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bewitched, bothered, and bewildered

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Darcy Lewis had a secret.

Well ok, it wasn’t a secret from everybody, because of course her whole family knew and Jane knew. She was pretty sure that Thor suspected, at the very least, but they hadn’t really talked about it yet. SHIELD most definitely did not know, and would hopefully never find out, because Darcy was not an idiot.

Darcy Lewis was a witch. From a very long line of witches.

Not like in Harry Potter though, she didn’t have a wand or go to a fancy boarding school. She had learned sigils and potions and tinctures and spells from her mother and grandmother.

 

College had been difficult, because she didn’t exactly have a spot for her own herb garden, and roommates could be nosey, and they had to share the fridge. So Darcy got very talented at hiding the accoutrements of her magic in dresser drawers and shoe boxes, and kept her handwritten grimoire and spell notebooks in a lock box in the bottom drawer of her desk.

 

The practices continued, albeit to a slightly less paranoid degree, when Darcy moved to New Mexico as Dr. Jane Foster’s intern. Darcy had her own room and her own fridge, but Jane was an unknown entity, so Darcy still had to be careful. The herb garden on the roof of the converted car dealership could be explained away easily, and Darcy was careful to brew potions and cast spells almost entirely while Jane slept.

And so Jane remained totally clueless until the day that one of her machines caught the spike when Darcy cast an energy spell on her laptop to keep the battery from dying because her power cord was nowhere to be found.

Jane had been surprisingly cool about the whole witch thing, aside from telling Darcy not to cast when Jane needed to take particularly important readings of energy fields. Magic was acceptable, so long as it did not interfere with Science(!).

Erik had recognized the components of Darcy’s garden and her stash of tinctures in an instant—his own mother had been a witch. Erik had simply handed Darcy a recipe for “working tea” that his mother had perfected and asked if she could make it for long days in the lab.

For the first time in years, Darcy was around people who knew her deepest secret and didn’t think any less of her for it. She could relax in her own home for the first time since she had left for Culver at 18.

 

When SHIELD had swept in and started confiscating shit left and right, Darcy had slipped away “to go to the bathroom” and tossed any bit of magical paraphernalia into her lock box, placed the lock box in the middle of a laundry basket, and then buried it in dirty laundry.

Worked like a charm (except not actually, because charms were…well, you get the idea).

 

London was even easier than New Mexico, because the climate was infinitely kinder to Darcy’s plants and Jane’s mother was totally into New Age homeopathic health stuff and assumed that Darcy was of a similar bent. Ian, by extension, assumed the same, and wrote Darcy off as a neurotic and slightly flaky administrative assistant, which was fine by Darcy. (Safer to be underestimated.)

But then there was all that nonsense with the Dark Elves, and SHIELD came back once more, and everyone was super worried about Jane’s safety as the ever-favored object of Thor’s heart. And then Tony Stark caught wind of the little astrophysicist who could build bridges to other dimensions and other really impressive Science! things and made her a job offer, free from SHIELD oversight, with housing in Stark Tower included. Jane, darling Jane, demanded that she get to keep Darcy as her lab assistant (a promotion!) as a condition of her acceptance.

 

So now Darcy was the lab assistant to Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Jane Foster. Darcy had her own apartment in Stark Tower, with a degree of privacy that she had never before been privy to in her life. She spent the first few hours after unpacking chalking sigils up all over the place: for health and happiness, restful sleep and good dreams, for creativity, for security (JARVIS was great, but old habits die hard). She put bay leaves in the corners of each room, she burnt sage (only after making sure JARVIS wouldn’t trigger the smoke detector).

Within a week, Darcy had acquired a vintage armoire and added shelves to the inside to hold her potions, potions ingredients, tinctures, and grimoire. She started a garden up on the roof of the tower for all her herbs and flowers, delighted when Tony surprised her with a tiny greenhouse to protect them from smog and pollution.

Life in Stark Tower was awesome.

Chapter Text

Okay, things got a little more stressful when the spies moved in.

 

Because Tony was too absorbed in Science! to notice that Darcy’s herb garden had some peculiar varieties, or when she drew sigils in ketchup on his cheeseburgers. Likewise, Bruce never realized that Darcy made honey sigils in his cups of green tea before she brought them to his lab. Pepper was crazy busy running Stark Industries, and although she was nothing but kind and welcoming to Darcy, she wasn’t likely to notice any of her peculiar habits. Jane and Thor both knew about Darcy’s particular talents and accepted them as normal.

Steve wasn’t too bad, because he was just clueless enough about the youth of America today that he was willing to write off a lot of things as simply “modern” instead of “possibly magic.”

But Natasha and Clint were trained spies. They were observant and suspicious by training.

Okay, Clint was actually kind of a dork, and seemed to think that Darcy spent a stupidly long time applying sandwich condiments in order to achieve the ideal distribution of said condiment across the whole sandwich instead of drawing sigils for good health and safety and to boost the Scientists Three’s nutrient intake.

 

But Natasha had walked into the common kitchen one day just as Darcy was adding a few drops of her headache relief potion to Jane’s tea from an unmarked vial. Which, admittedly, maybe looked kind of suspicious. So Darcy pulled the old “holistic remedies” schtick out of her back pocket and even threw in the white lie that Jane’s mom had actually been the one to teach her the headache remedy that she had been giving Jane for years. Other than watching Jane a little more carefully than usual for the rest of the day, Natasha had seemed mollified.

 

But Darcy was getting frustrated. She came from a long line of witches who were predisposed to act as caretakers, and there were a whole lot of things she could do for her friends to make their lives easier or better or at least safer but she couldn’t actually do those things without blowing her cover. If she could get at their uniforms she could stitch in protective sigils, boost them with a few energy replenishment spells, maybe even something to ward off fire, since that had been an issue lately. She knew that Clint was having nightmares about Loki still, and there were about a dozen different things she could do to his bedroom to help with that, but just like with their uniforms, Darcy didn’t have access. And she couldn’t just ask JARVIS for access because JARVIS would have to run it by Tony (or the individual whose room she was trying to break into) and then they would want to know why and she couldn’t very well say that she wanted to draw a “restful sleep without bad dreams” sigil over Clint’s bed and stick a supercharged sachet of rosemary, peppermint, and black pepper under his pillow. (She could stick one under the cushions of every couch in the common room that people had a tendency to take naps on and play the smell off as a new air freshener, though.)

Thor, being accustomed to magical beings, noticed Darcy getting restless and antsy and gave her full reign over his and Jane’s apartment for an afternoon to cast spells and scrawl sigils, and then presented his uniform for blessings and protection spells (even though his mother had already done so before he left Asgard, so all Darcy could really do was give everything a recharge, dammit). She cast a few warming spells and left “protection from the elements” sigils under a few bridges in Central Park where the homeless tended to gather, and made hand-sewn stuffed animals filled with healing sachets for a local children’s hospital. When she was in Tony’s lab, she nudged DUM-E’s code to fix the long-standing glitch with the fire extinguishers and improved Butterfingers’ ability to maneuver around the lab without bumping into things.

She made special tea blends for all the Tower residents and shoved cups into people’s hands when she came across them in the common room in the evenings, or in the Scientists’ cases, hand-delivered cups to the labs daily. Bruce had his own blend of green tea with added orange peel and ginger. Tony couldn’t be persuaded to drink tea and Jane rarely did, so she made them a simple syrup with nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, and orange peel to sweeten their coffee with. Clint got a mint melange, Steve got a twist on Earl Grey with thyme, Natasha got a strong black tea with orange peel, cloves, and poppy seeds. Pepper got a rooibos base with nutmeg and vanilla for good fortune and cinnamon and hibiscus for love (what? Maybe Tony just needed a kick in the pants to make things a little more official). Thor had some kind of weird alien tea that Frigga had made for him, so Darcy let him be.

Natasha had narrowed her eyes at Darcy the first time she realized that everyone had particular blends, and had made a show of asking for Clint’s tea one night and Steve’s one morning as some kind of test. Darcy didn’t care, of course, because all of the teas were beneficial but none of them accomplished anything out of the ordinary—Clint’s tea didn’t make him fall asleep, it just ensured that when he did sleep he wouldn’t have nightmares. Once Natasha had seemingly established that none of them were laced with narcotics or a means of slowly poisoning the team, she relaxed and accepted her custom cups of tea with grace.

 

 

But it couldn’t last forever. Darcy couldn’t live in these peoples’ pockets and practice magic without anyone ever noticing. She had just figured it would be something normal that would give her away, like one of the spies breaking into her room and going through the armoire that housed all her magic supplies, or JARVIS tattling on her for messing with the bots’ code when Tony wasn’t looking.

But nooooo, of course not, because this was Stark Tower, where people BROKE IN to secure areas and tried to KIDNAP Jane right in front of Darcy while the team was away dealing with fire-breathing slug creatures in New Jersey. Really, what was Darcy to do when her platonic soulmate, the peanut butter to her jelly, the cheese to her macaroni, was threatened by a dude with a gun?

Apparently the answer to that was: explode the fluorescent lightbulbs over the guy’s head and send one of Jane’s machines flying at his head to knock him out until security could come get him.

 

Which was all well and good except that the team wasn’t actually in New Jersey anymore, but had landed on the roof a few minutes before JARVIS had sent up the alarm regarding the intruder in the labs, and so they arrived right outside the lab just in time to see said machine go flying from a completely unoccupied corner of the room in a perfect arc to conk the bad guy on the temple.

None of which Darcy or Jane realized until they popped their heads up over the lab table they had turned into barricade to see the team arrayed just outside the lab, looking alternately gobsmacked, betrayed, and delighted.

The delighted one, predictably, was Thor, who came sweeping in (stepping over the bad guy without a backwards glance) to sweep Jane up and give her a kiss. He then put Jane back down only to sweep Darcy up for a bone-cracking hug—“Seriously big guy, my spine wasn’t made to do things like that”—and then he swung her around in a circle.

“Well done, my lightning sister! A most impressive display in defense of my Jane.”

When he stopped twirling her around, and realized that the rest of his teammates looked less than pleased with Darcy, he refused to put her down.

Steve was in his stereotypical Captain pose, with fists on his hips. “Does somebody want to tell me what’s going on here?”

There was a brief interlude as the building’s security officers came in to cart away the bad guy before he regained consciousness.

As soon as they were gone, Jane stepped forward, arms crossed over her chest. “Darcy is a witch. She takes care of people. And I will not stand here and let any of you say a single thing against her for that, considering not one of you is normal.”

Darcy, still trapped in Thor’s arms, tapped her foot against Jane’s shoulder. “Janie, it’s okay, let me talk to them.” Jane huffed and shot another glare at the rest of the team before standing down. “I’m a witch, and I can do magic. But, before you lay into me, I was raised according to a very specific code that restricts what I can do. I can’t make anyone do anything against their will. Generally speaking, I can’t harm anyone, unless it’s in clear defense of a friend or family member. But rule number one is that I’m not supposed to tell anyone about what I can do, because it puts my entire family at risk.”

“If that’s true, then why do Jane and Thor clearly know about it?” asked Clint, clearly wounded.

“I didn’t actually tell either of them. One of Jane’s machines picked up on my magic when it threw off the readings, and Thor recognized it because of Frigga—although my magic isn’t as powerful as the Asgardian variety. Erik knows too, but only because he knew someone else like me and realized what I was on his own.” Darcy squirmed in Thor’s grip, which was quickly growing uncomfortable. “They’re the only ones outside of my family to ever know. And now you guys.”

After a few tense moments, Natasha asked, “The tea blends?”

“Specially designed to help each of you, to make your lives better, to keep you healthy—but the tea can’t make you do anything, and it doesn’t interfere with free will.”

“I need you to be more specific.”

“Clint’s tea helps to make sure he sleeps well and doesn’t get nightmares. But it doesn’t make him fall asleep. Your tea helps boost awareness and good fortune, helps you sleep well. Bruce’s is for luck, and happiness, and emotional peace—basically it makes it easier for him to control the Other Guy.”

“And mine?” Steve’s expression was completely unreadable.

“Helps you process your grief, and encourages hope for the future.”

Tony shook his head. “But I don’t have any tea. You’ve never made me tea.”

Darcy huffed out a small laugh. “Like you would drink tea, even I did make it especially for you. I make a special sweetener for you and Jane and put it in your coffee.”

“What does my special sweetener do?”

“Encourages happiness and good fortune, drives away negative energy.”

Tony squinted at her. “Wait a second, are you the reason that DUM-E only uses the fire extinguisher on actual fires now?”

“…Yeah.”

“Okay. I’m cool with this, so long as you don’t suddenly decide to break your ethical code and hex me. So if you all will excuse me, I need a shower.” And with a final wave, Tony headed towards the elevator.

Darcy wiggled around in frustration. “Thor, buddy, I know that you’re just trying to be the awesome protective older brother that I never had, but I really need you to put me down.” When he clearly hesitated, Darcy continued, “They’re not going to hurt me physically, and you can’t prevent emotional pain by carrying me around like a small child.” He finally deposited Darcy onto her own two feet. “So what now?”

Natasha pursed her lips. “I don’t know about these guys, but I’m going to need more information. Not even because I don’t trust what you’re saying, but…I need to understand what this means. I don’t have a frame of reference for what you can do.” Steve and Clint nodded in agreement.

Bruce shook his head, and said, “I’m in no position to question you, Darcy. But you’ve always insisted that I not hide who and what I am from you, so don’t hide from me.”

Darcy nodded and directed a warm smile in his direction. “You got it, Doc. Why don’t the rest of you meet me in my apartment after you’ve cleaned up and changed out of your uniforms? We can talk, I’ll do show and tell.”

Chapter Text

So Darcy was in her room, and she was kind of freaking out, because these people were her friends and she wasn’t really sure what she would do if they rejected her outright. She could promise never to use her powers on them, of course, but if they didn’t trust her then there would be no way of proving she was keeping her promise.

Darcy brewed a pot of tea (normal, non-magical tea) and added a honey sigil for positivity and protection to her own mug just to keep her hands busy.

She watered the little pots of basil, oregano, and lavender in her kitchen. She straightened out the throw pillows on her couch until they were perfectly symmetrical and she folded all her throw blankets.

Then she suddenly worried that maybe Clint, Natasha, and/or Steve would prefer coffee to tea, so she raced back into the kitchen to make a huge French press of coffee, just in case. Her hands were jittery enough that she nearly splashed the boiling water onto herself when she went to fill the press, but she jumped back in time so that it simply splashed all over the counter. Darcy sighed and cast a quick drying spell.

She jumped nearly a foot in the air when the knock on her door finally came. She set the press full of coffee and the tea pot on her little dining table on the way to the door, waving all three of her friends inside.

“I made coffee and tea. Of the totally normal, non-magical variety, just in case. Let me just grab some mugs for you guys…” She bustled back into the kitchen to grab a tray with three empty mugs, and her half-full cup of tea and carried everything out to them.

And then she froze as she stared down at the tray. “I’m sorry, you guys, I just realized I don’t have any normal honey or sugar in here. I mean, there’s some up in the common kitchen, but all mine are infused with herbs or flowers or spices and I know Natasha usually puts honey in her tea, and Clint takes like four tablespoons of sugar in his coffee…”

Clint stood up and pulled Darcy into a hug, shushing her. “Darce, babygirl, calm down. It’s okay. You're okay.” He rubbed a hand up and down her spine until her breathing evened out. “Now what kind of fancy experimental sugar can I put in my coffee?”

Darcy snorted into his tee-shirt. “Is vanilla sugar okay?”

“That sounds awesome.”

“Okay, let me go get it." She looked down to see that Natasha and Steve had both also opted for coffee. "Steve, do you want any milk?”

“No, thanks, Darcy. This is wonderful.”

Clint, predictably, spooned several heaping tablespoons worth of vanilla sugar into his mug and started stirring in what would likely be a vain attempt at dissolving it all.

Darcy sat down and fiddled with the handle of her mug. “So do you guys want to ask me specific questions, or do you just want me to talk?”

Steve leaned forward and set his mug on the table. “Maybe if you could start by explaining your abilities, and then we can ask questions if there’s something that’s unclear?”

The other two nodded in agreement, so Darcy took a deep breath and started talking. She told them all about how Lewis women had been witches for longer than they could trace their history. How she had been raised in a house by both her mother and her grandmother, how from a very young age they had told Darcy to keep her gift a secret from others, that she was only to use it help people. They taught her how to garden, how to nurture her ingredients, when to plant and when to prune, which of her ingredients could be poisonous if used incorrectly. Then they moved on to tinctures and sigils, and once she had mastered those, onto potions and spells. Darcy opened up the armoire to show them all her carefully labeled mason jars and tupperware containers, she made the sigils around her door visible so they could see what she was talking about. She explained that magic was a kind of energy that built up in the body, that had to be let out and used or she would get sick. She told them about all the side projects she had taken up to siphon off the energy—making safe spots for the homeless in the park, making healing stuffed animals for the children’s hospital, stockpiling various potions.

“So, in an ideal world, what would you like to be able to do for us—magically speaking?”

“Well, first, you have to understand that there are certain things I won’t do without your express consent. I won’t administer potions—whether they’re for headaches, or to help you fall asleep—without you asking for them, or at least agreeing to take them. Less invasive things, like sigils or the tea, I can do without verbal consent, but if you ever ask me to stop, I will. Ideally, I’d like to sew protective sigils into your uniforms. I could even cast some spells that would keep your energy up when you’re wearing them. I could put a sigil on Clint’s headboard to help him sleep better—that would be more effective than the tea alone.” Darcy closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. “If any of it makes you uncomfortable I can stop; I can funnel my energy into the other people in the Tower, and to people outside the Tower. You shouldn't feel obligated to let me do anything.”

Clint spoke up first; “I just have one question: you said that Thor recognized your magic because it was similar to Frigga’s, but can you do what Loki does?”

Darcy shook her head frantically. “No! No, Clint. I can’t make people do things against their will, and I can’t craft illusions. It’s more like—I can grease the wheels, you know? I can give little nudges, or make things easier, but the kind of magic that I have can't make anyone do something they don’t want to do. I can’t get inside people’s minds, either. I wouldn’t want to.”

Clint visibly relaxed, looking far more like himself. “In that case, can you do something to my uniform that will make it less likely that I’ll need to jump off a roof all the time? Or at least make it more likely that someone will catch me?”

Darcy grinned and nodded. “I can certainly do my best, birdbrain.”

Clint groaned and ruffled her hair. “Alright, I’m gonna go feed Pizza Dog while you finish up with these two. But I expect you to come by my place to draw that 'sweet dreams' sigil within the next couple of days.”

“You got it, Clint.”

 

A few moments after the door closed behind Clint, Steve rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and asked, “Darcy, would it be possible for you to—is there a way you could locate someone, using your magic?”

Darcy smiled sadly and shrugged. “I’m not sure, actually. In theory it would be possible to locate someone magically, but that isn’t one of the skills in my family. We’re primarily caretakers, so the knowledge I have is focused on physical and emotional health, household stuff. I can ask Grandma Lewis if she knows anything that might help, but I can’t guarantee anything. There are things I can do to help him once you get Bucky back, but he’ll still have to be willing.”

Steve nodded and stood. “I understand. If you could look into it, I would be grateful. And I’ll tell JARVIS to give you access to my suit. I'd appreciate it if you left the shield alone, though.”

“Of course. And I’ll call home tomorrow and let you know what I find out about locating spells.”

Which left Darcy sitting across the table from Natasha.

“I am going to ask something of you that you will not like.” Darcy nodded for her to continue. “I want you to give me some of the sleep potion in that cabinet. I need to feel how it works; I need to know whether or not I can fight it. And I want to be clear that this is not because I don’t trust you, milaya, but because there are more like you who I do not know. I could not ask this of you if I did not trust you with my life—you understand?”

Darcy nodded and retrieved the proper mason jar from the cabinet and a clean spoon from the kitchen before sitting back down at the table and pulling Natasha’s tea cup to sit in front of her. “I have to ask: you are sure that you want me to give you this potion?”

“Yes.”

Darcy picked up the jar and rolled her wrist, causing the pearlescent liquid inside to slosh and mix. “Do you want me to give you the dose I would give an average person, or what I would give you as someone who’s familiar with your enhanced metabolism?”

Natasha gave a slow blink in response, which was (as far as Darcy had been able to tell) her version of surprise.

“You heal faster than normal, your alcohol tolerance is obscene for someone of your size, and you have superhuman endurance. And whenever medical gives you prescriptions, they’re for higher than average doses. I’ve been trained to keep an eye out for these things. I may not be a doctor, but proper dosage is still important.”

Natasha nodded. “Of course. Sometimes even I forget not to underestimate you.” Darcy blushed and ducked her head. “Give me the dose that you would give me if you wanted it to be effective.”

Darcy nodded and carefully measured out two full tablespoons of the potion into the mug, before pouring the now tepid tea over it and stirring. “You should be able to fight it off, but it will make you drowsy enough that I’d prefer to do this on the couch.”

Natasha slid the cup out of her hand and across the table before linking her fingers with Darcy’s. “Milaya, it would not be a very good test of my faculties if I took away my own incentive to fight it off. The worst that can happen is that I fall to the floor, and at this distance I won’t do anything that won’t heal within the hour.”

Darcy let out a little noise of protest and squirmed in her seat.

Natasha smirked and downed her tea in three gulps. “I told you that you would not like it.”

Darcy glared at her. “I tell you that I feel a bone-deep obligation to take care of you and protect you, and you use my magic to intentionally put yourself in harm’s way. And make me watch you do it.”

“If I do manage to injure myself, I’ll let you heal me. How’s that?”

“Still shitty.”

Natasha gave her a warm smile. “Forgive a spy her precautionary measures, and she will forgive yours. Leave the Bites alone, but you may do what you wish to my suit.”

Chapter Text

Darcy’s conversation with Grandma Lewis regarding the *hypothetical* possibility of using some kind of spell to locate a person who could be on the other side of the globe (and likely wouldn’t remain stationary for long) went slightly better than expected. By which Darcy meant that Nanna had promised to call an old friend who was good at finding things. (Darcy only barely held back the Hufflepuff joke on the tip of her tongue.)

A few hours later, while Darcy was in Tony’s lab trying to transcribe his scribbled notes, Nanna called back and asked Darcy if she had a working fax machine.

“A fax machine? Nanna, nobody uses fax machines anymore. There’s email and shared cloud storage, now. They’re much faster, and more reliable. Why can’t you use one of those?”

You can’t store things in a cloud, dearest, they’re nothing but vapor. Although you can store clouds, they’re very useful in mood elevating potions.

Darcy pinched the bridge of her nose and shouted across the lab, “Tony, is there a functioning fax machine somewhere in this tower?”

Tony flipped up the visor on his welding helmet and stared at her. “Please tell me you did not just utter the words ‘fax machine’ in a state-of-the-art lab in a building that is powered by the most advanced energy device known on this planet. To me.”

“Tony, my grandma needs to send me something.” She held her hand over the microphone before continuing, “She’s in her eighties, Tony, it’s hard enough to get her to send a regular email, let alone try to explain how to upload, attach, and send files through the cloud. Please?”

Tony rolled his eyes before calling out to JARVIS, “J, Darcy needs the number for the fax machine in the closet in Pepper’s office.”

“Of course, sir.”

 

 ***

 

Grandma Lewis’s mysterious “friend” had faxed over pages and pages worth of spells from a grimoire that dealt with locating lost items (Darcy gasped in delight when she realized that one would likely work to locate her favorite pair of headphones, which had been buried in the detritus of Jane’s lab for weeks now).

