Actions

Work Header

Good Instincts

Chapter Text

He pulled the brim of the hat down further on his head to hide his eyes as he looked around the station platform. He had specifically picked the station in Alexandria over Union Station in Washington because it would be less crowded, have less of a police presence - overall fewer people who might recognize him. Fewer people who might try to detain or engage him. Fewer people - period.

He was starting to rethink his strategy however - the bigger crowd in DC would have made it easier to blend in and get lost. The train was due in 10 minutes and the only people currently on the platform here in Alexandria were him, two loudly gossiping grandmother types, and a woman sitting alone on a bench with headphones in.

He looked down at the stolen phone in his hand. He’d hated the necessity of it, but all of the dead drops he knew in the city were likely to be compromised - or had already been raided in the aftermath of yesterday’s clusterfuck. After he’d bought his train ticket with the cash and ID in the wallet he’d stolen from an unsuspecting tourist at the Smithsonian that morning, he’d dropped it in the nearest mailbox, but the phone would be a loss. He hoped the guy he’d taken it from wouldn’t have too much trouble replacing it once he realized it was gone. He slipped one headphone into his ear as he opened the police scanner app. Nothing to worry about on the bands - yet.

The sound of air brakes and a sudden ring of laughter in the air made him stiffen. A group of loudly chattering ladies descended off a bus and piled onto the platform. He groaned internally. He stuck out even more amongst this crowd of oblivious civilians and their ostentatious red and purple hats. Alexandria was a mistake.

A small hand slipped into the crook of his left arm.

“They reserve the best seats for people traveling together, so you’re my new best friend, got it?”

The woman from the bench had crept up behind him and had now firmly attached herself to his side with a smirk.

“Be nice and I’ll even upgrade that to boyfriend and buy you all the water you can drink from the cafe car.”

“What?” he asked, confused. His voice was rough from disuse and although he was seemingly defaulting to English, the words still felt foreign on his tongue.

The woman continued to smile at him. “On the train. When the conductor takes the tickets, she’ll ask if anyone is traveling together, because they reserve a few seats in each car for that. Otherwise, we’re going to get stuck smack in the middle of -” she waved in the general direction of the increasingly loud group of ladies who had piled off the bus and were now overtaking the platform - “that mess.” Her smile turned to a knowing smirk. “Unless you’re into that sort of thing.”

He shook his head, still confused and more than a bit distracted by her touch on his arm. No one had touched him without ulterior motive since...he couldn’t remember.

Then again, there were a lot of things he couldn’t remember.

Still, it felt...nice. It was a warm, solid weight at his side and was so different from the way his handlers had -

Focus. Don’t think about that.

“You want to sit with me?” he asked, glancing around.

“Sure. You don’t look like you’ll murder me in my sleep.”

He wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that statement.

“I’m Darcy, by the way.”

He blinked at her as she held out her hand and felt the breath leave his chest. Name. He needed a name. What name should he give her?

Instead of answering, he grasped her hand and shook it briefly. Her smirk grew wider. It was pretty and suited her.

Where did that come from? Down boy - that’s not a thought you need to be having right now.

“So, where are you headed?”

He stared at her for a moment. Bright green eyes behind rectangle-framed glasses and a winning smile. She radiated trust, but not in an artificial way - not the way someone would be trained. No, this was genuine. This wasn’t a threat.

“New York.”

“Fabulous, me too. Looks like we’ll be seat buddies the whole way then.” She glanced over at the train that had just pulled up and lead him towards the small crowd of people slowly rushing the overwhelmed conductor. “You have a book or something to occupy the next four hours? I have an extra - I only thought to grab two in my haste to get the heck out of here though.”

He shook his head as she continued chattering, pulling him along as she pushed through the crowd in front of the conductor.

“Two here! Thank you!” she practically threw the both of them in front of the conductor who waved distractedly towards a train car towards the back and they climbed aboard.

“After everything that happened the other day, I thought it was best to get out of DC for awhile. I have a friend in New York who’s going to put me up for a bit.”

She slid into a seat labeled “For parties of two only” and pulled him out of the aisle.

“What happened the other day?” he asked, a little wary of her answer.

She snorted. “The damn world went crazy. Again.”

“And you think New York will be any safer?”

“My friend seems to think so. She’s connected enough to know.” Darcy shrugged. “So what’s waiting for you in New York?”

He fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket. Fidgeting was new. “Home, I think.”

She hummed in response with a thoughtful look on her face and then brightened and dug into her bag. “Anyway, book. As promised.” She held it out to him.

“What’s it about?”

“Home, I think.”

***

Darcy shook herself awake as the train pulled into the station. She blinked rapidly and looked around, pulling one headphone out.

“Wilmington,” he murmured to her. She nodded and peered out the window.

“Shit,” she muttered.

He was instantly alert. “What’s wrong?”

She shifted in her seat to lean into him a little.

“Remember that time I told you I was leaving DC because the world went crazy?” she whispered into his ear.

“Yes.”

“Crazy followed me.”

He peered out the window and saw the two men she had spotted. They were definitely agents of some type, and they weren’t trying to hide it. Well armed, and not hiding that either.

“How do you know they’re looking for you?” he asked.

“It’s highly unlikely there’s anyone else on this train who was SHIELD-adjacent,” she replied wryly.

He gave her a look.

“Oh shit, you too?” she asked.

He tilted his head by way of an answer. SHIELD-adjacent was certainly one way to put it.

“Okay. They’re boarding the train.” She pursed her lips. “You think they’d expect you to be traveling with anyone?”

“Unlikely.”

“Good. Put your arm around me and play with my hair, but don’t move it away from my face. Tilt your head down like you’re sniffing my hair and pretend to be asleep until they pass.”

“You want to try to hide?”

“In plain sight, yes. There’s not enough room to take them out with my taser.”

He peered around the seat in front of him. The car was full and the aisle was narrow. It was unlikely he could fight his way out either without causing unnecessary casualties and damage - and there was no way he’d be able to get Darcy out unscathed. Darcy’s method it was then.

She leaned further into him and wound her left arm through his right while wrapping her right arm around his middle and pulled herself close, using his shoulder as a pillow. She shook her head slightly to swing her hair in front of her face. She’d just settled when she jerked slightly.

“Shit, glasses,” she muttered to herself as she yanked her glasses off and tucked them into his front jacket pocket, then resumed her position. He jolted a little as her fingertips brushed against the scars on his shoulder, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her accidental touch hadn’t hurt the way he’d expected it to. Just the opposite.

He positioned himself as she instructed, lowering his head just as the door between cars opened to allow the two agents to enter their car.

Darcy nuzzled her head against his chest and he closed his eyes to briefly revel in the feeling. It was nice. Far nicer than it probably should be, given the circumstances.

“Your heart is racing,” she murmured. “It’ll be okay. I’ve got you.”

He pulled her a fraction closer. If only she were right. If only it were all that simple.

If only.

He forced himself not to react as the agents drew closer. Darcy nuzzled her head against his chest again and he leaned his head a little more heavily onto hers. Normal, sleepy movements for a couple dozing on the train. For half a moment, he could pretend they were just two normal people, running away for the weekend.

He could picture it, too - a daydream so clear he could almost mistake it for a memory. He would surprise her with tickets to some off-off-Broadway show based on some book that she’d adored but he thought was terrible. Her face would light up with that pretty smile of hers and she might even give him a kiss for humoring her. He’d take her to dinner somewhere nice - not fancy, because she’d hate the pretension of it, but still - someplace nice. The whole time she’d tell him funny stories and they would laugh and she would hold his hand under the table. After the show they’d go back to their hotel and she’d let him make love to her and she’d look at him like he’d ever done anything to deserve it. Like he wasn’t the monster they’d forced him to be. The monster they’d created.

The dream evaporated as he felt the first agent brush past his arm. If only.

He cracked one eye open and could see the shoes of the other agent as he paused near their seats. He held his breath.

And then the agent continued moving, following his partner into the next car.

He released his breath and whispered to Darcy. “They’re past us. Stay still for a little while longer - at least until the next stop.”

She hummed softly in response. “Next stop is Philly. 25 minutes.”

“Get comfortable then.”

She huffed a breath. “Way ahead of you,” she murmured. “You smell good.”

***

25 minutes later they pulled into 30th Street Station. He raised his head and looked around, making a show of blinking. He saw both agents walk past their window and make their way up the platform towards the steps into the station.

“All clear,” he murmured.

Darcy hummed and she raised her head slowly. She stroked his face in a familiar way and smiled softly, as though waking up with him was an everyday occurance. She looked the way she had in his brief daydream and he wondered if anyone had ever looked at him like that before. “Think they saw our destination tags?” she whispered.

“Second agent stopped in front of our seats. If he made us, no way he doesn’t know we’re headed for New York.”

She wrapped both arms around his right arm and rested her head on his shoulder. “So. Bail on this train and find another way to Manhattan, or stick with this train and get off at Trenton?”

He blinked. “You’re stickin’ with me?”

“Of course.”

He swallowed hard. Who was this woman who was involved enough to be running from SHIELD, but still trusted so easily?

“I like you, Darcy. But I won’t be taken again. If you’re trying to -”

“I’m hiding just as much as you are.”

Unlikely.

He looked at her for a long moment. She stared right back at him, undeterred. Trust it was then. Who the hell was he that he was trusting her so quickly? “Trenton. We’ll get off in Trenton.”

“Okay. I’m going to get some water from the cafe car, want anything? My treat.”

“Water’s fine.”

Darcy extricated herself from him and grabbed her glasses out of his jacket pocket before pulling her wallet out of her bag. He stood to let her pass, and stayed standing for a moment to stretch his legs.

“Don’t go giving my seat away,” she said with a wink before making her way down the aisle towards the cafe car. His face stretched into a small smile as he watched her go.

The train pulled out of the station and he sat back down to let the conductor pass through, checking tickets. He watched the city fade into suburbs while he waited for Darcy to return.

“Here you go,” she said, holding a bottle of water out to him.

He took it with a word of thanks and stood to let her slide back into her seat. She settled in, cracked the seal on her water, and took a long sip. He did the same, relishing the feeling of the cool water sliding down his throat.

He watched her start to pick at the label on her bottle. It was a nervous habit and would make a mess that they’d probably prefer not to leave behind when they ducked off the train a stop early.

“Hey,” he muttered and moved his arm so as to invite her to lean against him again. Darcy set the bottle on the little tray in front of her and leaned into him easily. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. He wasn’t entirely sure where the instinct to comfort her came from, if it was just an instinct to distract her from shredding the label on the bottle or if it was something more. It felt foreign yet familiar, like stretching a muscle that hadn’t been used in a long time.

“I’ll get you to your friend,” he murmured into her hair.

“What about you?”

“What about me?” He was deflecting, and he knew she could tell.

“We’re in this together now. My friend could probably help you, too,” she replied.

“I don’t think anyone can help me.”

“That’s not true.”

He grunted, but otherwise didn’t reply.

She shifted against him and wrapped one arm around his middle again, resuming her position from before. “I have something to tell you.”

He shifted slightly in his seat. Her tone of voice made him a little nervous.

“I know who you are.”

He stilled entirely.

“And I’m not afraid.”

“Well, you’re not stupid so you must be insane.”

She gripped him a little tighter. “You could have ignored me on the platform. Hell, you could have broken my arm on the platform. I slept right next to you for two hours and you could have left or smothered me or anything and no one would have been the wiser.”

“I don’t do that anymore. I’ll get you to New York,” he promised. “After that, you won’t ever see me again.”

“Why?”

“I won’t bring that fight down on you, too.” His daydream haunted him. She could still have that life. He never could.

“I can help. I have friends who can help.”

“No one can help me,” he muttered into her hair.

“My friend is working with the Avengers. Hell, she’s engaged to an Avenger.”

He paused. That was an easy thing to claim. But he didn’t hear any trace of deception in her voice and she hadn’t lied to him yet.

He swallowed hard. Trust it was. Again.

“Yeah?”

“Get us to New York and I’ll get you home.”

Home. He took a deep breath and could smell her shampoo. He wondered what home actually meant for him now. Was it still everything that the exhibits in the museum said? An apartment in Brooklyn, boxing down at the Y, and double dates with Steve Rogers?

He glanced down at Darcy. Or was home something else entirely?

“We get off at the next stop. We stick together. And then…” he trailed off, unsure of what else to say.

“And then we take it from there,” she finished for him. “Together.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

He eyed a car with dark tinted windows as it pulled up to the curb. A man with a kind face and a mean build exited the car and looked directly at Darcy.

“Ms. Lewis,” the man said, while nodding in his direction.

“Hey Happy,” Darcy replied as she gave his hand a tug and smiled up at him. “Into the back we go.”

They climbed into the back seat and Happy closed the car door behind them before walking around the car to get back into the driver’s seat.

“Happy’s good - we can trust him,” Darcy whispered quickly before Happy could get back in the car. He only nodded in response and gave her hand a squeeze.

The drivers side door opened as Happy climbed in and started the car. “Doctor Foster arranged for the rooms across the hall from her for you and your friend,” Happy said as he pulled away from the curb and into traffic.

“Thanks Happy. Was she still in the lab when you left?”

“Surprisingly, no.”

Darcy smiled at that and leaned her head against his shoulder. His eyes briefly closed involuntarily at the feeling.

The car was silent for the majority of the 90 minute ride. He stared out the window, watching for any sign of a tail or trap. Darcy traced nonsense patterns into the back of his hand.

He tensed as the car pulled into the underground garage underneath the Tower. Darcy must have noticed because she shifted her grip to lace her fingers with his.

“I’ve got you,” she breathed into his ear. He nodded in reply and tried to slow his racing heartbeat. Everything looked so familiar to the last time he’d come out of cryo. Underground garages and clandestine car rides meant a new mission - someone new to hurt, and the only thing waiting for him at the end was pain and cold. He shivered slightly and Darcy squeezed his hand.

The movement drew him out of his reverie and back into the moment. The car had stopped and Happy was walking around to Darcy’s door to open it and let them out.

“Where are we?” he asked quietly.

“Avengers Tower,” she replied. “Told you my friend was connected.”

He nodded. HYDRA wouldn’t dream of looking here. Not yet, anyway. It was good enough for a little while, at least. Maybe he might even get some sleep.

***

Darcy explored their guest rooms while he secured the door for the night. He double checked the locks and grabbed a few forks from the kitchen and twisted them into a fourth latch that he forced into the door. He was about to grab the light bulb from one of the lamps in the living room to start setting a trap in front of the door when Darcy reappeared.

She looked at the mangled forks in the door jam, but didn’t comment. Her eyes slid over to where he stood frozen, his hand still inside the lamp, grasping the light bulb. She reached out a hand to him and made a grabbing motion.

He abandoned his project immediately and went to her. He hadn’t realized his heart was racing until he felt it slow as he grasped her hand.

“Do you want to stay somewhere else tonight? We can go.”

He shook his head. He knew he should leave, should have never gotten her involved. But she was right - they were probably as safe here as they were going to be. And...she was here. That part shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it did. That strange muscle he felt stretch earlier flexed again.

“Do you…” she trailed off and shook her head. “When was the last time you slept?”

He looked around, not able to meet her eyes.

After a moment, she nodded. “Go to bed.”

“I’ll take the couch,” he replied automatically.

She glared at him. “Go. To. Bed.” Her tone didn’t invite any argument. “There’s clothes in the bedroom for you.” She eyed him, speculatively. “I’m not sure the shirts will fit. But we can sort that out tomorrow. There’s also stuff in the bathroom for you.” She leaned up and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Good night, seat buddy. Sleep well.”

