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“Hold still, Janey.”

“Stop poking me in the eye!”

“I’m not poking you in the eye, it’s not my fault you’re freakishly sensitive about things coming at your face.”

“Are you trying to stick that thing up my nose?”

Darcy huffed out a sigh. “Dude. Stop fidgeting and this will go a lot smoother.”

“Why are we doing this again?’

“It’s skincare Sunday, duh. Now shush so I can finish applying your face mask.” Darcy dunked the brush back into the jar of goop and Jane gave her a wary look.

“This smells.”

Darcy painted the mask on Jane, smoothing a thin layer over her cheek with the brush. “Smells like superfoods and antioxidants, you mean.”

Jane flinched. “It smells like charcoal and burning flesh.”

“It smells like clear pores and a healthy complexion.”

“How did you talk me into this again?”

“Science.”

“Uh huh,” Jane closed her eyes and tried not to think about whatever Darcy was slathering on her face. “Talk to me - distract me.”

“About what?”

“Dealer’s choice.”

“Living dangerously today. I like it.” Darcy loaded up her brush again and continued applying the mask. “I think I scheduled the last of my Valentine’s trial dates today.”

“Your what?”

“My Valentine’s trial dates.”

“What...what is that?”

Darcy gave her an exasperated look. “I told you about this last week!”

“Last week? When Shuri sent over the latest readings from her new satellite?”

“Last week when your best friend told you all about what was going on in her personal life, Jane.”

Jane had the good grace to look a little sheepish. “Tell me again? You have my full attention, I promise.”

Darcy rolled her eyes and gave her an affectionate and indulgent smile. “Valentine’s Day is too big of a day for a first date. Too much pressure. And I don’t want to spend it alone this year. So I’ve set up a bunch of trial dates with a few different people. Whichever one is the best first date wins the honor of a Valentine’s Day date.”

“There are so many things wrong with this scenario. Especially, when I know for a fact that you could have a perfect date anytime you wanted, if you just asked-”

“Shush. So the first one is this weekend, we’re going out to dinner. Once we have your mask on and the timer set, I was going to ask your opinion on a dress.”

“The purple one,” Jane said automatically.

“No way, dude, that’s my best look. I’m saving that one for Valentine’s Day itself. I have a couple other options though.”

“Okay. My face feels like it’s burning, is that normal?”

“Absolutely.” Darcy pressed a few buttons on her phone. “Okay, thirty minutes, then we can wash it off.”

“My face is going to feel like it’s melting for thirty minutes?!?” Jane’s voice was tinged with alarm.

“You’ll get used to it.” Darcy stood up then pulled Jane to her feet. “Now, for date number one…”

***
Date Number 1
The longer this dinner went on, the more Darcy remembered about why she and Ian had broken up in the first place. Damn Jane and her stupid and inconveniently accurate observations - this was a monumentally bad idea.

Ian was still kinda dorky and sweet. He’d always been kinda dorky and sweet.

But now he was kinda dorky and sweet and really, really, really excited about CrossFit or some other nonsense that Darcy had zero frame of reference for. Did he really not remember that she hung around the Avengers on the regular? That Thor basically lived in her living room when he and Jane were in the “off again” parts of their on again, off again romantic relationship? When almost everyone around her could bench press a truck without breaking a sweat, why would she be impressed that Ian could flip a tire or whatever it was that he was currently yammering on about?

Darcy smothered a sigh by taking a long sip of her ice water and wished it was something stronger. Then again, that was the point, wasn’t it? No wine to make rosy what would prove to be an unsatisfying Valentine’s Day? Frigga knew she’d had enough of those already. That was why she was going to all this trouble.

“This has been really nice, catching up, Darcy,” Ian smiled.

“Yeah,” she bit out, holding back the retort that she hadn’t gotten a word in about what she’d been up to recently at all. “It’s been great. But I’m so sorry, I’ve got a super early morning - do you mind if we call it a night?”

“Oh. Sure. Raincheck on dessert?”

“Totally,” she lied.

***

Darcy unlocked her door and kicked her heels into her closet. She’d put them away properly later, right now all she wanted was to wash her face and crawl into some sweatpants.

