“Well,” Darcy said slowly, staring up at the ceiling, “that’s a hole.”
Bob sighed. “Yep.”
“Are we going to tell anyone about it?’
Bob shrugged. “Do we...need to?”
“Probably?” How the hell should Darcy know, really? She’d only transferred to the base a week ago when Jane needed someone she could trust in a location with reliable wifi to receive and catalog her results. It really wasn’t on her to know the ins and outs of proper protocol when a small explosion took out the kitchenette ceiling. That’s why she called Bob in the first place.
He squinted at the ceiling. “Okay...who?”
Darcy gave him a look. “Dude. I just got here.”
Bob shrugged again. “You know more people than I do.”
That might be true, but that was more because Darcy was nosy than anything else, so she didn’t let his claim deter her. “Maybe you’d have a larger social circle if you stopped wearing your HYDRA uniform.”
Bob’s shoulders slumped. “But it has so many pockets.”
“I have no sympathy for you on that front,” Darcy muttered, unconsciously running a hand over the sad excuse for “pockets” in her jeans. She couldn’t fit her phone in one, let alone anything else that would be useful.
A beep from Bob’s watch drew their attention. He squinted down at it.
“Oh shoot. How do I do this thing again?”
Darcy leaned over to look. “You press this button here and then the message should project into the air above the watch. Why we can’t just display the message on the face like a normal watch, I don’t know, but hey. It’s Stark tech.”
Despite Darcy’s warning, Bob jumped back with a yelp when the message projected above his watch.
“Oh shoot. They’re back.”
Darcy paused. “Is...that a bad thing?”
“No!” Bob replied quickly and then glanced up. “But there is a hole in the ceiling.”
Darcy leaned over the counter again and peered up through the hole in the ceiling into the lab above. “Someone has to have construction superpowers, right?”
Bob’s watch beeped again and he opened the message. His eyes grew wide. “We’ve gotta go. We’ve gotta go, right now.” He grabbed Darcy’s wrist and pulled her down the hallway.
“Where are we going?” she asked, doing her best not to drag her feet, but Bob was surprisingly quick when he needed to be.
Wait. Darcy dug her heels in, pulling Bob to a stop. “Explain.”
“There are injuries! We need to go!”
“Okay, fine - but why us?” Darcy had a sudden, sickening spike of panic. What exactly had she exaggerated on her resume again? It had been awhile since she’d looked at it. She hadn’t claimed any kind of specialized first aid knowledge, had she? Not that regular first aid would help any of the Avengers, especially if they had a weird injury like getting turned into a sentient pile of goo or something.
“That’s true. You probably don’t need to go.”
He smirked at her. “But don’t you want to?”
Darcy grinned at him. “You just get me so well.”
Darcy slowed her pace as they entered the hangar, letting Bob rush ahead to do whatever it was that he was going to do. She wasn’t unfamiliar with the hangar, but it also wasn’t somewhere she’d spent a lot of time in the week she’d been at the base. She backed up a little, putting the wall at her back and did her best to will herself into invisibility as she watched the team offload from the Quinjet. Teams of people swarmed the jet, working on offloading equipment and reseting so it would be ready to take off at a moment’s notice the next time the Avengers were needed.
The Black Widow - Natasha, Darcy reminded herself - was slowly descending the ramp, helping a limping Clint Barton down and taking most of his weight. She deposited him into the wheelchair Bob had quietly left at the end of the ramp, muttering something to Clint that Darcy couldn’t quite catch.
“You’re going to medical, Barton,” Steve Rogers said, his tone leaving absolutely no room for argument. Natasha pushed the wheelchair away from the Quinjet and towards the corridor without comment. As Steve stalked down the ramp, Darcy could have sworn she saw a slight hitch in his step. Apparently Captain America was in need of a trip to medical himself. He wandered in that direction, so Darcy didn’t make her presence known to call him out on it.
The teams slowly faded away, their jobs complete or quickly finishing up. Darcy marveled a little at the speed of it all. Sure, there were about a hundred people - and even more robots - working in the area, but it was all so coordinated that almost everyone disappeared back into their own section of the base just as quickly as they’d arrived.
As quiet settled over the hangar once again, Darcy noticed a flicker of movement inside the Quinjet. It was slow and labored and eerily silent. It was too quiet for a cleaning bot - those things had an unfortunate tendency to bang into the walls. She’d banned them from the lab almost immediately upon her arrival - who knew what havoc they’d wreck on Jane’s duct tape masterpieces that still did the majority of her data collection? The movement had now stopped for so long that Darcy had to wonder if she’d imagined it.
Then the Winter Soldier stepped laboriously out of the Quinjet and stumbled down the ramp, clutching his side.
“Holy shit,” she muttered and before she could think too hard about it, rushed to go help him.
To his credit, he didn’t make any attempt to stop her from reaching him. Then again, he froze entirely when she reached his side, so maybe he just hadn’t gotten that far yet. Darcy hoped for the former, but braced for the later.
“Dude,” she muttered as she slipped an arm around him to help support some of his weight. “Why the hell did you wait so long to come down? There were like a thousand people here a minute ago.”
His eyes were wide as he stared at her, but he didn’t reply.
Darcy glanced down at his side - the side now pressed against her as she supported him - and grimaced at the blood now staining her own sweater. She looked up into his wide eyes, still staring. Still not saying anything.
“Is all of this...yours?”
He shook his head.
“Is...any of it yours?” If this guy wasn’t actually injured, she was going to feel like a real asshole. Poor dude probably just wanted to finish a report and then get cleaned up in peace and instead she practically slide-tackled him off the jet ramp.
“Some,” he replied. His voice was soft and unsure.
Darcy huffed. “Okay. Not sure how you avoided Captain Tightass’s orders to get yourself to medical, but you’re not avoiding mine. Let’s go.”
“It’s fine,” he replied. “You don’t-”
“No arguments, buster.” Darcy started leading him slowly towards the corridor to medical. Bless whoever dreamed this place up and stuck medical close to the hangar. This was going to be the longest walk of her life. The Winter Soldier was not light.
Darcy mentally cursed. The guy had a name - she really shouldn’t refer to him by his call sign in her head.
Also, he was a highly trained super assassin. She should probably introduce herself before he got it into his head to question her and her motives.
“I’m Darcy, by the way,” she offered. “I run the lab. Or I will anyway. I just got here last week, I’m still getting set up.”
“I know who you are.”
“Oh.” He didn’t seem all that keen to offer up any additional information or contribute further to the conversation, but Darcy was no quitter. “So...what can I call you?”
His eyes flashed at the question, his expression a little startled - almost as though he hadn’t considered that she’d want his name in return. Darcy pushed back the sudden recollection of what she’d read in her briefing packet and on the internet in the wake of the SHIELD file dump a few years again. Surely, he was doing better - someone was looking after this guy, right? He was just tired and in pain and wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Bucky,” was the eventual response, in that same soft tone as before.
“Good to meet you, Bucky.” She grimaced a little at the sight of the doorway to medical. It was still so far. “We’re about halfway there,” she said instead, trying to remain upbeat.
“You don’t have to help me,” he murmured.
“Well, you can’t do it alone,” Darcy reasoned.
“Oh yeah, you were doing so well before I showed up,” she retorted, raising her voice just a little. “You’re currently not operating under your own power, so you’re stuck going wherever I take you.” She grinned at him to soften her words. “Deal with it.”
He looked down at her for a long moment, then nodded.
Darcy decided to push her luck and tease a little. “Good. Glad you agree. Since I wasn’t giving you a choice.”
She felt more than heard his quick exhale and looked up at him, afraid that she’d jostled him in some way that hurt him. But his lips had twitched into something slightly softer than the grimace his face had settled into the entire slog across the hangar.
He was laughing at her joke.
They finally reached the door, forcing Darcy to put aside her triumph for a moment so she could maneuver him inside. The immediate entrance was bustling and Bucky tensed up next to her. She directed him into the side hall as quickly as they could manage, getting them out of the flow of people.
There was a volunteer refilling a cabinet in the room across from where they’d paused and Darcy waved to get her attention.
“Hey! Little help?”
The volunteer turned to her, her eyes widening when she saw who Darcy was with. She hurried away without a word, glancing back over her shoulder once before disappearing around the corner.
“Hey!” Darcy called again, then scowled. “Miscreant,” she muttered.
She turned to Bucky, who looked resigned. “I’m...sure she’s getting someone for us.” She could probably sound more convincing if she believed it herself, but that kid was moving to get away from them.
Bucky turned sad eyes to her. “I can get by. Thanks for the help.” He gingerly disentangled himself from her side and grimaced at the state of her sweater. “I’ll...pay for your dry cleaning or something.”
Darcy glanced down and shrugged. “I’m not worried about that at the moment, I’m more worried about you. You barely made it in here with my help - I’m not abandoning you to the whims of the medical wing.” She jerked her head in the direction of the empty bed in the room across from them. “Come on,” she urged. “I’ll look at it myself.”
“You don’t-” Bucky stopped immediately upon seeing Darcy’s silencing glare.
No part of her brain did a happy dance at discovering that superpower. Nope. None at all.
She helped him onto the bed and nodded at him. “Think you can show me where the problem is?”
His lips twitched again into that sad approximation of a smile, then started pulling at his gear to reveal a deep wound in his side.
Darcy felt her anger rise.
“Bucky Barnes, you have been shot.”
“I don’t care if you don’t think it’s a big deal, it is. And when we know each other a little better we will be having no small amount of words about it.” Darcy turned her glare to the recently refilled cabinet and started searching for the appropriate kit. She found what she needed in the third drawer she checked and laid it all out on the tray next to the bed before turning back to him.
“You gonna run off if I go to find someone who’s actually qualified to handle this?”
Bucky merely shrugged again and Darcy took a deep breath to keep from rolling her eyes at him.
“Fine. Your arm falls off, don’t come crying to me.” Bucky just stared at her until she realized her mistake with a groan. “That went better in my head,” she continued, by way of apology. “You have any better idea of what I need to be doing here?” At his nod, she smiled brightly. “Great! You can walk me through it then.”
He did, quietly directing her through the process of patching him up. It went way faster than she expected and she only felt a little lightheaded when she actually thought about what she was doing.
All things considered, it was a success.
She smoothed down the tape holding the gauze to his side. “All done. Right?”
He nodded again. He had to be getting a neck ache at this point.
“You should probably lay down or something.”
“Thank you,” he murmured in that soft voice he’d been using with her all day.
“No thanks needed, Buckaroo. Anyone would have done it.”
His eyes pinned her in place with a soft look that matched his tone. “No they wouldn’t.” Before she could contemplate the implications of that, he shrugged again. “I’ve gotten pretty good at patching myself up though, so.” He pushed himself off the bed and limped to the door, looking much better now that they’d dug the bullet out of his side. He turned back and gave her one last, stiff nod, then left.
Darcy looked around the room, taking in the mess they’d made while cleaning up his injury and rerunning the last hour or so in her mind.
He’d been left alone on the Quinjet, even though he’d been injured.
No one on the ground asked after him, even though they would have known he’d deployed with the rest of the team.
The volunteer who ran at the sight of him.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at patching myself up though.”
The more she thought about it, the angier she got until a single, shining solution appeared in her mind.
“Buckle up, Bucky Barnes,” she muttered. “I’m going to be your new best friend.”
Bucky slid the plate of enchiladas onto his tray and gave a small nod to the person behind the counter. They glanced away quickly, not acknowledging him at all, just moving on to the next person in line.
Well, it was lunchtime. They were busy.
He sighed internally as he added a few cartons of milk to his tray, then turned to face the mess. It was the tail end of the usual lunch hour for Alpha shift, so most people were just starting to finish up and filter out, but there were still a good number of tables that were occupied. Normally, he would do anything in his power to avoid the mess if Steve or Sam weren't around to eat with him, but well. Today, he was hungry and too damn tired to go all the way back to the residences to make something for himself. It had sounded like a good idea at the time. Looking around the mess, he wondered if he should have just grabbed his food to go.
No use in wasting the container at this point - he knew from experience the mess enchiladas did not reheat well. He grumbled silently to himself as he grabbed some cutlery from the little stand along the wall, then started looking for a place to sit.
His usual table - in as much as he had one - wasn't too crowded. The seat on the end along the wall was empty. There were two other people at the far end of the table, weapons techs from the looks of it, but otherwise there was a long stretch of empty seats. Relieved, he headed in that direction.
As he reached the table, he tried not to notice the two people at the far end scooting their chairs further away. He set his tray down and slid into the seat, just as they jumped up, grabbed their trash, and quickly left the area.
It was probably a coincidence. It was getting to the end of the lunch hour, most people had to get back to their stations. It just would be nice to have someone to eat with, even if it was complete strangers sitting on the far end of the table. Steve and Sam were great, but they weren't around much. And while he didn't exactly mind the company of his own thoughts, well. Sometimes he would prefer to just not.
Bucky carefully opened one of the cartons of milk and took a sip. He caught the eye of one of the new recruits passing by, just as said recruit tripped over his own feet and scurried away.
He sighed again. It was probably just a coincidence.
"Enchilada day is the best day."
Bucky startled slightly at the voice, as Darcy Lewis slid into the seat across from him and practically slammed her tray down on the table.
"Seriously, I need to know what they put in the sauce. I'm not generally one for red sauce, I usually prefer green, but when Matilda is in the kitchen on enchilada day? Forget whatever plans I had for lunch, I'll be right here." Darcy smiled brightly at him. "You think anyone would get mad if I snuck into the kitchen and just drank the stuff?"
Bucky opened his mouth to respond but nothing came out. He cleared his throat to try again. "Probably against health code," he rasped, finally.
"Okay, fair. Then I need you to help me plot how to get the secret ingredient out of Matilda. She has so far rebuffed all of my efforts. And I have made the effort, let me tell you.” Darcy paused, considering. “I wonder if she takes bribes.”
“You’re considering bribing a member of the staff?” Bucky asked, incredulous.
“With cookies. Duh.”
Bucky eyed her warily. "Why me?" He didn’t know Darcy well enough to guess at her intentions here. She’d only been on base for a little over a week now, but she was pretty infamous already. He’d certainly been charmed by her attempts to patch him up the other day, but he’d been wrong in his first impressions before.
Darcy gave him a knowing look. "Are you attempting to claim that you can't just bat those eyes at someone and get them to do your bidding? Because I won't believe you. You've charmed a secret or two out of someone in your day."
"In my day," he parroted, unsure what exactly Darcy was getting at. He didn’t know what to make of her and this conversation wasn't helping any.
Darcy shrugged. "Sure. It's an expression, stop thinking so hard about it." She took a bit of her enchilada and her eyes fluttered closed as she smiled. "Heaven. That right there, is my version of heaven."
"Good to know," he replied, almost automatically. It wasn't a conscious decision, responding like that - with familiarity and maybe just this side of flirting. That was a surprise. A nice surprise, but a surprise all the same. He hadn’t flirted with anyone - intentionally or not - in a very long time. Bucky wasn't sure how he felt about it.
Darcy smiled at him again, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that either. "Eat up, boo. These things might be heavenly but they do not travel and they definitely do not reheat."
Bucky did as he was told and shoveled a slightly larger than normal bite into his mouth, if only to occupy him with the act of chewing for a few additional moments so he could figure out what the hell was going on. Because manners, or something. As if that mattered anymore.
"So anyway," Darcy said, as though they'd been having any sort of real conversation prior to this moment, "I have to figure out a better system for keeping track of Jane." She furrowed her brow at him. "You know Jane, right?"
Bucky nodded, a little stiffly because he hadn't ever actually met Jane Foster, but he knew of her.
Darcy considered him a moment, then continued. "I'll introduce you later."
Bucky was going to have to reread Darcy's file and make sure she wasn't a mind reader or something.
"So normally, I have to drag Jane out of the lab by her ears when she's got a theory cooking in that giant brain of hers. Girl forgets to eat and to sleep and to shower - it's kind of a mess." Darcy smiled brightly. "She's my mess, but still. Mess. Anywho, normally, after I've dragged Jane out and get her to take care herself for five minutes, I can usually count on her passing out for at least 24 hours, you know? But what happened today? Girl actually beats me to the lab, has all kinds of equipment running all at once and the data is just flowing through, getting all jumbled in my system." Darcy pointed her fork at Bucky, a touch violently. "I have a system, Bucky. A system. Respect the system."
Bucky nodded as he finished one carton of milk and quietly, carefully opened another. The calibration on his arm was just slightly off and the last thing he wanted to do was tear through the paper carton and douse Darcy with 1%. He should probably figure out how to fix that one of these days.
"Jane doesn't respect the system," Darcy muttered, stabbing at the remaining bit of enchilada on her plate. "So now, I'm going to be stuck working late tonight sorting it all out."
Bucky made a mental note to check the duty roster and see who would be working security for the lab tonight. If he didn’t like the lineup, maybe he’d do a swing through himself. Just in case.
Maybe he’d swing through the lab anyway, regardless of who was on duty.
"It's not that I mind really," Darcy continued. "I love my job, the work is interesting - shockingly, considering that I don't understand any of the science - and it's not like I had anything else planned. But. The system, Bucky! What do we do?"
"We respect the system," he replied.
"See! He gets it, theydies and gentlethems. This guy gets it." Darcy grinned at him again as a comfortable silence settled between them. He attempted a small smile back and Darcy's grin grew.
"All right, I probably should get back. Make sure Jane hasn't ripped a hole in the universe or something while I've been gone."
Bucky nodded. "Thanks for the company," he murmured.
"Anytime," Darcy replied, as though it was actually that easy. "You're a good lunch date."
Bucky looked down at his now empty plate and tried to fight the smile that was threatening to grow on his face.
"You done?" Darcy asked, motioning at his tray. At his nod, she started to stand up. "Good. Then you can walk me to the coffee shop and buy me coffee before I head back."
"Oh can I?" he replied, his voice a touch dryer than he intended.
"Yes," Darcy confirmed, her expression far too smug to be good for him. "It'll be your pleasure."
Darcy fumbled with her badge, attempting to hang onto the box of equipment, balance her coffee without spilling it, and unlock the door simultaneously. She bumped against the card scanner, hoping that she'd been able to finangle the badge into a position the scanner could read. The scanner flashed red - again - and Darcy sighed. She bumped the scanner with her hip again, wondering idly if someone (Tony Stark) got a good laugh out of watching unfortunate souls like her practically dry hump the scanner when attempting to enter the labs.
Who was she kidding. She'd laugh too.
The scanner flashed red again with an angry beep this time and Darcy backed off. She was probably going to get locked out soon, if she hadn't been already. Curse these jeans. Crouching down to set the box down was likely to end in tears. Maybe, if she angled the box so that part of it was propped against the wall -
Out of the corner of her eye, Darcy spotted two of the techs from Chem 5.
"Hey!" she greeted with a smile. "Hi! Little help, please?"
They walked past, ignoring her.
"Okay thanks!" She called after them as they walked further away. "Hope you step on Legos barefoot forever!" She huffed, exasperated, and blew a strand of hair out of her face. She bumped the scanner with her hip one more time.
More angry beeps. Beeps that weren't stopping this time.
"Someone causing trouble out here?"
Darcy turned around and brightened at the sight of someone sort of scowling at her. "Bucky!"
He nodded in acknowledgement. "Hi Darcy."
"Think you could help a girl out?"
"I shouldn't. Security and all. You really want to be breaking the rules that keep your own workplace safe?"
Darcy shoved the box into his hands. "I'm not breaking anything," she said with a wink. She held her card up to the scanner. It scanned and a soft beep was heard. Darcy breathed a sigh of relief. Not locked out then.
Then she jumped as a thin laser emitted from the scanner and burned a hole in her badge. She dropped it with a yelp, then stomped on it to snuff out the flames as her badge disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"Oh fuck me," Darcy moaned. “You couldn’t just beep again or something? Flash a message on the screen that I need to go see security? You had to light things on fire?” She spun around at the sound of a soft chuckle from behind her. "You think this is funny, Barnes?"
He shrugged. "Sort of. Where exactly did you think you were working?"