***

By 2AM, he estimated he’d gotten about 45 minutes of sleep. The bed was a bit too soft and the sheets a touch too warm - and he was mostly unarmed in a building full of who knows what.

He reminded himself that Darcy trusted the people here. He repeated it over and over like a mantra until he drifted off again.

***

At 5AM he woke up to the soft sound of a television set and the smell of coffee. He sat up and scrubbed his face with his hands, trying to wipe the sleep from his eyes.

He considered putting his long sleeved shirt and glove back on. Darcy had been right - the shirts hadn’t fit him. He’d torn right through the first one he tried and decided to try to sleep without instead of attempting any others.

He wondered what she meant on the train when she’d said she knew who he was. Did she mean she recognized him as looking eerily similar to that man in the museum - James Barnes? Or did she recognize his face from the news footage from DC?

Or worse - had he endangered her at some point during the DC catastrophe? Between the physical fights and the maintenance he’d endured, he’d been in so much pain the last few days that he couldn’t entirely recall exactly what he’d done or why. The only person who stuck out was the man from the bridge - Steve Rogers, his name is Steve.

Would the arm scare her? Plenty of people had been afraid of it - afraid of him - before.

The coffee smelled inviting. Would she let him try some? It seemed at least one of his handlers always had coffee, but he received all of his nutrients via IV. He had a fuzzy memory of one of them telling him it was because of cryo, but he couldn’t remember anything beyond that.

His head started to ache a little and he pulled himself out of bed. The thought of dragging the scratchy shirt over the scars on his shoulder made him want to gag, so he decided to risk letting Darcy see his arm.

Trust. Again.

He padded out of the bedroom and into the combined kitchen and living area. Darcy was pouring herself an enormous mug of coffee when she noticed him.

“Hey you. I didn’t wake you did I?” Her voice is rough with sleep and her eyes look a little bleary.

“No,” he replied softly.

“I got in the bad habit of waking up ungodly early while I was working in DC. Coffee and cable news. Makes for the worst mornings, honestly. I should switch back to cartoons.” She stirred some cream into her cup then looked up at him. “Coffee?”

He nodded slowly. She grabbed a mug of the shelf and poured it for him. “Cream or sugar?”

He had no idea, so he just shook his head.

“Nice. I can only take my coffee black in the afternoons. In the morning I need the cream to get the coffee to mellow out a bit, you know? I can’t take my caffeine yelling at me at 5AM.” She handed him the mug, then picked up her own and cradled it in her hands as she blew across the top, scattering the steam.

He mirrored her actions and leaned against the counter to take a small sip.

Well, wasn’t that just heaven. A small, happy sound escaped his throat unbidden.

Darcy snorted. “Right? Nectar of the gods.”

They drank their coffee in silence for a few minutes, the only sound coming from the squawking talking heads on the TV yelling about the disaster in DC and everything that went along with it.

He tried to tune out the noise as they started talking about the number of casualties. He closed his eyes and drained his mug.

“Shit, sorry,” she muttered as she grabbed the remote off the counter and turned the tv off. Then she turned and grabbed the coffee pot to pour herself more coffee. When her mug was full, Darcy held out the pot and he nodded. She refilled his mug with a smile.

“Can I ask you something?” he said quietly, staring into the swirling black liquid.

“Sure.”

He drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment. “How did you know me?”

Darcy hummed. “My grandfather was a bit of a history buff. He used to tell me all kinds of stories about when he was younger.” She brought her mug to her lips. “His favorites were about his time as a Howling Commando.”

He turned his gaze sharply to her, meeting her eyes as she took a long sip from her coffee.

“There’s no way the man I heard so many stories about would ever willingly join HYDRA,” she continued. “And I’ve seen enough to know better than to ever trust the official story.”

“That’s not a reason to trust me.”

“No,” she agreed and set her mug down on the counter behind her. “But you also haven’t done anything to show my trust is misplaced.”

“I could just be biding my time. Waiting for the perfect moment to strike.”

“I approached you.”

“And you think I couldn’t have orchestrated that?”

“I think it’s a hell of a lot of wasted effort for someone as inconsequential as me,” she replied bluntly. “Besides, HYDRA isn’t sending their pet assassin to infiltrate Avengers Tower. Particularly not this week.”

He stared at the mug he cradled in his hands, relishing the warmth as it seeped from the mug and into his palms. “Why?” he whispered.

“You were alone. You looked scared. And sad.”

***

Darcy answered the incessant knocking on the door.

“Darcy!”

“Hey Janey.” The two women greeted each other with a hug.

Jane glanced towards the kitchen where he was still nursing his coffee. “You made a friend.”

“Seat buddy on the train. He helped me duck some agency goons.”

“Uh huh.” Jane pulled Darcy further into the living area and away from the kitchen. “Darcy are you sure about this?”

“You know he’s got enhanced hearing, right? He can hear everything you’re saying.”

Jane’s eyes flicked towards the kitchen where he gave her a little wave. She waved back shakily.

“I’m just a little -”

“Hey remember that time you picked up a sad dirty hobo and I had to tase him?”

Jane sighed. “One time.”

“One time that almost got us arrested, killed, and then there was that other time in London when we were actually arrested and then almost killed.”

“I swear to god Darcy if our boyfriends level another small town neither of us is going to get a job anywhere ever again.”

He was highly confused by their conversation. He’s got zero context for anything they’re saying, so unless this is a weird code that the two women have worked out, he is going to have a lot of questions for Darcy later.

And if Jane’s use of the word “boyfriend” in reference to his relationship with Darcy warmed a tiny corner of his heart, who would know. He held on to the feeling - it was a tiny anchor in the storm and even if nothing would ever come of it, he held on with everything he had.

Chapter Text

Darcy wrapped herself in a blanket as she arranged herself on the couch next to him. He handed her another steaming mug of coffee, and she graced him with a smile.

He was really beginning to love that smile.

“So. We should probably lay low for awhile.”

He nodded stiffly. Sitting still while both SHIELD and HYDRA were hunting them didn’t feel right, but he also knew that they would expect him to run. Having a safe place to lie low for a while was a blessing.

“That okay?” she asked.

“I’m still not sure why you’re helping me,” he mumbled.

Darcy’s expression grew sad. “The world hasn’t been kind to you, has it?” she asked softly.

He didn’t know how to answer that.

After a few moments, Darcy sipped her coffee and sighed. “I’ll work on some different sleeping arrangements. This couch is the opposite of comfortable and I can usually sleep anywhere.”

“I’ll take the couch,” he replied immediately.

“You will not,” Darcy replied firmly. “When was the last time you slept in a bed?”

He blinked. He doesn’t remember, although 1945 seems to ring a bell.

That can’t be right, though. Can it?

Darcy grabs her tablet off the coffee table and shifts closer to him. “I’ll work something out with JARVIS. In the meantime,” she gave him a mischievous grin as she leaned into his shoulder. “Want to see how much havoc we can wreck with the data from SHIELD?”

***

He tapped at the tablet the way Darcy showed him, reading through yet another formerly classified file. Darcy had been quick to download everything she could get her hands on from the SHIELD file dump onto a secure server before various agencies were able to burn their existence from the internet. A week after Steve Rogers dropped three helicarriers into the Potomac, the cover up was in full swing.

He didn’t really care about most of what he found. Geopolitical conflicts and espionage didn’t interest him, for the most part. Darcy, however was in her element. She spent as much time reading the files as he did, and her long rants on one topic or another always made her face flush a pretty pink.

And if he continued to read the files long after they were useful if only to see her like that, that was his secret.

If Steve Rogers was right, if they had known each other, if he was that man in the museum, then he needed to know what HYDRA had done to him. He pulled up every file he could find on brainwashing and manipulation, on cryogenic freeze, on Project Rebirth and the super-soldier serum.

His head started to ache while reading through some of the more technical documents, so he switched tactics and searched for any information on James Barnes. The man he supposedly was.

Born March 10, 1917, oldest of four.

Three-time YMCA welterweight boxing champion.

Trained at Camp McCoy after being drafted.

Taken prisoner by HYDRA at Azzano.

As he read, the headache took a nasty turn into a full blown migraine. He set the tablet in his lap and closed his eyes for a moment. He felt the nausea rise in his throat and a cold sweat break out across his neck as he tried to breathe through the pain.

The pain will pass, I’ll follow orders, I’ll do whatever they want if the pain just stops.

I don’t want to be cold again.

Flashes of what could be memories play before his eyes.

He held onto the back of the bicycle and ran alongside as Rebecca pedaled faster and faster.

“Let go, Jimmy! I can do it!”

He grinned and held on for another second before letting go and slowing his pace to a stop as he watched his baby sister pedal her new bike down the block.

He blinked.

“Don’t do anything stupid until I get back.”

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

He screwed his eyes shut and tried to remember to keep breathing..

He held his hands up in front of him, disoriented. Shouldn’t he be dead? That fall should have killed him. Panic filled his chest as he realized...one of the hands wasn’t his.

“Sergeant Barnes... the procedure has already started. You are to be the new fist of HYDRA!”

A sudden snap breaks him out of his memories and he realizes that he had crushed the tablet in his hand. The throbbing in his head is lessening, but he still drops the remains of the tablet onto the floor and stumbles towards the bathroom. He drops to his knees in front of the toilet and heaves, but nothing comes up. The porcelain is cool against his clammy forehead and he stays hunched over the bowl for a few minutes until he hears the door open.

“Honey, I’m home!” Darcy called, in her customary greeting whenever she returned from venturing outside of their rooms to another part of the tower.

He groaned softly and tried to move, not wanting Darcy to see him like this. If she thought he couldn’t protect her, she’ll toss him back on the street. He needs to be useful to her.

He needs her to need him.

He fell back against the bowl as he heard the door open. She gasped and was immediately on the ground next to him, running a soothing hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch.

“What can I do?” she whispered.

“I think I’m remembering,” he whispered back.

She froze momentarily, before shifting slightly to stroke his back. “Okay.”

They sat on the floor of the bathroom for a while longer, until he felt his nausea come a little under control. Darcy helped him up and into the bedroom, where she pulled back the covers and gently helped him settle into the bed. She ran back to the bathroom and returned with a cup of water and a damp washcloth.

“Can you…” he couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t look at her.

“What do you need?”

“Stay,” he whispered.

“Sure,” she replied, like it was the easiest thing in the world. She ran the cool washcloth across his forehead and he arched into it. After a few minutes, he fell asleep.

***

He woke with a start, sitting straight up in bed and eliciting a soft hum from the still-sleeping Darcy. The blinding pain from before was gone, leaving behind a dull ache behind his eyes and his head feeling stuffed.

He looked down at his hands. He could remember when he had two hands of his own - both flesh and bone, before the metal. He remembered carefully wrapping them before every boxing match to protect his knuckles and wrists. He remembered doing for Steve what Darcy had done for him.

He stuttered a breath. He remembered Steve - the Steve from before, back before the war, before the serum, before their lives had taken this crazy turn.

So the story was true. He was James Barnes.

James didn’t seem quite right - it itched at him, like a coat that was just a little too small.

Bucky.

Chapter Text

Every morning he woke up remembering a little bit more. The headaches have gotten more persistent, although none have been quite as blinding as the first one that Darcy walked in on. Still, most nights he woke up thrashing and he’d asked Darcy to remove the tiny table from the room so he couldn’t keep anything near the bed. He’d already smashed two water glasses and an alarm clock against the wall while in the throws of his memories. Every time Darcy had come running and every time he’d sent her away. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he hurt her, even accidentally.

All the more reason to leave, really. There was nothing to suggest HYDRA was looking for him in New York, he could likely slip away unnoticed. Go somewhere he couldn’t hurt anyone. Start over. Build a cabin in the woods and...farm goats or something.

It was 3AM on a Tuesday when he finally gathered the courage to pack a bag and leave the tower. He crept silently through the tiny apartment so he wouldn’t wake Darcy, who was asleep on the Murphy bed she’d had installed in the living area. He paused briefly to watch her, her arms wrapped around a pillow and her hair tied up in a braid so it didn’t attack her in her sleep.

He hoped she was happy working with Jane again. That she found here whatever she hadn’t found in DC. He hoped that every single thing she wanted for herself happened, and that it all turned out just fine. That she would have everything she ever wanted.

She could still have a normal life. The daydream he’d had the day they met could still be in her future. It just wouldn’t ever be with him.

Maybe next lifetime.

He mentally said goodbye, forever grateful to her and for her for absolutely everything and he turned to go. He slowly, silently pulled the mangled, makeshift extra lock out of the door jam. He stared at it for a moment, then slipped it into his pocket. Then he disengaged the other locks and crept out into the hall, closing the door behind him.

He had no way of re-engaging the locks from this side of the door - there were keys, but he’d never carried them, and he wouldn’t want to take them with him anyway. Just in case. He could grab Darcy’s keys and then drop them into the mail slot in the lobby, but that would put her out in the morning and she’d likely be grumpy enough - she’d mentioned something about wanting to watch a Senate hearing on the DC incident. So he had to hope that their luck held out and the building’s security would keep Darcy safe enough until she woke up in a few hours for her customary coffee and scowling at the cable news.

He slipped out of the building without notice. The streets were quiet, and he didn’t pass many pedestrians. It made him uneasy.

He had walked all the way to Hoboken by the time the sun peeked over the horizon. Darcy would just be waking up, stumbling to make her coffee, muttering arguments with whatever they were talking about on tv, and pulling down a second mug for him.

He swallowed hard at the thought. She would be waiting for him and he wouldn’t be there. She’d likely worry. He tried not to imagine her going into the bedroom to look for him and finding him gone.

He hadn’t really left their rooms since they’d arrived. Jane had invited them over for dinner a few times, but otherwise he’d kept to himself and spent his time digging through any information he could get his hands on about who he’d been before - and what he’d been doing since.

The SHIELD files didn’t paint a pretty picture.

The memories were worse.

Still, Darcy had known what - who - he was when they met, hadn’t she? She said she had. She might not have known it right away, but she was so smart - she figured him out pretty quick. And she trusted him anyway.

There was that word again. Trust. He stopped dead in his tracks. Heaven help him. It’ll be the end of him, but he trusts her, too. But if his trust is the end of her, he’ll never forgive himself - not that forgiving himself is at the top of his to do list these days.

He closed his eyes for a moment. He knew it wasn’t rational. He knew that she was just the first person to show him kindness in so long that he had basically imprinted on her. He knew he should keep walking and not look back. Forget the smiles, the early morning coffee, the soft touch of her hand as she traced shapes into his palm. But he can’t. Stars and heaven above, he can’t.

For the first time in a much longer time than he could remember, he wanted to choose something for himself.

He turned around and started walking home.

***

It’s mid-morning by the time he made it back into the city. The rush of commuters slowed his progress, as well as the additional caution he took now that the world was waking up. He finally slipped back into the building, a little disturbed at how easily he’s able to navigate past security and onto the floor where Darcy and Jane are staying. He should really talk to someone about that.

He made his way up through the Tower and onto the residential levels without incident, then paused in front of Darcy’s door. Should he knock? Everyone he’d spoken to had seemed to be under the impression that it was just as much his room as it was Darcy’s, but it was hard to believe that for himself. He was an asset - nothing belonged to him.

After a few moments hesitation, he finally grasped the door knob and turned. It opened easily, allowing him entry. He opened the door further to find Darcy sitting on the kitchen counter, her face tear streaked.

