closer, “Eliminate the other two sentries.” The he pointed at the prone figures inside a room with only one small window. “These four are sleeping; take ‘em quietly through the window. Leaves the other six. Grenade, gas, or the Skorpion for them. Two will escape. Stop them at the doorway. Mission complete.”

“Knife work or silencers?” the Captain asked.

“Rifle for sentries. Knives for sleepers. Less noise.”

“Understood.”

In the quiet that followed, Darcy curled her toes inside her boots to keep her expression blank. There was a bleak hollowness to Barnes’ explanation. These Special Forces soldiers were no strangers to the kind of op Barnes could run, but there was a reason they had teams of twelve in the field.

The Warrant Officer whistled. “Guess they didn’t exactly give you backup.” He paused, then added, “Assholes.”

Barnes merely crossed his arms, giving the man the smallest nod of acknowledgement. The acceptance of who he was by fellow soldiers of a similar caliber must have meant something to Barnes, because Darcy caught the shimmer of her husband’s eyes as they warmed to the iciest of blues, though he settled into his stance with an arrogant set to his shoulders.

Darcy hid her smile. Stuff like that was how rumors got started. Even if this op was classified, tales of the Winter Soldier would be inevitable. She ignored the quiet discussions that started up as the bugs lit up the grid. She and Jason tested them one by one. “Milking it a little?” she silently teased her love.

He lifted his chin a fraction in reply.

That made her laugh aloud, but she covered it. “Hot damn, we’re live. Our boys got the module all connected up.”

“Ms Stark, I have full control over the electrical grid at the warehouse. Standing by for your instruction,” Jason told her.

“Barnes, we’re ready to roll on your mark.” Her hands hovered over the keyboard.


SFO 452 eased into town just before dawn, along with three Army Rangers hell-bent on a successful rescue op. When they were in position, Barnes gave the order to Darcy. She and Jason surrounded the missiles with plasma shields moments before setting up a tuned vibration that heated up the metals of the weapons the smugglers carried.

On Barnes’ mark, the soldiers swept through the warehouse. The takedown was fast, clean, with no loss of life, and minimal injuries beyond a few scorched hands and a couple of hard hits to the jaw. When Yashin called out the ‘all secure,’ Barnes herded the Sierras, Martinez, and Darcy to the Quinjet after they rapidly packed up her equipment.

Jason parked the Quinjet near the warehouse as two Bulgarian military choppers descended to take the smugglers into custody. Two more American helicopters joined them, landing in a field not too far away. Medics ran out with kits in hand.

Every last resident of the small town poked a head out a window to see what was going on. Barnes pulled Darcy’s hoodie back into place before escorting her into the warehouse.

The plasma shields were still up, protecting the former hostages and the missiles, but everyone was afraid to touch them.  Darcy didn’t really think about the flicking motion she made with her right fingers as she took the shields down with no more than a thought to Jason. The medics rushed in to triage the former hostages as soon as they disappeared.

“Witch,” one of the smugglers spat out.

She ignored him, heading straight to where the four soldiers were strapped to the front and back of the two loaded launchers, kneeling somewhat, two with fingers tangled into the wires of the open panel of a missile, two attached to the launchers in the same manner. The other seven missiles lay on the ground, and three of those with men desperately trying to hold still. Darcy firmly stopped the wave of grief and fear that swept through her. (Later, she promised herself.) “‘Kay,” she announced to the weary, anxious gentleman. “Who wants out first?”

Three of them pointed to a fourth, and Darcy recognized him as the soldier being tortured for money. She knelt down beside him, a pair of medics on her heels. She ignored the smell of blood and piss and god-knows-what-else. “You drew the short straw,” she joked, “and got me first.”

The soldier--maybe late twenties, long, and lanky, with a swollen jaw and bleeding wrist--pried his eyes open.

“What’s his name,” Darcy asked his teammate.

“John Vaughn.”

“Hey, Vaughn,” she started, “My name is Darcy. I’m gonna have you out soon. Think you can hold on for me just a little longer?” The soldier gave her a slow nod. “Good,” she told him. “Now, what do we have here?”

“They glued our fingers to the wires,” the guy next to Vaughn said. “Can’t get them apart and can’t pull ‘em free without yankin’ shit that doesn’t need to be yanked.”

Darcy retrieved a pair of eyeglasses out of her laptop bag and pushed them up her nose with a single finger. These made Google Glass look like a finger painting at the Louvre. With them, Jason could project nearly as much information on them as JARVIS could the Iron Man helmet. Schematics for the missile appeared with the wires properly labeled. “Jason, give me the chemical compounds of that glue.”

“It appears to be a cyanoacrylate adhesive.”

“I can deal with that. I need acetone. Tell Maria where it is; I’ll send someone to get it from her. Ask James to round up whatever he can find.”

“Yes, Ms. Stark.”

“Cortena,” Darcy called out. The Tango appeared at her elbow. “Maria’s got a bottle of acetone on the jet. Go get it and my tool bag.” He sprinted away as Vaughn winced. “Hey,” she patted the soldier’s shoulder. “It’s just Super Glue. It’ll come off.”

“For real?”

“Yeah,” she assured him. Without thinking, she loosened the clips in her hair and shoved the hood back so that she could see the soldier better.

He blinked a couple of times, tried to focus. “‘m I seein’ things, or you that pretty?”

“Jury’s out,” Darcy quipped. “How hard did they hit you on the head?” The man huffed a ghost of a laugh. She checked to see how securely the wires were holding, then connected the laptop and told Jason to open up the coding.

“Vaughn?” The soldier opened his eyes again, and god, they were full of pain. (No, Darcy, not right now.) “I’m going to be talking to my friend, Jason, who’s in my jet. We’re going to be working together to get this missile offline while I get you free. Either I’m going to be able to pull these wires out with exploding anything, or I’m going to get the glue off your fingers. One way or the other, you’re going to be free of all this. Okay?”

Vaughn licked his split lip. “‘kay.” He squinted. “You smart?”

Darcy smiled. “Yeah. I’m a damned good hacker, too. Plus I have an inside track on understanding these missiles.” He blinked, waiting for her to continue. “My dad invented them,” she said. “Jason, give me a rundown of what we’ve got.” While the AI chattered in her ear, Cortena handed Darcy a bottle of acetone. She poured it over the soldier’s fingers until the glue softened. As the fumes wafted into the air, she was grateful for her glasses that keep the worst of it at bay.  One of the medics held Vaughn’s hands steady as Darcy worked his fingers out of the mess of wires. Cortena fished his sunglasses out and slipped them over Vaughn’s eyes.

“I have uplinked to the missile’s programming, Ms Stark. I am rather disappointed at how the Chitauri technology--the light cubes, as you designated during your studies--was integrated with the Stark technology. It is quite inadequate, and there is a high probability of instability with the missiles.”

“In what way?”

“It appears that the anti-tampering mechanisms have been compromised where the light cubes were attached to the missile.”

“Please tell me I can’t tip one over and set it off.”

“Not exactly, but if the panels on the missiles are opened--as they are now--and subjected to a focused ultraviolet light, the rays will engage the anti-tampering mechanism and the missiles will self-destruct.”

“Tell James to check the bad guys for weird flashlights.”

“Yes, of course.”

Vaughn cleared his throat as he stared at the words three inches from his face on the body of the missile. “Your dad’s Tony Stark?”

“Uh huh,” Darcy answered as she instructed Jason as to how she wanted to unhook the Chitauri programming so that she could properly power down the missile’s internal electronics. She did that while using a small flathead screwdriver to work at the softening glue so that it would give between Vaughn’s fingers.

As horrible as it was to leave the other soldiers in place, Darcy simply didn’t trust anyone else to do this. If the worst happened, and a missile was compromised, she and Jason could do something about it. But she couldn’t watch all seven missiles with soldiers attached to them at the same time. Which sucked, and she had to put all that aside in favor of concentrating on Vaughn’s fingers.

Darcy worked the last wire off Vaughn’s hand. “Hey, you’re free,” she announced. Cortena and a medic slipped arms under the soldier and helped him take a few staggering steps to the stretcher.

When he was prone, he darted a bleary look around, finally seeing Darcy at his side. “Thank you.”

She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for being a badass and saving the world.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The medics whisked him away to the choppers outside.

Darcy took five precious minutes to disable both the missile and the launcher--even weapons couldn’t fire without certain moving parts--before moving on to the next man. All told, she’d needed almost a full hour to free Vaughn from the rocket. She glanced around the room, pained at how long some of the soldiers would have to to wait. But there was nothing to do except go to work.

“What’s your name?” she asked the man who’d been next to Vaughn and was tied to the launcher.

“Corporal Kenenisa Senai, ma’am.” He, too, was battered and exhausted, though the medics had him hooked up to an IV and had given him a dose of something for the pain.

“Want me to walk you through what I’m doing or tell you about the latest episode of The Walking Dead?”

“Can you do both?”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Darcy plugged in her laptop, keyed in a short series of commands to give Jason a link to work, then began pouring acetone over Senia’s hands. She bit her lip against tears, knowing damned well she was causing him more pain on his already bloody fingers.

“Hey,” Senai called out when he noticed. “I can deal. You do your thing. My fingers will heal up.”

She groaned. “You soldiers are all alike.”

“Sounds like you know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m married to two of ‘em.”

Senai blinked. “Two? This I’ve got to hear.”

Darcy idly recounted the number of times Steve’d come home with varying levels of injuries, inevitably accompanied by the words, “I’m fine, doll,” as she worked to free Senai from the tangle of glue and wires.

“This Steve … is he Army?”

“He was. Retired now. So’s the other one.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at Barnes.

“Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers and Darcy Stark,” Senai breathed. “I saw it on the news. Asgard is real?”

“Asgard is very real. It’s beautiful.” Darcy flicked her fingers against her wrist to get the wedding bracelet to light up for the soldier. His eyes brightened.

“That’s cool as fuck.” Then he blanched. “Shit. Sorry ma’am.”

“Did you miss the part where I’m married to two Army men? Pretty sure I’ve heard it before.” That got a real laugh, and Senai tipped his head against the cool metal of the launcher while she worked.

Sweat ran down Darcy’s cheek by the time she got Senai free. She glanced at her cell phone as the medics lifted him to his feet. Steve hadn’t texted, and she’d taken forty-two minutes to help this man. Too long. Five to go. She moved to the other launcher and the second set of missiles as Senai headed for the choppers with a soft ‘thank you’ to Darcy.

A medic handed her a water bottle. She wiped her forehead, picked up her laptop, and settled down in front of the third man with a smile.

By the time she freed the seventh and final soldier, the sun shone through the western windows, and Darcy stifled another yawn in favor of dismantling the last of the missiles. She scrubbed her face, accepted the coffee Barnes handed to her with a grateful smile, then picked up her screwdriver and went back to work.

 

*****

 

Jason noted the text message and debated whether or not to hold it until the Captain turned his cell phone on again. After careful consideration, he decided to activate the cell phone long enough for the message to be received, so the captain would have it waiting for him when he returned.

In the locker where Steve kept his personal belongings while on a mission, his cell phone lit up with a text from Bucky. “If I wasn’t already in love with her, these last couple of days would have done it. Stark’s got a hell of a daughter.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Barnes coaxed Darcy to sleep in the Quinjet.  They’d tried the bed, but she was restless, with nightmares hovering on the edge of her dreams. It wasn’t until he urged her to join him on of the captain’s chairs that she was able to sleep.  He held her close, a blanket covering them, with his thumb scraping along the back of her neck in a rhythm that should have been jarring, but instead she seemed to find it soothing.

They still had a full day of work ahead.  Darcy needed to separate the warheads from the bodies of the missiles. She planned to send those, along with the housing, to SI’s disposal team, while the electronics would go to her lab for analysis.  It would have been far safer to do all that hours ago, but it required concentration, and she’d been in short supply of that after freeing the soldiers. In any case, she’d dismantled the missiles enough to be next to useless, and Barnes made sure the Sierras weren’t letting anyone past the warehouse perimeter.

He marveled at the way she’d handled her part of the op. He hadn’t seen the full expression of the Stark ego in Darcy--though it read as confidence rather than arrogance. But she’d gone head-to-head with one of the Army’s top brass, swept into a room of elite soldiers, and flawlessly exercised her skill set.  

Though the Rangers and Green Berets had been agog at Barnes, it was clear Darcy had earned their respect, and the Stark reputation would stand in the Army for another generation.

Steve was going to have kittens over the prospect.  There was nothing the punk loved more than having the inside track on something the government wanted, and he’d make damned sure Darcy wasn’t coerced when they asked her for assistance. Thinking of Steve prompted Barnes to check his cell phone--and nothing.

He missed the punk and had the headache to prove it.  Here, locked up with Jason on guard, the Tangos outside, and the Glock resting on the table next to him, he still felt the Asset trying to slip into place.  He grounded himself by sniffing Darcy’s hair every few minutes.  (Sunlight and spring.) It worked, but Barnes had to admit to being terrified that HYDRA would get involved somehow with this operation.

It was a baseless fear, but it was enough to keep the Asset at the forefront. The last time he’d been in this part of the world, he’d been under HYDRA’s control.

He deliberately pulled out his cell phone and texted Steve the score for the last Mets game. It wasn’t anything the punk couldn’t look up, but Barnes needed a reason to be in touch with him, even if it was only a message.

Barnes tugged the blanket higher on Darcy and leaned the chair backward just a little bit more.  His wife buried her face in his neck, content to stay where she was.  

When Jason urged, “Barnes, I assure you I have the watch and will alert you if there is any cause for alarm.”  

“Telling me to get some sleep?”

“Encouraging you, perhaps, as you have been awake for forty-seven hours now.”

But sleep eluded him until, almost four hours later, Darcy nudged him toward the bed. “Your turn,” she told him.  “Even a couple of hours will help, if you can.”  

She sat against the headboard with one knee propped up.  Barnes pressed his forehead to her hip and slung an arm across her other leg. “Talk,” he murmured.  “Easier to rest when I know you’re okay.”  

So Darcy and Jason started a quiet conversation involving diagrams and processes for disassembling the missiles.  Barnes lost the thread of the conversation occasionally, whenever he managed to doze off.  

Somewhere in there, she mentioned, “Hey, Jason, can you let the staff know that we’re coming to the Bermuda house? Maybe in the next day or two? ”  That got him thinking about sand and sea water, and the last time he and Steve had gone down to Coney Island.

“Of course, Ms. Stark,” Jason replied. “I’d already given them notice that a large party would be arriving soon.  They will appreciate having a day or so to make final preparations.”

“Yay. Let Mom, Sam, Thor, and Jane know. And Bruce and Betty. We can swing by New York, drop off our security guards and the stuff that goes boom.  Anyone who wants to get sand between their toes can catch a ride.”

“Consider it done.”

“Sweet. Hey, you know, you’re getting better about the interpersonal communications.  You’re sounding more...well, human. Is that you learning, or are you going through JARVIS’ old stuff?”

(Huh.) Barnes roused enough to pay attention.  He’d noticed he felt easier around the AI, though not as he did JARVIS. He hadn’t attributed the changes to Jason’s responses, though.  

“A bit of both, I think,” Jason replied.  “My confidence level in your responses to my inquiries has risen to seventy-two point three percent. In addition, Sir has installed some of the coding that was damaged in the Ultron incident. Most of that programming was of your design.”

“I should have been doing that.” Darcy sounded morose.

“You’ve been … preoccupied.”  

“Did you just make a joke?” she looked askance at one of the cameras.

(Yeah, Jason, did you just make a joke?)

“Vision insisted a sense of humor was required when it comes to managing the Stark family.”

Darcy let out a soft laugh and dropped one hand on Bucky’s head, idly scratching his scalp as she read the tablet propped against her thigh.  “All right, let’s walk through the steps for pulling out the warhead one more time,” she told Jason.

His concentration faded to Darcy’s fingers in his hair.  It was ...  comforting. Confused by the sentiment, the Asset retreated, and Bucky fell into a light sleep.



*******



The Avengers’ Quinjet touched down just long enough at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters for Coulson’s crew to debark and for the Avengers to get patched up under Simmons’ watchful eye.

After weeks of wearing the suit, Steve was glad to shrug it off in favor of his jeans and leather jacket. Stark had a bin for the filthy uniforms on the aircraft. Steve added his to the pile and closed up the smelly container. He wondered who got the privilege of cleaning them.

Tony waited impatiently at the cockpit. “Two choices. I can check on Darcy myself, or you can tag along. We can stop in New York and drop the stragglers off if we make it snappy. Vision’s going with me.”

That was the best plan he’d heard all day. “I’m in.”

Romanov and Barton heard the last part as they took their seats. “We’re coming too,” she announced.

Tony shot a look at the Twins. “You want to go home?”

Wanda glanced at Steve and shook her head, not quite looking at Stark. “No,” she countered. “I think we stay as a team.” Groaning, Barton reached into his pocket for a twenty and handed it to Romanov. She stuffed it happily into her front pocket as she winked at Steve.

