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The Prisoner's Dilemma

Chapter Text

Bucky’s words appeared just as he hit puberty. He’d taken it with good-natured razzing, just like he’d endured the teasing when his voice broke mid-word and the red spots that appeared on his face. But it wasn’t so much that the words had appeared, but what they were.

The prisoner’s dilemma.

He caught his Ma looking at his wrist more often than once before a slightly disappointed look crossed her face. Buck could guess what she was thinking because he’d wondered the same thing – was he going to go to slammer someday? What would drive him to break the law? Whenever he got in trouble, she would point to his words and say, “I’m not raising a hellion for a son.”

After his Ma died, the orphanages did the same. His knuckles were rapped and his ears boxed more often than not. He figured they were trying to knock some sense into him, trying to make sure he didn’t become some delinquent.

When he met Steve, Bucky figured he’d be thrown in jail for fighting someday. But whenever the police broke up a fight, he and Steve always managed to slip away and nurse their bloody noses and knuckles without seeing the inside of a cell. He yelled at Steve for picking so many fights – he was gonna get himself killed one day when he took on a guy too big without Buck there to back him up. Steve yelled back saying that he could handle it by himself, that he wasn’t going to stop sticking up for the people that couldn’t, and if Buck didn’t like it then he could ignore it.

But he couldn’t leave his punk friend to fight by himself.

OOO

They were sitting in an art class. The studio was warmer than their apartment and Buck worried about Steve sitting in the cold too long, so he’d raided his savings and treated them both to a drawing class. While Steve was concentrating on the model in front of them, Buck was appreciating the dame’s curves. The wind would occasional buffet the windows and a cold draft would sneak in; he watched as goose bumps rose on her pins and she shivered.

“Start drawing or you’ll get us kicked out,” Steve hissed, glancing up from his rough outline to Bucky’s own blank page. Buck shrugged and tried to copy Steve’s outline; it was pretty obvious who was the artistic friend.

The calm of the studio was broken when they heard someone pounding up the stairs and the door to the studio was thrown open. A flustered man leaned in, sweat pouring down his face and said, “The Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor!”

Pearl Harbor.

The next day they were at War with Japan.

Steve got his first 4F from the Brooklyn recruitment office on Christmas Eve.

Buck worked with him to train, hoping that he seemed sincere when he told Steve that he believed that the military would take him one day. Secretly, he knew that they wouldn’t – he had too many medical problems – and he was relieved.

And then Buck got a letter saying he’d been drafted and was expected to report for basic training in a week.

OOO

There were times when he wondered if Steve wasn’t his soul mate. He’d known from the moment they’d met that they weren’t, but it didn’t stop him from thinking about it – he was the person Buck cared more about than anyone in the world.

The night he got home from boot camp, Bucky had snuck a bottle of whisky into their room at the boarding house and was in the process of getting rip roaring drunk.

“I think the whole system’s shit,” he grumbled, swiping a hand down his face; he was half hanging off of his bed and the bottle dangled from his fingers. “Yer just gonna walk up to someone an’ say the words, then BAM! Yer stuck with ‘em for the rest of yer life.”

“I donno,” Steve shrugged, his fingers subconsciously tracing the words. He was one of the few lucky enough to have a name – ‘Gentlemen, I am Agent Carter’. “I think it’s reassuring – there’s someone out there whose gonna take you for what you are.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes and grunted, “Anyone’d be stupid to pass you up, punk.” Steve pressed his lips together in a sad smile and tipped his head as he swirled his whiskey.

“The world’s full of stupid people, Buck.”

OOO

War wasn’t what Steve thought it was. It was cold and bloody and wet. It was being weary of making friends with some guy in your company because the next day you could be taking his dog tag and adding it to the pile for death notifications to be sent to his family.

War wasn’t a game. War wasn’t heroic. War was being so scared you pissed your pants and threw up the first time you were in a firefight and saw the brains splattered on the trench wall.

The letters from Steve kept him sane. He liked knowing that his brother was safe in New York, even if he wasn’t happy with it.

When his unit was captured, Bucky started to feel panic about his words. The sound of the cell opening caused his heart to start thumping in fear – not only because there was the chance of being picked for Zola’s lab but it also brought the chance of hearing those words. The thought of meeting his soul mate here, in these conditions, was enough to make him think about trying to sharpen his dog tags enough to slit his wrists.

“Him.”

His day came and Bucky tried not to think about the men who’d never come back after Zola picked them. As he was half dragged down the hall, he kept his ears open, straining to hear those words.

When he didn’t, Buck started to wonder if his soul mate would feel when he died.

OOO

His world was pain and heat and anger.

It was needles and questions, and Steve’s face swimming before his eyes.

“It’s me. It’s Steve.”

Steve.

OOO

“Could you have picked a bigger bunch of idiots?” Bucky asked as he and Steve walked away from the first strategy meeting with the Howling Commandos. His harsh words were tempered with a smile, but he felt worry gnawing at his gut.

“You’re already on the squad, so probably not,” Steve gave him that cocky, crooked smile.

“Jack ass,” Buck sighed. It was still strange having to reach higher to put his arm around Steve’s neck, but he managed.

OOO

“I had him on the ropes,” he said.

“I know you did,” Steve replied. He turned quickly at a high-pitched whining and grabbed Buck’s arm, pulling him behind to shield him. One of those HYDRA bullets hit his shield and sent Steve flying back into him, and Buck took the brunt of the hit against the rack of weapons. The shot ricochet and blew a hole in the side of the train. Steve was down, and he didn’t think before picking up the fallen shield.

He may not have been the best at a lot of things, but Bucky prided himself on his shot. But the damn armor the guy was wearing covered him from head to toe and made it impossible to find a weakness. The whining started again and the light shot out.

It slammed into the shield and, for a split second, Buck marveled at how strong Steve must have become to withstand a hit like that. He flew through the air and had the wind knocked out of him as he hit the corrugated metal. His fingers scrambled for a purchase as the wind rushed by, trying to pull him further out of the train. Heart in his throat, he managed to grab hold of a bar and swung to get a better grip. The train continued at its speed, the force nearly pulling him away.

“Bucky!” Steve yelled. His blue eyes were wide with panic as stepped out of the safety and onto the peeled away metal. Buck wanted to yell at him to get back inside but fear closed his throat. “Hang on!” he ordered.

He forced himself to move, to try and get closer. The metal gave – just a bit. “Grab my hand!” Steve ordered, reaching out as far as he could. Buck made himself move, and the handle gave under his weight. “NO!”

Falling. Bucky screamed.

Pain.

Darkness.

OOO

“Sergeant Barnes.”

He recognized the voice that haunted his nightmares.

Bucky gained and lost consciousness, seeing flashes of people and blood in the snow. He weakly tried to fight off his captors and realized that he couldn’t feel his left arm.

“The procedure has already started.”

Zola’s face. Zola’s voice.

“Let me die,” Bucky whispered.

“You are to be the new fist of HYDRA.”

James Buchanan Barnes died.

“Put him on ice.”

The Asset was born.

OOO

The Asset looked at the scars on his wrist and felt something tug at the back of his mind. The black words written there were mangled to the point of being unreadable; it looked as though someone had gotten as close to flaying the skin off as they could.

“The American will spend the rest of his life guarding me,” a gruff voice said. He didn’t look up, hadn’t been told that he could.

OOO

“Put him on ice. He has failed.”

Inside the tube, he traced that mangled skin until he was put back under.

OOO

“What were they?” Natalia asked, her small fingers – fingers he had broken many times during training – tracing the scars.

“Hm?” he grunted. His metal arm whirled as his fingers flexed on her hip.

“Your words. Do you remember what they were?”

“Nyet.”

“They took mine too,” she said, rolling onto her stomach and brushing aside her hair. His hand moved to trace the faded white lines on her shoulder before lifting himself up to replace his fingers with his lips.

“Who would want monsters like us?” he asked.

“Only other monsters,” she answered, wrapping her hand around the back of his neck and kissing him.

They were discovered a week later.

“Watch, Widow. Watch!” Petrovich gripped the back of her neck and shook her, forcing Natalia to look as he was strapped to the chair. He schooled his expression and forced himself not to stand and break the man’s arm.

She would suffer for his actions.

He allowed himself to be pushed down. His body trembled, remembering the pain from the previous times he’d been wiped.

The Asset screamed.

OOO

The Winter Soldier waited. He had been trained to be still for hours on end, waiting for his target to come into view. He spent the time examining the scars on his wrist and could just make out the words underneath.

The prisoner’s dilemma.

His handlers had pulled him from his previous mission and put him on this one. The job needed to be done quickly if he were to make it back in time to catch the Iranian. The targets were due to arrive any minute now; his finger curled around the rifle’s trigger. He’d chosen this vantage point for maximum efficiency – two kills and it would appear to be an accident. Their insider had already sabotaged the breaks and air bags.

The limo neared.

He lined up the shot. Squeezed the trigger.

It careened out of control before rolling, glass shattering as it neared the edge of the cliff.

The Asset slung the rifle across his back, eliminated any trace that he’d been there, and leapt down. The glass crunched under his boots as he neared the wreckage, and pitiful moans reached his ears.

“Maria,” the target gasped. “Oh god, Maria!”

The Asset crouched and peered into the car. The woman was dead already, her neck snapped, but the target was crawling towards her. He stilled as he saw the Asset. “Barnes?”

His eyes took in the target’s injuries; they weren’t severe enough to cause death. He stood.

“Barnes! Bucky, for God’s sake, do something! Help me!”

The Asset braced his hands against the car and pushed.

The target screamed as it rolled off the cliff.

OOO

“Bucky?” the man asked, lowering his shield.

The Asset turned towards him. “Who the hell is Bucky?” he asked, raising his gun.

OOO

“You know me,” the target said.

“No I don’t!” the Winter Soldier yelled as he threw a punch. He felt something in his memory shift – had felt it since seeing that damn uniform – but the mission came first.

“Bucky, you’ve know me your whole life,” the target insisted. Neurons fired, bringing up confusing images of the man smiling and clapping him on the shoulder.

The Asset had no memories. He had no past. He had no future.

He hit him, and the target lurched away as the helicarrier engine exploded.

“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes.”

Bucky. Call me Bucky.

“SHUT UP!” he batted him away. The target removed his helmet and stumbled to his feet.

“I’m not gonna fight you. You’re my friend.” He dropped his weapon, his shield.

The Asset looked at him, seeing the same man reach for him as he reached back. And then Pierce’s voice blocked it out, “I want a confirmed kill in 10 hours.”

He flew at him, catching him in the stomach and driving him to the ground. “You’re my mission.” The target didn’t fight back, didn’t try to stop him as he threw punch after punch. “You’re! My! Mission!” He wanted him to fight back, to make this easier, to give him a reason to continue.

“Then finish it,” he said, “cause I’m with you t-‘til the end of the line.”

Steve. It was his job to protect Steve.

It was his mission to kill him.

Glass shattered and he was falling.

“Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

“How could I? You’re takin’ all the stupid with you.”

It was his job to protect him.

It was his mission to kill him.

He left him on the banks of the Potomac.

OOO

His name was James Buchanan Barnes. He went by Bucky.

He’d been born and raised in Brooklyn, New York before going to war.

He spent the next year traveling the world and burning HYDRA to the ground.

She found him in a café in Bucharest, two cups of coffee steaming on the table she sat at. He’d watched her from the rooftop for an hour before deciding she’d come alone.

“It was warm,” she said as he sat across from her.

“Natalia.”

“It’s Natasha now,” she said, her eyebrow twitching as her lips pursed into a smile. “I haven’t been Natalia for a long while.”

“Is he with you?”

“No, but he’s looking. You haven’t exactly been subtle,” she smirked again before something in her eyes shifted. Her voice has lost its sarcastic bite when she said, “He was surprised that I knew you.”

“You didn’t. Not…” he frowned and wrapped his flesh and bone hand around the cold coffee. “I’m not him, not anymore.”

“Barnes or the Winter Soldier?”

“Both.”

She nodded and sat up. He flinched and she noticed; slowly, telegraphing her movements, Natalia – Natasha – reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “When you’re ready to come in from the cold, this is where you’ll find him.”

He reached out for it, the ratty sleeve pulling off of his wrist as he did so. Her eyes tracked the movement and her smile softened when she saw the scars. “If you stop running, you may find them.”

The Asset…Bucky….James scowled. He hated those scars and what they represented – another loss of free will, another predetermined choice that he had no say in. He could only hope that the person had died happy with someone else. Instead, he spat, “Who would want a monster?”

“You’d be surprised,” she said, her hand reaching up to touch the arrow charm on her necklace. “Even monsters find love.”

OOO

He waited in the shadows, hands thrust into the tattered pockets of his sweatshirt and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.

Being in the crowd made him feel twitchy, so he slipped into an alleyway and leaned back against the wall. The smell of garbage filled his nose but he’d been in worse conditions.

It was two hours before he spotted him. The tar – Bucky flinched away from the thought. Steve. His name was Steve. He wasn’t a target.

Steve wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings, eyes on the ground in front of him, forcing people to dodge out of his way. It was a dangerous move – it would be too easy to sneak behind him and attack.

He saw the dark circles under his eyes and felt a twinge of guilt for the stress he’d put him through. “Punk,” he said as Steve passed the alley.

Steve stopped short, causing a man behind him to crash into him. “Watch where you’re going, asshole!” the man snapped.

It was a testament to how surprised he was that Steve didn’t even apologize. His blue eyes snapped over to meet his, and a cautious smile spread across his mouth. In two strides he joined him in the shadows, slowly pulling his hands from his pockets to show that he was unarmed.

The move wasn’t necessary – he could tell by his gait that he wasn’t carrying any weapons.

“You’re here…Bucky, you’re…”

“I had some things to handle.” Steve barked a bitter laugh.

“I know. You didn’t make it hard to track you. I nearly had you in Bolivia.”

“Lost ya though,” he said, the corner of his mouth twitching.

“Are you… do you…?” Steve motioned to his head.

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Everything?”

“Most of it. There’s still gaps.”

Steve nodded and put his hands on his hips, glancing back towards the street. After a moment, he turned back, a determined look on his face. “You wanna come up? I’ve got some beers in the fridge.”

OOO

The room had been on edge when Steve introduced him to the new team. Natalia had given him a self-satisfied smirk from where she sat next to a man who studied him in intently. The others seemed to realize he wasn’t comfortable with contact and did no more than nod as they were introduced.

Looking into the eyes of the man who had been made an orphan because of him had been the most difficult and tense moment. He wouldn’t have done anything had Stark chosen to lash out at him, but he hadn’t. The only quick movement he’d made was when the lithe redheaded woman standing close to him had taken a step closer. Stark had swept his arm out to keep her at a safe distance.

Steve had frowned at that, but he understood. He wasn’t to be trusted. His hands were stained with too much blood.

“Bucky’s – ”

“James,” he muttered, causing Steve to stop and look at him. “I’m not him anymore.” Steve’s eyes narrowed slightly before he nodded.

“He’s staying with me for a while.”

Back in the privacy of his rooms, Steve turned to him and said, “You’re always gonna be Bucky to me.”

OOO

He kept to himself for the most part, venturing into the common areas only when no one was likely to be there. Steve encouraged him to talk to Sam, who was some kind of head shrink, but he didn’t.

It was bad enough reliving his memories in dreams, he didn’t want to talk about them.

The days bled into weeks and Steve rarely left him alone. He spent a lot of time on the phone with a woman named Sharon.

“She’s Peggy’s grand-niece,” Steve said, his fingers straying to rub where his words were. The pain in his eyes was obvious; after he’d gone down, Peggy had though her soul mate had died and, after a long time, had moved on and lived a happy life with another man. Steve swore up and down that he was happy for her, but anyone who looked at him could see the regret he felt for the life with her that he’d lost. “She was undercover, assigned to look after me.”

“That didn’t cause any issues?” James asked, to which Steve shrugged.

“Not when I found out who she was,” he chuckled around the rim of his beer bottle before shrugging. “She’s a friend, that’s all.” His eyes drifted down to rest on James’ wrist.

“You know Buck…you could still find them. Natasha found Clint…”

James drained his beer before shaking his head. “I’m not looking for ‘em.”

OOO

The army of Stark Industries lawyers had compiled a case explaining why he wasn’t to be held accountable for his actions as the Winter Soldier.

James didn’t agree. He may not have known the reasoning behind the orders, but he’d been the one pulling the trigger.

It took over a year of specialists debating his mental capacity, his human rights, the validity of the now public SHIELD database, and the legality of extradition requests before an agreement was made.

James Buchanan Barnes wouldn’t be held accountable for the actions force upon him by the KGB and HYDRA. He was to be considered a prisoner of war and an American hero for his actions during World War II.

A press release went out the same day announcing his survival.

He drank until he passed out, muttering in Russian about how monsters couldn’t be considered heroes.

OOO

Some things never changed, he mused while riding the elevator to the communal floor. Steve had been bad with leaving the tiniest amount of food left in a jar and putting it back in the pantry; it had made sense when they were scraping together the cash to buy a meal (usually damaged goods James got for cheap at the grocery store he worked at), but when they didn’t have to worry as much, it was just an annoyance.

This time it was the milk.

As he stepped off the elevator, he paused upon hearing someone moving around. After a moment, he forced himself to keep moving – Steve’s team didn’t flinch away from him any more, and even Stark seemed to be coming around.

Except it wasn’t anyone on the team.

The woman was pacing back and forth as she typed on her phone. She hadn’t heard him enter the room, and he heard her huff loudly.

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma! It’s not a difficult concept, people, come on!”

James froze.

The woman turned and let out a soft gasp. “Oh, sorry, didn’t realize anyone else was here.” She lowered her phone and swiped away a lock of dark hair before giving him a soft smile. “I’m, uh, waiting for Jane. She and I are supposed to go to lunch together.”

His heart was pounding and his human hand curled into a fist.

“I’m Darcy, by the way,” she said, shifting her weight nervously. He watched as her eyes flickered to the elevator and then back down to her phone to check the time. She crossed her arms under her breasts and chewed her lower lip. “Um…”

They stared at one another for a long moment before he turned on his heel and strode to the elevator, pounding the down button, and darting inside as soon as the doors opened.

His metal hand moved to trace the scars on his wrist as he struggled to pull in a full breath.

No. Not now. Not ever.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Chapter Text

Darcy Lewis didn’t believe in soul mates.

But it wasn’t always that way.

OOO

Like all little girls, she’d grown up dreaming about the day she’d find her soul mate – she’d daydreamed about finding them in a downpour and they’d show up with an umbrella for her, or maybe she would catch their eye from across a crowded room and just know even before they said their words. Darcy watched movies and devoured books, each adding a new scenario to just how she might meet them.

As she got older, she would spend a long time naked in front of the mirror just hoping that her mark would appear. Her best friend, Lindsay, was the first to have hers appear when they were in fourth grade and ran across the street to show Darcy.

“Look!” she said, twisting her leg to show the writing on her thigh. Darcy crouched down to get a better look and chuckled.

“Hey, throw it back?” Lindsay nodded dreamily.

“I wonder when I’m gonna meet them.”

Two days later, she met her soul mate.

“That’s him,” Lindsay whispered, pointing to a boy across the cafeteria. He had spiky hair and braces, and kept glancing over at them. She blushed from head to toe and looked down at her lunch tray.

“Him?” Darcy asked, scrunching her nose. “Isn’t he in sixth grade?”

“Yup. He nearly hit me with his football this morning.”

“And he has your words?”

“Uh huh,” Lindsay nodded and drew a line over her heart. “Right here - ‘Watch it, jerk face’.”

“Wow,” Darcy said, putting her chin in her hand and looking over at the boy. “You’re so lucky.”

OOO

“It’s not fair!” Darcy whined.

“Really, Darcy Ann,” her mother scolded. “There’s nothing strange about it not showing up yet – you’re just a late bloomer.”

“But all the other girls in gym have theirs,” she sulked. More than once she’d found herself glancing over at the other girls, envious of the marks that decorated their bodies. “I’m thirteen for Christ’s sake!”

“Language, young lady!” Her mother sighed and leaned across the counter to tip Darcy’s chin up. “I didn’t get my mark until I was fifteen, and I found your father just fine. You’ll get yours and you’ll find them, honey, you just have to be patient.”

“Fine,” Darcy sighed.

“Hey Karen, what are we having for dinner?” her dad asked as he stepped into the kitchen.

“I swear, Dave, you’re memory’s getting worse with every day – we’re having pork chops and homemade apple sauce.” Looking back at Darce, Karen rolled her eyes, “After you find them, you have to be patient with them.”

OOO

“MOM!”

There was a thud and then loud pounding before Darcy’s bedroom door was thrown open. “What? What’s wrong?” her mother panted.

“Darce?” her father demanded, coming to a stop behind Karen.

“Look!” Darcy pulled up her shirt. Just below her ribs, written in her skin, was ‘You’re not what I expected’.

She was three months from her fourteenth birthday.

OOO

High school was hell.

Like her mark, puberty seemed to hit Darcy overnight. She’d left eighth grade with smaller breasts and the beginning of hips, only to enter high school breasts that rivaled some of the senior girls and didn't stop there.

Lindsay told her not to pay attention to the boys that open leered at her in the hallways. After the first few times of being sent to the principal’s office for dress code violations, Darcy started to keep a change of clothes in her locker before starting to wear baggy sweatshirts year round. Gym class was terrible because even wearing two sports bras did little to keep her chest from moving.

Joey – Lindsay’s soul mate and a junior – actually got into a fistfight with a guy that had been harassing her and spent a week in detention. Darcy’s dad invited him over for a steak dinner for that.

On bad nights, she would look at herself in the mirror and wonder what would make her soul mate say those words. What about her was what he didn’t expect? Did he think she’d be skinnier? Smarter? Someone with less of a mouth?

But still, she kept her ears open for those five words, hoping beyond hope that she’d hear them.

OOO

A month after graduating high school, Darcy stood beside Lindsay as she said ‘I do’ to Joey.

In August, she and her mother spent two days packing and repacking the cars. Culver University was only a few hours from home but there hadn’t been a discussion of Darcy going by herself.

“Don’t tell your mother,” her dad said, handing her a small box. Darcy raised an eyebrow at the taser inside.

OOO

College was everything Darcy hoped it would be. She spent her freshman year without a major but had narrowed it down to History, Philosophy, Political Science, and English. Her roommate – a business major – pulled her out to nightclubs where Darce would sneak drinks and dance the nights away. She tailgated and went to football games, snuck into her dorm drunk off her ass, partied at fraternities and sororities, and fell in love.

They met in class – American National Government – when he asked to borrow a pen for the attendance sheet. They paired up to study for the first test and spent hours holed up in the library with flashcards and coffee, pouring over their notes.

Brad kissed her during one of their all-nighters.