Rage bubbled in his chest as he moved into the room. What happened in the short time he was gone? Who hurt Darcy?

“Darcy-“

“OH MY GOD!” she shrieked as she leapt off the counter and launched herself at him. He was wrapped up in her arms before he could blink. She held him tightly, and almost on instinct he wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

It was only later that he thought to question why he never considered her action - launching herself at him the way she had - as an attack.

“You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay,” she repeated into his chest, her words muffled by his jacket.

“Darcy,” he started.

“I thought they’d found you,” she whispered, her voice cracking with tears. “I thought you were gone.”

“I’m right here,” he said, tentatively stroking her hair as he held her. He hesitated a moment, and then made his decision. His promise. “And I’m not going anywhere.”

“What happened?”

He continued to hold her close, stroking her hair and she traced patterns into his back. With every breath, she tried to surreptitiously sniff him, although she was actually painfully obvious and the entire thing warmed his heart.

“I went for a walk,” he replied simply.

She finally pulled back a little to look at him. She couldn’t get far, as his hands were still tangled in her curls, but if she noticed, she didn’t comment. “You never go for walks.”

He didn’t know what to say to that.

“Was it...did you remember something new?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She laid her head back in his chest and it warned his heart as he held her as tightly as he dared.

“I was afraid they’d found you,” she whispered. “That you’d been taken while I was sleeping. That I’d slept through the whole damn thing.”

“I would never lead them to you, Darcy.”

“What?” She looked up at him in confusion. “No, that’s not - I thought they’d found you.”

“You were worried...about me?” No one ever worried about him.

“I know it’s bullshit. You’ve been here a few weeks. But,” she looked up at him with an expression that made his heart break and soar simultaneously. “You’re already so important.”

“Because of what I can do.”

“What? No.” She moved her hands to gently caress his face and force him to look at her. “To me. You are already so important to me.”

***

“What’s the name of this movie again?” he asked.

Darcy shifted slightly, wrapping her arms more securely around his and settling her head on his shoulder. “How To Train Your Dragon.”

He hummed in response and she snorted.

“Sorry it’s not up to your exacting standards,” she teased. “I happen to love this movie. Even if it’s nothing like the books.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he protested mildly. He’d like to protest their current seating arrangement, if he thought he could do it gracefully. Something told him that he could have, once upon a time. The old him - the Before him - could have easily charmed his way into wrapping an arm around her to pull her close. Hell, he’d done it the day they met on the train. But he couldn’t figure out how to do it again.

So he didn’t do anything and now she thought he hated her movie. Typical.

The movie broke for commercial and the volume almost blasted them off the couch.

“Ugggghhhh I hate when they do that,” Darcy grumbled reaching for the remote.

He peered a little closer at the tv. “Wait,” he said, as she went to mute the volume.

“What? This?” she gestured at the tv. “You want to watch this?”

He didn’t answer her as he watched the preview flash across the screen.

“At least pick one of the good adaptations,” she continued.

“I never wore red pants.”

“What?” she blinked at him.

“I was at this battle. Is that guy supposed to be...me?” he took in the young, far too good-looking actor, looking more like he was posing for a photograph than fighting a war as he hefted a gun made in 1972 while wearing red polyester pants.

“Ugh. Howlies is the worst. They always make Pépé look crazy. My grandfather was most definitely not crazy.”

“He was a little crazy,” he muttered with a smile.

Darcy turned to him slowly, surprise written all over her face. “Oh yeah? Anything you’d like to share with the rest of the class?”

He blinked. A few stories immediately popped into his head, but he wasn’t entirely sure they were things he should share with the man’s granddaughter. He wasn’t entirely sure they were really memories anyway.

“I never wore red pants,” he repeated.

Darcy’s surprise settled into something that looked like resignation and the shift didn’t sit well with him. “I think they based the costume more off of the Bucky Bear toy than any historical record.”

“Who do I write a letter to about that?” he asked flatly.

Darcy burst out laughing. “Okay. As soon as you’re up to it, you and I are watching every episode of Howlies because absolutely no one will mock them with me and they deserve all of the mocking. All of it.”

“It’s a date,” he replied.

Chapter Text

He put the last of the dishes in the drying rack and wiped his hands on the towel he’d thrown over his shoulder. He was just finishing up wiping down the counter when Darcy entered the kitchen to grab the enormous thermos of coffee he’d prepared for her.

“You’re the best,” she muttered, still a little sleepy despite having already consumed an entire pot of coffee, as she twisted open the thermos and took a long sip.

“Darcy,” he started. Then paused, looking away from her.

Her eyebrows came together in concern and she set the thermos down on the counter so she could focus her attention completely on him.

“What’s up?”

He gave her a small, sad smile. “I just...I don’t think I can go through those files again today.”

“I’m surprised you’ve gone through as much as you have!” she smiled. “There’s no reason to cram like that - I have it all saved, safe and sound. No one, and I mean no one is getting through my firewall. Even if they knew it existed.”

He nodded, but didn’t say anything else.

She smiled at him for another moment and then her expression shifted to something a little more thoughtful. “You know, you could...come and hang out with us in the lab today. No explosions, just star charts, promise.”

He blinked. Spending the day with Darcy sounded...pretty damn perfect. But in the lab? He’d never been to her lab, but just the thought made his palm sweaty.

“And if you’re bored and hate it, we can come straight back here.”

Before he could have another thought about it, he agreed.

***

“Morning Darcy - oh! Hey James,” Jane greeted. “I was wondering if you were ever going to come hang out.”

“Morning,” he replied quietly. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Jane calling him James.

“You actually picked the perfect day to come down,” Jane said rolling up the sleeves of her flannel shirt.

“Oh no,” Darcy groaned beside him. “Not Moving Day.”

“Moving Day!” Jane grinned, throwing both hands into the air.

“What’s Moving Day?” he asked.

“We needlessly move all of the heavy stuff in circles until Jane finds her chi,” Darcy said flatly.

Jane rolled her eyes. “The Earth moves through space, meaning occasionally we need to adjust the lab layout to accommodate whatever positions the equipment needs to be in for whatever data we’re collecting.”

“Why must you repeat the things I say?”

Jane ignored her. “So, what do you say? Ready to put those muscles to use?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“Perfect. Darcy, could you show him how to disconnect the CVD chamber while I get started on the spectrometers?”

Darcy gave Jane a sarcastic salute before grabbing his hand and pulling him towards a bank of equipment on one side of the lab.

“Okay, Seat Buddy, here’s where we start.”

***

“So,” Jane began, pushing her dinner around her plate. “Stark told me that Captain Rogers was released from the hospital today.” There was no judgement in her tone, just concern. “He’s being brought to the Tower tomorrow.”

He stilled, fork halfway to his mouth. He could feel both Darcy and Jane’s eyes on him as he slowly lowered the fork back to the plate, his appetite gone.

“Do you want to see him? Darcy asked quietly.

He was silent for a minute, thinking it over. Remembering everything that happened in DC. Would Steve even want to see him? Were either of them ready for that?

He silently shook his head.

“Maybe,” Darcy said slowly, “I could track down Clint and see if he’s got any more space left in his building in Bed-Stuy. I’m getting bored, cooped up in this Tower.”

“Is it safe?”

“No one would find you there,” Jane said.

“For Darcy.”

Jane’s eyes went wide at his comment. “Would Darcy be going too?” she asked, confused.

His stomach dropped at the question. It didn’t occur to him that Darcy wouldn’t go with him. If the choice was facing Steve before he was ready or losing Darcy, then it wasn’t a choice at all.

Darcy smirked. “Of course I’m going.” She turned to him. “It’s fine. Clint’s been holding the fort for a few years now, since the tracksuit mafia tried to take the building. He’s made a bunch of improvements since Grills died, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the place.”

“Grills,” Jane said sadly as both girls raised their glasses in salute.

He paused. A building owned and protected by a known Avenger would - in theory - be secure enough. In their weakened state, HYDRA wouldn’t necessarily try to take such a well defended target.

But HYDRA was still out there. They would still be hunting him. “Secure enough” wasn’t good enough.

Then again, Darcy wouldn’t lead him astray.

“I could go check it out,” he said.

“I’ll talk to Clint tonight,” Darcy replied.

***

The building was old and worn down - no one would ever suspect it was under the protection - and home of - an Avenger. Even one such as Clint “Human Disaster” Barton. The immediate inside of the building wasn’t all that remarkable. It was worn, but clean, and all of the neighbors were nice enough.

The special features on the apartment Barton assigned to Darcy were the impressive bit. Steel reinforced concrete walls, a panic room, an escape pod that could fit the inhabitants of an entire floor and launch them back towards Avengers Tower. The cell reception was shit, but that was a small price to pay for everything else the space offered. Apparently, there were even plans for a pod to launch people into space before Jane put a stop to it.

He set his bag down just inside the door. He had to admit, it was a decent place to continue to lay low. He still wasn’t sure it was the best idea to stay near Darcy - HYDRA or SHIELD or someone would come eventually. But he’d promised her, and he wanted to be a man who kept his promises.

“Home sweet home,” Darcy said as she walked in, and dropped her own bag at the door. She smiled up at him and that decided it. They were home.

***

They celebrated settling into their new place with a Howlies marathon. Darcy popped an enormous batch of what she claimed was her world famous popcorn and they settled into the ridiculously comfortable couch.

“This is supposed to be fun, remember. If anything...is too much, let me know. We’ll turn it off and never speak of it again.” Darcy was eying him carefully, as though she were rethinking her suggestion that they watch the show at all.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” he replied.

She nodded and then started the first episode. He stretched one arm across the back of the couch and Darcy immediately took advantage of the opening to settle into his side. He missed the opening scene while having an internal debate over whether or not to move his arm from the back of the couch to around her shoulders.

He was sure these things didn’t used to be this difficult.

He pinched the bridge of his nose with his other hand and tried to focus on the show. After a few minutes, however, he was distracted by Darcy again. This time it was because her breathing wasn’t quite right.

He glanced down at her in concern, but she appeared to be fine. When she realized he was staring, she gave him a little smile. Somewhat reassured, he returned his attention to the show.

She sighed.

What the hell? Was she bored? Did he smell? Maybe he should move.

She sighed again, a tiny bit louder this time. Something had to be wrong.

He glanced down at her and finally slid his arm from the back of the couch to around her shoulders. His left hand was sensitive enough that if he concentrated, he should be able to pick up her pulse without pressing a pulse point.

Again, she sighed. This time, her eyes fluttered closed.

He was about to reach for the remote so he could talk to her, maybe run through a few first aid protocols and figure out if he needed to call Jane. He glanced at the screen as she sighed again.

God. Dammit.

“Are you...swooning...every time my character is on screen?”

She burst out laughing. “Took you long enough!”

“I will turn this ridiculousness off right now,” he said sternly. Or as sternly as he was capable while grinning.

“But then we’ll never find out how Pépé survives the mine collapse!” she exclaimed with wildly exaggerated dramatic flair.

“It wasn’t a mine, it was a contraband stash and he lived like a king for three days while we dug him out.”

She burst out laughing again and snuggled back into her place at his side. “Maybe this version ends differently. We should keep watching.”

He sighed the sigh of the long-suffering. “If you insist.”

Chapter Text

“Honey, I’m home! And oh have I hit the JACKPOT!” Darcy called as she closed their front door behind her, sliding the deadbolt into place.

He slowly padded out into the living room to meet her. He wasn’t feeling too steady today - his head was pounding and he’d woken up nauseous. His dreams had revealed the gory details of one of the bloodier chapters of his past and he hadn’t enjoyed the experience. He’d spent most of the morning heaving the contents of his stomach into the toilet as more details surfaced.

Howard Stark had been his friend. And he’d…he’d…

The man’s son funded Jane and Darcy’s work - work that was so important to the two of them. Tony Stark had sheltered Darcy in the wake of SHIELD’s collapse. He’d extended that protection to him without a second thought. And he…he’d…

Howard Stark had been his friend and he couldn’t stop replaying the sound of the man’s wife crying out for him as they died.

He was going to be sick again.

Darcy approached him slowly, quietly, her earlier jubilation forgotten in the face of his distress.

“Hey you,” she murmured, stroking his arm and pulling him closer to her. “What do you need?”

You.

“I’m okay,” he lied, quietly.

If she saw through the lie, which he suspected she did, she didn’t mention it. Darcy slowly raised her hand to tuck some of his hair behind his ear, then continued to stroke his hair. His eyes slipped closed as he greedily soaked up the comfort she offered so freely.

“Want to hear why I’m a genius?” she asked quietly. He opened his eyes to find her smiling softly at him, trying her very best to draw him back from whatever hellscape his subconscious had dropped him into today.

“Yes,” he breathed. She lead him over to the couch and sat him down before snuggling into his side.

“I was doing some digging,” she began, in the soft voice he’d only ever heard her use when they were alone together like this. “I know you’ve been remembering a lot more recently and I thought that I might be able to help.” She leaned forward to tug a folder out of her bag on the coffee table in front of them.

She hesitated a moment before offering it to him. “I found Rebecca.”

He blinked. “Rebecca….You found my baby sister?”

She nodded and offered the folder to him again.

He didn’t take it. “I…” he wasn’t sure what to say.

If Darcy was disappointed, she didn’t show it. “You don’t have to look. You never have to do anything with this folder. But it’s here. If you want.”

He finally took the folder from her. He stared down at it, so tempted to open it up.

But then he’d never know if his memories of his sister were real.

He tossed the folder back towards the table and gathered Darcy up in a hug. “I’ll look when I can remember her for myself.” He risked pressing a gentle kiss into her hair. “Thank you.”

***

He was doing his nightly perimeter check when he first heard the sound. A tiny, angry, painful mewling that came from the alley behind the building. He peeked into the alley and didn’t see anything amiss. He dismissed the sound and continued on his route.

***

A few days later, Darcy joined him on his walk, claiming to need some fresh air. He suspected she was worried about him, but he wasn’t going to refuse her company.

He was beginning to realize that some of his habits weren’t exactly normal. Normal people don’t twist forks into makeshift door locks. Normal people don’t run perimeter checks of their homes five times daily - twice in the daylight, three times after sunset, never at the same time so as to not establish a pattern for anyone watching. Normal people didn’t even think about other people watching their daily behavior for patterns and weaknesses to exploit. Normal people don’t duct tape knives under the kitchen table or have a go bag stashed within easy reach in the hall closet.

He mentally sighed. Darcy always said normal was boring anyway.

That strange sound he’d first heard a few days ago emanated from the alley. He paused near the corner of the building, and tugged on Darcy’s hand that was currently wrapped up in his own to get her to stop walking. She was immediately alert, as she’d heard the sound as well. He held up a hand to ask her to stay where she was, then peeked around the corner.

Two adolescent boys were banging on the top of the dumpster, yelling obscenities.

A tiny paw swiped at the nearest boy, catching a bit of pant leg and - based on the pained howls from the boy - a bit of leg.

“You goddamn piece of shit! You’ll pay for that!”

The younger of the two jumped up on top of the dumpster and started jumping up and down on the lid, howling like a banshee.

“Hey!” he yelled at the two boys, who immediately stopped their harassment and turned to face him. “Pick on somebody your own size.” He was struck by a strong sense of deja vu, but quickly blinked it away.

“Get lost, old man!” the older of the two sneered, still holding his now bleeding leg.

A loud, piercing whistle rang through the air and echoed it’s way through the alley. Everyone froze.

Darcy held up her phone and held her taser loosely in her other hand. “You get lost, or I’ll call your mothers!” she yelled.