For his part, he hoped this meant the Maximoffs were coming around on the Starks--or--given the sly look in Pietro’s eyes as he boarded with Thor--maybe they wanted to see Stark in action. (Yes, that one made more sense--hence, the twenty Nat just won off Clint.) Not to mention, Wanda had definitely taken a shine to Vision.

When Thor heard of the change in plans, he begged off. “I wish to return to Jane’s side, but I need not bother you for transportation.” He clasped forearms with Steve and nodded regally at the others. “It was a good battle; we shall feast upon your return.”

Steve scratched his forehead, chuckling at his friend as he launched toward New York. “The Asgardians have that part down pat.”

Nat shrugged. “There are worse ways to go home.”

“Pretty sure I’ve tried them all,” he agreed. “That one’s better than the rest.”

Barton snorted, while Pietro’s eyes widened at the snarky retort.  Clearly, the teen still expected Steve to be a stodgy old man. Then again, Steve hadn’t had much reason to relax much around the Twins. The tension between them and Stark kept him on edge, and it wasn’t (for once) Stark exacerbating the situation.

Tony flipped buttons to close the gangplank and readied the Quinjet for liftoff. “Strap in. We’re going to make this a quick trip. Rogers, you gonna give them the heads up or should I do the honors?”

“I’ll do it.” He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and sent a group text to his loves. “Want company?”

“Hell, yes. Interesting part’s over. Even got a little shut eye.  Now Darcy’s occupied with weird shit. You coming, punk?”

“Got bored. Thought I’d swing through the neighborhood,” he typed.

“Not much to see. Army rations, cots that haven’t changed in seventy years, and dirt. Damned sure there’s banitsa at the bakery up the road that’s calling my name, but everyone’s too twitchy to leave the warehouse.”

“There’s what?”

“Pastry. Ask Natasha.”

“Is that wise?”

“Nope. Who’s driving, anyway? Barton or Stark? Money’s on Stark.”

“You’d win. What’s the temperature there?”

“Depends on our girl. Sure as hell worth the price of the ticket to watch her go toe-to-toe with Talbot. Don’t think he was ready for another kind of Stark this morning.”

Steve smiled at that. He’d had his fair share of run-ins with Talbot and the fuddy-duddy didn’t do well with free spirits. “How was the show?”

“Ever notice Starks don’t like to share? Talbot isn’t getting a finger on those missiles. What’s your ETA?”

Steve checked the time. “Three hours. Probably less since Stark’s driving.”

“Timing’s good. Should wrap up later tonight.”

“How are you holding up?”

“Had some dicey moments. Our girl’s something else.”

“That she is.”

“Be careful. I’ll give Darcy the heads up.”

Steve sent a “thumbs up” icon and a heart, just to annoy Bucky.

“Punk.”

With that on his phone, Steve tucked it into his jacket pocket and rocked back against the headrest, determined to get a combat nap while he could.




Stark landed next to Darcy’s plane in a cleared field on the north side of Elena.

Martinez waited for them. She nodded familiarly at Steve and Tony. “Sir. Captain.”

“Where’s Darcy?” Tony prompted.

“Ms. Stark and Director Barnes are onsite still. I believe she is dismantling the missiles now that the men have been rescued.”

“Is the Army still here?” Steve asked.

“The original Ranger team has been taken for medical attention, but the Green Berets and a token Bulgarian force are stationed here until Ms Stark is done. Barnes has arranged a car to take you and any of your teammates to the warehouse.” Martinez motioned to the dusty black SUV parked behind her and handed the keys over to Stark--whose refusal to let anyone but Happy Hogan drive him was well-known.

“Anyone want to stay here?” Tony glanced around as the Avengers shook their heads “No?”

With the eight of them crammed inside, along with Steve’s shield, it was a tight squeeze, but Martinez promised a short trip. She mentioned that the Army had taken rooms in an old guest house just up the mountain. “The sheets are clean, there’s plenty of hot water, and the view of the Balkans is pretty fantastic,” she offered.  

She navigated them to an ancient warehouse that had clearly served as a repair shop sometime in the past fifty years. Steve recognized several Sierras making rounds. The Green Berets were more discreet, and only experience let him pick out the places they were hidden--at least until the soldiers emerged to salute him as he exited the car, shield in hand.

He forgot, sometimes, that even jaded military types could be dazzled by the Avengers.

Stark didn’t, as he shook hands and whipped out a Sharpie to sign hastily gathered up slips of paper and an odd notebook or two. When the Bulgarian soldiers saw what was happening, they appointed one of their own to round up autographs as well.

“Sir,” the four sergeants on duty saluted Steve, who returned it with a smile.

“Heard you did good work,” he complimented.

The staff sergeant shrugged. “Damned easy when your targets can’t hold their weapons. Not exactly sure what the lady did, but not a one of them had hands on a firearm when Sergeant Major Barnes called the all-clear.”

Steve quirked an interested eyebrow. “Your boys okay?”

“Roughed up some. None permanently. The Rangers lost three of their own, sir.”

Steve shook his head, “Well, damn.”

“Yes, sir. That’s it exactly.” The soldier jerked his head. “The sergeant major and the consultant are inside, if that’s who you’re looking for.”

“I am,” he confirmed. “Thank you for keeping them safe.”

“Didn’t need me for that, Captain.” The sergeant hesitated. “She’s your wife?”

“She is,” he confirmed.  “Four months now.”

“Word is, she flew in from New York overnight, ran the op with our team, then pulled another eight straight. She didn’t stop until the last man was free. ”

“No, she wouldn’t,” Steve said with pride.

“Damned glad she was here, sir.”  

Steve nodded at the man, ending the conversation, as he was eager to see Darcy and Bucky again.

Stark was already inside with Vision, hovering over the warheads Darcy had pulled from the missiles. She slapped his hand when he tried to pick one up.

“Don’t touch my stuff,” she ordered her father, giving him a quick hug.  

“Don’t steal my lines.”

“I’m your kid. It’s required reading,” she quipped as she turned into Vision’s embrace. She kissed her brother on the cheek as they spoke too softly for Steve to overhear.  The easy way the trio meshed together to finish the project spoke well of Tony’s teaching abilities. (A fact which never failed to astonish the hell out of Steve--Howard was a terrible teacher. No patience at all.)

He skimmed the room, looking for Bucky, frowning a little when he didn’t see him right away.

“Heard there was a punk roaming around the neighborhood,” a husky voice called out.

Steve glanced to the right and found Bucky leaning against the wall, hidden in the shadows, watching over their wife. (His lungs fought for oxygen. Bucky was here . Even after a year, Steve was still knocked sideways when he remembered.) Not caring who looked on, he took three long steps and planted a hard kiss on Bucky’s mouth. “Couldn’t wait to see you,” he choked out as he propped the shield against his leg so he could hold Bucky with both arms.

Bucky’s eyes shimmered blue as he licked his lips. A pair of fingers skimmed Steve’s wrist--(since they were teens, finding discreet ways to touch, to remember)--

Darcy’s head popped up when she heard his voice. “Steve?” In pure happiness, she bounded straight for him, jumping up so that he caught her by the waist. She locked arms and legs around him. “Oh my god, you’re here! James, he’s here!” She planted her own heady kiss on Steve, slaking her thirst as lush, soft lips stole his breath.

“Already had my mouth on him, Princess,” Bucky quipped.  

“You didn’t tell me!” she complained. “You just said Dad and Vision were coming.” Darcy leaned closer to hug Steve, and damned if she didn’t smell like sweat and sunshine.

“I texted both of you,” Steve insisted.

“James has my phone.” Darcy shot Bucy a dirty look.

Utterly unrepentant, Bucky shrugged. “Oops.”  

“Barnes really is an asshole,” she muttered in Steve’s ear.

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Good thing we love him, right?”

“Absolutely.” With that, Steve darted a hand out and pulled Bucky in, wanting both of them close. (He blinked. A lot. Breathed out. Eased Darcy down to her feet, where she stood on a toe to kiss his cheek again.)

Pretending to be annoyed, Stark rolled his eyes. “You three can lock lips later. We’ve got work to do, Spawn.”

“Yeah, yeah, you never quit in the middle of the day when Mom comes home.”

“Not when I have warheads spread all over the table, I don’t.”

Darcy winced, pinking a little as Steve’s eyes widened. “Is he serious?”

“Um, yeah?” She hugged his middle one more time. “Okay, back to work for me. Few more hours, and we’re done. Oh, and if Talbot calls, no, I’m not giving up new Stark tech for any price.”

“I’ll remember that.” Steve took up the space next to Bucky, helping him to hold up that particular wall. “So? Want to fill me in?”

But stories would have to wait. Led by Clint, Natasha herded the Twins into the warehouse. The instant rage in Pietro and Wanda was understandable, Steve supposed. Tony, the missiles, father and daughter together--a haunting reminder of the Twins’ own lost parents.  

A ripple of possibility flashed through Steve’s head--a fleeting insight of what was to come in the moments ahead. (This he’d told Thor months ago. Foresight on the battlefield. But he hadn’t seen Bucky’s fall.) Without really thinking, he flipped his shield into place, wondering if Natasha did this on purpose, bringing the Twins here to lance the festering anger.  

“No,” Wanda cried out.  “This--this is not fair.” She stalked toward Tony.  “I hate you,” she spat out at him.

The way Tony sidled away from Vision and Darcy--pulling Wanda’s focus away from his kids--impressed Steve and was likely the only reason Bucky hadn’t already imposed himself between them and Wanda.

Stark walked further away, waving his hand in a circle as if he was explaining to a crowd.  “There’s a club, you know.  Of people who are pissed off at me on a daily basis. Pepper’s the president.  Darcy’s the treasurer.  They drink a lot at the meetings.” He shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets.  “Or so I hear. Want in?”

“I want you to pay,” she growled. Pietro stood beside her, hands on her shoulders. Whether he was restraining her or egging her on was anyone’s guess. Faint wisps of red power spiraled around her wrists.

But Stark didn’t seem to notice--or maybe he just didn’t care.  With his characteristic flippancy, he told them, “I can’t fix what happened to your parents. I’m sure I can’t hold a candle to them. Darcy will tell you. I don’t suck as a dad, hmm, maybe twelve percent of the time.  The rest, well, there’s Pepper.

“I do know, however, what it’s like to lose your parents. Mine were killed when I was twenty. HYDRA sent the Winter Soldier to eliminate them.”  Tony sent an apologetic glance to Barnes. “So I know about forgiving someone who wasn’t the one making the call.” He idly scratched his beard. “For what it’s worth, I sort of changed my mind about the whole weapons manufacturing set up when I was kidnapped in Afghanistan.  Cost me a mentor and almost cost me my company, but it was something I could live with.”  He pointed to Barnes.  “I can live with him, too.” Tony leveled a sympathetic look at the Twins.  “HYDRA? Still pisses me off. And I can do something about that .” He turned away from the kids, though with a calculated delay that only made it seem he was returning to Darcy and Vision’s side.

Red energy flared--bright and powerful.

For Steve, the next few minutes would forever be a staccato series of images. A dual-maneuver, perfectly timed. A shield to the boy’s front to block the movement, a hand to the back, to keep him down--both of vibranium to absorb his power. Pietro glared at Steve and Bucky, though he didn’t try to escape their grasp. “Well, played, Captain,” he muttered.

Vision’s Mind Gem flared in preparation to block Wanda’s strike as the light around her hands grew stronger. Her mouth tightened.

It was the hazy film of golden energy that appeared between Tony and Wanda that made her reconsider. Darcy paced forward, holding her hands out.  “Don’t,” she insisted. “Don’t start a war you can’t finish.”

Bucky spat out something in Russian, causing both Wanda and Pietro to snap around to look at him.  Then he shoved away from Pietro and elbowed Steve to step back too. From Bucky’s ice cold expression, Steve had no doubt one wrong move would mean the death of two young adults.  They were treading on far more dangerous ground than they realized.  The Winter Soldier’s mission--of his own volition--was simply, “Protect Stark.” Whether that applied to only Darcy or to Tony, too, was immaterial.   

With a curse, Wanda glared at Tony once more, then reeled in the power she’d gathered around herself and shoved it toward the earth to ground it out.

A vibration ran through the foundation of the old warehouse.  Bucky took a knee as the building rocked.  Startled, Wanda pulled hard on the energy-=and found it had nowhere to go. Great cracks spidered through floors and walls, crawling toward the ceiling. Sheet metal on the roof split, letting in the sunlight.  

Darcy clamped a hand on Vision’s wrist. The haze vanished from between Wanda and Tony. A shining yellow cloud surrounded the weapons instead. More gold laced up the walls and ceiling of the warehouse (shields? support? Steve didn’t know).

“Wanda, push the energy to the walls,” Vision ordered. She did, as Darcy and VIsion clasped hands.  Pure red smashed into the golden walls, reverberating as the red merged with the gold.

Images danced around Darcy, scans of the building and various tables of data streamed in front of her. Steve looked around, wondering where the holoprojectors were.  A thin trail of blood began to drip from her nose.  The gold on the walls gained new layers as Darcy’s face grew pale from the strain of whatever she was doing.

“Bucky? What’s going on?” Steve demanded.

“She’s using the grid we built to make shields. Clear the building,” he insisted.

They moved in unison to the work table. “Stark? What do we do.”

Tony picked up a screwdriver and swiftly dismantled another missile.  He shot a look over his shoulder at the Twins. “If this ceiling comes down on my children, there’s enough explosives here that one good chunk of concrete will set one of these damned things off. On the other hand, we’ll all be dead and nobody has to be nice to anybody. If you’re interested, I could use a little help.”

Maybe only Natasha wasn’t surprised when Pietro and Wanda joined Stark at the workbench.  Nat and Clint darted through a hole Vision made in the doorway for them, and the five of them swiftly packed away the rest of the weapons.

“Get out,” Darcy yelled to the team.  

Steve and Bucky grabbed the bulk of the boxes while the others carried the rest. As soon as they were through, the golden doorway vanished, locking them out.

Bucky stared in shock.  “My mission.  I have a mission.”  With icy gray eyes, he pleaded to Steve in a low voice, “Please don’t punish me.  I’ll do better.  I’m not done yet.”

Wrapping his arms around his husband, Steve choked out, “She’s okay.  She’s with Vision.”  He almost missed Barton whistling an “all-clear.”  

They could only watch as the warehouse began to collapse.

As Tony called up his Iron Man suit from the Quinjet, Wanda began to cry.  

 

******

 

Darcy’s sight whited out as the excruciating pain spiked in her head again.   “Vision, I can’t--.”  

“They’re clear, Lewis.  You can let go of the pattern,” Vision said as he scooped her up.

Jason, pull the sticky bugs clear and detonate the command module, ” Darcy ordered. She bit her lip against the throbbing from the sound in her skull. With the Mind Gem, Vision blasted a hole in the fracturing ceiling, flying them upward to safety, a flurry of sticky bugs in their wake.

She couldn’t see from the cloud of dust that rose from the collapse.  Couldn’t hear much beyond the contact, but it hurt too much to talk any other way. She choked on her breath.  Nausea.  Familiar arms (Steve) came around her.  His chest rose and fell as if he’d been running.  

“Medic, far left. I’ve got Vision.” (James.) Then, “Enable Code Downtime, Jason, Authorization Charlie-Fox-Baker zero-seven-nine.”  

Darcy thumped Steve on the shoulder as he carried her into a nearby building--away from the settling debris--getting him to set her down just moments before losing her breakfast, tasting blood when she did.  

Someone placed ice packs around her head and neck.  Fingers--Bucky’s--pressed to the bridge of her nose.  When her sight began to clear, she found a Green Beret medic with his fingers on her pulse, though he was slightly wide-eyed at the company.  Powalski, his nametag read.  

“Keep those ice packs in place,” he told Steve.  

Vision was slumped over on Tony, and the Twins were the ones cleaning up her mess, keeping close eyes on all of them.

“Vision?” Steve asked. “Report.”

Her brother sounded wiped. (Did she know he could sound that way?) “Lewis and I built a plasma matrix to trap the energies Wanda released on an oscillating frequency. We reduced the wavelengths until the power could be absorbed into the matrix. It was… quite difficult,” he admitted.  “My core energies have been reduced to minimal levels. I will need time to recover.  Perhaps a nap and something to eat.”

“I don’t understand,” Steve admitted.  

“My apologies, Captain, but I am too weary to explain it to you properly.”

With Nat and Clint hovering behind him, Tony patted Vision on the shoulder.  “I can.  Go crash on Darcy’s couch. We’ll head home as soon as Darcy quits bleeding on everything--honey--that’s gross. Barton, Romanov, can you give Vision a hand?” The two Avengers pulled Darcy’s brother to his feet, leading him off to the jet to recover.  

