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Bucky Barnes doesn’t die.

 

He doesn’t know what to do with it.

 

“You looking for a ship?” It’s a pretty girl, bright and pink. It’s on some dusty planet, he’s sorted it out that quick, with spaceships and horses, and he’s been wandering around the past few days, tugging Peter Parker behind him. He’s always been quick on the uptake, had to be, looking after punk kids. And this girl looks like more of a target than the fucking kid who literally walked into a gangster bar the other night, and fuck because his instincts are already clammering that she should eat more.

 

Spiderkid’s been smart enough to get a job patching engines up while Bucky very manfully doesn’t lose his fucking mind.

 

“What?” he asks, glaring at her and feeling bad about it, which just makes him glare more. The sanity? Well, it may be still in tack, but the social manners are a hit and miss these days, and usually a miss, if he’s being honest.

 

“You looking for a ship?” she repeats, not all flinching away from his look. She rises a few points in his estimation for it.

 

“Yeah. Yeah,” he says again with more fever as Spiderkid bolts towards him at a dead run. “You stir up trouble?” he asks, already looking for the criminals. It’s not the first time Peter’s hit somebody bigger than him and come running for Bucky.

 

Peter’s a good kid, but he’s going to have a talk with Stark about child labor laws and with Steve about dropping a goddamn plane on somebody who can’t legally drive. He’s gonna sit them all down when this over ( it will be over ) and talk for hours about self-preservation instincts and not picking fights with people who can crack a planet.

 

“There were these guys who were getting shot at!” Peter squeeks back. He’s closely followed by what is a group of bandits, no side-stepping around that.

 

“Hi, captain!” the girl says cheerfully, already closing up her umbrella and packing up her folding chair.

 

“Kaylee-get her up in the air! Now!” Bucky can hear the gun fire on their heels. Bucky does the polite thing and shoves Peter through the door, and pulls out his revolver that he nicked as soon as he’d stopped stumbling around from bleeding space travel a week back.

 

Bucky had gotten pretty used to how the universe laughs at him and Steve.

 

“Uh, Mal, they’re-”

 

“I know ,” Mal snapps back. Bucky starts picking the goons off one by one. He knew the look of stupid bravery done when nothing else was gonna save you. He knew that desperate do gooder look, can spot that type of hopeless asshole at a hundred yards out at minimum . “I’m Captain Malcolm Reynolds,” he introduces himself. And motherfucker, it’s another idiot captain.

 

Bucky generally wants to know which fucking witch he needs to talk to because clearly he insulted one or something.

 

“All right. I’m Jimi Hendrix.”

 

Mal gives him a look. “That’s not your real name.”

 

“We gonna argue about this now?” They get inside the ship.

 

“That’s a singer’s name, right? From the earth-that-was.” Bucky kept hearing that, like the earth was dead. He’d buy it. He picked up enough to know that Mal was a Browncoat, whatever that was, and that they’d lost the war with a group that sounded a lot like Hydra. It seems like everybody’s lost a war where he goes.

 

“You always need to get into a fight on U-Day?” a woman yells from above.

 

“Kaylee!” The ship starts to move up at the order. Peter lurches and hits his head against the wall. Bucky does not know how that kid is still alive. He really doesn’t.

 

Fucking kid lept onto a spaceship and rode it all the way off of earth. Fucking worse than Steve.

 

“Who’s this?” Somebody else shouted down.

 

“They got us out of a tight fix. We’ll drop them off on the nearest moon.”

 

“Fine enough,” Bucky snaps back. He groans a little bit internally. Peter’s lost a job. A moon doesn’t sound like a great place to pick another one up. It’ll be fine. He’s learned more than enough about tightening his belt. “And Peter will fix anything that needs fixing as repayment for giving us an exit as well.”

 

“Your kid pointed out that one of those men had a gun, gave me enough time to get a drop on him,” Mal says, waving it away.

 

“Course he did.” Bucky scowls at Peter while the kid looks unrepentant back at him. It’s almost like Stevie’s right there, about to get into another brawl. “What?” Bucky asks.

 

“They could use the help,” Peter says. “I don’t mean anything by it,” he adds quickly. “Just, I like to help.”