"Spare me the ‘you should have known better’ speech,” she grumbled. “Just for that, you can escort me to security for a new badge. And you can explain to them what happened. And you can carry the box."
She secured that agreement far too easily. Best to spell it out. "To and from," she clarified. "You're stuck with me until that box gets into my lab."
"Do I have a choice? Or is this like the medical situation?"
“You had a bullet in your side! I couldn’t just leave you to your own devices.” She leveled her best school marm glare at him. “Especially since rumor has it that’s how you got that way in the first place.”
Bucky leveled a look of his own at her, but if she was reading him correctly, he was hiding a smile. “That’s not how I got shot.”
“Then enlighten me.” She tossed her coffee cup into the garbage bin as they passed through the atrium connecting the lab wing to everywhere else. She paused in front of the glass doors leading to security, pointedly not ringing the bell so they could buzz her in.
Bucky adjusted the box in his hands so he could swipe his own badge through the scanner, then pulled open the door and moved aside so Darcy could enter ahead of him. Instead of moving around to his left and walking in like a normal person, Darcy darted under his arm to sneak past him, throwing a smirk over her shoulder as she did. Bucky blinked at her a few times, then followed her inside.
Darcy approached the desk. “Hi Bob,” she said, giving Bob her best grin.
“Darcy. Why?” Bob groaned.
“Because I’m still moving in, and you people don’t seem to have any sort of protocol that allows for that. I only have two hands!”
“You have help, from the looks of it,” Bob said, nodding at Bucky.
Darcy pretended like Bob didn’t just talk about Bucky like he wasn’t there, but if he kept that up there would be words and Bob would not like them. “Recent development,” she replied with a shrug. “Bucky here might be the only decent person in this place.”
Bob thumped his head off the desk. “You haven’t been here even two weeks and this is the third badge you’ve incinerated.”
“About that,” Darcy said, ignoring Bob’s distress. “Why the hell are we shooting lasers out of the badge scanners? That seems like way more of a safety hazard than someone holding the door open for me when my hands are full.”
Bob raised his head to look at her. “Darcy,” he began, his voice tired, “I used to be HYDRA. I worked for them for years. I knew that organization in and out. They are not the brightest bunch. Strategic operations and long term planning are not their strong suit.”
“I feel like I should be offended by that,” Bucky muttered.
“Even a HYDRA agent could figure out how to tailgate through a door that was being held open for them,” Bob continued. “It’s my job to keep the labs safe, and there’s nothing more important than keeping a daily level of infrastructure safety.”
Darcy eyed Bob carefully. “Judging by the scorch marks on the ceiling, the fire department might disagree.”
Bob sighed and reached under the desk. He held out Darcy’s shiny new badge. “Please try not to incinerate this one.”
Darcy snatched the badge out of his hand. “But then when would I see your smiling face, Bob?” She blew him a kiss then turned to Bucky. “This train’s leaving the station. Let’s go.”
They left security and made their way back through the atrium towards the entrance to the lab wing. Darcy swiped her badge and did a short, triumphant dance when the scanner flashed green and there was a satisfying thunk as the lock disengaged.
“Happy beeps,” she crooned at a bemused Bucky. He held the door for her again as they made their way inside. She motioned for him to follow her as she turned left down the corridor away from the labs and towards the offices. “We can stick this in my office for now, I’ll sort out what needs to move to the lab later.”
“You have an office?” Bucky asked.
“It’ll end up being more of a storage closet and probably where I stash Jane to sleep, but yeah.” Bucky blinked a few times, a befuddled expression crossing his face and it occurred to Darcy that he might not be as familiar with Jane’s work habits as she was. She hurried to explain. “She gets wrapped up in her work, you know? Pulls all nighters, then I have to make sure she doesn’t rip a hole in the universe or something while half asleep.”
“Right,” Bucky said, looking relieved. “You mentioned something like that the other day at lunch.” He glanced at her as she slowed to a stop and pulled her key out of her pocket to unlock her office door. “That was nice, by the way. Sitting with you at lunch.”
“It was,” Darcy agreed with a grin. “We should do it again. Like plan to, next time. Not just randomly show up in the same place by chance.”
“I’d like that,” Bucky’s reply was so soft she barely caught it. When she glanced back at him, he was scowling a little at the box, like it had offended him personally somehow.
“You can just set that - “ she motioned towards the corner. He set the box down, then looked around the small office. It wasn’t much, but Darcy was still setting up. She had intentions of getting a futon or a pull out or something that would serve as a couch during the day, but she or Jane could crash on during the long overnights when needed. Maybe get a nice print or something for the wall, since as the newest lab manager in the building, her office didn’t have any windows.
Actually, she should probably look at getting some of those lights that help with moods. She pinched her nose, fighting back the slight headache her ever-increasing to do list caused. She wondered how many people she’d have to kill before she got reassigned to an office with windows and if it would be worth the effort.
“You okay?” Bucky’s voice was concerned, and Darcy almost felt a little teary-eyed at the thought. It had been a long day already and it was only 10AM.
“Yeah. It’s just,” she motioned to the mess of boxes scattered around the room. “My list of things to do, you know? Not enough hours in the day right now.”
Bucky nodded. “I’ll let you get back to it then,” he said as he backed towards the door.
“Thanks for the assist,” she said, giving him one last smile. “Don’t be a stranger, yeah? It’s nice, talking to someone who isn’t all up in the science all day.”
“Me?” Bucky said, a little stunned.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “Yes, you. Stop fishing for compliments,” she teased. “And start working on that plan to get the enchilada recipe from Matilda!”
Bucky’s lips twitched into a smile. “I’ll do that.” He nodded at her, then turned to go.
Darcy shook her head. Bucky Barnes was shy. Who knew.
"Why is the food always so small at these things?" Steve wondered aloud as he and Bucky perused the hors d'oeuvre line.
"Maybe it's not that the food is small, but that you have shovels for hands," Bucky quipped as he loaded a few more pieces of bruschetta onto his plate. Steve wasn't wrong though - this stuff was tiny. All the easier to heap more on his plate, even if it did make him feel a little foolish and a lot greedy. Gluttony just wasn't a look either of them wore well, no matter how much time had passed and how much money they had now. Or how much they actually needed to eat to support their overclocked metabolisms.
"Har har," Steve deadpanned. "You're hilarious. We should have stopped for a burger or something before we came, this is ridiculous." He added a scoop of hummus on top of an already precariously full plate, then turned away from the line, scanning the room for an open table to settle at.
"When exactly would we have had time? We've only been back in the country for a little over an hour and we needed that much time to get the stench of Latverian sewer off of us." Bucky grabbed one last salt stick, then motioned with it towards a free table in the corner.
Steve shuddered a little at the memory as he led the way to the table. "I suppose it would have been in bad taste to arrive at a VA fundraiser still covered in sewage."
Bucky grinned at him. "It might have put a damper on the evening. But it would give everyone something to talk about."
The crowd parted easily as they cut through the crowd and they reached the table without Steve getting pestered for yet another photo or quote or whatever it was these people wanted from him these days. Bucky tried to tell himself it was because they could clearly see that Steve was about to eat, that he was busy, and they were being respectful - but he knew that this room was mostly filled with the absolute worst type of celebrity hangers on who generally had no such compunctions.
No, if Steve made it across the room without anyone stopping him tonight, it was likely due more to Bucky's own presence than anything Steve was doing. Normally, Bucky would like that just fine - crowds generally weren't his scene anymore and getting Steve's full attention was an increasingly rare event. But...he actually cared about tonight's fundraiser. The VA had been pretty instrumental in getting him back on his feet after...everything and events like this were part of how he repaid the good people who worked there. He actually had something to say about it all and was pretty sure he would have enjoyed discussing it with others who felt the same. For a little while anyway.
He set his plate down and turned so that he back was to the wall. Steve eyed him carefully, but thankfully didn't comment. He dug into his assortment of hors d'oeuvre with gusto, grunting with appreciation as he enjoyed each bite.
"Don't forget to breathe occasionally, pal," Bucky teased, then dug in himself, mopping up the sauce from the tiny beef wellington bites with the salt stick and washing it down with the fried mushroom ravioli.
"Stupid serum," Steve muttered around a mouthful of quiche. "I'm pretty sure there isn't enough food in the building.” He finished his bite, then continued. “What’s your thought on this new funding legislation? You read it yet?”
“Skimmed it on the jet home,” Bucky replied. “Why, you lookin’ for talking points?”
“I want to make sure all the points of view that actually matter are represented in the conversation,” Steve said, with a knowing smirk. “If I have to have a conversation with Senator Brandt, I may as well make it worth my while.”
“It’s a little bit gross that the grandson of the Senator Brandt you knew back in the day is the Senator now.”
“Gross seems to be the story of my life,” Steve replied, shaking his head. “Look at today, I spent the afternoon in a sewer.”
"Hey Cap," Clint said, approaching the table. He gave Bucky a nod in greeting, then continued. "Sorry man. We have a meet and greet."
Steve groaned. "I'm starving, can't it wait five minutes?"
"Pepper says it's something with the mayor and that it won't take long?" Clint replied, his own doubts clearly articulated in his expression.
"Which means I'm not going to finish eating any time soon." Steve sighed and grabbed a few baguette pieces off his plate. "You gonna be alright for a bit?" he asked.
"I'm not a kid, Steve," Bucky replied.
"So that's a no?"
Bucky rolled his eyes at him. "I'll be fine, Mom."
Steve pointed at him and gave him the Eyebrows of Disappointment. "If you had ever taken that tone with your mother, she'd have slapped you into next week."
Bucky gave him a blithe smile. "Why do you think I never took that tone with my mother, then?"
It was Steve's turn to roll his eyes, but he did so with a knowing grin. "I'll be back. Eventually." He turned to Clint. "We're going past the food again on the way and I don't actually care if my mouth is full when we get to the mayor."
"We'll both stuff ourselves to the point we look like chipmunks," Clint agreed. "Better than having to fake a warm welcome. I’ll even let Pepper think I talked you into it."
Bucky watched them go, cutting through the crowd - or trying to, as Steve was stopped every few feet by one admirer or another. Bucky watched him turn on the fake charm for a moment, laughing internally as he could see Steve's ire spike under the thin veneer of his public face, before returning his attention to the food in front of him. As he reached over to Steve’s plate and pulled it closer, he noticed two people approach the table. He shifted his stance, attempting to look open and welcoming - even if they didn't want to talk to him, the company would be nice. As soon as he made eye contact however, they both froze, then turned and hurried in the other direction.
He popped another mini beef wellington into his mouth to cover his disappointment, but the previously delightful morsel tasted like ash.
Maybe he should just go home.
"Why is the food always so tiny? You'd think Stark would spring for a sit down dinner at this thing, right?"
Startled, Bucky looked to his left. Darcy Lewis grinned up at him.
"Mini quiche?" she offered.
Bucky blinked a few times to try to clear his head. "I'm set, thanks." He took a moment to get a good look at her. Her curls were pinned back away from her face and she was a striking vision in her bold red dress. It had been a long time since he’d seen a woman stop a room with a dress like that. She stood out in this room of black tuxes and cocktail dresses and for some unknown reason wanted to be seen standing next to him.
"You look beautiful," he said.
Darcy's grin softened and she looked away for a moment, before looking up at him through her lashes - for once not hidden behind her glasses. "Thanks," she said softly. She reached up and tugged lightly at the lapel of his jacket. "You clean up pretty good yourself. Especially on short notice, from what I heard."
"I've had a bit of a day," Bucky admitted.
Darcy huffed softly. "And how much of an understatement is that?"
"Brooklyn Bridge sized."
Darcy chuckled. "Well, I'd love to hear it, if you want to tell it. But first I need something to drink, that wellington is salty."
"I'll get us something from the bar, what do you want?"
Darcy shrugged and looked at his mostly empty plates. "Unless you're married to this table, I'll come with?"
"Sure," he agreed slowly. Darcy grabbed his hand - his hand, his metal hand - and pulled him along. She laced their fingers together so they couldn't be separated in the crowd. Most people didn't even notice Darcy as she muttered her "excuse mes" - it was only when they spotted Bucky did the crowd begin to part for her.
"I should take you everywhere, Buck. You're making my life easy. Normally, I’d have to start kicking some shins to get across a room this full this fast," she said over her shoulder with a wink. They arrived at the bar just as a small group stepped away. "What's your poison?"
"Oh. Um. I...uh..." he stammered. He probably should have thought about this a little more. He wondered if blaming the dress would make him a cad. "Just water is fine," he muttered.
Darcy gave him a curious look. "You know it's an open bar, right? Get whatever you want."
"Yeah." He shifted slightly. "Water is fine."
Darcy made a non-committal noise. "Soda water with lime for me, please," she said to the bartender.
"You know it's an open bar, right?" Bucky repeated, his voice dry. "Get whatever you want." He's enjoyed the time he's spent with Darcy, but if she's just going to pander to him - or worse, pity him - then he'd rather just call it a night. Dress or no dress.
Best not to think about the no dress option. She was a lady and his friend and that was inappropriate.
Eyes front, Barnes.
"Hydration is very important, Bucky," Darcy replied, not taking the bait and clearly oblivious to Bucky’s inner turmoil. Guess that proves she wasn’t a mind reader then.
Bucky suddenly felt frustration rise in his chest. What in the hell was she even doing here, holding up the bar with him? Surely, she hadn't come alone. Even if she wasn't here with a date, she probably had friends or coworkers or someone somewhere in the room waiting for her. He wished she would just get to the part where she decided she'd done her good deed for the night and leave her little charity case behind.
"Thank you," Darcy said, accepting her drink from the bartender. She took a small sip, then turned to Bucky. "So. You had a story about your day?"
Bucky sipped his water and wondered how explicit he would need to get into the gory details of his day before Darcy decided to end her little charade and leave him be.
He set his glass on the bar and looked into her eyes. Her expression was open, full of genuine curiosity.
Oh. She was actually asking. She wanted to know.
As quickly as it appeared, Bucky felt his irritation slip away and evaporate, melting into something a little like guilt for thinking so poorly of her. They were friends, sort of. More than acquaintances anyway. He should know better than to assume the worst of her.
"I don't want to bore you," he said, finally.
"Dude. You don't bore me. The rest of the idiots in this room? They bore me. Ugh, it's so frustrating too, because this is actually a really cool event for a really great cause and these stuck up assholes are only here for the photo op. No one wants to discuss the actual issues we're trying to solve here, or the programs that will get funded with the money raised tonight." Darcy shook her head and sighed. "I should know better, after all this time, right? These things are all the same." She snorted lightly. "And to think, at one point, I was considering going into politics. I probably would have ultimately stabbed someone."
"From what I hear, it would have been a taser, actually."
"Ol Sparky is very reliable," Darcy agreed. "He's got the night off though, so."
"You thought you'd be safe here, with this crowd?"
"I thought I'd be safe here with you."
Was this flirting? This felt like flirting. Darcy couldn't be flirting. Not with him. Not intentionally. Bucky shook the thought away.
"So you're actually here for the VA, huh. Probably the only person in the room who is."
"Well, I sure hope not," Darcy said. "I'd hoped you were here for them, too."
"I don't count."
"Bull shit." Darcy's voice was vehement and left no room for argument. "And I won't hear otherwise."
Bucky paused, considering her, then looked down at her empty glass. He briefly wondered if it had still been full if she would have thrown it at him. She looked like she wanted to. "Let's get you a real drink, huh?" He motioned to the bartender. After a few tries, he finally caught the other man's eye. "The lady would like a drink," Bucky said, turning to Darcy.
"Lady, huh?" Darcy teased, then turned to the bartender with a critical eye. "Hmm. How's your hibiscus game?"
"Excuse me?" the bartender said.
"Hibiscus. You know, the flower?"
The bartender coughed like he was trying to suppress a sigh. "If I have the ingredients and you tell me what you want, I can make it."
"We'll see," Darcy said. "I'm still deciding. Bucky, what did you want?"
"Um. Water. Please."
The bartender's expression was blank as he poured another water for Bucky, then left them to attend to other, more decisive, patrons.
"Dehydrated after your bit of a day?" Darcy asked.
Bucky cringed internally. "It's...not that."
A small crease appeared between Darcy's eyes as something like concern entered her expression. He had the sudden urge to reassure her. He ignored it.
"What is it, then?"
"It's...well...I don't really..." He sighed. It wasn't that big of a deal, really, so Bucky had to give his mess of a brain full credit for making it one.
"Are you like Steve?" Darcy asked.
"With the super stuff. He doesn't drink really because the only stuff that gets him messed up is the super alcohol Thor smuggles him from Asgard." Darcy grinned and affected an accent. "This is not for mortal men, Darcy.”
Bucky grinned. "Your Thor impression is terrible."
"It's supposed to be, that’s the point!"
Bucky laughed, the bands of anxiety constricting his chest loosening. "No, it's not like that, really. I, uh. I don't...Um."
Why was this so hard? Darcy wouldn't think any less of him. Right? She'd been surprisingly good about everything so far. Why couldn't he just...
"I mean, I don't really drink much myself anymore. Well, okay, I’ll have like, one drink at the holidays or whatever. But on the regular, I avoid it." She shrugged. "Who has time for hangovers anymore anyway? Hard pass. You wake up in a dumpster one time and you’re pretty much set for life."
"I do not miss hangovers," Bucky agreed.
“Besides, the fact that most of our culture is centered around alcohol is completely bogus when you think about it.” Darcy leaned in close, and whispered conspiratorially. “I kinda like being a rebel."
Bucky nodded. “You’re a rebel.”
Darcy grinned at him. “Don’t tease, you know I’m right. Or you will. Soon, probably.”
Bucky nodded again. The bands around his chest loosened further. Bucky seized the moment's reprieve and said what was on his mind. "They changed my meds recently. I'm not supposed to drink."
"Sucks," Darcy said. "Lucky for us, the world of the mocktail is vast and growing in popularity." She gave him a challenging look. "Do you trust me?"
Bucky blinked, stunned at Darcy’s lack of reaction to his admission. Then again, maybe she always seemed so comfortable around him because she already assumed he was medicated.
Or maybe things like that weren’t as unusual here in the future and Bucky really needed to stop thinking the worst of Darcy.
"Sure," Bucky said, finally answering her question.
Darcy's grin turned downright dangerous as she motioned for the bartender's attention again. "One Miss Nightingale for me and a Jamaica Sparkler for my friend here."
The bartender's smile turned from polite to downright gleeful. "Finally. Someone orders something interesting."
Darcy cackled as the bartender turned away to make their drinks.
"Do I want to know what's even in a Jamaica Sparkler?" he asked.
Darcy waved him off. "You'll love it. Now, this is me, asking for a third time for you to tell me about your bit of a day. If I have to ask again, you're going to give me a complex."
Bucky felt a smile start to cross his face. "You really want to know?"
"Every last gory detail."
Darcy glanced at the address on her phone, then back up at the door in front of her. She'd been surprised to learn that Bucky lived in one of the stand-alone residences on base. When he first texted her his details, she’d almost accused him of kidding - until she saw the look on his face. She wasn't sure if she'd been expecting him to bunk in the main building or if maybe he'd shacked up with Steve or something, but she definitely wouldn't have guessed that the little white house with the blue roof and big driveway was his. It was a nice place and it warmed her heart to see him living somewhere like this - well taken care of and homey. It's the kind of place she could see herself in one day.
Not that she was thinking about any kind of scenario where she'd be living here with Bucky. Or anywhere with Bucky, for that matter. That wasn't a thing she was daydreaming about at all. She could see herself somewhere like this house.
That was all.
She shook the strange thought away and rang the doorbell before her thoughts ran away from her again. Intermission was only twenty minutes and she'd already burned five getting here. She wondered if she even had to really explain or if she could just yell "EBUG!" and he'd follow. He’d probably follow her.
Then again, EBUG kinda sounded like an Avenger-y type problem. Might be better to use her words and just ask the guy if he wanted to hang out. And if he didn’t, drag him along anyway. She was a good friend that way. Friends don’t let friends miss rare sport occurrences or wallow away alone in their beautiful houses that are probably too big for them to be living all alone.