“Not bleeding on purpose,” Darcy muttered.  She dabbed her nose with the back of her hand, and yup, blood everywhere.  Powalski handed her wet wipes.

Tony pressed the back of his hand to Darcy’s forehead.  “You’re feverish. Got a headache?”

Considering she was still getting flashes in her sight from the pain, she smarted off, “You could say that.”

The medic changed out the cold packs on her neck and forehead.  “Got a paramedic on the team for the trip home, Captain?”  

Steve shifted to get a hand on the new pack on her head. “He’s out with a broken leg, but Barnes is pretty good medic. Techniques might be a little old-fashioned though,” he quipped.  

Powalski guffawed before he caught himself, slanting a mortified look at Barnes--who glared at Steve.   

Darcy saw that Bucky’s eyes were fully grey.  He crouched in front of her.  “Report?” His harsh order was contradicted by the way his fingers curved around her cheek.  With the lightest touch, he used one of the wet wipes to clean the blood off her face.

She curled her fingers around his wrist.  “Head’s a seven, was a ten. Still have sparkles in my vision.  I can hear now, that’s nice. Is my nose still bleeding?”

“Some,” he growled as he dabbed at her face.

Steve brushed her hair back so that she’d tilt her face up to look at him.  He pinched the bridge of her nose again.  After a couple of minutes, he let go. “There. I think it’s done.”  

Powalski prepped a needle, telling Darcy, “I’m giving you a steroid shot to reduce the swelling in your head that’s causing you so much pain. That will get you home, but you need to be monitored for a few days. Brain injuries can be sneaky, and you don’t want it to get worse.”

She didn’t even feel the pinch, given how much her head hurt.  But when it was done, she was determined to get to her feet. (Reputation to maintain and all that crap.)  Steve started to lift her up.  “Nope, I’ve got this,” she insisted, holding her hand up.  He rolled his eyes a tiny bit, and Bucky’s mouth curved into a smirk when he saw it.

Once she got to her feet, Darcy held out her hand to Powalski.  “Thank you.”  

He shook it. “It’s been an honor, ma’am.”

Darcy listed to the right, and Steve caught her before she could fall.  Wanda, eyes down, clearly expecting retribution, held a hand out.  “I can help.  With your head.”  

Without hesitation, Darcy said, “Please.”

As Wanda did her thing (oh, holy shitballs, yay), she whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“You know, of all the superheroes I know, I’m pretty sure all of them have been pissed off at Tony enough to want to see him in tiny pieces at one time or another,” Darcy told her.

“Then why do you forgive him?” Wanda demanded.

Darcy smiled.  “For the same reason you just did.”

“I didn’t--”

“Didn’t you?” Darcy shook her head. “Let’s hash this out on the beach. Ever been to Bermuda?”

Wanda gaped a little before answering, “No.”

“It’ll be fun. Don’t forget sunscreen.” Though Darcy’s head felt tons better, she was perfectly happy to have Steve to hold onto as she judged the distance to the Quinjet.  “Thanks,” she told the medic.

Powalski raised an eyebrow.  “On behalf of my team, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

The medic swallowed nervously, glancing at Wanda, before looking Bucky straight in the eyes.  “Is your team taking applications, Sergeant Major?”

For whatever reason, (probably Steve, and for which Darcy was grateful), Bucky was able to shift out of the Asset enough to counter, “When’s your tour finished?”

“Five months.”  

“Look me up. Hard to miss my office.”

Powalski was only confused for a moment. Then he grinned. “Stark Tower?”

“That’s the one.”

“I’ll do that, sir.” With a salute to the both of them, he cleared out.



As they made their way to the Quinjets, Barnes detoured to talk to the commander. Captain Yashin was already coordinating with the Bulgarian soldiers to raze the old warehouse. By the time he finished, the Avengers had gathered with the Sierra and Tango teams outside the two Quinjets. Someone had rounded up sandwiches from the hotel and passed them out.  

Tony met Barnes in the clearing.  “You okay with Barton taking your team home with the Twins? I’ll fly you guys back to New York. Won’t be much room to move, but we’ll be home in three hours.”  

Bucky exchanged a wordless look with Barton, who shrugged and began rounding up people.

Darcy glanced around the small town.  “Well, that was loads of fun.  Are we going to Bermuda yet?” She laid one hand on Bucky’s cheek and the other curled around Steve’s wrist.

“Little detour in the City to pick up some stragglers, but then, yeah, we’ll go to Bermuda,” her dad promised as they stepped on board. Slipping his sunglasses into of his pocket, Tony said softly, “You did good, kid.”

“I had a good teacher,” Darcy countered.

Her dad ruffled her hair, dropping a hand to tweak the hoodie on her jacket. “Like the outfit?”

“I do. Still not an Avenger,” she quipped.

“Um, nope,” he agreed. He spun on his heel, leaving Steve to escort her to the Quinjet.

Vision slept neatly on the folded up couch, with Maria keeping an eye on him, so Steve took the same chair she and Bucky’d had the night before.

“All done?” she asked.

“All done,” Darcy agreed.  “Let Talbot know I only blew up one warehouse and he’s not getting anything back, but I won’t send him a bill for my services. I’m too happy to have the missing Eagles back.”

“I’ll tell him.  Might be a while before he calls you again.”

“That’ll break my heart. Oooh, do I smell coffee?”

“Reasonably fresh, too.”

Darcy poured up mugs, dumping in cream and sugar as she passed them around.  She set one on the desk for Bucky. “Yay.  Okay, headache is down to just splitting, instead of excruciating.  A nap sounds good.” Darcy wedged herself under Steve’s arm.  “I missed you.”  

When Bucky arrived, Tony was leaning against the cockpit wall.  “Are we all done with the soldier-y stuff?”

Bucky jerked a chin.  “I’ll fly.”

Tony started to argue, then shrugged. “Whatever.” He took the chair between Darcy and Vision, while Bucky halted long enough to kiss Darcy first, then Steve.

“Missed you, punk.” He skimmed fingers across Steve’s cheek.  “Take care of our girl.”

“Not sure she needs our help, but sure.”

Darcy solemnly passed Bucky the coffee. “Let’s go home.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Darcy and Vision slept the entire trip home.  

They woke just long enough for Banner to scan both of their heads. The punk had to contain the Asset with a hard arm across the chest.  Dernier looked over their girl, too, and found her to be recovering steadily.  The PA and Banner agreed Darcy’s healing factor was coming into play. Relief swept through him. (Rule two: Assets do not have feelings.)

Stark kept a close eye on Vision afterward, while the Asset carried Darcy to their apartment.  The punk … hovered.

It wasn’t their usual homecoming.

Though the punk kept him anchored, the Asset couldn’t let go of Darcy. (Mission: Protect Stark.) That night, he held tight to his girl at one end of the couch while Steve took the other. Oblivious, Darcy slept on as Barnes traced the thin line of the long scar on her leg—healed and faded now—and swept his hand up to press against her heart. The strap of her camisole slid off a shoulder. He set it back in place again, only to have it fall once more. (Rule four: Assets do not fail to complete the mission. Perfection is the only acceptable level of performance.)

He began a descent into his own sort of darkness, a wearying slideshow of targets, successful missions, blood on his hands, and painful corrections. Though he was sure he hadn’t telegraphed his distress, the punk picked up on it anyway.

“Stay with me, Buck. We’re safe. We’re home,” the punk murmured as he moved closer on the sofa.

*ping* Jason signaled for the Asset’s attention. “ Sergeant Barnes, as your biometrics have shifted to indicate distress, I have contacted Vision and am bringing him online.”

Vision’s mental voice showed no signs of strain.   “James, you are safe at home. You have not failed. Darcy is alive and well.”

The Asset listened. He couldn’t reply, but he listened.

“Put her to bed, Sergeant Barnes.”

He rose, abandoning the punk as he easily carried Darcy’s too-slim form. He set her in bed and lay down beside her. She didn’t wake any more than it took to lay her hand in his, palm to palm. The bed dipped as the punk occupied the space on the other side of the Asset, a hand on landing heavily on the hip.  

“Go to sleep, Sergeant. Jason and I have the watch.”

As if a light switch had been flipped, he obeyed.



He woke when Steve slipped out of the apartment for his morning run. Though Darcy immediately curled into his side, it wasn’t enough to shake the Asset. (Mission: Protect Stark. Mission: Failed.) Maybe his breathing was too regular, maybe Jason or Vision tipped her off, but Darcy sleepily leaned up kiss him lightly on the lips.  When she opened her eyes, they were clear, and she had color in her cheeks.

“Think you should talk to Sam this morning?” she suggested, worry making a crease between her brows.

Though she posed the suggestion as a query, he rolled out of bed and reached for a t-shirt.  He paused, waiting for Darcy to make a move.  (Mission: Protect Stark.)

She blinked in confusion before shoving the covers aside herself.  “We’re in the Tower, James.  I’m safe here.  I’m going to get dressed and go to my office for a while. Jason will keep you updated on my movements so you can talk to Sam this morning. I promise I won’t go beyond the lab floors unless Steve is with me today.  Is that okay?”

(Acceptable parameters for mission safety.) He nodded.

“Okay then.” She touched his left hand, bringing his fingers to her lips.  (Rule two: Assets do not have feelings.)

He waited until she was in the shower before leaving, and then confirmed Jason locked the door as he left.

He hovered outside the counselor’s apartment, unable to knock, until Jason intervened to announce him. (Rule one: Assets do not feel pain.)  Hill had been the one to open the door as Wilson made his way on crutches to the office.

The Asset went to his knees, awaiting punishment.

It took the counselor a solid three-quarters of an hour to talk him (Bucky, damn it.  James Buchanan Barnes, for fuck’s sake.) out of the mindset. He sagged, rocking down to lie on his back and cover his face with his hands. “Fuckin’ … hate this.” He wanted to punch something.  

“I know. You are getting better, though. It’s been weeks since you’ve been hard triggered like this.” Sam had been sitting on the floor with him. Now he set his palms on the chair seat behind him and lifted himself up into it. “Hell, even triggered, you’re still functioning. Flew home, didn’t you?”

Bucky slanted an exasperated look at Wilson. “Not …an option. Mission … protocol.”

“You only check out after the mission is complete.” Sam noted.  He picked up a notepad and scribbled something down.  “Haven’t run into that before. Makes sense though.”

Going to an elbow, Bucky scraped his other hand through his hair. “Bad enough … to have … punk … savin’ … fuckin’ world. … M’girl’s doin’ … same. … shit.” He wiped his eyes (not fuckin’ cryin’), blinking back the damp.

“From what you’ve told me, she’s got the tools to save herself,” Sam reminded him.

“Doesn’t ... matter.”

“Kind of think it does. I know this goes hard against your mission directive, my friend, but your girl’s kind of a badass in the cool toys department.”

“Stark ... thing.”

“So? Where does that leave you?” Sam prompted.

“Have to trust. Can’t wrap Darcy … fuckin’ cotton. Can’t … make her stop doin’ shit… ssss---Christ, she’s … read me …… riot act … before. M’job’s … make sure … she’s where she …. needs to be and …. let her do it.” (Well, fuck. Guess he did that.) The last edges of the Asset receded, though his head throbbed with residual tension.  

“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,” Sam praised.

Bucky needed another two and a half minutes to get up off the floor.  When he did, Sam held out a hand, waiting for Bucky to pull him to his feet.

“Thanks,” he told his counselor.

“It’s my job.”

“Yeah, but…. too fuckin’ early in the morning… for this,” Bucky quipped as Sam found his balance on the crutches.

With a sardonic smile, Sam teased, “On that note, can I go back to my girl now?”

Bucky squinted as he followed Sam to the kitchen where Maria sipped coffee as she watched the morning news. (Either she had a hell of a poker face or Bucky’s shit genuinely didn’t bother her.) “Don’t let Barton… catch you… doin’ … walk of shame,” he warned. “Never hear … end of it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She shot Sam a look that could only be called coy.  “I might have to stay in here until we leave for Bermuda.”

“Oh hell, yeah,” Wilson agreed. “Got my shit packed and ready to go. A week or two, right? Heard Darcy makin’ noises.”

“Can you leave the Tower for that long?” Maria asked Bucky, her only indication of any concern. Bucky missed working with Hill. She was sharp as a tack, took zero bullshit from the ranks, and had taken on the massive clean-up of Stark Industries after HYDRA’s fall with an ease that was impressive, to say the least. No wonder Fury had made her his deputy director in the first place, and it wasn’t any wonder he wanted her back.

The words were slow, but he got them out. “Garcia’s up. Tower … be in good hands, and it’s ... good for him to lead.” (He was repeating himself, but hey, limited vocabulary. Fuck Hydra sideways.)

“Thinking of promoting him?” When he nodded, she praised, “You’ll make a good team.”

Bucky attempted a smile that felt faked. He nodded to Wilson and left.  He headed for the gym, hoping the punk was there.  He needed to hit something.

 

*****

 

By the time Steve returned from his morning run -- and it had felt good to run in the park in the early morning--he was more than ready to spend the day with his loves.

When he found the apartment empty, Jason mentioned Bucky was with Sam and Darcy was on the executive floor.  So Steve took a quick shower and detoured all the way to the food court for Darcy’s favorite coffee before heading to her office. He carried two cups, sipped on one, and admired the way Pepper’s floor had been changed up to accommodate Darcy and her team.

Darcy’s office flanked Pepper’s. Their respective assistants had offices on either side, and the reception staff acted as gatekeepers. Steve liked all of them and made small talk as he passed through.

Sean Washington and Carla Gomez, who were affectionately referred to as, “Team Darcy,” shared a space with a pair of desks facing each other.  Which made sense--though Sean handled more of Darcy’s personal affairs and Carla the business--they stayed in constant communication.  

Steve smiled at the shiny new nameplate on the closed door behind them. Darcy Stark.

Carla groaned as Steve said, “Hello.” Sean stood up and did a short booty dance. “Told ya,” he caroled.

Raising an eyebrow, Steve halted in his tracks. “What did I miss?”

Carla reached into her drawer and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. She folded it into a paper airplane and flew it to Sean’s desk. Sean caught in and stuffed it into the front pocket of his pants. “I told her Mister Potts had returned,” he gloated.

Steve blinked. “ Mister Potts?”

Shaking her head at her cohort, Carla turned her hands up. “This is our first go-round at seeing what Darcy’s like in full Stark mode. Don’t get me wrong, saving the world is a good thing too, and we all appreciate it. But just like Tony needs Pepper, we’re happy you’re back.”

Sean piped up. “She’s been on a tear this summer. Stark Industries is in tip-top shape because we’ve worked every project we can possibly get our hands on, including implementing more than half of Pepper’s wish list. Darcy had scheduled big plans for today too. And yet this morning, she strolls in, flicks her entire To-Do list into our office and walks out, saying she’s gone until further notice, and  she’ll be in her lab if anyone needs her.”

“You’re welcome?” Steve offered.

“Considering most of her To-Do list can be safely tabled until next quarter, I’d kiss you if it wasn’t against company policy,” Sean agreed.

“Not kissing me is company policy?”

Carla crossed the room to open a storage closet.  There was a list of handwritten (Darcy’s handwriting, he’d recognize it anywhere) rules taped to the inside of the door, and sure enough, number four was “No kissing the superheroes, no matter how yummy they look.”

Steve stuck his tongue against his teeth, trying not to laugh. Carla sat down again and pretended not to notice.  She pulled out a calendar. “We need to talk, Captain Rogers.”

Feeling a little like he was about to be scolded, he squared his shoulders.  “Yes, ma’am.”

Carla snickered, then grew serious. “Tony kidnaps Pepper regularly. Says something about ‘spontaneity’ and ‘enjoying the moment.’” She slid her glasses down so she could peer over the top of them at Steve.  “Darcy made noises about sandy beaches last week.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Steve agreed.  “But I believe Bermuda is on the agenda.”

“Thank god,” Carla muttered. She eyed Sean.  “Flip for who gets the next day off?”  

Steve left them arguing over heads or tails as he carried the coffee down to Darcy’s lab. He found her happily sorting weapons tech as pop music played loudly enough to fill the whole room.

“Oh, thank you,” Darcy breathed, her blue-green eyes sparkling.  She gave him a hard hug and relieved him of one of the cups. “Holy shitballs, Steven Grant, I missed you.”

“Missed m’girl,” he agreed as he held her close, appreciating the way Darcy’s curves pressed against him.

“Sam just texted,” she told him. “James went for a session this morning. Sam says James is better, but it couldn’t hurt if you stuck around him today.  Jason says he’s headed for the gym.”

“I just took a shower.” Steve whined a little, prompting a smile from Darcy.

“Looks like you’ll get two.  I’ve got a lunch that Mom and I have on the schedule.  I can’t move it, but it won’t take long and I’ll be clear for the day.”  

“Copy that, Stark,” he teased. Then he grew serious. “Why’d Bucky go to Sam so early?”

Darcy bit her lip.  “Woke up and his eyes were grey. Vision told me James was having a hard time getting past yesterday.”