 

“You trying to get a job on my ship, son?” Mal asks, but he says it almost kindly. Stupid, dumb, do-gooder of a captain, oh yeah, Bucky knows that look. He feels a little bad for the SOB.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Really?” They hit the atmosphere. “And who the hell are you? I don’t know either of your names. And now that I’m really thinking of it, we could space you and not think twice.”

 

Bucky keeps his stance loose and honest, like he’s not a goddamn weapon, but that isn’t going to fucking happens. Mal reads that in him. Soldiers know soldiers. Only broken things can understand them that’s been broken.

 

“Mal, you won’t right?” Kaylee asks. “Peter was helpful getting off the ground that quick. You know the engine’s going. It wouldn’t hurt none to have another chef in the kitchen.”

 

“Fine. We won’t space ya.”

 

Look at us now, Stevie, Bucky thinks to himself. We get to ride on an actual spaceship.

 

He throws himself into fixing whatever needs fixing. He used to repair cars and bikes down at the docks when he couldn't find anything else, not that it was the worst thing he’d ever done back then even. Steve’d always had a worse time of finding work; he used to work as a model for colleges.

 

He’s desperately grateful for Peter, for having somebody to tie him down so he doesn’t-

 

He’s fine. He’s great.

 

“We could use another fighter,” their muscle says. He’s sweet lookin’. Bucky could take him down with a thumb if it comes to it, and it might. It takes a fair amount of effort to curb the Winter Soldier and he reminds himself that murder probably isn’t the answer right now.

 

“We could,” Mal admits. “Jayne, go see to the doctor, make sure he ain’t stirring things up.” It’s a code. It’s a polite code, which means they got somebody they’re going to protect from him. Him, not Peter, because all of them know Peter couldn't hurt a fly whereas him-

 

Bucky doesn’t say a word about it.

 

“There’s a bunk down the hall, that way.” Mal points. “Trial basis. Food’s twice a day.” Bucky nods at that only because he’ll get good at slipping his food to Peter because Peter once poured Mac and Cheese onto pizza while it was halfway into his mouth.

 

“Thank you,” Bucky says. “We’ll keep out of your way.” He means it to. He truly does.

 

Kaylee puts them to work in the engine room. Peter’s the scientist but Bucky was the one who huddled next to the Howlies and learned to fix German tanks during the war, and he hasn’t lost his touch. Serenity ’s an old ship, cobbled together with hopes and prayer, and it’s sweet on the pretty mechanic so it runs better than it should.

 

Peter looks like he’s going to fall in love with the ship, which fair, because they’re flying through the stars.

 

Bucky does whatever needs doing, which is largely the shit chores, sometimes literally. He doesn’t protest or say one goddamn word about it. Steve might’ve had delusions about how he has the right to keep on ticking without giving anything back, but Bucky’s never been delusioned about what the world owes him, while except when he was teenager.

 

Bucky will admit that Steve wouldn’t accept a thimble of soup unless everybody else was fed, even after three days without food. It’s possible the world’s made him bitter.

 

He’s kept away from most of the crew by Mal. There’s Zoe who’s huddled up in a bunk mourning her dead husband. There’s Inara, the legal prostitute, who keeps to her own shuttle. Bucky gives himself a moment of thought of telling Steve You know that shit that would get us a night in jail if we got caught? It’s legal now, even revered . There’s the doctor, Simon, and his sister, that all the others are careful not to say her name in front of her.

 

It’s nice to be treated like the threat he is. He has a grudging respect for Mal for it.

 

He cooks, cleans, fixed small parts of the ship for four weeks. He tries to not panic that Steve’s not here . He makes damn sure to wear short sleeves. He’s been hiding who he is for enough of his life, and in a world of spaceships and reavers (what the fuck universe?), a metal arm doesn’t stick out.

 

It reminds him of Depression-era New York. Nobody’s gonna look twice at you unless you got something they want. It’s more than a little soothing.

 

“Hi, Simon. Didn’t think you were gonna join us,” Mal says in a soft voice that tells the story that Simon is not supposed to be sitting down at the table and stealing fries.

 

Simon glares back. “Got hungry, and I think we’re fine.” Simon thinks Bucky isn’t a threat to him. He’s not to be trusted near the sister though. Which. Fine. It’s not like he isn’t shadowing Peter to make sure nobody (Jayne) messes with the kid.

 

Peter’s the one who drives the conversation back up from dead silence, chattering away like he can’t see the tension in the room. He’s damn good at it, at acting like he isn’t a threat, mostly because he’s not.