Did Bucky have a cat? Should she get Bucky a cat?
Darcy strained to hear any movement inside the house, but she was met with silence. She gave it another few moments before ringing again, and restrained herself from repeatedly hitting the bell until it either broke or someone called the cops. If he didn't answer this time, she'd go back to finish the game alone, but...well, she just didn't want to. She eyed the fence around the back yard.
Bucky wouldn't set up anything too crazy in terms of security, right? They were still on base, after all. That fence wouldn't be that hard to climb and Bucky didn’t strike her as a dog person.
Darcy was saved from entertaining that thought any further by the door opening rather suddenly.
"Darcy?" Bucky asked, his voice laced with confusion and probably a bit of sleep. He was blinking quite a bit and his hair was...well, it was all over the place, to put it kindly.
Boy was adorable and he didn't even know it. Wasn’t that a punch to the gut.
She wondered just how much of her life she'd be taking into her hands if she told him that.
"Hey," she greeted instead. "Busy?"
"No," he said slowly, "not really. What's going on?"
"Well, I was watching the game and something...really kinda cool and rare happened. I thought maybe you'd want to watch with me."
Bucky's brow furrowed. "Game?"
"Yeah, ice hockey. You know, Ice Capades but with sticks and punching."
His smile was indulgent. "I know what ice hockey is, Darcy."
"Oh good then, I won't have to explain every play to you," Darcy teased back, then paused. “Do you know what the Ice Capades are?”
“Yes Darcy. They started in 1940, when some guy in Pittsburgh realized he could sell more hockey tickets by having someone figure skate between periods.”
Darcy lit up with the sheer glee of knowing that Bucky had such random knowledge knocking around his brain. That was going to be so useful at some point, even if only to simply entertain her. "You knowing that is my new favorite thing, Buckaroo. Come on, I've got a bunch of food and stuff set up in the common room."
"Oh you...you want to go...with me..."
She refrained from rolling her eyes at him, but just barely. Honestly, it was like he thought she was just humoring him or something. "Yes Bucky."
Bucky nodded, then blinked as though he suddenly remembered he should be doing more than just standing in the doorway, staring at her. He glanced down at himself. "I'm not dressed or anything, I-"
"It's nothing fancy, Buck. Come on, sweats are fine. Hell, sweats are encouraged. And we only have like eight minutes before play starts again, so get a move on."
Bucky faked a put upon sigh, but the smile Darcy caught him trying to hide as he turned to grab his keys and jacket gave him away. He slipped into his shoes, shrugged into his jacket, and followed her out, pausing only to lock the door behind him.
"So what's the 'really kinda cool and rare' thing that happened? They bring the Ice Capades back or something?" Bucky asked, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets as they walked back towards the main building.
Darcy lit up. "Oh my god, it was crazy. It's an EBUG situation!"
"What the hell is an EBUG?"
"EBUG!" Darcy yelled, thrusting a fist into the air.
"It sounds like something I need to go get a gun for."
Darcy cackled and looped her arm through Bucky's. His eyes went wide as she tucked herself into his side. "Emergency Back Up Goaltender. So each team has two goalies, right? And they're kinda an integral part of the game. So what happens if both of your goalies get injured?"
"EBUG?" Bucky guessed, raising an eyebrow at her.
"EBUG," Darcy confirmed. "So the deal is that there's always at least one in the building for every game, each team as a roster of them and they get free tickets on the off chance that they'd get called in to play. Well, tonight, it happened."
"It gets better. Since the use of an EBUG is so rare, it's kinda cost prohibitive for them to travel for away games. So that's the deal - you get to go to every game, but you might just end up playing for the other team."
"I KNOW!" Darcy said as she swiped them into the building. The common area she'd commandeered for the game was just inside, and she could still smell the lovely aroma of nachos and buffalo wings. She hoped Bucky was hungry - she'd gotten excited and went a little overboard on the snacks. If only she’d been able to charm that enchilada recipe out of Matilda. Soon. Soooooooon. "So tonight, both of the away team's goalies are injured and they have to use the home team's backup. This guy? He's a Zamboni driver for the local rink!"
"Oh man," Bucky said softly, as he took in the spread of food and the setup Darcy had going. She threw a pretty good impromptu party, if she did say so herself. Just missing the enchiladas.
"Better than what you had in mind for your Friday night, right?" Darcy asked, laughing at her own joke as she piled a plate high with nachos.
"Yeah." Bucky's voice was so soft and sincere, Darcy had to glance up at him. She caught a glimpse of a soft smile as he turned away to take his jacket off and she felt the breath catch in her throat.
What the hell was that about?
Darcy shook it off and added more cheese sauce to her plate.
"Help yourself to the food. I went a little overboard, so there's more than enough." She settled into a corner of the couch, tucking one leg under her and snuggling in. She unmuted the tv just as the puck dropped for the start of the second period. There was a smattering of sound behind her as Bucky filled a plate before joining her in the sitting area around the tv.
Well. TV was a bit of an understatement. The place could double as a movie theater. It might even be seen from space. Thank you, Tony Stark.
Bucky hesitated, glancing between the couch and the recliner in the corner. Darcy watched him from the corner of her eye, trying to patiently wait for him to decide. She didn’t want to push him. Despite her earlier bravado, she was aware that she had likely pushed him out of his comfort zone quite a bit already tonight. If he decided he was more comfortable in the recliner, that’s where he should be. She was his friend, not his drill sergeant.
It was funny. For all that she’d set out to be Bucky’s new best friend, he was rapidly becoming hers.
The amount of time he was just standing there, staring at his two seating options was getting a little out of hand though. He was just...there and it was kinda getting weird. Darcy decided it was time to tip the scales, just a little.
She glanced up at him and gave him a little smile. His lips twitched, which she decided to interpret as a smile and take the win. He slowly moved to sit next to her on the couch, glancing at her all the while, as though she were about to shoo him away or something.
In what she could only figure was her own impeccable timing biting her in the ass, her foot fell asleep. She shifted slightly, to move her foot out from under her. Bucky flinched and jolted straight back up, dropping a few of his nacho chips to the ground in the process.
“Party foul,” she said lightly. She reached down to pick up the chips - even the cleaning bots would struggle to get ground tortilla chip out of this carpet - and set them on the little coffee table in front of the couch. “You’re gonna give a girl a complex, Barnes. Pick a seat, would ya?”
Bucky slowly moved to sit back down on the couch next to her. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“They’re all excellent seating options, I can see why you’d have trouble deciding,” Darcy replied. “This game starts not going well and I’ll make you move anyway.”
Bucky took a deep breath and settled a little more into the couch. “Which one’s your team?”
“Neither. I caught this game by accident.”
At Bucky’s confused expression, Darcy shrugged. “I don’t really have a horse in the race, so...let’s go EBUG. That guy,” Darcy motioned at the tv with her plate, the nachos sliding precariously close to the edge, “has probably dreamed of playing professionally his entire life. And tonight, for one night only, he gets to. So yeah. I want him to make every single save, score a goal, get in a goalie fight, the works. Tomorrow he’s got to go back to the real world, where he’s got bills and kids and...I don’t know, a broken dishwasher to repair or a garage to clean out or something. Tonight? He’s a professional hockey player on the biggest stage in the world.”
Bucky stared at her as she spoke, an inscrutable expression on his face. Well, they were all inscrutable - his entire life was a good reason for it - but usually she could pick up something. She stuffed a giant nacho in her face to deflect from the scrutiny, but only ended up making her eyes water from one too many jalapenos in a single bite.
“Do you take in every stray that crosses your path?” Bucky asked, finally.
“There does seem to be a pattern forming, doesn’t there?” Darcy gasped as she reached for her water.
“A good one though,” Bucky reassured her. “We strays appreciate it, even if we can’t always show it.”
Darcy didn’t know how to reply to that, so she did what she always did when confronted with awkward feelings. She deflected. That way, everyone gets a chance to be uncomfortable.
“So what the hell was up with that scene in the hangar?” Darcy blurted out.
“You know. The day we met.”
“What about it?”
Darcy gave him a half-hearted glare. “I was there, you know. I saw how you waited until everyone else was gone before leaving the jet.”
“Maybe I had paperwork.” Bucky’s half smirk and almost teasing tone revealed him as a liar liar with his pants completely on fire.
Bucky’s smirk softened into something a bit more rueful. “Not buyin’ it, huh?”
“Not for a second.”
Bucky hummed in response and stuffed his face full of food. Good to know that they had similar coping mechanisms then.
Not that Darcy was keeping those kinds of notes.
They were just. Useful. Or something.
The game droned on in the background as Darcy waited him out. Finally, Bucky huffed, drawing her attention back to him.
“You might have noticed that most of the people around here aren’t all that keen on making a fuss about their injuries, right?”
“I had noticed that, yes.”
“No one likes medical. It’s a pain in the ass and most of the time, we all heal up just fine without anyone doing anything anyway, so it’s kind of a waste when it’s just bumps and bruises.”
“Bucky Barnes, you had been shot.”
“Just the once.”
“Don’t make me come over there.”
Bucky dipped his head, clearly attempting to hide his grin behind his hair, but Darcy caught it. Mission accomplished.
“Anyway,” Bucky continued, “I heal up faster than most, so I usually try to handle it myself without making too much fuss.”
“You’re injured,” Darcy argued. “It’s not a fuss.”
“Have you met Steve?”
“Have you?” Darcy shot back. “You really think he’d be okay with it, knowing that you’re hiding injuries just to avoid him hassling you? Forget the fact that that’s friendship for you, you really think he’d be okay with it as your captain?” Darcy paused, not wanting to come down too hard on him about this, but not entirely willing to drop it either. “It is literally his job to fuss over you,” she continued, softening her tone. “And as your friend, it’s also his privilege.”
Bucky stared at her for a moment, then conceded. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good. Beyond the team though - what in the fresh hell was going on with that volunteer in medical? The way she scurried off like that, one wonders if she’s actually not cut out for the medical profession.”
“Nah, I’m sure she’s fine. That’s the reaction I usually get.”
Darcy froze. “I’m sorry. What?”
Bucky shrugged. “That’s the reaction I usually get from everyone around here. Everyone until you.”
Darcy stared at him, unsure of what to say. Her first reaction was to laugh - surely he was kidding or fluffing her ego or something. But the more she thought back to that day and then thought about the days since then, the more she realized he was right.
“Well,” she said, slowly, “I am awesome.” Her declaration didn’t have it’s usual fire behind it though, and Bucky picked up on it.
“You are,” he agreed.
“So are you,” she said, gaining vehemence with each word. “Shame on them for not seeing it. May all their bacon burn.”
“That’s quite the curse,” Bucky remarked, a small smile appearing.
“Thank you. Don’t cross me, I go for the throat, every time.”
“I’m beginning to see that.”
“Oh sweet, I didn’t miss all of the game!” Darcy turned to see Clint Barton in the hall, hovering in the doorway. He took a few steps in, his eyes fixed on the giant screen. “Who’s in net?”
“EBUG,” Darcy and Bucky replied in unison, then grinned at each other.
“What? No way!” Clint took another step in, then glanced around, his eyes taking in the scene. “You guys, uh. You mind if I join you?”
Darcy looked at Bucky, who shrugged. “Fill up a plate and grab a seat, Barton.”
Clint grinned and bounded to the food. “Oh wings yes. Hey you think we could order a pizza too?”
Darcy laughed. “And here I thought I made too much food.”
Bucky grinned and bumped Darcy’s shoulder lightly. “Sure Barton. We’ll get a pizza.”
“And breadsticks,” Darcy chimed in.
“And breadsticks,” Bucky agreed.
Clint settled down on the floor in front of the recliner. “This is great.”
“Don’t get too comfy. Things don’t go well, Darcy reserves the right to make you move,” Bucky said.
“Well, yeah. Of course,” Clint agreed.
“Is this my superpower?” Darcy whispered to herself.
“I think you’ve got lots of superpowers,” Bucky whispered back.
Bucky slid the plate of enchiladas onto his tray and nodded to the person behind the counter, trying his best to give them more of a smile than a grimace. They stared at him for a moment, blinked, then moved to the next person in line.
Bucky sighed. It was something at least. He knew how he could be at the end of a long day, so he didn’t blame them for being tired. He also knew first hand how exhausting boredom could be. The mess wasn't nearly so busy today, with most of the lab staff away. Apparently, there was some big cosmic event that had Jane Foster and every other science-inclined person all aflutter.
Which was why he would be braving lunch alone, once again, for the first time in weeks. He probably shouldn’t miss Darcy quite so much - it wasn’t like she had left the facility forever and he’d just talked to her last night. The signal was garbage, wherever she was, so it was audio only, but it was better than nothing. He shuddered to think how he might have felt if this had been way back when and he would have to wait to hear his name at mail call to hear from her.
Best not to go down that path, actually. No good would come of thoughts like that.
He grabbed his milk and his cutlery, then turned to face the mess. Plenty of open tables today, including the one that maybe could be considered his usual. It was strange, having a habit form like that. Patterns were dangerous. Patterns got people killed. And yet there was something comforting in it, having a spot that was familiar to him. He looked around, fighting with himself.
Should he follow his instincts and break his pattern, choosing somewhere else to sit? Or should he aim for the comfort of familiarity? He'd picked that table purposely all those weeks ago, as it had the best sight lines and the most advantageous arrangement of walls at his back, so breaking his pattern would mean exposing himself in other ways.
And. Well. That was his and Darcy's regular lunch table these days. Even if she wouldn't be there in person today, it would still be nice to pretend that he was just waiting for her.
Who was he kidding. He was going to sit at that same damn table and no one was talking him out of it.
He headed for the table, noting the two intelligence analysts sitting at the far end. He nodded at them. They stared at him for a moment, before returning to their meals without further acknowledgement. He suppressed a sigh as he slid into his usual seat and contemplated his tray.
Darcy was going to be so annoyed she missed enchilada day. All of her plans to obtain Matilda's secret ingredient failed thus far, including sending him of all people in to attempt to charm the secret out of her. Needless to say, it had been a spectacular failure.
Darcy wasn’t deterred however. Now, she was simply changing tactics and attempting to discern the ingredient or method for herself. She'd been experimenting at least once per week, and usually force feeding him the results - not that he'd put up much of a fight. Darcy was an excellent cook and ever better company. Even if she hadn't quite nailed the secret ingredient yet.
Bucky had his suspicions that Matilda was just magic and that it had more to do with Matilda just being Matilda than anything else. Just like he would never be able to replicate his own mother's prune pudding, no matter that he knew the ingredients, recipe, and method she'd used. But he wasn't about to attempt to dissuade Darcy. It was another habit of theirs that he looked forward to.
One that he wasn't going to be able to indulge for awhile, not until this cosmic event was over and everyone was back on base. And maybe not even then. Darcy had warned him that they were likely to have mountains of data to parse through and keeping Jane functioning was going to be more than a full time job for a while.
He just looked forward to seeing her, that was all. If she were on base, he could at least swing through the lab and say hi. Or wave from the door, if they were busy. The audio was nice, an improvement over email or letters or no contact at all. But it wasn’t quite the same.
And it wasn’t just Darcy, really. Having so many of their colleagues away at one time made Bucky's skin itch. He preferred to have everyone under one roof, where he could help protect them. Spread out over the globe like this, while he was stuck here on standby, just didn't sit well. But it wasn't like his skill set was needed anywhere until the shooting started, so there wasn't much he could do about it besides wait.
At least Steve and Sam were around. Sometimes. Today, they had some sort of training exercise with the newest recruits, which Bucky had happily begged off from. Best let the new kids get acclimatized to the Avenger life before traumatizing them with his own presence.
Bucky blinked a few times, realizing that while he was zoning out and bemoaning his own loneliness, his enchiladas were getting cold. Darcy would have his head if she knew.
He sighed. He used to be better at being alone.
"Yo Barnes!" Clint greeted, sliding into the seat across from him. "Did Darcy figure out this secret ingredient yet or what?" He already had a mouthful of enchilada and was talking around it. Bucky raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't bother to comment on Clint's manners. That was a losing battle on the best of days.
"Sit your ass down, Bob," Clint ordered, giving what he probably thought was a stern look to the former HYDRA agent. Bob chuckled nervously, then took the seat to Bucky's right.
"Hi," Bob squeaked.
"Hi," Bucky replied, then glanced at the other man's tray. "No enchiladas for you?"
Bob's shoulders slumped. "Gives me heartburn," he mumbled. "I stick to the mac and cheese. I put a note in the suggestion box that maybe we could try a not spicy version sometime. But the next day Matilda pulled me out of line and threatened to make stew out of my nether regions."
"Well that doesn't sound very appetizing," Bucky replied, dryly. “And I grew up in the depression.”
"Can't imagine anyone would pick that stew from the line," Clint agreed. "They’d run out of Option B meals before the end of the first lunch shift."
"That is a true story," Bob said, his voice still a little despondent.
Bucky looked at Clint. Clint looked at Bucky, then shrugged.
Okay then. So it was on Bucky to cheer Bob up. That was. Fine.
He cleared his throat. "Maybe um..." Bob looked at him, still despondent and Bucky racked his brain for anything that might help. Or a way out of this conversation. Something.
"Maybe when Darcy figures out the secret ingredient, she can figure out a not spicy version for us." Bucky shrugged. "Could be good."
Clint perked up. "Yeah. If the flavor is there, the heat is only secondary."
"Yep," Bucky replied. Silence settled between the three of them. It wasn't entirely comfortable, but Bob wasn't trying to melt into his chair anymore, so Bucky figured he'd done his part.
"Hello boys," Natasha's smooth voice broke the silence as she slid into the seat next to Clint. "How are we today?"
"You sit with us, you're going to ruin your rep," Clint warned. At least that's what Bucky assumed he said - Clint really did have a bad habit of talking with his mouth full.
Natasha looked amused. "And what rep might that be?"
"That you're scary," Bob muttered, then looked like he was trying to will himself invisibility powers as Natasha turned her gaze on him.
Her amused look grew into what Bucky might almost call a delighted grin. For her, anyway.
"Seems to be a lot of that going around," she said, cryptically. Bucky wasn't entirely sure he wanted to decipher that - particularly since Natasha glanced at him meaningfully as she spoke.
Clint snorted, but didn't say anything else. He just shoveled the last of his enchilada into his mouth, then started chugging the sport drink he'd had on his tray.
"Pretty quiet around here today," Natasha remarked.
"Small talk? Really?" Bucky said.
Natasha grinned. "Won't be quiet for long though," she said, instead of acknowledging Bucky's remark. "Word is, Foster and company are due back tomorrow."
Bucky froze, stopping himself from reacting further, but only just. Natasha just smirked at him in response.
"Did anyone bother to fix that hole in their kitchenette ceiling while they were gone?" Clint asked.
"There's a hole in the lab kitchenette ceiling?" Bucky replied. He hadn't known about that. Dammit. He should have known about that. How did he not know about that?
He knew nothing about fixing a hole in a ceiling but that's what the internet was for.
He briefly patted himself on the back for such an era appropriate response, before returning his attention to the conversation at hand.
"How is there a hole in the lab kitchenette ceiling?" Natasha asked, simultaneously glaring at both Clint and Bob. He'd ask how she did that, but he had the vague notion that he might have actually been the one to teach it to her. That was yet another rabbit hole no one needed to go down. He had a lot of those.
Clint shrugged, seemingly unaffected by Natasha's glare. "Don't look at me. We weren't even on this continent."
"Chem 5 had an accident," Bob said, pushing the remains of macaroni around on his plate.
"In the kitchen?"
"Something about making activated charcoal ice cream," Bob shrugged.
Everyone stared at Bob in disbelief until he threw up his hands in surrender.
"I didn't ask them to do it! I was just there to evaluate the damage after the fact!"
"Who would even want activated charcoal ice cream? Why is that something someone wrote up a recipe for?" Bucky asked.
Clint shrugged. "Doesn't sound too bad to me."
Natasha rolled her eyes. "You'll eat anything."
All four of their watches beeped simultaneously. Bucky glanced down at his to see the message.
