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what's in a fortune (if the telling is free)

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All things considered, Darcy was happy with her life. She made a pretty good living, the nightmares had decreased significantly since childhood, and she'd come to accept that hers was a life that would be spent connected with all things supernatural. She wasn't wiccan; don't get her confused. Calling her a witch wouldn't offend her, however. She happily accepted anybody with a tie to the supernatural. Hers was one of those family things; passed down, generation after generation. Or, well, sometimes it skipped people, like her mother.

Darcy could see things, the future, more often than not, good or bad. Growing up, it had been difficult, out of control, something that happened without her consent, coming on at the most inconvenient of times. And it was… well, kind of terrifying. Not everything she saw was good.

Jennifer Gallant; she saw her die in a fiery car crash three days before it happened. She could smell the gasoline, the smoke, feel fire licking at her skin, blood dribbling down her face, bits of glass imbedded in her. She saw it all, felt it as if she were there with her, experiencing it first hand. She woke up screaming herself hoarse, shocked and scared. Her mother soothed her, telling her it was just a nightmare. She was fifteen and felt like an idiot for getting so upset. And then, three days later, there it was on the news, Jennifer Gallant, dead.

For the longest time, her powers scared her. What if she dreamed about her mother dying, or her friends, or anybody she loved? What if she dreamed about herself, about something out of her control? Darcy hated it as a teenager; she suffered from insomnia for the longest time, too stressed to sleep lest she something she didn't want to. But it only bled into her daily life, too. She no longer needed to sleep to see what would happen to other people, how their lives would change thanks to one simple decision.

She saw a crossroads for some people. A girl; pick one boy, get pregnant young, never leave their hometown, pick another boy, go to college, marry someone else, have a career, then children. A boy; come out as gay, get picked on all of high school, give up senior year, commit suicide, or stay quiet, struggle and feel like a fraud, wait for college, tell their family, their friends, find acceptance, grow, meet the right guy, live a long life. It was different for each person. Some met the wrong people, did the wrong things, made the wrong choices, while others went a different path, one that would lead them to happiness. Some came out in high school and had a great support system. Some got pregnant young and never regretted it. Some never had sex, never did drugs, others had lots of sex and did every drug, and each experience led them down a new path, neither better nor worse. The roads weren't all paved with good things or bad things, it was a mixture of both, and some were happier in the moment while regretful down the line.

For Darcy, it was always a matter of control. Controlling her power, her life, making her own decisions, never letting her path be chosen for her. She could watch other people's lives play out, designed by one fateful decision or a number of them, but she never wanted to know where hers might go.

As she grew up, she learned how to control her powers, to invite those feelings, blocking out all else and putting her entire focus on the person in front of her. At twenty-five, she had an impressive career going for her. She started out with a table set up in the street, calling people closer; it grew into a tent at big street events, and now she had her shop. She couldn't afford a separate apartment on top of it, so she combined the two. Her bedroom and kitchen were her only living space while the main room was her office, dressed in gauzy fabrics, lit with candles, beads hanging over the doors, various stones with symbols carved into them littered counter tops. The table in the middle wore a white lace cloth with a stack of tarot cards that were more for show than anything else. Sometimes, for the people who liked a lot more of a show, she got out the crystal ball, but the real work was all in the hands. Palm readings brought in a lot of people, but there was always a question, a specific query, that really had people knocking at her door.

Did their loved one make it to heaven?

Would they ever get married?

Could they make their dream job happen or was it better to stick to the daily grind?

Was the ghost of their long-dead relative still lingering around?

Were they ever going to hit the lottery?

She wondered sometimes, if it was better to lie to some of them. Would their lives be better if she told them no? That they would always be unhappy, unmarried, in a job they hated? Because that was the reality of so many. Not everybody won the lottery or met their soul mate or did something with their lives. But some… Some came in and they asked the right question. Not 'will I' but 'how do I' and her ability, her power, she always hesitated to call it something so specific, but sometimes it guided her toward the right answer. 'Go to the coffee shop on Fifth at 11:14 am, get your favorite drink and sit at the table in the back, right corner… He'll come to you.' Or 'Skip the next audition, go to the other one, the one your agent told you isn't right for you… Hello starring role.'

She couldn't tell them what to ask, and she wondered sometimes if that was important. If the people destined to make it in the world just knew that in order to get what they wanted, they had to ask the right questions, do the right things, know what they wanted and how to achieve it. While others weren't as motivated; maybe they hoped it would all change on its own and they wouldn't have to put work into it, or maybe some just weren't destined for good things. She didn't like it, but that was how it was. She couldn't control their destiny; she could only see where it led.

It was a Thursday when the bell above the door jingled for her attention. She'd woken feeling nauseas, a sign of something to come. She added a little extra cream to her coffee because it always seemed to settle her nerves. The incense stayed unlit; it gave her a headache if she let it burn all day. She only lit it for the people she could tell wanted the whole show. The main room was too dark for her most days; so she went out back to the small balcony, dressed with various plants, green arms reaching in all directions, climbing red brick walls and twining around wrought iron bars. The smell of dewy flowers helped to relax her, and the cat from next door, twining around her feet, was a welcomed guest.

