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Dirty Mercy

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The threat of the Winter Soldier programming taking over is one that everyone at the tower (with high enough clearance to even know about him) takes very seriously. Before he's brought in, there are security drill after security drill, all kinds of briefings to read, strategically-placed and reinforced panic rooms, the whole nine yards. Neither Darcy nor Jane are particularly worried about it, it's unlikely they'll cross his path in general, but they do everything they're told anyway.

They don't expect Bucky to walk by the lab sometimes, a look of intrigue on his face. They don't expect Darcy to invite him in when he says bashfully that he really was interested in science before he was drafted. They certainly don't expect him to say yes, but he does. He sits and listens as Jane gives the Reader's Digest version of what she's working on, peppering in questions here and there. Jane looks thrilled that he's more or less following what she's saying and the last of her reservations about him being here evaporate.

Bucky starts coming to their lab a lot. After a few weeks, he mentions that it's nothing like the labs HYDRA had, that he isn't afraid here like he worried he'd be. Darcy thinks that's very fair considering neither one of them would ever be a match for him even if they wanted to hurt him. He also says he's always loved the stars and thanks them for letting him spend time here. He says it so earnestly that it makes Darcy want to bug FRIDAY into telling her who exactly is making him feel unwelcome so she can curse them into oblivion.

For months the only time they see Bucky is when he comes down to their floor, either to help them in the lab or for the occasional movie break Darcy insists Jane take when she's been working too hard. It's a 60-40 chance of putting her right to sleep and Darcy will take any help she can. Then Thor comes back from Asgard and they're suddenly spending a lot of time on the Avengers' levels, Thor not wanting to be far from his "love Jane and sister in all but blood Darcy". She'd teased him for that, but she was pleased and he knew it.

So suddenly she's met Captain America ("Please, call me Steve."), the Black Widow ("Do not call me Steve."), and Falcon ("Just Sam is fine."). She's reacquainted with Clint, who she flips off then hugs, much to everyone but Natasha's confusion.

"We met in New Mexico when Thor touched down," Clint says.

"He was supervising the motherfuckers that stole all our shit," Darcy says, glaring.

"Yeah, then helped you get spectacularly drunk and kept you from falling off the roof later," Clint says.

Darcy just shrugs. "It was really the least you could do," she says.

With clearance for the Avengers' floors comes a whole new set of briefings. There are gory details of things the Winter Soldier has gone, files they're forced to read to know exactly who they're dealing with. Bucky avoids the lab for a whole week after that until Darcy uses her new clearance to stomp to his room and bang on the door until he finally relents and comes back.

It turns out the prep they were given wasn't entirely unwarranted, but it does end up being a little useless. Darcy's not sure what triggered him, if it's something they said, or maybe a smell, maybe just his brain trying to work things out, but either way, in the middle of the lab on a Wednesday, Bucky tenses, dropping the stack of notes in his hand. He's shaking his head, eyes wide and frightened, before his face goes blank and Darcy feels icy fear fill her.

They were told to remain nonthreatening, which is easy to do, and to remain calm, which isn't. They were also told that the Soldier would be angry and violent, which he isn't. The blank coldness melts from his face, leaving him looking around him, confusion on his face. He turns to them, looking them up and down, assessing if they're threats, before the tension in his lessens, though it doesn't go away.

He barks something in a language she doesn't know but might be Russian?

"Uh, I only speak English," Darcy says. "And about ten words I can remember in French from high school and watching Moulin Rouge."

He frowns at that, then says, "Awaiting orders."

"From us?" she asks, glancing at Jane. It's then that the pieces click for her. Every time he's been triggered before, it's been deliberate. It's been with someone there giving him an order to kill. It's not his default and it doesn't look like he's planning their murders. So they have that going for them at least. "Uh, we don't have any orders for you."

"I don't understand," he says. "Awaiting orders."

"Orders, right," Darcy says. "Um. Want to sit down? We were about to eat."

He does what she says, following her to the desk where their Chinese leftovers are already waiting for them. Darcy and Jane sit opposite him, and Darcy is so proud of how collected Jane looks, especially when she's sure her heart rate is going a mile a minute. He looks at the food warily, so Darcy takes a bite first, hoping that he won't think it's poisoned.

She doesn't ask if he knows his name or where he is. She's not a therapist and she doesn't want to poke that bees nest. So she does the only thing she can think of. She asks if he wants shrimp fried rice.

"I don't know," he says.

"It's good," she says, not telling him it's his favorite, like he told her last week. She puts some on his paper plate before dumping some on her own and handing the box to Jane.

"You're not handlers," he says, watching her take a chug of her Gatorade.

"No," Jane says, shaking her head. Her voice is a bit shaky, but she doesn't stop. "We're scientists."

"She's a scientist," Darcy corrects. "I just help. She studies space."

It's an oversimplification, but Bucky likes outer space, maybe the Winter Soldier does, too? He doesn't say anything though, his brows furrowed and he cautiously takes a bite of his food, then another, like he realizes he enjoys it. Darcy shares a glance with Jane. She's pretty sure Jane hit the silent alarm when Bucky had first been triggered, but it's not like she can ask.

"I know you," he says slowly, looking at Darcy. "Don't I?"

"Yeah," she says. "Yeah, you do."

"I don't remember you."

"Way to give a girl a complex," she teases, but he frowns again. Okay, maybe lay off joking.

"I'm sorry," he says.

"It's okay," Darcy says. "My name's Darcy and this is Jane."

"I don't know why I'm here," he says and he sounds a bit frightened. Darcy doesn't want to know what HYDRA had done to him if he'd ever been confused on a mission before.

"I think it's because you're our friend," she says.

He still looks confused, like that doesn't quite translate, but he doesn't say anything else. He eats slowly, like he's savoring it, though Darcy's sure he's also planning his next move. He has a very similar thinking face as Bucky. He could easily leave, it's not like either of them could stop him even if they wanted to try, but he stays sitting by them, eating slowly.

It's been about fifteen minutes, way longer than she'd expected, before Steve and Sam show up, both in suits. That's right, the charity lunch. She'd forgotten. The Soldier's attention immediately snaps to them the second the elevator doors outside the lab open. He stands quickly, putting himself in front of Darcy and Jane, much to their shock. Is the Winter Solider defending them?