At the end of the string of paper was a handwritten note:

Fret not, little one. It should be easier to track a living being than an object, for they leave behind energy traces in a way the inorganic cannot. Use something they have touched as an anchor. Remember, revel in the chaos, then bend it to your will.

 

So Darcy made her way to Steve’s apartment to share the good news. Or at least the potential for good news. She followed him inside and took a seat at the dining table (a sturdy rectangular thing in a natural wood grain that was in stark contrast to her brightly painted circular one) while he brought cups of coffee in from the kitchen.

She thanked him for the coffee and took a sip before starting. “So, I have some good news for you. A friend of my grandmother’s sent over some spells that I can use as a starting point to come up with something to locate Bucky. But I need what's known as an anchor point for it to work—it could be something that used to belong to Bucky, or something that he touched...”

Steve frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Most of his belongings went to his family back in the forties. And my stuff was held in SHIELD storage for decades while I was in the ice. I don’t know that I have anything that belonged to him.”

Which was fucking depressing and awful, and now Darcy was reigning in the impulse to fix it because she made Steve sad and that was just pushing all her NO buttons. “It doesn’t have to be something that necessarily belonged to him, just something that he had contact with. Maybe something with his handwriting on it, or something that you both shared like a book or a photo album…”

Steve straightened up, a metaphorical lightbulb going off over his head. “A letter? Would that work?”

Darcy brightened and nodded. “A letter would be ideal actually. People always put a lot of themselves into letters.”

Steve excused himself for a moment to retrieve the letter from somewhere else in the apartment and Darcy indulged her own curiosity and looked around. She’d never been inside Steve's place before, and was struck by how clean and spare everything was. The solid geometry of mid-century modern design, rich brown wood and leather furniture and a navy throw blanket. Battered secondhand books filled a bookcase in the corner. A closed sketchbook on the coffee table. There were a few framed photos over on the bookcase, but Darcy wasn't close enough to make out who was in any of them.

Steve came back in wielding a yellowed sheet of paper covered front and back in spiky yet neat script. “It’s the first letter that Buck sent me after he shipped out.”

Darcy took it gently into her hands and smiled. “I’ll take good care of it, I promise.”

 

***

 

Darcy had been attempting to rework the locator spells for close to a week without any sign of success and she was starting to feel drained. And frustrated. She was currently in the common living area, laying on the ground with her legs up on the couch, staring at the ceiling and thinking.

Bend the chaos to your will.

The letter was her anchor. The still point of the turning world. So then Bucky was the chaos.

But how could she "bend" Bucky to her will? And against his will? That would never work. That was against like, ALL the rules.

Then Darcy was struck by a sudden clarity and tried to sit up, only to fall back down when her abs protested at being shoved against her knees. She rolled over sideways and stood up and started pacing.

The letter was her anchor, the energy trace was the chain that linked her back to Bucky, who was the ship. The chaos wasn’t Bucky, the chaos was the current.

 

“Lewis, have you snapped? What the hell are you saying?”

Darcy whirled around to see Tony standing in the doorway in a grease stained t-shirt and a very concerned look on his face. She must have said that last bit out loud.

Unconcerned, she let out a delighted laugh and skipped up to him, smacking a plum-colored kiss to his cheek, uncaring of the grease smears. “No, I just had an epiphany. And unlike some people—“ she poked him firmly to the right of the arc reactor—“I didn’t even blow anything up in the process." She took a closer look at him and pursed her lips. "Are you hungry? You look hungry. When’s the last time you ate?”

Tony blinked at her. “There were blueberries in the lab. And a smoothie.”

Darcy hooked her arm around his and steered him towards the kitchen. “I brought you that smoothie this morning, which means you didn’t have a real breakfast and you missed lunch. So I’m feeding you. How do you feel about pasta?”

 

*** 

 

Darcy placed an order on Amazon for a gigantic laminated world map, a kiddie pool, and a rubber duck (rubber ducky, Bucky—at least she was amused) and paid for next day shipping.

She affixed the map to the bottom of the kiddie pool before dragging it out onto the building's roof and filling it with water. She then went back into her apartment to retrieve Bucky’s letter to Steve and drew matching invisible sigils on the letter and the bottom of the duck. She dropped the duck into the pool and watched it float over the map for a moment before she took the letter in both her hands, and focused.

She took deep breaths and emptied her mind of anything but Bucky’s words, his connection to Steve, his energy in the ink on the page in her hands, and then she felt for the source on the nebulous currents of human energies clustered in groups in cities around the world. Spiraling out in search of the connecting thread until she felt a little jolt of recognition and froze.

Her eyes flew open to where the little rubber duck was hovering over New York City, immovable even in the face of the wind currents blowing over the Tower’s roof, and frowned.

Darcy reappeared on the roof ten minutes later with Lucky’s collar in one hand and a birthday card from her Nanna in the other. But when the rubber duck indicated that Lucky was also in New York (verifiable) and her Nanna was just west of Hartford, Connecticut (at home), Darcy was forced to reconsider the likelihood that Bucky was also in New York and way closer to home than anyone had expected.

 

It took three hours to get the copy shop down the road to print and laminate a giant map of New York City and the surrounding area, which Darcy promptly affixed to the bottom of the kiddie pool in place of the world map. Then she repeated the rest of the necessary steps, opening her eyes after a few moments to see the rubber duck hovering over Brighton Beach and allowed a triumphant smile to spread across her face.

Zdravstvuyte, James Buchanan Barnes.”

 

 

Darcy barreled into the Avenger’s training gym where Steve was in the middle of a spar with Natasha while Clint observed them from the rafters.

“It worked!”

Clint swung down from the rafters to land next to his teammates and three set of eyes turned to look at her, her hair windblown and cheeks flushed.

“I finally got it to work. I found him!”

Steve was practically vibrating with tension. “Where is he?”

“Brighton Beach.”

All three Avengers froze. “That’s not—you’re sure?”

Darcy shrugged. “As sure as anyone can be about anything, I suppose.”

Natasha asked, “I thought you were having trouble getting it to work?”

“Well, I had to think outside the box.”

Clint snorted. “You’re a witch. What does ‘outside the box’ even mean to you?”

“A laminated map, a kiddie pool, and a rubber ducky up on the roof.”

Steve started to laugh hysterically. “Close to a year of searching and a rubber duck tells me that Bucky is a only subway ride away.”

Darcy opened her mouth to argue with him, before promptly deflating. “Okay…indirectly, yes.”

Natasha elbowed Steve in the stomach. “Cease your hysterics. It’s a good lead, and it makes sense. In the right neighborhood, he could easily pass for a Russian expat, and most people would assume that someone who carries himself like the Soldier has ties to organized crime and would give him a wide berth.”

Darcy tilted her head consideringly and added, “And he’s close, just in case Steve needs him.”

Steve gaped at Darcy. “What?”

“Well, if he really didn’t care and wanted absolutely nothing to do with you, there are plenty of other places he could hide. And more effectively.”

Natasha guided the boys towards the door of the gym. “Steve, we need to plan what we’re going to do from here. Clint, go get everyone else for a meeting.”

Chapter Text

Darcy had a shopping list of potions ingredients that she needed to stock up on at a local supply—preferably before Bucky came back to the Tower. So she swung by Clint’s apartment to pick up Lucky, hooking his leash into his collar as he pranced around her. The little old witch who ran the potions supply had a soft spot for the one-eyed pup and always gave Darcy the freshest batches of ingredients when he tagged along, not to mention that the dog needed way more exercise than he was getting currently if Clint was going to continue letting him eat pizza.

Darcy was in the midst of explaining to Lucky that he needed to behave like a gentleman once they exited the elevator, and not to steal anyone’s food (even the hot dogs from the sidewalk carts), and not to bark at the pigeons (even if they were terribly rude, most days) when the elevator door opened and Steve stepped in, looking harried.

“Afternoon, Captain.”

“Darcy, hi. Oh, and Lucky. You taking him for a walk?”

Darcy shrugged. “I need to go get some ingredients and the lady who runs the store has a soft spot for this charmer.” Lucky gave a quiet woof and winked his one good eye. “I mean who can resist that mug?” She gave him a scratch behind the ear as she glanced up at Steve. “You alright?”

Steve ran a hand over his face and sighed. “You know how it is, nobody can agree on the next step and Tony’s insisting that he needs to install a few security upgrades to the Tower before we even go looking for Bucky.” He leaned back against the wall of the elevator. “I guess that I always thought that finding him would be the hard part.”

“There is a price to be paid for all things in life, and sometimes the most important things exact the highest toll.”

Steve arched an eyebrow at her. “Did you get that from a fortune cookie?”

Darcy laughed. “Close—my grandmother. Although the context was a bit different: she was telling me that I had to earn the money to buy tickets to a Christina Aguilera concert when I was in middle school.”

Steve laughed and his shoulders lowered a bit.

“You should come with me. I can’t even imagine the deals that Flora will give me with both your face and Lucky’s on my side.”

Steve startled and looked at her. “Am I actually allowed to come with you? I mean when you said ‘ingredients,’ I assumed—”

“Steve, the rules are a lot like Fight Club. You can’t talk about Fight Club, but once you are initiated to can tag along to Fight Club.”

“…I have no idea what you just said to me.”

Darcy rolled her eyes and tugged Lucky and Steve out of the elevator. “It means you’re allowed to come with me, and you need to get some fresh air anyways.”

 

Steve followed Darcy and the dog through the streets of New York, winding downtown towards Hell’s Kitchen. Every so often Lucky would tense, as though getting ready to chase one of the pigeons, but Darcy would simply utter a quiet no and he would trot back to her side, tongue lolling.

After about twenty minutes of companionable near-silence, Darcy made a sudden turn down down a flight of steps to the basement apartment of a nondescript brownstone. She turned to see if Steve was still there, and rang the doorbell after giving him a reassuring smile.

Flora opened the door abruptly, wooden bracelets clacking against one another on her wrist. “Darcy, querida, como estás?” Lucky let out a quiet woof from where he was patiently waiting at Darcy’s feet in an obvious bid for attention. “And you brought Lucky with you! Smart girl, using my soft heart against me.”

Hola, Flora. I also brought my friend, Steve.” She waved a hand towards him.

Flora cocked her eyes and eyed him suspiciously. “He knows?” Darcy nodded. “You trust him?”

Darcy couldn’t quite resist the ironic smile that crossed her lips at Captain America's trustworthiness being called into question. “Absolutely.”

Flora nodded and waved them through the door. “Está bien. Come in, all of you.” She shuffled into the apartment.

Darcy pulled her shopping list out of her pocket and handed it over to Flora, who looked it over and whistled. “You must be working overtime, querida. Finally cobbled together a family that you need to take care of, I see.”

Darcy didn’t bother to confirm or deny that, but carefully grabbed Steve’s elbow to guide him through the apartment to the storeroom, cooing a soft hello to Flora’s pet finches on the way.

 

Darcy handed Lucky’s leash over to Steve at the threshold to Flora’s storeroom and asked him to wait there while they gathered everything she needed. Flora set Darcy’s list on the small table at the center of the room, and both women darted around the various shelves to gather items and place them on the table. Bottles of summer rain and melted snow, powdered butterfly wings and whole raven’s feathers (all ethically sourced), dried poppy flowers, dittany, honeycomb, moonstone, jars full of pine needles, willow bark, rose thorns, and nettles, small vials of happy-tears, mother’s milk, and baby teeth.

Darcy dug out a few ingredients to donate to Flora’s stock out of her own bag: a tiny vial of accidentally spilled blood (rarely useful for her own spells but very hard to come by, and Darcy had slipped while chopping an onion last week) and ziplock bag full of maiden’s hair (also her own, thanks, harvested from her hair brush). She then pulled the proper stack of cash out of her wallet to pay for the rest of her ingredients, blushing and giving Flora a peck on her wrinkled cheek when the woman shoved one of the $20 bills back into her wallet.

Once her ingredients had been carefully packed into several tote bags, Flora took Darcy’s face gently in both hands and pressed a kiss to the center of her forehead. “You feel steady, querida. Having a family to care for suits you—gives you an outlet for all that energy.”

Gracias, Flora. Te amo tambien.”

 

Steve took the heavy bags of potions ingredients out of Darcy’s hand as soon as they were out the door and handed back Lucky’s leash with a self-deprecating smile. “Let’s be honest about our respective skills here. I’ll do the heavy lifting, you work your magic on the pizza thief.”

Darcy laughed and looked down at Lucky. “Sounds like this one has your number, Lucky. And yet, it seems that not even Captain America can shame you away from your thievery.”

 

 

“Do you really think that Bucky chose Brighton Beach so that he could be close to me?”

Darcy looked at Steve out of the corner of her eye, but kept her voice casual as she responded, “There’s a hell of a lot of real estate for someone with his skills to hide in on this earth. I can’t imagine that choosing a spot that close to where you both grew up, and to your current—very well publicized—location is a coincidence.”

They both slowed to a stop so that Lucky could sniff around a particularly fascinating tree and Steve shifted his grip on Darcy’s reusable tote bags. “I’ve been chasing his shadow all over the place for months now, and to think he’s been so close for who knows how long—but that I still can’t see him or talk to him—it hurts.”

Darcy took a step closer so that their arms brushed, but still didn’t make eye contact. “Did it ever occur to you that he’s worried for you just as much as you are for him? He was programmed to kill you, Steve. He probably doesn’t trust his own body or mind not to try again if given the opportunity. A few months of freedom in the face of decades of programming—I think maybe he’s trying to keep you safe the only way he knows how.”

They started walking again as Lucky lost interest in the tree.

“Sam said something similar. He thinks it might be better if I didn’t go with the team to Brighton Beach to look for him. Thinks that Bucky might be more likely to come in if he doesn’t have to worry about how he’ll react to me in an uncontrolled environment. Even if Sam's wrong, I'll be close by and could get there quickly...”

“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine being asked to make that call.”

A few moments passed in silence. “The Steve Rogers that Bucky grew up with would already be in Brighton Beach. He would rush in head-first and tear the whole place apart to find his friend and bring him home.”

Darcy shot him a lopsided smile. “But Captain America was taught to think strategically and knows that he has a better chance of getting what he wants by staying out of it for the moment, am I right?”

Steve nodded.

“You know, I read a lot of books about Captain America and the Howling Commandos as a student. And from what I remember, Bucky Barnes was always taking care of Steve Rogers, always making sure that somebody had his back—before and after the serum.” She turned her head to look at Steve. “What do you think it would do to him if, despite his best efforts to keep you safe, you put him in a situation where hurt you? Or even killed you?”

Steve finally looked back at her. “Maybe you’re right. You and Sam both.” He let out a heavy sigh and moved as though to run a hand over his face only to realize halfway through that his hands were full. “Any chance you can make me a cup of that special tea when we get back? I could use the nudge.”

Darcy laughed and nodded. “Absolutely. I’ll make you a whole pot of special tea.”

Chapter Text

It took four days of Natasha, Clint, and Sam wandering around Brighton Beach to find Bucky and bring him in. In the meantime, Darcy made a lot of tea for Steve, and recruited his impressive forearm and hand strength to grind all her new potions ingredients by mortar and pestle in order to distract him.

Also because the look on his face when she asked him to pulverize a vial full of baby teeth was priceless.

“Steve, in case you forgot in the 90 or so years since you were a child, they just fall out. Nobody was hurt in the acquisition of those teeth. Well, one of Marley’s sons has a tendency to try the string-tied-to-a-slamming-door method of pulling them so that he can get money from the tooth fairy faster, but nobody’s going around stealing children’s baby teeth so that I can make potions.”

Steve gaped at her. “You know the people these teeth came from? And you’re still okay with this?”

She rolled her eyes and continued to pluck thyme off of stems for drying. “Of course. Most of us are very careful about where our ingredients come from. Those teeth came from the children of witches who are losing their teeth naturally, like millions of other children in America. Only instead of throwing them away or keeping them as slightly macabre keepsakes of their children’s maturation, the witches donate them to Flora’s communal ingredients cabinet so that other people can benefit from what is a natural human process. Did you miss the part where I gave Flora a vial of my blood and bag full of my hair? It’s no different.”

Steve shook his head. “Can you acknowledge for one moment that this is a strange thing to ask of me? Objectively, I can see the logic in your argument, but this a new thing for me, and I am dealing with a very visceral negative reaction here.”

Darcy could maintain the illusion of seriousness no longer and burst out laughing. “Steve, I’m just trying to distract you from your nervous jittering. The teeth stay whole; you don’t need to grind them up.” She swapped the vial out for a different small jar. “The caraway seeds in that jar, however, do need to be in powder form. Be a dear?”

“Jesus Christ, Darcy, that was messed up.”

“But?”

He sighed and dumped the jar of caraway seeds into the mortar. “But effective.”

Captain Rogers, Miss Darcy, Agent Romanov has asked me to inform you that she is returning to the Tower with Sergeant Barnes. She has asked that Captain Rogers wait until Mr. Wilson has spoken with him before looking for the Sergeant.

Steve was frozen, eyes wide. Darcy gently took the pestle from him, and brushed her thumb over his knuckles. “Steve, take a deep breath or I’ll punch you in the gut and make you.” He managed to suck in a deep breath, but tightened his own grip on her hand. “He’s safe and he’s coming back. You’ll get to see him soon.”

Darcy steered Steve into her most comfortable armchair and draped a blanket over him. “I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.”

Steve, seemingly recovered from the initial shock, glanced down at the blanket covering his torso, bemused. “Exactly which one of us is this supposed to make feel better?”

Darcy huffed. “Well, I know it makes me feel better. If it helps calm you down then that’s just a bonus. Now let me fuss in peace.”

 

***

 

Both Clint and Sam appeared at Darcy’s door about an hour later. Sam put a reassuring hand to Darcy’s shoulder before heading in to talk to Steve, but Clint grimaced and jerked his head behind him towards the hallway.

“He’d like to talk to you.”

Darcy glanced over her shoulder to where Steve and Sam were no doubt talking in the living room, and thought about Steve’s enhanced hearing. She pushed Clint out in to the hallway and followed him. “Let’s give those two some privacy.” She pressed her index finger to her lips and motioned for Clint to head down the hall towards the elevators. “Why would he want to talk to me? Why does he even know who I am?”

Clint shrugged. “He asked how we found him. Natasha said that a friend back at the Tower figured out a way to locate him.”

“That doesn’t explain why he wants to talk to me.”

“He knows that you found him, that you helped Sam to convince Steve to stay back in order to keep both of them safe, that you stayed with Steve while we looked for Bucky in Brighton Beach.”

“And?”

They stepped into the elevator together and Clint pressed the number for the floor he shared with Natasha.

“I think he wants to thank you? Not really sure. But Nat’s says it’s safe, and she’ll be in the room.”

“Does he know how I found him?”

“Not our secret to tell. I believe Nat’s exact words were, ‘Darcy is a woman of many talents.’”

“Not untrue.”

“She does prefer to err on the side of deflecting rather than lying outright. And whatever explanation you do or do not want to give Bucky is up to you. We’ll back your play.”

Darcy pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’d prefer to be honest with him, especially given his history. But I really can’t afford to have Hydra find out that I’m more than a mere lab assistant.”

“JARVIS did a scan and couldn’t detect any radio signals to indicate that he’s being monitored or that he’s transmitting information, knowingly or otherwise. He hasn’t had to dispatch any Hydra agents for a few months, and he’s been in Brighton Beach for going on eight weeks. We can’t guarantee that they’ll never get their hands on him in the future, obviously, but I don’t think your information is at any more risk in his head than it is in mine or Nat’s.”

The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the hall.

“Good enough for me, then. It would be nearly impossible to hide the truth at this point anyway, assuming he stays in the tower.”

“That's assuming there's a possibility that Steve will let him leave the tower.”

Darcy punched Clint in the arm. “He’s not going to put his long-lost friend under house arrest. Steve isn’t perfect, but he’s certainly aware of the fact that doing that would make him no better than Hydra. I think.”

They stopped outside Natasha’s door and Clint knocked before retreating back down the hall. “I've got a dog to feed, so I’ll leave you guys to it. Good luck.”

 

 

Natasha steered Darcy into the living room of her apartment, where Bucky was perched awkwardly on a black leather couch. He blinked when he caught sight of Darcy.

“She’s the one who found me?”

Darcy popped her hip and smirked. “Which cliche would you prefer? ‘The meek shall inherit' or ‘small but mighty’?”

Natasha let out a sound that might have been her version of a snort. “Darcy, no one would ever describe you as meek.”

Darcy shrugged in agreement and sat in the armchair to the left of Bucky. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Bucky. I’m Darcy Lewis.”

There was an awkward moment of prolonged silence as he studied her closely, his gaze sharp, darting between the holes in her worn, oversized sweater and the wisps of hair that had come loose from her braid.

“How?”

Darcy pretended not to notice the way that Natasha’s posture shifted ever so slightly in readiness. 

“Magic.”

Bucky’s brows furrowed and he shook his head. “What?”

“You wanted to know how I found you, right? That’s your answer.”

He looked to Natasha, who was wearing her most neutral expression, and then back to Darcy. “You’re saying that you’re magic.”

“I’m a witch, yes.” She finally took pity on him (his face was just so tragically expressive), “The others already know, including Steve. I usually just take care of them, keep them healthy, but Steve asked if there was a way to find you using magic. So I did.”

He looked at Natasha, slightly desperate. She moved closer to Darcy, perched one hip on the arm of her chair. “I trust her. So does Steve. She’s not a threat.”

Darcy prickled ever so slightly. “I’m not a threat to you guys, but I’m not totally harmless. I am the one who took out the AIM thug who tried to kidnap Jane and tazed the God of Thunder, lest you forget.”

Bucky wheezed out a quiet laugh at that and shook his head ruefully. “Christ, she’s just like Stevie when he was still a little guy. Quite the spitfire.”

Darcy preened. “Much better.”

“These folks tell me that you’re the one that’s been keeping Steve from crawling out of his skin. That you helped convince him that I was worried about hurting him.” Darcy nodded. “Thank you for keeping him safe.”

Darcy shrugged. “I was happy to do it. Taking care of people’s kind of my thing.” She looked between Natasha and Bucky. “What’s the verdict on your BFF reunion?”

Bucky’s expression promptly veered back to confused at the acronym but Natasha lifted one shoulder. “So far I haven’t seen any indication of latent programming that would result in violent behavior. But just to be safe, we’re going to start with one of them in the lab on lockdown and see what happens upon first visual contact through the windows.”

Darcy leaned into her leg and looked up at her with a smirk. “Look at you! Such a spy, with all your strategies and plans.”

Natasha smiled down at her. “We all have our skill sets, milaya.”

 

***

 

In the end, the whole thing was pretty anticlimactic. Bucky stood awkwardly in the middle of Bruce’s lab (best lockdown procedures, strongest building materials, plus no machines that would trigger anything) with Natasha and Sam, and Steve walked down the hall, flanked by Darcy and Clint, to stop in front of the windows. Other than some seriously heart-wrenching facial expressions from both super soldiers, nothing out of the ordinary happened. JARVIS was instructed to lift lockdown and open the lab doors, and Steve promptly swept inside to pull Bucky into a bone-breaking hug.

 It was all totally heart-warming and beautiful and Darcy regretted not having her phone ready for documentation purposes because, seriously? This was more awwww-inducing than a whole pile of kittens.

She was also feeling a little uncomfortably voyeuristic, so after the first few seconds of heartwarming adorableness, she tugged Clint with her out of the room and towards the elevator.