Both boys immediately stiffened and ran off, blowing past Darcy and out of the alley.

“I asked you to stay back there,” he said wryly.

“Yes, you did.”

“I had it under control.”

“I know you did,” she smirked and patted his shoulder.

He sighed with a small smile as he dropped to his knees and peered under the dumpster. Just underneath was the tiniest, dirtiest, scrappiest kitten he’d ever seen. The poor thing was shaking, either with cold or with fear, but didn’t swipe at him the way it had swiped at the boys. It screeched the same sound they’d heard earlier, but otherwise made no movement as he slowly reached a hand towards it. The kitten sniffed his hand cautiously, then pulled away.

Darcy crawled down beside him. “Kitty!” she whispered. The kitten made a soft, plaintive meow in response and crawled a fraction closer to Darcy. She slowly reached out one hand and allowed the kitten to sniff her. After one tentative sniff, the kitten was head-butting her hand and purring.

He and the cat had something in common then.

Darcy giggled and slowly withdrew her hand, encouraging the kitten to follow. Once out from under the cover of the dumpster, they could see the sad state the poor creature was in. He was dirty and shaking, his fur was matted, and there was a large gash that had healed poorly on his left side that caused him to limp a little.

“Oh buddy,” Darcy breathed. She gently picked up the kitten and cradled him close to her chest. “Guess who’s going to the vet, getting the really good meds and a nice bath, and then going home.”

He reached out a hand to pet the kitten’s head. The kitten nuzzled his palm in return. “You make a habit of picking up strays?” he asked.

“How do you think you got here?” she teased, glancing at him with a saucy grin, then climbed to her feet. Once they were back on the street, she slipped one hand into his and pulled him along.

“There’s an emergency vet this way. Let’s get this little guy taken care of.”

***

Seven shots, six stitches, a bag of IV fluid, and one very distressing bath later, the kitten was given a relatively clean bill of health from the vet. While they’d been waiting, Darcy rested her head on his shoulder and dozed while he’d tried to remember what exactly could have caused the deja vu in the alley. He hadn’t come up with anything. His memories were coming back, slowly, but apparently this one hadn’t quite made it to the surface just yet.

He gently stroked Darcy’s arm to wake her when the vet brought the kitten back out to them. Darcy blinked rapidly, and handed the cat over to him as she collected the care instructions from the doctor and paid for the visit. When that chore was complete, Darcy tapped a few instructions into her phone and smiled up at him.

“Supplies for this little guy will be home in an hour - what should we name him?”

He looked down at the sleeping black and white kitten tucked into his chest and was struck by a memory of a similar cat following Darcy’s grandfather around a tiny town in Austria.

“Jacques.”

Darcy’s expression softened. “I love it. How about you?” she asked the kitten. “Does Jacques work for you?”

Purring erupted from the furry pile nestled in his arms.

“That’s a yes,” Darcy grinned.

Chapter Text

“Is it okay to leave Jacques alone all day while we’re in the lab?” he asked Darcy the next morning.

“He’ll be fine, I promise,” she replied, tossing a grin over her shoulder as she locked their front door behind them.

“I could stay here,” he offered. Not that he would prefer to spend his day with a cat instead of Darcy. He still felt like the offer should be made.

“Only if you want.”

Darcy was always so careful to frame things as his choice. His heart stuttered in his chest as she finished with the locks and turned to him.

What on earth was she doing helping someone like him? Trusting someone like him? Had he ever in his life been so lucky? He didn’t think so, but the question made him pause.

“Hey,” she said softly, slipping her small hand into his and bringing his attention back to the present. “You’re welcome to hang here at home if you want. I’m sure Jacques would love the company and you do spoil him rotten. But you’re more than welcome to come to the lab as well. I know Janey was looking forward to having you solder more circuit boards today - this hand of yours really has a knack for building delicate circuitry.” She gave his metal hand a squeeze and he wished for the thousandth time that he could feel it properly, the way he could with his right hand. “It’s up to you.”

“You’ll be in the lab?”

“Yep.”

“Then that’s where I’ll be.” It was a small admission, nowhere near what he really felt - nowhere near the words he’d love to say to her. The words he couldn’t say to her.

She stared into his eyes, searching for something. She must have found something to like, because after a moment she smiled at him, and all felt right in his world.

***

“That’s it, you’ve got it. Ooooooh yeah baby!” Darcy did a little dance in her chair. “Congratulations, you have just written and successfully executed your first computer program and it did not crash the entire network. You’re already better at this than me!”

He smiled at her infectious enthusiasm. “I just followed your directions.”

“Nonsense,” she insisted. “You’re a natural.”

He leaned a little closer to her and looked up at her through his eyelashes, something he thought he remembered doing long ago. “I had a great teacher.”

Darcy flushed a pretty pink at the praise. “If you insist,” she countered.

“I do.”

They stared at each other for a long moment before Darcy grinned. “Okay Sergeant Sexy, you can put the deadly weapons away now. You’ve earned your praise, now go earn your paycheck and help me realign the telescope for tonight.”

His brain froze as she quickly got out of her chair and hurried over to the telescope where Jane was making gagging noises at her.

He blinked quickly and cleared his throat. He reminded himself that Darcy gave everyone nicknames. It didn’t mean anything.

Even if it meant everything.

***

While waiting for the computer to finish it’s calculations so they could make their final adjustments on the remote cameras they’d set up to observe tonight’s auroras in Iceland, his mind wandered.

He would surprise her with tickets to the off-off-Broadway show based on the book that she’d loaned him that first day on the train and he’d never gotten around to reading. He’d take her to that Thai place she always ordered takeout from but never ate at in person because she never felt dressed up enough. The whole time she’d tell him funny stories and they would laugh and she would trace those damn patterns into his palm. She’d look at him like he’d ever done anything to deserve it.

“Yo Seat Buddy. Still with us?” Darcy was looking at him with a touch of concern in her eyes.

“Sorry,” he muttered and entered the numbers she’d written on the whiteboard into the computer.

***

He scrubbed his face with his hands and took a deep breath before refocusing his attention on the notebook in front of him. This was the fourth such notebook that he’d gone through - writing down everything he remembered as he remembered it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Especially the ugly.

He didn’t want to remember - but the things he’d done needed a witness. It was only fitting that he be the one to remember, to carry the weight of it all, seeing as those things were his fault.

Darcy would tell him that they weren’t his fault. He didn’t know what he was doing, couldn’t control the orders he’d followed when he was under HYDRA’s control. And he knew that. But he’d still done those things. There are some things that just can’t be made up for, some things that just can’t be swept away with a pretty smile and an empathetic heart.

That realization might be a little easier for him to swallow when Darcy is the one offering her forgiveness.

At least today’s memory was a better one. Instead of a blood-soaked day that only ended in pain and cold, he picked up the pen again and added a few more lines to the sketch of Rebecca’s face the day he’d gotten her a bicycle. He’d taught her to ride on his, but he knew how much she wanted one for herself. He saved up all his pocket money for a year to be able to get one for her birthday. It was blue and beautiful and just her size.

The sketch wasn’t half bad, although nothing compared to what he thought he remembered Steve being able to do. Maybe he just read that somewhere. He couldn’t be sure. He shook his head to clear it of extraneous thoughts. A few more minutes of detail and he’d probably feel comfortable enough to call his sketch “done” and compare it to her file photo.

That was another ritual - write it all down, then check and recheck. His memories couldn’t be trusted, so he verified the thoughts in his brain against the historical record as much as he could. Some things were easy, like finding a photo of his sister to see if his memory produced a passable likeness. He’d given himself a migraine the night Darcy had found his sister’s photograph in the newspaper archives at the library, trying desperately to remember something about his sister, just so he could share in Darcy’s excitement.

Other things were harder - like verifying the details of the murders he’d committed over the decades. HYDRA kept impeccable records, particularly when it came to their pet assassin. He’d recently remembered that he was technically the test case - his handlers had been trying and failing for years to create more like him. Every mission was covered by multiple camera angles and the paperwork afterwards could bury even the most dedicated public servant.

He tried not to think about that while he added a few more lines to the sketch as the door to the apartment opened and he heard Darcy walk in.

“Honey, I’m home,” she called.

“Hi,” he replied softly, not looking up.

She shuffled over to him and ran a hand through his hair. He knew she’d be looking at him and not the notebook. She never looked at the notebooks.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted her to.

“I was thinking I’d try making pavlova for dessert tomorrow,” she said, still stroking his hair.

He hummed in response and closed his eyes to concentrate on the feeling of her hand.

He could hear the smile in her voice. “I’ll leave you to it.” She moved away from him, towards the kitchen.

“Darcy,” he choked and finally turned his head to look towards her.

She spun around immediately and walked back towards him. “Yeah?” She sounded a little breathless.

How precisely does he tell her that he adores her? That any dream he has of a future always has her in it? That anything else would be futile? And unacceptable?

If only he were someone else.

“I finished another notebook,” is all he says.

Her eyes flick to the open notebook on the table and then back to him. “I’ll help you move the couch after dinner so we can store it away, then.”

He nodded and she returned to the kitchen. As soon as she’s out of sight, he put his head in his hands and sighed.

***

Jacques was purring loudly in his lap and nuzzling his left hand. The metal hand. He never quite imagined anything could find comfort in that hand - the one capable of so much destruction. The one that had caused so much destruction.

“He’s happy,” he observed to Darcy. “I didn’t think he’d ever be so affectionate after the way we found him.”

Darcy leaned her head against his left shoulder - again the metal one, he marveled - and scratched Jacques’ head with a soft smile. “Kind beings are kind because they know the world isn’t. They’ve been hardened into diamonds by the pressure of their circumstances.” She hummed happily as Jacques squirmed a little to bring his head into closer contact with her hand.

“Yeah,” he replied softly, thinking over what she said. She couldn’t possibly - did she think he was kind? Surely he misunderstood her.

“He’s settling in well,” she said. He hummed in response, still lost in thought.

She tilted her head to rest her chin on his shoulder so she could look at him. “So are you.”

“You’re here,” he replied without thinking.

She smiled before he could panic. That was getting a little too close to a truth he wasn’t ready for her to know. He may never been ready. “Well, I am awesome.”

He turned to look at her. “Yeah, you are,” he said quietly.

She held his gaze for a long moment. If he were someone else, if this were another universe, it would be so simple in this moment to lean closer and kiss her.

If only.

She yelped in surprise and glared down at Jacques, breaking the moment. “Ow! That hurt, fuzzball.” She put her index finger to her lips and lightly sucked on it. “Little creatin bit me.”

Moment broken, he looked down at the tiny kitten now playfully nipping at his fingers. He lightly scruffed the kitten and spoke down at it. “Be nice to Darcy. She takes care of us strays.”

Darcy put one hand at the back of his neck and teased his hair, almost as though she were scruffing him the way he scruffed the cat.

“My boys aren’t strays,” she said seriously. “My boys are home here, with me, which by definition means they are not strays.” She kept her gaze steady on him until he felt his ears heat up and he nodded.

“But I am actually bleeding, so I’m going to go take care of that,” she laughed and left them alone in the living room to tend to her finger.

Jacques resumed purring as he settled back down in his lap to resume napping. “It’s nice to belong somewhere, isn’t it?” he whispered.

Chapter Text

Her eyes went wide with surprise as she stared at the tickets she pulled out of the envelope.

“Bucky!” she cried. “What the hell?” Her face had broken into an enormous grin, so he knew she wasn’t actually upset.

“Thought you might like it,” he shrugged, casually.

Her eyes narrowed and her nose scrunched up the way it always did when she was suspicious of him. “You hated this book.”

“No, I never finished the book. There’s a difference.”

“It’s been three years. There really is no difference.”

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. He nuzzled her, running his nose along hers. “Maybe I just wanted to take my girl out to her favorite Thai place and take her to a show. You got a problem with goin’ on a date?”

“You hate Thai food. You’re up to something,” she practically purred.

“Always am, when it comes to you.” He leaned in to kiss her.

His eyes flew open at the sound of a crash in the other room, rousing him from his dream.

“Shit shit shit,” he heard Darcy curse. “Damn cat.”

He groaned softly and sank back into his pillow as he glanced at his watch. 2AM. And he’d been having such a nice dream, too.

But he was fully awake now. He may as well go check on Darcy and see what mischief Jacques had gotten into this time.

***

Jane shoved her notebook into his hands. “Want to take a crack at building the board for this?” she asked.

He blinked in surprise and peered at the notebook in his hands. It looked...similar enough to the things he’d worked on before. There might be a few new things he’d need to figure out, but he could do it.

He nodded at Jane and turned back to the work bench in front of him. He reached over to plug in the soldering iron and gather the materials he’d need as Tony Stark strolled into the lab like he owned the place. Well, technically he did own the place, but Jane and Darcy were usually pretty good about enforcing their scientific autonomy, regardless of whose dime was funding their research. He shifted uneasily. Ever since he’d remembered what he’d done, he’d been massively uncomfortable in the man’s presence.

“Are we sure we want to hand the keys to opening a tunnel through space to the Manchurian Candidate over here?” Stark asked.

Darcy, who was in the back corner fighting with the software she was writing for their latest project, yelled across the lab. “I know eight different ways to poison your morning coffee that the cops will never find, Stark!” He’d never had to say a word to her about what he’d remembered - Darcy noticed the change in his responses to Stark and had begun playing interference accordingly.

Stark stopped in his tracks to turn to her. “You’ve been spending too much time with Red,” he replied, pointing at her.

Darcy pulled her taser from her bag and leaned back in her chair so she could throw her legs up onto the desk and have a better angle to aim at Stark. “I will ban you from your own lab.”

Stark threw his hands up in surrender. “Fine. Let the HYDRA-bot open a portal to Jotunheim. It’s cold there, he’ll love it. This is not why I’m here.”

“Then get to your point. Quickly,” Jane said, a dangerous warning in her voice.

“We have a new intern! Intern! Get in here,” Stark yelled towards the door. “I believe you know him, he listed you both as references.”

Ian Boothby hesitated in the doorway and gave a tentative wave.

Darcy and Jane froze, both featuring expressions of disbelief at the appearance of their one-time colleague.

Darcy recovered first. “You want to come in here and talk about HYDRA when -”

“Ian!” Jane interrupted. “What a surprise. I didn’t know you were still…” Jane trailed off, trying to find the right word. “...breathing.”

Ian ignored Jane and slid over to Darcy’s desk. “Hi Darcy.”

Darcy glared at him. “Ian,” she replied curtly.

He tried not to move, as everyone in the lab had seemingly forgotten him for the moment and he was content to observe the scene playing out before him. His years as a sniper - both for the SSR and HYDRA - had trained him how to be utterly still and silent, and it was coming in handy now. Given Darcy’s reaction to Ian’s unexpected appearance, he relished the opportunity to observe the man.

That and he just really didn’t want to meet new people.

“You’re looking well,” Ian said.

He raised an eyebrow. Why would this chump have thoughts on how Darcy looked? He flicked his eyes to Darcy who looked uncomfortable - and if that kept up he will make his presence known. Quickly. Potentially messily.

“I thought I made it quite clear that I would prefer you weren’t on the same continent to look.”

There was ice in Darcy’s voice and he settled just a little. He flicked his eyes towards Jane, who was in the doorway to the lab arguing quietly with Stark.

“And I see you have a new intern yourself!” Ian stretched his arm towards him, indicating that he wasn’t quite as invisible as he’d hoped. Ian walked over and leaned against his work bench.

