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when you least expect it

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Darcy dropped her bag on the plush carpet with an audible thunk. “Uhh, Bucky?” she whispered furiously. “I think there’s been a mistake.”

“No mistake, doll.” His voice came from directly over her shoulder, stirring her hair and sending a shiver down her spine. She turned her head slightly to look at him, but he was staring at the bed. His expression was closed off—they’d been friends long enough now that she could read him fairly well, and the blank expression was strange—and she wondered if she’d hurt him somehow. “We’re undercover as a couple,” he reminded her. “Which means only one bed.”

Bucky shook his head abruptly, turning away. “Don’t worry. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“No,” she said, too quickly and too vehemently. That was the last thing she wanted, but there was no way in hell she was telling him why. He stopped and looked at her, eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. It was her turn to look away. “There’s no need for that,” she mumbled.

A calloused hand cupped her elbow gently. “Are you sure, Darce? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

He was so sweet sometimes, her heart couldn’t take it. It wasn’t helping her get over her massive crush on him, either. “I’m sure,” she said, meeting his eyes with a smile. He held her gaze for a long moment, evaluating her sincerity. Eventually he looked away, and the spell was broken.

The first night was awkward. Like the gentleman he was, Bucky let her use the bathroom first, and Darcy rushed to get ready for bed, changing and brushing her teeth with lightning speed. She could barely look at him as she exited; all she could see was the bed, looming on the far side of the room.

As soon as the door clicked behind him, she climbed into bed. She chose the far side, nearest to the wall, because she knew even without him saying that he’d prefer to be between her and the exit. Bucky was protective like that. As she waited for him to exit the bathroom, Darcy tried unsuccessfully to shake off her nerves. It wasn’t awkward, she told herself. But the lie didn’t help; anxiety still sat heavily in her stomach, twisting her insides.

It crawled up her throat, burning with a strange acid that rendered her mute as Bucky exited the bathroom. He took one look at her face and frowned. Snagging a pillow from the side of the bed she’d left empty, he dropped it on the floor. Between her and the door, of course; even if she made him sleep on the floor, he’d still do everything to protect her.

“Bucky,” she said, a little too loudly in the quiet room. Her voice was sharp enough that he froze and looked up at her. “Please don’t.” She dropped her eyes and picked at the embroidered comforter. What if he couldn’t stand to sleep next to her?

A shifting of weight on the mattress made her look up. Bucky was perched on the very edge of the mattress, peering at her through the protective curtain of his hair. “Are you sure, Darce? I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable.” His voice was low and rumbly, and completely sincere.

She smiled. “It’s fine. Seriously.” After another long look, Bucky nodded and scooped the pillow up from the floor. They laid on the bed, each giving the other as much space as possible in the middle. Other than a softly-murmured ‘good night,’ they said nothing else. The silence was heavy, and it took Darcy a long time to fall asleep.

For all that she’d had trouble falling asleep, she woke up slowly. She was happy and comfortable, and she dreamily decided she was never going to move from this spot. The solid weight across her waist tightened, pulling her closer to the warmth at her back. Feeling safe and secure, she let out a satisfied sigh and started to fall back asleep. Only to have her eyes pop open a minute later when she realized exactly what was happening.

She froze, not sure what to do. On one hand, she wanted to savor the closeness of Bucky’s embrace, something she could never do when they were both awake. On the other, she didn’t want to have to deal with the awkwardness if he suddenly woke up. The urgent call of her bladder made the decision for her, and she carefully removed his hand from her waist. Sliding to the edge of the bed as silently as possible, she headed for the bathroom without a backward glance.  It was for her own good, really; if she saw the way he looked while he slept, arms reaching out to her side of the bed, she’d probably crawl right back in.

When she stepped out of the bathroom, he was already dressed and waiting his turn. It made her wonder if—

But there was no point in thinking about it, and she ignored that train of thought. Neither of them said anything about the inadvertent cuddling, and the day passed slowly.

 


 

Things were tense when they got back to the hotel that evening—their contact hadn’t showed, and a general sense of anxiety seemed to pervade the air around them. Again, Bucky let her get ready for bed first. This time she was less nervous about the entire process, and shot him a sincere smile, grateful to get out of her grimy clothes. He did that slow blink that meant he was surprised by something, and then the bathroom door was closing between them and she didn’t think anymore about it.

This time, they had a routine. In the time it took Bucky to take a short shower, Darcy hustled to turn off the lights and slide into bed, pulling the covers almost over her head. Miraculously, she was already dozing by the time he finished. He was careful as he slid into the bed, and she barely even felt the mattress shift.

After the excruciating embarrassment of the previous morning, Darcy really expected to find herself hugging the edge of the bed. Instead, she found herself hugging something else altogether. As she drifted in the dreamy state between sleep and full consciousness, Darcy sighed and rubbed her cheek into the pillow beneath her. It was warm and solid, and she tightened her grip.

