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Every Inch Of Me Is Bruised

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The lab wing was...not Bucky’s favorite place in the universe. But given that he only really ventured through the wing when it was absolutely unavoidable, he’d deal with it.

Anything was better than that damn chair.

The wing was a little busier than usual this afternoon, and Bucky was glad Steve had been available to accompany him through the labs. Too many people all at once was still a little bit of a challenge. He was working on it, but right now he was grateful for the company.

They’re almost to the elevator when he sees Steve stiffen slightly and pick up his pace. Bucky slowed just a fraction in response and surreptitiously looked around.

Nothing in front of them but the elevator bank.

Nothing to their left but a wall.

On the right, there was a large glass window into one of the labs. He recognized Thor, who was speaking with two women. The first he recognized from a file photo he’d come across at one point or another - Doctor Jane Foster, Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist. The way she was leaning into Thor shook loose a vague memory of someone mentioning that she was also Thor’s on-again-off-again paramour.

The other woman was facing away from him, but what he could see caused a fierce ache in his chest. Memories long buried threatened to resurface and Bucky thrust his fist into his diaphragm to force himself to keep breathing.

The wave of this woman’s hair was exactly the same as his...Bucky choked, not even able to think the name.

Thor said something Bucky couldn’t hear through the glass, causing the woman to throw back her head and laugh.

Goddammit, she was so similar it burned. She was even wearing a similar dress as the day they met - the day he considered the best of his life.

Steve noticed that Bucky had completely stopped moving and tried to pull him towards the elevator, but it was as though someone had bolted his feet to the floor.

“Buck-”

The woman turned around.

Bucky’s vision went white. It wasn’t possible.

His D...she should be an old woman far from here by now, if she wasn’t already dea-gone. If she wasn’t already gone.

“What is this?” he muttered angrily.

“What is wh -” Steve followed Bucky’s gaze with trepidation and realized what - who - he was looking at. “Buck -”

“WHAT IS THIS?” Bucky roared, loudly enough that the trio heard him on the other side of the supposedly sound-proof glass. All three turned to see the source of the comotion.

Thor nodded in wary acknowledgement of Steve, recognizing that Bucky probably wasn’t in the best state of mind. He stepped to the side, and put himself between the two women and Bucky.

“It’s not her, Buck,” Steve muttered quietly, trying again in vain to pull his friend towards the elevator and away from the lab.

Bucky’s eyes went wild and he grabbed Steve’s shoulders and shoved him backwards, sending him careening into the wall and leaving an impressive dent. “I know it’s her. I can tell it’s her. I will ALWAYS be able to tell.”

Steve raised his hands in a placating gesture, partially to reassure his friend, but mostly to avoid an unexpected appearance by the Winter Soldier. “You’re right. It could be her, but Bucky - she’s got no idea who we are. The first time I met her, she didn’t know me. I don’t know how but she is not your Darcy.”

Bucky stilled for a moment, then turned to look over his shoulder. In the silence, Darcy peered out from around Thor and his heart shattered. His memory might be no better than scrambled eggs some days, but he knew her. He couldn’t forget the best thing that had ever happened to him. He couldn’t forget her. There was concern in Darcy’s eyes, but no recognition. She may as well have just stabbed him in the chest and been done with it.

After everything he’d been through, this was his actual hell.

A high-pitched whine pierced the silence from the lab, reaching Steve and Bucky on the other side of the glass. A moment later and the klaxons were going off, activating safety protocols and locking down the labs.

Bucky rushed towards the lab door but before he could cross the threshold the whine reached a fever pitch and the world exploded.

***

When Bucky finally came to, his head was throbbing. He blinked a few times, the ceiling tiles swimming across his vision. His bedroom didn’t have such an ugly ceiling. What was he doing on the floor somewhere…

As the lab and the explosion came flooding back to his memory, Bucky rolled over and started hauling himself along the floor back to the lab entrance. He’d been blown backwards by the blast and there was an impressive dent in the cement block wall where he’d hit. Everything hurt, he was bloody and dusty and probably needed to shake a bunch of glass out of his hair but none of it mattered until he knew Darcy was alright.

Bucky used the crushed remains of a desk to haul himself to his knees so he could take better stock of the room.

The emergency lights were flickering to life as all but one of the overheads had completely shattered in the blast. The remaining fixture swung precariously from it’s wires. The blast had come from the corner directly behind where Darcy had been standing - she’d been closest. A strangled sound escaped his throat as he dragged himself completely upright to better search for her.

Thor had pulled Jane under him, using his bulk to shield her from the worst of the debris. The two had been thrown across the lab into the opposite corner. Darcy had been close enough to them, she should be nearby.

She should be.

She…

Bucky couldn’t breathe.

Thor looked around and seemed to come to the same conclusion Bucky did. “Sergeant Barnes,” he warned evenly.

Steve finally pulled himself into the lab and looked around at the scorch marks across the walls and ceiling, the blast pattern across the room, Thor and Jane huddled in a corner with Darcy nowhere in sight.

Darcy was gone.

Chapter Text

~*1942*~

“Owwww,” Darcy moaned. Seriously, she was going to have so many words with Jane. She heard footsteps rushing toward her and she cracked open her eyes.

“You alright, doll?” asked an unfamiliar voice.

“Whasit?” she slurred.

“That would be a no. Come on, let’s get you up and maybe you can tell me what a dish like you is doin’ lyin’ in an alley.” He reached to help her up, setting her on her feet and not letting go until she was steady enough to stand on her own. Why the hell was she in an alley? Had the explosion blown out the wall and flung her outside? What the hell was Jane working with these days?

She stared at her feet for a moment trying to get her thoughts and her nausea under control, before finally looking up and meeting the good samaritan's eyes. Holy shit, she knew that face. She’d drawn cartoon hearts around that face in her history books.

That face had been staring back at her just before the explosion.

Her expression must have given her panic away and he chuckled. “That bad?”

She shook her head dumbly and licked her lips, trying not to wince at the lab dust that clung to them.

Okay, Darcy, let’s evaluate. 1. You’re currently outside, when you were most definitely inside when the explosion happened. 2. A decidedly dreamy and less murder-hobo-y James Barnes just picked you up out of a pile of your own drool. 3. He is also wearing different clothes than 60 seconds ago. Like a uniform.

Like his army uniform from the 1940s.

Oh shit.

“Thanks,” she finally forced out.

“James Barnes,” he said, holding out a hand. “My friends call me Bucky,” he added with a wink.

Ohhhh that should be illegal in so many realms. Like all the realms. Frigga help me.

“Darcy,” she replied with a brittle smile, shaking his proffered hand.

“Nice to meet you, Darcy. Are you feeling alright? You took quite the tumble.”

“Oh, I’m good,” she lied. She was most definitely not good, but it’s not like she could tell him that. The confused crinkle in his brow reminded Darcy that “I’m good” probably wasn’t a local colloquialism in 1942. “Fine, I mean. I’m fine. Just a little dizzy.”

“I should walk you home, make sure you get there alright.”

Panic rose in her chest. “No need to put yourself out for me - I’m sure it would be out of your way.” Like way, way out of your way. 76 years out of your way. Holy fucking shit I am in so much trouble.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you go,” he said with a shrug and an easy smile. “My ma would have my hide if she knew I’d let you run off after a fall like that.”

THINK LEWIS. “I’m sure you have somewhere you need to be. Meeting up with a friend maybe?” Darcy glanced around, desperately. She spotted a pretty brunette crossing the street and wondered abscently if her arrival prevented Bucky from meeting the girl he was supposed to take on a date tonight. She’d seen both the Jensen Ackles and the Channing Tatum movies, had read all the books, and eventually heard the true story enough times from Steve - Bucky would meet a girl, ask her on a date, and a disastrous double with Steve would ensue. She tried to control her breathing as every bad movie she’d ever seen about the Butterfly Effect flashed through her brain.

“Well…” Bucky wavered.

Darcy took advantage. “No sense in keeping them waiting, I’m fine!”

He hesitated, but finally nodded. “Tell you what - tonight’s my last night in town. I’m, uh, well I’m leaving for England in the morning. I was going to check out the Stark Expo tonight. Maybe you’d like to join me?”

Darcy’s heart sank. She was 100% positive there was no version of this story she knew that cast someone named “Darcy” as Bucky’s date. And she sure as hell didn’t have a friend for Steve.

“It’ll set my heart at ease, knowin’ you’re alright before I leave town,” Bucky urged with a heart-stopping grin.

“Sure,” her heart replied before her head could think about it any further.

***

Plans for the evening made, Darcy was left with a few hours to panic.

It’s 1942. She did as the all the time-travel movies told her and confirmed it with a newspaper and everything.

She has no way to contact anyone from her time and let them know where she is.

She’s pretty sure she’s already fucked with the timeline - at the very least, Bucky Barnes wasn’t getting laid his last night in New York. Which, really, was a crime in itself.

To be fair, under different circumstances, she’d climb James Barnes like a tree. He’d starred in enough of her fantasies over the years to be given title billing. Hell, she’d been having very explicit thoughts about it when he walked through the lab a few minutes ago, 76 years from now. (Time travel, man. It wreaks havoc on your temporal awareness.) But she’d never been a love ‘em and leave ‘em type, and given her current problems and his future problems, a one-night stand in 1942 before he ships off to war probably wasn’t the best course of action. Her libido might argue, but even she wasn’t going to wade into that madness.

Besides, the fantasy had kept her happily warm at night plenty of times before. Actually meeting the man in his 1940s flirtatious glory wasn’t going to change that anytime soon. In fact, it would probably exacerbate the condition.

But her primary concern at the moment was that she was hungry, tired, covered in lab dust, and had no money to fix any of these problems. She was grateful she’d worn one of her dresses to work that morning - a green, vaguely vintage shirtdress with a buttons down the front and a belt. It was supposed to be a slow day, so she’d esqueued her usual jeans and sweaters for something a little more fun. She marginally blended in. The lack of stockings could become a problem, but not one at the top of her priority list. She thanked her lucky stars she had been wearing her glasses today and not her contacts like she’d originally intended.

She twisted her grandmother’s ring on her right hand in a nervous habit. What the hell was she going to do?

She noticed a pawn shop on the corner and looked down at the ring on her hand.

No way.

She glanced up, looking for a street sign. If she was where she thought she was…

The universe was officially fucking with her. She was standing outside the very pawn shop her grandfather would enter to buy her grandmother’s engagement ring.

Three years from now.

Darcy groaned. Time travel was the worst.

Decision made, she headed inside.

Chapter Text

~*1942*~

Pawn shop money in hand, Darcy had acquired a bed for the foreseeable future, food, and a few other essentials for her hopefully temporary field trip into the past. Now, she was standing outside the Stark Expo, nervously chewing on her thumbnail and wondering what the hell she was doing.

Funnily enough, standing up Bucky Barnes never crossed her mind.

At 7 o’clock on the dot, Bucky arrived at the entrance to the Stark Expo to meet Darcy, a much shorter than she was used to Steve Rogers in tow.

Punctuality should not be this sexy. Get a grip on yourself, Lewis.

“She lives!” Bucky exclaimed with a grin upon spotting her.

“I told you I was fine,” she protested with a matching smile.

“That you did,” he replied. He turned to Steve. “This is my pal, Steve Rogers. Steve meet Darcy.”

Darcy drank in the sight of him. In the few months she’d been around the Avengers facility, Steve Rogers had sought out her company, and they’d become fast friends. She knew about his past of course, had seen the photos of a much smaller Steve, but seeing it in the flesh was something else entirely. Still, even so different, her friend was a sight for sore eyes.

“Nice to meet you,” she said extending her hand with a genuine smile.

He briefly shook her hand and nodded in response.

Bucky had puffed up with pride, although she wasn’t entirely sure why - were girls not normally nice to Steve? He’d mentioned that Bucky had always been the ladykiller, but never said anything about girls being downright rude. Darcy was hit with a violent wave of schadenfreude. Those girls must have kicked themselves from Brooklyn to Delaware and back once the Captain America show hit the road.

“So, Bucky. This is your party. What do you want to see first?” she asked.

He grinned a little sheepishly and held out a flyer. She glanced at it. “Modern Marvels of Tomorrow it is.” She looked up at him through her eyelashes, unable to keep herself from flirting, just a little. He was gorgeous. So sue her. “Lead the way, Sarge.”

Steve huffed out a soft laugh and Bucky looked like he’d be knocked over by the next stiff breeze. Good to know that trick worked in any decade then.

They made their way through the mass of people, Bucky slipping his hand into hers so she couldn’t get separated in the crowd. Just as they found an open spot, the music started and Howard Stark held court over an appallingly cheesy demonstration.

Bucky didn’t seem to notice the cheese though - he was enraptured. Darcy could have sworn she’d heard him mutter at least one “Holy cow.” So Bucky Barnes was a science nerd. Who knew?

She squeezed his hand. “10 cents says he blows a gasket and that car comes crashing down on the stage.”

That was probably pushing her luck just a bit too far, but the stunned look on Bucky’s face when the car actually did come crashing down onto the stage was absolutely worth it. She smirked at him and gave an innocent shrug of one shoulder.

When Steve’s soft laugh reached her ears, she turned to him. “What’s so funny, Chuckles?”

He shook his head at her. “I think you broke him.”

She turned back to Bucky and his stunned expression, then back to Steve with a shrug. “Someone had to.”

Her sass was rewarded with a full-out, face splitting grin.

***

Eventually, after a long stroll through the exhibits, Steve wandered off. She knew that he was headed for the recruitment center, on his way to history, so she pretended not to notice. She did gently try to point Bucky in that direction though. Those two were on a collision course with fate, and it broke her heart to think about what was waiting for them.

When Bucky finally entered the office to say goodbye to Steve, she hung back, letting the two friends have this last moment of peace. Steve gave her a small wave and she gave him her biggest, most encouraging smile while she drank in her last sight of him.

When Bucky returned to her, he seemed a little off balance, but was trying to put a good face on it.

She grabbed his hand and tried to give him a winning smile. “It’s still your party, Sarge. Anything else you’d like to see?”

He tilted his head towards her. “I could take you dancing.”

Darcy laughed. “I’d only disappoint you. And probably break your foot.”

He led them towards the exit of the Expo and out to the sidewalk. “You and Stevie are made for each other then.”

“Nah,” she said, thinking of the Steve she knew in her time. “I’m pretty sure the only thing I’d do to his big heart is break it.”

He stared at her, his gaze turning intense. “Guess you’re stuck with me then.”

She squeezed his hand and smiled again. “I could be amenable to that.” Oh boy could I. I’m in so much trouble.

“Amenable, huh?” his grin was back in full force and she was reveling in it.

“So, where are you taking me now? I could continue to ramble on about how none of those exhibits back there are actually going to work,” she teased. Sure, she was telling the truth about all of them, but he thought she was joking and it wasn’t like she was handing over detailed schematics - that won’t break the universe, right?

“I don’t know where you get your ideas,” he grinned, “but I love them.”

“It’s a gift.”

“Well,” he began, a mischievous smirk sliding across his face as they slowed their pace to a stop underneath a streetlamp so he could face her, “you claim this is my party.”

“That I do.”

“But you won’t dance with me.”

“Not won’t. Can’t,” she corrected.