She had a slow morning; a few regulars that always asked questions with the same answers. No, you won't win the lottery today. No, your son won't call. Yes, you should get fresh fish from the market. Yes, you should keep taking your medicine. Older men and women, always; the same craggy faces that wanted something to change but feared change all the same.

It was almost four when she felt a chill in her bones; a promise of something she wasn't sure she was prepared for. It wasn't bad, necessarily. Was anything ever wholly bad? Balance; that was what it was all about. Good and bad, fluctuating, happiness and sadness, death and life.

She left her balcony and stepped inside, through her bedroom and the kitchen to the doorway leading to her main room, listening for the sound of footsteps before she stepped through the beads to see who'd arrived. He was tall with a tapered waist, stubborn chin and the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.

"You look lost, soldier."

He turned abruptly, from where he'd been admiring a painting on the wall. It was of a young boy, his hand cupped, holding the bloody dog tags of a fallen and lost father. There was mud on his cherubic cheeks and an ache in his sorrowful green eyes. It was one of her favorites. She changed out the paintings each day, depending on her mood. They always seemed to fit with whoever was coming to see her that day.

"Are you here to guide me then?" he asked, his voice more than a little sardonic.

"I don't know." She shrugged. "Did you need guidance?"

"Don't those who're lost always need direction?" he wondered, a brow raised as he let his fingers drag over a few colorful stones.

"No," she said simply.

He looked up, peering at her, his kind blue-green eyes taking her in from top to bottom.

Her mouth turned up at the corner. "I'm not what you were expecting."

"More scarves," he admitted. "Same amount of jewelry."

She grinned, raising a hand to admire her many rings and her long nails, painted purple today, to match her dress. "Not gonna lie, part of it's for costume's sake, and part of it's just because I can never choose between them."

"Costume… Should you be telling me you're a fake? Kind of bad for business, isn't it?"

She raised an eyebrow. "You wear a costume; does that make what you do any less real?"

He frowned, looking back at her. "How'd you…?"

Darcy walked further into the room, stopping behind her table, hands around the back of her chair. "I see the future, remember?"

"That easy, huh? Just take one look and you know my whole life story?"

"No." She pulled her chair out and took a seat, turning in it to face him better, crossing one leg over her knee. "Some people are easier to read than others. But if I told you all my secrets, I'd lose my appeal."

He let out a small laugh and nodded. Tapping his fingers atop the cabinet, he took another look around.

"Did you have a question or are you still trying to convince yourself this isn't the craziest thing you've done?"

"I've done crazier," he mused simply. "I guess I just… never thought it'd lead me here."

"Sometimes when we run out of options, the only thing left is this." She crossed her arms loosely over her waist. "You're looking for someone… Someone who matters a great deal to you."

"Does anybody ever look for someone who doesn't matter to them?"

"Sure. I looked for my aunt's cat for a whole week even though I hated that mangy asshole… But my aunt loved him, so I did it for her." She tipped her head, staring up at his profile. "But you're not looking for him for someone else… Just for you."

He swallowed tightly, one of his hands balled up in a fist. "This was a mistake… Coming here. Expecting you to—"

"You love him," she interrupted, feelings and images flooding her head like they hadn't since high school. "You miss him… You have for… a very long time. Longer than your physical age might agree with."

"Did Stark put you up to this?" he wondered, whirling toward her, angry now. "Did he tell you these things? Feed you information?"

Darcy stared at him a long moment, her eyes dazed. It was rare for her powers to work like this anymore, for them to feed off someone's energy without her touching them. She'd fixed that, hadn't she? But oh, the grief, the worry, was so potent, coming off of him in thick waves, wrapping around her, sinking into her skin, so solid it was as good as any skin to skin touch.

"His name… He has so many… James… Bucky… Asset… Winter Soldier… He doesn't know which one's which, which he should answer to, which he really is… He's lost, confused, hungry… He's running, always running, never sleeping… And he's scared. Scared of the cold and the doctors and the metal on his arm… He wants help. He needs help. And… And…"

"And what?" He hurried toward her, a hand gripping her forearm tightly. "Tell me."

Darcy sucked in air, choked on it, as the images hit her.

A man… Scruffy, gaunt, with wild eyes that had seen too much, searching frantically, paranoid, looking for help while fearing it at the same time. He turned, looked right at her, peered right into her soul, and ice followed. Rushing through her veins, cold, so cold, her heart burned. Frosted glass crowded the edges of her eyes, the only thing to peer through like a window into death, decay, nothingness.