Steve and Sam approach slowly, trying to show they aren't a threat, but the Soldier takes in their stances, the gun on Sam's hip, and knows immediately that they're different than Darcy and Jane. He shifts his stance minutely, like he's ready to launch himself at them at any second.

"Hey, Buck," Steve says. "You all right?"

"Buck," the Soldier says slowly. "Bucky."

"Yeah, that's your name," Steve says. "Wanna come with me? Let Ms. Lewis and Dr. Foster go?"

"We're friends," he says. Sam's eyebrows fly up. Any other situation and it would be hilarious. Who's she kidding, she's definitely teasing him later. "I know you, too," the Soldier says slowly. He glances briefly at Darcy, like he's checking to see if he's right.

"Yeah, that's Steve," Darcy says. "You're buds."

The Soldier relaxes a bit, but he looks confused still, and still stands between them and Sam and Steve. "Steve," he says slowly, and there's a spark of recognition there.

"Yeah," Steve says, smiling. "Wanna go somewhere we can talk?"

The Soldier looks back at Darcy again and she gives him a thumbs up. "Go ahead, we'll be around," she says.

It's take a bit more convincing, but he follows Steve and Sam, looking over his shoulder one last time at them before he goes. There's more recognition there and a bit of fear, and she doesn't want to know how fucked up he's going to feel after this.

Jane lets her head thunk down onto the desk in front of her, letting out a huge sigh of relief. "Well that went better than I thought it would," she says.

"Yep."

Later, when Bucky is back to Bucky and trying to rest, Steve comes and finds her in the common room on the lab's floor. She, Jane, and Thor, who's always a bit clingy after Jane's in danger, are trying to decompress, watching some nature documentary. Before she can say anything, he yanks her into a tight hug, just this side of rib-crushing.

"I'm glad you're safe, and thank you," he says. When he lets go, he hugs Jane too, leaning down so she doesn't have to get up from being nestled on the couch next to Thor.

"Is he okay?" Darcy asks. Steve sighs and sits on the sectional between Jane and Darcy.

"He's confused, and embarrassed I think, but he's Bucky. His therapist is good at her job," Steve says. "I wanted to go over security footage with you if you have time? I want to understand what happened."

So that's what they do, FRIDAY pulling up footage from the lab's cameras on the screen. Steve will ask questions here and there if he can't hear what's said. He watches their body language, pays attention to what they say and how they say it. He looks a bit heartbroken when the Soldier jumps up to put himself between Darcy and Jane and the perceived threat.

"Did he say what triggered him?" Darcy asks.

"I don't think he knows yet," Steve says. "They're working on it."

"They're not gonna like...put him in isolation or anything?"

"No, no," Steve says vehemently. "He's going to have a few pretty intensive days with his therapist, but he's not being restricted from anywhere."

"Oh, good," Darcy says. "So I'm allowed to bring him muffins?"

Steve visibly brightens at that, like he'd assumed she wouldn't want to be near him anymore. Well fuck that, Bucky's her friend and she isn't going anywhere.

"Yeah, you definitely can."

Darcy gives him a day to decompress at Sam's suggestion ("Go right away and he might still be overwhelmed, but too late and he'll be working himself in a knot thinking you guys hate him.") before knocking on his door. She doesn't actually bake them because she's garbage at baking and doesn't want to give him food poisoning.

There's no answer when she knocks, so she verifies with FRIDAY that yes, he's inside and yes, he's awake. She knocks again, longer. He still doesn't answer. She holds herself back from pounding on his door because she's not an animal, but it's close.

"Bucky Barnes, we both know I can out-stubborn you any day of the week!" Darcy calls through the door. "I'll sit out here as long as I have to! Your neighbors will think you got a weird lawn gnome!"

She means it, too. Jane will give her the time off for this. There's a long silence while she gives him time to mull that over, but eventually the door in front of her opens. Bucky looks rough, eyes bloodshot like he hasn't slept, hair pulled back in a messy bun. He's looking at her warily, like he's not sure what to expect.

"Hey," she says, voice softer than she intended.

"Hi," he says. He sounds rough, too.

"Here," she says, handing him the tupperware container. "I didn't bake them so they might even be edible."

His smile looks more like a grimace, but at least he's trying.

"Thanks," he says, taking it from her. "Why are you here?"

"Because you're my friend? Because you had something shitty happen and when that happens to my friends, I get all up in their business?"

"I could have hurt you," he says, looking down at the container in his hands, fingers flexing. "So easily."

"But you didn't. And you didn't want to. Steve showed you the footage, yeah?" Darcy asks. He nods, still not looking at her. "Then you know you didn't and weren't going to."

"He liked you. And Jane," Bucky says harshly.

"What?"

"The Soldier. He liked you," Bucky says.

"Okay," Darcy says. "I'm gonna be honest, I don't know what that means."

Bucky lets of a small laugh at that, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, me neither," he says. "Dr. Helms thinks it's proof of her theory that the Soldier wasn't evil, just brainwashed and believed what he was forced to do was right."

"Sounds like a solid theory to me," Darcy says, nudging him with her elbow. "Look, there's some big meteor shower and Thor, Jane and I are driving out to the middle of bumfuck nowhere tomorrow so she can do some stargazing without New York's light pollution. You should come with us."

Bucky hesitates, though she knows he wants to. She's mentioned it before and he'd been interested. "I don't think I should."

"Oh you absolutely should. If you want to," Darcy says. "If you don't want to, that's fine, I'm not gonna try to force you, but if you want to come, you should come. Wide open spaces, no crowded cities or towers. We want you there. And look, if you're really worried something might happen, Thor is going to be there and I've seen you guys spar, I know he can handle what you throw at him."

"Maybe," Bucky says with a shrug.

Believe it or not, she actually knows when to stop pushing, so she just gives a little sigh and nods. She reaches out, squeezing his hand, and says, "You're still our friend. We leave tomorrow at 4:00 p.m."

Bucky just nods and squeezes her hand back. He watches her walk away until she gets to the elevator, giving him a little wave as the doors close. Ugh, poor guy. So many issues. His issues have issues.

Darcy, Thor, and Jane spend most of the next afternoon packing up an SUV they're borrowing from Tony. It has one of the ridiculous custom vanity license plates that is some variation of Stark, but they don't have to pay to rent it, so Darcy's giving it a pass, even though it's dumb.