 

“You okay?” Peter asks him when they’re back in their bunkroom. The beds are small but at least there are two of them with room between.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says because Peter’s depending on him, and they’re all still breathing, and Steve was still breathing when he saw him last, so it’s going okay. They go to sleep without saying anything else.

 

It takes Mal another three days to let Bucky come with them on a job. It’s supposed to be a small time job, really is, hand to God.

 

But he goes.

 

“Mal, honest question. Why are we getting shot at?” Jayne asks.

 

“Well. I expect that they don’t like us very much.” Mal’s a simple guy, nice and bitter about the world, exactly the type that Bucky’s slowly coming around to thinking fondly of. He almost shots him for that line though on principle.

 

“I miss Zoe,” Jayne says back and it’s a suckerpunch so Bucky puts all of his skills into ending the fight quick. He’s standing in a pile of unconscious bodies in under a minute. The other two give him a look.

 

“You’re turning out to be more useful than expected,” Mal says somewhat woodenly, like an unexpected surprise fell into his lap and he’s too used to the universe laughing to trust it. Bucky shrugs. He jerks a thumb in the direction they’re supposed to be running in and they’re off. He hopes it dies down, Mal’s justified distrust of him.

 

“We need to talk,” Mal tells him later when it’s just them in the kitchen. “Now, I’ve been very reasonable. I’ve not asked you about the metal arm, how you can’t understand how money works, or you waking up half the ship screaming. But I can’t let you being able to kill sixteen men go unquestioned.”

 

“I was in the army a while back. I got taken, lost my arm.” He tries to not let his face twitch. He doesn’t succeed. “And then I met Peter. He tried to kill me. I tried to kill him back, and now we’re running from the Alliance with you.”

 

“You’re going with that story are you?” Mal asks. Bucky nods. “Right. Well, that has a margin of truth in it I suspect. So what’s the actual story?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “That’s really bout it.” He blinks and looks down at his water. Mal’d drugged it, not that’ll work on him.

 

“And Steve?” Bucky knows he cries out sometimes in his sleep. Peter’s gotten good about waking him up quick, gotten even better at not getting hurt in doing so, even though Bucky’s tried to call him off of it, tried to not go anywhere near him, tried to convince him to sleep in the engine room or-

 

“Was my everything.” Still is. Steve’s had his eyes on Sam, and Bucky hadn’t made a move on any of them because of his shit brain and there hadn’t been time. But he wanted to. He liked that he could’ve.

 

“Suspect that’d throw a man off,” Mal allows. “Brainwashed you? Really?” Bucky nods. “Wasn’t the Alliance was it?” Bucky shakes his head. “All right. There ain’t gonna be nobody coming after you?”

 

“Haven’t yet. I’ll leave the second somebody does.” Mal believes him. Bucky’s not dumb enough to question it.

 

It still takes him another week before they introduce him to River.

 

“I don’t know the trigger words,” she says when meeting him, and he can’t help but tense up. He steps between her and Peter, flicking a hand at the kid to warn him that shit might go down. “Two by two, hands of blue.”

 

Mal pulls a gun and aims it at Bucky’s head. No hesitation. Bucky doesn’t move. River blinks calmly.

 

“I thought you said you weren’t with the Alliance.”

 

“I’m not. I’m not, I swear.” He walks slowly toward Mal, presenting himself as the larger target, blocking Peter behind him as casual as he can, which is pretty damn casual.

 

“And I believe you why?”

 

“I worked for one fascist organization before, against my will. I won’t do it again.” He meets the captain’s eyes. “I won’t put the kid in danger like that. Believe me .”

 

“Then what is River going on about?”

 

“He was once trapped by words, but isn’t anymore,” is all the girl says.

 

“They created codes,” Bucky bites out. “They could reset my brain, make me forget everything I knew, turned me into an infant, make me try to kill my best friend in the world. I got the triggers removed.”

 

“You’re safe now.”

 

“Safe as I can be.”

 

“Okay. River?”

 

“He only wants to be a good man, captain.” Mal holsters the gun.

 

“You best keep your word,” Mal barks out, before strolling away for the cockpit.

 

Bucky does his best to avoid them after that. He works in the engine room and does his best to avoid folk when they live on a tiny ship. That goes pretty well until he ends up shot.

