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I Like Me Better (When I'm with You)

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Bucky had only known Darcy for two months, but he felt more himself -- the way he’d been before the war -- now than he’d felt since he’d been woken again. After everything had blown over following the Civil War, as the media was calling it, he’d been relocated back to the United States.

The triggers were out of his brain. He still had PTSD, but he could manage it with the help of therapy and other people willing to listen to him talk. He didn’t talk to people other than his therapist about his problems often, because a large part of his brain didn’t want to burden anyone else -- not even Steve -- with his problems.

He’d met Darcy purely by chance. He’d known, vaguely, that a few scientists had moved into the building, and although he was feeling better than he’d felt in decades, he was still wary and uncomfortable around lab equipment.

So he’d been avoiding the floor that was strictly for Stark and other scientists, and he hadn’t expected to run into anyone he hadn’t already been introduced to, if only briefly.

It came as a surprise to him when he’d seen two women, accompanied by Thor, make their way into one of the industrial elevators used to move heavy equipment down to the lab floor.

Thor noticed him and waved, so he uneasily made his way to the three. He’d only known Thor for a short time. The other man had to retrieve his lady love and her assistant from New Mexico. He’d went on to explain that his love hadn’t expected to end up back in New Mexico, but some new research facility had asked repeatedly for her expertise. So she and her assistant, whom Thor had referred to as his ‘lightning sister’ and not by name, had gone to do -- something. Bucky liked science, but Thor spoke in such unfamiliar terms sometimes that a lot of it went over his head.

So he’d never met Jane Foster, but he’d found out quite a lot from asking FRIDAY. The artificial intelligence was very, very helpful to have around and was happy to answer any questions he didn’t want to ask Steve.

He waved a bit awkwardly as he approached the two women on either side of Thor.

He nodded his head in greeting, words leaving him for precious seconds, just when he needed to use them.

The taller of the women looked him over, then nodded back. “Hey, dude.”

He cleared his throat, still feeling awkward. “Hey.”

God, he wanted the charm he’d had with women back. He had the memories, but not the correct words to use. They were eluding him, just out of his grasp.

So many things felt just out of his grasp these days. No matter how much progress he made, how well his therapist told him he was doing, he still felt like it wasn’t good enough.

“Do you need help?” He found himself asking, far less smoothly than he would have before.

“Sure, we could always use an extra pair of hands.” She stuck out her hand, and he took it gingerly. “I’m Darcy, by the way.”

“Bucky.”

Her eyes lingered on the metal that peeked out from his left sleeve, then her gaze snapped up to his. A grin flashed across her face, and she shook his hand firmly.

“Nice to meet you.”

Thor and who he presumed to be Jane had remained silent throughout the short introduction. Thor was beaming, his smile infectious enough that Bucky found his own lips quirking up into a reluctant smile in response.

Thor reached over and clapped him on the shoulder, hard. Bucky controlled his flinch, hiding it as best he could. The thunder god didn’t mean to make him feel uncomfortable. Bucky knew for a fact that Thor was genuinely happy to have met him. He seemed pleased with how things were going between he and Darcy, as well, judging from his smile.

“We still have to get some more equipment down to the lab. We’ve already made a few trips, so there isn’t much left to move from the van.” Darcy told Bucky. “If you want to help, though, we’ll totally take you up on it.” Her eyes raked up and down his frame appreciatively. “You’re looking good.”

The smile that had seemingly frozen on his face widened at her blatant appreciation of his body. After everything he’d been through, it was nice to know that women still found him attractive.

“Lead the way, doll.”

*

After their initial first meeting, Bucky found himself around Darcy Lewis a lot more than he thought he would.

They ate meals together sometimes, joined by Jane, who he’d been properly introduced to, and on occasion Thor as well. He watched how the three of them interacted, the way they knew each other so well that they didn’t need to exchange words to get their meaning across.

Steve had given him a copy of the list he’d made with things people had suggested he catch up on in the twenty-first century. Bucky looked at it and tried to choose something, but a majority of the time, making the choice felt too daunting. He’d stare at the list for a few minutes and not be able to make a decision as to what he wanted to watch or do.

He hadn’t told Steve, because his friend was so happy to have him back, and Bucky didn’t want to dampen that excitement by the fact that he couldn’t make a damn choice on a piece of paper. Sure, Steve was great to have around, because it wasn’t just Bucky struggling, but Steve’d had a two year head start. He also hadn’t been trying to figure out his own identity…

Bucky wasn’t bitter, or at least, he tried not to be. There were times, though, that it snuck up on him. When it happened, he generally tried to avoid everyone.

Darcy was a huge help, and he didn’t even realize it for a week. She’d suggest they watch something, and he’d agree. It was only later that he realized she’d suggested something he’d had written down on the list. She was, to him, a pop-culture expert, and he was grateful to her for suggesting things so he didn’t have to try and make the choice himself.