Steve cuddled her close. “Being physically blocked from you was more than he could handle, I think.  Guess we learned something new.”

“The building was collapsing--”

“I know, doll.  You made the right call,” he assured her. “Kiss me and I’ll go get him settled. Don’t push yourself too hard today.”

With roll of her eyes, Darcy set her coffee aside long enough to lock lips with him, and yeah, he missed her soft lips and the way she tasted.  (Sunshine.)  “I won’t,” she promised.  “I love you.”

“I love you back, doll.” He left her poking at the scattered pieces.

Jason told him that Bucky was in the gym with full privacy protocols engaged--so no onlookers today.  But Buck had left instructions to let Steve in.  

Bucky sparred with Thor, and by the absolute precision of the strikes and blocks, it was clear Buck was dishing out a fair amount of anger in the match.  Thor did that talking thing where he coaxed Buck to vent out his fury both verbally and physically.  

Steve rarely got the chance to watch the two, so he climbed into Barton’s nest to get a better vantage point. Thor had a string of bruises on his forearm and a faint smile as Bucky fought to contain him. Steve knew from experience that it wasn’t easy to put Thor on the mat, and Bucky was better than Steve. (Slightly.)

As the rage drained out of Bucky, Thor stepped up his game, forcing Bucky to be clear-minded as he countered Thor’s strikes and cut through the prince’s defenses  

In the end, they called it even and clasped wrists. Bucky scraped his hand over his head as Steve came down from the nest. “Home. Shower,” Bucky told him.  

“Sounds like a plan.” Steve grinned when Bucky rolled his eyes and disappeared through the doors.



On any other morning, Steve might have joined his husband in the shower, but given the early therapy session, he’d decided it wasn’t a good idea. He enjoyed a second cup of coffee instead as he looked over the newspaper he’d picked up on his morning run.

When Bucky wandered out, slightly damp in a way that made Steve want to taste the stray drops here and there, his eyes had warmed to a pale blue. (Better.) Bucky picked up the extra cup Steve had poured up and left for him on the counter. He wandered off to the living room windows, contemplating the awakened city as he stretched one arm over his head, half-dressed in sweats and dog tags.

In the light, Steve could still see a weary set to Bucky’s shoulders. Setting his mug down, Steve came up behind his husband, laying his hands on Bucky’s shoulders. He dug his thumbs into the hard muscles, working the knots until they loosened. He wondered what was still bothering his husband.

“Fuck, that feels good,” Bucky told him, leaning into the touch.  

“Missed havin’ m’ hands on you.” Steve pressed a kiss to the drops of water clinging to the back of Bucky’s neck. “So what have you two not been telling me?” he murmured.

Bucky shivered--a faint tremor that led Steve to pull the cup out of Bucky’s hands, turn his husband in his arms, and pull him close.

“You’re still uptight,” Steve said. “She bolted. Ya fightin’ or somethin’?” He deliberately let out the Brooklyn accent of their youth, knowing how much it grounded his husband.

It worked. Buck leaned in to rest his cheek on Steve’s shoulder. “No. Hell, Steven, we’ve tried tellin’ you what we can, but it’s been a lot. You know the serum’s given her trouble. Still figurin’ it out.” Bucky sighed. “Wasn’t meant for ladies. Her monthlies--Dernier says the serum makes her go through in a couple of days what dames normally take a week to do. Dr. Ross has her on something like the pill now--hopin’ it will help. It’s a little out of their wheelhouse, but nobody wants to pass around word that someone else has the serum.”

“Especially not to S.H.I.E.L.D. right now,” Steve agreed, with a touch of heat. “I don’t like Coulson’s Index, and I sure as hell don’t want Darcy on it.”

Bucky tensed. “Neither do I. You know, sometimes I think about gettin’ back in the game, and then I decide I’d much rather keep our girl warm.”

“So would I, Buck,” Steve admitted, drawing hands along his husband’s spine to get him to settle again.

“Gettin’ tired of it?”

“Not really, but I have every reason to want to come home.” Bucky gripped Steve tight with both hands--an unusual move. “Hey--” he pressed a kiss to Bucky’s temple.

Bucky shook his head, strands of hair tickling Steve’s cheek as he dropped his head on Steve’s collarbone. “So much has happened. Hell, I thought you were a pain in the ass to track. She’s … she’s something else. Dunno how to describe it, but everything is more with her. More energy, more ideas. More secrets, and--fuck, I’m not enough. Tryin’ to be.” One hand crept up to clutch the back of Steve’s neck. “She needs you, punk. How long you home for?”

“A month, at least. Maybe two. Our newest Avengers need more training, and we need to get everyone moved out to the new facility.”

The relief was unmistakable as Bucky let out a long exhale while Steve played with the dog tags resting on Bucky’s chest. “Did we know she could do all that stuff?” Steve wondered.

Bucky waggled a hand as he lifted his head. “Some. Just figured out the plasma thing a few days ago.”

“How does that work, anyway?”

“Ask Darce.”

“All right.” Steve ran a quick mental calculation. “How long ‘til her next period?”

“A week, give or take.” Bucky’s tone was utterly morose.

Steve tugged on the dog tags. “If I have to stop beating myself up over a certain train ride, you are not giving yourself hell over Darcy’s serum.”

Bucky winced as the barb struck home. “Can’t take all the blame on that anyway. It’s mostly mine, but she’s got some protein markers from you, too. Banner’s still trying to figure it all out.”

(Damn. He’d forgotten about that.) Steve shook his head as he tried to put it all together. “So Darcy’s edgy because she’s a Stark on steroids at the moment, you’re short a handler and sometimes your counselor, Darcy’s got an uncontrolled new talent, and I’ve been AWOL from family meetings. Anything else?”

His best friend quirked his lips in a half-hearted smile. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

“What can I do?”

“You’re doing it. Right now, I ain’t worried about your ass in the field and m’girl’s okay. Hell of a lot better than last week.”

Steve braced his hands on the window above Bucky’s head and leaned in for a kiss. He nibbled, tasting Bucky’s mouth with the kind of appreciation that came from being apart. But he didn’t press, though he did his best to leave his husband wanting. Bucky let out a sound that might have been a hum or a whine when Steve broke off. “I want you,” he assured his husband. “But I think we need to keep it to the three of us right now. Darcy’s scared silly for a lot of reasons.”

“Punk.” Bucky sucked on his bottom lip. “But you’re not wrong. And I need a shirt.” Bucky patted him on the butt, and headed toward their bedroom, coffee in hand.

Steve groaned comically as he followed. “I can tell you’ve been hanging out with Stark. That’s one of his favorite phrases.”

“Ha. Just for that, I won’t let you play with my new toy. With you guys off shooting things, Stark and I have been rebuilding it. Darcy, too. Didn’t know how much Stark loves cars. He’s got a hell of a garage.” Bucky pulled a shirt out of the drawer. “It’ll be ready for paint in a couple of months. You want to do it?”

Steve leaned against the door frame, admiring Bucky’s hard lines as his husband stretched a “Brooklyn” t-shirt over his head. “You want me to paint your car?”  

“If I let Stark do it, it’ll be red and gold, and that ain’t happenin’.”

“Darcy’s better with an airbrush. Let her lay down the base coats. You do the color work, I’ll fill in whatever details you want, then Darcy can seal the whole thing over,” Steve decided. “How subtle do you want it to be?”

With a smirk and a roll of the shoulders that had been pure Bucky Barnes since he was fifteen and all attitude, he licked his lips. “Ain’t nothin’ subtle ‘bout the bikes, ‘specially when you carry around that damned shield.”

Steve laughed as he kicked off his shoes. “True. We’ll keep that in mind.”

“I missed breakfast,” Bucky complained.  

“Well, let’s see what we can do about that,” Steve told him.



One stack of sandwiches and a make-out session against the kitchen island later, the front door opened. Darcy breezed in, heading their way.

“Ask her,” Bucky prompted. “About the head thing.”

“I thought you had a lunch thing,” Steve asked.

She looked down at her shirt and shorts. “I do.  I need to change clothes.  And ask me what?” She kissed each of them on the cheek. “Double yum.” She narrowed her eyes. “You guys have been kissing. A lot. Where’s mine?” she complained.

Steve’s brain took a hike as he savored those red, red lips for a few minutes, not coming up for air until Darcy hummed happily. “Better,” she murmured. “Now what did you want to know?”

That wasn’t fair. He was still thinking about soft lips and a nimble tongue when Bucky kicked Steve’s boot to get his brain in gear. (Oh, yeah. Bulgaria.) Steve wondered, “How does whatever you did yesterday work? And what was with the ‘Code Downtime?’”

“Didn’t miss that, I guess.” Darcy’s face fell, the strain showing for the first time today. She leaned against Bucky, wrapping an arm around him, even as she took Steve’s hand. Bucky shifted to take her weight, pressing against Steve as he did. They made a tight circle no one wanted to break.

“That’s the subroutine Tony and Vision made to get around the contact.  It’s so she can’t take down an electrical grid or reprogram the Tower during a nightmare.” The casual way Bucky mentioned the extent of Darcy’s new ability belied the gravity of the situation.

Darcy shuddered. “Do you realize what Jason and I can do?” she asked. “I can hack anything as it is, only now, I can do it like breathing. I only have to think about what I want to do, and my brain translates it into code to make it happen. Vision thinks this is cool as shit, by the way. Anywhere Jason can touch, I can change.”

“How?” Steve wondered.

As Darcy gave him a bewildered shrug, Bucky offered, “I can speak a half dozen languages. Don’t really think about that either. Coding’s just another language, and Darcy’s been at it since she was a toddler.”

“It’s as good an explanation as any,” Darcy agreed.

Steve began to understand. “Anywhere Jason can touch? Electrical grids, security systems, aircraft, satellites, financial institutions.” He ducked his head, astonished--and a little frightened, though not of Darcy--for her, in this case. “I can see why you might not want to dump that on me while I’m in the field.” Curious though, he asked, “How is this different from Vision’s abilities?”

Darcy tried to explain, “I can only send information via my thoughts. Vision can send and receive in his head.” She wrinkled her nose. “Then again, I haven’t experimented to find out if that can be changed. I’m not sure I want random bits of information popping up in my brain. I get that enough without external input.”

A dozen strategic scenarios ran through Steve’s head. “If you could set off an EMP just using the Tower’s electricity and JARVIS last year--” His eyes widened as he looked at Bucky, hoping he’d disagree.

“She could harness an entire electrical grid and set off an EMP that would disrupt whole countries,” Bucky confirmed instead. “She’d still need Jason, but there’s not much he can’t access. I don’t want to think too hard about what Darcy can do with a satellite network.”

Steve was staggered by the implications. “So what can you do that Vision can’t do by himself?”

Darcy looked away. “I create solutions; Vision makes them happen. Vision doesn’t have intuitive reasoning. He doesn’t have a subconscious mind at all, which mean he has to process everything logically--that’s how he got distracted with Sam, by the way. But I’m like my dad--highly intuitive--so I see an answer without having to go through the boring steps of reasoning it out. Vision processes raw data faster than I can, but he doesn’t have instinctive reasoning.”

“So who figured out how to absorb Wanda’s energy into the shields?”

“Both of us. I haven’t seen her use them. Vision has. He popped up tables of all kinds of data at me. From that, I saw the solution. As I started giving Jason instructions, V picked up on it and we did it together.”

“Why did your head hurt so much?” His hand drifted to the back of her neck, as if he could rub away yesterday’s headache.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “That’s a fuck ton of calculations, Steven Rogers, and I didn’t have an abacus,” she snarked. Then she grew serious. “I could see the plasma barrier and Wanda’s energy ricocheting within it.  I don’t know how to describe it, but I held the pattern--Vision says that’s the code itself--and adapted it as the energies changed. Not only that, I had to hold the barriers against the walls and ceiling. The plasma thing isn’t anything Vision can do, but he can be the conduit. If you’ll remember, JARVIS could extrapolate what I want to happen on just a few clues.  Vision can still do that, and he translated what I wanted to Jason to make it all happen.”

“So you and Jason don’t really need Vision.”

Darcy shrugged. “Jason and I threw up the first wall between Dad and Wanda.  The rest of it -- Vision can read me fast enough to know what I wanted to do. I would’ve had to give Jason a lot more instructions--more coding, more calculations--for him to get it. It’s like having JARVIS’ baby brother around. The potential is there, but Jason’s not sentient yet and can’t predict my responses with anywhere near JARVIS’ accuracy.”

Stunned by it all, though impressed by his girl’s quick thinking, Steve winked at Bucky.  “Leave it to a Stark to come up with a whole new way to program without anything so mundane as a keyboard.”

Bucky gave Steve a wry, grateful grin, as Darcy leaned backward against the kitchen island. “I don’t think Captain America is taking this very seriously.” Her face was stern, but her eyes twinkled.

“Captain America is taking this very seriously,” he countered, “But Steve Rogers knows his wife will figure this out in time. And you can be sure I’m not planning to let anyone know about this. I don’t want you on Coulson’s list of powered people.”

“The Index?” Darcy asked as Bucky grimaced.

“Coulson won’t hesitate to pull in whomever has the ability he needs to finish the job. Fury is no different, so I think it’s a director thing. But I’m not going to let you be caught up in that. Your job is to lead Stark Industries. That’s more important than anything Coulson might have on the menu.”

“Zero issues with that,” she agreed.  

“Not even the Avengers, Darce,” Steve warned. “Let them think yesterday was more about Vision’s abilities and your toys than your brain. I want to give you as much time as you need to figure it out. I’ll talk to Vision myself.”

“You do know we live in a house full of spies,” she retorted.  She glanced at Bucky. “Ten bucks on Clint.”

Bucky snorted. “Twenty on Natasha.”

“I’ll take that bet.” Darcy waggled her finger. “Sam doesn’t count.”

Steve nodded. “They’ll get it it when they get it, and we’ll deal with it then. Now, what else have I missed?”

Darcy licked her lips, giving him a long, lascivious look from head to toe. “Well now, if I have to tell you that--

He put his hands on his hips, pretending to be annoyed. “Darce.”

“Only one more week of condoms?”

“Really?” He probably shouldn’t have sounded quite so happy, but it had been hard not to be resentful.

Darcy pealed out with laughter.  “Shoo.” She wiggled her fingers at both of them. “I need to change clothes. Whatever you two do while I’m gone, leave some for me later.”

“We’re waitin’ for you. And I thought you were supposed to be takin’ it easy, Princess,” Bucky insisted.

“I can’t duck out of this one. Mom and I are having lunch with a senator who’s dropping into the City on his way to DC  He wants one of our arc reactors in his state, has done all the feasibility studies, and we’re going to let him talk us into looking into it further.”  

“What does SI want in return?” Steve asked.

With a wink, Darcy answered, “Now, that would be telling corporate secrets.” She disappeared into the bedroom, coming out just ten minutes later in a black and grey skirt suit and a neat ponytail. She blew them a kiss and zipped out the door.  

Bucky watched her go, then turned to Steve.  “Mets are playing.”

“I’m in.”

They settled in on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. They didn’t say anything at all.  

 

****

 

Darcy arranged for lunch at Charlie’s.  Her mother would be here in a matter of minutes, having flown in from DC. Though this would be a working lunch with the senator, afterward, she would have time to catch up with her mom and Stark Industries stuff all at once.  This was a family business in the most basic sense of the word, and Darcy wasn’t about to shirk her duties.

Pepper breezed in, stunning in a pale pink and black. She enveloped Darcy in a hard, brief hug that left a faint hint of her perfume in her wake. “I was worried,” she scolded. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay,” Darcy promised.

Her mom settled at the table. Checking her watch, she said, “We have fifteen minutes. You’re lead since you and Tony closed the Oregon deal.” Pepper laced her fingers in front of her. “Now, I want details.”

The thrill of taking the lead at the meeting didn’t quite counter all the stress of the last few days, but Darcy didn’t let on as she spread her napkin in her lap.  “Not exactly subtle today?” she said lightly.

“You’re deflecting.”

“Sort of.”  Blunt, and without any filters because it was her mother who understood her better than anyone on the planet, Darcy said, “Look, the serum sucks balls, I still hate condoms, I definitely hate needles, I’m still having nightmares, my clothes are still hanging loose, and I still feel like a mess. Now, I can reprogram --oh, large, unbreakable things just by thinking about it--and it scares the crap out of me.”

Pepper coolly noted, “You’re not acting like a mess.”

“That’s something,” Darcy grumbled.

“May I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

Pepper studied Darcy’s face, narrowing her eyes as she did. “You’re exhausted. Not that anyone else would notice; I’ve taught you better than that,” she assured her daughter, “But I know you.”

Darcy gave her mom a brilliant--if false--smile as the waiter poured wine and water. “We’re used to this, right?”

“No, not really,” her mother countered. “I heard about the trip to Bermuda. Go.”

