That Which You Seek
The man in the booth before Darcy stares down at his pancakes with suspicion. He fingers his fork with his right hand, his left held stiffly between his legs beneath the table. Beyond the brim of his baseball cap, she sees his eyes dart from his fork to his spoon to the cup of water beside him. He clenches his jaw and draws in a stilted breath, but the breath does nothing to ease the tension within him. He releases the fork only to grasp it again; his eyes resume their revolution around the table: napkin to plate to glass to fork and then, suddenly, to her. Darcy is too shocked at the sudden eye contact to look away or even to feel the shame for gawking at this guy as he tries to eat breakfast for dinner, the holiest of all meals. Instead, she gapes right back.
He gives her the same look as he gave the pancakes. She understands his need to glare. He must get a lot of stares, his hair long and tangled beneath his hat, an unkempt beard darkening his face. The unfortunate state of his follicles is not enough though to mar the bright blue of his eyes or the straight line of his jaw. Beneath the hobo lies a hottie; either would be enough to draw people’s attention. Darcy is just about to send him an apologetic grin when his right hand shifts, from his fork to his knife. Something in the shift, in the way that his fingers hover over the blade, raises the hair on the back of her neck. She tenses and he does too. His eyes bore into her, and she feels her breath catch in her chest. She has her taser in her bag and her knife before her, but the man has at least fifty pounds on her, likely all muscle given the hang of his jacket on his shoulders. Seconds slip by. They continue to stare, and she is just about to scramble from the booth for the door and her rental car outside when the man shudders and closes his eyes. He drops his head and shoves his right hand beneath the table beside his left, and he sits like that, shaking, trying his best to breathe.
Darcy glances at the other patrons in the diner, an old man over at the counter, a mom and two kids behind her, a group of construction workers two tables over. She eyes the waitress behind the counter and then the cashier flipping through a magazine by the register. None of them seem to have seen what just occurred. Would it matter if they had? The construction workers could have done something. Maybe. Or maybe the man would have just killed them too after he’d killed her. Her heart pounding in her chest, Darcy turns again to the man. He still hasn’t moved. She eyes her plate. Half her French toast still awaits her consumption; she hasn’t even touched her scrambled eggs. But she doesn’t intend to now. Sliding her napkin from her lap, Darcy grabs the strap of her bag and begins to ease from the booth. She takes another peek at the man to check that he remains in place. He stares out the window now, his jaw again clenched. Darcy sees the sheen of tears in his eyes, and there’s something about him, about the set of his shoulders and the look in his eyes, that makes her stop.
She sits, half in and half out of the booth, her hands clenched around the strap of her bag. She should go. She knows she should go. The switch could turn back to homicidal any second, especially as Darcy is even less subtle with her rubbernecking now. But she can’t, a shade of a memory fixing her in place. She stares at the man, studying his jacket, his hat, both a non-descript black. Did she know him in high school? The thought of one of her fellow deviants in academia being a serial killer didn’t surprise her. The line of his jaw captures her attention again, and the shadow shifts, slightly. Then he does too, the man turning to her once more, and when he does, the shadow lifts entirely and she finds herself staring at the face of a dead man that had stared at her from every history textbook she’d ever studied in her academic career.
His eyes narrow, but he makes no move for his knife this time. Licking her lips, Darcy tries to process this reality before her. It’s surprisingly easy. She blames Thor for that. When your reality expands to include god-kings from alien worlds and evil world-ending smoke, the miraculous and seemingly murderous resurrection of a genuine war hero, the best pal of Captain America at that, does not seem so farfetched. Darcy dredges up distant memories of her history books, of her many trips to the Smithsonian when she was in school, of when she was thirteen and she and her friends had each chosen their own Commando to moon over and dream about. Darcy had, as improbable as it seems now, chosen him. Most of her other friends had fought over the Captain, but she had immediately liked the rakish smirk that had greeted her in Bucky’s pictures. The man before her now is him. She knows that it is. She feels it in her gut. His hair is longer and the scruff is there and most of the pictures that she’d obsessed over had been in black and white, obscuring the blue of his eyes, but it’s him, Bucky Barnes, nearly seventy years after his death, apparently a creepy, pancake-hating serial killer.
“Holy shit,” she says again.
He is quiet a moment and then he says, his voice too soft for the hard set of his jaw, “You know me.”
Darcy hesitates. She probably shouldn’t engage creepy, pancake-hating war hero/serial killers in conversation, but when the hell has she ever done the smart thing? Never, according to her father, and rarely, according to Jane. She couldn’t let either of them down now, so, still half in and out of the booth, she nods.
The question makes her frown. She eyes Bucky, trying to determine if he’s joking or even more insane that she originally thought. She decides neither. Sincerity stares back at her, with a healthy dose of confusion heaped on top. Confusion and desperation. Breathing in, she relaxes her grip on her bag a fraction of an inch and says, “Bucky Barnes.”