“I don’t know, doll, I think you’re holdin’ out on me.”

“Nope. It’s a fact. I cannot dance.” Darcy didn’t mention that she had zero idea what Bucky Barnes would even consider dancing. She doubted the random dance parties she and Jane threw in the lab would count. And was the Lindy Hop even a thing or had Barton been trolling her?

Time travel sucks.

“I could teach you,” he offered, holding out one hand.

She hesitated. “You try to charm all the girls this way?”

“Yes.”

“Does it ever work?”

Bucky had the good grace to look a little abashed at that. “Sometimes,” he muttered.

“And here I thought I was special,” she teased, taking his hand and stepping forward.

He began to lead them in some type of organized movement that Darcy would never be able to replicate or identify. “Now you’re just lookin’ for a compliment.”

She laughed. “I’ll take any compliment you want to give me. But maybe I just want to hear something true.”

Bucky’s movements slowed until they were only just swaying in the light of the streetlamp. “You fallin’ out of the sky was the best thing that could’ve happened to me today,” he replied seriously.

Darcy swallowed hard. This morning, Bucky Barnes had been a face in her history book. Bucky Barnes was only ever supposed to be a face in her history book. She wasn’t meant to ever meet him like this. Flirting was all well and good but actually falling for someone when you knew their fate was astronomically stupid.

But Bucky Barnes seemed determined to win her affection and her heart had always ruled her head. “You picking me up when I fell was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

“Yeah?” he asked, a little wistful.

“Yeah.”

They’d stopped moving entirely now and Bucky pulled her just a fraction closer. “Did you have to show up the night before I ship out? Couldn’t have been wanderin’ around the neighborhood a few years ago?”

She let out a shaky laugh. “Sorry, I’m new in town.”

Understatement of the century, Lewis.

Her weak joke broke the spell they were under and Bucky released her. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to show you all the sights tonight then.”

They walk for hours.

Every time the conversation slowed, or she thought of how damn bad her feet hurt in the stupid shoes she was wearing, she would launch right back in with an absurd observation or joke or anything to make him smile. Anything to stop thinking about where he’s going in the morning and what happens then. He can give as good as he gets and she’s not sure she’s ever laughed so much in her entire life.

He can’t stop touching her. Sometimes it’s a steady hand gently placed at the small of her back or other times their hands are joined and slightly swinging, fingers intertwined and his thumb carefully tracing a line across the back of her hand. She’s his anchor to this night as much as he’s hers and she cursed every moment that brought them closer to the end of it.

All too soon the sun has come up and they’re standing outside the women’s apartments where she’d found a room the previous afternoon.

Bucky bounced on his feet, looking a little nervous as he pulls a slip of paper from his pocket.

“Don’t think you could be persuaded to write to me at all, do you? When you have the time?”

He held it out to her and she pretended she didn’t see it tremble. She took it from him, covering his fingers with hers.

“I could write. Once or twice,” she teased with a smile.

“It would sure be a nice surprise to hear my name called when the mail comes and it be a letter from you,” he replied seriously, not taking her bait.

Jane could show up with a rescue at any moment, but she’d kidnap Odin’s damn ravens herself to get him a letter if she had to. She’d steal a TARDIS or whatever the hell SHIELD was cooking up in the labs they pretended not to have anymore and get him a goddamn letter. If she thought she could save him without breaking the universe, in this moment, she’d do it.

She might even break the universe. If she had to.

“Then I hope you like surprises,” was her only reply.

“Yeah?”

She nods.

“Okay then.” He pulled back his hand and quickly stuffed it into his pocket. He held her gaze for a long moment. “It’s not goodbye,” he smiled as he turned to go, “it’s see you soon.”

Darcy felt panic rise in her chest. This was it - she knew what was coming for him and she couldn’t do a damn thing about it. The universe was not fair.

Fuck the universe.

“Wait!”

He spun around towards her just in time to catch her as she threw herself into his arms and covered his mouth with hers. He responded with immediate enthusiasm as she threaded her fingers through his hair and Darcy was sure she’d never had a better kiss in her life.

When they finally pulled apart, Bucky stared at her with a dazed expression. “Now I have every incentive to go win this war as quickly as possible,” he whispered as he set her back on her feet.

She laughed, trying to hold back tears, but one slipped down her cheek anyway. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispered.

He cupped her face with one hand, pulled her against his chest with the other, and gave her one long, hard kiss, followed by one more soft, lingering kiss. Then he released her, grabbed his hat from where it had fallen on the ground, and was gone.

Chapter Text

~*2018*~

“WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?”

“Sergeant Barnes, if you cannot hold your temper-”

“He’s right,” Jane interrupted, annoyance flattening her tone. “This shouldn’t have happened. There’s no reason why the particle accelerator would go off like this - we weren’t even running anything today.”

“You have checked the machine?” Thor asked.

Jane nodded grimly. “It’s like it pointed itself at the nearest anomaly and turned itself on.”

Thor looked thoughtful for a moment, but didn’t say anything further.

It took all of Bucky’s willpower - and maybe a bit of Steve’s steadying hand on his shoulder - to keep from ripping what was left of the lab apart in frustration.

Tony Stark strolled into the remains of the lab. “What the hell did I say about blowing up my stuff, Doc?” He sobered and handed her a tablet. “Readings are off the charts,” he continued. “Any thoughts?”

“Shit,” she muttered, her eyes flying over the results Tony handed her. “It’s a temporal rift.”

Tony hung his head while Thor took one step back to give Jane an appraising look.

“Temporal rift? Like a…” Steve prompted.

“Time travel. Basically, a temporal rift is a doorway to another time. It’s theoretically impossible, but that doesn’t seem to matter much these days.” Jane still hadn’t looked up from the results.

Bucky leaned forward against the table to bring himself eye level with Jane. “Is she alive?” he asked evenly.

Jane met his eyes and nodded. “I think so.”

Bucky released the breath he’d been holding and felt a tiny bit of the pressure in his chest release.

“So, we just have to figure out...when...she ended up,” Steve surmised.

“Yeah, because all of history is a much smaller haystack than all of the multiverse,” Tony replied, his sarcasm covering his concern.

“Darcy’s smart, she’ll find a way to let us know,” Bucky argued.

“And if she’s in the future? What then?” Tony replied.

“Darcy will find a way,” Bucky said firmly.

“How do you even know Darcy?” Jane asked in confusion and Bucky tried not to wince at the pain her words caused.

“Guys,” Steve interrupted. “We know where she is.” Everyone turned to look at him in confusion. He nodded at Bucky. “You told me you first met Darcy when she ‘fell out of the sky.’ Did you mean literally?” Steve asked.

Bucky nodded. “One minute nothing, the next a loud bang, and there she was.”

Steve looked at Jane. “We knew her. In 1942.”

Bucky inhaled sharply as comprehension dawned.

Jane’s jaw dropped as she stared at Steve. “And in all the time you two have been hanging out - you never said anything to her?”

Steve shrugged. “She didn’t seem to remember me. I’d tell her stories, thinking maybe something would jog her memory, but.” He shook his head. “Now I guess I know why. She hadn’t lived it yet.”

Bucky almost sagged to the ground in relief. Darcy was alive. They knew where she was and she was alive.

And he hadn’t been wrong - he had known her. It was his Darcy standing in this very lab. It had just been before she’d actually been his Darcy.

He closed his eyes and allowed himself to think back on those days for the first time in years. Her inadvertent trip to the past explained so much. Why things had happened the way they had. She’d known what was coming and she loved him anyway, assuming there could be no happy ending.

Fuck that.

He lost her once and barely survived. Nothing was going to stop him from going to get his girl this time. And if she’d let him, he’d never let her go.

Bucky opened his eyes and found Tony staring at him while Steve and Jane were hunched over a computer and while Jane furiously typed into it.

“I need a date.”

“Darcy showed up the day before Bucky shipped out, so you’ll need to pull up the charts for 1942-”

“No,” Bucky interrupted.

“What?” Steve and Jane said in unison.

“She wasn’t just there one day. I have memories of her through the end of 1943.”

“Shit,” Steve muttered. “He’s right.”

Jane looked at them, appalled. “We can’t just leave her there,” she said incredulously.

Bucky rounded the table and towered over her briefly, trying to control his breathing to get his temper in check, but his scowl was screaming murderous intent before Steve pushed him back and put himself between Bucky and Jane.

“Sergeant Barnes is right,” Thor said. “If he has memories of Darcy, we cannot remove her from the timeline. The damage to the realms could be incalculable.”

“I will not leave her alone, decades in the past, for MONTHS!” Jane was furious now.

“Funny thing,” Tony said, cutting through the tension and making a gesture with his hand to move whatever was on the screen in front of him to the large screen looking over the lab. “I don’t think she was on her own.”

Steve skimmed through the file on display and chuckled. “Did you know about this?” he asked Bucky.

“I didn’t know the details,” Bucky muttered as he skimmed through the file himself.

“Damn. Smart girl,” Tony said, his keen eyes sizing up Bucky.

Jane sighed in resignation. “Okay. So she’s not just in your memory, she’s splashed herself all over,” Jane gestured towards the screen, “this.”

“She sent up a flare so we’d know when to look for her,” Steve mused.

“When was the last time either of you saw her?” Jane pulled up a new star chart and began to scribble down new calculations.

Bucky stood frozen, his chest constricting with the pain of remembering the last time he saw Darcy.

Steve clearly remembered as well. He closed his eyes and hung his head, before rattling off the date to Jane.

“London,” Bucky whispered, frozen in place.

Steve met his friend’s eyes. “London,” he repeated quietly.

Jane’s eyes flicked between the two men, but didn’t say anything further.

It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

~*1942*~

Darcy paced her tiny room, considering her options. No one had shown up to bring her back to 2018 yet, so there were a few things to consider.

  1. Jane may have no idea what happened to her. Sure, she’d met up with Steve and Bucky here in 1942, and they were both in the lab when it went all explode-y, but had they connected the dots with Jane? She might need to do a bit more to send up the proverbial flare identifying just when she landed - and that she was alive at all.
  2. The money she’d gotten from pawning her ring wasn’t going to last forever. If she was truly going to be stuck here for awhile, she was going to need a job. What skills did she have that would translate to 1940s professions? Netflix and texting weren’t going to cut it.
  3. It was entirely possible that she was the only one to survive the explosion, and no help is coming.

Best not to think about door number 3.

She picked up the newspaper she’d snagged that morning. She skimmed the headlines, skipping everything about Europe and battlefields and US troop involvement. When she made her way down the page to the write up on the Stark Expo, inspiration struck. A job with Howard Stark would get her name in Tony’s system - JARVIS would pick up on that, right? And in the meantime, she’d keep a roof over her head. And Howard Stark was a smart man - she may need him before this fun excursion was over.

Decision made, Darcy grabbed the first letter she’d written for Bucky headed out the door to go search for a post box and a crazy scientist. Brilliant futurist. Unabashed womanizer.

Whichever one got her the job.

***

“Coffee?” she smiled sweetly at the absolute hamster of a man at the conference table.

“Thanks sweetheart,” he replied, speaking to her chest instead of her face.

It was only the thought of potentially needing a favor from Howard Stark in the near future that prevented her from dumping the entire pot of scalding hot coffee over Stark’s chief financial advisor’s head.

She moved on to the next rodent-faced sycophant and on down the table, all the while mentally cursing the 1940s and whatever the hell was taking Jane so long to get her out of here.

***

A few weeks later and Darcy trudged home after a long day of biting her tongue at the casual misogyny thrown around her office as she delivered coffee to the asshats surrounding Stark. She was pleasantly surprised to find that Stark himself wasn’t actually that bad - for as often as she saw him. He was in England more often than not, but Darcy was determined to make herself useful to him in case she needed his help later.

If this little field trip of hers lasted.

Ugh. Seriously, Jane, where are you?

She opened the door to her room and dropped her handbag onto the chair as she made her way over to the little record player she’d splurged on. She set the needle and the first chords of “If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)” softly wound through the room. The jazz standard was growing on her and had become a frequent listen when she was at home.

Oh what she would do for her iPod.

Darcy turned to grab a change of clothes when she noticed a letter that had been slipped under her door.

With a War Office mark.

She snatched the letter off the floor and only just stopped herself from shredding the already mangled envelope in her haste to get to the contents.

Darcy forced herself to stop and take a deep breath, admiring all of the postmarks and redirects stamped all over the envelope. Only when she’d gotten her breathing under control did she carefully pick open the envelope and unfold the delicate paper to reveal Bucky’s handwriting.

Dear Darcy,

First mail call since I arrived and I have a letter from my favorite girl? You have made me very unpopular with all the boys here waiting on word from home.

We’re set up alright out here. The coffee is always decent and the food is usually hot. Beyond that, the only thing I have to complain about is the lack of your company, so your letter is a very welcome surprise.

You did promise me a surprise, after all. Guess I’m just happy you followed through.

Forget what I just wrote. I don’t want you to think I’m thinking badly of you or that I expected anything. You leave me speechless and stuttering, that’s all. Forgive me?

It took a month for your letter to get into my hands but I’ve barely thought of anything except you in that time. Is it too much to hope that you’ll allow this lonely soldier to daydream about the kiss you might give him when he comes home to you?

If that’s asking too much, you tell me and I’ll stow it away. Tell me I’m an ass, burn this letter, and we’ll never speak of it again. Don’t tell me anything you don’t feel just because I’m away. Let me go quietly. But I’ll be honest here, Darcy. Our one night wandering the city was the best night of my life. Maybe that’s just me being romantic, but that’s the way I feel. I’m hoping you do too.

I hope this letter finds you well. And maybe, with a little time to spare sometime soon to write me again.

Yours,
Bucky

Darcy read through the letter three times before the tears spilled out of her eyes. That damn charmer. She couldn’t promise him anything - Jane could come up with a way to get her home any minute.

And she knew that Bucky wasn’t actually ever coming home. Not the way he expected anyway.

Not the way she was beginning to want him to.

Best get over that feeling quick. Darcy reminded herself that she was going back to 2018 sooner rather than later and the Bucky Barnes in 2018 didn’t know her.

Right? Goddamn time travel.

Darcy groaned and tried to get her thoughts under control. It took an hour but she finally had calmed down enough to put pen to paper and write her reply.

Dear Bucky,

I’m your favorite girl, huh? I’ll take that title. Not entirely sure I’ve earned it just yet, but I’m not opposed to wearing it until I do. I’m not sorry I’ve made you unpopular with the boys. In fact, I’m tempted to write you far more often, if only to needle the others whenever your name is called for the mail.

I’ll try to write as often as I can, although if it took a month for my letter to reach you, I’m not sure we have any hope of sustaining much of an actual conversation. Good thing I’ve always had a talent for carrying on a conversation alone. And my mother always told me my chatty nature was a bad thing.

I’ll warn you - I’m not all that accustomed to letter writing and I might be a bit overeager. I received your letter an hour ago and this response will be in the post by morning. Promise me you’ll let me know when you get tired of me?

Feel free to daydream about anything you like - I promise you, the feeling is mutual. The daydreams will be, too.

Be safe. I’ll see you soon.

Love,
Darcy

Chapter Text

~*2018*~

Jane pushed her hair back out of her face and sighed. Her latest calculations were running and she didn’t have much to do until the computer returned the information she needed.