“Dr. Ian Boothby. And you are?” Ian grin had a twinge of malice to it and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Fortunately, he was positioned in such a way that his left hand was hidden, but he wasn’t quite lucky enough to have a name at the ready to give to strangers. He didn’t need luck when Darcy was on his side, however. “That’s James. Don’t bother him, he’s busy.”

“Oh don’t be like that, love,” Ian drawled and he felt his stomach drop.

“Darcy, could you come here please?” Jane interrupted.

Darcy glared at Ian as she got up from her desk to join Jane and Stark at the lab entrance.

Ian leered at her as she passed by, but said nothing until she was out of earshot.

“So...they’ve got you doing the grunt work? Moving the equipment? Soldering the…” Ian snorted as he looked down at the bits of metal and circuitry he’d only just started gathering to begin work on the board Jane needed. “Did you even go to graduate school?”

He said nothing, just glared at the man. His fingers itched to pull the knife from his boot and fidget with it, if only to see how quickly he could get this Ian person to squirm, but he restrained himself.

For now.

Ian seemed to recognize that his taunts weren’t having the intended effect and changed tactics. “How’s my girl doing these days anyway? I was so disappointed when she left London for Washington.”

He’d intended to keep silent, to maintain what Darcy called his “murder stare” and just be overall intimidating, but he couldn’t quite stop himself. “If she were really your girl, you’d already know.”

“Fair enough, James. Fair enough.” Ian smirked. “See, Darcy and I go way back. It’s a complicated little thing, love is, but when it’s the right person it makes up for all the little…” Ian made a gesture with his hand. “She and I were on one path together, but you know how Darcy gets. Flighty as a bird. Seemed to think that her future - her calling, she said - was in politics. Ran off to Washington, only to wash out as soon as things got interesting. She always had such...long-winded opinions. Fortunately, one can easily tune them out when the girl has such magnificent assets to focus on.”

Now his fingers were really itching for the knife. Yes, Darcy was beautiful. But she was also kind and loyal and brilliant. She was never more beautiful to him than when she was arguing with the tv or talking about something she was passionate or excited about. His brain helpfully supplied an image from the previous night, as if it could broadcast the image and smack Ian in the face with it - the memory of Darcy, happily twirling around the kitchen, listing every reason why this band’s new album was amazing and she thought the last one was terrible.

His memory might be shit, but every millisecond with Darcy was seared into his brain for all eternity.

He continued to glare at Ian.

“Seems to be her lot in life, my little bird. Never could just accept that she’s only smart or talented enough to support genius, not stand on her own.”

Rage bubbled in his chest, but he maintained his glare while otherwise remaining impassive. Let this asshole continue to dig his own grave.

Which, if Ian crossed the right number of lines, he would be happy to put him in. And that number of lines was rapidly approaching.

“But now that I’m here, we’ll be free to resume our course. And once Stark realizes my genius and puts me in charge of the astrolabs, my Darcy will never have to bother with any of this again. She’ll be able to focus on her other responsibilities, maintaining her appearance and satisfying my every whim.”

He was absolutely certain that if Darcy ever heard Ian say these things, he would have been tased and left for dead somewhere remote. Maybe that’s what Jane meant when she said she didn’t realize Ian was still breathing.

“So Darcy left you,” he said, putting most of his effort into keeping his voice even.

“Well, she may have wandered off while I was finishing my doctorate, but -”

“Darcy left you,” he repeated, “and it doesn’t sound to me like you appreciated a good thing while you had it.” He lowered his voice to a dangerous growl. “Sounds to me like you don’t deserve her.”

Ian’s eyes narrowed, and he looked like he was reappraising him. Perhaps only really looking at him for the first time. So much for his so-called murder glare. “And you think you do?”

“Never claimed I did,” he replied honestly.

“I am a genius,” Ian began.

“Congratulations,” he interrupted dryly.

Ian’s face flushed with anger. “Darcy has been spending her days surrounded by geniuses and super heroes and actual gods. What makes you think that you have anything to offer her? Anything to even interest her?” Ian gave him a once over with his eyes and sneered. “You might be pretty, and Darcy is as shallow as they come, but put yourself next to Thor and you’re nothing. She’ll realize soon enough where the real advantages lie.”

Before he could open his mouth to respond Darcy interrupted.

“Get out.” Her voice was dangerous and laced with venom.

“Darcy-”

“Get. Out.” she repeated, with finality. “And don’t come back.”

***

“UGH that obstinate FUCK,” Darcy raged as soon as they were safely ensconced in their apartment.

“I’m sorry, Darcy,” he muttered.

“What the hell are you apologizing for?” she snapped.

“I provoked him,” he replied quietly. He couldn’t look at her.

She sighed and momentarily closed her eyes as the fight drained out of her. “No, you didn’t,” she soothed gently. “He’s an ass and he never should have said those things to you. He doesn’t know you and you don’t deserve it.” He raised an eyebrow at that as she tossed her bag on the table and wandered towards the couch in the living room.

“You know I used to kill people, right?” he asked.

She ignored his question and instead threw herself in the cushions, then patted the space next to her, inviting him to join her. Once he was settled, she wrapped herself around his arm the way she was wont to do. “Do you want the whole story?”

“I only want to hear what you want to tell me,” he replied honestly.

“When we were in London...Jane was a mess. It was practically a full-time job keeping her fed and watered on a semi-regular basis. After awhile, the university threatened to pull our funding, so...I brought in Ian as my intern. I put him in charge of making with the science until I could put Jane back together.” She sighed and buried her face in his shoulder. “It inflated his ego and made him into a self-important monster.”

“You did what you had to do to protect your friend,” he replied.

She raised her head to look at him and propped her chin on his shoulder. “You’ve seen the footage from London?” At his nod, she continued. “That was scary as hell. I really thought that was it - the universe was ending. When it didn’t...well, I was on an adrenaline high and I did something stupid.” She shook her head and looked away from him. “I grabbed Ian and I kissed him. That’s it, just the once. One Oh-My-God-We-Saved-The-Universe-And-Didn’t-Die-In-The-Process kiss and suddenly he thinks we had some grand love affair.”

Ian was an idiot. “It’s not your fault he made assumptions.”

“I know. I told him that when I left London for DC. He...well, he said a lot of things that weren’t very polite.”

“He does that,” he replied through gritted teeth.

She stroked his arm and he could feel his heart rate slow down towards normal. “Afterwards, I didn’t keep in touch. Jane did, to an extent, if only because he was a semi-reliable source of information on the London incident and Jane was working on writing it all up to publish. She kept her distance after Clint reached out to give her the heads up that Ian was working with some less-than-savory labs in Sokovia.”

His blood ran cold. “Sokovia.”

Darcy pursed her lips. “Yeah.”

“He’s...he’s HYDRA.”

“Possibly.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

He stared at the wall for a few minutes while Darcy took his palm into hers and traced shapes into it. He closed his eyes and tried to enjoy the feeling. Of all of it.

He should be worried that this guy was a potential HYDRA agent. How they were all in danger. But, instead, he couldn’t get that bastard’s words and insinuations out of his head. How he didn’t deserve Darcy. How he would never - could never - measure up.

Then again, she was here with him instead of anywhere else. Anyone else. And he knew, he trusted, that she wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be. That she wasn’t here because she pitied him, or was afraid of letting him be on his own. She was here with him because she wanted to be.

“Darcy,” he muttered.

“Yeah?”

He shifted, pulling his hand out of hers so he could put his arm around her shoulders and pull her into his side. She settled there with a happy sigh and a soft smile on her face. She resumed her tracing, this time on his thigh.

“You know,” Darcy started, then didn’t continue. He gave her a small squeeze to encourage her. “I never...It was just an adrenaline high. It wasn’t...it wasn’t like that, for me. With Ian.” She shrugged and shifted a little closer into his side. “Back then, I didn’t think I wanted anything else. Anything more than just...fleeting moments.”

He considered that for a moment. Darcy was so full of life - so full of love - it was hard to imagine that she’d ever live a life without being utterly adored by the people with whom she chose to spend her time.

And then another thought occurred to him.

“Back then?” he asked.

“Yeah.” More shapes were traced into his thigh.

“What about now?”

“Things change,” she replied simply.

She couldn’t be saying what he thought she was saying. The universe wasn’t that kind. “What changed?”

She chuckled. “I thought that would be obvious.”

He had to be misunderstanding her. “It’s not,” he whispered. Don’t give me hope and then take it away. I’ll let you do anything else - but not that. I won't survive that.

She chuckled softly and smiled up at him. “I met you.”

His heart skipped a beat. She was so close he could count her eyelashes. Her smile made him feel brave. “Can I kiss you?” he breathed.

“I was wondering if you’d ever get around to it.”

He immediately closed the distance between them and brushed her lips with his before his courage could abandon him. A happy hum escaped her and he pulled back just enough for her to breathe “Bucky” against his lips as she chased them.

He was lost. It was that simple. One kiss, one whisper of his name, and he was completely and utterly at her mercy.

She shifted to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him closer still, teasing the hair at the nape of his neck and continuing to kiss him like her life depended on it.

His certainly did. Now that he’d started, he didn’t have the willpower to stop. She shifted again to settle herself in his lap. He would happily spend the rest of his life on this couch kissing Darcy Lewis.

“Bedroom,” she whispered.

Or not. That sounded like a great idea. Darcy was in charge of all ideas from now on.

“Yes ma’am.” He gathered her up in his arms and stood up as she let out a shriek of laughter and wrapped her legs around his waist so they could go explore what other ideas Darcy had.

Chapter Text

Bucky slowly opened his eyes as he woke up. It took him a minute to register the soft, unfamiliar weight at his side.

Darcy.

She was safely tucked into his side, their legs intertwined. He huffed out a breath to try to clear her hair away from his face. He smiled as his attempts failed and her hair fell back onto his face.

He slowly reached up with his left hand to gently move her hair back towards her without waking her up. She was snoring softly and a content smile graced her features.

He watched her sleep for a few minutes, reveling in the feeling of having her there, pressed against him, wrapped up in his arms. He could wake up like this every day for the rest of his life and need nothing else to be happy.

He wasn’t sure which was the bigger surprise: the fact that he could identify what would make him happy or that he was already happy. Just a few months ago, happiness was an impossible dream.

He still woke up screaming more often than not. His memory was absolute shit and the things he did remember he usually didn’t want to. He had horrors in his past. He may never find peace from that. He didn’t know if he deserved - or if he was honest, even wanted - peace from that. Some things are unforgivable. He was still hiding from HYDRA and SHIELD and just about every other government agency on the planet. He needed to figure out if and when and how to reconcile with Steve Rogers.

But right now this woman in his bed had brought him contentment and if he could help it he would never let her go. There was a future in this feeling. He hadn't had anything resembling a future in so long - he’d be damned if he ever caused her to feel unappreciated. Unloved.

Oh.

“I love you,” he murmured into her hair, ghosting a kiss at her temple.

“Hmmmm?” she hummed. “Whadusay?”

He froze. He hadn’t realized she was quite that close to waking up.

Tell her, you fool.

He cleared his throat. “Sorry?”

Coward.

She chuckled, more awake now. She lifted her head and pushed her hair away from her face, blinking rapidly. “Oh no, was my hair attacking you all night?”

“I think I can defend myself against a few errant curls.”

She chuckled and pulled the sheet up a little higher on her chest to ward off the slight chill of the room, then rolled to her other side so she could grab her glasses off the floor, just under the bed where she’d tucked them last night.

“We’re going to need to figure out a better solution for my glasses. I’m going to inevitability step on them.”

“Sorry?” he asked again.

She froze for a second, then pulled the sheet a little higher still and shifted uncomfortably. Unbearably far away from him. A whole foot and a half. She licked her lips nervously. “I mean...if this is going to be a regular thing. Because it...well…uh...” she trailed off.

He had no idea what she was talking about. “I don’t think either of us is caffeinated enough for this conversation if we’re not going to say what we’re thinking.”

“I don’t want this to be a one time thing. In fact, I would very much like this to be a regular thing. A very regular thing. Starting soon. Like...as soon as I brush my teeth,” she replied bluntly.

He grinned at her. He had to be dreaming. “No one said you had to brush your teeth.”

She gave a slight sigh of relief. “I would really prefer to brush my teeth first.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

She grinned back at him, then leaned forward to kiss him thoroughly. He wrapped his arms around her and tried to roll and pull her under him, but she squealed and squirmed out of his grasp.

“You will not distract me from my mission, mister,” she grinned, then tugged the sheet off the bed to wrap around herself as she got up and headed towards the bathroom.

“Well now I’m cold,” he muttered.

“Quit your bitching, I’ll be back to fix that in a minute!”

***

Later, they piled onto the couch with their customary large mugs of coffee and settled in to catch up on the news.

Well, Darcy caught up on the news. He could care less about the news right now - but he refused to let her be any further away from him than was absolutely necessary. Given how she’d tucked herself into him, she seemed to agree.

He was aware of how dangerous complacency would be. He was just a bit desperate to hang on to this feeling for a little while longer.

She burrowed further into his side and took a long sip of her coffee before looking up at him with a mischievous smile. She quickly leaned up and stole a lingering kiss before settling back down in his arms.

“You have no idea how many mornings I’ve been dying to do that,” she said.

“You should have.”

She shrugged and turned back to the TV, settling against his chest. “I didn’t want to take advantage. I know...I know a lot of things haven’t been your choice.”

HIs heart constricted in his chest. He needed to tell her how he felt. How she made him feel. She deserved to know.

“Darcy.” When she looked up at him, his courage left him again. He instead captured her lips with his and tried to pour everything he couldn’t say into the kiss as she hummed in happy surprise. He pulled back and ghosted a kiss against her temple. “You are most definitely my choice.” It wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say, but it was close.

She smiled and chased his lips again, almost spilling her coffee in the process.

They spent most of their morning this way - sipping coffee, stealing kisses, and ignoring the news while wrapped up in a happy cuddle pile on their couch. He pressed kisses into her hair as she played with his hands and traced those damned infuriating shapes into his skin.

“Breaking News this hour. A manhunt is now underway in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston for this man: James Barnes.”

Their happy bubble burst into a thousand pieces as they both turned to the television. Darcy reached for the remote so she could turn up the volume as his photograph was plastered across the screen.

“He is wanted in connection with terrorist activity that eight months ago caused the destruction of three helicarriers in Washington DC and the implosion of SHIELD.”

It wasn’t a recent photo - it looked like someone heavily edited one of his old Army photos to bring it a little more up to date.

HYDRA didn’t want word of their secret assassins-on-ice program getting out then.

Darcy leaned back against his chest and laced her fingers through his as she watched the news coverage in horror. He leaned his head against hers and took a deep breath, tuning out the television and trying to memorize everything about her. He needed her burned into his memory - because if she was smart, if she had any sense of self-preservation at all, soon that would be all he would have.

The universe would never allow him to be happy. He really should have known better than to think for one second that he could have this dream.

“You should get out of here. While you can,” he said quietly.

Darcy slowly turned to face him, her expression a mixture of surprise and anger. “You think I’m leaving?”

“Darcy-”

“Fuck you,” she snapped. “I am exactly where I want to be.”

“Darcy-”

“I am not leaving, so you can forget it.”

“I won’t…” he choked a little and pulled her close, resting his chin on her head and closing his eyes. “If you were hurt because of me...” he trailed off.

Darcy sighed and shifted herself closer still. “There’s nothing here to suggest that they know where we are. We can sit tight for a few days, figure out what we do next.”

“You’re stickin’ with me?” he asked quietly, resigned.

