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For As Long As You Want Me

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If Darcy were to be honest, she isn’t quite sure how she got here - sitting on the end of his bed, clutching a sheet to her naked body, watching him dress himself from the pile of clothes they left on the floor the night before. That’s not exactly true - she knows how she got here . She took the F train and walked three blocks in the snow when she got the text with the mysterious address. But the figurative here was another story.

 

And well, if she’s participating in honesty hour, she was presuming this was his bed, but she couldn't be sure. In the eight months they’ve been doing this, she’s never been to a place that wasn’t hers. A few of his things were scattered about the relatively small apartment. And believe her, it was small even by New York standards. If she tried she could probably keep one foot on the bed and reach the kettle on the stove at the same time. Come to think of it, Darcy vaguely recalled reading something about Tony having a room this size just as a lost-and-found for things women had left behind in the pre-Pepper era.

 

The size didn't strike her as odd though. The strange part was that all of his things she could see were things she recognized. The clothes he was putting back on his body. The small knife he placed inside his left boot. The gun he tucked into the holster at his back. The dagger stowed discreetly at his wrist. There were a lot of weapons. She suspected there were more, but she knew better than to ask. James would probably show her if she asked, but she didn't think anything good could come of it, so she left it alone. He's tried to keep that part of his life away from her for a reason.

 

Other than that, there really wasn’t anything else she could see that suggested this place was his home or even a home. There weren’t any photos, memorabilia, books, music, and not even a dish or utensil left out from use. Darcy was a little afraid to look in the drawers and closet because she wouldn’t be able to ignore the nagging feeling at the back of her mind telling her that James didn’t live here. It would confirm what she already knew  - that she should be running for the hills because he’s dangerous in a way that she's never known before and dangerous in a way that she's not sure if she would be able to handle. She knows one thing for sure though. She doesn't want to let go of him. Not while he still wants her. Not yet. She's afraid maybe not ever.

 

James isn't so big with words so when Darcy watches him run a hand through his hair for the second time, she takes the hint. Shifting off the single mattress on the ground she starts to put her clothes back on. Perhaps a little too slowly for James’ liking, but she's making a point. She doesn't really care that he’s in a hurry. This is a two-way street she tells herself for the umpteenth time. Darcy won't be used and she’s decidedly ignoring the voice telling her that's exactly what's happening here.

 

As soon as she’s dressed, she gathers her purse and coat, and makes her way to the door. She's about to touch his arm in their traditional goodbye, the metal one this time - she makes it a point that he never sees her prefer one over the other, when he pulls her back gently.

 

“Let me take you back. It's late.”

 

She looks at the phone in his flesh and blood hand, bidding him to the person she knows he’s going back to. The one he always goes back to. The one he never talks about, but she knows all the same.

 

“Next time maybe.” Darcy touches his cheek - something she never really does. It feels too intimate. But she couldn’t help herself this time.

 

“Darce, m’sorry.” He’s letting her see the Brooklyn in him so she knows he really means it. If James could help it, he’d never reveal anything about himself.

 

“I get it. Duty calls. I’ll see you later.” She’s avoiding the fact that, yeah, it’s work, but it’s also the elephant in the room that they are both doing their damndest to ignore.

 

The corners of his mouth lift for just a second.

 

She smiles back at him because she knows he doesn't mean to take so much from her. He hates that he does. He’s tried to make it up to her in small ways to show that he’s appreciative and to show, that no matter what, he still cares about her. Like when some mornings he stayed in bed with her a little longer than he normally did, especially when she’s had a rough week at work or her mother has found a way to knock her down a few pegs. Or when he makes her breakfast before leaving. One time, he even hung a painting that had been propped against a wall for weeks because she’d just never gotten around to it. Darcy’s still not sure how he managed to do it without waking her up. And then, on some nights they just laid in bed, fully clothed, and fell asleep holding on to each other like life preservers. Holding on so tight that she could feel his fingers marking her skin long after he's gone. Darcy likes to believe that those nights are for both of them, not just her.

 

She knows James wants to give her something more though, but they both know that the thing she wants most, he can't give. The mark under his heart couldn't make it more clear. He doesn’t belong to her.

 

Darcy wonders what things might have been like if he hadn’t been marked or if she had been the one marked for someone else, or marked at all even. But she knows not to think about it too hard now. She always finds herself at the bottom of a bottle of wine when she does.

 

She pulls the door shut behind her when she leaves. He won’t leave at the same time she does. Just in case. Knowing him, he’ll probably sneak out the window anyway. Old habits die hard she guesses.

 

Darcy’s putting on her coat as she steps outside. It’s stopped snowing and she’s wondering if she can catch the last train of the night when her phone rings. She hangs her head in defeat and kicks a clump of snow when she looks at the caller ID. She didn’t need this right now. Not so soon after James. It was as though the universe wanted her to drown in an ocean of guilt and suffer for taking something that wasn’t hers to take.

 

“Hey Cap. What’s up?”

 

“Hey Darcy, sorry to wake you up so late.”

 

“Don’t worry. I was up anyway. What can I do for you Steve?” Darcy asks as she stomps angrily down on another mound of snow.

 

“We’ve got an Assemble and we’re down a handler.”

 

Darcy does some quick math. If she can catch a cab, then…

 

“I can probably be at the tower in under 20 minutes,” she guesses.

 

“That’ll do. Want me to send Happy?” Steve asks. Always kind. Always polite. Always thinking of others. Darcy wishes, not for the first time, that the earth would swallow her whole.

 

“No I’m good,” Darcy says as she sees the tell-tale yellow of cab in the distance. She’s sticking her hand out to hail it when she continues, “I’m basically in the cab already.”

 

“Okay, it’s a small tactical unit with me, Buck, and Natasha.”

 

Darcy’s a little confused as she gives the cabbie the quickest directions to Avengers Tower. The cabbie is rolling his eyes at her, but she doesn’t mind.

 

Darcy’s just started acting as a handler, but it’s not really part of her role. And even then, she’s only ever done it for Clint. She tells Steve as much.

 

There’s a moment of silence on the phone. It’s long enough that her stomach starts to sink and she thinks that karma is finally catching up to her.

 

“I know. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind covering Bucky. He’s positioning as a sniper today. So it won’t be too different from Clint. And well, Bucky trusts as many people as he can count on one hand and...”

 

“And I’m one of them” she completes for him. She pauses for a beat and then answers “yeah, okay. I'll see you soon”.

 

When she hangs up the phone, Darcy lets her head fall back onto the headrest with a little more force than was entirely necessary. This is a bad idea. The worst one that has ever existed. Darcy’s sure of it. But she couldn’t exactly say no. What was she supposed to say? No can do mon Capitane, I’m emotionally compromised when it comes to your soulmate because I’m an evil homewrecker. 

 

As Avengers Tower nears, Darcy briefly wonders who this is most unfair to. Her? James? Steve? Because at the end of the day, she wasn’t really sure she was a homewrecker. Not when she knows the truth. James Buchanan Barnes has one love, his soulmate, Steve Rogers. There wasn’t a version of reality, an alternative timeline, or another dimension in which that fact wasn’t true. Like they always say to each other when they think nobody’s listening. Till the end of line . Steve would never hurt James, and James would never let anything tear them apart. Darcy wasn't really sure she could be a homewrecker when she never had a shot in hell in the first place.

 

Chapter Text

i.

Only upon entering Avengers Tower does it occur to Darcy that she’s returning in the same clothes she left in. Luckily she’s got a change of clothes in her office. Between the Avengers and Jane, she’s learned that almost anything can explode at any given moment, and so she’s started to store emergency supplies anywhere she can.

Darcy makes-do with the clothes she finds. The Culver hoodie doesn’t exactly scream ‘professional handler’ but its comfortable and will do in a pinch, especially if the op runs into the weekend. Glancing down at her watch, she figures she’s got a few minutes to spare before anyone's expecting her and makes a beeline for the showers.

With her clothes peeled off, Darcy’s muscles start to give under the hot spray, forcing some relaxation into her body. She’s glad she’s taken this moment. Call her paranoid, but she’s terrified someone would smell the sex on her. Working with Clint and Natasha meant there was very little she could hide. She’s certain Natasha knows, but she didn’t feel like being a billboard sign tonight. And really, had it been anyone but James, there was no way in hell she was keeping this bombshell from Clint.

Darcy’s running the soap over her body trying to make quick work of it, but this is the part she hates most - stripping every part of him from her body. She knows she’s seeking absolution, but she’s not sure what that it even is anymore. The traces of himself that he leaves behind feels like a strange marriage of punishment and mercy. And besides, absolution is not what she finds. Not when she runs her soapy hands between her legs to clean herself, and she aches so sweetly with the memory of an hour before, she has to press her forehead against the cool tile for relief.

This. This reminder of him from the night before, she won’t be shaking anytime soon. It’s simultaneously her personal heaven and hell.

***

James is pulling her into the apartment and pressing her back against the door before she even has a chance to knock.

For a fleeting moment, she’s looking into his eyes and she’s unsure of what’s happened. She’s worried because he usually comes to her. He’s never asked Darcy to come to him before.

But there’s a hardness to him and a set to his jaw that tells her now isn’t the time for questions. If she concentrates she can almost feel his skin thrumming with need under her hand.

The moment is quick. It disappears as quickly as it arrived because his mouth is surging towards her, his lips pressing down firmly on her own. He’s a little too skilled for someone who claims to have spent the last seventy years without practice.

James snorts, but persists. Darcy said that out loud. Of course, she did.

His lips begin to tug against hers begging for her to open up. She finds herself sighing into him and he takes the moment to slide his tongue against hers. She tastes him back.

His hands are urgent, pulling at the buttons of her coat with little more force than she usually allows. She knows this is going to be quick. Hard. She also knows him well enough now that she knows something is wrong. He may tell her later, but he may not. It’s always a bit of a toss up and Darcy doesn’t want to push. Sometimes she does. It’s not in her nature to hide things away. For the most part, she’s lived her life like an open book. So sometimes, despite her better judgment, she pushes. And sometimes he lets her in. He’s always careful with the details, but she appreciates it nonetheless.