 

“Mal okay?” he asks the doctor, Simon after they’re both back on Serenity .

 

“Yeah. Hold still for me.” The doc finishes putting the skitchs into his side. “That kid of yours eating enough?” Simon asks him.

 

“Huh?” Bucky looks up from the shitty frame that’s rusting through.

 

“Peter. He looks thin for his age.” Bucky wants to groan. He’d been slipping food off his plate and onto Peter’s for weeks now. The kid hasn’t noticed, the crew hasn’t noticed. All’d been well. “You’re thin as well, when it comes to it.”

 

“We’re all thin.”

 

“Take off your shirt for me.”

 

“Doc, I don’t have a good track record so unless you want to fuck, fuck off.”

 

But Simon was well used to touchy soldiers who don’t like him. Bucky’s only half surprised that he gives up his shirt. It has something to do with Mal leaning up against the wall after he finishes up. For all Bucky’s forced casualness about his arm, he’d been careful to always cover up where it’s slotted into his socket.

 

Shuri’s good. She’s better than good. She’s a god. But even she couldn't help the best way to pin metal into his flesh. So it’s not ugly looking or terrible, but it’s still warped into him, like a shade from Hydra.

 

“This is some fancy work, Bucky.” He’d eventually given Mal his nickname, explaining that “Jimmy” wasn’t wrong. “Hold still for this.” Simon yanks the bullets out.

 

Bucky doesn’t flinch. “The kid okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Mal says, stepping into the room. “Suppose you think I owe you something for saving your life?”

 

“No.”

 

“Really?” Mal’s well used to everybody wanting something from him and more than ready to kill him over it. They all are. It’s more than a little soothing to Bucky, in a newly disturbing way.

 

“I don’t expect anything from you Mal, except to not actively try to kill me, and possibly keep Peter from being killed from running his mouth off.” Bucky pauses for a moment before adding, “And the first is debatable.”

 

Mal gives him a look like he’s the one with shitty self-preservation instincts, which is definitely not fair, and definitely because Mal hasn’t met Steve “what are parachutes for?” Rogers. So Bucky has to forgive him for it.

 

“Make sure Peter eats more,” is his only comment.

 

River finds him after another week, takes him to the cockpit, and slowly teaches him how to listen to Serenity . She’s quiet about it.

 

“You hear that?” she asks. He nods. He hears it, the softer thrum of the engines that say they’re going in a good way through the stars. She nods back. He shifts one of the sticks into a different gear and can hear the engines working less. She smiles bright at him.

 

Somehow, despite all reasoning he and Peter earn a place here, but they don’t want it, even though they need it. Bucky keeps hoping for a miracle, even while buckling him and Peter into a space gang family.

__________________________________________________________________________

Steve’s not the one who finds Bucky. That’s not Steve.

 

Darcy Lewis finds them on a moon. She has dirty hair, a backpack with all of her belongings crammed in tight, and an innocently reckless look on her face.

 

But that’s three months away from when Jane disappears out from under her hands.

 

Her friend. Somebody she fought to save, somebody she waged wars with, traveled to alien planets with, turns to dust in between her fingers. Her friend . She starts to understand Steve Rogers a little better for it, and tries to hate herself for that slip of thoughtlessness.

 

But she’s wrong. That whole thought is wrong.

 

Once her brother went to war. He didn’t come back. It broke her in a way, made her fight hard with everything she has when things start to slip away. She fell in with Jane from it. She’s not going to lose her to a war. She will not lose more family.

 

She looks over at Eric. “We’re gonna get her back.” It’s not said like a vow or a promise, but like it comes straight out of Jane’s old physics textbook, like it’s a well learned fact.

 

She grabs university students and all the advanced physics books she can find and goes to ground. She bundles them up in old, unused sewers. She starts a freaking movement in under a month, putting that half finished politics degree somewhat to use.

 

“You Lewis?” an ex-ranger will ask her, as countless others before him, like her name alone is a vow of safety. She nods, gets him into the house she’s staying at for the night, and gives him expert directions on how to get to the next house on the road away from the south. People are moving across the earth, trying to find somewhere fucking safe .

 

Darcy could’ve told ‘em all: there’s nowhere safe.

 

Thanos didn’t leave after killing billions of people, a number so high it seems like nothing.

 

She started a movement.