“Mom, I—“

Pepper held up her hand until the waiter left. “You’ve been running flat out since before your wedding. And I don’t count taking a week off due to life-threatening injuries as a vacation,” she admonished. “I can handle you being gone a couple of weeks.”

“What about you and Dad?”

“We’ll stop in. Maybe we can pick up Bruce and Betty on our way to California.  They’ll only last a couple of days, and I like Betty’s company whenever they’re in Malibu.”

“There’s a plan.” Darcy looked over Pepper’s shoulder. “And there’s the senator.”  

They both stood to welcome him, hands outstretched as Pepper greeted, “Senator Sanders, welcome to Stark Industries.”



After a quick conference with Betty and Bruce, Darcy zipped across the floor to Jane’s lab. “Are you busy this week?”

“Darcy Stark, I presume,” Jane commented absently, not looking up from her laptop. “Not particularly. Why?”

“Bermuda, baby. Steve and James are bringing friends, and I want dibs on you. Betty’s going.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “I told you I would go. How long are we talking?”

“The weekend, a couple of weeks. Whatever you want to spare. You can stay as long as you want.”

With a smile, Jane pretended to consider it.  “Um, let me see, the forecast calls for ten straight, hot, humid days of summer, which I can spend analyzing data I can dump on my lab rats, or I can trade all that for a swimsuit, a sea breeze, and a virgin mai tai.”

“Did I mention the fabulous telescope Dad installed on the roof?” Darcy added, “And we have a private cove for swimming. I’ll even fly in a chef so nobody has to cook.”

“You had me at Bermuda,” Jane quipped. “When do we leave?”

“Friday morning.”

Jane scooted her chair back to give Darcy a quick hug. “I’ll be ready. In the meantime, want to talk about whatever’s bugging you?”

“Not yet. But I will.”

“I’m holding you to that.” When Darcy inadvertently bit her lip, Jane blinked. “Okay, we live one floor away from each other. Just what haven’t you been telling me?”

“Bermuda. I promise,” Darcy insisted, fleeing before her friend could wheedle answers out of her she wasn’t ready to give.

She checked her watch, just one more thing to do today. Talbot had wanted to debrief, but she hadn’t been in any shape to give him a report.  

“Jason, contact General Talbot for me,” she requested as she walked into her lab. “And have someone bring me a latte.”

“Of course.”  

She was still waiting for the general to get free when Steve and Bucky arrived with coffee and what was apparently her afternoon snack, arranging themselves on the other side of her workbench to watch.

As she dug into the blueberries, she cursed at the idiots who tried to weld alien tech with Stark tech. “Seriously, guys,” she grouched, “Even with 1990’s technology, I could leverage this better. A bright kid could hack this shit on a good day. Hell, if anyone had tried to use any of it, they’d have blown themselves to kingdom come.”

It was a shame. The weapons had been works of art. When Darcy dismantled the missiles in Bulgaria, she’d seen her dad’s delicate touch in the fuze design like a set of fingerprints. The pride she had for his extraordinary work conflicted with the purpose of the missiles.

When General Talbot finally appeared, Darcy gave him the highlights of both the tech and the operation.   “Please track down Shulyayev and whoever else is this stupid and make sure they are permanently contained,” she told him.

“I think I can arrange that, Dr. Stark,” the general said with a straight face.

“Nice doing business with you,” Darcy replied.  

“Uh, are you going to tell me about the tech that kept the warehouse from falling down? Captain Yashin indicated something that glowed gold,” Talbot said--rather wistfully, as if he already knew the answer.

“Nope. Stark tech. And no, it’s not for sale.”

“Why not?”

“You don’t have enough computing power for one, Sir. Have a nice day.” She clicked off the line before he could protest.  

Steve and Bucky burst out laughing.  Steve leaned over the table to kiss Darcy. “That was pure Stark. Even Howard couldn’t have timed that better.”

Darcy flashed him a brilliant smile as she told the AI, “Jason, scan everything, put in my folder, and send someone from the moving team to pick up the boxes for storage, and mark them ‘Stark Eyes Only.’”

Once that was done, Darcy’s husbands herded her upstairs. She changed out of work clothes and into something black and lacy that was sure to get her boys’ attention.  And though Steve’s eyes darkened with want, and Bucky clicked off the television without a second thought, Darcy perched on the back of the sofa.

“What’s on your mind, doll?” Steve asked.

Her chin went up.  “These last few days could have been really hard on our marriage. Steve, I know how hard it was for you to step back so I could my job. James--seriously, you’ve spent four days fighting your programming.” She reached for James’ hand.  “I scare me.  But I don’t scare you.  And that gives me someplace to stand.”

Bucky’s soft chuckle surprised her. “Princess, I’ve been thinkin’ that since I came home.” He traced the edge of her bra, where soft flesh gave way under his fingertip.

She sucked on her bottom lip at the shivers he created, and flicked a look to Steve. “Knowing I had you--both of you--backing me up meant everything .”

The dark gleam in Steve’s eyes made her catch her breath.  “Been expecting it for three years, doll. Doubt it will be the last.”

Bucky groaned at that.  “Need to set some ground rules, Princess.”

Darcy scowled. “What kind?”

“The kind where if you run off to do the impossible, you don’t get to come home and complain about not doing more. Been listening to that m’ whole fuckin’ life.”

Steve winked at Darcy and scooted down between Bucky’s knees.  “Whoops?” He skimmed a finger down the zipper of Bucky’s jeans. “Guess I forgot about that.”  

“I think I need to see all the salient points of that particular rule,” Darcy insisted.  

“Well now,” Steve told her as he unbuttoned Bucky’s jeans, letting his fingers skim the taut skin underneath, “It starts like this.”











Chapter Text

Scenes from Bermuda:  

 

***

 

“Is everyone on board and ready to go?” Steve called out over the coms from Darcy’s Quinjet.

“I’ll break a finger on anyone who says ‘no,’ and you’ll be left behind in medical,’” Natasha answered cheerfully from the Avengers’ plane.

“Romanov has spoken.”

“I forgot my flip-flops,” Darcy complained, not five minutes later.  

“I’m not turning the jet around for flip-flops, Princess.”

 

****

 

“House has eight unclaimed bedrooms, plus five private bungalows facing the beach.  Who wants what?” Darcy asked.

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Do I have to share a house with your dad again?”

“Opposite wings, Barnes. And with your appetite, do you really want to have to hike to the kitchen?”

“Good point.”

 

***

 

Steve chuckled over the texts that he got from his husband and wife. They’d breezed into the island’s gift shop for clothes. Bucky really did have an eye for fashion and art, judging by the pictures he took of Darcy.  She tried on everything from t-shirts to dresses.  

“Damned if she isn’t the prettiest dame,” Bucky texted, with a picture attached to the message. He’d captured Darcy in a black and red polka dot top with a pair of black shorts.  It wasn’t necessarily revealing, but the cut was flattering and Darcy had blown the camera a kiss.  

“That’s my new wallpaper,” Steve sent back.  “Need one of you now.”  

Darcy took a picture of Bucky in a sleeveless white tank and a pair of skin tight jeans.  He leaned against the wall, and she’d captured him licking his lips.

Between the two pictures, Steve discovered he was getting uncomfortably hard in his pants.

 

****

 

“Ouch, shit, that’s cold. Okay, enough with the sunscreen, Barnes.”

“Don’t want your pretty skin getting burned.”

“I’m fine. Go put it on Steve.”

“Already did.”

“Your turn then.”

“Uh, Darce, m’arm will heat up to a few hundred degrees in this sun. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Oh my god, like you think I haven’t got that covered. Here, wear this. And THEN you’re getting sunscreen.” Pause.  “Barnes, damn it, get your ass back in here. Okay, but I am NOT putting aloe vera on you when you’re miserable later.”

“Are they like this all the time?” Natasha asked Steve while he chucked water bottles and beach towels into a huge canvas bag. .

He shrugged. “Yes.”

“How long does it take him to heal from a sunburn?”

“Couple of hours?”

“Huh.”

“But he’ll complain the whole time,” Steve told her.

“Darcy? Give me the sunscreen.”

With glee, Darcy pitched the spray bottle to Nat, who caught it one-handed and chased after Bucky.

 

***

 

Pietro and Wanda couldn’t take their eyes off Bucky when everyone met up on the beach.  Though Natasha had told them about Bucky’s past with HYDRA, they hadn’t seen him with his arm on full display.  

“Soldat,” Pietro said under his breath.

Bucky, clad only in swim shorts and a thin grey coverlet attached to his arm and shoulder, halted in front of the Twins.  He set his hands on his hips, waiting for a reaction.  

At last, Pietro approached, swiftly kissing Bucky three times, alternating cheeks with each kiss.  Wanda repeated the gesture.

With a determined smile, Pietro glanced around the island.  “This is beautiful, is it not?”

“Sure as hell better than anything HYDRA dreamed up,” Bucky replied in their native tongue.  

Wanda laughed -- a first since Sokovia--and her brother shot her a fond smile. “Da,” he told Bucky.  “That it is.”

 

*****

 

“Rogers, I swear, if you splash me one more time---”

Steve shouldn’t have laughed as hard as he did when Darcy got a face full of water from Jane. Darcy swam behind him and climbed up to his shoulders, just so she could lean over and drip water on his face. (Gorgeous. He was so in love with her.)  Her blue-green eyes matched the water as she grinned.

 

****

 

Bucky shoved Steve aside as they dove to the bottom of the cove, trying to outswim one another in an effort to see who could come up with the biggest conch shell. Darcy declared it a tie, though both men were sure she just wasn’t playing favorites and argued about it all the way back to the house.

 

****

 

Dinner was held poolside, so nobody had to change out of their swimsuits.  If Clint stretched out on a chaise lounge for a nap, he’d be teased for it later, but no one woke him in the meantime.  Nat kept him company, picking off her plate as Vision brought her morsels from the heavily-laden table.

 

*****

 

Thor and Tony built a campfire that night, with Sam giving them helpful instructions from his perch on a log Steve and Clint had dragged out onto the beach just for him.  Sam’s leg was healing, but it would be another few weeks before the 3-D printed cast would come off.  At least it was plastic and allowed him to be in the water, even if he did have to hang onto a wakeboard and get towed about by one of the others.

Darcy and Jane had apparently perfected the art of making s’mores in New Mexico.  Given that they used Godiva chocolate, homemade marshmallows, and caramel, Maria declared it to be true. Betty seconded the motion, and it carried by unanimous assent.

 

****

 

Steve marveled at how much closer Darcy and Bucky had grown over the summer.  If Buck went near Darce, she inevitably reached out to touch his hand, even if they were only passing by.  He, in turn, would kiss her fingertips, even if he was in the middle of a sentence.

And if Darcy razzed the boys about ganging up, they had nothing compared to the way Darcy and Bucky tag-teamed to make love to Steve. It was well after midnight when he was utterly spent, with Darcy sprawled out on one arm, and Bucky on the other, sweat and sex cooling in the night breeze.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

--Dad flying a nuclear bomb into space/Steve and Thor bleeding as they fight the Chitauri/ helicarriers in flames/ Bucky, dead-eyed, kneeling on the floor/ Aether curling around Jane/ Destroyer laying waste to Puento Antiguo/ Loki and his scepter/ JARVIS gone/ the Legionnaires destroying Darcy’s lab as she and Bucky fight to stay alive/ Darcy’s home falling into the ocean/ Thor running into the storm/ Wanda flinging energy toward Dad.

And it all comes back to the Chitauri and Loki descending from the skies. (Darcy weaving a pattern of energy across the atmosphere as she tries to stop the aliens from reaching the ground. But she doesn’t have enough power. She reaches for--

 

The first intense nightmare Darcy’d had in weeks ripped through her psyche. She startled awake, panting, though she snapped her mouth shut in an effort to keep from waking anyone. Had Bucky been sleeping in the middle with his damnably sensitive sensors, she would have been out of luck. But Steve was hard asleep with Bucky sprawled out his other side, and she’d been hanging off the edge of the bed with only one foot touching Steve’s. She waited, but neither of them stirred.

Darcy eased out from under the covers, wanting to clear her head without disturbing anyone. She found her robe where she’d dropped it on the floor last night.

“Darce?” Steve rumbled. Bucky shifted, turning his head to rest against Steve’s shoulder. But his eyes stayed closed.

Concentrating to keep her breathing under control, Darcy murmured, “Just want some water.” It wasn’t a lie, not really.

“M’kay.” Steve pressed a kiss to Bucky’s forehead as he settled down to sleep again.

Darcy closed the door to their room. She did get a bottle of water out of the kitchen, but instead of returning to bed, she wandered out to find a spot at the far end of the deck where she could hear the rolling waves as they broke upon the sandy beach. She perched on the edge. “Jason, tell Steve and Bucky where I am if they wake, but let them know I’ll be back before long.”

“Of course, Ms. Stark.”

Since Bulgaria, Darcy had done a better job of keeping her programming under control. It helped that once she and Vision recovered in New York, they’d had a long talk with Jason about when it would be appropriate to ignore Darcy’s instructions. Those first couple of nights Darcy had slept without Bucky engaging the Downtime override had been nervous, but he and Steve had split watch, and there hadn’t been any incidents since. Nightmares, yes; lighting up the Tower, no.

She’d gone back to keeping the contact on full-time and spent a good deal of time teaching Jason how to be the kind of AI she wanted for the Mansion: butler, lab tech, and security measures all in one.

And now that Vision was home, she and her brother resumed the teasing and esoteric conversations they’d had when he was JARVIS. Vision rediscovered his love of music and created all new playlists for everyone on the team. The Twins had been startled when Vision presented them with loaded iPods (jailbroken, souped up, with a full five Terabytes of memory, you’re welcome, love and kisses, Darcy Stark), but Darcy’d noticed they didn’t go anywhere without them and a set of earbuds hanging around their necks.

Sam had one too. Vision told Darcy that they had spent an enjoyable afternoon discussing various genres and the cultural implications of particular songs that had influenced Sam over the years. It had been an enlightening conversation for Vision, and Darcy’s playlist reflected some of his newfound knowledge.

The night air was soft, with a breeze bringing in the rich scent of mangos from the nearby trees along with the salty tang of the sea. Oceans and beaches had always made Darcy think of Steve -- yes, for his blue eyes and sandy blond hair, but more for the depths of love and conviction she found within him.

She was damned glad he was done for a while. She’d missed him, and it was far too easy to see the profound difference it made for Bucky.

And though she knew she wasn’t an interloper, occasionally the bond between her loves could be intimidating. Whenever Steve was around, the two boys from Brooklyn traded insults and stepped up flirting with each other and Darcy until even she blushed with anticipation (But, gee whiz, they were yummy). It was the first time this summer she’d seen Bucky’s perpetual wariness fall away. The smiles were broader; his laughter easier.

The last thing she wanted to do was wake them with one of her stupid nightmares.

Darcy rested her chin on her knees as the rhythmic roll and crash of the waves calmed her brain. The last dregs of the horrible dreams vanished as her mind cleared.

A shimmer beside her materialized into her brother. “Neat trick,” she praised.

Vision gave her a happy smile as he checked to make sure his butt was firmly on the deck. “I rather thought you might like it.”

“I do.  So what do you think of the beach?” Darcy was still amused as her brother’s reactions to all things physical.

“I was not expecting the way sand feels.” He wiggled his bare feet with their bright pink toenails. His feet were blue again, as he left off the “boots” he wore most days. Darcy knew he didn’t mind wearing regular clothing, but he didn’t like shoes and preferred to create his own.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“It squeaks as I walk,” he noted, a little disconcerted.

With a soft laugh, Darcy agreed. “True. But there’s nothing like sand between the toes.”

“Like most physical sensations, I find it rather distracting, but in an interesting way. I do hope we stay a bit longer.”

“We’re staying a few more days, unless we get bored out of our minds. Jane and Thor are staying too. Mom and Dad, Bruce and Betty are heading out tomorrow for Malibu, so you really have your pick. Not that you have to stay with us, of course.”

Vision frowned. “Am I to move to California when Tony and Pepper make it their home again?”

“Dad’s probably designed you a whole suite already. I know he has one for me and mine. But it’s up to you.”

“You are moving out of the Tower soon, are you not?”

Darcy nodded. “The heavy renovations are almost done. After Labor Day, we’ll put the finishing touches in place.” Thinking on the hundreds of hours she’d spent with JARVIS at the Mansion, she toyed with her fingers. Gently, she reminded her brother, “Stark Mansion is your home too, V. You only need to decide what apartment you want. You can stay with us, or you can take rooms in the main house.”

“You would not mind me living in the master’s suite?”

She shrugged, trying not to be too eager (she really wanted her brother home). “It was designed so everyone has their privacy, if they want it. The whole second floor can be yours.”

“I will think on that, if you don’t mind. Perhaps I shall have two homes.”