It wasn’t the all consuming love that Darcy had dreamed about as a little girl, but it was more than she’d felt for the few boys she’d dated during high school. Brad would come to her dorm room and watch movies with her before going to the cafeteria for ice cream. After the first big snow fall, they stole trays to go sledding down the main hill on campus and made a snowman and snow angels. When her roommate went home for the weekend, they had sex for the first time.

In their sophomore year, Darcy chose Political Science and Brad found his soul mate.

OOO

Her parents hated Rob after he took her to a political rally. Things had got out of hand and Darcy ended up with a sprained ankle after running from the cops.

Things ended when Darcy got fed up with him being high all the time.

OOO

“She’s so gorgeous, Linds,” Darcy cooed as she cradled her goddaughter.

“She is pretty amazing,” Lindsey smiled tiredly. Joey was beaming; his eyes locked on his daughter as he lazily stroked his wife’s shoulder. When she turned to look at him, he pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“She’s perfect,” he said softly.

Darcy looked away and tried to stifle the twinge of jealousy she felt.

OOO

“You are living in sin!” the preacher yelled, holding his Bible aloft. “You flaunt God’s plan for you when you choose extramarital sex!”

“Oh god,” Darcy groaned, rolling her eyes as she passed the free speech zone on her way to the library. There was a relatively small group of people standing around, some nodding along with the man but most mocking him. A bored looking security officer stood nearby to make sure things didn’t get out of hand, and another guy had a camera trained on the crowd.

“The Bible says that Woman was made for Man in Romans one, and her natural purpose is to bear children.”

“What about women who can’t have children?” a girl yelled back. “Or they don’t want them?”

“They should dedicate themselves to being brides of Christ, or celibate.”

“So you’re saying that I should be a nun, or just never have sex?” the girl asked, disbelief coloring her voice. “Respectfully, fuck that!” There was a round of cheering, which the preacher ignored.

“God has chosen the perfect mate for you!” the preacher said, rolling up his sleeve and showing his soul mark. “In his infinite love, God has made the man or woman to complete you – he has created Adam for you, Eve – ”

“It’s not God doing it!” a student yelled back. His arms were crossed over his chest and his face was flushed. “It’s brain chemistry and biology – not God.”

“What about the homosexuals? And the bisexuals?” a girl asked. “And the asexuals? Did God make their soul mates? ‘Cause you were just saying that homosexuality was a sin.”

“Man shall not lay with man as he lay with woman.”

“Well that doesn't exactly apply because my soul mate and I are lesbians,” another girl quipped, wrapping her arm around the girl next to her who blushed.

OOO

“So what are you writing?”

Darcy looked up from her laptop and pushed her glasses further up her nose. “A paper for my philosophy class.”

“What’s the topic?” her mom asked.

“Soul mates.” Raising an eyebrow, Karen finished checking the Thanksgiving turkey and took off her oven mitts before resting her hip against the counter.

“And what’s your argument?”

“I don’t think they’re real.”

“Oh?”

“I just…” Darce shrugged. “I don’t think one person can be all things to another person.”

Smiling slightly, her mother checked the kitchen timer. “Okay, so what makes you think that?”

“There’s…so you dated before Dad, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t one of those guys make you feel something? Like you could have been happy with them even if they weren’t your soul mate?”

“Of course I did,” Karen shrugged. “But in the back of my mind, I always knew your dad was out there and that he would be the yin to my yang.” Darcy rolled her eyes even as she fought a smile.

“But why? Why would you choose to leave someone you’re happy with for the possibility of being happy with someone else?” Darcy asked. “Like, it’s expected that you drop everything and get together with the person as soon as you hear your words. But what if you’re really, really happy with someone else?”

“So you’re saying that soul mates don’t allow for free will?” Karen frowned.

“I…kind of?”

Her mother just gave her a knowing smile and shook her head, leaning over to take her daughter’s hand. “Here’s what you’re not realizing: your soul mate, they’re going to be put you before themselves. So if you’re with someone else and you’re really happy with them, then your soul mate can wait.”

“But you still have to go with them in the end,” Darce argued.

“It’s not that you have to,” her mother countered, “it’s that you’ll want to.”

OOO

Darcy looked at the email and felt her jaw drop. Her application for graduation had been declined.

Six credits.

“So you have a couple of options,” her advisor said. “It’s too late to add a course to your schedule for this semester, but you can take two science classes over the summer or can take the classes in the fall.”

“I can’t be here in the fall! I got accepted into law school!”

“Okay, so we’ll focus on the summer classes then.”

“But isn’t it harder to get financial aid during the summer?” Darcy asked.

“Unfortunately. There is another option, though. How do you feel about an internship?”

OOO

“You’re going to New Mexico?”

“Yeah. It was that or taking Chemistry and Biology together for the whole summer.”

“Good call kid.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

OOO

Chemistry and biology might have been easier than dealing with Dr. Jane Foster.

“Go to New Mexico and do some stargazing, Darcy, it’ll be fun!” she muttered while inputting data into an Excel sheet. Sighing, she straightened up and rolled her neck before grabbing her empty coffee mug and going for another round of liquid energy.

“I need you to help me load up the van as soon as you’re done with that spreadsheet,” Jane said as she waltzed past with bundle of wires in her arms.

“Yeah, yeah, almost done,” Darce nodded. She had thought that she could handle the all-nighters required when working for an astrophysicists – after all, she’d done a lot of them while studying – but this was getting ridiculous. Coffee. Coffee was a necessity. Except for the pot was empty…again. “Seriously Jane? Seriously?”

OOO

So things didn’t work out the way she though they would.

What was supposed to be an easy internship ended up being something that she’d never forget…but could never talk about.

After the robot rampage through Puerto Antiguo and Thor went back to confront his brother, Jane became even more manic about work. SHIELD swooped in with their non-disclosure forms and offered her assistance in her research, bringing in people that actually understood what the hell she was studying.

For once, Jane leaned on Darcy for more than her typing and editing skills. They sat on the rooftop and talked about Thor, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three, and how everything was different now that aliens actually existed. The fact that Jane’s soul mate was a one of those aliens, and that they’d been separated – for who knows how long – had understandably upset her.

Darcy fell asleep with her hand over her words, wondering how she would react when faced with the same situation. It wasn’t like Thor was dead, so Jane didn’t feel like she could move on, but he wasn’t there for her to be with. Darcy’s mom had said that, once you found your soul mate, you never wanted to leave their side. She had read stories about people whose soul mates had died and the emotional agony of knowing that your perfect match was gone.

So she cut her some slack, didn’t say anything when Jane yelled at her or muttered under her breath about how Darcy had done the calculations wrong. (Not everyone needed to take advanced calculus, Jane, some people were perfectly fine taking college algebra and statistics – and it was pretty damn impressive that she took the initiative to even learn some calculus.)

When the summer was over, Jane filled out the internship evaluation form and sent it off to Culver, and Darcy flew back to Virginia to graduate. She also had to tell her parents about a difficult decision she’d come to in the last few days.

Rather than packing up and moving to New York City to attend Columbia law school, Darcy packed up her small apartment and went back to New Mexico.

Taking some time off of school wasn’t a bad thing, she’d told her confused but supportive parents. She had a paid position – granted, not in a field she was interested or qualified for – but it would give her some time to think and figure out her next step.

OOO

The travel was an added benefit. SHIELD sent them to Norway to work with a high-powered telescope.

New York City was attacked, and her parents called to express their relief that she’d decided against going to Columbia.

OOO

Things with Jane got worse, but Darcy chose to stick it out. Living in a flat in London with Jane’s mom wasn’t ideal, but it gave her a chance to network with some nongovernmental organizations in the city. She spent her nights looking at internship opportunities and what it would take to get a work visa.

The stress of looking after Jane and Erik was getting to her, and adding Ian Boothby to the mix didn’t make things easier. He was able to help out with the science parts of Jane’s research but Darcy had to run interference to make sure that nothing under the NDAs came out and to keep Jane’s mother happy. Jane snapped at her more often than not and Darcy spent a lot of time walking around to calm down rather than screaming back at her boss.

Her parents suggested coming home and looking for a job in the US, but Darcy wanted to give living overseas another shot.

At least until Thor came back and the attack in Greenwich.

With the flat already crowded and Darcy was feeling particularly under appreciated, so she booked a ticket home.

OOO

Working retail wasn’t ideal. Living with her parents wasn’t ideal.

But it gave her a chance to save up some money and pay back a bit of those student loans.

At the end of February, she got an email saying she’d been accepted into George Washington University’s Political Science department, where she’d study comparative politics and international relations.

OOO

Darcy loved graduate school. Being around people who understood the importance of looking at the world and not just what it was composed of was amazing. She loved her professors and classmates, and while teaching wasn’t something she had a lot of experience with, it was something she was growing to enjoy. Even after SHIELD collapsed and nearly took out half of the nation's capital in its wake, DC was a nice place to live.

While she appreciated the letter of recommendation Jane wrote her, they didn’t really keep in touch. She knew that Jane and Thor had relocated to New York, so when she traveled up to the city for a conference, Darcy shot her a text and suggested grabbing lunch.

The highlight of that had been seeing the inside of Avengers Tower. Jane had never left the lab and Thor was off planet so Darcy had ended up walking around the city by herself and doing the tourist thing.

All in all, not a bad trip.

OOO

Her undergrad Intro to International Relations class had just let out, and she was pulling her jump drive from the computer when she heard the door open. Another class came in right after hers let out so she didn’t think anything of it.

Sliding the memory stick into her pocket, she turned her attention to the papers stacked on the front table. Darcy was straightening them out with the student spoke.

“You’re not what I expected.”

Her hands froze.

Chapter Text

Darcy only realized that she’d stopped breathing when her lungs screamed for oxygen.

Slowly, she raised her eyes to look at the man standing in front of her. “Excuse me?”

“You’re not what I expected.” James watched as she hugged the papers to her chest like a shield to protect her. Her eyes darted over him, taking in the baseball cap and sweatshirt he wore before meeting his gaze. She tilted her head to the side while narrowing her eyes.

“You’re the guy from Avengers Tower… weeks ago.” He shifted his weight (something he had to remember to do – being too still made people nervous) and jerked a nod.

“What’s the prisoner’s dilemma?”

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma?” she frowned. “It’s a game theory concept.”

“Game theory?”

“It’s…” she raised an eyebrow. “Why does it matter?” James didn’t say anything but fixed her with a blank stare. “That doesn’t intimidate me, you know. I just taught a class where half of my students looked like that.”

The corner of his mouth twitched as though he was fighting a smile. She raised an eyebrow before setting the papers back down and walking back to the lectern, pulling open a drawer and retrieving a marker. When she flipped a switch on the wall, the screen rose up into the ceiling to reveal a white board. “I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “You tell me your name and why you didn’t say anything when I saw you in the first place, and I’ll tell you what the Prisoner’s Dilemma is. Deal?”

Something flashed in his eyes as he gave her an appraising look. The silence between them stretched until she rolled her eyes. “Look, I don’t have all day. There’s another class coming in and I’ve got shit I need to do before I have class tonight. So are you going to tell me your name or not?”

He still didn’t say anything. Darcy huffed and rolled her eyes. “Dinner.”

“Dinner?” she snorted. “Your name is Dinner?”

Licking his lips, he shook his head. He’d been good at this before…a long time ago, or at least that’s what Steve had told him. “No. I want an answer and to take you for dinner. For telling you my name and…why…”

“Not doing dinner, sorry, but I just met you, so no – plus, I have class until 8:00 tonight and a shit ton of work to do. But we can grab a quick cup of coffee.”

He felt a sense of relief at her shooting down dinner. It had been Steve’s idea; he’d wanted for him to actually give the girl a chance before walking away. ‘You owe her that at least,’ he’d said. It wasn’t until she was looking at him over the rims of her glasses that he realized he’d lapsed into silence again.

“James…my name’s James.”

“Darcy Lewis,” she said before uncapping the marker and drawing a two-by-two grid. But when she raised her arm to start labeling the axis, she paused and turned to face him again, frowning this time. “James? As in…are you… Bucky Barnes?”

“James,” he said, his voice firmer. “I’m not him.”

“But you are, though, aren’t you?” she said, stepping away from the board and looking at him more closely. “I used you as a case study in one of my papers about human rights violations and international norms – ”

“I’m not him. He’s gone.”

“Okay,” Darcy said, stretching out the ‘O’. When there was a sound behind him, her eyes looked past James as he slowly turned to look over his shoulder. A boy was walking down the steps of the classroom, glancing at the two of them before settling in an empty seat halfway down. Her eyes moved to meet James’s again before she turned and started to erase her grid.

“But – ”

“I don’t need to illustrate the concept,” she said shortly. He watched as she pulled on her coat and backpack, the fabric over her breasts stretching tightly as she untucked her hair. They walked side-by-side up the steps and emerged into the hallway where he followed her. “Coffee, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” she nodded, steering him towards the door.

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma?”

There was a soft sigh, and he turned to look at her as she readjusted her glasses. “Like I said, it’s a game theory concept – one that I hate, by the way, because everyone thinks if you get that one you’re a god at game theory when you’re just scratching the surface – but anyways. Basically you have these parties who are set up to either help or hurt each other, and it all depends on if they cooperate or not.” Darcy looked over at him and saw his raised eyebrow. “You’ve seen Law and Order, right?”

“No.”

Darcy actually stopped walking and gaped up at him. “What? You don’t watch Law and Order? Everyone watches one of them! Personally, I like SVU better but I don’t fault people that like the original.”

A smirk tugged at the corner of James’s mouth. “Don’t watch much television.”

“That’s a crime,” she sighed again, waving a hand as she started to walk again. “Anyways, you can imagine a police interrogation, right?”

Vividly, he though, remembering the interrogation he’d gone through with SHIELD after turning himself in. He grunted an answer rather than saying that, though.

“Ok, so lets imagine that you and I rob a bank because I’m a poor grad student and you need new clothes.” The gentle teasing has him almost smiling again. “Because we’re terrible bank robbers, we get caught.”

“We wouldn’t,” James interrupted. “I’d make sure we didn’t.” When she smiled, he couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was. It wasn’t an overpowering, star-striking kind of beauty but the comfortable in her skin type. And the fact that she had curves for days unlike a lot of the women today was something he really appreciated.

“You’d get us out of there with your super ninja skills?”

He flexed his bionic hand, the metal hidden by a glove, and shrugged. “Something like that.”

Chuckling, she waved another hand. “For argument’s sake, they catch us and put us in separate interrogation rooms. And before we went all Bonnie and Clyde, we agreed not to sell each other out. But then this really hot detective comes in and tells me that I’ll be able to walk out of there if I pin the whole thing on you, and a hot detective tells you the same thing about pinning it on me. So those are the best personal options. And let’s say we’re both idiots and crappy co-conspirators, so we cave and both get screwed over because those damn cops tricked us and we get thrown into jail. The last option is that we both stay quiet and recognize that we’d suck in jail and probably be people’s bitches – ” another smile crossed her lips, “and because the cops have no evidence, we walk out of there to roll in the piles of our ill-begotten money.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. So…uh,” she seemed to lose her steam as she ended the lesson. “Long story short? Don’t sell me out and we’ll both walk out of the precinct very rich. Cooperation over being a tool every time.”

The conversation had kept them busy as they walked through campus to the coffee shop. He opened the door for her; a warm burst of air heavy with the scent of coffee rushing out the ruffle their hair. There was a low rumble of conversation around them, and they stood in silence while looking at the board to figure out their order, shuffling along with the queue. When the silence stretched too long, though, he saw her start to shift and fidget.

“Can I see them?”

“See what?” James asked.

“Your words.” He looked at her for a moment before pulling up the sleeve of his sweater and presenting his wrist to her. She looks shyly up at him through her eyelashes before reaching out to hold his wrist between her hands, fingers stroking the scars criss-crossing his skin and the mangled, indecipherable words. Her face was pale, her pink lips rolled together, when she looked up to meet his gaze again.

“Next!”

Darcy dropped his hand in shock before hurrying to the available barista, James drifting behind her. She quickly gave her order and shook her head when the man asked if she and James’ order was together.

OOO

It wasn’t until they’d found an empty bench some distance away from the coffee shop that they spoke again. Darcy had her legs cross under her and was cradling the paper cup of coffee somewhat reverently as she blew to cool it down, her long hair curling in her face.

“What are you studying?” James asked. Darcy looked at him before taking a tentative sip of her drink.

“I’m working on a PhD in Political Science.” James’s eyebrow twitched slightly before he took a sip of his coffee.

“Oh.”

“What?” she pushed.

“Nothing. Just…” he shrugged. “I didn’t…”

“Didn’t expect me to be smart?” Her sarcastic tone almost masked the hurt in her voice, as did the hard set of her eyebrows, but James had been trained to see past that. “Driven? Wanting to do something with my life?”

“No.” Her face flushed and he realized what he said. “No wait, that’s not what I meant. You’re…Dr. Foster…”

“Oh,” she said, nodding. “Right. You know Jane. So she probably gave you a super flattering description of me and you made the assumption that I’m an idiot because I don’t understand astrophysics and – ”

“No,” James snapped, his eyes flashing dangerously. Darcy stopped talking, edging away from him on the bench. Her eyes shot to the bag at her feet and then glanced at her wrist.

“Well, I really have to be – ”

“Wait,” he sighed, reaching out to stop her before thinking better of it. She flinched slightly as his hand rested on her wrist. He could see a flicker of confusion at the glove and how his hand felt different from flesh and bone. “I’m sorry.” She was quiet for a long moment, still looking slightly skittish. “You said you know about me…what I…what happened.”

“A bit,” she said wearily.

He gave her a humorless smile and shook back the sleeve of his hand, showing her his marked wrist again. “You’re not what I expected because of this.” Darcy shifted her coffee to one hand and hesitantly reached out to touch the scars with her warm fingers.

“What were they?”

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” He heard her soft inhalation and gave her a minute to collect herself before looking up. “It’s not you that surprised me. It’s what you said.”

“Which is why you didn’t say anything at the Tower,” Darcy said quietly. Her blue eyes slowly moved from his wrist to meet his, and he nodded. Rolling her lips together, she looked down at her coffee while her fingers absentmindedly stroked the scars.

“I’m sorry.”

Frowning, Darcy’s attention snapped back to him. “Don’t. Apparently we’re both pretty awesome at giving the other complexes.”

“Huh?”

Her hand moved to touch just under her ribs and smirked, “Having ‘you’re not what I expected’ isn’t exactly confidence inspiring when your growing up. Not that, you know,” her face flushed, “having ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’ isn’t any better. Sorry ‘bout that, by the way.” Cradling her coffee again, she leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and let her hair hang in her face.

“I probably could have picked better words,” James said, smirking slightly. “Sorry about the complex.”

“What’s a little emotional torture as a child?” she waved off his apology. Unfolding her legs, she pulled a phone from her pocket and checked the time before sighing. “Look, I need to be upfront with you – I’m not looking to jump into this,” she said, gesturing between them. “Just because we have each other’s words doesn’t mean that we’re ‘soul mates’.” He nearly smiled at her one-handed air quote. “So if that’s what you’re looking for, I think fate saddled you with the wrong girl.”

James studied her again before giving her a wry smile. “I think fate did pretty well – I’m not looking for a soul mate, now or ever.”

Her eyebrows raised but she smiled. “This arrangement? I’m good with it.”

“Yeah?” he asked, a bit surprised by the lack of a fight.

“Dude, Team Free Will here – not really much for being forced into anything.”

Chuckling, James shook his head. “Can I get that in writing? Steve’s not gonna believe me.”

“Steve? Wait, you mean Captain America?”

“Yeah. He’s been after me to come talk to you.”

“Hang on,” she said, shoving her coffee into his hand and digging through her bag for her wallet. After retrieving her coffee receipt and a pen, she quickly scribbled something and signed it with a flourish before handing it to him.

“‘I, Darcy Ann Lewis, of sound mind and free will let James Barnes off the hook for any ‘soul mate’ responsibilities. Team free will!’” he read, cocking an eyebrow. “This might do it.”

“Well, if it doesn’t, give me a call and I’ll tell him. We can Facetime if he still doesn’t believe it’s me.”

“I’d need your number to do that,” James smirked.

“Well, since you found out where I go to school, I don’t think getting my number would be that much more difficult.” With a wink, Darcy stood and swung her bag onto her shoulder before holding out a hand for her coffee. “It was nice meeting you, James Barnes.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Darcy Lewis,” he replied, handing her the coffee. With a wave, she turned and walked away.

OOO

It was nearly 11 o’clock, and Darcy was still working in her office when her text alert sounded, interrupting her music. Sighing, she rubbed her eyes and adjusted her ear buds before grabbing the phone.

You're right, it wasn’t hard getting your number.

Laughing, Darcy opened the text and typed her response.

Ok, so I won’t doubt your super ninja skills when we rob the bank.

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers wasn’t even sure if he wanted a soul mate.

Not because he didn’t want to have someone to love, but because he didn’t want someone to hurt when he died. He’d been a sickly kid, catching every cold and flu that went around the neighborhood. With his asthma and heart murmur, he knew that it was just a matter of time until he kicked the bucket.

Whatever made the words appear seemed to be holding off on deciding if he would get a soul mate. His ma told him not to worry, that they’d appear in their own time, but he could see how anxious it made her.

He saw how much she missed her soul mate, how losing him to the War had devastated her. And he didn’t want to do that to someone else.

OOO

Bucky Barnes was his best friend. He didn’t find it strange that, at fifteen, Steve’s words hadn’t showed up. He didn’t laugh when he caught Steve writing phrases on his wrist, wishing they would sink into his skin and become permanent.

“Couldn’t just leave it alone, could ya?” Bucky grunted while wiping a hand under his bloody nose.

Steve was bent in half with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath after a few gut punches. “You shoulda seen her face, Buck,” he said, reaching up to brush away the hair hanging in his eyes. “He wasn’t takin’ no for an answer and – ”

“And you wanted to be her white knight,” Bucky rolled his eyes.

“It wasn’t that! It’s just…”

“At least nothing’s broken this time. Come on,” he said, pushing off the wall and clapping a hand onto Steve’s shoulder. “We should try and clean up before the cops get here. Last thing we need is to get caught. My hand already hurts enough, and I don’t feel like getting a knuckle rappin’ from the nuns.”

“Alright,” Steve sighed, grimacing as he stood up straight. He pressed his right arm tightly around his stomach, stepping out of the Buck’s grasp.

“Steve –”

“’m fine, Buck.” When he didn’t let go, he tried to shake off his hand. “Bucky, come on!”

“Steve, look!” Bucky grabbed Steve’s left arm and held it up. There, written into his skin, was ‘Gentlemen, I am Agent Carter’.

OOO

It took a minute for Steve to realize that it had happened, but when the words seeped into his brain, he did a double take.

She was a stunner. And fearless. And smart as a whip.

Steve kept the knowledge to himself for the next day or two until he was summoned to Agent Carter’s office for an evaluation. There was never a moment to speak to her so he hadn’t had to worry about her finding out.