 

She planted her feet down in the ground and started a rebellion over the loss of her friend.

 

When she was eighteen she went to Culver, sat through long lectures about politics, civil law, and human rights. She thought about joining a civil rights organization after graduating. She spent two summers in the Middle East, teaching kids how to read. She picked up arabic and names of female fighters. She learned how to start a rebellion, how to usurp power. She learned the cost of wars in people who didn’t come home to the village she stayed in.

 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.�

 

And there are people out there, who adapt quick, who adjust to this shitty new life, like that they’re alive was some great favor from Thanos, like they should all kiss his feet. The way fascism happens is when somebody convinces others that they’re rights are not a given.

 

She knows damn well how to fight, been doing it all her life. She just never thought she would have to without Jane. She never prepared herself for that pain because she never thought she’d have to.

 

Because Jane was the first one to wrap her up in something after the loss of her brother. College was college. But Jane, Jane was 3am grocery runs because they ran out of coffee, scribbles of math written down on receipts from the store, sore necks and backs from falling asleep at desks, and Darcy never had something like that before. She never had somebody just  . . . take her in without a second thought, without even blinking at her militantly bright colors and faded T-shirts.

 

Steve showed up a month in with some warriors from Wakanda, all he could get out. There’s a tightness in his shoulders that wasn’t there before. Thor stands beside him like he’s guarding the world against Steve, not the other way round.

 

She doesn’t know how Thor’s still standing, doesn’t know right up until he collapses into her, crying. She hasn’t seen him since he left to stop Loki from ruling Asgard, before his father died, before it all came down on their heads.

 

“Sister,” he murmurs into her shoulder, crying. She clutches him back, so tight if he was a mortal she’d be hurting him. Finally, finally she convinces herself to let go enough to give the same treatment to Steve and Natasha.

 

She’d met him, Steve fucking Rogers, once at a bar that Natasha had dragged them all to some night after Tony’s antics. She’d been too tongue tied to say more than five words to him until after they’d been six drinks in and then they started talking politics and getting on like a house on fire.

 

But those times are gone.

 

They all stand in a circle. Eventually she starts wringing her hands and explaining all the math she and Eric have worked out in nervous, twitchy gestures. He’s in India, trying to make contact with the refugee center there to track down a colleague of his. So she’s what’s left of the science brigade so she does her best to explain her math that she learned in the last month (and from five years with Jane), trying to feel the same faith that Jane has in linear algebra and analytic geometry.

 

“So you worked out how to get them back?”

 

“Sort of.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“So you know how matter can neither be destroyed nor created?” They all nod, well used to Tony’s quick science lessons over the years. “Right. So when everybody got blown to dust, the amount didn’t measure up to how much energy was spent doing it and how much was left.”

 

“So?” Natasha asks for them all.

 

“The energy he used- I got a reading of it from the Switz- could’ve blown up the universe several times over. So where’s the destruction?” They all have blank looks at that. “I think those that are dead got shot into different universes from ours.”

 

“And they’re alive?”

 

“They’re alive.” She pauses for a moment, and then soldiers on. “I know how to get there as well.”

 

They’re gaunt looking, like a light breeze could knock them over. They’ve all gone through a warzone in places that were supposed to be safe . But they are still standing .

 

They make it happen. Darcy does all the calculations. They can only send one person through. There’s always a rub. They fight her on it, of course they do.

 

“It should be me,” they all say. All of them.

 

“You can’t run the calculations. You don’t know where you’re going. You’re who the people need right now,” Darcy ticks the arguments off one by one on her fingers.

 

Erik looks at her, trying to decide how she became so stupidly smart. “You’ve been holding us up for months, Darcy.”

 

She nods at that because it’s true. She’s been the one holding them together with white knuckles and sheer desperation. “But I’m still the best one to go. Unless one of you know how to break Bruce out of Asia?” They eventually admit that Bruce will remain in a concentration camp in Asia.

 

Thanos hadn’t predicted that the pathetic, helpless humans would rally fast enough to fight him. He quickly caught on and set up concentration camps to contain those that would kill him. Bruce had gotten captured and then put in charge of keeping people alive in hell.

 

She does the math. She gets sent hurling through time and space from a bolt of lightning courtesy of Thor, smashing into the ground of some moon.

 

Bucky Barnes is standing in front of her. Jane is standing next to her.