As she was pulling her hair up into a messy bun, she felt her stomach gurgle a little. She wasn’t hungry, per se, but a little snack wouldn’t hurt. She wandered into her kitchen and poked through her stash of snacks. Nothing appealed.

Maybe there would be something in the kitchens up on the common floor. At the very least, there was the sparkling water dispenser up there. Darcy grabbed her water bottle, slipped into her fuzzy slippers, and made for the elevator.

The elevator doors opened with a soft “ding” and let Darcy out onto the dimly lit floor. Only a few under-cabinet lights were on in the kitchen, but the television was on in the common area, the volume turned down low, the screen casting the entire space into varying shades of blue and orange. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone sitting on one of the couches. When no greeting came, she slowly slid her eyes in that direction. She’d learned a long time ago that sudden movements in this building were a great way to end up dodging makeshift weapons aimed at her head.

“Hey Bucky,” she greeted, recognizing his profile in the dim light, keeping her voice quiet and telegraphing her movements. If he was having a bad night, it would be best for her to grab her water and get out of his hair.

“Hey,” he replied, his voice a little rough with sleep. Sleep? What time was it anyway? It must be later than she’d thought.

She paused just at the edge of the kitchen, behind one of the couches facing the tv so that Bucky was across from her. She slowly moved her hands to the back of the couch so he could see them. He didn’t look like he was having a bad night - he just looked at little sleepy, like her arrival had disturbed his nap. Guilt lapped at her heart, even if there hadn’t been any way for her to know.

“How’s it going?”

He shrugged and rubbed at his eyes. “Another raucous Saturday night, can’t you tell?”

She grinned at him. “Oh yeah. You go, you party animal, you.”

He looked at the clock. “What are you doing up?”

“Just got in, was looking for a snack.”

“Oh. Good night?”

“No,” she replied, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

If her blunt answer phased him, it didn’t show on his face. “Want to talk about it? I’ll make hot chocolate.” He pushed himself up off the couch and wandered toward the kitchen.

“Do you want to hear about it?”

He shrugged, but didn’t look at her. “If you want to tell me. That’s what friends do these days, right?”

“Are we friends?” she asked, before she could stop herself.

Bucky shrugged again and poured milk into the saucepan warming the stove.

“I just…” Her voice trailed off, unsure of how much to tell him. What to tell him. “I gave someone a second chance, without either of us making any changes and for some reason expected a different result. My fault really.”

His brow furrowed slightly as he stirred the chocolate into the milk. “Someone?”

“I had a date.”

“Ah.”

“Never date your exes, Bucky.”

“Don’t think that’s too much of a problem, sweetheart.”

She gave him a half-hearted glare. “It will be soon enough, I’m sure. Don’t think I don’t know about all those analysts clamoring for your attention. Someone will catch your eye one of these days.”

He gave her a look that she couldn’t quite decipher and changed the subject. “What would he have had to do to get a second date?”

“You mean a second, second date?”

His lips twitched into a smile as he gave the pan a stir. “Sure. Or anyone. What’s a guy gotta do, Darce?”

“Not be awful?”

He huffed in annoyance. “Is the bar really that low? Is it really that difficult to be a decent person?”

“In the years I’ve been dating on this planet? Yes.”

“The future is terrible,” he muttered. “It shouldn’t be that way. He should…” his voice trailed off as he glanced at Darcy again and turned off the stove. “Sorry.”

“Your pouty lips to the universe’s deaf ears, Buckaroo.”

“Well,” he said, reaching up to grab the giant mugs from the top shelf, “it’s still his loss.” He nodded at the treat on the stove. “You takin’ this to go? Or would you want to watch a few episodes of Good Eats with me?”

“Look at you, single-handedly salvaging my Saturday night.”

“That a yes?”

She gave him a grin, her spirits already lifting. “That’s a hell yes.”

***
Date Number 2
“And then, Allison said the she was going to the bathroom, but she was gone for a really long time. I got worried that maybe something was wrong. When I called her, she laughed and said, ‘Oh, you thought I meant the bathroom at the restaurant? I meant the bathroom at my apartment!” Bob finished his story with a nervous laugh and wild hand gesture.