She was seated at her desk, her attention on the file in her hand and a pencil between her teeth when he knocked on her door and peeked his head in. Her eyes stayed on her papers as she waved him in.

“I believe you were looking for me, Ma’am?”

“Hmm?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as she finally looked at him.

“I…er…I was told to see you – to come here,” he corrected, reaching up to wipe away the hair from his face. She studied him for a moment before removing the pencil between her teeth.

“Right, have a seat,” she said, motioning to the two paper-filled chairs in front of her desk. He shifted some of the paper and sat while Agent Carter scribbled something in the file before closing it and wiped a smear of red lipstick from pencil. Her eyes flickered to him briefly before she reached for another file and opened it, settling back in her chair. “Steven Grant Rogers of Brooklyn?”

“Yes ma’am,” he nodded. “That’d be me.” Steve watched as she looked through his file, the corner of her mouth fighting a smile every once in a while. “Ma’am, I feel that I should tell you – ” he started but stopped when she raised a finger to silence him.

“You have no family listed as your next of kin.”

“No, my parents passed already. I wanted to put Bucky but – ”

“Bucky?” she asked.

“We grew up together…He’s the closest I have to family.”

“And Mr. Bucky, is he still in Brooklyn?”

“No, he’s on his way to England.”

“Ah,” she nodded. “And does he know that you’ve volunteered for this procedure?”

“No,” Steve smiled wryly. “He’d kill me if he knew.” Again, Agent Carter studied him before allowing a small smile to cross her lips.

“In situations such as this, my name would be put as your next of kin – ”

“Your name?”

“However, given the circumstances, I would prefer to keep our relationship quiet. I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am, and I don’t want to be forced to the sideline because of this new development.”

Steve felt his jaw drop a little as he realized what she was saying. “You know?”

“Private,” she sighed, standing slowly to lean across her desk. “There’s little that goes on at this instillation that I don’t know about. I’ve known about you from the moment Dr. Erskine picked you for this experiment.”

“And you didn’t say anything?”

“I could say the same to you,” Agent Carter said, nodding towards his forearm. He pulled it closer to his body, studying her with a slight smile. Catching on, she rolled her lips together in an attempt to keep from smiling but he caught the subtle lip twitch.

OOO

“That’s her?” Bucky asked as Peggy left the medical tent.

“That’s her,” Steve nodded. He smiled when Peggy pushed back the tent flap and turned to look back at them.

“She’s…Wow.”

“Yeah. But you can’t tell anyone about her and me.”

“Huh?” Buck asked.

“We’re keeping it professional. Wouldn’t want people to think…”

“Gotcha.”

OOO

The sound of heels clicking was the only warning Steve got before a hand closed around his arm. “This plan is suicidal,” Peggy hissed, glancing around the hallway before pulling them into a file room.

“It has to be done,” Steve said, squaring his jaw.

“I understand that. All I’m asking is that you give this more thought – you’re a strategist! There has to be a better way of getting Schmidt.”

“There’s not.” Peggy sighed and reached up to cup his face but hesitated, letting her hand fall back to her side.

“I know you’re upset about Barnes –”

“Bucky is – was,” he nearly choked on the word, “my best friend.”

“I know,” she said, taking his clenched fist and uncurling his fingers. She threaded her fingers through his, squeezing softly. “And I also know he wouldn’t want you to throw your life away to avenge his death. All I’m asking is for you to take some time, to think this mission over before you leave.”

A sad smile tugged on the corner of Steve’s mouth as he pulled her closer, gently shaking off her hand and wrapping his arms around her waist. Peggy made a soft noise of protest before allowing herself to mold against him. He tasted the wax of her lipstick when he pressed his lips to hers; he could feel the tension in drain out of her body as her hands skated up his chest to grip the lapels of his jacket. They were always so careful about these stolen moments, both aware of what being caught could do to Peggy’s career, but they’d managed a handful of rendezvous every time he was on base.

“I’ll be careful,” he promised, resting his forehead against hers as they broke apart to breathe.

“You’d better,” she warned, fingers stroking her words on his arm.

OOO

“She should be back in a minute,” the nurse said, gesturing for him to enter the room. Steve nodded his thanks to the woman before stepping inside, shifting the bouquet of flowers from one hand to the other.

He crossed the room to look out the window, admiring the view her room gave her. Steve smiled at how much natural light there was, remembering how much she had hated underground War Room in London.

“-niece said that she’d be coming by soon,” a woman’s voice said.

“Soon is a relative term when it comes to my family.” Steve turned away from the window and swallowed hard; he’d recognize that voice anywhere.

“Stop,” the first voice chuckled. “You know they’d be here more often if they could.”

“Professional hazard,” Peggy said as she was wheeled into her room. She gave a soft gasp at seeing him there.

“Sir? Are you supposed to be in here?” Steve opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t force the words out around the lump in his throat. His eyes darted across her face, recognizing the woman he’d dreamed about spending the rest of his life with. Time hadn’t dulled her beauty or her sharp eyes. They stared at one another for a long moment before the nurse spoke again. “Mrs. Falsworth, do you know this man?”

Startled from her reverie, Peggy nodded. “Yes…Yes, he’s just surprised me with how late he is.”

“S-sorry,” Steve said after clearing his throat. “The flight was hell.”

OOO

There was some consolation in knowing that Peggy’d had a good life. After his plane had gone down, she’d worked with Howard Stark and Dum Dum Dugan to build up SHIELD. She’d told him about those early days as they’d sat in the conservatory, enjoying the warmth and smell of damp earth. Steve had held her hand the entire time, running his thumb over the thin, soft skin of her hands. With her silver hair floating on her shoulders, it was easy to imagine that this is what they had been headed for, what they could have looked forward to during their twilight years if fate hadn’t intervened.

But there had been a moment’s hesitation as she looked at him again, the smile fading from her lips after he’d gone to retrieve the blanket she’d asked for. “Steve?” she said.

“Hmm?” he asked while draping the blanket across her lap. Her hand closed around his wrist, making him meet her gaze. “What is it, Peggy?”

“You’re…you’re alive?” she asked, a hint of a sob coloring her voice. Steve frowned, crouching in front of her wheelchair.

“Yeah,” he nodded, taking both of her hands in his. “I made it.”

“H-how?” Peggy chocked out, shaking off his hold to reach up and cup his cheek.

“I don’t know. SHIELD found me…remember? We talked about this earlier.”

“We looked for you, all of us. We – ”

“Peggy, I know,” Steve said as she weakly clutched at his jacket. “I know you did everything you could.”

“It’s been so long,” she said. “You haven’t changed at all. You’re still my handsome Captain.”

“Sir?” one of the nurses said, looking over Peggy’s shoulder. “I think Mrs. Falsworth should rest now.”

Peggy pulled her hands away from him quickly and sat back in her chair. “I’ll expect that report from you first thing in the morning, Captain,” she said.

“Report?” he asked, confused at the turn of conversation.

“Yes…Colonel Phillips is very adamant about having your debriefing.”

“Phillips?”

“Ms. Carter?” the nurse said, drawing Peggy’s attention. “Dinner is waiting for you in your room. Your friend’s stayed long past visiting hours.”

“The report, Captain?” Peggy asked, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“I’ll…I’ll have it for you first thing.”

It was called sun downing, the nurse explained after Peggy had been settled back into her room. She’d be lucid one moment and then a switch would flip, and she’d be back in the 40s, striding the halls of the SSR base and helping to organize troop movements, or wondering where her husband and children had gotten to.

There was nothing they could do to help his girl…nothing but be there for her and make sure she was comfortable.

OOO

Steve was tracking Bucky through Russia. He was staying in a dingy hotel, trying to wash off the sweat, dust, and disgust of seeing one of HYDRA’s recalibration rooms when he noticed it.

The words on his arm, once boldly black, had faded to a lighter grey.

He felt numb as he scrubbed, confident that it was just dirt that was obscuring them – some soap would bring them back to their vibrant black. When it didn’t, he doubled over, water pounding his back and dripping down his face as he heaved, spitting bile into the bottom of the tub.

It wasn’t happening.

Four hours later, there was a knock on his hotel door. He didn’t move from his spot on the bed, didn’t stop rubbing the reddened skin on his arm. When the door swung open, he didn’t budge.

Natasha sat beside him. “Sharon called. She went peacefully.”

That night he did his damnedest to get drunk. Natasha had enough sense to leave him to his grief.

OOO

Things got a bit better when Bucky came in. Having his best friend back after everything they’d been through had been more than Steve could have hoped for.

It wasn’t easy, by any means. There were nights when they woke one another up screaming, where they had to physically restrain one another. Steve’s new team cast worried looks at the healing bruises they both sported in the mornings. He and Buck spent weekends patching up drywall after Tony made a loud comment about the holes when he dropped in to discuss their latest mission.

But it was worth it. And nothing could convince Steve differently.

OOO

He was pacing their living room when Steve stepped out his room, rubbing a towel through his hair. His mechanical arm whirled as he clenched his fist, eyes fixed on the ground.

“You okay, Buck?” His eyes darted up to meet his before flickering away. “What happened?”

Buck opened his mouth slightly before clenching his jaw. There were times when he still had issues with talking – knowing that he had the freedom to speak without needing permission – but usually only when he felt anxiety. Steve watched as he clutched his wrist, the metal fingers stroking the scarred flesh there. They stood in silence for a long moment before Steve raised his eyebrows, trying to goad Buck into speaking.

“I…she…”

“She?” Steve asked. Buck swiped a hand down his face, his frustration at his lack of words evident in his expression as he clutched his wrist again.

And then it dawned on him.

Steve grinned, “She’s here? Your soul mate?” What little color was left in Bucky’s face drained as he nodded. “That’s great! Where is she? Who is she? What’s her name?”

Again, Buck opened his mouth to push out words that wouldn’t come.

“Is she here?” he asked. Bucky’s face flushed as he ducked his head, shaking it slightly. “Bucky,” Steve sighed, exasperation seeping into his voice. “You just left her?”

They stared at each other again before Buck grit his teeth and forced the words out. “I told you,” he growled, “I don’t want her.”

“That’s not…that doesn’t…she deserves to know,” he shot back. “It’s her life too.”

“She’s better off without me. She’s a civilian, Steve.”

“It doesn’t matter. She’s been waiting for you and you just left her – what were you thinking? She knows it’s you!”

“No she doesn’t,” Buck said quietly. “I didn’t say anything to her.”

“You…” he breathed. “Buck…”

“I don’t want her words! She deserves better than me!” he screamed; Steve felt himself getting angry.

“It’s not your choice now, Buck. She should get a say.”

“You don’t get it!” he screamed, his fists balling and something dangerous flashing in his eyes. Steve forced himself not to shift into a defensive stance. Through grit teeth, Buck forced out, “I’m…not…good.”

The anger slipped away as Steve felt himself sag; they’d had this argument so many times already. No matter how many times he tried to tell him that he wasn’t responsible for what HYDRA made him do – he was a victim as much as anybody – Bucky wouldn’t believe him. He had to fight the urge to walk over and hug him, knowing that touching at this point might end up in broken bones, but it was a near loss.

“You’re the best man I know, Buck,” he said quietly. “And she’d be lucky to have ya.”

OOO

With some help from JARVIS, Steve was able to figure out exactly who Bucky’s soul mate was. The AI ran a search for any information on her, and Steve was surprised to hear that she’d been included in the SHIELD database that had been released onto the Internet.

He was perusing her file when he came across an interesting name that pulled him out of the apartment and into the labs, which he rarely visited.

“Dr. Foster?” The woman didn’t turn from her white board but hummed her acknowledgement of him. “I was wondering if you could tell me about Darcy Lewis.”

“Huh?” she asked, standing on her toes to correct a math equation.

“Darcy Lewis. She was your intern in New Mexico?”

“Darcy?” Dr. Foster said, turning around to face him. A smudge of dry-erase dust was across the bridge of her nose, adding to her general air of unkemptness. “What about her?”

OOO

Bucky was hunched over his bowl of cereal at the kitchen island when Steve walked out of his bedroom, file in hand. They didn’t say anything as he got a glass of water and leaned against the counter. It had been a rough night, with Steve shouting himself awake just in time to see Bucky throw open his door to check on him.

“Morning,” Steve finally said, which got a grunt out of Buck. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

That earned him another grunt.

Sighing, Steve reached across the island to drop the file next to Bucky’s arm. He glanced at it before his eyes shot up to meet Steve’s. “That’s her. That’s Darcy Lewis.”

“Darcy?” Bucky asked.

“Your…your soul mate.” Something hardened in Buck’s expression as he used his pinky to push the file further away from him. “Buck,” Steve pleaded. “Just look at it, would ya? She’s a great girl.”

“No.” Frustrated, Steve walked around to stand beside him, snatching up the file and opening it. He pulled out a picture and put it within Bucky’s eye line.

“Darcy Ann Lewis, born and raised in Virginia. Got a degree in Political Science with a minor in History from Culver University, and now she’s studying at George Washington University. She’s smart, Bucky, real smart. And funny, and caring, and – ”

“A civilian.”

Steve was quiet for a moment. “You know who told me how caring she was? Thor.” Bucky turned to face him. “He knows her because she worked for his girl in New Mexico. And she was there when this happened.” He laid a picture of Puerto Antiguo after the Destroyer. “And you know what she did? She helped to evacuate the town. When Dr. Foster when to London, she went with her and was there when the world nearly fell apart again. So she’s not a civilian, Buck.”

Bucky was quiet for a moment before reaching out to shift the picture of Puerto Antiguo back towards Steve. “I’m not adding more shit to her life.” With his piece said, he grabbed his bowl of cereal and retreated to his room.

OOO

“She’s an only child, you know.”

“Dr. Foster said she spent a lot of time at the British Museum when they were there.”

“Apparently she speaks some Farsi. That’s pretty impressive.”

“Her students seem to like her. Look, someone gave her a chili pepper on Rate My Professor.”

Steve took to dropping little tidbits about Darcy throughout the next few weeks. Bucky would usually ignore him, the slight tick in his jaw the only indication that he’d heard him. It wasn’t the best plan, but it was all Steve could come up with.

He was sitting on the floor of the living room with his back against the couch, trying to sketch the New York City skyline when he felt Bucky standing over him. Steve didn’t say anything, just kept on drawing, until he spoke.

“I’m going out tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll be back late.”

“Okay.” When he didn’t leave, Steve looked up at him. There were dark circles under his eyes and his hair was sticking up as though he’d been running a hand through it over an over again. “Everything okay, Jerk?”

After a moment’s hesitation he said, “I’m…I’m going to DC.”

A slow grin spread across Steve’s lips. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” When he turned to leave, Steve reached out to catch his ankle. He looked at Steve’s hand before meeting his gaze.

“I’m happy for you, Bucky. I really am.”

Chapter Text

“Darce,” Ray said after tugging on the wire of her ear bud.

“That was not fifteen minutes.”

“Sorry to interrupt your power nap, but there’s someone at your door.”

“Huh?”

Ray pushed up onto his knees and leaned over her on the couch. “How about you get the door and I brew another pot of coffee.”

“Smartest thing you’ve said all night,” she smirked as he stood and offered her a hand up. Darcy snagged her glasses off of the coffee table, and wound her way around the open textbooks and piles of paper that littered her living room floor.

“How old is this Chinese?” Ray asked as he poked around in the fridge to grab the creamer.

“Probably too old. If you want something to eat, we should order in,” she replied while standing on her toes to look through the peephole. “What the hell?”

“Everything okay?”

“I hope so,” she said while tugging open the door. James’ eyes snapped up from the floor to meet hers, a somewhat frantic look in his eyes. “James?”

“I didn’t know where else to – ”

“Darce?” In front of her, James tensed and he looked over her shoulder to peer at Ray. He was standing behind her, arms crossed over his chest and eyeing James’ long hair covered with a baseball cap and baggy sweatshirt.

“It’s okay,” Darcy said, “James, what’s wrong?” He looked at Ray again, eyes narrowed slightly before shaking his head.

“I shouldn’t ‘a come here. Sorry.”

“Hey!” she reached out to catch his arm when he turned away; he tensed again, as though trying to keep himself from jerking away from her touch. “What happened? Why aren’t you in New York?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Darcy,” he said softly.

“James, stop. Please?” she said, darting around him and pressing a hand to his chest to stop him. He looked down at her hand before meeting her eyes. “What happened?”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment before shaking his head. “I did something stupid.”

“What?”

“Don’t wanna talk about it.”

“You sure?” she asked, looking at him over the rims of her glasses. When his expression didn’t change, Darcy sighed. “Okay. Are you going back home tonight or do you need someplace to crash?”

“I’ll find someplace,” he shrugged. “It was stupid to come.”

“Hey, no,” she said, stepping closer. “You can stay with me. The couch is more comfortable than it looks.”

“I don’t want to – ”

“And here we go.” Darcy grabbed his hand and pulled him around to face her door. James allowed her to pull him into the apartment, and stayed a step behind her as she cleared her throat. The guy in her kitchen tried and failed to look as though he’d been engrossed in the pile of take out flyers spread across the counter. “We’re adding one more to the order,” she announced, drawing his attention. “James, meet Ray. Ray, this is James. He’s gonna be crashing here tonight.”

“Oh, cool,” Ray shrugged, pushing off of the corner and reaching out to shake his hand. James saw his eyes dart to his hair and baseball cap, and he was thankful he’d grabbed a pair of gloves before running out of the apartment. “Nice to meet you, man.”

“Same,” he grunted. Darcy looked between them before rolling her eyes.

“Did you decide on what we’re ordering? Because I’m not feeling pizza again, unless it’s from that really good place that does specialty pizza.”

“I was thinking Indian.”

“Indian sounds good. James?”

“Sure.”

OOO

Darcy wasn’t exactly sure what had woken her up as she untangled herself from the ear bud wires. For a split second she thought it was some drunken guy on the street until she realized the muffled arguing was coming from her living room.

She jumped out of bed, worried that Ray had come back to say something after they’d had a hurried fight in the hallway. He’d wanted to stay the night – “Please, Darce, the guy looks like a serial killer” – but she’d kicked him out with an agreement to call him first thing in the morning. Quickly, she threw on a sweatshirt over her thin t-shirt and crammed her glasses on her nose before throwing the bedroom door open.

The fighting stopped the moment she stepped into the living room. James was standing near the window, while an irate looking Captain America leaned against her kitchen bar. Both men turned to look at her.

“Oh, uh…sorry to interrupt,” she said, dragging a hand through her messy hair.

“Didn’t mean to wake you up,” James grunted.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” the Captain said.

“No! Don’t worry about that. I was listening to some music anyways,” she lied. There was an awkward silence until the Captain glanced at James before taking a step towards her. “You must be Darcy. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Yeah, that’s me. And thanks, Cap.” He winced slightly but tried to cover it up.

“Please, call me Steve.”

“Ok, Steve,” she smiled shyly before crossing her arms under her chest. “So, uh, are you going to be staying the night?”

“No,” Steve said quickly. “I don’t want to put you out. I’m just here to get Bucky and head back home.”

“I’m not heading back with you,” James said.

“Buck,” Steve sighed, eyes darting over to Darcy.

“Well hey, look, you’re more than welcome to stay here tonight,” Darcy said, rocking up onto her toes. “I told James that the couch folds out. All we’d have to do is move the coffee table.”

“Really, it’s not – ”

“I’ll get you some towels,” she smiled, turning on her heel and walking back to her bedroom. After snagging a hair tie from her bedside table and pulling her locks into a messy bun, Darce grabbed two towels and washcloths from her closet before grabbing one of the decorative pillows from the floor.

Standing in the doorway, she took a deep breath and made her way back to the living room, where Steve and James had moved the coffee table against the wall and pulled out the fold out bed. They were in the process of putting the sheets she’d given James earlier on the bed, but looked up when she cleared her throat. “I’ve got another blanket if you guys need it.”

“No, this is good,” Steve said. Darcy looked at James, who gave her a ghost of a smile before shaking his head.

“We’re good, Darce.”

“Sorry the bed’s not bigger.”

“We’ve slept rougher. This place is bigger than our apartment in ’42,” Steve grinned.

“Right,” she nodded, holding up her armload of linens. Darce raised her eyebrows in James’ direction, as if asking if he were okay with everything. He shook his head subtly and gave her a tight smile. Steve acted as though he hadn’t seen the exchange. After a moment, she cleared her throat, “Okay, well here’s some towels for the morning, and feel free to help yourself to anything in the kitchen. I’m gonna crash – I’ve gotta head into the office early.”

“Night. And thanks again.” She nodded and gave a short wave before turning back into her room.

“Hey,” James called, just as she was about to shut the door.

“What’s up?”

He glanced back towards the living room before shaking his head. “Sorry ‘bout dragging you into this.”

“No worries,” she smiled. “What are friends for? Although a little bit of forewarning would have been nice – I could have had bras hanging up all over the place.”

“I’m sorry I missed the sight this time,” he smirked. Darcy rolled her eyes.

“I knew you were a perve, Barnes. Just remember, I know exactly how many bras I have so if one goes missing I’ll know it.”

“Damn. But Darce,” he said, his gloved mechanical hand reaching out to brush her knuckles. “Thanks for letting us stay here.”

“It’s no problem. Gotta keep my bank robbing partner happy,” she grinned. James chuckled and looked at the ground, his hair covering his eyes.

“I…Night.”

“Night,” she nodded before turning and walking into her room. He was still looking at her as she closed the door, and Darcy thought she heard him sigh before turning away.

Her hand hovered over the lock, debating whether or not to turn it. There were two relative strangers sleeping in her living room, after all. Granted, she’d texted to James at least once a week over the last few months, so she kind of knew him. But Steve? Nada. Every once in a while, there’d be an added ‘Steve says hi’ in the text but that was the extent of their acquaintance-ship.

Darcy let her hand drop, the door still unlocked. After all, if you couldn’t trust your soul mate and Captain America, who could you trust?

OOO

“You wanna talk about it?” Steve asked in a hushed voice as he tossed the worn quilt over the thin mattress.

“No.”

“Buck…”

“No.”

“You can’t just kiss a guy and run out.”

Unwilling to meet his gaze, Bucky sat on the opposite side of the bed and looked at the thin curtains that barely kept the street lights out. “Forget it happened,” he said quietly.

“Buck…”

“It was stupid. I just…I got a little confused and…sometimes it’s hard to remember what was real and what wasn’t.” There was silence for a heartbeat.

“Oh,” Steve breathed before asking, “Did you…was that…something that felt real to you?”

“Forget it, Steve,” Bucky said, turning to look over his shoulder at him. He forced a grin before shaking his head. “Just add it to the list of fucked up things HYDRA did to me.”

“Right,” he nodded slowly.

“Night, Steve.”

“Night.” He watched as Bucky lay down and turned to look out the window again before turning off the living room light. The bed squeaked slightly as he got in, adjusting the quilt so it lay flat over his stomach and clasping his hands behind his head. “Hey Buck?”