But as a rule, Darcy doesn’t want to push him. She’s not sure if its her place to and she keeps reminding herself of that when she gets a bit carried away.

Right now though, as his hands skim up her stomach and begin to knead at her breasts, she doesn’t care. She needs this too. She always needs him. Every time with him feels like it may be the last. She knows one day it will be. So when her hands erratically start to pull to rid him of his clothes, it doesn’t surprise either of them.

Darcy’s barely able to unzip him, taking him hot and heavy in her hand for a few quick strokes, before he’s sliding into her hard, ready and she’s gasping for air as he buries himself in her.

James tucks his head into her neck placing a soft kiss under her ear, a moment of reprieve from the frantic energy seconds ago.

But Darcy’s past the point of no return. “Move,” she begs. And he does so with ferocity. Incessantly. Like a man given his first sip of water in the desert. And then somewhere on the razor’s edge of pain and pleasure, she’s tumbling into oblivion.

***

 

ii.

When Darcy enters the bullpen, everyone is already there. The energy is crisp and the haze of an unnamed feeling that’s settled over her dissipates. There’s a job to do. She’s handed a file by someone she doesn’t recognize and she looks over it. They’re the operational parameters for Bucky.

Darcy’s walking over to her station busy memorizing the details when Steve passes by, one warm hand cupping her shoulder in support, the other placing a coffee into her free hand. She’s buried her feelings into a small locked box until after the mission, so when he smiles at her, all warm like the first sunshiny day of spring, she finds herself leaning into his touch and smiling back. Well, she’s hoping it’s something resembling a smile, but she’s not sure. Quite frankly, she’s unsure of what her face is doing in response, she tends to go a little stupid when Steve looks at her like that.

He’s also said something, but Darcy’s distracted by the doors opening and someone else entering the bullpen. Her heart is in her stomach for a second, but it’s just another person she doesn’t recognize. Looks like they really are working with a skeleton crew for this mission.

When she looks up to ask Steve to repeat what he said, he’s gone. He’s moved on to one of the other junior agents, talking about entry and exit coordinates.

When she sits down, she’s still left staring after him. In this space, this small separate universe inside the tower, he is larger than life. His presence is the focal point, his gravity so strong, that everyone is pulled into his magnetic field. He is steady. Assured. Focused.

He’s like the eye of the storm around him. Darcy had once made the comment in passing to Natasha.

Natasha was quick to correct Darcy. No Darce, he is the storm.

She was right. When Darcy met Steve six months ago, he was a man on a mission. A secret mission clearly above her clearance level at the time, but now, the whole world knows what it was. Bucky.

At the time though, he was in and out of tower all the time. Sometimes, he would stay. Usually when Thor was on-world, and he and Jane could convince Steve to join them for dinner.  He was always kind and polite. Always helped with the dishes and never overstayed his welcome, as though there were such a thing. He was the perfect guest. Too perfect. Perfect in a way that made Darcy question his whole shtick.

***

“So what’s your shtick?” Darcy asked, as she sat up on the counter near Steve, swinging her right leg rhythmically.

“Shtick?” Steve asked. He passed a wet dish over for Darcy to dry.

“Look, I’m like a magnet for sad dudes with secrets. So, like, not to toot my own horn or whatever, but I’ve got a pretty good radar for it,” Darcy said placing the dry dish beside her in a neat stack.

Steve looked at her, his eyes sharper than they’d been all night.

“I’m not sad,” he replied, picking up another dish to scrub.

“See. I don’t believe you.”

“And why is that?”

“You really want to know?”

Steve nodded once in assent and continued to wash the dishes.

Darcy paused for a beat, considering how to phrase it right. “When you smile, it’s like, you’re happy, but you look like you’re trying to figure out what’s missing. You get this look in your eyes. I can’t really name it, but it reminds me of someone else I know. He gets the same look.”

“Well, that guy isn’t me.”

“No, but he’s seen some stuff. And I think he’s lost people he’s cared about too. Never talks about it either... doesn’t seem too far off the mark.”

Steve passes her one more dish and turns, propping one hip against the counter and folding his arms across his chest.

“So what helps your friend not be so sad?”

“The sex I think,” Darcy says frankly before she has a chance to think.

Steve’s raised his brows in response.

 “You offering sweetheart?”

Darcy’s caught off guard for just a second. This, she wasn’t expecting, but it's got a smirk spreading slowly across her face.

“Don’t think you’d know what to do with me if you had me, Cap.” She’s leaning in a bit. She’s not quite sure why, but Steve’s smiling, so she stays.

“Bet I could come up with a few things.”

“Man with a plan, huh?” Darcy replies, a wide grin breaking through. She’s nudging him with her shoulder and he’s got a smile on his face that’s lighting her up from the inside.

By the end of the night, Darcy has Steve laughing a few more times, hard enough that he’s placing his right hand over his heart, and she considers it a success.

***

Darcy’s train of thought is disrupted by the meeting room opening. Steve walks out first with Bucky a few steps behind. They aren’t looking into the bullpen though so they don’t see her. Darcy’s thanking her stars.

Natasha’s the last one out of the meeting room, but she isn’t following them. She’s heading straight for Darcy. Natasha stops at her desk. “Walk with me?”

Darcy’s not sure what’s going on and Natasha isn’t giving anything away. Not here anyway. So Darcy grabs her coffee and follows her out. They make it into the elevator before Natasha asks Friday for privacy.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

“With the op?”

Natasha nods and continues, “Steve’s thinking this is Hydra”.

“You’re not convinced,” Darcy states more than asks, as the doors of the elevator open up to the helipad.

“Look into it.”

“Okay,” Darcy agrees, before asking, “Nat?”

Natasha smiles at her knowingly.

“I’ll keep them safe Darcy.”

“Nat,” she presses.

“I’m coming home too,” Natasha says, kissing Darcy lightly on the cheek, before jogging off to catch her ride. 

Chapter Text

Darcy’s got some time before she has to relay any information to Bucky. The jet’s still in the air and she’s got a few hours until they reach their destination. So she starts looking over the information in front of her. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Natasha is right. Something isn’t adding up.

The source of their info regarding a potential Hydra cell is nowhere to be found. And the tip came in only earlier that day. It isn’t unusual that the team would make a move on new information, on the same day they received it. It even makes sense that Steve thought to take a small unit with him considering the lead might not pan out the way they’re hoping. What is strange though is that the location of this unknown source appears to be within a few miles of their supposed target. Usually, anonymous tips try the hell to get out of Dodge before passing on any information. After all rule number one for turncoats? Save your own hide first. The only time they didn’t hightail it out of there was if the person was one of their own covert operatives and they risked compromising their position. But one of their own wouldn’t call in an anonymous tip.

She gets why Steve and Bucky missed it.

Ever since Bucky came back to Steve, things have been strained between them. Steve’s trying to come to terms with whoever Bucky has become. And Bucky has been fighting tooth and nail to not be the soldier he once was. Despite their undying love for each other, they’re at odds, neither of them being able to settle into the present comfortably. They’re both too busy fighting their past in their own ways.

It’s temporary. This Darcy is sure of. Steve’s Bucky, her James, whoever he is, is finding solid ground to stand on. The days in which he runs from Steve, the team, this new life - those days are few and far between now. It’s going to wind down soon and things are going to finally be as they should be. She’s not sure what exactly is going to become of her in the process, but she’ll figure it out when the time comes. Darcy always lands on her feet.

So while they wait for it to pass, they do what they’ve always done. Throw themselves into a fight. Fighting the known enemy was an easier battle than fighting ghosts.

Darcy spends the better part of the team’s flight time cross-referencing the anon’s time of phone call with any satellite imagery of the surrounding land and data logs from the major telecom carriers in the area. She’s about to call Tony for access to Friday so that the AI can run enhanced analytics when the team lands and suddenly she’s on.

Bucky doesn’t say anything to her as she guides him safely from where they’ve landed to his primary hide site. If he’s surprised that Darcy is his handler, he doesn’t show it. He signals his coms with a click when the he sees the rest of the team is in position.

She’s in the middle of reading him the latest pressure and wind gauges, when her alerts for the searches she was running pings.

Her heart lurches in her chest when she pulls up the results and makes sense of what she's seeing. She’s frozen because the data in front of her is telling her something that can't possibly be true. The tip came from inside the bullpen.

Darcy’s trying to recall her training on what to do in this situation, but she’s drawing a blank, probably because she’s not really an agent. They’ve always given her things that were straight forward, and she never, thankfully, had to actually do anything before.

James’ voice cuts through the static in her brain.

What’s wrong?

...

Need to talk to me Darce.

...

And then...

...

Cap, need you to hold.

Darcy hears Bucky’s voice, but her mouth refuses to move. The way she sees it - she’s got two options. One. She can switch Bucky to private coms to tell him what’s up, but that would mean the team going head-first into a very real trap. Two. Open all com lines and get them to abort.

It’s a risk. A big risk. It means opening herself up to be a target because the Hydra operative that’s likely working in the bullpen right now would easily mark her.

Darcy’s scanning the room. There are so many people she doesn’t recognize today. It could be anyone. She thinks maybe there’s a handful that she saw either Steve or Natasha talking to that could be allies, but she’s not sure. She’s got a terrible feeling things are about to go south and if she’s correct, there isn’t a single Avenger left in the tower tonight.

She does what she has to. She opens all communication lines and utters one word. Abort.

Darcy looks around the room to see if anyone’s face gives away their true allegiance, but she’s just staring into a sea of shocked and confused faces.

Darcy isn’t sure if she even has the authority to pull out an entire team out of an op like this, but suddenly the bullpen is frantic. From sudden silence to a cacophony of nosie. Keyboard clicks. Hurried footsteps. Shuffling of papers. Exit protocols spoken loudly into the coms.

For a second, Darcy thinks about continuing. She thinks about letting the team know that they’ve got Hydra in their own ranks. Even maybe on private coms to Natasha. But she doesn’t know who is listening and she doesn’t want to give this scumbag a chance to go underground. To disappear. So she keeps quiet.

