When Bucky entered the labs that muggy summer morning, meeting his soulmate was the last thing on his mind. It had, in fact, been a very long time indeed since meeting his soulmate was anywhere near the forefront of his mind. While his mom had Decided Opinions about his soulmate (chief among them her apparent Lack of Morals and what exactly Mrs. Barnes would do to said Loose Woman if she broke her little boy’s heart), Bucky was mostly just happy to know he had a soulmate. And while his soulmark—when he was old enough to understand the implications—did occasionally give him pause, he liked to think he would be enough to make her happy. They were soulmates, after all.
And then the war hit, and he fell off a train, and he was brainwashed, and he was frozen, and for a good seventy years he didn’t think about much of anything at all.
On that particular summer morning, he was mostly thinking about how grateful he was for the invention of air conditioning. Outside the Tower, the air was thick enough to swim through, but inside, each room was regulated according to the main occupant’s preferences. While that could lead to some drastic temperature fluctuations depending on those preferences, on the whole the Tower averaged a comfortable seventy degrees. Living in the future definitely had its perks.
He was trying to find Tony, who had some ideas about upgrading his arm. Tony always had ideas for upgrading his arm, but these actually sounded practical (no matter how many demos Tony showed him, he didn’t want a repulsor in his hand, thank you very much). But Tony—for once—wasn’t in his lab, so Bucky was wandering through everyone else’s labs until he found him. It would have been easy to ask JARVIS for Tony’s location, but Bucky didn’t have anywhere in particular he needed to be, and he always liked seeing what the eggheads were working on. (‘They’re not eggheads anymore, Bucky,’ the Steve in the back of his head said importantly. ‘They’re nerds. Or maybe geeks, Darcy wasn’t clear on the distinction.’ Shut up, punk, he told the Steve voice. Nobody asked you. ) Sometimes the eggheads even let him play with the prototypes.
He realized he was close to Dr. Foster’s lab, and decided to poke his head in and see if Balrog was there. The bilgesnipe liked to hang out in the gym, and they had made friends over the course of several sparring sessions. He was reliably informed—because Steve was a horrible little gossip—that Darcy, Balrog’s person, worked as Dr. Foster’s assistant. Darcy had apparently taken it upon herself to make sure Steve was up-to-date with the world when he first came out of the ice. As near as Bucky could tell, these days that mostly meant watching movies and eating junk food. Steve made a point of inviting him to join them in their educational endeavors, but he didn’t want to step on Steve’s toes. If Steve had finally found a girl he could be comfortable around, Bucky didn’t want to mess anything up by imposing his Tin Soldier of Doom (thanks, Sam) presence on them. Even if Darcy did sound like a hoot.
As the doors to Dr. Foster’s lab slid open, he was hit with a wall of sound that almost blasted him back into the hallway. He took a moment, letting his ears adjust, and realized it was music. Loud music. It wasn’t the blaring guitars of Tony’s favourite bands, but it was louder than he was used to hearing outside of Tony’s lab. In the centre of the lab was Balrog, bobbing his head to the beat as his spiked tail lashed in the air. Dancing around him was a girl, her dark curls bouncing wildly as she sang into a screwdriver.
Darcy, unless he was very much mistaken.
There didn’t seem much point in trying to get her attention over the music, so he crossed his arms and leaned in the doorway, content to wait until she noticed him. Sam would say he was lurking, but he was good at lurking. He might as well take pride in his skills.
Darcy executed an impressive spin on the ball of one foot and caught sight of him. She wobbled for a moment, eyes widening behind her glasses, before she graced him with a blinding grin. Pointing the screwdriver at him, she sang at the top of her lungs, ‘Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane; but I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.’ She finished with a little flourish as the song ended, and it felt like she had pulled all the air out of his lungs.
When his brain had rebooted, he realized he’d pushed off the doorway and come to stand in front of her. He didn’t remember moving. ‘I think,’ he said slowly, ‘my mom owes you an apology.’
She dropped her screwdriver and wobbled again, and probably would have gone straight to the floor if he hadn’t instinctively caught her around the waist. She let out an adorable squeak, her hands flailing before coming to rest on his shoulders. Now this was nice.
Behind Darcy, Balgrog raised a brow ridge at him. Bucky shrugged, and with a chuff and shake of his head, the bilgesnipe wandered over to one of the desks, where something that looked like a mechanical squirrel started chittering at him.