 “I’m in the mood for take-out and Star Wars. You feel like laughing at space nerds with me for a few hours?”

Clint ruffled her hair. “Hell yes. Can we order from that Afghani place? I want lamb.”

 

***

 

Darcy was pressed against Clint’s side, their empty takeout containers on his coffee table where they had been licked clean by Lucky, when Natasha wandered in a few hours later. She raised a brow at the screen before folding herself onto the couch with her head in Darcy’s lap.

“Not that I am not reveling in the sheer amount of cuddles I am getting from my favorite government spies, but you don’t usually go for full-on snuggle time this quickly.” She dragged her fingers through Natasha’s hair, lightly dragging her nails across her scalp. “You feeling okay?”

“Headache.”

Darcy gave a sympathetic hum and continued to run her fingers through the copper-colored strands, casting a quick cooling spell on her fingertips to help with the headache.

Clint looked down at the assassin currently melting into Darcy’s lap. “Everything settled, then?” Natasha hummed an affirmative. “Bucky’s staying here?” Another hum. “Christ, Darce, I think you broke her—OW!” Clint’s mocking was promptly cut off as Natasha's hand darted out to pinch his thigh through his sweats.

“Silence, Clint. Watch your movie.”

Darcy pressed her face into Clint’s shoulder to smother her laugh.

Chapter Text

Darcy didn’t see Steve or Bucky for the next several days.

The boys were busy catching up with one another and moving Bucky into Steve’s apartment. Darcy’s schedule got thrown out of whack when Jane decided that they needed to observe some kind of astronomical phenomenon in the middle of the night from the roof of the Tower, so that she went to bed at 4am and didn’t wake up the next day until 1 in the afternoon. It took days to get back on a normal schedule for sleeping and eating, which meant she spent most of her time around Jane and Tony—the only other people operating on such an idiosyncratic schedule.

  

Which is how she found herself in Tony’s lab at 10 pm, eating Chinese takeout for dinner while DUM-E whirred around, depositing various items at her feet. Which was totally charming, don't get her wrong, but also seriously strange.

“Tony, what’s he doing?”

Tony glanced up from his carton of noodles and tracked DUM-E as he brought Darcy a handheld butane torch and added it to the small pile of scrap metal, screwdrivers, old blueprints, nuts and bolts at her feet.

“Huh. That’s new. Did you do something magical to his code again?”

Darcy shook her head. “Nope.”

If I may, I believe that DUM-E is attempting to convey gratitude through the giving of gifts, a behavior he has learned from Sir’s interactions with Miss Potts. He credits Miss Darcy with fixing the issue with the fire extinguishers, and as a result, Sir has not threatened to donate DUM-E to a community college for 12 days.

Darcy snickered into her carton of fried rice while Tony gaped at his robot. DUM-E was wheeling over towards a half-assembled Iron Man gauntlet, causing Tony to yelp and shoot out of his chair, shooing the bot away from it.

Darcy finally managed to control her laughter well enough to speak, “DUM-E, no more presents, sweetheart. You’re very welcome, and I’m just happy that Tony’s being nicer to you.”

The bot twirled and let out a series of cheerful beeps and whirs in response, but did finally stop mining Tony’s lab for gifts to add to Darcy's hoard.

Tony threw his hands up in the air. “Lewis, stop turning my tech against me.”

Darcy rolled her eyes as Tony sat back down across from her. “Now, Tony, just because your bots and JARVIS like to shower me with affection, it doesn’t mean that they love you any less.”

“Ew, gross, Lewis, don’t turn this into a thing with your emotions.”

 

***

 

Her maladjusted sleep schedule was also the reason that when she finally did see Steve and Bucky again, it was 11 am on a Thursday and she was still in her pajamas, with her hair a mess, and pillow creases impressed across her cheeks.

They stood in the hallway blinking at her, nearly in unison. “We could come back later…”

Darcy waved them off and gestured for them to follow her into the apartment, yawning widely as she summoned a blanket from the couch to wrap around her shoulders. She shuffled into the kitchen and assembled a pot of coffee, sending three mugs soaring to the kitchen table.

It wasn’t until she turned around and saw Bucky’s completely bug-eyed expression and Steve’s milder surprise that she paused. Bucky had never seen her (or anyone, as far as she knew) perform magic, and Steve had never seen quite that extent of casual spell-casting. But she was still half-asleep, so she wasn’t exactly at her best.

No verbal or magical filter.

“Sorry about the…” She waved her arounds vaguely. “My sleep schedule got all messed up when Jane decided to do midnight science on the roof on Monday night…Tuesday morning? Anyway, I don’t adjust well, so I’m still a little off.” She poured the boiling water into the French press and motioned for the soldiers to sit at the table.

She put the press in front of Steve and told him to go ahead and pour some for himself and Bucky but to leave her cup empty for the time being. She retrieved the infused simple syrup and a spoon from the kitchen, blearily dripping a sigil into the bottom of her cup before washing it away with hot coffee.  She took a sip of coffee, sighing in disappointment when she burned her tongue, and looked up, blinking at the two men in front of her.

“So what’s up?”

Surprisingly, it was Bucky who spoke first. “Punk here says that you’ve been helping Barton with his nightmares. I haven’t been sleeping so great.”

Darcy glanced over at Steve, taking in his concerned expression and the way his body was angled towards Bucky. And the dark circles under his eyes. Apparently if Bucky wasn’t sleeping well, neither was Steve. (Same bed? Or just super-soldier enhanced hearing? …Okay, no matter how appealing that first visual was, it was none of Darcy’s business, moving on.)

She smiled encouragingly at Bucky. “I can definitely help you with that, if you want me to.”

“He also—“ Steve broke off and glanced back at Bucky for a moment before continuing, “He’s been having some trouble with the mechanical arm locking up. But I don’t think Tony is the best idea right now—you know how he gets around new tech.”

Darcy nodded. “There’s a decent chance I can fix whatever’s wrong with the arm without needing physical access to the inside, so long as it isn't a huge mechanical thing.” She leaned closer to Bucky, “I got one of Tony’s bots to stop spraying him with a fire extinguisher and DUM-E gifted me with a whole hoard of found objects in thanks. Well technically, I think he was thanking me because Tony stopped threatening to get rid of him, but that’s splitting hairs, really. And you don’t have to give me a hoard of goodies in thanks, either, I’m happy to help for free. Really, it might be ethically weird if you were to pay me, even in the form of gifts, so don’t. Please.”

Darcy looked over to see Steve holding his coffee cup in front of his mouth in a poor bid at disguising his amusement with Darcy’s rambling, which—“Seriously, Steve? You come into my house, in the early hours of the morning—“

Bucky broke into her dramatic monologue. “This isn’t a house. And it’s almost noon.”

“Hush, Barnes, I’m on a roll here.” She turned back to Steve. “And you have the audacity to laugh at my stream-of-consciousness rambles when I have not yet finished my first cup of coffee while asking for my help?”

Steve managed to school his face into something between ‘apologetic’ and ‘kicked-puppy’. “You’re right, Darcy, I’m sorry. Bucky and I would both greatly appreciate your help, if it’s not terribly inconvenient.”

Darcy snorted into her coffee cup. “You’re way more manipulative than Tony gives you credit for. But you and I both know that the second any one of you come to me with a problem that I can solve that I’m constitutionally incapable of saying no.” She sensed Bucky squirm for a moment next to her and mentally replayed her last statement and cringed. “Okay, that came out wrong. Bucky, you missed the initial big conversation where we talked about how all this works. Basically, I want to take care of the people that I care about, and my supply of magical energy responds to my environment. I have no reason to deny your requests for help, so long as they are within my ability, and I find it personally satisfying to take care of people—especially family and friends. A group that you now belong to, you know, in case you weren’t aware of that.”

Bucky squinted at her for a moment before asking, “Are you always like this in the mornings?”

Darcy growled indignantly and poured the dregs of coffee from the French press into her mug before scowling down at her cup. “New rule: you people come to see me before noon, you bring coffee with you and you don’t make me say a thing until I’ve finished at least one whole cup.”

She retrieved a sachet of rosemary, mint, and black pepper from her armoire and dropped it on the table in front of Bucky. “Put this under your pillow for starters. There’s also one in every couch in the common room for napping purposes.” Steve raised a questioning brow at that. “I’ll have to brew a fresh batch of sleeping potion, and it needs to sit overnight, so I can’t get it to you before tomorrow. But I can draw a sigil on your headboard or stitch one into your pillowcase, like I did for Clint.”

Steve rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, which she knew was his nervous tell, and Darcy just caught a hint of a blush rising on his cheekbones. “I can drop off the pillowcases after lunch, if that works?” (and the little voice in Darcy’s head was just screeching about the adorable and also very aesthetically pleasing picture of the two of them sharing a bed, good lord, it was too much)

Bucky smirked. “I’ll make sure he brings some coffee with him, kukla.”

Spasibo. But for future reference, I prefer milaya. Or dorogaya.”

Steve looked back and forth between the two in confusion as Bucky laughed and asked, “Natalia’s been giving you lessons?”

Da, konechno. My Russian’s pretty limited, but I’ve got a few endearments down. Kukla isn’t one she uses often.”

Bucky shrugged. “Must be a residual Brooklyn thing, then.”

Darcy finally took pity on poor confused Steve, who despite his fluent French and passable German had not paid much attention to Russian considering he was frozen during the Cold War. “He called me ‘doll,’ which I’m assuming was a thing when you two were growing up.”

Steve cast a speculative glance over at Bucky and nodded slowly. “Yeah, yeah it was.”

Chapter Text

Darcy was working in Bruce’s lab when Steve reappeared that afternoon, folded pillowcases in one hand and a mug of hot coffee in the other. He pointedly handed Darcy the coffee first, and the pillowcases second.

Darcy made a small appreciative hum before asking, “Are you in a hurry or do you have a minute to chat while I drink the coffee you so thoughtfully provided?”

Steve shrugged. “Bucky’s trying to nap with that sachet you gave him under his pillow, so I’ve got time.”

“Well then, come into my office, friend. Pull up a chair.” Darcy’s arms swept dramatically out to each side to indicate the lab bench strewn with papers and conspicuous absence of a second chair.

Steve looked around and finally pulled another rolling chair over from across the lab, saying a quick hello to Bruce on the way back.

“So how’s Bucky settling in? Other than the trouble sleeping, of course.”

“Pretty well, all things considered. There’s still quite a bit that he doesn’t remember yet, and sometimes he’ll just kind of stop in the middle of doing something- like he’s remembering something- but he won’t talk about it right away. And he’s still uncomfortable around too many people, but he says he likes everyone that he’s met so far.”

“Well, consider me honored."  Darcy pursed her lips and twisted the seat of her rolling chair back and forth for a minute. “There’s a possibility that I could give Bucky something that would help with his memories, although it would definitely take awhile. But I'm not totally sure it would be a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“There’s probably no way to target specific periods of time in his brain—it just isn’t how memory works, and magic has to work within certain parameters. So if I make it easier to retrieve his memories, it will almost certainly be all of them, including everything from his time as the Soldier. There’s also a kind of danger in clinging too tightly to the past. It may be kinder to focus on the present and the future. On things he can control.” She took a sip of her coffee and willed herself to continue. “I also have to ask--and I don't want you to take this the wrong way--but is it more important for you that he remember everything, or is this something that he really wants for himself? Because I know that you have all those memories, and that your transition has been difficult and it would be a boon for you to have someone who really understands. But would your transition have been easier without that grief? Is it better for him to know exactly who and what he’s lost to time or to be aware of it in the abstract?”

Steve looked a little bit like she had physically smacked him, which was making her stomach writhe with guilt. “I never even thought about it like that. It never occurred to me that…” He stared up at the ceiling for a long moment. “I have no idea. I don’t know if it’s better for him to know that he lost his family without remembering his mom’s face or Rebecca’s laugh. But I don’t want for him to have to remember everything they did to him. Everything they made him do. I know that is hard enough on him in the abstract without bringing it back in technicolor.”

Darcy tentatively reached out a hand and placed it on his forearm. “It would be his choice, either way. You know I can’t help him unless he asks me. And I don’t have a spell or potion ready for memory retrieval; I’d probably have to reach out to a friend who’s also a medical doctor to come up with something that would have the best chance of working properly.” Steve nodded, but his jaw was clenched so tightly that Darcy thought she might be able to hear his teeth grinding. “I’m sorry. I never should have brought it up, it was none of my business. I’ll just put together the stuff to help him sleep—“ Darcy had taken her hand off of Steve’s arm and started to roll her chair away from him when he grabbed her hand to stop her.

“No, Darce, don't apologize. It’s good to have somebody who can show me a different perspective, and I know you have Bucky's best interests at heart. I’m not mad at you, I’m more frustrated with myself for not realizing it on my own. Out of everyone, I know what a burden it can be to remember.”

She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Ease up on yourself, Steve. I don’t expect you to be perfect or think of everything, and I’m sure Bucky doesn’t either. There isn’t exactly a manual for this sort of thing."

***

Bucky presented himself at Darcy’s door the next morning at 11:30 with an honest-to-god pot of coffee in his metal hand and a bag of bagels in the flesh one. Darcy gave a happy little noise and ushered him in, settling him at the table while she whizzed around gathering mugs and plates and cream cheese, sending each flying to the table. She sliced the bagels and popped them in the toaster. She set milk and cinnamon-infused honey in front of Bucky’s mug and drew a sigil in her own with simple syrup before sitting down and distributing bagels.

She moaned after her first bite. “You are an angel. Who told you to get bagels delivered from my favorite deli?”

“I asked JARVIS what you liked for breakfast. How did you know I like honey in my coffee?”

Darcy blinked at him and the pot of honey in turn. “I…don’t know? I think I guessed. I usually have a good instinct for that sort of thing.”

They finished their bagels in companionable silence, and Darcy waited until Bucky had finished his (three) bagels before broaching his reason for coming to her. “So, I’m assuming you’re here about your arm?”

He gave a stilted nod. “Like Steve said yesterday, it just keeps…locking up, every once in a while, and it has to cycle through all the settings to reset before it works.”

“Does it hurt?”

He shook his head, his long hair getting in his eyes and hiding his expression from her. Whether that was intentional or not Darcy wasn't sure. “No, it just—“ he made a frustrated movement with his hands, “Means I’m vulnerable. Until it resets. ’N I know I’m safe, especially around Stevie, but—“

Darcy put a hand on his forearm. “Hey, you don’t have to explain it to me. I'll do what I can to help. Would you be more comfortable on the couch?”

He reluctantly nodded and moved to sit in the center of Darcy’s overstuffed couch, and she settled with her legs folded under her on the side of his metal arm. “I don’t think you’ll actually feel anything that I’m doing to your arm, although I’m not really sure, because I’ve never done magic on tech that could transmit sensation. But if at any point you need me to pause or stop, for any reason, just let me know. You can say something or just poke me, whatever’s easiest for you. Okay?” He nodded, but still looked overly tense for her taste, so Darcy lightly poked his stomach. “Dude, you need to chill for me. You looking scared of me is making me feel like a bad guy. And I’m not scary. I mean really, objectively speaking, I am not scary; I’m like the equivalent of a kitten.” The corners of Bucky’s mouth finally ticked up in a small smile and his shoulders loosened ever so slightly. “There we are, that’s better.”

She lay her hand over the star on Bucky’s shoulder and let her magic flow out and through Bucky’s arm, closing her eyes as she felt her way along circuit lines, checked connection points, located computer chips along the way. She used her magic to re-connect a loose wire to one of the chips, streamlined the coding for when the arm needed to re-set itself, cleaned the early stages of rust off of a few of the internal joints. She opened her eyes to see Bucky staring down at her hand on his arm, brow furrowed.

“Was that okay? It didn’t hurt, did it?”

He shook his head. “No, it was…warm? Felt nice, actually.”

She smiled brightly. “Good! I fixed up a few little things, which should hopefully solve the problem. If it keeps acting up, you’re probably going to want Tony to take a look at it. That's pretty advanced tech in there, and without knowing exactly how it works it's possible I can't identify the problem.”

His eyes were still on Darcy's hand where it was settled over the red star on his shoulder when he said, quietly, “Thank you.”

Darcy waved off his gratitude. “Really, Bucky, it’s no trouble at all. Anything I can do, remember? Speaking of which, I brewed up a fresh batch of sleeping potion—let me go grab that for you.”

She hopped off the couch and went into the kitchen, grabbing the repurposed pickle jar full of iridescent liquid and smoothing on a post-it note for an improvised label. She walked out into the living room in search of a pen, rummaging through the cup of writing utensils in her bookcase and grabbing a Sharpie (purple). She bit off the cap and scribbled rapidly on the post-it before putting the Sharpie back in its cup and presenting the jar to Bucky with a triumphant little “ta-da!”

 

Sleepy time for Supersoldiers

2-3 tbsp for Zzzzzz

 

He looked between her and the jar for a moment before shaking his head slowly. “Doll, you really are something else.”

Darcy flopped down next to him with a smile. “And don’t you forget it.”

Chapter Text

Darcy was perched on the common room couch, stitching the “restful sleep without bad dreams” sigils into Bucky and Steve’s pillowcases while Clint and Lucky snored next to her. She spaced out for just long enough to jab the needle straight into the pad of one finger, causing her to spring up off of the couch, cursing and swearing up a storm, from surprise and a little bit of pain and annoyance at her own clumsiness. Clint blinked awake and started to leap up off the couch to defend her from her phantom enemies, only to glance around in sleepy confusion at the otherwise empty room.

“Darce. Whatsamatter?”

She pouted and held out her finger. “I stabbed myself.”

Clint squinted carefully at her finger, where a tiny (nearly invisible) drop of blood was welling up. “Uh yeah, it looks like you really did a number there, baby girl.”

Darcy rolled her eyes and stuck the finger in her mouth. “This is the real downside of living with superheroes. Nobody is sympathetic to minor injuries. If it doesn’t need stitches or pain medication or a cast, nobody even offers to kiss and make it better. Heathens.”

“Did somebody just ask for a kiss?” asked Sam as he swept into the common room with Bucky and Steve.

“Not actually. I was just complaining about Clint’s lack of sympathy for my minor stab wound.” She brandished the needle and waved it around. “Although, if you’re offering, I probably wouldn’t say no. Are you the handsome prince come to save the injured-but-not-helpless princess?”

He waggled his eyebrows, hamming it up. “As of thirty seconds ago, I just might be.”

Darcy laughed and walked over, uninjured hand extended. “Well then it's a pleasure to meet you, handsome prince. I’m Darcy Lewis.”

He smiled warmly and shook his head in amusement at her antics. "Just point me in the direction of the culprit, my lady, and I shall avenge you.”

Bucky was staring at her hand where a fresh drop of blood had welled up. "You okay, doll? You need a bandaid or something?"

Darcy gestured wildly at Bucky and yelled back at Clint, "See? That's how you should react when a lady tells you she's bleeding." She turned back to Bucky with a smile. "You're a darling, but I'll be fine. I'm mostly trying to make sure I don't get any blood on your pillowcases since it would undo all my hard work."

Steve shook his head and said, ”Don't worry about it, Darcy, we can always throw them in the wash."

Darcy smirked. "It's not actually quite that simple in my world. Trust me when I say you do not want me to get blood on that sigil."

Sam tilted his head to the side in confusion. "Even if they did put them in the wash?"

"The damage would already be done and we'd have to start fresh with new pillowcases." Darcy started out of the room. "I'm just gonna go clean this up real quick."

 

After she had left the room, the boys all looked at one another.

Clint was the first to speak, asking, "You ever wonder if she's serious when she says stuff like that or if she's just messing with us?"

Steve shrugged. "It's not like any of us would know either way."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Considering how many times we can't tell her things because of security clearance, I think she's earned the right to be a little mysterious."

 

***

 

It took roughly a week after Darcy had finished magically enhancing the team's uniforms for them to get called out on a mission.

Darcy felt marginally better for knowing that she had done something to help keep them safe, but still felt full of restless energy as soon as the sound from the quinjet engines died down. Jane was off at a science conference in Houston, so there was no busy-work for her in the lab. All her potions ingredients were prepped thanks to Steve's nervous energy during the search for Bucky, and she wasn't actually running low on any potions yet. So she was listlessly cleaning her kitchen, for lack of anything better to do, when it suddenly occurred to her that there was someone else in the tower who had been left behind.

 

She knocked on the door to Bucky and Steve's apartment with Lucky at her side, shifting her weight from foot to foot in a small show of nerves. When Bucky finally opened the door she blurted out an overly loud, "Hello!" and then laughed quietly at herself. "As you can see, I'm wound a little tightly and with Jane gone too, I don't have any work to distract me. So I could use some company, if you're feeling up to it."

Bucky nodded and stepped back so that Darcy and Lucky could enter the apartment. "Whose dog is that?"

"This is Lucky, and technically he belongs to Clint but I borrow him pretty frequently. He also goes by Pizza Dog."

That brought Bucky up short. "Pizza Dog?"

Darcy nodded and scratched Lucky behind the ears. "It's his favorite food. By which I mean he's a habitual pizza thief. Along with hot dogs. And popcorn. He once drank my ramen when I wasn't paying attention."

"Ramen?"

"Well the type you get at the grocery store is just broth and noodles, but in restaurants they add in veggies and meats and sometimes egg. But the packets you can get at the store are insanely cheap and so are a staple of college student diets. But in the interest of full disclosure they have like, no nutritional value and are packed with sodium."

Bucky nodded his understanding and gestured towards the coffee pot on the counter. "You want a cup?"

“Dude, always.”

Bucky poured her a cup and showed her where they kept the sugar so she could doctor it to her liking.

Darcy blew lightly on the surface of her steaming cup of coffee and turned to look at Bucky where he was slouched against the counter. “So, I haven’t had a chance to follow up on everything magical. Are you sleeping any better?”

Bucky nodded. “I don’t have nightmares the way I was, but I usually wake up every couple of hours.” He shrugged. “Steve's the same way, so we figure that the serum must mess with sleep patterns. All in all it's pretty good.”

“And your arm?”

He glanced down at it as it whirred and a flew of the plates shifted and resettled, causing Lucky to tilt his head to one side in curiosity. Darcy watched the shifting play of light over the steel plates and fought not to stare in case it made Bucky uncomfortable, but damn if that wasn't a pretty piece of tech. “It hasn’t locked up again since you fixed it. Seems to be running more smoothly.” He looked up at her from under his lashes and said, “Thanks, Darcy.”

Unf. The ‘awww, shucks’ thing was deadly in combination with the stubble and the metal arm. But she was like 75% percent certain that he and Steve were together in a totally not-platonic sort of way, so she reeled in the heart eyes. “Yeah, of course, Bucky. I’m glad it helped.”

There was an awkward moment where neither of them quite seemed to know what to do next, which was finally broken when Lucky wandered over to the couch and barked expectantly.

“Um, I believe that is his way of demanding cuddles. Do you want to watch some TV? Or a movie?”

Bucky motioned her over to the couch and handed her the remote. “This is your show, doll, you call the shots.”

 

And so by the time Steve returned from his mission, grimy and sweaty but uninjured, Darcy and Bucky and the dog were comfortably piled on the couch watching Chopped.

Steve pulled up short on his way to the shower and squinted at the TV. “What on earth is that? And why does it look furry?”

Bucky snorted. “Hell if I know. They've got the weirdest stuff on this show.”

“It’s a rambutan, guys. It’s a kind of fruit—from Asia, I think—and they’re sweet and delicious.”

“If you say so, doll.”