She honestly doesn't know if Bucky will come. She hasn't heard from him since she invited him, and she's half expecting to have to drag him out of his apartment when she gets back. But at 3:55, Bucky's walking into the garage, a backpack slung over his shoulder. He's good at faking confidence, at having an indifferent mask, but there's tension around his eyes, like he's expecting to not be welcome.

Darcy grins, watching him walk up. Jane looks up and waves absently, going back to checking her packing list to make sure they have everything. Thor greets Bucky with a pat on the back and a wide smile, and god she loves Thor. Just the nicest dude when the princely arrogance he came with melts away.

"I'm glad you're joining us," Thor says.

"Thanks," Bucky says. "Anything I can do?"

"We're mostly packed up. Do you get car sick?" Darcy asks.

"No."

"Cool, you're in the back with me then. Thor's tall ass needs the leg room up front," Darcy says.

Bucky nods, putting his backpack in the trunk next to Darcy's duffel bag. He does a quick but careful inspection of the SUV before getting into the back seat next to Darcy. A few minutes later, they're pulling out on the road, Jane behind the wheel.

"Where are we going?" Bucky asks.

"This place upstate. It's kinda like a campground and rents out these cabins, but since it's the off season and it's so cold we basically have the run of the place," Darcy says. "We're the only ones insane enough to go in winter."

"I prefer to think of it as practical," Jane says.

"Hey, I'm here, aren't I? I got mittens and scarves and everything. I'm pumped, boss lady."

Bucky snorts next to her, a hint of a smile playing at his lips. Jane gets distracted enough with Thor navigating, reading directions off her phone, that Darcy can poke Bucky in the thigh and say quietly, without being overheard, "Thanks for coming."

Bucky studies her for a moment before poking her thigh right back. "Thanks for inviting me," he says, a small quirk at the corner of his lips. Fuck yeah, success.

Bucky might not get carsick, but Darcy does, so they stop a few times so she can walk around and get some fresh air before Thor puts his foot down and picks her up, bodily forcing her into the front seat, taking her place in the back next to Bucky.

"You look ridiculous," Darcy says, motioning to how high his knees are because of Jane's seat in front of him. "It's like putting a refrigerator in a Volkswagen Beetle."

"Maybe, but I would rather be in cramped quarters for a few hours over you being ill," Thor says.

Darcy sighs, patting him on the knee before turning back around. "You put most men to shame, Thor."

"Their lack of manners puts them to shame," Thor says.

"Yeah, fair," Darcy says.

They make it in a few hours, Jane always a bit of speed demon. The caretaker greets them and gives them their keys, directing them to the cabin farthest from the entrance, closest to the big hill Jane wants to climb. Darcy's so grateful Thor and Bucky are here because it sucks so hard when they have to lug all their equipment up themselves.

They drop off their bags in the cabin before grabbing their equipment and heading up the hill. Well Bucky and Thor take their equipment, leaving her and Jane with their blankets and backpacks.

"No offense doll, but I've seen you trip over air when it's not dusk," Bucky says, plucking the two big cases out of her arms.

"I would absolutely take offense to that, but A. You are completely correct, and B. I don't actually wanna carry this shit, so by all means," she says.

It's not the most fun trek, because it's basically a mini hike and Darcy is not remotely a hiker, but it's worth it when they get to the top. It's chilly but she's warm enough in her layered sweatshirt and coat, gloves, and beanie. Plus they brought blankets, it'll be fine.

It takes a half hour to set up Jane's machines with the help of Thor and Bucky, who actually know what they're doing thanks to spending so much time in the lab. It's fully dark by the time they're done, sitting on the thick blankets Darcy laid out on the ground. Jane and Thor lie back on one, staring up at the stars and talking quietly.

Bucky sits next to Darcy on the other, putting careful distance between them. She rolls her eyes but lies down, staring up at the sky. She forgets how much you can see when you're not in the city, how bright and spotted the inky black sky becomes. She's used to lying on the roof of the tower, trying to see what she can past New York's bright lights. She's a city girl through and through, but there's something to be said for the clear night skies in the country. It takes a few minutes of her staring at the stars, but eventually Bucky shifts, lying down next to her.

"When's the meteor shower supposed to start?" he asks.

"Probably a half hour," Darcy says. "Give or take."

"Is any of this actually relevant to her research?" Bucky asks.

"Probably not," Darcy says, nudging him with her elbow. "But it's good to go out in the field sometimes, get out of the lab. I like when she gets a reminder of why she fell in love with the stars in the first place."

Bucky hums, looking up at the sky. He and Thor aren't nearly as layered up as Darcy and Jane, but they don't seem bothered by it. On the one hand, she's super jealous. On the other, she looks cute in layers, so whatever.

Darcy glances over to the next blanket, smiling slightly. Jane actually isn't writing anything down or messing with her laptop. She's lying on the blanket next to Thor, staring up at the sky as he traces his fingers in the air above them, showing her constellations they use on Asgard, telling her stories of the stars. Darcy loves when Jane's like this, when she's able to relax and just enjoy herself, remember why she got into this field in the first place.

"I've seen a lot of what you said. About lack of manners," Bucky says, and it takes her a second to remember what she said to Thor in the car earlier.

"Yeah? Was that not so common back in the day?" she asks.

"No, it happened still. Bad people happen everywhere, but it wasn't as overt I guess, at least not in the same way. I guess I'd hoped we'd evolved a bit since then," Bucky says, frowning. "A lot of men now just seem so...proud over treating women like..."

"Like garbage," Darcy says. "Yeah, well, there's a lot of entitlement going on. There's this whole shitty subset of men that are so fucking proud of how much they hate women. Then get pissed and key your car when no one wants to date them."

Bucky looks over at her, raising his eyebrows. "Who keyed your car?"

"No one lately, it's at my parents' house in Virginia," Darcy says. "Shit like that happens though. A lot."

"Let me know if it happens again," he says seriously.

"I can handle it," she tells him.

"Oh, I know you can," he says. "Barton told me all about you tasing Thor." Darcy snorts. Of course he did. "Tell me anyway?"

"Okay," she says with a shrug. Doesn't cost her anything.

