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If at first you do succeed

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Darcy was startled out of a deep sleep by the door to her room being opened so hard that it slammed against the wall.  Cursing the fact she was basically blind without her glasses, she rolled swiftly out of bed and started groping for the taser in her night stand.  There was absolutely no way she was dying in bed wearing her cute pajamas.  Her attacker crossed the room faster than she thought possible and grabbed her wrists from behind.  Darcy tried to use the self defense maneuver Natasha had taught her for exactly this situation, but the intruder anticipated her.  

“Glasses first,” growled a male voice.

“Huh,” Darcy responded in confusion.  Her heart was racing and her body was flooded with adrenaline.  She was being held immobile by a inhumanly strong man who apparently wanted her to be able to see.

“I’ll get them,” the intruder said impatiently.  He maneuvered her wrists so he could hold both in one hand, grabbed her glasses with the other, and positioned them onto her face.  As room came into focus, Darcy took advantage of the less secure hold to escape.  The man let her go and she spun to face Bucky Barnes.

“What the hell?” Darcy asked angrily. Bucky had been living at the tower for almost two months as Steve’s mostly silent and kind of scary shadow. He was obviously still recovering from his time as the Winter Soldier, but, to Darcy’s knowledge, he hadn’t been violent with anyone except Hydra.  Tony even trusted him enough to give him free run of the Avengers floors.  

“I need you to wake Jane and go to the safe room,” he commanded.

“What? Why?” This was not making any sense.  Was he under some kind of mind control? Had old programing been triggered?

“Because if you don’t you will die,” Bucky said impatiently. “5…4…”

“Going,” Darcy interrupted.  She had no clue what he would do if he got to one, but it certainly wouldn’t be a good thing.  Besides collecting Jane and going to the secure room Tony had set up for Avenger associated civilians was sounding like an excellent idea.  Bucky handed her a small backpack and her taser as she started towards to the door..  

“Don’t even think about it,” he warned as if he could read her thoughts about whether she should tase him. “Run!”

Darcy followed his instructions and sprinted to Jane’s room.  She quickly roused the scientist. Jane was not totally awake but easily influenced by Darcy’s panic.  Together they ran to the safe room. Thirty seconds after the door closed behind them an explosion rocked the building. Either Barnes had just saved her life or he was trying to kill everyone else.  Darcy desperately hoped it was the former.

After allowing herself a minute to internally freak out, Darcy took a deep breath and assessed her situation.  She was in a hulk-proof room with her best friend and a backpack of unknown items.  Unzipping the backpack, Darcy found two bottles of water, several energy bars, a small first aid kit, and a cheap cell phone.  Neither her nor Jane were injured so eating seemed like a good first step.

“Thanks for saving me,” Jane said as Darcy passed her half of the provisions. “Do we know who is attacking us?”

“Nope,” answered Darcy.  “I’ve been awake for less than fifteen minutes and none of them were spent on explanations.”  She was proud of herself for handling the situation with relative calm.  Although that probably said more about the insanity of the last couple of years, than her own competence.

Jane shoved half of an energy bar into her mouth and examined the phone while she chewed.  It was an old school bar phone without even a camera.

“There are number’s listed for Thor, Steve, and Tony.  Should we call someone?” Jane asked.

“Not sure,” Darcy replied. “We are safe-ish at the moment and I don’t want to distract them if there is a major battle going on.”  Natasha had made her memorize a number to call in case of extreme emergency.  Did this situation qualify?  If Barnes had reverted to Winter Soldier mode, she should absolutely make the call. Darcy needed more information.

“JARVIS?”

“Yes Ms. Lewis,” the reassuring british voice answered from a small speaker in the ceiling.

“What’s going on?”

“It appears that Hydra is attacking Avenger’s Tower.”  How she had reached a point that this was reassuring?  No world ending catastrophe, just evil Nazi’s attacking her home.

“Do we know why?” She asked.

“I am unable to ascertain a motive for the attack, but it appears to be concentrated on the Avengers and scientific floors.”  There was no end of cool, weaponizable stuff in the labs. Unfortunately, she was the least qualified person to keep it out of Hydra’s hands.  

“Who’s here?”  Jane could help her identify what needed to be protected, but neither of them were heavy hitting fighters.  Darcy vaguely remembered that Tony was doing a business thing with Pepper in California.  Steve, Sam, and Natasha were cleaning out a HYDRA base in an undisclosed location and Clint was on the farm with his family.  Hopefully, someone had come back.

“You, Ms. Foster, and Mr. Barnes are the only authorized people on the Avenger’s floors. All non-security personnel are being evacuated from the rest of the tower.”  Damn.

“What is Mr. Barnes status?”

“He is transporting a large load of scientific equipment from Ms. Foster’s lab to an unknown location and fighting Hydra soldiers when necessary.”

Darcy and Jane shared a look.  It sounded like Bucky was probably on their side, but things were far from ideal.  