Chapter 2:

 

She doesn’t fall over out of shock, but it’s a very close thing. “Lewis?” he shouts.

 

Jane doesn’t stop and question it. She runs forward and grips her hands around Darcy, clutching her as close as she can. The backpack bruises her arms. She’s crying, messy and gross, and she wouldn’t change any of it for the universe.

 

Darcy sobs back into her.

 

“I-I-how-how did you get here?” she gets out through choking sobs.

 

“Thor. And Steve. And some math,” she keeps adding things, equally lame things because Jane’s here . She’s alive . Or Darcy’s dead. One or the other. Doesn’t particularly matter.

 

“Bucky, who are these people?” It’s a guy wearing a huge brown coat. Darcy gently forces Jane behind her, hand on her gun.

 

Her brother taught her how to shoot, taking potshots at cans when he can home on leave. He kept laughing at her for missing, for not even wanting to hit rabbits for supper. She’d kill this man if he moves to hurt Jane, knows it like Newton’s first law of motion, like the steps to her parents’ house, and the trajectory from earth to mars.

 

“Darcy Lewis,” she says. “And you are?”

 

“Captain Malcolm Reynolds.”

 

“Nice to meet you.”

 

“I’ve been working on his ship, Lewis. I got Peter with me.”

 

“How’d you find us?” Jane asks of them both.

 

“I got shulped through time. You were surrounded by equipement when you dusted so I had the best read on your energy over everybody else’s. How’d you find us?” she asks Bucky.

 

“River. One of the crew. She . . . well, she’s good at knowing where to be.”

 

“You know these people?” Mal checks, taking in the motley group of people.

 

“Yeah, they’re-well, they’re people I know from the war.”

 

“It’s still going,” Darcy tells them. “The others are still fighting it. How long’s it been?”

 

“Three months,” both Jane and Bucky say.

 

“Same for us.”

 

“So at least you didn’t end up with weird time lines.”

 

“Yeah, that would break down of this happy reunion,” Mal says.

 

“Right. Do you mind if they come with us?” Bucky asks Mal. “Jane’s an engineer. Darcy’s-”

 

“I know multiple languages, hacking, and I can shoot straight.”

 

“笨天生的一堆肉,” Mal curses. Stupid, inbred stack of meat, Bucky translates. He could tell a companion exactly what he likes in Chinese if he wanted to, solely from the words that Mal uses when it all goes to shit. “Sure. You can come with, not like we don’t have enough folks to feed on this ship.”

 

“I can pay!” Both Jane and Darcy say at once. Darcy offers up gold, which Thor had assured her is valid in all the places he knows. Jane pays in the typical credits.

 

They all end up on Mal’s ship somehow. They all end up gathered around Mal’s kitchen table at the end of the night, even Zoe and Inara. Bucky keeps his foul mouth shut about Zoe being out in the open. He’s said maybe three words to her, something involving passing the protein. She looks skelton, like she’s only standing because that’s what she’s always done.

 

“So. Talk,” Mal orders.

 

“We’re not from here,” Peter helpfully explains. Bucky tries to kick him under the table and misses, hitting Darcy. She bashes in his ankle. Hard. He finds it a little bit attractive. “We’re from a different universe.”

 

“Soooo. Mass hysteria. You’ll still work right?” Jayne asks. But Mal’s listening, which as a rule, never bodes well.

 

“No. That’s what happened,” Darcy says. She pulls out her phone, battered and dirty. She shows them a picture of the Eiffel Tower that she and Jane had been to three years back in the search for Thor, which was mostly Darcy keeping Jane from going insane. She flicks through photos for them, scenes of iconic Earth-That-Was.

 

“These are real?” Zoe asks, leaning closer to the phone.

 

Inara nods. “I’ve seen them before at the Academy. But not like that. These are . . . they’re more real.”

 

“They flew across the stars in dust,” River whispers. “They need to get home.” She starts rocking. “They need to get home before the captain dies.” Bucky feels color leave his face. He wraps an arm around her though.

 

“Shhh, River, shhh. It’s okay.” Simon blinks at him. He shrugs but she presses closer. He’s always been good with the crazies. “Shhh.”

 

Simon stands up and takes River off to go to sleep. They all know that when she gets like this, sees things that are too much, she needs to sleep it off. Bucky’s almost bitter about how she gets to go sleep and he gets to try to fix shit. He tries to not be.