She offered another alternative. “If you want to stay at the Tower, Mom and Dad are keeping the penthouse. There’s no way Dad will move back to the mansion. And if he did, Steve might move out,” she laughed. “Not only that, you could have your own place altogether. I did for a few years. It was nice.”

But Vision shook his head at that. “I do not like being alone, that much I know. I would do better, I think, at the Mansion with you. Thor and I have also become great friends. There is much for me to learn from him.”

Happy with his decision, Darcy smiled. “If you want decorating help, ask James.”

“I shall.”

“Does Wanda staying in New York have anything to do with your choice?”

Vision tilted his head to look at her. “Perhaps.”

Darcy thought it charming as he tried out new expressions. (Was he shy? Worried? she wondered.) “What is it, V?”

“Lewis, I must admit I’ve been keeping tabs on your biometrics since Bulgaria.”

(Worried, then.) “Aw, crap. My nightmare woke you up,” she said in chagrin.

“Yes.” He held out his hand. She took it, scooting closer to rest her cheek on his shoulder too. “I do not believe I was the only who was aware of your dreams, either,” he told her.

Darcy frowned. “Who? Jason? He always knows.”

“Well, yes, but that is not to whom I was referring. Wanda, Pietro, and I were walking the beach when I became aware of your distress. Wanda … was also quite upset ... at what she saw.”

“Great. Last thing I need to do is share the love. It’s bad enough trying to keep them from Steve and James.” She rubbed her forehead, as if she could scrub it all away. “Damn.” She jumped up, needing to walk. Vision stayed with her as she headed toward the water.

“Lewis--”

“I can’t stop them. Sam tells me it’s my brain working through all this crap. It’s a lot, and it’s going to take time.”

“I know.” Vision took her hand again so they would walk side-by-side. “But Wanda wants to talk to you.”

“Why? So she can tell me how another Stark fucked up her life?”

“Lewis,” Vision admonished.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Vision,” she drawled, “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re wrong,” he said bluntly. “And while she hasn’t quite forgiven Sir, her anger has abated. Pietro, too, is moving past his ill will.“

She kicked at the water in frustration. “Sometimes I hate having to be an adult. Adulting sucks. I guess you want me to talk to her?”

“Wanda is my friend. I would not have you at odds.”

“I’ve been nice,” she pouted.

“And she would do the same.” Vision held his other hand out, indicating Wanda, Pietro, and--Darcy squinted in the dark--Natasha, walking toward them. Nat raised a hand to Darcy and Vision as she took off toward the bungalow she shared with Clint.

“May I join you?” Wanda asked Darcy.

Darcy nodded, firmly squelching any negative attitude. She reverted to the professional VP that was ingrained into her like a second skin. “Want to walk or sit?” she asked, pointing at the chaises lining the beach.

“This is good,” Wanda said, taking one. “I like hearing the noises. It is not something I’ve known before.” Vision and Pietro discreetly moved farther down the shoreline to give them privacy.

It really wasn’t in Darcy’s nature to be snotty, and she gave Wanda credit for being polite in the face of everything that had happened. Still, Wanda was nervous as she clasped her hands in her lap. “It was not my desire to intrude upon your privacy. I--your dreams--your dreams are terrible. I am sorry, I did not mean to see them.”

“They kind of suck balls,” Darcy agreed. “I’m guessing you didn’t go hunting for them?”

“I use my powers to … how would you say … do a perimeter search? I look for unfamiliar minds. The Captain has encouraged me to do so,” she said, somewhat apologetically. “Your dreams were … strong. And awful.” Wanda wiped at the tear on her cheek. “But they are not dreams, are they? They are memories?” She shook her head. “You have seen so much. And I can stop them, you know.”

“Nope. Let’s not go there. Just don’t look,” Darcy countered. “Steve’s home. They’ll get better. They always do.” She stretched out on the lounger, staring up at the stars. “James has enough issues with mind control. Let’s not add anything to the mix.”

Wanda pursed her lips. “I had not thought of that. Why do your dreams stop when the Captain is home?” Darcy grimaced as Wanda shot a hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry. That’s personal.”

But Darcy gave her one kind of answer anyway. “Dad told me you messed with his mind to pull out what he feared the most. Do you know what he saw?”

“Not really. Images of space. Of his friends dying.”

Darcy shook her head. “It’s the same thing that keeps Steve awake at night. It’s the idea that we have these gifts--this body, this mind, these resources--and we’ll squander it. That we won’t be there or have the technology or the ability on the day that the world needs us.” She pointed at the northeastern sky. “Asgard’s that way. For thousands of years, Asgard has protected our poor, backward world so that we could grow up without interference. And then one of those gods brought an army.”

Darcy turned to study the young woman. “Next time, we won’t be so lucky. You see, when we defeated the Chitauri, we sent a message to the galaxy.”

“What message?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that we can kick ass? Maybe that we’re stupid. Maybe that we’re ready to be the next whiz bang trading partner. Maybe that we’re nothing more than a planet full of resources that the right alien species can exploit.”

“Now you’re going to give me nightmares,” Wanda muttered.

“That’s the point of all this, you know,” Darcy told her. “A group of remarkable people to do what has to be done when nobody else can.”

“You speak of the Avengers.”

“It’s more than that. We stand on the brink of something big, gorgeous, and terrifying. My family has been a part of it from the beginning.” Darcy rose to her feet. “We’ll be there at the end.”

“You believe that,” Wanda said with wonder. “But you’re scared.”

“Terrified,” Darcy agreed with a smile. “Every day, I wake up wondering if this is the day life on earth changes forever. Hence the nightmares. But,” she reached out, pulling Wanda to her feet, “for right now, I’m going to go home and snuggle up to my loves, because I can. And tomorrow, we’re all going to play beach volleyball. Which should be hysterical with this bunch.”

Vision drifted toward them, shaking the sand off his feet. “Are we well?” Pietro followed, handing his sister a sea shell.

“Of course,” Darcy assured Vision. “I’m going back to bed. Hopefully without the midnight bonus round.” She kissed him on the cheek, squeezed Wanda’s hand, and nodded at Pietro. “We,” she tilted her head toward her brother, “know Tony’s a pain in the ass. It’s a part of the package, though.” Darcy winked at Vision and went back to the main house.

“Nice exit. And you have left me to make the appropriate explanations. How very Stark of you,” Vision complained via the contact.

“You’re a Stark, too.”

“You know, I rather think I’m a Potts. Our mother has taught me a great deal.”

“Mom’s gonna love that.”

“Sir will be rather disappointed.”

“No, he won’t,” Darcy replied enigmatically. Vision tried to get her to explain, but she left him to figure it out on his own.

With a stop to wash the sand and salt off her feet, she padded across the tile floor of the main house. When she entered her suite, she made sure she made enough noise that her soldier-husbands would identify her in their sleep.

But Steve was already awake and propped up on the sofa, idly drawing on his sketchbook under the soft lamplight. He set it aside when he saw her.

No photo did him justice when he was relaxed like this. The strain had eased around his eyes. The cuts and bruises he’d picked up had long faded, not even leaving scars behind. The sunlight had lightened his blond hair these past few days, and even his pale Irish skin had warmed to a toasty beige. He looked less a superhero and more like a surfer at the moment.

“Hi.” His low voice held equal amounts of concern and love.

She dropped the robe on the edge of the couch, leaving her just in the camisole and tap pants she’d worn to bed, and crawled on the sofa to straddle his hips and wrap her arms around his neck. “Hi.”

“Everything okay?” he asked as he returned the hug. (Best.Hugs.Ever.)

She played with the short hair at the back of his neck. “Mmm. Yes. It’s been an interesting interlude. Bucky’s still sleeping?”

Steve licked his lips, making them shiny. “Yeah, he’s pretty wiped. What happened?”

“Tell you about it in the morning. I’m distracted right now.” She said that as she kissed along his scruffy jaw.

He trailed his fingers along her waist, skimming his fingertips in the gap between her clothes. “Is that so? I wonder why.”

Darcy hissed as a sizzle of want and heat shot through her body. “Maybe because I have a thing for you, Rogers.” She pressed her mouth to his, sucking on his lips enough that he parted them, letting her tongue dart inside.

The low moan he uttered reverberated through her, and damned if she didn’t need to get her hands on him. She made frustrated noises at his shirt when she tried to tug it upward and found it trapped between his back and the arm of the sofa. “Off, off, off,” she chanted. (Her brain fritzed out as her lady parts shoved whatever was left of her thinking out of the way.)

Steve snickered as he yanked the offending garment over his head. Darcy helped by lobbing it across the living room. (It landed …. somewhere. Oh, holy shitballs, Steve loved boobs. Yup. Hands went straight for them. Shit. Mouth. Skin. First the left one, because that one was pretty good at warming her up -- not that she needed warming up but when he sucked on it just like THAT, all sorts of things got gooey and wet, and goddamnit Steven Rogers get your boxers off why would you put such a ridiculous piece of clothing on in the first place.)

He laughed (Brain-to-mouth filter apparently disengaged, and he heard all that. Eh. She’d said worse.) and rolled off the couch, standing up and setting Darcy on her feet long enough that she could scrape his shorts off and fasten her mouth to one of his flat nipples in retaliation.

The groan that escaped him encouraged her to lick at it as she wiggled out of her clothes. The moment they were off, Steve went backwards onto the sofa again, pulling her down on his lap. Darcy fumbled for a condom out of the bowl of them on the coffee table (there was one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom too. Oh, and one in the bathroom).

She tore the package open, flicking the wrapper off to the side, and Steve hummed as she rolled it in place. One of his thumbs stroked her nipple. She bit her lip as she concentrated.

The lube was in the bowl too. Darcy slicked up Steve’s condom-covered cock, eliciting some interesting noises out of Steve, but when she tried to settle over him, he clamped his hands around her hips.

“Oh, no,” Steve told her as he pulled her upward. “Not yet.”

“Why not?” she pouted.

Steve stroked her lip with his thumb where it poked out. “Because I’m busy.” He scooted down the sofa, lying flat and holding Darcy so that her boobs dangled above his face. With his hands firmly clamped around her ribcage, she wasn’t going anywhere.

“You’re showing off,” she complained, as he took a delicate lick at one already stiff peak.

“What’s the point of all this strength if I can’t show off for a beautiful dame,” Steve retorted. He lowered her just enough to mouth the pink tip, licking and sucking as she squirmed.

“Well, that seems reasonable,” she got out, her breath hitching when he hit a particularly sensitive spot that shot pleasure straight between her legs. She pressed her knees against his waist in retaliation.

He kept up the licking and sucking until Darcy was beyond thinking, and maybe she scratched her nails into his shoulder when he pushed her right up to the edge of an orgasm. As she panted, Steve lowered her just so his jutting cock brushed her clit.

She bit her lip as she came, stifling her groans in an effort to let Bucky sleep.

Steve didn’t help when he moved abruptly, parting her folds with the head of his cock--and then holding her there so she could only take him in an inch or so.

“Honey?” she said, letting saccharine drip in her voice.

“Got a problem?”

“Not if you move,” she said sweetly.

“Always wanting it your way,” Steve teased. He slid inside, scraping every last bit of sensation out of her so that she cried out when he was fully seated. With a smirk that was surely stolen from Bucky, he laced his fingers behind his head. “Okay. Have at it. Use me any way you want.”

(Darcy Stark, for the win.)

She drew her hands from his throat all the way to his abs, rocking on his cock, letting the tension build between them. (It wasn’t fair, really. Darcy was so revved up and so damned in love with the jerk that he hardly had to touch her to get her to fall apart. He’d been home a week and she couldn’t get enough--not sex, not cuddling, not kisses, not conversation. She’d missed him, and it was here, with his body in hers, that the hollow ache inside was chased away.)

As she rose and fell above him, Steve never took his eyes off hers, and it wasn’t long before he had his hands on her body again. Curving fingers over her breast, skimming a hand along her hip, dipping a thumb in her belly button.

As the heat ratcheted upward between them, Darcy rested her hands in Steve’s, letting him take her weight as she leaned forward. At this angle, Steve never lasted long, and sure enough, his lips parted when she stepped up the pace.

It was this--knowing how close he was--the twitching of his cock as he stiffened inside her--and the flush of red that swept over him as he took over, fucking into her with hard, sharp thrusts--she chased her orgasm, leaning into his hands so her clit brushed his skin.

One of them went first, and Darcy couldn’t say who, but the tension snapped and Steve let out a shout (so much for Bucky staying asleep) as Darcy shuddered and came.

He held her hips, his cock making short, fast strokes as he chased the last sensation, the last sharp bit of pleasure--and Darcy could only hold on, fingernails digging into his hands as they trembled and then collapsed on the sofa together.

Darcy played with his hair as she caught her breath, and Steve pressed a kiss to her wrist, nuzzling it as he did. “I missed you, Darcy,” he murmured. “Missed this, missed holding you. Can’t get enough of you. Of either of you.”

The love in his sleepy blue eyes pretty much turned her to a melted puddle of goo. She hummed in contentment. “”s not just me, then. Missing you.”

“Hell, no.”

Darcy rubbed her nose on his chest, breathing in his scent (oceans, dark and deep). She sighed in happiness. “Now we just need James to make it perfect.”

At Steve’s low chuckle as he pointedly looked over her shoulder, Darcy rolled to one side. Steve curled his arm up to brace her as she looked.

Standing in the bedroom doorway, Bucky was sloe-eyed and flushed from watching them. His dog tags rested on his bare chest, and his cock tented his sweats. (Lady parts politely tapped on Darcy’s shoulder, suggesting that surely she was up for one more round?)

She didn’t like the uncertainty in his blue-grey eyes, and as light-hearted as she could make her words, she asked, “Any particular reason you’re over there and we’re over here?”

Bucky shoved his hands through his hair. “Figured you needed time with the punk, Princess.”

It was impossible to miss the self-doubt. The summer had been hard enough without Bucky going into that territory, and Darcy wasn’t about to let that stand. She slid off Steve--with his helping hands caressing the length of her body--(she grinned at him, knowing he did it on purpose) and turned to Bucky.

WIth her hands on her hips, she insisted, “Just because I missed Steve, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do the job right while he was gone.”

His mouth dropped open a little, then closed. Opened again. Closed again. A small, incredibly real smile appeared.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen him speechless, doll,” Steve mock-whispered.

“Shut up, punk,” Bucky retorted. He crossed the room and snatched Darcy into his arms, twirling her just a little in a long hug. “Christ, love, how the hell do you do that?” he asked her.

Darcy lifted her legs and rested them on his hips, holding on as he shifted his hands to her butt. “Seriously?” She arched one eyebrow while she waited for him to figure it out.

Understanding dawned. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Been there. Done that. Made the t-shirt, marketed it, and sold it to the masses. There’s one in your drawer, apparently.”

Steve blinked in confusion as he tied a knot in the condom and wadded it up in a tissue. “What am I missing?”

“It’s a Darcy-James thing. You didn’t get the memo,” she quipped.

“Should I be worried?”

“Nope.”

Bucky carried Darcy to the couch and sat down, not letting go of her. Darcy licked his ear, dragging her tongue around the outer shell as he tried to explain. “It’s a -- thing. Not jealous. Not at all. Just--not sure if we’re always invited,” he told Steve. “We’re figurin’ it out.” She snickered as his cock jumped when she suckled on his earlobe.

Steve dropped down next to them. “I think one of those t-shirts is in my drawer too. You two don’t realize how much closer you are now.” He looked away, pressing his lips together. “I didn’t want to mess up a good thing.” Darcy and Bucky both reached for Steve--Bucky setting his arm across their husband’s shoulder, and Darcy resting her hand on his cheek. WIth shy blue eyes, Steve searched both their faces. “Nothin’ to worry about?” he asked.

“Nope,” Bucky answered.

“Not at all,” Darcy echoed, rocking against Bucky so that his dick jumped again. “And I guess that makes it a Darcy-James-Steve thing, which is how it’s supposed to be, right?”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. He eyed Bucky and Darcy and the way she was working her way down Bucky’s neck with her mouth. “Mind if I tag in?”

“Stay on your side,” Darcy mumbled, her tongue busy as she traced the long line of Bucky’s collarbone.

Bucky’s eyes damned near crossed when Steve kissed his metal shoulder. Darcy and Steve kept an eye on each other, working their way down Bucky’s body--stopping to lick his brown nipples as a pair.  Then, while Steve lightly nipped at one flat nub, Darcy mouthed at one of the dog tags, biting on it, sucking on it.

She might have found a kink, because both Steve and Bucky’s mouths dropped open just a little. She tugged on the metal, pulling the chain just enough that Bucky cupped the back of her head, yanked the tag out of her mouth, and kissed her--hard, diving in with his tongue until she was dripping wet and aching to have him.

When he let go, Darcy slid down his body again, kissing his heart on her way down to his abs. Steve was already there, pressing his mouth along the ripples of muscles there.