He looks away at the name. Darcy watches as he shifts, as his gaze darts once more from fork to knife to plate to cup. He stares at them as though they are unfamiliar; he sits as though his body is too. A memory worms its way into her brain, of Erik in the institution. The way he’d looked at her when he first saw her, unable to remember who she was, too high on meds and too broken from Loki, reminds her of this man. Of Bucky. He blinks and swallows, but neither action does anything to dull the gleam of tears in his eyes, and the sight plucks at something inside her, the same place reserved for Selvig and for Jane before Thor returned, the place for her mother and for lost dogs on the sides of the roads.
She eases back into the booth. “You don’t remember.”
His eyes snap up to her face.
She arches a brow. “Do you?”
He stares at her, his gaze as intent as before, but she sees no murderous intentions in his eyes now. Just the same confusion and desperation that pulls at her. His chest shudders as he breathes in again. She waits, patient in a way few thought she could be when she was young. But she’s had practice, the end of the world working to pull her out of herself and into something more.
After another moment, Bucky shakes his head, the movement stiff.
Darcy gives a slow nod, more for her benefit than his. She reaches for her dripping glass of water, swallowing a mouthful in an effort to figure out what to do. She’d been on her way to D.C. to interview with Coulson, finally succumbing to the numerous emails he’d sent to her after the shenanigans in London. She’d resisted his wooing, still envisioning him as the nefarious iPod thief, but Thor had given Coulson his stamp of approval. S.H.I.E.L.D. had returned Jane’s stuff after all and had helped keep her safe when the world almost ended in New York. And Thor had said they’d helped there too, trying to stop Loki and his rage-fueled invasion. The thought of helping in a capacity larger than unpaid intern had appealed to Darcy so she came, but then S.H.I.E.L.D. had arrested Captain America and ships had fallen from the sky and Darcy had stopped fifty miles from the city, calling Jane, who had asked Thor, who had spoken to Tony, who only knew that Coulson was clean, the Captain was alive, S.H.I.E.L.D. was dead, and shit had just gotten real.
Darcy looks at Bucky. Yes. Yes, it definitely had.
She wonders if he had been involved in the action in D.C. Or if he was going there now, drawn by the Captain’s obvious presence. Being here, so close to D.C. so soon after everything that happened, with no memory of himself and an inclination for murder, was too strange to just be a coincidence. She breathes in again and takes another drink of water. She should call Coulson. Or Jane again. Jane could get Thor to get Tony who had the best shot of reaching the Captain. He was the most qualified to deal with this, with Bucky, being all super-powered and able to handle attacks from dull knives. Yet as she watches Bucky inch his right hand out from under the table to grasp his fork with shaking fingers, she finds herself reaching not for her phone but for her plate to move from her booth to his.
“Can I sit?” she asks, sending him a soft smile.
Which goes unnoticed as Bucky stares down at his food. She feels the tension emanate from him, the man a high wire, a clock string wound too tight. “You shouldn’t.”
“Probably not. Especially since you wanted to stab me a few minutes ago. Don’t think I didn’t notice that, by the way.” Bucky peers at her from the corners of his eyes, but she plows on, not waiting for him to confirm or deny. “However, you need help. That much is obvious. And that’s kind of what I do now.”
Her heart clenches at the worried tilt of his brows. Shifting her plate from her right hand to her left, Darcy grabs her bag and jiggles it at him. “I’ve also got a taser in my bag and I know how to use it, so in the event that you do try to stab me, I’ll tase you until you fall face first into your pancakes. Also, I know Thor.”
Bucky tilts his head toward her, frowning now. “Thor?”
For a moment, she can’t respond, this development too much for her (who doesn’t know Thor? everyone knows Thor), but before she can even try to process, Bucky’s eyes widen and a knife appears in his hand, one jagged and sharp and much more sinister than the dull diner blade on the table. He lunges toward her and tackles her around the waist. As they fall to the ground, Darcy thinks that she’s going to die and how stupid she’d been to try to help, she’s not in S.H.I.E.L.D., she’s not an Avenger, she’s just a dumb intern, but then she hears the sound of gunfire ripping through the diner and she realizes that she still might die, but not from Bucky.
From whoever’s trying to kill him.
