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and I wonder (if everything could ever feel this real forever)

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Darcy's first words to him when they're introduced are, "Hey, Hobo. Welcome to the less-evil side, depending on the day and who you're talking to."

For reasons he doesn't understand, he likes her. There is no fear on her part, just an unhealthy lack of it as she's introduced to him and his history.

("You know who I am."

"Hard to forget a mug like that."

"You're not afraid?" Bucky asked, eyeing her skeptically.

Darcy shrugged. "Any friend of Steve's is probably good people… If you completely ignore the part where he befriends assassins, narcissistic geniuses, doctors with anger problems, and did I mention assassins...? But whatever, the past is the past. I once punched a cop and I wouldn't want anybody to hold it against me... Or mention it since I booked it before he could arrest me, so, y'know, don't let that get around…"

Steve shook his head, smiling to himself. "I'm going to take that as a compliment and not ask questions."

"You're a smart man, Rogers." She grinned at him and then winked at Bucky. "Enjoy your tour of Stark Tower. If you see Tony, check to see if he's wearing pants. If he isn't, please tell JARVIS to tell me. He's on Day Three of all work and too much coffee... And Day Three is always the worst."

Steve hustled him out of the lab and down the hall, leaving Darcy Lewis behind. Bucky would be lying if he said he didn't look back twice before she was out of sight.)

Steve tells him that Darcy's harmless. She spends most of her time in the science labs, moving between Foster, Banner and Stark. But he sees her, a lot, and she always seems to be in a hurry, muttering to herself, hands full of papers or tea or Poptarts, and always glaring at the robot following behind her.

He imagines, on paper, she is harmless. HYDRA wouldn't give her a second glance. But he does.

He can barely keep his eyes off her. He's not sure he wants to.

The first time they end up alone together is when she's outrunning the robot, she keeps calling it 'dummy' and he's pretty sure it's a name and not an insult, or maybe both. She collides with him as she banks around a corner and instead of struggling to get out of his arms, she looks up and says, "Please! Hide me!"

("Why'd you do it?" Steve wondered, his brow furrowed. "You've been avoiding everyone else. What made her different?"

Bucky shrugged, avoiding his eyes, and said, "She asked me to.")

They end up in an empty office, waiting on some paper pusher to fill it, the door closed and DUM-E's wheels moving past as he searches for her. Bucky presses a finger to his lips to tell her to be quiet. Quiet isn't her style, but she manages. They wait a few moments until the coast is clear and then she slumps, relieved, and sits on top of the desk.

"Sorry for the ambush, but thanks for the save. Stark's pissy because I keep interrupting him to remind him to shower and sleep, so he set DUM-E on me to keep him off his back. It's driving me nuts."

He watches her a moment, as she tucks her hair behind her ear. She's pretty. Really pretty. It makes him uncomfortable suddenly.

He lurches up and reaches for the door. She frowns after him. "Polite people say 'you're welcome...'"

He doesn't. He's not. He leaves and doesn't look back.

That doesn't stop him from going out of his way to block or distract DUM-E to give her a break from him for the next few days, though.

The first time they eat together, she shoves a bowl of casserole under his nose and says, "Eat this. It's a Mama Lewis specialty."

He blinks at her and then frowns at the bowl. He manages exactly one half of a shake of his head before she rolls her eyes and shoves a spoon into his mouth. Vaguely, his analytical mind comes up with three different ways he could break her hand or arm before she reaches him, but his fingers don't so much as twitch.

All he tastes is cheese at first and it is fucking amazing. He moans without thinking about it and she grins at him. Her smile makes his gut twist.

She scoops up a bite of her own, leaving his spoon to dangle from his lips, and winks. "See? Told you it'd be good."

He spends too much time staring at her mouth and quickly decides eating in the privacy of his room, far from tempting red lips and mischievous blue eyes, is better for all involved.

She doesn't get the memo. Now every time she cooks, she puts food aside for him. If she doesn't see him, she leaves it in the fridge with a sticky-note that simply says "hobo."

("Is that one of Darcy's?" Steve asked, watching him dig into a plate of pasta, piled just high enough to actually fill him up.

Bucky glanced at him, twirling his fork to spin the noodles around the tines. He shrugged. "She left it in the fridge for me."

"She does that a lot."

He shrugged again.

"She doesn't do it for anyone else. In fact, Clint tried to eat the banana loaf she made for you last week and she threatened to taser him in the balls."

Slowly, Bucky's lips curved up in a grin. He hid it by stuffing his pasta into his mouth.)

He looks forward to finding what she'll leave for him next. Sometimes he gets up in the middle of the night and checks the fridge. There's always something. She never forgets.

He keeps all of the sticky notes in the drawer of his bedside table. He doesn't like to think about why.

The first time they dance together, he's pretty sure it was a set up.

He's been watching her and Steve on the dance floor for the last three songs. She smiles as Steve steps on her foot, again, and shakes her head as he apologizes, again. He knows Steve doesn't like her like that.

("Darcy's cute," Steve mentioned as he sat in the corner of the couch, his sketchpad in his lap.

Bucky went still, feeling suddenly defensive. "So?"

Steve shrugged. "Just making an observation..."

Bucky frowned, glaring at him from the corner of his eye. "You gotta thing for her?" he asked, but it was slow and his voice was edged with warning.

Steve grinned to himself and shook his head. "No."

At Bucky's skeptical look, he looked over at him and held up a lead-smudged hand. "Honest. I don't."

Bucky hummed, still eyeing him, but he settled back into the couch, a little more relaxed.

He never asked why Steve brought it up.)

He also knows Steve knows he likes her like that. But it's not safe and he's every shade of broken there is. Still, he gravitates to her, even when he tells his feet to stop moving. He's halfway across the dance floor when Steve spots him and waves him over.

"Hey, do her a favor and put Darcy and her feet out of their misery. I think I broke a few of her toes," Steve says, and then he just hands her over, like it's the easiest damn thing there is. Only Bucky can't imagine having her and letting her go.

Darcy slides up close to him, taking one of his hands and placing it on her hip before her fingers drags up his arm to settle on his shoulder. He swallows tightly, thickly, and wonders what the hell he's doing. But then they're moving and his feet remember how to dance even if his head doesn't, and apparently he's not too bad.

For the first little bit, it's quiet. She doesn't say anything and he's not prone to conversation. Too many years spent muzzled. But she shifts closer, she turns her hand so their fingers knit, and she looks up at him, smiling. "I bet you danced a lotta girls into your bed in your time."

And he thinks he did. He thinks he remembers Steve mentioning something like that. And maybe the old him would say something like, "Any chance I'm gonna dance you there?" But this him doesn't. His fingers flex on her hip like they would the grip of a gun, because she's dangerous in a way he's not used to but he likes all the same.

She talks for both of them then, telling him about the first time she ever danced and what her favorite music is and how her mother tried to put her into ballroom classes in hopes of making her classier, but it never stuck. Her mouth moves at inhuman speeds, but all it does is draw his eye. He takes in every word, files them away, holds onto them, desperately hoping they don't sift away through the sieve his mind's become like all the other things that have mattered but been forgotten.

He remembers every move she makes, every word she says, every laugh, every smile, every sound. He remembers the smell of her hair (roses) and the smell of her perfume dabbed at her throat, and he thinks, if he let himself, he'd be intoxicated with her.

But then someone else steps up and asks for a dance and he splits away before she can say yes or no, because she should dance with someone else, anyone else. He stalks toward the bar, ignoring Steve's concerned look, steals a bottle of vodka and drowns himself in it.

But the memories don't fade and he passes out with the smell of roses clouding his senses.

The first time they kiss, it's been building for weeks, months, since the moment he met her.

He's in the kitchen, the fridge door wide open, and stares at the blackberry pie she made him, his signature sticky note on top of the saran wrap. He considers pulling it out and having a slice but ends up just standing there, the cool air of the refrigerator a dark reminder of his past, while the pie is an oddly significant hope for the future.

He blames the fact that Darcy is wholly distracting for the reason she gets so close to him without him noticing.

"If you're breaking out the pie, I want a piece."

He doesn't jump like normal people do, he stiffens, preparing for attack, but as quickly as that instinct kicks in, it's soothed by her voice. She moves up close to him, enough that he can feel her body heat against his side.

"Pie? Yes or yes?"

His lips twitch as he reaches in to retrieve it, taking it out and moving over to the counter while she grabs out plates, forks, and a knife to cut it with. She hands him the knife like she isn't afraid he'll snap and kill her. He wants to tell her she should be afraid, that she shouldn't trust him so much. He can't bring himself to do it, so he uses the knife to carve out two slices of pie. It's the most innocent thing he can ever remember doing with a knife.