And then… Something bright, warm, a light that slowly de-thawed her, and him. The beard, scraggly, gnarled, dark whiskers, shortened, shaved, disappeared. Sunken cheeks filled out, the hunger ebbed, the fear, the cold, the confusion, melted away. And a smile, small, hopeful, turned up that mouth, of a man no longer tormented. A hand on his shoulder, a soldier at his side, and—

"It's not fair to her," Bucky muttered.

"What's not fair?"

"Our baggage. Hanging that on her shoulders… It's different for us. We were there, we saw those things, did those things… She wasn't. She's innocent."

"None of us are innocent, Buck; not really. She's not as scarred, she's got hope, but that's good… She balances us. Don't you feel it?"

"'Course I do. But she's been fighting it since the word 'go.'"

"She's scared. She knows what it mean, that this, us, it's not short-term. That's big, it's life changing, but… I've seen her with you, how happy she is. How loved she feels. We can have that, all of us."

Bucky nodded, his expression thoughtful. "You think she completes us…?"

"I think you love her," Steve said, "and I love her, and we love each other… There's nothing wrong with that."

Bucky smiled then, raising an eyebrow at him. "When'd you become such a sap, huh, punk?"

"Shut up," Steve laughed, wrapping his arm around Bucky's neck and pulling him in close.

"You really think she could love us?" Bucky wondered quietly.

"I think she already does…" He lifted his head and stared forward, until Darcy could feel it, like her vision had melded with reality. "We just need to show her."

"Miss? Are you all right?"

Darcy let out a gasp, lurching forward, blinking wildly. She pushed his hands away, her own shaking, and shoved up from her seat. No, no, no. This was not… This wasn't how it was supposed to go. Years ago, when she'd talked to her aunt about the funny things she kept seeing, the things that came true, Aunt Janine had laughed, waving it off. "It runs in the family. If you're smart, you'll do something with it."

Darcy had thought she was joking, making fun of her even, but then one night Janine had appeared on her doorstep, her eyes glazed and her expression solemn. She'd reached out, grabbing Darcy's arms tightly. "A soldier, not one, but two, a heart of gold and a heart of sorrow, melded at the soul. They'll come for you. Don't run, do you hear me? Don't ever run. Love, sweet and pure, it'll tie itself to you, to your heart, such a good, good heart you have… They'll find you, if you stay still long enough. They'll come for you and complete the circle. One heart, two men, three souls. Bound. Dark and light, balanced. Be the balance. Be the center." And then she'd simply… woken up, shaking her head, muttering to herself about sleep walking before she turned around, walked home in her slippers and her night gown, dismissing the whole thing.

Darcy hadn't given it much weight. The ravings of a woman who drank too much peach schnapps in her lifetime and had always been a little kooky. She had, however, taken her advice on using her abilities to better her life. But this… She hadn't been expecting this.

"The man…" Her voice was hoarse; she swallowed tightly. "The one you're looking for… You'll be together again, all of you, and then the circle will be complete."

"The circle?"

"Past and future, fused together…" Her eyes darted around, never quite landing anywhere. "That's it. That's all you get. You should go. Now."

He stared at her, shaking his head. "Wait, I… I have another question."

She stood from her chair, skirting around him, careful not to touch him. "I already told you what you need to know."

"But where? When? I… I've looked everywhere. Please."

She looked past his shoulder, through the wall of beads that hung from her doorway, out into the green balcony, the neighbor's cat sitting on the railing, black tail swishing.

"He'll come to you when he's ready… He needs more time. He's… lost."

"That's it? You can't give me an address, a city, a… a goddamn country?" he pushed.

She stared at the cat, at the green eyes staring back at her, and shivered. "It's wet. It's been raining… The alley smells like garbage and greasy food… The coat he's wearing is too big for him; the pocket's torn. He's cold. He's always cold and he hates it… He just wants to go home, but he doesn't know where that is. So he wanders, at night… To a place that looks like what home used to be. But ma's not there, Rebecca neither, so he sits under the stairs, they still creak on the third step… It's not home, it doesn't smell like home, but it's close enough."

He was touching her again, a hand on her shoulder, squeezing almost too tightly. "He's in Brooklyn… At the old apartment," he murmured.

Darcy shook her head, turning to him. "You can't go to him yet."

He scowled at her. "I can't leave him out there. You said yourself that he was cold and lost."

"He is." Exasperated, she told him again, "But he's not ready. Not yet."


"You'll spook him." She reached for him then, a hand on his arm, thumb rubbing side to side soothingly. "I know you miss him, that you just want him back, but… It's not about you. And if you push him too hard or too fast, you'll lose him again." She stared up at him. "I told you. You'll find each other. You all will."

He frowned. "You keep saying that. Like there's another person I need to be looking for…" His eyes darted around, brow furrowed. "Is this about Peggy?"

A flash echoed in her mind, soft brown hair, warm brown eyes, strength and courage and passion. It left a hollow ache in her heart. He'd loved her, or thought he could. His feelings ran deep, intertwined with those he still carried for Bucky. If Bucky wasn't ready to be found, Steve wasn't ready to move on.