“Mr. Stark has been informed of the situation and asked that you remain in your current location until help arrives,” JARVIS continued.

“So Tony is on his way back?” Darcy requested confirmation.

“Yes, Mr. Stark, Captain America, the Falcon, Ms. Romanov, and Mr. Barton are all in route to the Tower.  Mr. Stark should arrive first in approximately 90 minutes.”

“Thanks JARVIS.” She opened a bottle of water and took a long drink.  “Looks like we have time to eat,” Darcy told Jane.  They had just finished all the food when a beep at the door informed them that someone was entering a code.  A few second later, the door opened to reveal a slightly bloody Barnes and a large hand truck loaded with science stuff.

“Oooh my interdimensional wavefront scanner.” Jane was more interested in the rescued equipment than the man who had brought it.  Darcy eyed both suspiciously, but didn’t try to stop Jane when she eagerly pulled the entire load into the safe room.  Barnes followed and then closed the door behind him.

“I brought coffee,” he announced.  With a charming smile, Barnes produced a large thermos from behind an oscilloscope. Darcy decided Barnes was on their side.  Or more accurately, she decided that neither she nor Jane were capable of stopping the Winter Soldier from doing anything he wished so they might as well be caffeinated.  The coffee was perfect. Sickeningly sweet with just a touch of milk.  Darcy drank more than her share before reluctantly handing the thermos to Jane.  As Jane sipped the hot beverage, Barnes handed Darcy a pile of professional women’s clothing.

“These are for you.”

Darcy unfolded the knit silk shirt and pants suit with confusion.  They looked like the kind of thing Pepper would wear to knock sense into the SI board of directors.  

“This isn’t my usual style,” she commented hesitantly.  It was probably unwise to antagonize the super-assassin who had access to your safe room.

“You’ll need them later and there isn’t time for a second change,” Barnes explain.  “Just put them on.”  

He turned his back on Darcy, picked up a notepad off the hand truck, and started rapidly filling pages with words and diagrams.  As he finished each page, he numbered the bottom, and handed it to Jane.  Darcy watch for a couple minutes and scanned the room for strategically placed reflective surfaces before deciding she would feel more comfortable dressed in something other than pajamas.  She was pleased to discover the outfit fit correctly and was flattering.  Looking good always gave Darcy a dose of extra confidence.  She was ready to verbally kick ass.

Darcy was just about to ask about shoes when Barnes turned back towards her and placed a pair of ballet flats with ornamental buckles at her feet.

“I need to you call Tony and Steve to explain that I am in a time loop,” Barnes said as he resumed writing on his notepad.   

“So these calculations aren’t theatrical,” Jane muttered mostly to herself.  She grabbed the latest page as Barnes completed it and spread the accumulated papers on the floor for closer study.

“Excuse me?” Darcy questioned. She was willing to believe any number of unlikely things, but semi-amnesiac seniors were not the most trustworthy source of information.

“I’m in a time loop,” Barnes repeated impatiently.  “I woke you up by attacking because that causes JARVIS to alert Tony and Steve immediately instead of when the bomb goes off. It is also the second most efficient way to get you and Jane to the safe room.”

“What was the quickest way?” Darcy asked curiously.  

“Throwing you over my shoulder and carrying you,” Barnes answered without looking up.

“But then don’t you have to make a second trip for Jane?” Darcy asked logically.

“Still quicker, but less pleasant because you kick.” Barnes sounded annoyed at the memory.

“I do.” Darcy agreed, proud of her alternate self’s balls.

“Knocking you out avoids the kicking and causes JARVIS to call everyone back early, but it significantly decreases your effectiveness for the rest of the day,” he added slyly.  If Darcy didn’t know better she would think he was joking.

“I prefer the method you used,” Darcy decided.  “It was only slightly terrifying.”

Barnes chuckled. “You’ve said that before.  Now I need you to call Tony and Steve so they don’t arrive thinking I’ve gone rouge.  That messes up the afternoon timeline.”

“Steve doesn’t believe you about the time loop thing?” Darcy asked surprised. She didn’t know much more about Barnes and Steve than was printed in the history books, but she had assumed Steve would be willing to give Barnes the benefit of the doubt. Barnes paused in his writing to smile at Darcy cockily.

“Of course he does, but if you call I can finish writing out the data for the scientists.”  He returned to his work.

“One problem,” Darcy declared.

“What?”

“I don’t believe you.” Barnes rolled his eyes.  

“Orange bananas are the center of Alice’s playground,” Barnes replied in a deadpan voice.  One night, after too many cocktails, Darcy and Jane had come up with code phrases to alert each other off all kinds of unlikely events.  While this exact scenario hadn’t been covered, all of  Darcy’s codes had been nonsense sentences involving colorful fruit.  