Darcy blinked. “And, sorry, I’m bad with names. Who was Allison again?”

“My ex-wife. Girlfriend at the time.”

“Oh. And the six other stories you told me about Allison…”

“Same girl!” Bob replied cheerfully.

“How long have you been divorced?”

“Seven years.”

“Right.” Darcy grabbed her clutch and gave Bob a wan smile. “Well, this has been great, but I have a really early morning, I should get going.”

***

Darcy slumped onto one of the kitchen stools at the counter. “Have any more of that magic hot chocolate?”

Bucky turned away from the stove and smiled at her before doing a double take, looking back at her sharply. “Didn’t I hear that you had a date tonight?”

“You heard correctly.”

“So what the hell are you doin’ here with me?”

She squinted so she could read the time on the oven clock. “It’s almost midnight, Barnes. Just how long do you think dinner goes?”

He shrugged. “You could’ve done something else after dinner.”

“It was a first date, what kind of girl to do you take me for?” She forced a tiny bit of heat into her voice. She knew he hadn’t been insinuating anything untoward about her, but the opportunity to tease the hell out of him was rare and she was going to take it.

He froze. “Darce...I didn’t - I mean, I don’t think - that’s not…” his voice trailed off as she struggled to contain her smile. His eyes narrowed. “You little shit.”

She burst out laughing. “You left yourself wide open for that one. I could not, in good conscience, resist.”

“Just for that, I shouldn’t make you any hot chocolate,” he grumbled.

“But I’m your favorite, so you’re going to anyway?” she asked, sweetly.

“You’re not wrong.” His voice was tired, resigned, and she made a mental note to make more of an effort to check in on him. “So. Date. What’s the verdict?”

“Not getting a second one.”

“Shit. I’m sorry.” His face was inscrutable, but his voice was soft and full of sympathy.

She shrugged and leaned against the counter, watching him fiddle with the stove. “I’m not.

He eyed her. “He was terrible?”

She sighed. “No...he was sort of sweet. But he’s still in love with his ex-wife, so.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

“If he wasn’t,” Bucky began, then paused as he added the chocolate to the milk already bubbling on the stove. “If he wasn’t in love with someone else...and he got that second date. What would he have to do to get a third date? Besides continue to not be terrible.”

“That’s a good question.” Darcy threw a few extra marshmallows into her mug. She’d earned them, dammit.

“Have you never gotten to the third date?” he asked, throwing a smile over his shoulder at her.

“Shut your face.” She sighed. “He’d...I don’t know. Maybe he’d remember something I said on the first date. Follow up on it. Prove he was actually listening.”

He hummed as he poured their treat into the same giant mugs from the other night. “The bar continues to be terribly low, I see.”

She fiddled with the napkin holder on the counter. “Only until someone raises it, Bucky Bear.”

He shot her a look at the nickname, but didn’t take the bait. “What about the fourth date? Fifth date? 2.5 kids and a labrador?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “This is an oddly specific line of questioning.”

“Call it further introduction to the 21st century. Help your favorite centenarian out.”

Darcy smirked. “I would, but Steve’s not here.”

“Ha-fucking-ha.”

She laughed softly and chewed on her lip a little, trying to decide how to answer his question. “First date is all nerves. Usually a lot of small talk. The second get should get a little more personal. Some people live and die by the ‘sex on the third date’ rule, but I’m not one of them. Sex happens when it feels right. First date, third date, four hundredth date, who cares? Why add more pressure? For me, by the third date, we should be clicking pretty well. But one of us should have definitely stepped in it by then - we should be beyond small talk, you know? And you’re never going to get along perfectly with someone 100% of the time. How we each handle it tells me if we can move past it. If we can, they get a fourth date. By the fifth date, I’ve got to be comfortable enough to have them casually in my personal space. Not just for a goodnight kiss or whatever - a held hand at the movie, an arm around the shoulders in the booth at a diner. Casual, but somehow more intimate than a kiss. If that makes any sense.”

“Makes perfect sense,” he murmured, his eyes boring into hers.