Darcy sighed loudly. "Honestly, we have got to expand your culinary horizons. We can work through my stack of take-out menus one country at a time. Maybe start small, with European food, before I start shoving you full of vindaloo and pho. I could totally go for some paprikash, actually, but if we order from that place we have to tell Nat so she can join or she'll beat me with a stick."

Bucky and Steve made eye contact over her head, and Bucky smirked right at Steve as he answered, "Sure thing, doll. Sounds like a plan."

Chapter Text

Despite the team's precautions, despite Bruce's highly regimented diet and exercise and meditation routine, despite the numerous failsafes put in place to ensure that the Other Guy did not meet with any of the unenhanced members of the team, Darcy had always been well aware that it was only a matter of time.

She was not terribly concerned at the prospect of meeting the good doctor's alter ego—matter transformed from one state to another all the time, but it did not change the nature of things. Water molecules were composed of the same things whether they were in her tea or the steam rising from it or the ice cube she dropped in her mug to cool the tea down more quickly. Someone who thought like a scientist might view things a bit differently, but Darcy had been taught to think like a witch. The Hulk was made of Bruce Banner molecules and essence, in a different form and with some latent other bits brought to the surface, sure, but Bruce Banner was a gentle soul who liked Darcy, and so she was fairly confident that those things would ring true in the event of a code green.

She had made the mistake of expressing such opinions only once, to Clint, who had promptly flicked her nose in brotherly reprimand and made her recite the contingency plans from memory. Darcy did not want to think about how Natasha or Steve/Bucky would react to a similar opinion, or even Tony, who remained relatively unconcerned only because he always had a suit nearby for his own bodily protection. Bruce would undoubtedly have been the most horrified/concerned of them all, and probably would have barred her from his lab entirely to keep her safe. So she didn't say anything about the Other Guy and simply continued to bring Bruce his cups of tea and straighten up his lab and help out occasionally with odd jobs.

 

And truth be told, when it was just Darcy and Bruce in the lab everything was fine. It was when Bruce and Tony decided to Science! together that things got iffy, because Tony had seen a lab safety manual once during his undergrad years at MIT and promptly decided that such procedures could only stifle his creativity and tossed the manual into a flaming trashcan (or so Darcy imagined). His professors and fellow students had managed to keep him in line enough to prevent any major catastrophes in the university labs (which is not to say that there were not several "incidents" in which "repairs to lab facilities" were funded by Stark Industries), but in his own labs the only check on Tony's impulses were Pepper (currently out of town) and JARVIS (whose ability to interfere was limited given his lack of physical form).

So really, it came as no surprise to Darcy when one day her paper collating was interrupted by a violent explosion and plume of grey-green smoke from the area that Tony and Bruce had been working in only a moment earlier. She dove under the lab table and pulled her scarf over her nose and mouth and waited for the inevitable Hulk grumble and the tinkling sound of broken glass raining down off his back. What was concerning was the lack of Tony sounds. No grumbling or maniacal laughter or rueful chuckling or the chinking sound his suit plates made as they unfolded or repulsor whooshes. And a silent Tony was almost certainly an unconscious Tony, which meant he needed medical attention, which meant Darcy needed to get to him.

When Darcy poked her head out from under the lab table it was to see the Hulk seated on the floor next to a slumped Tony, poking him fairly insistently with a giant green finger. The green lights flashing out in the hallway meant that J had triggered the Code Green alarm, so help wasn’t too far off. Darcy slowly crawled out from under the table. When the Hulk turned to look at her, she waved calmly but stood still for the moment to assess. “Hey, big guy. It's just me, Darcy. Remember me?"

The Hulk huffed out a loud breath through his nose and nodded. "Hulk like Darcy. Darcy make Bruce tea."

Bingo. ”That I do. Is Tony ok?"

Hulk shook his head and poked again, sending Tony sprawling onto his back. "Tony sleep. Not wake up."

Darcy started to walk forward slowly. "I think Tony might be hurt. Is it ok if I take a look and see if I can make him better?"

Hulk nodded and shifted to make more room between himself and Tony on the floor.

"Thanks, big guy." Darcy crossed the lab and crouched next to Tony, pressing two sure fingers to his jugular to find his pulse—a little slow, but strong enough, and steady. She sent out magic to check for any internal injuries, but other than superficial cuts from the broken glass it looked like Tony was fine, albeit unconscious.

The Hulk grumbled unhappily from over Darcy's shoulder and asked, "Tony ok?"

Darcy turned around to smile reassuringly. "Yeah, he just got knocked out. Nothing too serious. He'll be back to sciencing with Bruce in no time."

Hulk leaned in and eyed Darcy more closely. "Darcy ok?"

Darcy nodded, "I was far enough away that I didn't get hurt; don't you worry about me. How are you doing?"

The Hulk cocked his head at her, seemingly confused by the question. "Hulk no hurt."

"Well that's good, right?"

He shook his head, clearly frustrated that Darcy hadn't properly understood him. "Hulk never hurt."

Darcy had heard something of the sort from Bruce at some point, although he tended to gloss over precisely how he knew the Hulk couldn't get hurt and why he had known that before battling aliens. Darcy shrugged to indicate she wasn't troubled by the revelation of his invulnerability. "Still a good thing, in my books. Means that you can keep Bruce and his friends safe from the things that can hurt them."

Hulk seemed pleased by that notion briefly, before quickly getting distracted by something behind Darcy. He pointed over her shoulder and announced, "Birdies."

Sure enough, when Darcy turned around to look both Sam and Clint were in full uniform in the hallway, arms crossed and glaring at her. Probably because in the event of a Hulk-out she was supposed to be in the panic room on the other side of the lab, not sitting next to him and holding a conversation. Not one to be cowed by disapproving superheroes, Darcy adopted her sunniest smile and waved, as though welcoming friends who were simply late to a party. 

"Hey, boys. Everybody's fine. I mean, Tony's unconscious but he should be up soon enough. No serious damage."

Clint stomped up to her with the air of a petulant child, probably to flick her nose again for disobeying a direct order, but stopped when the Hulk let out a warning growl.

Sam shook his head and chuckled. "You are gonna be in so much trouble when the doc is back in charge. Not to say anything about what's gonna happen when the Russians hear about this."

Darcy's smile turned desperate. “Okay, but what if they didn't find out about this and we all just agreed to keep it to ourselves."

Clint balked. "There is no keeping things from Tasha. She knows. She always knows."

Darcy slumped, and tried a different tack. "All's well that ends well?"

"Good luck with that, Darce,” Sam muttered before crouching down to look more closely at Tony. 

Darcy straightened back up, imperious and firm. "I don't regret my decision. And it was my choice to make, so there.”

 

 

Maintaining such a firm stance became significantly more difficult in the face of Nat’s anger—a palpable, hot, acrid thing—and Steve and Bucky’s more complicated reaction. Frustration, fear, disappointment, relief—colder, more melancholy, but also sweeter, somehow.

Natasha’s voice was flat when she said, “You know what you are supposed to do when there is a threat in the lab. We cannot keep you safe if you will not cooperate.”

Darcy toyed with the hem of her sweater and tried to explain. “If I had thought I was in danger, I would have gone into the safe room. But the Hulk wasn’t hostile, he wasn’t agitated, he recognized me and said that he liked me because I make tea for Bruce. I made a judgement call that given the lack of apparent danger, it was more important to check on Tony in case he was seriously injured.”

Steve was quiet when he asked, “What if you had been wrong? What if you had misread him and you got hurt?”

And honestly, Darcy was trying to be patient about this. She knew that they were only worried because they cared about her and wanted her to be safe and they weren’t used to her not being safe, but this was getting annoying. “I wasn’t wrong, I didn’t misread him, and I didn’t get hurt. I have to trust you guys every time you get called out on a mission to make the right calls. I know that you are putting yourselves—intentionally—in dangerous situations and I trust you to take care of yourselves and each other and to get home safely. All I am asking is that in the very few instances when I have to make a call regarding my own safety, that you trust me to know my limits the same way that I trust you to know yours. Even though you lot have an infinitely worse track record than I do, at this point.”

Steve at least had the good grace to look a bit sheepish at that, although Bucky still looked upset. Natasha seemed to be consciously unclenching, forcing her body out of its state of readiness in the absence of a physical opponent. She stepped forward and abruptly wrapped her arms around Darcy, squeezing hard enough to hurt. “Ya lyublyu tebya, milaya. But do not scare me like that again.” And then she was gone, around the corner and out of sight in the blink of an eye.

Darcy sighed, because emotionally constipated superheroes were frustrating sometimes, and shouted after her, “I love you, too!”

When Darcy turned back to Bucky and Steve they were having some kind of conversation entirely through facial expressions and the occasional small hand gesture, undoubtedly about her. “Out with it, you two.”

Steve looked at Bucky, who glared at Steve, who promptly turned to face Darcy and asked, “Would you like to introduce us to Indian food tonight?”

Darcy narrowed her eyes suspiciously, because their silent conversation had been a lot more complicated and prolonged than that question seemed to warrant. But she suspected that the invitation had more to do with needing to see for themselves that she was alright than it did Indian food, and she wasn't about to argue. “Alright. But I get my own order of chicken tikka, otherwise you two will somehow intuit that it’s my favorite and eat all of it.”

Bucky threw up his hands and laughed. “That was one time!”

Steve, whose brow had been furrowed in confusion trying to remember the event in question, suddenly snapped his fingers in recognition. “The falafel. We ate all the falafel on Lebanese night.”

Bucky shoved him in the arm. “Don’t remind her, punk. She’s still mad that you ate all of it.”

“Me?! I seem to recall a certain jerk eating more than their fair share.”

“Boys! You both have obscene metabolisms, and you both eat more than your fair share of everything. Luckily, I have learned my lesson. We get multiple orders of the chicken tikka, that way I don’t have to hex you.”

Both of their heads whipped around in surprise. Bucky finally asked, “I thought you couldn’t use your magic to hurt people?”

Darcy tossed her hair over her shoulder and arched a single brow. “I never said anything about hurting you. But I could certainly make it so that you always step in a wet spot after putting on clean socks.”

The boys blinked at her, gobsmacked, before Steve barked out a laugh and Bucky shook his head at her. “That is diabolical, Darce.”

She winked at them. “And I have a whole composition notebook of mundane curses I have just been dying to try.” She pointed at both of them, eyes narrowed. “So don’t test me.”

Chapter Text

Steve was throwing punches at a bag in the gym when Natasha cornered him.

“So. How are things with you and James?”

Steve glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and kept jabbing. “Fine, thanks for asking.” There was, of course, no way that that was the end of the conversation, but he wasn't going to help her any in her fishing expedition.

“And Darcy?”

“Has been a huge help and a very good friend to the both of us.” Steve could feel Natasha’s eyes narrowing as she lost patience with his terseness. In a real interrogation she loved the game, the push-pull of wills, but when trying to get information from her friends she wearied of it quickly.

“Steve.”

He let his hands drop and turned to face her. “Nat.”

Whatever she saw in his expression made her soften slightly. “I am not trying to interrogate you, and please don’t make me ask what your intentions are towards her, because that would be embarrassing for both of us and an insult to her. But something is going on, and you look like you need to talk about it. So spill.”

Steve sighed, unsure where to begin, before finally blurting out, “Bucky calls her doll.”

Natasha blinked and shifted, settling her weight more firmly underneath her. “So? Clint calls her baby girl, Tony calls her kid, I call her milaya, Thor calls her his lightning sister. You’re one of the only people in this tower who doesn’t have a unique nickname for Darcy.”

Steve shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, realizing that he was going to have to go back further in order to explain. “You know that Buck and I are together, yeah?” Natasha nodded, looking insulted that he thought she might not have realized something so obvious. “Well, when we were kids that sort of thing wasn’t exactly accepted. So we knew that at least one of us was gonna have to find a girl and get married. Now, we both liked girls, so it wasn't any kind of hardship to take them out, but we had to be careful about how much we let on about the two of us. Since I was so sickly and didn’t have any other family after Ma died, we figured that Buck could get married and that then I could stay with him, and as far as the neighborhood would be concerned, I'd be the bachelor who stayed with his friend because he wasn’t well enough to live alone. Honestly, if I’d been healthy it probably never would have worked. But we always hoped that we’d find a girl for both of us—that was comfortable with both of us, together—even if Bucky was the one she married to keep up appearances.”

Natasha nodded. “You’re talking about a polyamorous relationship. A stable triad.”

Steve blinked a bit at her terminology, filing it away for further research, and inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Something like that. Anyway, Bucky and I would go on double dates with girls and we had a system where if he thought that one of the girls might be good for the both of us, he’d call her doll.” Steve smiled ruefully and explained, “Even in the forties, I couldn’t really pull off calling a girl ‘doll’ or ‘kitten’ as well as Bucky could, so I left that up to him.”

Natasha's forehead smoothed out as she finally understood Steve's previous statement. “And how many girls earned the title of doll?”

Steve swallowed. “Two back then. First was Connie, but that never really went anywhere since Bucky shipped out so soon after we started taking her out. The other one was Peggy, although she gave Buck a hell of a time when they first met. And now Darcy makes three.”

Natasha tilted her head to one side and eyed him closely. “You know that you and James don’t have to hide anymore? You don’t have to find a girl to be safe. You two could even get married now, legally, and every one of your friends would be thrilled for you.” I would be thrilled for you, was the unspoken addendum, but even fearless Natasha had things that she struggled to say out loud, even within the relative safety of the tower.

But Steve had known Nat long enough now to hear them anyways, the little unspoken affections she reserved for her chosen few. So his voice was soft when he replied, “I know. And Bucky knows. Said he walked by a wedding with two brides in Central Park before he came to the tower and looked it up. Couldn't believe it had taken so long, actually.”

“So knowing all of that, where does Darcy fit in?”

Steve shrugged, because that was the question, wasn’t it? And it didn't matter what Steve's answer was when there were two other individuals' wills and hearts in play. “Bucky and I spent years planning on having a girl to spoil. Just because we don’t have to anymore, doesn’t mean we won’t want to if the right girl comes along. And Darcy…she’s good for us. For both of us. Bucky's not the only one who thinks so.”

Natasha hummed in agreement. “And she’s pretty to look at.” Steve raised a brow at her and she scoffed. “Honestly, Steve, I have eyes.”

 

***

 

Darcy had just delivered a cup of tea to Bruce and was walking down the lab hallways back to Jane’s workspace when JARVIS came over the speakers.

Miss Darcy, there seems to be a minor emergency in Sir’s lab.

Darcy immediately turned around and started running back the way she came, taking a left at the end of the hall towards Tony’s lab. “His vitals are elevated and he is not responding to my queries.

“What happened, J?”

Sir was testing a new version of his helmet and appeared to have some difficulty getting it off. Then his vitals spiked.

“Panic attack?” Darcy was panting slightly as she rounded the corner and barreled through the door of Tony’s lab. She could practically hear Natasha tut disapprovingly at her lack of stamina.

That would be my hypothesis, yes.

 

Tony was on the floor, knees bent and back pressed to the leg of the lab table. Darcy could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest and the pallor of his skin where his arms lay against his jeans. “Tony? Tony, can you hear me?”

She knelt in front of him, feeling around the surface of the helmet for some kind of manual release. Tony didn’t say anything, just continued to take uneven, wheezing breaths. “Sorry about this, but I don’t have any better ideas and time is kind of of the essence.” Darcy muttered a spell that caused the helmet to separate at every seam, collapsing into fragments of metal and wiring, and quickly brushed the pieces away from Tony.

With the helmet gone, Darcy could see that Tony’s eyes were glassy and unseeing, and that his forehead and upper lip were beaded with sweat and his skin unsettlingly pale. She grabbed his right hand and placed it over her heart and cupped his neck with her right hand, thumb pressed to his jugular. “Tony, you’re safe. I need you to come back to me now, come on.” She muttered another spell to banish the cold sweat from his body and withdrew her right hand just enough to draw a series of sigils on his neck. She then started pushing her own energy into Tony’s body--gently, just a little to let him know that she was there--and brushed her thumb along the edge of his jaw, returning to the cradle of his jugular every so often to monitor his slowly steadying pulse.

 

When she could feel him begin to steady, clearly on the cusp of breaking out of the attack, she muttered, “Come on, old man, you’re scaring your robot children.” DUM-E and Butterfingers were hovering behind her, beeping sadly and whirring futilely. Louder, and more obviously melodramatic, she cried, “Think of the children, Tony, I’m too young to be a single mother.”

Tony, wheezing slightly, and a little weaker than she would have liked, said, “What the hell, Lewis?”

“Hey, welcome back. J summoned me when your vitals went wonky. I kind of destroyed your helmet prototype getting you out of it, though.” Darcy sank down to sit next to Tony, making sure to keep the fingers of one hand laced with his and her thigh pressed alongside his on the ground, but giving him some privacy as he came back to himself.

When his breathing had steadied and the hand intertwined with her own was no longer shaking, Darcy gave it a comforting squeeze and murmured, “I can give you some stuff to help with panic attacks, if you’d like. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want them to know, but I wish you’d let me help.”

After a brief pause, Tony squeezed back. “Okay, kid. Work your magic.”

Darcy snorted, although some of her usual mirth was subdued. “You want me to get Pepper down here?”

Tony sighed and leaned his head back against the table leg. “J, can you get Pep down here?”

Right away, sir.”

“Alright, kid. Go and get back to your assisting. I’ll be fine now.”

Darcy stubbornly settled herself even more firmly against him. “Nope. Not leaving til Pep gets here to take over.”

DUM-E whirred over and started picking up the broken bits of helmet littering the ground, quietly beeping.

“But--hypothetically speaking, of course--can I inherit the bots when you die?”

“Are you kidding me right now?”

“No, seriously, I’m younger than you and witches have extended life expectancies anyways and the bots love me. But like I said, I’m not ready to be single mother yet, so you’ve got to stay alive for at least another…” Darcy scrunched up her face in exaggerated thought, “10 years minimum. And I mean bare minimum, I still might try to resurrect you if you’re gone in under 25 years. I’m needy like that.”

“Doesn’t that break some kind of rule of magic? Every story ever says you can’t do that.”

He was right, of course, but Darcy wasn’t ready to let this go. “Uhhh, Frankenstein?”

Tony pressed his free hand to chest, scandalized. “I don’t want to be resurrected if you’re going to make me ugly.”


Pepper, unnoticed up to now, slowed to a stop in front of them and sighed. “I don’t even want to know the context for that statement.”

Chapter Text

“JARVIS?”

“Yes, Captain Rogers?”

“Do you know where Darcy is?” Bucky had opted to spar with Natasha for the afternoon, which left Steve free to catch up with Darcy. Only she wasn’t anywhere on the lab floors.

“Miss Darcy is currently in her apartment. However, she has an event in her calendar that is scheduled to begin in 45 minutes.”

Steve knocked on Darcy’s door anyway, because he knew from personal experience that she sometimes scheduled time to go shopping or run errands outside the tower to make sure she didn’t forget entirely, and she wouldn’t mind him tagging along for those.

“Captain Rogers, Miss Darcy has given me permission to allow you entrance while she finishes getting ready. You may open the door and go into her apartment.”

Steve entered cautiously, unsure what to expect, but hoping he wasn’t about to completely invade Darcy’s privacy. Whatever he had been anticipating, it certainly wasn’t the image of Darcy wrestling with a giant piece of green and blue patterned wrapping paper and a cardboard box at her kitchen table, lips pursed and cheeks flushed in her frustration.

“You need some help there, Darce?”

She huffed a loud sigh and pouted up at him. “Please?”

He chuckled and sat down in the chair next to her, eyes darting around the mass of paper in front of him. “Tape?” She passed it over silently. Steve lifted a few pieces of paper before nodding to himself and started folding in the corners, precisely and carefully, until the box in front of him was wrapped neatly.

Darcy shook her head morosely. “It’s not fair. How do you make it look so easy? I’ve been struggling with that for at least ten minutes!”

Steve ran a hand over the back of his neck and tried to comfort her by saying, “I’m sure you would have managed perfectly well without my help.”

She stood up, still grumbling. “Eventually. Would have taken long enough that I’d be late and it still would have looked like a bunch of gremlins wrapped it.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Birthday party,” Darcy called out from where she was fixing her makeup in front of the hall mirror. “Flora’s grandson, Hector, is turning five today. It’s possible that half the witches in the five boroughs were invited, but I am nonetheless one of his favorites.” She popped her head around the doorframe, mascara wand held aloft in one hand. “You wanna come? Last time I went to Flora’s without you I got in trouble. She thinks you’re adorable—actually she called you my second puppy. Lucky being the original, and the actual canine, obviously.”

Steve could feel the blush rising on his cheeks. “Sure, I’ll come if you want me to. Do I need to bring anything, though?”

Darcy’s hand (and by extension, her mascara wand) waved dismissively just before disappearing along with the rest of her back into the hall. “Of course not, you didn’t have any notice. The general sentiment with these things is ‘the more the merrier’ so you don’t need to worry about that.”

Darcy re-emerged a few moments later with freshly applied red lipstick and her hair loosed from its bun. “So what’s the verdict, handsome? You coming with me?”

If Steve were Bucky, he would have said something along the lines of ‘Of course, doll. I’d follow you anywhere.’ Because even after everything Bucky still knew how to flirt and flirt well. But Steve was not Bucky and if he tried any of those lines he’d just trip over his words and sound like an idiot. So he smiled at Darcy, freshly made up and vibrant and expectant, and said, “Of course I’ll come. You want me to carry that package for you?”

 

 

Darcy had been right when she said that Flora would be thrilled to see the both of them, and that he needn’t have worried about bringing some kind of hostess gift. When the door to Flora’s brownstone apartment opened, she had smiled brightly, chattered something to Darcy in rapid Spanish, and pulled Steve’s face down to kiss both cheeks in welcome.

“Lovely to see you again, ma’am.”

Darcy peered past the two of them and through the open door, calling, “Now where on earth is the birthday boy? Because I got him a super cool present and if he’s not here I just might keep it for myself…”

A little boy with curly black hair came rocketing out of the interior of the apartment and attached himself to Darcy’s legs. “Darcy! Darcy! You came!”

She ruffled his hair and bent over to wrap an arm around his shoulders. “Like I would miss your birthday! I brought my friend, Steve, too.” She pointed over to him, where he was standing in the doorway with Hector’s present still held directly in front of his chest. Steve waved.

Hector let out a small muffled gasp and pulled Darcy down to whisper in her ear, “Darcy, sabes que él es Captain America, si?”

Darcy made an exaggerated face of disbelief, crimson mouth a perfect o, before winking at him conspiratorially. “Cuando él no está llevando el uniforme, su nombre es Steve. Está bien?”

Hector nodded, grabbing Darcy in another quick hug, before shyly turning back to Steve. “Hola, Mr. Steve.”

“Happy birthday, Hector. Darcy said you’re turning five today?” Hector nodded shyly. “Can I get a high five from the birthday boy, then?”

The proverbial ice suddenly broken, Hector bounded the few steps over to Steve and gave him an enthusiastic high five before Flora started herding them all into the apartment. Darcy’s hand wrapped around Steve’s elbow and she whispered to him, confident that his enhanced hearing would pick it up, “I’m pretty sure that none of them are going to make a big deal out of you, but if it gets to be too much, let me know and I’ll either yell at them or we can go, yeah?”

 

 ***

 

Back at the tower, Natasha was dancing around Bucky on the sparring mats in the gym.

“So I heard a rumor that you have a very special nickname for Darcy.”