“Hmm?”

“I thought all that practice kissing you had when we were younger would have made you better at it.”

There was silence for a long moment before he heard, “Never had a complaint before.”

“Not a complaint,” he corrected, “just an observation.”

When Buck called him a jerk, Steve couldn’t help but smile.

OOO

Steve woke up to the soft creak of the floorboards and a shuffling walk. Without turning over, he knew Darcy was trying to sneak through her living room. There was a ‘click’ of the lock before she opened the front door.

“Morning,” a male voice said. “Coffee?”

“Shh!” Darcy hushed, “they’re still sleeping.”

“They’re?” he said again before being shushed again.

“Come on, let’s go to my room so I can finish getting ready.”

“Whose that guy?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute, now shut up.” Darcy pulled him through the living room, and he was obviously lingering, trying to see who was sleeping on the bed.

As soon as the door closed, Buck said quietly, “Her boyfriend.”

“Oh,” Steve said, opening his eyes. “Does he know?”

“About me?” Buck asked, rolling onto his back and scratching at his chest.

“About you and Darcy,” he clarified. Bucky’s eyes slit open before he grunted.

“Dunno.”

Steve knew that he and Darcy had some kind of arrangement but he didn’t quite understand it. He only wanted the best for Buck, and by extension Darcy, and that meant them being together. But for some reason, whatever made the marks appear had seen it fit to make two of the must stubborn people soulmates, and now she was dating someone and Buck…Steve wasn’t quite sure what was going on with Buck. He licked his lips, remember the dry brush of Bucky’s lips on his the afternoon before.

He was pulled from his musings by the sound of Darcy’s bedroom door opening again. Bucky closed his eyes, feigning sleep, but Steve sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, making sure that the quilt covered his boxer shorts. They were trying to be quiet again, but he cleared his throat to alert them to him being awake. “Morning.”

“Oh, hey,” she said before lowering her voice to just above a whisper when she saw Bucky still asleep. “I hope we didn’t wake you.”

“No,” he assured her. “I’m an early riser.”

“Ah. Well, we’re going to head to campus,” Darcy smiled while tugging a jacket over her emerald button up. She pulled a key out of pocket and set it on the cluttered kitchen bar. “So here’s a house key in case you guys decide to head out today. Are you…are you guys planning on hanging out or heading back to New York today?”

“Um,” Steve said, glancing over his shoulder at Buck. “I’m not sure. He’s…”

“You guys are welcome to stay here as long as you need,” she said quickly, ignoring the look the guy standing next to her gave her. “My last class ends at 4:00 so I should be home around 5:00 at the latest. I haven’t really had a chance to go shopping, but help yourself to anything you’d like. We can go out and grab dinner or something tonight.”

“Sounds good. I’ll let Buck know when he wakes up.”

“Okay. Well,” Darcy said, shifting slightly. “I, uh, guess we’re gonna head out.”

“I’m Ray, by the way,” the guy interjected.

“Oh! Right, Ray – Steve, Steve – Ray. Introductions done, and we have to go or we’ll be late. Have a good day!” After grabbing her backpack from the floor, Darcy took hold of Ray’s arm and pulled him towards the door.

“See you later,” Steve called as they stepped out into the hallway.

“Later!” she chirped, tossing him a smile. Steve waited until he heard the door lock again before getting out of bed and walking to the kitchen. It took a few tries to find the right cabinet with glasses, but he eventually located it and got a glass of water. But the short search had shown just how little food the woman had on hand.

“So we’ve got cereal or pop tarts,” he reported. There was a squeak of springs as Bucky sat up and ran a hand through his hair.

“Any eggs?” Buck asked. Steve smirked at him before turning to open the fridge and saw it nearly bare as well. A quick index showed coffee creamer, a couple beers, some diet soda, a few condiments, and take out containers.

“Nope. And no milk either, so it’s dry cereal or pop tarts.”

“Pop tarts it is.”

Chapter Text

“I just wish I knew why they looked so familiar,” Ray groaned as they walked into his apartment. Darcy tried not to wrinkle her nose at the pile of dirty dishes on the sink and bong on the kitchen counter. Sure, she’d indulged a bit in undergrad but being around pot now just made her uncomfortable.

“Ray, please drop it,” she sighed, lowering her backpack to the floor.

“It’s kind of hard to when my girlfriend’s got two jacked guys in her apartment. How would you feel if you came here and found Giselle and Miranda sitting in my living room.”

“Well, I’d wonder how two Victoria’s Secret Angels got simultaneous concussions,” she teased, turning to face him. Upon seeing his slightly annoyed expression, Darce stood on her toes and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing a kiss to his lips. “Babe, they’re just friends I met through my internship in New Mexico.”

“Right, cause those guys are definitely scientists,” he sulked.

“Hey, I wasn’t a science major and worked with Jane.” Ray huffed as his hands roamed down to the swell of her ass and tucked his face into the crook of her neck.

“You swear nothing happened between you and those guys?” Darcy bit her lip before shaking her head. “Darce?”

“Are you roommates home?”

“Shouldn’t be – they’ve got work.” She glanced around to see if one of the guys was still there – there had been quite a few times one of the roommates was supposed to be at work and then they’d wander into the living room and interrupt a conversation. Apparently sensing her hesitancy, Ray grabbed her hand and pulled her back go his room.

After tossing a pile of clothes onto an open chair, Darcy perched on the corner of his bed and motioned for him to join her. He leaned against his dresser instead. “So...James.”

“The dark haired one who showed up last night?”

“Yeah. He’s, uh… Okay, please don’t flip about this because it doesn’t really mean anything.”

“What doesn’t mean anything?”

“He’skindofmysoulmate.”

“Come again?” Ray frowned.

Darcy groaned and buried her head in her hands, her hair swinging forward to cover her face. “James is kind of my soul mate.”

Ray went slack jawed and stared at her for a long moment before rubbing a hand down his face. “So…so this is it then.”

“What d’ya mean?” she asked, frowning as he began to pace.

“I mean, you know it’s coming when you’re dating someone who doesn’t have your words but Jesus, Darce! You could have told me before he got here!” Ray said, spinning to face her.

“Whoa, hang on a second!” she said, jumping to her feet. “You don’t think…I’m not breaking up with you just because he’s here.”

“Right,” he scoffed. “Because you’re gonna stay with me over your soulmate.”

“You’re damn right I’m going to!”

“You’re going to stay with me instead of the guy who is perfect for you? You’re crazy, Darce.”

“Ok, keep talking like that and I’m not going to be staying with you for much longer,” she snapped. “Ray…Hey! Look at me!” Darcy grabbed his elbow and pulled him to a stop. “I know I should have told you about James before but it’s not like that between us – we decided that we’re not…we’re just going to be friends. That’s all.”

“But why?” Ray asked. “Darcy, he’s the guy for you. What’m I next to that?”

“Do I really need to answer that, Mr. Raymond Joseph Carleton soon-to-be Esquire?” she smirked, standing on her toes to kiss him.

“Yeah, kind of,” he shrugged, hands closing on her hips. She turned them so his back was to the bed before gently pushing him. Ray bounced on the mattress and smirked as Darcy grabbed the bottom of her shirt and pulled it over her head, tossing it aside and crawling up to straddle his hips.

Her hair dangled around them as she leaned over him to kiss the tip of his nose, “You’re the guy I’m choosing to be with, not the guy that’s forced on me.”

OOO

When they heard her on the stairwell, Steve turned off the television.

“I was watching that,” Bucky grunted.

“We’ve seen that movie a million times.” He grunted again and sat up to retrieve his glove from the coffee table just as the key slide into the lock. By the time the door swung open, the glove was in place and he was lounging on the couch again.

“Hey,” Darcy said, smiling at her two guests. Ray closed the door behind them and eyed James appraisingly. Catching it, James raised an eyebrow and glanced at Darcy, who rolled her eyes. “So Ray knows about the whole...” she waved her hand between them.

“Okay,” James said evenly.

“Yeah…” Ray drawled.

An awkward silence fell over the group before Darcy shook her head and walked back towards her bedroom, leaving the three men to look after her. When she reemerged, her backpack no longer hung from her shoulders and she was pulling up her hair into a messy bun. “So,” she said, settling on the floor beside the coffee table; Ray kept leaning against the wall. Steve and James jumped to their feet to offer their spots on the couch but she waved away their gesture and leaned back on her elbows.

“How was your day?” Steve asked, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

“Eh,” she shrugged before glancing back at Ray and patting the ground beside her. He pushed off the wall and joined her, placing a hand on her thigh. “Class and teaching. What’d you guys do? Take in any of the sights?”

Steve looked at James, as though prompting him to speak. “Not really welcomed in this city,” he finally grunted.

“Ah, right. The whole…yeah,” Darcy nodded, glancing between the two before looking at Ray. “Anyways, what were you guys thinking about for dinner?”

“Well, we were thinking about maybe making it here instead of going out,” Steve said. “I ran out earlier and got some things – I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s fine,” Darcy smirked. “I have some cash so I can throw in some money for the groc – ”

“No! Please, you let us stay here,” he grinned. “It’s the least Buck and I could do.”

“If you’re sure…I really don’t mind,” she said.

“We can pay our half,” Ray chimed in.

“It’s fine,” James said.

They chatted awkwardly for another few minutes before moving to the kitchen, where Steve refused to let Darcy or Ray help as he made dinner. While he cooked the chicken, James was set to the task of throwing together a salad. Darcy got out her emergency bottle of cheap red wine and poured everyone a glass.

Things relaxed for a while with Steve asked Ray about himself. Though it wasn’t meant to be an interrogation, she couldn’t help but feel like it was a “meet the parents” moment where both James and Steve were trying to gauge whether or not he was a good enough guy.

Which was crazy, because she’d never met Steve before and she and James had agreed to be nothing more than friends.

“What about you? What do you do?” Ray asked.

“Oh, uh,” Steve said, glancing at Darcy and raising an eyebrow. She shrugged and took a sip of her wine. “Security, mostly. Tracking down Hydra.”

“Bastards,” James muttered under his breath.

“Shit,” Ray smirked, a bit of awe sneaking into his voice. “That’s gotta be pretty cool. So what branch do you work for?”

“Branch?”

“Homeland Security?” Ray asked, “CIA? FBI?”

“Babe,” Darcy said, putting a hand on his arm. “They’re not…Steve and James don’t work for the government.”

“But he just said they’re…” He started before understanding dawned on him. Slowly, Ray turned back to face Steve. “You’re Captain fucking America, aren’t you?”

“I prefer Steve,” he shrugged.

“But that would make you,” Ray continued, turning to face James who looked as though he were daring him to say it. “Darce, can we talk for a minute?”

“Come on,” she said, pulling him into her bedroom.

James heard the door click shut which was quickly followed by, “You’re soulmate is a fucking Hydra assassin?!”

Chapter Text

The next two years passed faster than Darcy would have thought they could. She studied and taught her classes, figured out what she wanted to write her dissertation on (international human rights law compliance), picked up and dropped a few hobbies, did some traveling for school and pleasure, and found a solid group of friends in her department. She made a few trips up to NYC to do the touristy thing, often reluctantly accompanied by James who mumbled under his breath about the tourist traps while Steve (when he was around) talked about the New York they’d grown up in.

Things with Ray were still going strong though it had been a bit tense after his internship with the State Department’s US Mission to The Hague the previous summer. He’d originally applied for the summer internship to build his resume and do some travelling with the added benefit of building some in roads for Darcy when it came to doing fieldwork for her dissertation. What he hadn’t planned on was finding something he was passionate about. Though the actual internship with the Mission wasn’t the most riveting, he’d been able to attend hearings at the International Criminal Court and tour the Peace Palace and The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

While still in The Netherlands, he started to research Masters of Law (LLM) programs that focused on human rights and international law. When Ray got back to the States, he told Darcy about his plan to apply to NYU’s LLM program. It was only an additional year of school and would put him in a better position to get a job in the international legal field afterwards, he explained. And there was the added benefit of them both being interested in doing the same thing so he could help with her dissertation research.

It was hard to argue and be upset about him taking an extra year to study, Darcy reasoned, when she still had at least 2 years left in her doctorate program. But it threw a wrench in their plans – he was supposed to stay in DC and take a job at some politician’s office while she finished up school, and then they’d move to wherever she could find a job. They were good plans that she liked. But now he was talking about moving to another state for a year.

“It’s only two semesters,” he’d assured her as they curled up in bed together, pressing a kiss to the back of her shoulder. “It’s only a train ride or a short flight away.”

He’d sent off his application as she drilled down to study for her comprehensive exams, the make or break test to see if she could continue in her program. She took the test over two days during Spring Break, covering the major International Relations theories and her two subfields of International Laws, Norms, and Institutions and International Security. She wrote nearly 50 pages of text and prayed that it was enough.

Darcy got her results back in April.

She printed out a copy of the email her advisor had sent to her and took a picture with it, texting it to her parents and James with the message “I’m ABD bitches!” before changing her Facebook profile picture to the same image. As likes and comments rolled in, James texted her back – ‘Congrats! What’s ABD?’ After typing in a quick explanation (‘All but dissertation – halfway to freedom!’), Darcy switched her skirt for a pair of jeans and got ready to a group of classmates at a dive bar to celebrate.

The next day, when she came back from the office, she found a bouquet of flowers sitting by her front door. “Congratulations, soon-to-be Dr. Lewis!” the card read, signed by James and Steve.

Ray graduated from law school that May, and his parents took them out for a fancy dinner. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he found out that he was going to attend NYU. When he’d gotten the letter, he took her out for a fancy dinner that they really couldn’t afford before meeting his friends in Adams Morgan. They’d stumbled back to their apartment into in the early morning hours, laughing as they fumbled with buttons, clasps, and zippers. It wasn’t until she woke up with smeared eyeliner and the beginnings of a hang over that it sunk in that her boyfriend was moving.

The next few months were difficult. Darce hadn’t gotten a summer teaching assignment and had struggled to find a job to pay the bills during her few off months. She cobbled together enough money each month through a variety of revenue streams: teaching English as a Second Language about fifteen hours a week, the odd babysitting job, being the on-call bartender for a nightclub downtown that made decent tips, and working as a copy editor for an online company that catered towards academics. Ray continued to work for legal aid and got a job as a cashier at the pharmacy down the street, squirreling away as much money into a savings account as he could.

As much as she loved Ray and was excited for his opportunity, Darcy wanted to scream at him. He was walking around on a high, thrilled to be moving onto the next stage in his career. Over the summer he devoured her growing library on international law and human rights, pestering her to go to the university library for him to get more books after his privileges were revoked. They also faced the difficulty of the apartment getting smaller and smaller as the number of packed boxes increased. There had been a few tense discussions over who owned what in their joint living space, but eventually things worked out.

Darce put on a good face and played the excited girlfriend when they spent the weekend in New York apartment hunting for him. James and Steve insisted that they stay with them in Avengers Tower, which she could have kissed them for because the thought of staying at a hotel or an Air B&B had made her bank account shake with dread.

They trekked through Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens looking at apartments and rooms for rent. Ray chatted with the agents and leaseholders while Darcy took detailed notes outlining the pros and cons of the apartments, shoving applications into her ever-bulging purse as they left the properties.

Steve asked polite questions about their hunt over dinner on Saturday night as he grilled up some steaks in the amazing kitchen on their floor. That was the opening that Ray needed to launch into his detailed review of the day. Darcy, tired and just wanting to crawl into bed, suppressed a sigh and took a long drag of the craft beer that had been pressed into her hand. 

When James caught her eye, he subtly motioned to the balcony. “I’m gonna…” she said, vaguely motioning towards the bank of windows.

“Me too,” James added.

“Don’t be too long,” Steve said. “The steaks are almost done.”

The two assured him that they would be back soon before making their way outside. As he shut the door behind them, Darcy moved towards the banister, folded her arms, and rested her chin on them.

“Tired?” James asked, coming up to stand beside her, his beer dangling from his fingers.

“You could say that,” she shrugged, rolling her head to look up at him. He raised an eyebrow and turned to rest his back against the banister before nodding towards the apartment.

“He’s sure excited about coming up here.”

“Yup.”

“It sucks, huh?”

Giving him a wry smile, she turned her attention back to the amazing view of New York City. “Is it bad if I say yes?”

“Nope.” He took another sip of his beer and shrugged. “My shrink would say that it’s normal…if I went to a shrink.”

“I thought you were going to go,” Darcy said, standing and snagging his beer to down the last swallow.

“Was. Did. Hated it. But we’re not talkin’ ‘bout my problems now, Doll.”

“I’d rather talk about yours than mine,” she sighed.

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to talk about my fucked up problems,” he smirked and then chuckled when Darcy bumped her hip against his. “‘S the truth.” They were quiet for a long time before she spoke up.

“Does it make me a bad girlfriend that I don’t want him to go?”

“Nope.”

“Like, we have this life and it’s good, and yeah money’s tight but we figure it out which is the whole thing about growing up, right? But we have plans and goals and then he just goes and changes them without really talking them out with me…and I feel like such a bitch because he should be able to keep going to school, and I should be happy that he’s found something that he’s passionate about, but I keep thinking ‘what about me?’ And this isn’t about me – this is about him. And I’m trying to be excited for him but it’s really hard and I think he can tell, and – ”

“And you’re worried about how much things will change in a year.”

Darcy narrowed her eyes at him and huffed, “I really hate you sometimes.”

James barked a laugh and took the beer bottle from her, frowning at how light it was before lifting it to see if it was empty. “You’re a dame that likes lists and plans, and schedules and order. Nothin’ wrong with being upset that things are changing. Change ain’t always good.”

“So this doesn’t make me a terrible person?”

James took a deep breath and bumped his shoulder against hers. “Darcy, I’ve met terrible people and you’re nowhere close.”

Darcy swallowed around the lump in her throat and pushed off the railing to pull him into a hug. He hesitated a heartbeat before wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her tightly. “You know the same goes for you, right?”

“Don’t go and ruin the moment, Sweetheart.” Huffing, Darcy buried her face in his chest and pinched his side. They stood that way for a long moment before he cleared his throat, “You know…if, uh, money’s tight, I’d be happy to – ”

“If you finish that sentence,” she cut him off, “I’ll punch you.”

“Just offering,” he said, and she could hear the smile in her voice. “Steve and I’ve been there and we know how rotten it is.”

She looked up at him and rolled her eyes, “Well you guys figured it out, and I’m not gonna be you and your boyfriend’s charity case.”

“You’re not charity, Darce – you’re family.”

“Oh god,” she said, a blush creeping up her neck. “When did you become such a sap?” James rolled his eyes and was about to retort when the door slid open and Steve cleared his throat.

“Dinner’s ready if you two are.”

“Yeah,” Darcy nodded, taking a step away from James. Steve smiled and walked back into the apartment, where she could see Ray giving her an odd look.

“I’m being serious, Darcy,” James said, catching her hand as she moved to go inside, “If you ever need anything…”

“I know,” she smiled, squeezing his gloved fingers. “That goes both ways.”

Chapter Text

Put your hands in the water
watch them go under
Put your hand to the light
watch the light come through
And I will let you go 

Put your time on the table
See who’ll sit down with you
Give your love to the ones who offer you bruise
After bruise, after bruise
And I will let you go 

Daniel Ahearn - I Will Let You Go


 

They rented a UHaul van to pack up Ray’s things. When he’d moved into Darcy’s apartment, he’d downsized quite a bit so they didn’t have to worry about a bed or dressers, which made moving him a lot easier. Still, there were a lot of boxes and random things that needed to be thrown into the van, and they had to unpack it twice before everything fit.

The next morning, they woke up early to pack up Darcy’s car with their last minute things and anything of value before hitting the road for the 5 hour drive.

Though she’d taken her car to DC, Darce hadn’t really driven it all that much within the confines of the District. Driving in NYC was so much worse, especially during the Wednesday lunch hour.

“I can’t fucking move, asshole!” she screamed as the car behind her laid on the horn. “What do you want me to do?!” Frustrated, she slammed her hand on the wheel before reaching to turn up the volume of the stereo to drown out the noise as traffic inched forward.

Which was, you know, probably the reason she didn’t hear the cop siren until it was right behind her. Quickly, she pulled over as far as she could to let it pass and frowned in its wake; just after she’d pulled back onto the road, she was forced to pull off again as a group of police cruisers blew past. “Please don’t be anything major,” she whispered to herself while turning down her music and grabbing her phone. Yeah, texting and driving was illegal in New York but it wasn’t like they were moving anyways.

‘Please tell me you aren’t involved in anything that would call out the police’ she typed before hitting send.

It was 20 minutes (during which she had actually moved about 3 miles, yay!) before she got a response. 'Not me, mybe S. Not in country RN. Be carful'

Darcy looked at the misspelled words and felt a bit guilty about distracting him. James usually made sure that his texts were error free, and if he was misspelling and using shortcuts, he was clearly busy. ‘Ok, let me know when you’re okay’ she shot back.

She was just about to send a text to Steve when the line of cars began to move, so she tossed the phone into the cup holder and drove off.

OOO

“It’s...nice,” Darcy said as she walked into Ray’s apartment. He’d found this one on another outing to the city, one where she wasn’t able to go with him because of other commitments. The studio was tiny, and she wondered if they would be able to fit everything in here, let alone the air mattress they’d be using until he got a bed.

“I like it,” Ray grinned. “First place on my own!”

“Yay!” she said, infusing her voice with fake enthusiasm. “Rockin’ bachelor pad, dude!” Chuckling, Ray pulled her to his side and kissed the top of her head.

“It’s cheap, it’s got four walls and a roof...what else would I need?”

“A security system?”

“Ha ha. Come on, let’s start getting everything up here - I’ve got the grad student meeting in a few hours.”

OOO

“Hey, how does Ethiopian sound for dinner?” Darcy asked, looking up from where she was sitting cross-legged on the air matt as the door opened. While Ray had gone to the grad student meeting over five hours ago, she’d stayed behind in the apartment to do some more unpacking. He had an awe struck look on his face, so she hoped that the meet and greet had gone well.

“Have we ever had Ethiopian?” Ray asked, dropping his keys onto the kitchen counter and shifting uncomfortably.

“I don’t think so,” she shrugged while scrolling on her phone. “Looks like this one has good reviews. Plus, new city, new food - why not?”

“I guess,” he said. “Is that the kind you have to eat with your hands?”

“You can use a fork if you want,” Darcy chuckled. Her scrolling was interrupted when a CNN alert appeared on the top of the screen, notifying her of an explosion on the Belarus-Ukraine border. “Hey, give me your iPad.”

“What’s up?”

“There was an explosion in eastern Europe. I want to check out what’s going on.” Ray sat next to her and handed over the tablet, looking over her shoulder as she pulled up news reports from around the globe.

“What’re you thinking?” he asked, bumping her shoulder.

“I’ve just got a bad feeling about this...James said he wasn’t in the country…” Ray dropped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake.