"It's starting!" Jane says, kicking out at Darcy, getting her in the thigh.

Darcy grumbles under her breath and scoots close to Bucky and out of kicking range. Jane packs a serious wallop for someone so small. He tenses for a second then relaxes, his shoulder touching hers. Darcy glances over, feeling him watching her. She gives him a slight smile and looks back up at the sky, watching the meteor shower start.

Darcy hasn't felt this calm in quite a while. There are no experiments to monitor, no lab staff to manage, no Tony to get in her hair. Instead she can just breathe the fresh air, watching the meteors streak across the sky. She moves a bit closer to Bucky, drawn in by the ridiculous amount of heat he gives off. He rolls to his side and she winces, apparently overstepping a boundary, but then he's back, one of the extra blankets in his hands.

"Don't catch a cold," he says, shaking the blanket out over her.

He doesn't move away though, not like she'd expected he would if she invaded his bubble too much. He's pressed against her side, shoulder to hip. It's stupid and very high school, but she is so very aware that she could just turn her wrist and hold his hand, that his body is warm and solid next to hers. She swallows and forces herself to focus on the stars above them.

So the meteor shower concludes two things for her that she mulls over when she's in her room of their cabin that night. The first, space is really fucking awesome. Second, she definitely has a crush on Bucky Barnes.

Bucky comes back around more after that, spending time in the labs again, occasionally joining them for dinner or an astronomy-related field trip, the triggering event not haunting him as much anymore.

The thing is, it happens again, only this time in a therapy session. His therapist keeps her cool, doesn't push him for anything and doesn't try to stop him when he walks out. She does put the tower on alert, messages going out to all Avengers, triggering a lockdown for everyone else. He doesn't try to leave the tower, though. He doesn't try to fight anyone, walking straight past Tony and Rhodey without a glance, both of them too stunned to remember to stop him.

He seeks her out.

Darcy gets the lockdown alert from FRIDAY when she's in the shower. She doesn't say why, but requests that she stay in her room. She assumes someone is trying to break in, maybe HYDRA or AIM, both of which have been suspiciously quiet lately. She rinses off quickly and gets out. She'd rather be dressed just in case something happens and she has to book it to the nearest panic room.

She puts on a pair of yoga pants and a baggy t-shirt with a cartoonized Thor on it that Clint had given her. She leaves her hair damp, no point in blow drying it, and wanders out into her living room, wondering if Jane knows more by virtue of being with Thor. She freezes halfway down her hall, seeing someone standing in her living room. It takes her a few seconds to recognize who it is.

"Bucky?" she says, taking a few steps forward, only to stop abruptly when he frowns. It's then that she takes in how he's standing, the blank, almost confused expression on his face. "Oh...uh..."

"Yasha," he says.

"What?"

"You can call me Yasha," he says.

"Oh," she says, taking a cautious step forward. "Yasha. Is everything okay?"

"I couldn't find you," he says. "I thought you were hurt."

"I'm okay," she says. She moves closer, still walking slowly. She doesn't think she's in any danger here, but she doesn't want to be proven wrong. "I stayed home sick, that's all."

He closes the remaining distance between them, looking her up and down, like he's looking for injuries, not like the gross dudes she bumps into on the subway. He reaches out and takes her by the wrist, turning her arm to show off the vivid bruise on her inner bicep, courtesy of a falling wrench when she as trying to bolt some new thingy of Jane's into the ceiling.

"It's fine," she says. "It was an accident."

He nods, brows furrowing. "I don't think I should be here," he says. "I don't have any orders."

"You don't have to follow their orders," Darcy says. She has absolutely no idea if that's the right thing to say, it's probably not, but it's what slips out anyway. "You have the right to make your own choices."

His grip on her wrist tightens and for a second she thinks she made a mistake, but then he's letting go and pulling away, shaking his head.

"I'm not...I shouldn't be here," he says.

"You don't have to go," Darcy says, having a horrible feeling he's talking about the tower, not just her apartment. "Your friends are here."

There's silence for a long time, then he looks at her harder, like he's trying to remember her. "You," he says. "Darcy. And...Steve. Sam. Jane?"

"Yeah," Darcy says. "We're your friends."

He looks at her and it's so very hard to not squirm under that heavy stare. She tries to keep her face as open as possible, despite her natural tendency to joke in tense situations. He takes in a ragged breath, looking down at his hands, and says, "I think I'm scared."

So that's what it feels like to have her heart break. She swallows hard and steps closer, hands held loosely at her side.

"Yasha?" she asks quietly.

"I think I might be Bucky," he says, voice barely a whisper, like he expects to punished. She was wrong, her heart is still breaking. "Am I?"

God, she is so unprepared for this. She no idea, no idea what the right thing to say here is. But she figures enough people have lied to him and she doesn't want to be another.

"Yes," she says, voice as soft as his. "You are."

She's selfishly glad that he's not looking at her because she has a feeling she wouldn't be able to handle what his face is doing without hugging him, and that seems potentially very dangerous.

"I should find Steve," he says finally, looking up at her.

Darcy nods. "Probably," she says. "Be careful?"

He nods and walks across the living room to her door. He gives her one final look before opening her door (thank god FRIDAY is smart enough to let him out) and leaving. Darcy sinks down to the ground, taking in a rough breath that releases into a sob. God, it's not fair. It's not fucking fair. Bucky doesn't deserve this, he doesn't deserve any of the shit that's been done to him, doesn't deserve the consequences still hitting him when he's finally getting his life back.

"The lockdown has ended, Ms. Lewis," FRIDAY says, voice calm. "Sergeant Barnes is with Captain Rogers in Medical."

"Thanks, FRIDAY," Darcy says, standing and wiping at her eyes.

She needs a bath. A very long, very warm bath. And a truly appalling amount of Funyons and chocolate. Before she can do more than think about it, someone's knocking on her door. She's not surprised it's Clint on the other side, though she appreciates him knocking instead of barging in like Jane would have.

Darcy sighs and opens the door to Clint's concerned face. "Hey," she says.

"Hey," Clint says. "How you doing, sparky?"

"Sparky?"

"I was trying a new nickname, didn't work," he says.