She takes a seat on the stools behind the island and pats the one next to her. But he stays on his side, because distance makes sense. She rolls her eyes at him and scoops up a bite. "My grandma taught me this one. You would'a liked her. She was spunky. And a serious knockout back in your day. Well, and also my day. I've got my fingers crossed I get her 'hot even when I'm elderly' genes."

He watches her as he edges off a bite of his own. Darcy doesn't take small bites; she's not careful or overly concerned with how things look. She wants pie at 2 in the morning, she eats pie, licking the juice from her lips and swiping some of her chin with the back of her hand. It's oddly endearing.

He's precise, because that's all he can remember being. He's mechanical, careful, completely aware of everything. Only, when she's around, his focus narrows to her. To her lips that are tainted blackberry purple and the crumbs stuck to her shirt and the way her hair is still a little damp from a shower she must have taken hours ago. Her hair is thick and curly and he imagines his hands will get stuck in it, fingers ensnared by reaching, coiled knots that refuse to give. And he wonders if maybe it's worth it, being stuck there, close to her, always by her side.

She looks up at him, all bright blue eyes, and she asks, "How's your pie?"

And he's eaten half of it, but he doesn't remember one bite, so he takes another and he lets the flavors open up on his tongue. He tastes food differently when she makes it. He examines it. He sees it as something other than sustenance. And he likes it. He likes the burst of berry on his tongue and the flaky crust the crumbles under his teeth. He nods and she smiles like he's just given her a 5-star review. Sometimes he thinks she understands him better when he doesn't say a word.

She finishes off her pie and circles back around to put her plate and fork in the dishwasher. She's turning around to ask him for his when he reaches past her to his own beside hers. Her voice catches in her throat, staring up at him, her eyes a little wide, their faces so much closer than they've ever been. Her hair still smells like roses.

She swallows tightly and turns, shoving the drawer of dishes back in and closing the dishwasher door. Shifting around him, she takes up his pie and folds the saran wrap back over it, making sure the sticky note is still there for the others to see and then she puts it back inside the fridge and closes the door.

He thinks about leaving, about never acting on it, about forgetting the feeling in his gut that urges him to do more. He thinks about it, but he doesn't listen. Just as she closes the fridge door, he steps in front of her. It happens quickly, in part because he doesn't want to let himself argue his way out of it. And then his hand is on her hip and he's pressing her back against the fridge door; he leans down and close until his forehead meets hers. There's a pause where they're just sharing air. This is the chance for either of them to back away. But he feels her finger curl around the end of his shirt, and she gives a tug, just one, and he gets the message.

His nose slides the length of hers before his lips press to hers. And it's soft. It's careful and searching and not entirely more than just a brush of lips meeting lips. But then her hand settles on his side, firm and encouraging, and he presses closer. He slants his mouth over hers, caught between watching her and sinking into the kiss. She tastes like blackberries; he chases the taste across her tongue. He sucks on her top lip, his fingers finding her jaw and skimming down the line of it, curving around her chin, his palm sliding under. His hand finds her neck, her pulse hammering under his touch, and he curves his fingers around to her nape, sliding them up into her hair. It's damp and cold and thick; he wants to bury himself there and get lost.

Her teeth find his lower lip and tug lightly. She smiles, playful, and her fingers walk up his side and around, sliding up his back. Her arm curves up and around and then her hand is on his cybernetic shoulder and she doesn't hesitate, squeezing and letting her hands curl around his bicep as she arches up onto her toes and presses closer, seeking out his mouth, their noses bumping and brushing. And there's a few seconds where they're just looking at one another, breathing into each other, and he feels himself connect with her in a way that feels both strange and familiar. It scares him a little, because he knows pain better than he knows joy. He knows war more than love. And he's finding his footing here, he's finding balance with Steve. He's finding out who he is and what he wants, but some days are harder than the last.

As if she knows what he's thinking, she wraps her arms around him and she squeezes, hugging him. She presses a short, sweet kiss to his lips and his chin and she tells him, "It's okay."

But it's not. It's not. Because he's still broken, and he wishes he wasn't.

("You kissed her," Steve said, somehow both surprised and not.

He nodded, his lips pressed into a firm line.


He raised an eyebrow.

Steve half-smiled. "How was it?"

There are a lot of ways he could describe it. New. Enlightening. Intoxicating. Consuming. Scary. Hopeful.

But all he said instead was, "It felt right.")

When she finally steps back, she leaves one last kiss on his shoulder, and then she walks away. His fingers slide from her hair, preferring not to leave, and his hands fall to his side.

He watches her go and he wonders if the mistake was kissing her or stopping.

The first time he holds her hand, they're watching the news as the Avengers take on the latest threat. The team is more cohesive, stronger, they respect and trust each other, so it's not a total clusterfuck. But Steve gets hit and he's down, lying on the ground for too long. And he knows Steve is strong, that he can survive just about anything, but that doesn't stop his heart from clenching in his chest, worry bubbling up inside him.

He doesn't always say it, he's not always sure how to verbalize how grateful he is to have Steve in his life, to have someone he can trust and rely on and not wait for the day that, inevitably, they turn on him. He doesn't remember everything, but he remembers enough. And if there's one person in this world he knows will do anything for him, who will stand by him, it's Steve.

He can't lose him. He doesn't know what he'll do if he does.

The touch to his hand startles him at first, but then he turns his head and he sees Darcy. She smiles at him knowingly, comfortingly, and she turns his hand over, folding their fingers together.

"He'll be okay," she says, holding his hand in her lap and squeezing his fingers. "He's Cap."

Her certainty bolsters him. He stares at her profile while she stares at the screen. Jane and Pepper are there, too, but he doesn't look at them. He rarely talks to them. But they all watch the news together when the team are called to arms and he tends to search out Darcy.

They haven't kissed since the last time. But she still leaves him food and talks to him and treats him like she always has, like a human being. He might've thought he dreamt up the whole kiss except that she reaches out sometimes, her fingers skimming over his wrist or his side, and it's intimate, it's a reminder, and he knows it happened. He knows that memory he has of her lips is real and not just his imagination.

He looks back at the screen and wills her to be right. It takes a few seconds, but Steve finally pushes up from the ground, gives his head a shake, and gets back into the game, grabbing up his shield and doing them all proud. He doesn't have any more close calls, not as bad as that one anyway, but Bucky doesn't let go of Darcy's hand. He feels her thumb stroke up and down his, stretching down and under the heel of his palm, her nail lightly dragging over his skin.

("You went down for a while out there… I was worried."

"Yeah?" Steve raised an eyebrow. "It's all right. I'm fine. Just got knocked out for a second. Trust me, I had a few fights when we were kids that hurt worse than this." 

He nodded, but his lips were pursed. "It's strange… Watching it instead of being in it."

"Yeah?" Steve half-smiled then. "You watch it with Darcy?"

Bucky shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest.

"It's good, you know?" Steve looked up at him, his expression genuine. "I'm glad you have her. If anything ever… happened to me…"

"Shut up." He shook his head, frowning. "You're Captain America, right? You're untouchable."

Steve nodded. "Sure, Buck. Untouchable."

He nodded, because he'd had enough of thinking about what could happen. What did happen was that Steve was okay, and that was all that mattered.)

Darcy doesn't let go until the call comes in that the team's on their way back to the tower and then she's up and moving into the kitchen to heat up a few casseroles she'd made earlier, because her way of coping with worry was to cook, and they were always hungry when they came back. He watches her from the couch and wonders if his hand will always miss hers.

The first time she gets hurt, he's lost.

There isn't an enemy, there's no one to fight, there's just a fire alarm ringing in the background and Darcy is lying on the ground, still and unmoving and it's so unfamiliar that it's wrong. The doors to the lab are locked, an emergency protocol that's supposed to keep everyone else safe until they figure out why one of the science labs is having issues.

Only Darcy isn't moving and he doesn't give a fuck about anybody else in the building.

"She's going to be okay. JARVIS is assessing the room to see what happened. We'll get her out," Steve tells him, but the words are distant and hollow and Bucky can feel darkness creeping into the corners of his eyes. Panic and adrenaline and fear are clouding his judgement.

The doors to the labs are made of glass; the kind of glass that not a lot can puncture through. It spiderwebs under his knuckles the first time he slams his cybernetic fist against it, but the second hit is enough to shatter it completely. He uses his arm to break off the rest of the glass before he steps inside. He can hear Steve cursing in the background, but he doesn't care. He hurries across the floor of the lab and slides to his knees beside her, reaching for her neck, searching for a pulse. It's thudding under his finger steadily, but she has blood on her temple and a cut on her cheek.