“Of course I am.” She smiled, sadly. “Pépé always told me that when you build your team - your friends, your family, whatever - you don’t cut and run when things get hard. You find people that deserve your loyalty and you give it to them. Unreservedly. Unequivocally.” She looked up at him with a small smirk. “He said you taught him that. You and Steve.”

He sighed and pressed another kiss to her temple. “It’s time to call Steve, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I think it is.”

“Will you…”

“I’ll be right there with you. The whole time. In your lap, if that’s what you need.”

He snorted at the mental image. “I’m sure that would get quite the reaction.”

She shrugged. “I don’t care what he or anyone else thinks. I’m on your side. Team Bucky Barnes, forever and always.”

“Forever and always?” he murmured. That sounded pretty damn perfect to him. Too perfect.

She shifted around so that she was facing him and straddling his lap. She draped her arms around his neck and hunched her shoulders so they could see eye to eye. “And if I spend the entirety of the meeting sitting just like this, I am prepared to do so.”

He chuckled briefly and stared at her in wonder. “I don’t even know what to say to that.”

“Thank the universe and move on,” she smirked, then leaned in for a kiss.

Chapter Text

“Yeah...okay, we’ll be there soon. Thanks Clint.” Darcy ended the call and tossed her phone back on the couch.

He pushed the couch away from the wall and flipped up the throw rug to reveal the keypad to the floor safe. “He call it?”

“General evac. He’s letting the others know now.”

He sighed and tapped in his passcode. The lights of the keypad changed from white to green as the lock clicked back to allow him access. “It never should have come to this,” he muttered as he opened the safe and pulled out his notebooks. Darcy held open the backpack as he stuffed the notebooks filled with his memories into it. When the safe was empty, she zipped the bag closed and dropped it behind her as he closed the safe. She reached for him, and hugged him to her, pressing his face into her abdomen.

He clung to her, grateful for her solid, unwavering presence. Her loyalty. Her love, even if she wasn’t calling it that yet.

“It’s going to be okay,” she soothed, running one hand through his hair while the other rubbed small circles over his back. She steadfastly avoided the scars on his shoulder, not because they bothered her, but because he let slip once that they sometimes ached.

“You can’t know that,” he replied, his voice muffled by her dress.

“I can believe it,” she said. As if it were that simple.

He closed his eyes and breathed her in. He didn’t deserve her.

She gently extracted herself from his arms so she could kneel down next to him, crouching at his eye level. “We’ve seen worse. We have both survived worse. Call this a fire drill.”

“And if it’s more than a fire drill?”

“I’ll protect you,” she smiled. Stars and heaven above he loved that smile.

“Darcy,” he whispered.

She leaned forward to give him a lingering kiss. “Everything is going to be okay,” she whispered.

The lights flickered and then went out completely.

“Mostly,” Darcy amended darkly.

“Where’s Jacques?” he asked, standing quickly and offering his hand to Darcy to help her up.

“With Jane.”

She threw her bag over her shoulder and tossed his backpack to him. They both quickly made their way to the door. He motioned for her to stay still and quiet.

He cracked open the door and didn’t see anyone in the hall. He opened the door all the way and motioned for Darcy to follow him to the emergency escape at the end of the hallway.

Their neighbor Angela poked her head out of the door. “It’s time then?”

“Grab the kids, we’re leaving,” Darcy replied. Angela nodded and closed the door.

He opened the hatch on the emergency escape that could send everyone on the floor careening towards Avengers Tower and started prepping the inside. Fortunately, the system ran on its own power supply, so the fact that the power was out to the building - for whatever reason - wouldn’t prevent them from using it.

“It never should have come to this,” he muttered again.

Angela’s door opened again and she ushered her kids out into the hall and towards Darcy. Despite the circumstances, Darcy tried to give the kids her biggest and best smile as she shuffled them through the hatch and inside their escape vehicle.

A bang came from the elevator on the other end of the hall.

His eyes met Darcy’s. They were out of time.

She ran towards the elevator to secure the doors as he finished prepping their escape. He tossed his bag inside and stood in the hatch as Angela got the kids settled. His hand hovered over the launch button, ready to yank Darcy through to safety as soon as she was back within his reach.

BANG.

She struggled a little with the securing mechanism as she fought against whatever the people in the elevator hatch were using to try to break in.

“Darcy, forget it, let’s go!” he yelled.

“Are the kids strapped in?” she replied, swinging her leg up to kick at the securing mechanism.

“Yes, everyone is safe, except for you - it’s time to go, now!”

She gave one last kick at the securing mechanism before giving up and turning to run towards them.

With a groan and a screech of metal on metal, the elevator doors slammed open.

Darcy’s eyes went wide. She was caught in the open, between the bad guys in the elevator shaft and him.

“HANDS UP!”

Darcy froze in her tracks and slowly raised her hands above her head, shuffling slowly, slightly to her right to put herself between him and the bad guys.

“THAT’S HIM, THAT’S THE ASSET. GRAB HIM!”

Her eyes met his.

“No,” he whispered and made to run to her, but Angela held him back. “NO!”

Darcy threw herself towards the emergency launch button on her side of the hall, her hand slamming down on it.

The last thing he saw as the hatch slammed closed was the flash of a muzzle and Darcy’s body collapse onto the floor.

“DARCY!!” he screamed as they were launched towards the Tower and away from danger.

Away from Darcy.

***

His scream echoed in the small pod as it traveled through the bowels of the city to get to the Tower. He stared at the closed hatch, blinking, unable to process what just happened. Finally, he slid onto the floor with a thump.

“Mr. James?” one of Angela’s kids - whose name he’d forgotten - unbuckled his safety belt and slid onto the floor next to him. “Miss Darcy will be okay.”

He blinked. After a long moment, he finally turned and stared at the kid. “Oh yeah?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “How do you know?”

“She took down a god with a taser!” the kid said excitedly. “And stuck the giant pointing things in the ground to send the bad elves into space!” This was accompanied by wild hand gestures. The kid almost knocked himself over. “She kicks more butt than the Black Widow!”

He exhaled sharply.

“Miss Darcy also snuck into computers all over the world! And, she wrote a computer program that one day is going to LAUNCH PEOPLE INTO SPACE! She can do ANYTHING!” Angela’s daughter added, her eyes lighting up.

“What the hell kind of bedtime stories have you two been tellin’ my kids?” Angela muttered.

“She also gives the best hugs,” Angela’s daughter said, lowering her voice conspiratorially.

He looked back at her. “Yeah, she does.”

“I want to be just like Miss Darcy when I grow up,” Angela’s son added.

He looked down at him. “Come on buddy,” he said. “Gotta get back in your seat and strap in. It’s not safe on the floor.”

***

A few minutes later, they arrived in the Tower's underground garage. Clint met them as the hatch opened. The archer’s eyes swept over their motley crew and then focused on him.

“Darcy?” he asked quietly.

He swallowed hard and shook his head. “Bought us time,” he replied.

Clint blinked, but otherwise remained impassive. Damn spies. “You see what happened?”

“Not clearly.”

Clint nodded and then gestured towards the kids. “Thanks for getting them out.”

He couldn’t respond to that. Silence reigned between the two men, each lost in thought.

“What the hell happened?” he growled, finally.

“Best we can tell, HYDRA’s infected FBI, too. They used the manhunt as cover to send their goons into the building.”

He hung his head. “How’d they find us?”

“Not sure yet. Nat’s working on it.”

“I never should have-”

“Stop. Right there,” Clint commanded. “No one knows better than me what it’s like to...carry the weight of the things you’ve done when you’re not yourself. No one in this building is ever going to call you out on the things you had to do to survive.” He gave him an appraising look. “She quiets the madness in your head. Doesn’t she?”

He blinked in surprise, but nodded.

Clint nodded in return. “We’ll find her. And we’ll get her back to you.” He paused. “And me. Her cookies are the best.”

***

“Three weeks. Three weeks and nothing. No word, no sign, no ransom demand...just silence.” He tossed his fork down onto the table and put his head in his hands. If this kept up, he was going to have to start resorting to IV nutrients again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d kept a meal down.

“I’m sure they’re doing everything they can.” Jane replied robotically, pushing her own dinner plate away.

“If we were doing everything, we would have found her by now.”

Jane considered that for a moment. “Then I’m sure they’re doing everything they’re prepared to do,” she conceded.

He raised his head to look at her. “What about everything I’m prepared to do?”

They stared at each other in silence for a very long moment. Finally, Jane broke the silence.

“Did you have something specific in mind?”

Chapter Text

Dr. Ian Boothby snatched his latte from the exasperated barista with an impatient growl and immediately took a look sip.

And promptly spit it out, spraying the floor and two neighboring patrons with coffee.

“I ordered ristretto you incompetent imbecile. Is your insignificant intelligence incapable of…of...” his words trailed off as he swayed slightly on his feet. His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed backwards.

And fell directly into a small portal that had opened directly underneath him.

Jane pressed a button on her controler and closed the portal and glanced around at the gaping patrons.

“Nothing to see here,” she said lightly as her inconspicuous companion tried to slip a few bills to the barista.

“For the mess,” he muttered.

“Oh no,” the barista waved him off. “This one’s a freebie. That guy’s a douchebag.”

***

He glared at the glass separating him from their suspect.

“You trying to make the wall spontaneously combust?” Natasha asked from somewhere behind him.

He ignored the question. “Why aren’t you in there?”

“I’m letting him simmer. Besides, he’s still throwing up from that little stunt with the portal.”

He spun around to face her. “Darcy is out there somewhere and you-”

“Know exactly what I’m doing, yes.” Natasha barely raised an eyebrow at his anger.

He set his jaw and exhaled slowly. She was playing him. And he’d just given himself up.

Dammit.

She smirked the moment she saw his realization of what she was doing. “Not bad, for an old man.”

“Are you done?” He had no tolerance for the Black Widow’s games.

“With you? For now.” She leaned a shoulder against the glass and tilted her head towards the figure on the other side. “Professional opinion?”

He recognized the peace offering and tried to let his frustration go. “I would slowly and methodically break every one of his bones before stripping the flesh from his body and tossing him into the building’s arc reactor,” he replied flatly.

If his answer surprised her, he couldn’t tell. “I asked for your professional opinion.”

“And I gave it.”

“No, you gave your opinion as Darcy’s boyfriend.”

“And here I’d heard you’d read my file,” he sneered with a disgusted smirk. “My personal opinion would be to inject him with at least two of those old Russian poisons I’ve heard you keep around for emergencies, lock him in a coffin filled with rats, and then set the whole damn thing on fire while launching it through one Jane’s portals.”

Natasha was silent for a moment, her face still impassive. “That’s why you’re not in there.”

“I am a solid plan B, though.”

***

To no one’s surprise, when Natasha finally did enter the room where they were holding Idiot Ian, he gave up every scrap of information he had in under 10 minutes. Natasha gave him a small smirk as she exited the room. He rolled his eyes and went back to the map. Despite their current détente, he had little patience for her on his better days. Today was not one of his better days. As if he weren’t already missing Darcy, he hadn’t quite realized just how often she acted as a buffer between him and the people who grated against him like sandpaper, without him ever saying a word.

One more reason he didn’t deserve a passing glance from her, let alone anything else.

HYDRA had been tipped off to his location by Idiot Ian in a misguided effort to win Darcy back. Darcy’s capture had not been part of the plan, but HYDRA was resourceful and infinitely pleased when they realized just who they had grabbed.

Apparently, not satisfied with being only the scum of the Earth, HYDRA had designs on opening portals into space. And Darcy Lewis had at least some of the knowledge on how to do just that.

He marked the location of the HYDRA lab on the map and sent it off to whoever in this place was responsible for determining a flight plan.

If those bastards harmed one hair on Darcy’s head, the Black Widow and her old Russian poisons were going to be the least of their worries.

***

He watched the video monitor in silence, a tense Jane at his side. Part of him was relieved to not be on the mission in person - the absolute last thing he wanted to do was pick up a gun and walk willingly into a HYDRA facility. His head was still a mess - who knew what going back in there would trigger?

The rest of him was screaming that if anyone was going to go get Darcy, it should be him. She trusted him, and he’d promised to be there for her. Even if that promise was only ever made in his head. He still wanted to be a man who kept his promises - especially promises made to her.

In any event, it didn’t matter - Natasha had immediately vetoed his going along on the mission when Clint suggested it. Clint argued much harder than he did in favor of his joining the team, which was a surprise. Despite any camaraderie the two men may share over both having been used against their will, it wasn’t like they knew one another all that well. Or even got along. He lived in Clint’s building by Darcy’s grace, not his own.

His eyes swept across the video feed, searching for any hint of Darcy, willing her face to appear on the screen. The team was about to breach the doors. Their intel said the facility was mostly scientists, and there weren’t that many scheduled to be there right now. Still, intel could be wrong.

Jane grabbed his hand, startling him.

She was shaking slightly, and seemingly muttering to herself. “Darcy’s fine. She’s probably organized a robot revolution or something by now. Endeared all the minions to her, and rallied them to the cause. They’re going to open those doors and she’ll be dancing like crazy to 80s music she programmed to run over the PA system throughout the facility.”

He smiled a little despite himself. It was a nice image.

Natasha was the first inside the facility. She did a quick sweep and then motioned for the others to follow. 15 tense minutes later and it was confirmed - the facility was abandoned. No Darcy.

He collapsed into a nearby chair and put his head in his hands. A million different scenarios raced through his mind - where she could be, what could have happened to her - exactly how much Ian Boothby was going to suffer for providing bad intel and wasting their time.

Jane remained standing, frozen in place, staring at the monitor. “What about that closet?” she said quietly, motioning to a doorway on the right side of the screen. “No one went in there.”

He raised his head to look at where she was pointing. He pressed the button that would let them speak to the team.

“Barton - doorway at 2 o’clock. What’s in there?”

The video shifted as Clint went to check. The door opened easily, to reveal a janitor’s closet with a pile of blankets on the floor.

“Clear.”

He tried to keep his face impassive as his heart broke that much more. Goddammit, he just wanted Darcy back.

“Wait!” Jane cried. “On your left - what’s on the wall?”

The video shifted again as Barton turned to focus on what Jane had noticed. “Tick marks.”

“A bunch of them,” Jane muttered. “Looks like…” her voice trailed off, but her lips kept moving as her brain kept working. She froze. “There’s one for every day Darcy’s been missing.”

He closed his eyes at the thought. She’d been locked in a broom closet, marking the days by scratching tick marks into the wall. One mark for every day he’d failed her.

“These marks look funny to anyone else?” Barton’s voice came over the comm.

Jane was silent for a long moment, staring intently at the screen.

“Holy shit,” she muttered. She lunged for her bag and grabbed a well-loved notebook from inside, flipping through the pages frantically. She stopped about halfway through and ran her finger down the page, before looking up suddenly and narrowing her eyes at the screen.

“It’s code,” she announced. “Darcy left us a message.”

Chapter Text

“She came up with it while we were in Norway. Given the circumstances of our arrival, Darcy thought it best that we start planning for every contingency.” Jane glared a little at Natasha, directing her leftover anger and annoyance at SHIELD at the only person in the room who’d been an active member of the agency involved in tricking them into the trip. Natasha gave Jane a small smile in return.

“You developed your own code language?” Barton asked, a little incredulous. He silently had to agree - he knew that Jane and Darcy worked fast and were both utterly brilliant, but cryptography seemed just a bit out of their area of expertise.