Darcy snorts and opens the door wider, letting him come in. He walks past her, squeezing her shoulder as he goes. He makes a beeline for her kitchen and goes right for the freezer, pulling out the Ben and Jerry's he'd stashed there in the hopes Natasha wouldn't find it. She had, but she gave him points for trying.

Darcy grabs two spoons and leans up against the counter next to him, handing him one before digging into the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in his hands. He doesn't say anything and she appreciates that about him, he doesn't push if he doesn't have to. She thinks part of it is the whole secret agent thing and another part is just him.

"Were you sent to get my side of what happened?" she asks eventually.

"No, I was coming down anyway," Clint says, pushing her spoon aside with his to steal her bite of ice cream. "Steve asked me to talk to you when I was here though."

Darcy sighs, leaving her spoon in the carton and crossing her arms. "He was really confused. And I think worried about me. Which is weird, right? Like, that's definitely not normal?" she says. Clint just shrugs. "He was remembering that he's Bucky. I don't know if that's good or bad."

"It's good," Clint says, bumping his hip against hers. "Just delicate."

"Are you going to tell me to stay away from him?" Darcy asks.

"No, why would I do that to a fellow member of the brainwashing club?" Clint says. He sets the ice cream down on the counter behind them and wraps an arm around her shoulder, tugging her closer. "Look, I agree with you as far as I don't think the Winter Soldier would hurt you just for fun. If he wanted to, he's had ample opportunity. I don't know if it's because he doesn't see you as a threat or if he really does remember you're his friend. Just please be careful. I would hate to be wrong."

"Thanks," she says, wrapping her arm around his waist and leaning into his touch. "You're one of the good ones, Clint."

"Don't tell anyone," he says. "Gotta keep the rep up with the underlings."

Clint stays with her for a few more hours because as much as they joke, he really is her friend and waits until she's less upset to leave, giving her a chance to get some sleep. Her last thoughts before drifting off are of HYDRA, and how she wishes she could have had the pleasure Nick Fury had in killing Pierce.

She doesn't see Bucky for three miserable weeks. There's a teeny tiny lab fire, nothing major. Then Thor leaves for Asgard, putting Jane in a funk. There's a small emotional meltdown when a machine breaks that Darcy really just thinks is because Jane needs to let out some steam. Then paperwork somewhere gets fucked up and Darcy doesn't get paid on time. Then there's the food poisoning, and the massive spider on her pillow, and the burst pipe that has her sleeping on Jane's couch. And she hasn't seen Bucky, someone she's come to regard as a good friend.

She'd kind of expected it, him to avoid her for a bit, but she hadn't expected it to last for quite so long or for it to suck quite as much as it does. The only reason she sees him at all is an assistant in their lab tries to steal files to sell to other companies and she knocks him out by hitting him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Bucky gets there before security, looking down at the lab assistant who's slowly coming to. She thinks he might look vaguely proud, but she's too grumpy to care.

"No!" Darcy says, kicking the assistant's arm when it looks like he's trying to get up. "Did this really seem like a good idea to you? Did you not see the fucking mood Jane and I have been in? Did you think FRIDAY wouldn't notice? Did you think you'd get away with it in a tower full of Avengers?"

"I just - "

"I swear to god, I will taser you in the balls if you say another word," she says.

"She'll do it!" Jane says from behind her, a long pipe held over her head like a baseball bat. "And she'll love it!"

Luckily for the assistant, that's when tower security arrives, hauling him up and cuffing his hands behind his back. He struggles a bit, then gets a good look at Bucky, pales, and goes quietly. A few security team members stay behind to get details on what happened from Darcy and Jane. Greg, a douchey guy who always has rubbed Darcy the wrong way, is one of them, and she really can't catch a break.

"You had to beat him?" Greg asks with a sigh. "Really?"

"He tried to hit me first!" Darcy says. Bucky's eyes narrow.

"And if he tries to sue?" Greg says. "Only one of you has an injury."

"And I'll make it two if you don't fuck off," Darcy snaps. "You're welcome for doing your job for you."

"Tony won't care if he sues," Jane says. She's still holding the pipe and Darcy's pretty sure she's considering using it on Greg. "This asshole tries to steal my life's work and you're worried about what would happen if he sues?"

"You really fell out of the dumbass tree and hit every branch on the way down," Darcy says.

Bucky snorts and Darcy rounds on him, ready to snap at him too, because he's her fucking friend and it's rude to ignore your friends for almost a goddamn month. But he's smiling. It's small but there, and suddenly her anger at him is draining out of her. She sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Just go away, Craig," Jane says.

"Greg," he corrects.

"Go. Away."

Greg does, leaving Darcy, Jane, and Bucky alone.

"I'm just gonna go, uh, over there," Jane says, swinging the pipe around deftly, making Bucky raise his eyebrows.

"She killed it at softball in high school and college," Darcy says as Jane walks away. "What, you thought she didn't have any hobbies? She could crack a skull like a grapefruit."

"I believe it," he says. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," she says with a shrug. "He didn't actually manage to hit either of us."

"Good," he says.

They're quiet after that and oh god it's awkward, when did things get awkward between them? Oh right, when he avoided her for three weeks.

"How'd you get here so fast?" she asks.

"I had FRIDAY alert me if anything happened in the lab after the fire," Bucky says. "I didn't like hearing about that from Steve."

"Well I would have told you myself if someone hadn't pretended I didn't exist for three weeks," Darcy says pointedly. Even as she says it, she knows it's unfair. She's never had the trauma he has, she doesn't know how she would handle something like that happening to her. She sighs. "Sorry. I don't mean that. I just missed you."

Bucky's face softens. "I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't know if I should come back. Or if you two would even want me to."

"What? Why?" she asks.

"He...the Soldier has an...affinity with you," he says, looking down. "That's twice now. I don't know what will happen if there's a third."

Darcy steps closer until she's just inches away. She takes his hands in hers where they hang at his sides. "Bucky," she says quietly. She waits until he looks up at her, eyes tight. "Look, emotional conversations aren't really my forte, that's usually sarcasm and rude comments, but I need you to know you matter to me, okay? You're one of my favorite people, one of the best men I know, and look, it's just really important that you know I care about you and I'm not afraid of you."

Bucky's hands tighten on hers, eyes pained. "Doll...if I get triggered again, if he comes out...if I hurt you..." He takes a shuddering breath, leaning forward to rest his forehead against her. "I don't know what I would do if I hurt you."