"Looks like Foster and team are back earlier than expected," Natasha remarked.
"Sweet," Clint said. "It was getting boring around here. You think she'll blow anything else up in the kitchen anytime soon?"
"Doctor Foster didn't blow up the kitchen in the first place," Bob replied.
"You know," Natasha said, her eyes boring straight into Bucky's, "Foster took quite a bit of heavy equipment with her. A lot of it was pretty delicate. I'm sure she'd appreciate some help."
"Robots," Clint replied. Bucky wasn't sure if he was arguing that the robots could do the heavy lifting or that Jane had taken robots with her that would now need unloading. But still. Robots. That was always cool.
The fact that Darcy would likely be around had nothing to do with his interest. Nothing at all.
"Robots," Bucky replied. "Guess lunch is over then."
"We should do this again next week though. I need to know that Darcy is still working hard on figuring out that recipe," Clint said, pushing back his chair and gathering up his tray.
“She will be - all attempts at getting the recipe from Matilda have failed, so Darcy’s been spending all of her spare time recipe testing,” Bucky said.
"Bucky will make sure she gets out for lunch," Natasha said. "Won't you, Bucky?"
Bucky refrained from rolling his eyes. Natasha was far less subtle than people thought she was.
Or maybe he just needed bludgeoned over the head sometimes. It was a toss up.
"I'll do my best."
The four of them strode into the hangar, watching the controlled chaos of unloading unfold around them. Bucky scanned the hangar, looking for robots. And Darcy. But mostly robots.
He spotted Jane pretty quickly, as she was at the center of the chaos, mostly getting in the way and yelling at the robots to be careful. He kept looking and then - bingo. Darcy was just at the end of the jet ramp, actually directing where everything needed to go and marking things off on her tablet as they went.
She finished directing the last robot in the line, then glanced up and waved at him.
“Bucky!” she yelled. “Get over here and hug me you dork! Stop being creepy over there. That’s Barton’s job.”
“I see better from a distance!” Clint yelled back, then joined Natasha and Bob in helping Jane wrangle the few wayward robots that had gotten knocked off course by Jane’s “helping.”
Bucky smiled at their antics, then went to join Darcy, who launched herself at him, wrapping him up in an enormous hug.
“Hey boo. Missed your face,” Darcy teased with a grin as she stepped back from the hug.
“You are a sight for sore eyes, that’s for sure, Darce,” Bucky said.
Darcy flushed. “I was actually talking to DUM-E, right behind you.”
Bucky spun around and saw the robot raise its mechanical arm up and down, like it was nodding.
Darcy laughed. “It’s a joke, I’m joking. Of course I missed you.”
Bucky turned back to face her. “You were gone?” he said, attempting a joke.
Darcy’s eyes lit up in indignation for a brief moment. “That would have been more effective before you told me I was a sight for sore eyes.”
“Bah. Next time.”
“Ugh, if I have anything to say about it, there won’t be a next time. These long trips are the worst.”
Bucky hid the smile that formed at that. “Well, it’s enchilada day. Want to tell me all about it over lunch?”
“Yes,” Darcy said immediately. “But who will look after the robots?”
Bucky glanced over. “Hey Bob!”
Bob spun around and snapped to attention. “Yes?” There was only a slight tremor in the man’s voice.
“You’re on robot duty.” He held an arm out to Darcy. “Shall we?”
Darcy grinned at him, as she looped her arm through his. “We shall.”
Darcy sorted through the stack of papers on the desk, vowing to put them in order once she found the box of Pop Tarts she’d stashed somewhere around here. She’d learned long ago to hide snacks all over, as one could never really tell when and where Jane was going to get struck by a spark of inspiration. It was best to be prepared to settle in for the long haul at all times. It was why she constantly carried three different types of granola bar in her purse - well that, and those had come in super handy that time she and Jane had been kidnapped. One never knows what one’s kidnapper might put in the dinner service.
Not that Jane would be sparking anything or they were in danger of yet another kidnapping anytime soon. No, Jane had crashed about four hours ago and was currently sleeping off her latest science bender on the couch in Darcy’s office. In another hour or so, Darcy would wake her up and shoo her off to her own residence so that Darcy herself could go home, but for now, Darcy would finish cleaning up and getting everything set for the next round of sciencing.
After a snack, of course. If only she could find the damn Pop Tarts.
“I swear on Loki’s sneaky exploits, if Thor even showed up and took them again, I’m going to tase his ass back to Asgard once and for all,” Darcy muttered. “If he’s going to eat all the Pop Tarts, he can pay for all the Pop Tarts.
“Hey,” a soft voice came from the doorway, interrupting her rant.
Darcy looked up and found her outlook brightening. “Hey yourself.”
Bucky stepped inside and held a takeaway coffee cup out to her. “Thought you might need a pick me up.”
Darcy made grabby hands at him. “You are a god amongst men, Buckaroo.” Her eyes fluttered closed as she took a long sip. And he even remembered her coffee order. Damn, he was perfect. She opened her eyes with a smile. “Thanks.”
Bucky shrugged off her praise. “Is Jane still working? It’s been days.”
Darcy shook her head with a fond smile. “She’s sleeping it off in my office for now. I’ll probably go get her in a little bit, force her to get real sleep in a real bed, rather than just napping on the office couch for a while.”
“Anything I can do?”
“Nah, I’ll just be sorting paperwork until it’s time to get my genius home.”
Bucky nodded. “Will you be going home too then?”
“Probably. Although….ugh. I need groceries. I don’t even think I have milk.” Darcy scrubbed her face with her hand, dislodging her glasses and almost pulling them off her face. She quickly readjusted them, moving them back into position. When she opened her eyes again, Bucky was giving her an indecipherable look.
“What?” she asked warily.
“Give me your list,” Bucky said.
“What?” she asked again, less warily, more confused. Bucky hated the store.
“Give me your list,” Bucky repeated, patiently. “I’ll get your stuff while you finish up, then you can just go home when you’re done and get your well-earned rest. Or whatever you were planning to do when you got home.”
Darcy blinked at him.
“Okay.” Darcy was too tired to argue and honestly, too relieved to think too much about it. She’d muster the energy to feel guilty later. She dug her phone out of her pocket and opened her notes app, skimming the list to make sure there wasn’t anything else she needed, then copied the list into her messages app to send to Bucky.
She paused, her thumb hovering over the send button. “You’re sure about this?”
She pressed the button. “Okay. Oh shoot, let me give you my keys.”
Bucky laughed. “I was just planning on taking advantage of that broken window latch in the back that I haven’t gotten around to fixing, but okay.”
“I’ll get it fixed!” Darcy exclaimed, not really wanting to have this argument again. Bucky fixed her with a look and Darcy kept talking. “One of these days. When I’m home.”
The look didn’t fade. If anything, it got stronger. How did he do that? She wanted to do that!
“Honest!” she protested again.
“Whatever you say, Darcy.”
Darcy handed over her keys so Bucky wouldn’t go breaking and entering into her house. Knowing him he might do it just for the fun of it anyway, but at least she could say she’d done her part to prevent it.
“You’re not gloating at that or wondering if this is your superpower,” Bucky noted. “You must be really tired.”
Darcy sagged a little at the reminder. “I really, really am.”
“I’ll get out of your hair then.” Bucky gave her one last, small smile, then turned to leave.
“Hey - we still on for a movie tonight?” Darcy asked, just as he reached the door.
He turned back, a slightly startled expression on his face. “I thought you were tired?”
“I’m never too tired to hang out with you. And I’ll maintain that, even if I fall asleep on you tonight.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, but his smile was fond. “I’ll bring pizza.”
“Do not forget breadsticks.”
“Yes ma’am. See you then, Darce.”
“Byeeeeee,” Darcy sing-songed as Bucky left. She smiled a little to herself as she took another sip of the glorious dark roast he brought, then went back to shuffling through the mess of papers on her desk.
“That was thoughtful,” Jane said, her voice scratchy with sleep. She stumbled in through the door Bucky had just exited, a blanket hanging off one shoulder and just barely brushing the floor. She moved to stand in front of Darcy, blinking, almost as though she wasn’t entirely sure where she was or why she would be there.
Darcy grinned at her friend and held out the cup. “And because I’m thoughtful, you can have a sip.” She pointed at Jane, narrowing her eyes. “A sip, don’t get greedy.”
Jane rolled her eyes, but accepted the cup and took a small sip, as instructed. “Oh damn, that’s perfect.” She stole another sip with a sly grin, then gave the cup back.
“Bucky’s good people like that.”
“Bucky’s been around a lot,” Jane commented, not nearly as casually as she probably thought. Darcy would blame it on the sleep deprivation, but Jane wasn’t subtle at the best of times.
“Really. Hadn’t noticed.” If a tone could be paper, Darcy’s would be the super old and dry kind that crumbled when touched.
Shit. Maybe Darcy needed sleep. She took another sip of coffee.
Jane shrugged, ignoring Darcy’s tone. “I’m just saying. He’s around a lot.”
Darcy narrowed her eyes at her. “Is that a problem?” she asked slowly. She didn’t want to fight Jane on this, but she really did not know what she would do if Jane said Bucky was a problem.
“Not at all. I like him. He’s not what I would have expected.”
“That might be what I like the most,” Darcy agreed. “The juxtaposition of this dangerous exterior and shady past with a shy smile and a personality that suggests he’s really a puppy. Bucky Barnes might actually be the human embodiment of sunshine.”
Jane blinked at her, her face scrunching up in sleepy confusion. “I might be too sleep deprived to understand that statement.”
“I might be too sleep deprived to have made it,” Darcy conceded, before taking the last sip of her coffee and tossing the cup into the bin. She stared at it for a moment, then reached down to dig it back out of the bin, because it was paper and if she rinsed it out, she could put it with the recycling.
Or she would forget and it would sit on her desk for a week. It could go either way, really.
“So Bucky’s around a lot,” Jane said again.
Darcy laughed and made to get up from her chair. “Yes. We’ve established this. We need to go to bed, this is getting ridiculous.”
Jane smiled, but didn’t move. “I guess I’m just...What I mean to say is...Well, I like him.”
Darcy gave Jane a patient, indulgent smile and patted her arm, encouraging her to get moving towards the door. She grabbed her bag and shrugged into her jacket, before pulling the lab door closed behind them and locking it. “I know. You said. I do too.”
“That’s my point!” Jane exclaimed. “That’s exactly my point.”
“O...kay?” Darcy wasn’t understanding what Jane was trying to get at. This was probably a conversation that was better left for another day, if it was a conversation that needed to be had at all. Jane liked Bucky. Fabulous. Darcy preferred when her friends got along and Bucky certainly needed more people in his corner. And Jane, well.
Jane liked Bucky.
Something like a lead weight made of acid dropped into Darcy’s stomach. Or something equally uncomfortable that made any sense. Darcy cleared her throat and tried for an encouraging smile.
Jane was awesome and her platonic soul mate and Darcy would go to the ends of the earth and beyond for her. Bucky was also awesome and one of her very best friends and there was little she wouldn’t do for him. If they wanted to...like each other.
That was fine.
It was fine.
Jane continued, babbling rapidly. “Bucky’s great to have around and I like having him around and-”
“-I really just want to know, you know? Check in with you.”
The lead weight made of acid was now on fire for some reason. Maybe Darcy should talk to someone about that.
“Uh, Jane. I’m not...I don’t know what you want me to say, really,” Darcy hedged. “Do you… I mean - you don’t need my permission or anything.”
Jane scrunched up her face again. “Permission? No, I don’t…” her voice trailed off and she shook her head and pulled them to a stop so she could look Darcy in the eye.
“Darcy. Bucky’s great. I like him.”
“Okay. Fine. You don’t have to keep saying it, I get it,” Darcy muttered.
Jane ignored her. “But what I want to know is - do I need to warn you about guarding your heart? Because sometimes things with these guys with the weird backstories have a way of going sideways on you quick. I don’t want to see you get hurt the way I did.” Jane shrugged a little with a grin. “Let’s be honest, there’s no way I’d do nearly as good of a job keeping you together as you did me.”
“On the other hand,” Jane continued, “maybe that’s not what’s going on here at all. Maybe everything is copacetic and mutual. In that case, do I need to prep my shovel talk for Sergeant Barnes?”
“I - I don’t even know how to answer that,” Darcy stammered.
Jane gave her an odd look, then her eyes widened in realization. “Oh. You’re not there yet. Shit.”
“I’m not - what?” Did Bucky drug her coffee? Bucky had to have drugged her coffee.
What was her life that that was the preferable option.
“Okay.” Jane sighed. “Maybe it’s just me seeing things. But I thought maybe there was something more between you two.”
“Something more.” Darcy’s brain finally got with the program and it all fell into place. Jane wasn’t saying that she was interested in Bucky. Jane was saying that as Darcy’s friend, she approved of Bucky - for Darcy.
And that was. A. Thought.
Oh boy was that A. Thought.
The capital letters and punctuation were essential, because that was definitely A. Thought. and Darcy did not have the capacity for A. Thought. right now.
They really needed to get on a regular sleeping schedule. This was absurd.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it,” Darcy admitted. But that wasn’t entirely true was it? “Consciously,” she added, making her only slightly less of a liar, because all the times she’d kinda thought about it without realizing she’d been thinking about it were lining up and screaming that A. Thought. had definitely been A. Thing. on her mind for quite a while now.
Jane bit her lip, looking uneasy. “And now that I’ve brought it up?”
Darcy looked at her helplessly. “I don’t know.”
"Bucky get down!"
Bucky blinked the memory away and came back to himself. The mission had been rough and he was exhausted, but everyone had made it through relatively unscathed for once. He looked up at Steve, who was looking at him with a curious mix of concern and the Eyebrows of Disappointment.
"Yeah," he said, looking away from Steve.
Steve sat down next to him warily. "What happened out there?"
"It was a firefight, Steve, what do you think happened?"
Steve paused. It wasn't so much a hesitation - Steve didn't hesitate, not with him - but it was a definite moment of gathering thought. Clearly, Steve was choosing his words carefully.
"You left your position."
Bucky rolled his eyes. "My position was on fire, Steve. What would you like me to do?"
"Fair. Still, when they spotted you, I -" Steve stopped and shook his head. "Maybe we need to run a few more scenarios. Make sure everyone is on the same page, if something like that happens again."
"Well it's not the worst idea you've ever had. We can do that. If it’ll make you feel better."
Steve leaned back and stared at the wall of the jet, mimicking Bucky's posture. Bucky wondered if they were starting at the same spot.
"No, I'm sure you have a few opinions as to what my worst idea might be though."
Bucky grinned. "A few," he agreed.
"Landing in 10, boys," Natasha's voice came from the cockpit.
Steve groaned with relief. "Thank god. I need a shower."
"Yeah you do," Bucky teased.
"Har har," Steve grumbled.
Bucky gathered up his gear as the jet whined down. When they got the all clear and the ramp descended, Bucky hung back for a moment to let the group go ahead of him. He looked around the empty jet, noting anything out of place or anything that needed replaced. When he was satisfied that it was in as good a condition as it could be immediately post-mission, Bucky limped down the ramp, his hip twinging from the awkward landing he'd made as he'd jumped from his position earlier.
That serum could hurry up and heal him up any minute now, thanks.
He dropped his spent gear in the bin and limped straight past medical toward the locker room. There was a voice in his head that was yelling at him to go get his hip checked. That voice suspiciously sounded like Darcy.
He smiled a little at the thought of Darcy being his conscience. He could definitely do worse in that department.
He cleaned up quickly, washing the last of the mission crud down the drain and changing into soft sweats before checking the time. He still had 10 minutes before he was supposed to meet Darcy. She had some movie or something planned and she'd promised there would be food. They’d been rushed on the way out, the alarm blaring as Doombots rampaged through Vancouver, so he hadn’t quite caught the exact plan she’d shouted at him as he ran for the door. But if it was Darcy, he was in.
He made his way through the facility as quickly as he could manage, his hip protesting every step. It took a little longer to make it to the common area that he and Darcy frequented, but he finally made it.
And it was empty.
He glanced around, but Darcy was nowhere to be found.
"Oh hey, Buck," Steve said, as he wandered into the common area. "What are you doing down here? I figured you'd be headed straight home."
Bucky opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a voice at the door.
"Oh hey! I'm so sorry! I wanted to catch you before you got down here, but my phone battery is dead. Janey's in the middle of an absolute rager of a theory and I'm stuck. Can we raincheck?" Darcy was talking a mile a minute, her eyes wide and her hair up in a messy bun with six pens and a screwdriver stuck in it. Her glasses were askew and her clothes rumpled and she was the best thing he'd seen all day.
And then he registered what she'd said. He tried not to let the disappointment show on his face.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, no problem. Go change the world."
Darcy grinned. "Not enough caffeine for that. Probably only enough to keep Jane from ripping the universe in half."
"Well, that works too," Bucky said.
Darcy opened her arms. "Welcome back hugs!"
Bucky ignored Steve's gaping stare as he went to her, trying his best to hide his limp.
Darcy's grin faded as he approached. "You're limping! What happened? Did you get shot again? If you even got shot again and didn't go to medical, I swear on my mother's red sauce recipe I will end you, Barnes."
Bucky sighed. "I did not get shot again."
Darcy narrowed her eyes at him, then looked at Steve. "Is he lying?"
Steve's eyes went wide, in a comical "who me?" expression. "Uh....no, he wasn't shot."
Darcy turned her glare back to Bucky. "Is he lying?"
Bucky chuckled. "No, killer. No one got shot this time. I fell, it's fine."
Her eyes narrowed further. "Fell from where?"
Bucky gulped. She wasn't going to like the answer.
"From the roof of a three story building," Steve supplied helpfully.
Bucky glared at Steve while Darcy exploded.
"JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES! GET YOUR ASS TO MEDICAL!"
"Darcy, I'm fine. It's a bruise. It's already healing."
Darcy looked like she wanted to argue, but was distracted by Bucky's phone beeping incessantly. He pulled it out of his pocket and read the message.
"Jane says she needs you and to bring a fire extinguisher."
Darcy let her head fall back with a groan. "Ugggh fine." She straightened back up and pointed at Bucky. "If that hip isn't better by morning, I’m dragging your ass to medical."
She squeezed his hand. "I'll see you later. Bye Steve!" Then she swept out of the room as quickly as she'd arrived.
As soon as she was out of sight, Steve chuckled. "So that was something."
Bucky rolled his eyes. "Darcy's over-protective."
"I got that impression." Steve grinned as she leaned back against the counter. "I don't actually think I'd even met her before. Officially."
"No, you have. Officially. The day she arrived, actually. You just hadn't met her casually yet."
"Ah, that must be it. So I take it your plans for the evening have just been cancelled?"
"Yep. Damn, I gotta find something to eat. I'm starving."
Steve motioned to the door. "Come on, let's grab something at the mess. They should still have something from the late dinner shift."
"Ugh. Late dinner shift is the worst," Bucky grumbled.
"Fair point," Steve conceded. "The sandwich place on 4 is open late?"
"Yeah, that sounds good."
They headed for the elevator, their progress slowed by Bucky's hip.
"Maybe you should get that looked at," Steve commented as they entered the elevator.
Bucky groaned. "Not you too."
The elevator dinged on the 2nd floor, the doors sliding open. A tech glanced at them, went wide eyed, and backed away, mumbling something about waiting for someone. The doors slid closed again.
Bucky tried not to shift uncomfortably. The tech hadn't been familiar, maybe they just weren't used to seeing Captain America randomly in the hallways.
Steve glanced at Bucky, but didn't say anything. The elevator continued its ascent, bringing them to the 4th floor, the doors opening to the sandwich place. It was blissfully empty, only a few tables occupied with people working late or winding down from a long day.
"Hiya Cap! What can I get you?" chirped the perky assistant behind the counter.
Steve looked up at the board. "Not sure yet. Buck, you go ahead."
Bucky cleared his throat and offered the assistant a tentative smile.
Her own smile faded instantly and her posture stiffened.
Bucky suppressed a sigh. "May I have a number one, please?"