“Even if he is there, he’s the Winter Soldier - he can take care of himself.”

“Yeah...doesn’t stop me from worrying about him.”

“Yeah…” Ray said, clearing his throat. “He’s, uh, you’re soul mate. It’s normal, right?” Darce looked over at him and frowned.

“Are you okay? You look a little green around the gills.”

“I uh…”

“Nervous about school?”

“Yeah,” he said quickly, nodding enthusiastically. “Yeah, nervous about school.” Darce flashed him a smile before leaning to peck his cheek.

“You’re gonna be fine, babe.”

“I hope so.”

“I know so. Ethiopian?”

“Sure, why not?”

OOO

They laughed over dinner as they tried the various forms of wat they’d ordered, attempting to scoop it with the injera bread and making quite a mess of it. But it was fun, and for a little while they forgot that Darcy would be leaving on Saturday to get back home before her semester started.

It was nearing two in the morning when they blew up the air mattress again and kicked a space in the center of the room clear of boxes and packing paper. Ray tossed some sheets and a blanket on the makeshift bed while Darce went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth; when she came out, he was watching her with an odd look on his face.

“What? Do I have toothpaste on my face?” she asked, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth.

A sad sort of smile tipped the corner of his mouth up as he shook his head. “No but...can we talk?”

“Yeah,” she replied, quickly moving to the bed and sitting next to him. “What’s up?”

“I, uh…I met her.”

“Who?”

Darcy’s heart stopped as Ray moved to tug down the neck of his t-shirt, revealing his soul mark, “Her.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah…”

She looked at the words on his collarbone - ‘You’re new, right?’ - and wishes, not for the first time, that they were hers. “Wha...what’s her name?”

“Rula. She’s Palestinian.”

“Oh.”

“She’s in her second year of the joint LLM and PhD program.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah…We went for coffee after Orientation and she told me about her family...I guess her grandparents come here as refugees in 1967.”

“She, uh,” Darcy swallowed around the lump in her throat. “She sounds pretty interesting.”

“She is,” Ray smiled before catching himself.

“What are her words?”

“They’re ‘please tell me this is the right room for orientation’.”

Darcy lowered her head as she chuckled, trying to hide the tears in her eyes. She’d known that this day would come, but it didn’t make this hurt any less. But she had to ask, “What does this mean for us?”

“I-I don’t know, Darce,” Ray said, looking down and scratching the back of his neck. “I...This...I don’t know. This is...it’s complicated.”

“I know.”

“I’m not like you - I don’t hate the idea of soul mates. I’ve wanted to be with Rula since...since my words first showed up. But you - I love you too.”

She stayed quiet, looking down as she fiddled with her necklace. Darce tried not to be hurt by he ‘too’ he’d added - she was secondary when, just this morning, she’d been first.

It was on the tip of her tongue to say that Rula was just a stranger, that there was no guarantee that they’d be happy together, she might break his heart - a million things that might get him to forget about his soul mate or that could push him away for good.

“Does she know? About us? About me?”

“No, I...uh...didn’t tell her about you.”

“Didn’t have the time over coffee?” she snapped before she could stop herself. “No time to say ‘Yeah, I’ve been dating this girl for a few years and we’ve been making plans’?”

“Darce - “

“No, sorry,” she said, ducking her head so that her hair fell in her face. “This is all just…”

“Complicated?” he supplied before reaching over and tipping her chin up. He frowned at the tears that were welling in her eyes, and scooted forward to pull her into his arms. “I’m sorry, Darcy. I really am.” There was a tense silence between them as she kept her arms at her side, trying not to lean into him, hearing the unspoken ‘But we knew that this would happen eventually’. He pressed a kiss to the side of her head and said quietly, “I love you.”

“Don't say that,” she whispered.

“No, cause no matter what happens, I love you, Darcy Ann Lewis.”

OOO

It had been awkward trying to fall asleep, and they had tossed and turned on opposite sides of the air mat for hours until Ray’s breathing evened out and he started to snore softly.

Next to him, Darcy lay awake, her mind whirling. Whenever she closed her eyes, she could see Ray’s face as he told her about his soul mate, how there was a bit of a bemused smile on his lips when he thought she wasn’t looking…

Taking care to not jostle him, Darcy slid off the bed, thankful that they’d filled it enough that her moving didn’t make it sag. She slipped on her shoes and retrieved her phone from the charger before slipping out of the apartment and into the hallway, careful to turn the lock before closing the door.

Pressing a hand to her eyes, she slid down the wall until she was squatting just above the dirty floor. A tear slipped out and traced its way down her cheek before landing, hot and salty, on her lower lip, and a few more rogues fell. Taking a deep breath, she wiped at her face, unlocked her phone, and pulled up her contact list. Her thumb hovered over ‘Mom’ for a minute before she decided against it - calling at this time would only freak her out, and Darce wasn’t quite sure she was ready to hear her mom’s sad voice. There was a good chance Lindsay would be awake at this time with the new baby, but it was too chancy - the last thing she wanted to do was wake up her best friend when she was so exhausted.

Besides, neither of them could help her out at that moment. All Darcy wanted to do was go home and crawl into her own bed; the thought of going back into the studio apartment and laying beside Ray was too much. She eyed the floor, seriously considering staying out here for the next few hours before deciding against it. She wondered if the car would be any better before ruling that out as well - probably not the best idea ever. She could start driving back to Virginia, but she could feel a headache coming on and driving while crying probably wasn’t the best.

Her bank account wasn’t in any place to take a hit for a hotel and… Darcy felt a jolt as her phone vibrated in her hand, alerting her to a text from James.

‘Sorry it’s late, but headed back. Any chance of meeting up before you leave?’

Darcy chuckled sadly at the timing before replying. ‘Probably not. Going to head back home in the morning.’

It was another minute before the phone vibrated again. ‘Thought you were in town for til Saturday?’

‘Plans changed’ she typed.

‘Everything alright?’

She hesitated, wondering what - if anything - she should say. The screen dimmed and, after another minute, the phone vibrated again.

‘Darcy?’

Rather than answer, she set the phone on the ground and put her head in her hands. The night was too complicated to go into over text, and she wasn’t exactly sure she wanted to.

The phone vibrated, the screen lighting up to show that James had given up on texting and had decided to call.

“Thought you couldn’t call on planes. Assuming you are on a plane,” she said, hand still pressed to her eyes.

“What’s wrong, doll?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” James said, a hint of a laugh in his voice before he cajoled, “Come on Darce, let me try and fix it.”

“This isn’t something you can fix,” she said.

When he spoke again, James’ voice was serious, “What is it? Are the police involved? Are you hurt?”

Despite herself, Darcy laughed. “I’m your normal friend, remember? Not one of the Avengers. I’ve got normal people problems.”

There was another pause before he chuckled. “Right. What’s the normal people problems?”

Darcy bit her bottom lip and swiped at the corner of her eyes.

“Darcy…” he wheedled.

“Ray met her. Her name is Rula.”

There was silence on the other end of the line before James cleared his throat. “I’ll call Steve. He’ll be there within the hour to come get you, and you can stay with us as long as you need to.”

“What?” Darcy squeaked.

“It’s too late for you to drive home, and there’s no use in you spending money on a hotel. Unless you want to stay there with him? You’re at his apartment, right?”

“I don’t know what I want to do,” she whispered, finally admitting to herself what was bothering her - she had no plan for this. She hadn’t thought about what would happen when Ray finally met his soul mate - it was always an inevitability...his words were black on his collarbone, a stark contrast to his tanned skin.

“Right now, let’s just figure out where you’re gonna sleep,” James said. “You wanna stay there with him and figure it out, or do you wanna get some space to clear your head?”

Darcy looked up and down the hall, then leaned forward to look at the door to the studio. Sitting out here all night didn’t seem like a good idea, but the idea of crawling back into bed with Ray was a bit too overwhelming right now.

“Don’t send Steve, I have my car.”

“Ok, I’ll let him know you’re on your way. And Darce?”

“Yeah?”

“Keep your chin up, kid. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Chapter Text

So I realized that I never put up a temporary hiatus notice on here, for which I apologize. Life has gotten pretty shitty recently (mental health tanked, dropped out of my PhD program because of gender and mental health discrimination, moved back across the country to take up my old job [which actually isn't shitty but pretty awesome], and my dad was recently diagnosed with cancer) and I've taken a break from writing fic.

Long story short, this fic has not been abandon. It's just taking me a lot longer to get past the opening scene of the next chapter than I anticipated. I wish I could give you a sneak peek of what's to come, but literally all that is written is "Steve wished he’d taken the time to put on shoes - even in the warmth of the underground garage, the cold cement was creeping through the thin socks and making him curl his toes."

I'm moving into my new townhouse next week and hopefully will have some inspiration to write shortly thereafter. The major plot arches are already figured out, it's just filling in the minor details that are taking forever.

Chapter Text

Steve wished he’d taken the time to put on shoes - even in the relative warmth of the underground garage, the cold of the cement was creeping through the thin socks and making him curl his toes.

Buck had woken him from a dead sleep to let him know that Darcy was headed his way after breaking up with her boyfriend. He hadn't been sure how long she was gonna stay, but she’d at least be with them for the night.

He’d dreaded this day for years.

Not only for what it meant for the whole Darcy/Bucky situation and where that put Steve, but just for Darcy’s sake. He scratched his faded soulmark absently, remembering the grief he felt - still felt - at losing Peggy. While Ray wasn’t Darcy’s soulmate, they’d obviously loved each other and she must have been devastated to hear that he’d found his other half. Even knowing that it would one day move from being a possibility to a reality wasn’t enough to prepare someone for that moment; it was one of the downfalls of dating in a world where the first few words you said to someone let you know if they were the one meant for you or not.

Steve knew that whatever made the words appear had decided decades ago that he wasn’t the one that was meant for Buck. Instead, it’d been the brash and secretly sensitive woman who was just as stubborn as him; on most days, she reminded him of Peggy in all the best ways, and he was happy that Buck had her. They made sense together, even given the time differences and life experiences.

Still. The situation was enough to make him worry about how it would affect his relationship with Bucky. They were solid, enough history and time between them to make his worries irrational, but still - he knew how powerful the draw of a soulmate could be. Especially one as beautiful, smart, and snappy as Darcy Ann Lewis.

His musings were interrupted by JARVIS announcing that he’d just let the Darce into the garage. A moment later, Steve lifted his hand to wave at the old blue Honda Civic rolling towards him. She pulled into a parking spot a few feet from him and, after readjusting her glasses (he noticed the subtle swipe under her eyes), opened the door.

“I’m really sorry for this, Steve,” she said while slinging a backpack over her shoulder.

“Don’t worry about it, Darce,” he replied, walking towards her. Even at a distance he could see her that her eyes were red and glassy from crying. “It’s good to see you - just wish it was under better circumstances.”

“You and me both,” she said, giving him a wistful smile. It turned into a frown as she got a better look at him and she motioned to her face. “What happened there?”

He lifted his hand to touch the butterfly bandages on his eyebrow and nose, completely bypassing the black eye. “Work.”

“So it was you yesterday.”

Rather than answering, Steve smiled and pulled her in for a hug, managing not to flinch when she pressed against the bruises on his back. He could feel a tremble running through her as she briefly rested her head on his shoulder, as though she was trying to suppress a sob. After giving her a gentle squeeze, he stepped back and jerked his head towards the elevator.

“Come on - I’ve got the guest room ready for you. You need anything else out of the car?”

“No, I’m good with this for tonight,” she replied and then made a noise of protest when he took it from her and slung it over his shoulder.

“So you wanna talk about it?” Steve asked once they were in the elevator. Darcy had her arms crossed over her chest and leaning against the wall, but scoffed at his question.

“I’d prefer to drink.”

“If you wanna drink, we’ll drink.”

“No, it’s late,” Darcy sighed, looking up at him through her lashes. “You were probably sleeping. Sorry again.”

Steve slung an arm over her shoulders and pulled her into his side. “You remember how we met?”

“Kind of hard to forget you and James showing up at my apartment out of the blue,” she shrugged.

“Were ya mad at us for doing it?”

“No...I see what you’re doing here and I don’t like it.”

“Tough. ‘Sides, I wasn’t sleepin’,” he lied. Darcy bit her lip against the smile threatening to show; Steve had a tendency to let his Brooklyn accent show more when he was tired, something she found incredibly endearing.

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Steve squeezed her shoulder before motioning for her to lead the way. “Regular spot?” she asked.

“Unless you want one of the other rooms,” he shrugged.

“Your California King is tempting,” she smirked before tugging her bag from his shoulder. “But I’ve been working on a pretty nice indent on the Queen.” Steve gave her a crooked smile.

“It’s yours as long as you want it.” She glanced over her shoulder and took a deep breath.

When Darcy met his eyes again, Steve could see that she was on the verge of tears. She bit her lower lip when it started to wobble before clearing her throat. “I really do appreciate this, Steve.”

“You’re family, Darce,” he replied, pulling her in for a hug. His shoulder pressed her glasses awkwardly against her face, so she pushed them to the top of her head. When he felt hot, wet tears on his shirt, Steve started to rub a hand on her back. “Hey, it’s okay.”

Darcy gripped the back of his shirt tightly as she tried to fight back her tears. “He didn’t even tell her about me.”

Steve tensed and felt Darcy do the same so he forced himself to relax. Instead of saying anything, he stroked her hair.

“What does that say about me? Was I just a placeholder for her?”

“No,” he snapped, gently pulling her away to look her dead in the eye. “It means that he’s an asshole and you deserve better. He didn’t see what was right in front of him and how great of a girl you are.” When Darcy shook her head and looked at the ground, he huffed and tilted her head back up to look at him. “Darce, any guy’d be lucky to have you.”

“You’re sweet, Steve,” she said, her voice cracking slightly as she reached up to wipe away her tears.

“’M just being honest,” he shrugged before giving her a crooked smile, “I mean, if I weren’t with Buck…”

Darcy huffed a laugh. “Now I know you’re just trying to make me feel better.” Steve watched as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders before opening her eyes again. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

“Okay. I’ll have a beer waiting for you when you get out.”

It broke his heart when he heard her crying in the shower.

OOO

Steve stirred when he heard the whirling in the elevator shaft. Lifting his head, he blearily looked around his living room. There were quite a few empty bottles of beer on the coffee table in front of him, along with a mostly empty bowl of popcorn and package of cookies that Buck always kept on hand. Darcy was stretched out beside him, her head resting on the pillow in his lap and her feet hanging over the arm of the couch. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth when he saw that she was sleeping peacefully, her lips parted slightly. He reached down to move a strand of hair out of her face before letting his hand rest on her stomach, feeling the slow rise and fall of her breath.

There was a soft whoosh as the elevator doors opened and Bucky stepped out, tired eyes scanning the room before landing on him.

“Where’s Dar-”

“Shh,” Steve hushed before motioning to his side. Walking lightly, Bucky made his way towards the couch, peering over the back of it to see her.

“She say anything?” he asked.

“Yeah. She’s pretty upset, Buck. He didn’t even tell the other girl that he was dating her.” Bucky’s fingers closed on the back of the couch, and Steve was momentarily afraid when he heard the frame creak under the pressure of his grip.

“She say anything else?”

“Just that she doesn’t want to go back to talk to him tomorrow but she knows that she should before she leaves.”

“She’s leaving tomorrow?”

“I told her she could stay however long she wanted.” Bucky nodded before leaning over the back of the couch, his fingers ghosting over her puffy eyes. There was an intensity in his gaze that Steve recognized, one that simultaneously made his heart leap and his stomach drop.

They both looked down at Darcy, who sighed in her sleep and shifted before rolling onto her side facing Steve.

Neither of them said anything for a long moment, until Steve broke the silence. “You reek,” he whispered in an attempt to shift his boyfriend’s attention.

It worked. Buck let go of the couch and tilted his head to sniff at his jacket before wrinkling his nose. “Few days in the field will do that to you.”

“You guys get what you were looking for?”

He nodded. “Natasha’s pretty confident we got the intel she needed. Now it’s just a matter of tracking down the last of the handlers.”

“Good.”

“I’m going to go shower. You good out here?” Bucky asked, motioning to Darcy.

“Yeah. Hey,” Steve said as he turned away.

“Yeah?” Buck replied. Smiling, Steve reached over the couch and tugged at his jacket, motioning for him to lean down for a kiss.

“I’m glad you’re back,” he mumbled against his lips. Bucky shook his head as he pulled away smiling before gently touching Steve’s black eye.

“Some things never change. Can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?”

“You can if it means you’re gonna shower. Hey!” he said when Buck lightly smacked the back of his head. “You’re gonna wake up Darcy.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, “Be back in a minute.”

Steve waited until he heard the bathroom door close before he smoothed back Darcy’s hair again and tugged the blanket up to cover her more, whispering, “We are in so much trouble.”

Chapter Text

Bucky smiled into his pillow at the sounds and smells of breakfast being made in the kitchen. The rich scent of fresh coffee was overlaid with the mouthwatering smell of bacon - after a few days away subsisting on MREs, it smelled like heaven. Steve was usually good about keeping the noise down the morning after a long mission, but apparently he was having some trouble with the pans if the banging was anything to go by.

When there was movement on the bed beside him, he turned and saw his boyfriend open a lazy eye before frowning. “Thought tha’ was you making all the noise,” Steve grumbled before pressing a hand to his mouth to stifle a yawn.

“Must be Darce,” Bucky huffed, rolling onto his back and swiping a hand down his face. “Didn’ think she’d be up early,” he slurred.

Steve glanced at the clock on the nightstand and groaned, “It’s already 10:30 - we’re the ones who slept in.”

“Worth it,” Buck replied even as he pushed himself up and rolled his neck, producing a few satisfying pops. Grimacing slightly he rubbed at the scar tissue where his metal arm joined his shoulder; while his diluted version of the Super Soldier Serum had repaired most of the damage caused by the weight of the older model pulling his spine out of alignment, most of the nerves were damaged beyond repair. Even though Stark had built him a lighter version of the arm, it still pulled first thing in the morning.

“Hurting?” Steve asked, propping himself up on his elbow and frowning.

“No more than usual.”

“Wish you’d let Helen look at you,” Steve muttered as he stood up and stretched. Buck turned and watched the play of his back muscles, his happiness that he couldn't see the vertebrate that had once protruded muted by a hint of nostalgia for the old Steve he had known. When he turned, he raised an eyebrow, “You gonna sit there and stare, or go check on Darcy?”

“At least lemme take a leak first,” he groaned, pushing off the bed. Steve caught his hand as he walked past, tugging him close enough to brush his lips over his cheek.

“Glad you’re home,” he said softly.

“Me too.”

Steve slipped into the bathroom as Bucky exited, snagging a t-shirt before heading to the kitchen. Darcy had her back to him as she stood in front of the stove; she hissed as the bacon popped and splattered her with grease. “Everything good?” he asked

“Jesus!” Darcy shrieked, jumping away from the stove and pressing a hand to her chest. She glared at him before huffing, “Make some noise or something next time.”

“Sorry,” he shrugged before zeroing in on the pile of cooked bacon; his stomach growled loudly and, smirking, she pushed the plate towards him.

“Hope you don’t mind that I raided your fridge. There’s pancakes keeping warm in the oven, and I can make some eggs if you want.”

“Eggs would be great,” he said around a mouthful of bacon. She rolled her eyes before stepping around him and retrieving the egg carton from the refrigerator. Given an unobstructed view of the abnormally clean living room - he and Steve weren’t slobs but there was generally some clutter that accumulated between cleaning sessions - he raised an eyebrow and glanced around the sparkling kitchen. “How long have you been up?”

“A while,” she said vaguely. Buck noticed that she was avoiding looking at him as she crouched to retrieve a pan from the cabinet. “How do you want your eggs?”

“Scrambled is fine. What’s ‘a while’?” he asked.

Darcy sighed and shrugged, moving back to the stove. “A few hours.”

“Darce…”

“Ray called me around 5:30 freaking out because I wasn’t there. I forgot to leave a note. And after that, I couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Buck felt a begrudging amount respect for the guy - at least he still seemed concerned about her physical well-being. It was quickly smothered by his annoyance. “Yeah? He say anything else?”

“We’re going to meet up for a coffee later to talk…”

“You want us to go with you?” Steve asked, frowning as he emerged from the bedroom.

“No!” Darce said quickly. “Thanks, but no.”

“You sure? We’re more than happy to,” he pressed, and Buck nodded.

“I’m not sure having you two there is going to make it any easier,” Darcy said softly, giving them a sad smile as a sheen of tears appeared in her eyes. Steve took a step towards her but Buck was faster. He grabbed her arm and tugged her away from the stove, enfolding her in a hug.

“‘S gonna be okay,” he muttered, stroking her back. Steve stepped around them and took up Darcy’s place at the stove. “He’s a scumbag and you deserve so much better.”

“He’s not, though,” she mumbled into his shoulder.

“Huh?” Buck asked, pulling back to look her in the eye.

“He’s not really a scumbag - at least not for us...you know… ending…He wanted her. He wanted his soulmate.”

“That doesn’t change any-”

“It does.” Darcy grit her teeth and pulled away from him. “I should have known better. I should have seen it coming.”

“Darce,” Steve said, reaching out for her.

“No, Steve... you should understand.” Her next words stopped him. “You had Peggy. You know what it’s like to find that.”

Bucky met his eyes over Darcy’s head, the muscle in his jaw ticking, before glancing down at the faded grey words on his partner’s arm.

“James and I are the weird ones,” she said quietly. “We found it and walked away.”

The silence that fell was simultaneously awkward and pregnant - Darcy seemed to realize how badly her words could be construed while Steve raised his eyebrows at Buck, who seemed oblivious to what his boyfriend wanted him to do.

“I guess,” Bucky said eventually, shrugging as he took a step backwards and moved to lean against the counter.

“Next time, maybe I should use one of those dating sites for people that have lost their soul mates,” Darcy said, her eyes darting between the two men as she tried to break the tension. “I mean, you might need to write an affidavit or something explaining why my mark is still black to let me on the site but, hey - it’s one way to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“That’s one way,” Steve agreed as he dished up the eggs.

OOO

“Hey - ”

“I’m sorry.”

Ray sat quickly in the empty chair across from her and reached over to take Darcy’s hand, his eyes pleading with her. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I can’t believe what a monumental asshole I was yesterday. I didn’t handle it well and I know that I should of but...I’m sorry.”

Darcy had planned a lot of things to say during their coffee meeting, but all of them flew out of her head as soon as she saw how genuinely upset Ray was. “It’s okay,” she said finally before untangling their hands and pushing a Dirty Chi tea towards him.

He looked down at it before shaking his head. “You scared the shit out of me, Darce - taking off like that without a note or anything? You could have been fucking dead for all I knew!”

“I know, not my brightest moment but… well… James offered me a place to crash and going back inside didn’t really seem appealing, so I took him up on it.”