She blinked and looked down at her hands, away from his gaze. “After that, it’s probably grand gesture time. You know, since we’re leaping to 2.5 kids and a labrador.”

“And we are.” He held a mug of steaming hot chocolate out to her. “You up for more Good Eats? We can watch the water cycle episodes.”

“You are such a nerd.”

“You love it.”

***
Date Number 3
“So…” Cameron said, drawing out the word and nodding a little.

Darcy gave him an encouraging smile, but Cameron’s courage seemed to fail him.

That, or they had absolutely nothing to talk about. This guy was definitely not getting another date. Let alone one on Valentine’s Day.

“Captain America!” he blurted.

Darcy blinked. “What about him?”

“He’s…” Cameron faltered. “He’s great, huh?”

“Yep. He’s a pretty cool dude.” Darcy waited for him to elaborate. She had plenty of Steve Rogers stories, but few Captain America ones. There was a difference and she wasn’t entirely sure Cameron could appreciate it.

Silence. Darcy fought the urge to look for the server to signal for more wine. That would just drag this dinner out longer.

“I met him once, you know.”

“Really?” Darcy felt her smile go a little brittle.

“Yep. In Sokovia. Well, after Sokovia. I was on the helicarrier.”

“Yeah. I live with him, so.”

Cameron paused. “Right.”

Silence settled over the table again as the server quietly slid the check onto the table. They both reached for it and their hands collided.

“Oh, I’ve got-”

“No, really, you don’t-”

“Please, I insist-”

“Split the check?” Darcy suggested.

Cameron’s shoulders slumped a little, but he nodded. “If you really want to.”

“I insist.” Darcy dropped a few bills on the table. “Look, I hate to run, but I have an early morning. Thank you for a lovely dinner. See ya!”

“Bye!” Cameron called after her as she bolted for the door.

***

“Darcy!” Bucky called, as she trudged out of the elevator. “Just the gal I was hopin’ to see.”

“Oh?” Darcy felt a little bit of her dark mood lift. Her string of dates might not be going the way she’d hoped, but Bucky was smiling and that was something, right? Her love life was a dumpster fire, so she’d take the wins where she could find them.

He gestured to a plate on the counter. She came closer so she could take a better look.

“What’s this?”

Bucky blinked in surprise. “The cookies? From that first episode of Good Eats we watched? You didn’t think they could possibly taste any good.”

“I didn’t?”

Bucky’s eager, happy expression settled into a careful mask of indifference. “You don’t remember?”

Shit. “I...might have been half asleep,” she admitted. “You made these?”

He shrugged and Darcy’s heart sank. “I had time.”

She bit her lip. Fuck her life. She was an asshole. “I don’t think anyone has ever made me cookies before. Besides my mom, at least. Next time, invite me and we’ll make them together, yeah?”

He eyed her carefully. “If you want.” His voice was neutral and Darcy wanted to kick herself.

“Hey,” she said softly, reaching for him and tugging gently on his sleeve. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Forgetting our conversation about the cookies. I’m a jerk and I’m sorry.”

“Darcy, it’s-”

“Could we watch the episode again while we try them?”

Bucky blinked at her. “It’s kinda late.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Darcy’s heart sank further and an uncomfortable feeling settled into her stomach.

“I mean. It’s fine - I’m fine. If you want to. I’d…” Bucky looked a little startled, but took a breath and continued. “I’d like that. If you’re up for it.”

The weight in Darcy’s chest lifted and she was pretty sure if her smile grew any bigger her face would split in two. “I’m definitely up for it. But first,” she waved a finger at him, “we need to make hot chocolate. It’s tradition.”

“Tradition,” he parroted, his voice soft.

“Our tradition,” she clarified. “For watching Good Eats.”

Bucky’s lips twitched into a smile and Darcy felt her heart speed up a little. He did not smile nearly enough, in her opinion.

“You and me have a tradition?” he asked softly.

“We’re starting to.”

***
Date Number 4
Darcy gaped as the man in front of her shoved food down his throat like he hasn’t eaten for a week and tried not to let her confusion show.