The assistant hurried away to make his order without a word. Bucky moved down to the pickup area, ignoring the feeling of Steve's stare crawling its way up his neck. The assistant tossed the bag with his sandwich on the counter as though it had burned her.
Well, it was a hot sandwich. Maybe it had.
He took the bag and left, moving away from the counter to claim a table, slumping into the seat and dumping his bag on the table. A few minutes later, Steve joined him. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Steve sighed and pushed his food away.
"Okay,” he said. "I gotta ask."
"Do you?" Bucky replied, petulantly.
Steve ignored him. "Has it always been like this for you?"
Bucky didn't reply, just pushed his own food away as well. The sandwich tasted like ash anyway.
"It's not that - I mean, I think I noticed before," Steve continued. "But you never said anything."
"What would I say, Steve?" Bucky bit out. "The other kids at school are mean to me?"
"No that's not -" Steve stopped himself and sighed. "I just - I guess I just assumed that you were encouraging it. That you wanted things that way. That if you didn't, if you were unhappy, you would say something."
"Again - what would I have said? Better yet - what would you have done? Come on, Steve, what would you do? Order people to be friendly?"
"Maybe," Steve muttered.
Bucky chuckled, bitterly. "People have their reasons. It's fine." Steve glared at him like he wanted to argue, but Bucky just glared back. Finally, Steve relented and looked away, before looking back and meeting Bucky's eyes.
"I'm sorry for not noticing sooner. I should have. Even if I couldn't fix it or even do anything really."
Bucky waved the apology away. "It's fine, Steve."
"It's not," Steve argued. "I should have noticed and I didn't. I'm sorry."
Bucky nodded his acceptance, but a question nagged at Bucky. He let a few more moments of silence pass, then asked what was on his mind.
"What made you finally notice?"
Steve looked at Bucky, unsure. "Darcy," he said quietly.
That was probably the last answer Bucky would have expected. "Darcy?"
"Yeah. The way she is with you. The way you are with her. Made me realize that I hadn't seen that Bucky with anyone besides me in a long time."
Bucky shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. "Yeah well. Darcy's...Darcy. She's good people. Special."
"I can see that," Steve agreed. "I don't know her that well, but. She seems like a good person to have on your side."
"I should get to know her," Steve said, in a tone of voice that warned Steve had a new mission in his sights. Bucky hated that tone.
"You vetting my friends now?" Bucky asked, trying for laughter, but coming off more bitter than anything else.
Steve didn't take the bait. "No, of course not. But if she's important to you and you say she's a good person to have in your corner, well. We could all use more people like that, right?"
"Yeah sure. But it's not that big a deal, Steve. The way you're acting, you'd think I'd never had friends before. And pal, I don't really want to think about what that says about me and you."
"We're soulmates, Tony said so," Steve joked.
Bucky rolled his eyes, but couldn't quite stop the smile.
Steve laughed, then grew serious. "Buck. Be honest. Is that all this is?"
"Is what all this is?" Bucky asked, purposefully obtuse. “Me and you bein’ soulmates?”
Steve ignored him. "Darcy. Is she really just a friend?"
Bucky started picking at his sandwich wrapper, making a tiny pile of itty bitty confetti as he avoided answering.
Because that was the real question, wasn't it. Did he think of her as more than a friend?
Sure, she was one of his best and closest friends. But did his feelings run deeper than that?
But the probability of Darcy ever returning those feelings was less than zero and he would rather go back into cryofreeze than do anything to jeopardize their friendship.
So he lied.
"Yes. Darcy is just a friend."
“A ten minute coffee break will hurt no one, Janey.”
“But nothing!” Darcy pulled a semi-unwilling Jane down the hallway and into the kitchenette, dreaming of sweet, sweet caffeine. Nothing was going to get between her and her coffee and she was absolutely not going back into that lab without it.
She turned the corner and stopped short at the sight in front of her, so suddenly Jane bumped into her back.
Bucky Barnes was standing on the counter, spackling the joints of the new ceiling, fixing the hole Chem 5 had made with their stupid ice cream experiment.
“Do we drill now?” Bob asked, holding up a power drill so Bucky could reach it.
“Pretty sure we wait for this to dry, then we can come back and sand it,” Bucky said gently. “That’s what the internet told me anyway. If you know something different, I’m open to suggestions.” He reached up to take one more swipe at the spackle with the towel, evening it out, causing his shirt to ride up a little in the process and Darcy felt her heart rate spike.
Jane jabbed Darcy in the ribs repeatedly.
“What?” Darcy hissed quietly, so the boys couldn’t hear her as she slapped Jane’s hands away. Jane only waggled her eyebrows in response. “Stop it.”
“Oh...no, no, I was just checking that you knew that,” Bob replied, quickly lowering the drill, his face flushing.
Bucky grinned down at him. “Thanks, Bob.”
“What’s all this?” Jane asked, hooking her chin over Darcy’s shoulder, her voice loud enough to carry to the two men.
Bucky and Bob turned to them in surprise.
Bob started stammering. “Oh! Doctor Foster! Darcy! Well, um-”
“Just fixing your ceiling,” Bucky interrupted. “Couldn’t have your kitchenette in disrepair for that long.”
“It’s been like...3 months,” Darcy said.
Bucky shrugged. “Did you want it to wait longer?”
“Are...are you the person we were supposed to call for that?” Darcy asked.
Bucky grinned. “Probably not. So if it falls down, don’t tell them I had anything to do with it.”
Darcy’s heart started hammering in her chest at the sight of his smile.
Because she was happy that he was happy. Not for any other reasons that might have crossed her mind in a fit of madness.
She was really getting the hang of lying to herself.
Bucky knelt down on the counter, then swung himself to the floor in one graceful movement.
Nope. No other reasons for her heart to be hammering at all.
Ugh. Maybe she needed to work on the whole lying to herself thing. She wasn’t quite convinced.
Bucky turned to them as he wiped the bits of dried spackle off his hands with a towel. “Something you ladies needed?”
“Coffee,” Jane whined. “Darcy says I’m not allowed to force any more science on her until she’s caffeinated.”
Bucky laughed. “I have to side with Darce on this one. No one should science uncaffeinated. That’s when dangerous things happen.”
Darcy stepped further into the kitchenette and poked at the drop cloth covering the counter. “Is the coffee pot...accessible anywhere under all this?”
Bucky’s grin faded as he snuck a guilty look at Bob, his face flushing. The kitchenette was a disaster, with bits of drywall and spackle everywhere.
“I’d say no,” Bob said. “Unless you prefer plaster dust instead of cream.”
“I’ll get this cleaned up,” Bucky added quickly. “So you can get your coffee and get back to it.”
The sight of Bucky’s sudden nerves stilled something in Darcy, making her forget her own worries for the moment. “No rush, Buck. We’ll run up to the coffee shop on 8 instead. You guys want to come? Let the bots take the first crack at cleaning up the place?”
Bucky frowned, then shook his head. “No, thank you though.” He looked to Bob. “Bob, if you want, you should go. But I’m going to stay and finish things up here.”
“You sure?” Bob asked.
“I could use a pick me up,” Bob admitted. “Okay. Call me if you need me.”
Bucky nodded at him, then looked to Darcy. “I’ll see you later?” he asked softly, clearly directing his question only to her.
She hated when he did that. Absolutely loathed it. “Yeah. Definitely.”
“Great.” He gave her that stupid small smile on his stupid face, then ducked his stupid head. If Darcy didn’t love the guy so much she’d hate him.
“Okay! Coffee time!” Bob said, corralling them out the door, forcing Darcy to delay any rumination on that thought until much later. “I wonder if they’ll have the honey latte today.”
“They don’t have that every day?” Jane asked.
Bob paused, as he pressed the elevator call button. “Do they?” The elevator dinged and they entered, Darcy tagging the button for the eighth floor as she entered.
“I think it’s a seasonal thing,” Darcy replied. “So what made you want to fix the ceiling today, Bob? It’s been busted for a while now.”
“Oh that wasn’t me,” Bob said, shaking his head. “I’ve still been trying to figure out who to call to report it.”
Jane looked concerned. “Isn’t that a thing that you should-”
“So does that make Bucky the one with the construction super powers?” Darcy interrupted. Bob had self-esteem issues on his best days. Jane’s concerns weren’t unfounded, but also weren’t exactly the point right now. Bob was riding high at the moment - there wasn’t any reason to bring him back down to earth just yet.
“Ohhhhh,” Bob said, his eyes wide, then he paused. “He said he just looked it up online.”
Darcy scoffed. “That’s just what he wants us to think.”
The elevator opened and they exited into the coffee shop. The barista behind the counter yelled a greeting as she finished refilling the beans in the grinder, then turned around with a bright smile.
Darcy returned the smile. The barista’s expression froze before she turned to Jane and Bob with much less enthusiasm and far more professional politeness.
Odd. Maybe word had gotten out about the kitchenette and all scientists were pariahs in casual coffee establishments.
Darcy could fix that. Eventually. She dialed up her own charm from her usual 5 for strangers to an 8.
“Hi there,” she said, giving the barista a friendly grin. “Do you happen to have the honey latte today?”
“It’s seasonal,” she replied through gritted teeth.
“Bummer,” Bob said.
“Anything you could recommend then?” Darcy asked.
The barista paused. “The maple latte is pretty good,” she admitted.
“Sold. The biggest one you’ve got for me.” Darcy turned to Jane and Bob. “How about you guys?”
“Same!” Bob said.
“24 oz ristretto Americano with a splash of coconut milk and cinnamon powder,” Jane replied, her voice flat as she recited her usual order by rote, while scribbling something down in her notebook.
“Okay.” The barista hurried away to start making the coffees.
Bob’s watch beeped. He raised his wrist and pushed the button, jumping slightly as the message projected.
“Oh phooey,” he muttered. He looked to the barista. “Can you make mine to go, please?”
“What’s up?” Darcy asked.
“Just a thing, nothing to worry about,” Bob replied.
Darcy raised an eyebrow at him. “Cryptic.”
Bob looked apologetic. “Yeah. Sorry.”
Darcy waved his apology away. Security clearances were a thing and honestly, she didn’t want to know most of the things Bob had to deal with. “Be safe?”
She gave him a quick hug, then he scooped up his coffee from the barista and quickly made his way towards the staircase.
“Not even the elevator. Must be something big,” Darcy remarked.
Jane glanced up. “Bob hates the stairs.”
“Here you go,” the barista said, setting their coffees on the counter, then scurried away. Darcy remembered the days of working in a coffee shop. There was always something that needed cleaning. She didn’t miss it. Granted, she only worked there for about an hour before getting fired and she might have enjoyed it a little bit more if her coffee shop had been in an Avengers facility instead of on campus, but those were just details. Coffee was coffee and work was work and humans needed their coffee to get to work. Or something. Darcy’s brain was a tired mess.
Jane scooped up her cup and took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet aroma of espresso and cinnamon, before taking a sip. “That’s the stuff.”
Darcy chuckled a little at her friend before taking a sniff of her own drink. It smelled light and sweet and super caffeinated. Just the way she liked it. She took a sip and savored it.
“So,” Jane said hooking an arm through Darcy’s and leading her back towards the elevator so they could head back to the labs. “Bucky fixed our ceiling.”
“It was nice of him,” Darcy agreed lightly, not really wanting to have this conversation now. Or ever.
“Uh huh. Don’t think I missed your reaction, miss,” Jane said, with a knowing jab at Darcy’s ribs. Where did she pick up that habit and who did Darcy have to blame for it? She hadn’t tased anyone in a while, maybe it was time to get back in the habit, just so people remembered who they were dealing with. People around here were getting the idea that she was nice or something.
“What? It was a nice thing!” Darcy deflected. “An impressive thing really, considering I don’t think anyone around here actually knows anything about drywall.”
Jane pressed the elevator button to take them back to the lab level. “You know he only did it for you.”
“Jane, I don’t - don’t put that on him, okay?” Darcy pled. “It’s not fair. We’re friends, regardless of any other feelings I have about it. Don’t go projecting all over the place and make it weird.”
Jane grinned. “Oh so you admit it now? There are other feelings to be had on the subject?”
Dammit. When did Jane actually start listening when Darcy said things? “I didn’t say that,” Darcy replied, quickly. Too quickly. Double dammit. Could she blame it on the caffeine? She took another quick sip.
Jane gave her a knowing look. “Darcy.”
Darcy let her head fall back, thumping against the elevator wall with a satisfying thunk. “It’s not like that. We’re not like that.”
“But you want to be.”
“Maybe. I don’t know yet. I’m sorting it out. But I’m not putting that on him in any case. It’s just a - thing. It’ll go away. And no one has to know.”
Jane’s teasing expression softened. “Darcy, I don’t think-”
“Jane,” Darcy interrupted. “Can we not? Please?”
Jane stayed silent, watching Darcy. Her eyes were too much right now and Darcy looked away, raising her gaze to the ceiling before closing her eyes.
“It’ll go away,” Darcy muttered.
“And if it doesn’t?”
Darcy’s laugh was bitter. “Jane. He’s Bucky.”
“Exactly. So what makes you think he’d pick me?”
“What makes you think he wouldn’t?” Jane shook her head. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. I know you think my head’s in the clouds, and yeah. Most of the time it is. But I’ve seen it. I saw it just now in the kitchen.”
“Jane, I don’t know. What if you’re wrong? What if I do something, I cross that line and…” Darcy hung her head. “He’s one of my best friends. It’s not worth losing him over.”
“If he’s really one of your best friends, you won’t,” Jane argued. “Even if he doesn’t feel the same. You won’t lose him over this. And think about it - what if he does feel the same?”
Jane continued as if Darcy hadn’t spoken. “Then you’d have the best of everything, right?” The elevator doors opened, letting them out on the lab floor.
“I just...I don’t want to lose him, but I also don’t want a pity date, you know? So leaving it alone is the best option.” Jane glared at her. “For now!” Darcy amended to appease her, although Darcy knew she had zero intentions of ever doing anything except leaving it alone.
Jane sighed and motioned for Darcy to go ahead. “Look, I know this stuff can be tough. And the lives we lead don’t really lend themselves to a...I don’t know, whatever it is people do these days. But if you can make it work? I think it might be worth trying.”
Darcy led the way into their lab and stopped short as she approached her desk, making Jane bump into her once again.
On top of the desk was a giant box of Pop Tarts. And on top of the box was a note in familiar loopy handwriting.
Found these when I cleaned up the kitchen. Figured you could add them to your stash.
Text me when you're done. I’ll make dinner.
Jane peeked over Darcy’s shoulder at the note.
“Just think about it, okay?” Jane murmured.
Darcy sighed, giving in. “Yeah. Okay.”
Bucky slowly lowered himself into the seat on the jet, pleading with his aching muscles to just get him that far before giving out. They could rest the entire flight back, they just had to get him into his seat without embarrassing himself. That was all he was asking. Just a little bit further.
At least he hadn't been shot this time. Or blasted off a roof. Or stabbed or kidnapped or brainwashed or blown out the side of a train and losing an arm. He was just tired and sore and really in need of a shower and a nap.
Bucky settled into the seat with a relieved sigh and let his head fall back against the wall with a thump. He closed his eyes and revelled in the feeling of just resting. Resting was glorious. Resting was the absolute best. He never wanted to do anything besides rest for the rest of his life. If someone offered to bring him food and point Darcy in his direction every now and then, he'd never leave this seat again.
It was a really comfortable seat.
The fact that it had been about 80 hours since he'd last slept might have also had a little something to do with it.
He kept his eyes closed as the rest of the team filed into the jet, all quietly shuffling into place and more or less muffling their groans as much as Bucky had. They were truly all a bunch of masochists. His masochists, but still.
Bucky peeked open one eye and looked around. Some of these people might actually enjoy being considered masochists. They were super-masochists. And their leader had just bounded onto the jet, looking like he was still raring to go. Bucky quickly closed his eye so Steve couldn't see he was conscious, hoping that his friend would assume Bucky was already asleep. Or dead. Bucky wasn't picky, so long as Steve left him to rest for now.
Steve strode straight past him, heading for the cockpit, likely looking to pre-debrief with someone back at base over the comm. Bucky supposed he couldn't fault him - those chats usually shaved a few hours off of the post-mission paperwork. Anything that cut down on post-mission paperwork was a win in Bucky's opinion and if Steve had the energy to do it right now, more power to him.
Bucky would be lucky if he had the energy to keep his molecules in some sort of order while he slept. He was more likely to turn into a pile of semi-sentient goo here in a moment. If someone seriously asked him to fill out paperwork right now, they might lose an appendage. Or they would if Bucky had the energy to move. In actuality, if anyone attempted to speak to him about a debrief, he’d probably just scowl at them. Or think about scowling at them. Scowling required him to open his eyes.
His stomach rumbled and Bucky groaned internally as he tried to remember the last time he ate something. There had been an MRE 78 hours ago...and the energy bar 56 hours ago....and that calorie goo he squeezed into his water 36 hours ago. Had that been it?
He should really start focusing on taking better care of himself on these things. He wasn't a machine anymore - no one was going to hook him up to IV nutrients and stick a tube of nutrient slurry in him at prescribed intervals.
He paused and backed that thought up. He had never been a machine, only treated as one. But now things were different, things were better, and he needed to start acting like it.
He was better at it, when he wasn't on a mission. Usually. And lately Darcy had inserted herself into his life to the point that he barely had to try to remember things like mealtimes anymore - she made them occasions to look forward to, even if it was just takeout or leftovers. And even when she wasn't around, some of her other friends would find him in the mess and join him. He looked forward to it. He was a person who had things to look forward to again.
No wonder things went off the rails so quickly on a mission. There was nothing to look forward to there except it being over and going home.
Huh. That thought might require a more thorough examination later. After he'd eaten and slept and hopefully showered. Maybe even in that order.
Then he remembered his poor bed sheets. Maybe the shower needed to happen before the sleep.
His stomach rumbled again, dragging him out of his thoughts. He slowly pried open his eyes and let his vision come into focus, then leaned down and blindly reached around under the seat for his bag. It must have shifted during flight or the subsequent evasive maneuvers and Bucky had to strain to reach it without moving out of his seat to crouch down for it. The seat was so comfortable.
Finally, his fingers snagged the canvas handle and he was able to drag the bag forward and up into his lap. He unzipped the top and dug around for the energy bars he thought he'd had stashed in there, but came up empty. He scowled. One of his fellow masochists must have stolen them.
He bit back his groan as his stomach growled again. He rezipped the bag and was about to toss it under the seat when he reconsidered. He opened the side pouch instead, hoping against hope that maybe some of the fruit leather he'd stashed away a while back was still good. Or in the bag and not currently keeping some other person's stomach satisfied.
He dug past the change of clothes and miscellaneous spare gear, searching for his snack, but came up empty once again. Just as he moved to close the bag back up again, his fingers brushed against a paper bag he didn't remember throwing in when he packed his gear. There generally wasn’t anything he’d take on a mission that he would store in a paper bag. He grabbed it and set it on top of everything so he could get a good look at the note scribbled on the side.
Your own personal secret stash. Just in case. Because for all that you look after your team, you are the literal worst at taking care of yourself on these things.
P.S. If you get shot again and don't go straight to medical upon arrival back home, I will find out and you will hear about it. So don't do that.
Better yet, don't get shot in the first place. XOXO
Bucky's exhaustion vanished as he read the note from Darcy, once, twice, and a third time just because. Then he carefully picked open the bizarrely complicated seal on the bag - while it was just paper ties, he didn't want to risk tearing Darcy's note. Inside the bag was an absolute goldmine - a carefully constructed care package just for him. Dried fruit, beef jerky, a small packet of the bridge mix Bucky had become very fond of. He didn't even know she knew about that. Under those treats was a small packet of Darcy's homemade trail mix and under that was the pièce de résistance - Darcy's famous triple chocolate chip cookies.
"Marry me," Bucky muttered.
"I'm flattered, Barnes, but you should know I'm already married. And not into sharing. Or dudes."
Bucky looked up to see Clint had settled into the seat next to him. He raised an eyebrow.
"That's not what I've heard."