 

“So what are you going to do?” Mal finally asks after a long moment.

 

“Try to get back, I guess.” Darcy sighs. “I know the idea behind it.”

 

“Hmm. I see you’ve been busy.” Jane’s still wrapped around her, her arm interlocked with Darcy.

 

They all talk some more, but the four don’t really know anything right now, too distracted from being back together. The crew, the original crew, don’t press right then. Eventually everybody turns in for the night.

 

Everybody gets shuffled around. Jane sleeps in Kaylee’s room to talk about the engine while falling asleep. She’d been working on some ship farm, and wanted the engine noises to fall asleep to. Somehow in all the shuffle, Darcy ends up in Bucky’s room. She’d scrubbed up in the kitchen sink, best she could. Peter’d gone to talk to Jayne. Jayne was good with the kid. The only one surprised about it was Jayne. Bucky was the first to say how good terrible people could be kind with children, would defend them to their leaving breath.

 

“Steve was okay, last I saw him,” Darcy tells him. Bucky nods. “Doesn’t believe you or Sam are dead.”

 

“Forgot about Sam for a moment.” Bucky rubs at his face. “Any word about Dr. Strange?”

 

“Dead. Tony saw it happen. All he said was ‘it was the only way’ or some garbage like that.” They fall asleep soon after that.  Sometime, halfway through the night, Darcy had gotten out of bed and snuggled up close next to Bucky. “This is purely for comfort,” Darcy tells him when they wake up.

 

“No complaints from me,” He murmurs, wrapping an arm around her.

 

It takes Jane a month to work out all the math with Darcy and Peter. Jane mentions that when this is all over, Darcy should submit her thesis for a doctorate in physics. Darcy does her best to not laugh at that, and takes it under advisement. Bucky keeps busy, trying not to think about them all leaving, trying to burn out how much he loves Serenity .

 

“You thinking about staying?” Mal asks him, as they lean over the railing, watching Jane and Jayne check over their guns below. Darcy’s working out equations on the hull of the ship, using chalk while River calls out ideas from beside her.

 

“Little bit.”

 

Bucky and Darcy had traded around until they got a bunk to of their own. Jane stayed with Kaylee, Peter with Jane, and everybody by and large had kept their mouths shut about it. It was just sex, Bucky tells himself, watching his woman. It’s just sex. He can feel Steve laughing at him across space.

 

“We’d be happy to keep you on, if you’re looking for work.”

 

“Hmm. Somebody needs to keep them from dying.”

 

“And you’re best suited to that job?”

 

“You know the job well. Keep all your crew in the air, keep the ship flying.”

 

Mal grew up on a farm, knew cows before he knew ships, before he knew how the sky felt. He got out as soon as he could. He found Zoe, found Wash, found his family out in the black.

 

“What do you want?” Mal asks, having picked up a thing from Inara.

 

“I’ve been fighting for over a hundred years. I want a break from that,” he says after a long moment.

 

If there was a way, to stay here, to keep looking after Peter, to-to not have to go back. If he was a touch more . . . it’s not selfish but it feels like it is. It feels like he’s being a jerk for not wanting to keep fighting.

 

Mal rests a hand on his shoulder. “It is not selfish to want peace.”

 

He goes with the others back to Earth, back to war. He tries. He fucking tries.

 

They win. It takes them a month.

 

They actually show up on Tony Stark’s ship, as he’s about to die, passed out from oxygen deprivation and starvation. Starks, melodramatic assholes.

 

Bucky wraps him up in blankets and an oxygen mask, trusting Darcy and Jane to steer them home. Peter’s quiet. The calm before the storm.

 

“You almost stayed. Didn’t you?” Peter asks. He’s fiddling with his webshooters. Bucky doesn’t look up from cleaning his gun.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Why’d you come back?”

 

“It’s where I’m needed,” is all he says because that’s all he has.

 

Mal had gripped his shoulder before he left, promising him a place on Serenity . He wanted to cry, to fall over, to give up. He wanted- well, it doesn’t matter much does it? It is what it is.

 

He read Slaughterhouse Five once, when he got back from the first war, when he was in Wakanda. Shira recommended it to him. She was good about that, about trying to give him as much rope as he needed. Anyway, he keeps relating to it more and more. He thinks about Dresden, about fires, and about how it keeps going on, despite it feeling like the world should’ve had enough of its turning by now, like the whole wheel of the thing should’ve just  . . . powered off.