It takes everything in her to sit back down and lead Bucky back out to his ride safely.

He’s tapping his coms in a rhythm. It’s a code he taught her not long back, but it feels like a lifetime ago now. She thinks about sending a code back, but changes her mind, she doesn’t want him to worry. It’s not like he can do much from hours away. But, trying to pretend like everything's normal, that might buy her the time she needs to track down the Hydra asset. So instead, she says, “Everything's good. Searches came back - the tip was being pinged too many times for it to be legit. No more information than that, but enough for you to come home.”

He makes a noise from the base of his throat over the coms. Clearly intended for her. Maybe for Steve too. It said, I don’t believe you .

She’s hanging up on coms and slipping out of the bullpen before he has the chance to say anything else. Darcy’s in the hallway and slipping her phone out of pocket to dial Tony. She glances over her shoulder to make sure she isn’t being followed. Mercifully, he picks up on the third ring.

This better be good kid.

“Tony, I need access to Friday for enhanced analytics.”

The din of the crowded restaurant in the background fades to nothing. HIs voice is clear when he speaks.

Want to tell me what for?

“I was running ops. I got some bad data back. I think we’ve got an asset from the big bad within our midst and I need Friday to run a check on everyone here tonight.”

Any chance you’ve been made?

Darcy thinks about it before she answers.

“It’s a possibility. But I can’t let them leave this building Tony. Who knows what information they’ve got. The team is still in the air and I’m not sure their safe yet either.”

Tony doesn’t say anything, but she can hear the engine of car revving high.

Darcy's brain is in overdrive as she thinks of all the angles possible. 

“Tony, the tower is empty. If it’s not leading the team into a trap, it's a distraction. And if its something here in the tower then they’ve got the perfect two-hour window to get whatever they need with minimal resistance.”

Darcy’s rapid strides come to a halt. She’s not sure if her ears are playing tricks on her, but she thinks she hears footsteps behind her. When she looks, the hallway is empty.

Okay shortstack, get yourself out of the tower. I’ve got this.

“What?” Darcy’s voice cuts through the silence. “Tony, I’m not letting these assholes get away with whatever they’ve got planned. And like hell, if I’m going to leave a bunch of my friends to deal with the fallout by themselves.”

Look Darce, it’s not personal. But if something happens to you, the geriatric wonder twins and Charlotte’s web will literally rain down hell-fire on me. So yeah, you’re getting yourself out of there.

Darcy decides to ignore Tony because she knows Tony and she knows when he’s making decisions out of fear. And when Tony makes decisions out of fear, he always makes the wrong one.

“Listen up, daddy-issues, I’m already at your lab and I’ve pulled all the information we need from the bullpen’s servers. So, if you want a win today, you’re going to need me.” She’s trying to keep her voice airy and light. Calm Tony means functional Tony.

Lewis, you are a giant pain in my ass, you know that?

Seconds tick away and then the doors to Tony’s lab are opening. She’s plugging in the small drive into one of the consoles and Friday is already running the analysis without so much as a word from Darcy.

“Thanks Tony.”

Just, do me a favour. Lay low till we get there.

“Can do Tin Man.”

Darcy wants to ask Tony if there was anything here worth protecting, but then she thinks better of it. There’s probably a goldmine of information within the tower’s servers. There also may be actual bars of gold, but she doubts that’s what Hydra is here for.

She hangs up the phone instead.

Darcy’s in the middle of asking Friday to cross-match any suspected Hydra activity with recent acquisitions physical or informational by the Avengers or Tony Stark when she hears the unmistakable sound of a gun’s safety being turned off.

“Arms in the air Darcy.”

Darcy complies. Her heart has started beating so fast that she thinks she might pass out. Effortfully, she’s pulling air through her nose and into her lungs.

She glances behind her shoulder and then hangs her head back down in defeat when she recognizes the man. She didn’t see a gun so she knows he’s got it concealed. Friday’s cameras won’t pick it up.

“Hey Paul.”

He’s one of the special agents that had been assigned to the op - one of the few faces that she recognized in the bullpen when she had arrived.

She’s not going to lie. This stings. She’s known him since his days with S.H.I.E.L.D in Puente Antiguo. For the love of Thor, she’s shared Grandma Lewis’ special zucchini loaf recipe with him. She tells him as much.

“I don’t have a choice here.”

“I really don’t like how ominous this is sounding, but listen dude, you’ve always got a choice.”

“Not this time. Move.”

She’s following Paul’s directions out of Tony’s lab. It’s thrown her for a loop. She’s not sure why they’re leaving. If there’s anything important, it would be in there. It isn’t until she takes an all-too-familiar turn, that she’s finally getting a clue. So she speaks up.

“Jane keeps that data locked up tighter than Thor does his pop tarts, so you’re going to need another game plan my good bro.”

“Don’t need her when I’ve got you.”

Darcy scoffs despite herself. “Think again, I’m not letting you anywhere near that data. You don’t fuck around with that shit.”

He’s turning her by the shoulder to face him, albeit a little too roughly, and it’s then when she finally sees the fear and panic in his face. His eyes are rimmed red and the hand in his pocket, the one that’s holding on to the hidden gun, is shaking just slightly.

“Paul...”

“You need to help me,” his voice cracks. He is the definition of unhinged.

Darcy opens up her mouth to speak, but its dry and her throat aches with tension.

“They’ve got my kid. I can’t go back with nothing. They’ll kill her,” he pleads.

Darcy’s met Abby once before on bring your kid to work day. She’s only four years old.

Darcy swallows roughly. She knows she’s reaching when she says, “Okay, okay … so, we stall. Till the team gets back. They’ll know what to do and they’ll get Abby out.”

Paul’s shaking his head. She’s unsure if he’s trying to convince her or himself.

He finally pulls out the gun and holds it against her temple. “No.”

In the days to come, Darcy thinks that she probably should have weighed out the ramifications for what she was about to do a little better. She would think about whether there really had been another path that she could have chosen. And on more than one occasion, question her own sanity and her significant lack of self-preservation. In the end, it wouldn’t matter, she made her choice. She bought the team as much time as she could.

“You don’t need what’s in Jane’s lab. You’ve got me. I helped build the damn thing and I know how to build another one.”

 

 

Chapter Text

i.

Fun fact: Darcy didn’t know how to build the damn thing. But, more importantly, Paul didn’t know that and as it turned out, neither did Hydra. The damn thing was the Einstein-Rosen bridge and she was a poli-sci major for crying out loud. They wanted her to build a literal wormhole.

Whatever, in the end, the Hail Mary play Darcy made worked. Paul led her to some back alley in Hell’s Kitchen and the goons that had Abby let her go in exchange for Darcy. And Paul bolted as fast as he could. She doesn’t blame him. Darcy thinks she’ll never see Paul or Abby again and maybe that’s for the best.

It really was a new record though. Darcy doesn’t think she’s managed to piss anyone off this fast before. Because within minutes of having her, the goons were knocking her out.

 

 

ii.

When she wakes up, she’s tied down to a metal chair. There’s a single light bulb swinging above her and the only sound in the room is the steady buzz of electricity coming from it. It’s a veritable interrogation cliche if there ever was once.

Darcy takes stock. Monster headache. Aching wrists. Dry mouth from hell. Churning stomach.

A concussion was not what she needed right now, but it was definitely what she had.

She can’t see any windows in the room so she really has no idea how much time has gone by or where she could possibly be. She’s a sitting duck and she knows it. Darcy moves her wrists to see if she can get any slack on it, but she finds no luck there. She’s tied down tight. She’s got a feeling they’ve used zip ties because she can feel the plastic digging into her wrists.

Darcy leans backwards, letting her neck rest back, a brief reprieve from being hung in an awkward position for so long, and squints against the light. The chair tilts back and she’s flailing her legs to keep the thing upright. But it’s also then she realizes she’s got something to work with. Her legs aren't tied down. Now she just has to wait for her opportunity.

...

Darcy barely has time to get her hands in front of her to brace for the impact.

“Goddammit Nat.”

“Again.”

“Look, I love you more than life itself, but seriously? I’m not an agent. You don’t need to kick my ass to this extreme,” Darcy says as she pushes herself up on to all fours.

“Yes I do.”

Natasha’s giving her a hand, but Darcy’s giving it a once over, not entirely trusting the gesture.

Natasha gives her smirk. “Good, you're getting it.”

“Getting what? You haven't exactly said anything other than,” and here Darcy shifts into a spectacularly awful Russian accent, “Again comrade.”

Natasha does the thing with the one eyebrow that Darcy both loves and hates at the same time. But she’s full blown smiling now so Darcy’s even more irritated.

Darcy rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

Finally, after what feels like the longest staring contest of her life, Darcy decides to give up the ghost and sits flat on her ass instead.

Natasha looks proud as she squats near Darcy and hands her a bottle of water.

“This has nothing to do with whether you're an agent or not. You need to learn how to defend yourself.”

Darcy takes the water, starts to guzzle it in a most unladylike fashion, and waits for Natasha to continue.

“Steve might be teaching you how to escape holds with bigger more experienced opponents, but that’s only one part of defending yourself. The other, is being able to think through those maneuvers in high pressure situations, to not only think through them, but think past the maneuvers and figure out your next step.”

Darcy snorts. She can see why Natasha’s the one taking over her training. Steve treats her like she’s made of glass.

Darcy places the empty bottle beside her and thinks about the last few holds and tries to find her mistake.

“My feet were free. I could have used it as leverage.”

Natasha’s giving her best cat-that-ate-the-canary smile and Darcy knows she’s answered correctly.

“Let’s see if you can find your opportunity then. Again.”

...

When a metal door slams open, she’s twisting so fast to see that she thinks she’s managed to give herself a new injury. This one she can’t blame on Hydra.

She can’t see the man that speaks next, just a large backlit shadow.

“Miss Lewis, what a pleasure. I just want to take the opportunity to thank you for your future service.”

Darcy opens her mouth to snark back when she finally notices the sharp pain radiating from her jaw, making her vision swim in tears. She lets out a involuntary whimper. Definitely not her most badass moment.

So instead she anchors her jaw and glares icily in the direction of the newcomer.