Bucky swung at her with the flesh arm and then lunged backwards as she aimed a roundhouse kick at his head.

“What exactly did the punk tell you? And why do you feel the need to interrogate me—“ he dodged a jab aimed at his jaw, “in the middle of a spar?”

Natasha shook out her shoulders in what might have been a shrug. “Right now you are a captive audience. And both Steve and Darcy have left the tower by now, so I know we can conduct this conversation in private.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m not even going to ask how you know they left, but where did they go?”

Natasha finally dropped the illusion of the spar, and stated, “They have gone to a child’s birthday party in Hell’s Kitchen. One of Darcy’s friends.”

Bucky stood there and blinked for a moment, processing, because that was quite possibly the last thing he had expected to hear.

Natasha feinted to the left to get his attention and then continued. “Do not attempt to avoid the question, James.”

“You didn’t actually ask a question.”

Bucky immediately regretted attempting to sass Natasha when her facial expression flattened.

“Do you or do you not want to be in a committed relationship with both Darcy and Steve?” She gave a small triumphant smile at the deer-in-headlights expression on his face. “How’s that for a question?”

“You’re really going straight for the jugular today aren’t you?” Bucky ran a palm over his jaw, absently noting the stubble that could probably use a shave, and shrugged. “Yeah. As I’m sure Steve already told you, that’s why I call her doll. Because I know she was good for Steve before I got here, and she’s been good for me, and I think we could all make each other real happy. Okay?”

Natasha softened at his defensive tone and stepped forward to put a hand to his shoulder. “I don’t disagree with anything you just said. But you need to remember that all the information packed into that nickname for you and Steve, she doesn’t have that. And as good as she is at understanding people, she’s got to be aware that you and Steve are together, which is going to make it that much more difficult for you to convince her that she belongs with both of you as more than a friend.”

Bucky nodded, because he knew that Natasha was right, even if he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about making that clear to Darcy.

“I must say I was surprised by how little her magic bothered you. The rest of us had already known her for awhile before we found out, but she was a stranger to you. And yet you didn't hesitate to ask for her help after you arrived.”

Bucky ducked his head and tried to explain. “I know what her magic feels like. I felt it when she found me, before I even knew who she was.” Natasha suddenly stilled, eyes sharper and more intent. “I was walking to the store. And I was on edge, because somebody had looked a little too closely at me the day before and I was worried that Hydra was finally coming for me. But then I felt this warmth, and it felt like it came from inside of me, and it was like…” He shook his head, unsure how to articulate that strange moment that he hadn’t mentioned to anyone yet. “It was like a hug, I guess, warmth and safety and care. And somehow I knew that someone was coming for me, but not because they wanted to hurt me or use me. I felt it again when she fixed my arm after I got here.” He shrugged. "There was never a doubt in my mind that she wasn't going to hurt me. Only more certain of that now."

 

*** 

 

None of the other people at the party paid Steve much mind.

Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. They didn’t seem to care one lick that he was Captain America. They did seem to care that Darcy had brought him, and seemed pleased by how attentive he was towards her.

 

Darcy ran a hand across his shoulder blade in absentminded thanks as he eased in next to her and passed her a fresh glass of soda while she was chatting with Hector’s mother, Rosalba, about an upcoming trip to Arizona.

The small room was packed full of other witches and their families, and at one point someone bumped into Darcy while carrying a tray of something over to the food table, so Steve wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her and keep her from losing her balance. Just as he was about to take his arm back, worried that he might have overstepped, she settled her hand over his arm where it was pressed against her waist, and resumed chatting with Marley about the best places to get Thai food in the city.

 

 An hour or so into the party, Steve noticed a small clump of people gathered around Flora and a large pot of soup in the kitchen, although no one was eating any at the moment. Darcy followed the direction of his gaze and murmured, “She’s scrying—reading the soup for answers to people’s questions, like in a crystal ball. Flora usually uses her posole. It’s an old family recipe, totally delicious. Make sure you get a bowl later.”

That was a whole new type of magic for Steve, and not one that Darcy had ever mentioned before. “Can you do that?”

Darcy laughed lightly and shook her head. “No, my mother and I never had the gift for it. It’s pretty rare, even amongst witches, to find someone who’s reliably good at scrying. Nanna used to, when she was young, but…” Darcy shrugged and gave a sad smile. “She stopped when it backfired on her.” She glanced up at Steve, taking in his curious expression, and continued. “Her first husband enlisted to fight in Korea, so nanna read his coffee grounds. They said that he would come home safely to her. Problem was that once he knew that, he figured he could take all the most dangerous rotations because he was guaranteed to survive.” Darcy bit her lip, trying not to think about how much it sounded like Steve’s tendency to jump out of planes without a parachute. “He didn’t make it. By telling him what she saw, nanna changed his behavior, which changed the course of his fate. She never read for anyone after that.”

“Christ, Darce. I’m sorry—“

She patted him on the arm and shook her head, cutting off his apology. “It’s okay. I never knew him, obviously. And if I didn’t want to talk about it, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Well thanks for telling me, then. And for letting me come tonight, it’s…” Steve looked around the full room, at the gaggle of kids playing Simon Says in one corner, at all these people who Darcy considered friends who hadn’t said one word about the Avengers even when they clearly recognized him, and tried to articulate, “it’s nice to get out of the tower, and that you trust me with all this—”

Darcy smiled—an indulgent, lopsided thing—and said, “Hey, take whatever it is you’re feeling and multiply it by thirty and you’ve got how I felt that you trusted me with Bucky. I know how important he is to you.”

“You’re important too, Darce. To the both of us.”

Steve could feel the heat coming off of her as she blushed, embarrassed but pleased. She tried to play it off by smacking lightly at his stomach and joking, “Careful, Steve. You keep talking like that and bringing me drinks without me having to ask and the little old ladies are gonna decide we’re secretly married.” She cast a pointed glance over at a cluster of women to their left, who were, Steve had to admit, seemingly paying very close attention to the two of them.

Steve simply shrugged. “Not gonna stop taking care of you unless you tell me to, Darce. Doesn’t matter what anybody else has to say about it.”

She groaned, threw her head back and stared directly at the ceiling as she said, “The fact that you just say things like that with your face and your—” she dropped her gaze back down and flailed slightly. “You are a gem, Steven Grant Rogers, and your mother would be unspeakably proud of you.” She huffed out a breath and put a hand to her hip before waving him off. “Now go get a bowl of that posole before they run out, you’ve got to be starving by now.”

“You want me to grab some for you too? You haven’t had any dinner either,” Steve asked as he started in the direction of the kitchen.

Darcy dug her fingers more firmly into the flesh at her hip and shook her head. “No, thanks. I think I had too many cookies earlier.”

Steve frowned slightly because Darcy hadn’t really had that much to eat since they’d arrived, and resolved to get a full bowl of the soup and an extra spoon just in case she changed her mind. When he explained as much to Flora, she grinned broadly at him and patted his cheek and gave him a small satisfied nod.

“Make sure she brings the other one by sometime, querido,” Flora murmured to him, “the brunette man with the star on his shoulder. As long as you both take good care of her, you’re always welcome here—make sure he knows this.”

Neither he nor Darcy had said anything about Bucky to anyone all night, so far as Steve could recall, but he tamped down on his reaction and nodded. It was hardly the first time magic had surprised him, after all. “That’s awfully kind of you, ma’am. I’ll be sure to pass that on to Bucky.”

When he mentioned the tail end of his conversation with Flora to Darcy, she huffed out a quiet “excuse me” and wandered into the kitchen. Steve could just hear her “Flora, what did I say about scrying for me?” and other murmured gentle admonishments in mixed Spanish and English over the sound of the rest of the party guests.

Darcy came back with an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. Comes with the territory. I’ve got a few extra grandmothers, a coterie of honorary aunts and older sisters, and I know everybody just wants the best for me, but sometimes they forget about boundaries.”

Steve swallowed the spoonful of posole in his mouth. “Don’t worry about it—reminds me of the old neighborhood actually. All the neighbors knew everybody’s business, but their hearts were usually in the right place.” He pointed at the bowl of soup in his hand. “This stuff is delicious, you were right.” He saw Darcy’s eyes catch on the bowl, lingering just long enough to betray her own hunger, so Steve pulled the second spoon out of his pocket, wrapped in a paper napkin, and handed it to her without a word.

She bit her lip, clearly about to start laughing. “You’ve been carrying around a spoon for me this whole time?” Steve shrugged. “You little shit.” But she was laughing as she said it, so Steve put a tally in the ‘win’ column and held out the bowl for her.

Chapter Text

Darcy was up in her little greenhouse on the roof picking flowers when Bucky walked in looking for her.

“Hey, doll. JARVIS said you were up here.”

She sat back on her haunches and waved, putting a bunch of chamomile flowers into the bowl next to her. “You found me. What’s up?”

He walked closer and stopped, hovering and unsure for a moment, before sitting cross-legged next to her. “Just, could use a break, if you don’t mind.”

She gave him a sunny smile and reassured him, “Of course I don’t mind! Do you want to just hang out or do you want to help?”

“What are you doing?” he asked as he peered into the bowl at her side. 

“Picking flowers. I’m almost set with these, but I still need rose petals if you want to help with those?”

He nodded, so she finished picking the last few stems of chamomile that she needed and stood up, holding out a hand to drag Bucky over to the rose bushes. She flopped back down to sit on the ground, pulling Bucky down with her. She took the pruning shears out of the bowl and handed them over to Bucky. “I know you could probably use your metal hand to do this, but I’ve cut myself on the thorns enough to know it’s kinder to at least offer the proper tools. I need about ten blooms. Sound good?” He nodded and set to work, carefully trimming fully-blossomed roses off of the bush and gently setting them in a new section of the bowl. Darcy picked up the fallen petals underneath the bushes and set them in a separate ziplock bag—she wouldn’t use them in anything edible, but they were still useful for soaps and sachets.

“My ma smelled like roses,” Bucky murmured as he gently trimmed off another flower, full and pink and fragrant.

Darcy knew that his memories were still relatively patchy, and that he didn’t always like to talk about them, so she answered him as she would have anyone else. “Really? My mom has always hated the smell of roses—says they’re cloyingly sweet. She likes stuff like sandalwood and myrrh. Copal and cinnamon.” Darcy tilted her head to one side and laughed quietly. “When I was little I hated it because it made me sneeze. But now I love it—it smells like home.” She glanced consideringly at Bucky. “If you want to take a couple roses back with you, you can. I’ve got more than enough.”

Bucky shook his head. “Nah, let them keep growing. S’more important than making the apartment smell nice.”

Darcy shrugged. “Okay. But you’re welcome to them if you ever change your mind, don’t even need to ask. You wanna come downstairs and pluck petals with me?”


So Bucky helped Darcy pluck the petals from a bundle of freshly washed roses at her kitchen table, his metal fingers moving lightly and delicately, his arm whirring softly, almost like a purring cat. He watched her make simple syrup and brush it onto each petal with a small paintbrush, then helped her sprinkle granulated sugar on over the top as she finished each one.

“Now what?”

Darcy set the baking sheet of candied petals off to the side in her kitchen. “Now they dry out. And then I have candied rose petals.”

“What about the rest of the flowers?”

“I need some of them to dry out before I can use them, and the other ones I can’t make into wreaths until I get the wire.”

Bucky eyed the sheet tray curiously. “You don’t usually have candied rose petals lying around. They for something special?”

Darcy licked a stray bit of simple syrup off of her thumb and hummed. “For Beltane coming up. It’s a kind of like a—“ she broke off and waved her hands around vaguely, “—spring festival for witches. A little like Thanksgiving, I guess? It’s basically a big communal celebration, held outside, and there are bonfires at night. I have to take prep a little more seriously than when I was in New Mexico and London, since I know more witches in the city. I was usually the assistant for Beltane preparations instead of the organizer growing up, and I didn’t get to do much when I was in New Mexico with Jane, so I feel a little rusty. Although, like I said, mom hates the smell of roses, so I was usually the one candying rose petals.”

“Can I try one when they’re finished drying?”

“Of course!” Darcy absently ran a hand over Bucky’s shoulder as she stood and walked back into the kitchen. “I’m going to make some tea. You want any?”

 

***

 

“Hey, Darce. Whatcha doing?” asked Clint as he flopped down next to her on the common room couch.

Darcy had heaping piles of flowers and herbs covering the coffee table, interspersed with bits of wire and wire cutters and a few rolls of ribbon. “Making wreaths for my door. Beltane’s this week and my family always made herb and flower wreaths to hang on our front door. It’s been awhile since I lived somewhere I could keep up the tradition.” Darcy brandished a circlet of wire. “You wanna help?”

Clint shrugged and accepted the wire, leaning forward to examine the closest pile of flora. “Why not? Can’t be that hard.”

 

Ten minutes later Clint had collapsed on the floor, groaning pitifully as he held the wire circlet above his head in disgust. “Why can’t I get it to work? Are you using some kind of sticking spell and not telling me?”

Darcy laughed and pulled him up off the ground. “Watch and learn, young grasshopper. You have to make little bundles, like so,” Darcy quickly layered a bundle of lavender, chamomile, rosemary and fennel together, “and then you tightly wrap the stems with wire like so, and then you use another wire to attach the bundle to the frame.” Darcy held out the circlet and eyed it critically, nudging a few leaves into more aesthetically pleasing positions. “Then you layer your next bundle so that it covers up the stems and the wire from the previous set.”

Clint resumed trying to make a wreath of his own, face scrunched in concentration. “So what are the wreaths for? Like I know they’re for Beltane, but what are they supposed to do?”

Darcy picked out a few stems of hyssop and heather, and explained, “They’re kind of like blessings for the new season. So that one over there is for health, this one that I just started is for protection, the bundle of plants you’re working with is for love.”

Clint winced and quickly swapped supplies with Darcy. “I am probably not the best choice if you want any kind of success in the love department. But protection I can do.”

Darcy laughed and bumped his shoulder with her own. “I don’t think your spotty relationship track record will rub off on it, but I appreciate your concern. How is Bobbi these days anyway?”

Clint groaned. “Really? How do you even know her?”

“What?” Darcy asked. “She was really nice to me at that one fundraiser we all went to. And she’s the one who warned me about your tendency to put nearly-empty ice cream containers back in the freezer.”

“Yeah, that was one of the incontrovertible differences cited in our divorce,” Clint said, his tone dry.

“Hey, it’s not so bad, right? If you and Bobbi hadn’t divorced you might not be here with all of us now. You would have missed out on seeing Natasha mess with Tony before he’s had coffee, and the magic that is JARVIS, and possibly even my bundt cake.”

Clint wheezed and clasped a hand to his chest in dramatic horror. “Not the bundt cake! Darce, you’ve gone too far, even hypothetically.” He finished wrapping the final bundle of herbs and flowers onto his wreath and popped it onto his head like a crown. “What do you think?”

Darcy considered him thoughtfully before giving a slow approving nod. “I like it. It suits you.”

Clint grabbed another assembled wreath and popped it on Darcy’s head, positioning it carefully until he was satisfied. “There. Now we match.” He turned his attention back to the pile of flowers and wire in front of him. “Now we gotta make one for Tasha.” He let out an excited gasp and grabbed a bundle of hyssop from Darcy’s pile. “These ones will go nice with her hair.”

Darcy bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud and handed him some fennel blossoms and valerian. “Here try these, too.”


Although Natasha had let out a long-suffering sigh when Clint and Darcy presented her with her own flower crown, she wore it around the tower with them for the rest of the day and allowed Darcy to take selfies of all three of them together, and even gave her best (real) smile for most of them.

The best picture of the three of them, smiling and wreathed in spring blossoms, quickly became Natasha’s phone background and Darcy noticed a little framed version had appeared on Nat’s bookcase a few weeks later.

Chapter Text

Steve and Bucky had insisted on walking Darcy out to the park for her early morning Beltane celebrations, since it was still half-dark and hazy outside, and they worried. It was a truth Darcy was coming to accept about the two of them, within limits. They could walk her to the park, but they would wait with everyone else while the youngest member of each family went out to pick flowers, Darcy included.

Tradition was tradition, after all, and she could take care of herself.

Well, she could take of herself and Poppy, Marley’s youngest and a four year old burgeoning witch, because Darcy had offered to supervise the little one’s first Beltane excursion to make sure she didn’t get lost in the park.

 

It was also Bucky’s first introduction to Flora, who had positively lit up when she realized that Darcy had brought both boys with her for Beltane.

She had nudged Darcy and glanced meaningfully over at Bucky and Steve and whispered, “Rosalba can watch Poppy if you want to take your boys into the woods to celebrate the old way...”

“Flora! Cállate!” Darcy winced at the strangled tone of her voice but hastened to cut Flora off before she let on to any of the more... amorous Beltane traditions that Darcy had yet to partake in. “Bucky and Steve are just here to make sure I get to and from the park safely.”

Flora clucked disapprovingly. “A terrible waste, if you ask me.”

Fortunately neither of the boys heard Darcy's somewhat frantic whispered conversation with Flora because of Hector, who had gone completely bug-eyed at the sight of Bucky’s bionic arm where it peeked out from his t-shirt.

“Dude! You have a metal arm? That is awesome!”

The plates on the arm started to shift and whir, as Darcy had noticed often happened when someone drew Bucky’s attention to it. Hector reached out to run a finger along the line of Bucky’s metal forearm, awed and enraptured, as Bucky stood positively stock still and cast a harried glance around him, as though expecting to be reprimanded for getting too close to the child. Rosalba was chatting with Steve off to the side, glancing over just long enough to make sure Hector wasn’t being a nuisance before turning back to give Steve her full attention, completely unconcerned. Bucky looked at Darcy, as though checking with her to be certain she wasn’t going to pull Hector away from him, away from the arm that had wreaked such destruction and death. But she had watched him pluck rose petals without even bruising them, had known the arm only as an extension of Bucky’s will, not of Hydra’s commands, and simply smiled.

Before Darcy could say anything, the youngest witches were called together to go into the forest, so she waved a cheeky goodbye to Bucky and Hector, and to Steve and Flora and Rosalba behind, and then set off with Poppy at a sedate pace into the Ramble in search of flowers to pick. When Darcy had been a little girl, she had loved romping into the woods behind her family’s house in search of flowers for Beltane, although they were a bit easier to find and a lot more abundant than here in the Ramble. Poppy was happily tottering along gathering fistfuls of dandelions, determined to put together a giant bouquet for her mother before they turned back. Darcy tucked a few cheery yellow blooms into the intricate braids in her hair (courtesy of Thor) as they wandered, content to watch over Poppy and encourage her idle happy chatter.

The two witches finally stumbled across a patch of wildflowers ideal for Poppy’s bouquet, so Darcy plucked a few more blooms to weave through her braids and then helped Poppy by holding the excess bounty that couldn’t be contained by her tiny hands.

She was standing over Poppy, flowers in hand, when she heard it: a quiet, whispering whine, almost like an old car engine from far away.

“Do you hear that?”

Poppy glanced up from the grass, eyes wide. “Hear what?”

“There’s a noise...” Darcy glanced around, unable to source the faint sound. Her first instinct was to track it, to find whatever creature was on the other end, but Poppy had to be her priority. Darcy Lewis had many flaws, but she was not going to wander off in search of a nebulous something in the middle of Central Park at six o'clock in the morning when she was responsible for the health and safety of a four year old child.

So Darcy helped Poppy to gather up her remaining flowers, and then spent the time wandering back to the group arranging them into a bouquet, following Poppy’s decisive instructions.

But the noise followed them, a fact that did not escape Darcy.

 

She returned Poppy to her mother, and passed over the large bundle of wildflowers, before weaving back through the clusters of witches and their families to find Bucky and Steve waiting for her near Flora’s family. She high-fived Hector on her way past before slowing to a stop next to the boys with a smile.

“Hey guys, weird question, but do you hear something?”

Bucky tilted his head, amused, and glanced around at the chattering figures around them and the birds in the trees. “Doll, you are going to have to be more specific.”

“Tiny creature, kind of a whiny noise. I started hearing it back in the Ramble, but I think it might be following me…I don’t think it’s anything dangerous, but it’s strange that I’m still hearing it.”

Steve started to glance around, clearly listening for what she had described, but Bucky, who had been facing a slightly different direction, started to snicker. “I believe I found the source of your strange noise.”

Darcy whirled around, eyes searching for a moment until she spotted the tiny form winding in and out between people’s feet. A kitten, from the looks of things, who was steadily meowing--or at least making a concerted effort at meowing. When it finally broke out of the crowd, the kitten paused for a moment, still, before readjusting its course and beelining directly to Darcy. It gave one last meow--sounding, honestly, a bit like the grinding asthmatic engine of Darcy’s first car--before winding around her legs and purring loudly. At the first moment of contact Darcy felt something settle within her--a recognition, a little ‘oh, it’s you’ feeling--and stared down at the feline at her feet.

“Well, that was certainly unexpected.”

Flora wandered over and glanced down. “It’s auspicious when your familiar chooses to meet you on a festival day, you know.”

Darcy bent over to scoop up the kitten for a closer look, holding it to her chest to feel the vibrations from its purring. “I never thought I’d get a familiar at all. Mom didn’t.”

Flora shrugged. “Some people don’t need them. Or want them.”

Bucky reached out a tentative hand and asked, “Can I pet...it?”

“It’s a lady, I’m pretty sure,” Darcy clarified. “And that is up to her.”

So Bucky moved a single finger in view of the feline, waiting a beat as she sniffed, totally unconcerned and still purring, before scratching her behind the ears. “What’re you gonna name her?”

Darcy shrugged--carefully, so as not to dislodge her new familiar--and said, “Names are important. I don’t want to rush it.”

Steve moved closer to play with a tiny paw. “You know Buck and I used to feed this stray cat in the old neighborhood. Cutest little thing.”

Bucky snorted, causing the kitten’s eyes to fly open briefly in surprise before it settled back down. “I remember that cat. You wanted to keep it, but you were so allergic that you nearly died the one night it stayed in the apartment. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop sneezing...”

“Well then, aren’t we all lucky that the serum took care of your allergies?” Darcy teased. The kitten let out an affirmative sounding meow and shoved her head back against Bucky’s hand.

Darcy stared down at the bundle of fur in her arms, a mass of brindled copper and black and white, more fur than substance, and laughed. “Tony is going to throw a fit.”

“Why would you say that?” Steve asked.

“Because technically there was a ‘no pets’ policy at the tower, and Lucky was only exempt because Clint got him years before moving in.”

 

***

 

“What about Marmaduke?”

“The cat is a girl, Bucky, and even if she wasn’t, I’m not saddling her with a name like Marmaduke.”

“Esther?”

“So formal, Steve! She’s a cat, not your great-grandmother.”

“Hecate. And you can call her Cate for short.”

Darcy winked at Bucky. “I caught that reference. Nice one. But Cate’s kind of boring for a pet name. Totally decent for a human with tax returns and a checkbook and stuff, but sedate for a cat.”

Steve threw up his hands in defeat. He and Bucky had been volleying name suggestions back and forth for over ten minutes, and Darcy had shot down every one. “You take this naming thing very seriously, don’t you.”

Darcy simply arched an imperious brow, echoed in the twitch of the cat’s tail where she was prowling alongside them on the sidewalk. “Names are important, Steven.” She pursed her lips, painted a deep merlot to match her dress, and continued, “For example, your name derives from the Greek word for ‘crown’ or ‘honor.’ And do you not wear a metaphorical crown?”

Steve frowned. “It’s not like my Ma knew that when she named me, Darce.”