Normally, this is when Darcy would call for a random dance party. She blast crazy music and they’d hop around the lab for a few minutes to get their blood flowing again. If it looked like the computer was going to take awhile, Darcy would declare a snack break and make sure everyone ate something and got out of the lab for at least 15 minutes. (“Sunshine and fresh air are very important for every little scientist, Jane!”)

It wasn’t just the mothering that Jane missed. Darcy brought a lightness to the lab. Back in the days when her peers dismissed Jane’s ideas as crackpot theories, Darcy helped make science fun again. Her constant support and faith in Jane were just as big contributors to her scientific success as Thor dropping out of the sky.

Jane missed her friend.

A knock on the doorframe startled her out of her reverie. “Hey Doc.”

“Captain,” Jane replied, shuffling a few papers around the table trying to clear a space for him to sit down.

“Steve, please.”

“Then you best start calling me Jane,” she replied with a smile.

“Jane.” Steve smiled and pulled up a chair. “How are you doing?”

“Well, the latest calculation -”

“No. How are you doing? Darcy is your friend, right? This can’t be easy.”

She pursed her lips and looked away. “I miss her,” she muttered. “There’s so much going on and I just don’t have the mental capacity to process it all. I’m upset at what happened and I’m surprised as hell about whatever she and Bucky have going on across, you know, decades. But there’s so much data to parse through and I have a million ideas and it only takes one to go wrong for all of this to blow up in our faces. And…” she trailed off for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “And what if we can’t get her back?”

“We will.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know we won’t stop.”

Jane sighed and looked at him. “You mean Bucky won’t stop.”

“All of us.”

Jane hesitated a moment. “You really knew her? Back then?” she asked quietly.

“I did. Not well - we met a few times. I played third wheel on her date with Bucky - probably the night she got there,” he replied with a fond smile. “She was nice to me when not very many girls were.”

Jane smiled at that. “This is crazy. My best friend and your best friend had an epic love affair over 70 years ago because one of them was accidentally thrown back in time.”

Steve sat back in his chair, he grin growing. “Is it crazier than anything else that’s happened over the last few years?”

“Kind of.” They both laughed as the computer beeped with it’s completed calculations. Bucky strolled in, bags of food in hand.

“Eat,” he said to Jane. “You should probably stretch your legs for a few minutes, too. You’ve been in here for almost six hours without a break. Everyone needs fresh air.”

She raised her eyebrows at him, then glanced at Steve before looking back at Bucky and nodding. “Thanks,” she said.

Bucky nodded at her, then left the lab, more bags of food in hand, presumably for Tony or himself.

“Huh,” Jane said, staring at the door Bucky just exited.

“What?” Steve asked.

“That was a very Darcy-like thing to do.”

“What, the food?”

“The mother-hen act.”

Steve chuckled. “He’s always been that way. Did it for his sisters, does it for me, looks like you’ve been added to the list now, too.”

Jane smiled at him and offered him a baby carrot from her bag.

He took one and considered it. “She wrote to me, you know.” Steve admitted. “A few times during the war. Only time my name was ever called for the mail. I always wondered how she knew where to find me. Guess now I know,” he smiled sadly, then crunched down on the carrot.

“She’s good like that.”

“She’s good people,” Steve agreed. “And that’s why we’re going to get her back.” He smiled and motioned towards the computer. “I’ll let you get back to it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” She nodded and Steve turned to leave.

“Hey Steve,” Jane called. He stopped in the doorway, turned back to her, and raised an eyebrow in response.

“If we can’t get Darcy back-”

“We will. I already asked Tony to check - Darcy Lewis disappears from 1943 and is never heard from again...until she’s born 1988.”

“Okay, yes, but if the worst happens. If we’re wrong. I’m going to lose it entirely, I already know that.” She drew in a deep breath. “Will your friend be okay?”

Steve stared at her for a long moment and then sighed. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

~*1942*~
Dear Darcy,
Write as many letters as you damn well please. I will never get tired of you.

Finally heard from my sister this week - did I mention I have three sisters? I’m the oldest of all us kids, but Rebecca’s next, then Mary, and Katie’s the baby. Rebecca looks after all of us though - she even taught me to sew, so I wouldn’t have to tolerate any holes or worn patches in my shirts.

She also taught me this great trick - if you fold over the fabric just right, you can stitch up a handy hidden pocket just inside the seam. It’s a perfect spot to carry things you’d like to keep close.

I’ve got one in every shirt now. That’s where I’ve been keeping your letters.

***

Dear Bucky,
Your sister sounds pretty amazing. When you get home you’ll have to introduce us.

Would it be terrible to admit I’m a little envious of your sisters? I don’t have any family. Well, there was my grandmother, but she’s gone now. I’m on my own.

***

Dear Darcy,
You’re not on your own.

And until I can get home to you, maybe you could look out for Steve? I haven’t heard from him and I’m starting to get a little worried. Trouble doesn’t find him - he goes looking for it, I swear.

***

Dear Bucky,
I haven’t seen him - but there is this new fella on the scene who looks a lot like him. They’re calling him Captain America. Maybe they finally found a way to contain all that righteous fight Steve’s got burning inside.

***

Dear Darcy,
I feel like I need to come clean about something. I lied to you. Technically, I lied to Steve, but you were there and so I lied to you, too.

I didn’t enlist. I was drafted. Steve’s got this idea in his head that the only way to help in the fight is to come over here and get himself killed. Like the only worthwhile use of his life is to exchange it for someone else’s.

I never wanted to be here. I know the fight is important, that we’re doing the right thing. But I don’t want to hurt anybody. Somehow I ended up in the very last place I ever wanted anyway.

I don’t know where you get your ideas, but I sure do love them. They give me hope.

You give me hope, Darcy.

***

Dear Bucky,
Have I mentioned recently that you’re my hero? You’re doing what’s right, even though it scares you. Even though it’s the exact opposite of what you want. Your secret is safe with me, Sarge. Every bit of you is always safe with me.

And don’t you forget - I’ve got your New Years kiss waiting for you. So get home to me soon, okay?

***

Dear Darcy,
If it were up to me, I’d be there with you tomorrow. I’d be there today, right this very minute.

The only thing that I might like a little bit better here is how many stars you can see at night. I’ve never seen a sky like this in the city.

Maybe one day, when the world has regained its senses, you and me can come back here and I can show you.

***

Dear Bucky,
You want to go stargazing through Europe with me? Sold. Sign me up. I volunteer.

Until then, I’ve included a drawing of something to look for when you’re looking up at the sky. It’s the constellation Cassiopeia - it should be visible to both you and I for the next few weeks at least.

And when you look for it - know that I’m looking for it, too.

***

Dear Darcy,
Cassiopeia is my new favorite constellation.

I would say it’s my favorite sight these days, but in your last letter you also happened to enclose a photo of yourself. There’s no competing with that.

At least until I can see you in person again.

Honestly, your photo is the last thing I look at before I go to sleep and the first thing I look for in the morning.

Would it be too bold to say I’m practicing for the day it won’t be just a photo of you that I’m looking at?

***

Dear Bucky,
Have I mentioned I got a job working for Howard Stark? My official title is “personal assistant” but that’s just a fancy way of saying I fetch the coffee for him and some of the other big-wigs. I also might have clued him in to a scheme his chief financial officer was running to sell Stark’s inventions to his competitors while also embezzling a percentage of Stark’s profits.

He keeps telling me he’s going to promote me, but I’m sure he’s full of it.

To answer your question - no, it’s not too bold to say you’re practicing. I’ve told you before, daydream about anything you like. I promise you, the feeling is mutual.

***

Dear Darcy,
You’re working for Howard Stark and you’re tossing his board members out on their asses? They never knew what hit them, did they?

I can’t say any of this surprises me though. My girl is going to change the world and I can’t wait to be there to see what she makes of it.

(Also, I promise this is the last time I will mention how much I love your photo.)

You’re too good for a guy like me.

You really are too good to be true.

You really are too good to me.

Yours. Always.
Bucky

Chapter Text

~*1943, New York City*~

Weeks of letters back and forth, and every single one wedged Bucky a little more firmly into Darcy’s heart. Pages and pages of letters in his elegant handwriting, charm oozing through the paper, fear coloring the spaces between the lines. She reread his latest letter with a sigh.

My dearest Darcy,

With everything going on in the world, it’s good to be reminded you exist. Every letter you send is proof that something good still exists outside my own head. Even if some of the guys love to give me shit for it. Apparently, I look like a bit of a sap when your letters arrive. I won’t bore you with the details there - I’m still trying to impress you, after all. I maintain that they’re just jealous. But still, it is nice, at the end of the day, to know what I’m doing this all for - the promise of you. We’re in this together, yeah? You and me. If I’m being honest, “you” and “I” changed to “us” and “we” in my head a long time ago. I hope that’s okay by you.

I was doing okay, you know, before you dropped into my life. Now every spare waking moment is consumed by thoughts of you. I may not be able to write you every day, but I do think of you every hour. You’ve broken through my every defense and now I mark down the days, trying to imagine when your next letter might arrive.

Think you might be up for a promotion? Say from favorite girl to best girl? Who knows, maybe one day, you’ll even make sweetheart. You have my ear, you may as well take my heart, too.

You call me your hero in your letters, when really you should know that you are mine. You save me from the madness that I see out here. You remind me that I’m not alone. So in return, every day I’m trying to be the man you already seem to think I am. I hope, one day, when we’re together again, it’ll be enough.

Yours always,
Bucky

He had been different in his most recent letters - a little more desperate, a smidge more emotive. In this latest letter he was talking about a future - their future. Was he just tired and scared now? Or was he longing to be near her the way she longed to be near him? She wanted the latter but knew it was a fool's errand - there was nothing but pain down the road she was already traveling.

She decided the reason didn’t matter as she freshened her lipstick slightly before finishing her letter with her signature and leaving a kiss next to her name, as she’d done with every letter since New Years Eve. She’d racked her brain for every scrap of history Steve had ever told her, but she was petrified of writing any of it down for her own reference. If someone saw it? She’d be locked up in a padded room with her very own straight jacket for starters. And if someone actually figured out what it was? The consequences were too terrible to imagine. She knew HYDRA was already in New York - and for all she knew they could be the least of her problems if anyone figured out who she really was and where she really came from.

So, she had to rely on her memory. If her history was correct, they were getting seriously close to when Bucky’s unit would be captured in Azzano by HYDRA and she never knew which letter would be the last he’d receive. Her soul had been poured into every single one, just in case.

Dear Bucky,

I’ll take that promotion. I’ll take that promotion any damn day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I will also accept any variation on “we” and “us” you can muster because you’re right - you and me are in this together. You’re not alone in how you’re spending your time - my thoughts are always, always, always with you. Even though I can’t be.

I’ve already promised that every bit of you is safe with me. That goes double for your heart. I’ll even give you mine in return, because I know you’ll keep it safe.

And please know - you, Bucky Barnes, are always enough.

Come home to me, handsome. I love you.

Yours,
Darcy

It was monumentally stupid, falling for him. She knew that. There was zero chance of a happy ending for either of them. And when she got back to 2018, the chances of him remembering her were approximately zero. If he had remembered her - shouldn’t he have come to find her the moment he showed up at the Tower? Sure, she would have been confused as hell and probably made a mess of it but why else would the first time she ever see him in person be when he was randomly wandering through the lab? No. The only thing she was doing was facilitating her own heartbreak.

Her fingers ghosted over her own words again. Love is not a choice.

She sealed up the letter and tucked it into her bag. She could drop it in the box on her way to work.

***

~*1943, somewhere in the Austrian Alps*~
Bucky closed his eyes and tried desperately to sleep, but conditions in the cell weren’t exactly conducive to rest. He was freezing, laying halfway on the floor and halfway on top of three other people, who were coughing, shivering, sweating, or some combination thereof. Their captors would probably only give them about two hours rest this time, and he knew that with the fever he was pretty sure he was running, he wasn’t going to last much longer.

Of everything he’d imagined, he never thought he’d go out like this.

He put a hand over the hidden pocket Rebecca had shown him how to sew into his shirts. It was the perfect size to carry a few letters from Darcy he could not bear to part with and he sent a silent prayer that Rebecca knew how much he appreciated everything she’d ever done for him. He was her big brother but she’d always been the one to take care of him.

And Darcy. He whispered a second prayer in his mind that she knew how desperately he adored her. That she somehow knew how the thought of her was the only thing keeping him going. And that when he was gone, his only regret would be that he wouldn’t be there to make good on all the plans they’d made, but he would never ever leave her again. He’d watch over her through the end of her days.

And if whatever higher power existed saw fit to reunite them after that, mores the better.

A single tear dropped from his eye and trailed down his cheek before he swallowed hard and tried to pull himself together. He knew he was already dehydrated - tears were a waste at this point.

He focused on thoughts of Darcy. The thought of her teasing smile brought a sort of peace to his heart and he felt himself drift a little further towards sleep. Maybe he could eek out 90 minutes and hold death at bay for one more day.

Someone coughed and he was fully awake again.

“Hey Jones,” he muttered to the man next to him.

“Yeah.”

He pulled the small roll of letters from his pocket. These were the only things he had of her that survived. Any letter he couldn’t carry he had burned, to keep the details of her life that she chose to share and their conversations between the two of them alone. He pulled her photo from the roll and gazed at it for a long moment, wishing for things to be different. He then put the bundle back together, and held it close one more time before handing it to the other man. “Hang onto these for me, huh? Maybe...get them to my girl. Let her know…”

“I can do that, Barnes. No problem.”

Bucky’s eyes fluttered closed again and he desperately hoped he would dream of Darcy.

Chapter Text

~*2018*~
Steve’s leg bounced with nervous energy and Bucky was about ready to rip it off and beat him with it.

They sat on the roof of the Tower, waiting for Jane to yell out the next batch of instructions that involved moving heavy equipment. Any other directions she gave weren’t directed at them. Bucky watched Jane intently, as though he could absorb all the science going on around them by osmosis.

“So we’re building a time machine,” Steve said flatly.

“Uh huh.” Bucky replied distractedly.

“You ever think this would be our life?”

Bucky looked at his friend, who studiously stared out over the city. “Probably not. But I stopped asking myself that question around the time you put yourself in an Easy Bake Oven and grew a foot taller.” It was a joke, sort of, and a poor one, and his flat delivery proved he knew it.

Steve ignored him. “What if,” he stopped and paused and Bucky patiently waited him out. He knew what it was like to not be able to get the words out.

“What if,” Steve started more assuredly, “we get this thing working, and we go back.”

“I thought that was the point - go back, grab Darcy, and-”

“No, Buck,” Steve interrupted softly. “Just - what if we go back.”

Bucky was silent for a minute. “You want to go back to 1943 and stay there?”

“I think I might want a chance at the life I would have had.”

“You’re thinkin’ ‘bout Agent Carter?”

Steve sighed. “It’s not just her, but. Yeah.”

Bucky was silent. He thought about his sisters, how Rebecca had to look after everyone after he was gone. How he’d never gotten to see what they’d done with their lives. Sure, he could read the file, but it wasn’t the same as being there. He thought about the plans he’d had for himself - or lack thereof. He’d always thought he had time, that he could live in the moment and figure it all out later. The only concrete thing he had ever imagined for himself was after he’d met Darcy - and then it was the whole shebang. Wife, house, kids, block parties, and vacations at the shore. The only problem they would have ever had would remembering whose turn it was to wash the dishes. (Always his, no matter how much she argued.) His chest burned with how bad he had wanted it - how much he still wanted it.