He hunches over her, stroking her hair back, and chokes out, "Darcy?" She doesn't move and he swallows back the burn in his throat. "Darcy…" He holds his breath, watching her face, listening for any kind of sound.

And it might take seconds or minutes, but it feels like forever before her brow furrows and her lips pucker and she hums, a low, dissatisfied noise. He lets out a rush of breath, relief slamming into him abruptly.

She blinks, disoriented, and casts her eyes around in confusion before she notices him. She frowns and begins to turn, falling over onto her back. She reaches up for her head, but he catches her hand and holds onto it tightly.

"Did that idiot blow me up?" she wonders irritably.

And he doesn't know who the idiot is or what the fuck happened; all he cares about is that she's alive and talking and looking right at him.

"You're okay." He says it more to himself than her.

"My head isn't. Fuck." Her nose scrunches up then. "They better gimme the good stuff in medical or I'm suing Stark for pain and suffering."

He chokes out a faint laugh, but he's not amused, he's just a little bit closer to hysterical. He sinks his arms underneath her and hauls her up, cradling her carefully. "I'll knock over a pharmacy for you," he tells her, his voice low and heavy with emotion.

She grins up at him, resting her head on his shoulder. "That's why you're my favorite, Buckster."

He shakes his head and moves toward the door; they open this time, and glass crunches under his boots as he walks through the crowd and starts for the elevator, listening to her chatter on about what was happening right before the blast. He hums and nods, but he doesn't hear much of it, he just likes her voice. Likes knowing it's not the last time he'll hear it. He's had enough death.

("We lost you for a second there," Steve told him, staring at him searchingly. "You went blank."

"Not blank," he disagreed. "That wasn't Winter Soldier mode."

"What was it then?"

He clenched his teeth for a moment and then raised his head and stared at him. "Winter Soldier would cut his losses and walk away. Civilians are just future casualties. They don't matter, not in the grand scheme. If I have a mission, I carry out that mission, I don't care who gets hurt." He shook his head. "And I didn't care, not really, not about anybody else. I know JARVIS said the doors were locked because there could've been something inside that would harm others, but I didn't care about them. I didn't care about any of you."

"Darcy was the mission."

"No." He said it with such vehemence, such force, that Steve frowned. "Darcy is never a mission. Darcy is Darcy. She's…" He sighed, because sometimes there weren't words. "She matters. To me, she matters."

Steve stared at him a long moment, searching his face, and then he nodded. "Okay," he said. "Okay."

It wasn't the Winter Soldier, he wanted to say. It was just Bucky.)

He doesn't leave her side as she's treated in medical. He watches them stitch up her cheek and bandage her head and he listens to her harass the doctors for pain meds. And when she's done and she's allowed to leave, he stays with her as they take the elevator up to the Avengers floor. He holds her hand, their fingers knit together, and he takes her to the communal living space.

The room is, thankfully, empty, so he puts her on the couch, the same one they sat on and watched the team fight the week before. He gets her a glass of milk and a bowl of the spaghetti she put away for him. She has to take her meds with food and he makes her eat every bite before she gets her pills, shaking his head when she whines 'it huuurts, gimme drugs.' As soon as she finishes, she's got her hand out and he offers her two pills and her milk.

She sighs, like they work instantly, but she winces when her cheek pulls. Still, she pulls her feet up and she cuddles up into his side.

"At least I get the afternoon off," she says, but the meds make her drowsy and it isn't long before she's slouching, snuffling her face against his chest, and drifting into a nap.

He strokes her hair and holds onto her. And there's no going back, really. He's not sure he can let go of her even if he tried.

Their first date is a movie and dinner at home.

He offers to cook, because she always does it for him and he wants to treat her for once. He thinks he was probably good at cooking once, but then Steve tells him they boiled everything back in their day, and when he tries a few different recipes, he learns he's terrible at it. By the time Darcy shows up, he's set the fire alarm off twice. She takes one look at him, laughs, and offers to teach him.

"You should let me pull your hair back," she suggests, looking up at it. "Mine always drives me nuts when I'm trying to cook."

He can pull his own hair back, he does it all the time, but he lets her. It's an experience in trust when he sits on the stool with her at his back. His instincts scream at him that it makes him vulnerable, that not being able to see her makes her a threat, but he tamps them down. He's been working on these issues for more than a year and, where before he had little to no control over his triggers, now he can decide what to do.

Her fingers comb through his hair, probably more than necessary, but it feels nice. It tickles a little and it's soothing. She gathers up all of his hair, careful not to pull on it, and uses an elastic from her wrist to bind it together. She squeezes his shoulders when she's done and when he turns, she smiles; there's a loose piece that isn't long enough to join the rest and it falls into his eyes. She brushes it back and curls it behind his ear, letting her palm rest on the side of his neck. "Ready?" she asks.

He stares at her, trying to remember the last time someone was tender toward him. Steve was gentle, careful, nice. Sometimes, in an effort to treat him like 'Bucky' and not the soldier, he'd get a little rough, with an arm around his neck or an elbow to his gut. He prefers that from Steve. When he forgets that his best friend is fractured and treats him like anybody else. But this, with Darcy, feels nice too. She's not doing it because she's worried he'll get triggered or because she's scared to be rough with him, but because tender is how she feels toward him. His throat burns a little, but he nods and moves off the stool, squeezing her hip as he goes, and gets ready to cook.

He's heard people call Darcy unfocused, that she's flighty and Stark lets her run too wild. But in the kitchen, Darcy is in her element. She wields ingredients like they're weapons, knowing exactly what too much and too little is with just a glance. She holds utensils a certain way, her arms and hands moving in ways that are familiar with everything she touches. The whisk is an extension of her arm, like a knife is for him, and it's an oddly beautiful dance of hers. But she doesn't let him get off with just watching. She takes him by the arm and brings him in close, showing him where she wants him and what to do. While he's chopping up vegetables, she leans against his side, watching the precise movements of his hands. If he wasn't so completely aware of any weapon in his hand, he probably would've lost a finger or two considering how much he finds himself watching her instead of the food.

They move around the kitchen together, with her keeping up a constant flow of chatter, telling him the 'why' for everything she does. She's not exasperated, even though he asks a lot of questions without ever really opening his mouth. She reads his face almost as well as Steve does, and that should probably worry him. Only he likes that he doesn't always have to talk or explain himself, but sometimes he wants to.

So, while dinner is in the oven, they sit on the couch and, before the movie can start, he tells her about his family; what he can remember about his mother and his sister, Rebecca. He tells her about growing up with Steve, how they never really spent much time apart after they met. Sometimes he tells her things he remembers and sometimes he tells her things Steve has told him and that he takes at face value as fact. She's a good listener; she interrupts to make jokes at his or Steve's expense, but she encourages him to keep talking, smiling up at him with every story. He wishes he had more. He probably does, locked up somewhere in his head. He likes making her smile, hearing her laugh, and he's pretty sure he could do just that and never tire of it.

("How'd the date go?"


"That's all I get?" Steve grinned at him. "C'mon, you used to love telling me about your dates. It was a favorite pastime."

He frowned. "I don't remember any of them… I don't remember their names or their faces."

Expression softening, Steve offered, "It's okay."

Bucky shook his head, his brow furrowed. "It's not."

"You'll remember eventually..." Steve assured.


Steve watched him carefully. "You wanna talk about it?"

He shrugged.

"You wanna talk about Darcy?"

He glanced at him. "We just cooked and watched a movie."

"You cooked?" he asked, a little incredulously, a laugh following it.

"Wasn't bad… Was fun, even."

"That might be more the company than the experience…" Steve shook his head. "But I'm glad it went well… I was starting to wonder if you two were ever going to get together."

Bucky's brow wrinkled.

"Don't give me that look… You two have been dancing around each other for almost a year now… She's a good person, Buck. You're good together. You deserve each other."

He nodded, faintly, and licked his lips. "We'll see," he said, but honestly, he was really hoping Steve was right.)

When dinner's ready, they take it to the couch with them and eat while they're watching a movie. It's something light and funny and it feels nice to relax. It doesn't happen as often as he'd like. Even with Steve, it takes a little while to unwind, more because of where he is than who he's with. He knows the Tower is a safe place that the team will help him out if only because of Steve, and he's working on getting to know them, but it's not easy. It's different with Darcy. She doesn't hit any of his triggers, she welcomes him into her life with a smile and a joke, sometimes at his expense, and she never flinches away from him. That matters.