“No. But maybe it’s what she wanted for you, or what she wanted you to live up to. The universe saw fit to fulfill the promise in your name whether she intended it or not.”

 

(James, she knew, meant supplanter: to trip up, to overthrow, to defeat, to dispossess.

For him to be the one overthrown and dispossessed was a destiny, she had no doubt, that Winifred and George Barnes had never intended for their son. But that was precisely what she meant when she said that names were important.)

 

Bucky seemed to sense the sobering turn to her thoughts and asked, “So what’s Darcy mean then?”

“Irish, derived from dorcha, meaning dark-haired one.”

Bucky eyed the dark brown plaits circling her head with a smirk. “Safe choice, then.”

“An easy name to live up to, yes. But a smart choice.”

 

***

The elevator stopped at the common floor instead of Darcy's, no doubt due to some interference from Tony/JARVIS.

Tony was waiting in front of the elevator when the doors opened, tapping his toe in annoyance. “Kid, why is JARVIS notifying me about the presence of an unapproved domestic animal making its way to the residential floors of my tower?”

Her yet-to-be-named cat meowed indignantly from its position at her feet. “Because I gained a familiar while in the park this morning.”

“Which means what, exactly?”

Tony was standing firm, arms crossed, even as Pepper glided over from her spot near the TV to coo over the kitten.

“It basically means we are destined to be together, and she’s got a little magic of her own, so there’s no way you’re going to keep her out of this tower.”

Tony slumped, arms falling to his sides. “Does no one remember that it is my name on the side of this building? Why do I have no control?”

“It’s the universe paying you back for driving me crazy all those years I was your P.A.,” chastised Pepper from where she was kneeling on the floor. “Darcy, she is just adorable. Have you thought of a name yet?”

“No, I’m still thinking of-”

Tony threw up his hands. “I didn’t even say she could stay yet!”

Pepper, unimpressed, replied, “Don’t worry, Tony, the kitten will stay in my 12% of the tower. Won’t you, sweetheart?” The kitten chirped and headbutted Pepper’s knee. “So that’s settled then.”

Chapter Text

The boys had volunteered to run out and pick up supplies for the cat, with Clint and Lucky tagging along, because--despite their genuine desire to be helpful--neither Steve nor Bucky were actually familiar with modern pet supplies.

(Also, they didn’t actually know where the closest pet store was, which they clearly thought Darcy was not going to notice, but joke’s on them.)

 

Darcy texted Jane to come to her apartment and meet the latest Tower resident (complete with pretty much every cat emoji available simply because she could), before plopping onto the floor, still in her burgundy dress and flower-bedecked Beltane braids. The kitten walked right up, purring loudly, and climbed into Darcy’s lap, curling up in the hammock her skirt made between her knees.

“Affectionate little thing, aren’t you?” Darcy teased as she ran the tip of her finger up the bridge of the kitten’s nose. “Makes sense. You and I have that in common.”

“Darcy?” Jane called from just inside the door. “Did you seriously go out to the park to pick flowers and come back with a cat?” She appeared in the living room, still in her favorite pair of solar system pajama pants and an old Culver t-shirt, two travel mugs in hand. She stopped short when she caught sight of Darcy and the kitten on the floor. “Oh my God, that is the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life. Where is my phone? I want a picture.” She dropped the travel mugs on Darcy’s side table and reached into her non-existent pocket only to stop short upon realizing she hadn’t changed out of her pajamas before coming down.

Darcy chuckled, because Jane forgetting her phone was a near daily occurrence. “Hey, JARVIS? Why don’t you see if Thor could bring down Jane’s phone and come meet the little one?” 

"Of course, Miss."

Jane tiptoed closer, seemingly intent on not disturbing the kitten, and curled up on the couch across from Darcy. “I cannot believe that I can hear her purring from here. She’s loud for such a little thing. Have you thought of a name yet?”

Darcy laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you that Bucky and Steve spent the entire walk back brainstorming names?”

“Absolutely,” Jane retorted. “And I’m equally certain that you shot down every single one.”

“You know me so well.” (Jane meant ‘Jehovah has been gracious:’ destined for good things, a blessing to the universe. A good name.)

The two of them paused when they heard the door open and close, and Thor’s heavy footsteps approach the living room. “I come bearing Jane’s phone and a warm welcome to your new familiar, Darcy.” He stopped next to the couch to pass over the phone, settling onto the arm as Jane promptly snapped a few pictures of Darcy in her Beltane best with the kitten on her lap.

“Were you expecting this?” Jane asked as she scrolled through the pictures to make sure she was satisfied and didn't need to retake them. “Like, have you been waiting for a magical creature to show up all this time?” 

Darcy shook her head. “Not at all. My mom’s never had a familiar, neither has Nanna. I think another generation or so back somebody had an owl, though.”

“Well, I for one am very grateful that the universe decided to go with a cat,” Jane said as she moved closer to dote on the kitten. 

Thor frowned from his perch on the couch. “A bird is a most noble familiar, and one to be proud of.” 

“Sure,” Jane replied, “but it’s nowhere near as cuddly and it doesn’t purr like a luxury car engine when it’s happy.”

Darcy smiled over at her and held up a hand just as the kitten let out a happy chirp. “Janie knows where it’s at. Gimme a high five.”

 

Darcy continued to ponder a series of potential names as the kitten climbed over into Jane’s lap for belly rubs and then strutted over to the couch so she could scale Thor’s jeans to demand attention from the God of Thunder. Thor was positively delighted by her initiative and strength, and informed her of that fact at his normal (very loud) volume, causing her to briefly flatten her ears in annoyance. She recovered quickly, scaled Thor’s torso, and settled onto his shoulder, purring audibly as he scratched her under the chin.

Jane, who had scooched over to lean against Darcy and rest her head on the other girl’s shoulder, murmured, “Can she be the new lab mascot?”

“Hell yes.” The old lab mascot was a paperclip sculpture that Darcy and Jane had constructed during a particularly boring stretch of time in New Mexico, and although it was certainly whimsical, it was obviously lifeless, and so not nearly as awesome as an actual cat.

“We should get her a box. For napping in. We can use the one that the spare parts came in last week, it’s still in the supply closet,” Jane mumbled.

“You realize that Steve and Clint and Bucky are all at the pet store buying stuff for her right now?” 

Jane giggled. “They’re going to come back with some fancy bed and then be so upset when the cat prefers our cardboard box.”

“Please,” Darcy snorted. “We’ll be lucky if they limit themselves to less than three beds. Do you have any idea how much unused back-pay Steve and Bucky accumulated during their years on ice?”

 

Eventually the boys returned to the tower, and brought all eight (?!) giant shopping bags worth of cat supplies to Darcy’s room. Clint had opted to walk back with Lucky, since the pup needed the exercise, leaving Steve and Bucky to drive back and get everything into and out of the elevator on their own.

Bucky eyed the floor of the elevator, completely hidden beneath bags of cat toys, beds, food, treats, litter, and even a laser pointer, and glanced over at Steve. “You think we might have gone overboard?”

Steve glanced down around them and then shrugged. “It’s Darcy. Of course we’re gonna spoil her.” 

“Yeah, but technically we’re spoiling her cat.”

Steve sighed and pointed out, “If she becomes our girl, that’s gonna be our cat too, you know.”

“Now that I know you aren’t gonna die in your sleep if there’s a cat in the apartment, I’m okay with that. But you’re missing my point. We aren’t spoiling Darcy, we’re spoiling her cat. Not the same thing.”

“You go do something stupid like buy her a diamond necklace and Natasha will kill you.” 

Bucky sighed. “I have wooed a girl or two in my time, punk. We start small, work our way up.”

Steve thought for a moment, before smiling and asking, “Bagels?”

Bucky nodded. “Bagels.”

 

Jane and Thor had ceded Darcy’s apartment to Bucky and Steve when they arrived, although Jane had cast a knowing glance at Darcy when she caught sight of the number of bags they were carting into the room.

Within minutes, Steve was crouched on the floor, dangling a feather-tipped wand in front of the kitten. Bucky shook his head at the pair in fond amusement before setting down a bowl of food and another with water on the kitchen floor. Darcy returned from setting up the litter box in the master bathroom to join Bucky at the kitchen counter, swiping the mug of coffee that Jane had brought for her on the way over. 

“So, doll, you thought of a name yet?” 

Darcy finished taking a sip of her coffee and nodded. “Honey Bee.”

Bucky chuckled. “You know, after all the grief you gave Steve and I about the importance of names, that’s not quite what I expected to hear.”

Darcy inclined her head towards where the newly christened Honey Bee was standing on Steve’s knee, demanding pets. “She buzzes like a bee.”

Bucky could hear the loud purring from his position in the kitchen, and nodded. “True.”

“And she’s kind of stripy like a bee, and fuzzy like a bee.”

“Also true.”

“And she’s sweet like honey.”

Bucky smiled and parroted a phrase she had uttered earlier that morning: “An easy name to live up to.”

“Exactly.” Darcy took another sip of coffee. “Plus it means that I can call her by her full name, or just Honey, or Bee.” 

“Sergeant Barnes, the bagels you ordered have arrived in the lobby. Would you prefer for security to bring them up or to retrieve them yourself?”

Steve bounced up and headed for the door, calling a quick, “I’ll get them!” to the room at large.

“Bagels?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.


Bucky shrugged and looked up at her through his lashes. “Thought you might be hungry, and seeing as it is a holiday, your favorite breakfast just might be in order.”

Darcy smiled at him and gave a soft punch to his upper arm. "Charmer."

He grinned back at her. "I certainly try. But I gotta give Steve some credit, since the bagels were actually his idea."

Darcy laughed and went to pull plates out of the cabinets. "Mr. Thoughtful and Mr. Charming--a winning combination."

"Hey, anything for our best girl, right?"

Chapter Text

Something that Flora had said stuck with Darcy over the following days.

“Some people don’t need them. Or want them.” 

But if that were the case, why did Darcy need a familiar? (She had no doubt it was not really a question of wanting, because her mother had told stories of wanting a familiar and asking for one for years as a child without result.)

Darcy was careful to reign in most of these thoughts, because she wasn’t the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, and she loved Honey Bee and was very happy to have her.

But why did the universe think that Darcy, right at this moment in her life, needed her?

 

***

 

“Where do you think she goes?” Jane asked one afternoon as they were both in the lab cobbling together a new machine.

“Hmmm?” Darcy mumbled around the pen in her mouth as she struggled with a tiny screw, convinced she was one wrong turn away from stripping the threads.

“Honey Bee. When she wanders off during the day, where do you think she goes?”

Darcy finally got the screw in and dropped the screwdriver into the box next to her, plucking the pen from between her teeth with a flourish. “I don’t know. I guess I figured she went back to my place to nap on the couch or over to Clint's to play with Lucky.” She eyed the spot where Honey had disappeared a moment earlier and then tilted her head towards the ceiling. “Yo, JARVIS.”

“Yes, Miss Darcy?” 

“Do you know where Honey Bee goes when she leaves the lab everyday? Like, does she do anything interesting?”

She goes to visit the other tower residents.”

Darcy blinked. “What, all of them?” 

As many as she can access, dependent on their location, although I don’t believe she has ever made it to all of them in a single afternoon. I may admit her into Dr. Banner’s lab, Sir’s lab when he is not working with explosive components, Agent Barton’s quarters, Agent Romanoff’s quarters, Airman First Class Wilson’s quarters, Miss Potts’ office, and Captain Rogers’ and Sergeant Barnes’ quarters. She also has access to the common areas, with the exception of the team gym and the roof for safety reasons.

“Wait a second, she goes into Pepper’s office? During business hours?”

Indeed. It is my understanding that she eased some growing tensions between Miss Potts and the head of SI’s Japanese branch just the other day.

“That is wild,” Darcy murmured, utterly still with shock.

Jane snorted. “Your cat goes around checking on people when you can’t do it yourself. Why am I not even surprised?” She cast a critical eye at the machine in front of them and held out a hand. "Pass me the Philips-head, would you?"

 

***

 

Truth be told, Darcy shouldn’t have been surprised either.

Familiars had been used as spies and companions for centuries, they operated as extensions of the witch’s will. So it should not have surprised her that when she had amassed a found family this large, the universe would send along a familiar to help look after all of them.

Honey took naps and cuddled with Natasha and Bucky, yowled loudly at Clint when he was cooking something and was about to burn it or start a fire, ensured that Pepper took a brief break from CEOing every once in awhile, and distracted Tony from his tinkering when it was time for him to eat something if Darcy didn't beat her to it.

She charmed Steve into playing with her at least every other day (the man had gone out and bought several additional feather wands to keep in his apartment and the common area so he was always prepared should Honey Bee show up ready to play). She sat with Sam after he got back from running group therapy sessions at the VA so that he wasn't alone.

Sam also had a tendency to give Honey an obscene amount of treats, or the occasional piece of meat if she swung by during mealtimes, no matter how many times Darcy warned him against making her cat fat. If she was being perfectly honest, Bucky was even worse.

Judging by the occasional glimpses Darcy got on the security feeds, Honey Bee--the sneaky little thing--was also walking sigils into the floor, sometimes to keep Bruce calm and productive, other times to dispel nightmares for various and sundry team members, and even, she discovered one day, to stop Lucky from stealing human food (at least within the walls of Clint’s apartment).

So although Honey Bee was unquestionably Darcy's familiar, Darcy imagined that as far as Honey was concerned, all the humans in the tower belonged to her.

Chapter Text

Darcy and Jane were at work in the lab when she finally realized why she had been near tears for no explicable reason for the past two days and had been craving a quesadilla all morning. She doubled over as a fresh cramp took over her abdomen and pressed her face into Jane’s arm.

Jane, who had been narrating whatever repairs she was making to the machine in front of her, broke off and looked down at Darcy, brow furrowed. “Darce?” 

Darcy groaned and straightened slowly, one hand still pressed to her hip. “My uterus is currently reenacting the French Revolution.”

Jane made a sympathetic noise and patted Darcy’s shoulder. “Haven’t you got your handy-dandy Break the Crimson Curse potion somewhere?” 

Darcy scrunched up her face and hunched over again, pitifully mewling out, “No.”

Jane poked her shoulder and demanded, “What do you mean, ‘no’? You’re nearly nonfunctional without it.”

Darcy glared balefully up at Jane, “I ran out last month and then I forgot to get the right ingredients last time I went to the apothecary.” She sighed and muttered to herself, "Which is why I should probably start making actual shopping lists."

Jane steered her friend over to sit on a rolling chair and rifled through one of the lab drawers for an old container of Midol, shaking out a few pills and handing them over to Darcy along with her tepid mug of coffee. “Try these. They should at least take some of the edge off.”

Darcy tossed back the pills with a grimace. “Barely. Did I ever tell you about that time in high school when my nausea got so bad that I actually threw up and got out of PE for two days because the coach thought I had the stomach flu?”

Jane brushed a hand through Darcy’s hair, an indulgent smile on her face. “Yes, I believe I’ve heard that one once or twice.”

Darcy groaned as a fresh cramp sliced through her momentary cheer and then dropped her head to the desk in front of her. “I want a quesadilla. And a nap. And one of those pillows that you can heat up, you know what I’m talking about?” She had no sooner got the words out than Honey came strutting into the lab, loudly meowing as though distressed. The cat waited for Darcy to straighten just enough that the cat could jump into her lap and then settled across her hips, purring loudly. “Or that works. Who needs a microwavable pillow when you have a cat?” Darcy lightly tapped Honey’s nose in warning, saying, “Don’t you start kneading my thighs. I’m about to bleed enough without your help.”

 

 

 

Jane sent Darcy home for the day not long afterwards, well-acquainted with how severe Darcy’s period cramps could become and the bevy of other symptoms that followed them, since it had been nigh impossible for the witch to get everything she had needed to make her tailor-made potion when they were in New Mexico. So Darcy was back in her apartment, curled up on her couch under a huge blanket and cuddling with Honey. In the few hours since her cramps had hit, her food cravings had disappeared and nausea had taken over, so she had a mug of ginger tea sitting just within reach on her coffee table.

 

Miss Darcy, Sergeant Barnes and Captain Rogers are outside your door. Shall I let them in?

Darcy wiggled her arm out from under the blanket and flashed a thumbs up that she knew would be picked up by JARVIS’s cameras.

Very well, Miss.

 

“Darce,” Steve’s voice called from the front hall, “are you alright? We stopped by to bring you lunch and Jane said she sent you home because you weren’t...feeling well…” Steve’s voice trailed off as the boys rounded the corner to her living room and spotted Darcy in her fleece cocoon. Honey, who had been stretched out on top of Darcy and snuffling slightly as she napped, lifted her head and yawned in greeting.

The smell of whatever Steve and Bucky had planned on giving her for lunch finally hit Darcy and prompted a fresh wave of nausea, so she pulled the blanket over her nose and mouth and groaned pitifully. At that, Bucky’s eyes darted between the ginger tea on the table and Honey’s position on Darcy’s lower abdomen and nodded. “Punk, go put the food in the kitchen before you make her sick.” 

Steve, confused, because normally Darcy loved the bulgogi and fries from the Korean food truck on the corner, turned around to put the to-go boxes in her fridge. 

Bucky crouched in front of her and pressed his flesh hand to her forehead quickly to confirm his suspicions, and on finding no sign of fever, said, “My sister, Rebecca, used to cramp up real bad when she got her period. Scared the hell out of me the first time, ‘cause she just curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor and started crying. Couldn’t even tell anybody what was wrong.”

Darcy pulled the blanket back down so she could see him and muttered, “Excellent powers of deduction, Dr. Watson.”

“You gotta have more than ginger tea, doll, no matter how much you don’t feel like eating.” Darcy scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Come on, sweetheart, give me something to work with,” Bucky coaxed.

She sighed and shifted under the blanket, unable to say no in the face of his earnest expression. “Toast.”

Bucky brushed his thumb over her temple. “I can do that. What do you want on it?”

“Butter and honey.”

Bucky could hear Steve in the kitchen as he opened Darcy’s bread and stuck two slices in her toaster. “You got a special kind of honey that’ll help?” 

“The cinnamon one.”

“Alright, doll.” Bucky let his thumb brush over her temple one last time before straightening up. “We’ll get you some toast, you just relax.” He pointed to Honey where she was curled up on top of the blanket and said, “You gonna look after our best girl while I’m gone, princess?”

Honey opened her eyes to look directly at him and meowed an affirmative.

“How many times I gotta tell you? She’s the Queen Bee, not a princess,” Darcy muttered from her blanket cocoon.

“I’m saving that one for when she’s full grown,” Bucky tossed back on his way to the kitchen. 

 

Steve was looking through Darcy’s cabinets in search of the cinnamon honey, having heard the entirety of their conversation in the living room. Bucky reached around him and rearranged a few jars on her countertop, sliding the cinnamon honey out from behind the vanilla sugar. “She leaves it out for when I come over for coffee.”

Steve turned to him, brow furrowed in concern. “Buck, I toured with a whole bus full of girls and none of them ever looked that bad when their time came.”

Bucky shrugged. “Not that they could show anyway. Wasn’t exactly something people talked about back then, and if any of them asked off every month they would have been replaced. Probably wasn't something they wanted you to know about.”

“I just-” Steve sighed and went to pull Darcy’s toast out of the toaster, dropping it onto a plate. “I don’t like seeing her in pain like that. Has she been doing this every month and we didn’t notice?”

Bucky passed him the butter out of the fridge and grabbed a knife from the silverware drawer. “I don’t think so. I think we would have noticed.” He paused, hip propped against the counter, and grimaced. “I hope we would have noticed. But sometimes Rebecca could go a few months before it got really bad. Darcy could be the same way.”

Steve carefully spread butter over each piece of toast before drizzling honey over them, wondering if maybe he should have paid more attention to Darcy’s sigils so that he could replicate them for her. She would have to activate them, of course, but it might have helped. He cocked his head to one side and eyed the kettle speculatively. “Do you think she needs any more tea?”

Bucky clapped him on the back. “I think she’s okay, punk. Come on.”

 

So they both went out to the living room, back to Darcy in her blanket cocoon, and set the plate of toast on the coffee table as they helped her sit up, dislodging Honey Bee from her perch.

“I might have a way to make you feel better if you don’t mind me invading your space, doll,” Bucky murmured.

Darcy blinked at him, well familiar with the old adage that orgasms could help ease menstrual cramps, not that she believed for even a second that was what he meant--although what he actually meant was unclear at the moment--so just to clarify, she asked, “Are both of us keeping our pants on?”

Steve spluttered, eyes wide, but Bucky laughed. “Everybody’s pants stay on, doll. Shirts too.”

“Mmkay,” she mumbled around a mouthful of toast. “My personal space is your personal space.”

Bucky turned her until she was seated sideways on the couch and then climbed in behind her, his legs settled along the outside of hers. He then opened a panel on his metal arm, quickly pressing a few buttons and popping the panel back into place before wrapping his forearm around her hips. “It should warm up in just a minute, doll. Eat your toast.”

Between his body heat behind her and the warmth radiating from his metal arm, Darcy relaxed back into his chest and studiously attempted to munch on her toast, nausea abating slightly. Steve was hovering awkwardly next to couch so she commanded, “Come join the puppy pile, Steven, you look left out just standing there and it makes me sad.” She stretched out a free hand to pull him down on the floor next to her, tugging him forward until he was easily within an arm's length.

He sat down and leaned his side against the couch, cheek nearly brushing Bucky’s knee. “Is it like this every month?”

She shrugged and watched as Honey clambered into Steve’s lap, rubbing her face against his chest and purring. “Usually I have a potion I take that prevents any of the nasty symptoms from making an appearance. But I ran out of it last time and then I forgot to get the stuff I needed to make more.” She took another bite of toast. “It’s only bad like this for the first day or two. Then I’m fine.”

She looked down Bucky’s arm and grinned. “This is nice. I mean Honey is wonderful but sometimes she does that thing with her claws, which is slightly less nice.” She tapped a finger against one of the metal plates and said, "I could get used to this."

Bucky grinned into her hair and pulled her closer. “Anytime, doll.”

Chapter Text

Natasha tugged on Bucky's ponytail as she slid by him to get to the fridge. "You need a haircut, dorogoy."

Bucky shook his head in denial and swallowed his mouthful of yogurt. "Nope. Darcy likes when it's in a bun. Can't do that if I cut it."

Natasha paused in taking a long drag from her bottle of electrolyte water to give him a withering glare. "Just because she likes the man-bun does not mean you would not look better if properly groomed."

"Well, that's not what she said."

Natasha took another long drink of water and then snatched the banana he had set out for himself on her way out of the room. “Well, you look like a hobo."

"According to the internet, the lumberjack look is in right now."

Natasha shouted back a few insults in Russian as she went down the hall, which left him laughing into his cup of yogurt but also wondering if she might be right.

 

 

***

 

 

"Punk."

Steve was at the stove stirring a pot of pasta sauce, having taken to the encyclopedic cookbook that Darcy had dug up at some secondhand shop and given them as a gift after Steve had served her a boiled chicken the week prior. "Jerk."

"You think I should cut my hair?" It wasn't until the question was out of his mouth that Bucky realized he was shoving his hair out of his face in order to see better.

But he really didn't want for Natasha to be right because she would never let it go.

Steve turned around to look at him. "Do you want to cut your hair?"

It was never a good sign when Steve answered a question with a question. "Does it make me look like a hobo?"

There was telling pause before Steve answered, "Of course not. You smell too nice to be homeless. And your shoes are too expensive."