“Shall we begin?”

The door closes behind him with finality. And for the first time, Darcy is afraid.

 

 

iii.

Time, Darcy thinks, is a really funny thing. It slows down and speeds up in exactly the opposite way that you would ever want it to. Bliss is short-lived. Pain is eternal.

“I've got to say Ms. Lewis, I didn't think you’d hold out this long. Colour me impressed.”

He’s finally bending close enough so that she can see his face out of her one good eye. The other one has been rapidly swelling shut over the last half hour.

She’s surprised. Darcy expected a face a little more sallow, angry looking, and maybe just more classically evil she supposes. But he’s not. He’s actually quite handsome. He reminds her of the hot dad that looks like Adam Driver and is always at Prospect Park buying his kids ice cream.

No cardigan though. Just the standard issue Hydra henchman uniform.

He’s waiting for her response.

“Glad to be of service,” she gets out painfully through clenched teeth.

He’s giving her a GQ-worthy smile.

“Let’s see how you do after a night without heat.”

“What’s with Hydra and it’s love for subzero?” Her voice is harsh from overuse. She thinks she might have damaged her vocal chords.

“You’re referring to the Winter Soldier?”

Darcy doesn't respond. Just stares at him.

He’s crouching in front of her now and leaning in for his next words, his breath is hot and damp in her ear. She’s shivering with disgust.

“Winter is nature’s gift. It’s the eradication of all the rot that came before. Winter finally brings the death necessary for the creation of what is new and pure.”

***

Darcy listens to his heart beat steady under her ear as James speaks. No, not James. Bucky. He’s not her James anymore.

She’s thoughtful for a moment. And then props herself up on his chest to look at him.

“That what they told you?”

James/Bucky takes the lock of her hair dangling in front of her face and tucks it back behind her ear.

“Because just so you know, that’s a bunch of bullshit.”

They’ve never talked about his past. For a lot of reasons really. First and foremost because for the past six months she didn't really have any clue as to who he was. He was just some guy she met at a bar one time and brought home. A lot.

He didn't owe her anything.

And then, when she found out who he really was two months ago, when he showed up at the tower for Steve, there really wasn't any point. She finally pieced together what evaded her for so long and she didn't want to delude herself into thinking that they still had a chance. Whatever they had was very clearly over.

It was over. Until it wasn't.

When he started showing up at her door again a month ago, she really did mean to close the door in his face. To send him back to the person he belonged to. But she didn't. She let him in. Time and time again. She always let him in.

And tonight was no different. Well a little different, he wanted to talk.

Darcy’s making sure that he’s looking right at her when she speaks next.

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.”

James is looking at her, a bit stunned, but it gives away to a smile.

“Fortune cookie again?” he asks.

Darcy snorts, resting her head back down in the hollow of his chest, and closes her eyes. “Close enough. It was Yoko Ono.”

 

Chapter Text

When Darcy comes to again, she does so jarringly. She takes in the room in front of her. At some point, someone had wheeled in a metal tube the size of a small car engine. It was placed no more than five feet away from her on a trolley and the small red light on it’s touch screen flashes wickedly at her. Darcy’s not entirely an idiot. She knows what it’s for - to remind her that her freedom is a few keystrokes away really. Program the algorithm into the Bridge Device and she was free.

Too bad she doesn’t have the answer.

And to make matters worse, Darcy feels a fierce sense of shame. Sometime in the middle of the night when her shivering had all but nearly stopped, hypothermia setting in, and the pain was too much to take, she cracked. Told them the truth. She didn’t have any of the answers they were looking for. But they didn’t believe her. The remorse sits heavy and acrid at the base of her chest.

Darcy keeps trying to tell herself that she did the right thing. Giving herself up instead of the data for the bridge was what needed to be done. It’s what the others would have done if they had been given the choice. The bridge in Hydra’s hands could hold the world hostage and would mean an unimaginable level of destruction if it came down to it. She had a moment of clarity in the pain though. A moment where, Thor forgive her, had she had the algorithm in her hand, she would have gladly handed it over so that the pain would just stop .

“Hi.”

Darcy turns her head towards her captor. It feels like both moments ago, and an entire lifetime ago, that she thought he was handsome. She doesn’t anymore. The sight of his face makes her body want to wretch.

“You passed out and well, that’s not going to help anyone. So we turned the heat up a touch.” His voice is silk. And venom.

Darcy takes him in. He’s wearing a large black parka and leaning with his back against the only door in the room. He unfolds his crossed arms and tucks them into his pockets as he saunters over to her.

After studying Darcy’s face for a moment, he makes a dissatisfied noise and crouches down beside her. If it had been anyone but him, she would say his face held a look of concern. Darcy knows better now. He does this when he thinks she’s about to break. He offers to be her friend, but it’s always fleeting, and soon his face will contort viciously into an image she thinks will be forever seared into her brain. His mark on her permanent. Infinite.

He’s extending his arm towards her when Darcy flinches hard, turning her face away from him. His hand is frozen in mid air abandoning its earlier plan and his fingers curl back against his palm instead.

Eventually, the frozen hand starts a new motion, and he uses the back of his hand to wipe away a bit of frost that had settled on the graying skin of her cheek.

“You really are a thing of beauty. So strong.”

Darcy’s not looking at him anymore. She’s lost the bluster and bravado hours ago.

He’s leaning in close and whispering again. A hushed secret between them.

“Is it bad that a part of me hopes that you won’t break?” Silk.

He pulls her chin back so that she’s forced to meet his eye. “I could make you into something greater than you could ever be.” Venom.

Darcy wants to kick. She wants to scream. She wants to bite down on his hand. But she doesn’t do any of that. She’s learned her lesson. And she’s tired. God is she ever tired. Darcy doesn’t even realize she’s crying until he’s wiping away a tear for her.

There’s a sudden pounding on the metal door that shocks her and makes him more than a little angry. His face hasn’t changed though. In fact he’s smiling a little bit at her, but she can see his eyes harden. Dark. Incensed.

As he leaves, it occurs to Darcy that she’s never been able to read anyone that fast before.

***

“And how is this supposed to work exactly?” Steve asks staring back at her.

“Well, that part I haven’t figured out. Yet. But if I do this long enough, Natasha says it will happen.”

“And, you can’t do that at a different time?”

“Nope,” she replies, popping her lips at the end of the word.

“This is weird. Even for you Darce,” Clint says as he walks by clutching a towel to his waist.

Did Steve blink just then? Was that a twitch? Or did she make that up?

Darcy ignores Clint and directs a guess at Steve, “You’re uncomfortable right now.”

Steve keeps his face neutral just like she asked him to. “I wasn’t exactly trying to hide that.”

“Is it the purpose of the exercise or that I’m in the men’s locker room?”

“Can’t really practice non-verbal elicitation strategies, if you ask me, you know...verbally,” Steve throws out offhandedly.

Darcy rolls her eyes at him and the huffs. She’s moving out of the way so that he can get on with business and he’s shooting her a grateful smile.

Later at dinner, Steve catches her sitting alone at the kitchen counter pushing peas into the shape of a star with her fork.

“Is this what the kids call fanart?” Steve asks.

Darcy smiles, but doesn’t look up at him.

Steve sets his plate beside her and takes a seat. “What’s wrong Darce?”

“I suck at this,” she says waving her hands vaguely around the room.

“Fanart?” Steve smiles, a little pleased with his own joke.

“Being part of this whole thing. I understood my place in all of this when I was helping Jane, even when I was working with Pepper, but now I’m hanging out with superheroes, and not just for fun, but like to actually do stuff that I can’t do.”

“That you think you can’t do.”

Darcy turns to face him. “That I know I can’t do.”

Steve ignores the last comment.

“And you’re freaking out?” Steve asks.

It’s strange hearing the term ‘freaking out’ from him. Strange, but also a little bit endearing.

“I’m freaking out,” she confirms.

“It’s the elicitation exercise?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re better at it then you know.”

Darcy scoffs.

“It’s true. The time at your place when you made dinner? I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding in plain sight, but you called me out on it.”

“You had major sad face.”

“Okay now, I wouldn’t exactly say I was being obvious, but you knew.”

“That was different. It was just… it’s not the same thing. I wasn’t trying to read you. ”

“So stop trying,” Steve says.

They’re facing each other, their knees touching. He’s got a hand on her shoulder, a warm comforting weight. She couldn’t remember when he put it there.

There’s a feeling here and she isn’t quite sure what it is. It feels good, almost easy, with Steve. She thinks maybe it’s a feeling somewhere between safety and contentment.

It’s nothing like how it is with James. James is a raging river. Cutting its own path. Unpredictable. Everchanging. Still, give her a chance, and Darcy’d happily drown in him.

This moment between her and Steve though? It’s extending. Building. It carries a weight that is surprising her. Darcy thinks for the first time that maybe this could be something between them.

Darcy could also very well be reaching. She knows James hasn’t been around much lately and she gets the feeling that he’s planning on leaving. He’s been flighty and restless. She’s not sure where he would go if he left. Because she doesn’t know anything about him really. But she isn’t stupid. Maybe he’s finally ready to go back to his soulmate.

And maybe Steve has a soulmate too. No one’s ever said anything, but then again neither has he. She knows soulmates are the rule, and blanks like Darcy are the exception. Maybe it was Peggy Carter. God help her, Darcy can’t compete with that.

She’s tired of competing against soulmates. So, for better or for worse, Darcy does what she does best and steers the conversation into safer, more superficial waters.

“Think you might have been doing a bit of flirting too Cap,” she pauses for dramatic effect and a salacious wiggle of her eyebrows, “did I read that right too?”

Steve laughs. “If you’re guessing, I clearly didn’t do it right.”

***

There’s shouting in the halls and, yes, gunfire. And it’s giving something Darcy had very little left of - hope.

She hears Natasha’s voice in her head. It could be a hallucination, but she wants to believe the words more than anything. This is the opportunity she’s been waiting for.

Escape.

Darcy musters up what little energy she has left and kicks off with her feet sending the chair tumbling backwards onto the floor. She lands on her side, and yelps loudly. She’s definitely broken her right thumb, but it’s given her enough slack to escape her ties.