It was like it all came together in slow motion. First, she discovered that the cool, supportive weight at her back was a metal arm. Then, she noticed that her arm was wrapped around a solid waist, while her leg was possessively sprawled across her companion’s hip and leg. And at last, she realized that Bucky was holding himself perfectly still underneath her. He was awake.

She moved away immediately, babbling apologies the entire time. At first, the arm at her back resisted, but then he let her shuffle away from him. “It’s okay, Darce,” he said, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. The sight of his obvious discomfort made bile rise to the back of her throat, and she muttered one last frantic apology before grabbing her clothes and slipping into the bathroom. He called after her, but she ignored it.

After several long minutes of awkward tension, Bucky knocked lightly on the door that separated them. “Darcy,” he called softly, “We need to get going.”

With one last measured breath—in two counts, hold, out two counts—she splashed some water over her face and headed for the door. He snagged her elbow as she passed, ducking his chin to meet her gaze. “You okay?” he asked in concern.

She hummed an affirmative, pulling away. “Can we go over the plan again?”

There was an inaudible sigh from Bucky, and she glanced at him from the corner of his eye. It was interesting to watch him transition from Bucky to Sergeant Barnes—it was almost a physical change. And then he was going over their strategy, and she had no more time to think about cuddles or the soft light she could’ve sworn she saw in Bucky’s eyes when he looked at her.

 


 

“Are you okay?” Bucky asked her quietly, murmuring in her ear to avoid attracting the cabbie’s attention. His breath fluttered against her hair, sending a shiver down her spine. Misinterpreting the reaction, he frowned and wrapped a hand around her shoulder, bringing her tight against his body. Overcome with exhaustion and lingering fear, Darcy let her head fall to his shoulder. He rubbed soothing circles into her skin, and it took her a moment to remember that he’d asked her a question.

“That was close,” she breathed, hiding her face against his shoulder. Her eyes wouldn’t stop welling with tears—every time she closed them, all she could see was the barrel of the gun pointed in her direction. And then the sight of Bucky’s back as he moved to shield her from harm.

“It was,” he whispered against her hair, pulling her closer. A light touch brushed against the top of her head—so faint she almost didn’t feel it at all—and she soaked in the smell of him. He made her feel safe. “But I’ve got you, doll. I’ve always got you.”

The cab pulled up outside their hotel, forestalling her reply. They were silent as they moved toward the room; Bucky kept his arm around her the whole time, keeping her close to him, and she was grateful.

Darcy got ready for bed on autopilot, barely even noticing Bucky as he passed her on his way to the bathroom. But as she got in bed, she faced the room instead of the wall. She needed to see him tonight, to remember where she was. The shift in routine might throw them off or make it awkward, she realized, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She needed to see him.

Despite her worries, he didn’t even break stride on his way to the bed. He slid under the covers soundlessly, looking at her with a strange glint in his eyes. Eventually, he opened his arms to her. “We both know you’re gonna end up in my arms tonight anyway, doll.”

The guilt came surging back at his words. “I’m sorry,” she choked, unable to look at him.

“No, no, no.” He pulled her to him, stroking her hair out of her face and tilting her chin up so she’d meet his eyes. “What did I say?”

Her mouth worked, but she couldn’t figure out what to say. He stared at her for a long moment, then seemed to come to some kind of decision. His eyes softened as they held her gaze, and they dropped to her mouth for the briefest of moments. “Darcy,” he murmured, “You do know that these last two nights are everything I’ve been dreaming of, don’t you?”

Her eyes slipped closed at the weight of his words. She hadn’t known that, but she probably should have. It was in the curve of his smile when he looked at her, the catch and pull of his fingers sliding down her arm, the way his breath stirred her hair. The fierceness of his body as it moved to protect her.

She couldn’t answer with words, didn’t know how to verbally express the depth of her feelings. Instead, she reached up to pull his face down to hers. Their lips slid against each other tentatively, sweetly, in several light caresses. And then her mouth opened under his, and she told him everything she couldn’t seem to say with words. Their tongues tangled together, surrendering to the fire that danced between him. His hands lost themselves in her hair, and her fingers came up to stroke his jaw, catching on the scruff there.

Slowly, the overwhelming wave of passion receded, leaving tenderness and love in its wake. Bucky pressed several sweet, light kisses against her mouth before pulling away. But his hands still cupped the back of her head and her hand still braced itself against his cheek, and he didn’t go far. They laid there for long moments, foreheads pressed against each other and eyes closed, simply basking in the sensation of acknowledged—and reciprocated—feelings.

“I do now,” she finally whispered, attempting to sound cheeky but unable to disguise the wonder she felt. His lips, when they pressed against hers, were curved into a brilliant smile.