As she watched, Ray’s already pale face grew paler, and his eyes darted around the busy coffee shop. “So he knows?”

“Yeah. He’s not here,” she assured him. “And neither is Steve.”

“God, they must be royally pissed at me.”

“Not going to debate that,” she shrugged while turning her cup with her thumbs. They were quiet for a long moment, listening to the busy sounds of the coffee shop until he spoke again.

“I don’t know where to start,” Ray admitted.

“Me either,” Darcy confessed.

“I love you.”

Those three words brought a wave of tears to her eyes, and she looked away from Ray’s earnest gaze. “I love you too,” she choked. He cleared his throat and blinked hard as he reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

“I don’t want to hurt you. Christ, Darce, I’d never want that. You have to know that.”

“I know.”

The silence stretched between them again.

“I don’t want to lose you. Not completely… that came out wrong,” Ray groaned, using his free hand to swipe a hand through his hair. “I don’t want this to be the end. Of us. I still want to have you in my life.”

Darcy gave a sad chuckle, the phrase ‘we can still be friends’ echoing in her head. “If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I can do that right now,” she said. “This move...you being here...it might just be easier to let this go.”

“If that’s what you want,” Ray said, his voice catching slightly. “This isn’t fair to either one of us but I want you to be happy, Darcy. And if that’s not keeping in contact, or telling everyone that I’m a terrible guy, I’m okay with that. Hell, you can tell them that I’m the devil incarnate if you want to.”

She gave a soft laugh and shook her head, her hair falling into her face. “Maybe not the devil himself...just a lower level minion.”

“Okay,” he chuckled before repeating, “I just want you to be happy.”

“I want that for you, too.”

When the silence stretched too long, Darcy cleared her throat and sniffled before gently removing her hand from his. “I think I should go.”

“Okay. I’ll walk you out.” They threw their untouched drinks away and pushed through the crowd, emerging onto the mostly empty streets where they turned to face one another.

“Well…” Darcy sighed, rocking back and forth on her toes.

“Yeah…” Ray murmured.

“Good luck with school,” she said. “I know you’ll do great.”

“Same. You’re going to kick that dissertation’s ass.”

“Try not to get murdered in your apartment.”

“I’ll try,” he chuckled. “Make sure you check the milk’s expiration date before using it.”

“One time and I’m never going to live it down.”

“Nope! Your face when you tasted your coffee…” Ray laughed. Darcy smiled and shook her head.

He hesitated a moment before reaching out and pulling her towards him. Gently, giving her enough time to stop him, he cupped her cheek and leaned down to kiss her.

Their foreheads pressed together afterwards, and she heard Ray sniffle. “I’m gonna miss you, Darcy Ann Lewis.”

Taking a steeling - and shaky - breath, Darcy stepped out of his arms and straightened her shoulders. “I’ll see you around, Ray. Take care.”

Quickly, she turned and walked away, all too aware that if she turned back she wouldn’t be able to leave. She swiped at the rogue tears that trickled down her cheeks and her nose started to run. Silently, she cursed her lack of forethought in grabbing some napkins.

“You look like you could use a drink, dorogaya,” a familiar voice said, as a tissue was thrust into her face. Darcy jumped and nearly shrieked when she saw none other than Natasha Romanoff walking beside her.

“Did James and Steve send you to check up on me?”

“No. They told me to leave you alone, but I figured you may want a friend of the female persuasion to vent to.”

“Oh god yes,” Darcy breathed.

“Good. How do you feel about hookah? There’s a Russian mob front not too far from here that has good vodka and tobacco flavors.”

“I’m down.”

OOO

“How is she?” Steve asked after Bucky stepped out of Darcy’s room.

“Out cold. What did you give her?” he asked Natasha.

“A sympathetic ear and a day to forget her heartache,” she shrugged, propping her legs up on the chair beside her.

“And how much alcohol did she have?” Steve frowned.

“Enough. And tomorrow, she’ll wake up and be able to start over again.”

“For Christ’s sake Nat - ” Bucky started before a swift look cut him off.

“I care about her, just like you do. And today is what she needed, not the two of you making sad, confused eyes at her all afternoon.”

Bucky and Steve’s eyes met before they looked away; Natasha raised an eyebrow at the non-verbal exchange and shook her head before pushing to her feet.

“Before you approach her with anything, she needs time.”

“Approach her - ?”

“What’s that - ?”

“Time,” she cut them off. “To be herself again before you two sweep in. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe Clint has some gyoza waiting for me downstairs.”

When the elevator closed behind her, Bucky turned to Steve, “What the hell do you think she meant by that? ‘Approach her’ - approach her about what?”

The tips of Steve’s ears turned pink with embarrassment, having clearly been called out on something he’d been musing on without much hope or intention given how things had stood until just last night, but he shook his head.

“No clue.”

Chapter Text

“So you want to date Darcy?”

When Steve had said that he wanted to discuss something, Bucky hadn’t thought it would be that.

“I want us to date her,” Steve corrected from his spot perched on the coffee table. Bucky raised an eyebrow and gave him a disbelieving look. He couldn’t blame him; it wasn’t every day that your boyfriend asked you to bring someone else into your relationship. “It’s called polyamory.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s not uncommon.” Bucky’s eyebrows inched closer to his hairline. “Well, it’s not unheard of.”

“But Darcy?”

Steve blushed even as he gave him a challenging look. “Yeah, Darcy.”

They stared at one another for a long moment before Bucky huffed and leaned forward to rest his forearms on his knees, head in his hands. “Darcy.”

“Yeah,” Steve said again. He watched and waited anxiously as his boyfriend ran his hands through his hair before looking up at him.

“Is it just because it’s her, or is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while?”

“What’d’ya mean?”

“Are you asking because you want Darcy, or are you asking because you want someone?”

“Only because it’s Darcy.”

“Why?”

“Why Darcy, or why am I asking?”

“Aren’t they the same question?” Bucky frowned, running a hand through his hair again.

“I’m asking because she’s Darcy,” Steve smirked. “She makes you smile and laugh, and I see how you look at her when you think I’m not looking. She’s your soulmate, Buck… your other soulmate,” he added, blushing slightly before adding, “and not only because of the words.”

Bucky gulped and stared out the window for a long moment before he met Steve’s eye. “So you want to do this for me?”

“For us. I’m not that unselfish.”

“So you like her?”

“I’m 100, not dead,” Steve chuckled, making Bucky smirk. He watched as his boyfriend stood and started to pace the living room, a hand stroking his mouth.

“Dating, right? Not just...sharing?”

“Yes, dating. I mean… I hope we’d eventually get to that, but for now, we’d date her.”

Bucky continued to pace, eventually ending up in front of the window overlooking the city. “You think she’d go for it?” he asked.

Steve looked down at his hands before rubbing his faded soul mark, trying to convince himself that this was the right move. Trying to decide if he was just being extremely selfish – thinking that he might be lucky enough to not only two soul mates, but also possibly a third.

It had been three years since he’d first found out about her, had done research to convince Buck of how great she was, how he needed to give her a chance. It had been years of watching Darcy and Bucky grow more comfortable with one another.

It had been nearly a year since Darcy had silently cried herself to sleep in his arms after her break up with Ray.

It had been a year of wanting to hear her laugh, of feeling pride in her accomplishments, and stolen moments of tenderness – a peck on the cheek, a lingering hug, a possessive arm thrown casually over her shoulders – under the guise of friendship.

It had been a year of watching Bucky do the same.

It had been a year of trying to reconcile the feelings he had – trying to understand why he didn’t feel jealous, just…just confused about how right it felt when the three of them were together.

“I hope so,” Steve said softly.

OOO

Every time they went down to DC to ask Darcy to date them, Steve and Buck couldn’t find the right moment to ask her. It was an awkward question to ask, especially given that they didn’t know what she would say. The fear of ruining the friendship they had often kept them from saying anything at all.

They decided to surprise her on their eighth trip down. It’d been a rough week - they’d been called out to take down a rogue scientist which had ended badly, with a minor explosion rocking a small neighborhood and drawing the ire of the media - but the thought of a weekend relaxing with Darcy was enough to get them in the car for the 5 hour drive.

Bucky took a deep breath as he stood outside of Darcy’s building, looking up at the light pouring out of her living room window. “You good?” Steve asked, coming up behind him with their bags and pressing a hand to his lower back.

“Just tired,” he shrugged. “Just want to spend time with our...Darcy.”

“We’re gonna do it this time,” Steve assured him, tugging him over for a kiss. Bucky sighed against his lips and shook his head before adjusting his baseball cap.

“Come on, punk. Let’s go and see our girl.”

They punched in the main door code and made their way upstairs. And, just as Buck raised his hand to knock on the door, it opened to reveal a laughing Darcy.

They stared at one another for a moment before she grinned and launched herself into his arms; he held her a split second too long when she started to pull away. “I didn’t know you guys were coming this weekend!”

“Surprise?” Steve said, dropping his bag as she turned towards him. His hands lingered on her waist as she turned to face them both.

“You guys okay?” she asked before lowering her voice. “I saw what happened.”

“Fine,” Bucky replied, glancing at the blonde woman standing in the doorway.

“You look it,” Darcy frowned, taking in the dark bags under his eyes and the few days of stubble on his cheeks.

Behind her, the blonde cleared her throat. “Darce?”

“Oh crap, right!” Darcy recovered, taking a step back and threading her arm through the other woman’s. “Guys, this is Lindsay - Linds, this is Steve and James.”

“Lindsay,” Steve smiled, reaching out to shake her hand. “We’ve heard a lot about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Oh! So you’re Darcy’s guys… Ouch!” she smirked when Darcy elbowed her in the ribs; Steve and Buck glanced at one another. “Nice to meet you too.”

“Same,” Buck said, shaking her hand as well.

“Come on,” Darcy said, reaching for the bag Steve had dropped. “You guys can grab the couch and Linds and I will crash in my bed.”

“We’re interrupting your night out,” Buck said as Steve grabbed the bag. “We’ll get a hotel.”

“Nope, you’re staying here,” she smiled. “Do you guys want to go out with us? We’re celebrating Lind’s night of freedom.”

“Seriously...toddler’s are exhausting,” Lindsay sighed. “My husband is a saint for taking her this weekend.”

“Joey’s good but a saint? I wouldn’t go that far,” Darcy smirked.

“If you don’t mind us going, we’ll tag along,” Steve shrugged after silently conferring with Bucky.

“The more the merrier!” she grinned. “Just throw your stuff down and we’ll head out.”

“Alright,” Buck said.

When they turned to set their things in the living room, Lindsay whirled around and mouthed, “Oh my god, they are so hot!” Darcy rolled her eyes.

OOO

They hit a dive bar, where Steve and Buck were quiet for most of the time, letting Darcy and her best friend catch up. When the pool table opened up, they checked to see if the girls need anything before claiming the table.

“We can’t ask her with her friend here,” Steve said as Bucky racked the table. They glanced over at the girls, where Lindsay had a knowing look on her face and Darcy was shaking her head.

“You know I’m right,” Lindsay said.

“Just. Friends,” Darcy stated before sipping her beer.

“With your soulmate. And his stupidly hot boyfriend.”

“Yes.”

“Who drop in, unannounced, and not for the first time?”

“Yes, like friends do.”

“That is not the look of someone who wants to be just friends,” she pointed out, tipping her beer towards the pool table. Darcy glanced over to see Bucky leaning against his pool cue, looking over at her. Darcy cleared her throat and looked away as his eyes shifted to the table, where Steve had just knocked the 7 ball into a pocket.

“Oh yeah, just friends,” Lindsay smirked.

“Ok, not going to lie - they’re hot. And they’re really great guys, who I care deeply about.”

“Oh god, there’s a ‘but’ coming up - “

“But they’re dating, Linds. And I’m not going to break them up.”

“Who said anything about breaking them up?” she asked, cocking her eyebrow and grinning. “A little fling? Why not a little ménage à trois?”

“You’re ridiculous,” Darcy blushed before taking a long gulp of beer.

“No, that - “ she motioned over to where the guys were, and bit her lower lip. “That is ridiculous. I mean, it’s not fair that those two...mmmm. And they both like girls, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

“I think you may have had too much to drink,” Darcy chuckled, grabbing the pitcher of beer and emptying the last of it into her glass.

“It’s been forever since Ray!” she sighed; Darcy’s face clouded over – it had been almost a year since they’d broken up but it still hurt a bit. Lindsay reached over and clasped both her arm before pleading, “Please let me live vicariously through you, Darce. I got married when we were eighteen...eighteen!”

“Really?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

Lindsay pouted, resting her chin in her hand while looking over at the pool table. “I love Joey, I really do. And our life is great. But sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if we hadn’t meet in fourth grade, the kind of person I’d be. The kinds of guys I would have dated.”

“Linds,” Darcy sighed. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, sniffling and blinking away tears. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yup,” Lindsay nodded before downing the rest of her beer. “Can we please go flirt with cute boys so I can forget for one night that I’m a mom?”

“If you insist,” Darcy huffed a laugh as she slid off of her stool. But rather than moving towards the pool table, she stepped in front of Lindsay and pulled the other woman in for a hug. “You know that if you ever needed anything, I’d be there in a heartbeat, right?”

“I know,” she sighed, hugging her tightly. “I appreciate it.”

“Ok,” Darce nodded as she pulled away and cleared her throat. Beer in hand, she linked arms with Lindsay and walked towards the table; the guys looked up as they approached. “Teams on next game?” she asked.

“Sounds good,” Steve said, and - after shooting a cocky grin at Bucky - sank the next 3 shots before calling “Eight ball, top right corner pocket.”

“Asshole,” Bucky muttered as the ball rolled in.

“Rack ‘em,” Steve said triumphantly while leaning against his cue. “Any preferences on teams?”

“Well, clearly it can’t be guys against girls,” Lindsay said, eyebrow raised at the previous display. “Blondes against brunettes? Or mixing it up?”

“Blondes it is,” Steve laughed as Bucky and Darcy shrugged at one another. “Ladies first?”

After retrieving a cue, Lindsay broke the rack without getting a ball in. Bucky motioned for Darcy to take her shot and stood back as she lined up and sank a solid ball. “Yes!” she squealed, pumping her fist before turning to high five Bucky. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he slapped her hand.

It was clear that the guys were holding back as their shots banked off of the sides without hitting anything in; Steve performed mental trigonometry and physics a split second before throwing his shield, and James was a sniper. Whenever they did decide to make a shot, their talent was clear, as was their personalities. Steve made his shots quick and unthinking, bouncing the cue ball off of the sides before hitting his mark, while James was more methodical, lining up his shots and gauging everything before striking fast and with precision.

Lindsay kept up the playful banter with Steve, asking for his thoughts on which move to make next and teasing him about missed shots.

After Darcy missed yet another shot - she’d yet to knock another ball in after her first lucky shot - she hung her head and let out a defeated sigh. Linds nudged Steve and grinning. “I think you might need to help Darce with her form, James.”

“Dunno,” Steve smirked before giving her an appreciative look over the rim of his glass before saying, “Her form seems pretty good to me.” Darcy blushed even as she pointed at him with her cue.

“Keep it up, Rogers, and you’ll be sleeping on a bench outside.” Steve held up his hands and chuckled.

“Just sayin’, Buck can help you line up a shot, maybe knock one in.”

Darcy flipped him off before looking over at her partner. “I suck at pool. Probably should have told you that in the beginning.” A smile tugged at the corner of Buck’s mouth as he reached up to pull his hat down a bit further as Steve made a shot, knocking another ball in before purposefully missing the next.

“Come on,” Bucky said, motioning for Darcy to move towards the cue ball.

“It’s your shot.”

“You’re taking it.”

“I’m good,” she said, her blush deepening before taking a gulp of her beer. He gently tugged her over and motioned for her to take his turn. Tilting her head back, she sighed before stepping up to the table and leaning over it to line up her shot.

Bucky stepped behind her, not touching but enough to make her very aware of his presence. “You mind?” he asked before moving to stand beside her.

“Um…”

He didn’t touch her but leaned closer to her and pointed. “It’s all angles and just the right amount of thrust.”

“Oh yeah?” Lindsay smirked. Darcy threw a glare over at her best friend before turning back to her shot, catching the look that Steve gave to Bucky. But when she looked over at him, Buck was staring at the table. He moved to stand behind her again and gently moved the cue to the left before standing beside her and reaching across the table.

“Aim for here,” he said, pointing to a spot on the cue ball. “Not too hard.”

“Just the right amount of thrust,” Lindsay chuckled. Darce shot her a pointed look that clearly said ‘I will kill you’.

Carefully, she pulled back the cue and tried not to think about the fact that - even though the bar was somewhat loud - she could feel the tension of the three around her to the point where it nearly drowned out the noise. “Pass,” she said, quickly standing up and letting her hair fall into her face to obscure her blush.

“No!” Lindsay howled.

“Buck, make your girl take the shot,” Steve laughed; Darcy didn’t think it was possible to blush harder but she managed it.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Buck said quietly, standing beside her.

“Pass,” she repeated, trying not to notice how close he was standing by her.

“Alright,” he nodded before looking over at Steve and Lindsay. “We pass.”

“Fine, fine,” Lindsay said as she moved to stand beside her friend, raising an eyebrow, silently asking if she’d pushed too far. After giving her an exasperated look, Darcy squeezed her hand back before moving to stand against the wall where Bucky and Steve joined her.

As Lindsay took her shot, Bucky’s hand brushed hers as Steve pulled her into a sideways hug.

OOO

Bucky looked up as he heard the bedroom door open and the soft footfalls that announced Darcy’s arrival. He smiled as she waved her empty water glass at him and made her way to the kitchen. Steve shifted beside him, rolling away from the light as Darcy opened the refrigerator and retrieved the water jug. Quietly, he slipped out of bed and made his way towards her, making sure he stepped hard enough to let her hear his approach.

“Mind?” he asked, pulling a glass from her drying rack and nudging it towards her. Darcy smiled and poured him some water before returning the jug to the fridge and leaning against the counter.

“Did you have fun tonight?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, ducking his head. His metal fingers clinked on the glass as he picked it the glass and took a sip.

“So we didn’t exactly get a chance to talk about why you’re here. Are you guys okay?”

“We’re fine,” he said quickly, spinning the glass between his hands until her hand rested on his wrist.

“You can talk to me, you know.”

“I know.” Bucky heard her sigh before she pushed off the counter and stepped into his space; he moved back slightly and wasn’t entirely surprised when she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. He hesitated a split second - it was hard to be touched sometimes, even after this long - before holding her tightly.

“Happy to give hugs if you don’t want to talk, but I’m here if you need someone.”

“This is enough for now.” It was on the tip of his tongue to say that he never wanted to talk to her about what was going on - Darcy was his refuge from everything else, the shit show that was his life and work at times.

Darcy sighed again and moved to pull away, but he held her tightly. She gave him a confused frown.

Slowly, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. Darcy stiffened in his arms before she shoved him away, her eyes wide with shock and her mouth open. Her head whipped over to look at Steve’s back.

“Darce - “ Buck said, reaching for her hand.

Without a word, she hurried back to her room, the door closing loudly in the silent apartment.

Buck wiped a hand down his face while muttering, “God dammit.” Abandoning the water glasses, he made his way back to bed.

As he settled back onto the thin mattress, Steve reached back and grabbed his hand, tugging it until Buck curled around him. “You’ve got a habit of kissing instead of talking.”

“Shuddup,” Bucky said into Steve’s neck.

Chapter Text

Steve and Bucky looked up from where they were sitting on the couch the next morning, some video on YouTube playing on the television that neither of them was watching but left on to avoid the silence, when as the bedroom door opened. When they heard footfalls, they jumped to their feet only to see Lindsay turn the corner.

“Morning guys,” she said, waggling her fingers at them. “Sooo Darcy’s feeling a bit under the weather.”

“That so?” Steve asked after shooting a look at Bucky, who looked at his feet before collapsing onto the sofa.

“Yeah, so…” Lindsay said, running a hand through her hair nervously.

“Breakfast.”

“Huh?” Lindsay asked, frowning at Steve.

“If it's a hangover, she’s gonna need breakfast,” he said quickly. He grabbed his wallet off of the coffee table and took out a few bills, shoving them into Buck’s face. “Why don't you two go get us some? There's a donut place around the corner, or there’s a diner a few blocks away.”

“Uh…” Lindsay chewed her lip and glanced down the hall towards Darcy’s room.

“Buck’ll go with you,” he added. Her eyes darted over to him, and something in her face hardened slightly. ‘Oh yeah,’ Steve thought. ‘She definitely knows what happened’.

“I’ll shower while you’re out, so it’ll be open when you guys get back. And then we’ll head out for the day...run a few errands.”

“I don’t...” the woman sighed before shaking her head. “Just let her sleep, okay?”

“I will,” Steve nodded before turning to look at his weary boyfriend. With a huff, Bucky pushed off the couch and grabbed the cash.

It took a few minutes for the two to head out, during which Bucky refused to meet Steve’s eye again. He’d been beating himself up all night about that kiss, tossing and turning before falling into a light sleep, jerking awake anytime there was a sound on the street.

Alone, Steve took a steeling breath and wiped his sweating hands on his track pants. Never in his life had he thought that there would be a moment where he was better with women then James Buchanan Barnes - and he wasn’t entirely sure that this was going to be that moment. While Buck’s ‘kiss first, talk never’ tactic wasn’t the best, at least it got his point across.

For as many times as they’d been in the apartment, Steve had never been in Darcy’s room - he’d glimpsed in while headed to the bathroom, but never actually gone in. It was strangely intimate, pushing open the door slightly and glancing around. An overflowing laundry hamper stood in one corner next to her dresser, on which stood a jewelry tree and the bluetooth speaker they’d gotten her for her birthday.

She had her back to him, the covers kicked down to the foot of the bed. Softly, he rapped his knuckle on the door, “Darcy?” He saw her tense slightly but she didn’t reply. “Darce?”

He couldn’t help but smile as she rolled over and pushed her purple sleep mask up to her forehead before meeting his eyes. “Hmm?”

“Mind if I come in?”

“Um,” she said before whipping the mask off, sitting up, and pulling a pillow up to cover her chest. After putting on her glasses, she said, “I guess.”

Steve pushed the door open and entered the room, stepping over a pair of shoes and Lindsay’s open suitcase. He sat on the edge of the bed and gave her a wry smile. “So about last night.”

“Fuck,” she groaned, dropping her head to the pillow in her arms as she drew her knees up. They sat in silence for a moment until she looked up at him, an upset look on her face. “Steve, I’m so sorry -”

“Why? You didn’t do anything.”

“I just... “ she said, fingers digging into the pillow. “I don’t know what I did to make him think that…”

“Darce?” Steve smiled, reaching out to touch her arm. “You didn’t do anything. And I’m not mad at either of you. Well, maybe a bit at him for not talking to you first.”

“Talking to me?” she frowned. “What, like giving me a five second warning?”