After dinner's done and the dishes are put away, they move back to the couch, gravitating closer together. She shifts, readjusting, until her head is on his shoulder and his arm is around her. And he can do this, he decides. He can just be a guy who likes a girl. It can be simple and fun and easy.

He can do this.

The first time they tell someone they're dating (and Steve doesn't count, because he's Steve), it's Jane, and it's mostly because she's trying to set Darcy up with one of the science nerds.

"Isn't Darrel nice?" Jane asks encouragingly, her brows hiked as she gives Darcy one of her 'manic' grins. The kind that Darcy says Jane only usually gets when she's either had too much coffee or Thor's out-of-realm and she hasn't gotten laid in too long.

Bucky's hanging out in the labs because he's bored and because Darcy made him a new playlist to listen to, but whenever she makes him one she wants to know what he thinks of every song. It's easier just to hang out with her while he's listening to it than to answer all of her texts, especially when she can type out five for his every monosyllabic one.

"Who? Him?" She points at one of the retreating interns or scientists, Bucky's never really sure, they're all in white coats and they give him a wide berth. "His name's not Darrell; it's Doug. Props on getting the first letter right, though. It's an improvement."

Jane rolls her eyes impatiently. "Fine, Doug. But he's nice, right? And smart… And funny…"

"Are you writing his online dating profile?" Darcy's nose scrunches up. "I bet he likes long walks on the beach and candle-lit dinners."

Bucky snorts, leaning back in Darcy's chair and scrolling through the song selection. She tells him he should listen to it in the order she puts it in, but sometimes he likes to listen to it out of order just to hear her explain why they're in the order they are. Frustration is a good look on her.

"Darcy, this is serious," Jane tells her, pursing her lips in a frown. "I think Darrel's a nice guy and he's been asking me about you. It couldn't hurt right? He's nice, you're single."

Suddenly, Bucky's not smiling or laughing. He's just sitting very still, waiting to hear what she'll say, watching the scene out of the corner of his eyes. He should've expected this. In fact, Steve warned him he should mention it to the others, he just hadn't thought it was necessary. Now he's not so sure.

("Are you going to tell the rest of the team?" Steve wondered.

"Tell them what?" he asked, holding the punching bag steady as Steve executed a few hits.

"About you and Darcy…" He was panting a little, sweat beading on his brow, but he didn't slow his punches. "Natasha probably already knows… She knows everything. But you might want to let the others know."


Steve shrugged. "She and Thor are close. He calls her his 'lightening sister.' He might feel… lied to if you don't say anything."

Bucky frowned. "They're not my team. They're yours…"

"You matter to them, too," Steve insisted. "I know you're still getting comfortable with them and I won't push it, but… They're Darcy's friends, too. Eventually, you're going to have to spend more time with them." He shrugged. "She and Clint have Nerf wars. Tony says he doesn't care, but you know how he is. He considers Darcy part of the family. She watches out for him and Bruce." He shook his head. "It just makes sense."

Bucky hummed, clapping his hands against the side of the bags. "Switch?"

Steve nodded and stepped back. He grabbed up a towel to dry off and took a long drag of his water before he traded places with Bucky, who was wrapping his hand before he stepped up to the bag.

It was a few minutes before Steve asked again, "So?"

But Bucky shook his head. "If it comes up, I'll say something. I don't think they'll ask, though." He rolled his shoulders and admitted, "I don't think they'll care."

Steve sighed, but didn't pressure him. So nothing new.)

Darcy's relaxed, continuing to put folders away, fingering through them as she makes sure they're in an order that only she and Jane seem to understand. "A) His name is Doug. B) Doug and Darcy is a double-D joke waiting to happen, and not when I'll laugh at. And 3) No, I'm not."

"No, you're not what?" Jane's brow furrows. "Interested? Because he seems perfectly nice. Is this about Ian? Because I thought you guys broke up mutually…"

Darcy snorts, closing the drawer and opening a new one. "Okay, Ian and I broke up over two years ago. Trust me, I'm over it. I was over it during it." She shrugs. "And no, I mean I'm not single. As in, I'm not available for you to set up with some random guy you barely know the name of."

Jane blinks at her. "Since when?"

"Since Bucky," she says casually, sticking a folder between her teeth and fingering through the others, distracted now.

"I…" Jane pauses, turning to look at Bucky.

He raises his head up from Darcy's iPod and waves two fingers at her.

Jane frowns at him. "He's been here like a year. Have you been together this whole time? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Not the whole time. We worked up to it." Darcy puts the last of the folders away and turns to face her, tugging her red plaid shirt into place before she puts her hands on her hips. "And this is me telling you. I'm not interested in Doug, or Darrell, or anybody else. Got it covered, boss-lady. But hey, thanks for thinking of me."

Jane stares at her a long moment, her mouth slightly agape. She takes a moment to glance at him from the corner of her eyes and, when it looks like he's busy with Darcy's iPod again, she steps a little closer to Darcy, asking quietly, "Are you sure about this? I mean, he's a little… complicated, isn't he?"

"Because alien gods aren't?" Darcy snorts. "We've all got issues. At least he's working on his. You should've met my college boyfriend; he was riddled with problems, but you bring up talking to a professional about it and you know what he did? He started a meth lab, Jane. A meth lab. Now, congratulate me on my non-meth-lab-operating boyfriend. It's only polite."

"You realize he kills people right. Frankly, I'm not sure where on the scale that falls, over or under meth lab, but it's something to think about…" Jane reminds her, her voice raising a little with urgency.

"Used to kill people. Like I said, he's working on his issues. That doesn't magically make them go away. I had a shoplifting problem when I was fifteen, does that make me a thief now?"

"Yes!" Jane whisper-shouts. "You stole the shirt you're wearing. I was there."

"Okay, I was a poor intern, you can't really blame me for getting the essentials. What did you want me to do? Walk around topless? 'Cause that's not conducive to a work environment. Plus, I'm pretty sure it's in the sexual harassment no-no's column."

"You stole it last month, and I've been paying you for almost two years now..."

"You know what, we're not here to talk about my, possibly worth of praise, ability to steal. You should be sciencing, not scolding me on my poor life choices. Especially when those life choices are, at least recently, better than usual. I like Bucky. For reasons I'm not going to explain to you, because he's here and totally listening and eavesdropping is rude, we'll be talking about that. But also because I don't actually have to explain myself to you. We're dating. He's a good person. And this shirt was way too expensive for its own good. Seriously, at least two buttons fell off and I had to sew them back on. So not worth my hard-earned money."

Jane shakes her head, like she's not quite sure which point she's supposed to comment on, but then she sighs. "I just… worry. That's all. I care, you know? I know I don't always say that and I can be absentminded and maybe I haven't been the best friend I could be. But I do care."

Darcy nods, half-smiling at her. "I know. And I appreciate it. But in this case, I've got it handled. All right? So you get back to your science and I'll handle my love life."

"Okay." Jane glances at him one last time before she walks back to her desk, quickly returning her focus to her work.

Darcy makes her way back to her own desk then, sitting on the edge and looking at him. He looks up at her, eyebrows arched, and she just shakes her head, leans over and kisses his cheek. "What song are you on?"

He scrolls around and says, "I was on Everlong, but now I'm on Hello, My Old Heart."

The noise she makes is indignant. "What? No, that's not the order I put them in. There's at least six songs between those… Gimme!" She yanks the iPod out of his hand and turns his chair, taking a seat in his lap as she leans back against his chest and starts telling him why he needs to listen to the other six songs first.

He smiles, watching her face, enjoying every animated expression she makes, and her waving hands to punctuate what she's saying.

Darcy's mid-rant when he happens to see Jane out of the corner of his eye. She's not frowning at him this time, she's smiling, and he thinks maybe she doesn't disapprove as much as she thought she did.

He can work with that.

The first time they have sex, they haven't been dating long.

Darcy's always been tactile, but the way she touches him is different. She's always reaching for him, taking his hand, leaning against him, her head on his shoulder. He likes it. He likes being able to hold her and touch her and kiss her. He handles her like she's glass, like she might break if he squeezes too hard. But Darcy's always said exactly what she wants. So when she covers his hands and makes them hold on a little tighter, when she tells him she wants to feel his fingers on her, he gets the message.

It's a mess of hands and mouths, reaching and tasting and teasing, his teeth nipping at her skin while hers digs in and linger. It starts on the couch, with her in his lap, losing her shirt and her bra, her hands taking his, showing him how to touch her before instinct takes over and he searches out ways to make her whimper and sigh and arch up into his hands skimming her sides and his mouth memorizing her breasts.