"I don't believe you would. The Winter Soldier wasn't an indiscriminate killing machine. There wasn't any killing just because," Darcy says. "Like you said, affinity, right? He knows we're friends."

He doesn't seem to have anything to say to that. He sighs, thumbs rubbing over her knuckles. "In another life, I'd have asked to take you out by now," he says easily, as if he hasn't just sent a rush of shock and thrill through her.

"I'd have said yes," she says, pulling back just far enough that she can look at him without going cross eyed. "In like, any life ever."

Bucky smiles slightly, staring down at her and lordy, she would love to just tug him down and kiss the hell out of him, but that has to be his call. She's not going to shove him into anything he's not ready for or anything he's hesitant about. Before she can tell him that though, there's the soft whoosh of the lab door opening, followed by voices, reminding them that oh yeah, the real world exists. They step back, though not completely out of each other's personal space.

"We can talk tonight?" Bucky asks.

"Yeah," she says. "If Tony lets me leave the lab ever again."

"Hey, Jane was right," Tony says, walking in with Steve. "I don't care if you hit people with fire extinguishers as long as they deserve it."

"You're a paragon of morals," Steve says dryly, but he's not disagreeing.

"Yeah, well," Tony says. "The NYPD just took custody of your little thief. We wanted to check in, make sure you were okay. And see why Craig complained about a 'hostile work environment'."

"Greg," Darcy corrects. "And because he's a royal asshole every time we see him."

"And Darcy is a royal asshole right back," Jane says. "Ever since Darcy turned him down he's been a twat."

"He x-rays my drinks every time I come in! For like ten minutes. My tea always go cold," Darcy grumbles, crossing her arms.

"He puts my requests to the bottom of the pile every time! It took three months to get Selvig approved for this level!" Jane says.

"The only reason he stopped making me take off my shoes at security is I kicked off my boot and hit him in the forehead," Darcy says.

"He wouldn't escort Darcy to her cab when I asked! He said she has a taser and would be fine," Jane says.

There's a very outraged look on Bucky's face, his jaw clenched, eyes tight and dangerous.

"I have a feeling Greg in security may be getting a visit from our resident one-armed glaring expert," Tony stage whispers to Steve before turning to Bucky. "No need to bring out the murder eyes, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Consider him reassigned to a parking lot attendant. Anything else and he's fired, good?"

"Should be fired anyway," Bucky says. "And I don't know what smells like teen spirit means."

"It's a song," Steve says.

"Hey, gold star for you, Steve!" Darcy says. "It's by a '90s grunge band."

"You look like you'd blend right in at a Nirvana concert with the long hair, the attitude...never mind," Tony says.

Tony is 100% right. Bucky can rock the man bun like nobody's business, he looks hot as fuck in a flannel, and probably would actually like Nirvana now that she thinks about it. Goddamn that won't leave her mind now. Unfair.

Tony and Jane chat a bit more about her current project. Darcy had been pleasantly surprised that Tony was actually willing to brainstorm with Jane. She half expected him to just stroll in to blow himself every once in a while, but when he's stuck on something or bored he likes to poke his head in, see what's going on, ask if Jane needs help. Color Darcy shocked.

Steve murmurs something to Bucky, who shakes his head then shrugs before turning to Darcy. "We have somewhere we need to be," Bucky says. "I'll see you tonight."

"Holding you to that, sunshine," Darcy says with a wink, making Steve snort on a laugh.

Jane gets back in the flow of working easily. Anger does that to her, gives her focus. Darcy's not as good at that, but Tony sticks around for a while and he's an easy distraction. He learned within the first few months not to poke at the delicate mess that are Jane's machines, so instead he makes gentle suggestions or chats with Darcy, who's constantly teasing him. Pepper told her once that she thinks Tony likes it, that there are so many people either kissing his ass because they want money or to know an Avenger, or yelling at him, that he rarely gets people who will just tease him. Well, she's fine doing that.

Darcy doesn't feel like cooking but she also knows if they're going to have a big heart to heart, she's probably going to need comfort food. She asks FRIDAY to order macaroni and cheese from the little dive bar around the corner that makes the best food she's had in the city so far. She orders Bucky's preferred calzone and onion rings too because she's nice like that.

Bucky texts her a heads up a half hour before knocking on her door. He looks nervous again, like he had before he started spending time with her and Jane in the lab. Darcy lets him in, pointing him to where the food is sitting on her coffee table. Bucky smiles slightly, pressing a kiss to her temple as he walks by. She curses the traitorous butterflies in her stomach.

"I'm sorry," he says as he sits down. She hands him a fork and pushes the takeout box with his calzone at him.

"It's okay," she says, sitting on the other side of the small couch. "It wasn't fair of me to snap at you. Not over that."

They don't speak for a while, taking their time eating. It isn't the awkward silence from earlier though, this is like they fall back into the same easy rhythm of friendship that they'd had before the three weeks of radio silence. Darcy wordlessly passes him the barbeque sauce when he opens his onion rings. Bucky stands and refills her water glass before it's even empty.

When they're done, takeout boxes sitting empty on her coffee table, Bucky turns toward her, one leg up on the couch so he's facing her. She turns too, sitting cross-legged on the couch, her knee almost bumping his foot.

"The docs don't think it's me being triggered," Bucky says, eyes on the small stack of books piles haphazardly on the corner of her coffee table. "They think the programming is deteriorating."

"What?" Darcy asks. "How does that even happen?"

"HYDRA hasn't had me in a while, hasn't been able to reinforce their programming," Bucky says. He finally looks up at her, letting her see just how much fear is in his eyes. She can't help but reach out and take his free hand in hers. He holds tightly. "What they did to me, it's deteriorating."

"What does that mean?" She's afraid to know the answer, but knows it has to be asked. "In theory that sounds like it could be good, but - "

"It's like my brain is...glitching, I think is the word one of them used. Maybe it's trying to heal, maybe I'm just losing my mind," he says. "Natasha would never say it, but she thinks it's both."

"Shit," Darcy says. Probably not the most delicate thing to say, but he knows she's not the most delicate person anyway. "Do they have any ideas how to help?"

"A few," Bucky says with a shrug. "But none that I'm pinning my hopes on."