Bucky groaned. "Dammit, Stevie, you're avoiding the question. Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

Steve shrugged, sheepish and caught out. "Because it was your choice to make. And I love you no matter what your hair looks like."

Bucky rewarded him for that with a quick kiss, but then complained, "It didn't occur to you that when trying to woo our girl it would help if I looked my best?"

Steve frowned, as if he felt Bucky was slighting Darcy’s character by implying such fickleness. "Darcy doesn't care what your hair looks like."

"Of course not," Bucky ceded. "Just like you don't care whether Darcy's wearing that lipstick you like so much. You're smitten with her either way, but you look that much more when she's got that red mouth drawing your attention."

Steve paused, processing. "Point. Maybe we should both get hair cuts.”

Bucky shook his head. "Nope, yours gets any shorter and there'll be nothing left to pull on when we're necking."

"Somebody's got their priorities in order," Steve deadpanned.

Bucky pulled Steve in for a kiss to shut him up, his flesh hand fisted tight in Steve's hair in the way that always earned him a moan, and pressed in close.

 

 

 

Darcy froze in the door to Steve and Bucky's kitchen, only just keeping herself from dropping the bundt cake in her hands.

The boys were making out in the middle of the kitchen, Bucky's hand with a tight grip on Steve's hair and Steve's hand possessively in the back pocket of Bucky's jeans, pulling them tight across his ass. Which was a very pretty picture and really her libido did not need the help and this was totally inappropriate because the guys hardly even held hands outside of their own rooms and this was a total invasion of privacy...

So Darcy let out a startled squeak and closed her eyes and started rambling as the boys broke apart. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to intrude but Steve said to come right over and that the door was open and to come straight in…”

Bucky started laughing, nearly doubled over next to Steve in the middle of the kitchen. “Doll, you can open your eyes. Everybody’s decent now.”

Darcy opened her eyes when she felt the cake being lifted from her hands. “Sorry about that, Darce,” Steve murmured. “Somebody—“ a pointed glance at Bucky “—surprised me.”

Darcy waved him off, saying, “No! You guys don’t have to apologize, it’s your home and you can mack on each other whenever you please. I should have knocked.”

Steve arched a brow at her and countered, “I told you not to knock.”

Darcy twisted one of her rings around and around on her finger, a clear nervous tell. “Yeah, but people say that as an indicator that you’re welcome in their space; it’s still smarter to knock. Really, I’m sorry guys—“

Bucky cut her off, face suddenly serious. “Darcy, stop. What are you apologizing for? Because neither Steve nor I,” he looked over to confirm, “are upset with you seeing us kissing or coming in here without knocking.”

Steve nodded his agreement, expression earnest.

Darcy’s brain stuttered to a stop and suddenly finding a way to articulate why she was apologizing seemed as daunting as climbing the stairs to her apartment on the 64th floor. “I just…you guys tend to be really private about your relationship. Like, the most I’ve seen you do outside this apartment is hold hands. And that was like, one time. So I guess I assumed that you would be uncomfortable with me being here when you were…” Darcy pushed her glasses up her nose in frustration at her own awkwardness.

Bucky and Steve made pointed eye contact with one another for a moment, silently communicating Darcy knew not what, before nodding and springing into action. Steve set the cake on the counter and moved over to finish serving up the pasta as Bucky walked over to Darcy and steered her over to sit down at the table.

“Darcy, what you gotta understand is that when Steve and I were kids it was dangerous for us be affectionate in front of other people.”

Steve set a bowl full of pasta in front of her, along with a glass of red wine, before serving Bucky and himself and taking a seat at the table. “We know things are different now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with you or the other people in the tower, it was just ingrained in us not to be affectionate outside of our own space. And that’s something that we’re working on. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t always welcome here or that we are trying to hide anything from you.”

Bucky nodded. “So, we like having you around and in our space. Always, Darce.”

“Okay, okay, I get the picture. No knocking necessary. And I’ll stop apologizing for the accidental voyeurism.” Darcy, slightly unsettled by the sudden serious turn to their conversation, sought for a distraction and finally looked down at the plate of food in front of her. “Wait a second, did one of you make this? Because the last time you cooked something it was a truly depressing experience for me. I still think that Steve actually tried to feed me paper pulp. There is no way that was ever a chicken.”

“I used the cookbook!” Steve waved back to the huge tome sitting on the countertop next to the stove. “I’m pretty sure it’s actually good this time.”

Darcy picked up her wine glass and leaned back in her chair, motioning for Bucky and Steve to start without her. “Yeah, I’m just going to wait and let you boys take the first bite this time. I learned my lesson.” 

Chapter Text

Sam breezed into Jane’s lab around lunchtime and clucked disapprovingly at Darcy where she was hunched over in front of the computer. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Darcy looked up at him, blinking slowly as the afterimages of Jane’s spreadsheet slowly faded. “Working?”

Sam slowly shook his head at her, clearly enjoying whatever game he was playing. “Darcy, what day is it?”

“Tuesday. No wait, Tuesday was yesterday. It is Wednesday.”

“Seriously, girl? It is Thursday.”

“Thursday?!” Darcy gasped and started tossing items into her purse, barely looking to see what anything was in her haste. “We’re getting Shake Shack for lunch on Thursday. Today. And I forgot! I’m horrible, I’m so sorry.”

Sam was chuckling as he reached into her purse and drew out the stapler she had just shoved in. “You’re forgiven. But if this is the kind of lunch that requires a stapler, I’m out.”

Darcy groaned and dropped her head to the desk. "I am a human disaster."

"You're certainly something," Sam agreed before bundling her out of her chair and grabbing her bag. "But right now, you're going to lunch, with me, and getting some vitamin D."

Sam waited until they were a few blocks from the tower, both in their sunglasses and settled into the rhythm of dodging tourists, before asking, "You wanna tell me what that was back there? It was like you had morphed into Tony."

Darcy, indignant, smacked his arm. "I was not that bad. I wasn't great but I wasn't that bad." Sam side-eyed her, clearly skeptical. "As someone who has actually dealt with Tony coming out of a bender, take my word for it."

"You are avoiding my question."

The conversation broke off as they swerved around the crowd of suited business people in front of a kebab truck.

"Sam, if I talk to you about this, you cannot tell anyone. Even Natasha. Even if she's doing that really scary thing she does with her eyebrows."

"What about my mom?"

Darcy whipped her head around, spluttering around the hair that had blown in front of her face, and demanded, "Why would your mom be asking about me?"

"Because if you are about to talk about what I think you're about to talk about, I have been complaining to her about the other two people involved for weeks now and she finds the whole situation more entertaining than her stories. Seriously, she used to yell at me if I called during Days of Our Lives, last week she turned it off so she could actually pay attention to me."

Darcy smacked him again. "You have been gossiping with your mother about me and Steve and Bucky?"

"Who else would I talk to about it? Barton's oblivious, Thor would just launch into some Asgardian epic poem that is supposed to be relevant but makes no sense, Natasha would mutter in annoyed Russian and lord her superior knowledge over me, Tony's just gonna make a lot of puns..."

Darcy threw up her hands. "Me, Sam. You talk to me. What have you even told your mother?"

"Oh hell no. I am not telling you anything that you don't already know.”

She stared at him. “Are you saying that you know something that I don’t know?”

“I am saying nothing,” Sam muttered. “All y’all got your heads in your asses, but I am way more afraid of what the wonder twins will do to me than you if I say something I shouldn’t.”

Darcy narrowed her eyes at him. “I will curse you from here to next week, you over-sized mechanical bird.”

Sam swung his head around to stare at her, unimpressed. “Yeah, but I’d still be alive to be cursed.”

“Fine,” Darcy huffed. “Give me your mother’s phone number. I’ll call her.”

Sam started laughing at her. “Are you seriously gonna harass my mamma into telling you gossip?”

Sam and Darcy sidled up to the end of the line at Shake Shack. She shook her head and explained, “I wouldn’t need to harass her. Because I believe that you were raised by a good woman, Sam Wilson, and a good woman would tell me what I need to know.”

“Did you just compliment my mother and insult me in the same sentence?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I’m gonna buy your lunch today in the hopes that you don’t cast all your curses on me at once.”



***

 

Darcy plopped down next to where Natasha was doing yoga in the team gym and blurted out, “You know something that I don’t know.”

Natasha didn’t waver in her pose, didn’t even bother to look over at Darcy, simply raised a brow and said, “I know lots of things that you don’t know, milaya.”

Darcy huffed and collapsed completely onto the ground. “Believe me, I’m well aware of that.”

Natasha exhaled for a few beats before flowing out of her pose to look down at Darcy. “Out with it.”

“Do you ever have a weirdly intense conversation with someone, but you’re so uncomfortable and stressed that you’re kind of distracted and you don’t really realize that there might have been layers to that conversation that you weren’t really aware of but you aren’t actually sure because memory is unreliable--I mean eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable so maybe I was just imagining something. But you can’t ask without making a situation awkward and possibly permanently altering your relationship with people and you really don’t want to risk that and your friend who occasionally puts on wings and flies around won’t help you either so you go to your friend who’s a spy in the hopes that she’ll tell you because you know that she knows everything but she just stands over you while you ramble, prostrate on the floor?”

Natasha’s bland mask finally cracked after a few beats of ominous silence and she promptly doubled over, laughing uncontrollably, nearly snorting in her own amusement. “I’m sorry, I just…” She was overtaken by a fresh wave of laughter and finally collapsed to the floor next to Darcy.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. I’m conflicted and emotional and distracted enough that I didn’t even know what day it was yesterday and I nearly missed out on Shake Shack.”

After another few moments of uncontrollable giggles, Natasha finally sat up and looked down at Darcy. “Okay, let’s try this again. I am assuming you are talking about Steve and Bucky.”

Darcy nodded. “I just...I walked in on them kissing the other night and I kind of froze up because I felt like I was invading but then when I apologized they got really serious about it and were like ‘you’re not invading our space, we like having you here, all the time’ but in a way that, in retrospect, was kind of intense and now I kind of wonder if we were having two different conversations and I was the only one who didn’t notice.”

“Probably.”

Darcy stared at her. “‘Probably?’ That’s it, that’s all you’re gonna give me right now?”

Natasha sighed and sat for a moment, considering. “I cannot say much more without betraying a confidence.”

Darcy, in search of a work-around, suggested, “But if I were to use you as a sounding board…”

Natasha shrugged as if to say “why not?”

“So I don’t really have any experience with relationships of the non-platonic variety, because I couldn’t ever see myself getting involved with someone who didn’t know that I was a witch, and that hasn't really happened before now. So I am, admittedly, probably oblivious when anyone makes an overture more subtle than a freight train.”

“Noted.”

“And because I knew that Steve and Bucky were in a committed relationship, and I didn’t really expect the Depression-era guys to be familiar with polyamorous relationships, I never even tried to think about anything they did as anything other than friendly. And anytime I  thought anything beyond friendship about them, I shoved it into a little box in my mind and felt really guilty about it. Only now I’m kind of wondering if I was wrong all along and they were just too subtle for me.”

“What specifically is standing out to you now that you are reevaluating your interactions?” Natasha prompted.

“Well, we spend a lot of time together. I mean both one-on-one and all three of us together. But they seem to spend more time with me than anyone else. And I’m the only one that has carte blanche access to their apartment.”

Natasha hummed, suddenly interested. “I didn’t know that.”

Darcy nodded. “JARVIS told me. After I asked. They always pay when we have take-out nights, and sometimes they bring me bagels for breakfast or they bring me something to the lab for lunch as a surprise. Bucky's called me their best girl once or twice, which of course gave me warm and fuzzy feelings at the time because it's sweet, you know? But now I'm wondering if maybe that meant more than I was aware of.”

“So what is your hesitation?”

Darcy bit her lip and thought. “I know they like me as a person. But I don’t know if they’re attracted to me or just think of me like a sister. And they're definitely attracted to one another.”

After a few beats of silence, Natasha sighed loudly from next to her. “Did you know that JARVIS has cameras in the communal areas of the tower and that, unless privacy mode is enacted, that footage is saved to secure servers on-site and can be played back if you ask?”

“You want me to spy on them after the fact? That feels kind of squicky.”


“Even if you don’t actually watch the footage, think about why I might suggest it to you at this particular moment in time, as your friend who wants you to be happy.” Natasha rolled over to press a single kiss to Darcy’s forehead, waxy and minty from her usual chapstick. “Ya lublyu tebya, milaya.” She sprung up from the floor in a single, graceful move and said, “I’m going to leave now before I say more than I should, but think.”

 

So Darcy thought.

 

She lay on the ground in the team gym and thought about what Natasha had said, and the way Bucky had so easily wrapped around her the week before, and the way Steve always made sure she was on the inside of the sidewalk when they left the tower together, and the way he looked at Bucky when Bucky called her doll. 

She thought about Flora and the other witches scrying at Hector’s birthday and somehow seeing Bucky and Steve and her linked.

 

She had moved on to thinking about what to do about it when the Assemble alarm went off.

Chapter Text

Steve had been gone--along with Clint, Sam, and Natasha--for nearly a week, on some Avengers mission whose details were above Darcy’s security clearance. No one knew when they would be back.

 

So any kind of concrete discussion on whether or not Bucky and Steve had been trying to romance her while she had puttered about, oblivious, was indefinitely tabled until Steve's return.

 

It was the longest Steve had been gone and incommunicado since Bucky had come back, a fact that was not lost on Darcy.

Not because she was worried about him having some kind of episode, but because it had to be a jarring thing to lose your best friend and lover for a week after months of near-constant companionship. So she made sure to see Bucky at least once every day, usually in the evenings after her lab duties were finished for dinner and a movie.

And when Darcy was stuck in the lab, Honey Bee had a tendency to keep Bucky company, even more than normal.

It did not go unnoticed.

 

“Doll.”

 

Darcy looked up from Jane’s notes that she was in the midst of transcribing to see Bucky standing a few feet away with Honey perched on his shoulder.

“Hey, Bucky. You come to steal me away for lunch again?”

He sidled up to the lab table and shrugged. “I’m always up for lunch with my best girl, but actually I came by to ask why it is that princess here has been on top of me the last few days. Non-stop, Darce. She even snuck in to sleep with me last night.”

Darcy hunched slightly at her desk and suddenly choked on her own spit, because although Jane had figured out that Honey basically went around checking on Darcy’s little family when Darcy couldn’t manage it herself, she hadn’t actually mentioned it to the others. And if Honey just so happened to always find her way to Sam’s apartment on days he worked at the VA, that could conceivably be a coincidence.

Honey’s single-minded determination to keep Bucky company in Steve’s absence was going to be a little harder to explain away, if it was even worth trying.

Bucky put Honey Bee down on the lab table before crouching next to Darcy’s chair and rubbing circles on her back as she coughed uncontrollably.

By the time she had finally caught her breath, Darcy had decided that there was no point in hiding the truth, so she looked over at Bucky, whose hand was still warm on her back, and admitted, “Honey’s picked up on the fact that I’m worried about you missing Steve, so whenever I can’t be with you, she’s keeping you company. I mean I don’t like, order her around or anything, she just does it. Magic, you know.”

Bucky stared at her for a moment before a smile bloomed on his face and he ducked his head before looking back up at her from under his lashes. “I can’t even give you a hard time now, that’s so cute. You worried about me, doll?” he teased.

“Just want you to be happy,” she mumbled, shy and a little awkward.

“Hey,” Bucky coaxed, tilting her chin up so she was no longer focused on the floor. “Of course I miss Steve, but you make me plenty happy, doll.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek, lingering just long enough for Darcy feel a tingle race down her spine. “What do you want me to bring you for lunch? No request is too big, I’m feeling very indulgent at the moment.”

Darcy repressed the urge to tilt forward and kiss that soft, fond smile that seemed reserved for her, and focused on getting her request for a falafel roll out coherently.

 

***

 

Darcy had taken it upon herself to take care of Lucky when Clint was gone on missions.

 

Which was all well and good, Bucky thought, when she wasn’t stuck in the lab with Jane all day doing cool space things so that he had take the dog for walks.

And Bucky loved dogs, it wasn’t a dog thing. It was that Clint’s dog was the most pig-headed, stubborn, untrained dog he had ever met. And somehow Darce could get him to behave like a prince, but whenever Bucky took him, the dog was lunging after squirrels and pigeons and barking down manholes and wrapping the leash around Bucky’s legs.

 

But Lucky’s favorite thing to do, Bucky discovered the second day he took him for an afternoon walk, was to drag Bucky to Central Park and then stop and sit in front of the sea lion enclosure and refuse to move. It was a strategic choice, because not only did Lucky have constant entertainment from the sea lions, but also the children at the Central Park Zoo could not resist the scruffy one-eyed lab with his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

 

Darcy, of course, had been thrilled to hear about Bucky and Pizza Dog’s Adventures in Central Park, guest-starring Miss Harper's entire first grade class from PS 89 in the Bronx, over a box of pizza in her apartment that evening.

“Why do none of these kids have any sense of self-preservation? They’re running up to a strange man with a metal arm, Darce!”


“No, they’re running up to a handsome guy with a really cool prosthetic arm who’s out walking his one-eyed, very friendly dog in public, while still supervised by their teacher,” Darcy pronounced with an air of finality. Then she glanced down at her slice of pizza and asked, “Can you pass the chili flakes?” As if she hadn't said anything important, as if her casual acceptance of his arm as a prosthetic and not a weapon wasn't a blessing in and of itself.

"Sure thing, doll," he got out as he handed over the jar. "So what are we watching tonight?"

 

***

  

“Hey, Darce?” Bucky was leaning against her kitchen counter, watching as she brewed a jetlag preventing potion for Pepper.

“Yes, Bucky?” she prompted as she stirred in some chamomile honey and rosehips.

“You think you could give me a haircut?”

She swung her head around to stare at him, her arm still continuing to stir clockwise. It wasn’t really an odd request, because he did shove his hair out of his eyes pretty frequently, and had stolen her hair ties more than once to put it up somehow. But that had been going on for as long as she had known him and it had never seemed to bother him before. Although everyone had their limits, so maybe it was just getting too long now? Or…

“Natasha gave you a hard time, didn’t she?”

“What?”

Darcy nodded, convinced by Bucky’s expression that she had hit the nail on the head. “Clint is terrible at remembering to cut his hair, even though SHIELD had weird regulations for field agents, so she used to always poke and prod him into cutting his hair. She still does it.” She pulled the wooden spoon out of the pot and set on the trivet next to the stove. “Then she started doing it to Tony when she was his PA. I mean, Pepper would make appointments for him to get his hair cut, but of course Tony just never went, and Pepper was busy actually running his company. So Natasha would find ways to convince him that the haircut was actually his idea.” She pulled the pot off of the heat and set it to the side to cool, searching through one of her cabinets for a good jar to bottle it up in for Pepper.

Bucky sighed. “Yeah, Natalia might’ve said something about proper grooming. And it might’ve sounded just enough like my ma that it stuck with me. But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong,” he admitted. “Might not be such a bad idea to start fresh, you know?”

“I’m picking up what you’re laying down,” Darcy acknowledged. “But I’m not exactly a whiz with scissors. You sure you don’t want to go to a barber or something? Entrust those luxurious locks to a professional?”

Bucky grimaced and squirmed slightly. “Strangers with sharp objects around my face is still the sort of thing that’s gonna make me tense. I’d rather not risk it.”

“Right,” Darcy said. “Well, if I royally mess up, I’m sure nanna has some kind of spell to fix things. Or we could just resort to the regulation buzz cut, I suppose.”

“Was that a yes in there somewhere?” Bucky needled.

Darcy snapped a dish towel at him, laughing. “Yes, fine.”

 

And that was how Darcy found herself standing behind Bucky, Natasha’s hair-cutting shears in her right hand.

 

She ran her left hand through his hair, roots to tips, and asked, “Are you sure about this? There’s no take-backs once I start.”

“Would you get on with it, doll?” Bucky sighed. “It’s just hair.”

“Right,” Darcy affirmed. “It grows back. Or you can shave it off completely and it doesn’t matter.” Which was true, of course, but it didn’t mean Darcy wasn’t going to be disposing of every stray hair very carefully.

But we don’t need to get into that , she thought as she pulled his hair into a low ponytail and snipped it off. She very carefully placed the tail into a plastic bag before turning back and trying to shape the curtain of dark brown hair into something resembling a decent haircut.

 

Once she had smoothed out the back into something that seemed acceptable, Darcy moved around to face Bucky, carefully brushing his hair out from in front of his face. She had opted to keep it long enough that he could still tuck pieces behind his ears, something in between his 1940s style and the hair he had worn as the Winter Soldier.

A novel reflection, hopefully, for a fresh start.

 

When she was satisfied that it was as good as it was going to get, she ran her fingers through it one last time to shake out any loose hair and stood back.

 

“Well, doll, what’s the verdict? Will I do?”

He was completely devastatingly handsome was what he was. The shorter hair had revealed his sharp jawline and cheekbones to their best advantage, despite Darcy's relatively blunt execution.

“Let’s just say I live in fear of the day you decide to let a professional cut your hair," she said. "Steve’s going to trip over his own feet when he sees you.”

Chapter Text

Darcy woke up to the slow drag of Bucky’s hand up and down her back and his voice humming in her ear.

 

They had cooked dinner together and then lay down on the couch to watch a movie, but Darcy had been tired from a long day of babysitting Tony in his lab, so she must have stretched out and fallen asleep on Bucky at some point.

 

“C’mon, doll, they’re gonna be landing in a few minutes and you don’t want to miss your chance to dramatically welcome Steve home on the roof.”

She slowly blinked the sleep out of her eyes and propped herself up, one elbow on the couch cushion and the other on Bucky’s chest. “What’s happening?”

Bucky continued to rub her back as he explained, “Steve texted us to let us know the team was almost home. I let you sleep as long as I could, but they should be landing pretty soon.”

Darcy yawned and started nodding. “What time is it?”

Bucky glanced at the phone in his hand and reported, “2:30.”

“Oh my lord,” Darcy groaned as she face-planted back onto Bucky’s chest. “You’ve been letting me sleep on you for that long? You could have woken me up.”

Bucky ruffled her hair affectionately. “An honor and a pleasure, doll. Now up you get; we’ve got a hero to welcome home.”

 


***

 

It was hot and muggy up on the roof, even in the early morning dark, with warmth radiating off the concrete. It did nothing to help Darcy emerge from her hazy, sleepy state. She was propped up against Bucky’s side with his arm wrapped around her waist, over-warm and sweating slightly as they waited for the quinjet to touch down.

 

“What did Steve text you anyways?” Darcy murmured.

“Well, he texted both of us that he was on his way home and should be landing on the roof in an hour and he couldn’t wait to see us. And then I told him you were sleeping with me on the couch and he said he was sorry he missed it, because we must have made quite the picture, and to make sure that I got you up on the roof for him.”

“Is everybody okay?”

Bucky bundled her in closer to his side, moving his arm up to her shoulders and leaving a new line of heat. “Just tired, I think, and homesick. Sounds like any injuries they had were from earlier in the week and have already been taken care of.”



***

 

Steve darted off of the quinjet as soon as the hatch opened, headed directly for the pair of figures huddled together just off the landing pad. The muggy heat of a New York summer hit him a few steps out, making the weight of the suit and shield on his back nearly unbearable.

When he got to the edge of the landing pad, Steve wrapped one arm each around Darcy and Bucky, pulling them in as close as he could, settling at the feel of them under his palms. He pressed a kiss to Bucky’s temple, noting absently that his hair was definitely shorter than when Steve had left the week before, and then pressed his nose to Darcy’s hair, breathing in the lavender smell she carried around with her before pressing a matching kiss to the top of her head.