Karen had promised her that Foggy was sweet. She’d told her all these stories about this great guy who would treat her right and might word-vomit a little at first, but would ultimately be a great date.

This guy in front of her? Hadn’t said a word since he slid into his seat 20 minutes after he said he’d meet her at the restaurant. Hadn’t even ordered for himself, just waved at Darcy to order for them both.

She understood nervous. Hell, she could understand high. She didn’t understand this.

But hey, the food was tasty and she was hungry so. Whatever. Maybe her misadventure would make Bucky laugh later.

As soon as the plates were cleared, he nodded at her, then slid out of his seat and bolted for the door. Darcy watched him go with no real regret, then sighed and paid the tab. At least it wasn’t super expensive. And honestly, even if it had been, at least he hadn’t been creepy.

Bucky was right. The bar was so low it was practically resting on the floor.

As she left the restaurant, she pulled out her phone to call a cab only to find that her battery had died at some point. She groaned in frustration and dug through her bag for her metro card. At least the subway station wasn’t far - and she’d worn flats.

Once safely inside the station and on the platform, she plugged her phone into the little external battery she carried while she waited for the train. After a few minutes, her phone started back up again and pinged with a message.

Hey Darcy - I’m so sorry to do this on such late notice, but something has come up and I won’t be able to make our dinner. Raincheck? - Foggy

What the what? If Foggy cancelled, who the hell did she just have dinner with?

Blind dates were the worst.

***

Bucky was waiting for her in the kitchen when she got back.

“No more blind dates, Buckster,” she said, slumping onto a kitchen stool. “Ever. Only people I already know. Or, I don’t know, maybe one degree of separation, if I trust the degree. This shit is exhausting.”

Bucky didn’t say anything, just silently puttered around the kitchen, grabbing the ingredients for hot chocolate.

“At least tomorrow I already know the guy,” she continued. “Well, I don’t know him all that well, but that’s the point, right? To get to know people?”

Bucky’s only reply was to close the pantry door maybe a little harder than usual.

“Buck?” she asked.

He sighed. “Yeah?”

She gave him a good once over. He’d been looking really well lately. The bags under his eyes had decreased a little, and he’d had a bit of pep in his step that she’d never seen before. But tonight, his shoulders were slumped and he seemed to have trouble meeting her eyes. Her own problems forgotten, she focused on Bucky.

“Everything okay?” she asked carefully.

“Fine.”

She didn’t want to push. She wasn’t his therapist, she wasn’t Steve. She was just someone he watched sciency cooking shows with after she came home from increasingly disappointing dates.

Still, he was a friend. And if he was having a rough time, she wanted to be there for him.

She picked at her manicure, chipping off the blue polish. “Maybe I’ll cancel tomorrow.”

He turned to face her. “Why?”

“I dunno. You must think this whole thing is stupid.”

“Why would-”

“I mean, it’s just a day. It’s a day that has been inflated to ridiculous importance by card and candy companies and I shouldn’t fall for it.”

“What are you-”

“Maybe I should give it up for awhile, you know? Embrace it.”

She could feel his eyes boring into her but she didn’t have the courage to meet his gaze.

He sighed and turned back to the hot chocolate. “Whatever makes you happy, Darcy. I just want you to be happy.”

He sounded very, very tired.

“Hot chocolate makes me happy,” she said after a few moments and gave him a smile.

He huffed out a breath. Was it a laugh? She wasn’t quite sure.

“One hot chocolate coming up,” he said.

***
Date Number 5
“I’ll be right back, I just have to run to the restroom,” Johnny said, with a flash of that heart-stopping grin as he slid out of the booth.

“Are you feeling okay? We could go, do this some other -”

“No no no, I’m good, I promise. Just want to wash my hands.”

“Again?”

“Be right back!”

Darcy watched him hurry off then turned her attention back to the soft pretzel appetizer that had arrived a few moments before. She picked one pretzel apart and dunked the pieces into the mustard dip, arranging them in a little pile on her plate. If she was tempted to write something suggestive and borderline inappropriate in the sauce, that was her secret. This was the first of her trial dates that had actually gone semi-well and she didn’t want to jinx it. Not that she suspected Johnny Storm would have any issues with profanity. She’d just had really terrible luck lately.