"Anything I can do?" she asks.

Bucky smiles softly, squeezing her hand. "Already doing it, doll."

Bucky stops avoiding her and the lab after that. They gain a shadow in the form of a worried, blonde super soldier who likes the drop in on them and hover from time to time, like he's scared Bucky will vanish into thin air if he takes his eyes off of him for too long. It gets bad enough that Jane threatens to ban Steve if he doesn't get his sad eyes under control.

It's good to have him back. Both Jane and Darcy have missed his presence, but it's like there's a cloud of dread hanging over them. As good as Bucky's shrinks and doctors are, they've never had a case exactly like this one, which means while some of what they know is fact, some is pure conjecture.

They have no idea how Bucky's programming is breaking down, they don't know if it means he'll revert to the Winter Solider more often or if it means the Soldier will fade entirely. They just don't know, and it leaves a little ball of anxiety following them around like a black cloud in one of those antidepressant commercials.

Darcy knows he's putting backup plans into place. He's given FRIDAY orders on how to lethally contain him if necessary, he's talked to Tony, he's upgraded security of his room to at least slow him down if he tries to break out. It's depressing as hell and they all try to pretend they don't know about it, but it's very much like waiting for the ax to fall.

It's Clint who comes up with a solution. Wanda, who Clint has sort of adopted as a pseudo daughter/niece, spends most of her time at the Avengers facility upstate, but she comes to New York from time to time. He asks her if she would take a look in Bucky's mind, see if maybe there's something she can do. She'd agreed and for the first time in months, Darcy feels like she can breathe again.

"I don't know," Bucky says quietly. They're sitting on two of the patio chairs on the roof, a beer in his hands, a cider in hers. "I've had a lot of people fuck with my head as it is."

"Clint trusted her enough to let her in his head, and that's saying something," Darcy says. "She looked for any traces of Loki's magic or anything residual and pulled it out."

"So his charming personality really is all him then?" Bucky asks, smirking slightly. It's a ghost of what it'd normally be, but she's glad to see it at all.

"Don't let Natasha hear you say that," Darcy says, kicking at his boots.

"Never."

They're quiet for a few minutes, watching the lights of the traffic below them crawl through the city. Bucky sets his empty beer bottle on the ground by their feet, taking her hand in his. His skin is slightly cool from cold bottle, but she doesn't care, holding tightly.

"Would you come with me?" he asks quietly, almost like he's ashamed to ask. "Steve's gonna be there, but I just...You're calming."

"I'm calming?" she asks incredulously.

Bucky smirks. "Yeah, I was surprised, too," he says.

"Ass," she says, elbowing him. "Of course I'll go."

Bucky smiles in relief, letting his eyes slip closed for a moment. When he opens them again, his gaze is fixed on her, full of intent and all the things they haven't said to each other. Oh, so that's a conversation they're going to have now, okay. She's emotionally mature, she can totally handle this.

"If it works, I have half a mind to kiss the hell out of you." He says it casually, like it's just part of their usual banter, but the look in his eyes says different.

"I have half a mind to let you," she says. "Hell, I have more than half a mind to let you do it right now."

Bucky looks torn, which isn't fabulous for her self esteem, until he says, "There's nothing I want more than that, doll. If I have a taste of you, I don't think I'd be able to let you go."

She swallows hard at the look in his eyes, at the way he's rubbing his thumb over her knuckles, the other hand tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. He's so very close to her, their noses only inches away. Her heart's being fast, fast enough that she almost expects his enhanced hearing to be able to pick it up.

"And why would that be so bad?" she asks quietly.

Bucky smiles sadly. "Because if Wanda can't help, I'll be taking King T'Challa's offer," he says.

Her hand spasms in his, tightening around his fingers against her will. "You're talking about going back into cryo," she says flatly, like the words aren't sending ice through her veins.

"Just temporarily," Bucky says calmly, and it's bullshit that he has to be comforting her when it's one of his nightmares he'd have to relive. "Their scientists can do things Stark can only dream of. It shouldn't be for long."

Darcy closes her eyes, breathing in deeply, in through her nose, out through her mouth like Jane taught her. Bucky's warm hand cradles her face, thumb brushing over her cheekbone until she opens her eyes. He's a little blurry, her eyes embarrassingly swimming with unshed tears that she quickly blinks away.

"Then let's hope Wanda is more than a match for old as balls Soviet science," Darcy says. She puts her second hand over the one that's already holding Bucky's, like holding him tighter will keep anything from taking him away. "She's completely badass. I'd put my money on her any day."

"I'm not old as balls," Bucky says, gently squeezing her hands.

"Oh you totally are," Darcy says, clinging to the lifeline he's thrown her. "It's okay, you're still hot as fuck."

Bucky snorts. "Oh thank god," he says, voice deadpan. "What else would I do with myself."

"You'd still be stuck with me," Darcy says. "Sorry Charlie, I don't make the rules."

"Mm, I can live with that," he says softly.

Darcy leans back in her chair, still keeping one hand wrapped around Bucky's. They're quiet for a long time, watching the city crawl beneath them in the darkness. The only reason Bucky stands and tugs her to her feet is it starts to rain, just light droplets that she knows will turn into a downpour soon. Bucky pulls her through the roof access door, getting them inside just before the rain cloud opens up. The door swings shut on the sound of rain hitting pavement.

Darcy and Bucky stare at each other for a few moments before he gathers her up in his arms, holding her tightly, face pressed to her neck. One hand tangles in her hair, resting on the back of her neck, the other wrapped around her waist. She holds him just as close, breathing in the scent of his aftershave. She never feels safer than she does around him, and that's saying something because she's buddies with a literal god.

"We'll figure it out," she says, pressing her face against his chest. "We have the smartest and nosiest friends ever, we got this."

Bucky just holds her tighter.

Wanda arrives later that week with Clint and Sam. Darcy's met her once before and liked her well enough, but she hugs the hell out of her now. It probably startles Wanda a bit, going by how she freezes before slowly hugging Darcy back.

"I can't promise anything," Wanda says softly, quiet enough that Sam and Clint shouldn't be able to hear.

"I know," Darcy says. "But thanks for trying."