He thought about how much simpler everything was then, with no alien gods or giant green rage monsters or robots powered by magic stones.

Yeah, going back for good sounded really nice.

But Darcy didn’t belong in the 1940s and he didn’t want any time, any where that didn’t include her.

“No. I wouldn’t go back.”

“You could ask Darcy to stay. She fit in 1943, no one ever suspected-”

“That she traveled back in time from 2018? Not everyone lives in the insane world we do.” Bucky grinned wryly and shook his head. “Darcy belongs in the 21st century. And I belong to Darcy. I’m bringing her home.”

“Okay Buck. Okay.” He was silent for a long time. “After London, you...you weren’t in the best place,” Steve said slowly, choosing his words carefully. “It was...it was really bad, Buck.”

“I was there.”

“We could pick a different date. We could try to save you some of that pain.”

“London has to happen,” he replied simply. “I remember it, you remember it, so Thor and the Doc agree that we have to let it happen. No matter what.”

“Yeah, but,” Steve shrugged, “there are other days, Buck. We could shoot for the next morning, or a week later - anytime after that night, really. Anything so that it wouldn’t just be-”

“We’d have no idea how to find her,” Bucky interrupted. “I looked for her, remember? Tried to prove to myself that it wasn’t -“ he stopped, unable to even say it out loud. Unable to think it. He took a deep breath and started again. “We know where she’s going to be the last night we saw her. After that, she could be anywhere and we’d have no way to know.” He shook his head. “We only get one shot at this. I’m not going to take the chance that we try and change things and miss, leaving her stranded. Or worse. No.” He shook his head again. “No, I can take it.”

“That’s leaving a pretty thin margin of error, Buck. After the pub-”

“I can do it.”

“It wasn’t just-”

“I won’t risk it,” he replied, with finality.

Steve nodded. They were quiet again for a while after that, until Steve clapped a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “I have something for you.”

Bucky followed Steve back inside to Steve’s apartment, where he dug a thick Manila envelope out of his desk and handed it over.

“Gabe’s grandson gave these to me when I first came out of the ice. Guess his family had been holding on to them for awhile.”

Bucky swallowed hard and looked inside the envelope, already knowing what he’d find. Tied up in a small bundle, were his letters from Darcy.

He pulled out the bundle and let the envelope fall to the floor. He opened the first letter in the stack and took a deep breath.

Even after 70 years, it still smelled like her perfume.

Chapter Text

~*1943, New York City*~

When times were stressful, Darcy cleaned. She didn’t have much to scrub these days, but every inch of her room was currently spotless.

After a few weeks of no word from Bucky, the only conclusion Darcy could draw was that the first of the moments she had been dreading had finally come to pass. Between this realization and wondering if anyone had been left alive in 2018 to send a rescue, it was a miracle she hadn’t scrubbed completely through the floor and into the apartment below.

An incessant pounding on her door put a temporary halt on Darcy’s only partially irrational hatred of the Alps and her assault on the dust bunnies under her bed while she went to answer the door.

She threw it open to find a petite brunette with very familiar eyes and a nervous expression.

“I’m lookin’ for a Miss Darcy Lewis.”

Darcy swallowed hard. “That’s me.”

The girl ran her eyes over Darcy. “Oh wow. Jimmy didn’t say you were so fancy.”

Darcy blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

Tears filled the girl’s eyes. “He asked me, a long time ago. If somethin’ happened to him, if I could come see you.” She held up a telegram as the first tear spilled. “Somethin’....”

Darcy’s breath stuttered. “Come in, come in.” She ushered the girl inside. “Want some tea?” she asked as she settled the girl into a chair. She nodded and Darcy busied herself at the hot plate.

“I’m sorry,” the girl muttered. “You’re bein’ so nice and I ain’t even introduced myself. I’m Jimmy’s sister, Rebecca.”

Darcy smiled at her. “Nice to meet you. Bucky’s told me a lot about you.”

“Yeah?” Rebecca smiled.

“That bit with the pocket for his shirts was genius.”

Rebecca preens slightly under the praise. “He said you were nice. Never mentioned how fancy you are though.” She looked around nervously.

Darcy raised an eyebrow. She’d been called many things, but fancy had never been one of them and this girl had done it twice in less than five minutes.

“Nice place like this, pretty clothes, fancy job. What’re you doin’ with a guy like Jimmy anyway?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Darcy handed Rebecca her cup of tea and sat across from her.

Rebecca shrugged and stared into her tea. “Girls always want somethin’ from Jimmy. He’s a flirt, sure, but he’s always taken care of us and girls want to take advantage. ‘Slike they know he’s a good guy and they all want a piece of him. They know he’s dependable, and he’s not gonna spend the rent money on cards or booze, and he’s not gonna knock ‘em around, so they go for him. Even when they don’t like him that much. He always plays along but.” She shrugged. “It’s sad to watch.” She shook her head. “He’s different about you though. ‘Slike...all that other stuff never happened. You the real deal?” She picked up the telegram and held it out to Darcy. “Because he asked me to come find you if somethin’ ever happened. So he seems to think you’re somethin’ special.”

Darcy swallowed hard, a lump forming in her throat. “I think he’s pretty special, too,” she replied softly. She took the telegram and pretended that her hands weren’t shaking.

“He taught me to punch, you know. He’s a three-time welterweight champ, and I ain’t afraid to punch Howard Stark’s assistant if she’s just stringing my big brother along.”

Darcy grinned. She kind of loved Rebecca Barnes already. “Let me show you something.” She reached around and grabbed her handbag from the end table. She reached inside and pulled out a thick bundle she’d tied together with a bit of ribbon.

“Every letter he’s ever written me.”

Rebecca gaped. “You carry it all? All the time?”

“All the time,” Darcy replied. “I love him.”

“But you’ve only met him once! Everything else is letters and long distance. You sure this ain’t just some notion you cooked up? It’s all romantic because it’s a war and havin’ a sweetheart overseas gets attention.”

“He could come home tomorrow and nothing would change.” Darcy replied honestly, as she ran her fingers over the telegram on the table. “In fact, I’d probably prefer it.”

“Even if somethin’ terrible has happened? If he comes back...different? They say a lot of boys come back different. And if...if somethin’...” her voice trailed off as she brushed her fingers over the telegram on the table.

“I choose him. I want him - any way I can get him.”

Rebecca stared at her for a moment and then broke into a grin. “You just might be good enough for Jimmy.”

Darcy smiled. “I try.”

***

Darcy turned over in bed for the fifth time in as many minutes before turning the light back on. She reached for her handbag and pulled out the bundle of letters from Bucky.

She ran her fingers over the first letter in the stack and blinked back tears. She had taken to keeping them with her at all times so that when Jane finally arranged a ride back to 2018, she could take them with her.

If she couldn’t keep Bucky, she could at least keep this.

Darcy cursed her luck and wondered how this had become her life. She knew that there were millions of people just like her out there, worrying about their sweethearts as they rode off to war. She also knew that there were millions of people who had to watch loved ones deal with all kinds of trauma. Still, she felt unbearably alone.

It was one thing to know the horrific things that had happened to Bucky. It was quite another to be aware of them before they happened and be completely unable to do anything about it. Even if she could wrap her head around all the ramifications to the timeline, what would she have done - storm the tent of the commanding officer of the 107th and demand they not go to Italy?

She could have. She’d probably have gotten herself locked up, but she could have at least tried.

She pulled the first letter from the bundle and opened it. She traced his words with her finger, careful not to smudge any of the writing.

Our one night wandering the city was the best night of my life.

Tears fell from her eyes and she adjusted her posture so none of them would fall onto the letter. She desperately tried not to think about Bucky’s current predicament. Knowing was so much worse than not knowing.

Tears continued to fall without her permission and she stuffed the letters under her pillow to protect them from her emotional deluge.

“I can’t do this. Janey, where the hell are you?”

Chapter Text

~*1943, New York City*~
Darcy wobbled a little on her heels as she climbed the steps to the Barnes’ apartment. She mentally cursed 1940s dress codes, gender roles, and whatever slimy slumlord was the superintendent of this building because she is 100% certain that steps shouldn’t collapse like that.

After shaking off the malise of the previous evening, Darcy had been filled with a new determination. If she couldn’t help Bucky, maybe she could at least commiserate with his sisters. They had to be missing him just as much as she was - sure, it wasn’t exactly the same, but maybe they could all ease each other’s burdens together. If only a little. Darcy shook her head to clear it of errant thoughts and settle her nerves. She took a deep breath, rapped three clear knocks on the door, and crossed her fingers they wouldn’t slam the door in her face.

A girl of 16 or 17 answered the door. “Hello?” she asked, a little suspiciously.

“Hi!” Darcy was going for bright and friendly but probably leaning more towards manic.

“Miss Lewis?” came a voice from inside. Rebecca Barnes appeared at the door, and opened it wider, shooing the younger girl away.

“Darcy, please.” She smiled and hefted the bag of groceries so Rebecca could see them. “I was hoping we could trade - I buy groceries and you teach me to cook.”

“You want - you bought all that? Today?” Rebecca was a little incredulous.

Oops. “And this is why I need your help. I’ll never be of any use to your brother.” She went for a winning smile as her inner feminist cringed and shouted obscenities, while her inner realist berated Darcy’s pitifully inadequate knowledge of what was normal in the 1940s. The Howling Commandos Netflix series had left her woefully unprepared for a stop in this decade. If the universe still existed in 2018 after all of Darcy’s blundering through the past, it would be a miracle.

Oh shit, maybe that’s why Jane hasn’t shown up yet. Darcy said the wrong thing to the wrong person and destroyed the universe.

She mentally shook off that thought and focused back on Rebecca.

“That’s...What are you going to do with all that?” Rebecca asked.

Darcy shrugged. “You can keep whatever we don’t need.”

Panic flashed across Rebecca’s face. “Oh we couldn’t possibly-“

“Mr. Stark provides lunch and dinner most days at the office and I have nowhere to keep all this. It’ll just go to waste if you don’t keep it. Besides,” Darcy aimed for a casual shrug, “I don’t usually use all of my Ration Stamps. I figured I could share.”

And sinker. Rebecca pursed her lips and nodded, fully opening the door and allowing Darcy inside.

Darcy mentally berated herself again for her heavy-handed tactic as she looked around the small apartment, but she was desperate for any excuse to see the Barnes sisters. She had really enjoyed her visit with Rebecca, and spending time with Bucky’s sister helped ease the ache in her heart at Bucky’s current predicament. But if at the end of today, Rebecca still seemed uneasy, Darcy would stay away.

She hoped she helped ease Rebecca’s mind - if nothing else a full pantry couldn’t hurt, right? She knew Bucky was sending home his pay, and the girls didn’t look like they wanted for much, but still. Darcy banished those thoughts and tried to stay in the here and now as Rebecca took the bag from her and paused, staring at Darcy.

“You know,” Rebecca started slowly, “you could have just stopped by.” She smiled with a shrug. “It’s nice...someone else worrying about him, too.”

Darcy released the breath she was holding and let out a short burst of laughter.

“I’m really glad he has you, you know.” Rebecca grinned. “But enough about my mess of a brother. Let’s see what you brought,” she said and led Darcy into the kitchen.

***

~*1943, Austria-Italy border*~
Bucky blinked rapidly and shifted the gun in his hands. They were about 20 miles into their march back to a Allied camp, and he was sure that he should be more tired than this. He’d been sick - he’d been dying - when HYDRA had pulled him from the cell. They hooked him up to IV bags and machines - there was no way they’d actually given him medicine, right? No one had ever come back when those bastards took someone from a cell and dragged them into a lab. He racked his brain but only had a hazy memory of something being strapped to his head followed by an all-encompassing pain. Now, his arms were stiff and his legs felt foreign but nothing was actually wrong.

Maybe this was all just a fever dream. Maybe he was still in that cell, and he was imagining all this as he was about to die.

It would certainly explain why Steve was suddenly so much taller. And the guy with...the red face...that was weird.

If this was all real - if Howard Stark had actually found a way to change Steve’s exterior to fit all the heart and fight he’d had inside, and then Steve had actually come and saved them all - then he was going to need to sort himself out pronto. He had no idea what those HYDRA bastards had done to him, no way to know that he wasn’t a slowly ticking time-bomb that would go off and hurt everyone he cared about.

He stumbled slightly, earning a sharp glance from Steve, but Bucky shook his head and they continued marching in silence. Oh god, what if he was a trap? If he was the trap that would lead those insane assholes straight to their door, then it wasn’t safe for him to go back.

But if it wasn’t safe for him to go back, then it certainly wasn’t safe for him to go home either.

And if he couldn’t go home, then there was absolutely no future for him. No future, no Darcy. Dammit all to hell, Steve should have just left him strapped to that table if that was the case. It would have been kinder to let him die when the building came down than to force him to face a future without Darcy. Even if he could go home, if there was ever any possibility that he could hurt her, then it was out of the question. He wouldn’t risk it. Besides, Darcy deserved better than some broken old soldier who couldn’t even keep himself from getting captured and experimented on.

Oh god, they had experimented on him. Bucky felt panic in his chest and bile rise in his throat and tried to push it all away, but all he managed to do was bring tears to his eyes.

He shook his head to try to clear it and calm down. If HYDRA had done something terrible, had experimented on him and made him some sort of monster, Steve would help him. Steve wouldn’t stop. Hell, he was currently marching 30 miles through the Alps because Steve wouldn’t give up on him.

He had to have faith Darcy wouldn’t give up on him either. Just like he couldn’t give up on her.

He shifted the weight of the gun again. For now, he would get back to base, get his head on straight, and do whatever he needed to do to wipe HYDRA off the map. Only then could he get home and be the man Darcy needed - the man Darcy deserved.

His best revenge - the only revenge - against HYDRA would be a life well lived, and he was going to do everything in his power to do just that.

Chapter Text

~*1943, New York City*~
The day after news of the 107th’s rescue - by none other than Captain America himself - circulated around Stark’s office, Darcy planted herself in his private office until he finally showed up.

“Your calculations are wrong,” is out of her mouth before he’s even finished opening the door.

Howard Stark, to his credit, barely blinks. “Oh yeah? How so?”

She points to a set of numbers pinned to the wall. “You transposed these,” then moved to point to a technical drawing. “And you haven’t accounted for the change in pressure when centripetal force is applied. All you’ve got here is a drawing of an unreliable bomb that’s more likely to explode in transport than if it hits what it’s pointed at.”

Thanks again, past-future-me for spending a week organizing the Stark Archives.

“Huh.” Howard shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the drawing she was referring to. “Guess I owe you another one, kid.”

“You’re taking me to London.”

“Thought you’d ask eventually. This anything to do with your sweetheart in the 107th?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll get you set up. Captain Rogers brought back a few things they’d like me to look at, and if you can spot errors like this in a schematic you’ve seen once, then I’d like my new senior technical advisor to be there.”

Darcy blinked. That...was much easier than she’d anticipated.