If she’s honest, she was over it. Who cared how she spent Valentine’s Day? It was just a day. It didn’t mean anything. She’d be perfectly happy hanging out at home. Maybe she could convince Bucky to make more of those cookies. Or the pie from the episode the other night, that looked tasty. Maybe he’d even let her terrorize him in the kitchen while he worked on it. She could call it “helping.”

“Darcy?”

She looked up to find Steve Rogers smiling at her. Bucky stood behind him, looking apprehensive. Speak of the devil - she thought of Bucky and he appeared. Now that was a super power worth having. She grinned at them. “Hey boys. What brings you out tonight?”

Steve shrugged. “Thought maybe we’d catch the Rangers game somewhere other than the common room for once. How about you?”

She leaned in and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I’m on a date, actually.”

“I’m sorry, Darcy - I didn’t know this was where you’d be,” Bucky replied quickly. “We’ll clear out.” He tugged on Steve sleeve and lowered his voice to a hiss. “Let’s go, Steve.”

Darcy shook her head. “Nah, you’re fine. Johnny won’t care.”

Steve and Bucky both froze then looked at each other simultaneously. It was a little creepy.

“Johnny...Storm?” Steve asked carefully, his eyes sliding back to Darcy.

“Yeah. It’s going surprisingly well, so far, I have to say. I did not have high hopes for tonight.”

Bucky huffed out a breath and tilted his head slightly. It was a small enough gesture that most people might have missed it. Darcy didn’t.

“What?” she asked warily.

Bucky shook his head. “Darce…”

Steve’s eyes flicked between them, then he cleared his throat. “Did he say why he was getting up?”

“Bathroom.”

There was a twitch in Steve’s jaw that set off all kinds of alarm bells in Darcy’s mind.

“What?” she asked again.

Bucky looked at the ceiling for a moment and his foot tapped a few times before he met her eyes. “He’s sitting with another woman on the other side of the restaurant.”

Darcy blinked. “He’s what now?”

Bucky looked helpless. “I’m sorry, Darcy.”

Steve cleared his throat again and grimaced. “It looked like they had a few appetizers in front of them…” his voice trailed off as he took in the food in front of Darcy. “And he was asking the waitress for another drink.”

“Oh.” She leaned up a little so she could see across the restaurant. Sure enough, there was Johnny, sitting at another table, now locking lips with another girl.

Bucky glanced over his shoulder, his expression turning stormy when he saw what Darcy was looking at. “Want me to haul him over here?”

“No,” Darcy said firmly. “Bucky, no. Definitely not.”

“Darce -”

“We have a view of the tv from here. When the server comes back, I can ask if they can put the game on that one.”

Bucky’s brow furrowed. “You-”

She furiously blinked back tears. It wasn’t even about Johnny specifically. She was just frustrated and embarrassed. “My table not good enough for you, Barnes?”

“Not at all, ma’am,” he replied immediately. “Just didn’t think you’d like to be seen enjoying an evening with the likes of us.”

She glared at him, but there was no heat behind it. “Call me ma’am one more time and it’ll be you and not Hot Pants over there who’s going to feel my wrath.”

Steve gave a hesitant laugh and slid into the booth across from Darcy. He motioned to the space next to Darcy. “Care to join us, Buck?”

Bucky slid in next to Darcy. The booth was just slightly too small for them both to fit comfortably, so Bucky moved his arm to the back of the bench. Darcy leaned back and could feel his sleeve tickling her shoulders.

The server approached the table and paused, apparently surprised at the new additions to Darcy’s table. She gave Darcy a swift nod. “This is an improvement.”

“True story.” She looked to Bucky. “What are you getting?”

Bucky looked at the server. “You’re putting it on that jackass’s tab, right?”

“Aw, Buck, we shouldn’t-”

Darcy, Bucky, and the server all leveled a look at Steve and he held his hands up in surrender.

“Order whatever you like,” Steve muttered.

Bucky gave Steve a smug look, then proceeded to order everything on the right half of the menu and two of everything on the left half.