Fight.

Darcy needs a weapon. She takes a moment to catch a breath, but then is lurching towards the device. She picks it up over head, trying her best to avoid her broken thumb, and throws it forcefully on the ground. She grabs a shard of the screen, sharp enough to draw blood, and holds it tightly in her hand.

When the door opens Darcy is ready. She hides behind the door until her assailant enters and uses the shard of glass to drive it deep into his side. The man is screaming and swings his arms out aimlessly. She leaps back and out into the hall, pulling the door closed after her.

Run.

Darcy breaks into a run down the hallway. She isn’t fast. Her muscles are stiff from disuse and throb with a kind of pain that takes away all thought. She’s turning the corner when she thinks she thinks she recognizes Old Glory, but it’s short lived. She feels the pressure of the blow she’s taking to the back of her head and then she feels nothing at all. The world fades to nothing.

Chapter Text

Darcy hears soft beeping as she gets pulled closer to the here and now. But, it’s slippery and the tighter she holds the more it eludes her. So she’s swiftly falling again. Disappearing into nothingness.

***

She’s sitting at the small kitchen table in her apartment, staring at the different patterns in the grain of the wood. Darcy doesn’t sit here very often. It’s the place she leaves her keys, drops her mail, and hangs her coat. A couple times a month, Jane, Thor, and Darcy manage to comically squeeze in for a dinner. Sometimes Steve too. Darcy closes her eyes tightly against the thought of him.

It isn’t lost on her that the person who sits here the most is him , whenever he shows up and wants more .

Darcy’s staring at the chair James usually occupies. She’ll never see him sit there again and it’s a bittersweet thing. She didn’t have to wait anymore for the shoe to drop. She didn’t have to wait and wonder when he was going to leave and never return. She didn’t have to wait and wonder when he would finally return to his soulmate.

It’s over and there is a small amount of relief in that.

But that relief is mixed in with guilt. And a shameful amount of shock.

In retrospect, Darcy isn’t sure how she didn’t see it. She keeps replaying the better part of the last year in her head and she is in awe of her own stupidity. Of course James isn’t just James. He’s Bucky Barnes. He’s the Winter Soldier. He’s Captain America’s soulmate. He is Steve’s soulmate.

Darcy places her elbows on the table, and leaning forward, buries her face in her hands. As if she can hide from her actions. As if she can hide from the world.

Okay, so maybe she didn’t know who he was, but that doesn’t matter. She should have known. It’s as plain as daylight right now and she’s wondering now, if somewhere deep down she’s always known. There’s a part of her wondering if she ignored the signs on purpose because she wanted him more than she’s ever wanted anything else.

She thinks that knowing he belonged to someone else would make his leaving her easier. It doesn't. At all.

And really Darcy’s unsure if its better or worse that James’ soulmate is Steve. She can’t think of anyone better for him. The universe may have handed Bucky Barnes more than his fair share of tragedy, but it tried to make it up to him with Steve Rogers.

Steve’s been one of her very best friends for months. And at times, yeah she’s wondered if it was more than just that between them, but nothing ever came to fruition. And she feels like she’s been deceiving him as though it was on purpose. It makes her stomach turn.

Darcy looks up when she hears the gentle scrape of the chair against the ground. James is there.

They sit there for a long while just gazing at each other.

Darcy’s studying his face and she can see a lot there. Fear. Pain. Grief. Courage. Relief. Acceptance.

She can see the hate.

And love.

He’s letting her read him. He’s doing it intentionally and they both know it. She’s thankful he isn’t trying to hide from her. Darcy isn't sure she can add another layer of complexity to this. She already feels beaten to a pulp.

“I didn’t plan it.”

Darcy’s hearing the gentleness of his words, but it’s as though she’s under water.

“I’ve been keeping an eye out for him. Punk’s always getting in over his head.”

Darcy nods and puts her hands back in her lap. She thinks the move telegraphs exactly what she’s feeling. Insecure. Small.

There’s something to be said for Bucky’s protective instincts because she can see him making himself smaller in his chair, less intimidating. It's for her benefit she's sure. But it adds to the sense of defeat and hopelessness that's in the air.

“The op was going south. I couldn’t leave him without help.”

Darcy throws him a look. She would never want or expect anything different. And the realization that this isn't completely about Steve strikes her unexpectedly.

He’s watching her carefully. Bucky’s figuring it out just as she is.

He takes a breath to start to explain, but Darcy doesn't want to hear it.

Darcy’s eyebrows furrow together as she finds her voice. “You don’t owe me an explanation.”

When she looks at him, Bucky looks a little angry. “Of course I do.” He pauses a beat and then pulls one of her hands into his.

“Darcy, I owe you so much more than that. You have a right to ask. You’ve got the right to know.”

“Look, Jam--, Bucky…” Darcy starts pulling her hand back and running it through her hair.

“You’re his soulmate. It’s not rocket science.”

James is looking at her, his face pleading. Pleading for her to understand. But Darcy thinks the answer is pretty damn clear and she wishes he would stop looking at her as if there was anything more to say, to understand.

“He is. Steve’s my anchor.” Bucky’s voice is measured, even. “But you’re the one that brought me back.”

Darcy doesn’t want to hear this. He’s making this messy. She needs a clean break.

“I’m glad I could help.”

“You did. Probably more than you’ll ever know. I didn’t know what or who I was when I met you Darce.”

Darcy does her best to give him a small smile. She’s not sure if she believes him, but the words are a balm to her aching heart right now.

“Sweetheart, you’re the only source of light I had. And when I was with you the dark days just didn’t seem so dark anymore. So I made a decision a long time ago that I would stay for as long as you’d want me.”

Darcy’s trying to hold the words in, but they tumble out despite her best efforts. “What changed?”

Bucky’s eyes are searching Darcy’s face. She was under the scrutiny of the soldier and she fidgeted in her chair in response.

“I keep an eye out when he’s on an op. I’ve helped as much as I can without exposure. It couldn’t be helped today. And when he saw me, he wouldn’t let me go.”

“He brought you back to the tower.” Darcy says putting it all together, replaying the memory of seeing him walk into the tower with Steve while she stood in line at Starbucks.

“I don’t want to let you go. Darce, I …”

Darcy cuts him off though. She doesn’t want to hear what he had to say next. She thinks if she hears those words, true or not, she may never recover.

“You love Steve. It’s where you belong.”

“I do love him. But Darcy, I can’t let you go.”

“Yes you can. Steve is my friend too. I won’t hurt him like this.”

“I don’t want to hurt him either Darce. And I sure as hell don’t want to hurt you. Doll, I don’t always know what I’m doing, but you’ve got to believe me when I say that. You're the one person I never wanted to hurt.”

Darcy gathers enough composure to face one of the hardest moments of her life. “I do. I believe you, but it’s time for you to go home now.”

She thinks about him carefully. About the last year of her life. With James. With Steve. And she’s shaking her head with a small smile.

“You’ve tried so hard Bucky. To be whole again. Maybe you thought I couldn't see it, but I do. And maybe you're not sure if you're ready, but you are. The last year is vivid proof. The soldier may always be a part of you, but the soldier isn’t the only thing you are. Give Steve a chance to see who you are now and I promise, he’s going to love you like he always has.”

They’re breathing together in a perfect synchronized rhythm. This time, she's reaching for his hand, holding it gently in her own.

“Don't be afraid Bucky. You're going home.”

***

Darcy comes to slowly. She isn't quite sure where she is at the beginning. So she panics, flailing her arms wildly.

“Hey, hey, you’re okay. Don't be afraid Darcy. You're home.”

She recognizes that voice.

She sees Steve sitting at the edge of his seat, in his Cap suit, covered in soot and dark brown smudges that she feels might be dried blood. His shield is propped against the left leg of the chair he’s sitting on. She feels her hand in his, his thumb stroking the back of hers gently.

“Thank you,” Darcy croaks.

Steve stands up a little stiffly and grabs a cup with a straw and holds it in front of her to take a sip.

“Please don’t thank me. I got you in this mess to begin with.”

Darcy notices that he’s got a deep line between his eyebrows that isn’t going away.

“This isn’t on you Steve.” Her lip pulls when she forms the words and she cringes at the pain.

He’s takes the cup back after Darcy has another sip and places it on the stand beside her.

Steve takes a seat beside her again, but doesn't touch her anymore. He doesn't say anymore either which worries her.

“How bad?” Darcy asks.

Steve looks at her. “Bad. Natasha and Bucky are having a hard time.”

Darcy can't help the guilty look that takes over her face. She should have known better. Of course they would go charging in to a Hydra base to save her without a care about what it would do to them. Stupid selfless heroes.

Steve dismisses her with a shake of his head and a small smile.

“No Darce, they got more than a little joy from burning down that Hydra base to the ground. They just… they can’t see you yet.”

“Oh.”

“I think they were both preparing themselves for the worst and then we found you, and saw you, they just needed some time.”

“You stayed,” Darcy states the obvious.

“Clint needed to shower.”

Darcy raises her eyebrow at him. The man clearly needs one himself.

“Didn't want you to wake up alone,” Steve continues.

“You're a good friend Steve.”

Darcy lays her head back on the pillow, but there’s a pregnant silence that gets Darcy’s fight or flight instincts going.

“Not as good as Bucky though.” Her heart plummets.

“Steve?”

Steve looks a bit surprised at himself and she's sure those words were never meant to come out of him.

“It’s, uh, nothing. Sorry.”

Thor help her, he knows. He’s figured it out somehow and she’s sure of it.

“Steve, please.” Darcy didn't plan to have the conversation here and clearly, by the absolutely stunned look Steve is schooling back to neutral, neither did he. But Darcy’s been preparing for this moment for a long time.

“Steve, he loves you. All he’s ever wanted was to find his way back to you. It's the only thing that matters. The rest is nothing. It's less than nothing.”

There’s a knock on the door and Clint is letting himself in. His hair a bit wet and his smile warm. “Hey trouble maker.” But he’s quick to read the room and starts backing away, “Uh, I can come back…”

Steve shakes his head and picks up the shield, passing Clint on his way to the door. He doesn't look back at Darcy. But he waits at the door for a moment before leaving.