Bucky pushes Darcy to the ground and springs up off her before she can even catch the breath she lost. Her plate shatters on the floor beside her, splashing her with egg and French toast. Twisting around, she sees the four construction workers converge on Bucky. She can barely follow their fight, the five a blur of movement. One of the workers fires a gun at Bucky. Darcy flinches, her heart in her throat, but Bucky raises his left arm and the man with the gun falls to the ground dead. A second goon moves in before Darcy can figure out what happened to the first, how Bucky still has an arm, much less a heartbeat. She hears the crackle of electricity, sees a prod of sorts in the new goon’s hand. Bucky slashes down with his knife and catches the goon across the forearm. A bright arc of blood gushes into the air. Darcy turns away cringing, and it is only because she turns that she sees the waitress lift a gun and shoot the old man at the counter in the head.
“Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.”
Darcy scrambles beneath the table, knocking against a large black duffel bag. Her hands dart into her bag for her phone and her taser. She hears the sound of gunfire, then breaking wood and shattering glass. She hears groans of pain and screams so high she knows they belong to a child. Shaking, she clicks on Contacts and then on Jane. Holding the taser before her, Darcy waits. The phone rings, a chair flies by, there is another yell, from a man this time, and then Jane answers the phone.
“Darcy, I’m sorry, but I can’t—”
Gunfire erupts again, this time directed at the booth in which Darcy hides. The bullets smash the plates and glasses, they slam down onto the table, but they don’t plow through. Pressing herself between the wall and bag, Darcy tries to focus and stay calm.
Jane gasps at the sounds of the battle. “Darcy, what—”
“I found him.”
“I found Bucky. Tell—”
She doesn’t get the opportunity to finish for the woman with the gun pops into view. Darcy drops the phone and fires her taser. The electric nodes strike the woman in the face. As she recoils, Darcy darts out from under the table. Two of the four men fighting Bucky lie on the ground dead. The other two hold him, one from behind, one arm around Bucky’s neck, the other pressing the electric prod into his side. The other man is before him, fighting for the knife in his hands. Darcy runs for the door. She hears something crack, followed by a bellow of pain. She doesn’t know if the man in pain is Bucky. She doesn’t turn to look. She grabs her keys from her bag instead. The cashier lay crumpled by the register, a phone in his hands and a bullet in his head. She sees the family in the last booth slumped over, blood pooling onto the floor beneath them. And then she’s falling, the woman tackling her from behind.
Darcy slams into the ground, her breath leaving her again as the woman falls on top of her. She tries to twist around, to face the woman, to remember what she learned in her self-defense class in college, how she should go for the eyes or throat, but she remembers nothing, she only moves, lashing out with the keys in her hand and gouging the woman in the face. She hisses in pain and wrenches Darcy’s wrist down to the floor. She holds the gun in her other hand. Darcy looks at the barrel, she stares death in the face, but then a hand clamps down onto the woman’s shoulder and she goes flying back across the diner. Darcy watches as she slams into the far wall. Bucky stands between them, his hat gone, his back to Darcy, a gun in his hand now. She watches as he lifts it, as he aims at the woman who struggles to get to her feet.
Darcy closes her eyes and twists away as he fires.
Seconds pass, yet no further violence erupts. Easing around, Darcy opens her eyes. She finds Bucky by the people—the bodies—stripping the men of their weapons. He moves with precision, with the bearing of a soldier. Standing, he sheds his jacket, revealing a torn and bloodied plaid shirt beneath, but it’s not the shirt that draws her attention. It’s his left arm, visible through the shredded sleeve, gleaming silver and bright. She’d read about advances in prosthetics, knew that Stark Industries was at the forefront of innovation in that field, but this is like nothing she’s ever seen, that hand and arm as functional as his right. Bucky returns to his booth, reaches beneath, and pulls out the black duffel bag. She watches as he unzips it, as he unearths a black leather jacket. He strips off the torn plaid shirt, then the bloodied t-shirt beneath, and she can’t help but gape at the scars that crisscross his chest, at those that encircle his left shoulder in jagged thick lines, at the wound leaking blood on his left side.
The blood restores her voice. “Are you—”
“I’m not compromised.”
Darcy frowns, but doesn’t continue her question. Bucky zips into the jacket, half a jacket really, and more armor than jacket. She’s reminded of the jacket he wore as a Commando, the elegance of the lines are the same, both so different from the usual military garb. Bucky removes a harness from the bag, puts it on, and then begins to secure the guns from the dead men. He attaches his knife as well, the edges dark with blood. He stores the other weapons in his bag before moving toward the woman, seizing both her gun and Darcy’s discarded taser.
A tinny screaming draws her attention and his too. Through the blood on his face, she sees him frown. He crouches again beside his booth and peers into the depths a moment before reaching in for her phone. Darcy eases to her feet as he stares down at her phone, Jane audible across the distance, still screaming for her. Bucky clenches his jaw. He glances at her. She can’t read the look in his eyes. She waits for him to crush her phone, to proceed to kill her as he originally intended, but instead he lifts the phone to his ear and says, his voice still too soft for the blood that he wears and the guns that he carries and the death that he deals with ease, “She’s alive.”