Clint’s head was resting against the wall, his eyes closed, assuming a similar posture to what Bucky had taken a few moments earlier. "Natasha's a bald faced liar, you know that."
"You can't trust Sam Wilson."
Clint’s eyes opened and he furrowed his brow. "Kate doesn't know anything."
"Bob doesn't know anything either!" Clint exclaimed.
Bucky was barely containing his laughter at Clint's increasing panic. This was more fun than he'd had in days. "Not Bob."
"Who the hell is telling you stories then?"
Clint's eyes went wide. "Traitor! Which part did she tell you?"
Bucky smirked. "Well that implies there's more than one part to tell, doesn't there?"
"Dammit!" Clint only held out for another moment before bursting into laughter himself. "You got me."
"I don't got shit, you just admitted everything I need to go digging."
Clint groaned. "Why did I start hanging out with spies again?"
"Probably because you became one yourself, pal."
"Yeah well. Life wasn't any easier in the circus, so what was my other option?"
Bucky shrugged. "Sam keeps pushing extreme fighting."
"Sam has problems." Clint rubbed his eyes with a wince, then thumped his head back against the wall as he settled further into his seat. "Whatcha got there?"
Bucky motioned to the bag as he surreptitiously moved to protect it. Clint was not to be trusted around snacks. "Care package."
Clint smirked. "Oh? From everyone's favorite lab minion?"
Bucky glared at him and Clint raised his hands in surrender.
"Lab queen. Lab overlord. Lab empress."
"Lab manager," Bucky corrected.
"I feel like Darcy would absolutely be okay with lab empress."
"She'd settle for it, if lab overlord wasn't available." Bucky shook the bag so Clint could see inside.
"Awwww, she packed you a lunch," Clint teased.
"Shut up," Bucky replied, looking down at the bag and wishing he still had the ability to fidget. Fighting the fidgets would give him something useful to do, rather than focusing on Clint gaping at him. Short of knocking him out with a punch or stabbing him, Bucky didn't really have a way to stop Clint from doing it.
Clint chuckled softly. "It's nice, that's all. I ate the snacks Laura packed for me days ago. Either you have way more restraint than I do or Darcy packed you way more snacks than Laura packed me."
"I just found it, actually," Bucky admitted.
"Ah. You haven’t learned to expect the care packages yet. Good thing she only packed shelf stable stuff then, huh?"
Bucky shook the bag again, shuffling the contents and staring at them like they held any answers to the questions churning in his head. Darcy probably had packed the bag for herself, to stash in the lab. Jane had been ruminating on a theory for a little while now, she was due an all nighter soon. That had to be it - Darcy had packed the bag for herself, but dropped it in his gear when she’d heard they were getting called out. It had to have been a spur of the moment thing and would not be a regular occurance. This wasn’t something he should ever expect again.
The thought filled him with a very particular and increasingly familiar pang of longing. He looked at the note again, getting a little lost in the loops of Darcy’s handwriting, feeling distinctly adrift.
"Laura's a civilian, yeah?" Bucky asked, quietly enough that he half hoped Clint didn’t hear him.
"These days. Wasn't always."
"Oh." Bucky wasn’t even sure where he was going with the question or what had led him to ask. It just felt important somehow.
Clint's smirk turned knowing. "Are you thinking about starting something with Darcy?"
The blunt question startled him back onto metaphorical solid ground. "Anyone looking to hurt me would probably know by now that she and I are close enough to achieve just that," Bucky dodged. He was just a friend. A concerned friend. Nothing more.
Clint shrugged. "Darcy's tough. She's been through worse."
"That's not as comforting as you think it is."
"Nothing's going to be as comforting as you want it to be," Clint retorted. "There's no easy answer here. We lead stupidly dangerous lives. Some people can handle it. Others can't."
"Can't imagine Darcy thinking it's worth it," Bucky muttered, voicing his thoughts without really meaning to.
"Dude, Darcy was here living this shit before most of us had ever even heard of you," Clint shot back, his tone sharp but not unkind. "Don't forget that."
"This would be different though. Not necessarily more or less dangerous. But different. Different stakes." Bucky paused. "Maybe more to lose. Maybe more likely to lose."
Clint shook his head. "Can't think that way, man. Besides, isn’t that a little over dramatic - seeing as how you’re ‘just friends’ and all?"
Bucky reconsidered the merits of punching Clint. The paperwork might just be worth it.
The smirk on Clint’s face suggested he knew the mental calculous and was goading Bucky anyway.
Well. In for a penny. "How do you do it?"
"Well, I don't have her permission to die, to start."
Bucky laughed and Clint shook his head, grinning.
"Laugh it up all you want, but it's true."
"Wheels down in 10," Natasha's voice yelled from the cockpit.
Clint settled again. "I don't know. One day at a time. Communication. Same as anything else, really. Any time I look like I have my shit together, it's because of her, I know that much."
Bucky let that thought sit for a moment. "But it's worth it?" he asked.
"You think I'm gonna say no? She'll hear me somehow." Clint grinned. "But seriously. Yes."
Bucky nodded. "I'll think about it."
"You do that."
Bucky held out the packet of trail mix to Clint. "Fair trade. Uncomfortable emotions talk for snacks."
Clint's grin grew. "Well, I do love snacks."
Bucky tossed him the packet. “Let’s never speak of this again.”
“It’s like the conversation never happened.”
Steve stood at the front of the room and waited for the smattering of applause to wind down with a good natured - if a little bit forced - smile.
“I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our science teams from around the globe joining in on this celebration via video. It’s because of your teams that we’re able to make this team work...as a team.” Steve cleared his throat and looked down at his cards, before stiffly continuing his speech. “I’d also like to acknowledge the great team work done here by our own teams to develop new processes to protect our teams in the field.”
“How many times is he going to say ‘team’?” Darcy muttered to Bucky in amazement.
Bucky chuckled. “As many as it takes,” he whispered back.
“He’s...really bad at this,” Darcy said, her eyebrows rising in concert with her concern and disbelief. “Like...really, really bad. Is he this bad at this in the field? I thought his whole shtick was, you know. The big, inspiring speech. Was that just an urban legend?” She gasped softly and grasped Bucky’s arm in feigned shock. “Did the history books lie to me?”
Bucky’s grin grew into a lazy smile and Darcy pretended she didn’t notice what a stupidly good look it was on his stupid face. “Nah. He’s good when it counts.”
Darcy gave him an incredulous look. “Oh so he’s great when it involves punching, but not science?”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Bucky replied. “He hates this stuff, but he’s actually really good at it. He only pretends to be bad at it so people will stop asking. I mean, think about it. Why would it make any sense at all for Steve to be hosting this congratulatory shindig for the science division? It should be Stark or Rhodes or hell - Hill would make more sense.” He shrugged. “But Captain America gets butts in seats, so here we are.”
“Huh,” Darcy said, considering his point. “Has that ever actually worked? Has anyone ever stopped asking?”
“Think it will work this time?”
He shrugged again. “Statistically, it has to work eventually.”
Darcy looked around at the enraptured faces of many of the scientists standing around the room. “Odds that this is that eventuality?”
“Slim to none.”
Darcy snorted, then bit her lip to stifle any further laughter as one of the Chem 5 techs glared at them from over their shoulder. Darcy nudged Bucky in the ribs as her shoulders shook. He nudged her right back with a smug grin, then wrapped an arm around her shoulders to pull her into his side.
Things suddenly weren’t all that funny and it took literally all of Darcy’s willpower not to bury her face in his chest and just inhale. She really deserved some sort of medal for valor or something.
“You’re gonna get us in trouble,” Bucky murmured in her ear.
Make that two medals for valor. Ugh.
“You started it,” she muttered back.
“And now, for the real leader of the team, I’ll hand things over to Doctor Cho.” Steve stepped back from the podium and gestured for Helen to take his place, then quickly made his way off the stage and ducked out of sight.
“Where’s he going?” Darcy whispered. “Isn’t he supposed to still-”
“Yep. He’s skipping it.”
Darcy resisted the urge to smack her forehead, if only because the movement would probably draw further ire from the tightwads from Chem 5. She tried to focus on Doctor Cho’s speech, knowing all the hard work that had gone into the recent discoveries they were celebrating and wanting to give them the proper attention and respect they deserved. The science division rocked and had earned every drop of praise they were getting - which, she supposed, was also why Steve agreed to do the introduction. At least he knew how to get the hell out of the way when the attention should be on someone else. Had they asked Tony, he probably would have, well, been Tony.
She would have been paying closer attention to Doctor Cho’s speech, except that Bucky’s arm was still around her shoulders and he was tracing tiny shapes into her arm. It was absurdly distracting.
Applause broke out around the room, startling Darcy out of her thoughts. A moment later, Bucky removed his arm so he could applaud as well. Darcy snuck a glance at him as she began to clap, seconds too late. His face was slightly flushed, his expression sheepish, for some reason.
Oh. Maybe -
“This is nice,” Bob said.
Darcy turned around as the crowd began to break up, moving around the room to mingle and take advantage of all the free food set up along the walls of the atrium.
“Um, Bob?” Darcy said, confused. “You’re facing the wrong way. We’re over here.”
“Shoot,” Bob cursed, turning towards her voice. “Sorry.”
“You okay, Bob?” Bucky asked.
“Everything’s just a little…” Bob waved his hand in front of his face, almost smacking Darcy in the head in the process. “Fuzzy,” he finished, lamely.
“Do...you need your eyes checked?” Darcy asked, confused.
Bucky made a short, derisive growl of disgust. “Bob,” he began, a warning note in his voice that screamed to Darcy he was doing everything he could to keep his temper in check, “did you go get checked out like I asked you to after the incident yesterday?”
“Incident?” Darcy said. She hadn’t heard anything about an incident.
“There was a faulty alarm on the south end of the campus. We used it as an intrusion drill. Nothing to worry about,” Bucky tried to reassure her. His voice was too carefully neutral though, and it ended up doing just the opposite. “Bob here got pepper sprayed in the face.”
“Bob!” Darcy exclaimed.
“I’m fine!” Bob insisted.
“You’re not fine,” Bucky and Darcy said, then grinned at each other.
“They were busy and the volunteer stocking the carts said I should just use the eyewash station rather than take up a bed.” Bob’s voice was more glum than Darcy had ever heard it, his usual effervescent spirit dimming.
“Sounds like the same stupid volunteer who wouldn’t help us the day you got shot,” Darcy muttered, nudging Bucky with her elbow.
“Who wouldn’t help you when you got shot?” Steve said, sneaking up behind them. “Buck, when did you get shot? What the hell did I miss?”
Darcy snuck a look at Bucky, to make sure he was cool with her telling this story. He simply raised an eyebrow at her.
“The day this guy and I met,” Darcy said, motioning at Bucky. “He limped off the jet, and was apparently going to handle the gunshot wound himself before I came along and badgered him into going to medical. They kinda ignored us though.”
“You did a great job, patching me up,” Bucky reassured her.
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “There’s...a lot to unpack there.” He took a moment, then opened his eyes again and glared at Bucky. “You and I, will be having words about notifying me of any injuries.”
“Sure thing, Steve,” Bucky replied.
Steve sighed at Bucky’s non committal answer. “But in the meantime,” he motioned to Bob, then had to move quickly to stop Bob from wandering off and running smack into a passing scientist. He turned Bob around so he was facing the group again. “Eyes still?”
Bob nodded, and Steve shook his head.
“Let’s get you down to medical, huh? See what we can do about that blurred vision?”
“Oh, I don’t want to be a bother, Mr. America, sir-”
“Bob,” Steve cut him off. Darcy bit the inside of her cheek to stop from laughing, but Bucky must have caught her expression anyway and nudged her in the ribs.
“Yo, Cap,” Clint said. “I’ve been sent to collect you.” He waggled his eyebrows. “There are photos to be taken.”
“I got it,” Bucky said, moving to Bob’s side and taking his arm to guide him. “We’ll get you fixed up, buddy.”
“I’ll come with,” Darcy offered.
“Oh no - please don’t fuss,” Bob insisted.
“Don’t worry, Darce,” Bucky reassured her. “Steve, go. We got this. Darcy, this party is as much for you as everyone else here. Enjoy. You earned it.”
“No fun without you,” Darcy pouted. “You guys,” she added quickly. “No fun without you guys.”
“Jane might take offense to that,” Bucky winked.
Darcy scoffed. “Jane knows where she stands.”
“Well, now that this has been adorably settled,” Clint interjected with a smirk, “Steve, we gotta go.”
“Yeah, alright,” Steve agreed. “Bob, feel better.” He and Clint turned and headed back towards the stage.
“You sure you don’t need me to come with you, Bob?” Darcy asked.
“Enjoy your party, Darcy,” Bob replied.
“I’m sure we won’t be long,” Bucky said. “We’ll get Bob fixed up and be right back.”
“Okay.” Darcy reached out and gave Bob’s hand a squeeze. “Feel better, Bob.”
“Thanks Darcy.” Bucky led him away, glancing over his shoulder to grace Darcy with one last, reassuring grin.
“What a stupid face,” Darcy muttered, affection for this complete and utter goofball of a human welling up so fast it made her heart hurt with the effort. One of these days she'd get a handle on this thing she had for him. Today wasn't that day.
Tomorrow wasn't looking all that good either.
Darcy shook herself out of it and looked around for any friendly faces. These were all people she knew, that she worked with every day. But there was no one she was really friendly with.
She went over to one of the food tables and grabbed a cookie and a carton of milk, then spotted the two techs from Chem 5 who hadn’t opened the door for her all those weeks ago. Sure, they had been glaring at her earlier. They probably just all misunderstood each other, that was all. They got off on the wrong foot somehow. It was nothing a little friendly small talk over cookies couldn’t fix. She headed over to meet them, a smile plastered on her face.
“Hey,” she greeted.
Both techs turned to her. One tried to hide her surprise, schooling her features into a blank expression not quite quickly enough. The other gave Darcy a flat once over.
So it wasn’t the friendliest greeting she’d ever received. She had received worse.
She took a bite of her cookie and pressed on. “Have you guys tried these?” she said.
“What are you doing here?” one of the techs said, bluntly.
Darcy felt ice creep into her stomach as her old insecurities rose. It had been a long time since she’d felt the sting of it, having worked with Jane long enough that years of experience more than compensated for her lack of scientific knowledge. Long gone were the days of egomaniacal asshats barking at her to fetch their coffee at a conference. But none of that meant that the old wounds of having her worth questioned had completely healed over.
“What do you mean?” Darcy asked slowly, hoping that she was wrong and the rude question had just been phrased poorly.
The second tech spoke up. “Maybe this isn’t the time-”
“You show up, out of the blue, and know nothing about the science,” the other tech interrupted. “You’re somehow in the good graces of Jane Foster - who honestly, for all her brilliance, couldn’t reason her way out of a paper bag, so maybe her poor choices in a lab rat shouldn’t be surprising. Then you’re immediately paling around with Hydra Bob and the Winter Soldier. Are you some sort of plant or something? What’s your deal?”
Darcy blinked, stunned at the accusation. Sure, science wasn’t really her thing, but she knew enough to function. She’d like to see someone else try to decipher Jane’s notes after an all-nighter. And as for anything else? White hot rage seared through her at the accusation - did this idiot think she was HYDRA or something? She’d been targeted by Project Insight just like most other people in this room! She’d helped save the godsdamned universe from the Dark Elves! She kept Jane in coffee and Pop Tarts so the woman wouldn’t accidentally catapult the planet into the sun!
She was about to let rip with a scathing retort, leaving nothing but scorched and salted earth in her wake. She’d go for the throat - starting by insulting their bad dye jobs and frumpy fashion and continuing until she reached the inanity of their kitchenette small talk and their inability to file their expense reports on time. She handled the paperwork. She knew things. She’d emulate Alexander Hamilton’s words to Thomas Jefferson and harangue them with just how badly she wanted to hit them with a chair. Only slightly less eloquently and with far less loquacity because who had that kind of time?
And then Darcy thought about what they were insinuating about Jane. About Bob. About Bucky.
Her rage vanished, leaving a vacuum of feeling. They could come at her all they wanted. Darcy could take it. She’d pour glue in their coffee creamer and swap their sugar for salt and probably hire a mariachi band to follow them around at the next conference where they presented.
But come for her friends? Well. That was something else entirely.
She didn’t hate them for their insinuations. Hating them implied their opinions mattered at all.
“Kindness costs nothing,” Darcy replied coolly. “I shouldn’t have to explain to you that you should care about other people.”
She turned and walked away, not bothering to register if either of them attempted a response.
Her friend was in medical and she needed to check on him.
Bucky gave the sauce a stir, then dipped a small spoon in to give it a taste. It still needed…something. What was it missing? Pepper? No, that wasn’t it. Should it be saltier? He eyed the jar of capers warily.
He should have stuck to making eggs.
Maybe he should wait until Darcy got here and she just could tell him what to do. She was the cook, after all. He was just...throwing things in a pot. She was the one who was actually good at this sort of thing. The last thing he wanted was to make the entire thing inedible - or worse, just salty enough to eat and also trigger Darcy’s migraines.
The idea that he could unintentionally cause Darcy debilitating pain caused a spike of his own pain - a stake right through his heart. And that said nothing of the anxiety the idea raised.
He really wished he could drink.
He tamped down on the feeling and forced himself to get a grip. For starters, even if he could have a shot of whiskey right now, that was a very unhealthy coping mechanism and he had enough problems without intentionally adding to them.
But more importantly, he could not afford to let his more than friendly feelings towards Darcy cloud his actions. He had to maintain a friendly distance. Even if it killed him.
For all of Clint’s insinuations, for all the little moments that whispered well...maybe?, for all of his misguided hope, it was pretty clear that his feelings were just that - his and his alone. Her reaction earlier - when he’d tugged her close, she’d gone completely still, the laugher abandoning her. Her flustered action - her wide eyes and shaky voice, the distraction evident in her mannerisms afterwards - it all pointed to one conclusion.
She might consider him a friend. But the thought of anything else was clearly abhorrent to her.
Bucky swallowed down the pain of that fact and returned his attention to the sauce. A few more capers maybe. He reached for the jar and carefully measured out another teaspoon, draining their brine back into the jar before adding the berries to the pot with the rest of the sauce. He gave everything a stir, then grabbed a clean spoon for another taste test.
Hmm. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do.
He turned the heat on the burner under the sauce down to low and covered the pot so it could simmer, then checked the other pot to see if the water and milk were boiling yet. He removed the lid and smiled. Bubbles. Perfect. He stirred in the dry polenta, then set the timer.
The front door opened, letting a woosh of cool air into the overheated kitchen.
“Bucky?” Darcy called.
“In here,” he replied, raising his voice so she could hear him.
Darcy made her way into the kitchen, then stopped. “What’s all this?”
Bucky glanced over his shoulder at her and threw her a grin. “I believe most people call it dinner.”
“Okay smarty-pants,” Darcy said, before shuffling her weight and looking down at her feet. She must have left her shoes at the door, as the cartoon face of Natasha Romanoff glowered up at him from her socks. There was something deeply unsettling about that. “You could have mentioned that you were expecting company.”
Bucky blinked, then turned around to face Darcy fully. “I am expecting company.”
Darcy puffed out her cheeks as she exhaled deeply. “Right...I’ll just-”
“It’s you, Darcy.”
It was Darcy’s turn to blink. “Oh,” she said, her tone changing. “What’s the occasion?”
Bucky shrugged, then turned back to give the polenta a stir. “No occasion. Just - wanted to do something nice for you.” Bucky winced internally. He’d been hoping to cheer her up after hearing the rumors running rampant through medical, but maybe making dinner was too much. Was this a thing that friends did for each other? He’d made dinner for Steve plenty of times before, but he learned long ago that his friendship with Steve wasn’t exactly the measuring stick he should use for his interactions with other people.
Apparently, it just wasn’t normal to declare war on 117 countries in defence of a friend.
Normal was stupid anyway.
“For me?” Darcy said, her voice very small.