 

Anyway, he gets the aliens. He wonders if the writer wasn’t a goddamn truthsayer.

 

So it goes, he thinks when they land in front of Steve Rogers.

 

Steve looks gaunt, as gaunt as the first war, when they were still fresh-faced men. Bucky does a good job at not telling him he should eat a fucking sandwich. He’s a good friend like that. Steve doesn’t try to hug him.

 

Sam Wilson was a good influence. Sam. Was. Damn.

 

Darcy’s already rounding them up, giving them all instructions, rattling them off like a school teacher.

 

Bucky keeps his mouth shut. He does his best to keep a ten foot distance between him and Stark at all times. They’re better now, but there’s no need to start a fight in the middle of a war.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony will say later.

 

“What for?” He means the question honestly.

 

“You. Steve. All of it. I didn’t deal well with you. Sorry.”

 

“It’s fine.” There’s a war on, fucker, now is not the time to be having California conversations.

 

They win. That’s the odd thing.

 

They fucking win. And fuck. He’s so goddamn sick of it.

 

Sam’s the one who finds him after it’s over, not Steve. Steve, dumb as a brick, knew better than to come after him. Which, thank fuck, because Bucky’s tired of running away from Steve. And Sam’s good people, the best people honestly.

 

“It’s not a crime to leave him, you know that,” Sam starts, because Sam was a fucking therapist for traumatized vets. And he’s had almost five years at Steve’s side to burn away his self-preservation instincts.

 

“Yeah. Yeah. I know. Feels like it though.”

 

“So you are. You’re leaving.” It’s not a question. Sam left the Air Force. He turned in his wings and taught himself how to build up a life, how to help people. He knows what leaving looks like on those who can’t take one more second of their past wars.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Where Darcy goes, so does my nation.” It’s just sex, he’s been trying to tell himself for a month now. It’s just sex, but when she touches his hand or smiles at him, he believes in more. And it’s fucking terrifying, and if he was on better terms with Sam, he’d talk about it.

 

He’d talk to Mal. Mal’d get it. Mal’d probably say some shit like at least she’s there, at least they’re still alive, and then Mal’d stumble off to pick a fight with some asshole in a bar.

 

“That’s good man. That’s real good.” They’re a weird sort of friends after this. Bucky has spent too long being jealous of Sam, wanting to be what Sam is to Steve for it to feel natural yet. But they’re 900% on the same page about Steve’s suicidal tendencies and inability to just. Back the fuck down.

 

Well, they’re bad at it to, if they were being honest.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You know, Jane’s talking about going back to that universe as well.” There’s a glint in Sam’s eye. “And you know her, she’d never go if she didn’t know how to make it back to Thor.”

 

Because Jane is not some damsel in distress. She’s not going to wait patiently for Thor or become a trophy queen of the fallen Asgard people. There’s science and magic and she needs to crack it all down the middle. She has her hands in it now, all right.

 

“Hmm,” is all Bucky says, not wanting to commit one way or another. And Sam leaves, giving him some time to mull it over.

 

Darcy doesn’t submit a paper for a doctorate in physics. She has scars on her hands from the fires in Berlin. She has a bullet wound from the fight in India. She owes nobody anything else. She does submit a paper The Art of Building a Hostile Revolt and Common Fascism. It wins a prize that she sticks in her pack. She has three changes of clothes, a picture of her brother, a worn compass that somebody had pressed into her hands, that doesn’t work on at least three different planets she’s been to. She has all her notes for science, written out on crumpled paper and receipts from 3am purchases.

 

“You coming with us?” she asks Bucky. It’s not just sex, no matter what he says. And she’s always been good with the slow ones. It took Jane a full eight months to learn that Darcy wasn’t leaving. It might take them longer than that for him and her to work it out, but Darcy knows they got time.

 

“Yeah.”

 

He has the clothes on his back and Peter’s promise that the kid will visit when he can. He has his hand gripped tightly by Darcy, and a vow to Steve that he’s going to try living .

 

In a lightning bolt, they’re through the other side and on Mal’s ship again. “Welcome back,” Mal yells. “Are we likely to have lightning bolts happen a lot round here?”

 

Darcy grins.