Howard looked sad and a little guilty. “Besides, that outfit I work with - the SSR. They ordered the 107th to Azzano. I owe you a lot more than one, really.”

Steve never mentioned that. She wondered if he’d ever even known that the organization that ordered the 107th to their doom also abandoned them to it.

“I’m not due back over there for another week,” he continued.

“Name the time and I’ll be ready.”

He nodded. “Don’t suppose I could interest you in-“

“Don’t push your luck, Mr. Stark,” she smiled as she left his office.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Miss Lewis.”

***

~*1943, London*~

10 days later and it’s all Darcy can do to not fangirl like crazy when Stark introduced her to Peggy Carter. The woman was legendary and here she was, in the flesh, helping Darcy with paperwork. Goodness gracious, none of the movies or books or museum exhibits had even come close to capturing Peggy Carter’s awesomeness. Not even the fabulous movie Helena Bonham Carter won an Oscar for (that Darcy could practically recite word for word) quite captured the woman in all her glory.

Darcy barely reads half of what she signs, knowing the more places her signature shows up, the higher chance of Jane finding her one of these days. She paused on one though, re-reading it twice.

“What's this one?” she asked, waiving the sheet at Peggy.

Peggy glanced at it. “London is still under rather frequent bombardment. We require emergency information from all our civilian colleagues so we can take appropriate action should anything happen.”

“Oh,” Darcy paused. “Hmm.” Darcy hesitated for a moment, then picked up her pen and began filling in all the information.

Once all of the paperwork was sorted out and Darcy was settled in, Peggy gives her a tour of Stark’s lab.

“Captain Rogers brought it back from the HYDRA production facility in Austria. He claims it’s the most powerful explosive known to man.” Peggy tells her as they stop in front of a table holding a small, strange box.

Darcy peered at the device, eyes widening as soon as she recognized it from the Stark Archives and Steve’s stories float through her head.

“What? What is it?” Peggy asked upon noticing her expression.

Darcy turned to her. “Agent Carter…” Darcy trailed off, unsure what to say. What she even could say. “Promise me. If you ever find the thing that gives these devices their power, bury it. Drop it to the bottom of the ocean and leave it there.”

Peggy’s eyes widened. “Why?”

Darcy thinks of the Chitauri and of all the people who were killed in New York. “Earth isn’t ready.”

***

After the lab, Peggy suggests they go find whatever pub Steve and Bucky are darkening the door of, and Darcy is ready to pledge her firstborn to the woman.

“We just received vital information that Captain Rogers will need for tomorrow morning,” Peggy told Darcy.

Darcy wasn’t fooled. “And the knockout dress?”

Peggy flushed slightly. “I’m dressed for the occasion and the location.”

“And it’s absolutely vital that Captain Rogers sees you. Hey, I get it - you’re just letting him know what he’s missing. But trust me - he’s already very aware.” Darcy smirked. “And very, very interested in your vital information.”

Chapter Text

~*1943, London*~
Darcy had carefully curled her hair and applied her lipstick. She wanted to do without - Bucky Barnes was in for the kiss of his life as soon as his lips were within reasonable striking distance - but she’d learned that the bare lip look just wasn’t done when out on the town in 1943.

So Bucky was just going to have to deal with bright red lipstick smeared across his mouth. And face. And possibly a few other places if she can get him alone.

She and Peggy made an entrance that would put every “top of the stairs” movie reveal she’d ever seen to shame and a short giggle escaped Darcy before she could stop herself. The pub went quiet as they approached the bar and she was well aware that every eye in the room was focused on them. Well, every eye except for the few they were actually aiming for. Men. Honestly.

Hey, she had eyes. They looked DAMN good. Between the two of them, they could probably stop all the traffic in London if they wanted. Hell, if Peggy gave her half a signal of interest, she’d jump the woman herself and Steve Rogers could fight her.

Competence kink - Darcy had one.

In any event, she and Peggy were only here for two very specific men who were currently entertaining their companions at one end of the bar. Butterflies exploded into a game of Quidditch in her stomach as she spotted Bucky for the first time in months. Oh yes. He was definitely going to be receiving the kiss of his life very, very shortly.

Peggy gave her a look as they made their way closer to the oblivious group. Darcy smirked. Eavesdropping with Peggy Carter - she must have died and gone to heaven.

“So Barnes, this girl that’s been writin’ you - you ever wonder if she’s writin’ anyone else?” Dum Dum Dugan asked. Darcy had a sneaking suspicion that he had actually seen her walk in with Peggy and made an educated guess. He threw a surreptitious wink in her direction. That confirms it - he’s her new favorite Howlie. After Bucky and Steve, of course. The fact that he would literally write the book that would inspire her to take up a political science major was just a bonus.

“Nope,” Bucky smirked.

“She’s written to me, you know,” Steve smirked, sliding pint glasses around to the others.

“Just proves she’s a good girl - knows when to take pity on a sad lonely soul such as yourself.”

“I don’t know, taking up with you makes me question her good sense,” Steve replied.

Bucky smiled as the others laughed. “Laugh it up all you want, fellas. At the end of the day, I’ve still got the girl.”

It was then that Steve noticed Peggy and Darcy. He froze momentarily, a glass halfway to his lips. He set the glass down on the bar, a touch too forcefully as he jostled Bucky with the other hand.

Bucky turned and finally saw what had Steve so dumbfounded. He froze in place, stunned as if struck by lightning. And then he shoved Steve out of the way and was across the room to Darcy in less time than she could blink.

Darcy was in absolute heaven. He wrapped her up in his arms and lifted her off her feet as he covered her mouth with his. The rest of the pub fell away as she wrapped one arm around his shoulders while the fingers of her other hand teased the hair on his neck. She’d had every intention of giving him the kiss of his life and in return she received the kiss of hers.

They only separated when the whistles around the pub aimed in their direction reached a fever pitch. The loudest whistles, of course, coming from Dugan, further cementing him as Darcy’s favorite non-Bucky or Steve Howlie. Darcy caught Peggy’s amused eyebrow and Steve’s flush of embarrassment and happiness for his friend as Bucky took her hand and led her to a corner table in the back where they would have at least a little privacy from prying eyes.

He cupped her face in his hands as they sat down. It was almost as though he couldn’t stop touching her and she had no complaints.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked in wonder.

She smirked. “Did I ever mention that Stark owed me a favor?”

Bucky’s eyes went wide in surprise and he pulled her in for another kiss. “You really are something, aren’t you,” he murmured against her lips.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

“Darcy.”

She pulled back slightly and giggled at the absolute riot of candy apple red lipstick smeared across his face. “I’ve made a mess of you,” she said, trying to wipe it away.

“I don’t mind.” The widest grin she’d ever seen graced his face. They breathed each other in for a few moments.

“So they, uh. They kept all my mail. While I was - I mean, I’m guessing you know. I-“

“I know,” she interrupted softly, finally taking a moment to take him in. There were dark purple shadows under his eyes, a few healing bruises and cuts on his face. His handsome features looked a little older, a touch more worn. He closed his eyes as she carded her hands through his hair and tried desperately not to imagine the HYDRA poison she knew was currently rushing through his veins or notice the marks on his face that were from the first attempts at brainwashing. “Rebecca and I have been visiting.”

His face softened. “Yeah? You lookin’ after my baby sister?”

“She’s been making sure I’m good enough for you.”

“Think you’ve got that reversed, sweetheart. She’s probably wondering what’s wrong with you, takin’ up with the likes of me.”

She laughed and shook her head, wrapping her hands around his and reveled in being near him again.

“I got your letter. The latest one.”

His statement brought her attention fully back to the present.

“Did you mean it?” he whispered, an edge of panic in his tone.

“Yes,” she replied firmly. “I love you.”

Relief and joy flooded his face. “Darcy. I love you.” He pulled her in for a kiss. “I love you,” he whispered against her lips. “I love you so damn much.”

“I love you, too, Bucky.”

“When I was...well the only thing that kept me going was the thought of you.”

“Bucky,” she whispered, running her hand through his hair again as a tear slipped down her cheek.

He wiped it away. “Now now, none of that. All that’s over. I’m here now, you’re here, and we’re together.” He grinned at her for another moment. “I can’t believe you’re actually here. I must be dreaming.”

“I told you when we met you’d better like surprises.”

His grin grew even wider. “I love your surprises.” He sobered a little. “So. I’m supposed to send all my wages home to Rebecca. But I’ve been saving a tiny bit. Every pay, just a little. And, when I got back - I just. Steve and I went out today and saw a guy and. I was gonna wait, but. Well.” He reached into his pocket and slid out of his seat, onto one knee on the floor.

Holy shit.

“Marry me?” He looked at her like she hung the moon and the stars and his every future happiness depended on the very next thing out of her mouth.

Darcy sat frozen. At her hesitation, he keeps talking. “I was going to wait. Until I got home, because - well there’s a war and this is crazy but you’re here and you wrote me that letter and you love me and I love you and-“

“Bucky,” she whispered.

He took a deep breath and smiled at her, his courage seemingly bolstered by the break in her silence. “They want to send me home. Medical discharge. Those HYDRA bastards tried their best, but doc says I’m going to be fine.” Darcy choked a little at that, there was no way for him to know just how epically not true that statement was.

Bucky kept talking, heedless of her reaction. “Steve’s putting together a team, asked me to stay and work with him to wipe HYDRA off the map. But it’s my choice and we could go home. I could be on the next flight out of here and we could go back to New York and build a goddamn life. Darcy,” he started to sound a little desperate at her silence. “I love you. Will you marry me?” he whispered.

A yes is on her lips. She would do it - forget 2018, forget Jane, forget whatever life came before. If a rescue party ever showed up, she’d tell them to go hang. She had told Rebecca, hadn’t she? It didn’t matter what had already happened to him, she chose him and they would figure it out. She’d build a life with Bucky here and they would be so happy. She could take Bucky home, save him from everything that’s waiting for him just by saying yes, right now. She could steal him back from that fate and they would be so damn happy.

She could rewrite history and change the future with one tiny word.

And then she saw Steve standing at the bar, smiling at Peggy.

75 years from now, he’ll tell her about the times Bucky saved him from snipers. How he’d be dead a hundred times over if Bucky hadn’t been watching his back as they took down every HYDRA base.

A world without Captain America. She thought about the Chitauri. Ultron. HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD.

One man or the entire planet. Maybe the entire universe. There’s no math there really. No choice at all.

Fuck the universe.

“No,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

~*1943*~
Bucky blinked. “No?”

Darcy shuddered a breath. She didn’t have the strength to say it again. If she has to say it again, she’s going to take it all back and shriek her agreement, the universe be damned.

“I don’t understand,” Bucky pled as his eyes followed hers to Steve at the bar.

“Bucky-“

“Are you - I know you said you don’t have any family. Is- are you in trouble? Money or some ex-boyfriend or-“ He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Darcy, whatever it is, we can face it together. We will figure it out. I love you.”

“Bucky.”

“You love me, too. I know you do. Even if I didn’t have your letter,” he pulled the letter from his pocket and threw it on the table but missed and it fluttered to the floor. “I can see it in your eyes. I have seen it, in every letter you’ve written. Look,” he took a deep breath and squeezed her hands. “I know it’s fast. I know there’s a war and it’s crazy. But I know that you and I are the real deal. You are it for me. I’m not imagining it, I know it. And in my bones, I know you love me like I love you. Darcy. Please,” he begged and cupped her face in his hands. “Even if something happened to me, even if the doc here is wrong and there’s something wrong with me, if we’re married the army will take care of you. Darcy. You and me, we’re in this together, remember?” There are tears in his eyes now and he pressed his forehead to hers. “Please. Tell me I’m not alone anymore. Be my wife. Marry me. Please, please, please.”

Tears streamed down her face as he whispered “please” over and over again. Because he was right. Every word he said was absolutely true. But she had to break his heart anyway and couldn’t even tell him why.

“No,” she whispered again, hating herself and the whole damn universe.

He looked like she slapped him as he launched himself away from her and out of the pub.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

But honestly - what else could she have expected to happen? She agreed to go on a date with him, she kept writing to him, she fell in love with him. At every turn, she’d convinced herself that the only consequence would be her own broken heart when he was gone or she found her way home. This was all her fault.

She never seriously imagined the entire future could hinge on her this way. She had been unbearably, unbelievably naive and now they would both suffer for it.

Steve approached slowly. He had watched Bucky storm out, then turned his attention to Darcy, who sat frozen in her seat, tears streaming down her shocked face.

Something inside her snapped and she was out of her seat in a flash. Angry at herself, furious at the universe, she slammed the letter Bucky dropped into Steve’s chest. “Promise me!” she choked. “Look after him. Never let him ANYWHERE near a train. I want him so far away from every FUCKING train in Europe he can’t even hear the GODDAMN whistle.” He stared at her, stunned.

“What-“

“Promise me!”

He nodded. “I promise, I’ll look after him.”

“No trains.”

“Darcy, I don’t understand.”

“Steve, just. No trains.” She slumped back into her seat as fresh tears spilled from her eyes.

“Okay,” he agreed, and knelt down to meet her eyes. “I promise - no trains.”

She nodded. “And you,” she snarled, then took a breath and quieted her voice, “be careful yourself. Even if you are Steve 2.0, you’re still human.”

Confusion reigned on his face but he agreed. “Yes ma’am.”

She choked on another sob and Steve looked abashed. “Sorry. I’m going to go see if I can find Bucky.” She nodded and watched him go. If Jane never figured out a way to get her back to 2018, she’d probably never see either of them again.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

She sat alone, sobbing quietly, trying desperately not to draw any attention to herself. Just a few more minutes and she would pull herself together enough to get the hell out of this godforsaken pub.

She swiped at her eyes. She was a mess, but she’d pulled herself out of bars crying before. She’d been stood up, let down, catcalled, and groped before. Sure, none of it had ever hurt like this, but still. She’d pick herself up and focus on getting the hell back to 2018 and moving on with her life.

Even if she had to spend the rest of it avoiding Bucky Barnes and mourning what might have been.

Before that thought could bring a fresh round of tears to her eyes, she stood up. She dropped a few coins on the table to cover the drink she hadn’t touched, and made her way to the exit.

Outside, the cool night air helped to calm her further. She could do this. She was Darcy Fucking Lewis and she was not about to let a potentially universe-ending heartbreak get her down. She glanced around to get her bearings, trying to remember which direction she and Peggy had arrived from. The street wasn’t well lit and the light from the headlights of every car that passed threatened to blind her.

She sighed and started to turn left, knowing that it was only a few blocks - even if she was walking in the wrong direction, it wouldn’t take her long to figure out.

“DARCY!”

She spun around at the sound of her name, but was blinded by the lights of a passing car.

She heard a horn, felt her breath leave her with the impact, and then -

Chapter Text

~*1943, London*~

Bucky rushed back to the pub, pushing through the crowd of people that had gathered outside the entrance. Once inside, his eyes scanned frantically for Darcy. He’d gotten about four blocks away before he realized that she’d crossed the goddamn ocean for him and if she didn’t want to marry him, she’d have a good reason. He just hadn’t waited long enough to hear it.

Hadn’t let her say much of anything, really. Just kept babbling like an idiot. He’d castigated himself the entire way back, swearing to do better by her from now on.