Well that wouldn’t do. Darcy should never sound like that. He quickly shoved any and all thoughts of what was “normal” out of his mind and set about fixing it. Above everything else, she was his friend and she needed to know how much he appreciated her, how much she deserved to be appreciated. And if he somehow crossed the line between friendly and friendly, well. He’d accept the consequences.
Bucky glanced over his shoulder at her and jerked his head toward the stove, motioning her over. “Yes, for you. Who else?”
Darcy’s expression brightened a little, before a shadow crossed it as she worried her lip. She stared down at her feet as she approached.
Bucky wasn’t entirely sure what the rapid shifts in mood were about. He reached an arm out and Darcy ducked under it, tucking herself into his side. He dropped a kiss to the top of her head and gave her a squeeze, pulling her tight against him where her big heart was safe at his side. If he could will her to hand over some of her hurts to him through osmosis or something, he would.
She buried her head in his chest with something that sounded like a sigh of relief. He figured it was as good a time as any to ask for her version of the story and mentally crossed his fingers that he wouldn’t bungle the conversation too badly.
“How was the rest of the party?” he asked quietly, waiting for her to share as much as she had the energy for, rather than dragging the information out of her or making assumptions.
Darcy suddenly burst into tears, sobbing into his shirt.
“Wha - okay.” Bucky quickly shut down all of the burners with one hand while pulling Darcy closer with the other, cradling her head against him. Stove safely dealt with, Bucky turned away from the stove to face Darcy fully, wrapping both arms around her in a hug. “Want to sit down on the couch?”
Darcy shook her head as she cried, hiding her eyes in his shirt. He swayed softly, rocking her back and forth.
“Okay. We’ll stay here then.”
“Okay,” Darcy hiccuped, her voice watery. She sniffled and quieted as he stroked her hair, then she started sobbing all over again.
Okay. She was crying. He could handle this. Just last week he’d dismantled a bomb in a room full of civilians while keeping three snipers at bay. He could totally handle one crying Darcy in his kitchen.
“Is this about what happened with Chem 5?” he asked quietly.
Darcy looked up at him, her eyes still glassy with tears. “How’d you hear about that?” she asked.
“By the time I got Bob to medical, the nurses were all abuzz with the latest gossip that one Miss Darcy Lewis handed the asshole techs no one likes their butts.”
“Oh.” Darcy paused and looked away, staring at his collarbone and picking an invisible piece of lint off of his shirt. “How is Bob?” she asked, her voice still thick and quiet.
“Much better now. Everyone was very apologetic about sending him away last time.”
“Good. Did you glare at them for an appropriate amount of time?”
“3.6 seconds for every infraction.”
Darcy nodded, satisfied, then buried her face into his shoulder once again.
He brought his hand up to cradle her head again and kissed her temple. “Want to talk about it?”
“No.” Darcy’s voice was muffled by his shirt, but he could still hear the uncertainty in her voice. She sighed and squeezed him closer to her, tightening her hug. When he returned the gesture - gently, because he still hadn’t quite re-calibrated his arm to a satisfactory degree - she spoke again.
“Do you trust me?”
Her voice sounded so small. Darcy, of all people, should never sound like that.
The gossipy nurses hadn’t clued him in to exactly what had been said - and gossipy nurses weren’t exactly the most reliable source of intel to begin with - but if Darcy was this upset and asking him this particular question, he could take a guess. Bucky had to force down the urge to go reign fire and destruction upon Chem 5. He had a few grenades in the garage, stashed away for an emergency, or there was that C4 he’d pilfered from a raid on an AIM lab a few weeks ago. Point was - he had options.
No. Blowing up labs was bad. Maybe he would just pour glue in their coffee creamer instead.
“With everything,” he replied, in as sure of a tone as he could manage. “God, Darcy...do you even realize just how much you do for people around here?”
“I handle the paperwork,” her muffled voice said, edging back towards tears.
“Well, yes, and you’re great at that, but I meant…” His voice trailed off as he gathered his thoughts, attempting to choose his words carefully. This was important. “Well, look at Bob. Bob’s a mess most of the time, but he keeps it together because you encourage him. You don’t let him get too down on himself, and you definitely don’t let other people give him shit. And that’s just one example.”
“So many people here trust you and love you - and the ones that don’t just don’t know you well enough yet. Jane loves you. Bob loves you. Thor and Clint and Natasha, all the Avengers love you.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I love you.”
And there it was. His heart, laid bare for her to see and she probably would never even realize. And he had to keep pushing through because that detail wasn’t important in the grand scheme of what he needed to tell her and she didn’t realize just how much he meant it anyway.
“And one of these days, someone is going to come along and they are going to recognize exactly how special you are,” he babbled, desperately putting words between him and his confession. “And they’ll be willing to turn their entire universe upside down to make you happy. And they wouldn’t never dare to even think about changing one molecule of you, but they will also move heaven and earth to be there as you change and you grow and you become even more amazing than you are today. And that person is going to be the luckiest bastard on this or any other planet for getting a front row seat to see it.”
This speech had gone wildly off track, but Bucky couldn’t bring himself to regret a word of it. Even if it tipped his hand and revealed his feelings, even if she didn’t feel the same, even if everything was changed after this. He closed his eyes and kissed her temple again, lingering briefly before pulling away so he could look in her eyes.
“So yes. I trust you.”
“Bucky,” Darcy whispered.
The resulting silence wrapped around the kitchen. Bucky let it hang in the air for a few seconds, before twitching his lips into what he hoped looked like a smile and releasing Darcy from his embrace.
“Food? Polenta’s probably just about done, but I need your expert opinion on the puttanesca before I can declare dinner time.”
Darcy’s smile was weak, but she looked like she was starting to rally. “You made me polenta puttanesca?”
“I broke into Matilda’s office and stole the recipe after I heard about Chem 5,” Bucky admitted. He cut off Darcy before she could even ask. “No, she does not have the enchilada recipe written down anywhere in the office. I checked. Twice.”
Darcy gave him a calculating look. “Are there breadsticks?”
“Better. I made garlic bread.”
Darcy’s head fell back and she made a relieved sound. “You just get me.” Her smile grew, warmth and affection slowly returning to her eyes. She sniffled and he tore a paper towel off the roll and handed it to her.
“Thanks Buck,” she said as she wiped her eyes. “I really needed that. You’re...you’re a really great friend.”
He returned her smile, but it felt brittle and forced. He turned back to the stove and resumed cooking.
"Okay," Darcy said, moving Bucky's hands into position. She paused and evaluated, making sure he was exactly where she wanted him, then nodded. "Don't move."
"I'm going to regret offering to help you, aren't I?"
"Nonsense. You never regret helping me."
"The actual helping no. The offers, ehhhhhh," Bucky made a wobbling motion with his hand, indicating that his opinion could go either way.
Darcy slapped his hand and moved it back into position, so that it was vertical, roughly even with his other hand, and they were about shoulder width apart. "No moving."
Bucky smiled at her. "Yes Darcy."
Darcy glared at him. "No patronizing either."
She chuckled. "You're the worst."
"You love me," he shot back.
Darcy only shook her head, looking away from him so he couldn't see any stray emotions that might have crossed her face at that statement. Ever since her conversation with Jane she'd been...well, confused, to be honest. But that wasn't something she was going to put on Bucky - her feelings were her own to sort out. Even if lately, she’d sort of been getting the vibe that he could conceivably - eventually - maybe look at her that way a little bit. Maybe.
She might also have been trying very hard not to read too much into that speech of his from the other night, when he dropped a casual “I love you” into the conversation. Who does that?
She pulled the yarn hank from her bag and carefully pulled off the little cardboard ring that held the label. She untwisted the hank and gently separated the loop, then glanced at Bucky.
“Kinky,” he said, his voice flat with sarcasm.
"Ready?" she asked, ignoring his snark and fighting down a laugh.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "For what?"
She looped the yarn around his hands. Normally, she'd use the back of two chairs to hold her yarn while she wound it into yarn balls, but this was much more fun. For her.
Bucky raised an eyebrow. "Am I supposed to be doing something with this?"
"You're supposed to be holding still."
She pulled her ball winder out of her bag and attached it to the coffee table, then carefully picked apart the tiny knot in the scrap yarn that held the loop together while twisted into a hank. From there, she easily found the end of the yarn and fed it into the ball winder. She gently pulled at the yarn in Bucky's hands, unlooping one small bit at a time, then cranking the winder to wrap the yarn into a ball.
"You're making yarn balls?" Bucky asked.
Darcy nodded as she unlooped a little more. "New knitting pattern means new yarn means new yarn balls. Yarn mail is the best mail."
“I thought book mail was the best mail?”
Darcy smirked. “Depends on the book.”
"Ah. And I'm your unwitting accomplice in all this?"
"Yep." Darcy grinned, popping the “p” as she continued unlooping the yarn from Bucky's hands and cranking it through the winder. "You're pretty good at this, actually. Might have to enlist you more often."
Bucky shifted slightly, but kept his hands completely still. "My sisters were knitters, learned from my mom. We didn't have a swift though, so I usually played the part."
"Oh." Darcy felt a little bit of cold creep through her veins. They didn't generally talk about Bucky's past. Despite her curiosity, she'd never figured out a good way to ask. Still - he'd brought it up. Maybe it was okay - right now, anyway. She decided to tread lightly. "What sorts of things did they knit?"
He shrugged. "Socks, mostly. A sweater or two." He nodded at the yarn in his hands. "What's this going to be?"
"Mittens," Darcy replied, easily. He didn't need to know that the black yarn he was currently holding was destined to become his mittens. Surprises were good. Usually.
"I don't remember them ever knitting mittens," Bucky said, in that quiet way he had when he was thinking hard about something, chasing down a memory that he was just brushing the surface of. "They must have though, right?"
Darcy shrugged. "Maybe. Did anyone else you know knit? Aunts or uncles or cousins or Steve's mom? Maybe there was some sort of exchange going on."
Bucky shook his head. "No. And Steve's mom didn't know how to knit, as far as I knew. She was too busy for it - always working. Steve ended up at our house more often than not for dinner."
"I'll bet he loved that," Darcy grinned, pulling more yarn from Bucky's hands. "Must have been like having siblings or something."
"More like he took offense at being seen as charity," Bucky grinned. "Never did get through to him that my family loved him."
Darcy wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that, especially given how little she actually knew Steve. She should probably extend the offer to hang out to him as well one of these days. She pulled the last of the yarn from Bucky's hands and cranked it through the winder.
"Becca would have loved one of those - she did it all by hand," Bucky remarked.
"It is handy." Darcy tucked the end of the yarn in so it wouldn't unravel and pulled the ball from the winder, setting it neatly on the coffee table. “Especially since I don’t have the patience or the deterity for hand winding. I tried it once - huge mistake.”
“Knots everywhere?” Bucky asked, his expression suggesting her already knew the answer.
“So many knots,” Darcy replied, groaning at the memory. “I couldn’t get them all either, some were too much to pull apart. It was a shame too - it was some really nice wool.”
“Well, now you have me and your winder, so that won’t happen again,” Bucky said.
She glanced at Bucky, who was still sitting rather close. "Thanks for the assist." She ignored the warmth he radiated and especially ignored the sudden urge to curl up into him and tuck into his side.
Bucky wiggled his fingers. "You're done? Don't need your human swift any more? I don’t want you needlessly wasting any more really nice wool."
Darcy rolled her eyes at him with a fond smile. "Done for now. I'll let you know when I require your services again."
"You do that." Bucky lowered his hands, then winced, rolling his shoulder with a confused look.
Well that couldn’t be good. "What is it?"
"Arm's out of alignment," he muttered. He held up his left hand as he inspected it, testing the movement of each finger. A small squeak was heard as he moved his ring finger. "Hear that?"
"Yeah. What the hell?" Darcy leaned closer and took his hand in hers, inspecting it herself.
"I have to figure out how to fix that and then hopefully how to avoid it from happening again." Bucky said.
"Hmm. I wonder if it's just a dexterity thing? Like if you practiced fine motor control, it would help? Can’t imagine that you’re giving some of these joints a workout on a regular basis."
Bucky shrugged. "Probably couldn't hurt. Once I fix it, something like that could help maintain it. Any bright ideas for me? Don't say knife throwing."
Darcy's eyes lit up. "Wasn't gonna, but if that's a thing you could teach me then-"
"Well, a girl's gotta ask," Darcy grumbled. "What about knitting? I could teach you."
Bucky paused, then glanced hesitantly at her. "You...would? You'd be willing, I mean? I could just get something from the library or-"
Darcy cut him off. "I'd love to."
Bucky's smile was small and tentative, but sincere. "I think I'd like that."
Bucky grew somber again. "I should probably look into fixing the arm tomorrow. "
"Who does your maintenance, anyway? The boys in Gear Lab are great, but it doesn’t seem like this would be their specialty?"
Bucky shook his head, still studying his arm. "I do my own maintenance," he muttered abscently.
“Wait, what?” Darcy hadn’t known this. How did Darcy not know this? “Is it - well, do you - I mean.” Spit it out, Lewis. “Are the specs...classified or something?”
Bucky shook his head. “No. Well, actually, probably yes, but if I went to Gear Lab there would be someone there with the appropriate clearance.”
“So...what’s the problem?”
Bucky was quiet, letting the silence hang between them before giving her a tentative, wry smile. The answer hit Darcy like a brick to the face. Her heart sank.
“It’s like that day in medical, isn’t it? You did go to Gear Lab and no one would help you.”
“It’s okay, Darcy. Really. I’ve done my own maintenance for a long time, and really, I need to know how to anyway. If something were to go wrong in the field, I have to be able to fix it myself. Can’t always count on there being another person nearby - or that they’d be in any condition to help. If I'm not careful, it might go haywire and hurt someone.”
“Hurt yourself, more likely.” Darcy didn’t know many specifics about how the Avengers operated when they were on a mission, but she did know that the scenario Bucky just described was exceptionally unlikely.
“I’m not so worried about that.”
Darcy glanced up to glare at him, then startled back sightly, surprised at how close he was. "I'm most worried about that, buster," she hissed, giving him a sharp nudge to the ribs. She looked back down at his hand, avoiding his eyes.
"Always lookin' out for me," Bucky murmured.
"Yeah," she replied hotly, before softening her tone with sincerity. "Always."
"Darcy," he whispered.
She steeled herself, then looked back up at him, finding a question in his eyes. What he was asking, she didn't know, but she was pretty sure that whatever it was, her answer was an enthusiastic yes.
He leaned closer and Darcy felt her heart pound to a stop as her eyes fluttered closed.
BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ
Darcy’s eyes popped open at the unexpected vibration against her leg. Bucky cleared his throat as he moved away slightly, tapping the notification on his watch to stop the buzzing of the phone in his pocket. He stilled as he read the message.
“What is it?” she asked.
Bucky continued to stare at the message. “It’s…” His voice trailed off as another message popped up. He read it, then looked at her.
“I -” he started, then stopped. “Nearest panic room. Lock yourself in. Don’t open the door for anyone who isn’t me, understand? I don’t care if Steve is asking you to open up.”
What the hell? “If this is a drill, I don’t like it,” she warned.
“Not a drill. I gotta go. Panic room. Promise me.” Bucky’s voice held just enough of an edge of panic to send Darcy’s own anxiety soaring.
“Yeah, of course. I promise.”
He nodded, then his face settled into a determined expression, like he’d settled an argument he’d been having with himself. She was about to ask, when he cupped her cheek, reverently running his thumb over it, then surged forward and captured her lips in a searing kiss, swallowing down her gasp of surprise. She only froze for a moment, returning the kiss with vigor. She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and tugged him closer, losing herself in it.
He broke away with a soft, anguished sound. “I - “
The intruder alarm sounded, the klaxon echoing the room and breaking them out of their haze.
He leaned in for another kiss, briefer, but no less intense for it. Then he stood and backed away from the couch.
“I’ll come and get you from the panic room,” he promised.
“Okay,” she replied weakly. Then he turned and disappeared into the hallway.
Darcy looked around, dazedly taking in the room around her, frantically trying to process the last two minutes.
Bucky crept down the hall, gun raised, ready to take down any hostiles that got between him and the stairs. He glanced to his left. The coffee shop looked abandoned, the chairs askew and debris from the remains of the abandoned afternoon rush scattered along the counter. Had it been a workday, Darcy might have been in there for her afternoon pick me up when the alarms went off.
He pushed the thought from his mind as he moved on, eyes sweeping the hall. Darcy was clear on the other side of the compound right now, safe and secure in a panic room. The thought was both reassuring and terrifying. Reassuring, as he had designed the panic room protocol himself. What the analysts had originally designed had been a joke and Bucky had torn it down to the foundations and rebuilt it at the earliest opportunity. But it was terrifying being so far from her when the base was under attack like this. Something could happen and he would never -
When he’d arrived in the armory, rushing to gear up, Steve had taken one look at him and assigned him far, far away from Darcy and rightly so. He was the very definition of compromised. Especially right now - now that he’d finally acted on his feelings and instead of the rational reaction of running in the opposite direction as quickly as humanly possible, she’d pulled him closer. It was a minor miracle that his brain was functioning at all. Honestly, Steve probably should have deactivated him, sent him home - he would have, had their positions been reversed - but with the base so thoroughly infiltrated, they needed every hand they could get.
He adjusted his grip in his gun as he reached the steps and took pains to cover himself as he slipped out of the hallway and into the stairwell. He hadn’t seen any additional HYDRA goons since he’d cleared the 6th floor, and the chatter on the comms suggested that no one clearing the levels above him had either. They may have stopped the incursion before it had reached that high. One could only hope that was the case. The alternative wasn’t pretty.
The fact that fucking HYDRA had gotten as far as the lobby rankled, let alone slipping through enough of their defenses to cause this kind of alarm. Bucky mentally flipped through his mental index of recent incidents and kicked himself. The signs had all been there. HYDRA had been quietly poking at their defenses for weeks and no one had noticed. He hadn’t noticed and he was probably the most paranoid person in the timezone.
The security system going haywire and frying security badges, encouraging the rank and file to develop a more lackadaisical attitude towards opening the doors for people struggling to enter while simultaneously overwhelming the security teams struggling to keep up with influx of new badge requests. The supposedly faulty proximity sensor that caused Bob to get pepper sprayed. The hole in the kitchenette ceiling that they couldn’t get fixed for weeks.
All incidents that involved Chem 5.
“Barnes!” a voice hissed. Bucky whipped around, only lowering his gun when he realized it was Natasha glaring at him. She glanced around, determining for herself that the area was clear, then she approached and punched his shoulder. “Get your head in game,” she growled.
“I figured it out,” Bucky replied.
“Yeah. Chem 5 is dirty,” Natasha replied. “This level’s clear, want to head down?”
“You knew?” Bucky asked, incredulous. Darcy worked with Chem 5 all the time! If Natasha had known something and kept it to herself, endangering Darcy then -
“Put the pieces together about a minute ago.” She smirked at him. “Still 20 seconds faster than you.”
Bucky swallowed a groan as they carefully descended the stairs. “Not everything is a competition.”
“It is with the right attitude.” Her usual sarcastic banter wasn’t helping to refocus him the way it usually did. Now it just rankled. Her expression flickered from blank to something slightly softer for a moment, before going back. He appreciated the effort. “Where’s Darcy?”
Natasha nodded. “Intruder alarm interrupt a potentially life-changing moment for you two?”
Bucky blinked at her, side-eyed over the scope of his gun, as they reached the landing and prepared to enter the hallway. “How did you -”
“Please.” She turned and scanned the hallway to the right. “Clear.”
He would never understand Natasha. Instead of trying, he scanned the area to their left. “Clear.”
They continued moving, working their way past offices and conference rooms, clearing them as they went. It was monotonous and exhausting, trying to stay hyper-vigilant for so long. It was what both he and Natasha had been built for, but it still took a toll. He should probably remember to thank his therapist for that when this was over. Once upon a time, he wouldn’t have noticed or cared.
They’d just reached the end of the hall and were about to enter the north stairwell to continue down another level, when a HYDRA goon got the jump on Natasha. He grabbed her from behind, garrot at her neck. She twisted in his grip and dropped, giving Bucky a clear shot. He took it. Just as quickly as it started, it was over.