‘You mean I managed to tick somebody off before my parents were even a twinkle in my grandparents’ eyes?’ Darcy asked, drawing his attention back to her. Her eyes were sparkling up at him, and this close he could see they were bright blue behind the heavy frames. ‘Wow, that’s a new record for me. I feel like I should put that on my resume or something.’
‘In her defense, my Words gave her the impression you were a Woman of Loose Morals who was going to break her baby’s heart.’
She cocked her head thoughtfully, her eyes moving sightlessly as she reviewed what she had said. ‘Huh, yeah, I can see how that might give the wrong impression to a Concerned Mother.’ Her gaze met his again, and she patted his chest lightly. ‘In that case, all is forgiven. If Tony ever gets around to inventing a time machine, I’ll have to borrow it so I can apologize to your mom for giving her grey hairs.’ She grinned suddenly, sharp and breathtaking. ‘Actually, a friend of mine’s a Timelord, and I bet I could, shall we say, borrow his magical doohickey and do it myself.’
He laughed. ‘If it’s any consolation, from everything Steve’s told me about you, mom would have really liked you. Once she got over my soulmark.’
‘Steve’s talked about me, has he? I hope it was only entertaining things, or I shall be forced to retaliate with stories he told me about the two of you growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn.’
Talking of Steve reminded him of complications he’d rather not contemplate. ‘Oh. Right. What about Steve?’
She blinked. ‘What about Steve?’
‘Well, aren’t you and he…I mean…’ He could feel Balrog and the squirrel judging him from their position at the desk.
‘Wait, you think I…with Steve?’ She shook her head. Violently, he was encouraged to see. ‘Oh no. Nope. No. No no no no no no. Nuh-uh. Steve’s like my brother.’ That was even more encouraging. ‘In fact, it’s kind of scary how well he fits in with Elliot and Bennet, the three of them really can’t be left unsupervised. Besides, I’m pretty sure he’s got a thing going on with Nat.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘And you would know all this, if you ever showed up to movie night.’
‘Steve invited me, but…’
‘Lemme guess, you didn’t want to intrude on, I don’t know, date night or whatever.’ She huffed an exasperated laugh. ‘Riddle me this, Batman: Why are you in the labs this most auspicious day?’
Was this a trap? It kind of felt like a trap. ‘Tony was supposed to make some upgrades to my arm, but he isn’t in his lab.’
‘Mmhm. And did Tony tell you he would be in his lab today?’
‘No, actually, Steve suggested it.’ Now that he thought of it, Steve had been projecting that air of angelic innocence that usually meant he was up to something. Obviously his powers of observation were slipping. Thanks for nothing, HYDRA.
‘Uh-huh. Then perhaps it would surprise you to know that Tony isn’t in the Tower today. In fact, he’s not even in New York. He took Pepper to France for breakfast. I only know this, you understand, because he said as much last night. At movie night. In Steve’s presence.’
‘What?’ he asked intelligently.
‘Yeah, his reasoning was something along the lines of “what’s the point of being a billionaire if I can’t take the love of my life on crazy expensive impulse dates once in a while.”’
That was both entirely plausible and entirely beside the point. ‘No, but, Steve knew?’
‘Yup.’ She popped the P with a grave nod. ‘Let me tell you what else Steve knows. He knows about the sacred tradition that is T-Swift Tuesdays. He also knows that particular song, since I dared him to sing it at karaoke. Now, do you perhaps have anything to add about the extent of Steve’s knowledge?’
‘If you mean does he know what my Words say, yes, he does.’ Now it was his turn to blink. ‘I can’t believe it. That little punk went matchmaker on me!’
‘Nat’s a terrible influence. However shall we punish him?’
He contemplated that for a minute. Distantly, he registered the fact that they had been essentially embracing since he came into the room. Darcy hadn’t made any move to step away, though, and he had no desire to draw attention to that fact. He was far too comfortable. ‘This thing that he has with Nat. Is that a known quantity, or is it the patented Rogers Obliviously Pining From Afar? ’Cause he’s really good at that, and I think he deserves a taste of his own medicine, don’t you?’
Her entire face lit up with delight, and Bucky knew he was a goner. ‘Oh, my dear, delightful, devious soulmate, I like how you think!’