“We had a lot of time on our hands,” Jane muttered darkly, then shook off her annoyance. “Anyway, it wasn’t entirely original. Darcy’s grandfather had taught her an old shorthand that he’d used in World War II that she based it off of. Then she combined it with a few things she’d picked up from Sif.”

“How do we know it’s actually from Darcy?” Natasha asked.

Jane shrugged. “Most likely I am the only person on Earth who would have even known about it, let alone been able to begin to decipher it.” She looked at him. “She ever mention it to you?”

He shook his head. “But I knew her grandfather. I know the shorthand you’re referring to.”

“Do you remember it?” Natasha asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I came up with it.”

***

He couldn’t sleep. That wasn’t new, but tonight he lay awake, staring at the photo Jane had printed out of the message Darcy had left behind. He traced his fingers over the image of the tick marks. Jane was still trying to decipher one last mark, the key Darcy had doodled into Jane’s notebook having been smudged with time. She was close though, and she swore to him that as soon as she was done deciphering this message she was going to rewrite and laminate 12 copies of the key for future reference.

He appreciated the sentiment, but he’d prefer to never need it again.

Something was itching at his brain - there was something familiar about the marks that he couldn’t quite place. It could just be his memory of the old Howling Commando shortcode that was mixed into Darcy’s code, but that didn’t feel right. He was missing something.

He sighed and closed his eyes, dropping the photo to his side. This was getting him nowhere. He took a deep breath, trying to settle his thoughts at least a little - he wouldn’t be of much use to anyone if he didn’t get some sleep soon.

“You’re really looking to test the limits of your super-soldier refractory period, aren’t you, handsome?” Darcy laughed, tracing her fingers down his back, making him shiver. “You might be stuck doing all the work, next round - I’m not entirely sure I have any energy left. Or if I have any control over my limbs. Anyone ever told you, you have a very talented tongue?”

“Sorry,” he mumbled, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. “I’m not...It’s been…” he cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“Apologize one more time and I’m going back to my own bed, mister.”

He shook his head, as if he could physically shake the memory from his brain. Thinking about that morning - that one, perfect morning - wasn’t going to help anything either. Jacques jumped into the bed and settled next to him, purring contentedly.

“Now, I need to know the story about her,” Darcy teased, motioning at the screen.

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“Oh really?” She turned to face him. “So you didn’t seduce the American actress who happened to be stranded in that Austrian town? Didn’t have a tragic, star-crossed love affair that breaks the hearts of all who hear the tale?”

“You said it yourself. Howlies is the worst.”

Her grin turned wicked. “I can appreciate a man who doesn’t kiss and tell.”

He shook his head at her as she turned back to the television.

“Maybe I’ll just ask Steve the next time I see him,” she said lightly.

He wrapped his arm around her a little more snugly. “He around?”

She shrugged. “Not usually. Too busy ferreting out Nazis.”

There was a soft knock on the door, interrupting his thoughts. He dragged himself out of bed, ignoring the loudly protesting Jacques, and made his way to the living room so he could answer the door. A quick check through the peephole and he was unlatching all the locks.

“Jane?”

She smiled weakly. “Can I come in?”

He stepped back to allow her into the room he and Darcy had shared when they first arrived at the Tower. He hadn’t necessarily wanted to stay there, but it made the most sense. Even if every inch of the room reminded him of what he was missing. Who was missing.

If this was what having memories felt like, he didn’t want them.

Okay, that wasn’t true. He wanted every moment with Darcy burned into his brain for all eternity. But even more that that, he just wanted Darcy back, next to him. Where she belonged. For as long as she wanted to be there, at least.

“Any luck with that last mark?” he asked, more to distract himself from his own thoughts than anything else. He needed to focus. Figure out the code, get Darcy back, then he could jump through emotional hoops.

“I think so,” she said slowly. “I thought, maybe...maybe you’d like to translate the shorthand?”

He blinked in surprise. “I didn’t know you hadn’t done that already.”

She gave him a sly smile. “That’s not how her code works.”

“Oh. Sure, I’ll look at it.”

Jane handed her notebook over and they both sat down at the table to pour over Jane’s first translations.

He remembered more than he thought he might, and much more quickly than he expected. Within 20 minutes, they had their message.

SEAT BUDDY.

He sat back heavily in his chair. “That can’t be right.”

Jane looked at him with - well, he hoped it was sympathy and not pity.

“She loves you, you know. I guess...she wanted to make sure you knew that.”

“I would have preferred the location of where she was moved so I could go get her and she could tell me herself.” He didn’t mean to dismiss Jane so casually, but he had to ignore what she said, because if he thought too long or too hard about Darcy having that kind of feeling for him, he was going to lose what little sanity he had left.

“Me too,” Jane replied wryly. Her smile told him his tone was understood and forgiven.

They were silent for a while after that, each lost in their own thoughts.

Something struck him about the marks. “Why?” he muttered.

“Hmm? Why what?”

“It’s...she left a nickname, in code, within a code.”

“She didn’t want it to be found by anyone but us.”

“Yeah,” he agreed slowly. “But she could have made it much less complicated. There’s too many layers here.”

Realization dawned on Jane’s face. “You think the codes themselves are clues?”

He slowly lifted his eyes to hers. “I think Darcy left us more than one message.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, so what do we know?” Jane asked, whiteboard marker at the ready.

“Darcy used code to etch the words ‘SEAT BUDDY’ into the wall of the closet where she was kept,” he replied.

Jane nodded and made a few notes on the board. “And we know that ‘SEAT BUDDY’ is her nickname for you.”

“Has been since the day we met,” he confirmed.

“And that’s because you sat together on the train, right?”

“Yeah.”

Jane tapped one end of the marker against her lips. “Where did you pick up the train?”

“Alexandria.”

Jane went to the computer and pulled up a map of the city. She studied it for a moment, and then sighed. “Still too broad. What else do we know?”

“Darcy used a code she created while you two were in Norway.”

“Norway is definitely too broad,” Jane muttered.

He was silent for a moment, thinking hard. “Where did the two of you meet?” he asked.

Jane’s nose crinkled in confusion. “Culver, at her internship interview. Oh!” She shuffled a bunch of papers on the desk, looking for something. She unearthed a map from underneath the mess.

“There’s a train that runs from Alexandria to Willowdale and I think...yes!” She pointed to a spot on her map. “There’s an old SHIELD warehouse along the train route.”

He snatched the map from the table. “How fast do you think those jets go?”

***

“Clear,” Barton’s impassive voice came over the comm.

He threw his paper coffee cup across the room. No Darcy. Again.

Jane pressed the button so she could speak to Barton. “Any closets?”

“Just the one so far. I’m checking it now.” The video from Barton’s gear shook as he crossed the room. Jane closed her eyes briefly - the motion of the cameras probably making her a little sick. Hell, it was making him sick. Barton might be the least graceful person on the planet.

The closet door opened, but it was completely barren. No blankets, no tick marks, nothing.

“Sorry guys,” Barton said quietly.

He slumped into a chair and put his head in his hands. This was all his fault. He never should have gotten her involved - and when he’d had the good sense to walk away, he should have never come back.

There were a lot of things in his past that were unforgivable. This...this was something else entirely. This was indefensible. Unconscionable. Reprehensible.

Gaining Darcy’s trust and then failing her like this made every single thing that HYDRA had wanted him to believe about himself true. He was a monster.

“There’s an old emergency gear storage room down the hall - according to the building blueprints, it’s got no windows, one tiny vent, and a reinforced door,” Jane said into the mic. “It should be the second door on your left.”

The cameras shook again as Barton located the room in question. He forced the door open. “Jackpot.”

He raised his head to look at the monitors. Barton moved slowly so they could take it all in - the pile of blankets on the floor, the remains of what looked like a half-eaten emergency ration...and a wall of tick marks.

“Darcy,” he breathed.

“That’s my girl,” Jane said with a small grin. “Hold still Barton, so I can get a clear image.”

***

A few hours later, Jane was sitting in his living room again. She tossed her notebook on the table. “No shorthand this time.”

He grabbed the notebook.

JOTUNHEIM

“What. The. Hell.” he growled.

“HYDRA is trying to build a portal to Jotunheim apparently,” Jane replied listlessly. She stared at the wall with a dead expression. “Who knows why?”

“This doesn’t help us find her,” he spat.

“I know,” she replied quietly.

He dropped the notebook back onto the table and put his head in his hands.

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Jane said.

***

He stared at the code key Jane had left behind. There was something about the slope of one figure that called to him. The twist of another felt like it had burned its way through his eyes and into his brain.

He stared at the key for so long he could practically feel the marks scorching his skin. He growled in frustration and pushed the paper away before he got up from the table and made his way into the kitchen.

He poured himself a glass of water from the filter and downed half of it in one gulp. He could feel the cool water sliding into his stomach and he focused on the feeling as he tried to get his emotions under control before he did something stupid.

He refilled his glass and padded over to the couch, intending to try to grab a nap. The blanket Darcy always wrapped herself up in was strewn across the back of the couch as though she’d just gone to get ready for her day. As though they’d just finished their coffee and she’d teasingly traced her fingers over his skin before getting up.

Oh.

He dropped the glass in his sudden shock of memory and barely noticed the smash as he grabbed the notebook off the table. He quickly sketched the shapes he remembered her tracing - on his hands, his arms, his chest, his thigh - anywhere she could reach, really.

He grabbed Jane’s key and set it next to his sketches, already working out what each shape meant. The first shape came to him easily - she’d been tracing it on him since they day they met.

I trust you.

He choked at that. Look at what her trust had gotten her. He moved onto the next shape, this one a little less familiar.

I can’t lose you.

He felt the breath leave him. She’d worried about losing him? He thought back to when she’d traced this figure into his palm. It was….oh hell, he was an idiot. It was right after he’d tried - and failed - to leave. She’d only ever traced this figure in the days immediately following his return.

As soon as he gets her back, he’s never leaving her sight again. He moved onto the last shape - the one she’d used the most.

It took a few minutes - he retranslated it four times, because he was sure he was wrong.

I love you.

He shoved his notebook away with such force that it slid across the table and hit the wall on the other side before falling to the floor. Sobs shook his body and he had to wonder if he’d actually died and this was hell.

***

The next morning he stalked into the makeshift detention level where they’d been holding Ian. Natasha was waiting for him.

“Morning,” she drawled.

“I’m going in and I’m going to get her location out of him.” His tone brokered no argument.

“Do you really think your methods will work where mine have failed?”

He paused, one hand on the doorknob. She was playing him, he was sure of it. He pushed it out of his mind and entered the room.

Ian jumped at the sound of the door slamming against the wall as it was thrown open. He smiled slightly at the sight, then closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall. He was standing almost directly behind where Ian was seated, the idiot’s hands handcuffed to the table and preventing him from turning around.

“I’m not saying anything else!” Ian cried.

He remained silent.

“I’m not kidding! You won’t hear anything else from me.”

He maintained his silence. As the minutes stretched on, a soft whimper escaped Ian. Jackpot.

“What do you know about Jotunheim?”

Ian froze. “James?” he whispered. “They sent the intern?”

“I’m not an intern.”

“Then what are you?” Ian’s voice squeaked a few octaves higher than normal.

He scuffed one shoe along the floor, the noise making Ian jump, but otherwise didn’t move. “Someone whose questions you should really answer.”

“I...don’t…” Ian’s voice trailed off.

“You’re right - you don’t. But you’re never going to see Darcy again in any case. So here are your options. 1. You tell me everything you know about Jotunheim and maybe you survive for the justice system to deal with you. 2. You tell me nothing and Jane and I use you to test her new portal theories.”

Ian was silent for a long time, considering his options.

“Will you keep Darcy safe?” he asked.

“With my life.”

“Okay.”

***

“What happened to the rats?” Natasha asked when he finally left the room.

“Still Plan B.”

***

“HYDRA seems to think that Jotunheim is the key to taking over the universe and that Darcy can help them build a portal there.”

“...that makes no sense.”

“I didn’t claim it did.”

Jane shook her head. “Okay great. Fine. Whatever. Did Ian tell you anything about where they might be headed next?”

“He said that they would likely look for places that had already seen portal activity.”

“Like...oh no.” Jane looked distraught. “I should have...oh no.”

“What?”

“That’s the other clue! There was no shorthand this time because you weren’t involved. They’re in New Mexico!” Jane shuffled through her stack of maps again. “The temporary lab they’d set up around Mjolnir’s landing site is long gone, but there was a large SHIELD testing facility out in the desert. Most of it collapsed when Loki first attacked, but some of it is probably still usable.”

Just then, Natasha entered the room. “Have a new location?”

“The old Tesseract testing facility in New Mexico,” Jane replied, not looking up.

“I’ll have Clint get the jet ready,” she said, turning to leave. She suddenly stopped mid-step, and looked at him. “Maybe you should come along this time.”

The room went silent. Jane looked up from her maps stared at them both, her face carefully neutral.

“You really want to put a gun in my hand and send me back out there?” he replied, his voice tight.

“I want to bring Darcy home.”

So did he. God, that was all he wanted. Was it worth this though? Was this a price he was willing to pay?

Yes.

“Better find me some gear then.”

Chapter Text

He was just climbing aboard the jet when he caught a glimpse of Steve Rogers out of the corner of his eye. He instinctively ducked out of sight and into the jet. He couldn't do this now. Getting Darcy back had to take priority.

Of course Natasha saw him.

“Smooth.”

“Shut up.”

***

They were an hour out from the facility when Natasha’s comm beeped. He paused in his painstaking check of his gear - they were supposed to be on radio silence.

“Asset came through - we have video from inside the facility,” she said, punching a few buttons, causing the screen in front of him to light up.

“Can you not call them an asset? I’d really prefer you not call them an asset.”

Natasha froze. “Sorry,” she murmured. He could almost believe she meant it.

He didn’t reply, choosing to focus entirely on the video feed in front of him. He glanced down at the controls - they looked similar to the ones on the tablet Darcy had taught him to use. His chest ached at the memory and he had to push it away to focus.

He flipped through the various feeds, searching for any hint of Darcy.

There! Tied to a chair in a tiny room, she looked tired, but otherwise unharmed. He stared at her, his fingers itching to stroke the screen as though she would know he was watching. He felt his breath hitch at the confirmation - she was alive. She was so alive and okay and he was on his way to go get her.

Provided she ever forgave him for getting her into this mess in the first place, he’d happily spend the rest of his life making it up to her.

“We have any audio?” he asked.

“Afraid not,” Natasha’s voice suddenly came from behind him. If she’d been hoping to startle him, she would be disappointed. If she was testing him...well, he would have to assume he passed, because she kept talking. “Clint can read lips, though.”

“Isn’t he a little busy flying the jet?” he replied dryly.

“Feel free to take over, if you don’t want him multi-tasking.”

***

Having Clint narrate what they were watching on the feed was only a little unnerving. Hearing Darcy’s familiar speech patterns in Clint’s voice wasn’t a memory that was going away anytime soon.

***

“Yo buddy. I’m gonna need my bag,” Darcy called to the guard outside the tiny closet they’d been keeping her in.

The door cracked open. “Not gonna happen, girlie.”

“Don’t you know anything about women? I need supplies out of my bag.”

“Supplies for what?”

“My period, you cracked tea kettle! Unless you want to go to the store and buy me tampons. I’ll write you a list of my sizes and preferred brands.”

The door slammed shut, only to reopen a few moments later. The guard threw Darcy’s bag at her, only missing her face when she ducked out of the way. She held up her hands.

“Little help?”

The guard snarled, but made a show of flipping open his knife to cut the zip ties binding her wrists. He made another show of flipping the knife around before storing it away and stalking out of the room.