"Not Peggy," she murmured, and looked up at him sadly. "Do you think you could be happy, with him alone?"

"Of course," he said, his voice thick, adamant, certain.

Her visions were never wrong, she'd long learned that. One day, and she wasn't sure when, but enough time for a fractured mind to mend, for two men to get their feet under them again, he would look for her, they both would. But Darcy… she'd never been good at answering her own visions; she'd always preferred not to read herself, not to ask herself where she would go, what she would do, who she would love or who would love her. While others came to her for guidance, for answers to questions no one else could answer, she didn't want her life to be written in stone. She preferred to think that she was of the few strings of Fate that had a little more give to move as it pleased.

So she didn't tell him that one day he would come to her, that he would love her, and she let herself believe that she was not standing in front of one of two of her soul mates. Instead she reached up, stretching out her forefinger, dressed in a silver rose ring, and she dragged a purple nail down the arch of his cheek. "Your love is written, it is infinite, and when he is ready, you will have each other again. There is no end to a circle."

He stared down at her, his eyes washing over her face. He was handsome, even more so up close like this. Conflicted green eyes stared down into her own, hopeful but wary.


"Always so eager to rush in, head first. Easy does it, Captain," she murmured, her gaze dropping to his mouth, firm and promising, and then she tore her eyes from him and stepped back, out of reach. "You'll know when it's time."

"Will I? Because it feels like it's time now."

"No, it doesn't," she told him, turning her back to him and walking to the door. "Or you wouldn't have waited to let me tell you different." She pushed the door open for him and waited for him to answer her non-verbal gesture.

He sighed, but stepped forward, joining her at the door. "How much do I owe you?"

"Consider it a gift."

He raised an eyebrow, his mouth open to argue.

"I never charge soul mates. Call it a quirk."

He stared at her a long moment, but eventually nodded, stepping through the door. He held it open, looking back at her. "How many people make a circle?"

She smiled at him, but it was sadder than she wanted it to be. Instead of answering, she turned around and walked away, her long, dark hair swaying at her back. The bell jingled as the door closed, and she let out a long, relieved breath. Leaving the intense scene of her main room, she returned to her balcony, breathing in the sweet scent of flowers and earth.

He would find Bucky in twenty-three days.

When they would come for her, she chose not to ponder.

Darcy thought she would get over it; that it would just fade into her memory like every other vision. She was still meeting with people, doing her job, but it lingered. That stare of his in the vision; the sound of their voices, the promise that they would be together. The chill of ice still coursing through her veins, through his veins before he got the help he needed. And he needed it; he deserved it.

She dreamed of him, of them, sometimes.

When Bucky was alone, he was cold, he was huddled in corners, pulling his too large jacket around him, scared to sleep, to dream, to be caught off guard.

But when he wasn't alone, when he had them with him, he was free. He was warm, sandwiched between their bodies, hands wrapped in theirs. She dreamed of gloves she would knit him, some fingerless, some not. She dreamed of his kiss, dragging down her throat, the rasp of his stubble scraping against her skin, his hands, one warm and one metal, dragging down her hips. And heat, at her back, another solid chest to lean against, callused fingers pulling her hair back, his breath against her ear, his lips brushing her cheek. Four hands on her body, constantly moving, keeping her on the knife's edge of pleasure, one arm around her winter soldier and the other around her captain. And their lips, meeting over her shoulder, their hands gripping at each other, desperate to hold on and never let go, two men who had known too much war and only wanted peace. She dreamed of them wrapped around each other, seeking out comfort and familiarity, holding tight to one another in hopes they wouldn't lose each other again.

When she woke, she missed them, missed the idea of what they could be, the three of them. She missed the husky sound of their laughter, of their voices. She missed the way they said her name and each other's and the crescendo of panted names as they climaxed. She missed the feel of their hands on her body and the whisper of their breath on her skin. She missed the promise of protection and love and strength that they gave her.

But as much as she missed it, she hated that she did. She didn't want to want them. She didn't want to miss them. She didn't want to tie herself to anybody, let alone two somebodies. Her life was her own, wasn't it? So what if she'd always found the idea of soul mates beautiful. So what if they fit her and she fit them. So what if nobody else would ever fill the spaces beside her like they did. She could live with that, couldn't she?

Steve said he could be happy with Bucky alone. He didn't need her. And she didn't need them.

Two weeks after Steve Rogers walked into her life, changing it irrevocably, she felt a shift in the air.

She closed shop early, her skin warmer than usual, a sign, always a sign, and she made herself dinner. When she looked at the soup bubbling away, she wondered why she'd made so much. Why she'd felt the urge to recreate one of her grandmother's recipes instead of cracking open a can of Campbell's. But then she heard the rustle of the beads moving at her door, and she went still, the weight of eyes on her back all too heavy.

But it wasn't fear that crept up her spine; it was something else entirely.