Steve chuckled and ducked his head before glancing up at her through his eyelashes, “More like talking to you about us.”

“You guys? You’re not - ”

“Us,” he repeated, his hand trailing down her arm to her wrist as his face flushed.

“Us?” Darcy squeaked, looking down where his thumb was lightly stroking the back of her hand. When Steve shifted closer and took her hand in his, she rolled her lips together and gulped.

“Yeah,” he nodded, trying to meet her eyes as his nerves started to fail. “Welikeyou.”

The silence was deafening. Steve managed to glance at her stunned expression before his eyes and hand fell to her bedsheets, eyeing a small hole where they’d snagged in the washing machine.

“You...uh,” Darcy gulped after what felt like a century later. “You wanna run that past me again?”

Steve cleared his throat and said more slowly, “We...erm, Buck and me… we kind of like you.”

“Oh...okay?” she said, her face flushing bright red as she pulled her hand away. “Um...thanks for telling me?”

He let out a sad chuckle and reached out to run his finger along the frayed edge of the hole; the silence was getting to an uncomfortable length but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Steve actually startled when Darcy’s hand came down on his, stilling his finger.

“Steve?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want to have sex with you guys.”

“What?” Steve sputtered, his eyes shooting up to meet hers. She was worrying her bottom lip and her fingers were clenched on the pillow but she met his gaze.

“I love you guys, I really do, but I think…,” she trailed off before taking a steeling breath and saying in a rush, “Ithinkthathavingathreesomewouldruinourfriendship.”

It took Steve a second to parse out her words, and then his face went red. “No! We don’t want to have sex with you! I mean, yeah, at some point but… but for now we want to date you.” (Internally, he made a mental note to get in a few good licks when he next sparred with Bucky for leaving him to do all this on his own - if he could have just waited until they had a minute to talk before he went and kissed her.)

The silence that fell between them stretched far past uncomfortable before Darcy cleared her throat and squeaked, “You want to date me?” Steve nodded. “But what about James?”

“Buck...he wants it to, too.”

“But you guys…”

“Yeah,” Steve said, taking a chance and shifting a bit closer. Darcy watched him but didn’t move away, instead clutching the pillow a bit closer to her chest.

“Both of you?” she asked softly.

Steve huffed a laugh and ducked his head. “Buck’s not too good with the words, but I think he might have got the point across last night. And me? Definitely.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s...erm,” Darcy started before clearing her throat again. “That’s a lot before coffee.”

Chuckling, Steve shook his head. “I’ll go start a pot before I shower.”

“Sounds good.”

“Alright,” he said, reluctant to move his hand and break the contact. But eventually he stood, smiled at her, and made his way out into the hallway. Before he pulling the door closed behind him, Steve paused. “Just think about it, please?”

“Okay.”

He heard her muffled ‘What the fuck’ as he closed the door.

OOO

Darcy heard the shower start from where she was sprawled in her bed. She’d spent the night tossing and turning - to the point of Lindsay elbowing her in the ribs and threatening to make her sleep on the floor - unable to sleep. She’d felt on edge, her anxiety spiked and her heart racing. It was stupid to feel this amped up over a little kiss.

But that was nothing compared to right now.

It was one thing to have a friend kiss you. It was another to have his boyfriend say they wanted to date you.

“Fuck,” she huffed, putting her glasses on the nightstand and rolling onto her stomach, burying her head in a pillow.

There was no way that this was actually her life. It had to be some weird, alcohol induced dream. Because there was no way that Steve and James would have actually wanted to date her too. That would just be weird… right?

Three people dating each other? Not entirely unheard of - hell, Darce was pretty sure there was a guy in her department that was in a poly relationship (she had thought he was dating someone new until both women had shown up at a department mixer). But it was never really anything she’d seen herself doing. Especially not with her soulmate and his boyfriend.

When the coffee pot beeped, Darcy pushed herself out of bed with a groan. Maybe things would be a bit cleared once she was a bit more awake.

She said she’d think about it. She owned them that at least.

OOO

Breakfast - an assortment of donuts, muffins, and breakfast sandwiches with iced coffees from the chain down the street - was a nearly silent affair as they gathered around the television, watching late night comedians talk about politics and the news of the day. The guys had insisted that they’d sit on the floor while Darcy and Lindsay took the couch. The silence was punctuated only by Lindsay’s phone going off with texts from her husband.

“Are you fucking…?” she huffed before putting her muffin on the coffee table and standing up. She stepped around Steve, phone to her ear, and moved towards Darcy’s bedroom. “What do you mean he won’t keep anything down?!”

“‘M sorry.”

Darcy’s eyes darted down to James as she fiddled with her coffee straw; he was looking at the television intently, and his hand gripping the knee he’d drawn up to his chest.

“I shouldn’ta…”

Steve reached over and put his hand over Bucky’s, squeezing it gently, not daring to look up to see Darcy’s face.

They were still looking at the television when she leaned down and placed her coffee between them before wiping the condensation from her hand and hesitantly placing it on Buck’s shoulder.

“You guys didn’t want the Boston Cream, did you?” she asked, leaning forward towards the open box on the table.

“‘S all yours, Doll,” Steve chuckled. Bucky’s shoulder sagged under her hand before he reached up to cover her hand with his gloved fingers. He felt a spark of hope flare in his chest, and he tipped his head slightly so his cheek brushed Darcy’s wrist.

“I’ll be there soon,” Lindsay sighed as she walked back into the living room, rubbing a hand over her eyes.

“Everything okay?” Darcy said quickly, pulling her hand away as though it had been scalded and refocusing on her best friend.

“Mom called Joey to say that JR’s been sick and fussy all night. He was cutting a tooth when I left, but I guess he’s pulling his ear now and - I swear to god, if he has another ear infection…” Lindsay left out a defeated sigh. “He’s gonna go pick up JR from my parent’s and bring him home. I guess Cassie’s got a bit of a fever, too, so Daddy/Daughter weekend is being cut short.”

“Oh no!”

“Yeah. Hopefully it’s nothing, but Joey’s worried since it’s both of them at once. The pediatrician said that if JR has another ear infection, we might have to put tube in, so I’m going to head home just in case.”

“Okay, yeah - absolutely! Go take care of your munchkins.”

Lindsay huffed and rubbed a hand over her forehead. “I’m gonna jump in the shower, then hit the road.”

When one of the comedians mentioned the scientists the Avengers took down, Darcy quickly navigated back to the main menu and picked a pop culture video rather than anything political.

OOO

“Should we leave?” Bucky asked as Darcy and Lindsay left the apartment - Darcy had been adamant about walking her friend to the car she’d parked a block away. They stood by the window, watching the two women walking away.

“Dunno,” Steve shrugged. “We’ll see what she wants.”

“D’ya think she’s mad?”

“Dunno.”

“I fucked up.”

Steve sighed, slinging an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. “Maybe not. She didn’t seem mad this morning, just confused. S’not an easy thing to wrap your head around.”

“You seemed to pretty easily,” Buck snapped, pushing his arm away.

“Didn’t take much arm twisting for you either,” Steve huffed.

“We fucked up, Steve. We shouldn’ta done this.”

“Buck - “

“She’s gonna say no, because it’s a fucked up thing that we asked. We can’t drag her into all of our bullshit,” he growled, motioning to the television. “It’s too much - she needs someone normal.”

Steve frowned and didn’t say anything for a moment. “Well I wish you woulda said something before I asked her.”

The haunted expression on Buck’s face reminded Steve too much of the one he’d had for the first few months he’d been at the Tower - it was a mixture of equal parts fear, disgust, and longing.

“Buck - “

“I’m gonna shower.”

OOO

“Give the kids and Joey a hug for me,” Darcy said as they neared Lindsay’s car.

“Will do. You gonna be okay alone with those two?”

“Yeah,” she said, blushing slightly. Thankfully, Lindsay was too focused on getting her car unlocked and her bag shoved into the backseat to notice.

“Alright! I’m off. Sorry our girls’ weekend got cut short.”

“Hey, we had all day yesterday, hit a bar, had some fun - it’s only Saturday so maybe you all can go out of Cassie and JR are feeling better tomorrow.”

“Yeah, fingers crossed...Fuck, it’s always both of them. Day care is the worst!” Linds huffed before shaking her head. “You sure you don’t mind?”

“Of course I don’t mind. Go! Be the awesome mom I know you are.”

“You’ve gotta come out and see us one weekend.”

“I will. Mom and Dad have been on my case about coming home too. And when I do, I’m kidnapping the kids.”

“Pinky promise?” Lindsay asked, holding up her hand with her pinky extended.

Darcy laughed and linked pinkies before they both leaned forward to kiss their fists, “Pinky promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“When have I ever not been good for a pinky promise?”

“Yeah,” Lindsay smirked before laughing.

“Have a safe drive back. And let me know when you get there.”

“I will,” Lindsay said, pulling Darcy in for a hug. “Let me know if I have to come back and kick James’ and Steve’s asses.” She pulled away just enough to look her dead in the eye. “I’ll do it if you need me to.”

Darcy laughed, blinking away tears in her eyes, and hugged her friend tighter, knowing that she would do it in a heartbeat if asked. “I think I got it covered.”

“Happy to be back up if you need it. Alright, I gotta go - want a ride?”

“Nah, I’ll walk.” It would gave her time to think.

She waved as Lindsay pulled away, smiling as she honked the horn for three short blasts - they’d been doing that since they’d first got their licenses. With a sigh, Darcy crossed her arms under her chest and turned to trudge back to her apartment, knowing that there was going to be an awkward conversation waiting for her.

It came a bit sooner than she’d liked when - as she turned to go up the last few steps to the landing - Steve stepped out of the apartment, garbage bag and empty donut box in hand.

“Lindsay get off safe?” he asked.

“Yeah…” Darcy said, swiping a piece of hair behind her ear. “Where’s James?”

“Showering.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I figure he might be trying to drown himself.”

“It’ll be a cold way to die,” she shrugged. “He’ll be lucky if there’s any hot water.”

Steve chuckled as he walked to the trash chute at the end of the hall. Darcy went up the last few steps and waited for him. When he neared, he motioned for her to precede him into her apartment and then made a beeline for the kitchen sink to wash his hands. She’d just folded one of her throw blankets when Bucky emerged from the bathroom, rubbing a towel through his hair and wearing a pair of jeans slung low on his hips.

Any red blooded human being wouldn’t begrudge her for a lingering examination of James’ impressive physique, but her attention was drawn to his arm. In the years that they’d known one another, James had always been careful not to let her see his prosthetic very often - he’d only worn t-shirts around her a few times, preferring to wear longer sleeves and a glove anytime there was the possibility of interacting with anyone else. Common sense and Steve told her that it was something he was touchy about and was definitely OFF LIMITS in conversation. Of course, she knew it was mechanical - it was hard to ignore the faint whirring and clicking once you knew what to listen for - and there were were grainy images across the internet of him, but she’d never seen it above his elbow in person.

And she’d definitely never seen the scar tissue that fused it to his shoulder.

“What the fuck?” she breathed. James’ expression froze as he slung the towel over his shoulder, covering the joint.

“Forgot my shirt,” he muttered. He headed for his bag, stepping around Darcy. She followed him with her eyes before looking over at Steve, who was wiping his hands and watching his boyfriend with a wary expression.

“Does it hurt?”

Bucky didn’t pause in his search, finally locating a Henley and - briefly - allowing her another glance at his shoulder as he dropped the towel and pulled the shirt over his head. “No.”

“In the mornings, sometimes,” Steve answered. Bucky shot him a withering look as he pulled a glove over his hand.

Darcy shifted her weight, glancing between the two men. “I kind of want to hug you right now, but you look very angry and I feel like it would be awkward given the whole,” she waved a finger in a circle to encompass them all while biting her lip.

“Forget it,” Bucky said. “Forget he asked.”

We asked,” Steve corrected, frowning.

“Why?” Steve and James turned to look at her, and she flushed under their gaze. “Not why forget it - I mean, yes, that too - but,” she faltered before clearing her throat. “Why me? You guys could have anybody join... do… yeah.”

Steve laughed and rubbed a hand on the back of his neck while looking up at the ceiling. “You two are meant to be,” he chuckled, remembering that Buck has asked almost the exact thing. He looked over at them just in time to catch the glance that passed between them.

“Forget it,” Bucky sighed.

“We’re gonna get to that in just a second,” Darcy said. “I still wanna know why me. Is this, like… something you’ve wanted to do for a while? With other people?”

“No,” Steve and Buck said as the same time.

“So… just me?” Darcy said before clearing her throat, readjusting her glasses, and giving them a nervous smile. “I guess that’s kind of flattering.”

The silence that fell over them wasn't awkward, just heavy with expectation. Darcy shifted and fiddled with her glasses again, biting her lip and looking anywhere in the room other than at the two men who seemed to take up more space in her apartment than usual.

“You feel like home.”

Darcy and Steve turned slowly to look at Bucky. He was frowning at the floor, his ungloved hand flexing before slipping into his pocket.

The silence stretched out to an almost uncomfortable length. “I…” Darcy started before clearing her throat. “I don't know what to say to that.”

“Buck?”

He dragged his eyes from the floor to meet his boyfriend’s weary expression. And wasn't that a stupid term, he thought. Steve was more than a boyfriend… they may not have one another’s words, but they were as good as soulmates.

It took everything in him to open his mouth - to fight against the decades of training not to say a word, to simply be a mindless drone for others - to repeat, “You feel like home.”

Steve knew that expression, recognized the internal fight Buck was experiencing. And he knew that if he took a step towards him, he’d spook.

But Darcy didn't.

“James,” she said softly before moving towards him. And, like he expected, Buck tensed, trying to push away his fight or flight response. Darcy hesitated a moment, just long enough to break both men’s hearts - it wasn't going to work, they’d asked too much, being with them was too difficult with their mountains of baggage - before she threw herself at him.

James froze. Instinct told him to shove her away - it would be so easy, she wouldn't be able to do anything, the attack would be handled. It was a mammoth struggle, but slowly - telegraphing his movements to a nervous Steve - he moved his hands out of his pockets and wrapped his arms around her.

Darcy let out a breath she’d been holding since the night before. She’d been afraid that this would feel different, and there was no way to deny that it did with a new weight of expectation, but it was still James that she was hugging. And Steve.

They were the guys who made coffee for her whenever they stayed over. Who bent over backwards for her the moment she made the mistake of complaining.

James was the guy who’d gone through her apartment, fixing door and windows that he didn't believe were secure enough. Steve was the guy who laughed at him even as he installed a new chain on the front door.

Steve shifted as Darcy turned around to look at him. When she stepped away from Buck, his hand trailed along her waist.

“You're sure about this?” she asked. “About…wanting to try this?”

“Yeah,” Steve gulped.

She nodded before clearing her throat. “I don't want to lose you guys if it doesn't work.”

“You won't, Doll,” he assured her. “You're stuck with us.”

Darcy hesitated before slowly nodding. “Ok. We can give it a trial run.”

Steve reached out and took her extended hand, feeling a swell of happiness rise in his chest as he looked over her at Bucky’s surprised expression. After a moment, he gave her hand a tug and pulled her over, folding her into his arms. Darcy could almost feel the happiness, protectiveness, and possessiveness pouring out of him. It was weird… but not entirely unpleasant.

“Darce?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I kiss you?”

She was quiet for a long moment before pulling back to look up at him.

“It doesn’t feel weird to you? Wanting to kiss me while your boyfriend is right there?”

“No. Do you think it’s weird?”

“It kind of feels voyeuristic.”

“I don’t have to - it’s fine,” he stuttered, trying not to feel his heart sink. Darcy groaned and leaned into him, lightly banging her head against his chest.

“It feels weird! You’re Steve! You’re James’ boyfriend! You’re my friend!”

James leaned back against the wall, his face going carefully blank.

“It’s okay,” Steve said, giving her gentle squeeze and taking a step back.

“I’m sorry,” Darcy whispered, her eyes dropping to the floor.

“Don’t be. Darce, it’s fine” he reassured her when she folded her arms across her chest and rocked back onto her heels.

“Darcy?”

She could see James reach out to touch her before hesitating and letting his hand drop - she hadn’t even heard him move from across the room.

“Only when you’re ready… if you want…”

With a long sigh, she lowered her arms and reached out, hooking her pinky around Steve’s before burying her face in James’ chest.

“Promise.”

Chapter Text

“Nooo… come on, come on, come on,” Darcy muttered as she dug through her bag. Her train was nearing the station when raindrops had started to hit the windows. “Damn it,” she sighed, finally giving up on the fruitless search for her umbrella. It had started pouring in earnest by the time she got off the train. She took a minute to glare up at the sky before tucking her bag close (she didn’t want to ruin her computer or books) and hurrying out into the downpour.

“Ugh!” she groaned after stepping in a puddle and soaking her Chucks and socks. This was just the icing on a crappy week - an article she’d sent out for publication had been rejected, one of her seminars had ended in a pretty heated debate between her and classmate, and she’d had to report one of her undergrads for plagiarizing an assignment.

All she wanted in this moment was to get home, change into her warmest pajamas, and bury herself in a pile of blankets for the weekend. Preferably with a large mug of spiked hot chocolate.

That plan went out the window when she turned onto her block.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Darcy huffed as she saw Steve’s bike parked in front of her building. Hitching her bag higher on her shoulder, she hurried to her apartment and charged up the stairs, her sneakers squeaking with every step. A bit out of breath, she stopped on the landing just below her floor and looked around, half expecting to see Steve sitting by her door as per usual.

Darcy took a deep breath through her nose while digging out her keys. Once inside her apartment, she struggled to toe off her shoes before tossing her bag onto the couch and pulling out her phone to call Steve.

“Hello?”

“Are you here? Or does someone have a bike that looks a lot like yours?”

Steve chuckled, and Darcy smiled. “I’m down the street, figured I’d get a cup of coffee while waiting.”

“Starbucks or The Mill?”

“The Mill.”

“Alright, I’ll be right there.”

“I’ll head back - don’t want you to have to go back out in the rain.”

Wiggling her toes in the wet socks, Darcy hummed, momentarily tempted. But they had fancy hot chocolate which also sounded pretty good. “No, it’s fine,” she said, bending to pull off the socks. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Sighing, Darcy walked to the her room, pulling off her shirt as she went. After peeling off her wet jeans, she dug a black long sleeve shirt and a pair of dry pants out from her closest. Draping the clothes over her arm, she walked to the bathroom while opening a music streaming app on her phone.

“Blugh,” she huffed as she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her wet hair hung limply around her shoulders, and the eyeliner and mascara Darcy had so carefully applied that morning was smudged. Making a face at herself, she grabbed her makeup wipes from behind the mirror and set about cleaning her face. There was a quick mental debate about digging out the blow dryer but ultimately decided against it, instead twisting her hair into a messy bun. After reapplying her eyeliner, she got dressed.

While winding a scarf around her neck, Darcy tried to track down her missing umbrella. Five minutes later, after checking all of her bags, purses, and even under the couch, she gave up and began to mentally prepare herself to brave the weather again rather than keep Steve waiting. Grumbling, she sent him a quick text that she was on her way as soon as she put on her shoes.

“Ah ha!” she yelled triumphantly, unearthing the umbrella from under the pile of shoes in her closet while pulling out her boots. “How the eff did you get in there?” Tossing it to the side, she struggled into her boots and jumped to her feet in search of her coat. With one final look in the mirror, she slipped her phone into her back pocket and retrieved her keys before hurrying out of the apartment and down the steps.

Darcy wasn’t sure if they had strategized a way to make her comfortable with the idea of dating them both, but it seemed like Steve and Bucky were making a concerted effort not to be at her place at the same time. One or the other would show up at her apartment or linger outside of her office building at least once every two weeks if not more frequently, but she hadn’t seen them together since that awkward conversation a little over two months ago.

While she appreciated the gesture, she also missed seeing them together. Darcy liked the easy way they interacted, teasing and jostling one another, swapping barbs before soothing away the words with a kiss… a casual arm thrown across shoulders or around waists, lounging on the couch with heads bowed towards one another...

With the benefit of hindsight, she could see how they’d incorporated her into all of that, swapping out kissing for a peck on her cheek or forehead. But since that conversation, they’d each been a bit more reserved with their touches, as if waiting for her to take the lead. But Darcy had never felt comfortable initiating contact and found that - while she was silently pushing herself to do it - the moment usually passed.

The Mill was about a fifteen minute stroll from her place but she hustled, making it in about half the time. Dodging underneath the eave, Darcy closed the umbrella and shook off the water before stepping inside. The bell above the door rang as she looked around the coffee house. She didn’t have to look very hard.

Steve stood, a smile slowly spreading across his mouth. “Hi,” he said as she neared. She felt her stomach flutter, and blushed.

“We’re getting you a key made,” Darcy said in response, stepping into his opened arms. He chuckled.

“I haven’t been waiting that long,” he lied. Sighing, Darcy shifted away from him, and Steve’s hold lingered before letting his arms fall away. She’d just opened her mouth to say that she was going to grab something to drink when she noticed a mug of hot chocolate steaming in front of the empty chair. “Figured you might want something warm,” Steve said, noticing what was holding her attention. ”It’s the salted caramel one. If you want something else, I can drink that one.”

“You’re a mind reader,” she accused him with a fake glare as she shrugged off her jacket. Steve moved as though to help her but she managed and hung it over the back of the chair, propping her umbrella against the wall. “Reading anything good?” she asked, jerking her chin at the book lying flat on the table. He marked his page and handed it to her; she quickly scanned the description and hummed. “Thoughts?”

“It’s pretty good. Funny, science sounds impressive but I don’t know much about astrophysics.”

“It’d definitely not an easy subject to pick up,” she smirked. “When’d you get in town?”

“A few hours ago,” Steve replied, settling into his chair.

“What?! Please tell me you haven’t been waiting on me.”

“Nah,” he grinned. “Had some stuff to take care of.”

“Still, you should have called me,” Darcy sighed, warming her cold hands around her drink. “I would have come home sooner.”

“Didn’t wanna bother you. ‘Sides, we’re pestering you enough as it is.”

“You guys don’t pester me,” she smirked, glancing up at him through her eyelashes. He’d flushed slightly and had a pleased look on his face. “You have any plans for while you’re here?”

“Nope. Might go down to the Smithsonian and look around.”

“Air and Space?”

“Art - went to Air and Space last time.”

“Right. Want some company?”

“If you’re not busy.”

“I may be able to pencil you in,” Darcy shrugged. “All I’ve got planned is binge watching some TV and reading.”

“Sounds pretty relaxing. Mind if I join?”

“As long as you don’t steal the blankets.”

“No promises,” Steve chuckled.

They sat there, chatting and catching up for half an hour. Steve slowly relaxed, allowing himself to sink into the chair, one arm dangling over the back and his legs stretched out under the table. Darcy mimicked his slouch. When her foot accidentally brushed his, she decided to leave it and ignore the smile that tugged at the corner of Steve’s mouth as he shifted his foot to align with hers.