But there’s no sign of her in the pub. The table they’d absconded to after scandalizing the front of the pub only contained her glass and a few coins to pay for the drink. Ah lovely, he’d left her to cover the tab as well. He really was an asshole tonight. He pulled out the chairs and ducked under the table to find her letter, the one where she’d told him she loved him, the one piece of tangible proof that she did love him and he hadn’t imagined the whole thing. But it was gone as well.

He sighed shakily. She was with Howard, he could still find her. She’d be around, at least until Howard went back to New York. They could take tonight to nurse the wounds they’d given each other and reconnect in the morning, and they would be stronger for it. She couldn’t just vanish.

A sliver of hope cut through his heartache, and he exited the pub again.

“...not paying any attention..”

“...that poor girl…”

“...came out of nowhere…”

He ignored the fuss and turned left, making his way back for the night.

***

A few weeks later and nothing. No word, no sighting. It was like Darcy dropped off the face of the earth. Howard Stark left for New York two nights ago and if he knew where Darcy was, he wasn’t telling.

“Mail call!”

Bucky looked up, hopefully.

“Abbot, James.”

He’d even tried pestering Agent Carter - the two girls had seemed to get on alright. But she’d just given him that look of hers that told him he was an idiot and otherwise ignored him.

“Barker, Christopher.”

He’d take a Dear John letter at this point - anything to let him know that she was still out there.

As long as she was still out there then he could fight for her. He would fight for her.

“Carpenter, Jacob.”

Bucky closed his eyes at the pain and wondered how the hell he’d managed to fuck up the best thing to ever happen to him.

***

He avoided mail call after that. Every damn day when his name wasn't called was just another knife in his chest. It was a month before one of the girls from the mail pool finally tracked him down.

She batted her eyelashes and he didn’t notice or care - all he could see was the post mark from New York. He nearly ripped the letter in half in his haste and the girl eyed him sadly as he waved her away.

He tried - and failed - not to be disappointed when he realized the feminine script wasn’t Darcy’s - it was Rebecca’s.

He skimmed over the updates on Katie’s schoolwork and Mary’s new job. The girls were moving out of the apartment and into some house. He promised himself he’d go back and read through properly later, but right now all he wants is a glimpse of Darcy’s name.

The strangest thing happened yesterday. We received a delivery from Howard Stark - you know him, right? It was a great big box, filled with what the delivery man described as the personal effects of Darcy Lewis. And then he handed me a check! He said something about being listed as Darcy’s next of kin?

Jimmy, do you know what on earth is happening? Why would Mr. Stark send this? Why would Darcy send this?

He thought back to that night at the pub. The crowd in front when he’d gone back for Darcy. What had they been saying? There had been a car and something about a girl, not paying any attention…

The letter turned to confetti shreds in his hands as his mind put the pieces together and he doesn’t care who can hear him screaming.

***

~*1945~*

Ever since Darcy disappeared, Bucky had thrown himself into utterly decimating HYDRA. He was fairly certain his rage alone could incinerate their bases if he tried hard enough and that’s precisely what he intended to do.

Most days, he’s tireless and brutal and on the last mission he’d accidentally smashed through a wall with his bare hands.

It had been a long time since he’d been held at the mercy of HYDRA. In the time since then, he’d begun to suspect just exactly what the crazy bastards had done to him. He refused to talk about it, even with Steve.

Especially not with Steve. Steve had chosen this for himself - Bucky never had that luxury. But he had no way to confirm any of it, and his suspicion only fueled his rage and his pain. Darcy had always been the balm to his soul throughout his time on the front lines and while he was captured. Now she’s gone and Steve’s the only member of the team left speaking to him, and even that was strained.

Every new mission carried its own set of dangers and Bucky was heedless of all of them. Every member of the team has been endangered by Bucky’s actions at least once - although Steve bore the brunt of it, if only to spare the others. He was reckless and ruthless and by the time their intelligence said that Zola was on the move, Steve had had enough.

“You’re not going,” Steve said, leaning against the doorframe as Bucky checked over the ammo for the mission.

“No.” Bucky didn’t even look up.

“I’ve already filed it. You’re off duty for this one.”

“Looks like you’ll have to refile.”

Steve straightened and stepped closer to his friend. “Buck, I won’t stand by and watch you kill yourself. I’ve let it go until now because I know you’re in pain, but I can’t look the other way anymore. Someone is going to get hurt.”

Bucky shook his head and continued his checks. “I need to be out there. I need to get this done.”

“Bucky,” Steve pled, “Darcy wouldn’t want this.”

Bucky stilled. No one had dared speak Darcy's name out loud in his presence in months and hearing it from Steve ripped a new hole in Bucky's chest.

He whirled around and punched Steve in the face.

***

Bucky was still in the brig when the team left to attack Zola’s train. When they returned, no one bothered to come and see him. He eventually heard through base gossip that it was an utter disaster of a mission. The gossips are light on details, but whatever happened on that train had shaken Steve to his core. When he finally was released from the brig, Steve was waiting with a haunted expression and he could barely look Bucky in the eye. They communicate in one syllable responses and half-hearted gestures.

Which is fine by Bucky - if Steve had let him go, they probably could have taken Zola alive.

***

They’re still barely speaking by the time they’re ready to storm HYDRA’s headquarters. Bucky still has Steve’s back, would never ever disregard that responsibility. But he doesn’t have to like the man much to be willing to protect him.

As they chase down the Red Skull on the Valkyrie, his anger drained out of him. He knew this plane. Hell, him and the other guys in the 107th built this damn plane. He knew exactly what it and the bombs inside could do. A strange calm settled over him as he realized what they were speeding toward.

Maybe it was for the best. It wasn’t like he’d done anything to deserve a homecoming. And if Darcy wasn’t there, he didn’t want it anyway.

When Steve leapt from the car and onto the plane, Bucky didn’t even have to think about it - he immediately followed him.

“Bucky, what the hell are you doing?” Steve screamed over the roar of the airplane.

“I ain’t lettin’ you take on this madman alone.”

***

“I’ve gotta...I’ve gotta put her in the water…” Steve’s voice wavered.

Bucky clapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder and Steve straightened his spine. Both thankful that the other was there and that neither of them had to do this alone. Nothing else needed to be said really. The tension and anger and frustration of the last few months was gone, replaced with resignation.

There were worse ways to go, after all.

Steve reached into his uniform, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to Bucky.

“She’s out there, Buck. I know it. Peggy can find her. Get her a message.”

Bucky hesitated, his fingers ghosting over Darcy’s words.

Come home to me, handsome. I love you.

He swallowed hard as Steve said goodbye to Peggy.

“Buck,” Steve muttered, his hands shaking on the airplane’s controls as the ice grew closer. “It’s now or never.”

Bucky leaned close to the radio. “Carter, when you see my girl,” he choked a little. “When you see Darcy. Tell her...tell her I love her. And I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

~*2018*~
“You can do this,” Jane said encouragingly to Bucky as he stared at the launching pad. When he didn’t respond, only continued to stare, her face fell a little. “You can do this, right?”

“I have to try,” he replied quietly.

Jane pursed her lips for a moment and then glanced back to where Tony was making a few final adjustments on the machine and Steve was watching intently. She stepped a little closer to Bucky and lowered her voice.

“They never found anything, you know. They...made an assumption. I looked it up, it’s all in the Stark Archive.”

He still wouldn’t look away from the launching pad. “They sent my sister her stuff.”

“I know. Steve told me,” Jane looked down at her hands as she picked at her cuticles. Darcy would threaten to drag her off to the salon for a manicure again if she ever saw the state of Jane’s hands.

“He’s got a big mouth.”

Jane ignored that. “He also told me that you never bought it. You never gave up looking for Darcy. You never gave up hope.”

Bucky finally turned and silently stared at Jane for a few moments. “What else was I supposed to do?” he asked quietly, his voice breaking.

Jane tentatively reached out and gently grasped his shoulder. “Hope is a powerful thing. Hope is good.”

He nodded, twitched his lips in a poor imitation of a smile, and briefly grasped her hand before looking away again.

“Are you ready?” Jane asked.

Bucky cleared his throat, stood from where he’d been perched on edge of the lab table, and nodded, trying not to let his nerves show. “What’s with the light show?” he asked, gesturing towards the launching pad. He didn’t actually care, but needed to do something to take his mind off of the fact that he was about to be shot backwards in time by an experimental machine that was held together with duct tape and good intentions.

There was also the small matter of finally seeing Darcy again after 75 years.

Sparks flew on the launching pad inside the small containment area Jane’s machine was aimed at. Bright flashes of lightning blinded everyone every few minutes.

“I had to take a few shortcuts,” Jane replied. “Test results are good, I just didn’t take the time to finesse the beam. It’ll help you identify where you need to be for me to pull you back.” She shrugged. “And it will keep people away from your landing site anyway.”

“It’s safe though?”

“You’ll be fine, Gramps,” Tony encouraged.

Bucky glowered at him. “I don’t matter. Darcy needs to get back safely.”

Steve glared at Bucky, but held his tongue. Jane gave him a watery smile.

“She’ll be fine, too.” She blinked back a few tears and sniffled quietly before clearing her throat. “You’ll have one hour from the time you land,” she reminded him. “Then you’ll be pulled back.”

“If you’re not inside the target field when we activate -” Tony began.

“We’re stuck,” Bucky snapped. “I get Darcy out of sight and we keep our heads down. I was in the meeting, you know.”

According to all of their tests, Jane’s machine was likely to rip the absolute hell out of the universe where he landed. They really only had this one shot. Sixty minutes to find Darcy and bring her home.

No pressure.

Tony grinned a little manicially. “It’s gonna be fun.”

Bucky ignored him as he climbed into the containment area.

“Good luck,” Steve said, his face betraying the worry his voice didn’t.

Bucky took a deep breath and placed both hands onto the rail at the launching pad he was standing on.

“Activating,” Tony said.

“Full power in three...” Jane counted down as Bucky closed his eyes.

“Two...”

Bucky thought of Darcy. Her smile. Her laugh.

“One.”

How much he loved her.

“NOW!”

***
~*1943, London*~
Bucky opened his eyes and was immediately blinded by the beam’s lightning. He held up a hand to try to block the light and was startled by a car horn.

Dammit.

He waved an apology at the driver as he ran out of the street and tried to get his bearings. He had to turn away from his landing site, as the continued lightning flashes were threatening to give him a headache and he absolutely needed a clear head for the next 60 minutes.

The pub off was just off to his right and he quickly ducked inside, trying not to run into anything or be seen by anyone. His younger self was here - it would cause way too much trouble and confusion if anyone looked too closely at him and noticed the resemblance.

Bucky walked into the pub just as his younger self finally noticed Darcy and shoved Steve out of the way so he could run to greet her. His heart ached as he watched himself wrap Darcy up in his embrace. He remembered that kiss. Well, he remembered all of the kisses she’d ever blessed him with, but this one stood out in his memory.

He had to force himself to keep moving and not stand in the doorway and stare. There were fewer people along the wall, so he nonchalantly sidled that way while keeping his head down and maintaining a visual on the couple. He watched as they snuck into a back corner for a little privacy and he surreptitiously followed them. He glanced around quickly - it really wouldn’t do for any of his former colleagues to spot him.

He finally settled into a spot in a dimly lit corner, away from the prying eyes of everyone else in the pub and out of sight of his younger self and Darcy. From his vantage point, he watched their entire exchange play out. He couldn’t stop watching Darcy, whose presence he’d been missing so desperately for so long. His chest ached with longing as he watched the couple’s elation at finally being reunited. As he watched Darcy run her hand through his hair, his heart beat so hard with longing he feared it might launch itself out of his chest and plant itself at her feet.

What he really wanted to do was shake his younger self, smack some sense into him, and demand that he not take the beautiful gift the universe had given them for granted. This night was a scene he’d replayed over and over in his mind - awake and asleep, in dreams and in his nightmares. Watching like this, as it actually played out in reality right in front of him, was a special kind of hell.

Bucky blinked and tried to mentally shake off those thoughts. Mission priority was to get Darcy home. Everything else was secondary.

Still, he paid special attention to Darcy’s reactions as his younger self proposed. He couldn’t know for sure, but he hoped the conflict and pain on her face was only because of her current predicament and not because she didn’t want him. He hoped he'd soon have the chance to ask her.

He tried not to think too much about her tears. The fact that he had caused them burned a hole right through him. Those tears had been torturing him for 75 years.

They’d both been through so much for so long - he was just done and wanted her with him again. He wanted to be next to her for as long as she would allow him to be. After his younger self ran off, he had opened his mouth to call her name when Steve approached.

Wait, what?

Bucky froze in place as the Steve tried to comfort Darcy. He didn’t know Steve had spoken to Darcy at all after his disastrous proposal. Steve had never said anything. What on earth were they talking about? He leaned a little closer to try to catch some of their conversation, still mindful that Steve absolutely could not spot him. Bucky jumped as his foot bumped a nearby chair, but neither Steve nor Darcy seemed to notice.

His eyes went wide as Darcy slammed the letter into Steve chest. He hadn’t known she’d given it to Steve - he’d never even thought about how Steve had gotten it in the first place. He hadn’t wanted to question it - if he couldn’t have Darcy, he had at least had proof that she once existed and had loved him.

“Promise me!” Darcy demanded, her eyes flashing, face flushed, making her look to him like an avenging angel. “Look after him. Never let him ANYWHERE near a train. I want him so far away from every FUCKING train in Europe he can’t even hear the GODDAMN whistle.”

Pain. Hot, searing pain.

He only just stopped himself from crying out as molten lava shot through his left arm and he missed the rest of Steve and Darcy’s conversation entirely as blinding pain seared through his head. He pulled in a few deep breaths as he tried to get himself under control. He looked down at his hands and tried to focus on them. His thoughts were fuzzy and the edges of his vision were starting to go dark as he silently flexed his hands. The sharp tang of blood filled his mouth - he had bitten in tongue in his efforts to keep quiet.

What in the ever living fresh fucking hell was that? I didn’t survive all this just to be taken out by an aneurysm. Not now. Not when I’m this close to bringing Darcy home.

It felt like hours before he finally got himself under control. When he finally came to his senses, his breathing was erratic and he had to fight to keep quiet. Darcy was alone again, crying but trying to rally and pull herself together. Before he could open his mouth to say a word, she dropped a few coins on the table and swept out of the pub.

He wasn’t sure what just happened but he knew that precious time had been wasted. His aches and pains and confusion could be dealt with later. Right now, he only had minutes before Jane activated the machine to try to pull him back to 2018. He had to get to Darcy now.

He watched beeped. Sixty seconds until Jane pulled him back. He stumbled towards the entrance to the pub and ran smack into someone. Shit.

“Think you’ve had about enough, pal,” came a familiar voice.

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he pushed away from Dum Dum Dugan

“Barnes?” Dugan asked bewildered.

Bucky ignored him as he ran outside and glanced around, desperately searching for Darcy. She was just starting to make her way down the street and he started to run towards her.

His watch beeped again. 10 seconds. He was out of time.

“DARCY!” he screamed desperately.

She turned around mid-crossing the street. He poured everything he had into his sprint - when he heard the car horn, he launched himself at her, tackling her out of the car’s path and into the bright circle of lightning Jane had conjured. Darcy exhaled sharply at the impact, her breath hot against his neck. He held on to Darcy so tightly as he felt the tug in his chest and his sinuses compress as Jane pulled them back.