“It’s not nothing.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Do I want to know what I just walked in on?” Clint asks. He takes a seat in the chair Steve abandoned and props his legs up on her bed, one leg crossed over the other.

Darcy looks at him. She always toys with the idea of telling Clint the truth about Bucky. This whole mess. She thinks that maybe if she had, she might have not been in this situation in the first place. But whenever she gathers up the courage to tell him he’s disappearing on another mission. Well, that's the excuse she uses and she’s told herself it so many times, she actually kind of believes it. The truth is Darcy’s been so scared for so long of what others might think, and then of losing them, that the parts of her that matter the most are the parts she’s hidden away.

“It’s nothing.”

“Don’t even try it,” Clint says with a wry look upon his face, “like the good Cap said, ‘it's not nothing’. So let’s hear it.”

Darcy snorts. “Really, I’m laid up in a hospital bed, you’re looking a little worse for wear, and you want to gossip.”

Clint’s got his arms folded as he relaxes back into the seat, making himself right at home. He shrugs. “I’m thinking it might be important.”

Darcy studies his shoes diligently. For a guy that loves to give of a careless appearance, his shoes are unnaturally polished.

“I'm also thinking it's whatever you've been hiding from me for, like, months.”

Darcy eyes shoot up in surprise.

“Darcy, you’ve been pacing like a maniac anytime you've been near me. Doesn't take a genius.”

This is her moment to come clean, but she’s afraid. And she knows it's irrational. Clint has been one of her best friends since he returned her iPod in the middle of a godforsaken desert. She knows he isn't one to judge her. So yeah the fear is irrational, but she doesn't think she’ll be able to handle it if he looked at her differently.

“I swear I wanted to tell you a long time ago.”

“I know.”

“I'd work myself up to it and then, I don't know, chicken out I guess.” Darcy shifts in her bed to face him a little bit more.

“Okay, so tell me now.”

The exact words are hard to get out so she settles for, “I hurt Steve and I’m not sure how I can fix it.”

Clint’s rubbing a hand against the scruff of his jaw. “Because of the thing with you and Barnes?”

“You know?” Darcy’s voice is still hoarse, but somehow it still manages to convey her shock.

“Spy. Remember?” Clint says, one arm still crossed over his chest, the other using a thumb to point back at himself.

“Yeah, but …” Darcy’s trails off. She’s shaking her head because it’s hard to make sense of.

“Also, any of my doubt about it was pretty well washed out when you were MIA. Barnes damn near lost his mind when you were taken. Natasha almost made him sit out your rescue.”

“Oh.” Darcy doesn't know how she feels about this information. Her head throbs so viciously in response that she tables it for later.

“I don't blame her. An unstable winter soldier is not something you want on an op.”

“Right. Makes sense,” Darcy says and then continues, “Well, I guess I know how Steve figured it out.”

“He didn’t know?” Clint asks with an eyebrow raised.

Darcy shakes her head.

Clint folds his arms again and looks at her for a drawn out beat. He sighs audibly and says, “And let me guess, you're thinking this is all your fault.”

Darcy shoots him a look that basically questions his sanity. “Of course it is. I should have stopped it ages ago. I tried, but… It doesn’t even matter. The point is I should have stopped it as soon as I knew who he was.”

Clint’s looking at her and he’s got another peculiar look on his face as though he’s slotting this piece of information into a hole he didn’t know he had. “And Barnes doesn't take any of the heat?”

“Bucky, he was just … blowing off steam. When we met, it was months ago, he was barely in one mind at all, much less a sound one. We met in a bar, we didn’t even know each others names, and honestly, it was just so clearly a one time thing. It went on a bit longer than either of us expected, but I never doubted that he was just trying to find a way back to something. I didn’t know that something was Steve till later. He loves Steve. He just wanted to go back to him whole.”

Clint nods the whole team she speaks, but he’s pursing his lips just slightly, like he’s trying to contain himself.

“Blowing off steam?” Clint asks, his voice is disbelieving. And Darcy doesn’t really have an answer to it.

“Right. So why did he come back?” he asks.

Darcy thinks about this. It's the answer she’s never had. She cut him Bucky off before he could ever answer her. She hadn't wanted to hear it then. She thinks she regrets that choice now. “I don't know.”

“Darcy, I love you. You know that. Nothing's gonna change it, but sweetheart, being obtuse doesn't suit you.”

Darcy laughs. “Got that from your word of the day calendar?” She had given it to him as a gag for Christmas and it was coming back to bite her with vengeance.

Clint smiles briefly at the shared memory, but the smile fades, and then he’s looking at her thoughtfully. “Why didn't’ you tell me before?”

“Didn't want you to think I was a shitty person,” Darcy says shrugging her shoulders. She’s playing with a loose thread on her blanket.

Clint puts his legs down on the floor, leans in, and grabs her hand. He draws her gaze. “Darce, there’s not a thing you can do that would make you a shitty person. You're the very best of us and every single person here would say the same thing.”

Darcy is doubtful.

“Steve included.”

She can’t help herself. Darcy’s sobs wrack through her body. Clint gets up, shifting her slightly, and lays beside her. He gathers her up in his arms and kisses her hair. When she quiets some, Clint grabs the remote and turns on old reruns of I Dream of Jeannie. It speaks volumes about their friendship. It’s her secret go-to that she’s never shared out loud with anyone.

They watch a few episodes and Darcy starts to drift in and out again. It’s only then that he continues.

“Not that you're asking, but Steve was pretty out of it himself. And no, I don't think it was because of Barnes.”

Darcy stops breathing for a moment, her heart lurching in her chest. There’s no sand around, so she chooses to bury her head into Clint’s chest again.

***

When Darcy walks into her kitchen, Natasha is there at the table drinking a cup of black coffee and looking at something on her tablet. She doesn’t look up when Darcy sits down beside her. Not even when Darcy steals the other half of her bagel and cream cheese on her plate and devours it.

Darcy’s about to get up to make them more when Natasha puts her tablet down and places a hand over hers. “Sit. I’ve got it.”

“I love you more than life itself,” Darcy says around the piece of bagel in her mouth. It’s unintelligible she thinks, but Natasha nods.

Darcy moves her fingers carefully across the table to steal Natasha’s coffee cup while her back is turned. She takes a large sip and is extremely self-satisfied, but she thinks she hears Natasha snort, so maybe she’s not as sneaky as she thinks.

“Barnes came by while you were sleeping.”

Darcy turns her chair to face Natasha. The scraping of the chair is shocking in the deafening silence that seemed to follow Natasha’s words.

“You’ve been avoiding him for weeks. You can’t get away with that for much longer.”

Darcy groans and slinks into her own chair. “Why is he still doing this? You would think Steve would just…” Darcy gestures non-specifically.

“Just what?”

“I don’t know. Ban him from ever talking to me. Or something.”

Natasha places the bagel in front of Darcy and grabs one half for herself.

“I don’t think Barnes would be okay with that.”

“Yeah, but they’re soulmates.”

One of Natasha’s perfectly raised eyebrows lifts up. One would think, given the fact Natasha has borrowed one of Darcy’s pajamas all pink and fluffy, it wouldn’t be so intimidating. But Darcy’s come to the conclusion that Natasha could wear a brown paper bag over her head and still be intimidating.

“So you think that means Steve gets to dictate terms about who Barnes gets to love?”

Darcy coughs hard and it’s raining crumbs across her table.

Natasha rolls her eyes. “I don’t think that it’s healthy for you to avoid the topic anymore.”

“Natasha, he does not love me. That was just sex,” The words feel metallic in her mouth.

Natasha’s gaze narrows and it causes Darcy to fidget in her chair. “Clint’s right, being obtuse doesn’t suit you.”

There’s a moment where Darcy thinks Natasha is debating which super-spy tactic she should use on her before she decides against it.

“I know when it’s just sex for Barnes. This isn’t it.”

It’s a bit of a sucker punch, but this time Darcy’s the one rolling her eyes.

Natasha ignores her. “Regardless, you should talk to him.”

“Why? There isn’t anything left to say. Now that it’s all out in the open. We’re both finally free to move past whatever this last year was. He gets to be with Steve and I get to start looking for a new job.”

Natasha smiles. “You’re not fired.”

“Not yet,” Darcy mumbles.

“You should talk to him because he’s the only one that hasn’t gotten to check up on you. Take it from someone who loves you, not knowing for sure, is hell.” Natasha’s words carry an unexpected weight.

Darcy grabs onto Natasha and pulls her into a hug and they hold on to each other for some time. “Okay.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too Nat.”

 

Chapter Text

Natasha doesn’t have to wait very long to see Darcy fulfil her promise because they have an appointment with Helen and Bruce that same day to check on Darcy’s recovery. When she enters the tower on her crutches, a teenager is rushing towards her with a wheelchair, but she’s staring him down before he can get within twenty feet of her. Darcy’s willing him with her mind to stop dead in his tracks. The teen stares back at her with eyes so wide she can see the white all the way around his pupil. He starts to back up. The squeaking of one ungreased wheel pierces through the bustle of the tower’s vast lobby.

 

Natasha walks close beside her as Darcy hobbles along. She’s adamant that she’s going to walk all the way there and she tells Natasha it’s to get the rehabilitation going, but they both know that’s not it. It’s about control. Darcy is woefully lacking it these days so she’s clawing on to any small piece of it she can find. It’s immature and probably more than a little petty, but Natasha hasn’t called her out on it yet, so she’s going to keep doing it.

 

Friday reads their biometrics upon entering the elevator and carries them up to the medical floor. The anxiety is building and Darcy starts biting on her lower lip. She knows it’s a tell, but Natasha already knows how she’s feeling about being back here, with the all-too-real chance of running into them looming in the air, so Darcy doesn’t try to hide it.

 

“It’s going to be fine,” Natasha says as they reach their destined floor and the doors begin to open.