Steve's told him before that he was good with women, sometimes taking more than one home at a time. He doesn't remember that, but his hands know how to make Darcy come; they know how to mold around every curve of her body, stroking and squeezing until she's all want and need. She loses her jeans and her panties and his fingers tease her open, skimming over her pussy with delicate precision. He kisses her stomach and licks her thighs and he fingers her through her first climax, his thumb rubbing around her clit until she almost can't take it. He licks his fingers clean while hers tug his pants loose and sink inside to cup him. And he wants. God, he wants her like he's never wanted anything.

"Are you sure?" she asks, because this matters, what he wants matters, and he think he might just love her for asking. She's all reassurances, all 'we can stop and take a break' and 'I don't want you to feel like anything has to happen.' He kisses her, desperate and sloppy, and tells her he wants to, he really wants to. If she does. And she nods and laughs and pulls him in closer.

But he doesn't want it to happen on the couch, so he climbs off her and takes her hand, tugging her along as they walk to the bedroom. She's naked and confident and she turns to him wearing only a grin. She helps him out of his pants and steps in close, all soft, warm skin, and he wraps his arms around her as he walks them back to the bed, falling onto it, turning mid-way so he takes the brunt of her weight and not the other way around. She laughs as they bounce a little on the mattress and he's never seen anything so beautiful. Her hair falls all around them and her cheeks are pink and flushed, milky skin warm with arousal. He finds her mouth with his and just holds her for a little while, sucking on her bottom lip and stroking his hands down her back. She relaxes on top of him, stretched out and content, and then his tongue flicks over hers and at the roof of her mouth, and she wiggles, rubbing her hips against his.

They roll around on the bed, finding a comfortable position, and she's under him, legs spread, knees cradling him, and he gets lost kissing down her body, from her shoulders down to her toes and back, pausing in the middle. He likes the way she tastes, the way her thighs shake at his shoulders as he licks up her slit and flicks her clit. She grips his hair and tugs and he likes that too. So he spends a few minutes there, making her squirm and whimper and say his name in that desperate, choked cry of hers. His chin is wet with her as he kisses up her stomach and nuzzles his face against her breasts, smiling when she laughs.

She's got her hand around his cock when she asks him about a condom, and he blanks for a minute, in part because her fingers are squeezing and stroking and it feels so fucking good. But then he remembers that he does have condoms, in the drawer of his end table, thanks to Steve.

("Here. I'm not asking for details, but you and Darcy seem to be getting a lot closer, so…"

Bucky glanced at the box of condoms tossed to the couch beside him. "I can buy my own condoms, punk."

"Yeah, but you haven't, and Darcy might have some on her, but it's good to be prepared." He shrugged. "What you two are doing is your business, but I don't think adding a baby to the mix is going to help anything. Things are complicated enough as it is."

He hummed, sitting back on the couch, his feet up on the table. "Did I want kids?" he wondered, his brow furrowed.

Steve's expression softened and he took a seat in the arm chair, resting his elbows on his knees. "Yeah, Buck, you did. Not for a while, you were having fun, you weren't really looking to settle down. But you mentioned it, near the end… You talked about how nice it would be to have someone to go home to." He shook his head, a muscle jumping in his cheek. "You'd be a good father, y'know? Just… not right now. Not until you have all this figured out a little better."

He nodded. "Yeah."

Steve stared at him carefully. "This thing with Darcy… It's serious?"

His mouth quirked up on one side and he stood from the couch, grabbing the condoms as he went. "Thanks for these," he said, and made his way down the hall to his bedroom. "Maybe I'll return the favor when you stop mooning after Sharon and actually do something about it."

"Yeah, ha, ha, relationship advice from the guy who took a year to ask his girlfriend out on a date. I'll take it under advisement, jerk."

Bucky snickered to himself, but it felt good, bugging each other. He missed that. Feeling normal…)

He digs a condom out of the drawer, but gets distracted by her wrist twisting and her thumb flicking over the head of his cock. She takes the condom from him and opens it with her teeth. She rolls it on him with ease, giving him a few more pumps before she shifts up the bed a little and got comfortable.

He kisses her as she reaches between them, guiding him inside her. His fingers clench on the pillow behind her, one of them tearing under the pressure of his cybernetic hand, but he can't be bothered to care. He hisses through his teeth as he drops his forehead to her shoulder and thrusts a little harder, settling himself deep inside her. Her nails bite into his shoulder and he can hear her breath hitch. He wants to be slow and gentle, but it feels so good and her legs are squeezing around him, so he pulls out and sinks back into her, hard and fast. She rolls her hips and dugs her hands into his shoulder blades. He kisses her shoulder and her neck and her chin while he snaps his hips and fucks her.

He reaches down, pulling one of her legs up higher and he ducks his head down, his cheek rasping against her breast. Her fingers drag up into his hair and grip it tight as he sucks her nipple and rolls it between his teeth, moving inside her, deep and hard. He sinks a hand between them, his cold, metal fingers rubbing her clit, and she arches up and lets out a strangled noise. She clenches around him, fluttering and tight, and he slows down as she comes. He watches her face, flushed and tense with pleasure, and she's so damn beautiful. He kisses her, sucking on her lips and rubbing his nose against her cheek, and she just holds him, buried to the hilt inside her, her legs curling around his waist.

She strokes his hair back from his face and rubs her thumbs across his cheeks and down to the hinge of his jaw. His forehead meets hers and they just lay there for a little while. He kisses down her chin and she watches him, her eyes steady and soft and affectionate. Her thumbs slide up to trace his eyebrows and down the length of his nose. And he wonders if she sees him like he sees her. He wonders if, instead of the dark edges he sees in the mirror, the shadows under his eyes, she sees something different, something rounder and softer and full of life and hope.

She skims her fingers down behind his neck and then she shifts them, so he's under her and she's on top, straddling his waist. "Talk to me," she tells him as she pushes up, her hands on his stomach. "Tell me what you like, stop me if you don't like it." She leans back, taking his hands and sliding the up her stomach. "You can say yes or no, more or less." She stares at him searchingly. "Okay?"

He nods, swallowing tightly, and then his hands slide down to her hips and pull them forward a little. She shifts forward, rocking her hips up and in a slow circle. "That. I like that."

He thought she'd be vocal in bed. He thought she'd keep up a constant stream of chatter, because that's how she usually is. And she isn't quiet, not even slightly, but it's mostly noises. His name and encouragements, sure, but mostly she just enjoys herself and doesn't try to muffle how good it feels. He thought he'd be quiet; he's used to being silent, unobserved, free to blend in and go unnoticed. But Darcy doesn't want that; she wants him to talk, to be open, to vocalize what's going on in his head. And it's weird at first; he doesn't usually talk unless someone asks him to. But then he starts to like it, he likes being able to say an angle's not working for him or his leg is cramping up or that he wants to go faster or slower. There's trust and sincerity and autonomy in making choices and voicing his own desires. And sometimes things are sloppy and they don't go just the way they plan, but it works, because she can laugh and he can laugh and there isn't any consequence for not getting something exactly right on the first try.

They have all night. They have as long as they want. And he likes that. He really likes that perfection doesn't exist here, orders don't matter, there is only fun and joy and chasing that feeling of euphoria.

When it's over, it's not really over. They lay next to each other, panting, the condom thrown away and sweat cooling on their skin. She plays with his cybernetic fingers and she smiles at him even though he's staring. He's a little in awe of her, he thinks he always has been, probably always will be. Darcy's not perfect. She's got her demons, she makes mistakes, she doesn't always say or do the right thing at any given moment. But that's what he loves about her. She isn't perfect and she never apologizes for it.

He rolls over and rests his head on her shoulder. Her fingers are light as they stroke through his hair and down his neck. He's tired, his eyes are already drifting closed, but he murmurs, "Don't go," before he drifts off.

When he wakes up later, she's still there, on her stomach now. He kisses down her side and combs his fingers through her tangled hair. She stretches her entire body before she ever opens her eyes and then she smiles at him, drowsy and content, before she wrinkles her nose and tells him, "We should shower." She climbs out of bed, unabashed with her nudity, and says, "You coming?" over her shoulder. He joins her, his mouth splitting into a grin.

They spend most of the weekend holed up in his apartment and it's one of the best he can remember having. She teaches him to cook a few other things, they watch TV, and they spend a lot of time in bed. It's not until Monday that he wakes up and finds her not within reach. But there's a sticky note hanging off the end table that reads: Hey Hobo, I had to get to work. Meet me for lunch at 1? – Darcy

He spends all day waiting for 1; Steve teases him repeatedly for it, but he can't bring himself to regret it.