Between Darcy and FRIDAY, he was catching up on things faster than he would have if he’d just been left to his own devices.

It wasn’t just that she helped him catch up, or that she answered any of his questions, like FRIDAY. It was also the fact that she knew who he was -- and more than likely also knew what he’d done -- and she still wanted to spend time with him.

On his bad days, he had to convince himself that the rest of Steve’s team only put up with him.

He was having more good days now than bad, which he -- and everyone else -- saw as an extreme improvement.

He honestly didn’t know how he’d made it in Romania for so long on his own. He’d been paranoid, convinced it was only a matter of time before someone -- more than likely Hydra -- caught up to him. Then Steve was there, the person he’d intentionally been avoiding, and after everything settled down again, he was glad to have his best friend back.

Darcy was his friend, too. She was a breath of fresh air, even after the things she’d been through. She cared about him, valued their friendship as much as he did.

It wasn’t until now, two months after they’d met, that he realized he felt far more for her than friendship.

*

After that realization, Bucky kept finding little things he found attractive about Darcy. There was her figure, of course, which he’d noticed when they’d met. There was also her open mind, her willingness to talk to just about anyone. Her friendly demeanor, the way she didn’t shy away from his new prosthetic arm.

There were so many things he loved about her.

All he had to do was find a way to tell her how he felt.

*

It was during situations like this that he really missed the way he’d been able to talk to women. It hadn’t taken any effort on his part, the words just came to him on their own accord.

Flirting, dancing, kissing… It all had come so easily to him that now, when he wanted that part of himself back, he got caught up in memories instead.

He could take her out to dinner if he wanted to, but even just at the thought, anxiety crept its way through his veins.

Maybe, in this case, just talking would work.

He only needed to find the correct words to explain how she’d turned his world upside down and made him feel like a whole person -- a man -- again.

*

They were watching a random movie -- he hadn’t paid attention to the title -- when it happened.

She was laughing at something on the TV screen, smiling as she glanced in his direction.

His own lips were smiling, too, but it had nothing to do with what was on the screen and everything to do with the woman sitting beside him.

He sat in silence as the movie progressed, and when the credits were rolling, he still didn’t move.

Darcy eyed him in concern. “Bucky, are you doing okay? You didn’t seem like you were into the movie at all.”

“I just -- I’ve been thinking about something, and… it’s been distracting. Sorry, doll.”

“It’s fine, I was just a little worried. You’re doing so well, have I mentioned that? I’m just -- you’re so strong, Bucky. After everything you’ve been through, and you can still laugh, have fun and smile. You’re so resilient.”

He swallowed hard, her words taking the breath from his lungs. People had told him his progress was astounding, but hearing it from her… it felt, to him, like it meant so much more.

“That means a lot, Darcy. Thanks for telling me. It reminds me that no matter how I’m feeling about it some days, I’m still -- still getting myself back.”

She reached over and took his hand. “I meant every word.”

Could she… could she possibly feel the same way? There was nothing else to do other than find out.

Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves as much as possible, he carefully considered what to say.

“Darcy, I…” He began, then froze up, unsure of how to continue.

He had her full attention. He’d always had it, he suspected, but now, he felt it.

“Whatever it is, take your time. You don’t have to tell me anything right now if you don’t think you can. Don’t stress yourself out over it.”

He squeezed her hand, feeling like even without words, she understood him, knew how he felt without him having to verbalize it.

“You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time, Darcy.” He hadn’t let go of her hand as he spoke. “I want you to know that. You mean so much to me.”

She squeezed back, not letting go. “You mean so much to me, too. I wasn’t sure how to tell you. You seemed fine with only being friends, and I didn’t want to ruin what we have by bringing my feelings for you into it.”

He felt like all the worrying he’d done over this conversation had been for nothing, Darcy’s words unlocking something he’d thought dormant and unreachable inside his heart.

It felt so good to feel this way toward someone again.

Without having to think, he leaned over and brushed his lips over hers.

It might not have been conventional, how he’d gone about it, but the fact that she felt the same way he did made everything else seem easier to handle.

“You don’t have to worry about ruining anything, doll.” He spoke quietly, feeling like he was on cloud nine.

“That’s seriously a relief. I was kind of worried you wouldn’t be up for anything other than friendship.”

He liked how she didn’t say the word ‘relationship’, what they had now felt too fragile to be named just yet.

“If you have suggestions, I’m all ears.” The words were coming more easily now, his newfound, fledgling relationship making him feel, however briefly, that he could do just about anything he set his mind to.

If he got a date in the process, then, he was just one more step closer to the man he’d been before. This new Bucky was feeling more comfortable in his skin than he had in decades. He knew there could still be problems, they’d have arguments.

He was confident, though, that if both of them wanted this to work, that they’d find a way.