 

Shows what she knows. It’s definitely not going to be okay. Bucky is leaning back against the wall, arms crossed across his chest, waiting for her. Like he knew she was going to be here. Darcy let’s out her breath in a gush of frustration. Sometimes it really is hard to figure out which team Natasha is batting for because right now, it doesn’t feel like Natasha is on her side. Like at all.

 

Darcy shuffles out of the elevator with as much grace as an elephant on rollerblades and comes to stand in front of him.

 

Natasha clears her throat. “I’ll give you two a minute,” she says, but she’s not looking at Darcy. She’s giving Bucky the Widow’s stare and Darcy has no idea what that is about.

 

Darcy watches her disappear behind the glass doors to her right before she turns back to Bucky.

She’s not going to lie. He looks a little worse for wear. The circles under his eyes are dark and the scruff on his chin has grown out a bit more than she’s used to seeing.

 

He’s not in his uniform which strikes her as strange - he almost always is when he’s in the tower. He’s wearing dark jeans and a plaid shirt that looks a little big in the shoulders and a little familiar. She’s guessing he’s borrowed it from Steve. It occurs to Darcy that she’s ever seen Bucky in plaid.

 

She moves, a little restless on her crutches, and breaks the silence. “Hey.”

 

“Hey back,” he says. His gaze is a little perfunctory for her liking, but she knows he’s taking her in. Categorizing the bumps and bruises.

 

She knows him so well now that she can see it even when he can’t - his proclivity to hold up the sky even when it isn’t his burden to shoulder.

 

She shrugs one shoulder, “It’s really not as bad as it looks. Cast’s coming off today so I’m basically good as new.” Bucky really loves to stockpile the guilt for himself so she tries to keep it light.

 

“Just wanted to make sure,” he says, but the disbelief in his voice is evident.

 

Darcy tries not to fidget under his watchful eye. “Natasha said you stopped by. Sorry, I was…” Darcy starts, but she quickly abandons it because she hadn’t planned out an excuse. Not that one would work on him anyway.

 

“Hiding.”

 

“Hiding,” she confirms.

 

“Because Steve knows?”

 

“Because Steve knows,” Darcy says finally meeting his eye.

 

Darcy had a suspicion that Bucky and Steve might talked about it, but this confirms it. She can’t help but wonder what that conversation was like. Bucky is still wearing his shirt so it can’t have been that bad, but what wrath Steve might want to rain down on her is still up in the air.

 

Darcy feels small in this moment, like she’s staring up at a mountain and she’s nothing but a lowly molehill.  

 

He nods and unfolds his arms. One arm extends outward, but he quickly abandons that and places it on the railing behind him.

 

“I want to talk to you about it. I want us, the three of us, to talk.”

 

She’s both surprised, and not surprised at all by this. If there was ever a chance of her keeping a job, of them working together in the future in an sense, they’d have to clear the air. She’d have to find the words to convince Steve that, well, that she was sorry. That they both were and that it was an insignificant thing in the course of their lives. But even as the thoughts bounce around in Darcy’s mind she's unsettled by them. How is she supposed to convince Steve when it feels anything but insignificant to her.

 

“I know,” Darcy replies. “I want to. Just, maybe a little bit later?”

 

Bucky looks at her one more time, reaching out and tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Darcy doesn't think he even knows that he’s done it. “Okay,” he says.

 

There is a moment where she feels his skin against her and her body feels like livewire. She wishes the goosebumps across her jaw and neck weren’t as visible, but she knows they are. She’s forever a puppet on his strings.

 

“Did you know I was going to be here?”

 

The corners of his mouth tick upwards and he runs a hand through his hair. “Wasn’t too hard to figure out.”

 

“Right. Spy thing,” Darcy pauses before pressing a little, “but you didn’t show up at any of my other appointments.”

 

“You were hiding from me remember? Made it pretty clear that you didn’t want to see me doll.”

 

Darcy frowns.  “What made you change your mind?”

 

“Natalia.”

 

Darcy groans and lets her head sink between her shoulders for a moment before looking back at him.

 

“I think she got tired of me asking every day.”

 

Darcy offers him a small smile. What a tangled mess this has become. She can’t see the lines anymore. She wants to tell him to stop looking for her, to stop seeking her out like this. She doesn’t want him to care. She would much rather hate him. Or have him hate her. This would be so much easier if their feelings existed in the extreme. Black and white - that’s what she wants, but their feelings are nowhere near that. It’s grey and muddled and seems to have no beginning and no end.

 

Darcy nods, while gnawing on her bottom lip. They’re going to have to talk about this. She wants an easier way out, but she knows there isn’t one. Darcy thinks that maybe Bucky deserves a goodbye and Steve, he definitely deserves an apology.

 

“You been sleeping okay?” Bucky asks.

 

Darcy’s eyes widen a bit at that, but he’s still categorizing her injuries - even the ones no one can see.

 

“You asking me or telling me?”

 

“Had a hunch.” He’s looking at her with anxious blue eyes.

 

She wonder if Natasha said something, but then again, she hasn’t told Natasha about the flashbacks.

 

Darcy opens her mouth to give him an answer, but nothing comes out. She doesn’t really have an answer. The answer is yes, but she can’t bring herself to say the words aloud. She’s only thinking of two words over the loud beating of her heart. Run. Hide.

 

“M’fine. Promise. But uh, I should get in there.” Darcy’s looking back at the door where Natasha disappeared, hoping that he’d take the hint.

 

She glances at him, hoping for it to be quick, but he's bending a bit at the knees and holding her face in his hands, forcing her to meet his eye. “Okay, but we’re gonna talk about that too.”

 

As if sensing her discomfort, Natasha pops her head out of Helen’s office. “You ready?”

 

“Yeah,” Darcy says as she wiggles out of his grasp making her way to the door.

 

Darcy knows she shouldn't, but she does anyway. When she gets to the door, she turns back to look at him.

 

Bucky hasn't moved. He's still watching her. He's still waiting. For something.

Chapter Text

Darcy is drenched in sweat when she wakes up, the clothes heavy and sodden against her chest. Her breathing is ragged and she’s trying to will her heart to calm down. But no matter how many deep breaths she takes, she can still feel the press of his calloused cold skin against hers. The palpability of that fear makes her want to cry.

 

Darcy swings her legs off the bed, pushing herself up in a leaden motion. The time on her phone reads an unconscionable hour, but Darcy knows she won’t be falling back asleep tonight. She decides to strip out of her wet clothes into something dry and throws on the biggest sized clothing she has. It’s a vain attempt at keeping the world out. This, she is acutely aware of.

 

As she pads out of the bedroom she takes in her new surroundings, an all-too-large apartment in the tower - her new home.

 

Despite her best efforts, she was stripped of her autonomy and forced to move into Stark Tower. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely true. There’s a part of her that agreed with Tony. She was on Hydra’s radar now and her place offered her no protection whatsoever. The place was barely holding on by its screws and nails anyway. And anyway, Natasha very well couldn’t stay on as her personal bodyguard just so that she could keep living in what Tony deemed ‘deplorable conditions’.

 

Darcy had thought moving in might make the nightmares go away. Stark Tower was a verified Fort Knox. There were literal Avengers living beside her, above her, and below her. But as Darcy watches her shaking hands she thinks her efforts may have been futile.

 

She can’t stop her hands from shaking, so she curls them into a fist, her nails biting into her palm. And after pacing her foreign surroundings a few times, she gives up and leaves.

 

Darcy can’t leave the tower so she wanders. Natasha’s on a mission. Clint is on his farm. Tony is probably awake, but a part of her wants to go to… to who?

 

The answer hits her hard and fast. And it scares her in an entirely different way than when she woke up. She sees two pairs of blue eyes and it makes her head spin.

 

Darcy doesn’t really know what’s going on with her. Knowing she can’t even have one, but wanting two. Scratch that, she does know what’s going on with her. She’s apparently turned into a bit of a masochist.

 

With nowhere to really go, Darcy ends up in front of the fridge in the common kitchen. Ben and Jerry would have to suffice for company.

 

Darcy’s about halfway through a carton, when she hears the door open. She’s a bit stunned, and she thinks he can tell, especially with the way the spoon is still dangling from her mouth.

 

Steve’s eyes flit between the container and her briefly. She expects there to be a hardness about him or some sort of aura that conveys how badly she’s screwed up their friendship, but there isn’t. He looks just as surprised as she feels.

 

When the door opens once more, revealing Bucky who had been trailing behind him, Darcy lurches out of her chair. The scraping of the stool is unbearably loud after the stillness of moments before.

 

It takes a second, but that all too familiar sensation of feeling like an ant in the cosmos sets in, and suddenly she realizes that even though they were the ones that entered, she is the interloper.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think... I’ll go.” Darcy turns her back, shoving the half eaten container back into the freezer.

 

Darcy tries not to make eye contact and gives them a wide berth as she tries to make her way past them and out the door. She’s staring at the floor as she tries to leave, but the stillness of their bodies in her periphery unnerves her.

 

“You don’t have to go.”

 

It’s not the voice she was expecting and the shock of it causes her to look up and meet Steve’s gaze.

 

“I…” Darcy starts.

 

“Stay. Please. I...It should be me. I’ll go.”

 

Whatever words Darcy was about to say are trapped in the tightness of her throat. The air between them is dense, opaque, suffocating - full of unspoken sentiment and layers of meaning that she can’t even begin to pull apart.

 

Darcy hates this; the thought that, for even a millisecond in time, Steve Rogers could think that he was the one that didn’t belong. Couldn’t he see who he is? Couldn’t he see where he stands?

 

“No one needs to leave,” Bucky says as he saunters past the two of them grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge and draining it.

 

When Darcy meets Bucky’s eyes, she knows the time has come. She didn’t expect tonight to be the night. In fact, in all the ways she imagined having this conversation, she really never pictured it in the kitchen, in her pink bunny slippers and her Culver hoodie. She thinks there’s a splatter of ice cream on it too, but she doesn’t want to risk a look.

 

Darcy’s staring at her bunny slippers, when all of a sudden, the weight of everything catches up to her, and whatever fight she has left runs dry. She barely grabs the stool in time for her to fall onto it.