The first time she says she loves him, she's half-asleep.

They've been together six months and he's started doing field work with Steve. He gets the call at 4am that he'll need to be ready to go in twenty. Darcy's still in bed, she doesn't even stir when the phone goes off. He take a quick shower and grabs his go-bag before he circles the bed to sit beside her. He strokes her hair back from her face, his knuckles rubbing over her cheek, and watches as she slowly blinks her eyes open.

"Wha' time's it?" she mumbles.

His lips curl up at the corner. "Early."

"Still night time early or 'ew, birds are singing' early?" She's a little slurry, but it only makes him smile more.

"Still night time. I gotta leave. Steve called. Wheels up in ten."

She lets out a muffled noise of disagreement. "That sucks. How long?"

"Don't know. Didn't catch any details." He leans down and presses a kiss to her shoulder. "I'll call you when I know, all right?"

She hums, nodding, but her eyes are closed.

"Go back to sleep," he says and stands from the bed.

"Kiss," she says.

And he grins as he leans down to meet her expectant puckered lips. She rolls onto her back and tucks an arm behind her head. This isn't the first time he's had to get up and go this early, but that doesn't mean either of them like it. He likes being back in the field because it gives him something to do, something he's good at, and because it's with Steve, he knows he's not going in blind. He can ask questions, he can turn down directives, he can be his own person while still using his skills for the right reasons. He rests his palm on her forehead, his thumb stroking lightly, and he presses another kiss to her lips before he steps back.

He's got his bag in hand and he's hauling it over his shoulder when he says, "Get some sleep, baby, I'll see you when I get back, all right?"

She hums, soft and tired. "'Kay. Love you," she mumbles before turning over and stealing his pillow.

He's still standing there, staring at her, when his phone rings, a reminder that he needs to go. He blinks out of it and he turns, leaving the room and his apartment and taking the elevator to the roof. But he's in a bit of a daze, his heart hammering loudly in his ears.

He's quiet when he joins Steve at the chopper, quiet the whole flight in, too. He doesn't mention it until they're on their way back.

("What'd you say?"

Bucky frowned. "What d'you mean, 'what'd I say?' She fell asleep right after. I got the call and I came to meet you."

"Well, does she remember?" Steve wondered.

He shrugged. "Don't know. She hasn't said anything. I called her, told her when I'd be coming back, asked her how work was going. She didn't mention it..." He shifted in his seat. "You think she doesn't remember?"

"I don't know." Steve paused for a moment, his brow furrowed, before finally he asked, "Do you want her to remember?"

Bucky stared at him, his lips pursed.

Steve stared at him searchingly. "Do you… love her?"

He swallowed tightly, leaning back in his seat. He tried put what he was thinking into words, but it was a struggle. It took him a few minutes before he could get it out and even then he didn't feel like it covered everything. "You know when you have those dreams… The kind of nightmares that haven't happened, but they could, and you wake up thinking they did, and for just a second you think your whole world's just… done. And you don't know how you're gonna move forward. But then something happens or you remember and you realize it was just a dream, and that feeling just fades away…"

Steve nodded slowly.

"Darcy's like that… Not the nightmare. But she's that thing that reminds me that there's life after the nightmare. Doesn't mean I didn't live it or that it didn't screw me up. Just means I'm not finished yet… And hopefully it gets better from here out." He frowned, shaking his head. "I don't know. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," Steve said. "Yeah, it does. I… I'm glad you have that. I'm glad you found her."

He nodded, but he looked over at him. "I couldn't do…. any of this, without you. I know sometimes I'm not much of a team player and I don't always seem grateful—"

"No—" Steve interrupted.

"Lemme finish," he said.

"All right."

"I don't always seem grateful, sometimes I'm even resentful. I'm working on that. It's hard, remembering things, thinking about what I've done. And I don't blame you. It's not your fault. You thought I was dead. That's not… It's not on you. I just… I look at how things came down, how our lives turned out, and it's… hard sometimes, seeing who I was or what I became and then seeing what you did and how you got through it." He swallowed tightly, shaking his head. "It's hard not to be a little jealous. Not to wish that maybe I had it easier. But that's not… It isn't something you did or something you chose for either of us. And I get that. I just… Some days are harder than others. But just, even if I don't say it, just know that I do appreciate it." He licked his lips and he looked up at him sincerely. "You're my best friend. I might not be everything I used to be and I'm still working on remembering it, but, you're my brother and I wouldn't be here… I wouldn't have Darcy, if it wasn't for you. So thanks, I guess."

Steve nodded, clearing his throat. "Yeah… Yeah, of course."

"Okay. Good."

A few minutes passed of them not saying anything, just sort of letting it all sink in, and then Steve teased, "So, are you going to tell her you love her when you get back or wait for her to take a nap…?"

Bucky rolled his head. "Shut up, punk."

Steve grinned. "Jerk."

And that was that.)

It helps, having someone to talk to. Someone that knows him even better than he knows himself. And Steve does. Steve supports him through everything he does, turns him in the right direction, reminds him that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, long as it might be. Because things aren't cut and dry for him, they're never easy. Her 'I love you' comes easily, absently, like it's just second nature, and it's not for him. It's something he has to work at. But he cherishes her words, said sleepily or not. He holds them close and hopes to hear them again, and soon.

The first time Darcy tells him she loves him, and she's awake this time, she doesn't expect him to say it back.

She's up and out of bed before he is. She's meeting up with friends from college that are in town visiting and she wants to take them to a few big tourist attractions. It's early, ass crack of dawn early, when she gets up, and she heads back to her apartment to get ready. She tells him she'll be back before she heads out and he should get a few more hours sleep. She invites him to go along too, but he's not up for touring around with complete strangers. She's disappointed, but she gets it.

When she comes back to his apartment, he can vaguely hear her moving around in his kitchen. The tiniest noises wake him up sometimes, but then he hears the slap of her flats on the floor – the make a distinct noise, he's noticed – and he relaxes back into bed, balling his pillow up under his ear.

It's a few more minutes before she joins him in his room. She's bundled up in a sweater, a knit scarf and matching cap, and her favorite pea coat. She's got mittens in the pockets that he knows are the ones she stitched Thor's hammer into. She puts a steaming mug of coffee on the end table for him after taking a sip of it and then pats his back. "Okay. I'm gonna be out late. Lindsay's one of those 'don't rest 'til your feet threaten to disown you' types, so she'll have us running around until one of us breaks and begs for some time off. Tony pulled some strings and reserved us a table at one of those fancy-shmancy restaurants where they don't put how much anything costs on the menu, and I know Kayla was hoping to have a sleepover, just us girls. So… You'll have your place all to yourself. You should invite Steve over, get some guy time in. Maybe invite Sam, too. And Clint. He's always up for food and TV."

He nods sleepily and rolls onto his back, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes and letting out a yawn. He grabs up his coffee and takes a long sip before he tells her, "Yeah, all right, I'll call 'em."

"Good." She grins at him, rubbing his chest. "Okay. I gotta go." She leans over and kisses him, wrinkling her nose as she mutters, "Coffee flavored morning breath."

He chuckles lowly and pecks her lips again before she can lean away.

She rubs at his lips to get her lipstick off them and then stands. "All right. I love you, and I'll see you tomorrow. Have fun with the boys."

She's half-way to the door before he chokes out her name.

When she looks back, he imagines he must look terrified, because her face softens. "You don't have to say it back."

The noise that leaves him is strangled; it might be him disagreeing, it might be something else, he's not sure.

She smiles. "I don't say it so you'll say it back. I say it because I mean it and I want you to know. And if you're not ready, or if you don't feel that way, okay. Maybe you will later, maybe you won't. But I like what we have and I think you do too. So nothing has to change. Not for now anyway." She winks at him then and shifts her purse on her shoulder. "I meant what I said, call the guys, hang out, have fun." She puckers her lips in one last air-kiss, and then she's gone, sweeping out of the room and his apartment.

He leans back against his pillow and sips his coffee, his brow furrowed and a pit of something burning in his gut.

("It's pretty simple. You love the girl or you don't. And trust me, there's not a wrong answer," Sam told him as they sit across from each other in his living room.

"There's not?" Bucky frowned, picking at the label on his beer.

"No." Sam shook his head. "Look, you can't make yourself love someone. Sometimes it happens immediately, sometimes it takes time, and sometimes you know it's never gonna end up there. Sometimes you're just having fun, just enjoying each other, and that's fine. If somebody wants something more, they'll let you know, and that's when you have to decide if more's what you want or not. If it's not, cool man, cut your ties, walk away, shake their hand before you go. Just don't let 'em think it can be different if it never will be, y'know? 'Cause that just hurts both of you. She doesn't deserve that and neither do you."