If the movement was familiar to anyone on the jet watching the video feed, no one commented.

Darcy glared at the door for a moment, rubbing her wrists, before grabbing her bag off the floor and digging around inside.

He checked their position - only 10 minutes out. If they could get to her before the guards tried to re-bind her, it would make getting her out slightly less complicated. Slightly.

Darcy pulled a few items out of her bag and then started scanning the shelves of the closet. After a moment’s digging, she pulled one bottle off the shelf and grinned.

“Thank you, Pépé.”

“Those aren’t tampons she’s holding,” Natasha commented.

He peered a little closer at the screen. Oh shit. “Barton, we have to get to her now!”

***

When jet landed, the remains of the facility were in flames.

He jumped out before the ramp was completely deployed and sprinted towards the fire. He could hear Natasha yelling something at him, but he ignored her and kept running. There was movement ahead of him and he rushed towards it.

It wasn’t Darcy.

He lifted the man off the ground. “Where is she?” he snarled.

“Wha-who?” the man sputtered.

“Darcy Lewis. Where. Is. She.”

“I just brought her food, man, I didn’t - oh shit. You’re him. You’re the...oh god, she said you’d be coming, she said you’d find her. Oh god - don’t disembowel me!”

He shook the now-almost hysterical man briefly. “I won’t have to if you tell me what I need to know.”

He was about shake the man again, when he heard a distinctly feminine wheeze off to his right.

“Oh fuck me, that hurts,” Darcy coughed as she stumbled and collapsed against the rubble.

“DARCY!” he yelled, dropping the man and pivoting to rush to her side.

“Bucky?” Darcy looked up in confusion from where she had collapsed, still far too close to the fire for his liking. “Am I dead? Did I pass out? Did you just kill Bob?”

He dove for her, sliding the remaining few feet on his knees, and slamming to a stop when he hit the wall of rubble at her back. He gathered her up in his arms and held her close. “No, sweetheart. I’m here. I’ve got you.”

“Thank Thor,” she sighed, her head falling back against the rubble with a soft thump. “You didn’t kill Bob, right? He’s actually not terrible. I already talked him into defecting, which is why I got him out. He’ll make a great sidekick for Wade.” She was babbling a bit and he chuckled, a little hysterically. She was alive. She was so alive and safe in his arms and if she thought he was letting her out of his sight any time soon, she should think again. “I was not looking forward to hiking all the way into town," she continued. "I think I broke something.”

The remains of the building collapsed in on itself as another explosion rocked the ground. He threw himself over her to protect her from any falling debris.

“Think you broke several somethings,” he replied dryly, once the roar died down.

She chuckled. “Pépé taught me to always be prepared.”

“Crazy bastard always did have a way to blow something up tucked into his bag.”

She smiled and hummed happily as she nuzzled into his chest and closed her eyes. “Take me home, Seat Buddy.”

He gathered her up again and started to make his way back to the jet. They hadn’t made it three steps before another HYDRA goon jumped into their path brandishing a gun. The goon fired, and hot, searing pain spread through his leg as the bullet tore through him. He nearly dropped Darcy in his surprise, but held on as he fell to one knee. He felt Darcy’s gasp as she scrambled to hold onto him as he fell.

He couldn’t move nearly as quickly or nimbly while carrying an injured Darcy. She made to roll out of his arms, presumably to give the gunman a second target.

But they were in the open. And that really only left one option.

He spun quickly, hastily shifting her weight to his flesh arm so he could better protect her with the metal one, hoping that he could shield her from the worst of whatever the goon intended to do. The position put his own gun just out of his reach.

His life in exchange for hers? That was a bargain he’d make any day.

“HAIL HYDRA!” the goon screamed and pulled the trigger.

Hot pain seared through his back as another bullet tore through his shoulder. He heard a third gunshot, felt the bullet lodge in his back, and waited for the pain. He looked down at Darcy, her eyes wide.

This was it then. At least the last thing he would see would be her lovely face.

“Bucky,” Darcy whispered.

“It’s okay, Darcy. It’s okay. I want this,” he murmured, trying to reassure her. He begged whatever deity might be listening to give him a few more moments of life to make sure she understood that this was his choice - that he didn’t regret anything when it came to her. He wished he could tell her everything she meant to him - how she’d made the last few months the best of his life. How much he loved her.

He heard a fourth shot. Black spots edged into his vision. Time was up.

“Bucky,” Darcy was frantic now. “Bucky, no, stay with me,” she sobbed, reaching for him, cupping his face in her hands. “Bucky!”

He slumped forward after the fifth shot, struggling to get Darcy gently to the ground and still cover her. She had to survive. A world without Darcy Lewis simply wasn't acceptable.

“Bucky!” Darcy sobbed again.

Her face was the last thing he saw before the world went dark.

Chapter Text

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Stiff limbs. Monitors. Grogginess.

So. They must have brought him out of cryo again.

He abscently wondered how long it had been this time. Long enough that he’d managed to dream. That didn’t happen often.

Did he kill the man on the bridge? The fact that he even remembered the man on the bridge meant that the mission must have been successful. He completed his mission, and went back under. The dream must have been that man recognizing him - saving him, bringing back all kinds of memories of the person he once was. He’d had flashes of memory before, and his handlers had always been quick to explain them away. Or wipe him.

Darcy had to have been a dream.

He quickly resolved to never, ever, ever do anything again that would cause his handlers to wipe his memories. He wanted to hold on to the memory of this precious dream woman - someone he loved. Who might have one day loved him in return.

Real life him wasn’t that lucky, but dream him could have been. He would do absolutely anything to hold onto that memory.

He had to open his eyes soon if he didn’t want to face consequences. Just...one more moment.

He took a deep breath, then opened his eyes.

“Welcome back,” a voice next to him said.

He blinked, taking in his surroundings. He was...not where he expected to be. This wasn’t the cryo tube. Or the chair. He was in a hospital bed.

And Steve Rogers was sitting next to him.

Not a dream then. He actually had gotten away from HYDRA.

Did that mean…

“Darcy?” he rasped.

Steve smirked. “Next door. Broken ankle, couple bruises, dehydrated. Otherwise healthy and incandescently angry. I’ve learned a few new curses. In several languages. Not all from this planet.”

He nodded, the tightness in his chest loosening slightly. Angry was good. Angry was alive.

“Want to know about yourself?” Steve asked, the smirk growing. When he didn’t reply, Steve continued. “You heal up almost as fast as I do. Still, five gunshot wounds put you out of commission for a minute. Good thing Darcy made friends with one of her guards - she’s named him Hydra Bob, by the way, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about him. He tackled the gunman who shot you until Clint and Natasha could get to you.”

He nodded again. The two men stared at each other, the silence of the room pressing in around them.

He didn’t know what to say. What could he say? He had the feeling the man across from him was having the same dilemma.

“Heard you’re a scientist now,” Steve said, finally breaking the uneasy silence.

“Some days,” he muttered.

“And you’ve got a girl that you almost died for.”

He didn’t reply. After everything, he didn’t know how to reply.

Steve sighed. “How’s your memory?”

“Coming back.”

Steve nodded. “How’s that been?”

“Could be worse. Could’ve tried to do it alone.” That had been the plan, after all. Heaven only knows what would have happened if he hadn’t met Darcy on the train that day.

Steve nodded again and silence fell over them once more.

“You heal up alright?” he asked quietly, eyeing Steve carefully.

Steve blinked in surprise. “Yeah, I…yeah.”

“Sorry.” And he was. For a lot of things.

Steve stared at him and then a smirk slid across his face. “Let’s just say we’re even for all the fights I dragged you into when we were kids, okay?”

He huffed out a soft laugh. “It’s like that, huh?”

“I’m glad you’re back,” he said sincerely. “I’m glad you didn’t have to,” Steve made a vague gesture with his hands, “do all of it alone. And...I’m sorry.”

It was his turn to blink in surprise. “For what?”

Steve’s expression turned sad. “All of it.”

He gave him an exasperated look. “There was nothin’ you could have done.”

“We don’t know that.”

He sighed. Of course Steve would beat himself up over it. “You thought I was dead. By rights, I should have been.” He shook his head. “It’s done now. Time to move on.”

Steve swallowed hard and looked like he was going to argue, but didn’t. Instead, he motioned towards the door, presumably in the direction of wherever Darcy was. “You happy?”

He stared at the door. “I could be,” he murmured.

“Well,” Steve said, leaning forward and gently grasping his uninjured shoulder, “a few years ago they had me get licensed to officiate weddings. Publicity stuff, you know. So, if you’re in need…” Steve trailed off, a shit-eating grin crossing his face.

He groaned and thumped his head back against his pillow. “What are you, my mother?”

Steve chuckled. “I’ll go let your girl know you’re awake.”

“STEVEN GRANT ROGERS, GET YOUR STAR SPANGLED ASS OUT HERE WHERE I CAN KICK IT!”

“I think she already knows,” he replied dryly.

Steve gulped and got up to open the door.

“YOU,” Darcy poked Steve in the chest, forcing him backwards as she hobbled into the room, leaning heavily on one crutch, “were supposed to get me as soon as he woke up.”

“We were just -”

“YOUR STAR-CROSSED BROMANCE CAN WAIT A GODDAMN MINUTE!”

“Darcy - “

“Listen up, George Washington, because I’m only going to say this once. You antagonize him,” she flung her arm out to point in his direction, almost dropping her crutch in the process, “you also antagonize me, and between the two of us, I am far more hazardous to your health. Play nice in the sandbox or I WILL incapacitate you in ways the serum can’t compensate for.”

Steve nodded mutely and glanced back at him. He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.

“Darcy,” he said quietly.

She turned her attention to him, her anger evaporating instantly. She stared at him, taking in the bandages, the IVs, and the wires connecting him to the assorted equipment surrounding the bed.

Then she dropped her crutch and launched herself at him, landing in a heap at his side, and tucked herself under his arm.

“Don’t you dare do that to me again,” she whispered into his chest.

He wrapped his arms around her, wincing slightly as the freshly healed wound to his shoulder stretched uncomfortably. He glanced up at Steve, who gave him a brief nod and quietly saw himself out.

“I couldn’t let them hurt you, Darcy, not anymore than they already had,” he replied, pressing a kiss into her hair. “It’s my fault you were even there to begin with.”

She raised her head to glare at him. “I was on HYDRA’s hit list long before I ever met you. I was running from them the day we met, if you remember.” Her expression softened as tears filled her eyes. “Please, Bucky. Don’t…” she closed her eyes as her voice trailed off and a single tear escaped her eye and landed on his shirt.

He pulled her a little closer as she nuzzled his neck. He didn’t know how to tell her that he couldn’t make the promise she wanted - that if they were ever in that situation again, and it came down to him or her, he would choose her every time.

He ran his fingers down her back, trying to calm her racing heart. She pressed a kiss to his jaw and a thought occurred to him. Maybe he didn’t have to tell her in words.

He closed his eyes and focused on one of the infuriating shapes she had been tracing into his skin for months. He traced it into her shoulder blade, pressing a kiss to her temple. She stilled, then raised her head to look at him.

They stared at each other in silence - hers, slightly shocked; his, begging her to understand.

I can’t lose you.

She leaned into him and pressed her lips to his. “Okay, handsome,” she whispered, a little resigned, resting her forehead against his.

He pulled her closer as she snuggled into his side. She picked up his hand in both of hers and began to play with his fingertips.

“I talked to the doc. They want to keep you overnight, just in case.”

“I’ll be good as new long before that,” he replied quietly. At some point he should probably ask what day it was and how long he’d been unconscious, but right now he really didn’t care.

“Just in case,” she repeated.

“What about you?” As long as Darcy was going to be okay, nothing else mattered. He wasn’t sure if she should even be out of bed.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she smirked. “I plan on keeping you much longer than that.”

Chapter Text

~*A few months later*~
“What the hell are you doing in my lab, Rogers? I didn’t call for a superhero.”

“I’m retired, Doc. Wanted to see if you needed anything down here.”

“I”m running a lab, not a home for wayward super soldiers.”

“You let Bucky stay!”

Jane glared at him. “Bucky is useful.”

“Leave while you’re ahead, buddy! Go play with Jacques,” Darcy called from behind her computer.

“Can I at least get your lunch order?” Steve called as Jane pushed him out the door.

She closed the door without answering. “Your friend is trouble, Barnes.”

“Don’t I know it,” he muttered, and continued recalibrating the new remote cameras that had just come in.

***

He slowly woke up as Darcy burrowed further into his side and peppered light kisses across his chest. He hummed happily and pressed a kiss into her hair. In the months since he’d gotten her back, he’d feared every single morning that he’d wake up and she’d be gone - that they’d never found her, or that she’d decided he wasn’t worth the trouble, or that the whole thing had been a dream in the first place. That this past year was just a fantasy his addled brain cooked up as he finally went insane from the cryo and the brainwashing - or worse, that it was a manipulative trick HYDRA planted in his mind to keep him compliant.

Every morning he woke up to discover his fears were wrong and it felt like a gift every time.

“Morning,” he whispered.

“Morning,” she replied between kisses.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Terribly.”

He blinked. “What? Why? Why didn’t you - “

“It’s because of you.”

He froze. This was it then. This was the penny dropping. Darcy had finally had enough and this was how this perfect dream ended.

Why the hell was she still kissing his chest.

“You’re too perfect, you know. It’s annoying,” she grumbled, still covering every inch of exposed skin within easy reach with her kiss.

“What?” Now he was just utterly lost.

“Perfect. For me.”

“Darcy-”

Her head whipped up so she could look him in the eye. “I love you.”

His brain shorted out and he froze in shock. She’d never said the words out loud, even if she’d continued to trace them into his skin.

He pulled her to him so he could kiss her, thoroughly. He rolled them over so she was underneath him.

“I love you, Darcy,” he murmured against her mouth. “I love you.”

***

They were piled on the couch again, customary coffee in hand, as always. Darcy was curled into his side and nuzzling at his neck.

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a normal life,” he muttered.

“Normal took a hike long before I ever met you,” she replied, pressing a kiss to his jaw.

“Still. HYDRA is still out there. Along with...a lot of other things. If I was smart...If I weren’t so selfish...I’d let you go.”

Darcy snorted. “Like I’d let you. Besides, I think HYDRA will think twice before coming after me again. And the world moves on - in a few years, HYDRA may not even exist anymore.”

She had a point. HYDRA would likely steer clear - for a little while at least. He didn’t share her optimism at the bastards’ demise, but he could admit that it was at least possible. Even if Steve had “retired” from field work - Captain America still made a occasional appearance when the rest of the Avengers needed him to burn another HYDRA base to the ground. It was just good strategy to occasionally remind the world that Captain America was watching - especially now that he had made clear he wouldn’t hesitate to burn the world down if he thought it was right.

He thought about that daydream he’d had the day he and Darcy met. The one he’d continued to indulge ever since. The one he’d thought they could never, ever have. Darcy was right - the world moves on. Maybe he’d been wrong to dismiss his dream as nothing more than fantasy.

Jacques jumped into Darcy’s lap and nudged his hand, begging for attention. He scratched behind the cat’s ears, earning a loud, happy purr.

Darcy hummed happily as she stroked Jacques’ back, causing the little cat’s rear end to poke up into the air. “Messy as it is, I love our life, Bucky,” she murmured looking up at him. “I love you.”

He leaned in to kiss her. A year ago this was unthinkable. But now? He had more than he could have ever hoped for.

He’d be damned if he ever let her go.