And then Bucky hissed when both of them trailed their tongues along his cock from base to tip, meeting at the top for a kiss of their own. Darcy tasted the drop of Bucky’s juices that Steve had licked up. The combination was intoxicating, and Darcy was sure if either of her boys touched her clit right then, she would have embarrassed herself with how little effort it would take to send her flying.

Instead, she winked at Steve. She went high, wrapping her mouth around the head of Bucky’s cock. Steve went low, sucking gently on his balls. Bucky began to curse--in Russian. (Nat had taught her a few phrases--just enough for Darcy to know James wasn’t reciting recipes.)

He clamped a hand around Steve’s wrist as Darcy worked her way down his length, letting his cock bump the back of her throat.

Steve winked at Darcy when he came up for air. He rested his hand on her ass. “Mind if I borrow some slick?”

“Gonna give it back?” she sassed when she popped off Bucky’s cock.

“We can always make more.”

Bucky leaned up. “What are you two planning?”

But Darcy only blew him a kiss as Steve swirled his fingers over her clit, then dipped inside her vagina to get them good and wet. She went back to sucking Bucky’s cock as Steve pressed Bucky back down to the sofa with one hand and ran a pair of fingers into Bucky’s hole with the other.

Bucky reached over his head to clamp a hand on the back of the couch, and went back to cursing in Russian as he couldn’t decide whether to chase Darcy’s mouth or bear down on Steve’s fingers. Darcy sent Steve another wink as they elicited a particularly long string of something unintelligible out of their spouse.

When he was seconds away from coming, Bucky tapped Darcy’s cheek. She came off with a long suck, looking him over to make sure he was okay. He was breathing hard, but his eyes had darkened to the cobalt of desire. Steve, too, rested his hands on Bucky’s thighs as he leaned in to peck a kiss on Bucky’s mouth.

“You okay?” Steve asked.

“Get the fuck inside me, punk.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Asshole.”

“From the day I was born,” Steve agreed.

“You don’t have to fucking tell me that.” Bucky found a pillow and threw it at Steve, who stuffed it under his knees. Bucky set a foot on Steve’s shoulder while Steve wrapped a hand around Bucky’s thigh. With a little more lube to slick things up, Steve pressed his cock against Bucky’s hole, teasing just a little, before pressing in with firm determination.

Darcy heard Bucky’s swift inhalation as Steve’s eyes glazed over. She adored watching them make love. It was sweet, demanding, and yup, she had front row seats. The trust they had for each other was something that never failed to make her heart ache with happiness.

Her nipples ached, and she pressed a hand to them. Bucky glanced at her, licked his lips, and shot Steve a look .

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “We can do that.” His eyes were bright with lust as they darted from Bucky to Darcy and back again.

“Do what?” she asked in confusion. “Are you being creative again?”

Steve’s ass flexed beautifully as he thrust a couple of times into their husband--who groaned again as Steve tugged Bucky close. From the hiss, Darcy guessed Steve found Bucky’s prostate. With a satisfied gleam, Steve retorted, “Buck’s idea. Not mine. I’m just following orders.”

“When have you ever followed orders, punk?” Bucky’s voice had gone low and husky as he held his hand out to Steve, who clasped wrists with them.

“Only when they sound like a great idea.” Steve sat down on his knees, dragging Bucky off the sofa and into his lap. Steve took advantage of the new position, nipping at Bucky’s jaw, kissing him and fucking him until Bucky was panting and had to wrap a hand around his own cock to keep from coming.

“Goddammit, stop, or I’m gonna blow.” Bucky shoved backward to lean against the edge of the sofa to catch his breath, sending Darcy a lazy, sensual smirk that made her lady parts shake pom poms with both hands. (There might have been a high kick in there, too). As he did, he set his feet flat on the floor beside Steve’s hips, to give him leverage to move if he wanted. He tweaked one of Steve’s nipples, eliciting a loud curse that made Darcy laugh. Steve must have been closer to finishing than she thought. Bucky would know. His smirk made even more sense.

Darcy surveyed the way they were sitting, face-to-face, making a V of their bodies. “I hope somebody thought this one through.” While Steve kept up a little rocking motion that made Bucky’s cock twitch, Darcy rolled the condom in place, and ran a lube-covered hand over Bucky’s cock when she was done. “Who do I get to kiss?”

“My idea; my lips,” Bucky insisted. “Steve’s already had his turn.” He held out his hand, and Darcy stepped over them.

She should have known that Steve couldn’t resist nipping her ass. He did, she squeaked, and he kissed it after. She was a little confused, though. “Guys, I like being on top as much as the next girl, but I can’t see how this is going to work.”

Steve reached under her to get a firm grasp on Bucky’s hips. Bucky, in turn, drew her down on his cock. “Put your arms on m’ shoulders, love. Let me do the work.” Her feet touched the rug, but Bucky had to hold her in place. Steve mouthed at her shoulder, sending sizzling heat straight into her brain.

With a hard flex of hips and abs, Steve drove into Bucky, who, in turn, pulled Darcy down onto his cock. From the instant flush in Bucky’s face, Darcy figured she and Steve were hitting all the right spots.

“Oh holy Mary, mother of god, this is amazing,” Bucky got out.

Darcy leaned to rub her lips against his. “Language,” she cautioned. “Steve’s here, you know.”

In retaliation, Steve bounced his hips, and Darcy’s eyes crossed as her legs fell to either side of Bucky. With Bucky’s cock going rigid inside her and her legs spread wide, her clit popped out to rub against Bucky’s sweat-slick skin and curling hair where his body met hers. She scrabbled her toes against the floor for leverage, but Steve did it again. She squeaked in surprise.

“Oops. I slipped,” Steve snarked.

But Darcy wanted to see Bucky come apart (Lady parts got out the megaphone). “Do that again.”

Steve did, and Bucky let out a loud groan of pleasure. “Christ, loves, shit. Darcy--so fucking beautiful--Mine. Ours.”

“He’s cursing again,” Darcy told Steve, flushing at Bucky’s words. (She was breathing hard too, her clit was twitching, wanting more. She was pretty sure if it could detach and rub itself up against Bucky like a cat, it would.)

“Let me see what we can do about that.” Steve’s hot breath warmed her neck, as he goaded Bucky on.

Darcy should have known Steve would take that as a challenge, and she was helpless to do anything but hold on as Steve fucked Bucky and Bucky fucked Darcy. They found a rhythm, and Darcy loved the way Bucky bit his lip hard as his ass and cock were both fucked simultaneously.

The moment Bucky fractured, Darcy leaned in to steal a kiss--but the joke was on her as her clit got the last brush it needed to spill Darcy into an orgasm.

Steve followed, and he yanked Bucky down hard on his cock for what seemed like an unending series of short thrusts as he spilled over.

Bucky kept up the litany-- “So fuckin’ beautiful, m’ punk, m’ Princess, so goddamned in love wi’ both of ya.” And Darcy simply wrapped her arms around his neck, shuddering as he held her, and then Steve leaned against Darcy’s back, one arm going around her waist, the other clasping Bucky’s wrist.

Deliciously exhausted and sandwiched between her loves, Darcy decided that this moment, right here, was nothing less than perfection.

 

 

Chapter Text

He’d set himself up on the pool deck with his tools to clean the salt and sand out of his arm.  With Sam looking on in curiosity, Bucky used a small brush to work the graphene solution Darcy’d developed as a lubricant in between his plates.

Darcy and Jane had gone down to the cove to swim while Thor and Steve pounded sand on their morning run. Jane’d made the prettiest sight with her rounding belly. Idly, Bucky wondered what Darcy would look like when her turn came.  The two friends splashed in the low rolling waves, and he could hear their laughter on the breeze.  

“Didn’t really figure on any of us having kids,” Sam commented, following Bucky’s gaze.  “It’s not always a thing in our line of work. Hell of a reminder of why we’re doing this.”

“You didn’t want any?” Bucky asked in curiosity.

“I’ve got a whole slew of nieces and nephews I get to spoil, and a doting Mama who doesn’t nag me too much.  She understands. Maria and I get along all right.  It’s good.” Sam eyeballed Bucky. “You want a family.” It wasn’t a question.

“Always did.”

“You know, I can see it.”

Thing was, Bucky could too. He’d be perfectly fine with a kid or three. Darcy wasn’t ready yet, though Steve stared a little too hard at Jane this trip, his fascination obvious to all. The first time he’d been caught, Barton had chortled gleefully while a slow blush turned the punk’s face bright pink. Since then, Barton gave Steve hell whenever Darcy was out of the room.

Bucky started to reply to Sam when something about Darcy’s stance struck him as wrong.

With a ping, Jason confirmed, “Sergeant, Ms Stark requires your assistance.” Bucky was halfway down the beach before the AI finished his sentence.  Steve had seen what Bucky had and got to Darcy first as she crumpled over with the first wicked cramp.  He carried her from the water, with Jane and Thor on his heels.

But Darcy made grabby hands for Bucky, and Steve deposited her into his arms without hesitation.

 

*****

 

“Buck?”

He looked up from the small sofa in the bedroom where he was keeping an eye on their wife to find Steve holding out a mug of coffee.  Bucky took it, sipping the hot liquid with appreciation as Steve sat, his weight making the cushions shift. Steve dropped a hand onto Bucky’s thigh. It was comforting, and having the punk here this time around sure as hell made things easier.  

“Thanks,” he said gratefully. Then, knowing Steve and Maria had taken a call from Coulson early this morning, he asked, “World still standing?”

“As far as we know,” Steve answered.  He looked toward Darcy, his mouth thin with worry.  “How is she?”

“Should be waking up soon,” Bucky answered. “Didn’t want the last dose, so I figure she’ll sleep a bit more while the meds wear off.”  Like last month, Darcy’d been knocked for a loop by her damned monthly. Per Dernier’s instructions, she’d stopped taking the hormone shots for birth control a few days back.  Her period showed up three days later, which Darcy had said was, well, normal.

Tony and Pepper had been all set to drag Bruce and Betty back from Malibu to look after Darcy, but Sam had stayed in constant communication with Dernier, and it had been a hell of a thing to see the pararescueman at work.  Dernier didn’t have to translate or dumb down medical terminology, so the conversations were swift, detailed, and mostly incomprehensible to Bucky and Steve. In any case, Steve talked Tony into staying put, and Darcy rested easier knowing her dad wasn’t rearranging physics on her behalf.

Darcy hadn’t been quite as devastated this time around.  With the proper meds in play, the pain had been manageable, even if her energy was sapped by the period itself. She’d protested every nap, every shot, every protein bar, and every cup of juice with all the brattiness of a true Stark. It had taken patience and the tricks Bucky’d learned dealing with Steve’s stubbornness--and Bucky wasn’t sure if she hadn’t been taking lessons from the punk himself.

It didn’t help any that Steve hadn’t been real happy when he figured out how much their girl still struggled with eating right. He got downright angry when he found out how much her periods hurt.  (They’d told him some; guess it wasn’t enough. Fuck.) Though Steve bottled it up for now, Bucky figured they’d be hearing about it when Darcy was back on her feet.  

In the meantime, Steve tapped Bucky’s thigh to get his attention.  “Ya gettin’ broody. What’s eatin’ at ya?” he prodded. One hand came up to scratch through the hair at the back of Bucky’s neck.

Scritch scritch scritch. Bucky leaned into the touch. “Thinkin’ ‘bout our girl.  And you.”

“Me?”

“Not the first time keepin’ vigil,” he said, thinking on all the times Steve’d been sick.

“No, I guess not.” Steve slanted an amused look at Bucky. “Reminds me of last year when you came home and Darcy’d been laid up.  Putting you two down for naps made dealing with Fury look easy.”  

“Can’t blame me; I hardly knew my name,” Bucky retorted as he leaned against Steve’s hands, enjoying the frisson of energy warming his neck.  The scritches pretty much turned him into a quivering lump of jelly (the punk knew it, too), and he relaxed whether he wanted to or not. Which is why his trusting mouth started runnin’ when he should’ve kept it shut. “Gotta admit, didn’t see her coming to me; not with you here,” he admitted, baffled that Darcy wanted him , even with Steve right there.

“You don’t get it?” Steve said.  It didn’t help that the punk had a knowing smile hovering on his mouth.

Bucky tried to prevaricate. Shrugged. Squinted. Finally, he ran his fingers through his hair. “No. All I know is she’s damned near as stubborn as you and doesn’t do a damned thing she doesn’t want to do.”

“It’s probably a good thing we haven’t had to go toe-to-toe ‘bout much,” Steve agreed. “Rafters would ring.”

“You have to talk about shit before you can go toe-to-toe,” Bucky muttered.

Exasperated, Steve retorted, “Darcy and I get each other. You’re the one who goes digging.”

“It’s not digging if you’re being stubborn for no reason.”

“I always have a reason.”

“Yeah, and it usually involves a distinct lack of self-preservation. I grew up with you; I know how you fight.” Steve hummed a tuneless song, rolling his eyes innocently, until Bucky gave up and asked, “What am I missing?”

With those wide open, summer blue eyes that Bucky’d remembered from the day he met the punk, Steve said earnestly, “She’s never seen me sick. She’s seen pictures. Carries one in her pocketbook, I think. But Darce needs someone to deal with the fact she’s a Stark and all the baggage that comes with it. Not just Tony, but the history, the company--all of it.” With conviction, he added, “I can deal. It’s what I do. She knows her heart is safe with me ‘cause I’m not gonna back down from any of it.”  

A smile tilted up Steve’s mouth as he scratched the back of Bucky’s neck a little more. “With you, she can fight her demons and win. I’ll catch her, but you’ll stand with her. Just like she stands with you. I love you, jerk, but I don’t delude myself thinking you’d’ve recovered this much, this fast, without her.”

The analogy made Bucky uncomfortable.  “Where does that leave you?”

“We’ve always had each other’s back, Buck. Nothin’s gonna change that.”

Stunned, for he considered himself the weak link in their trio, Bucky shook his head. “How’d you figure all this?”

“Suspected it for a while. Sam confirmed when I asked. Buck--nobody gets to see all of Darcy--not Tony, not Pepper. Me? Maybe. But you?  Definitely.”

From the direction of the pile of pillows on the bed, Darcy mumbled, “‘s not true. It’s both of you.”

In a flash, they were at her side.  Steve rested the backs of his fingers on her cheek while Bucky sat on the edge of the bed.  “Darcy?”

“Hi.” Her voice was a little creaky, but relief rushed through Bucky, and the smile that bloomed on Steve echoed the feeling.

“Can you move yet?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she ventured. “Sore in the middle, but not horribly.  My hair itches.” She stretched, grimacing as she did.  “Shower first. Coffee. Food. Then heartfelt confessions. In that order,” she insisted.  

Bucky pulled back the sheets and helped her sit up. “Kitchen’s got eggs and waffles this morning. Figured we could all tuck into a good meal.”

“You’re just worried about my boobs shrinking again,” she teased.

“You do have the prettiest tits, Princess.” He cupped her cheek, and she dropped a kiss in his palm in response.  

Steve’s good mood vanished as he darted a look at her thin figure.  “Want help?”

“Nope. Not falling over so much this time.” Darcy wrinkled her nose as she eased back the plastic sheeting that had separated her from the linens, but she pretended it didn’t bother her. She tugged her t-shirt down and darted into the shower to clean up.  

Steve wadded up the medical plastic. From the clench of his jaw, Bucky figured he knew what was coming and would give his punk some time to cool down.

“I’m gonna go get breakfast,” Bucky told him.  With a curt nod, Steve began stripping the sheets off the bed.



By the time Bucky returned with a stack of covered dishes, the bedroom was neat as a pin, and Steve was poking at the coffee maker with a scowl. Bucky reached across to press a red button. Coffee began trickling into the mug parked underneath.  Steve dumped freshly whipped cream in the cup when it was finished and carried it to the table for their girl.

Darcy joined them at the round table in the dining nook, damp hair hanging in long waves over her shoulder. (He would brush it later, he promised himself.) She went straight for the coffee and downed half of it in one long drink. Steve held out her chair as she sat, and then moved a heavily loaded plate in front of her. Darcy’s eyes trailed over him with trepidation as he took the third chair.  (Yeah, she was smart; she knew.)

She licked her lips, going for the joke as she gave Bucky and Steve a wry look. “Bet you didn’t think this is what marriage was going to be like.”

Steve poked his egg with a fork and ate it before he answered, “I was on a mission last month. When I got done and there wasn’t a single text or phone call from either one of you for two days, it was Jason who kept me from losing my mind. And neither of you told me how bad things got.” Cold blue eyes flashed, but it was when Steve set his fork down oh-so-carefully, aligning it so that it squared up perfectly with the plate, that Bucky figured out just how terrified the punk had been.

Darcy flicked a look at Bucky, clearly out of her depth. He pulled his dog tags from around his neck, sliding Darcy’s wedding and engagement rings from the chain. He draped the tags back over his head, and then worked the rings back over her fingers, one at a time.