There was no proof, but Darcy decided to believe Barnes.  Everything he was saying made sense, but more importantly he was different than the last time Darcy had seen him. The hesitancy was gone from his speech.  He was focused and confident.  Which was surprising really. Darcy would have expected being stuck in a time loop where you are repeatedly attacked by the people who enslaved you for decades to be more traumatic than therapeutic.  Perhaps it was exposure therapy with a side of violent revenge?

“Right, hand me the phone.”

Tony answered on the first ring. “Hey unknown number, I hope you aren’t about to try and sell me auto insurance.”

“It’s Darcy Lewis,” she announced. There was a brief pause during which Darcy could hear JARVIS confirming her identity in the background.

“Hi Jane’s Darcy, I hear you’ve had an exciting morning.” Tony sounded like he was trying to cover stress with an jovial attitude.  Typical annoying Stark.

“Yep, I’m calling to say Barnes is in a time loop,” Darcy reported.

“Bucky thinks he is in a time loop.”

“He has made a compelling case,” she asserted.  Barnes was certain that Darcy would be able to talk Tony around.  Likely he had heard her do so in his past.

“Pretend I believe you, what do you want me to do?”

“Come to the tower as quickly as possible and don’t attack Barnes,” Darcy requested.  Barnes hadn’t given her specific instructions for Tony so she hoped that was what he wanted.

“The first part I can do, on the second I make no promises.  He has killed nine people in the last hour.  JARVIS believes they were all Hydra, but I’m a little concerned about itchy trigger fingers.”

“How about you focus on removing Hydra from your tower unless Barnes gets in your way,” Darcy suggested.

“You feel safe?” Tony asked.

Darcy considered the question.  Barnes’s kill count shocked her, but it shouldn’t.  Even before he became the Winter Soldier, Barnes had been a sniper.  “He is currently producing a scary drawings of a technical doohickey in our safe room,” Darcy quipped.

“He is in the safe room? He should not be in the safe room. The point of the safe room is to keep danger out.”

“I trust him,” Darcy proclaimed and realized it was true.

“Okay, I am willing focus on the more immediate threat,” Tony conceded. “Have JARVIS scan the drawings because I love technical doohickey’s.”

“Will do,” agreed Darcy.  “Thanks Tony.”

One down one to go. The conversation with Steve went far easier.  He was downright eager to accept any exonerating explanation for Bucky’s behavior.  In the background, Natasha sounded dubious and Sam thought the whole thing was cool.  

“That’s settled,” Darcy announced. Jane was so absorbed in whatever Barnes had written that she barely grunted in acknowledgement.  

“Thanks, Ace,” Barnes responded with a charming smile.  Darcy was unable to hide her surprise at his casual attitude.  Seeing her face he stiffened and shook his head.  “Remember you and Darcy aren’t friends in the beginning of the cycle,” he muttered to himself.

“I like the sound of Ace.  You should totally call me that from now on.”  Darcy enthused in an attempt to ease his discomfort.  It made sense that working together to stop Hydra would be the kind of thing that bonded people quickly.  She could only imagine how hard it would be to have a friendship constantly reset.  

“I’m flattered you forgot there was a time we weren’t buds, Bucky” she continued experimentally.  Bucky relaxed slightly so Darcy kept talking.  “If I had to remember and perfectly reproduce dozens of pages of science I would probably forget something vital.”

Bucky shook his head. “It is a stupid thing to forget.  I need to be perfect this loop because I’m hoping it will be the last one.”

“Nobody’s perfect, but the pressure is off.  You have made one tiny mistake and we’ve already recovered. Now, I’m guessing we are on a tight timeline so assign me my next task, Sergeant.” Darcy drew herself up in a parody of military attention and earned another of Bucky’s grins.

“Help JARVIS scan the pages for the scientists.” He suggested.

“I have already managed to scan some of the pages,” JARVIS chimed in. “I can request page numbers for which I need a clearer image.”

“Cool plan,” agreed Darcy.  She gathered up and reordered all the pages Jane had scattered across the floor.  She held them up to the back left corner of the safe room so JARVIS’s camera could take a picture.  Her work was complicated by Jane making notes on the backs of random sheets which then had to be rescanned to include the additions.  Although Bucky’s writing was gibberish to Darcy, it was fascinating the Jane.

The next half hour was weirdly peaceful.  Everyone worked diligently on their respective tasks. It was easy to forget that outside their safe room Hyra was trying to take control of the tower. The only sounds Darcy could hear were the rustle of pages and JARVIS quietly calling out numbers.

“Done,” Bucky announced as he stood up and shook the cramps out of his human hand.  He had used up almost the entire notepad.  

“This data is going to revolutionize our understanding of the relationship between time and gravity,” Jane said excitedly.  “If I could just get to my lab, I could…”

“Your lab is in need of major repairs, but Dr. Banner’s is untouched,” Bucky interrupted.  “Tony can escort you and the equipment there as soon as he arrives.”