"You must be crazy hungry," she said, taking a second bowl down from the cupboard. "Do you want milk or water with dinner?"

When she received no reply, she turned her head, peering over her shoulder, and found him standing close to the table, his shoulders hunched and his head down. He was wearing a ratty baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, which were darting suspiciously.

"Water it is," she said, before crossing to the table to place a bowl down for each of them. She walked back to her fridge to take out the pitcher of water and grabbed two glasses from the cupboard before finally taking a seat at the table, pouring them each a drink.

He lingered, watching her from the corner of his eyes. His mouth parted, lips chapped, but said nothing.

"You're not sure why you're here, are you?" she asked, stirring her spoon through her soup as she stared up at him through her lashes. "It's okay… It happens sometimes. Usually when someone has a question but they aren't sure who or how to ask."

He continued to stare at her, his mouth pressed into a frown.

"You know what I do?" she wondered.

He gave a small nod.

"So which is it…? Do you want to know your future, or your past?"

He looked away.

"Or maybe you're wondering if you want to know." She stared at him searchingly. "Because knowing means really knowing. No more wondering. You'll know who you hurt, what they did to you… And you'll have to come to grips with that… Heavy stuff."

He looked back at her, brow furrowed.

"Come on," she urged, pointing her spoon to his bowl. "I know you're hungry. You haven't eaten in days."

He eyed her a moment longer but finally took a seat, reaching hesitantly for the spoon, keeping his bionic arm down, his hand tucked up in the sleeve.

"It won't scare me," she told him, her gaze set on his left arm. "It's not always lethal."

His eyebrow raised slowly, as if he didn't, couldn't, believe her. But he didn't say anything, instead lowering the spoon into the soup and scooping up a big bite of potato, chicken, and carrot. He raised it to his mouth, gave it a sniff, and then parted his lips.

"It's hot," she warned.

He didn't listen; instead he took that bite in whole, without blowing on it, and scooped up a second, and a third, hardly chewing before he swallowed it down.

"Easy tiger, there's plenty more to eat," she told him, somewhere between amused at his behavior and angry that his hunger had reached this point.

It was her own fault for telling Steve not to go to him, but she knew… He wasn't ready. Not yet.

He finished the whole bowl before she'd even put a dent in hers. She nodded her chin toward the stove. "Help yourself."

He stared at the pot and then back to her, but stood from his chair and crossed to it, scooping out another full bowl, near to overflowing. She was already thinking of how she could fill up a container for him to take with him; she had a ton of plastic ware.

He sat down again, eating a little more slowly now, his elbows on the table, his head hunched over his bowl like he thought somebody might come in and try to take it from him.

Darcy reached for the plate between them, ignoring the flinch of his bionic hand, and took one of the buns from it, cracking it open and spreading butter over both sides. She put it within his reach and then buttered a second one for herself. They ate in silence, for the most part, the clatter of spoon on bowl and chewing all that filled the air. But when she was finished, after washing out her bowl and putting it in the dish rack, she wiped her hands on a towel and watched him for a long moment.

"You can't move on until you know," she finally said, watching him as he picked apart his third bun, leaving it in flaky pieces. "And you want to move on, even if it scares you… You have something to look forward to." When his chin raised a little, she stifled her smile. "It's hard right now, looking past all the bullshit with the assholes who took you, molded you into something you didn't think you could be… People are going to tell you that it's not you, that you were never in control, and you'll go along with it, 'cause that's what they want to hear, but… People do things, not all of it good or right, but they do them for a greater cause. Somebody has to make the hard choices, pull the trigger when others can't, and it leaves a mark. There's blood on your hands, and not all of it is from choices you would have made, but some of it… Even before they took you, you were the one behind the scope, you were the one who had to do things, awful things, for the right reasons… It's part of who you are. Maybe not a part you like, maybe even a part you resent, but it's you all the same."

He looked up at her then, his eyes sad, his face drawn.

"It doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make you like them…" She stared at him searchingly. "When he finds you, he's going to help you… You're going to find peace, acceptance… love."

He grimaced, dropping his eyes.

"And you'll deserve it, even when you think you don't… Even when they seem too pure for someone like you. You're going to realize none of that matters. That they love you, and they always will."

He paused, his brow furrowed, but he continued to keep his silence.

"I can't give you your memories back. Somebody else will and… it's going to hurt. A lot. Enough that I almost want to tell you not to." She stared at his profile, dark and weary. "But you need to know. It's going to be hard and you're going to spend a lot of time wondering if it was better not to feel anything. But it'll get better… I promise."

With that, she turned around, digging out a large plastic container to fill with the leftover soup. She saved herself a bowl for lunch the following afternoon, but the rest would go to him. If she could stop his suffering, even a little bit, for only a little while, she wanted to.

His voice was like sandpaper, dry and cracked. "They?"