Darcy’s voice was a muffled whine as she said, “It’s not that I don’t love you guys, but you are like human space heaters and it’s really hot out here and I’m starting to feel gross. Can we cuddle in the air-conditioning?”

Steve laughed quietly, nuzzling her hair once before relaxing his grip on both of them. “Yeah, sweetheart, inside sounds great.”

 


***

 

Whatever had happened on the mysterious mission to the undisclosed location had clearly shaken Steve. He wasn’t hurt, that Darcy could tell, and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t reached out with her magic to check when they got in the elevator and Steve leaned heavily into Bucky. She could tell that he had been wounded, because her magic picked up on a few hot spots where his body had been rapidly healing itself, but the serum had already taken care of everything.

But despite all that, he was being tactile in a way that Steve rarely was--Bucky was more likely to wrap an arm around her waist and leave it there, or put a hand to the small of her back instead of hovering over it like some overly cautious butterfly. As soon as they had bundled into the elevator, Steve had leaned his entire right side against Bucky, whose left arm was wrapped around Steve’s shoulders and scratching lightly at the hairs at Steve’s nape, and Steve’s other arm was firmly wrapped around Darcy’s waist.

He was also very quiet, and clearly exhausted.

“Are you hungry?” Darcy murmured as she used her finger to scrawl a sigil on his back, just underneath the rim of his shield, for peace of mind and comfort.

“Starving,” Steve grunted out.

“How about you take a shower while Darcy and I fix you something to eat, then?” Bucky suggested.

Steve nodded and murmured his answer into the crook of Bucky’s neck. “Sounds nice. Thanks.”

 

So Steve disengaged from Bucky and Darcy once they made it into the apartment and headed for the bathroom, dropping his shield in the hallway and tugging at the hidden closures on his suit.

Darcy and Bucky watched him go in silence. Once he was out of sight, Darcy turned to Bucky and hitched a thumb over her shoulder. “I’m gonna go grab some witchy stuff from my room. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.”

“And you are going to start making him pasta.”

“I am?”

“You are. I’m gonna get stuff to make pesto...basil should help...and oregano...garlic can’t hurt,” Darcy murmured to herself.

Bucky looked like he was going to ask why for a moment, before he laughed quietly and shook his head. “Pasta it is.” He stepped over and pulled her into a hug. “Hurry back?”

“Not tired of me yet?” Darcy teased. “I’ve been here for like eight hours. I mean, I was asleep for part of it, but still.”

“Never, doll. And Steve’s gonna be antsy to have you back. Trust me.”



***

 

Darcy sorted through her witchery cabinet and pulled out the sleeping potion, along with her sweet dreams tea blend and then a caffeinated tea blend for the morning that would help cheer Steve up. She picked several bunches of basil and oregano from the little pots in her kitchen window and dropped them in her mortar and pestle before packing everything into one of her reusable tote bags.

She started out of her apartment but stopped short next to her bedroom doorway. She had been knitting a blanket for Steve’s birthday coming up and it was sitting, completely finished, in a bag in her closet. And of course the blanket was loaded with some magical extras and the colors had been chosen rather carefully, and it would actually come in handy right now…

Darcy sighed and trudged in to pull the bag out from her closet, hooking the handles over her elbow and then heading out of her apartment.

Time was relative anyway, right?

 

***

 

Darcy was standing at the kitchen counter in the boys’ apartment, grinding the basil and oregano and garlic and pine nuts into a paste with her mortar and pestle while Bucky poured the cooked pasta into a colander at the sink, when Steve finally emerged from the back of the apartment, freshly-showered and soft in a worn t-shirt and sweats.

 

Steve walked over to her and then hovered slightly, as though he was planning on pressing a kiss to her forehead or putting a hand to the small of her back but didn’t feel like he was allowed now, in the bright lights of the apartment, distanced from whatever he had left on the other side of that plane ride. Darcy shifted slightly so that she could bump him with her hip. “You mind grabbing some parmesan out of the fridge for me? I’m almost done.”

Steve’s hand fluttered across her shoulder blade, so light she nearly missed it, just before he said, “Sure thing, sweetheart.”


And that, Darcy couldn’t help but note, was new.

Sweetheart . Darce.

Our best girl. Doll.

She sighed and gave a particularly firm grind with the pestle, watching the green smear across the base of the mortar.

They really needed to talk. Or something.

 


***

 

After Steve had plowed through his bowl of pasta with slightly alarming haste, Darcy pulled the shopping bag out from behind the couch and handed it over to him, stiff-armed and blushing.

“It was supposed to be your birthday present, but uh, it feels like you might need it tonight.”

Steve took the bag from her, head tilted to one side, as Bucky came closer and peered over his shoulder. Steve reached in and pulled out the knitted blanket, bulky but not heavy, made up of thick chevron stripes of navy and light blue and red and white and fuschia.

Steve shook the blanket open, watching as it unfolded and puddled onto the floor, clearly large enough to cover him from head to toe. “It’s beautiful, Darce. Did you make it yourself?”

She nodded, chewing at her lower lip. “It’s got some uh, extras , built in. So you won’t overheat with it on and stuff.” She sighed, tired and struggling to verbalize what she wanted to say. “Just, sleep with it tonight, please. There’s some tea on the counter to help you sleep and another kind for tomorrow morning.” She yawned and rubbed a hand over her eyes. “I should really get back to my place and get some sleep.” She glanced over at Bucky and warned him, “There’s a chance Honey will come check on you guys tonight, so just be prepared for that.”

Steve stepped forward to wrap her in a nearly bone-crushing hug, the blanket draped over his arm suddenly settling along her back and legs. “Thanks, Darce.” He pulled back, and asked, “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

She smiled up at him. “Yeah, of course. I’ll be in Bruce’s lab tomorrow until after lunch if you’re looking for me.”

Bucky popped up over Steve’s shoulder, digging in his chin as he looked down at Darcy. “How about we bring you something for lunch and go eat on the roof? I’ll bring sunscreen this time so you don’t burn.”

“At least you learn,” Darcy said as she patted his cheek. “That sounds like a great plan. Make sure this one sleeps in in the morning,” she ordered with a firm poke to Steve’s chest. “Even super soldiers need some R&R.”

***

 

“What did she mean that Honey Bee might come check on us?” Steve asked after the door had closed behind her.

“Oh, punk,” Bucky sighed. “You have missed so much.”

“I can tell,” Steve griped, running a hand through Bucky’s shorter hair. “This looks nice.”

“Yeah?” Bucky smirked at him. “You like it? ‘Cuz Darcy thought you’d trip over your feet when you saw me, I was so handsome. And that’s verbatim.”

“‘M sorry, Buck.” He leaned forward to press his face into Bucky’s neck, the exhaustion catching up to him. “They called us in way too late, and then we stuck around to help with retrieval…” It was the part of the job that none of them handled well, but after days of fishing bodies out of rubble--one of whom had looked far too much like Darcy for Steve not to be desperate to get home--he was firmly in the grip of bone-deep exhaustion.

Bucky leaned his cheek against Steve’s head in sympathy before reaching down to take the blanket and wrap it around Steve’s shoulders. Steve gave a happy hum as the comforting weight settled over him, feeling the residual aches in his muscles fade and the pit in his stomach disappear. It even smelled like Darcy, roses and oranges and herbs.

“That’s really nice,” he murmured into Bucky’s neck. “Don’t know what she did, but it’s good.”

Bucky tugged the blanket around until it was wrapped around both of them, laughing at Steve’s discontented grunt. “Sharing is caring, Steve. I wanna try out the magic blanket.”

Once it was wrapped evenly around both of them, Bucky relaxed a bit more into Steve and sighed happily. “We need to set an alarm for tomorrow if we’re sleeping under this thing.”

Chapter Text

Darcy was in Bruce’s lab, taking inventory of his various supplies so that she could fill out a requisition form for fresh stuff, when her phone rang across the room. She darted over and pressed it to her ear without checking caller ID, focused on jotting down the correct number of boxes of latex gloves in the supply closet.

 

“Hello?”

“Darcy? It’s Marley.”

“Hey, what’s up? Is everything alright?”

“No,” Marley sighed. “Poppy’s preschool just called and apparently she’s come down with something and she’s running a fever. They need me to take her out so she doesn’t infect the other kids, but I can’t leave work today because we have a big presentation-”

“Marley, slow down. It’s okay, I can look after her, if that’s what you’re building towards.”

“You’re an angel,” Marley gushed. “I feel terrible asking, but Poppy just thinks you’re the coolest and you’re better than I am with healing stuff...”

“It’s no trouble, really. Why don’t I keep her until tomorrow? That way you don’t have to worry about your older ones catching whatever she’s got while she’s still contagious?”

“You sure, Darcy? I can always pick her up after work if she’s too much trouble.”

“No, really. I’ll keep her until she’s better. It’s no trouble at all. Just text me the address and I’ll go pick her up, okay?”

“Alright, but I’ll owe you!”

 

Darcy hung up the phone and set the clipboard down on the lab bench. “Hey, J? Any chance Happy can give me a ride somewhere?”

 

“I shall enquire and get back to you immediately, Miss.”



***

 

When Bucky and Steve swept into Bruce’s lab in search of Darcy late in the morning, since Steve hadn’t wanted to wait until lunch, she was nowhere to be found.

 

“Bruce, where’s Darcy at?” Bucky called.

Bruce spun around on his stool and blinked. “She left a few minutes ago. Said a friend needed her to pick up some flowers, I think.” He paused for a moment, reevaluating. “No, not flowers. Poppy. She said she had to go pick up Poppy.”

“The kid?” Bucky asked in surprise. “From Beltane?”

Bruce shrugged.

“Is she bringing her here?” Steve asked.

Bruce shrugged again. “Sorry guys, but I really have no idea. JARVIS might know more. Good to have you back, Steve” he said as he turned back to the microscope in front of him.

 

***

 

Poppy had wound herself around Darcy like a vine the second the older woman had shown up at the preschool, and had so far refused to let go.

 

Poppy clearly handled being sick about as well as Darcy did. The school nurse had told Darcy that Poppy had started sobbing as soon as she had finished heaving into the trash can, so the little girl’s face was red and splotchy. Poppy had at least stopped crying quite badly once Darcy had settled her onto her hip, but she was still hiccoughing into the crook of Darcy’s neck as they clambered into the SUV that Happy had commandeered for their trip across town.

 

Poppy was attempting to tell Darcy all about her day, but her face was still smushed into Darcy’s neck, so all that she heard was a lot of mumbling, broken up by the occasional sniffle, as Happy drove them back to the tower. Darcy could feel how hot Poppy was, and cast a quick cooling spell before she ran her hands through the girl’s hair to try and make her more comfortable and bring down her body temperature.

 

They got caught in lunchtime traffic in midtown, and Poppy eventually dozed off in Darcy’s lap, so that when Happy finally pulled into the tower’s garage, Darcy had to wait for him to come around and open the door and pull Poppy’s backpack and her purse out of the way before she could slide out of the backseat.

“I can take all your things up to your room for you, Miss Lewis,” Happy murmured as he ushered her over to the elevator. “You just look after the little miss.”

“Thanks,” she said as she resettled Poppy into a more stable position on her hip. “Poor thing completely wore herself out with all that crying earlier.”

 

“Pardon me, Miss Darcy, but Sergeant Barnes and Captain Rogers have been trying to locate you. Would you like them to meet you at your apartment or shall I tell them to wait for your invitation?”

 

JARVIS seemed to have lowered his usual volume in deference to the sleeping child in the elevator, but he also sounded unusually long-suffering.

“As long as they’re willing to make themselves useful,” Darcy said. “I need to brew up something to make the munchkin feel better.”

 

“I’ll inform them of your request. Do let me know if you require anything for Miss Poppy during her stay.”

 

“Thanks, J.”





 

When Darcy and Poppy and Happy got off the elevator on her floor, the boys were already at her door.

 

Which was a little much, really, because it meant that they had either already been outside of her door when JARVIS had called down to her, or that they had rushed down the stairs in order to beat her to her own apartment.

And Darcy would be lying if she said that she wasn’t frustrated that The Talk that had brewing for over a week at this point was once again postponed, because she wasn’t about to play Do They/Don’t They around a four year old with a stomach bug.

 

But then the boys turned around in unison to look at her, soft smiles on their faces, Steve’s hands reaching out to open the door for her as soon he realized her arms were full, and it was so hard to stay annoyed in the face of their warmth.

 

Bucky took her purse and Poppy’s backpack from Happy, thanking him on Darcy’s behalf, before the trio, plus Poppy, walked into Darcy’s apartment, with Darcy headed straight for the couch in the living room. She gently lowered Poppy onto the cushions, hoping to keep her asleep for the time being, and pulled one of the knitted blankets over from her favorite chair to drape over the girl.

 

“I need to brew up a little something so that Poppy can kick this bug, but we could do lunch afterwards? If you two don’t mind a very small chaperone, of course,” Darcy murmured.

 

Bucky glanced over at Steve quickly before he said, “How about I’ll keep an eye on the princess while Steve helps you out in the kitchen,” Bucky suggested, eyes on Darcy. “Seems to me like he could use a chance to catch up on time with our best girl.”

 

There was something in Bucky’s expression that told Darcy this was another one of those times when he meant something more than he was saying, so she simply nodded in agreement and started pushing Steve towards the kitchen. “Come on, Steve. It’s time to put those muscles to good use once more.”

 

 

***

 

“Steve.”

 

He was off--still--this morning, in a way that left Darcy feeling afloat, unable to pin down a way to make it better. He’d been helping her by peeling ginger over at the sink, but he had angled his body so that he could still see her over by the stove. Kept her in sight, wherever he was in the kitchen, even though he hadn’t touched her since the night before. And even though he kept her in sight there was something off in his gaze, as though he were seeing something just past her, a phantom presence just behind her or over her shoulder.

 

It was unsettling.

 

“Steve,” she repeated.

 

His gaze sharpened finally, narrowing in on her even as he turned off the faucet and set the ginger on a paper towel.

“What can I do?”

He furrowed his brow and tilted his head to one side, confused.

She sighed, setting the wooden spoon down on the trivet next to the stove and turning to face him fully. “I can tell that something is bothering you, but if you don’t tell me what you need from me to make it better, we’re both just going to end up feeling worse and worse. So how can I help?”

Steve rubbed a hand over the back of neck and sighed. “It’s--it doesn’t make sense. When I try to explain it out loud.”

“Try me.”

“One of the bodies, in--” he broke off and grimaced. “On the mission. One of the bodies that I helped clear out, she looked like you. And I know you’re fine, but it’s...it’s not something I can unsee.”

Darcy suddenly remembered the moment that Steve and Bucky turned around to see her in the hallway that morning, and the way that Steve’s shoulders had dropped suddenly, the relief hidden in the smile on his face, and murmured, “And I wasn’t here this morning when you went to find me.”

Steve shook his head. “That isn’t your fault. You had no way of knowing.”

“Which is exactly the point I am trying to make, Steve. You have to talk to me. If you need me around, or you need a hug, or whatever, you just have to ask. So,” she said, making eye contact with a sheepish looking Steve on the other side of the kitchen, “what do you need, right now, from me, to help make this better?”

Steve spread his hands and admitted, “A hug would help. A lot.”

Darcy smiled and walked over, slotting herself into his space and wrapping her arms around his waist. “See, that wasn’t so hard.”

Steve huffed an amused breath into the top of her head and tightened his grip. “I don’t like to bring those things home, if I can help it. It’s not something you should have to think about.”

“Steve, you can ask for hugs and stuff without needing a reason, if you ever can’t or don’t want to explain.” She burrowed in a little closer and laid her her cheek against his chest. She swallowed, suddenly struck by an idea, and continued, “Anything for my best guys, right?”

Steve’s lips brushed, feather-light, across her temple before he whispered, “Thanks, sweetheart.”

Chapter Text

“See, princess? She’s right in here. She’s gotta make something to make you feel better, yeah?”

 

Darcy glanced back over her shoulder to find Bucky standing in the doorway of the kitchen with Poppy propped against his hip, her arms around his neck, cheek to cheek.

 

It was unspeakably adorable. Infuriatingly cute.

 

“Hi, sweetie,” Darcy cooed as she walked over to the pair. “You feeling any better?”

Poppy made a small disgruntled noise and shook her head.

“I’m almost finished up making your medicine,” Darcy promised. She brushed Poppy’s bangs back from her forehead and pressed her lips to Poppy’s forehead to check her temperature. “You’re still pretty warm. Are you gonna be okay with Bucky until I’m done?”

Poppy nodded before lifting her head to make better eye contact with Darcy, soberly murmuring, “He’s got a shiny arm. S’pretty.”

Darcy smiled at her, brushing her bangs back before tapping her nose. “I happen to agree with you. Be good, okay? I’ll be done soon and then we can get something tasty for lunch once your appetite’s back.”

“Mmmkay,” Poppy huffed, nuzzling back into Bucky’s neck.

“I’ll keep her out in the living room,” Bucky murmured, “put on some cartoons or something while you finish up in here.” He glanced between Darcy and Steve, eyes settling on Steve for a beat. “You alright?”

“Better,” Steve acknowledged. He raised a brow and nodded towards the little girl clinging determinedly to Bucky and warned, “You do realize that you’re going to have to give her back, right?”

Bucky gave a comically slow blink in Steve’s direction. “Finders keepers, Steven.”

“Don’t worry,” Darcy said as she patted Steve on the shoulder, “some of the charm will wear off after prolonged exposure.”

“Are you referring to Bucky or the kid?” Steve asked out of the corner of his mouth.

“Both.”

Bucky huffed in mock outrage and settled Poppy more securely against him. “You see what I have to deal with? You’d never be mean to me like that, would you, princess?”

“Uh-uh.” Poppy paused for a moment to yawn before asking, “Can we do piggy-back rides later?”

“Why, you read my mind. I think that is an excellent idea.” Bucky glared at Darcy and Steve on the other side of the kitchen. “You two aren’t invited.”

“I’m pretty sure that there are several people in this tower who could give me piggy-back rides if I asked, James Barnes, and one of them is standing right here.”

 

Darcy rolled her eyes when Steve suddenly choked on his own spit, and Bucky was laughing at both of them when he carried Poppy back out into the living room.

 

 

 

A few moments after she heard the television click on on in the living room, and a whining meow that signaled Honey’s return to her apartment, she realized the weight of Steve’s gaze on her back and tilted her head back to look at him.

“I’m pretty sure that even in your day your mother taught you that it’s impolite to stare.”

Steve ducked his head and smiled, eyes still on her.

“Okay, c’mon,” she coaxed. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“A few months ago, I never would have thought that I would get to to see that,” Steve said, nodding towards Bucky and Poppy in the living room. “But you brought him back to me, Darce, in more ways than one. And you made this place feel like a home for both of us, and sometimes I feel like we owe you a debt bigger than we can ever repay.”

Darcy squirmed under the praise, her cheeks growing warm, and stared a little too intently into the pot on the stove under the guise of checking to see if it had finished brewing. “You don’t owe me anything. Either of you.”

“Maybe owe isn’t the right word,” Steve conceded. “But I don’t want it to seem like we don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for us.” It was Steve’s turn to squirm, and he cast a furtive glance towards the living room--a reminder that Bucky could no doubt hear everything being said--before admitting, “When I first started looking for Bucky after DC, I never let myself think that we could have something like this. And I don't know what would've happened without you. So thank you.”

Darcy blinked rapidly, trying to keep herself from crying, and sniffed once before saying, “Steven Grant, get out of my kitchen before you make me cry and I have to start this all over again.”

He pushed off of the counter with a smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

“But you owe me a hug later,” Darcy called out behind her. “Maybe more than one. Maybe a piggy-back ride if I need to show-up Barnes later.”


“I can handle that,” Steve answered, before leaving her alone in the kitchen, more frustrated than ever.

 

 

***

 

 

Sam Wilson stared at Bucky and Steve as they walked onto the elevator with their arms full of paper bags of what smelled like soup and sandwiches from Darcy’s favorite deli.

 

“So…” he led on, pointedly looking at the bags full of food. “How did it go?”

“How did what go?” Bucky asked.

The sly smile promptly slid off of Sam’s face. “Oh hell no. JARVIS, stop the elevator.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Sam, what are you doing?” Steve asked.

“You two have both been in the same place as Darcy for--” Sam checked his watch, “--twelve hours, and according to the other people who were on that landing pad last night, Steve ran off the jet and all of you disappeared very quickly. So I thought that this whole thing had finally been resolved.”

“What thing would that be?” Bucky’s eyebrows had nearly disappeared into his airline.

“The thing where all three of you are in love with each other but you’re all too terrified to actually say something about it in case it backfires. If Steve hadn’t been pulled out on that Assemble call, this could have all been taken care of after Darcy’s chat with Natasha, but no… ” Sam pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and started tapping at the screen. “And I am sorry, but you brought this on yourselves.” Sam exchanged the bag of food in Steve’s arms for his cell phone, which was sounding out a tinny dial tone from the speakers.

“Hello?”

“Mama, Steve and Bucky need your help.”

The supersoldiers stared at Sam, utterly gobsmacked.

“Do you mean to tell me that they still haven’t made any progress with that girl?”

“Well, I think that depends on what you mean by progress, ma’am,” Bucky said with a pointed glare at Sam.

“If you’d made sufficient progress, young man, my son would not have just ambushed you on speakerphone, now would he?”

“No, ma’am,” Bucky and Steve capitulated in unison.

“Now you boys listen to me, and you listen good: you are going to buy that girl some very nice flowers and her favorite sweet, you are going to tell her how you feel and what you want, and then you are going to let her decide whether or not she would like to go out to a very nice dinner with you later in the evening. And you are going to give her more than enough time to get ready for that dinner. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they chimed.

“We’ll need to wait until tomorrow, since Darcy’s looking after a sick kid today--” Bucky directed the last bit towards Sam, “but we do appreciate the advice, Ms. Wilson.”

“You do what I told you and you can both call me Dora and come down for the Fourth of July cookout, how’s that?”

“You don’t want to know what she’ll do to you if you don’t do as you’re told,” Sam warned as he pushed the release button for the elevator.

“No, you most certainly don’t,” Sam’s mom echoed. “Now y’all take care, ya hear? And Samuel, this does not count as your weekly call home, are we understood?”

“Yes, mama. Love you.”

“I love you too. Keep an eye on those fools for me.”

Sam sighed and took the phone back from Steve. “I always do. I’ll call you later, mom.”

 

“Was that entirely necessary?” Bucky asked after Sam had stowed his phone back in his pocket.

“Well I had hoped that you two would manage to pull your heads out of your asses without my mother’s interference--or that Darcy might beat you to the punch given Natasha’s hints the other week--but I got tired of waiting. And I am tired of getting texts from my entire family asking for a status report on The Thing.”

The elevator door opened and Sam stepped out onto his floor before pointing at Steve and Bucky in turn. “Get your goddamn house in order, or so help me Natasha and I will do it in the most embarrassing way possible.”

 

The door closed before either Steve or Bucky could respond.

 

“What exactly do you think Natasha told her?” Steve whispered to Bucky.

“Damned if I know.” Bucky shrugged. “Why the hell are you whispering?”

Steve bumped his forehead into the elevator wall, careful not to crush the bag in his arms. “Do you suppose normal people have to deal with this kind of thing?”


Bucky snorted. “What the hell is normal?”