The rain was still coming down but they decided against getting another drink as their thoughts turned to dinner. After a short debate over their options, they landed on going to the grocery store. “Besides,” Darcy had added. “I need to get you a key.”

As it turned out, Steve didn’t have an umbrella. “I’ll be fine,” he shrugged, adjusting his baseball cap.

“It’s pouring.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You’re gonna catch a cold,” she warned. When he raised an eyebrow, she sighed. “Fine, probably not. But still.”

They still hadn’t settled the argument when as they stepped out under the eave. Huffing, Darcy held out her hand, “Gimme your book.” After shoving it into her purse, she opened the umbrella and wrapped her arm around Steve’s waist. “You better take it, or I’m gonna be poking you with it the whole time.”

Smiling, Steve took the umbrella and wrapped his free arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. “This probably isn’t gonna work out as well as you think it will.”

“Can it, Rogers. We’ve got grocery shopping to do.”

“Yes ma’am.”

OOO

“Come on, come on collide,” Darcy sung under her breath while walking into her building. After checking her mail, she jogged up the stairs, swinging the paper sack in her hand. The key stuck in the lock but finally relented when she jiggled the handle - she really needed to talk to her super about that - and kicked off her heels as soon as the door opened with a groan of satisfaction. Department functions were a bitch. “Break me to pieces I, I think you’re just like - Holy Jesus fuck!” Darce gasped, flinging herself back against the closed door. Her purse slipped onto her arm as James frowned. “When the hell did you get here?” she demanded, ripping out her earbuds.

“A while ago. Steve gave me the key.” His eyes drifted over her, taking in her form fitting grey dress and pale green trench coat. “I can go.”

“No!” she said quickly, putting down her bag. “You just scared me. I thought we talked about you making more noise.”

“Not like it would have helped,” he smirked, nodding to the headphones. “You really shouldn’t walk around with those on.”

Darcy waved away his comment - he was always telling her how dangerous it was not to be aware of what was going on around her - and stepped into her kitchen, depositing the paper sack on the counter. She pulled open the junk drawer and rummaged in it, letting out a triumphant ‘ah ha!’ when she located her target.

“You can give Steve his key back,” she grinned while walking over to him, “because you have your own.” When he didn’t lift his hand to take it, Darcy rolled her eyes and took his gloved hand and placed it in his palm. “I’ve only got two rules - no parties while I’m not here, and I get massages on demand.”

“Steve said he had to bring you hot chocolate and warm your feet up.”

“Well he’s a blanket thief, which doesn’t make sense because he’s like a human space heater. You, good sir, have to forgo parties and give massages.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Lewis,” he smirked.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Darcy chuckled, closing his fingers over the key. “Just don’t abuse your privileges.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied as she wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. He hesitated a moment, remembering the agreement he and Steve had made, before deciding against kissing her hair and settled for holding her. “You look nice.”

“Some foundation donated to the department,” she muttered, her eyes closed. “We had to go to a dinner slash awards thing to suck up to them.”

“Yeah? You win anything?”

“Best grad paper. I got $100 and a pretty sweet bundt cake.”

“That’s amazing, Doll. Congratulations,” James grinned, pulling away to look at her. Darcy’s eyes opened and she flushed.

“Thanks. It’s not really a big deal.”

“It is,” he argued. “Gotta celebrate. ‘D’ya tell Steve yet?”

“No, haven’t had a chance to take an artistic picture of my cake,” she grinned. “Was gonna stage it with some wine and the paper in the background.”

“We can do that,” he said. “Unless you wanna go out and get dinner?”

“Oh my god, food sounds amazing,” she groaned. “But I don’t want to put shoes on again. Order in?”

“Sounds good.”

“Awesome,” Darcy sighed, letting her arms drop. Turning back to the kitchen, she stopped when she saw the dish drying rack sitting on the counter and looked around the apartment. It was a lot cleaner than it had been that morning. “Did you start Friday cleaning?”

He shrugged, “Figured I’d do something while waiting.”

“You have definitely earned yourself some bundt cake, James Barnes.”

Later, Darcy perched on the arm of her couch, a slide of cake resting on her knees, wine glass in one hand and a fork lifted to her mouth while he snapped a picture. After setting the plate on the coffee table, she shifted to kneel beside him and put her arm on his shoulder. “I like it,” she grinned. “Send it to me - I’m gonna make it my profile pic.”

When he turned to look at her, Darce realized how close they were. She saw his eyes drift down to her lips and her breath hitched at the intense look he gave her when their eyes met again. Blushing, she sat back on her heels and took a long sip of wine.

“Okay.” Her eyes darted to his flesh-and-blood hand, which was flexing his thigh.

Gulping, she jumped up to put some space between them. “Mo-,” she cleared her throat. “Movie?”

“Sure,” he replied, watching her closely.

“I just got - OUCH!” she’d turned too quickly and stubbed her toe on the damn coffee table. James snorted as she jumped in place, clutching her foot. “Shut it, you,” Darcy said between clenched teeth. When he raised the phone again, she cursed, knowing that he was taking a picture.

When he checked his phone after a gym session, Steve checked his phone and saw two texts from Bucky - one on the group chat between him, Buck, and Darcy, and the other just to him. To the first, he typed back a quick congratulations. The second was another picture with the message ‘Our graceful girl’.

OOO

“Hey Aaron?” Darcy said, peeking into the office next to hers. “You got a minute?”

“Hey Darce - yeah, what’s up? Need more help with R?”

“No,” she replied, stepping inside. “I’m still working on coding my data, but I’m definitely gonna take you up on that later. I was wondering if… if I could ask you a personal question.”

“Yeah,” the blond man grinned while pushing away from his computer. He placed his laced fingers behind his head and kicked his feet up onto the corner of the desk. “What’s on your mind?”

Darcy blushed while settling on the armchair he’d scavenged from the library. “I, uh… you’re poly, right?”

His smile became a bit more fixed as he lifted a shoulder and shrugged, “Yup.”

“Oh.” She hadn’t expected him to be so blase about it. “Right.”

“If you’re gonna pass judgement -”

“No!” Darcy said quickly. “I just… I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me about it…”

“For academic or personal reasons?”

“A bit of both?”

“Okay. What’d you want to know?”

She chewed on her lip for a moment while looking at her hands. “Why do you do it?”

“Monogamy's boring,” Aaron chuckled before shrugging again. “But seriously, it’s because I love Jess and Stef. The three of us work together.”

“So…” Darcy blushed even deeper. “It’s not just about…?”

“Sex?” He laughed and shook his head, letting his hands fall to his lap. “Oh god, if only. That’d be so much nicer than having the two of them yelling at me about it being my turn to do the dishes.”

Darcy chuckled at the mental picture. “Isn’t it awkward? The three of you?”

“Nuh, it feels natural. Stef and I were good together but it always felt like something was missing until she found Jess. Then it felt right.”

“Oh... who are the soulmates between you?”

“We all are. Doesn’t matter what our words - or lack thereof - say.” At her confused look, Aaron shrugged again. “My words went grey when I was fifteen. I thought it was the end of the world. Figured I was always gonna be alone, that Stef was gonna leave me when she found Jess. But here we are, nine years later and still going strong.”

“How do you manage it?” Darcy asked quietly.

“Sure as hell hasn’t been easy. Had to have a lot of really tough conversations over the years, but it’s totally worth it.” Aaron looked down at his knees and smiled. “When you know, you know.”

OOO

Bucky started when his phone vibrated on the table, waking up Steve from where he’d been dozing in his lap. His phone chimed somewhere in their room. “Wuzz’it?” he asked grumpily. He’d been out on a mission for the last three days, one that hadn’t allowed for a lot of downtime or sleep. And, while the serum allowed him to go awhile without, Steve Rogers enjoyed his sleep.

“Phone,” he grunted while reaching for it. Frowning, he squinted at the bright screen before a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “‘S Darcy.”

“What’d she want?” Steve sighed, turning onto his side and hiking the blanket he’d cocooned himself in higher over his shoulders; they had been watching a movie prior to them falling asleep.

“A favor,” he replied while typing ‘Anything’. Buck watched as the three dots flashed on his screen for a while. When they disappeared for a minute, he felt his heart hitch. They blinked into existence again before disappearing. Finally, five words appeared.

‘Can I come see you?’

Chapter Text

“The hardest part is not killing them.”

“Agreed.”

Darcy looked at the two women sitting in front of her and gave a weary smile. When Aaron had suggested that she talk to his partners, she hadn’t really expected this. While it was somewhat annoying that her trip to New York had already been rescheduled twice, there was the added perk of getting some more information.

“I’m not sure if you’re joking,” she finally said.

Stefanie grinned and place her hand on her girlfriend’s knee. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that communication is the most important part of the relationship, especially in a triad.” When Darcy gave her a confused look, she chuckled. “That’s when the three of you are in a relationship together, not just one having a secondary relationship with another person. But yeah, when one of us is pissed off at the other, it’s hard not to feel it.”

“Definitely,” Jessica agreed. “It’s really just like any relationship, except you’ve got two sets of feelings that you have to be aware of.”

“How was…” Darcy took a deep breath and spun her beer bottle between her hands. “Was it weird when you started dating?”

“Absolutely.”

“Oh hell yes!” Jess laughed. “It was super weird, for me at least. Aaron said that you were joining a couple and are going to date them both, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Learn from me, young padawan - it’s not easy. As much as you think it’s gonna be awkward, multiply that.”

Stef grimaced but nodded.

“The hardest part is making sure that you’re building a good relationship with your partners without stepping on their relationship. Jealous is a huge thing. When Stef and I found each other, it took a toll on Aaron because he thought they were over.”

“It took a long time for him to really accept that we weren’t pushing him out,” Stef added.

“Yeah. Because on one hand, you’ve got this expectation of being with your soulmate - and only your soulmate - and on the other you have this really strong, loving relationship. And he felt like he was making Jess choose.”

Darcy swallowed hard, remembering how hard it had been when Ray had been in that position and chose his soulmate.

Jessica rolled her eyes, an affectionate smile on her lips. “He likes to say that he knew from the start that we were all meant to be together, but that’s just the romantic in him. It took a lot of work to get where we are today. And it’s a constant process.”

“Yup. But if I can give you any advice, it would be to not expect a lot at the beginning, and don’t be upset if one of the relationships goes a lot smoother than the other. You need to get to that point with both partners,” Stef added quickly. “But that’s how it happens sometimes.”

“And don’t feel bad for saying that you need more or less. If you feel left out, let them know. And if you need to back away for awhile, they need to know that, too.”

Darcy chuckled, “Aaron pretty much said the same thing. ‘If you know, you know. You can’t force it or you’ll just be hurt.’”

“That man,” Stef laughed. “Sometimes he’s so smart.”

The three women laughed and the conversation shifted away to Aaron and gossip about other grad students, what their jobs were, etc.

“If you ever want to talk - you or the guys - just let us know,” Stefanie said as they hugged goodbye.

“Seriously,” Jessica grinned. “You’re our first baby polys!”

Darcy watched as they walked away, hand in hand, and felt a bit more ready to have the talk.

OOO

“Did she tell you why she wanted to come up?” Steve asked, meeting his boyfriend’s eyes in the mirror as he rinsed off his razor blade.

Bucky spit into the sink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand while turning around. With a sigh, he walked across the bathroom and wrapped his arms around Steve’s middle. “You got the same texts I did.”

“What’d’ya think she’s gonna say?”

“Dunno.” Steve gave him a cautious smile before tilting his chin up and scraping the razor along his throat. “Think she’ll say yes?” Buck asked.

“Dunno,” Steve replied, while rinsing the razor again. Buck shifted to rest his hip against the sink and watched, trying not to smirk as Steve rolled his lips together to shave under his nose. It was still amusing to see him shave daily, when before he’d been able to go almost a week without.

“Sirs, Ms. Lewis is requesting access to the underground garage,” Jarvis announced.

Buck froze, thinking about the list of things they hadn’t gotten done before Darcy arrived. He’d just gotten off the quinjet from Argentina, where he and Natasha been tracking some of the last Red Room operatives, when Steve had pulled him into an intel briefing. While his team had been raiding a domestic terrorist cell planning a biological attack, they’d stumbled across an abandoned, off the books HYDRA base that had been outside of Philly. SHIELD had been able to recover some of their records, which included reports on the Winter Soldier’s activities during the 1970s.

Though he’d recovered most of his memories, there were still gaps and Buck’d put out a standing order that he was read into any intel SHIELD found about the Winter Soldier.

Buck had stumbled into the shower as soon as they got up to their apartment, and spent twenty minutes trying to shut out the images of his destruction. When Steve had joined him, he’d seen the worry in his eyes and knew he was fighting the urge to say he wasn’t responsible for what happened.

“Let her in,” Steve said before swallowing hard and looking at his boyfriend. “You good?”

“I’ll go get her,” he replied, pushing off the sink. He’d just taken a step when Steve tugged at his shirt to stop him.

“Buck - “

“I’ll be fine.”

Steve nodded and reeled him in closer. “We’re gonna be okay, no matter what happens.”

Bucky nodded, not entirely sure if he meant with HYDRA or Darcy, before leaning in to kiss him. He pulled back just far enough to say, “We’re solid.” Steve hummed his affirmation against his lips before pulling away and wiping some shaving cream from Buck’s cheek.

Darcy was standing by her car and fiddling with her phone, duffle bag at her feet, when he reached the garage. As soon as the elevator doors opened, her eyes darted to meet his and a shy smile crossed her lips.

“You made it.”

“So did you,” she replied, a flush creeping into her cheeks at the gentle reprimand.

“Sorry about all the rescheduling,” James sighed. Darcy shrugged and reached for him as he neared and stood on her toes to embrace him. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing in the faint coconut smell, and felt some of the tension bleed out of his his shoulders. They lingered just a second too long before she stepped back.

“Where’s Steve?”

“Upstairs. Probably trying to pick up a bit,” he replied, reaching for her bag.

“You guys don’t need to clean for me,” Darcy rolled her eyes as they made their way back to the elevator.

“Make sure you tell him that,” James teased. “He won’t believe it if I say it.”

“He doesn’t believe you on a lot of stuff I say. I guess playing telephone isn’t really gonna work out in this - ” Darcy stopped suddenly. He felt his heart leap while she felt hers start racing; she swallowed hard, suddenly feeling a bit warmer.

James didn’t prod and waved her into the elevator, stepping in after her and pressing the button for their floor. Darcy leaned against the back wall and looked up at the ceiling. “School going well?” he asked.

She snorted and reached up to adjust her glasses. “Just trying to get through coding. Not sure why my advisor is pushing mixed methods when it’s clearly a qualitative study.” When she heard Bucky’s soft chuckle, Darcy turned to look at him. “What?”

“Nothin’, Doll.” She rolled her eyes before looking at him.

“What about you? You guys get whatever you were working on done?”

James scowled and clenched his jaw. His hand flexed on the strap of the duffle as he replied, “Not yet.”

“Oh. Almost?” When he grunted, Darcy took it as a sign to drop the conversation. They stood in silence until the doors slid open.

Steve, in the midst of folding a blanket, grinned at them. “Hey Darce,” he said before tossing the blanket over the back of the couch. His smile faltered slightly when his eyes shot from Darcy to Bucky.

“Hey Steve,” she said, pushing off the wall and making her way towards him.

“Everything alright?” he asked when she wrapped her arms around him. He held her tightly, his eyes fixed on Buck who shook his head slightly and went to put Darcy’s bag in her room.

“Inadvertent foot in mouth,” she mumbled into his chest.

Sighing, Steve held her tighter, “S’not you. It’s been a rough couple of days for him.”

“Not you?” she asked, pulling away to look at him critically. He gave her a wry smile before shaking his head.

“Not as bad.” Darcy sighed and stepped out of his embrace.

“But still bad. Are you sure you want me here now? I can head home if you guys want some time alone.”

“No.” They both turned to see Buck standing in the doorway to her unofficial room. “No,” he repeated. “We want you here.”

“Oh-okay,” she said after a moment, stuttering slightly at his intense expression. Steve’s hand on the small of her back made her jump and she looked up at him.

“You want something to drink?”

“Alcohol.” He laughed uncomfortably while scrubbing a hand through his wet hair, making it jut up in spikes.

“Beer good? Or I can go and - “

“Beer’s fine.” Steve nodded and made his way to the kitchen, shooting his boyfriend a concerned look. Bucky shook his head minutely and followed him, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor.

“How was the drive?” Steve asked while reaching into the refrigerator and retrieving three bottles. Darcy grasped the question like a life raft and went into more detail about the five hour drive than was strictly necessary, complaining about the bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 and then nearly being rear ended at a light because the person wasn’t paying attention.

“And then - and then! - they had the audacity to flip me off!” she said, feeling slightly victorious when the corner of James’ mouth twitched. “Like I was the one who did something wrong. I swear to god, New York drivers are the worst.”

“Shoulda seen Stevie when he was learning,” James said, before taking a pull of his beer. “Almost put us both in the hospital with whiplash. Nearly wore out the clutch too.” Steve flushed, partially embarrassed but also happy that Buck remembered that.

“You weren’t any better,” he countered. “Your grandpop almost skinned you alive when he found out that you took out the car and scraped the wheel rims parking too close to the sidewalk.”

Darcy smiled around her beer, listening to the two men bicker back and forth. It was...comfortable. She let herself zone out, paying more attention to the cadence of their speech rather than the actual words. She’d missed this during their solo trips to DC to visit her.

“Darce? Darcy?” Steve said, snapping her out of her thoughts; his tone indicating that he’d been trying to get her attention for a while.

“Yeah?”

“What were you thinking for dinner? We haven’t had a chance to shop, so it’s gonna have to be take out - unless you want to go - “

“I think we should talk.”

Her words surprised all of them, and Darcy felt her face burn as she blushed. Quickly, she looked down and spun her beer bottle between her hands, ignoring the look that passed between Steve and James.

“Yeah?” James said, his voice hoarse.

“I think… I think we might as well get the awkward out of the way. Or it’s just gonna be… awkward…” she sighed.

It was silent for a moment until Steve retrieved a beer from the refrigerator. He tipped it in her direction but she shook her head at his offer.

Darcy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I have some questions.”

“Okay,” Steve said.

“I… um… how would this work?” she asked, before biting her lip. Steve and Bucky stared at one another before Steve cleared his throat and licked his lips.

“Logistically or…” he trailed off.

“Logistically!” Darcy squeaked. “I don’t even wanna touch that right now. What I mean is... “ she took a deep breath. “Would this be James and Steve, plus Darcy?”

“No,” Bucky frowned. “It would be Steve, you, and me.”

“I just,” she sighed, “I don’t know how that works with you guys being in New York and me being in DC.”

“Don’t let that be a factor,” Steve said quickly. “That… that’s something that can be fixed.”

“I can’t leave DC and you guys belong here. It’s hard enough doing long distance when it’s just two people but three? That’s - “

“We’re transferring.”

Darcy stared blankly at James, her mouth slightly open. “What? No! Don’t transfer for me. You guys belong here! New York is your home, you can’t leave just because - “

“This isn’t home,” he said, tearing his eyes away from Darcy to look at Steve. “This isn’t our New York. It… it’s not home without our people.”

“It’s not the same,” he agreed, frowning slightly. “It’s home but… not.” Shaking his head slightly, Steve turned his gaze to Darcy. “We’re transferring to DC regardless.”

“What about the Avengers?” Darcy asked. “If Tony goes back to California, and Thor back to Asgard, and Clint and Nat? They’re still in rotation for SHIELD, right? That just leaves Dr. Banner, who doesn’t seem all that willing to be the face of the -“

“That’s a whole lotta ‘ifs’, Doll,” Steve smirked. “But if it comes to it, we can be back. Quinjets get priority air clearance in an emergency.”

“If,” James started but stopped and shifted. “If you don’t want this, to be with -“

“I didn’t say that.” Darcy’s face flamed again and she tightened her grasp on the beer bottle. “I just… I don’t… I’m the odd man out,” she mumbled.

“What?” they both asked.

“I just… you guys are… you have history. You guys are Meant To Be - capital ‘M’, ‘T’, ‘B’.”

“Can’t have history if you don’t start,” James said, a hint of a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth.

“And if anyone’s the odd man out,” Steve said, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down at the floor. “It’s me.”

“No.”

Darcy didn’t know it was possible to suffuse so much venom into a single word, but James accomplished it. She looked over at him only to see his eyes locked on Steve. His jaw was clenched and the bottle in his hand looked in danger of shattering.

“Buck?” Steve said hesitantly.

“No,” he repeated through grit teeth. “This isn’t… it’s not because…” His angry gaze turned to Darcy, as if trying to make her understand as he struggled to speak.

“James,” Darcy started but stopped when he lifted his flesh and bone arm, and wrench down the sleeve to reveal his scarred wrist.

“These don’t...mean anything,” he ground out. “They’re just…”

Darcy stared at the scars as her hand drifted to the words tattooed on her just below her ribs. Slowly, a smile crept across her lips.

“Team Free Will,” she said softly.

“Team Free Will?” Steve echoed, confusion evident in his tone as Bucky nodded.

“Okay.”

Both men looked at her and Darcy flushed under their intensity.

“Okay?” Steve asked as he took a hesitant step towards her. Darcy nodded and he quickly closed the distance between them and lifted his hands to cup her face but stopped. “Are you… Can I…?”

She took a deep breath and nodded.

Steve’s eyes fell to her lips as he leaned down, his hands gently pulling her closer. The first brush of their lips was shy and halting, and Darcy pulled away to look at him before placing her hands on his chest and leaning in again. Steve’s hands fell to her waist and he pulled her closer, wanting to feel every inch of her against him.

When they broke apart to breathe, Darcy looked at the floor, her cheeks flushed, while Steve turned to look at Bucky.

His eyes were dark with want as he drank them in. The sheer force of it made Darcy lose her breath again when she lifted her gaze to meet his.

“Buck?” Steve said, pulling his attention to him, and lifted an eyebrow.

Darcy pulled away from Steve and swallowed hard as she took a step towards him. “You’re sure about this, right James?” Darcy asked, attempting a teasing tone that fell flat. “Because I’m pretty sure we both said - ”

His hand darted out to grab hers, and Darcy let out a shriek of surprise as he pulled her to his chest and threaded his hand through her hair. “Do me a favor, Doll?” he said quietly.

“Sure.”

“Call me Bucky.”

Darcy grinned and slid her hand up to wrap around the back of his neck. When their lips touched, they didn’t feel the electricity that some claimed they felt when they found their soul mates. Instead, it felt normal, like this was their thousandth kiss rather than their second.

“It’s going to take me a while to stop slipping up,” she cautioned.

“‘S long as you’re here to do it.”

Darcy turned back and reached out for Steve who smiled when she linked her pinkie with his. He brought their clasped hands to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.

Feeling a heady rush, she looked between her boys and nodded. “Promise.”