 

When she looks up at Steve, she thinks she might see the same in him. He’s leaning his weight against the counter, his head hanging low.  

 

Darcy feels Bucky move behind her, positioning himself between the two of them. He’s picked his position carefully and it doesn’t escape her notice. He’s within arm’s reach of both of them, but not a hair closer to one than the other.

 

Darcy imagines Bucky and Steve have had some time to figure out how this might go, but she doesn’t think she can handle hearing their rejection first. So she takes matters into her own hands.

 

It takes her a few false starts before she gets some momentum.

 

“I don’t have a soulmate.” Darcy watches Steve as she says the words carefully before she continues, “I never told you that.”

 

Darcy glances at Bucky before training her eyes back to Steve.

 

“I thought growing up that, one day the words would appear, but as time went on, I kind of figured out pretty quickly it wasn’t going to happen. Needless to say, my mother was pretty disappointed. I mean, the whole world thinks there’s a pretty good reason why some people are born without marks, and I think that, as much as she tried not to think the same thing about me, she couldn’t really help herself. But, it didn’t matter because I thought I had made my peace with it. I knew, that no matter what, I was going to be okay without it.”

 

Darcy watches Steve’s fingers flex against the counter and she swallows down the lump in her throat in response.

 

“This part though you might already know. When I met Bucky, he was just James. I swear. And after that first night,” Darcy pauses for a moment unable to look either of them in the eyes, “...after that first night, I knew he was marked, but I thought it didn’t matter who his soulmate was. There was a reason he wasn’t with them and that was good enough for me. And anyway, I wasn’t going to see him again.”

 

Darcy tugs the sleeves of her sweater over her hands. She’s not trying to hide so she’s letting them read her openly.

 

“Until, it wasn’t just the one time.” Steve’s voice is hoarse from an emotion that is unclear.

 

Beside her, Bucky shifts his weight from one foot to the other. He isn’t looking at anyone, just staring straight ahead, with a look on his face she can’t quite get a read on.

 

It occurs to Darcy that she’s trying to read them and it’s exactly what’s stopping her from being able to do it. Darcy’s tired though. The exhaustion is bone deep and she knows there isn’t a place for games and tactics here so she doesn’t try. If Steve and Bucky want her to know something she has to trust that they’ll tell her.

 

“It wasn’t,” Darcy confirms. She’s hesitant to continue. The things she has to say next are the ones that she has kept locked away for a long time. There were a few moments where she entertained the notion of telling Bucky what was in her heart, but something always stopped her. It never occurred to her that the moment she would finally gather the courage to tell him, would be the moment she also tells his soulmate.

 

“Your words were still dark so I knew that you existed somewhere out there in the universe. I gave myself a lot of reasons why James wanted to stay, but eventually the reasons just stopped mattering. I was happy and James wasn’t leaving and that was enough.”

 

Darcy’s heart is racing and she thinks that it must sound like thunder to supersoldier hearing. She twists and untwists her sleeves up trying to hold onto what little courage she had left.

 

“After...after I knew who he was, who you were, I knew it was over. And a part of me was okay with that because you were my friend Steve. One of my very best friends. And it was going to make both of you happy. I would see you two together and I understood. I really got the whole soulmate thing and I knew there was no way I could or would even ever want to stand in the way of something so incredibly... true . A part of me really was happy.”

 

Darcy shifts a bit on her stool. She needs to look at Bucky for this part. She thinks if she doesn’t, she may regret it forever.

 

“I never wanted you to struggle with that choice of being who you were with who you are. I never wanted to stop you from becoming who I always knew you to be. I just… I always thought of our time together as this kind of twilight of your life. It wasn’t dark or light. It was just an in-between, a calm, and I knew that it may not even matter when it was over. But there were days where it felt like everything to me.”

 

Darcy tilts her head back at the ceiling, breathing through her mouth, trying to will the tears threatening to build back into place.

 

“Darcy…” Bucky starts, but Darcy shakes her head. She just needs him to hear her this time.

 

“I knew that what was possibly just a blink of an eye for you was something entirely different to me. I want you to know Buck, you made me feel like it didn’t matter that I never had anyone’s words on me. Some days, I was actually pretty happy that I was blank... because of you.”

 

Darcy senses Bucky’s need to shift, to move closer to her. He was never one to stand idly by if she was upset. So she moves instead - towards Steve.

 

“When I found out it was you… I knew I had taken something that was never mine to take. And I knew it was selfish, but I didn’t want to give up this feeling. I felt like I had waited my whole life for it and I just kept willing it to stay even if it was only for a few minutes more. I was so incredibly selfish.”

 

Darcy’s wiping tears away now trying to contain the deluge, but it’s well beyond the point of no return.

 

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show you how sorry I am for hurting you, but I promise the only thing I want is for you two to be happy.”

 

She can’t see past the tears, but her arms are being held firmly, and she finds herself pressed into a solid chest, soothing noises being whispered into her ear.

 

It takes some time, but when her vision clears, she sees Bucky unmoved from his position, but his posture slightly more relaxed.

 

The shock that Steve is the one comforting her rattles her mind. She pulls back a bit and turns her face upwards.

 

Steve’s thumbs brush away her tears and Darcy thinks this is more kindness than she deserves. Steve should be yelling, kicking her to the curbside, and definitely not the one trying to soothe her.

 

“Darce,” Steve says as he rubs her arms up and down putting some warmth back in her body, “nobody’s blaming you sweetheart. Trust me, if there’s a person on the planet who’s going to understand falling for that jerk against better judgement, it’s me.”

 

Darcy pulls away and puts some distance between them. “You don’t have to be nice to me. You were my best friend and I ... ”

 

Steve cuts her off abruptly. “You’re right. I don’t have to be. I want to be.”

 

“Why?” Darcy asks looking between Steve and Bucky. Darcy’s spine tingles and she gets the notion she’s missing something really important. The looks they’re exchanging are too easy, relaxed, and if she didn’t know any better, she’d think Bucky was trying to hide a smirk.

 

Bucky walks around and comes to stop beside them, the back of his hand caressing her cheek, his other hand covering Steve’s. “Because, the punk’s been in love with you almost as long as I have.”

Chapter Text

They look worried, really worried. Steve’s got that line behind his brows and she’s watched Bucky push the hair out his face at least three times. Darcy also knows she hasn’t moved yet. Or said anything. But she’s got that distinct feeling of hearing things as though she’s under water and it’s really hard to piece together what they’re saying. And when the words do finally make sense, and they do, in a purely linguistic sense, they don’t seem to mean anything.

 

So she’s staring at them, her eyes flitting between the two faces.

 

“Darcy, now’s the time you say something doll,” Bucky says.

 

Darcy thinks she’s nodding, but she certain she’s in shock and her body is kind of acting on its own accord, so she can’t really be sure. She turns to look at Steve.

 

“Sweetheart, he’s right. Words would be really helpful.”

 

Darcy catches her reflection on the shiny surface of the fridge behind them. She wearing the look Jane always gets when she’s trying to science extra hard.

 

Darcy opens her mouth and then closes it again. She tries again and a sound comes out of her mouth, but it’s barely human.

 

“You two…” She’s pointing a finger at the two of them, and then, very very slowly, back at herself.

 

“That’s the gist.” Bucky says.

 

“Right,” Darcy replies.


Steve looks more than a little perturbed. “Really, ‘the gist’?” Steve asks Bucky. Bucky raises one shoulder casually and Steve shakes his head at that.

 

“Buck’s right. I thought about saying something, but then I thought you were seeing someone, and then Buck came back and I was trying to do right by him, but that didn’t change what I felt about you.”

 

“And that was…” Darcy’s squinting at him, kind of like he’s a map of the subway with at least five closures and she’s trying to figure out how to get to Midtown in 30 minutes.

 

Bucky snorts and Steve rolls his eyes at him.

 

“That I’ve been falling for you since the moment I met you. Why did you think I spent all of my free time following you around flirting with you?”

 

“Practice?” Darcy pauses for a beat, “Okay, no, not practice. I’m not sure… I’m just really confused. Doesn’t this feel sudden?”

 

Darcy turns and asks Bucky too. “Doesn’t this whole thing feel sudden to you?”

 

“Darce, you’ve known I’ve always loved him. And I’ve tried telling you how I felt, but you kinda shut me down everytime I’d bring it up. So no doll, not so sudden.”

 

“Bucky…”

 

“Darce, I’ve loved the two of you for so long that I’ve actually started to believe good things could happen to me. I’ve spent m’whole life having things taken from me and I just couldn’t give another thing up.” Bucky takes a deep breath before he continues. “You haven’t been the only one holding on to things you didn’t think you deserved.” His voice softens at the end and it causes Steve to look up at him.

 

Darcy watches them. They’re like magnets. Planets caught in each other’s orbits. She can’t remember looking at a pair of soulmates who looked so right together. So she gives words to the feeling that’s been weighing on her for far too long, “You two can do this without me.”

 

“Maybe, but we don’t want to,” Steve replies for the both of them, his eyes finally moving away from Bucky and holding hers instead.

 

“Unless,” Steve starts, pausing to swallow before he continues, “you don’t want us .”

 

It doesn’t click right away what he means. How could she not want to be with the only two men she has ever loved. She may be a masochist, but even Darcy has limits. It’s only when Darcy sees the shift in Steve’s eyes, the one that conveys doubt and apprehension, that she realizes what he means. He thinks there’s a possibility that she only wants Bucky. That she only loves Bucky. The realization is staggering, but she realizes she needs to give him the words that he has so freely given to her, the words that can finally set her free.

 

Darcy takes Steve’s hand in hers and pulls. There’s no real strength to it, he could pull himself free and choose to walk away at any point, but Steve sees the request and he moves closer to her.

 

Darcy’s hand runs up Steve’s arm, over his shoulder, stopping to cup his cheek.  “I will always want you. I will always love you,” Darcy says holding her other hand out for Bucky to take, “both of you.”

 

The smiles beaming down at Darcy blind her and it gives her feeling, it’s a little bit foreign, so it takes her a little while to nail down. But then she’s got it figured out and it causes her to smile back so hard her cheeks hurt.

 

Happiness.