Finally. Darcy was in his arms and they were on their way home.

Chapter Text

~*2018*~

“Owwww,” Darcy moaned. She cracked open her eyes to see Bucky Barnes leaning over her.

“This feels familiar,” she muttered.

His eyes darted all over her, checking to make sure she was all right. He looked like he was in shock. She looked around from the safe circle of his arms to realize they were on the floor of the lab, and it looked like they’d skidded across the floor from a large, unfamiliar machine. Bucky’s jacket was torn up one side, from where he’d used his body to shield her from their landing.

“Darcy?” His voice was rough and a little desperate. He sounded a little less terrified than a moment ago when he was screaming for her, but his eyes betrayed his fear. “You alright?”

Darcy’s reply was interrupted when Jane launched herself at her. The scientist shoved Bucky away and wrapped her arms around Darcy and whispered frantic and repeated apologies in Darcy’s ear as they continued to lay on the floor where Darcy had landed.

“It’s okay, Janey. I’m okay.” Darcy said, stroking Jane’s hair.

When Jane finally let go and helped her to her feet, she could feel the weight of Bucky’s gaze from his spot on the floor as Thor enveloped Darcy next, and so on around the lab. Tony Stark even hugged her, and they barely tolerated each other most days.

“You’re not carrying my big brother or sister back with you, are you?” he asked.

She smacked the back of his head lightly. “Gross, Tony.”

“Hey, this is a no judgement zone.”

“There are so many things wrong with you,” Darcy muttered as she snuck a look at Bucky as he picked himself up off the floor and mentally cringed at his stony expression at Tony’s insinuation. “I’m a genius and Howard recognized that. I didn’t spend a week in 2016 reorganizing the Stark Archive for nothing.”

“Uh, according to my data, you wrote half the Stark Archive in 1943, Miss Senior Technical Advisor.”

“Yes, I did.” Deciding it best for the reunions to be complete, Darcy turned to Jane and was all business. “How long have I been gone?”

“Three days,” Jane replied. She looked exhausted and Darcy rounded on her.

“And when was the last time you slept?”

Jane looked guilty. “Three days ago.”

“And ate?”

Jane glanced at her watch. “Yesterday,” she muttered.

“How about showered?”

“We’ve been trying to bring you home!”

“I was there for 18 months - would a few hours delay here really have mattered?”

Jane didn’t have an answer for that, although the look in Jane’s eye told Darcy there were plenty of experiments along those lines in their future.

Bucky grabbed Darcy’s hand before Jane could really gear up for a long night of theorizing, and hustled her out of the lab. “Come on, let’s get you settled in.”

***

Bucky led Darcy up to the residential level. Darcy was gripping his hand like a lifeline and looking around as though she’d never seen it before. It was making him more than a little nervous. When they finally reached the kitchen, he figured it was good enough as he couldn’t wait anymore. Bucky pulled her into his arms and wrapped her up in the biggest bear hug he could manage. She was here, she was alive. All of the terrible things he’d imagined over the years had never happened and she was here. She relaxed into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him just as tightly.

They stood like that, completely wrapped up in each other, swaying slightly as Bucky rocked her. He closed his eyes, stroking her hair as he breathed her in. When he finally released her, he stood quiet and still while Darcy studied him. She ran her hand through his hair as her eyes catalogued the man standing in front of her - the long hair, the scruff, the overall slightly disheveled and tired look of him. Here she was, looking exactly as perfect and lovely she did in his memories, while he knew he was different than the man who’d run out on her in 1943. He was so different from the man she knew but he was still her Bucky. Always hers. Always.

Recognize me, please. Please, please, please. I’m your Bucky. No matter what else has happened, I am always your Bucky.

Please Darcy, let me still be your Bucky.

“Okay, explain.”

“What do you want to know?” Bucky asked.

She hesitated and then asked, “Do you remember me?” Darcy looked terrified.

Bucky blinked at her. “Did you think...Darcy, how could I forget?” At her shrug, he continued. “You knew, didn’t you? The whole time, you knew what was coming. What was going to happen. And that’s why...that’s why you…” he couldn’t quite get the words out, even after all this time. For him, anyway.

Her lip trembled. “Well, if you can ask me that, then clearly Steve couldn’t stop you.”

He swallowed hard and a few tears fell down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. He wasn’t entirely sure what Steve was supposed to stop him from doing, but his heart broke at the sight of her tears anyway. All he seemed to do anymore was make her cry.

She threw her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“You’ve got nothin’ to be sorry for,” he replied fervently. He stroked her hair as she settled. When she finally pulled away, he reached for her hand.

Darcy gripped his hand tightly as she sniffled. “Why did you come back for me?”

“You thought I would leave you behind?” he choked. “That I could just -”

“No, not - why did you come? Not Steve. Or Jane. Or - ” She shook her head. “You - the you from before, 1943 you - you’re so angry with me. I thought…” she choked up again, unable to get the words out as she looked down at their joined hands.

He shook his head. “No, Darcy, no. No. I was devastated and confused, sure. I thought you didn’t want me. But - I choose you. Everytime. Rest of my life, if you’ll have me.”

Her eyes widened in shock as she continued to stare down at their joined hands. He blinked in confusion. He was pouring his heart out over here and she was staring at his hands. He suddenly remembered the pain in his arm when he’d gone back to get her. The pain in his head that made everything a little fuzzy. Something was wrong.

“Okay, the hand - the whole arm. Is it a glove or-“ Darcy took his left arm and started poking at him, much to his amusement.

“Same arm I’ve always had.” He replied automatically, although the statement felt...off somehow. He nodded briefly at Steve, who had just walked into the kitchen.

Darcy stilled. “And how did you get here? To 2018?”

Ice crept into Bucky’s chest. “Was...was I not here? Before?”

Had her trip to the past altered things so much that - no. It wasn’t possible. He hadn’t sought her out since waking up because he hadn’t known she was here. But...what if...

What if she’d wanted Steve to keep him from climbing aboard the Valkyrie? What if that was what Steve was supposed to stop him from doing?

The repercussions of that thought ricocheted through his mind.

Darcy looked to Steve, interrupting Bucky’s imminent panic attack. “Maybe tell me the whole story?”

So they did. Steve took the lead, telling Darcy how almost immediately following that night in London, the team he’d put together took out one HYDRA base after another. They had Zola on the run, and they’d attempted to capture him from his train. But the whole mission went sideways and Zola died when the train crashed. How Steve and Bucky snuck onto the Red Skull’s plane and crashed it into the ocean to save New York.

How they’d both been preserved in the ice for 70 years. Steve had been woken up first, with Bucky following later.

“Howard had all the files on my serum, of course. He figured that if anything went wrong in the reanimation process, I’d be the more likely to survive. So they woke me up first,” Steve explained.

“Howard?” Darcy asked, confusion written all over her face.

“Howard Stark,” Bucky said slowly. “Remember him?” he tried to tease her a little, but he was pretty sure he just sounded terrified.

“But...he...nevermind. What have you been doing since?”

Steve spoke up again. “Keeping out of the way. Staying the hell away from SHIELD. Buck wasn’t too keen on what we saw when we first woke up, and I had to agree, so we’ve been staying out of all of it. Tony’s involved, and has been trying to bring me in, turn things around, but no. It’s the quiet life for me.”

Darcy stared at him for a long moment before shaking herself out of it. “And you?” Darcy asked, turning to Bucky.

He shrugged. “When HYDRA was holding me captive, they’d given me a version of the serum - not enough to grow a foot taller,” he jostled Steve good-naturedly, “but enough to survive doin’ time as an unintentional ice cube. And like Steve said, I didn’t like what I saw of SHIELD.”

“So...you two didn’t help with the Chitauri?”

“The what?” Steve asked.

“Loki’s army. When it invaded New York.”

Steve looked at Bucky in confusion. “Did we miss that?”

Bucky shrugged. His head was still fuzzy.

Darcy shook her head. “So...Steve, did you know me? Before the accident?”

He hesitated. “We’d met...but you didn’t seem to remember anything from when we knew you before, so after a while I kept my distance. Bucky didn’t know you were working here, and it...didn’t seem like a good idea.”

Darcy looked like she was going to hyperventilate. Bucky reached for her, wanting to reassure her that everything was fine now, whatever had changed they could figure it out together. The important thing was that they were here, safe, together. She pulled out of his grasp to fiddle with the tea kettle on the stove.

He had to admit that stung. Insecurity roared in his chest - what if she’d been expecting to return to a 2018 where he didn’t exist? Maybe that’s why she turned him down. Maybe -

“So,” Darcy began, “That’s not exactly how it happened, where I came from.”

She prepared three mugs and brought them back to the table. She took a long sip of her tea, wincing at the temperature. She reached for his hand, and he gripped it gratefully.

“In my original timeline, Steve sought me out when I first started working here. I think he was a little lonely, a little lost, waking up in a new century, where everything he’d known and loved was gone. So we’d grab lunch sometimes. He was always telling me these amazing stories about his Howling Commandos and we’d laugh at just how wrong the history books had gotten it all. How they’d done these amazing and dangerous things and he’d never have survived any of it if it hadn’t been for his best friend.” She gave him a small smile. “How Bucky Barnes was always looking out for him and how he’d have been dead a hundred times over if Bucky hadn’t been there.”

“I wasn’t here, then.” Bucky’s heart sank. She hadn’t known him.

Darcy shook her head. “No. Steve told me...The two of you ziplined onto Zola’s train and fought your way inside.” She looked at Steve. “Only, during the fight, the side of the train was blown out.” One tear slipped down her cheek. “And Bucky fell.”

Steve’s breath stuttered. “That’s why you insisted I keep him away from trains.”

She nodded and Bucky’s vision swirled. She’d saved his life. Had she never said anything, Steve might have continued letting him take stupid risks and he would have been on that train. She knew he was going to die and she changed it.

She took a shaky breath and looked as though she were measuring her words, choosing them carefully. “Zola was captured and eventually agreed to work for SHIELD. Only he never actually turned - he grew HYDRA within SHIELD unchecked, and they stayed in the shadows for 70-some years.”

There was a crack and Bucky realized that Steve was gripping the table so hard, he’d crushed it.

“Yeah, that was pretty much your reaction in my timeline, too,” she smiled sadly.

Bucky squeezed her hand and her smile faltered.

“The worst part though, I -” she hiccuped. “I haven’t gotten to the worst part.”

What the hell could be worse?

Her voice turned almost robotic and she spoke more to the wall than to them. “The Bucky Barnes from my original timeline was found alive and held captive by HYDRA. He was tortured, and brainwashed, and forced into cryogenic freeze until HYDRA needed him to…” she stopped, swallowed hard, then finally met Bucky’s eyes. “It took HYDRA 20 years to break him. Then there were over two dozen confirmed kills by the so-called ‘Winter Soldier’ over the next 50 years.”

There was a definite crack now - this time Bucky had broken the table, and a thin fissure formed across the entire width. He let go of Darcy’s hand, afraid of hurting her, but she grabbed at him and twisted their fingers together again.

“When HYDRA realized that Steve was onto them, they gave Bucky his last mission.”

“No.” Steve whispered. Bucky closed his eyes at the horrorshow Darcy was describing.

“You fought him,” she replied. “And he recognized you.”

Bucky was pretty sure he was going to be sick.

“Steve kept trying to jog his memory. Ultimately, Bucky shot him. Punched in his skull.”

“I killed him?” Bucky whispered in horror. Now he was definitely going to be sick.

She shook her head. “Pulled him out of the Potomac, then went on the run for a few years. My last day in my original timeline, Bucky Barnes was living in this tower and recovering.” She huffed a short laugh. “Although you wouldn’t always know it. The first time I ever saw him in person, he was beating the hell out of Steve and insisting he knew me.” A small smile. “I guess he did.”

To say that Bucky was horrified would be an understatement. By the time she’d finished her story, Steve eyes had a haunted look that Bucky assumed would be reflected in own. Steve stumbled out of the room, presumably to go ponder his own existence.

Bucky’s thoughts swirled and he felt a little light-headed. He hadn’t been a part of her life in her original timeline - she hadn’t known him. The first time he met her was, essentially, the first time she met him. While that thought was a little comforting - in all of this madness, at least their relationship had been somewhat linear - he was mostly overwhelmed at just how much she had changed. She’d saved his life. The moment she’d demanded Steve keep him off the train - that moment changed everything. She knew what would happen to him and she changed it. The things she’d known - everything she’d carried in her head the entire time she’d been stuck in the past. It was amazing that she hadn’t cracked under the pressure.

Darcy wrapped Bucky’s hand up in both of hers. “So, none of that happened to you?” she asked, quietly, bringing him out of his reverie.

“No.” He tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear and gave her a smile. “You saved me.”

She burst into tears. Bucky pulled her into a hug and and pressed kisses into her hair as he swore to every deity he’d ever heard of that he’d do everything in his power in ensure she’d never have to carry this kind of burden ever again.

And after having gone a few rounds with Thor, he’d heard of quite a few.

Chapter Text

Bucky escorted Darcy to one of the empty guest rooms down the hall from his so she could get some sleep.

“Wait - do you live here?”

“Me?” he chuckled. “No, Stark set me up in a guest room while we worked on getting you back.” He sobered. “Did I?”

She nodded. “You and Steve both did.”

“What about you?”

“No. Support staff didn’t live on site.”

He nodded. “Well, as far as I know, it’s just Stark and his family that live here now.”

“Oh. That’s...I don’t know what to think about that.”

“He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s busy cleaning up the mess Carter’s retirement left. There were more than a few ambitious underlings who thought they could make a power grab. Stark’s content to keep SHIELD a small operation though. Says it’s what Carter wanted. Plus, it gives him more time with Pepper and the kids.”

She hummed in response and picked at the hem of her dress.

“What were you doing in the lab, the day of the accident? If you don’t work with SHIELD. In my original timeline, I think you had just gotten your arm upgraded.”

Bucky felt his face heat up. “Oh. Uh. Well.” He cleared his throat. “Stark told me there was a new telescope in the astro lab. Thought I’d see if I could beg a few minutes on it some night.”

Darcy’s brow crinkled in confusion and he shrugged. “It’s the right time of year to see Cassiopeia,” he mumbled. “You promised me. You promised that if I looked for it, you would be looking, too.” He heard her gasp his name softly at his admission and he turned to face her fully, taking her hands in his.

“How long has it been for you?” Darcy asked.

“Since...?”

“Since you last saw me.”

At his hesitation, she continued. “I left 1943, and your plane crashed in 1945…”

“I woke up in 2012,” he replied quietly.

“So eight years.”

“Sounds about right.”

She squeezed his hand. “And...in all that time…” she trailed off, her courage failing her.

“Darcy.” Bucky paused, trying to find the right words. “I know...I know a lot has happened. And a lot of time has passed. For me. But nothing has changed, okay?” He gently squeezed her hands. “Nothing.”

“Well that can’t be true, I’m sure someone has taught you to text by now.”

He laughed, a little relieved to hear a hint of her humor returning. “Nothing important has changed. It’s you or no one. Always.”

She shook her head. “Bucky, it’s okay if...you had no way to know if I was alive or dead or -”

“The love of your life is a hard act to follow,” he interrupted, quietly. “And I didn’t want to even try anyway.”