“Feelin’ like you might be needing some energy later, Sarge?” Darcy asked, amused.

“That an offer?” he retorted with a wink.

“This one’s trouble,” the server commented, then leaned towards Darcy. “I like him.”

Darcy burst out laughing. “Me too,” she replied. Her mirth faded as the server walked away and Darcy caught sight of Johnny Storm approaching the table, his expression sour. She felt Bucky slowly move his arm so that it settled around her shoulders and she leaned into him, curling into his side.

All those nights on the couch and she hadn’t discovered that Bucky was an excellent cuddle? What the hell kind of scientist was she?

“What’s all this?” Johnny asked, glaring at Bucky.

“Is this...not...how this evening was supposed to go?” Darcy asked, her eyes wide with feigned innocence. Bucky snorted and bit his lip to keep from laughing as he pulled Darcy a little more securely into his side, while Steve just smirked at Johnny.

“Buh-bye now,” Darcy said to Johnny with a tiny waggle of her fingers.

***

“So,” Jane asked the next morning. “What’s the verdict? Any winners in this marathon of first dates?”

“God no,” Darcy shuddered. “I haven’t had a string of bad luck this bad in years. If ever. Ugh.” She shook her head. “Honestly, the only reason why last night wasn’t a complete disaster was because Steve and Bucky showed up and kept me company at the table. And the only redeeming thing about every other night I’ve gone out was that Bucky made me hot chocolate after every single disaster.”

Jane made a non-commital noise and gave Darcy a pointed look.

“What?” Darcy asked.

“Think maybe that should tell you something?”

“That I’m destined to be alone forever? That I should head on down to the animal shelter and start picking out cats?”

“You’re not usually this dense. You usually put the pieces together way before I do,” Jane observed.

“What?” Darcy was super confused. What wasn’t she getting?”

Jane sighed and took pity. “You just said it yourself - you’ve been going out on all these dates, looking for something. And every single one had the very same bright spot.”

Darcy made a face in confusion. None of her dates had anything in common! Some were terrible, others she just didn’t have anything in common with. They weren’t all bad guys - Johnny Storm notwithstanding, and honestly, she’d known his reputation going into the date. And she really couldn’t count Foggy, as he’d never made it anyway. She couldn’t think of anything her dates had in common. Maybe Jane was coming down with something and completely mishearing what Darcy was saying. The only thing that any of those nights had in common was -

Oh.

***
Date Number Six (aka 2.5 kids and a labrador)
Darcy should have considered the merits of being dateless on Valentine’s Day before. She’d spent enough of them single the last few years - she should have remembered. A night at a fancy restaurant in an underwire and uncomfortable shoes, picking at an overpriced prix-fixe menu that she didn’t want anyway really just did not appeal. And none of the guys she’d been out with recently were worth the lip gloss anyway.

Well. One might be. But a fancy dinner really wasn’t their style.

When she got back to her apartment after finishing up in the lab for the day, she quickly changed into leggings and a soft sweater and pulled her hair up into a messy knot. She swapped her contacts for glasses and peeked into her refrigerator for ideas for dinner.

As had been the case so often lately, nothing appealed. She sighed, wondering if the upstairs kitchen had anything or if she should just bite the bullet and order in. The Thai place down the block was running a lonely hearts special - maybe she could even sweet talk them into extra sticky rice.

But if she did that, she’d have to call security in the lobby and let them know that she was expecting a delivery and she did not want to have that conversation with any of those guys. Not when she wasn’t ordering the usual haul for either the lab or Thor.

Upstairs it was then.

She zoned out in the elevator on the way up, jumping a little when the doors opened.

“Darcy!” Bucky’s startled voice cut through the haze of her thoughts.

He was standing in front of the tv, a stack of DVDs in his hands. There was popcorn and fizzy water and a stack of takeaway menus set up on the table.

Shit.

“You have a date,” she realized, her heart sinking.

“Um-”

“I’ll just - shit, I’ll get out of here. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize anyone would be up here tonight.” She turned back to the elevator and pushed the button repeatedly, as though she FRIDAY would get the point and open the doors faster.

Figures. It just fucking figures.