“Should I go with them?” Darcy asked.  Her outfit was not what she would usually wear to babysit scientists, but it was possible it was designed for a later task.

“No, you should head to the common room at 9:30,” Bucky answered.  “I’m going to clear a path for Steve, Sam, and Natasha.”

“Be careful,” Darcy said unnecessarily.

“No worries, Ace,” Bucky said cockily. “I’ll see you in about 4 hours.” He drew a pistol from his thigh holster and left the room.

Jane and Darcy shared a look. “I really hope he isn’t crazy,” Jane said.

“Me too,” Darcy agreed. “Does the sciency stuff he was writing make sense?”  

“The theory is fascinating, but it is too soon to know if the device will work,” Jane admitted.

“But definitely not gibberish that could be produced by someone who last took science in the 1930s,” Darcy asked.

“No, although we don’t know what HYDRA taught him,” Jane mused. “It is possible his training included…”

“Not helping,” Darcy interrupted.  She was operating on the assumption that Bucky was telling the truth and wanted Jane to confirm it was a reasonable plan.  

“I believe him enough to devote the rest of the day to trying to build the device he described,” Jane offered. “The resonance model that he is proposing to explain the disparity between…”  Darcy half listened to Jane’s technobabble until Tony arrived.  She understood enough to know that there were going to be two very happy scientists in Bruce’s lab.  Darcy made sure Jane and Tony didn’t forget the handtruck of scientific equipment in their eagerness to get to their experiments before heading out towards the common room.

Walking through the deserted halls of Avengers tower was eary.  Darcy kept her charged taser ready in her hand, but the only evidence of other people were occasional blood splatters and one set of drag marks.  Had Bucky removed the bodies to make things easier for her?  Darcy hoped he was safe.  Okay, so she knew none of them were safe.  Darcy hoped he wasn’t injured.

As she arrived in the common room, Darcy looked around cautiously and then yelped as a woman stood up from where she was hidden in a large armchair.

“Your speed and stealth getting here were excellent, but we need to work on your situational awareness,” Natasha announced calmly.  She was wearing her skintight black mission gear.  Darcy didn’t see any sign of blood, but that didn’t necessarily mean Natasha hadn’t been involved in the fighting.

“If the day continues the way it had been going, I will get lots of chances to practice,” Darcy answered as calmly as possible.  Natasha’s lips quirked into an approving smile and she reached back to pull something off the seat of the arm chair.

“I have a present for you,” she said as she held up a bulletproof vest. “Barnes didn’t have one in your size so I brought you one of mine.”

Darcy eyed the protective gear suspiciously.  At some point today, she was going to get shot. On one hand she would likely survive with an awesome story to tell.  On the other, this was going to hurt.  She had seen pictures of the bruising people got when their vests were hit.  Darcy was not a fan of pain. Usually when she got herself into ridiculous situations they happened so fast, she didn’t have time to freak out or plan.  

“Will it fit under my clothes?” she asked.  When Natasha nodded Darcy stripped down to her bra and let the other woman fit her into the vest.  Body modesty was way less important the making sure she had the damn thing on correctly.  Someday Darcy would tell her grandchildren that she had striped in front of the dread Black Widow and they totally wouldn’t believe her.  When the vest was in place, Natasha helped her reassemble her outfit so that it was impossible to tell Darcy was wearing anything other than normal clothing.  Natasha gave Darcy a long look and then handed her a set of notecards in Bucky’s handwriting.

“What are these for?” Darcy asks cautiously.  Flipping through she saw a series of questions with bullet pointed answers.

“Your press conference,” Natasha replied calmly. “Certain powerful people are very concerned about a well organized violent organization attacking a building in New York.  Barnes says that if we don’t hold a press conference to reassure the public that the Avengers have everything under control, the military gets involved and that only leads to more deaths.”

“So you are sending the scientist wrangler who never actually finished her political science degree?” There were several obvious logical gaps in this plan. Natasha quirked a single eyebrow and met Darcy’s eyes.

“I’m going to go talk to some camera’s,” Darcy announced with faked confidence.  “I run a well respected Avengers fanblog on Tumblr and this is totally the same thing.”

“A group of reporters are stationed at the police barricade a block from the front entrance to Stark tower,” Natasha suggested.

“By the coffee place with disgusting pastries but awesome mochas?” Darcy rambled.  “I always debate whether it is worth walking the extra block to Cramer’s which has amazing pastries and acceptable coffee.”

“I always optimize on coffee,” Natasha replied. “The elevator is clear so you can ride down to the lobby.”

“Aren’t you supposed to take stairs in an emergency?” Darcy asked.  There was a little plaque in every elevator she had ever ridden.

“At the moment, the stairs are full of Hydra and the elevator is secured by JARVIS.”

“Elevator it is,” Darcy agreed.  “Thanks for the vest.”