She paused, turning as she pressed the lid down, and walked toward him, putting the still hot Tupperware container in front of him. She stared down at him, at his icy blue eyes that looked… almost hopeful as he stared back up at her.

She reached for him, never pausing when he flinched, and pressed her palm flat to his hollow, whiskered cheek. "Destiny has been a cold-hearted bitch to you," she said quietly. "But maybe it tries to make up for it in other ways."

His eyes dropped for a moment, thoughtful.

She let her hand slide away, but he caught it, rubbing a metal thumb over the rings that dressed her fingers. "Who would love a monster?" he wondered.

She turned her hand over and squeezed his. "That's not the right question."

When she released him, she took his empty bowl to the sink. She knew he was gone long before she turned around; the fact that not one bead made a sound told her he'd tried to warn her the first time. She smiled to herself as she cleaned up, noting happily that he had taken the soup with him.

He didn't visit her again, not for a while, but she knew that Steve found him, that he'd been brought to Avengers Tower and was now, finally, getting the help he needed. She still had the dreams… Visions was probably more apt. They were of future events, not just conjured up by a mind eager to take a bite out of two handsome soldiers, she knew that much. She could feel it, like a prickling of her skin, awareness, acknowledgement that, whether she was willing to accept it or not, they were out there, they knew of her existence, and one day, when it was time, they'd pursue her.

For now, he needed Steve. A familiar face to guide him through the worst of it. She would just be an added complication that he wasn't ready for. But eventually, maybe when he was a little more healed, he would seek her out again. For what reason, she wasn't sure. Was she a little jealous that her soul mates had each other while she had neither? Sometimes. Mostly in the mornings, when she woke up in an empty bed, bereft of the heat of their bodies on either side of her. But she had a life and she wouldn't ignore it in favor of pining over them. Half the time, she convinced herself she didn't even want them. They had each other and she… She could be happy with someone else or on her own. Choices. Crossroads. There were other paths she could take.

She continued her job, customer after customer, new ones and regular ones, old and young.

It was on a Sunday morning that she met Steve again, standing in a quiet book shop, the smell of old books in every breath she took.

"Business or pleasure?"

She tipped her head back, following the voice up, up, up, to the smiling face staring down at her. Raising her small stack, she said, "Pleasure. Sadly, the books they publish on my job aren't anywhere as accurate as some would like you to believe." Standing, she eyed the books he held, the titles all having something to do with amnesia or brainwashing. "Yours are personal too, I see."

"Yeah, oh, uh, yeah…" He frowned down at them. "I found him. But… it's been difficult."

She nodded, staring at the cracked spines for a long moment. "Has Stark talked to you about the chair yet?"

He went still, eyeing her curiously.

Her mouth ticked up. "Still doubt me, huh? Don't worry; I've met my fair share of skeptics. Keeps things interesting."

His gaze dropped, lips pursed. "Bucky mentioned that he met someone while he was… missing. A woman that made him soup and told him that it would hurt, when he got his memories back, but he needed to do it anyway. That was you, wasn't it?"

"Sometimes people are drawn to me. I can't control it. It's even good for business… In this case, it was different. After hours, for one, and he snuck in through the balcony, so, not exactly normal. But…" She shrugged. "I've had weirder customers."

He frowned.

"Hey, no need to pull the protective soldier face. I have a taser; I can take care of myself." Shifting her feet, she said, "As for the chair, it will hurt. A lot. And you're going to want to interfere, shut it down, but… you won't."


She turned, examining a shelf of mismatched books, out of alphabetical order. She hated that. "As much as you don't want him to hurt anymore, as if anybody ever wants their lover to hurt… Well, unless you're a sadistic a-hole who ignores safe words… Anyway, it'll be hard, watching him go through that, but… He'll remember after, and he needs to."

"Why?" he wondered. "Why can't we just… start fresh?"

"Because." She turned to face him. "He needs to know what he did, who he hurt, or it'll keep eating at him."

He sighed, frustrated. "I don't understand how you know these things."

Darcy shrugged. "Runs in the family."

"Like… a mutant power…?" He eyed her curiously. "There are people who could support you with that."

"You mean Professor Xavier?" She half-grinned. "I've met him. Nice guy. But he specializes in mutants who are working toward control, or who want to join up and fight the good fight for equality."

"And you don't fit either of those?"

"I gained control on my own. And I support equal rights, for everybody, but mine is a power that doesn't lend itself to kicking ass."

"What about seeing the future? You could help predict the outcome of things… Battles, attacks on the school…"

"It doesn't work like that. People ask questions, specific questions, and I answer them…" She motioned her hand toward the window at a woman passing by. "A woman will ask me if she should quit her job, take the job offer in DC. I'll tell her no, that it'll fall through, so she sticks with the one she has and keeps looking." She pointed to a man on the other side of the road, putting change in the meter. "A guy will ask me if his wife still loves him. I'll tell him yes, but she's feeling unloved. He'll pick up flowers on the way home, surprise her, put more effort into showing her he loves her too. I see it because they ask for certain things, specific events. But those things can still change. If you walk into a fight expecting to win, you won't fight the same, you'll assume it's already won."