He nodded, leaning back against the couch. "What if I do love her, though?" His jaw ticked. "What if I'm in love with her and I just can't get the words out."

"Well, that's different. Something you gotta work on. You want this girl to know you care, you let her know in other ways…" He scratched his fingers over his chin and nodded. "Listen, things with you and Darcy, they're strong. She knows you. She's not expecting you to pop a knee and whip out a ring. She gets what you're going through and she doesn't push, not unless you need it. So maybe you just need to stop thinking about it so much. Let it happen. When you're ready, it'll come easy."

He chewed on his lip a moment.

"That's not what's bothering you, is it?" Sam wondered, watching him carefully. "So, what is it? You don't think you deserve her? You're worried you're too much for her? Your baggage has baggage and it's too much for you to handle, let alone her? What?"

"What if I take too long?" He looked up at him. "What if she gets tired of waiting for me to get it together and by the time I say it, she doesn't… What if she just gets tired of me?"

Sighing, Sam sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Everybody runs that risk, man. You think you're the only guy who's afraid his girl is going to fall out of love with him? It happens. That's how relationships are. They grow. You grow. She grows. Sometimes into each other, sometimes out of each other. And in the end, nobody can guarantee that Darcy or anybody is gonna be there in a year, two years, twenty years down the line. That's just how it is. Darcy loves you, you love her, but she's not the only person who will ever love you. She's just who you're with, who loves you now. You can't put that kinda pressure on a relationship, right? If you expect her to be the only one who'll ever love you, then she's not a person anymore, she's just the only option. And you don't want that."

Bucky shook his head. No, he didn't want that. And maybe Sam was right. Maybe he and Darcy wouldn't last forever. He didn't like the idea. He didn't like that maybe one day she wouldn't be the first face he saw in the morning. But that was reality. Sometimes things didn't work, people didn't stay in love, and they moved on, separately. He didn't know if that was going to happen to him and Darcy. He hoped not. But he wouldn't put that kind of pressure on her, to be his be all, end all.

"My best advice?" Sam said. "Be in the here and now… Say it if you feel it and you're ready to put it out there. Not because she expects it or because you think you should or because you're afraid that if you don't, you'll lose her. There's only one good reason to tell someone you love 'em… and that's because you love them. All right?"

He smiled faintly. "Yeah."

"Good. Now let's put the relationship drama to rest and see what the hell's keeping Steve. He went downstairs for dinner a half hour ago. The hell's it take so long to pick it up from front desk?"

"He's been standing outside the door. He just didn't want to interrupt while you were giving me advice," Bucky said, raising an eyebrow when Steve opened the apartment door and stepped inside.

"Thought I'd give you a few minutes," Steve defended. "You're welcome."

"Man, come on, I've been starving up here," Sam muttered.

Steve joined them in the living room, putting the take-out bags on the table. "It's good then? You figured everything out?"

Sam looked at Bucky, waiting for him to answer.

He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, it's figured out."

He wasn't ready yet. The words still got stuck in his throat. But he felt them, and one day he'd tell her.)

He spends the morning in his apartment, thinking, asking himself what the right thing to do is. And when he calls Sam and Steve to see if they want to hang out, he's relieved, because he trusts them, and maybe they can help figure out what's going on in his head.

Still, even as confused as he is, as much as it bothers him that he can't just blurt it out like she does, there's a part of him that feels good. Feels happy and relieved and even excited.

Because Darcy loves him.

She's in love with him.

And that feels really fucking good.

The first anniversary they celebrate is their one year.

They plan something small; going out for dinner and dancing at a club that plays music strictly made pre-1950. They've gone a few times and she's adamant that she's going to out-dance everybody there, including him.

In true Tony Stark fashion, however, he uses it as an excuse to throw a party in their honor. They don't want it and they try to beg off, but it happens and they end up going and Bucky doesn't remember much after the vodka fountain. Except Darcy definitely holds his hair back at some point, while he heaves into the toilet.

"You're lucky I love you," she tells him.

He makes up for it the next day, with coffee from her favorite shop and his head between her legs.

She forgives him, and they plan revenge on Tony over raspberry danishes. JARVIS offers to help.

The first time they fight, really fight, and it's not over something small, he thinks it might just be the end.

He's injured on a mission with Steve. He not only has to go through medical for stitches and bandaging up, but he has to visit Tony too, to get his arm looked at. It's a long process, but it's made worse because Steve is pissed at him for risking his life. He tries to point out that if he didn't, Steve would probably be dead, but that doesn't matter, and Steve stomps off in a huff, unwilling to talk about it for a while.

Somehow, all of this gets back to Darcy, and he shouldn't be surprised, because everyone they know are gossips. It's a miracle anybody manages to keep anything quiet with how much in-house gossip there is.

She finds him in Tony's lab, one arm detached and being worked on, and the flush of her cheeks is all anger. "What the hell were you thinking?" she barks.

He opens his mouth to answer but she cuts him off.

"They're saying you ran into enemy fire, against orders, and nearly got yourself killed."

And he can't really argue with that assessment, because yeah, he did.

She stares at him expectantly, but her expression tells him anything he says isn't going to change anything, so he stays quiet and shut downs a little. This is familiar; sitting in a chair with someone fiddling with his arm while he gets reamed out by a superior. Only Darcy isn't Pierce and she won't have him wiped for disobeying orders. But she can leave him. She can walk away if she thinks he and his issues are too much; that sticking around with a boyfriend who doesn't worry about his own safety is not what she signed on for.

"Say something," she tells him, her voice harsh.

He stares at the floor. "What do you want me to say?"

"That it was a mistake. That you won't do it again. That you know you shouldn't do something so stupid and you've learned your lesson. I don't know! Anything that will convince me that this was a one-time thing and the next time I get a call from medical, it won't be because you're in a coma or dead or some variation of!"

He grits his teeth, his jaw ticking, and stays quiet.

"So that's it? That's how you want to handle this?"

He lifts one shoulder faintly in a shrug. "I don't wanna lie to you."

Her fingers clench on her hips and her toe is tapping and that… is not a good sign. He raises his eyes to see her and flinches when he sees tears. But she's not letting them fall; she's biting her lip to keep it from shaking. And then she just nods and she turns around and walks away.

He watches her go, waiting for her to look back, to stop, to come back and yell at him some more. But she doesn't. She keeps walking and he slumps in his chair, closing his eyes in defeat.

It's a while before Tony comes back with his arm and tells him it's good and new, maybe even improved. He says a lot, he's a chatterbox, but Bucky doesn't hear any of it. He mutters his thanks and climbs out of the chair, leaving Stark's lab and making his way to Jane's. When he doesn't find her there, he checks in with Banner, but he hasn't seen her. So, he goes to her apartment, because he's realizing that if he doesn't say something, if he doesn't do something, this might really be how it ends. And he doesn't want that. If she really is done with him, if she knows why he did it and she tells him she can't do it, it's gonna hurt, but he'll understand.

She's not in her apartment and he's starting to panic a little. Until he realizes there was an option he never uses and he asks, "JARVIS, do you know where Darcy is?"

There's a pause before, "It appears that Miss Lewis is in your apartment, Sergeant Barnes."

A little spark of hope lights up in his chest and he makes his way to the floor, walking a little faster to reach his door and get inside.

She's sitting on the arm chair, her legs crossed and a frown marring her lips. When he walks closer and she notices him, she says, "We need to talk."

And he might still be getting used to the 21st century, he might not remember everything from his past, but he knows what those words mean.

That spark of hope is doused and a stab hits his heart abruptly. He circles the couch to sit across from her, his hand clammy. "It's not what you think…"

She raises an eyebrow at him. "What do I think?"

"I wasn't trying to be reckless. It's not that I was just showing off or that I didn't care about getting hurt…" He frowns, leaning back in his seat and dragging a hand through his hair, tugging on it. "Steve was separated from the team. He was holed up with no way out. If I didn't step in, they were gonna gun him down. I know he heals, I know he's stronger than most of us, but there are some things you can't heal from. I'm not willing to see how far that reaches for him…" He shakes his head, staring at her shoulder so he doesn't have to see that disappointed look on her face. "He's my best friend… I'd do anything for him. Doesn't mean I went in expecting to die. I'm trained for this. It's what I do. There's a reason I was the best." His eyes venture up to her chin. "He told me not to, he said he could handle it, and maybe he could've. But from my vantage point, it didn't look like it. I made a decision, I stand by it."