They use a private room in Medical, large and reinforced just in case. She's getting tired of hearing that. 'Just in case.' Bucky, while he wants her there, won't let her be too close to him. Just in case. She gets it, she does, but it's hard not to hate that she's being guarded by Steve in case Wanda trips some HYDRA trigger that makes Bucky irrationally murder them all. She'd fight him on it but she knows it's helping keep him calm, so this is a battle she's willing to let him win.

Wanda's hands glow red as she stands over where Bucky's lying on the hospital bed, moving her fingers in small, precise movements. Bucky's gaze flickers from Wanda to Darcy, standing by the door next to Steve. She smiles as best she can, waggling her fingers at him. He smiles back before closing his eyes, taking a deep breath as Wanda carefully looks into his mind.

It takes longer than Darcy thought. Intellectually, she knows that it's not as simple as flipping through a brain index, but she hadn't really considered how long it would take. After the first ten minutes, the adrenaline starts to fade. After the first hour, tension and anxiety are running through her. After the second hour, her nervous energy is threatening to burst out of her and it's only sheer force of will that keeps her from pacing.

Wanda's hands get a little shaky at hour three, but she's focused and determined, fingers moving quickly and deftly, red energy swirling around her, haloing around Bucky. At three hours and twenty-two minutes, the red disappears and Wanda drops her hands, grinning tiredly but triumphantly.

"He's unconscious and will probably stay that way for a few hours," Wanda says to Steve and Darcy. "But HYDRA's programming is gone. He's no longer in any danger from their triggers."

Darcy only catches a glimpse of Wanda's grin before Steve is yanking her into a hug, all but sobbing on her shoulder. She pats his back, looking over his broad ass shoulders to where Dr. Cho is checking over Bucky's vitals, confirming what Wanda told her. He looks peaceful, and it makes something in her release. Which is stupid of course, maybe that's how he always looks when he's unconscious, but she'd been worried he'd look pained so she's taking this as a win.

Dr. Cho talks with Steve in low voices but Darcy doesn't bother to listen. Bucky's medical shit is his own business and he can tell her if he wants. She leans against Clint against the wall next to Bucky's bed, giving Wanda a hug before she leaves, needing what Clint says is going to be the nap to end all naps. Darcy doesn't blame her, she's heading for a bit of an adrenaline crash herself.

"It'll be a few hours," Clint says, nudging her with his elbow. "You could go catch some sleep, too."

"Cute," she says.

"Yeah, I figured you wouldn't go for that," Clint says. "How about I bring you a chair anyway and if you happen to drift off, we'll keep it between you and me and FRIDAY?"

Darcy narrows her eyes at him. "You drive a hard bargain, mister."

Clint pats her on the head, taking that for the acquiescence that it is and pulls over a chair from the wall, sitting it next to Bucky's bed. He gives her a half hug, kissing the top of her head when she sits down before he walks over to where Steve is still talking to Dr. Cho. Darcy takes Bucky's hand in hers, tracing little circles over soft skin.

The soft voices combined with Bucky's deep and easy breathing lull her closer and closer to sleep until she's leaning forward, resting her head on the edge of his bed. Clint will probably tease her for it later, but honestly, she has enough ammo on him that she isn't too worried.

She wakes slowly with Bucky's hand gently running through her hair. She hums and sits up a bit, looking up at him. The lights in the room are dimmed but she can still make him out, looking down at her and looking lighter than she's seen him.

"Hey," she says, voice scratchy. She sits up straighter, Bucky's hand falling from her hair and wrapping around the hand she has on the bed. "How you feeling?"

"Good," he says. He sits up completely, moving until he's sitting on the edge of the bed in front of her. He tugs her gently to her feet and she goes easily, stepping between his spread thighs. His hands fall to her waist, pulling her closer until his nose is bumping hers. "Steve tells me it worked."

"Yeah," Darcy says, trailing hands up his arms, one hand tangling in his hair, the other brushing over his cheek. "She said they had some shit buried pretty deep, but she's 100% sure she got the trigger words and programming out."

"Mm, good," Bucky says.

That's all the warning she gets before he's making good on his promise and kissing the hell out of her. His hands are tight on her hips, running up her back and pulling her in even closer. His lips are so soft on hers, gently coaxing her to deepen the kiss until he's licking into her mouth, making her moan against him.

Bucky Barnes is a hell of a kisser and she isn't even surprised. She can't remember ever being kissed like this, like she's someone's sole focus. This isn't a fumbling hookup in college that is just trying to get her primed for sex. This isn't distracted kissing when the TV is on. He's enjoying this, enjoying having her against him, having her mouth on his.

"Have to send her a thank you card," Darcy murmurs against his lips when she pulls back with a gasp, needing air.

"Mmhmm, Barton says she likes dark chocolate," Bucky says, pressing a line of soft, slow kisses down her throat.

"Yeah...and, uh...Rice Krispies?" she manages to say.

Her brainpower is failing her, but she thinks she has a good excuse for that, especially when he wraps a hand in her hair and pulls her forward, kissing her again until she's whimpering into his mouth. This has been building for months between them, beyond just desire and need but into affection and god, she was just unprepared for him to pour all of that into kissing her.

"I've been dreaming of this," he says, pulling back and resting his forehead against hers.

"You and me both, dude," Darcy says, a good deal more breathless than him. "Though I honestly didn't imagine it being in Medical."

Bucky laughs. He kisses her nose and says, "Sorry, couldn't wait."

"Oh, that isn't a complaint at all. In fact, I'm going to need you to do that again. A lot.," she says.

Bucky looks up at the door, the only warning she gets before it's opening and Steve is walking in. Darcy sighs but doesn't step back or pull away from Bucky's hand on the side of her throat. Steve gives them a very shit-eating grin, which she really should stop being surprised at by now.

"Believe me, I hate to break this up, but Dr. Helms and Dr. Cho want to talk to you, Buck," Steve says. He sounds genuinely apologetic, which is the only thing that saves him, really.

Bucky sighs, tilting her face to him so he can kiss her one more time. "I'll find you when I'm done," he says.

"You better," she says. "I got plans for you, Bucky Barnes. They involve candlelight and the best lingerie you've ever seen."

Bucky groans, eyes on her as Steve nearly drags him from the room. She winks at him as he disappears around the door frame. She needs to text Jane and let her know she won't be in for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Maybe the day after. Or the rest of the week.