"What about with me, you knew things before I even asked them. Specific, personal things, about me and Bucky."

Darcy paused, taking a step back. "You were different. You both were."

He stared at her, watching her face, the way she fiddled with her books. "Is my life set in stone?"

"Nobody's life is," she whispered. "There are still things that can change. People are individuals. They make choices every day, one different choice and the map changes."

"But right now, there's a set map, isn't there? I was supposed to find you, ask you about Bucky. I needed to wait, give him time not just to be ready, but to talk to you. And when it was the right time, that's when I went, that's when he was ready to come with me. Just like when it's the right time, he'll sit in Stark's chair, get his memories back."

She nodded faintly.

"You said something before, about soul mates… You asked me if I could be happy with just him. I told you I could. But you saw something, someone else…"

She didn't answer, staring at her hands, rubbing her thumb over her rings.

"Are we happier with them?"

Her gaze raised slowly, taking in his expression, carefully devoid of any positive or negative feelings. "No relationship is always happy. There's ups and downs."

"You're avoiding the question. Or maybe I'm asking it wrong…" He stared at her searchingly. "Is she happy with us?"

Her lips pursed. "She's already happy." Moving past him, she started toward the front, but something stopped her, made her turn, look at him over her shoulder. "You could be happy without her. Content with just him. You'd never regret that…"

"But she's supposed to be with us," he said knowingly. "Isn't she?"

Darcy hummed, turning back around. "Nothing's set in stone," she reminded, before walking away, moving to the front desk to pay for her books.

She didn't look back.

For the next two weeks, as if to convince her of just how wrong she was, she dreamed of him.

Steve had her pinned to the wall, his teeth scraping down her neck. His hands squeezed hers, hard enough that the rings on her fingers bit into her skin. "Say it," he told her, nipping at her collar bone.

She shook her head, raising her knee up, wrapping her leg around his narrow waist, inviting him closer, wishing she could reach down and pull his shirt up, press her hands into firm, warm skin.

He dragged his tongue up her neck, kissed her chin, and let his lips hover just over hers. He stared into her eyes, his gaze heavy, intense. "I want to hear you say it."

Darcy stared up at him, her brow knit. "Why?" she wondered, her voice cracked.

He nuzzled her nose with his, affectionate, adoring. "You need to… You can't always run from this, from us… You were made for us just as much as we were made for you."

She bit her lip, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling. "No."

"I know you love us, Darcy. I know you miss us when we're not there. I know you wish Bucky was here, on his knees in front of you, pushing your skirt up so he could taste you. I know you wake up reaching for us, and you're disappointed when you're alone."

"Why can't you just be happy with what we have?" she wondered, knocking her head back against the wall.

"Because I want to keep you. I spent too much of my life separated from people I loved. Missing him. I have Bucky back now. You're the only one holding back." He pressed his hips up against hers, nipping at her lower lip as she whimpered, squeezing her leg around his waist. "If you need time to be ready, fine, but don't push us away. You want this, you want us."

Breathing labored, she lowered her head to meet his eyes. "I've seen your future. I've seen what happens when I love you." She blinked as her eyes burned. "I've seen the battle wounds and the wars and the days and nights spent sitting beside your hospital beds. I can count on both hands how many times you both try to push me away, to tell me I'm better off without you. So don't tell me that wanting you, loving you, is so much better. At least here, at a distance, I don't have to worry about losing you."

"Yes, you do. As long as you're not with us, you don't have us. You told me yourself that no relationship is all happy. There's ups and downs and it's worth it. It doesn't matter that we try to push you away, because you know it's temporary. You know we'll realize how stupid we're being. How much we need you. It's the three of us; it's always going to be three of us." He swallowed tightly, releasing one of her hands so he could cup her cheek, his fingers stroking gently. "Darcy… It's time to stop fighting fate… Come home."

A tear spilled from her eye as she swallowed thickly, and nodded, a short jerk of her head. He smiled, slanting his lips over hers, and slid a hand up the skirt of her dress, finger stroking over the gauzy fabric of her stockings, peeling them down her leg to touch bare skin. It felt so good, so right. She wanted another pair of hands to join his, but even this, the two of them, was enough for now. They would make it up to Bucky later.

Darcy jerked awake, gave a low grumble of frustration and fell back to her bed.

She wasn't sure how far down the road that was, but it wasn't far enough. For two weeks, her mind had been rebelling against her decision not to pursue them. She had been adamant that they could be happy together and she could live her life separately. It didn't matter what her visions said; she would not be forced down a specific path.

Turning over onto her side, she startled when she found Bucky sitting in a chair a few feet away.

"Christ on a cracker," she muttered. "I don't want to set you back a step in your recovery, but creeping on sleeping strangers isn't the best way to create a lasting friendship."