She's quiet, giving nothing away. Seconds feel like hours, and knee starts jostling.

Finally, she says, "And that's how it's always going to be. Steve's in trouble, you risk whatever it takes to get him out of it."

It's not a question, but a statement; he nods anyway.

"It's what we do… It's how we've survived this long…" He shakes his head. "I don't remember everything, but I remember that… Getting Steve out of whatever scrape he got into this time, that's who I am." His eyes finally meet hers, red-rimmed and damp. "I'm not trying to get myself killed. I'm just trying to keep him alive."

She nods, slow and jerky. "I knew that going in. It's just a little different seeing the aftermath… Knowing you're not bulletproof and you can die, just like anybody else. And that you're willing to, if it means saving someone else. And I know it's selfish, I know there's no point in asking, and I wouldn't even try, but that doesn't mean that part of me doesn't kind of wish you didn't have a hero complex."

He swallows tightly. "I didn't always… I make better choices when I do."

"Yeah…" she whispers emotionally.

It's quiet for a long moment before he gathers enough courage to ask, "What now?"

Her brow furrows.

For the most part, his body stays completely still, as if unwilling to give away how worried he is, but his fingers are clenched around the couch cushion. "With us… what happens now?"

She stares at him a long moment. "I'm still mad at you. I'm still gonna be worried every time you go out on missions. And sometimes I might freak out and yell at you, because I'm worried and it's really fucking scary to have medical call you. But I'm not going anywhere…" She searches her eyes. "I'm angry because I was scared. Because I love you and I almost lost you. And there are probably going to be a lot more times like this. Because you're you and, even though I don't ever want you to get hurt, you're right, saving Steve, doing whatever you can to keep him safe and alive, that's who you are. That's who I fell in love with and who I want to be with. Even if it scares the shit out of me sometimes." She shakes her head, reaching up to rub a stray tear away from her cheek. "But I'm here. All right? I'm not going anywhere."

He nods, swallowing tightly, and then his hand unclenches from the couch and he reaches for her, hesitant but hopeful. She lets her hand slide into his, lets him pull her over and into his lap. He presses his face into the crook of his neck. "I'm sorry," he breathes, burying his fingers in her hair. "For scaring you."

She nods, wrapping an arm around him and holding him tight. "Does it hurt? Did they give you pain meds?"

"'m good." He rubs her hip, squeezing. "Can we just do this…? Just stay like this for a bit?"

"Yeah." She relaxes against him, scrubbing her fingers through his hair.

He knows she's still upset and she will be a while, but it's not the end, not even close, and that's pretty damn reassuring.

The first time he tells her he loves her, she's sick.

Darcy's had the flu for a few days now; he's been gone a week and when he gets back, she looks like hell warmed over. Her nose is red and runny, her skin is washed out and even more pale than usual, her eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, her lips are chapped, and her hair is a wild mess of knots. She hasn't showered because her knees give out on her when she stands for too long and she's been living on crackers and tea, because everything else just comes right back up.

Jane lets him know ahead of time, so he can at least prepare before he gets to her apartment. He brings her cough medicine and stocks up on her favorite tea. She cries a little when she sees him because Darcy is the worst sick person ever and hates feeling like anything less than awesome at any given moment. He helps her take a shower without falling and gets out her favourite pajamas, a mix-and-match of Hulks on her bottoms and Steve's shield on her top. She doesn't like spending too much time in her room, so she drags her feet and collapses on the couch, wrapped in a thick blanket and wearing her furry, yeti slippers. He gets her to sit up and manages to brush out her tangled hair and tie it into a half-way passable French braid. When he's done, she lays her head in his lap and he strokes his fingers over her hair and her cheek.

Feeling a little better, she complains a while about how much it sucks being sick, that she's bored, that Tony sent DUM-E to bring her cough medicine because he didn't want to get her sick germs on him. He listens to her rant about how Jane's called at least three times every day since she's been out, because her temporary replacement isn't used to her Jane-isms and keeps messing things up.

She's looking a little better, but her skin is warm, her cheeks are flushed, and she still can't keep food down, so he's pretty sure she'll be laid up for a few more days, at least.

"I'm glad you're home," she says, rubbing her nose against his thigh and letting her eyes close.

"Me too," he says. "Missed you."

She smiles. "Good mission?"

"Went off without a hitch."

"Good." Her nose wrinkles and then her arm darts out and grabs a tissue from the box. She sneezes once, twice, and then she's sitting up, groaning and pressing a hand to her head. "Ugh, hurts." She goes through a few more tissues, turned away from him, and saying, "Don't look! It's gross!"

He chuckles, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her into his lap.

She pouts at him, sniffling. "You're not supposed to see me like this. It ruins the allure."

His mouth twitches and he shakes his head. "Doesn't ruin anything."

"Liar. You're never going to forget what I look like with snot dripping from my nose…" She sighs, leaning back, hugging her blanket around herself. "It'll be seared into your brain. You'll never want to sex me up again."

Rolling his eyes at her, he squeezes his arm around her. "Shut up. You're beautiful."

"Now I know you're lying." She leans over to press a smacking kiss to his cheek. "But I appreciate it." Snuggling against him, she rests her head on his shoulder.

He finds one of her hands and folds his fingers between hers, metal on skin, and turns his head down to kiss her hair. They sit like that for a while, quiet and comfortable. And he's not sure exactly why he says it or what makes it so much easier than ever before, but it is.


"Hm?" she hums.

He pauses, smiling to himself. "I love you."

Her hand squeezes his and she tilts her head back to grin at him. "Yeah?"

He nods down at her. "Yeah."

"Cool." She drops her head back to his shoulder, rubbing her cheek against his shirt. "I love you, too."

He hugs her a little tighter, head resting against hers, and when she falls asleep, he carries her to her bed and tucks her in, stroking his knuckles over her warm cheek.

It feels good. Just as good as when she said it to him. And it still feels right.

The right time, the person, the right him.

The first time he meets her mother, they've been dating for a little over a year and a half.

Doreen Lewis sweeps into their lives and Darcy's apartment like a cyclone, and she's exactly that for her whole stay. She drops in unexpectedly and stays the weekend, finding something to complain about in everything and talking twice as much as Darcy does. He didn't know that was possible until he met her mother, but it doesn't throw him off as much as it does other people. He's gotten used to keeping up with Darcy's rambles, so meeting Doreen only takes a little bit of adjustment.

When he opens Darcy's apartment door to a strange but somehow familiar face, Doreen takes one look at him and her first words are, "You need to eat more. You're skinny." And then he swears she makes it her mission to cook everything she's ever made in her entire life. Darcy just rolls her eyes, makes a vague introduction, and leaves her mother to her fussing.

He calls Steve in for reinforcement. In part because he has no idea what he's supposed to do in this situation, but also because there's no way he can eat everything that's been made and he'll feel like a heel if he doesn't.

Bucky's not skinny, not even kind of. He's not as bulky as Steve is, but muscle leanly lines every part of him. He was made for battle and destruction. When he thinks of skinny, he thinks of Steve, back before the war, before Erksine and the serum. He thinks of a sickly boy that never let the world get him down.

Bucky is not skinny.

But he does eat what Doreen cooks, because she's a Lewis and he wants her to like him, and because even if Darcy complains that her mother is a nag who shouldn't be forcing anybody to do anything, when Doreen pats his cheek and says he's sweet, Darcy smiles and says, "He has his moments." It feels a lot like being welcomed to the family.

So, it's not at all bad. Not even when she pinches his ass before she leaves and Steve laughs about it for days.

Darcy just shrugs. "She's a Lewis. I don't know what you were expecting, but family reunions are gonna be awkward for you in the future."

She's right. They are.

The first time he asks her to marry him is the one and only time he asks someone to marry him.

They've been dating three and a half years, they've had their ups and their downs, more than their share of near-death experiences, missions gone wrong, lab infiltrations and explosions, good guys, bad guys, something in between, and they're solid. They're the most solid thing in his life besides him and Steve. There's no one he loves more than her and he can't imagine himself loving anybody else more or better. He doesn't want to.

She finds a blackberry pie in their fridge; it's probably the worst pie she'll ever eat, because he never quite got the hang of baking. There's a yellow sticky note on top and it says simply:

Marry me? – your hobo

She says yes, over and over again, in between blackberry flavored kisses. He hugs her after, grinning, his nose buried in her rose-scented hair, and, as far as his memory is concerned, she's his first love, but she's also his last. And if there's only one good thing to come out of being the Winter Soldier, it's that he's alive to love her.