“This is what marriage is all about,” he told Darcy. “Not just the fun stuff, but the shitty stuff too. Didn’t see you dropping my ass out the back door when things got hard before. Now, go snuggle up to our boy. He’s just had the shit scared outta him and needs a little soothing. Probably from both of us, but you first.”

She shoved out of her chair and went into Steve’s lap. He pressed his forehead to hers, holding her close as Bucky hooked an ankle with him. “I can’t--” the punk’s breath hitched--  “I can’t lose either of you.” His eyes met Bucky’s as he choked out, “I’ve got that t-shirt too, and I’m damned sure I don’t want another one.”

“We were safe,” Darcy admonished lightly. “If Jason hadn’t kept you posted, Friday or my dad would have said something. Or Vision.” She tilted her head, a little whimsically.  “I know you aren’t used to having family around, Steve.” She glanced at Bucky.  “He remembers,” she said.  

Bucky ducked his head in agreement. “Yes. Somebody’s always puttin’ their nose in ya business.”

Darcy smiled. “Steve, I promise, if we do something stupid, somebody’s going to be tattling on us, and I’d bet even money on Jason and Friday in a year.”

“They’re coming along that fast?” Steve asked.

“Vision’s nudging things, I think.” Darcy pressed her lips to the punk’s mouth. “And don’t ever think that you don’t see all of me. I’ve been more me with you than with anyone until James showed up.  And sometimes he and I are still poking around the edges because this thing that you two have still intimidates the crap out of me on occasion and I don’t want to step on any hallowed ground. But it’s getting easier.”

Her honesty, raw and sharp as it was, filled Bucky with pride for his girl.  “You’re something else, Princess,” he said in delight. “Hell of a dame.”   

Steve rested his forehead on Darcy’s shoulder.  “Love you so fuckin’ much.”

“I know,” she murmured.  

Since they’d been properly schooled on all things Star Wars, they both got the reference. Bucky grinned rather stupidly, judging by the way his cheeks ached.  He picked up his fork and wagged it at them.  “Eat, doll.  You’ve got some catching up to do.”

Darcy wrinkled her nose at him.  Steve lifted his head, the worry lines gone as Darcy twisted around and dove into her pancakes.  



Later though, it was clear that Darcy wasn’t quite up to full speed, and it just wasn’t in him to refuse her when she wanted to go home.  Thor seemed relieved, as Jane tired easily, and she’d been worried too.  Sam gave a half-hearted, wholly unserious protest, swearing that he would steal a key to the house.  Maria produced one, and he chuckled with glee.  

They made it home just before midnight.  Darcy, Steve, and Bucky tumbled into their own bed together.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

With the heat of August dripping in the dawn air, Steve opted to use the treadmill in the gym for his run.  Thor joined him.  Getting an Asgardian perspective on the morning news generally made for enlightening conversation. Occasionally, the prince would be baffled by a story, and Steve would do his best to explain the nuances. They consulted Friday sometimes, but with a reasonable facsimile of his mother’s voice making explanations, it was hard for Steve to put any kind of perspective on the information she conveyed. (Yes, Ma.)

Thor noticed. “Stark’s new AI is disturbing to you. Might I ask why?”

With a roll of his eyes, Steve glanced over at his friend.  “I’ll tell you, but you have to swear on Mjolnir not to tell anyone. I’ll never hear the end of it from Stark.”

“Aye,” Thor said with a grin.  “ I swear.” He waited patiently as he ran on the treadmill, his eyes dancing with anticipation.  

With a sigh of remembrance, he stated, “She sounds like my mother.”

Thor fumbled for the stop button and began to chuckle, then let out a full belly laugh. “And you cannot ask Stark to change without explanation, nor could you ask without feeling as if you are doing your mother a disservice.”

“That, my friend, is called ‘knocking it out of the ballpark.’” Steve grimaced, adding, “I’ve asked her to relay everything to Jason at home whenever possible.  I can’t be livin’ with Ma lookin’ over m’ shoulder. And Buck agrees. Makes us feel like we’re kids again and need to go wash behind our ears.”

“For all that I am a thousand years of age, my mother still has--” Thor paused, then continued, “--had--the ability to make me a knock-kneed young boy. It was quite disconcerting.”

The grief that crossed Thor’s face brought out his own, and Steve stopped his treadmill.  “My mother died when I was eighteen. I cannot imagine losing her after having her as long as you did.”

Thor ducked his head in acknowledgment. “The halls of Valhalla are made richer for her presence. And perhaps we should both take comfort in Stark’s new AI. Jane tells me that ‘Friday’ is named for my mother, Frigga.”

Steve brightened. “I learned that once. I’d forgotten.”

“So you are not the only one who thinks on his mother when Stark’s creation speaks aloud.”

“Perhaps,” Steve decided, “it’s a good problem to have.”  

“It is.”  Thor raised an eyebrow.  “Shall we spar?”


Later that morning, Steve parked in Bucky’s office—sketchbook in hand--while his husband worked.  It was a familiar scene, though in their teens, it might have been Bucky working on a math assignment while Steve wrote an essay.

“Make yourself comfortable. Chair is shit,” Bucky said drolly.

“You do that on purpose.”

“Don’t want anyone to stay too long.”

“Does that include me?”

“Maybe.”

“Jerk.”

Bucky smiled, a real one with teeth, crinkly eyes, and wide lips.  He tucked a long strand of hair behind his ear before going back to making notes on the diagram spread out on his desk.

“You’re happy,” Steve said, his mouth falling open.

Looking up again, Bucky’s eyes sparkled. “I am. I have you. We have Darcy. We’re married and ain’t that a thing. Got a good job.”  Bucky pulled out another notebook, with various samples and notes for Stark Mansion hanging out of it.  “Gonna have a real house before long, and it’s gonna be a doozy. Yeah, Steven, I’m happy.”

Stunned, Steve dropped his pencil.  He fumbled for it in his lap, then swiftly drew Bucky’s face, wanting to capture the sheer joy there.

A soft ping from Jason got their attention.  “Sergeant Barnes, it is time for Ms Stark’s morning snack. Shall I order something from the kitchen?”

“A cranberry scone and that orange juice with protein she likes. But have it brought here. Steve can take it up.”

“Of course, Sergeant.”

“You’re keeping track?” Steve asked.

“You saw her at the beach. She forgets. Not on purpose; she just gets distracted. So Jason and I have an agreement.  He keeps an eye on her and lets me know if she’s not getting enough calories.” He tapped his pencil on the diagram, confessing, “He keeps an eye on me, too.”

“Still having trouble with that?”

“Among other things. But that’s a conversation for another day.” Bucky nodded at the guard who poked his head in the office.

“Delivery from catering?”

Steve took the bag from the guard with--oh look, three scones--and the tumbler of juice. He fished a pastry out and set it on Bucky’s desk with a napkin as the guard closed the door again.

“See? Jason decided all three of us need a snack," Bucky said. 

“He’s not wrong,” Steve noted. His stomach grumbled as the scent of cranberries and sugar wafted upward. He stood, tucking his sketchbook under his arm.   

“Don’t let Darcy get distracted by your abs until she eats,” Bucky admonished.

“Her new office has privacy settings on the windows, right?”

“She’s a Stark, of course they do. But--” Bucky checked her calendar on his tablet-- “She’s in a meeting, so don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Damn.” Steve leaned across the desk to drop a kiss on Bucky’s lips. “Don’t tell anyone I did that.”

“Make sure she’s alone before you start stripping,” Bucky admonished as Steve picked up the juice and scone.  When he opened the door, Maria stood just on the other side.

She glared at both of them. “I did not need to hear that, Cap.”

“I didn’t say a thing,” Steve protested. “That’s on him. I’m just the delivery boy.” He held up the bag and juice.

Hill deliberately swept a look from his head to his feet. “The tips should be nice,” she drawled.

Steve smirked as he strolled away. “You have no idea.”

“Seriously, Rogers?” she called after him in exasperation. “No one believes me when I tell them what a shit you are.” The officers on duty that day looked up from their desks in astonishment, shocked that anyone would call Captain America names.  

Maria settled into the chair Steve had just vacated, and as the door closed, he heard Bucky asking his former boss for advice about a new security protocol he wanted to implement.


 

Darcy's office had a dozen screens floating around her, one with her mother’s image, two with her assistants, and others ranging from the major news stations to the organizational chart for Stark Industries. As they held their meeting, Steve slipped Darcy’s snack under her nose.

She took a sip of the juice without taking her eyes off the screens and tapped out a note on her keyboard. A text popped up on his cell phone . Need an hour. Meet you at home for your tip, delivery boy?

Ha. Eat your scone. Don’t want Bucky mad at me, he texted back. He’ll fire me and then I’ll lose my benefits.

She rolled her eyes at him, but picked up the pastry and took a large bite out of it, winking at him as she did.   “Wouldn’t want that to happen. You make an awfully cute intern.”

Steve devoured the last scone as he took the elevator home.  There, he took the time to get laundry started and to set up a couple of chickens in the slow cooker for dinner.  He emptied the dishwasher, cleaned up the kitchen from breakfast, and then sat down over lunch to sort through the mail that had accumulated while they were gone.  

Darcy and Carla handled the bills and finances, but Steve liked looking through the various invitations he received.  Generally, if it involved a children’s hospital, he’d work it into his schedule, but he didn’t mind showing up to the occasional fundraiser to shake a few hands and pry open a few pocketbooks.  Darcy had a good eye for which ones were legitimate versus those that wanted to brag about having him as a guest.  

There was an email from Carla about wanting to set up a fundraiser for his mother’s foundation.  Darcy and Buck would want in on that, but Steve skimmed through her questions and found he could answer most of them.  

Then Darcy sent him a text letting him know she was heading for her lab, and he was welcome to watch the Mets as long as he didn’t curse too loudly at the screen.  Since the game started in half an hour, Steve took the time to fold a load of laundry and put it away, leaving the apartment neat as a pin before going downstairs.

Vision was already there, debating new music with Darcy as she worked on some kind of machine that looked like a bigger version of Stark’s repulsor. And, as they discovered in Bermuda, Wanda tended to go wherever Vision went, and since Pietro rarely strayed far from his sister, Steve wasn’t surprised they all ended up at Darcy's.  If the Twins weren’t wholly comfortable in the Tower yet, the tension eased some after Bucky walked them into Pepper’s office to meet the person she’d had put in charge of making reparations in Sokovia on Tony Stark’s personal dime. Pepper had gone a step further and showed the Twins how radically Stark Industries had changed course since Tony had been kidnapped in Afghanistan. It probably helped that Pietro and Darcy seemed to be bonding over their siblings being rather infatuated with each other.

Not five minutes after Steve flipped on the TV to watch the game, Clint appeared with a bowl of Cheetos and a two bottles of Coke.

“Friday tattled,” the archer said with a grin, wearing his Cubs hat.  “I was looking for company and only you and your hubby like baseball around here.”

“Betty does. So does Jane,” Steve commented.  

Clint raised an eyebrow, and not fifteen minutes later, Jane showed up with chips and dip. “Friday said there’s a game on?” she mentioned as she took the loveseat, ignoring Steve, who’d jumped up to help her sit.  

From her workstation, Darcy threw up her hands in mock frustration.  “I guess we’re watching baseball?”

“It’s the Mets, doll.”

“They’re playing the Rays. Seriously? Who cares?”

“It’s baseball!!!” Clint and Steve chorused.

“The Rangers and the Mariners are playing later. You know I like the Mariners, Darcy,” Jane chimed in.  

Darcy pretended to be more exasperated than she was. “Jason, order pizza for this crew.”

“Of course, Ms Stark. It is Friday afternoon.  Perhaps we should call it an early day?”  

Darcy tapped on the keys and activated the voice intercom for Stark Tower. “Good afternoon, Stark Industries.  This is Darcy Stark.  Given that it is three in the afternoon on a hot summer day, and I’ve been reliably informed that there are far too many good baseball games to watch instead of working, I’m dismissing all of you for the weekend.  No, this won’t count against your time off, so scram or you’re working on your own dime.  Have a nice day!”

“Will anyone believe you?” Pietro asked.

Darcy hit the enter key on her keyboard and counted down, “Three-two-one, aaaaaand boom, there’s the email confirmation. Okay, I’m done. Jason, let everyone know that Club Stark is open for business and get catering to send up snacks and drinks.”

Jason replied drolly, “That’s not what I had in mind for calling it an early day; however, shall catering prepare the usual selection?”

“Be creative.  But don’t forget the nachos.  They’re James’ favorite.”  Darcy pursed her lips, blowing Steve a kiss. He sent her a wink in return.

Sam and Maria arrived next, with Sam perfectly happy to land next to Steve, propping his leg on the ottoman.  His cast had been replaced with something lighter than what he’d worn in Bermuda, and the crutches were gone.  His groan changed into an appreciative noise as Vision appeared with Sam’s favorite cold brew and handed it over.  “I deserve this after Dernier’s PT. That woman is ruthless.” He pointed the bottle to a nearby seat.  “Reserved for you, V.”  

If Sam had any hard feelings toward Vision for his injuries, they were impossible to see, and it wasn’t long before Vision and Sam were arguing over the baseball game, with Clint interjecting his opinion.  Jane ignored all of them in favor of sharing her predictions with Steve.  She was right more often than not and made for good company.  Natasha appeared during one of Jane’s comments, squished in next to Clint, and propped her feet up on the other side of Sam’s ottoman.

There were a surprising number of guests who breezed in for a slice of pizza but didn’t stay long.  Bruce and Betty were on that list, but so were Sean, Carla, and Alyssa.  Apparently, Oscar and Catalena were meeting with Bucky and Thor about the Mansion, because they arrived together, to Darcy’s squeal that was loud enough to make Bruce wince.

Bucky brushed a kiss on Darcy’s cheek, and though he kept one eye on the game, he kept her company while she moved from guest to guest, being a good host.  Here, secure in Darcy’s lab and among trusted friends, Bucky charmed them with his smiles and easy conversation.  For just a moment (but only a moment), Steve could forget that anything horrible had happened to his best friend-turned-husband.

Sam leaned in. “Barnes’ mission isn’t exactly out of line, considering the way he keeps an eye on you and Stark.”

“Ha. No. Always figured that’s why it stuck so hard--he’s been doin’ it his whole life.” Steve scratched the back of his neck.  “Buck’s gotta need to watch over his charges.  Made sergeant ‘bout five minutes after he was eligible for it.” With a chuckle, he added, “He’s used to me. Darcy’s been a whole new challenge.”

They watched as Darcy worked through the crowd toward Steve, holding Bucky’s hand.  

“Seems you three are doin’ alright,” Sam complimented.  “You look happy.”  

With the couches full, Bucky perched on the back of the sofa--his thigh pressed against Steve’s shoulder-- as Darcy climbed over and landed in Steve’s lap.

Steve grinned at Sam. “You know, I think I am.”

“You’re what?” Darcy asked, one eyebrow raised in curiosity.

“Happy.”

For a split second, her blue-green eyes went glossy, but they cleared as her lips parted in a soft, genuine smile.  Linking pinky fingers with their third, Darcy glanced from Steve to Bucky and back again. “Yeah.  That’s a kind of a thing now.”

“Yes, it is,” Steve agreed.

 

 


 

 

 

 

New York Entertainment Now:  6:00 p.m. broadcast.  

GC: Hi, I’m Georgia Cates with my co-host, Pete Starling, and we’re incredibly excited today.  Pete, want to spill the beans on our breaking news?

PS: Sure, Georgia.  We’ve been speculating all summer about the on-going renovations at Stark Mansion.  Tony Stark hasn’t occupied the luxurious property that Howard Stark built in the thirties since he constructed his own place in Malibu and moved the Stark Industries headquarters to California in the mid-90’s. But there’s been a flurry of activity ever since his daughter, Darcy Stark, went public with her identity this summer and announced her marriage to Steve Rogers and James Barnes on Asgard. Ms Stark has been elusive these past few weeks, though we are assured that Stark Industries has undergone a number of changes as she takes a lead role within the company.  Today, Darcy and Tony sent out a press release announcing that Stark Mansion will host the Asgardian Embassy in a long-term lease arrangement beginning this September.  Fifth Avenue houses several embassies, so it’s a good call for the Stark Family and quite a celebration for those who would see the historical property reopened for use.  New Yorkers have been unhappy that Howard Stark’s jewel has been sitting idle all these years.  

GC: But, Pete, that’s not even the best news.  An unnamed source tells us that Ms Stark and her husbands will take up residence at the mansion soon as well, and they are planning a fall gala for both the Maria Stark Foundation and the Sarah Rogers Foundation for Equality.  It’s been twenty-five years since Stark Mansion has hosted any kind of event. We can't wait to see what Darcy Stark has done to the house and what kind of gala she’ll hold. 

PS: She’s a Stark, it’s sure to be some kind of spectacle.  

GC: I think we can all count on that.  What an exciting day for New York.  We’ll keep you updated in the days and weeks to come.