“Break a leg,” Natasha advised her in a deadpan voice when made the phrase seemed more threatening than encouraging.  

In the elevator, Darcy read all the cards.  They didn’t contain much information she hadn’t already guessed.  Hydra was attacking because they are evil and want science stuff.  The Avengers are on site handling the problem.  Don’t mention time travel.

As she exited the lobby of Avenger’s Tower, Darcy squared her shoulders and walked confidently towards the reporters.

“Hello, I am Darcy Lewis with a message from the Avengers,” she began.  Fake it and smile was her new mantra.  Fortunately, it appeared to be working. The notecards Bucky had given her cued her brain perfectly to answer each question. She wasn’t about to win any media awards, but she made it through without any major mistakes.  Hopefully, people would find her odd phrasing charming.

Deciding to quit while she was ahead, Darcy excused herself as soon as she had covered everything she remembered from the notecards.  Anything she had forgotten to mention was unimportant.  It had to be, right? Otherwise Bucky would have highlighted it or something.  

Being the person not in a timeloop was confusing.  How consistent were her decisions?  Had Bucky been through enough loops to know exactly what she would do in every permutation of the day’s events? It was slightly creepy to contemplate how well a virtual stranger knew her.  Still, it would be unfair to blame Bucky for her discomfort.  He wasn’t in any more control of the situation than she was.

Darcy walked back to the tower.  It was getting towards lunch time and she should probably feed the scientists.  Jane always claimed that thinking burned a lot of calories, but Darcy suspected that this was partially to excuse her poor dietary choices.  Mentally sorting through ingredients and recipes, Darcy walked back towards to elevator and rode it up to the common room.  The door opened to reveal the Falcon, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America, and Thor.

“Umm, hi guys,” Darcy greeted milling super heroes. They were all in costume and ready for battle.  Darcy looked around ready to duck back into the elevator at the first sign of trouble, but she saw nothing alarming.

“That’s our cue.  Everyone move out,” Steve commanded.  Darcy scrambled out of the way as the assembled Avengers began to enter the elevator.

“What’s going on?” Darcy asked in confusion.

“Dr. Doom is going to attack Wall Street while he believes we are distracted defending the Tower,” Natasha replied.

“Okay.” Darcy had mixed feelings about an evil mastermind destroying the big banks, but a lot of innocent people worked there too so the Avengers stopping him was probably the right call.

“Need any help?” she offered.  After all, Darcy had her taser and Natasha had given her a vest.  She could totally be an Avenger for the day. Hawkeye looked at her skeptically, but Thor enthusiastically agreed.

“Lightning Sister, you can join us in glorious battle,” he thundered and gave Darcy a jarring thump on the back.  She grinned at this endorsement of her badassery.  

“Bucky said you will instinctively do the right thing,” Captain America informed her gravely. From him this was likely the highest of compliments. What had Bucky told Steve to completely alter his opinion of her? The last time they had met Darcy could have sworn that Steve found her annoying. Darcy took a moment to marvel that he seemed willing to add her to the party before she bowed out.  

“I should probably stay here and help the scientists,” Darcy decided.  “Jane won’t eat eat unless I wave food under her nose.”

“You will valiantly defend my Jane from those who dare attack this Tower,” Thor agreed.

Hawkeye’s expression had moved on to incredulous and the Falcon looked confused. It was probable Sam had no idea who she was.  

“Awesome, good luck with the Doombots.” Darcy waved good-bye to the departing heroes and walked to the kitchen.  Opening the refrigerator, she took out everything that looked like it might be reasonably added to a smoothy.  Darcy had learned that liquid nourishment was the easiest way to keep the scientists both hydrated and fed. Tony would drink anything you put in front of him, but Jane required it to taste good.  Fortunately, she found a carton of greek yogurt and a bag of frozen blueberries to cover the taste of the spinach.  The blended beverage was an innocuous purple color which should appeal to Jane.

Normally, Darcy would just carry three glasses and the pitcher to the lab, but today she decided it would be safer to have a hand free to hold her taser.  She poured the smoothie into three mason jars, loaded them into a reusable shopping bag and set off towards the lab with her weapon help at the ready in front of her.

“JARVIS, are there any Hydra between here and Bruce’s lab?” Darcy asked cautiously.  If necessary, she could swing the shopping bag as a secondary weapon.  However, avoiding enemies was a way better plan.

“Several of my sensors on your most direct path have been damaged,” JARVIS answered.  “I have insufficient data to determine the number of hostile targets active in the building or their locations.”

“Can you suggest a route that minimizes risk?” Darcy debated whether she should ask Tony to come and escort her.  She reminded herself that Bucky said she would instinctively do the right thing.  If he knew at all, Bucky would expect her to act boldly and beg forgiveness when necessary.

“Please take the exit to the left of the elevator and walk north,” JARVIS directed. Darcy moved as quietly as possible. She was about to make the final turn when a man in a black tactical suit rounded the corner and pointed a gun at her chest. Without conscious thought, Darcy pulled the trigger on her taser.  