The shouting stops, but Bucky doesn’t continue the conversation. He ends the call by turning off the phone and then starts toward Darcy. She pushes her hair from her face with a shaking hand. He stops before her, but she doesn’t speak, she doesn’t even think to quip, not with the scent of blood clogging the air around her and making her gag. Bucky regards her a moment more then extends his hand, offering Darcy her phone. She hesitates too, though she doubts that this is a trick designed to distract her, to give him the opportunity to kill her without a fight. If he wanted her dead, he would have let the woman with the gun shoot her. But he didn’t. Swallowing hard, Darcy claims her phone and then the taser he holds out to her a second later.
“More are outside,” he says, looking toward the frosted-glass windows. “Five is not enough. If you stay here, you will die.”
Darcy eyes the door. Five is not enough. Of course it isn’t. Not with how fast he moves and how strong he is. He isn’t as fast or as strong as Thor, but Bucky is more than human, more like the Captain when she watched him spar with Thor during his visit in February.
Darcy looks back at Bucky. He stares at the floor, his jaw tight, his brows again at the anxious tilt that clamps down on her throat and tugs at her gut.
Feeling her gaze upon him, he tries again. “I don’t…”
She stares at him a few seconds before comprehension clicks. “You don’t know.”
He gives a small nod.
“Do you want to know?”
Bucky meets her eyes, his look an affirmation, a supplication. Darcy glances again at the door. She could wait, she could call the cops or call Jane again and hunker down until the former come or Thor arrives, or maybe Tony, closer in New York and friendly with Jane and Thor. But she sees movement beyond the frosted glass, and she knows that Bucky is right. If she stays here, she will die.
If she goes with him, she might live.
“Okay,” she says, facing him again. “I’ll go with you. I’ll help you. Or I’ll try to. But you have to get me out of here alive. And,” she continues, dropping her gaze to his knife, “you can’t try to stab me again.”
“I didn’t try.”
Darcy gives him a look. “You wanted to. Same diff.”
At that, Bucky frowns. “You were staring at me.”
For the second time that evening, Darcy gapes at him, unable to process. As if that made sense, stabbing the people who stared at you. Or maybe it did, Darcy takes in the bloodshed around them. This seemed to be normal for him, given the ease with which he fought. She ignores that thought, what it means for her and her near future. Instead, she draws upon all of the patience that her mother and now Erik has given to her and says, “Of course I was staring at you. People stare. That’s what they do. You can’t kill everyone who stares at you.”
Bucky nods. The nod, the solemnity of it, the need for guidance fueling it, so desperate that he seeks it now from her, disquiets Darcy. She looks away, overwhelmed by him and the hints she has of his life after the war. She has no clue how she is going to help him, or even if she could, scientists sans pants about all she could successfully handle. She looks at Bucky as he moves to the door. This—amnesiac, pancake hating robo-killers—was far beyond her skill set.
“Can you shoot?” he asks, tilting his head toward her.
Bucky kneels down and paws through the bag. He takes out the electric prod and hands it to her. “This is like your taser,” he says as he pulls out two large guns, the kind she’s only seen in movies. “If anyone gets close to you, press the button, touch them, and they’ll go down.”
Bucky stands, armed and bloodied. Clear eyes look at her, no arrogance there to blind him, no fear present to cloud him. Just the clarity, nothing beneath. She shivers at the sight and again when he says, “They’re not me.”
Looking away, she bypasses that obvious truth for the other. “Why would they get close enough for me to use this? Wouldn’t they just shoot me?”
Bucky doesn’t respond. Darcy looks back at him, sees a smudge of discomfort streaking the clarity now. He forces himself to meet her gaze. “They’ll want you alive,” he says. “They’ll want…”
He swallows and drops his gaze. “To know why I talked to you.”
Darcy stares at him a moment before shaking her head. “No. You mean why you didn’t kill me.”
Bucky shrugs but still doesn’t look at her. “Same diff.”
Her jaw drops, but he pays no attention to her shock. Instead, he moves to the inner door and drops into a crouch. Darcy follows and they ease out into the foyer. There, through the blinds, she sees three Hummers arrayed before the diner and men with guns hiding behind. She glances at Bucky, at the two guns in his hands and the five strapped to his chest. She hopes they are enough.
“Wait here until I tell you to move. When I do, get to your car, start it up. When I join you, drive north.”
Darcy nods. She feels her heart stutter in her chest, fear beginning to take hold. “What if…” She stops, unable to voice the thought. But her hesitation draws his attention. Licking her lips, she tries again. “What if you die?”
“I won’t,” he says as he stands. The clarity is back, Bucky the hurricane and the calm center of the storm. As he reaches for the door, he looks back at her and says, “They didn’t bring enough.”