“Darcy, wait!” Bucky called, hurrying to her side. “You’re right - sort of. It’s kinda all wrong - and - well, I didn’t get-”

“It’s fine, Bucky,” she interrupted. Was that her voice? Her voice wasn’t normally this high, right?

It was just her luck that she’d figure out she had more-than-friendly feelings for Bucky just as he found someone. And honestly, that was great. She was happy for him. She had encouraged this really, and he deserved it. Whoever it was would get a taser to the face if they hurt him, but she was honestly happy that he was giving it a go.

She just wished she hadn’t wasted so much time and figured out what was right in front of her just a little too late.

“I don’t think you know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout, Darce,” Bucky argued. “What I was tryin’ to say was that I was stalling. Tryin’ to work up the courage to ask if you were free tonight. Wanted to ask if you wanted to come up.”

Great. He wanted to hang with his cooking show buddy. On Valentine’s Day. What was her life?

He sighed in frustration. “As a date, Darce. I was tryin’ to work up the courage to ask you on a date.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Darcy stood dumbstruck in front of them.

“Me?” she squeaked.

“Yeah,” he replied, trying to cover his laugh.

“Oh.” She turned and looked past him towards the tv. The DVDs were all her favorites. And while she couldn’t see all of the takeout menus from where they stood, she recognized the logo on the menu at the top of the pile. They delivered her favorite cheesecake on the planet.

She finally turned to look at him. “How did you know this was exactly what I wanted for Valentine’s Day?”

Bucky blinked. “It’s...oh shit, it is Valentine’s, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “Fuck,” he muttered.

“What?”

“I just...I would have - I should have…” He shook his head again. “You probably have...somewhere nice to be. One of those dates of yours, huh?” He looked incredibly sad compared to a moment ago.

“I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, actually.” Bucky looked up at her, his expression disbelieving. She reached for his hand and laced their fingers together. “Exactly where I want to be.”

He stared at their hands for a moment before meeting her eyes again. “Valentine’s Day is a terrible day for a first date.”

“Well,” she said, tilting her head a little and encouraging him to move with her to the couch, “if you think about it, it’s actually really more like our sixth date.”

“Sixth?” he asked, sitting down.

“Yeah.” She smiled at him as she sat so close she almost plopped herself in his lap. Totally not on purpose at all. “In fact, given that this is our sixth date and that it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m a little upset with you.”

“Why’s that?” he asked warily, although his eyes were full of wonder - as though he couldn’t quite believe this conversation was happening. That this was not how he’d expected this night to go.

She leaned in, as though she were sharing a secret. “Because it’s the sixth date and you haven’t once tried to kiss me. Girl might get the wrong idea.”

“You know us guys from the 40s,” he deadpanned. “Always takin’ it slow.”

She grinned. “You’re full of shit, Barnes. I’ve read the history books. I saw the movie.”

“Slander and lies, all of it.”

“Is that so?”

Bucky nodded, humming in agreement. “So.”

“So.”

Bucky chewed on his lip for a moment, then leaned a little closer still. “Hey sugar,” he said quietly, “you rationed?”

Darcy snorted and fell forward, resting her head on his shoulder as she tried to contain the laughter bubbling up in her chest. After a moment, she leaned back again to look Bucky in the eye. “That the best you got, Sarge?”

He was a little flushed and wore a sheepish grin. “Take it easy on an old man, Darce.”

“Old man,” she mocked. “I’ve already told you, Steve’s my favorite centenarian. You’ll have to find another angle.”

“Well,” he said slowly, “we do have our hot chocolate tradition.”

“We do,” she nodded, her eyes serious. “It’s sacred.”

“And...if this is our sixth date…”

“Yeah?”

“It’s probably not too early to give you this labrador?” he pulled a small stuffed animal out from where it was hidden in the couch cushions and presented it to her.

“You-”

“It’s the sixth date, it’s 2.5 kids and a labrador. You promised!” He was so full of shit and his grin could have powered a city block.

“You dweeb. You absolute nerd!”

“Your dweeb,” he muttered, suddenly shy.

“Yes, Bucky,” she said, tugging him closer. “Very much my dweeb.”