Darcy felt the shot before she registered the sound.  She was knocked backwards and fell hard on her rear.  There was a hole in her shirt and a bullet was smashed into the front of her vest.  It looked just like the movies. Collecting herself as quickly as possible, Darcy saw that her attacker was twitching on the floor.  She took a couple of cautious breaths to replace the air that had been knocked out of her lungs, grabbed her bag, and scrambled to her feet.  Her taser was only good for one shot so she sprinted to the end of the hall into Bruce’s lab.  

Entering with a clatter, Darcy saw Tony raising an Iron Man gauntlet and Jane looking up with concern.

“I tased a guy at the end of the hall,” Darcy reported breathlessly.  Hopefully, he was still down.  She had been afraid to look back to see if he was preparing to take a second shot.  Were bullet proof vest like bike helmets that had to be replaced after every accident?

“Good for you, I’ll go clean up.” Tony said cheerfully.  Darcy took deep breaths and tried to calm herself down.  She had survived being shot.  It shouldn’t be such a shock. It wasn’t a surprise.  But a stranger had tried to kill her…maybe.  Darcy wasn’t sure if he had pulled the trigger on purpose or if his fingers had twitched when she tased him.  Either way the vest had saved her life.

“Are you okay?” Jane asked cautiously.  Her hands were still moving dexterously assembling a complicated piece of equipment, but Darcy knew Jane focused better when she had something to do with her hands.

“My chest and ass hurt,” Darcy complained. “Getting shot feels like the time my cousin accidentally hit me with a baseball bat.”

“You were shot?” Jane screeched.

“Oh yeah, I left that part out,” Darcy admitted. “But it’s totally fine. Natasha gave me a vest.”  If she said it enough times she could convince herself to believe it.  A similar theory had worked with the shiny metal fire spitting monster when she had first met Thor. These days, she could recount the entire episode as an awesome adventure.

Darcy had been shot bringing Jane and Iron Man smoothies.  No big deal.  Just the kind of thing that was bound to happen when you lived in Avengers tower and were best friends with the genius who happened to be dating Thor.  She willed her heart rate to slow down and her system to burn through the adrenaline.

Jane looked at her skeptically, but didn’t comment.  Darcy was grateful.  Now was the time to pretend nothing was wrong.  The heart to heart freak outs could come later.

“I brought you smoothies for lunch,” Darcy announced and fished the mason jars out of her bag. “The cups are a little unorthodox, but I brought straws so it should be fine.”

“We can always drink out of beakers,” Tony suggested as he reentered the lab.  Darcy had no intention of asking what he had done with her attacker.  She choose to believe that all the Hydra soldiers were being disabled and tied up in a conference room.  That was totally plausible.

“No we can’t,” Darcy said bluntly.

“I don’t care how clean they are,” Darcy continued when Tony started to protest. “It isn’t safe or sanitary.  Mason jars and straws work well enough.”  

Tony accepted the beverage, took an experimental sip then shrugged and returned to work.  Darcy placed Jane’s drink next to her and held the straw up to her lips at random intervals when she forgot it existed.  The scientists were making good progress building something.  Darcy couldn’t begin to guess what it was supposed to do, but it was obvious that Jane and Tony were excited.  She assisted however she could adding notes to Bucky’s papers and fetching tools.

About an hour later, Jane experimentally flicked the switch.  The device lit up and emitted a low hum.

“Its working?” Darcy asked.  The device was the size of a large backpack and composed of many small parts and a large glowing tube.  There was no enclosure, so wire stuck out and circuit boards were exposed.

“I think so, but we will have to run some tests to be sure,” Jane answered.  Tony began to insist that everything he designed worked perfectly the first time as the door to the lab opened.  Tony grabbed his gauntlet, but put it down as Bucky walked into the room.

“You already turned it on,” Bucky exclaimed.

“Hopefully that is a good thing,” Darcy commented.

“It means we are five minutes ahead of our previous record time,” Bucky explained. “It’s time to decide if we are going to deploy the machine or have me memorize your updates to the documentation for next cycle.”

“How long do we have before the loop resets?” Tony asked pensively.

“Thirty seven minutes.  In that time, we need to move the device to the common room, calibrate it, and aim it at the largest window,”  Bucky said.

“I saw some notes that looked like calibration numbers,” Darcy offered. It sounded doable to her as long as the calibration was relatively quick.

“Those number are from last loop,” Bucky supplied. “They are based on measurements I took of the common room the cycle before.”

“I think we can do it,” Jane decided.

“Absolutely,” Tony agreed.  

“Great, I have Steve and Thor rearranging the furniture in the common room so we have a place to setup the device,”  Bucky informed them.

“It will be easier to enter the calibration numbers here,” Jane decided.