“Bucky,” she whispered and tugged him closer, pulling him into a kiss.

The memory of a Brooklyn street corner at dawn flashed through his mind as a riot of emotion exploded in his chest. He wrapped one arm around her waist while his other hand tangled in her hair. She pulled him flush against her with a soft sigh.

“I love you,” he murmured against her lips before recapturing them once more.

Every molecule of him was screaming FINALLY. They were finally together. They weren’t separated by an ocean, or a war, or time. They didn’t have his impending deployment or her knowledge of his fate hanging over their heads. They could just be. The way he’d wanted since the moment they met.

“I love you,” she whispered, threading her fingers through his hair and kissing him again.

They stumbled back, bumping into the wall. The movement caused him to suddenly come to his senses - realizing where they were and where they had just been.

It took all of his willpower to break away from her kiss and she chased his lips with a soft sound of protest. He moved slightly away with a teasing smile, and she slowly blinked, her eyes focusing on him once more.

“Nothin’ would make me happier than to take you inside and show you just how much I love you,” he said. “But it’s been a long day and it’s probably for the best if I say good night.”

She grinned. “Such a gentleman,” she teased quietly and wrapped him up in a hug. “We have all the time in the world now, right?”

“Yes, we do,” he promised.

“Will I see you in the morning?”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Maybe I’ll get a haircut first - need to make sure you’ll recognize me.”

She laughed. “Don’t you dare - not on my account anyway. I want you however I can get you.” She gave him a lingering kiss on the cheek, then turned to enter her room, leaving him alone in the hall.

He stared at her door, waiting until he heard her footsteps fade away, then he collapsed, sliding down the wall until he was sitting with his head between his knees. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said it had been a long day. As much as he would have loved to continue what they’d started, he was still wrapping his head around just how much she had changed.

First, he owed Steve a free headshot for pulling rank about the train. Good god, he’d been an asshole about that. In the years since then, he’d come to realize that Steve had been right - his heartbreak over losing Darcy had driven him to be reckless, and they were all lucky his stupidity hadn’t wrecked more havoc than it had. He’d had a bit of a death wish and Steve had been right to call him on it.

Knowing now that Darcy had also intervened - that she’d taken a dangerous risk and begged Steve to keep him off the train - introduced a new level of guilt. Maybe he should offer Steve two free headshots. The punk would never take them, but he’d probably come up with something worse instead.

The second thought that occurred to him was that, for Darcy, it had only been a few hours since she’d rejected his marriage proposal. He’d had years to come to terms with her rejection - and even now it stung. He’d always believed she’d had a good reason to turn him down. His optimistic and romantic heart was now screaming that she’d only said no because she knew how things would end up - according to her history, he never made it home. There was no happy ending there.

But he’d told her, hadn’t he? He’d been given the choice to go home - they could have left that night and avoided that fate entirely. Then again, if she had said yes, where would that have left him when she ultimately returned to her time?

And it wasn’t like she could have told him any of this back then.

He knew she loved him. He didn’t doubt her for one moment. But his head was still spinning.

He would hold out hope. He believed in Darcy. He chose Darcy - forever and always and for the rest of his life and beyond. And she was right - they had all the time in the world.

For now, maybe he could play into that optimism a little bit and go bug Howard at that swanky nursing home he was holing up in these days. He could see if he could shake loose the name of wherever storage unit he might have stashed Bucky’s things from back when. There was a very specific piece of jewelry he’d like to find.

***

Darcy knew she should be sleeping. Really. It had been a long ass day and the emotional whiplash she was suffering just needed a goddamn minute to settle. Bucky had been right to say good night when he did - no matter how much she hated it. She hadn’t been kidding about the haircut - the scruffy look he was currently sporting did things for her. It had since the moment she laid eyes on him just before the lab blew up.

But her mind wouldn’t shut up until she thought through a few things and traveling down that particular rabbit hole wasn’t going to help her any. That scruffy, gorgeous rabbit hole.

Focus.

It wasn’t like she had traveled back in time with the intention to change anything - once she was there, all she’d been trying to do was survive. Maybe if she was lucky get word to her friends that she was stuck in the past and could use a rescue. But then she met Bucky Barnes and all of her plans flew out the window. The only time she’d actually, actively chose to try to change something was when she asked Steve to keep Bucky off the train. (Okay, and probably that time she told Peggy Carter to leave the Tesseract in the ocean. But who would really have expected her to take that advice?)

Asking Steve to keep Bucky away changed everything, apparently. Somehow, she’d inadvertently saved Bucky from almost all the things she had feared for him. It was a heady feeling.

“Are the answers you seek really in that box?” a warm voice asked from behind her.

Darcy spun around in her desk chair, away from her laptop. “Thor? What are you doing here?”

“After I got Jane settled and asleep, I wanted to check on you. Sergeant Barnes whisked you away so quickly earlier, I wanted to make sure you were doing alright.”

“Aw, thanks buddy. I’ll be okay.” She moved over to the couch and motioned for him to join her.

He regarded her carefully. “I heard from our good Captain that there are some differences between the 2018 that you left and the 2018 to which you returned.”

She nodded. “I’ll figure it out. I just - I wasn’t expecting...I wasn’t trying to change anything.”

“Weren’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

Thor smiled at her. “I have heard stories of you intervening on the Sergeant's behalf - changing his fate.”

“You’d know if I broke the universe by doing that, right?” Darcy twisted her hands nervously. “I wasn’t exactly in a great state of mind when I practically ordered Steve to keep him away from that train. I don’t even know what I was thinking - I just...I couldn’t not say something.”

Thor chuckled. “Do not worry. You have not broken anything.”

Darcy wrinkled her nose and made a face in confusion. “How can you be so sure?”

“My mother is quite talented. From what she could see, you and James Barnes have lived this loop over and over again in almost every timeline.”

“Your mom?” Darcy interrupted, confused. “But she...nevermind.” Darcy considered asking about Loki, but wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. Just because he never lead an alien army in an invasion of New York City didn’t mean that Loki wasn’t still...Loki. Best to leave that conversation for later. “Wait - but then how are things different? If this was a loop, shouldn’t things be the way I remember them?”

Thor grinned. “Every timeline with one exception. You broke the loop when you asked Steven to keep James off the train.”

Darcy blinked. “There’s a version of me that doesn’t do that?” she asked, incredulous.

“Darcy,” Thor replied gently, “no version of you has ever done that until now.”

She sat silently, thinking that statement over. She couldn’t picture any version of herself that wouldn’t at least try. Then again, up until that point, she’d been so petrified of changing anything - maybe the thought wasn’t so crazy after all.

“And you’re sure I didn’t break the universe?” she asked quietly.

Thor smiled affectionately. “I am positive.”

Darcy hesitated, gathering her courage. “Was...did your mom see any timeline where...where I accepted Bucky’s marriage proposal?”

Thor nodded. “There was one.”

“And?”

“The two of you went back to New York. Lived out your days.”

Darcy blinked back tears. “And that’s it?” Could they have been happy? Could she have saved them so much pain?

Thor paused for a moment and considered her. “Steven was killed in the war a week later. From what Mother could see, James never forgave himself and it took its toll on you both. It was a less than happy ending. For yourself...and the world.”

Darcy swallowed hard. Her assumption had been correct then - Bucky needed to stay with Steve. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. She switched to a hopefully less dangerous topic. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

She leaned her head back against the couch. “How’d we meet?”

Thor grinned. “It was on the field of battle!”

“What.”

“I had just arrived on Earth and sought to fight those I thought responsible for my predicament. You bested me with your hand-held lightning.”

“I’m not sure I’d call that the field of battle. But that’s the same way I met you before, so that’s cool.”

“Field of battle or not, you are a fierce warrior and a loyal friend. All who know you should consider themselves blessed.”

Darcy smiled, feeling a little better. “You’re the best, you know that?”

Chapter Text

Bucky found Darcy staring at the coffeemaker in disgust as she emptied the spend grounds into the compost bin and muttering darkly about the kind of people who leave wet coffee grounds to fester.

“Not a coffee fan, then?” he teased.

She turned to face him. “I need coffee but some idiot never emptied the grounds and now there’s mold all through it.”

“There’s a coffee shop in the lobby, let’s go grab a cup.”

Darcy looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know what my access is,” she mumbled.

Bucky’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I have a different title now then I did before. I don’t know what my access is, or where my credentials work, or if any of my passcodes are the same. Hell, it’s been 18 months - I don’t even remember half of them.” She sighed in frustration and pulled her hands through her hair.

“Darcy,” he said and waited for her to look at him. “I’ll go with you. We’ll try every door and every code you can think of and if yours don’t work, mine will. Tony knows what’s up, no one is going to toss you from the building because you can’t punch in the correct number.” Heaven knows he’d punched holes through enough walls when he’d first come here because he couldn’t remember what code to use at what door. He was fairly certain Tony Stark had intentionally designed the building to be frustrating.

“Really?” she asked, quietly.

“Really.”

She gave him a tiny smile. “Okay.” He held out his hand and she took it as they made their way to the elevator.

They were silent as the elevator descended, Bucky tracing a soft line with his thumb across the back of her hand. Finally, she broke the silence. “I don’t even know how old I am.”

“Join the club,” Bucky replied with a smirk.

Darcy snorted. “That’s true. I guess I’m just being dramatic.”

“You’re not. This was unprecedented. It’s okay to take some time to adjust.”

She gave him a wry smile. “And how much therapy did that conclusion require?”

He looked abashed. “A fair bit.”

She’s looking at him strangely, almost as though she’s remembering something. “What is it?” he asked.

She smiled, caught. “The look on your face. It’s the same one you had when I asked if your charm worked on all the girls. I guess...it’s just nice to know that not everything has changed.”

The elevator stopped and opened to the lobby. Bucky led her to the coffee shop and bought her the largest coffee she’d ever laid eyes on. Affection blooms in his chest at the happy dance she does as she closes her eyes and breathes in the scent of her lavender latte. They grab a table, and over their coffee she tells him what Thor had told her - how there were only two timelines in the whole of the multiverse where Bucky wasn’t captured by HYDRA. How they somehow were lucky enough to end up in the happier one.

“I think he’s overestimating my importance just a bit,” he replied dryly.

“Not to me,” she muttered, not quite meeting his eyes.

His leg burned with the weight of her ring in his pocket after that admission. He wanted desperately to hold her close, to let her know he’d never let her go again.

But he can see the lost look in her eye, as she’s trying to reconcile the world in front of her with the world she remembered.

He can relate to that.

So he bit his tongue and stuck with her all day, figuring out what doors she could open and what passcodes she remembered. It was a tangible thing, but one that allowed her to physically work through everything that had changed for her.

And if he was reveling in being near her again - the way she would smile or tuck her hair behind her ear - well that was his secret. The way she was always in some way touching him, either holding his hand or wrapping an arm around his waist, he felt like they could anchor each other to this new reality. Together, they could weather any storm.

It was a start. When the lab first exploded, he’d promised himself he would do whatever it took to get her back again. So he could take his time, help her adjust.

And if he was exceptionally lucky, he could get her to fall in love with him all over again.

***

Dear Darcy,
If I’ve timed this right, you should be receiving this your first day back to work. Postman - don’t make a fool of me in front of my girl.

How does it feel to be back in the lab? Just like old times? Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you settle back in.

I have also recently come to the realization that I have never taken you to dinner. Looking at the calendar, I am approximately 76 years delinquent on this. Allow me to fix that some night soon?

***

Dear Bucky,
I made the joke about texting, but seriously - has no one taught you email?

You actually put this in a mailbox. You went to the post office, bought a stamp, and sent this through the United States Postal Service. The USPS thanks you, as they’re having a bit of a budget crisis, but it’s a little excessive when you know where to find me.

For the record, I’m not complaining. In all this madness, your letter is something familiar, when so much isn’t. I am so very lucky to have you in my life.

I’ll go to dinner with you any night you like. Every night, if you like.

***

Dear Darcy,
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer putting pen to paper. And anything that makes you smile is worth the effort. I’m only returning the favor - you once did it for me, after all.

Don’t you dare start thinking you’re the lucky one here. I will start listing at length everything you have ever done for me and I won’t stop until you believe me when I say that I have no idea what on earth a girl like you sees in a guy like me.

***

Dear Old Fashioned,
We’re going to single-handedly solve USPS’s money woes if we keep this up.

***

Dear Darcy,
Not single-handedly. I kept all of my limbs in this timeline, remember? I might be going gray a little early, given that I spent the last eight years thinking you’d been hit by a car and was either dead or had the worst amnesia ever and had forgotten me, but I am otherwise in perfect health.

It’s the right time of year for Cassiopeia. Take a walk with me after dinner?

***

Dear Bucky,
Can it be considered going gray early when you’re technically 101 years old? Personally, I think you look rather fetching for a centenarian.

I hate to break it to you, but 2018 New York has a lot more light pollution than 1943 New York. I’m not sure we’ll be able to see any stars, let alone find Cassiopeia.

***

Dear Darcy,
Who said I was taking you to dinner in New York? I promised you stargazing in Europe, if I remember correctly. This time, I’m the one that can call in a favor from a Stark.

***

The weeks following Darcy’s return to 2018, she and Bucky developed a habit of taking long, meandering walks through the city. Most nights it was so reminiscent of their first date - the thrill of finally finding that person hadn’t gone away and Bucky was fairly certain that for him, it never would. Not after everything they’d endured to finally get here. It felt like after their separation, the war, and all of the pain and longing they’d gone through they were finally getting their lives back. He hadn’t breathed so easy or slept so well since the night they met.

It helped that every night she now slept beside him. The days he’d spent staring at her photograph and dreaming of the real thing paled in comparison to reality.

The day they met was still the best day of his life, but his top ten list of Favorite Days was completely filled by days with Darcy and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He slowed as they approached the old abandoned fairgrounds, and she dropped his hand as she moved to consider the construction signs announcing the newest luxury apartments coming soon to the neighborhood.

“These are the old Stark Expo grounds, right?” she asked, winding her fingers through a few of the links in fence.

“Yeah.”

She frowned. “Things change, I guess.”

“Not everything.”

She turned to look at him. “No?”

He pulled an old letter from his pocket and handed it to her. “Not for me anyway.” The letter looked like hell, after surviving the late days of World War II, 70 years in the ice, and a few more years on top of that, but her words can still be read plain as day.

Come home to me, handsome. I love you.

She drew in a sharp breath as she traced the words on the page. “Oh Bucky,” she breathed before she looked up at him.

He held out her ring, the one he’d bought for her all those years ago, his expression hopeful.

She grasped his hand, wrapping her fingers around his and staring at the ring. “This the same ring?” she whispered.

“You don’t remember?” he teased.

She shook her head. “I never really looked at it. I was too busy breaking both our hearts.” She paused, still staring at their hands. “You’d still want to? I mean...I thought…”

“Darcy,” he cupped her face in his hands and gently coaxed her to look at him. “I love you. I choose you. That’s never changed. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

She smiled softly. “I could be amenable to that.”

“Amenable, huh?” he grinned. “Darcy, make me the happiest man in any century and say you’ll marry me.” He touched his forehead to hers. “Please, Darcy. Marry me.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes.”