He wasn't looking at her, staring instead at a pair of her shoes, half shucked under her bed. "Stark built the chair."

She rested her head on her arm and gazed at him a long moment. "Are you scared?" she wondered.

He raised his eyes to meet hers and admitted, "Terrified."

"Of the pain, or remembering?"

He swallowed thickly. "Both."

Nodding faintly, she said, "It won't feel like it at first, maybe not for a while, but… later, you'll say it was worth it."

"Doesn't help me now," he muttered, mouth twisted up in a humorless smile.

"Hindsight," she said, shrugging. Pushing up from her bed, she pushed her blanket off her and dropped her feet to the floor, wiggling her toes. "Are you hungry?"

He watched her from the corner of his eyes. "Do you always feed strangers that break into your apartment?"

She smiled. "No. You're the first."

"To be fed or to break in?"

She grinned at him, but said nothing, standing from her bed and walking toward the door, stuffing her feet in a pair of slippers as she went. The sliding glass door was open, admitting the neighbor's cat, who was happy to follow at her heels as she walked into the kitchen, dragging a hand back through tangled hair. "Does he know you're here?" she wondered as she walked to the fridge, searching for eggs and bacon.

He lingered at the far end of the counter, watching her. "I didn't say where I was going."

"You told him before though, that you'd come to me…"

He shrugged, turning his eyes away. "Was that wrong?" he wondered, sincerely uncertain.

"No." Pulling out a cutting board, she laid the bacon out on it to be cut into little pieces. "Scrambled eggs and bacon sound good?"

He hummed, she assumed, agreeably.

"I could add peppers. I have green and red."

"Green," he said.

Nodding, she walked back to the fridge and dug around in the crisper, pulling out a green pepper before turning back to the cutting board. "It's weird, you know." He didn't answer, but she could feel the question anyway. "That I always see you two separately… You're worried about each other, you love each other, but you always come alone."

Maybe that was a good thing, though; she wasn't so sure she could handle both of them at the same time, not yet anyway. In her visions, it was all so easy, so natural, the way they all came together, reaching for one another, one unit. Even as they were kissing each other, they still held her, still kept her close, still involved her. The love was infinite, shared, with no one left out. But here, the way she kept meeting with them, it was like she was getting a chance to know them separately, as individuals, and when it was time, the three of them would come together and never really part. It was a heavy thought and she shook it off as soon as it started to solidify.

"Do you wish he was here?" His voice was like a shock of cold water, bringing her back from her musings abruptly.

She turned to look at him. "Are you asking if I prefer him over you?"

His lips pursed, and she saw the worry at the edges of his mouth.

"There's no preference." She shrugged, turning back to the board and chopping up the peppers to be put into a pile in one corner. "Which, if you haven't figured out, means that you're not 'less than.' You're the same. You matter just as much as he does."

She could feel his eyes boring into her back, but didn't turn.

"I dream about you," he said softly. "About both of you."

"Do you?" she said, her voice neutral.

"I dream about how you taste… Your skin, your lips, that spot on your neck that makes you whimper…" His voice was getting closer as he crossed the room. "In my dreams, I know you… Every part of you. It's like I've spent my whole life learning who you are, inside and out. Like I've known you, loved you, for years…"

She paused, the knife she held trembling in her grip. "They're just dreams."

"I don't think they are." He paused just behind her, the heat of his body sinking through her clothes and warming her back. "I think it's a promise."

She bit her lip before she whispered, "Of?"

"The future… When all of it's worth it. The pain and the memories… I'll be a better person. A happy person." His fingers stroked up her back and stopped at the nape of her neck, resting there, warm and heavy. "I'll have both of you, and you'll have me. Us."

Darcy let out a shuddering breath, closing her eyes tightly. "Sometimes dreams feel real. Sometimes—"

He turned her, a hand on her hip, and cupped her cheek with the other. "You whisper it against my hair, when you think I'm sleeping… That I'm worth it, that I'm a good person, that you love me…" He stared at her searchingly. "And Steve, he does the same thing when you fall asleep. It's a circle, like you said. Me and him and you."

Her heart clenched in her chest. "I don't…"

"You're not ready yet. I'm probably not either. I'm still… fucked up. My mind, my memory, it's all… just a mess." He folded his lips, grinding his teeth. "But it helps, those… dreams, whatever they are. Because I know one day I won't be. One day we'll both be ready." He nodded, licking his lips, and then he leaned in, his forehead pressed to hers, and he kissed her. Just a slow, closed mouth kiss that she felt right down to her toes. It felt like coming home and she almost couldn't catch her breath for a moment. When he leaned back, he let out a shaky breath, warm against her chin, and he said, "I can wait."

When she opened her eyes, he was gone, but she could still feel the pressure, the tingle, of her mouth.

He would wait.

They both would.

And one day, they wouldn't have to.

One day, she would be ready, they all would, and their love would be whole.