“No problem,” Bucky said.  “Darcy and I will go finish setup in the common room.  I’ll send Thor back to help Tony carry the device.”  Everyone agreed to this plan and Darcy followed Bucky into the hall.

“Can I have my new taser now?” Darcy asked.  She assumed that Bucky knew hers had been discharged and abandoned in a hallway.  So far, he had supplied her with everything she needed.  A new weapon would make her feel safer.

“Nope,” answered Bucky and handed her an icer.  Darcy turned the weapon experimentally.

“I would rather have a taser,” she said as they began to walk to the common room.

“If I give you a taser, you end up killing someone,” Bucky countered.

“A bad guy?” Darcy asked. She knew tasers were occasionally fatal, but she had never considered the possibility of serious hurting someone.  

“Yes,” Bucky admitted.

“I’ll take the icer,” Darcy decided.  Her life was full of good people that had killed people.  It was one of those weird things she rarely chose to think about.  If she had a choice, she would prefer to keep her kill count at zero.

Bucky smiled. “I know.” His words reminded Darcy of her earlier questions.

“You knew I was going to get shot,” she accused.

“Yes,” Bucky admitted. “It has happened in almost every one of the last sixty cycles.”

“It’s necessary?” Darcy knew that Bucky was carefully coordinating everyone’s actions.  Maybe there was no way to get someone to her without messing up something else.  

“No”

“Then why don’t you prevent it?” She asked.

“You asked me not too.”  Darcy tried to think of why she would decide to let herself get shot time after time.

“Why?”

“The first time you got shot I was taking an hour to call my therapist,” Bucky explained. “That cycle was already a bust because Jane and Tony weren’t even close to figuring out the science behind my time loops. After you were killed, Jane fell apart and I promised myself I would never let that happen to you again.”  

He turned to Darcy and gave her a small smile. “Things always go better when you are alive and helping. The next cycle, I had Natasha give you a bullet proof vest in case I couldn’t get to you in time.”

“So you saved me that cycle,” Darcy prompted.  

Bucky looked guilty. “No, the early cycles were chaotic because I kept making big changes.  Even the events I knew about happend at inconsistent times. I thought I had cut the call with my therapist short enough to get to you, but I messed up.”

“I survived,” Darcy said. “I think that counts as saving me.”

“I offered not to call the next cycle and stay with you,” Bucky continued without acknowledging her statement.

“Is that the best time to call?” Darcy asked.

“It’s the only time where I have a full hour and I promised Steve I’d call,” Bucky said quietly. “The first couple cycles were really bad. I thought Hydra had captured me and was trying to break me.  My theory was that the loops were caused by my brain trying to resist some new kind of mind wipe.”

Darcy stared at him in horror.  “I’m so sorry. How did you figure out about the loops.”

“Steve intervened. One cycle, I think it was the seventh, I started shooting my way out of the tower as soon as everything reset. I stole a car and started driving to the Hydra base Steve was attacking.  He met me halfway, calmed me down, and forced me to call my therapist.”

“Having your home publicly attacked probably made her very receptive to an emergency call,” Darcy speculated.

“She clears her schedule as soon as she sees the news,” Bucky agreed. “Talking to her with Steve at my side helped me come up with a new theory of what was happening. Steve made me promise to keep calling her.”

“Good idea,” Darcy agreed.

“Even if it means you get shot,” Bucky asked uncertainly.

“I will accept a thousand bruised chests, that I don’t remember anyway, to help you recover,” Darcy stated.  The first time she had said that the situation had probably been far more dire, but it didn’t matter.  Bucky’s mental health was important.  She was proud to have played a small part in enabling his recovery. Darcy hoped he didn’t suffer a setback when the loop was broken and he started having unpredictable experiences.

“Thank you,” Bucky said quietly.

“How many times have you had this conversation?” Darcy asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Only a half dozen,” Bucky answered. “Sometimes I prevent the shooting and usually I don’t explain.  I checked in a couple times to make sure you still prefered me to continue therapy.”

“Hopefully Jane and Tony’s new doohickey will stop the loops so you never have to choose again.” As Darcy finished speaking, they arrived at the common room and saw that the rest of the Avengers had make a platform out of stacked furniture in the center of the room.  Steve and Natasha stood next to the platform consulting a large sheet of paper.  Bucky crossed to room to Steve’s side.

“We have decided to break the loop,” Bucky reported. Steve looked up and smiled broadly at his friend before wiping all expression from his face and seriously considering the paper.  

“Take us through the plan,” Steve commanded. Everyone gathered around.

“At exactly 2:26 and 13 seconds, A helicopter will drop down and shoot out the north window,” Bucky began.  “Six seconds later it will fire a beam weapon.  Stark and Jane’s device will need to go off exactly as the beam reaches its position.”  He stood tall speaking in a even voice.  

“Can the device be fired remotely?” Steve asked.