Natasha got back to her feet and blew a piece of hair out of her eyes. “Thanks.”
Bucky crouched to secure the goon’s hands. He’d only shot him with a tranquilizer dart. These HYDRA bastards would crack a cyanide capsule with no warning, so an almost instant tranquilizer was needed if they wanted to get any intel out of them. “Anytime.”
“I owe you.”
Bucky rolled his eyes as he checked the goon’s pockets. “Don’t start.”
“But I do. I do owe you,” Natasha continued, her voice dripping with false sincerity.
“Uh huh. And if I say sure, you owe me one, I accept, you’re going to turn it around so that I end up owing you somehow.”
“So you don’t want Matilda’s enchilada recipe?”
Bucky paused, then looked up at her. “You don’t have it.”
Natasha grinned. “Oh yes I do.”
She shrugged. “Traded Pirozhki for it ages ago.”
Bucky’s jaw dropped. He looked away from Natasha, then down at the goon, suddenly wishing he could join him.
But that recipe would make Darcy so happy, she’d probably forget all about him kissing her then running off into a dangerous situation, right? It was practically a get out of jail free card, if he didn’t get shot. Getting shot on top of everything else might require a little more than just a recipe.
“Dammit,” he swore. He ignored Natasha’s delighted cackle and climbed to his feet. “Fine. You win.”
“DOWN!” she yelled, shoving him away as she fired her gun.
Bucky rolled away, coming up in a crouched firing position, taking cover behind one of the many cement plant pots that were strategically placed in every hallway. The HYDRA goon raced toward them, firing with abandon. He had a worse shot than a damn Storm Trooper, and Bucky found himself ducking more from the falling drywall and shattered window glass than bullets. He took aim with his traq gun and fired.
But he didn’t go down.
Bucky growled a little to himself as he took aim again and fired. Another direct hit. The goon slowed, the tranquilizers finally taking effect. He fired again. If this guy didn’t stop after three hits of traq, Bucky would have to go in to take him out hand to hand - that much traq in a person’s system was dangerous.
The idea of taking it easy on HYDRA while they were actively trying to kill him and swarm the base didn’t sit well with Bucky - it would probably be better to just eliminate the threat outright. But, well. He was with the good guys now. And this was how they were trying to do things. Usually.
The goon staggered forward. Any moment now, the traq would kick in and he’d go down.
The goon bolted back upright with a scream and began firing again.
“What the hell!” Natasha cursed, firing a Widow’s Bite at the goon. She scored a direct hit and the electricity crackled in the air as the goon twitched. He swayed briefly, then continued charging.
“That’s it,” Bucky muttered and dove out from his cover, charging at the goon. He tackled him, barreling his metal shoulder directly into the goon’s solar plexus, his momentum taking them both to the ground. Bucky’s breath punched out of him as the goon got a lucky shot into his gut.
“Stay down,” Bucky growled, as he punched the man in the face a few times. Finally, with one final kick of his legs, the goon passed out.
Bucky rolled off of him with a relieved sigh and tried to catch his breath. The HYDRA idiot must have gotten lucky and really knocked the wind out of him, as he was struggling to breathe.
Natasha approached, cautiously, her gun trained on the goon, just in case he tried to get up again. She gave Bucky a quick once over, then raised her comm to her lips.
“Level 5 secure,” she murmured. “The Winter Soldier is down.”
Down? He wasn’t down, what was she -
He looked down at himself. Oh. Well, that wasn’t good.
“Does anybody copy?” Natasha said, her voice ratcheting up in alarm as she slid towards him. “The Winter Soldier is down!”
Darcy struggled to cast on another stitch before throwing her yarn and needles down in frustration. Her sigh came out as a growl. It was no use - she wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on anything until she was back out of this panic room and face to face with Bucky.
Bucky who - if that kiss was anything to go by - was as into her as she was him. Gods, they were stupid. And blind. And if he didn’t come get her so they could actually have the conversation they clearly needed to have pronto, he was a dead man.
The flippant thought sent a spike of anxiety through her. He better not be a dead man. They’d just found each other. The universe couldn’t be that cruel...could it?
Suddenly, the wall in front of her evaporated into a cloud of dust. She screamed, startled, and scrambled to get up and grab her taser.
“Well,” she muttered as the dust cleared, “that’s a hole.”
She mentally catalogued the weapons in the panic room. She was most comfortable with her own taser, obviously, but that had a limited range of efficacy and she only had so many charges. The icer was an option. Not her favorite option, but she wasn’t going to be picky at this point. She blindly reached behind her for the case and grabbed it. Any other weapon the room was stocked with was just a little bit beyond her scope.
If they ever got out of this, Bucky was 100% going to teach her knife throwing.
And possibly how to strangle a man with her thighs. For science, of course.
She carefully peeked through the hole in the wall, keeping her taser at the ready. She couldn’t see much of the hallway as smoke-filled as it was, but there were definite sounds of fighting outside.
Should she open the door and go out? She wasn’t likely to be much good in a fight, and the weapons at her disposal that she was actually comfortable using weren’t likely of much help. She’d probably be less of a hindrance - to herself and to the other good guys - if she stayed put.
Then again, it wasn’t like she was any safer in the panic room. Whoever had infiltrated could clearly blow through any wall they wanted with the weapons they were carrying.
She and Bucky were so going to have words about his panic room redesign.
The cacophony outside suddenly silenced. Darcy risked another peek into the hallway, but couldn’t make out what exactly might be going on. The cameras were useless, they’d be one of the first things to go after she’d locked herself in. Whoever was out there knew exactly what they were doing. She would just have to sit tight until Bucky came to get her.
Movement outside drew her eye. She squinted, straining to see who might have survived the firefight.
Green and yellow uniform. Shit.
It was HYDRA.
She silently reached down and opened the icer case, wanting to be as prepared as possible if the HYDRA goon got wise to the fact that there was a compromised panic room with someone inside right in front of them. She might not be Jane, but she was the next best thing if they wanted information.
The footsteps stopped just outside the room. “Darcy?”
Darcy stilled. “Bob?” she asked.
Bob’s voice was filled with relief. “Thank god! Can you open the door? I have to get you out of here.”
Darcy hesitated. “Bucky said not to open the door for anyone but him.”
“Darcy,” Bob said, his voice strained. “We’ve gotta go. And we gotta go right now.”
“Why?” she challenged. She trusted Bob, and if the ceiling was about to cave in or something, then obviously she wanted out. But she’d promised Bucky and that wasn’t something she took lightly.
“Bucky’s on his way to medical.”
Ice gripped her chest. “Open this door right the fuck now.”
They slowly picked their way through the halls, Bob clearing each junction before allowing Darcy to move any further. Normally, she’d appreciate the caution, but right now she just needed to move and was seriously considering tasing Bob and apologizing later.
Bucky was on his way to medical. Bob didn’t have many details, but Bucky was hurt and Darcy would hurt someone if she didn’t get there to be with him soon.
He nodded at her and started to move forward into the next junction when a shrill voice screamed down the hall.
Darcy flattened herself against the wall as Bob took aim at their attacker. He fired, but Darcy heard the ping of the traq dart ricocheting off the wall. He’d missed.
Bob aligned himself into a better firing position, covering Darcy without giving away her location. She readied her taser as the approaching footsteps got closer.
It was the jerk from Chem 5 who’d insulted her the other day.
That was why Bucky was in medical and it was taking 15 years to get to him.
Darcy charged forward, jamming the business end of the icer into the tech’s neck and pulled the trigger. She collapsed to the ground and Darcy preened.
“How do you like me now, bitch?”
After what felt like forever, they finally made it into the hangar. Darcy made a break for it, sprinting across the open space as fast as she could.
“Darcy!” Bob hissed. She heard him curse, then follow her.
Darcy slid into medical just as Natasha half dragged Bucky inside, yelling for a gurney. Darcy ran to them and slipped an arm around Bucky, taking some of his weight.
“What the hell happened?” she asked. She glanced down and winced at the sight. “Is all of this...yours?”
“Some,” Bucky slurred.
“Most,” Natasha snapped. “Can we get a little help here?” she yelled at the room.
A volunteer popped up in front of them, her eyes going huge as she took in the sight.
Darcy glared and the girl withered slightly.
Bucky nudged her with a wince. “Darcy, it’s okay -”
“It is not okay,” Darcy snapped at him. “This is beyond my ability to fix and someone around here is going to do their damn job or else.”
The volunteer straightened up at that. “Let’s get you into a room.” She led the way, clearing a path in the hall to get Bucky into the nearest unoccupied room. Natasha and Darcy gently got him onto the gurney as Bucky groaned in pain. The volunteer gaped a little at them before Natasha shooed her out, following her to make sure that she was tracking down a doctor to deal with this mess before things got any worse.
“You left the panic room,” Bucky gasped as he attempted to maneuver himself onto the bed more fully.
“You got shot,” Darcy snapped. She grasped his hand and held it close to her chest, tears filling her eyes at seeing him in such bad shape. He had to be okay. He just...had to be.
“It’s Chem 5,” he hissed, whispering furiously. “They’re HYDRA. They’ve been trying to sow discord all over the base, getting people to not trust one another, so they could swoop in and take us out.”
“Yeah, kinda figured that out when I had to tase one of them on the way here,” Darcy replied. “We need a better vetting system. Is someone dealing with that?”
Bucky nodded. “Someone is dealing with that.”
“Great. Then I don’t care. I need you better.”
“Darcy, they’re dangerous. You could have-”
“She was in my way,” she argued. “She was standing between me and you.”
Bucky’s breath stuttered. “Darcy,” he whispered, “if anything happened to you, I-”
“Let’s not go there right now, okay?” Darcy said, softening her tone and smoothing his hair off his face. “I’m here, you’re here. We’re working on you being okay right now. We can fight about what I can and can’t handle later.”
“Darcy,” Bucky murmured, squeezing her hand.
“I’m here,” Darcy said again, squeezing his band back.
A woman in scrubs approached them. “Sergeant Barnes. Let’s look at that side, shall we?”
Bucky released her hand and Darcy took a step back away from the gurney. The doctor raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Darcy replied, her voice allowing for no arguments. “I’m staying with him.”
Later, when Bucky was stitched up and firmly on the mend, Darcy was still there, holding his hand and running her fingers through his (admittedly exceptionally dirty and gross) hair.
It was fine. As long as he was going to be okay, everything was fine.
Bucky practically purred as his eyes closed, completely relaxed and content. Darcy wasn’t sure if they’d given him the good painkillers or if he just really loved having his hair played with, but whatever the reason, Bucky was clearly feeling better.
He let out a contented sigh and opened his eyes to look at her. His gaze was clear-eyed, so Darcy figured he probably wasn’t on any painkillers. Or at least - not ones that made him see purple dancing Hulks or something.
Or maybe that was a thing he was into, she didn’t know. It could be fun finding out though and Darcy looked forward to it.
“So,” she replied, then grinned at him.
He laced his fingers with hers and brought her hand to his lips to press a soft kiss to her knuckles. He brushed a soft line across them with his thumb. “We should probably talk about this,” he murmured.
“Must we?” Darcy teased. “I figured we’d just skip it and get to the good stuff.”
Bucky grinned at her. “Define the good stuff.”
She smirked back. “Use your imagination,” she dared.
He laughed. “Tempting.”
Darcy leaned forward in her chair and smiled up at him reassuringly. She’d be tempted to crawl in next to him, but the gurney was small and Bucky was still mostly kitted out in his combat gear. She might love the guy, but he kinda reeked at the moment.
“You sure you want this?” he asked, his voice going soft and unsure in a way it really hadn’t in ages.
So they were going to do this. Okay. They were both going to have to use their words. She didn’t want any misconceptions here - not with something that meant this much.
“What’s this?” she asked, keeping her voice gentle yet serious.
“Me,” Bucky replied, bluntly. “You and me. Together.”
Darcy’s smile grew. “All romantic like?”
Bucky nodded and his voice went soft again. “Yeah.”
“Yes,” Darcy replied firmly.
“I come with a lot of baggage,” he warned. “The kind that makes my therapist stay awake at night.”
“We’ll figure it out, Buck. I want this. So much. And I have for a while now.”
“Yeah?” he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
“Yeah,” she promised, and leaned in to kiss him.
“BUCKY!” Steve yelled, sliding into the room. “Are you alright? I got here as soon as -” Steve stopped and gaped slightly at the scene in front of him. Darcy raised an eyebrow, daring him to say something.
“I’ll come back,” Steve said, and turned around, leaving as quickly as he arrived.
“I should probably mention that I’m in a very codependent relationship with Captain America,” Bucky deadpanned, adding to his list of warnings.
Darcy collapsed in a fit of giggles, burying her face in his shoulder.
“I’m serious,” Bucky continued. “117 countries and at least three intelligence agencies have previously deemed it a problem.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Darcy said again, still laughing. “Will you just kiss me already?”
Bucky shook his head at her. “So demanding. I’ve been shot, I am in the hospital, and you’re-”
Darcy shut him up with a kiss. He didn’t seem to mind at all.
Two Years Later
Bucky trudged back into the ops center with a quiet sigh. Steve glanced up at him and gave him a once over.
“Go home, Buck.”
Bucky blinked. “What?”
“You’re exhausted. Go home, we got this.”
“Job’s not done,” he retorted quietly.
Steve gave him a sympathetic smile. “Job will still be here in the morning.”
Bucky shifted a little, uneasy. He was tired. And...well. He had ideas for today. Nothing concrete, nothing confirmed, but ideas nonetheless.
“You sure?” he asked, giving in.
Bucky nodded, then left the way he came, intending to clean up a bit before heading home. No need to bring the mess in with him.
Bucky rolled his shoulders, attempting to work the worst of the kinks out of his neck as he made his way home. Hot water could do wonders, but one of the idiots he’d been tracking earlier had gotten the jump on him and got in a lucky punch. His whole side burned with the muscle strain and the fingers on his left hand kept twitching. He clenched his fingers into a fist a few times trying to get it to stop, with moderate success. It was good enough for now - he’d have to have Cameron or one of the other kids down in GearLab take a look in the morning. As for the rest of him, well. The serum would fix it soon enough.
He sighed, feeling the guilt weigh on him. He probably shouldn’t call it a night just yet. Some of the bad guys were still out there. More than a few had slipped away in the chaos of the fight.
The world wasn’t going to end if he took the night off, he reminded himself. Hill was monitoring the situation, Sam was on call. He had done enough for one day.
Sleep did sound pretty good.
He pulled the keys from his pocket and opened the door. He dropped his bag on the bench and kicked his shoes off on the mat.
“Honey, I’m home!” he called, completely without irony. He was allowed to be cheesy in his own home, dammit. Especially when this kind of happiness was so hard won.
The house was eerily silent as he made his way from the entry to the kitchen. Normally, when he got home from a mission, he’d find Darcy there, cooking up a storm. It was her coping mechanism when he was gone, a way for her to productively channel the stress. It helped that he was usually starving when he got back, so none of the leftovers ever went to waste.
“Darcy?” he called. The kitchen was empty, the lights out. He looked into the living room, but it was dark as well. No sign of Darcy anywhere.
It wasn’t late enough for her to be asleep yet - and even if it had been, she usually waited up when she knew he was on his way home. He’d texted her when he left Steve, and she’d responded that she’d be waiting. So that left the question - where was she?
“Mwrp?” The soft purr came from around his feet as the white cat nuzzled his legs. He picked her up.
“Hey Alpine,” Bucky cooed. “Where’s mama, huh? Where’s our Darcy?”
“Mwrp,” was Alpine’s reply.
“So helpful, thank you.” Bucky stroked Alpine’s fur as he continued making his way through the house, looking for his girlfriend.
When he reached the top of the stairs, Alpine began to struggle in his arms, so he leaned down and gently set her down. She nuzzled his hand once more, then happily headed for her favorite pillow, sitting at the foot of his and Darcy’s bed, which showed no signs of anyone having slept in it.
Bucky rubbed his eyes. Maybe she’d run out to the store or Jane had called needing something. There was probably a note somewhere, likely in a very obvious location, and he’d just missed it. He made his way back downstairs to the kitchen, hoping there was at least something in the refrigerator that would be easy to heat up. A flicker of movement just outside the window caught his eye as he went past.
He slowly approached the back door, his guard up. It may have been two years ago now, but the memory of HYDRA’s attempt to infiltrate the base was still crystal clear. He wouldn’t put it past them to try again.
The yard was dark and what shadows he could make out played tricks on his mind. He slowly, silently opened the door to step outside.
The cheer from the crowd of people gathered in their backyard nearly knocked him back into the house. The lights came up slowly, so as to not blind anyone. He looked around. He immediately spotted Steve and Sam, grinning wildly at him. Over on the other side, Natasha and Thor were holding court at a table nearly sagging under the weight of the food spread out.
He saw techs from Darcy’s lab and Matilda from the mess and Kate from the coffee shop. A few people from Ops and some of Bob’s new security recruits were rearranging chairs and tables so they could all sit together. Clint and Helen were laughing as Jane made her way through the crowd with a pitcher of what looked like lemonade, Bob trailing unhelpfully at her heels.
Bucky turned and grinned. “Darcy, what is all this?”
“It’s your birthday, silly,” Darcy said, slipping her arm through his and leading him to the food table. “They all wanted to help celebrate.”
“You did all this?” he murmured.
“Hell no,” Darcy laughed. “Most of this was Bob and Jane. Clint and Nat helped. I just told everyone when to be here and what to bring and then let them all in.”
He stared at her then gaped at the assembled crowd.
Darcy gave him a squeeze, then leaned in close. “They wanted to, Buck,” she whispered. “Your friends wanted to celebrate.”
“Yeah,” he breathed, suddenly overcome at the reminder of how different his life was now from not that long ago.
They stopped at the table, Darcy pulling him in front of a cake with a truly impressive number of candles.
“Nice touch,” he remarked, his voice dry as sandpaper.
Darcy held up her hands, innocently. “I insisted that Matilda was a guest and that we would get the party catered, so she insisted on making the cake. She knows you can’t resist her Devil’s Food Cake.”
“I meant the candles.” There were a little over a hundred candles on the cake by his estimation, which meant that Darcy had likely included enough to light his calendar age.
“I reserve the right to make my own fun, Barnes.”
Bucky faked a put-upon sigh. “Whatever you say, Barnes.”
His girlfriend nudged him. “I’m not a Barnes.”
“Do you want to be?”
Darcy blinked. “Is this you asking?” she shot back.
“Depends on your answer, really.”
Darcy rolled her eyes and faked her own put-upon sigh. “Yeah, I guess I’ll marry you. If it’ll make you happy and I don’t have anything else going on that day.”
Bucky grinned at her. “I promise to give you plenty of notice on the date. How’s three weeks from now?”
“Why the rush?” she asked. “Are we pregnant or something?”
Bucky sniffed. “Maybe I’m just excited and want to start the rest of our lives already.”
Darcy narrowed her eyes. “You already booked the venue.”
“Technically Clint did.”
“Of course he did,” Darcy laughed. “Well, since you have wedding planning well in hand, just remember that you’ll never be able to bat those eyes at me and get away with mis-remembering our anniversary or something.”
“I would never,” he promised.
“Make a wish!” Bob called out.
“Yeah, we want cake!” Clint chimed in, yelling around a mouthful of food already.
Bucky looked around at everyone gathered, this strange group of people that they called friends. Family. All smiling and happily waiting for him to blow out the candles.
Darcy wrapped her arms around him. “You heard them, birthday boy. Make a wish already before someone gets the bright idea to start singing.”
He laughed. Make a wish? What exactly would he wish for? Everything he wanted was already right here.
He leaned in and kissed her, slow and sweet. “I already got my wish,” he whispered.
He glanced around the yard one more time, grinned, and blew out the candles.
I want to take a second and thank you all for reading. Your kind comments and reactions have truly been bright spots these days and I am forever thankful for that gift. I hope, whenever you might be reading this, that the story gave you a few minutes of escape and maybe a laugh or two as well.
Take care of yourselves and each other.
Until next time, friends.
May all your favorite bands stay together,