“No, someone will need to press a button on the side,” Bucky informed him.  Steve nodded and patted the shield strapped to his back.  Bucky quirked his lips and slightly inclined his head in acknowledgement before continuing.

“From the time the beam weapon fires there is a two minute countdown until a man in the helicopter activates the second half of their device.  During that time, 24 commandos will swing into the window to attack us.  If Stark and Jane’s invention is functioning correctly, it should change the accumulating energy field so that when Hydra activates the second half of their device will stop the cycles. Our main objective is to defend our device from damage and defeat the commandos. A secondary objective is to board the helicopter and recover Hydra’s time loop device.”

Steve listened carefully to every word Bucky spoke but occasionally his face would break into a look of wonder.  To him, it must seem miraculous to have Bucky acting in such a familiar way.  The two of them standing there surrounded by Steve’s team looked just like the old newsreels. As Bucky finished speaking, Steve clapped him on the back in thanks and started assigning everyone positions.

Darcy was always impressed by watching professionals use skills she utterly lacked.  After a very brief discussion, all of the Avengers knew their positions and part in the plan.  Thor departed to escort Tony and the device to the common room while everyone else did last minute weapons and armor checks.  

Darcy was stationed behind Captain America and his shield.  When the barrage of bullets was over, she was supposed to hide under the platform and ice any enemy that got too close.  Darcy was surprised she hadn’t been stuck back in the panic room with Jane, but she was proud of being allowed to help.  Darcy would be ankle icer queen!

Twenty minutes later, everything was in place and the room was quiet as everyone waited for the attack to begin.  JARVIS gave a countdown that ended just as the window shattered in a rain of glass and bullets.  Darcy cowered behind Steve’s shield making sure none of her body parts were exposed.  Getting shot once was more than enough for one day.  When the barrage ended, Darcy scrambled to her mark under the platform and readied her icer as Steve stood to set off the device on JARVIS’s mark.

The Avengers executed the plan flawlessly.  Darcy’s vision was limited by her position, but she could tell that the Avengers were kicking ass. She managed to ice three men who were unwise enough to get near to her position.  Darcy wondered briefly which one of them she would have killed if she had been armed with a taser, but decided it was too morbid to dwell on.  One minute and fifty eight seconds later, JARVIS announced that Tony and Thor had taken control of the helicopter and would activate the second half of the time device a split second before the loop would have reset.  Darcy held her breath and then let it out when a wave of glowy light went through the room.  It coalesced on Bucky who held very still until it began to fade.

Darcy cautiously poked her head out from under the platform. “So is the loop broken?”

“Yes,” Bucky said looking down at his metal hand which was still glowing faintly. “I have never lived this moment.”

“I am glad it’s over for you,” Steve said gravely.

“Get over here Punk,” demanded Bucky and he grabbed Steve into a hug. “Thank you for believing me.”  Bucky added in a softer voice.

“Always,” Steve agreed.  

“Thanks to all of you,” Bucky added as the hug ended.

“I will accept payment in the form of being allowed to pick your brain about your own Groundhogs Day,” Tony replied.  The Black Widow gave Tony a deeply disapproving look, but Bucky look confused.

“Did you serious get through this experience without anyone making a Bill Murray joke?” Darcy asked incredulously.

“We can fix that,” Clint volunteered.

“Absolutely,” Tony agreed. “JARVIS do we have have that movie  If not, get that movie and pizza.  Lots of pizza.”

“And drinks to celebrate our victory,” Thor added emphatically.

“Are you comfortable with this plan?” the Falcon asked Bucky.

“I promised myself I was going to ask Darcy to diner,” Bucky replied quietly.  Every eye in the room turned to Darcy.

“It’s too early for dinner,” Darcy said not sure if she meant early in the day or early in the relationship.  In the past, Darcy had jumped into dates without a lot of thought, but she usually wasn’t asked out by Captain America’s best friend in front of a room full of superheroes. Unless it was just a friendly we survived a time loop thing. Which would be cool, but it sounded more like a date.

It hadn’t occurred to her to think of Bucky as a romantic prospect.  Which was stupid because he seemed cool and was totally hot. Her only excuse was that it had been a ridiculous day.  

“Dinner sounds fun, but let’s postpone a couple days.  All I want to do right now is veg out in front of a movie,” Darcy continued.  Most of the occupants of the room appeared to approve of this response and Darcy hoped they wouldn’t comment.  Half accepting a date with no definite plan was awkward.  Not that Bucky noticed.  He gave her his most charming grin and started helping Steve secure the unconscious Hydra commandos that still littered the room.  Darcy excused herself to go give Jane the all clear.

An hour later, Darcy was sitting next to Bucky, surrounded by Avengers, watching Bill Murray’s time looping adventures. It had been a weird day.  At the very least it would make a fun story that no one would believe.  Only time would tell if it would be the tale of how she became the icer queen of the Avengers or the tale of how she got together with her boyfriend.